Holy Week #8: How Joseph of Arimathaea fulfilled Biblical prophecy

As Christ lived on earth, he had not a house of his own where he could lay his head, so, when he died, he also had not a grave of his own wherein to lay his body. Jesus, who had no house of his own, also had no grave of his own.

The Jews plotted that Jesus would make his grave with the wicked and be buried in a mass grave with the thieves with whom he was crucified. That way he would be quickly forgotten. But God saw to it that prophecy would be fulfilled and that he would be with the rich in his death so it would verify that he rose from the dead.

God prompted Joseph of Arimathea to donate his new tomb for Jesus to be buried in. This fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy spoken hundreds of years before Jesus’ death: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9).

The grave that Jesus was assigned with the wicked was the mass grave reserved for criminals who had been crucified; but he was with the rich in his death. It was highly unlikely that these two circumstances would ever be united in the same person, but they were in Jesus.

It was also fitting that Jesus, whose body saw no corruption, should be buried in a grave, which had never been tainted by a human corpse. “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” (Ac 2:31)

Holy Week #7: A “Secret Disciple’s” Regret

Did Joseph of Arimathaea experience regret for having been a secret disciple?
A secret disciple always has his communion with Christ diminished. I am confident that when Joseph became public in his confession of his love for Jesus, he regretted not having done that sooner. He could have had sweet fellowship with the Creator of the universe for the short time he walked on earth, but instead he was silent because of his fear of others.

I’m sure he believed Jesus was a man sent by God, but I’m not so sure he loved him as the Son of God. Love always delights in the expressing of that love. Love is expressed by surrendering things that are most precious to us, and laying them at our beloved’s feet. Our positions, our possessions, our reputation, are the ‘sweet spices’ which we can lay upon the altar that glorifies Christ?

And what is the cure of cowardice and selfish silence? As Joseph of Arimathaea experienced, it is seeing Christ hanging on the cross that makes the coward, brave. If Jesus endured that kind of persecution because of his love for me, then I have no excuse but to love him back in the same way, or I cannot call myself a follower of Christ. It took a lot of courage for Joseph to go to Pilate and to voice his sympathy with a condemned criminal. He put his reputation, his fortune and his life at risk.

And the precise moment, God called Joseph of Arimathaea out to center stage and he played the role he was created to play. He boldly asked for the body of Jesus so he could place him in an uncorrupted tomb, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9 “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” Jesus died between two wicked thieves but he was buried in a rich man’s tomb.
Jesus pleads with his followers in this regard when he says, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Mt 10:32,33)

Holy Week #6: “What caused Joseph of Arimathea to stop being a secret disciple”?

Joseph of Arimathaea was described as “a good man and just”. (Luke 23:50) He knew what the law stated and he earnestly followed it. Imagine his shock when he discovered what had happened the night Jesus was betrayed. Members of the Sanhedrin were brought to Caiaphas’ home where the Sanhedrin had hastily gathered. Probably not all 70 members had been invited and Joseph was most likely not in attendance.

This trial was immediately illegal because was held at night in violation of their own laws that stated trials had to be held during the day. It was a mock trial because they had decided ahead of time what the verdict would be: that they would kill Jesus. (The High Priest, Caiaphas, said that it was necessary for Jesus to die for the entire nation. -John 11:30) It was also illegal because there were no witnesses to initiate the trial, but instead, they sought for witnesses while the trial was in progress. Another reason it was illegal was that the verdict in a capital case had to wait and be given the day after the trial, however Jesus’ guilty verdict was rendered immediately. That was why it was specifically forbidden to have a trial the day before Passover.

Imagine, when Joseph of Arimathaea came to the Sanhedrin in the morning only to discover that during the night, while he slept, Jesus had been unjustly tried and sentenced to death. Can you imagine how this must have shocked Joseph who, being a good and just man, also expected the Sanhedrin to follow the law as he did. He was suddenly faced with the blatant hypocrisy of the Sanhedrin who proudly claimed to adhere to the minutest details of the law, but now purposely manipulated the law to kill an innocent man. Joseph clearly saw the travesty of the court and the evil that the Sanhedrin had done. He must have been appalled and outraged.

It seems that Joseph was present at the cross when Jesus died because he knew of Jesus’ death before Pilate did. “And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.” (Mark 15:44) So, we can assume that Joseph went to the crucifixion site and beheld the indignity of Jesus’ suffering, which was far greater than any persecution he feared would have happened to him if he professed Christ openly.

He witnessed the darkness encompass the earth for three hours while Jesus hung on the cross. He felt the earthquake as if the entire Creation was shaking at the death of its Creator.

Joseph had witnessed Jesus’ agony on the cross. He witnessed the ultimate suffering Christ that endured for him. That awful scene could have moved him to examine his own cowardly conscience, and how he feared ridicule of others. He finally decided that he must take a stand for truth. At the very least, Joseph was now stirred to action. He could be silent no longer.

Up to this point, he had been a disciple secretly. But, no longer. Now we see an man, outraged at himself for not standing alone to defend Jesus and allowing this deed to happen, and outraged with the those who crucified Jesus. He had lost all respect for the Sanhedrin and their underhanded ways. No longer did he care what the Jews would do to him. He had been ashamed to admit his faith before, but now, he boldly confessed his faith in Jesus Christ. It didn’t matter if it meant losing his job. It didn’t matter if it meant losing respect of others. It didn’t matter if it meant losing his life.

