Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed to the chief priests all the things that were done.…
The earthquake which accompanied the resurrection of Christ had its counterpart in the moral commotion which this event occasioned. Thus -
I. THE WATCH WERE MOVED.
1. They were alarmed for their lives.
(1) By "the things that were come to pass." They had felt the shock of a "great earthquake." The stoutest heart will shake in the presence of a force that moves the foundations of the earth. To this terror was added the appearance of the angel whose form shone like lightning, while his raiment glittered as the snow. The effect was paralyzing. "For fear of him the watchers did quake, and became as dead men" Who can abide amidst the wonderful visions and tremendous elemental uproar of that great day of the Lord, when in the glory of his majesty he shall arise to shake terribly the earth?
(2) By the fear of military discipline. They were responsible with their lives for the safe custody of the body of Jesus, and the security of the sealed stone. But the stone has been rolled away and the sepulchre is vacant. What are they to do? The ways of God are perplexing to the sinner.
(3) The soldiers tremble for their lives when they should have trembled for their sins. The death of the sinful is of all deaths the most terrible. Unhappily, this is too seldom and too partially seen.
2. They acted with the wisdom of the world.
(1) We have no proof that they deserted their post. Some of them went into the city to report to the elders the things that had come to pass. This probably they did by order of their captain, while the rest waited to receive their official discharge. The steady discipline of the Roman soldier has its lessons for the Christian soldier.
(2) They entered into the wicked plot of the elders. Covetousness conquered the Roman soldier. What a mass of evidence did he consent to set aside for a bribe! The mercenary tongue will sell the truth for money. Fear may have wrought with their covetousness. They might doubt whether the governor would believe the truth, or whether the rulers might not set up another plot against their fidelity. They elected to take the money and trust to the promise of the rulers to secure them against the terror of the military discipline.
(3) What a glorious opportunity did the soldiers miss of becoming honourable witnesses for Christ! But God made them his witnesses in spite of their unworthiness. He can make men efficient preachers of his gospel without giving to them a particle of the preacher's honour or reward.
II. THE ELDERS WERE MOVED.
1. The hypocrite is alarmed for his credit.
(1) The murderer would appear a saint. To free themselves of the guilt of the murder of Christ, the rulers had accused him of being a "deceiver" (see Matthew 27:63). But his resurrection from the dead is a triumphant refutation of that wicked defence.
(2) What will the elders do now that blood guiltiness is brought home to them? Will they, even at the eleventh hour, confess their hypocrisy and sue for mercy for their aggravated sin? Or will they at the peril of their damnation defend their credit and persist in their hypocrisy? How solemn are the resolutions of the will!
(3) They elect to persist in their impenitence. What a melancholy example of the power of unbelief! It often pleads want of evidence. Here is an instance of determined unbelief against admitted evidence. An evil, churlish heart will repel the clearest evidence. Note: The waywardness of unbelief prevents the Saviour from rising in our hearts.
2. But he vainly seeks to preserve it.
(1) His efforts may be desperately impudent. The elders deliberately resolved to oppose a lie to the living Truth. They give "large money" to the soldiers to encourage them to publish the lie. How deeply did they sin in thus casting a stumbling block in the way of the soldiers! They teach them to lie speciously. "By night," etc. But the war is toilsome which falsehood has to wage with truth. "If," etc. (ver. 14). Note: The "large money" is the sequel of the small money paid to Iscariot. Iniquity begets iniquity, and the descents are with an aggravating speed (see Psalm 69:27). If the wicked give "large money" to promote a lie, the good should not give small money grudgingly to propagate the saving truth.
(2) His confusion will be all the more signal.
(a) The disciples were not likely to attempt the stealing of the body. For had they thought Christ a deceiver, they would not have run any risk for him. Had they believed him the Messiah, they could have had no occasion or inducement. The pilgrimage of the women was one of devotion, to weep over the dead, and pour some fresh ointment over One whom they desired to preserve, but dreamt not of being able to restore. They were perplexed as to who should roll away the stone, being ignorant both of its being sealed and of the watch being set over it. They were not likely to be in any plot for the stealing of his body to trump up a story of his resurrection.
(b) The soldiers were not likely to have allowed the removal of the body. A watch of sixty armed men could not have been overpowered by a few terrified disciples. The whole watch could not have been asleep, and asleep so soundly as not to be awakened by the rolling away of a stone so large that a company of women despaired of moving it, and by the entrance into the sepulchre of a number of men, and their subsequent exit from it bearing the body. This is all the less likely to have occurred when it is remembered that, according to Roman military law, it was instant death that a guard should be found off their watch. And they were asleep, how did they know what happened?
(c) The elders pain fully felt the clumsiness of their story, else why did they not search the lodgings of the disciples for the body said to have been stolen by them? Were they likely to have been careful for the safety of the Roman soldiers unless they had some reason for it? Do not the words of Gamaliel (see Acts 5:38, 39) assume that the resurrection might be true? Could this argument have been pleaded in the council had the senators continued to maintain their story?
III. THE DISCIPLES WERE MOVED.
1. What is sorrow go the wicked is often joy to the good.
(1) While the soldiers went to the elders with the news of the Resurrection, to fill their faces with shame, the women went to the disciples with the same news, to fill their hearts with gladness. They were commissioned to gather the disciples to a particular mountain in Galilee, there to meet their risen Lord. The "names" in Jerusalem were "a hundred and twenty;" in Galilee the number was greater. This was probably the occasion upon which the Lord appeared to "above five hundred brethren" (see 1 Corinthians 15:6). Matthew passes by at least five different appearances of our Lord, and proceeds to speak of one which seems, from its previous appointment, to have been an occasion of peculiar solemnity and importance. His object evidently was to refute the tale respecting the stealing of the body.
(2) The fact of the Resurrection is eminently joyful, as it settles forever the Messiahship of Jesus, and with it the absolute truth of his teaching and the trustworthiness of his glorious promises.
2. Holy joy is deepened with the assurance of faith.
(1) When the disciples saw Jesus they worshipped him. Here was a recognition of his Divinity (cf. Matthew 18:26; Acts 10:28; Revelation 5; Revelation 6; Revelation 19:10). By accepting their worship Jesus acknowledged himself to be God. Christian worship is the adoration of Christ as "the true God and Eternal Life" (see 1 John 5:20, 21). To worship in truth is to serve in love.
(2) "Some doubted" They doubted that we may believe. For the disciples were the reverse of credulous men. They doubted transiently, viz. while Jesus was yet at a distance; but when he "came to them, and spake unto them," they doubted no more (cf. per. 18; Luke 24:37; John 20:24). Doubts may transiently trouble the sincere worshipper, but in due time Jesus will come nearer and blessedly manifest himself (see John 16:21). The wickedly obstinate will not believe, though they see (see John 9:41). - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.