Holy Week #18: What happened to Joseph of Arimathea and Pilate after Christ was crucified?

This question is just for fun because these are legends that cannot be authenticated, but there may be some elements of truth in them. Here are some legends concerning what happened to both men.

One tradition is that, after the crucifixion, Joseph is said to have been sent by the Apostle Philip to Britain, with other disciples, and settled at Glastonbury, in southern Britain. He supposedly had already been familiar with this area because he formerly had been a merchant of tin from the mines located here and he had previously visited the Jewish settlements located in the area. He erected the first Christian house of prayer in England, which was replaced by the abbey that exists in Glastonbury to this day.

Many other stories and legends have arisen regarding Joseph of Arimathea being in England. Because Joseph was from the royal lineage of King David (through David’s son, Nathan), Joseph and his family were also considered royalty in England and Joseph’s descendants eventually became a part of the King Arthur of Camelot story and the English royalty of today, all claiming to be descendants of King David.

It is also said that when Joseph led his small new congregation in partaking of communion and read, “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life and … This cup is the new testament in my blood” (John 6:54, 1 Cor 11:25), some misunderstood what he said and they thought that he was referring to the actual cup that Joseph was holding and that he had actually collected the blood of Jesus in it while Jesus was on the cross. They concluded that if anyone drank from that particular cup, he would have eternal life. This began the legend of the Holy Grail.

According to St John Chrysostom, (347-407 CE), Joseph of Arimathaea was one of the 70 apostles appointed in Luke 10.

Another legend is that shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion, Pontius Pilate returned to Italy and retired in the far northern regions of Italy, known today as Switzerland. There, next to Lake Lucerne is a mountain known as Mt. Pilatus, where it was reported that Pilate lived out the remainder of his days.

Legend has it that at night when the wind blows through the trees on the mountain, you can still hear Pilate moaning because he allowed the Son of God to be crucified and regretted it for the rest of his life. I’ve been there. I’ve heard the wind and it does sound like someone moaning! :-)!

Holy Week #17: What is the personal application we can learn from Joseph of Arimathea?

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were moved by fear. They feared ridicule, social ostracism  and the possible expulsion from Sanhedrim and the synagogue. The two of them sat in silence as the council’s scornful question was asked, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?” (John 7:48) They ought to have jumped to their feet and said ‘Yes, we have!’ Instead Nicodemus gave a feeble reply, “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him?” (v 51) All it took was just one contemptuous question to reduce him to silence. “Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” (vs 52) That little question was enough to force Nicodemus into silence, dropping his timid plea for the man he believed to be the Messiah.

How many of us have beliefs about social or moral questions which we are ashamed to confess publically, out of fear of the finger of ridicule being pointed at us? We not only find this curse of secret discipleship in the Church, but it is everywhere today. People fear confrontation and getting involved because they want to maintain their personal peace and affluence. They are “secret disciples,’ whose convictions are only personal and they will only come out of their holes when the battle is over, and then they will shout the loudest with the victors. Very few people are willing to endure uncivil ridicule and condemnation.

Have you ever dared to stand alone? Ridicule breaks no bones. Ridicule has no power, if you make up your mind that it shall not have any. Ridicule is only unpleasant for a moment at the beginning. It’s like when a child wades out into the ocean to swim. He fears the cold water only until his head goes under water, and then after that, the ocean no longer bothers him. And so it is with the ridicule which Christian faithfulness may bring upon us. It only hurts at the beginning, and people very soon get tired. Face your fears and Christ will lift you up into His presence where you will be hidden and protected in the cleft of the Rock. At that point the worst thing that can happen is that your body will die and you will remain forever in God’s presence, which is far better!

Holy Week #16: Why was it necessary to take the body down before the Sabbath?

And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Deut 21:22, 23)

As far as the Romans were concerned, the bodies of executed criminals either were left on the stake to rot and be eaten by vultures, were thrown into a common grave, or were dumped in the wilderness to be eaten by wild dogs.

It was a law of the Jews however, that the body of an executed man should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath. “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31)

Did the Pharise’s break the Sabbath when they requested to have the tomb sealed?

The Pharisees soon learned that their plan to have Jesus’ body thrown into a mass grave with the other criminals was foiled by Joseph of Arimathea placing Jesus’ body in his own tomb. Matthew describes their reaction this way, “Now the next day, that followed the day of the 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 rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matt 27:62-66)

The day Christ was placed in the tomb was the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. Therefore, the next day was the Sabbath. In their blind hatred of Jesus, the Pharisees broke their own Sabbath laws and conspired what they could do to prevent the disciples from possibly stealing Jesus’ body. They came to Pilate, again breaking the Sabbath and worked out the details to secure and seal the tomb.

Rome’s official officer would have to order the stone to be rolled back. Then he went into the tomb and examined the body of Jesus to verify that it was Jesus and that He was really dead.

The chief priests and elders would have entered the tomb, on the Sabbath, with Rome’s official officer so they could look upon Jesus’ dead body and put an end to their worries that He had somehow survived.

