Harmony of the Gospels


(40) Burial of Jesus

Scripture: Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:42-46, Luke 23:50-54 (focal passage)

Tom Lowe



When Jesus died, it was Friday and only a few hours until sunset. Something had to be done with His body before sunset and the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathaea asked Pilate for His body and buried Him in his own tomb.

Date: Jesus final week

Location: Jerusalem 

(Luke 23:54) And that day was the  [1]preparation, and the sabbath  [2]drew on.
(Luke 23:50) And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a  [3]counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just:
(Luke 23:51) (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of  [4]Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the  [5]kingdom of God.

(Matthew 27:57) When the even was come, there came a rich man of 4[4]Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

(Mark 15:42) And now when the even was come, because it was the 1[1]preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,
(Mark 15:43a)  [6]Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable 3[3]counsellor, which also waited for the 5[5]kingdom of God,

Have you wondered where Jesus’ disciples were at this time; they were certainly not present when Jesus died. Oh, there was one who stayed for the whole ordeal; John, the beloved disciple. However, by now he too had left along with Jesus’ mother. Now that Jesus was dead, His disciples could have taken charge of His body and seen to His burial, but they were too afraid to come out of hiding, and besides, they didn’t have the money to bury Him properly.

Long before Christ’s death, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be with the rich when He died: “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). God raised up a man that had both money and courage, a man named Joseph, from the city of Arimathaea. He is described as a good man and a just man.  As such he fit the pattern of pious Jews mention at the beginning of Luke’s gospel whom God used, people like the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were upright in the sight of God, and the aged Simeon in the temple who was not only an upright man but was “waiting for the consolation of Israel”, just as Joseph of Arimathaea was “waiting for the kingdom of God.” Having said this of him, it is necessary to point out that, although he was part of that group of men who had put Christ to death, he risked his position and livelihood by not consenting to the decision and action against Jesus.  It should be noted that since Joseph did not agree with putting Jesus to death, that he was probably not present at the meeting because we are told that the vote to put Jesus to death was a unanimous vote ([7]Mark 14:64;  [8]15:1).  There are several reasons given for why he did not attend the meeting:
1) He may have purposely remained absent to avoid being part of the group that condemned Jesus.
2) The trial may have been kept a secret from him because he was out of sync with the Sanhedrin. 
3) He may have been out of town on business. 

Joseph was a secrete disciple of Christ and he did not agree with their verdict in the trial of Jesus. Note, Christ has more secret disciples than we are aware of; He told Elijah that there were seven thousand in Israel; “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”(Romans 11:4).” However, he could not stay a secrete disciple any longer, so he decided to take things into his own hands, as we shall see in the next verses.

When it says that the Sabbath "drew on" (drew near), we must remember that the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday at sunset. The preparation was a common designation for Friday, though it could also refer to the day before a special feast. (That would also be Friday, since the Jews held all their feasts on the Sabbath.) If we assume that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, then Luke’s reference to the Sabbath observance would identify the next day as Saturday.

Both Luke and Mark pointed out that Joseph waited for the kingdom of God; that means that he believed the Old-Testament prophecies of the Messiah and his kingdom.

(Luke 23:52) This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.
(Matthew 27:58a) He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.
(Mark 15:43b) came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and  [9]craved the body of Jesus.

Jesus’ body, as was the dead bodies of malefactors, was at the disposal of the government. Those that rushed him to the cross, intended that he would be buried with the wicked; but God decided that he should be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9), and so he was.

It was between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m., when Joseph went boldly to Pilate and asked if he might have the privilege of removing the body of Jesus from the cross and giving it a proper burial. He must have been in a hurry because by Jewish law Jesus had to be buried before sunset, since no one could be buried on the Sabbath. The necessity for prompt action probably emboldened Joseph of Arimathaea to approach Pilate. It took courage to ask for Jesus’ body, and for more than one reason. First, it should be borne in mind that according to Roman law those condemned to death had lost the right to be buried.  Add to this the fact that Pilate hated the Jews and had just a little earlier refused their request to change the wording of the superscription ([10]John 19:19-22).  But more than that, because of what Joseph of Arimathaea was now doing he was openly professing before the entire world, including the Sanhedrin, that he was a believer in Jesus Christ. He had been a secret disciple, one who for fear of the Jews did not dare to stand up openly for Jesus.  He was well aware of the terrible threats of the Sanhedrin against the followers of Jesus ([11]John 9:22).  But now he threw caution to the wind. Boldly he went to Pilate and requested permission to bury his Lord. We must try to imagine how surprised Pilate was, and how much it provoked the Jews, that a member of the Sanhedrin would publicly take his stand for the Crucified. In a real sense Joseph buried himself economically, socially, and religiously when he buried the body of Jesus. This act separated him forever from the establishment that killed the Lord Jesus.

(Mark 15:44) And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.
(Mark 15:45) And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
(Matthew 27:58b) Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered

Pilate marveled at Joseph’s request, because he was surprised that Jesus had already died. This implies how intense the Lord’s suffering was. Prior to the Crucifixion, His body had been terribly and repeatedly beaten, so much so that He later was unable to bear His cross. Some believe that Pilate wondered whether he was dead or not, because he feared that the body would be taken down with Jesus still alive. Therefore he called the centurion, and asked him if he was absolutely sure He was dead. The centurion assured him of this, since he saw with his own eyes, how he gave up the ghost ([12]Luke 15:39). I believe that God led Pilate to be very cautious, because now there could be no pretence that he was buried alive, and take away the truth of His resurrection.
It is a wonder the chief priests had not first begged Pilate for the body, to make a show of it and drag it about the streets, but God restrained their anger, and gave that invaluable prize to Joseph; and the hearts of the priests were so influenced, that they did not oppose it.

