An excerpt from Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s classic Seasons of Faith and Conscience (1991).
The sealing of the tomb is, I believe, notoriously misunderstood. I grew up with a Sunday School notion that to seal the tomb was a matter of hefting the big stone and cementing it tight. The seal, in my mind’s eye, was something like first-century caulking–puttying up the cracks to keep the stink in. Not so. This is a legal seal. Cords would be strung across the rock and anchored at each end with clay. To move the stone would break the seal and indicate tampering.
The event conspicuously echoes the story of Daniel sealed in the den of lions. “And a stone was brought and laid upon the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel” (Daniel 6:18). As there, this is a legal lock on the tomb door–not air tight, but politically tight. To move the stone and break the seal is a civil crime. The resurrection is against the law.
The seal is also a recurring theme in the book of Revelation. Remember the scroll of history sealed with seven seals? Only One is worthy to break them and look upon or unveil the truth: that One is the Lamb who was slain. The seal is a claim of ownership and authority. Its meaning in Revelation is at least that God in Christ reigns sovereign over all history and in all events.
Caesar, in Pilate, on the other hand, violently disputes the claim. He has set his seal of approval on Jesus’ death, and now he guarantees it with troops. Secured by security forces. When the seal is broken in the resurrection, it stands among the signs that the power of the powers (death in all its forms) has been broken. The dominion of political authority–especially inflated, aggressive–and imperial authority has been cut to the heart.