The Deception - The One Year Christian History

The Deception

Two wrongs never make a right.

THE DAY after the Crucifixion, April 4, A.D. 33, was the Sabbath. Although Jesus rested in death on the Sabbath, his enemies did not.

The chief priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate on that Sabbath day. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will be raised from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he came back to life! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” Pilate answered cynically, remembering their fear of Jesus when he was alive and recognizing their fear even after his death.

So they sealed the tomb with official seals that if broken would attest that the tomb had been violated. Roman soldiers were then posted to guard it (Matthew 27:62-66).

Early the next morning there was an earthquake when an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone sealing the tomb. As he sat on the stone, the face of the angel shone like lightning and his clothing was as white as snow. When the guards saw him, they were terrified and fell in a dead faint (28:1-4). How ironic that those assigned to guard a dead man themselves appeared dead and the One who was dead was made alive.

Once they were conscious again, some of the guards went immediately to the chief priests to report what had happened. The religious leaders met and decided to bribe the soldiers not to tell what had occurred. Once again the Jewish leaders were not concerned with the truth but with expediency and self-protection. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body’” (28:12-13).

The story they made up shows how desperate they were. They proposed the very scenario against which they were trying to protect themselves. Yet their story was not plausible. If the guards were indeed asleep, they would not have seen the disciples. On the other hand, if one of them had awakened and seen the crime being committed, he would have awakened the other guards, and they would have arrested the body snatchers. The Jewish leaders must have offered the guards a very large bribe to say they were asleep because the penalty for falling asleep on watch was death. That is why they promised, “If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you and everything will be all right” (28:14).

The soldiers accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. What a day it had been for those soldiers! They had seen an angel roll a stone away from the tomb. They had seen that the tomb was empty. And then instead of being sent to Pilate for punishment, they walked back to their barracks with their pockets full of money!

The deception was effective. More than one hundred years later Justin Martyr (c. 100–165) reported that the Jewish people were still saying that Jesus’ disciples stole the body.


Imagine the consternation of the Jewish religious leaders when the Roman soldiers reported that an angel had rolled the stone away and the tomb was empty. How do you think they rationalized the soldiers’ report with the lie they bribed them to tell? Does this reveal anything about how humanity searches for truth?

The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if there is even one with real understanding, one who seeks for God. But no, all have turned away from God; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not even one!

Psalm 14:2-3

From the Book:

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The One Year Christian History
By E. Michael Rusten and Sharon O. Rusten

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