Today in our reading we are stepping away from following Jesus or His disciples. We will be looking at the guards who were at the tomb when the stone was rolled away instead. This group that “became like dead men” (verse 4) when the angel appeared, and were nowhere in sight when the women made it to the tomb. They ALL beat feet out of there once Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb.
In our story two days ago, we saw Caiaphas get permission to place guards at Jesus’ tomb. We don’t really know how many guards were posted for that vigil, but there were at least three and there were most likely a lot more. I was reading an article on this issue at StJohnny.com. He makes some very valid points as to why there were probably a lot of guards posted to this assignment.
Let’s join the guards that night. We are going to look in on them at about midnight. I’m going to stay with a contingent of 16 regular soldiers and the centurion. (I updated the previous post to reflect this number.) The regular soldiers are broken up into four squads of four and each is assigned a portion of the watch. Squad 1 has 6-9, Squad 2 has 9-12, Squad 12-3, and Squad 4 has 3-6. The same assignment repeats for the second 12 hour segment of the 24 hour day. As this group of soldiers were temple guards, I’m making ½ of them Jewish and the rest Roman. As neither group trusts the other fully, each four man squad is made up of two men from each racial group. We will be mainly walking the grounds with Squads 2 and 3. Also as we do not know the exact hour Jesus rose, nor when the angel appeared, I’m putting it at one in the morning. This gives the guards plenty of time to recover from being “like dead men” and to get everyone out of there before the women arrive. I’m assuming they will be at the grave around 5 AM. In Squad 2 we have Marcus, Thaddeus, Silos, and Mark. In Squad 3 we have Octavius, Anthony, Andrew, and Benjamin.
“Thaddeus, go and wake our replacements. It is nearly time”, instructs Marcus. Silos and Mark have been guarding the West entrance, while Marcus and Thaddeus have the East. The off duty group is camped to the North of the tomb that is in the side of the hill to the south of the group.
Silos looks over at Mark, “Can you believe we pulled this duty? We could have been in town and enjoying some of the fine foods of Passover. We better get double pay for this.”
“Well, at least we don’t have to be here much longer. High Priest Caiaphas said it was only for three days. What do you think about his claims about Jesus’ disciples?”
“I don’t know Mark. I didn’t see any boldness in the group of followers I saw near Him at Golgotha. I doubt they would be so brazen as to come in here with us guarding His tomb.”
“I think that’s exactly why the High Priest put us here in the first place Silos.”
Andrew and Benjamin quietly walk up behind Silos and Mark. Benjamin touches Mark on the shoulder and Mark jumps with a start. “Hey! Oh, it’s only you. Don’t startle me like that!” Andrew is doubled over laughing at the scene between these two men.
“You should have seen the look on your face! You must have jumped six inches in the air” says Benjamin with a smile.
“Pipe down over there! We are trying to get some sleep”, growls the centurion.
“Sorry sir” says Benjamin. “Anything to report Silos?”
“Nothing but sheer boredom.”
“Alright. You are relieved. See you in the morning. Good rest to you.”
The same thing happens with the Roman contingent of the two squads, minus the tricks on one another.
Forty five minutes go by uneventfully as the third squad begins their watch. All of a sudden the earth begins to move! This is the second earthquake in three days. The last one was when Jesus died. That one even split rocks in two.
Octavius is knocked to the ground by the rolling earth under his feet while Anthony manages to stay on his feet. From the ground Octavius sees the stone beginning to move. He easily attributes this to the earthquake, at first. The rest of the squads and the centurion are fully awake now too. Everyone is hyper alert to the possibility of rocks or trees falling on them.
A very loud grating sound is coming from the direction of the tomb. All eyes focus on the stone. Suddenly a bright light in the form of a man grabs the stone and gives it a mighty shove. It rolls nearly six feet away from its original position. The seal is in tatters! The glowing man then sits on top of the stone. The soldiers’ mouths are all hanging open as, out of the tomb steps Jesus! They all know this man by sight, since they were all present at some point in the proceedings that took place just a few days ago. In the next moment Jesus disappears. The entire contingent of soldiers falls flat on their backs. They are terrified to the point of being unable to move.
Five minutes pass before the first soldier stirs. It is the centurion. “Get up! Get up! Go search the area! See if you can find Jesus or His disciples!”
Soldiers, Jews and Romans alike, scramble to their feet and start frantically searching the area for any sign of intruders. The centurion peeks into Jesus’ tomb and confirms that it is indeed empty. He sees the linen bandages lying where Jesus’ body should be and another angel sitting beside it. He gets out of there FAST. He doesn’t know what to think.
“I want everyone back here right now! We are leaving” bellows the centurion. The men come back quickly and start grabbing their gear. The angel on the stone and is sitting there watching the soldiers. “Don’t look at him! Just grab your stuff, NOW!” orders the centurion.
The group hurries back towards the city but stops short of going in. “We need to talk about what just happened” says Anthony. “We just deserted our posts. What are we supposed to do now?”
They all look at their centurion for an answer or an order. “I don’t know what to do. I am going to have to face the High Priest and tell him what just happened. I may very well lose my life, or at the very least my commission, over this. I will tell him that I ordered the rest of you away from the tomb so you will be protected. Go back to the garrison and tell no one about this. You Jewish guards should probably come with me to face Caiaphas.”
The group splits and each goes where their centurion directed them to. Hushed but excited conversations run throughout each group. This has been one very interesting night! And it’s not over yet.
It is three in the morning when the centurion and the Jewish contingent of soldiers reach Caiaphas’ residence. Should they wake him? He is sure to be angry no matter when they tell him. Better to do it right away, so there will not also be a charge of dereliction of duty.
