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Common Facts Surrounding the Resurrection
Fact 4 - His Body Was Placed in a Tomb, Sealed and Guarded
"When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away." (Matthew 27:57-60)
In fact, the Jews were so concerned about it that they went to Pilate to commission Roman guards to watch the tomb,
"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." (Matthew 27:62-66).
A question that has captured my interest is that of how many guards might have been present at the tomb. Was there one lone guard as depicted in some of our modern art? Or was there a large contingent monitoring the tomb? The question has been answered by many, but speculatively at best. One thing is for sure, there were at least three soldiers and likely more.
Matthew records (28:11-15) that some of the soldiers went to tell the Jewish leaders what had happened. I think all can agree what some means: more than one, but less than all. In other words, some soldiers going to the Jews, means at least two and probably at least three, as it is likely that a soldier would bring at least two witnesses. Additionally, all were not present, only some, so at least one was left behind. Again, it would not be customary for a lone soldier to be left behind, but rather for witnesses and partners to be left with him.
Finally, it is worth noting that Roman fighting units were customarily dispatched in fighting units of four. How many guards were present at the tomb? Conclusively there were three or more. Most likely there were at least four. Some have speculated as many as sixteen, as this was normally a minimum Roman fighting unit. This assertion is challenged on the basis that this was not a battle being waged. On the other hand Roman law was at stake.
As Matthew indicates above, the guards set a seal on the stone. According to Roman custom, this was a seal of soft clay, usually over straps that spanned the stone itself. If the stone were moved, the straps and the seal would be broken. The seal itself would bear the mark of Caesar, and indicate its placement by the highest authority in the land. The purpose of the setting a seal on the stone was not to literally lock it in place, but to warn would-be intruders that breaking the seal was a violation of Roman law. Hence the Roman guards were there to enforce it. Archaeological discoveries in this century have confirmed that the crime of grave robbing was punishable by death.