Roman guards checked the contents of the tomb because they wanted to know for sure a body was there. They didn’t want to be guarding an empty tomb that would later be used as a claim of resurrection, while they got blamed for the disappearance of Jesus’ body.

After all of these inspections were complete, Rome’s official officer ordered the stone rolled back in its place. While the chief priests, elders, and Roman guards watched, he secured the site and sealed it shut with the seal of the governor of Rome.

The Roman guard was a sixteen-man unit that was governed by very strict rules. Each member was responsible for six square feet of space. The guard members could not sit down or lean against anything while they were on duty. If a guard member fell asleep, he was beaten and burned with his own clothes. But he was not the only one executed. The entire sixteen-man guard unit was executed if only one of the members fell asleep while on duty.

Holy Week #15: The Great Stone

Why was a great stone rolled in front of the tomb?

Most crucified victims in ancient Rome were left hanging on the cross even after they were dead, as a warning to those contemplating rebelling against Rome’s laws. The elements and the birds and animals took care of the mess that was left. It was not unusual, however, for Roman authorities to grant the body of a crucified person to his friends or family, provided he was not guilty of high treason. Pilate evidently did not think Jesus was guilty of what the Jews charged him with (high treason); otherwise he would not have given Christ’s body to Joseph of Arimathaea.

The Bible describes a great stone placed in front of Jesus’ tomb. The “great stone” (Matt 27:60) was technically called “golal”, and it sealed the gravesite. It was set on an incline in a channel cut in the rock. That made it easier to enclose the tomb by rolling the stone downhill.

It took several men to roll the stone back up the incline, which discouraged grave robbers and wild animals from being able to enter the tomb. Small stones, dirt and mud were jammed in between the cracks assuring that no small animals could gain access into the tomb.

Only the very wealthiest of Jews were able to afford such a large stone. Archeologists have discovered that the vast majority of tombs had smaller openings with smaller stones in the shape of a cork that were slid into the openings.

Matthew describes what happened to that enormous stone, “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” (Matt 28:2)

John describes it a little differently, “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” (Joh 20:1)

The words “taken away” implies that the angel easily tossed the stone aside to where it lay flat on the ground some distance from the opening and then he sat on it, waiting for Mary to show up. What a frightening display of power! With angels like that protecting us, do we really have anything to fear?

Holy Week #13: Preparing Jesus’ body for burial

When Joseph of Arimathaea left Pontius Pilate, he was given possession of Jesus’ body. He saw Nicodemus (who was also a secret disciple and one of the three richest men in Judea) outside the Praetorium. After Nicodemus heard what Joseph was going to do, they they divided the work-load because time was of the essence. Joseph went to find the linen shroud to wrap Jesus’ body and Nicodemus, “… brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.” (John 19:39)

Joseph somehow found a shop that was still open after the earthquake and purchased the expensive linen shroud to wrap the body of Jesus in. The Greek word here  used for “linen” is “othomion” meaning, “a cloth made of very fine and extremely valuable materials, which was manufactured primarily in Egypt. Nobels and kings were known to pay very high prices to have robes made of this material for their wives.” Contrast this linen to the “graveclothes” of Lazarus. He was bound hand and foot in bandages made of strips of material.

Jesus however was wrapped in a large linen sheet of finely woven fabric. This linen was so expensive, only kings and wealthy people could afford it, but love does extravagant things and Joseph secured the linen for the King of Kings and went to Golgotha to meet Nicodemus who had been purchasing the spices.

The spices Nicodemus bought were not intended to embalm the body and preserve it from putrefaction like the Egyptians did, but were to perfume the body as a sign of honor and respect, and to alson speed up the decaying process.

One of the spices was myrrh; an expensive, yellowish-brown, sweet smelling, fragrant gum resin, that comes from a small bushy tree called “Commiphora myrrha”.

It had  bitter taste. It is grown in Arabia and Egypt where the grower would make a small cut in the bark, and gum resin would drip out. Then it was collected and stored for about three months until it hardened into fragrant globules. Myrrh was used raw or crushed and mixed with oil to make a perfume. It was also used medicinally to reduce swelling and stop pain.

The aloes that were used were not the common aloe, but instead an “Indian aloe” that was extremely fragrant. It was used to ceremoniously cleanse and purify the body, had healing qualities and it counteracted the terrible smell of the corpse as it decomposed.

Joseph and Nicodemus did not have time to give Jesus a proper burial, which would include washing the body, anointing it with oil and then clothing and wrapping it. Instead, the one hundred pounds of spices, were packed under and around the body and in the folds of linen. This would offset the smell of decay and help preserve the body until it could be properly attended to after the Sabbath by Mary as she observed where the body was laid..

Historical records show that the more respected an individual was, the larger the quantity of these costly materials was used in the burial preparation. In comparison, Josephus records that forty pounds of spices were used at the funeral of the highly respected member of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17c.8, s.3).

When Joseph and Nicodemus placed the aromatic spices into the folds of the linen surrounding the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, it symbolically produced a “sweet smelling savor” to God, who accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s body as payment for the sins of mankind. “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” (Eph 5:2)

When else was myrrh used in Scripture and medicine?

