What Were the Soldiers Doing at Jesus’ Tomb?

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered.  “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” (Matt. 27:65).

“So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.  And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Matt. 28:15).

In my first article in this series that I initiated last year, “Soldiers in Scripture – Warriors in the Word”, I unpacked what soldiers were doing on Good Friday.  It was fascinating to discover that soldiers were stationed at every critical juncture on the way.  They were directly involved in Jesus’ crucifixion and even fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures.  I invite you to read the article here.

In the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew and Mark, soldiers were mentioned several times.  They were there in the events leading right up to and after Jesus rose from the dead.  One leader of Soldiers verified that Jesus had actually died.  Other soldiers were scared to death by the angel at the tomb.  Later, these same soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened to Jesus and took a bribe. 

Mark observes one Soldier’s involvement

To start our discussion, there is a scene which included one special soldier who had been present at the cross.  This scene is also mentioned by Luke and John, but they chose to not mention the soldier.

A brief conversation took place between Joseph of Arimathea and Pilate right after Jesus died (Mark 15:43-45).  Joseph boldly asked Pilate for Jesus’s body so that he could bury him.  Pilate asked the centurion (a leader of 100 soldiers) to confirm that Jesus was actually dead.  This was the same one who had witnessed Jesus’ death and had proclaimed that He was the Son of God (see Mark 15:39).  He sent a message to Pilate that Jesus had in fact died.  Pilate then released his body to Joseph.

Matthew reports soldiers were ordered to guard Jesus’ tomb

Matthew’s perspective includes two other instances where soldiers guarded Jesus’ tomb.  However, before we dive in, it is important to learn why there was a need for a guard force in the first place.

We read in Matt. 27:62-66 that the chief priests and Pharisees were more than a little concerned.  They asked Pilate to give an order to secure Jesus’ tomb for three days.  The Jewish leaders did this out of fear that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He rose from the dead as He said He would.  Jesus’ prediction of His death and resurrection that He taught to His disciples was recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels; see Matt. 20:18-19; Mark 10:33-34; and Luke 18:31-33.  Pilate granted their request.  They put a seal on the stone that covered the entrance and posted guards. 

David Turner, in his Baker Exegetical Commentary on Matthew explains that “these soldiers and the sealed stone constitute imperial authority over the tomb.  The seal would be clay or wax pressed into the crack between the rolling stone and the tomb’s entrance.  The imperial seal stamped on the clay or wax signified Rome’s authority . . . but a higher power would arrive on the scene when dawn came.”

At dawn on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary visited Jesus’ tomb (see Matt. 28:1).  Matthew reports that there had been a violent earthquake, that an angel had come down from heaven, had rolled the stone away, and then sat on it (v. 2).  The angel’s appearance was like lightning.  His clothes were as white as snow (v. 3).  This caused quite a reaction amongst the soldiers who were guarding the tomb.  They were so afraid that they went into shock; they were “like dead men” (v. 4). 

Turner observes, “How much the guards saw and comprehended is not clear.  The angel’s appearance caused them to faint (28:4), and they regained consciousness to discover the empty tomb.”

These soldiers were mentioned again in Matt. 28:11-15 after the women ran to tell Jesus’ disciples.  This time, they were tempted to violate their integrity and took a bribe.  Let’s take a closer look.

Matthew reports soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened

Some, but not all, of the guards went to the city to report what they had seen at Jesus’ tomb to the chief priests.  Turner indicates that the soldiers were “unintentional evangelists”, proclaiming that Jesus had risen.  They met with the elders and concocted a hoax.  (Ironically, this is exactly what they were trying to prevent Jesus’ disciples from doing and why they put guards in place.) 

These soldiers were instructed to tell people that Jesus’ disciples stole his body at night while they were sleeping.  To motivate these soldiers to tell this lie, they gave them a large sum of money.  The chief priests promised to keep them out of trouble.  The soldiers took the money and did as they were told to do.  

