Pilate Receives a Report of a Plot
After the many things that happened during that momentous week, reports began to come in to Pontius Pilate, Roman Governor, that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth had been found empty. Pilate demanded an explanation as the chief priests had persuaded him to order a watch over the tomb.
The priests informed Pilate they had already interrogated the soldiers who had reported that while they were sleeping, the disciples of Jesus had come in the night and stolen his body away. This story was already being discussed among the people. Again the priests had managed to persuade Pilate and protect the soldiers, as sleeping on duty was a serious offence.
They all thought this would be an end to the matter. Further reports soon began to arrive that other tombs had also been found empty and that the occupants had been seen walking in the city of Jerusalem.
Pilate Hears of the Empty Tomb
Pilate: I want those soldiers brought here for immediate questioning.
Priest: But Sir, Governor, we have given our assurance to them of their safety inside our temple. We cannot go back on our word, for that would be a desecration of our beliefs.
Pilate: You didn’t think it a desecration of your beliefs when you held illegal night trials to further your agenda? Have your laws changed since then? And desecrating your Sabbath…
Priest: Sir, this matter is difficult for both of us. It seems to us that if the report gets out of sleeping soldiers being punished, it could diminish the fear and respect towards the army in Judea. That means yet more embarrassment for us among the people. It would seem best to let the matter go away and be forgotten. In any case, the whole thing will be forgotten in a week, and the thorn in the flesh of both of us removed for good.
Pilate: He is not the only thorn in my flesh. So I see you have worked this one out too with your customary cunning. I loathe to admit it, but again I appear to have been manoeuvred into a position. But it seems your advice is the least of evils. This, then, is my order. The stone is to be rolled back into its place. The remaining soldiers will return to duty but without harm. Thirdly, you will make a proclamation to the people concerning the true series of events. And one more thing, you are to supply any information regarding the ringleaders of this resurrection plot and hand them over to us immediately.
Priest: But Sir…
Pilate: What I have said, I have said.
Pilate manages a half-smile, his small victory over his tormentors. He sits wearily down and props up his head in his hands, gazing forward in doubt. The dreams of his wife come back into his mind. So it will all be over in a week? I wonder, he asked himself.
The Last Mistake
The chief priests and Pharisees had come together on the Sabbath because they were not at peace. Even after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, they feared the disciples of Jesus might come in the night and steal his body away. Then they would say to the people that he was risen from the dead after three days as he said he would. They feared that many people would believe the report and become followers. They also feared this last mistake would be worse than the first. So they decided to come together and persuade Pilate to give the order to set a watch and secure the tomb until the third day. After some deliberation, Pilate was again forced to acknowledge the validity of their arguments and grant them their watch, and ordered them to go and make the tomb as secure as they could.
Soldier’s Report of the Empty Graves
It became worse, as if the matter with the tomb wasn’t enough, and hunting for the body of Jesus of Nazareth which was presumed to have been stolen. Despite examination, nothing was adding up, and we were left perplexed. Evidences only led to more questions.
Now reports were starting to come in of graves having been opened. The bodies of people were missing from the graves. Some had only recently died, now reported to have been seen walking in Jerusalem. We suspected a Jewish plot, probably by the followers of Jesus or Barabbas, to destabilise Roman rule and usher in the new kingdom ruled by their risen messiah. Had Jesus not said, my kingdom is not here now, and when it is my followers will fight for me?
Further investigations left us even more puzzled. The graves had been opened all right, but from within. Come to think of it, just like the tomb of Jesus. Report after report came in, supposedly of dead relatives seen in Jerusalem. No, not ghosts, but the actual bodies, the people who had been dead and buried. Was this a cunningly crafted plot? Mass hysteria? Some had called it the resurrection of the saints. So far, we had no reliable witness and no credible evidence or answers. Only eyewitness reports leading to more questions, doubts and panic.
It seems to have all started with that report of the watch. What were we to do? Guard graves of dead people?
Pilate Hears of the Empty Graves
Soldier: Sir, reports are coming in of witnesses who claim to have seen and met the man Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified several days ago.
Pilate: I should have foreseen this would happen. They have their martyr for their cause. First, the empty tomb, and now this. First, they wanted me to get rid of him, then order a guard for a dead man’s tomb. Then to remove the inscription I had written, and then to remove the body from the cross. And now this? But it appears `our friends’ the priests were right and that the last error will be worse than the first. Give immediate orders that any further information is given to me immediately. I want anyone claiming to have seen Jesus be taken and brought in for questioning.
Suddenly, another guard comes in.
Pilate: Yes, what is it now?
Guard: Sir, I have been informed of reports coming in of empty tombs and…
Pilate: Out with it!
