Scripture: John 19:18-27
"Sitting down, they kept watch over him there."
The soldiers sat down and guarded Jesus while we was nailed to the cross.
Why did the soldiers guard him? This seems to be a waste of time. These soldiers could be doing other duties that might be more productive or advantageous to the Roman government. Why keep watch? Consider the position Jesus is in:
- He has been securely fastened to the cross
- He has been severely beaten and has no strength
- He has lost a consider amount of blood
- He has undergone debilitating pain
It does appear that Jesus could not free himself from the spikes that had pinned his hands and feet to the cross. Even if he were to free himself, he could not mount the effort to escape. Normally those who were to be crucified were nailed to their cross and left to die a slow and painful death. The guards would return to their barracks or other duties while the victims were left to die due to pain, blood loss, bird attacks, and suffocation. Sometimes these deaths took days. This is why the soldiers often returned and broke the legs of the victims so that they could not use their legs to stave off suffocation. Why did they need to keep watch or to guard him? I think there are at least four plausible and viable reasons.
The first reason may have been to keep Jesus from being freed by his disciples. The Roman government might have felt that some of his followers would risk their lives in an attempt to free Jesus from this shameful and painful death. However this seems highly unlikely to me since his disciples scattered and had abandoned Jesus. Peter has denied him and ran off in the night. The other disciples are seemingly nowhere around.
The second reason may be closer to a reasonable answer. They were there to possibly stop or prevent some "miraculous" freeing of Jesus. I am not sure how they thought they might accomplish this should it happen. But Jesus had performed a number of spectacular miracles. He had healed people of horrific diseases, had raised people from the dead, and had even cast out vicious demons. Tremendous claims about Jesus had been passed around, including the ability of Jesus to rebuild the Temple in three days. Pilate who had commissioned the guard might have felt that Jesus whom he determined to be innocent might be "supernaturally" released from the cross.
The third reason may have been part of why he was guarded. The leading Jews of the Sanhedrin who demanded the trial and death sentence may have demanded a guard to prevent Jesus' followers from interfering with the death of Jesus. The leadership may have been fearful of the fact that Jesus' followers would prolong the death or even prevent his death with treatment. They would have wanted a guard to make sure no one interfered with the death of Jesus.
The fourth reason is probably the answer, the Romans and the Jews did not want his body stolen and secreted. Jesus had claimed a number of times that he would rise from the dead. He made this claim literally and at least once symbolically (destroy his body and he would raise it again.) Both entities would have wanted to make sure that Jesus was in fact dead and that no one stole his body in order to claim he had been resurrected.
This should have been the end of Jesus. He was to die. He was even guarded preventing any hopes of preventing his death. This would give cause to disbelieve God and His promises. These events could lead to the loss of faith and ultimate abandonment of Jesus. I need to remember that regardless of the seemingly impossible circumstances that God will always keep His word. I need to continue to exercise faith and be obedient in the face of the impossible. Guard the dying criminal all you want, at the precise time in God's plan, Jesus was raised from the dead.
Father, may I always be comforted and encouraged and enabled to believe you and trust you even in light of the most impossible circumstances. You were nailed to the cross and guarded by Roman soldiers to prevent any tampering with your death or resurrection and yet you were raised from the dead and declared to be the Son of God. I pray that I will always trust you.