Matthew’s account of the resurrection pays a lot of attention to the soldiers who guard the tomb of Jesus. I think most illustrations of the resurrection in our churches and our books, like the above, follow his account.
There are the soldiers surrounding the tomb, who “became like dead men,” fearful after an earthquake shook the tomb open and he appeared “like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” (Mt 28, 2-4)
Matthew wants to assure us that his disciples didn’t steal Jesus’ body away after his death. That was a story circulating in his day and it circulates today. But Jesus really died, Matthew claims, and the soldiers are his proof.
When Joseph of Arimathea asks to take the body for burial, Pilate first called the Roman centurion to certify that Jesus was dead, according to Mark’s gospel. ( Mk 15,44-45) The Romans certify his death.
The Jewish leaders are worried his body would be stolen and ask Pilate for a guard to watch the tomb for three days. Pilate tells them to put their own guard at the tomb, a further assurance the body wont be taken. Often in illustrations the guards are pictured as Roman soldiers, but they are really the same kind of guard who came to seize Jesus in the garden and take him to the Jewish leaders. (Mt 27,64-66)
When the guards go to them to report the body of Jesus is missing, they are told to say his disciples stole the body while they were asleep. (Mt 28.11-15) The evangelist extends his resurrection account to make sure we know this.
Jesus really died, and he really rose again.