“As they went, behold, certain ones from the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that happened. And assembling with the Elders and taking counsel they took sufficient silver to give to the soldiers, saying, ‘Say that his disciples came by night and stole him as you slept and if this should be heard by the governors, we will persuade him and make you secure.’ So, they took the silver and did as they had been told. And the word spread around amongst the Jews even today.”
Apologetically, this little snippet is a powerful proof of the resurrection. Had the Jewish officials wished to discredit the stories of the resurrection, all they had to do was to produce the body — a kind of Habeas Corpus act. Had they produced the body and paraded it through town, this new Christian movement would have been brought to a dead stop. Everything in Christianity rests on the historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
Yet, they couldn’t produce the body. So, a story is made up. We already know that the Apostles were not soldiers and that Peter handled a sword with the skill of a novice. So, to believe that these Apostles would have overpowered Roman guards is over the top. Further, the guards were there in the night to prevent just what the Jewish officials were taking took place. As a Roman soldier, had you fallen asleep on the job, that would mean your head. And to suggest that the stone could have been rolled away silently while soldiers kept watch is even more silly a notion.
Hence, this is obviously a story that the Jews made up. And why make up a story at all unless the tomb was empty. And that meant Jesus rose from the dead. The bribe in silver along with a promise to protect them from their governors seals the deal. To a Roman, the affairs of the Jews were more or less a nuisance, so why worry about what is or is not said by these people, so long as the taxes continue being paid to Rome.
How did Matthew learn of this story? The Holy Spirit for one is the guide and instructor of all the Scripture writers. Second, it is not out of bounds to consider that Matthew would have had personal knowledge of this story by the time he wrote his Gospel account (probably in the late 50’s or early 60’s). Not only was Matthew Jewish by birth and writing to a Jewish audience, he also was a tax collector by trade, so he would likely have heard this story from both his Jewish and his Roman contacts. Thus, guided by the Holy Spirit, Matthew includes this piece of information for our edification and ultimately for the defense of the Christian faith.