Luke says of Jesus, that “ he showed himself alive after his passage, by many infallible proofs, being seen of the disciples forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The Apostle Peter, in his first discourse to a Gentile audience, said: “Him God raised up the third day and showed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God. even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41). Paul says “he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once,” of whom the greater part remained to the time of his writing (1 Cor. 15: 8).
The only testimony we have on the other side is the testimony of the watch—the same persons in our title, the Roman Guards. They afterwards changed and contradicted their first testimony. Their last testimony is that “the disciples came and stole him away while we slept.” This is all we know of on this side worth mentioning.
From this testimony we must make up our minds. The testimony of the watch is very objectionable, and, we think, can not be regarded by any persons who do not wish to be deceived. To their testimony we make the following objections:
1. They had previously given a contrary testimony, when they were unbiased, of their own choice, and when they had no motives to tell a falsehood. Their first account, given before they had any conversation with anybody, was more likely to be true than any after testimony. The first objection, then, to their second account is that it contradicts the first. Both their accounts can not be true, and it is more probable that the first is true than the second.
2. The second objection to their last testimony is that they had been tampered with by the chief priests and Pharisees, who were known to be enemies, which precisely corresponds with their telling a different story from the first.
3. Their testimony is objectionable because it precisely corresponds with the anticipations of the chief priests and Pharisees. They commanded the guard lest the disciples should steal the body and say, He is risen from the dead. It was natural that their minds should fall back upon the expedient they had previously thought of.
4. Their testimony is objectionable because if they were asleep, as they say, they did not know what went with the body. They could not know whether it was stolen or had actually risen. Their own admission that they were asleep destroys their testimony, for men can not testify to what occurs when they are asleep.
5. Their account is objectionable because the guard came under most rigorous laws, inflicting the severest punishments upon them for delinquency. They would have risked their lives to have been found asleep. It is not probable that they would have risked all this, to have all fallen asleep, if they had felt a little drowsy.
6. They knew the time when he said he would rise. Of all other periods, they certainly would have been the most unlikely to have been asleep at this particular crisis.
7. Each watch only had to be on duty six hours in twenty four. They could not have needed sleep.
8. Their story is incredible because they would have been brought to punishment, if they had been asleep. But not one word is said about punishment. The matter is all suffered to pass quietly, which shows that the rulers did not attach any blame to the guard.
9. The story is incredible, because the disciples were timid, cowardly and discouraged, so that they were the last men on earth to have undertaken such a hazardous enterprize. It is believing against all reason and analogy to believe they would attempt such a thing.
10. The story is incredible, for the rulers would have compelled the disciples to have brought the body back, if they had believed it to be in their possession. This they certainly had the power and disposition to do, and the fact that they did not do it is a clear evidence that they did not believe they had it.
11. This story is incredible, because the disciples could have done nothing with the body if they had stolen it. They could not have raised it from the dead. To have kept it in their possession would only have opened the way for their own exposure. They had no inducement to steal it.
12. They were too weak to have forced the guard and taken the body, They could not, therefore, have obtained it in that way.
13. They could not have bribed the guard, for they were too poor; they had no money.
14. They could not have persuaded the guard to give up the body, for they had no influence with them. In all these respects, the story of the guard, and the common report of the Jews for years, that the disciples stole the body while the guard slept, is not only objectionable but wholly incredible, and as such must be repudiated by men of sense and reason everywhere.