(Luke 23:53a) And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen,

(Matthew 27:59) And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
(Mark 15:46a) And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen,

Joseph, along with Nicodemus ([13]John 19:39), a believing Pharisee, carefully took down the body and treated it in accordance with the “burial custom of the Jews” ([14]John 19:40); they probably washed it and then wrapped it in long strips of linen, pouring in at the same time a sticky resinous mixture of myrrh and aloes. Both spices are obtained from trees. Nicodemus contributed about seventy pounds (by our weights), which was an amount fit for royalty. The implication is that the body was not just carelessly wrapped in a sheet, Joseph, with his assistants; carefully wound it in bandage–strips.

(Luke 23:53b) and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.

(Matthew 27:60) And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
(Mark 15:46b) and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. 

Joseph’s wealth enabled him to own a tomb at Jerusalem even though he lived nearly twenty miles away. Wealthy people in those days often selected their tombs while they were still living. The tomb was a small room carved out of the rock. The door was sealed with a coin-shaped stone which could be rolled into a groove carved out of stone. Centuries before, Isaiah had predicted, “And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death” (Isaiah 53:9). His enemies had no doubt planned to throw His body into the Valley of Hinnon to be consumed by dump-fires or eaten by foxes. But God overruled their plans and used Joseph to insure that He was buried with the rich. Jesus’ body was hurriedly placed in the new tomb, in expectation of completing the burial after the Sabbath had passed. It could not have been a distant tomb because time would not allow it.
There was nothing of that pomp and seriousness with which the dignitaries of the world are brought to the grave, and laid in the tomb ([15]Job 21:32). A private funeral was best suited for Him whose kingdom came not with observation.

We need to note a couple things about the tomb:
1. He was laid in a borrowed tomb, Joseph’s own tomb; he did not have a house of His own, where He could lay his head while He lived, and He did not have a grave of His own to lay his body when he was dead; it was another instance of his poverty.
2. The tomb was hewn out of a rock; the ground about Jerusalem was generally rocky. The Divine Will ordered that Christ’s sepulcher would be carved out of a solid rock, so that there would be no room left to infer that His disciples had access to it by some underground passage, or broke through the back wall of it, to steal the body; for there was no access to it except by the door, which was sealed with a stone and watched by Roman soldiers.

___________________Special Notes________________________

  [1]PREPARATION DAY — the day immediately before the Sabbath and other Jewish festivals. Preparation Day always fell on Friday among the Jewish people, because all religious festivals began on the Sabbath, or Saturday.
  [2]began to dawn
  [3]a member of the Sanhedrin
  [4]“A city of Judea.” It is identified by many with Ramathaim or Rentis (I Sam 1:1), modern Ramleh, about twenty miles northwest of Jerusalem.
  [5]KINGDOM OF GOD, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN — God’s rule of grace in the world, a future period foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament and identified by Jesus as beginning with His public ministry. The kingdom of God is the experience of blessedness, like that of the Garden of Eden, where evil is fully overcome and where those who live in the kingdom know only happiness, peace, and joy. This was the main expectation of the Old Testament prophets about the future.

The expression “kingdom of God” occurs mostly in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The apostle Paul identified the kingdom of God as “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Perhaps one reason why he described it this way is that the kingdom of God was a Jewish expression unfamiliar and possibly misleading to Gentiles.

Some interpreters of the Bible have described the phrase “kingdom of God” as a more comprehensive term referring to both heaven and earth. Likewise, they believe “kingdom of God” is a more restricted term referring to God’s rule on earth, especially in relation to the nation of Israel. In this view Jesus offered the literal kingdom of heaven to Israel, but the Jews refused to accept it. Thus, it has been postponed until the Second Coming of Christ.

A careful study of the gospels shows that the two phrases are used interchangeably. 
  [6]Joseph of Arimathaea – a rich and pious Israelite, probably a member of the Sanhedrin. He is further characterized as “a good man and a just.” There is a tradition that he was one of the seventy disciples.
  [7]Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they “all” condemned him to be guilty of death.  The vote to condemn Jesus was unanimous. 
  [8]And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the “whole council”, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.
  [9]Craved means “asked for” the body.
  [10]And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
  [11]These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
  [12]And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. 
  [13]And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
  [14]Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. 
  [15]Yet shall he be brought to the gravej, and shall remain in the tomb. 

Do you have any questions or comments?

 When Warner Sallman painted his depiction of Christ, his intent was to draw people toward the Savior he loved. In May of 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that a reproduction of Sallman’s painting was too offensive for the Bloomingdale High School to hang in their hallway. This Michigan school began taking the heat in 1992 when Eric Pensinger was a senior. He was an agnostic who found the painting offensive so he sought help from the American Civil Liberties Union. The Court upheld a lower court’s decision that “the portrait advances religion.” Sallman’s goal was accomplished, but one kid found his goal offensive. The picture had been hanging in the same spot for thirty years with no complaints, but when one kid found it offensive, down it came. (See 1 Corinthians 1:23)

Houston Chronicle, May 2, 1995, p. 7A

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