“And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Deut 21:22, 23)
As far as the Romans were concerned, the bodies of executed criminals either were left on the stake to rot and be eaten by vultures, were thrown into a common grave, or were dumped in the wilderness to be eaten by wild dogs.
It was a law of the Jews however, that the body of an executed man should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath. “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31)
Did the Pharise’s break the Sabbath when they requested to have the tomb sealed?
The Pharisees soon learned that their plan to have Jesus’ body thrown into a mass grave with the other criminals was foiled by Joseph of Arimathea placing Jesus’ body in his own tomb. Matthew describes their reaction this way, “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matt 27:62-66)
The day Christ was placed in the tomb was the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. Therefore, the next day was the Sabbath. In their blind hatred of Jesus, the Pharisees broke their own Sabbath laws and conspired what they could do to prevent the disciples from possibly stealing Jesus’ body. They came to Pilate, again breaking the Sabbath and worked out the details to secure and seal the tomb.
Rome’s official officer would have to order the stone to be rolled back. Then he went into the tomb and examined the body of Jesus to verify that it was Jesus and that He was really dead.
The chief priests and elders would have entered the tomb, on the Sabbath, with Rome’s official officer so they could look upon Jesus’ dead body and put an end to their worries that He had somehow survived.
Roman guards checked the contents of the tomb because they wanted to know for sure a body was there. They didn’t want to be guarding an empty tomb that would later be used as a claim of resurrection, while they got blamed for the disappearance of Jesus’ body.
After all of these inspections were complete, Rome’s official officer ordered the stone rolled back in its place. While the chief priests, elders, and Roman guards watched, he secured the site and sealed it shut with the seal of the governor of Rome.
The Roman guard was a sixteen-man unit that was governed by very strict rules. Each member was responsible for six square feet of space. The guard members could not sit down or lean against anything while they were on duty. If a guard member fell asleep, he was beaten and burned with his own clothes. But he was not the only one executed. The entire sixteen-man guard unit was executed if only one of the members fell asleep while on duty.