Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The tragedy of Calvary. Part 152.

The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken from prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920


WHILE the disciples were burying the body of the dead Lord, the members of the Sanhedrin held a council and debated the wonders which had taken place. But they were not converted. As soon as the sun would set the day of the preparation would end, and the great Sabbath day begin. They went to see Pilate, as the Gospel says.

"And the next day, which followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests came together to Pilate, saying : 'Sir, we have remembered that that seducer said, while he was yet alive: 'After three days I will rise from the dead.' Command therefore the sepulchre to be guarded until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him away, and say to the people: ' He is risen from the dead,' so the last error shall be worse than the first.' Pilate said to them : "You have a guard; go, guard it as you know.' And they departing made the sepulchre sure with guards sealing the stone." (Matt, xxvii. 62-66.)

As the mourners sang the Lamentations, 500 Roman soldiers in full armor, under Emelianus, surrounded the tomb while Caiphas, Annas and a large band of Temple guards with lanterns on long poles came into the garden. They were the Temple guards sent to watch with the Romans round the tomb.

Dark shades of setting sun fast are eastward stretching, as this band of priests and Temple guards roll back the stone, and go into the tomb to make sure the body is there. They close the bronze gates, roll back the great stone to the door, fasten a rope across the door which many times they wind round the stone, and seal rope and stone with cement, on which they impress the official Temple seal, fixing all so any attempt to steal the body would break the seals, as the prophet said: " As the gates that are made sure on every side, or like a dead man carried to the grave. ... so do the priests secure the doors with bars and locks, lest they be stripped by thieves." (Baruch vi. 17.)

The priests talk with Jewish guards, speak to Roman officers and return to the city. Thus was the body of the dead Christ watched by the very Temple guards, who had arrested him, and by 500 Roman soldiers from the Antonia fortress, the latter under a discipline stricter than the world ever saw. Josephus, who had lived in Roman camps after his arrest till the fall of the city, tells us of that military discipline.

"Now here one cannot but admire the precautions of the Romans. . . . and indeed, if any one but attends to the other parts of their military discipline, he will be forced to say that their obtaining so large a dominion hath been the acquisition of their valor, and not the bare gift of fortune. . . But as if their weapons did always cling to them, they never have any truce from warlike exercises, nor do they stay till times of war admonish them to use them. For their military exercises differ not at all from the real use of their arms, but every soldier is daily exercised, and that with great diligence, as if it were in time of war, which is the reason, they bear the fatigues of battle so easily. For neither can any dis order remove them from their usual regularity, nor can fear frighten them, nor can labor tire them, which firmness makes them overcome those who have not the same, nor would he mistake who would call these exercises bloodless battles, and their battles bloody exercises. . . .

"When they have thus secured themselves, they live together by companies, with quietness and decency as all their other affairs are managed with good order arid security. Each company has also their wood and provisions brought them, when they stand in need of them, for they neither sup nor dine as they please singly, but all together. Their times also for sleeping, and watching, and rising, are noted beforehand by the sound of trumpets, nor is anything done without such a signal. And in the morning the soldiers go every one to his centurion, and these centurions to their tribunes, to salute them, with whom all the superior officers go to the general of the whole army, who then gives them the password and other orders to be by them carried to all that are under their command, which is also observed when they go to fight. . . . The footmen are armed with breastplates, and helmets and have swords on. But the sword which is on the left side is much longer than the other. But these footmen that are chosen from among the rest to be about the general, have a lance and a shield. But the rest of the foot-soldiers have a spear and a long buckler, a pick-ax, a leather thong, and a hook with provisions for three days. . . .

"Now they manage the preparatory exercises of their weapons, that not the bodies of the soldiers only, but their souls also may become stronger. Moreover they are hardened for war by fear. For their laws inflict capital punishment, not only for soldiers running away from their ranks, but for slothfulness and inactivity, but in a lesser degree, as their generals are more severe than their laws. . . And the readiness of obeying their commanders is so great that it is very ornamental in peace. But when they come to a battle, the whole army is but one body, so well united are their ranks, so sudden is their turning about, so sharp their hearing as to what orders are given them, so quick their sight of the ensigns, and so nimble their hands when they set to work, etc." (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, B. iii., C. v., 1-7.)

Such was the discipline of the 500 Roman guards Pilate placed round the tomb of the dead Christ. They took their four hours' watch day and night, 100 men forming a guard under an officer called a centurion. These men armed to the teeth, formed a circle around the tomb. They would kill anyone who approached. To them it was death to break orders. In God's providence these five hundred men witnessed the resurrection, and gave testimony to what they saw that Sunday morning.