How should Christian soldiers act now?

There are several applications that Christian soldiers can learn from the soldiers at Jesus’ tomb:

  • Fulfill your duties as a soldier, even when no one is looking, whether it be guarding your post, cleaning your rifle, filing routine paperwork, or leading soldiers into harm’s way
  • If you have encountered the risen Christ, tell someone about it
  • Do the right thing, even if those in authority encourage you to violate your integrity; if you are given an unlawful order, get some outside advice before you blindly obey them
  • Don’t take a bribe; the price you pay later will cause you to regret your short-term gain

I trust that this devotional helped you understand the role that soldiers played in the events around Jesus’ resurrection.  I hope that you will also experience God’s presence during this Easter season.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Servant Leadership and Reputation

(This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

“It’s not about Russ; it’s about us.”

I say this every once in a while to my Operations team.  One context where I say this is when I am sharing a personal story from my own experience.  I want to emphasize that the purpose of the story is not to put the spotlight on me.  My intent is to provide mentorship and to develop these future leaders for the greater good of our team, our customers, our superiors, and the organization we serve.

It is well-known that the one word that epitomizes a distinctly Christlike approach to managing others is “servant” leadership.  I lead in order to serve.  I have been entrusted with this huge responsibility to manage a small team, to care for and train individuals on my team, to provide all the resources they need to be successful, and to ensure that the team works well together so that we can function well.

I have found over the past thirteen years in this great job that I hold now, that as I have served my team, my customers, and my superiors well, I have built and maintained a solid reputation of trust.  This not only reflects on me, but more importantly, it reflects well on my organization and its leaders.

Before I dive in to my practical focus and share some wisdom regarding the benefits of building a solid reputation, I would be remiss if I did not touch on a few relevant Scriptures to this topic.

What does Scripture have to say?

In Prov. 3:3-4, Solomon exhorts his son to not forget the teachings of Yahweh, and to be a loving and faithful man.  If he does this, he will win the respect of others and will develop a good reputation.

The verse I most often think of when I think of the word reputation is Prov. 22:1, which states, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (vol. 2) summarizes this key verse in this way: “In particular, the wise care more about their honest reputations than about their bank accounts.”  Well said. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes, which may have been Solomon also, expresses in Eccl. 7:1 a similar concept about the lasting value of a solid reputation.  He states that it is better than fine perfume. 

Serving my team

I have heard it said that all leaders bring joy to their workplace.  Some leaders do it when they step into the office.  Other leaders do it when they leave the office.  I know which one I want to strive to be.  I do want people to feel good about working on my team.  It is not about winning a popularity contest.  It is about creating a positive work environment where every one of my employees are treated with dignity and respect.  (I invite you to read an article I wrote on this critical topic here.)

With all my faults, I know that I do some things right.  I genuinely care for my people.  I take an interest in their personal lives, their families, their health, and their careers.  I take time to ask how people are doing; I really want to know.  I make an honest attempt to listen and care when needed.

When they leave the unit, I want to ensure each member of my team remembers how they were cared for so they know what right looks like.   When they go to their next unit, they can go and do likewise.

Serving my customers

I am not quite sure why I get all these calls, but I often receive phone calls requesting information (i.e., a publication, a point of contact, a phone number, etc.).  I do what I can to assist; it does not matter who it is.  I treat a phone call or email request for information from a Sergeant in the Army National Guard with the same dignity and respect as a full-bird Colonel working at the Pentagon.

Here’s why this is so important.  If I fail to assist them in a timely and professional manner, they will not necessarily remember my name when they complain to someone.  They will attribute the lack of support to the organization.  However, if I do assist them well, the organization will get all the credit.

Ultimately, what I do or fail to do will directly impact people’s impression of my organization.  As I perform my duties and responsibilities, my personal reputation will directly impact the reputation of my organization.  If I am trustworthy, they will trust my unit.  If I fail to earn that trust, they won’t trust the organization.  Once again, it has come full circle.  It’s really not about Russ; it’s about us.

