There are “many infallible proofs” of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the testimony of the empty tomb is the most conclusive of all. Jesus had been buried, with the tomb sealed and guarded by a watch of Roman soldiers. Yet on the third day of His burial, on the morning of the first day of the week, the body was no longer there, and the empty tomb still stands today as an unanswerable proof that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead.
There are other proofs, of course. The ten or more recorded appearances of the resurrected Christ to His disciples, the amazing change of demeanor of the disciples from that of fearful hideaways to fearless evangelists, the worldwide spread of the Christian faith as founded on the resurrection, and so on. But the impact of the empty tomb was the foundation and bulwark of all the rest. As we consider its impact on the world, and on us today, it is instructively fascinating to consider first its impact on those who first encountered it.
Impact on the Soldiers
A watch (possibly a “quaternion” of four Roman soldiers—compare Acts 12:4) had been designated by the Roman Governor Pilate to guard the tomb after Jesus’ body had been buried there by Nicodemus and Joseph. The account is in Matthew 27:62-66.
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.
The “great stone” had already been “rolled…to the door of the sepulchre” by Joseph when he and Nicodemus buried Jesus (Matthew 27:60), but now the soldiers (as directed by the chief priests) sealed it in place with the official Roman seal, which could only be broken on penalty of death. Then they took their guard positions for the rest of the three-day period. Probably they took turns at sleeping, one sleeping while three remained awake on guard. Certainly none of the hiding disciples (or anyone else) would have dared to try to invade the tomb for any reason.
The soldiers had probably been selected from that “whole band of soldiers” (Matthew 27:27) that had stripped Jesus in Pilate’s hall and scourged Him and mocked Him and then taken Him out to crucify Him. They had watched Him suffer and die, but then they had also experienced the great darkness and the great earthquake (Matthew 27:45, 51), and had heard their centurion cry out: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39)….
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