Guard: Of empty tombs and… and… of people who have risen from their graves.
Pilate: Order the guards to immediately seek out the body robbers and apprehend them.
Guard: But Sir…
Pilate: Yes, what is it?
Guard: There are eyewitnesses to testify that they have seen and spoken to the bodies of their relatives who they claim are now alive.
Pilate sits down in astonishment that gives way to a great weariness.
Pilate: Is there no end to this business? First, one empty tomb and now an army of them! Now it starts. He spoke of a kingdom and of a resurrection. This is going to unsettle the populace and dangerously undermine our authority in Judea. Rome will not stand for it. I want you to take a patrol of guards and seek out those who are spreading these dangerous and insidious rumours for questioning and examination by torture if necessary. I want the ringleaders of this resurrection sect apprehended and their plot exposed for what it is.
The Proclamation of the Priests
The priests had been ordered by Pilate to make an address to the people. They had taken counsel and next morning made the following proclamation:
We, your leaders, address your concerns over the false reports and tales of the deceiver, Jesus of Nazareth, rising again. We have been reliably informed by the soldiers of the watch that his followers came in the night while the soldiers were sleeping and stole the body away. By doing this, they hoped their story and false teaching could continue after his death. As for stories of the so-called resurrection dead, this too has been revealed as a plot by zealots and fanatics working against both us and the Roman authorities. Therefore we command that anyone who has knowledge of the ringleaders of this dangerous sect is reported to us immediately or else they will be excluded from the temple and handed over to the Roman authorities.
The Soldier in Charge of the Watch
I was in charge of the soldiers who guarded the tomb of Christ. It was the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus.
As it began to dawn, there was a deep rumbling noise, and the whole ground started to shake. Everything was shaking. It was frightening. Then we saw what looked like some sort of man coming down from the sky above us.
I tell the truth. His face was flashing like lightning, and his clothing was shining like snow. He came down and rolled the heavy stone from the door. He then laid the stone on the ground and sat on it! We were terrified.
We couldn’t bear him looking at us with those terrible eyes burning like lamps. We were shaking with fear and fell to the ground like dead men. I felt that if I saw his face again, I would die.
I remember being on the ground face down, still shaking uncontrollably, but I thought I heard some talking. Maybe it was the man talking. Something about the body not being there because he had risen from the dead. Something about him going back to Galilee. I don’t know who he was talking to.
When we came to, there was no one else there, only our weapons lying on the cold hard ground. I looked towards the tomb and then staggered to the open entrance, and saw the stone was still lying nearby. No, it hadn’t been a nightmare, it was all horribly true.
I peered inside but the tomb was empty. The body was gone. I saw the grave clothes lying there, still bearing the shape of a figure but with no body inside. I froze on the spot and couldn’t speak for a while.
I turned to the others who were left. One of them had run off in terror. I shouted to them: He is gone, the body is gone. The others came to the entrance and looked in. They were speechless. I asked them what are we going to do now? How will we explain this? Whoever will believe us?
One of us said: You explain it. I am not going back. No one will ever believe what has happened here. We will only be severely punished. I’ve had enough, I’m going far away.
I tried to regain my composure, and said, There is nothing else to do, we have to do our duty and report back to the priests and tell them what happened here, whether they believe us or not. Let’s go.
One more thing, as we were going back into the city, we noticed two women hurrying also into the city as if they had some important news to tell someone. Somehow I felt they were involved in all this, but I didn’t think to stop them and question them.
I couldn’t rest after this. I kept having nightmares and kept on seeing that terrible face, waking up and saying over and over again: The body is gone, the body is gone.
One of the Watch Who Ran Away
I don’t really want to talk about it. What can I tell you? What happened there early that morning destroyed my life.
After the earthquake, I saw a light coming down like the figure of a man, his clothes shining like snow in the sun, his face flashing like lightning. It was terrifying beyond imagination. We were all shaking. It is difficult to describe what I felt. A sense of danger I had never known. I felt myself falling like being shaken down to the ground.
I still feel shaky when I think about it to this day and I get vivid nightmares where I wake up in a cold sweat. I keep on seeing that face coming down from the sky. I used to think that all that talk about gods and spirits were just stories, but now I know, I’m telling you, nothing in this life can prepare you for what we went through. There was no strength left in me to resist and I fell into a very deep sleep.
That’s it, that’s what it was like. My life is ruined, I’ll never be the same man again. I live constantly with the fear that I’ll be caught by the soldiers. I’ve always got my back to the wall. I can’t even bear talking about it. Maybe the man from the sky will come back and find me.
I wish I’d never been there on that morning.
