Summary: An unlikely rumour.
A TALE FROM THE TOMB.
Most of Jesus’ male disciples had fled, but certain women were nearby when He was crucified (Matthew 27:55-56). In the aftermath of Jesus’ death we are introduced to a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea, “who also himself was discipled to Jesus.” Having gone to Pilate, Joseph begged the body of Jesus, and Pilate commanded that the body be given to him (Matthew 27:57-58).
Having wrapped the body of Jesus in a clean linen cloth, Joseph placed it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone over the door of the sepulchre. Two of the women were there, sitting over against the sepulchre, and no doubt saw him depart (Matthew 27:59-61).
The next day was the Sabbath, but the chief priests and Pharisees - knowing fine well that Jesus had predicted His own resurrection (cf. Matthew 26:61) - decided to approach Pilate to ask him to secure the tomb in order to prevent Jesus’ disciples from “by night stealing Him away, and saying to the people that He is risen from the dead; and the last deception shall be worse than the first” (Matthew 27:62-64).
Remember that the Jewish leaders had already handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. Now Pilate saw an opportunity to return the responsibility for securing the tomb to them: “You have a watch, make it as sure as you know how.” So they secured the sepulchre, sealing the stone and setting guards on watch outside (Matthew 27:65-66).
On resurrection morning the women came to see the sepulchre, and found an angel sitting on the stone which had sealed the tomb of Jesus. Matthew describes the angel, and how the keepers ‘quaked’ for fear of him (Matthew 28:1-4).
The angel specifically instructed the women: ‘Fear not.’ The words of the angel to the women must have thrilled their hearts: ‘He is not here: for He is risen.’ If this was not enough, he offered them the evidence: ‘Come, see the place where the Lord lay’ (Matthew 28:5-6).
Wonderful news is meant for sharing: so the women were next instructed to ‘go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead.’ The women departed ‘with fear and great joy’ to bring His disciples word - but they met the risen Lord Jesus on the way. At His greeting, Matthew tells us, ‘they held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him.’ Jesus said, ‘Be not afraid’ (Matthew 28:7-10).
While the women were going with the news to the disciples, the guards went to report to the chief priests, who concocted an unlikely rumour with them. The guards were bribed with “MUCH MONEY” by the ‘religious’ leaders to say quite specifically that they WERE asleep, and that “WHILE THEY WERE ASLEEP” Jesus’ disciples came by night and stole His body (Matthew 28:11-13). But if they were asleep, how could they know that?
And if word got back to the Governor, the religious leaders would persuade him “and you free from care will make.” And thus the rumour began, which was still in circulation when Matthew wrote, and no doubt for some time afterward (Matthew 28:14-15). To what extremes some men will go in order to deny the truth of the Gospel!