Serving my superiors

I have shared a little of why and how I have showed a servant spirit to my team and to my customers.  Lastly, I need to discuss how I serve my bosses.  For me, this is probably the most difficult of the three groups of people to focus on.  (I have reflected on this in a previous article on my blog here.)

Let me share some of my challenges.  In the Army school headquarters where I serve, the officers and NCOs rotate in and out of positions every year or two.  Just when I get them trained, it’s time for them to go.  I say that facetiously, but there is some truth to it.  My role is to provide continuity. 

Every time I get a new supervisor, it usually takes several months to earn their trust and to develop a good working relationship with them.  Sometimes, it happens sooner than that.  Sometimes, it just does not happen.  Unfortunately, it is not always possible to be at peace with all.  (See Rom. 12:18.)

However, I found that when I work as unto the Lord, humbly submit to their authority, anticipate what they (and their bosses) might need, and go the extra mile to try to meet their high standards and expectations, they begin to learn to trust me, knowing that I am there to set them up for success.

My challenge

I do not know what your situation is like at work.  I do not know what kind of reputation you have with your team, your customers, or your superiors.  However, I do know that if needed, you can begin today by serving them all in a Christ-like manner with humility, diligence, and grace by meeting their needs on a consistent basis.  As you do this good work, not to be seen by others, but to serve God wholeheartedly, your excellent reputation will increase, and will bring glory your Father in heaven.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

A Few Thoughts on the Trinity

This is a tricky topic for Christians to discuss.  It is a tough topic for me to write about.  I have been developing this article off and on for quite some time.  I started it nearly three years ago.  There is something I need to say.  I feel compelled to help my brothers and sisters to better understand the idea of the Trinity, and more importantly, to be able to apply this understanding in their walk.

I am hoping that you will trust me enough to dive a little bit deeper into this challenging topic.  I want to address just a couple of ideas which may radically alter the way you think, feel, and relate to those who are the subject of the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy”: God in three persons; blessed Trinity.

An observation about contemporary Christian music

I listen to a lot of contemporary Christian music on the radio and I have sung modern praise songs in local churches or Army chapels.  I have seen a somewhat disturbing trend over the last decade or two.  At times, it seems that emotion has overshadowed Christian doctrine.  Let me explain.

Many well-meaning songwriters have not been careful to distinguish between God the Father and God the Son.  In our attempts to express our understanding of the doctrine of Jesus, or Christology (which asserts correctly that Jesus is fully man and fully divine), we often say, “Jesus is God”.  This statement, if used out of context, might cause a songwriter to use God and Jesus interchangeably in their lyrics.  I believe this is inherently confusing and is a major misunderstanding of the Trinity.

For example, notice the line from this popular worship song shown above.  This song is about the beautiful name of Jesus.  Then, without warning, this line pops up on the screen: “Now and forever God you reign.”  The first time we sang it in church I could not sing it.  It just did not seem right.

There is another popular song by a group I truly enjoy listening to.  It is about two of the names of Jesus.  It brings together the biblical imagery from the book of Revelation, where Jesus is depicted as the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world and also the Lion of Judah.  However, when we get to the chorus, I cringe every time the words come up: “Our God is the Lion . . . Our God is the Lamb . . . For who can stop the Lord Almighty.”  The Lord Almighty is a special name of God that is found in the Old Testament.  As such, I am not sure it is accurate to call Jesus by that name.

Now that I have ruined a couple of perfectly good worship songs, I had better jump to the Scriptures for a little help.

Jesus came to reveal the Father, not replace Him

I have to admit.  I do struggle a bit myself to fully understand and apply this mysterious doctrine where One is Three and the Three are One; distinct in persons, and yet unified in substance. 

