Why was a great stone rolled in front of the tomb?
Most crucified victims in ancient Rome were left hanging on the cross even after they were dead, as a warning to those contemplating rebelling against Rome’s laws. The elements and the birds and animals took care of the mess that was left. It was not unusual, however, for Roman authorities to grant the body of a crucified person to his friends or family, provided he was not guilty of high treason. Pilate evidently did not think Jesus was guilty of what the Jews charged him with (high treason); otherwise he would not have given Christ’s body to Joseph of Arimathaea.
The Bible describes a great stone placed in front of Jesus’ tomb. The “great stone” (Matt 27:60) was technically called “golal”, and it sealed the gravesite. It was set on an incline in a channel cut in the rock. That made it easier to enclose the tomb by rolling the stone downhill.
It took several men to roll the stone back up the incline, which discouraged grave robbers and wild animals from being able to enter the tomb. Small stones, dirt and mud were jammed in between the cracks assuring that no small animals could gain access into the tomb.
Only the very wealthiest of Jews were able to afford such a large stone. Archeologists have discovered that the vast majority of tombs had smaller openings with smaller stones in the shape of a cork that were slid into the openings.
Matthew describes what happened to that enormous stone, “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” (Matt 28:2)
John describes it a little differently, “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” (Joh 20:1)
The words “taken away” implies that the angel easily tossed the stone aside to where it lay flat on the ground some distance from the opening and then he sat on it, waiting for Mary to show up. What a frightening display of power! With angels like that protecting us, do we really have anything to fear?