The Soldiers At The Tomb And Jesus’ Resurrection

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It is written:

Matthew 28:11-15-Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12  When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13  saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 14  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure. 15  So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

One of the most raised argument against Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the claim that His Apostles stole His body from the tomb and then made up the story of the resurrection. There are, of course, many problem s with this theory which it is not true. Yet one of the most amazing factors is the presence of the Roman soldiers outside of the tomb.

Let’s study.

First, it is important to remember that there WERE Roman guards placed outside the tomb of Jesus. The fact of the soldiers is well-attested and in many ways a common-sense fact. Think about it: would it make sense for Matthew to mention guards guarding Jesus’ tomb when such an assertion could so easily be tested in the first century?

“Even so, I was interested in whether there was any evidence to back up Matthew’s assertion about the guards. Although I understood Craig’s reasons for setting aside the issue, I pressed ahead by asking whether there was any good evidence that the guard story is historical. “Yes, there is,” he said. “Think about the claims and counterclaims about the resurrection that went back and forth between the Jews and Christians in the first century. “The initial Christian proclamation was, ‘Jesus is risen.’ The Jews responded, ‘The disciples stole his body.’ To this Christians said, ‘Ah, but the guards at the tomb would have prevented such a theft.’ The Jews responded, ‘Oh, but the guards at the tomb fell asleep.’ To that the Christians replied, ‘No, the Jews bribed the guards to say they fell asleep.’ “Now, if there had not been any guards, the exchange would have gone like this: In response to the claim Jesus is risen, the Jews would say, ‘No, the disciples stole his body.’ Christians would reply, ‘But the guards would have prevented the theft.’ Then the Jewish response would have been, ‘What guards? You’re crazy! There were no guards!’ Yet history tells us that’s not what the Jews said. “This suggests the guards really were historical and that the Jews knew it, which is why they had to invent the absurd story about the guards having been asleep while the disciples took the body.”” (William Lane Craig, “The Evidence Of The Missing Body: Was Jesus Body Really Absent From His Tomb?” In Lee Strobel, The Case Christ, 231 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)

The fact of the guards is well-founded.

Second, the sheer number of the guards present shows us the Apostles could not have stolen Jesus body from the tomb.

“Supercilious pictures of the tomb of Christ show one or two guards standing around with wooden spears and miniskirts. That’s really laughable and could not be further from the truth. Many excellent resources attesting to the discipline of the Roman army tell us that a Roman guard unit was a 4-to-16-man security force. Each man was trained to protect 6 feet of ground. The 16 men in a square of 4 on each side were supposed to protect 36 yards and hold it against an entire battalion. 24 Normally a unit charged with guarding an area would work in this way: 4 men were placed immediately in front of what they were to protect. The other 12 would sleep in a semi-circle in front of them with their heads pointing in. To steal what these guards were protecting, thieves would first have to walk over the guards who were asleep. Every four hours, another unit of four guards was awakened, and those who had been awake took their turn at sleep. They would rotate this way around the clock. To illustrate, historian Dr. Paul Maier wrote of the incident in Acts where Peter had been imprisoned. “Peter would be guarded by four squads of four men each when imprisoned by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12), so sixteen would be a minimum number expected outside a prison. Guards in ancient times always slept in shifts, so it would have been virtually impossible for a raiding party to have stepped over all their sleeping faces without waking them.” 25 Even Matthew indicated a multi-man force when he wrote that “some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened” (28: 11, emphasis added). Thus both the biblical account and independent history tell us that the military unit guarding Jesus’ tomb was a significant number of men, all highly trained and disciplined.” (Josh McDowell & Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection, 2991-3007 (Kindle Edition); Ventura, CA: Regal from Gospel Light)

There are, of course, other major problems with the claim that the Apostles stole Jesus’ body with the presence of the Roman guards in view.

If the guards had needed to sleep, would they not have done so in shifts?

The guards all sleeping on shift would have resulted in their being crucified themselves.

Would the guards not have been awakened by the sound of the Apostles traipsing through their camp?

There was a huge stone guarding the entrance to Jesus’ tomb (Mark 16:3-4). Wouldn’t the sound of that huge stone being moved have alerted the guards?

Finally, if the guards had been asleep, then how would they know it was the Apostles who stole Jesus’ body?

“Fifth, the theft of the body from the tomb by the disciples would have been impossible. Ditton argues that the story of the guard at the tomb is plausible, since the Jews had the ability and motivation to guard the tomb. But in this case, the disciples could not have stolen the body on account of the armed guard. The allegation that the guards had fallen asleep is ridiculous, because in that case they could not have known that it was the disciples who had taken the corpse. Besides, adds Houtteville, no one could have broken into the tomb without waking the guard.” (William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 341 (Kindle Edition); Wheaton, IL; Crossway Books)

The presence of the Roman guards at the tomb is a powerful evidence attesting too Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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