I have taught for decades, and still maintain, that the resurrection of Jesus is the central truth of the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, we have nothing. It is the hub around which every other doctrine rotates. The resurrection is the key. It is the victory over death.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
– Matthew 27:62-66, ESV
Life for Pilate was not smooth and peaceful leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. He and those close to him had had several strange experiences. Consider the warning from his wife.
Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”
– Matthew 27:19, ESV
Pilate did make a feeble attempt to release Jesus. I say “feeble” because he could have done so had he wanted to. But this was not about truth or justice. This was about politics. A riot was brewing, and Pilate needed to get that quieted down, and quickly.
Pilate ordered the execution of Jesus and ceremonially washed his hands of the matter, thinking his troubles were ended. Not so much!
When the Jews pressed upon Pilate to take preventative measures such that the body could not be stolen, he (seemingly sarcastically) threw it back at them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.”
I beleive it was sarcastic because there is nothing to fear from a dead man. If you want to guard the dead man’s tomb, go ahead. So, they sealed the tomb as securely as they could and stationed guards there. These were not Roman guards, but rather Jewish temple guards. We know that because in the next chapter, following the resurrection, they reported to the chief priests rather than to Pilate,1 something a Roman soldier would never do.
If we move from the tangible to the metaphysical, we find Satan would seem to have won a tremendous victory here. The King, the Messiah, the heir has been slain. He’s dead! The only card that could possibly defeat Satan’s hand now would be for the Son to become undead.
So, there’s a certain irony in Pilate’s sarcastic retort, “Make it as secure as you can.”
How hermetically sealed and guarded does a tomb need to be to hold the Creator of all that exists? The question itself is an absurdity! But, by all means possible, make it as secure as you can. The proposition strikes me as ironic and asinine as the statement from the apostle Peter when he told the Jews, “You killed the author of life!”2 Well, how do you even do that?
The mocking jeer from Pilate, “Make it as secure as you can,” should come with a subtitle, “and it will surely not be secure enough.” It was Jesus’ purpose and intent to die and rise again on the third day. Nothing in heaven, nor on earth, nor under the earth was going to prevent that.
We know the “secure as you can” tomb was breached, and it was breached not to let Jesus out. It was breached to let humanity in. Even to this day, Satan’s detractors deny the resurrection of Jesus. They must do so. They have no choice because, remember? It’s the hub, the key, the central reality of our shared faith. The tomb is empty!
Denying the resurrection today is as futile as making the tomb “as secure as you can” in Pilate’s day.
He is risen!
He is risen indeed!
1. Matthew 28:11
2. Acts 3:15