Another Soldier of the Watch Who Ran Away
Yes, some of us ran away. We ran for it. What would you have done in our position? Who was going to believe our story? They would think that we were mad.
In a way, I am still running. I guess I will always be running. Maybe I am trying to run away from the truth of what happened that morning, but it’s inside of me, inside my mind.
I have no answers, but I feel it has everything to do with that Jesus of Nazareth. I have heard stories about him being alive. It seems impossible, but then what happened to us was impossible, yet it happened. I have nothing more to say and just want to be left alone.
One of the Watch Who Returned to the City
After those things, early that morning, some of us came back into the city and told the chief priest what had happened. They drew back and stared at us as if we had gone mad. Then they put us aside and told us to rest.
They assembled a council with the elders. They came back later with large bags of money and instructed us to say that his disciples came at night and stole the dead body away while we were sleeping.
I knew that we were being bribed to keep silent. I tried to protest, saying that’s not what happened. People will ask us how did we know they stole the body if we were sleeping?
This means big trouble for us. They said if you don’t do as we tell you, there will be even more trouble. Then one of the priests said, don’t worry if the governor hears of it, we will persuade him and safeguard you. Now take the money and tell it like we have told you.
What else could we do? Trapped between the priests and Pilate? So we took the bags of money and told the story – their story. Do you know that everyone believed us? I could hardly believe it myself. They are still repeating the lies to this day. Yes, I lied to others, but I couldn’t lie to myself concerning what really happened that morning.
The Fourth Guard
I kept looking back at that sealed stone blocking the doorway to the tomb. Maybe it was some sense or premonition – all those stories and prophecies – but wasn’t he dead, quite dead? He couldn’t even save himself. How on earth could he come back to life? Hadn’t it all been a superstition? Yet I kept thinking that everything he ever said had a habit of coming true.
Pilate had granted the chief priests and Pharisees their watch, commanding them to go and make it as secure as possible. Had we not checked it thoroughly and sealed the stone? What else could possibly happen?
The priest had feared his disciples would come at night and steal the body away. Then they would tell the people that he was risen from the dead. Not much chance of that, I thought, the cowards had abandoned him in the garden. They had not as much as showed their faces, even when he was crucified. They were all in hiding for their own lives. But I could not stop myself from looking back at that sealed door.
The Gardener of Golgotha
I was working in the garden on the first day of the week, near to sunset, after the high Sabbath, when suddenly there was deep rumbling beneath my feet, and the whole ground was shaking. I became afraid and noticed the area the lower graves up from the stone tombs of the rich men were heaving as if being broken up.
The shaking increased, and I dropped my rake, and stumbling across, put my back against a rock wall. Then the shaking suddenly stopped. Tense moments passed, and there were sounds like the ground being tossed apart. It seemed like the graves were being opened.
Then I saw the bodies of the sleeping dead slowly rising up out of their graves. I cannot put into words what I felt, but I was petrified, frozen in terror where I stood. I saw them rise and stand up on their feet. I don’t know how many. They were shaking the ground off their bodies, and then they took the cloths off their faces and opened their eyes.
I thought I recognised one of them, a man who had been buried there weeks ago. He reached out a hand of recognition towards me and others were also walking slowly towards me.
That was it, I could take no more. A wild panic came over me, and I started to run for it, running as fast as I could, for my life. I ran through the city gates – it was only a short distance from the tombs to the city wall – into my house, bolted my door and collapsed breathless on the floor.
I couldn’t stop my mind playing the images of what I had seen over and over.
I later heard of the story of the dead who had risen and appeared to many in the city of Jerusalem. I did not see them, the risen dead, again. Others had proclaimed that the crucified prophet from Galilee had also risen earlier that day because his tomb had been found empty. I told no one. This is the first time I have told what I saw that day. I have not been back there ever since.
Simon Peter and the Sign of the Napkin
After we heard Mary’s account of speaking with Jesus, I, Simon Peter and John ran towards the tomb. John, who was younger, had reached the tomb first. When I came to the tomb, he was standing outside and said: It’s true, it’s true. I asked him: What is true?
He did not reply, and I saw that the stone had been taken away from the door. So I entered into the tomb. The smell of spices was still in the air and light was flooding in through the open door.
I saw the linen cloth that had been wound around the Lord lying there. They were just lying there on the floor as if someone had stepped out of them as if they still had the shape of a body. Maybe because the living no longer needed the clothes of the dead.
Then I saw the napkin that had been covering his head, but it was not lying with the rest of the linen cloth. It had been folded neatly in a place by itself. What could it all mean? The stone rolled away, the missing guards, the empty tomb, the missing body, the clothes left there as some kind of witness and that napkin like a sign to us.
