After the crucifixion of Christ, the chief priests and Pharisees were terrified of the prospect of an empty tomb, and came to Pilate. They claimed to be concerned that someone might steal the body of Christ from the tomb where He had been laid, and then announce that He had been resurrected as He had predicted.
What were they worried about? The man was dead, in a tomb behind a huge stone. There was a hole in His side. There were wounds in His hands and His feet. Everybody in and around Jerusalem knew He had died, and they knew how He died.
That was made clear by the two disciples discussing the death of Christ on the road to Emmaus. They were amazed when an unrecognized Jesus came near to them and asked them about the conversation they were having. “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass therein these days?” (Luke 24:18).
Yes, the Savior’s life had ended, and no one could comprehend a dead man becoming alive again. But Jewish leaders knew what had happened to Lazarus. Some of them probably knew Lazarus, and they knew why the tomb of Lazarus was empty.
Some of them might have seen, and all of them had certainly heard the story, of the Savior’s command: “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43). His return to mortality had caused them so many problems that they wanted him dead again (John 12:11,12).
“That the Sepulcher Be Made Sure”
These men who had demanded the death of Christ came to Pilate and asked him to command “that the sepulcher be made sure” (Matthew 27:64).
I wonder if they were only worried about body thieves.
What would happen if this exceptional man who healed the sick, fed the multitudes, calmed the tempests, and raised the dead performed one last miracle and walked out of His tomb into life as He had said He would?
Remember what the Jewish leaders said after the raising of Lazarus? “What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (John 11:47-48). There were compelling reasons to keep Christ in that tomb. A miracle such as an actual or a pretended resurrection really could ruin everything for them.
“Make It As Sure As You Can”
As I read the scriptural accounts of these events, the response of Pilate to the request for official security at the grave site caused me to stop and ponder. Pilate said, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as you can” (Matthew 27:65).
The Roman governor, with nearly unlimited power and in command of soldiers from the mightiest army in the world, said “Make it as sure as you can.” He could have said (and should have said), “Ye have a watch. Make it sure.” What man or group of men would presume to try to steal the body from a tomb guarded by Rome’s best? Providing a watch for the tomb should have settled the matter. But he said instead, “Make it as sure as you can.”
Does it sound like Pilate was aware of what was going to happen? The subtext of his message to the Jews might have been, “Give it a try. It won’t do you any good. That man will come out of the grave no matter what we do.”
How Could Pilate Know?
The writers of the Gospels show us many times that something significant happened to Pilate during his interactions with Jesus Christ. Pilate wanted to set the Savior free.
As Pilate dealt with Jesus and the Jews, he said more than once (Luke 23:4,14; John 19:44,6), “I find no fault in this man.” He also said, “I will chastise [scourge] him and release him” (Luke 23:16).
When Pilate, following the scourging of the Lord, presented Christ to the multitude, he said, “Behold the man.” (John 19:5) The Jews responded by saying, “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid . . .” (John 19:7-8).
“Whence Art Thou?”
Motivated by that fear, Pilate returned with Christ to the judgment hall and asked this question: “Whence art thou?” (John 19:9). Pilate knew Jesus was from Galilee (see Luke 23:7). When he asked, “Where are you from,” he was not asking about his origins. He was asking about his nature. The Jews had just informed him that this remarkable man claimed to be the Son of God. The Savior’s response could not have allayed his fears.
But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above . . . (John 19:9-11).
Not long thereafter, when the Jews insisted that Christ be crucified, Pilate replied, “Why? What evil hath he done?” (Luke 23:22).
Pilate tried to release Christ rather than the murderer and seditionist Barabbas, but the Jews demanded the freeing of Barabbas (see Luke 19:16-21) and the death of Jesus.
In a startling display of abandoned dignity, Pilate tried to reason with those who had brought the Savior to him for judgment, “For he knew that for envy they had delivered him” (Matthew 27:18).
And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him. (Luke 23:13-16).
During these events, Pilate “marvelled” at the Savior’s self-control (Mark 15:5).
“Have Thou Nothing to Do With That Just Man”
Then Pilate’s wife sent him a message: “When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19).
Finally, Pilate acknowledged, as his wife had done, that Christ was “just,” that is, innocent. As he “washed his hands before the multitude,” he said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (Matthew 27:24).
This is a strange thing for a man with in this position, with this power. to say. Why would he care if Jesus was innocent or not? Why would he not simply command Christ’s death to please the Jews? Who could ever question his decisions in any meaningful way?
Pilate and the Tomb
Given the background and the interactions between the Monarch of Eternity and the governor of Judea, does it not seem clear why Pilate invited the Jewish leaders to secure the tomb as well as they could?
Pilate knew that Jesus was not just another Galilean troublemaker, and when he offered that surprising response to the Jews, inviting them to make the sepulcher as sure as they could, he must have known that they would never be able to make it sure enough.
We Will Come Forth
These observations are not an attempt to exonerate Pilate. His hands were never filthier than when he was washing them. They are, rather, an attempt to say something useful about the power of Christ to touch hearts, about the reality of the resurrection, and about the future certainty of empty graves.
All of us will one day be consigned to a coffin that will be bolted shut and buried. But we will not remain there. When the trumpet of redemption sounds, the covers of our caskets will lift, the soil over our heads will part, our gravestones will also be rolled away, and like the Savior from His tomb near Golgotha, we will come forth.
More About “The Empty Tomb”
“The Empty Tomb” was written by Ted Gibbons. The subject “The Empty Tomb” is important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you would like to know more about Mormons with no obligation, please click on the following links: