Jesus Is Buried
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Observations and Reflections
There is a new figure on the scene named Joseph. However, this man was likely no fisherman or carpenter. All four gospels tell the account of a wealthy councilman who was a follower of Jesus who gave his own tomb so Jesus can have a respectable burial. In Jewish culture the dead should be revered and respected. It was the cruelest of insults and curses to not have a proper burial. It was a punishment to go unburied.
Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. (Deuteronomy 28:25)
20 While they were sitting at the table, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet who had brought him back. 21 He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. 22 You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’” (1 Kings 13:20-22)
Matthew 27:57 describes Joseph as a rich man and a disciple. In Mark 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God”; and Luke 23:50–56 says that he “had not consented to their decision and action”, meaning Joseph was part of the ruling body that crucified Jesus. John writers that, upon hearing of Jesus’ death, this secret disciple of Jesus “asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission.”(John 19:38)
The custom of a proper burial was of the most importance to the Jewish people. Certain mystical sections of the Jewish faith even believed that an improper burial could lead to the person’s soul remaining in a state of limbo (Midrash ha-Ne’lam to Ruth; cf. Zohar, Ex. 151a). However, there are other more logical reasons for a proper burial. According to Jewish law, a dead body was unclean to touch or for the priests, to be in the same room (Numbers 19:14). For this reason, the priests do not attend many funerary functions. However, the ritual impurity is just ritual which can be dealt with according to the Jewish law.
The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. (Numbers 5:1-2)
An Israelite who has been made unclean from a dead body was not prohibited to joining in the Passover celebrations, just not at the same time as the people who were not ritually impure. Thus, anyone who touched the dead body would have been separated from the group until they finished their time of ritual impurity.
9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. (Numbers 9:6-12)
Essentially, God commanded them to purify themselves and have their own passover, one month after the first. The original Passover celebrations occur in the first month of the year.
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at dusk is the LORD’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD. (Leviticus 23:5)
Since Jesus was crucified over the Passover it would seem as though most Jews, even followers of Jesus, might have been reluctant of caring for Jesus’ dead body, knowing they would have to leave the festival. For those who traveled to get there (like Joseph) this would have been a big bummer. But Joseph and some of Jesus’ followers were undeterred by these inconveniences.
This man named Joseph had high rankings in the council and was no doubt a rich man. He was often referred to as possibly being a secret disciple and truly did believe in Jesus Christ. Due to his position, it would have been much easier for him to request to have the body of Jesus Christ. Had anyone else asked, it might have been a dangerous request seeing as how there was still much paranoia about the fact that many sill believed in Jesus Christ.
I think one significant point that stands out from this passage is that, scripture mentions how Jesus was buried in a tomb in which no one else had yet been buried. This was to be a unique and separate burial from all others. Even in His death, Jesus still held a special place of power and authority and this was about to put on full display in His resurrection.
This may be a somber scene to those who had not yet remembered His promise that He would be with them again. Those who were burying Him were playing a role in preparing His triumphal entry that would take place in a matter of three days. Regardless of the spices and ointments that were used, in just three days time, His body would emerge both strong and ready to show the world that death has had no victory over Him.
[Featured image titled: “The Entombment” by Garafalo c. 1520]