Friends, Romans, Deadmen…

“And his appearance was as lightning and his clothing was as white as snow; from the fear of him the guards trembled and became as dead men.”

(Matthew 28:3-4)

The angels are described here in language that denotes their power and their other-worldliness. Matthew and Mark record the presence of just one angel while Luke speaks of two. This is hardly worth considering a problem to reconcile as it is clear that Matthew and Mark are simply focused on the one speaking and Luke records the event itself. And, as one of my old Bible professors used to say, “If there are two present, then there is one present.”

What is both wonderful and fascinating is the response of these soldiers. Presuming these guards to be Romans, as is normally understood, that means that these battle-hardened men are standing here, shaking in their boots, and scared to death. The phrase used here, that they became like dead men, can be understood to imply that they feinted out of shock and fear but can also imply (if you wish to be a bit off-color) that they lost control of their bowels — indeed, that is one of the first things that happens when someone dies. It could be suggested that Matthew is including this to set a contrast between the earthly powers and the heavenly powers — a reminder that all of the power of Rome pales in comparison to the power of Heaven. 

And so, at the empty tomb of Jesus we begin to see lines of divide: day and night, the power of God versus the powers of this world, and soon we will see the divide between the power of Life and the power of death. While the resurrection is all about Jesus’ defeat of death for his people, we are pointed to the fact that there is so much more at work here as well. Jesus’ rising from the dead is the final pronouncement that the things of God have ultimately triumphed over the plans of the devil all to the praise of Christ. Though men may rise up in power and strength, it is nothing compared to the Almighty power of God himself.

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