“Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I am to rise again.” Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last deception will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.’ And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”
– Matt 27.62-66
I have long been perplexed by this facet of the Gospel account. Here we clearly see that the religious leaders of the day who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus had heard His teaching and understood His prophecy that He would be crucified and three days later would raise from the dead. The only reason that the grave was sealed and guarded by the Roman guards was because they understood what was to come. The disciples, however, who were His closest followers and those to whom it had been granted to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom, did not understand (Mat 13.11).
“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.’ But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.”
– Luke 18.31-34
Peter himself refuted Jesus when He prophesied his death saying “God forbid it, Lord. This shall never happen to you” (Matt 16.22). He heard Jesus say that He would die and three days later rise from the dead, and he did not believe. The disciples were so unable to understand this prophecy that when Jesus died they scattered and went back to their normal lives. Mark and Luke both account that the disciples refused to believe the news that Jesus had come back to life (Mark 16.11, Luke 24.11), and John states that when Peter and John went to the empty tomb “they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (John 20.9).
So how can it be that the disciples, on whom the Christian church around the known world would be built (Eph 2.20), did not understand even the private teaching of Jesus about his death and resurrection but the Pharisees did?
I don’t know.
But one observation I want to point out is the fact that God used the understanding of the Pharisees to help to establish the irrefutability of Jesus’ resurrection. The guards were set in place to be sure that no one came long to try to make it look as though Jesus had risen and the stone was set and sealed to the same end. When they were unable to prevent the event of Jesus coming back to life, they made up a story to try to hide the truth:
“Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.” And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.’ And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”
– Matt 28.12-15
But the fact of the matter is that they were there as guard and everyone knew that it was only a work of God that could move the stone, shake the guards and of course raise Jesus from the dead.
So what is the application here, other than noticing a remarkable turn of events and the will of God in allowing people to understand certain parts of reality in order to work out His perfect plan?
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– 1 Cor 1.18
The Bible, the promises and the Word of God are foolishness to those who are perishing. But that does not necessarily mean that a person who does not believe does not understand the Bible. The Gospel story of Jesus redeeming His people by His own blood is not unintelligible by everyone who would not believe. Therefore mental assent is not enough to obtain salvation.
“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”
– James 2.19
The Bible also says that God has revealed Himself through creation and our conscience such that no man is without excuse before God (Romans 1-2). Therefore the foundation for faith is more than head knowledge.
But we also see that people can have an experience of God and not truly be saved:
“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
This is an exceptionally deep passage and one that is hotly debated. John Owen expertly interprets this passage in his book “Apostasy from the Gospel”, and I highly recommend it for your encouragement and edification. All I seek to acknowledge today is that one can be enlightened of the Truth (understand the Bible and/or the Gospel) and experience the Holy Spirit and not be saved. John says that such a one “went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2.19).
So how then do we know if we are living by faith? The evidences of the Spirit at work within your life. “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1.6). “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2.13). I wrote on Saturday my reflection to that very question! The one who walks in and of the Lord exemplifies fruit in his life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5.22-23).
How do you know that you have been born? You are alive.
How do you know that you have been born again? You are Spiritually alive.
Are you Spiritually alive? Is God transforming you from the inside out? Do you believe academically and live according to your own desires, or is God working in you to sanctify you and make you “worthy of the calling” (2 Thess 1.11, Eph 4.1)?