The Jewish rulers had carried out their purpose of putting the Son of God to death, but they did not feel the sense of victory that they had thought they would after silencing the voice of the great Teacher. Even in the hour of their apparent triumph they were harassed with doubt as to what would next take place. They dreaded a dead Christ more, a great deal more, than a living Christ. They had a deep conviction that their revenge against Jesus for exposing their hypocrisy would not bring rest to their souls. They had heard the cry, “It is finished,” “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” They had seen the rocks rent, and had felt the mighty earthquake, and they were restless and uneasy. The words spoken by Christ when he was under their cruel power recurred to their minds.
Not on any account would the priests have allowed Christ’s body to hang on the cross during the Sabbath, for already the agitation caused by his death was giving publicity to his life and mission. When the people heard that the mighty Healer was dead, and that the sick and suffering had no one to relieve their distress, they applied to the priests and rulers for sympathy and relief. They were sent away empty; but apparently they were determined to have the living Christ among them again, and soldiers were stationed at the temple gates to keep back the multitude that came with their sick and dying, demanding entrance.
The world without a Christ made an impression that a living Christ could not have made. People came from far and near to see the one of whom the priests and rulers had declared, “The world is gone after him.” The recital of the deeds done by the priests shocked the people. They would not have allowed Christ to be thus treated; for had he not shown compassion to their sick? Never had he turned one away with the harsh denunciations used by the Pharisees.
Christ had said to his disciples, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.” Overwhelmed with sorrow, the disciples did not see the hope and comfort in these words. By Judas they were repeated to the priests, and when they heard them, they mocked and ridiculed, speaking of Christ as a deceiver, a name that might appropriately have been applied to themselves. But now, when they heard the clamor for Jesus, the mighty Healer, who had cured the sick and raised the dead, they thought of his words, and remembered that he had said he would rise the third day, and they were horrified at the thought. Would he rise from the dead, and as judge arraign his accusers before his bar?
Death and the grave must hold him whom they had crucified. “Command therefore,” they said to Pilate, “that the sepulcher be made sure unto the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.” “Ye have a watch,” said Pilate, “go your way, make it as sure as ye can.”
The priests gave directions to have a stone rolled before the opening of the tomb. Across this they placed cords, sealing them with the Roman seal. Soldiers were then stationed around the sepulcher, to prevent it from being tampered with. The priests did all they could to keep Christ’s body where they had laid it. He was sealed as securely in his narrow tomb as if he were to stay there through all time.
So weak men counseled and planned to secure the body so hated by the Jewish dignitaries, and so precious to the disciples. Little did the murderers realize the uselessness of the efforts they were making to keep Christ in the tomb. By their actions Christ was glorified. The very efforts made to prevent Christ’s resurrection are the most convincing proofs of his resurrection. The greater the number of soldiers placed around the tomb, the stronger would be the testimony borne in regard to his resurrection.
There was only one entrance to the tomb, and neither human fraud nor force could tamper with the stone that guarded the entrance. Here Jesus rested during the Sabbath. A strong guard of angels kept watch over the tomb, and had a hand been raised to remove the body, the flashing forth of their glory would have laid him who ventured powerless on the earth. He who died for the sins of the world was to remain in the tomb for the allotted time. He was in that stony prison house as a prisoner of divine justice, and he was responsible to the Judge of the universe. He was bearing the sins of the world, and his Father only could release him.
Christ had declared that he would be raised from the dead on the third day; and at the appointed time a mighty angel descended from heaven, parting the darkness from his track, and resting before the Saviour’s tomb. “His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” Brave soldiers, who had never been afraid of human power, were now as captives taken without sword or spear. The face they looked upon was not the face of mortal warrior; it was the face of a heavenly messenger, sent to relieve the Son of God from the debt for which he had become responsible, and for which he had now made a full atonement. This heavenly visitant was the angel that on the plains of Bethlehem had proclaimed Christ’s birth. The earth trembled at his approach, and as he rolled away the stone from Christ’s grave, heaven seemed to come down to earth. The soldiers saw him removing the stone as he would a pebble, and heard him call, Son of God, thy Father saith, Come forth. They saw Jesus come from the grave as a mighty conqueror, and heard him proclaim, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” The angel guards bowed low in adoration before the Redeemer as he came forth in majesty and glory, and welcomed him with songs of praise.
— E.G. White, Youth’s Instructor, May 2, 1901