The Guard at the Tomb of Jesus

Matthew 27:61-66; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55-56

Shabbat on the sixteenth of Nisan

DIG: What was significant about Psalm 92 being sung on that particular Shabbat? What two extremely unusual things happened that Sabbath? What was the importance of the Roman seal on the tomb of Messiah? What would it cost the Roman guards if Jesus “escaped?” How did the precautions of Annas inadvertently lend more validity to the claims of the apostles that Jesus had risen, than if none had been taken at all?

REFLECT: When has Jesus surprised you? What caught you off your guard? Was it a good surprise or an unpleasant one? What did you learn? Did the lesson stick?

Singing at the Temple: The start and end of Shabbat was announced by a trumpet blast from the highest point of the Royal Stoa [Overview of the Second Temple and Fortress Antonia] on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. From the Talmund Tractate thamid we know exactly which Psalm would have been sung on which day of the week in connection with the daily burnt offering in the Temple. Fifteen semicircular steps led from the Court of the Women, through the Nicanor Gate and into the Court of the Gentiles [The Nicanor Gate]. At the great feasts these magnificent steps served as a podium for the choir and the orchestra. On the Sabbath day of rest, they sang a psalm, a song for Shabbat.

It is good to give thanks to ADONAI and sing praises to honor Your name, Elyon, Most High, to tell in the morning about your faithfulness, to the music of a ten-stringed [harp] and a lute, with the melody sounding on a lyre. For, ADONAI, what You do makes me happy; I take joy in what Your hands have made. How great are Your deeds, ADONAI! How very deep Your thoughts! Stupid people can’t know, fools don’t understand, that when the wicked sprout like grass, and all who do evil prosper, it is so that they can be eternally destroyed, while You, ADONAI are exalted forever. For Your enemies, ADONAI, Your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered. But You have given me the strength of a wild bull; You anoint me with fresh olive oil. My eyes have gazed with pleasure on my enemies’ ruin, my ears have delighted in the fall of my foes. The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Planted in the house of ADONAI, they will flourish in the courtyards of our God. Even in old age they will be victorious, still full of sap, still bearing fruit, proclaiming that ADONAI is upright, my Rock, in whom there is no wrong (Psalm 92:1-15 CJB).1639

Stage 31 – The Preparation for the Embalming: The women who saw where the body of Jesus was laid, then prepared the materials for embalming. Remarkably, Mary Magdalene remained throughout the whole ordeal, until it was over, the lights were turned off and everyone else had gone home (see Eg – Mary Magdalene Supported Jesus Out of Her Own Means) And other Mary, the mother of James the Less and Joseph was also sitting there opposite the tomb, beginning the seven days of mourning that start at the burial of a loved one. They had followed Joseph of Arimathea and saw where He was laid. The two women had come with Yeshua from Galilee. If someone were going to make up this burial account they would not have used women in the story because in Jewish culture women were not considered reliable witnesses. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment (Mattityahu 27:57, 61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55-56).

Around the Temple, thousands of lamps were already being lit in anticipation of what was to be a doubly great Shabbat. The final sacrifice of the day was almost finished and men carrying sacrificial lambs seemed to be cascading down the rich marble steps. In an inner room, Annas sat in an informal discussion with other Sadducees who had seen Jesus die.

Annas was old and wise and he listened to the ranking Sadducees as they told him about the horrific actions of Joseph and Nicodemus. But the old man couldn’t care less. The heresies of a few members of the Great Sanhedrin were matters that he had witnesses again and again over a span of many years. In his time, Annas had seen new schools of rabbinical teaching become fashionable, fade and die. And he had seen the crowds rush to each new religious philosopher, bowing before him as though God Himself had sent him.

He did not believe this was any kind of new movement. Joseph and Nicodemus would soon come back to their senses. They would return to the Temple, contrite, or they would be challenged in a formal session of the Great Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of the Land, and charged with promoting heretical doctrine. They would acknowledge their rebellion and be excommunicated (see Gt – Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind: Three degrees of excommunication), or deny it and keep their places among their honored fellows.

What worried Annas was that the mock Messiah had said, in His teachings . . . that He would rise again in three days. Now that He was dead, there was one more chore to do. The high priests would have to go to Pontius Pilate in the morning to ask for guards to be posted over the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea so that his scheming followers could not come and steal the body and later claim that He had risen from the dead.

So when his son-in-law and the others had concluded their horrifying story of dishonor, Annas wet his aged lips and advised them to be more concerned with the promise of the troublemaking Rabbi to resurrect Himself from the dead. The high priests had not thought of this, and at once they began to murmur at the same time trying to think of what to do. But Annas held up his hand and quieted them all, and told them to delegate a committee to go Pilate at the praetorium and, if possible, have him post a Roman guard over the tomb. Caiaphas praised his father-in-law as a man of great wisdom.1640

Stage 32 – The Sealing of the Tomb: The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the Sadducees and the Pharisees went to Pilate. It was not only the Sabbath, but also a high holy day (Matthew 27:62). Two extremely unusual things happened that day. First, it was highly unusual for Jewish religious leaders to meet with a pagan, secular ruler on any Sabbath, let alone on such a high Sabbath. Even more amazing they seem to have actually gone into Pilate’s council chambers in the praetorium. The day before, they had been careful not to go into the praetorium at all, but rather sent Jesus inside to see Pilate. In order to speak to the Jewish religious leaders, Pilate had to come out on the porch. But after His death, those pious leaders were so desperate to get the encounter with the pretender (in their minds) over and done with that they even violated the Sabbath! Since they had broken all of their own laws (see Lh – The Laws of the Great Sanhedrin Regarding Trails), they didn’t hesitate to violate the Sabbath for their own wicked purposes. Secondly, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were strong theological opponents. The Bible records only one other time that those two groups cooperating, and in both instances their only common motivation was the hated of the Nazarene.

