What About the Roman Soldiers? An Easter Musing

I’ve always wondered about the Roman soldiers mentioned in Matthew 27:62-66 and Matthew 28:11-15. What makes them intriguing to me is that they were the only people physically present at Jesus’ resurrection.

Imagine being an eyewitness to the greatest event in the history of the world. How many were there? Who were these men? What did they experience that night? What happened to them? How did it change their lives?

I thought there were two soldiers at the tomb. But Matthew refers to them as a “guard of soldiers”. In doing some research, I discovered that “two” guards is merely tradition and highly unlikely. A “guard” consisted of a minimum of four soldiers but could comprise as many as the situation warranted. One article I read suggested that the Romans would have wanted there to be at least one soldier for each of the 11 remaining disciples, who were the most likely to steal Jesus’s body.

So, here we have all these soldiers sent to guard a tomb. It’s almost like the old light bulb jokes–how many men does it takes to protect a dead man? I’m thinking these soldiers took their assignment in one of two ways. Either they felt they were at the bottom of the barrel, getting all the worst assignments, or they were thrilled with what appeared to be the easiest assignment ever. Guarding someone who’s already dead–how hard could it be?

And then I think about the reality of that night. I’ve done a lot of camping. There’s nothing better than sitting around a campfire on a chilly night, passing around hot chocolate, making s’mores, singing, and telling stories. I’m sure their night wasn’t much different–at least until what happened next. The noise must have been deafening. When God demonstrates his glory, it is never done quietly. And the light, bright and blinding. In the midst of this seeming chaos comes Jesus–alive. What crossed their minds? Maybe some of them thought, like the centurion by the cross, “surely this was the Son of God.” Probably, most ran away in abject terror.

In Matthew 28, the soldiers found their way back to the chief priests, not their Roman commanders, to give their report. If they’d been sleeping, as some say, they would have had nothing to report. Instead, their information alarmed the chief priests enough to offer them a substantial amount of money to keep quiet and lie about what they saw.

After this, we hear nothing more. That’s when I really start imagining. How did their lives change? I hope some of them became followers after reflecting on that experience. Imagine what they told their wives when asked, “How was your day?” How do you explain the strange event/miracle you’ve just seen? I would love to have been a fly on the wall during those conversations.

Jesus could have waited until the women arrived to roll the stone away, for them to witness the light of Jesus’ glory. While there did not seem to be any interaction between Jesus and the soldiers like there was with the women and the disciples, the soldiers were the ones physically present at the scene. As a twenty-first century Christian–and a Gentile–it occurred to me that maybe this was God’s way of including us in the resurrection. Perhaps this is our crumb from the master’s table, an indication that we, the Gentiles, are loved by God, also ordained to be his children. Whatever the case, nothing changes the bottom line:

HE IS RISEN! ALLELUIA!

 Easter blessings to all!

 

 

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