Matthew 28:15. So they took the money They did not, either on the score of conscience, or on account of the palpable falsehood of the story they were to propagate, refuse the bribe that was offered them by the chief priests. Their love of money, as is common with wicked men, pushed them on headlong, so that they did not mind the many improbabilities implied in the lie, nor the horrid iniquity of it. And, though they had been greatly confounded with the vision of the angels, and the earthquake, the panic was by this time worn off. Besides, they did not consider the vision as connected with morality; or, if they did, the priests would endeavour to persuade them that it was nothing real, but the mere effect of their own imagination, terrified by seeing one rise from the dead. The only objection, therefore, made by the soldiers, to their complying with the desire of the priests, was, that by publishing such a story, they would acknowledge such a gross neglect of duty as would expose them to severe punishment, if the governor should hear of it. But to make them easy on this head, the priests promised to give such a representation of the matter to Pilate, that no harm should befall them. This only obstacle, therefore, being removed, the soldiers did as they were desired. They told everywhere the lie which the priests had put into their mouths: a lie the most impudent and barefaced that could be contrived, but which the priests and other members of the council were anxious to have propagated, because they hoped it would be swallowed by many without examination. Nor were they deceived in their expectation; for, improbable as the story was, it gained general credit among the enemies of Jesus, and was currently reported, as Matthew here tells us, at the time he wrote his gospel. Unluckily, however, for the cause of infidelity, it was only some of the watch who came to the chief priests; the rest had gone to their garrison, where no doubt they told their comrades what had happened. And even those who came to the chief priests would not be backward to speak of the extraordinary event as they passed along the streets, if they chanced to meet with any of their acquaintance. Far less would they conceal the matter in the high-priest’s palace, while they waited to be called in. None can doubt this who attend to the nature and operation of human passions, and the eagerness which all men naturally have to tell a wonderful story, not to mention the desire which these soldiers must have felt to justify themselves for quitting their posts. The truth, therefore, that Jesus was actually risen, in spite of all the endeavours of the chief priests to suppress it, came abroad, and doubtless became a subject of consideration and inquiry with many, who had not been Christ’s disciples; and the more they considered the evidences of it, and compared it with the false story which the priests had prevailed on some of the guard to propagate, the more such as were unprejudiced must be inclined to believe the former and reject the latter, which latter it was evident the priests themselves did not believe. For if they had believed it, doubtless, with a view to prove it, and justify themselves in their hostility to Christ and his cause, they would have narrowly examined where the apostles had been all that night, and would have made search for Christ’s body, which, if found, would at once have confuted the testimony of the apostles respecting his resurrection, and have proved their great guilt in endeavouring, by its removal, to palm a lie upon mankind, and establish an imposture of a most heinous nature and pernicious tendency. It is probable, therefore, that an impression in favour of the truth was made on the minds of many persons, and gained ground daily, and that this had considerable influence in preparing them for the reception of the gospel: which circumstance may, partly at least, account for the wonderful success of the ministry of Peter and the other apostles at and after the day of pentecost. To counteract, however, every impression of this kind, and confirm the Jews, whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere, in their prejudices against Christianity, the chief priests and elders were unwearied in their endeavours. “They even” (says Justin Martyr, Dialog. cum Tryph., p. 368) “sent chosen men of considerable rank over all the world, not only in the general to represent the Christians as an impious sect, but to assert that the body of Jesus was torn out of his tomb by night, and the persons who thus fraudulently conveyed it away, took occasion from thence to report that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.” Which message is spoken of as having been sent before the destruction of Jerusalem.
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