Sir, they said: we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His talmidim may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first (Matthew 27:63-64). The implication was the Jesus’ claim to kingship would then be verified in the eyes of the gullible people and, though dead, He would become an even worse threat to Rome than before. They were saying, in effect, “If the masses hailed Him as their Messiah and King on His entry into Yerushalayim just a few days ago, think how much more they will acclaim Him as their King if they are led to believe He has conquered death and risen from the dead. Even though the idea is preposterous, if they really believe He is alive, they will also believe Rome has no power over Him and that He is invincible. Then you will really have an uprising on your hands.”1641

It seems pretty ironic that those opposed to Yeshua believed more strongly in His possible resurrection that were His own apostles. While the Sadducees and Pharisees didn’t personally believe in that Jesus was the Messiah, yet they were fearful that somehow His words would come true.

It is intriguing that in some later passages of the Talmud, Yeshua, or as they call Him there, Ben Stada, later identified as Ben Pandira (Jesus) is accused of deceiving Isra’el through some magic that He supposedly learned in Egypt (Tractate Shabbat XI.15; Shabbat 13d). The Talmud actually confirms that Yeshua worked miracles in Isra’el (and that His family visited Egypt at one point) but merely attributes those miracles not to ADONAI to the Adversary (Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 67). With the same kind of logic, those first-century religious leaders in Isra’el speculated that some of Yeshua’s talmidim [might] come and steal the body as their ultimate deception. They couldn’t take the chance in the Jewish community and Pilate certainly didn’t want any more problems with the Jews.1642

Pilate said to them, "Take a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how." And no doubt pleased with themselves for once again making the powerful Roman governor bow to their demands, they went and made the tomb secure. They took along a Roman guard (temporarily in the service of the Jewish religious leaders) and set the Roman seal pressed into wax on the stone (Mattityahu 27:65-66). The seal was probably furnished by Pilate and gave the warning that the tomb was under Roman law, and to break the seal was punishable by death. That should have been the end of it. The renegade Rabbi was dead. The Great Sanhedrin and Rome could rest easy. The Nazarene’s talmidim had seemingly scattered to the four corners of the earth. They had proven themselves timid and useless.

Pilate was also relieved. He could go back to Caesarea to govern in peace without the constant meddling from the Sanhedrin and the Jews. He was sick of their problems.

Jerusalem must have had a wide range of emotions that Shabbat of the Passover week. There certainly was incredible joy on the part of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish pilgrims who filled the City of David for that most holy week. The Seder was celebrated with family and friends, in addition to the delightful services at the Holy Temple. Some were aware of the controversial arrest and crucifixion of the maverick Rabbi from Galilee. But most were ignorant or unconcerned because they had their own spiritual responsibilities to be concerned with. The tranquil spirit of Shabbat on the sixteenth of Nissan saturated Yerushalayim, and, appropriately, Messiah’s body rested in the tomb on that day of rest.

Kefa, however, tells us that between Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, our Lord was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. He was spiritually alive but physically dead. Sometime during those three days He went and preached to the spirits in prison (First Peter 3:18-19), those He had kept in gloomy dungeons lower than Sh'ol in tartarus (see my commentary on Jude Ak - The Angels Did Not Keep Their Positions of Authority).

Rabbi Sha’ul mentions the same thing when Messiah descended into the low, earthly regions of Sh’ol (Ephesians 4:9). The TaNaKh refers to the place of the dead as Sh’ol (Deuteronomy 32:22; Job 26:6; Psalm 16:10). One part of Sh’ol was a place of torment and agony, occupied by the unrighteous dead and by the demons who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built (First Peter 3:20a). Another part of Sh’ol was a place of contentment and rest, inhabited by the righteous dead who had put their faith in God. Abraham’s side (Luke 16:22) was a common name for Sh’ol at the time of the Messiah. They resided there until Yeshua had paid for their sins on the cross. Then after declaring victory over those very demons, the Lord of Life liberated the godly captives and led them to heaven when He ascended on high (Ephesians 4:8). Among those who went with Him were Adam, Eve, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah and all the righteous of the TaNaKh before the cross, including those mentioned in the hall of faith in the book of Hebrews (see my commentary on Hebrews).

Little did the world know that even those extreme measures by Pilate and the Sanhedrin would not be able to prevent the events of the third day that was quickly approaching. In fact, those precautions would actually lend more validity to the claims of the apostles that He had risen, than if none had been taken at all. The stage was set for Yeshua to conquer our greatest enemy – death itself.1643


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