As the Jews had no authority, under the Roman regime, to visit the death penalty upon anyone, they were unable to carry out the Levitical law which condemned a blasphemer to death (Lev. 24:15-16), unless they took things into their own hands and acted contrary to the code imposed upon them by Caesar’s government, as they did later in the case of Stephen who, like his Lord, was charged with blasphemy (Acts 7:54-60).
In the case of Jesus, the chief priests and other leaders were anxious to shift the responsibility for His death to the Romans in order that the people who had heard Jesus gladly might not turn in indignation upon them. Therefore, having declared Him worthy of death, their next move was to bring Him before Pilate, the procurator of Judea at that time.
When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: and when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor, (vv. 1-2)
As soon as circumstances permitted, Jesus, bound with chains, was brought into Pilate’s court. No doubt the governor had known something of Him and possibly thought of Him as a harmless zealot of some Jewish sect. Now he was called upon to pass judgment upon Him as a seditionist, who was endeavoring to arouse the populace to rebellion against Rome and to accept Him as their king instead of Caeasar.
At this juncture, Judas the traitor appeared before the chief priests and elders. He was filled with remorse as the full import of the deed he had done began to dawn upon him. Many have tried to excuse Judas on the ground that he may have been overanxious to see the kingdom of Messiah established, and that he thought possibly by betraying his Master to the clique that sought to destroy Him, he would force His hand, so to speak, and bring Him to declare Himself at once as the King of the Jews. But of this there is no hint in Scripture. Nothing save that Judas is described as a covetous man, who sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.
Now that he began to realize the probable fate awaiting Jesus, he was seized with fear and, in his crushing anxiety, endeavored, too late, to undo the fearful wrong of which he had been guilty.
Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood, and they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called the field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me. (vv. 3-10)
The repentance of Judas was not true self-judgment because of the sin he had committed. The word used here is not the ordinary one for “repented,” which implies a complete change of mind or attitude. It rather means “to be remorseful,” and there may be bitter remorse apart from genuine repentance.
Bringing the thirty pieces of silver back to those from whom he had received them, Judas exclaimed, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” He knew well the holiness and righteousness of Jesus. He had kept company with Him during some three or more years, and he realized there had been no flaw in His character, no evil in His behavior.
Coldly the priests replied, “What is that to us? see thou to that.” These calloused hypocrites had their prey in their power, as they believed, and they were unconcerned as to the truth or untruth of the charges brought against Him. They were determined upon His condemnation.
In his horror and despair, Judas threw down the money in the temple, and, rushing out in an insane frenzy, he sought a secluded spot where he committed suicide by hanging himself. Peter supplies details omitted here. He tells us that “this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18). Putting the two accounts together, we gather that the wretched man, who was probably somewhat corpulent, hung himself, possibly from some tree or beam which broke under his weight, so that his body was so ruptured in falling to the earth that the condition depicted by Peter resulted. It was a sad and terrible end indeed to a life that once promised so much!
The priests, too punctilious to put the blood-money into the temple treasury, after some consultation, decided to buy with it a potter’s field—that is, a piece of ground from which clay had been extracted for the making of pottery, so in this way Judas himself really purchased the field with the reward of iniquity. This wasteland was set apart as a cemetery in which to bury strangers for whose interment no other arrangements could be made. Significantly it was called “The Field of Blood”—a constant reminder of the nefarious transaction in which the priests and Judas had participated.
There have been questions raised as to the proper understanding of verse 9. In the book of Zechariah we read, in reference to the thirty pieces of silver, “Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD” (11:13). While this passage is very similar to that which is quoted here, it is not quite the same: “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.” There is the possibility that Jeremy, or Jeremiah, is a faulty reading, which some scribe may have written inadvertently in place of Zechariah, as he was thinking of another manuscript which he may also have copied, telling of Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s house, and that later copyists, finding this name in the text, did not feel free to alter it. On the other hand, it may not be Zechariah’s prophecy that is definitely referred to at all, but rather something handed down by tradition that was spoken, not written, by Jeremiah.
