This was one of the readings at church this Easter Sunday – I’d never noticed before that the guard was put on the tomb because the *chief priests and Pharisees* had heard what Jesus had been teaching and had understood it.
The disciples hadn’t grasped that Jesus had been trying to tell them he had to die but would rise again on the third day, but his enemies had. The disciples had recognised him as the Christ, but still hadn’t connected that with the prophecies about what the Messiah would look like (perhaps because many of them were uneducated labourers, not the educated religious elite).
Jesus’ enemies understood who he was and what the implications of his death and even an apparent resurrection would mean. His friends and closest followers didn’t. They thought the story was over; the Pharisees knew there was more to come.
Ironically, the Pharisees’ actions actually helped to strengthen the evidence for the resurrection when it did happen – had they not requested the seal and the guard, they could have argued that Jesus’ body had been stolen, but their own efforts worked to demonstrate the truth!
A friend recently drew my attention to this article by Polly Toynbee, in which she vents her disgust at the “repugnant… notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls,” and its representation through Aslan in the Narnia stories:
“Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. … Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can.”
Sometimes Jesus’ enemies still understand him and the point of Easter better than his friends.