Many Christians have grown up participating in Good Friday and Easter services. These gatherings have been engrained in our minds and hearts as being crucial to the story of faith; everything we believe is built around the recognition that Jesus died on a Friday and was raised three days later on a Sunday. But in our traditional approach to Easter, we often skip over Saturday. We mourn on Good Friday. We rejoice on Easter Sunday. But what about Saturday? What does the Scripture say about this most Holy Saturday?
In order to understand this Holy Saturday, we need to look at what was happening both outside and inside the tomb. Matthew 27:62-63 tells us that the “next day,” (which Matthew then clarifies as after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate with a specific request.
The day of preparation would have been Friday (John 10:38-42). That means that the Jewish leaders would be gathering before Pilate on Saturday, which was their Sabbath day. These leaders are breaking their own laws, rules that they consistently tried to condemn Jesus with, in order to try to disprove his claim of Godship. They had accomplished their goal: Jesus Christ was dead. He was buried. Now they just needed to stop the claim of his impending resurrection.
Whenever you see the word “therefore” in Scripture, you should be prodded to look back and see what two ideas the author is trying to connect. In this case, Matthew wants us to see that because Jesus claimed resurrection, the Pharisees wanted to secure the tomb. At least until the third day. Like when they killed Jesus, the religious leaders went to the Pilate, the Roman ruler, to seek the means and authority to execute their plans.
While Jesus was defeating the powers of darkness (1 Cor. 15:54-55) and claiming the keys of Death and Hell (Rev 1:18), the religious leaders were doing what they could to stop this salvation work of God. They were afraid that the disciples would steal Jesus away, not knowing that Jesus was actively robbing the grave of its power and grip on humanity.
So how does this translate for you and me? As we said before, many of us have grown up around the ideas of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We know to feel remorseful at our sin, the fact that our depravity and brokenness sent Jesus to the cross. And we know to feel exuberant and gleeful at the potential of the empty tomb; the reality of grace and freedom and redemption that becomes available with that rolled stone. And yet, when we skip over Holy Saturday, we miss an important part of the journey. It was our sin and God’s plan that led Jesus to the cross and it was his power and his authority that ruptured the darkness and resurrected Him to everlasting life. But on Saturday, we need to pause and reflect on this question: “how are we working to secure the tomb and keep the power of resurrection inside?”
At first glance, that might seem hard. Of course, we want new life. Of course, we want new hope. But for a lot of us, the reality of the resurrection calls into clear focus those areas of our lives that need to be repented, corrected, and submitted to the Lord. You see, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then the Pharisees were wrong. And they wanted to do everything in their limited power to avoid that possibility.
Pilate gave them what they wanted. A guard of soldiers. They went away, singularly focused on this goal: secure the tomb.
I’m always struck by reading how often I try to secure things that God is actively working to loosen. Through his resurrection, he has secured for me an eternal weight of glory. He has secured for me a blessed inheritance and a life-altering power. I couldn’t do it on my own; that’s why we celebrate Good Friday. Despite my efforts to the contrary, he has taken away the sting of death by conquering death, hell and the grave.
Here’s the biggest takeaway of Holy Saturday: nothing will stop God’s salvation and resurrection.
You can seal the tomb. You can stand a guard outside. You can leverage the full might of Rome and the world’s power. But what God is doing in the darkness He will bring into the light, and when he does, you and I will have reason to celebrate. Easter Sunday is coming, and with it, every promise, every ounce of love and redemption and hope for those who believe. Scripture says that “at the right time, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6). I like to think that at the right time, he rose for us. Even though we tried to keep him in, he broke through and changed everything for you and me. That is Holy Saturday.