The centurion walks up to Caiaphas’ door and begin pounding on it. A servant answers the door after a few moments. The servant is terrified to find the centurion standing at the door. “Quickly go and wake your master Caiaphas’. I have important news for him”, says the centurion.
Caiaphas appears behind he servant even as the centurion has been issuing orders to the servant. Caiaphas has been awake most of the night. “I’ve been expecting you. Do you have the rabbles in chains or are they dead?”
“There were no rabbles Lord Caiaphas, only an angel.”
“What do you mean? Speak plainly centurion!”
“Lord Caiaphas, there was an earthquake. Then there appeared a man dressed in white and glowing from head to toe. With one push of his hand he broke the seal and rolled the stone six feet away from the door of the grave. He then sat upon the stone. In the very next moment, the Man Jesus, who I assure you was dead, walked out of the grave apparently unharmed! Then before anyone could move, He vanished before our eyes. We searched diligently for Him and any of His followers but we couldn’t locate any of them. I personally looked inside the tomb and saw the linen wrap that had been used, lying on the stone bench where He was placed. Another glowing man was also seated on the bench when I looked in.”
The color from Caiaphas face is completely gone by the time the centurion finished relaying the information. He looks to the other soldiers who are standing beside the centurion with a questioning look in his eyes. “Everything is as the centurion has said Lord Caiaphas. We came directly to you after completing our search of the area”, says Benjamin. All the other soldiers nod in agreement.
Caiaphas instructs them all to remain at his residence in the court yard. He also instructs them to speak to no one until he has another audience with them. Caiaphas calls his personal guards and sends them to the homes of the members of the Sanhedrin who were involved in Jesus’ trial. He instructs the guards to have the members come to his home immediately. He has to act fast if he is going to contain this mess. He then has the kitchen staff prepare a meal for the soldiers.
It is nearly five in the morning when all the members are assembled at Caiaphas’ home. Caiaphas calls for the centurion and has him repeat his story to the group. Once the centurion finishes retelling the events, he is released to return to the men.
“What do you think they are going to do to us?” asks Silos.
“I have no idea, but I will do what I can to protect you. We left at my orders.”
Caiaphas says to the members of the Sanhedrin, “We cannot let this account out! There will be no stopping His followers. We must come up with a believable explanation. I don’t know how His followers pulled off this trick, but it must surely be a trick. We KNOW He was dead. If we act fast and decisively we can protect the people and ourselves.”
“But what are we supposed to say happened?”
“We say nothing for now. We don’t know if His followers have discovered the empty tomb yet. If they haven’t, we don’t want to alert them to it.”
“But if we don’t get out if front of it, no one will believe our story. And just what is our story to be?”
“We will say that while the guards lay sleeping, His followers came and stole him away in the night” offers Caiaphas.
“But what about the soldiers? What if they tell what they have seen?”
“They will say whatever we want them to, if we pay them enough” says Caiaphas.
“And how much will that cost!?!”
Caiaphas turns on the member offering this comment and growls through his teeth, “Whatever it takes!”
Caiaphas straightens himself and looks around at the rest of those in attendance. “Are we in agreement?” Heads begin to nod around the room. “Good. Someone signal the guard to bring the centurion in. His men will do whatever he commands.”
The centurion enters the room and stands at attention. Caiaphas motions him to come to the center of the assembly.
“After much deliberation, we have come to a consensus concerning the fiasco last night. We want you to publicly state, to anyone who asks or will listen, that you fell asleep last night and while you were sleeping Jesus disciples snuck in and stole His body away.”
“Lord Caiaphas, that would be a lie as well as get me killed by my commander. If I were to admit I fell asleep while on duty, I would immediately be executed. Pilate himself would see to it that I was made an example of for the rest of my garrison.”
“I will personally square things with Pilate and demand that he not seek any retribution, if you agree to our version of the events.”
“At the very least, my career would be over! I would never be trusted again to carry out an assignment and would wind up destitute.”
Caiaphas carefully schools his face, so as not to give away how desperate they are to perpetrate this lie, for fear of the price rising too high. “We would be willing to compensate you for any lost wages, until you find suitable employment of course.”
“But what about the rest of my detachment? They too will be facing the same circumstances.”
“FINE! We will compensate each of you.”
“And protect them from punishment too?”
“Yes! We will protect them and pay them for their services” yells Caiaphas.
“We have a bargain then. I will speak to my men and bring their names to you by the end of the day; at which time we will expect you to affix a firm price for each man to this offer. Otherwise…”
“I will be awaiting your return”, looking his fiercest Caiaphas adds, “And there better not be an ‘otherwise’.”
Father God, these were devious men. They were TERRIFIED too. The rulers, not the soldiers. The soldiers were terrified too, but for a different reason. They were afraid first by the wonder of what they saw. They had personally participated in the death of Jesus, and now here He stood in front of them. If He could come back to life after such a horrific death, what could or would He do to those who killed Him? Then they had the fear of being killed or at least punished for their act of “allowing” Jesus to escape. Compound that with what they were being asked to lie about and they were up to their necks in trouble!
The religious leaders were afraid of losing power over the people. Jesus openly opposed them and called them out on their sins. What would He do now that He had proven Himself to be indestructible? What if He wanted revenge for their treatment of Him? Did this prove that He was right all along? “No. That’s just not possible. No way He could really have been the Son of God.” But the people would believe it if they didn’t convince them differently.
Lord Jesus, I’m so glad You proved them ALL wrong. It’s almost funny watching them try and come up with an explanation. Anyone who knew anything about the soldiers and had half a brain should have been able to see right through that lie. Yet the nation of Israel still buys it hook, line, and sinker. Someday they will see too. I just pray it is not too late. Thank You that SO many people didn’t fall for it. That proof is in the beginning of Acts, when the first 3,000 people were added to the body of Christ at Pentecost. And You just kept it growing from there.