In the Fulness of Time/Part 156

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2012
The four Gospels, taken together, give a rather complete account of Joseph of Arimathaea’s person as well as his respectful and tender deed to Jesus. There are no less than ten things recorded about him.

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The Burial of Jesus Christ. Matthew 27:57-66

His Burial by Joseph of Arimathaea (And Nicodemus) Mt. 27:57-61

Mt. 27:57-61 “When the evening was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple; he went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 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 he sepulcher, and departed. And there were Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulcher.”

The four Gospels, taken together, give a rather complete account of this man Joseph of Arimathaea’s person as well as his respectful and tender deed to Jesus. There are no less than ten things recorded about him.

First mentioned is his financial situation; he was “a rich man of Arimathaea.” One evidence of his riches is that he laid the body of Jesus “in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out of the rock.” Lenski described the Garden Tomb near Golgotha as the most likely place where Jesus was buried: “It is an ample chamber, hewn out of the solid cliff, the face of which is smooth and perpendicular…. It is a rich man’s tomb, for it has a vestibule, and in the main chamber along the three sides only three places for bodies, the center left unused. It is a new tomb, for only one place for a body is finished, the other two are not completed” (Lenski¸ R.C.H. Matthew, Op Cit., pp.1119-1120). The completed area greatly impressed Lenski and prompted him to add: “If this is not the actual tomb in which Jesus was laid, it duplicates it in every respect.

Such a gift, even from a rich man, therefore, is a second evidence, namely, of his generous spirit.

A third thing mentioned was that Joseph “also himself was Jesus’ disciple.” John 19:38 adds: “Being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.” The verb form in this sentence indicates that Joseph was “being discipled” by Jesus. Thus, there must have been numerous conversations between the two of them. Yet, before the crucifixion, “among the chief rulers also many believed on him, but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, lest they be put out of the synagogue” (John 12: 42).

But now that Christ had been crucified through the insistence of the Sanhedrin, an amazing change came over Joseph; whereas, before there was fear, now: “he went in boldly unto Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43). Matthew 27:58 gives the distinct impression that Joseph “begged” for the body of Jesus; but the verb aiteo,asked,” is used, just as it is in Mark and Luke “to ask permission.” Permission was usually granted to members of the family, or friends, to remove the bodies of the crucified ones. In this case no family members appeared to ask for the body of Jesus. Two factors enter in here: first, the custom that the Romans would have left the body on the cross until it had been picked to pieces by the birds, and the opposite fact that the prophecy of Psalm 16:10 had to be fulfilled: “neither wilt thou permit thine Holy One to see corruption.” Here was a member of the Sanhedrin, not concerned whether he would be defiled and be unable to participate in the Passover feast, making a public request for the body of a man who had been declared a blasphemer by the very Sanhedrin of which Joseph was a member (Luke 23:50).

But this is only half of the story. Joseph was rich, generous, a disciple of Jesus, bold, and a member of the Sanhedrin; a sixth thing mentioned is that he was: “a good and righteous man” (Luke 23:50). Joseph was probably a “good” (agathos) man before he became a “righteous” (dikaios), or justified by his faith in Christ. Though he feared the Jews, this righteous character led naturally to a seventh thing in the list about him: “The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them” (Luke 23:51), referring to the decision of the Council condemning Jesus, an innocent man, to death. This objection to the action of his fellow Sanhedrists gave evidence of the eighth item, the reputation of Joseph; he was: “an honorable counselor” (Mark 15:43), which the NASB translates: “A prominent member of the Council.”

This prominent position as a chief ruler of the Jews did not prevent his public testimony, for ninth on the list is that: “he also waited for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43). Undoubtedly Joseph had heard from Jesus this claim to be the Messiah/King and had absorbed that teaching as part of his faith. It is true that “Kingdom of God” can refer to the spiritual kingdom, but the term is also used of the earthly kingdom of Messiah; the context in which it occurs will determine the specific meaning. Here, it reveals that Joseph was “waiting” for the kingdom even after he became a believer. To him, therefore, it was expectation of a future kingdom. One wonders what must have been coursing through the minds of the believers witnessing the crucifixion of Christ. Like the two on the road to Emmaus, many may have thought: “But we hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21). This hope will eventually be fulfilled.

Finally, the tenth observation concerning Joseph of Arimathaea can be seen in his loving concern for Christ. In a brief statement, Mark 15:46 says: “And he bought fine linen, and took him down and wrapped him in the linen and laid him in a sepulcher.” John adds that Nicodemus, who was also a member of the Sanhedrin: “brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. Then they took the body of Jesus and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:39-40).

Joseph and Nicodemus, friends and disciples of Christ, lovingly buried Him. But where were the family members; where were the Twelve? These are strange omissions with no answers given. Stranger still, perhaps, is when their ministrations were completed, these two are never mentioned again. Yet, without this incident, the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9, that Christ was: “with the rich in is death” would not have been fulfilled, and one of the important aspects of the Gospel would be missing. First Corinthians 15:1-5 uses the word “that” to indicate each of the four parts of the Gospel story: “How that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures; and that he was seen….

In the providence of God, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus were used to provide assurance that Christ did indeed die; they were there to bury Him with the tenderness He deserved.

Christ’s Tomb Sealed by the Soldiers. Mt. 27:62-66

Mt. 27:62-66 “Now the next day that followed the day of preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while he was yet alive, After three days I will arise again. Command therefore, that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead; so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Go your way, make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.”

That which was intended by the chief priests and Pharisees to prevent the stealing of the body of Jesus by the disciples came to be the actual proof that He had risen indeed from the dead. Theirs was a strange combination which approached Pilate; the chief priests were Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection at all, according to Matthew 22:23; and the Pharisees were among the harshest critics of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Yet, here they were, making every effort to assure that the disciples would not steal His body! But, where were the disciples? They all forsook Him at the crucifixion, and feared the Jews enough not to claim the dead body from the cross. Yet, in the minds of these two groups of Jewish rulers, usually diametrically opposed to each other, there was a strange fear that the disciples might make an attempt to deceive the public; so they agreed to ask Pilate to set a guard and seal the tomb to prevent such a disaster.

There has been some question whether Pilate was asked to use the Roman guard, or that he told them to use their own Temple soldiers. It seems evident from Matthew 28:14 that they were Roman soldiers, since the Sanhedrists promised to speak to Pilate to: “persuade him and secure you.” The New American Standard Bible translates it: “We will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” This would hardly be necessary if the soldiers belonged to the Jews.

It is equally amazing that these rulers used the very claim that Christ made directly to them in Matthew 12:40 (namely, the sign of Jonah), that He would be three days and nights in the heart of the earth, as the source of their concern. Certainly His own disciples did not clearly understand His teaching about His own resurrection after three days; why should these rulers be so concerned? Their reasoning was that He had deceived them about His claim to be the Son of God (probably because He did not come down from the Cross), so now the “last error” (plano, “deception”), they thought, would be worse than the first. Had they only known that they were actually to become the means of proving the very thing they were trying to prevent! So they placed some kind of seal upon the stone which was rolled against the tomb, and set the watchmen, making doubly sure that the body of Jesus would remain buried in the tomb! How God repeatedly used the wrath of man to praise Him! What they did accomplish was to make doubly sure of the proof that a miracle occurred when the tomb was found empty! “In the fulness of time,” this prophecy made by Jesus was fulfilled: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19).

Read Part 157

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