J. N. Darby suggests that the book of Zechariah formed part of a scroll which began with the prophecy of Jeremiah, and therefore would bear his name, and so it could be spoken of as an utterance found in “Jeremiah.” In any case, we may be sure that there is nothing here to invalidate the authority of Holy Scripture.
Leaving the sordid story of Judas, we turn again to Pilate’s court to see what will become of the Prisoner whom the chief priests had brought before him.
And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them. Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. (vv. 11-18)
In response to the governor’s question, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” Jesus calmly replied, “Thou sayest.” That is, you have said that which I am. Thus, before Pontius Pilate, He witnessed a good confession (1 Tim. 6:13). While He made no answer to the false and vindictive charges brought against Him by His enemies, He unhesitatingly declared the truth when the procurator himself addressed Him.
Pilate was astonished at the quiet confidence which the Lord manifested. No accusation perturbed Him. He did not attempt to defend Himself. Assured in his own mind that Jesus was innocent of any crime, and yet knowing the implacable character of His accusers, Pilate sought for some way whereby he might release Jesus and yet not displease these wily and unscrupulous religious leaders. It was Passover time, and for some years—as a favor to the Jews—it had been customary to release some notable prisoner of their own nation. If they were sincere in charging Jesus with sedition, might they not appreciate the dismissal of the charge and the freedom of the prisoner? Another seditionist was awaiting execution at the time, Barabbas, who had led in an insurrection against the government. So Pilate put the two names before the crowd and asked, “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” Both were charged with the same offence. Why then might not Jesus be released and so the people be satisfied?
While the matter was being debated excitedly by the accusers of Jesus and the rabble who had gathered about them, a message came to the governor from his wife.
When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate said unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified, (vv. 19-23)
Church tradition has made a saint of Claudia Procula, the wife of Pilate. Legend says she was a Jewish proselyte who became a believer in Jesus. But Scripture tells us nothing more than what is recorded here. She sent a message to her bewildered and time-serving husband, bidding him have nothing to do with “that just man,” because of whom she had suffered much in a dream.
We are not told of Pilate’s reaction to this, except that we find him casting about still for some way whereby he might not have to face the issue before him and take up the case of Jesus in a thoroughly legal and judicial manner, which could have resulted only in the acquittal of the Prisoner. This would arouse the intense indignation of His accusers, who would then, in all probability, go to any length to destroy the governor by misrepresenting him to Caesar as an untrustworthy servant of Rome, because of failing to do his duty concerning One who should have been condemned as a seditionist.
He waited for the people to make their choice. Who should be released: Jesus or Barabbas? The answer was not long in coming. Moved upon by the chief priests and elders, the multitude vociferously gave their voices in favor of Barabbas.
“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” Pilate asked weakly. It is a question every man has to meet sooner or later wherever this story of Jesus is known.
The throng cried as with one voice, “Let Him be crucified.” Thus the King of Israel, the Anointed of Jehovah, was definitely rejected; and so, for the time, the hopes of the Jews were destined to be obliterated. There could be no kingdom for them when their rightful Ruler was spurned and slain.
Recognizing his impotence in dealing with this mob of excited religionists, Pilate called for water and dramatically washed his hands before the multitude as he exclaimed, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.” Yet he was there as the representative of the imperial throne, and he was responsible to condemn the guilty and to acquit the innocent. How little he realized that for all time to come his name was destined to be linked with that of the patient Sufferer whom he weakly surrendered to His prejudiced accusers. Untold millions yet unborn were to intone in all the centuries to come, “I believe in God … and in His Son Jesus Christ… crucified under Pontius Pilate.” No water could ever wash away the stain of the blood of the Son of God!
In fearful recklessness, the Jews invoked a malediction upon themselves as they cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” The awful anguish and suffering the unhappy nation has endured throughout the past two thousand years can be traced back to the choice made that day when they preferred a murderer to the One who came in grace to redeem them. For every individual among them, as for all others, who will turn to God in repentance, the curse has been turned aside because of the Savior’s intercession, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Yielding to their demands, Pilate delivered Jesus to their will, and He was turned over to the soldiers, who heaped added indignities upon Him.
Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. (vv. 26-28)
In accordance with the horrible custom of the times, Pilate gave order to scourge Jesus—a most cruel ordeal that involved the tearing of His flesh into ribbons as He was beaten on the bare back by a whip of several lashes, on which were fastened pieces of metal, so that His body must have been soon literally bathed in His own blood. Yet no word of reproach escaped His holy lips. Knowing He was condemned because He had claimed to be a King, the soldiers stripped Him of all His outer garments and put a discarded scarlet robe on him, and crowned Him with thorns, then mockingly bowed before Him.
And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross, (vv. 29-32)
They knew it not, but their action was most significant as they pressed the thorny circlet upon His pallid brow. When God cursed the earth for man’s sin, He caused thorns and thistles to be brought forth (Gen. 3:18). The thorn is the fruit of the Curse, and Jesus was about to be made a curse for those who so basely treated Him and for all men, that all who would trust in Him might be redeemed from the curse of the law.
The ribald soldiery made obeisance before Jesus, in whose hand they placed a reed for a scepter, and cried in jeering tones, “Hail, King of the Jews!” To them it was all a huge joke, that this meek, defenseless Prisoner should ever have imagined Himself, or permitted His followers to think of Him, as a King. In their eyes there was nothing regal about Him. Yet to the eye of faith He was never more royal than when He endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, with such holy patience and resignation to the will of the Father.
The soldiers spat in His face, as the Jews had done in the house of Caiaphas. Jew and Gentile were one in their rejection of Him.
When they wearied of their coarse and vulgar treatment of Him, they took the robe off Him and put His own garments upon Him, and so led Him away to crucify Him.
Tradition, not Scripture, tells that He fell beneath the weight of His cross, not only once but thrice, but this rests on no authentic records. However, it seems evident His physical strength was so weakened by loss of blood and excessive suffering that even the callous soldiers saw He needed help in bearing His cross, so they laid hold on Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming that way, and compelled him to assist. What a privilege was Simon’s! We would like to know for certain that he appreciated it. The early Christians said that the Alexander and Rufus, mentioned as his sons in Mark 15:21, both became ardent followers of Jesus, and that their father too was of His company. We may hope this is more than an unfounded tradition.
At last they reached the little hill outside the walls of Jerusalem called “Golgotha” by the Jews, and by the Latins, “Calvary,” “the place of a skull.” There the tragedy of all the ages was to be enacted. There the Sacrifice of which all the offerings of the Old Testament were types was to be presented to God on our behalf.
And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there; and set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left, (vv. 33-38)
It was customary to give one who was being put to death by crucifixion a stupefying draught to make it easier for him to endure the fearful ordeal through which he was called to pass. Such a drink, composed of sour wine (or vinegar) mingled with gall, or myrrh, was offered to Jesus, but He refused it. He would not take anything that might benumb His mind or alleviate the sufferings He was undergoing.
Below the cross the soldiers who were responsible for His execution divided His garments among themselves and cast lots, gambling, for His seamless tunic, in accordance with David’s prophecy uttered a thousand years before (Ps. 22:18). During these six hours, one prophecy after another was fulfilled.
The thirty-sixth verse might well speak to all our hearts: “And sitting down they watched him there.” While for “watched” we might better read “were keeping guard,” yet the sentence as it stands is most suggestive. These hardhearted, indifferent soldiers looked carelessly upon Him as He hung upon the tree. You and I, my reader, may well turn aside and see this great sight, the Holy Son of God suffering unspeakably at the hands of men whose very lives depended upon His mighty power. We may learn much as we sit down and behold Him there, bleeding and dying for sins not His own.
It was customary to indicate by a placard the crime for which one was being punished. So Pilate had a document prepared that read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” It was as much as to say He was being crucified for setting Himself up as king in rebellion against Caesar.
Two thieves were crucified with Him, one on either side. Thus He was numbered with transgressors.
