If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#1) the Seal Was Broken

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Truth Encounter Ministries
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We don’t spend much time talking about the seal that was placed upon the tomb, but I think it is significant.

Here is the historical record:

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

The historical account states that the chief priests and the Pharisees “made the tomb secure by sealing the stone…”. 

This seal was most likely several ropes that were drawn across the stone and then affixed to the tomb walls with a soft clay imprinted with some symbol of authority. It was also likely that the ropes were also sealed at their juncture in front of the stone. In this way, no one could move the stone or the ropes without breaking the dried clay and destroying the “seal” affixed upon the clay. 

The seal was there to “put on notice” that no one was to mess with the tomb. Rome could deal quite nastily with those who did so.

Now, this doesn’t mean much to us today, for we are long past the norm of using “seals” as they were utilized in ancient times. but in those days, a seal was inviolable. It represented authority, authenticity, and finality. No one messed with a seal.

  • In the book of Esther, when King Ahasuerus issued the order to save the Jews, he commanded them to seal it with the king's ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked.”
  • When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, “… a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel."

In the vision concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the Scripture says this:

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Isaiah 29:11

The permanence of a seal against all who were unauthorized to break it was an inviolable part of their world. 

It becomes even more apparent when John is caught up to heaven and there beholds the scroll with seven seals. John begins to weep because there was “no one worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” Of course, we find that the Lamb, “standing as though it had been slain”, was worthy to break the seals. And when each of those seals were broken, great calamity came upon the earth. Seals in the Scripture mean something. And John had wept, because the seal represented an inviolable wall to anyone who did not have the authority to break it.

Seals show authority. They show authenticity. And they show finality for all except the one who had the authority to break them.

And so, we now come back to the tomb. The seal, whether it was a Roman seal or the High Priest’s seal, represented a fixed closure that no one was allowed to breach. When it was set upon the tomb, there was a finality, a stamp of ultimate authority, that said, “this tomb is closed”.

Ah, but God is not subject to the laws or seals of man. I can imagine that when the earth began to shake and the stone was rolled aside, that those clay seals with the authority of man impressed upon them broke into a thousand pieces and lay as trash littering the ground.

If Jesus rose from the dead, then the seal of man, meant to keep Him in the grave, had been utterly and completely destroyed.

But there is one more thing that must be mentioned regarding “seals”. 

In John 6, Jesus said this:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” John 6:27

If God seals something, it is sealed!

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Eph 1:13

“… it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Cor 1:21

This is God’s seal of authority, authenticity, and finality. You are His, sealed with His guarantee.

Oh my!

