Harmony of the Gospels


(38) Events Attending Jesus’ Death

Scripture: Matthew 27:51-56 (focal passage), Mark 15:42-46, Luke 23:45, 47-49

Tom Lowe



Jesus’ death and burial, and the supernatural events that accompanied it.

Date: Friday of Jesus’ Final Week

Location: Golgotha (Calvary) 



(Matthew 27:51) And, behold, the  [1]veil of the temple was  [2]rent in  [3]twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did  [4]quake, and the rocks  [5]rent;
(Luke 23:45) And the sun was darkened, and the 1[1]veil of the temple was [2]rent in the  [6]midst.

The events immediately following Jesus’ death were remarkable indeed. The veil of the temple refers to either the curtain over the entrance to the Holy Place (which could be viewed from the porch) or to the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies ([7]Exodus 26:31-33). The latter is most likely here. This curtain (or veil) was torn in two by an Unseen Hand from top to bottom. Up to then that veil had kept everyone except the high priest from the Holiest Place where God dwelt. Only one man could enter the inner sanctuary, and he could enter on only one day of the year. In the book of Hebrews we learn that the veil represented the body of Jesus. Its rending pictured the giving of His body in death. Through His death, we have “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20). Now the humblest believer can enter God’s presence in prayer and praise at any time. But let us never forget that the privilege was purchased for us at tremendous cost—the blood of Jesus.

The death of God’s Son also produced tremendous upheavals in nature—as if there was empathy between inanimate creation and its Creator. There was an earthquake which caused the earth to shake and split great rocks.

After this, all ceremonial services of priests and sacrifices would be done away for the Christian believer.

(Matthew 27:54) Now when the  [8]centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
(Luke 23:47) Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.

The strange convulsions of nature convinced the Roman centurion and his men that Jesus was the Son of God. What did the centurion mean? Was this a full confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, or an acknowledgment that Jesus was more than man or merely a pagan appreciation of the awesomeness of the circumstances (based on all they had witnessed) is not clear? We cannot be sure. It does indicate a sense of awe, and a realization that the disturbances of nature were somehow connected with the death of Jesus, and not with the death of those who were crucified with Him. Certainly the incident reveals how Jesus’ life and character, even in the face of death, rose above the greatest qualities of pagan Rome.

(Matthew 27:55) And many women were there  [9]beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
(Matthew 27:56) Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

(Luke 23:48) And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, [10]smote  their breasts, and returned.
(Luke 23:49) And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.

The whole crowd was overcome by an awful sense of sorrow and foreboding as they stood watching this most crucial scene in the history of the world.

Special mention is made of the women who had faithfully ministered to the Lord, and who had followed Him all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Their faithfulness along with their names is immortalized in the Bible: Mary Magdalene, some suggest she is the woman out of whom Jesus cast seven devils; Mary, the mother of James; Joses, the wife of Cleopas ([11]John 19:25); Salome, the wife of Zebedee ([12]Mark 15:40) and apparently a sister of the Virgin Mary. The fearless devotion of these women stands out with special luster. They remained with Christ when the male disciples ran for their lives!

(Mark 15:42) And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,

The time factor is mentioned to explain the necessity for hasty action. The day before the Sabbath was known as the Preparation. The next day, the Sabbath, would begin at sunset on Friday (approximately 6:00 P.M.) according to Jewish time, and it was already past 3:00 P.M. Since burial was unlawful on the Sabbath, both permission and the act itself required swift achievement.

(Mark 15:43) Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and  [13]craved the body of Jesus.

The necessity for prompt action probably emboldened Joseph of Arimathea, a devout Jew, to ask Pilate for permission to bury the body of Jesus. Joseph’s home, Arimathea, is given to distinguish him from others bearing the same name. Honorable counselor identifies him as a prominent member of the national religious council, the Sanhedrin.  [14]Luke 23:51 adds that he did not condone the illegal trial which condemned Jesus.

Joseph exercised great courage when he openly took our Lord’s body from the cross. He defiled himself for Passover week, but it made no difference: he had met the Lamb of God, and that was all that mattered. By openly supporting Jesus, he may have lost the respect of the other members of the Sanhedrin, lost friends, and his business would have been adversely affected. But He was not thinking of those things because now he was a follower of Jesus Christ, and that mattered more than anything else.

(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.

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.

When the centurion confirmed the fact of Jesus’ death, the Governor granted the body to Joseph.

(Mark 15:46) And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a  [15]sepulchre which was  [16]hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.

With loving care, Joseph (and Nicodemus— [17]John 19:38, 39) wrapped Him in the linen, then put Him in a new tomb belonging to himself ([18]Matthew 27:60). 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.

(Matthew 27:52) And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which  [19]slept  [20]arose,
(Matthew 27:53) And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Notice that it was not until after the resurrection of Jesus that the occupants of these tombs were raised and went into Jerusalem where they appeared to many. The Bible does not say whether these risen saints which slept (departed Old Testament believers) died again or went to heaven with the Lord Jesus. It is properly supposed that they were resurrected from “paradise,” or “Abraham’s bosom” and it is my belief that they were taken to heaven by the resurrected Christ ( 21]Ephesians 4:8–9). This incident is stated only by Matthew.


____________________Special Notes________________________ 

  [1]a curtain in the tabernacle or Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place). 
  [2]to split or tear
  [5]to break or crush, to break in pieces, to shatter
  [6]Middle, cut in half
  [7]“Inside the Tabernacle, make a curtain from fine linen, with blue, purple, and scarlet Guardian Angels embroidered into the cloth. Hang this curtain on gold hooks set into four pillars made from acacia wood overlaid with gold. The pillars are to be set in silver bases. Behind this curtain place the Ark containing the stone tablets engraved with God’s laws. The curtain will separate the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place."
  [8]an officer in the Roman army
  [9] to be a spectator, look at, behold, to view attentively
  [10]To strike, hit
  [11]Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas
  [12] There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;
  [13]Asked for the body
  [14](The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. 
  [15] a place for burial, a tomb
  [16]Cut out of stone
  [17]And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. 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.
  [18]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 sepulcher, and departed. 
  [19]Were dead or died
  [20]to arouse from the sleep of death, to recall the dead to life
  [21]Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

Do you have any questions or comments?

 A gregarious minister was out inviting people to church when he came upon a man who said he had no interest in coming to church. The minister asked if there was some particular reason he didn’t care for church. The man answered, “Oh, yeah . . . there are too many rules at church.” The minister sarcastically replied, “I know what you mean. Don’t steal, don’t murder, love God, love your family . . . how could anyone handle that kind of pressure?”

Ten Commandments, Schlessinger and Vogel, 1998, p. 3

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