And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth, (vv. 39-44)
The hearts of those passing by were untouched by the Lord’s affliction. They continued to mock Him, raising again the old accusations and saying, “Thou that destroyed the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself.” They even challenged Him to descend from the cross if in very truth He was the Son of God.
The religious dignitaries also joined with the rest in belittling and ridiculing Him, and yet uttered a great truth which they themselves did not comprehend when they said, “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” Our Christian poet was right when he wrote:
Himself He could not save;
He on the cross must die,
Or mercy could not come
To ruined sinners nigh.
Oblivious to the real meaning of His death, these priests and elders challenged Him, as the rabble had done, bidding Him come down from the cross if He was indeed the King of Israel. In that case, they declared, they would believe Him. They even quoted from Psalm 22 without seeming to realize it, saying, “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him.” He had said He was the Son of God. They called upon Him to demonstrate it by descending from the cross.
The thieves, too, cast the same, we are told, in His teeth. Matthew does not tell us of the subsequent repentance of one of these. We must turn to Luke’s account for that.
Up to this point, which takes in a period of three hours, from 9 A.M. to 12 noon, Jesus had been suffering at the hands of men. It was not these sufferings that put away sin. The next few verses summarize the awesome events of the last three hours, when He endured the wrath of God, as the great Trespass Offering, able to say, “Then I restored that which I took not away” (Ps. 69:4).
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. (vv. 45-49)
No finite mind can fathom the depths of woe and anguish into which the soul of Jesus sank when that dread darkness spread o’er all the scene. It was a symbol of the spiritual darkness into which He went as the Man Christ Jesus made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It was then that God laid on Him the iniquity of us all—that His soul was made an offering for sin.
The tempest’s awful voice was heard;
O Christ, it broke on Thee.
Thine open bosom was my ward;
It bore the storm for me.
We get some faint understanding of what this meant for Him when, just as the darkness was passing, we hear Him cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Each believer can reply, “It was that I might never be forsaken.” He took our place and endured the wrath of God our sins deserved. This was the cup from which He shrank in Gethsemane; now, pressed to His lips, He drained it to the dregs.
His the wormwood and the gall:
His the curse; He bore it all;
His, the bitter cry of pain,
When our sins He did sustain.
Some who heard His piercing cry in Aramaic did not know the meaning of the words, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” and thought He was calling on the prophet Elijah for help. One ran and filled a sponge with vinegar and put it to His parched lips, giving Him to drink. This He received. Others said indifferently, “Let be, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” But there was none who could deliver Him. He must endure the pains of death that we might never die.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedees children, (vv. 50-56)
When all had been accomplished that it was given Him to do, Jesus cried with a loud voice—John tells us what He said—“It is finished.” Then He dismissed His spirit. He did not die of exhaustion, but He laid down His life voluntarily when His work was done.
The veil in the temple, separating the holy from the most holy place was immediately rent in twain from the top to the bottom, the unseen hand of God tearing that curtain apart to signify that the way into the holiest was now made manifest. No longer would God dwell in the thick darkness. He could come out to man in the light, and man, redeemed by atoning blood, could enter with boldness into the very presence of God.
Certain natural phenomena also occurred, which Matthew alone mentions— a great earthquake, rending rocks and opening graves. Saints whose bodies had been sleeping in the tombs were raised and came out of the graves after His resurrection and appeared unto many.
The centurion in charge of the squad of soldiers who were detailed to guard the crucified victims was so impressed by all he had seen and heard that he was filled with awe and declared, “Truly this was a Son of God.” He did not use the definite article, as given in the Authorized Version. But, like Nebuchadnezzar of old as he saw the mysterious fourth One in the furnace (Dan. 3:25), he was persuaded that the holy Sufferer who had just died on that central cross was more than Man.
Standing afar off, with hearts filled with conflicting emotions, were many devoted women who were true to Jesus to the last, though they could not understand why He was left to suffer and die unaided. Among these were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and also the wife of Zebedee, the mother of James and John.
