What do you do with a dead body? There are all sorts of things people around the world do with death bodies, but the common practice of many is to bury it. It makes sense: you bury dead bodies. In Luke 23.44-49, we witnessed through the lens of Luke’s account the death of Jesus. He is dead and so He must be buried. From Mark (15.44-45) we learn that Pilate is surprised to hear Jesus is dead already and has to consult with a centurion to ensure that in fact Jesus is dead. The centurion, someone who deals in death on a regular basis and can tell dead from alive, confirms the reports Pilate is hearing: Jesus, the king of the Jews, is dead.
This is an important historical fact for a number of reasons. First, there are those who claim Jesus did not die on the cross but merely swooned and in the coolness of the tomb was revived. The evidence points to the contrary – Jesus, according to all accounts, died on the cross. Second, if Jesus does not die on the cross for our sins as he predicted He would, He is false prophet who can no more save than any other false prophet and we are still guilty of our sins. The bottom line is we need Jesus to die on the cross so that He can make propitiation and give His life for ours. Without this, there is no good news saving message; only the terrible news that there is no salvation.
At the death of Jesus, his friends and the women who had minister to Him during His ministry “stood at a distance” (v.49). It would seem they had neither the courage nor the capital to proceed with burial. However, there is one man who seemingly “stood at a distance” during the ministry of Jesus who comes forward from his secret discipleship that He might provide Jesus a proper burial. This man is Joseph of Arimathea.
The Measure of the Man
Luke records for us that Joseph was a man from Arimathea. Commentators seem somewhat divided about this. One authority said that Arimathea’s location is unknown. Another says that it was a famous Jewish town from which Samuel the prophet came – Ramathaim Zophim. Still another gives a more precise location of 20 miles NW of Jerusalem on the border of Judea and Samaria. At any rate, he seems to have taken up residence in Jerusalem since he sat on the council of the Sanhedrin. He is “a good and righteous man” according to Luke who is honorable and respected (Mark 15.43). He is also rich (Matt 27.57) and followed Jesus, although his discipleship was done in secret for fear of the Jews (John 19.38). Luke seems to allude to the discipleship of Joseph by saying that “he was looking for the kingdom of God” (v.51). This is the same kind of language used by Luke in describing two other individuals early in this gospel account: Simeon and Anna (2.25, 38). They were waiting for the redemption and consolation of Israel. So it is with Joseph of Arimathea and it would seem that in his heart of hearts he believed Jesus to be the bringer of the kingdom. As a result, when the Council was casting their vote against Jesus and condemned Him, Joseph was either left out or driven out because the Council had been unanimous (Mark 14.64).
It is interesting that all four gospel writers speak of Joseph of Arimathea in a relatively positive, even ideal manner. One writer put it this way: Matthew calls him rich, the Jewish ideal (?); Mark calls him a respected member of the council, the Roman ideal; Luke calls him a good and just (kalos kagathos), the Greek ideal; and John calls him a disciple of Jesus, the johannine ideal. An interesting tradition about Joseph of Arimathea is that around 63AD he made his way to England and settled in Glastonbury, settling up the first Christian oratory. Whatever the case, it is this man who comes forward to request of Pilate the body of Jesus so that he might bury it. Pilate grants him his request.
The Methods of the Man
As mentioned, he first requested to have the body of Jesus so he might prepare it for burial. Upon receiving permission, he took the body of Jesus down from the cross. No doubt the body is beaten, battered, and bloody. What a picture of a rich man removing the bludgened body of this carpenter from a cross! It may be assumed Joseph had on the garments of a rich man and as he brings the body down they are smeared and spattered with the blood of Jesus. Pure speculation, of course. Next, he wraps the body in fine linen. The word “shroud” is supplied in the English, unnecessarily it would seem since John makes it clear that the body was prepared and wrapped according to the custom of the Jews (John 19.40). That means that the body was “bound hand and foot” as in the case of Lazarus (John 11.44). In addition, there was also a cloth that was used to cover the face also which John records that at the resurrection of Jesus was folded neatly and placed in the corner (John 20.9). Finally, he places the wrapped body of Jesus in a “new tomb” (Matt 27.60) “where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23.53). Calvin says this appropriate and according to the providence of God for Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1.18).
Inasmuch as it was the day of Preparation and the Sabbath was near beginning, the women take note of where Jesus is buried and go home to obeserve the Sabbath. Luke says the Sabbath was dawning. This is an interesting way to saying this and may seem foreign to our minds since we count time midnight to midnight. The Jewish day began at sunset and Luke may be alluding to the time when the lamps were lit. Be careful to notice that the women see where and how the body was laid. There are some who would claim that Sunday morning, the day of the resurrection, these same women went to the wrong tomb. However, Luke careful records that they knew exactly where to go so that they could annoint the body with the spices and ointments they were going to prepare.
It would seem that they had just enough to prepare their spices and ointments just before the Sabbath and would bring them Sunday, following the Sabbath (see Mark 16.1). Nicodemus had brought and presented some spices he had (John 19.39) and apparently placed those in the tomb with the body to be used by the women later. Everything seems to be done in haste since the Sabbath is fast approaching. There is also a sense in which the women and friends do not expect Jesus to be raised from the dead. He had predicted His death and even the manner of His death (crucifixion) multiple times and in nearly the same breath had said He would be raised on the third day. However, it appears all this is forgot and gives way to the grief and sorrow of Jesus’ death.
“On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (v.56b). Here is the final time the followers of Jesus would observe the Sabbath, not according to the traditions of their fathers, but according to the Law of Moses, even the commandment of God. This is of course the fourth commandment given in the Law. J. C. Ryle, though, has an interesting obeservation concerning the Sabbath and the Christian: “Let us not doubt that the Apostles were taught by our Lord to change the day [of the Sabbath] from the last day of the week to the first…Above all, let us regard the Sabbath as an institution of primary importance to man’s soul, and contend earnestly for its preservation amongst us in all its integrity. It is good for the body, mind, and soul. It is good for the nation which observes it, and for the church which gives it honor. It is but a few steps from ‘no Sabbath’ to ‘no God.’ The man who would make the Sabbath a day for business and pleasure, is an enemy to the best interests of his fellow-creatures.”