The Roman military had been enlisted to secure the peace of the city during the recent days of Jewish unrest. Throughout the Roman occupation of Israel and its capitol city, Jerusalem, there had been various conflicts that had arisen due to small insurgences to overthrow Rome’s domination or because of protests against increased taxation. The present turmoil was unique, however, because this disorder arose from infighting among the Jews. Pilate did not care which faction won nor did he care how the religious hierarchy maintained their power base, but he did care about the stability of the city. He knew Rome was watching and his political future would be evaluated based upon his handling of the dissidents of Israel.
Every Roman soldier was aware of the past days’ events: the midnight trial of the man named Jesus, the demands from the Sanhedrin for Roman assistance, Pilate’s attempt to circumvent his culpability by sending the trial to Herod’s jurisdiction, and ultimately the crucifixion of the man given the title ‘King of the Jews.’ Facts mingled with rumors about the curious events circulated throughout the military ranks. Although some soldiers had heard the message of the Galilean and seen his miracles, no man dared to offer any voice in opposition to Pilate’s course of action because they knew their superiors were listening.
At the request of the Pharisees, Pilate ordered that the tomb of Jesus be secured. The religious leaders were apprehensive about the fate of his remains. Based upon Jesus’ claim that he would rise from the dead, they feared that his followers would steal his body and boast that he had, indeed, been resurrected. A sentinel was ordered to seal the huge stone covering the mouth of the cave in which the body was placed and to set round-the-clock lookouts. The boldest and bravest wanted the assignment, because the whole city was watching. Successfully accomplishing the primary objective of guarding against intruders, securing the body, and maintaining the honor of Rome’s military prowess might procure a promotion.
On the last evening of the set watch, the unexpected occurred. The perimeter was breached. An intruder, whose very appearance struck so much fear in the warriors that they were powerless to fight, unsealed the grave and rolled back the stone. One look inside revealed that the body of Jesus was gone. Immediately, another apprehension fell upon the guards. They had failed their mission. Someone would need to know, and they would need to answer. There would be dire consequences. More than promotion or reputation was at stake. They might have to pay with their very lives because their magistrates were both watching and listening.
The empty tomb changed the promotion the centurions hoped to receive, thwarted the ambitions of the Jewish religious hierarchy, and frustrated the dictates of Pilate. The best attempts of those parties to secure their desired futures were, doubtless, foiled by an empty tomb. Not only then, but now, the resurrection of Christ still has the power to change anticipated outcomes. From the Pilate-type person who refuses to rightly acknowledge Jesus’ role as savior hoping to instead receive the accolades from lesser potentates to the combatant-type man who thinks he can use his physical or mental prowess to guarantee that God’s inerrant word will fail, the empty tomb testifies to the only valid authority in whom man can place his hopes.
In contrast, any and all who place faith in Christ and His promises even when popular opinion might suggest such a stand to be unwise, will find a future that guarantees everlasting reward. And, for those who believe that God is both watching and listening to a faithful witness, the empty tomb removes the fear of death both in this life and that which is to come.