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5
If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#5) the Angels Would Have Announced It
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:1-6 It may be too bold to say this, but I believe that it should come as no surprise to anyone that the announcement of the Lord’s resurrection was made by the angles, for this, indeed, was a cosmic moment. And, also not surprising, is that there is controversy over this: how many angels, where they were, and what did they really say. Matthew and Mark have one angel; Luke and John have two. We will deal with all of that soon. But today, we want to ponder the fact that it was the angels that announced the resurrection and why. Recall the great passage in Galatians (don’t skip through it… read it): What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Galatians 4:1-5 The advent of the Messiah was a “set time”—set by God. It wasn’t just that we landed on a nice calendar day. This was as if all the prophecies and all the promises were set on a timer and they all went off together at this moment. It was a cosmic moment: the time in which God was going to enter the world as a human being in order to redeem those who were in bondage under the law. It was a moment that began with the birth of the Messiah and extended through His resurrection… one big cosmic moment. John Calvin refers to the resurrection as “the closing scene of our redemption.” And the privilege of announcing this cosmic moment was going to be given to the angels. They came to Mary and to Joseph. They came to Zacharias and then on the night of His birth, the heavens were filled with a host of angels announcing the news… not to Herod or to the High Priest, but to the lowly, despised and smelly shepherds. Not in a palace or in the temple, but out in the middle of a common, ordinary field.  Should we, therefore, be surprised that it would be the angels who would announce His resurrection? And, to a woman in a graveyard? We will deal more with this later, but recall that women in that culture were second-class citizens. Jesus changed all of that forever. But it was no small deal in those days that the angels would break the news to a woman, and to Mary Magdalene, who at one time had been possessed by seven demons and no doubt suffered from the ravages those demons would visit upon her.  No, this is not surprising to us, for this is who God is. God’s heart is with the humble. And He blesses His creatures by allowing them to carry out His purposes and plans. Thus, He sends angels to announce the Moment of Moments. So, who are these “angels”?  Well, they are an amazing part of God’s creation. There are tons of them, “innumerable”, says Hebrews 12:22 and “thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” says Revelation 5:11.  That is a lot of angels! There is even some conjecture that we might each have an “assigned” angel. When speaking of the children, Jesus refers to “their angels in heaven”. This certainly is inconclusive, but there surely are enough of them to go around! Maybe that is why there are so many. One thing we know for sure, they do minister to us: Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:14 Angels are strong. They are mighty. They battle the forces of darkness and they serve God as He sends them to fulfill His purposes. They are messengers, but they also carry out some of God’s judgments. When Herod was struck down and eaten by worms because he did not give glory to God, it was an angel that struck him. (Acts 12:23) Some are sent to patrol the earth. (Zechariah 1:8-11) Scripture even says you might have come in contact with angels as they go about their duties in human form: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 And so, it was the angels who kicked off the Moment and became quite active in the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. And it was the angels who ministered to Him in His times of need on earth. When Jesus had finished 40 days of fasting and had been tempted by Satan, the angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:11) When He was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and His soul was “deeply grieved to the point of death”, an angel came and strengthened Him. (Luke 22:43) I can imagine, then, how much they would have been straining at the bit to save Him from the scourge and the nails. All they needed was a word from Him and they would have swept in like a ferocious army. When Peter impetuously cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, during the arrest, Jesus admonished Peter and said,  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:53-54 A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. Twelve would be 72,000 mighty angel warriors. If one angel can buckle the knees of the guards, imagine what 72,000 would do?  So, as Jesus was being scourged and nailed, as he hung on the tree, all He needed to do was say the word and the angels would have rescued Him. But He didn’t.  Can you imagine that? Can you imagine how easy it would have been in the midst of all of that pain and suffering to call out for rescue and relief? To just say the word and all the misery of that moment goes away? But no, He didn’t. It was our sin and His love that held Him there—denying Himself for our sake.  The angels who filled the sky with praise and glory at His birth are now held in check, silent at His death. The earth spoke, yes, but the angels remained silent. But! On the 3rd day, all that changed! The angels are released and silent no more. They announce the News of News—“He is not here! He has risen just as He said!” Yes, if Jesus rose from the dead, then the angels would have been there to announce it. You could not have kept them away. He is risen indeed! [previous] [next]
3
If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#3) the Guards Knew It
When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, it should come as no surprise to anyone that it is here we find a focus of critique and skepticism. Yes, there is also critique regarding other aspects of Jesus’ life, primarily wherever there are miraculous events, like the virgin birth, walking on water or healing a man born blind. But, because the death, burial and resurrection are the foundational historical events for Christianity, without which there is no Christianity, they draw the heaviest fire.  We now arrive at one of those as we deal with the record of the guard at the tomb. Let’s look briefly at the critique before we move on. To do so we will need to examine the historical record left for us by Matthew where the story of the guards begins: 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 Moving now to the morning of the resurrection, the guards are referenced again: Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:1-6 And, finally, the end of the guard’s story:  While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So, they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:11-15 Here is the sum total of what we know about the guards at the tomb. And it is because of this that we find the first of the two key arguments launched against the story of the guards: it sits alone in Matthew and is not found in the other gospels. The argument is that surely this key element would have been mentioned in the other accounts and because it is not, it must be legendary rather than historically true. First, historical truth is not determined by the number of sources. Certainly, the more sources, the more the historian is pleased. But it doesn’t give carte blanche reason to throw it out. By my count, there are around 100 things that are mentioned in only one of the Gospels. For example, Jesus washing the disciple’s feet at the last supper is only found in John. Are we to therefore conclude it didn’t happen? John ends his gospel stating this: Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25 If this is true, then how are we to demand that gospels of a mere forty pages in length, give or take, should all select the same small percentage of events?  And, importantly, each gospel is written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for a particular audience, using selective events for that purpose. Who is to determine what “key” events are needed to support that purpose other than the Author? Who are we to determine an event to be “key” and demand that it be found in other gospels as well? It appears that it is only Matthew who was interested in answering the charge that the disciples stole the body from the tomb. He then moves directly to the “Great Commission” (only in Matthew) and then ends. The others treat the empty tomb as obvious fact and move on, some to emphasize more of Jesus being alive and interacting with people after His resurrection. Those who do not believe in the inspiration of Scripture, however, try to use the fact that something only appears in one gospel as evidence that it didn’t happen. But when one puts together the entirety of the gospels and the rest of the Scripture, and those things that appear only once are substantiated by the weight of the others, it supports the plausibility of that one event.  