Joseph of Arimathaea was a secret disciple because he did not want to risk his reputation nor his position on the Sanhedrin. But when he saw the travesty of justice done by his fellow members on the Sanhedrin and the agony and suffering Christ endured on the cross, he could no longer be a secret disciple. He not only accepted those risks, but there were also other risks he had to take now that he was willing to do what God was commanding him.
By openly identifying as one of Christ’s disciples, Joseph not only risked derision from his colleagues, but he also risked ritual uncleanness by entering the quarters of a pagan Roman governor, and asking for Jesus’ body. At this point, he was willing to accept those consequences so he could give Jesus a dignified burial.
Joseph also risked being contaminated under Mosaic law by touching a corpse. “He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days.” Num 19:11
By handling the body of Jesus, he made himself ritually unclean and was thus disqualified from participating in the feast and would miss all its observances and celebrations. (Num. 9:6)
This means he would miss the Passover itself. Or would he? Since Jesus Christ had replaced the Passover Lamb of God that was slain from the foundation of the world, Joseph of Arimathea (and Nicodemus) became the first people to actually celebrate the fulfilled Passover, for Christ is the fulfillment of all of the Jewish feasts.
Did Pilate gladly give Joseph the body of Jesus in order to spite the Jews?
The Jews fully expected that Jesus’ body would be thrown into a mass grave with the other two thieves. When Joseph came to claim the body of Jesus, Pilate perceived that Joseph was also a disciple of Jesus, and also had a legitimate claim to Jesus’ body, and he gladly gave the body to him, perhaps also to annoy the Jewish leadership.
During the trial, Pilate had called the charges against Jesus baseless. “behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him” (Luke 23:14) and several times declared Jesus to be not guilty: “ And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.” (Luke 23:22).
Pilate’s conscience was bothering him. He disregarded the good advice of his wife, who said “ Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.“(Matthew 27:19). But instead, he chose follow the voice of the crowd over doing what was right, and he crucified a man he knew to be innocent.
Pilate had already displayed his frustration with Jewish leadership by having a sign placed over Jesus “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.” (John 19:19-22)
Now, by allowing Jesus to have a decent burial, Pilate could at least gain the personal satisfaction of being able to thwart the evil plans of the Sanhedrin.