Tertius

Based on Matthew 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 18-20

A Roman soldier stands guard as Jesus is questioned by Governor Pilate, put before the people, sentenced to death and finally nailed to a cross. Ordered to guard the tomb where the body of Jesus has been laid, the soldier falls asleep and wakes to find a miracle is happening before his very eyes.

Copyright Gavin Owen 2005



“Attention!”

Tertius snapped his heels together and put his hands by his sides as Governor Pilate stormed into the room. It was very early in the morning. Governor Pilate didn't usually get up until lunchtime.

“It must be something really serious to get the Governor out of bed,” thought Tertius as he watched Pilate throw himself into his chair. “Now he'll be in a foul mood all day.”

Pilate glanced up and saw Tertius watching him – “What are you looking at soldier?” he barked.

“Nothing, sir,” replied Tertius looking away. Tertius didn't enjoy his job very much these days – he'd liked being a Roman soldier until he'd been sent here, to Israel, to Jerusalem, to work for Governor Pilate. But a soldier has to go where he's sent and do what he's told.

Pilate glared around the room and shouted at his servant. “What are you waiting for? Bring them in then! This had better be good!”

The servant soon came back with a whole crowd of men following him. Tertius could see that they were priests and teachers from the temple, all except one, the one in the middle, he was no priest. He wore ordinary clothes, he looked gentle and calm, but the other men seemed to be very angry with him.

Tertius listened as the priests and teachers told Pilate that the man was a criminal, that he was a rebel trying to take over the country, that he was telling people not to pay taxes to Caesar, that he claimed to be a king. Pilate looked at the man, like a cat looking at a mouse.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked him.

“Yes,” said the man softly, “it is just as you say.”

“Well that's not a crime under Roman law,” Pilate snorted, “This man is no criminal.”

But the priests and teachers continued to argue. “He's been stirring up trouble everywhere he goes with his new teaching,” they insisted, “and he claims to be the Son of God!”

Tertius watched as Pilate leaned closer to Jesus.

“Well?” asked Pilate, “Aren't you going to answer them? Don't you have anything to say for yourself?”

Tertius strained to hear the man's reply, but he heard nothing, perhaps the man didn't answer.

Suddenly the door opened and another soldier, a man from the same squad as Tertius, came into the room.

“Governor Pilate!” the soldier began, “There's a large crowd outside, a mob, they're shouting about this man here, they want blood.”

Pilate got up and walked to the window. He looked out and then turning to Tertius he pointed at the man and growled “Bring him!”

Tertius took hold of the man by the arm, but he didn't struggle or try to get away. They followed the Governor out onto the balcony and when the crowd down below saw the man they began to boo and jeer.

“Silence!” Pilate commanded them “I have questioned this man and I find him guilty of no crime. But to keep you happy I will have him whipped before he is released.”

“No!” shouted back the people in the crowd. “Crucify him! Nail him to a cross and leave him there to die!”

“But he has done nothing to deserve death,” Pilate informed then, “Listen! You know that I like to release a prisoner whenever there is a festival. So, as it's Passover, shall I release this king of the Jews to you?”

Then the crowd shouted back so loudly that Tertius wished he could let go of the man and put his hands over his ears.

“Crucify him!” they shouted, “Crucify him!”

“Very well,” Pilate replied to the crowd, and then looking at Tertius he said “Take him away and crucify him, but give him a good whipping first anyway.”

When Tertius and the other soldiers had finished whipping the man they put a purple robe around his shoulders and twisted together a crown of thorns which they pressed down onto his head until he began to bleed. They put a heavy staff in his hand and then hit him on the head with it again and again while they laughed and made jokes.

“Poor fool,” thought Tertius, “doesn't look like much of a king now. I bet he wishes he'd kept his mouth shut.”

Then they dragged the man outside and made him carry the wooden cross that they were going to nail him to. They led him through the streets. Tertius was surprised at how many people had turned out to watch. A few of the women were crying. “At least he's got some friends” Tertius muttered to himself.

At last they came to the place they called Skull Hill. They made the man put the cross down on the ground and then lie on top of it. Tertius looked away as two of the soldiers used hammers to push large metal spikes through the man's arms and legs so that he was pinned to the cross. He'd seen it done before, it was horrible. Then they lifted up the cross and stood it in a hole in the ground so that the man was left just hanging there. The man looked down at Tertius and the other soldiers and said in a quiet voice “Forgive them, father, they don't know what they're doing.”

The priests and teachers who had brought the man to Governor Pilate stood around the bottom of the cross with a large crowd of people. “If he really is the Son of God,” they called out for all to hear, “let him come down from that cross and save himself.”

Another soldier arrived and handed Tertius a scroll of paper and a piece of wood. On the paper was an order from Pilate – “Hang this notice on his cross” and on the piece of wood were written the words “Jesus Christ – the King of the Jews”. It was obviously supposed to be a joke, but Tertius wasn't laughing now.

After they put up the sign, Tertius and the other soldiers stood guard and waited. At midday, after the man had been hanging there for three hours, the sky began to grow darker and darker. It was as if the sun had stopped shining and Tertius wondered what it could mean. Three more hours went by and suddenly the man seemed to lift himself up on the cross and he cried out “It is finished!” Tertius had heard the Jewish people using those words in the market place, when they'd done a deal, when the price had been agreed. “What deal is he talking about?” Tertius asked himself, “What price has been agreed?” Then he realised, the man was dead.

One of the other soldiers looked at Tertius and whispered – “Surely he was the Son of God?”

Tertius woke up with a start. Had it all been a dream? The man, the crowd, the whipping, the crucifixion? Then he felt the cold stone behind his back and he remembered where he was. It was early on Sunday – the man had died on Friday, they'd all seen it with their own eyes. But those priests and teachers still weren't satisfied. They had gone back to Governor Pilate and demanded that he place guards around the tomb where the man was buried so that his followers couldn't steal the body and then pretend that the man had come back to life. That's why Tertius was here now, in the graveyard, with the rest of his squad, leaning on the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb. Tertius wondered what had woken him up, and then he felt it – the stone behind him was moving and suddenly the sky seemed to be getting lighter, but the sun wasn't up and the moon was still shining. He jumped to his feet and turned around and let out a cry of fear. There in front of him were two men, shining white like the sun. They were pushing the stone, opening the tomb. Now the other soldiers were awake and when they saw what was happening they ran in fear. But Tertius just stood and watched, unable to move. As the stone rolled away light began to pour out from inside the tomb and Tertius could see … no, it couldn't be, but it was, it was a man, it was the man, the same man that Tertius had helped to whip and crucify and who he had seen die two days ago. Tertius turned to run but he tripped and fell.

It was dark again. Tertius rubbed his head, it was sore. He didn't know how long he'd been lying on the ground. He got up and looked around. There was nobody there, all the soldiers had gone and there was no sign of the two men who shone so brightly, but the tomb – the tomb was open, the stone had been rolled away. Slowly Tertius walked over to the hole in the rock and peered inside. There was nothing there except a few strips of cloth, the sort that dead bodies were wrapped in. The man was gone. Tertius knelt down and began to pray. “God of heaven, I don't know you, but I'm sure you know me. I didn't know this man, I didn't know what I was doing; please forgive me. Now I know that he is your Son and I know that he is alive. I believe, I will always believe.”

And for Tertius, life was never the same again.

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