As the night approached, the earth began a terrible shaking, and the Roman Centurion became so terrified that he prayed to his heathen gods. He believed that Jesus was beloved by the gods. Most of the frightened people hastily departed from the place and returned to Jerusalem; and the Centurion who was a noble man of compassionate nature permitted John to conduct the mother of Jesus close to the cross.
Jesus was consumed with thirst. His lips were parched and dry, and the pain was burning his limbs. A soldier put a sponge dipped in vinegar on a long cane of hyssop, and from this Jesus quenched his thirst.
As he recommended his mother to the care of John, it was growing darker, although the full moon should have been shining in the heavens. From the Dead Sea was observed to rise a thick, reddish fog. The mountain ridges round about Jerusalem shook violently, and the head of Jesus sank down upon his breast.
When he uttered his last groan of anguish and pain, and passed away, a hissing sound was heard in the air; and they of the Jews that still remained were seized by a great fear, for they believed that the evil spirits who dwell between heaven and earth were proceeding to punish the people. It was that strange and unusual sound in the air that precedes an earthquake.
Soon the mountain began to shake the surrounding country and the city commenced to rock, and the thick walls of the temple gave way until the veil in the temple parted and fell from its place. Even the rocks burst asunder, and the hewn sepulchres in the rock were destroyed, as were also many of the corpses kept therein.
And as the Jews regarded all this as extremely supernatural, so the Roman Centurion believed now in the divinity and innocence of Christ, and comforted his mother.
Although our brethren did not dare to tell the people, as it is a secret with us, nevertheless they well knew the cause of this phenomenon of nature, and believed in their Brother without ascribing to him supernatural powers.
Dear Brethren, you have reproached us in that we did not save our Friend from the cross by secret means. But I need only to remind you that the sacred law of our Order prohibits us from proceeding publicly, and from interfering in matters of state. Moreover, two of our Brethren, influential and experienced, did use all of their influence with Pilate and the Jewish council in behalf of Jesus, but their efforts were frustrated in that Jesus himself requested that he might be permitted to suffer death for his faith, and thus fulfill the law; for, as you know, to die for truth and virtue is the greatest sacrifice a Brother can make.
There was a certain Joseph, from Arimathea. He was rich and being a member of the council, he was much esteemed by the people. He was a prudent man, and whilst he did not appear to belong to any party, he was secretly a member of our sacred Order and lived in accordance with our laws. His friend Nicodemus was a most learned man, and belonged to the highest degree of our Order. He knew the secrets of the "Terapeuts" and was often together with us.
Now it so happened that after the earthquake, and many of the people had gone away, Joseph and Nicodemus arrived at the cross. They were informed of the death of the crucified, in the garden of our Brethren, not far from Calvary.
Although they loudly lamented his fate, it nevertheless appeared strange to them that Jesus, having hung less than seven hours, should already be dead. They could not believe it, and hastily went up to the place. There they found John alone, he having determined to see what became of the beloved body.
Joseph and Nicodemus examined the body of Jesus, and Nicodemus, greatly moved, drew Joseph aside and said to him: "As sure as is my knowledge of life and nature, so sure is it possible to save him."
But Joseph did not understand him, and he admonished us that we would not tell John of what we had heard. Indeed, it was a secret, which was to save our Brother from death.
Nicodemus shouted: "We must immediately have the body with its bones unbroken, because he may still be saved"; then, realizing his want of caution, he continued in a whisper: "saved from being infamously buried."
He persuaded Joseph to disregard his own interest, that he might save their friend by going immediately to Pilatus, and prevailing upon him to permit them to take Jesus' body from the cross that very night and put it in the sepulchre, hewn in the rock close by, and which belonged to Joseph.
I, understanding what he meant, remained with John to watch the cross and prevent the soldiers from breaking the bones of Jesus.
No corpse is allowed to remain on the cross over night, and the next day being Sunday, they would not take him down and bury him early.
The Jewish council had already demanded of Pilate an order to the soldiers to break the bones of the crucified, that they might be buried.
Soon after Joseph and Nicodemus had departed, each one on his sacred mission, a messenger arrived bringing the order to the Centurion to take down the corpses and bury them. I myself was greatly agitated by this information, for I knew if he were not handled with great care he could not be saved, and still less if his bones were to be broken.
Even John was dismayed, though not from fear of the plans being frustrated, for of these he did not know. But he was deeply grieved at the thought of seeing the body of his friend mutilated. For John believed that Jesus was dead.
As the messenger arrived, I hastened to him, thinking and hoping that Joseph already might have seen Pilate, a thing of which there in reality was no possibility.
"Does Pilate send you?" I asked of him.
And he answered, "I come not from Pilate, but from his secretary, who acts for the governor in such unimportant matters."
The Centurion observing my anxiety, looked at me, and in the manner of a friend, I said to him: "You have seen that this man that is crucified is an uncommon man. Do not maltreat him, for a rich man among the people is now with Pilate to offer him money for the corpse, that he may give it a decent burial."
My dear Brethren, I must here inform you that Pilate often did sell the bodies of the crucified to their friends that they might thus bury them.
And the Centurion was friendly to me, inasmuch as he had conceived from the events that Jesus was an innocent man. And therefore, when the two thieves were beaten by the soldiers with heavy clubs and their bones broken, the Centurion went past the cross of Jesus, saying to the soldiers: "Do not break his bones, for he is dead."
And a man was seen rapidly approaching along the road from the castle of Antonia to Calvary. He advanced to the Centurion and brought to him the order that he should quickly come to Pilate.
The Centurion then questioned the messenger to learn what Pilate wanted of him at so late an hour of the night. The messenger answered that Pilate desired to know if Jesus was indeed dead.
"So he is", said the Centurion, "therefore we have not broken his bones."
To be more sure of it, one of the soldiers stuck a spear into the body in such a manner that it passed over the hip and into the side. The body showed no convulsions, and this was taken as a sure sign that he was actually dead; and he hurried and went away to make his report.
But from the insignificant wound flowed blood and water, at which John wondered and my own hope revived. For even John knew, from the knowledge of our Brotherhood that from a wound in a dead body flows nothing but a few drops of thickened blood; but now there flowed both water and blood.
I was deeply anxious that Joseph and Nicodemus should return. At last some Galilean women were seen approaching on their return from Bethania, whither they had brought Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the care of the Essene friends.
And among the women was also Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who had loved Jesus and she wept loudly. But before she could pour out her grief and while John was gazing intently at the wound in Jesus' side, heeding naught else, Joseph and Nicodemus returned in great haste. Joseph through his dignity had moved Pilate, and Pilate, having information as to the death of the crucified, gave the body to Joseph, and without taking pay therefore.
For Pilate had a great reverence for Joseph, and secretly repented of the execution. When Nicodemus saw the wound, flowing with water and blood, his eyes were animated with new hope, and he spoke encouragingly, foreseeing what was to happen.
Pages To Ponder
Crucifixion By An Eyewitness