Jesus’ death took place on a Friday. The Sabbath began at sundown on Friday. It was against Jewish law to let a dead body remain exposed overnight (Deuteronomy 21:23). Therefore, Jesus’ followers wanted His body to be removed from the cross and buried before the Sabbath began at sunset. Jesus was crucified as a criminal. Criminals at that time were buried in common graves and without any ceremony. So it took someone with high standing to arrange for Jesus to be buried in a tomb. That person was Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Jewish high council. Joseph actually went to Pilate and asked for permission to remove Jesus’ body from the cross (Matthew 27-58); (Luke 23:50-52) and (John 19:38).
Joseph of Arimathea
Who was this Joseph of Arimathea? Matthew tells us that he was a rich man who was one of Jesus’ followers. Luke says that he was a good and righteous man, a member of the Jewish high council and that he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea and he had been waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. John tells us that he had been a secret disciple of Jesus. He was afraid to make his allegiance to Jesus known because of his position in the Jewish community.
Now he was bold, courageously asking to take Jesus’ body from the cross and give it a proper burial. This Jewish leader, who followed Jesus in secret, came forward and did what was right. It can be frightening to risk your reputation for what is right. Are you a secret believer? Are you hiding your faith from your friends, family and co-workers? If so, now is the time to step out of hiding, be bold and let others know that you are a follower of Jesus Christ.
Nicodemus was the man who had come to Jesus at night, (John 3:1), because he too was afraid of being discovered. He was another “undercover” believer, but he had a strong desire to learn. Very little is known about Nicodemus. What we do know is that he left his encounter with Jesus a changed man. He came away with an entirely new revelation of God and of himself. Nicodemus was also a part of the Jewish high council (John 7: 50-52) and a Pharisee (John 3:1). When the council was discussing ways to eliminate Jesus, Nicodemus raised the question of justice, “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” (John 7:50).
His objection was overruled, but he had spoken up. He had begun to change. Nicodemus knew what he was risking; nevertheless, like Joseph, he too made a bold move for Jesus. He was continuing to grow. When you come to Christ, He looks for steady growth, not instant perfection. How does your present level of spiritual growth match up with how long you have known Jesus?
Next we see Nicodemus with Joseph of Arimathea, helping to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, (John 19:39). He brought about seventy-five pounds of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Together these two Jewish men, both members of the high council, wrap Jesus’ body in a long linen cloth and perfume it with spices, which was the Jewish custom of burial.
The place where Jesus was crucified was near a garden. Tombs of that time were usually caves carved in the limestone rock of a hillside. A tomb was often large enough for people to walk inside. Joseph and Nicodemus carried Jesus’ body into Joseph’s own new tomb. A large stone was then rolled in front of the entrance. As they buried Jesus, Nicodemus and Joseph had to hurry in order to avoid working on the Sabbath, which began at sundown.
While Joseph and Nicodemus are placing Jesus in the tomb a number of women look on from a distance (Matthew 27:55-56); Luke 23:49). They paid special attention to the place and details of Jesus’ burial. Many women were followers of Jesus. Some of them were sufficiently wealthy and free from obligations at home which provided them the opportunity to follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and to provide for His temporal needs (Luke 8:3). The one constant figure mentioned in all four Gospels is Mary Magdalene (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; Luke 23:49; John 19:25).
The tomb is sealed and guarded
All accounts mention that a stone was placed across the opening of Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 27:60; Luke 24:2; John 20:1). Grave robbery was common at that time as it was the custom to bury valuable possessions with the body. Jesus, however, was crucified as a criminal. But the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate the following day and said, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while He was still alive; ‘After three days I will be raised from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent His disciples from coming and stealing His body and then telling everyone He came back to life! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first,” (Matthew 27: 63-64). Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can,” (Matthew 27:65).
The religious leaders took Jesus’ claim more seriously than His disciples. The disciples did not remember Jesus’ teaching about His resurrection (Matthew 20: 17-19). The religious leaders were more afraid of Jesus’ resurrection claim following His death than they were prior to His death. They wanted to take every precaution that His body would remain in the tomb. The tomb was secured by stringing a cord across the stone that had been rolled in front of the entrance. The cord was sealed at each end with clay.
The religious leaders took even further precaution, by asking for guards to be posted at the tomb’s entrance. So guards were positioned to protect it. The only way the tomb could be empty was for Jesus to rise from the dead. What the Pharisees did not understand was that no rock, no seal, no guards or for that matter, no army could prevent the Son of God from rising again.
“But on the third day He will be raised from the dead,” (Matthew 20:19).
Life Application Bible, New Living Translation
Biblica, The Bible Atlas