It is worthy of note that as long as our blessed Lord was taking the sinner’s place in His vicarious offering of Himself to God, His enemies were permitted to heap upon Him every kind of shameful indignity. But from the moment the blood and water—which were, with the Holy Spirit, the witnesses to accomplished redemption (1 John 5:6, 8)—flowed from His wounded side, God seemed to say, as it were, “Hands off.” From that instant, no unclean hand touched the body of His holy Son. Loving friends took it down from the cross, wrapped it in the new fine linen clothes, and laid it in the bed of spices, sent by Nicodemus (John 19:39-40), in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It was the burial of a King (see 2 Chron. 16:13-14).
When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: he went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre, (vv. 57-61)
“A rich man … named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple.” He was one of the few of those who had riches who waited for the kingdom (Matt. 19:23-24; Mark 15:43), but he had not, hitherto, openly proclaimed himself a follower of Jesus (John 19:38). He had been a secret disciple, but he proved loyal and brave when the test came.
“Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.” Thus the body of Jesus was preserved from further indignity, and Isaiah 53:9 was fulfilled. He must be with the rich in His death.
“He wrapped it in a clean linen cloth.” As was customary in Jewish burials, the body was entirely swathed in long, linen strips, not simply covered with a shroud.
“Rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre.” This stone covered the entire entrance and was probably like a great millstone, fitted into a groove cut in the face of the cliff.
“Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary.” Mary of Magdala, out of whom seven demons had been cast (Luke 8:2), and Mary, the mother of Joses (Mark 15:47), were looking on, taking note of everything that was done, so that they might come to the tomb after the Sabbath was past and properly embalm the body of the One they had loved and on whom all their hopes were set, but who now was cold in death.
Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch, (vv. 62-66)
“The next day, that followed the day of preparation.” This was on the evening of the day when Jesus died, as we would count time. But for the Jews, the new day began at sunset. So, immediately following the fourteenth Nisan, as the evening that ushered in the fifteenth of the month began, the Pharisees and others hastened to Pilate to prefer their request.
“We remember that that deceiver said … After three days I will rise again.” Strange that they, His enemies, should remember what His own disciples had forgotten! It is evident that His prediction had become well known.
“Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day.” They were taking no chances. They realized that if the least ground were given for starting a rumor that Jesus had fulfilled His promise, their efforts to destroy the effect of His teaching would be in vain. The disappearance of His body from Joseph’s new tomb would be, in their estimation, a tragedy and would be accepted by many as a proof of His resurrection. So they were afraid His disciples might arrange to rob the sepulcher and hide the body away, therefore, the importance of effectually thwarting any such attempt.
“Make it as sure as ye can.” Pilate was probably not only incensed, but even amused by their fears and anxiety. He gave them a detachment of Roman soldiers and appointed them to guard the tomb. His grim words bidding them make it as sure as they could seem almost sardonic. They were soon to learn how helpless they were when God’s hour should strike.
“So they … made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” To break that seal would be a crime of the first magnitude, which they felt none of the disciples would dare to attempt, and the guard of soldiers would ensure that no one would be able to steal the body before the three days had elapsed.
It is evident that His own declaration that He was to rise again the third day (20:19) had made a deeper impression upon the minds of His enemies than upon the hearts of His own disciples. Although He had mentioned it on several occasions, they never seemed to enter into the meaning of His words. They wondered what the rising from the dead could mean (Mark 9:10, 31-32; Luke 18:33-34). So even after He was crucified they had no expectation of His resurrection (John 20:9). But the leaders of the people, who had so definitely opposed Him, remembered His words, and while they did not expect them to be fulfilled, they were fearful that by some kind of trickery His disciples might be able to persuade the credulous populace that He had actually triumphed over death. Hence their errand to Pilate and their request that every precaution be taken to prevent the disappearance of His body from the tomb. But all in vain, for in spite of the sealing of the stone, which covered the entrance to the sepulcher, and the watchfulness of the Roman guard, the stone was rolled away and the Savior arose from the dead and appeared to many reputable eyewitnesses, who testified to the reality of His resurrection.