The Burial of Jesus


The New Testament tells us of two believers, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, that placed Jesus in the tomb:


50Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body. 53Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment (Luke 23:50-56).


Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Christ. John the Apostle wrote that he kept his beliefs to himself due to his fear of the Jews: “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders” (John 19:38). Luke writes that Joseph was a member of the council, or the Sanhedrin, i.e., the seventy elders who were Israel's supreme court. It is possible that Joseph might not have been called to the meeting of the Sanhedrin that morning to convict Christ and that he only found out about it after the high priest issued the verdict. Luke tells us that Joseph “had not consented to their decision and action” (Luke 23:51). Luke only mentions Joseph, but the Apostle John writes that Nicodemus also accompanied Joseph in the burial of Jesus.


38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. 39He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42).


Upon Christ's death, Joseph went to Pilate, the Roman Governor, asking him if he could have the body of Jesus to give Him an honorable burial. Meanwhile, another member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus, the principal teacher in Israel, i.e., the one who came to Jesus with questions about how to be born-again (John 3:1-18), went to purchase seventy–five pounds of spices to put around the body and fulfill typical burial customs (John 19:39). The two disciples now gently lowered the body of Jesus from the cross and carried him a short distance to a tomb owned by Joseph in a garden nearby.


Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are open about their faith after the death of Jesus. Their love for Christ moved them to stand up for what they believed. Typically, if the two men had not risen to the occasion, a burial party would have put the body into a burial pit with the thieves. The body had to be buried before the Sabbath, which started in just three hours from the death of Jesus at 3 pm. Several women accompanied the two men. They saw exactly where the tomb was so that they could return with more spices and perfumes for the body when the first day of the week arrived and the Sabbath ended. In his book, The Reality of the Resurrection, Merrill Tenney writes about the customary procedure for the burial.


"The body was usually washed and straightened and then bandaged tightly from the armpits to the ankles in strips of linen about a foot wide. Aromatic spices, often of a gummy consistency, were placed between the wrappings or folds. They served partially as a cement to glue the cloth wrappings into a solid covering. When the body was thus encased, a square piece of cloth was wrapped around the head and tied under the chin to keep the lower jaw from sagging." [1]


The hills of Judea and Jerusalem mainly consist of barren limestone rock, so they could not bury Christ in the ground. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the body of Jesus was placed into a new tomb cut out of the rock, owned by a wealthy man by the name of Joseph (Matthew 27:57). Rich men's tombs were made big enough to stand in. Matthew also adds that a big stone was rolled in front of the entrance. Stones usually weighing a ton or more were chiseled into a coin shape, and a slot was chiseled for the stone to roll in. We are all ready for a miracle of epic proportions. Let's talk about that tomorrow. Keith Thomas.


Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, study 64, The Resurrection of Christ.

[1] Merril C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection (New York, NY: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963, Page 117.