However, I know that Jesus did not come to replace God the Father.  He came to reveal Him.  The reason Jesus came to us so that we could come to God the Father.  A believer who only relates to Jesus but not to the Father has an incomplete understanding of faith and the doctrine of God.

In John 14:6, after Jesus tells His disciples that He was the way, the truth, and the life, He states, “no one comes to the Father except through me.”  What Jesus meant was that believing in Him is the only way that anyone can come to the Father.  All who approach God must come by faith in Jesus alone. However, Jesus never intended for His followers to merely come to Him and then stop there.

Moreover, Paul points out in Rom. 5:1 that we have been justified through faith in Christ, which results in “peace with God”.  This is not the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).  This refers to a radical change in status from being God’s enemy to becoming His child.  The writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians to “draw near to God” because we have “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19-22).  We have been given a rare gift that the OT believers did not have – direct access to God.  Drawing near to God was why Jesus died for you and me.  His clear intent that we would enjoy a living, loving relationship with His Father, just as He did.

One in essence, three in Persons

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology articulates the doctrine of the Trinity quite simply: “God is one in being or essence who exists eternally in three distinct co-equal ‘persons’.”

The Apostle Paul, who is consistently Christ-centered in his theology, often refers to both Father and Son.  In 1 Cor. 8:6, he offers this balanced view of the Trinity for our consideration: “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”  This statement emphasizes Paul’s understanding of the distinct roles between God the Father and Jesus the Son. 

Jesus stated in John 10:30 that He and the Father are one, meaning that they are unified and of the same essence.  He clearly could not have meant they are one and the same person.  The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father.  This was evident at the Lord’s baptism.  When Jesus is getting baptized, the voice of the Father is heard, and the Holy Spirit descends as a dove (Matt. 3:16-17).

John 5:17-23 helps us understand how Jesus saw his relationship with His Father.  Jesus stated that His Father always works, and so does He (v. 17).  The Jewish leaders understood the ramifications of this powerful statement.  They were angry to the point of wanting to kill Jesus, not only for breaking the Sabbath, but because He was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v. 18).  Note the term John uses.  They said that Jesus was making Himself equal with God.  Not identical to, interchangeable with, or one and the same, but equal in terms of their divine essence.

In the next verse, Jesus describes His motivation to “do only what he sees his Father doing” (v. 19).  The Father raises people from the dead and so does the Son (v. 21).  When Jesus was declared as God’s representative on earth as the Son of God and Son of Man, God the Father assigned Jesus to be the judge of all (v. 22).  On Judgment Day, all people will honor Jesus as Lord of Lords and King of Kings, just as they have honored the Father (v. 23).  The Apostle Paul confirms this, stating that on that Day, “every knee shall bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-10).

How to speak of the Trinity with precision

Yes, I believe that Jesus is 100% man and 100% divine.  But I am careful not to say “Jesus is God” without qualifying my statement.  I prefer to say that He is the Word of God, the image of God the Father, or that He is the Son of God.  (See also John 1:1-3, Col. 1:15, and Heb. 1:3).  Let me explain.

It is my simple observation, with several notable exceptions of course, that most of the time that the New Testament writers use the word “God”, they are almost always referring to God the Father.

It is true that an orthodox understanding of the Trinity, based on the Scriptures and the historic creeds of the Christian faith teaches us to believe that “The Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God”.  I do believe that myself.  However, when we import this understanding into a Bible passage whenever we read the word “God”, thinking that “God” means any or all three of the members of the Godhead, we are not interpreting Scripture correctly.  This seems to be bad hermeneutics.

In closing, let me share one of several benedictions that the Apostle Paul gives at the end of his epistles, which again demonstrates his balanced understanding and careful identification of the Trinity as three distinct persons:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).

You see, I think Paul understood the distinctions and the roles of the three divine and equal persons of the Trinity.  He had a personal relationship with each one of the members of the Godhead in the way the Bible describes.  We would be wise to do the same.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.