AN IMPOSSIBLE ASSIGNMENT
On the next day, which is the day after the Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate in a body. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that, while he was still alive, that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.’ Give orders therefore that the tomb should be kept secure until the three days are ended, in case his disciples come and steal him, and say to the people, `He has been raised from among the dead.’ If that happens, the final deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said, “You have a guard. Go, and make it as secure as you can.” They went and secured the tomb by setting a seal upon it as well as by placing a guard.
This passage begins in the most curious way. It says that the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate on the next day, which is the day after the Preparation. Now Jesus was crucified on the Friday. Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath. The hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday were called The Eve, or The Preparation. We have seen that, according to Jewish reckoning, the new day began at 6 p.m. Therefore, the Sabbath began at 6 p.m. on Friday; and the last hours of Friday were The Preparation. If this is accurate, it can only mean one thing–it must mean that the chief priests and Pharisees actually approached Pilate on the Sabbath with their request. If they did that, it is clear to see how radically they broke the Sabbath Law. If this is accurate, no other incident in the gospel story more plainly shows how desperately eager the Jewish authorities were totally to eliminate Jesus. In order to make certain that he was finally out of the way they were willing to break even their own most sacred laws.
There is a grim irony here. These Jews came to Pilate saying that Jesus had said that he would rise after three days. They did not admit that they envisaged the possibility that that might be true, but they thought the disciples might seek to steal away the body and say that a resurrection had happened. They, therefore, wished to take special steps to guard the tomb. Back comes Pilate’s answer: “Make it as safe as you can.” It is as if Pilate all unconsciously said, “Keep Christ in the tomb–if you can:” They took their steps. The door of these rock tombs was closed by a great round stone like a cartwheel, which ran in a groove. They sealed it and they set a special guard–and they made it as safe as they could.
They had not realized one thing–that there was not a tomb in the world which could imprison the Risen Christ. Not all men’s plans could bind the Risen Lord. The man who seeks to put bonds on Jesus Christ is on a hopeless assignment.
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