It kept coming back into my mind. Then I remembered the day when he had washed our feet and the way he had laid his clothes aside folded. It all seemed so familiar.
The simple truth was staring me in the face, but I couldn’t accept the impossible. No matter what my eyes were telling me, it was all too much to take in.
I remembered how he had foretold how he would die and rise again the third day. Today was that day, but I could not understand what the rising from the dead could mean. I could not understand it.
I made my way back, wondering what could have happened.
The Grave Clothes
Yes, it’s true I took the grave clothes of Jesus. The linen cloths that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had used to wind around the body of Jesus. The cloths still had the strong odour of myrrh, and I was struck by the way the linen cloths were lying in the tomb when I first saw them. They seemed to have the shape of a figure as if someone had just walked out of them or through them. It was so strange I couldn’t understand it.
Also, the napkin that had been around his head was not lying with the linen cloths but was lying by itself neatly folded. I imagined that when Jesus rose from the dead, he had folded the napkin that way himself. Maybe as a sign for those who believed in him. It had been John and Peter who first saw the linen cloths and the napkin and they told us what they had seen.
Later that day, I went again to the tomb and gathered them together. When I touched them, I felt a strange, almost unreal sensation. Now I had become the keeper, no, the custodian of the last clothes that Jesus had worn upon Earth. How strange, just like the story we had heard of his birth and how his mother had wrapped him in swaddling clothes. I would keep them safe forever as a witness to his resurrection.
Then a thought came to me. Maybe the Roman soldiers would come looking for the cloths as some type of evidence. I could not bear the thought of them putting their hands on them. I walked out of the tomb while looking to see if anyone was there, and I hurried away.
I was Chuza, steward to Herod the King. Jesus was sent to us for judgment by Pilate, who apparently had found no fault in him. I had suspected this was all about envy. People know how jealously those priests guard their influence over the minds of the people.
After Herod had asked Jesus many things and received no answers, his mood was changing from gladness to mockery. I found the many accusations of the chief priests both distasteful and overdone, but it seemed to embolden the men of war who joined in with the mockery. I saw all this, being at Herod’s right hand.
Then one of the soldiers picked up one of the robes and put it upon Jesus. He said: Look here he is, the true King of the Jews.
The whole hall was filled with the sound of laughter. Throughout all this, Jesus said and did nothing in response.
Yes, I had been there, but I did not join in with that ganging up on that one defenceless man who seemed no threat to us.
Despite this, wasn’t he a fellow Galilean?
I didn’t want those stuck-up Jerusalemites making sport, telling stories about those trouble-making northerners, ingratiating themselves to Pilate.
Then I noticed my wife Joanna wiping away tears with her sleeves. I could see the effect all this was having on her, but I couldn’t comfort her. I dared not incur Herod’s displeasure. I knew he had believed in this prophet, that he was the one who John the Baptist had prophesied would come.
One thing I did know, no man who ever lived had done the things this man had done.
Now we were sending him back again to Pilate, a fellow countryman, into the hands of the Romans at the behest of those plotting priests. I could not interfere nor dare to suggest an alternative outcome.
Herod’s decision was final. I saw Jesus of Galilee taken away to his fate.
Herod’s Letter to Pilate
I, Pilate, was surprised to see the soldiers I sent with the famous prisoner Jesus to Herod return so soon. I was even more surprised to see the prisoner adorned in a gorgeous robe, looking both comical and tragic. Even his own countrymen had rejected him and wanted no part of him. Why do these people insist on beating up their prisoners before a trial has even begun?
Guard: Sir, Herod having questioned the prisoner in many words, has sent him back to you, as nothing worthy of death has been committed by him. I have also with me a writing from Herod who desires to see you regarding the matter of a speedy resolution to our common problem.
Has he indeed? Hand me the communication.
Governor, you sent this man to me to be tried, but despite the vehement accusations of the chief priests and scribes, we could not find him guilty of any crime deserving of death. Indeed I was exceedingly glad to see him for some time, having heard so many surprising things he did. I also hoped to see some demonstration of his miraculous powers for myself, but I saw nothing. He also said nothing, not a word. Eventually, our patience came to an end, and my men of war began to mock him as a nothing. They even put on him a magnificent robe deserving of a pretender of the title of King of the Jews. I am sending him back to you for your judgment.
I, Pilate, pondered upon the problem handed back to me and decided the best course of action was to gather together the chief priests and rulers of the people and leave the decision with them, as it was the custom to release one prisoner at the feast of their Passover. I was confident that I could convince the people to choose to release the King of the Jews.