The gospels contain a delicious and healthy serving of irony. The evangelistas (gospel writers) often use this literary tool to communicate truths in poignant and yet funny way. The account of Jesus’ resurrection is one of those sections where irony is tastefully used, in this case, by Matthew.
There are three events to which I want to call you attention particularly. In chapter 27, Matthew narrates the crucifixion of Jesus and his burial. But my interest in in a brief section in verses 62-66. The infamous pharisees keep trying to make things their way. Having Jesus killed is not enough to make them happy. Now they want to make sure that the disciples are not going to steal his body and therefore deceive people saying that Jesus actually resurrected. There are at least three ironies in these events.
The Irony of the Sabbath
The pharisees abhorred Jesus and one of the main reasons why they hated him so much was that him, according to them, was a Sabbath breaker. In the gospels, however, we learn that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8). Moreover, he explains that the Sabbath was created for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Also, we see over and over that Jesus practiced righteousness and mercy when he worked on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:9-14).
The irony here is that the pharisees, who accused Jesus of healing people on the Sabbath, broke the Sabbath by meeting with Pilate and going to secure Jesus’ tomb. The worst thing is that, unlike Jesus, they did not break it to do good but the complete opposite. What they were doing, they probably thought, was something good and it was approved by God. I don’t know. That’s the degree to which their incredulity and hypocrisy reached.
They Irony of their Memory
The second irony as even greater than the first. The pharisees remembered Jesus’ words when he prophesied that he was going to rise again. They didn’t just remember general vague statements, but they actually knew the details. They remembered that Jesus specifically said that on the third day he was going to rise again. The irony is that the disciples themselves had not yet understood the repeated times that Jesus predicted his resurrection. It is ironic that the pharisees understood Jesus’s words better that his own disciples. They had paid more attention. The disciples were too worried trying to decide who was the greatest among them.
The sad thing is that although the pharisees understood Jesus’ words, their pride and self-righteousness prevented them from seeing Jesus as the Messiah of God.
Moreover, the pharisees, allocated the disciples more understanding of Jesus’ words than what they actually had. The pharisees thought the disciples remembered Jesus words and therefore were going to devise a plan to steal Jesus’ body and deceive the world. The funny thing is that at that point, the resurrection wasn’t even an option in the disciples’ minds.
The Irony of the Secured Tomb
The third irony, in my opinion, is the most glorious of them all. The pharisees did everything humanly possible to avoid that the disciples would fabricate a fictitious story of the resurrection. They talked to Pilate, they sealed the stone on the tomb, and added a guard (arguably a Roman one). They did everything in their power to avoid that a false story of the resurrection would spread. Do you know where I’m going with this?
The irony is that by making sure that there would be no humanly possible way to make up the story of Jesus’ resurrection, unknowingly, they only magnified the supernatural nature of the true resurrection of Jesus.
They made sure that no human force could take Jesus from the tomb. By doing this, they only left room for divine intervention being the only plausible explanation for an empty tomb. The precautions that Jesus enemies took only magnified the veracity and supernatural nature of his resurrection. This is a glorious truth. There was no possible way for the body to be stolen. On the third day, nonetheless, the tomb was empty.
The Ultimate Irony
This is not the only time that God, in his sovereignty, uses human evil purposes to accomplish his will. The greatest example of this truth is Jesus’ crucifixion. The religious and political leaders joined forces to kill Jesus. They were doing evil; the greatest evil. God, however, had predetermined that this would happen. In his sovereignty, he decided to save humanity and this world through the death and resurrection of Jesus who was crucified by wicked men. The greatest irony is that God, through the most evil event in human history, brought the greatest good to the world.
It was not a mistake that Jesus was crucified. It was part of God’s plan, which he had instituted before the foundation of the world. Likewise, it was not a mistake or coincidence that the pharisees worked so hard to prevent any human meddling in Jesus’ tomb, and by doing so, make it so that the only possible explanation for an empty tomb could to be divine intervention. Ultimately, in the death of Jesus and his resurrection, God is the one who gets all the glory.