11 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.
guard (v.11) — Pilate had put the Roman soldiers at the disposal of the Sanhedrin, so the guards reported to the Jews first.
all the things that had happened (v.11) — the earthquake and the appearance of the angel (vs. 2-4)
secure (v.14) — protect them from punishment for failing in their duty
The desperation of the Sanhedrin can be clearly seen in the explanation that was offered. These witnesses certainly could not support their testimony as to what had happened, for they were asleep. Their story was at best only a guess. A large sum of money would have been necessary to persuade the guards to perjure themselves because, if they were asleep as they stated, they could be executed by the governor for dereliction of duty. In spite of the obvious flimsiness of the testimony and the danger to life, the guards “took the money and did as they were instructed” (v.15). Thus they put their lives into the hands of the Sanhedrin. Having committed themselves to this explanation, the leaders circulated the story widely in an effort to explain away the fact of the resurrection or Christ.
It is significant that while the disciples disbelieved the reports of the resurrection and sought confirmation of it, the Sanhedrin believed the report and sought an explanation to deny it. — Pentecost, page 502.
In other words, if the guards were asleep as they said, how could they know what happened to the body?
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