In the book of Esther, young women who appeared before King Ahasuerus were given beauty treatments with myrrh. (Esther 2:12-13)

The Bible also records two additional times myrrh was involved in Jesus’ life: Matthew states that kings brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh when they visited Jesus as a child. Mark notes that when Jesus was dying on the cross, he was offered wine mixed with myrh to ease the pain, but he refused to take it.

Today, myrrh is used by naturopathic doctors who claim several health benefits., including improved heart rate, reducing stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and increasing immune function.

Holy Week #14: What spiritual significance is there that Jesus was buried in a garden?

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.” (Jn 19:41)

The apostle John was the only Gospel writer who mentions the garden tomb. He saw the significance of Jesus being buried in a garden.

In the Garden, Adam was created alive with God, and then he sinned, died, and had to leave the Garden. In the same way (only opposite), Christ died for Adam’s sin and was buried in a garden and he rose from the dead in the garden and we now have entrance back into the Garden to live once again with God. The curse has been fulfilled and is now complete!

The traditional site where Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe Jesus was buried was in the “Tomb of Christ” located in the Church of the Holy Sepulture. There is much superstition place on unauthenticated sites and objects in the Holy Land that border on idolatry.

However there is another place nearby that seems to fit the Biblical description better. It is a Garden with a tomb in it, located just outside the city walls of Old Jerusalem (north of the Damascus Gate), which was first discovered by a British soldier, General Gordon in 1883.

This site is called, “The Garden Tomb”, and is where many Protestant Christians believe that Jesus Christ may have been buried because of the skull-shaped cliff (believed to be Golgotha) that can be seen from the tomb.

Holy Week #12: What did Joseph risk by claiming Jesus’ body?

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. 

Holy Week #11: Which centurion did Pilate summon to find out if Jesus had already died?

Jesus died at approximately 3:00pm. If Joseph was going to fulfill prophecy, the body of Jesus would have to buried within the next 2 hours and 45 minutes, before the sun set at approximately 5:45pm. For this to happen, Joseph of Arimathea had to first come to Pilate and request the body of Jesus. Time was of the essence but Pilate was so surprised that Jesus was already dead, that he wanted proof of that Jesus was actually dead, so he sent for the centurion to verify that fact. “And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.” (Mark 15:44-45)

But which centurion did he summon and where was he to be found? A centurion is the commander of 100 men.

There was only one centurion who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and it was this centurion who watched Jesus die and marvelled. “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.”

So Pilate asked one of his servants to go to Golgotha and get this particular centaurion and bring him so Pilate could verify Jesus’ death. This was the same centurion who reported that Jesus was most certainly dead.

But imagine how Joseph was feeling during this time? The location of Golgotha was anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes walking distance away from the Praetorium (depending on where where you think the crucifixion took place), so Joseph and Pilate had to have spent 30-45 minutes talking together while waiting for the centurion to return. This took precious time away from Joseph accomplishing his task, yet even in these circumstances, God was still in control and it would all be accomplished in God’s perfect timing.

Holy Week #10: How was Joseph able to so easily have an audience with Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor?

Pilate was a very protected governor. It would have been very difficult for anybody to have an unscheduled audience with Pilate so quickly. How was Joseph of Arimathea able to gain access to Pilate so easily? Some say it could have been his sheer boldness in demanding to see Pilate, but that alone wouldn’t have gotten him past the guards. It could also have been his reputation and standing as a wealthy merchant and a member of the Sanhedrin. Perhaps. However the Eastern Orthodox church has another answer that gives an intriguing answer this question.

The Eastern Orthodox claim that Joseph of Arimathea was the brother of the Virgin Mary’s father, Heli who was a descendent of King David from David’s son Nathan. In Luke’s geneology of Jesus, Mary’s husband Joseph is referred to the son of Heli when he was actually son-in-law to Heli; Mary’s father. Church tradition proclaims that Mary’s father, Heli, had a younger brother named Joseph who lived in Arimathaea “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, … Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David,. (Luke 3:23,31)

If this is true, then Joseph of Arimathea was not only of the lineage of David, but also the legal guardian of Jesus’ body, he being the nearest living male relative to him. Therefore, Pilate would have been obligated by law to give the body to Joseph of Arimathea.

Holy Week #9: Did Joseph of Arimathea actually give up his own tomb for Jesus to be buried in?

A rich man’s tomb was quite large compared to a western sepulchre that has room for just one body. In Joseph’s tomb, the dead body was laid out on a stone bench in the tomb and was wrapped in linen with spices. The spices helped speed up decaying process.

(above: a bone box, or ossuary, that bones would be placed in)

The body would lay on the bench for up to a year, until all the flesh had decomposed. When only the bones were left, they would be taken and placed into a bone box, or ossuary, to conserve space. The ossuary would then be placed in various cubicles in the tomb. A family tomb like Joseph of Arimathea’s would have been able to hold many, many ossuaries of his family members and descendents. Therefore, he would have considered it an honor to have Jesus share his tomb with him.