Muncy Presbyterian Church


Text: Matthew 28:1-4; and 11-15

Title: A Political and Religious Problem


I.                    Pilate is in trouble.  He wasn’t in trouble on Friday nor on Saturday.

A.      But he is in trouble today.

B.      Had Pilate composed a letter of report to Tiberius Caesar on Saturday, it would have sounded like this: “Greetings, Your Excellency Tiberius Caesar:  On Friday of the Jewish holiday called Passover, I had to perform an execution.  It was of an obscure Jewish carpenter that people were making supernatural claims about.  I was also informed that he was identified as a king by means of their Old Testament scriptures.  It was also believed that he would be raised from the dead after three days in the tomb, even though he didn’t even have a grave of his own.  Pure nonsense of course, but I have eliminated the possibility of further trouble by closing the grave with the Imperial Seal and stationed a guard to watch.  An aristocrat provided a tomb of his own so we have the precise location of the grave.  If any kind of religious cult is created in his name, I can simply open the tomb and show his followers the body.  That will quell any further rebellion and threat from his disciples in Palestine.”

C.      That letter would have been fine on Saturday.  However, it’s obsolete. 

D.     The third day arrived and the body is missing. 

1.      That ought to go over well in Rome.

E.      Here is a body that Pilate needed to quell possible political rebellion and Pilate loses it.  Loses the evidence.

F.       Pilate could not afford such political blunders.

1.      He was in Tiberius Caesar’s dog-house.


II.                  How do we know this?  The records of the historian Philo of Alexandria.

A.      Years later, after Pilate, a governor named Flaccus was ruling in Palestine.

B.      He was cruel to the Jews.

1.      They decided to file a protest to the Emperor and appointed Philo of Alexandria to be a part of the delegation that would represent them before the emperor Caligula.

2.      While some of Caligula’s exploits and emotional troubles might be exaggerated by his enemies, Philo believed him to be insane and not easy to deal with. 

a.      If one was going to appear before Caligula and complain about administration of the empire, one better have the facts right.

C.      So Philo complained about Flaccus and then compared him to Pilate.

1.      Philo writes about how Pilate had mistreated the Jews years before, about how corrupt Pilate had been, and then remarked about how Caligula’s grandfather, Tiberius Caesar, intervened on behalf of the Jews.

D.     We can see that Tiberius had to quell the trouble that Pilate caused.  He had to intervene to keep Middle East tensions from boiling over.

1.      Tiberius’ patience with Pilate was on the verge of wearing out. 

2.      This is why on Good Friday, when the people say to Pilate, “You’re no friend of Caesar”, Pilate backs down.

E.      And this is why the Jewish leaders can say to the Roman soldiers, “If this report gets back to the governor we will speak on your behalf.”


III.                What about the Roman soldiers? A Roman guard could have as many as 60 soldiers.

A.       They men were not Jews, they were paganized.  They worshiped many gods and were no doubt superstitious.

B.      Add to this their exposure to combat stress in that they had to guard a tomb that had the Imperial seal on it, making it a target.

C.      Add to this that they are guarding some one that was rumored to have been capable of supernatural powers and rumors that he would rise from the dead.

1.      The Roman soldiers might have thought of him as an occultist.

D.     Add to this that they are in a graveyard at night.   They are on edge.


IV.                Then something happens.  Some kind of supernatural event does happen.  Where it says there was a great earthquake; that doesn’t mean the ground broke open.  There is only one word in Greek (seismos) and can indicate simply confusion, probably caused by the angel.

A.      These men have no understanding of angels and in the Bible even the Hebrew people were at times frightened of angels.

B.      They are struck with terror and most likely God put them into a kind of paralysis.

C.      They eventually wake up queasy and confused.

1.      The previous night was a bizarre dream and as the cobwebs are shaken from their minds, they notice the stone is rolled away and the seal is broken.

D.     They are in trouble.  They can be executed for this.  And so, terrified, they report to the Jewish leaders who tell them to calm down while giving them bribes. 

1.      We read “some of the guards”.  It is possible that


V.                  The Sanhedrin presents an interesting question.   

A.      They hear the report but why don’t they believe?

B.      Broadus: “The story must have caused great surprise and alarm.  But it brought no repentance.”

C.      The Sanhedrin was composed of various theological beliefs.

1.      The Pharisees believed in angels and the resurrection of the dead.

2.      The Sadducees didn’t believe in angels or the resurrection of the dead.

D.     One group is unimpressed with the Roman story and figures there is probably a rational explanation for it.

E.      The Pharisees perhaps thought that an evil force had taken the body..

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