So, in light of the other three gospels, John’s record that Jesus washed their feet on that night seems quite plausible, even to the skeptical historian. The second key criticism of the guard account centers on the notion that the chief priests and the Pharisees understood that Jesus had predicted his resurrection on the third day after His death, but the disciples didn’t. And the gospels don’t record the Jewish leaders hearing that prediction, whereas the disciples did. This would seem backwards. Let’s examine this. Jesus clearly predicted His death and resurrection. Here is one:  "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again" Mark 8:31 (See also Luke 9:22) Clearly, Jesus openly taught this and it isn’t unreasonable that the Jewish leaders would have gotten knowledge of it, even if they didn't hear it directly. (Though they might have and it was simply not recorded for us.) They were almost obsessed with knowing what Jesus was teaching and doing... not for good, but for evil. It is also very important here to keep in mind that the Pharisees weren’t emotionally involved with Jesus and the disciples were. It would be easy for the disciples to hear Jesus say all of this, but then rationalize it away or suppress it. In fact, that is what we see in the next verse after Jesus clearly states He will be killed and rise in three days (above). Peter immediately takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him. We see the exact same thing later in Mark 9:9-10. The Pharisees, however, had no such emotional attachment. Rather, they hung on His every word, not for its spiritual truth, but to find ways to get rid of Him. So, it is more than reasonable that the Pharisees knew of Jesus’ prediction and the disciples had suppressed it or rationalized it into some fuzzy eschatological future. So, it seems to me that the two key critiques are easily handled and the record of the guards remains quite plausible. But it is Matthew’s reference to a then current controversy that adds great substantiation to all of this. At the end of our text, Matthew states that the story of the disciples stealing the body while the guards slept “has been spread among the Jews to this day.” Matthew could not write this if it were not true. Remember, He was writing primarily to Jews, and the Jews could readily deny this assertion if it were false. Therefore, that rumor must have been currently circulating among the Jews and the rumor rests squarely upon the fact that there was a guard posted at the tomb. Now, there is a proper disagreement over this account and it has to do with whether the guards were Roman soldiers or the Temple Guard. Let’s look at this: First, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate requesting a guard and he responded: “you have a guard”. This can be taken that he was supplying one to them, had already supplied one to them, or that he was referring to their own Temple Guard. When Jesus was arrested in the garden, It is apparent by the word “cohort” used to describe the soldiers, that Roman soldiers were already involved. This offers support to the thought that those soldiers had previously been assigned to the Jewish authorities. This was not unusual for Rome to do so. In this case, a Roman “cohort” was about 600 men. That gives a vivid picture of what that arrest scene looked like. And, importantly, John states that is was a combination of both a Roman “cohort” and “some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees”. This most likely was a contingent from the Temple Guard. Second, “some of the guards reported to the chief priests” what had happened at the tomb. This also doesn’t tell us one way or the other, for if they were Roman, and they had been assigned to the Jewish authorities, they could have naturally reported back to them. If it were the Temple Guard, this would be expected. If it were a combination, then the word “some” also has meaning in that only the Temple Guard contingent reported back. This is also plausible because a Roman guard who failed in his mission was subject to a horrible death and wouldn’t want to report it to Pilate.  Third, we have the complicating statement by the Jewish leaders to the guards who reported back to them:  “…if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” One might rightly think this tips in favor of the guard being Roman. I agree. But, on the other hand, Matthew tells us that the guards were bribed to say that the disciples had come and stolen Jesus body while they were asleep. No money would be enough for a Roman guard to confess to falling asleep on duty, for he would be executed (some say crucified upside down). The Temple Guard, however, if found asleep, were merely beaten and their clothes burned. (I know, but it's better than what the Roman soldier would get.) So, we can’t be absolutely sure. But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The Temple Guard were professionals as well, armed and trained. I’m not sure that anyone would want to bet on who would win if you pitted a Roman guard against a Temple guard. (Think of David's mighty men, like Benaiah, who slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day) The point here is that there was an armed, professional unit assigned to guard the tomb of Jesus. Now, try to imagine what this would have been like for these men. If they were Roman guards, they each had a designated, small area of ground to defend and they were stationed in a line to defend their charge. They remained diligent in position until relieved by a fresh guard. The morning was about to break, all was calm and then the earth begins to roll beneath their feet. Matthew calls it a “severe earthquake”. This in itself is disarming to anyone. But as the ground begins to return to normal, they see an angel descending whose appearance “was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow”. Encounters of finite man and angelic beings almost always result in the finite on their knees in fear. Which the guards did and “became as dead men”… in other words, frozen with fear. Not unconscious, though, for they reported it all. The guards obviously knew something big had happened.  We now come to our final question. Did they know that Jesus had risen from the dead? Here we must speculate a little, but not much, because when they reported everything to the Jewish leaders, that report had to include that the tomb was empty. Otherwise, there would have been no bribery for them to lie that the disciples had stolen the body.  Here is the speculation, however. The guard had been ordered to secure the tomb because of the prediction that Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day. They were charged to make sure the disciples did not come and steal the body. I believe they must have been counting off the days. When the morning of the third day was about to break, my guess is there had to be some anxiety. It is not impossible that what had happened during the crucifixion had already spread through the ranks. When Jesus was crucified and the sky grew dark for three hours and the earth quaked and the Roman centurion declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God”, this had to be in their minds. In fact, it is also plausible, that the Roman soldiers that were assigned to arrest Jesus were still on assignment at the cross and they saw all of this and they were now guarding His tomb. And, for three days, they were pondering all that they had seen and heard about Him. And now the earth begins to shake again, fiercely. No man can remain fearless when the earth beneath him turns liquid. But, on top of that, the heart-stopping lightning of an angel appears. Did they overhear the angels speaking to the women? Did they examine the tomb after the angel left? That would certainly seem reasonable. Either way, the guards had to have known the tomb was empty. And, when they were able to flee, they had to have known that they had witnessed something beyond extraordinary. In reality, these men had been privileged to be present at the greatest historical event in the history of man. I’ve often wondered if some of the guards became early converts. That wouldn’t surprise me.  Because they knew. [previous] [next] (If you are interested in reading more of a detailed apologetic regarding the guard, William Lane Craig has done a masterful job of defending this to the literary critics and I would commend you to that if you desire: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/the-guard-at-the-tomb/)