This was a time when all of Jesus’ acquaintances stood at a distance (Luke 23:49). But it was Joseph, the secret disciple, who stepped forward. He who had hung back for fear of the Jews now courageously claimed Christ’s body from Pilate.

Perhaps Joseph sinned in valuing his position in society too high. But, when he witnessed the terrible pain and suffering that Christ went through, he became broken hearted and repented.

Then, Joseph of Arimathaea came out of the shadows. He responded to the call and played the part God called him to play in the Drama of the Redemption of Mankind. He came out to center stage and played his part perfectly. He claimed the body of Jesus Christ, prepared the body for burial and laid Jesus in his own new tomb, perfectly ordained by God to fulfill a prophecy given over 600 years earlier by Isaiah. This is an amazing example of God fulfilling prophecy and simultaneously working in a man’s heart

Holy Week #5: The Secret Disciple

How could Joseph of Arimathaea be a disciple of Jesus and, at the same time, a member of the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus?

Mark 15:43 and Luke 23:51 call Joseph of Arimathaea a “counselor … who waited for the kingdom of God” The Greek word for counselor is “bouleutes” which means “a senator or member of the Sanhedrin; the supreme council of the Jews.” He also “waited for the kingdom of God”, which means that he was looking for the Messiah.

Matthew adds that Joseph, “also himself was Jesus’ disciple” (Matt 27:57) and believed, as his friend Nicodemus did; that Jesus performed miracles and was sent from God. Because he was a disciple of Jesus, he expected that God’s kingdom would come through Jesus Christ.

Though Joseph of Arimathaea was a member of the Sanhedrin, he (… had not consented to the counsel and deed of them) (Luke 23: 51) He didn’t agree with the high priest Caiaphas’ conclusion, “that it was expedient that one man [Jesus] should die for the people.” (John 18:14) However when the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus, it was described as unanimous. “Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.” So, either Joseph was silent in not consenting to the condemnation, or he was absent from that specific assembly.

Luke adds that Joseph as an “honorable counselor”, which means he was “elegant, graceful, becoming in speech and manner, influential and respected by others.” Joseph had the respect of the Roman authorities, the members of the Sanhedrin as well as the society at large because of the good deeds that he did with his wealth, yet he was also a secret disciple of Jesus, which brought conflict into his life.

Why was Joseph a secret disciple?
John describes Joseph as “being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” (Jn 19:38). The word “Jews” refers specifically to the ruling members of the Sanhedrin and their strict followers. What was Joseph afraid the Sanhedrin would do to him if he openly professed Jesus?

As Jesus’ fame increased, the intolerance of the rulers of the Sanhedrin also increased. “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (Jn 12:42) To be expelled from the synagogue meant being scorned, shunned, and treated as an outcast by fellow Jews.

So, even though Joseph of Arimathaea waited the Kingdom of God and was a disciple of Jesus, he kept his beliefs to himself. Joseph was a respected pillar of the community, a man who had worked his lifetime to achieve what he had. To come out publicly as a disciple would have meant losing his position and his prestige and the destruction of the life that he and his family enjoyed. Joseph, was unwilling to profess Jesus openly and therefore he was a “secret” disciple because of his “fear of the Jews.” He “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

This is also why Nicodemus visited Jesus in the darkness of night. (John 3) Joseph and Nicodemus decided that it was too risky to publicly follow Jesus. Though they were disciples and believed that God was with Jesus (vs2), they were content to identify with Jesus privately in their own heart. Perhaps they reasoned that there would have been no advantage for them to risk ridicule and rejection and to tarnish their reputation. They were enjoying the best of both worlds.

Holy Week #4: Joseph of Arimathea- “A good and just man”

Joseph is described as “a good man and a just “. (Luke 23:50) What does that mean?

The Greek word for “good” is “agathos” and it means, “upright, distinguished, excellent.” Joseph had good intentions and a reputation for doing good works that would benefit others. He wasn’t a good man as far as following God’s laws perfectly, for Jesus affirmed that no man is good except God.

The word “just” (dikaios) means “to be expected to behave according to existing rules; whether society’s and/or God’s.” Joseph was a very disciplined Pharisee and strictly adhered to their rules, regulations and external ordinances. He was not motivated by an inner holiness however, but rather his discipline brought him respect of others. Putting these words, “good and just” together, says that Joseph knew how to behave properly to benefit himself and others. He had a good reputation and was therefore well-respected and in good standing with society at large, including both the Jews and the Romans. Joseph had a good name in Jewish and Roman society, and that presented a problem for him.

Holy Week #2: Was Jesus crucified at the same time as the Passover lamb was sacrificed?

Jesus was nailed to and hung on the cross from approximately 9:00am – 3:00pm. There is a debate whether the Passover lamb was also sacrificed at the exact time Jesus died, or if the lamb was offered the day before, on Thursday, the night of the last supper and the eating of the Passover. So, it seems logical that the Passover lamb would have been sacrificed on Maunday Thursday.

Though some still insist that the Passover lamb was sacrificed on Friday, is it not necessary to illustrate that Christ was the Passover Lamb.

Jesus Christ was the Passover Lamb of God and it is illustrated in the daily sacrifice known as a “continual burnt offering” that took place twice a day: at 9:00am, (known as the Tamid), and at 3:00pm (also known as “the Evening Sacrifice”). During these times an unblemished male lamb was sacrificed and bread and wine was offered. (This is dictated in Numbers 28:1-8 and in Exodus 29:38-42)

Although the Torah does not say exactly the times of the morning and evening sacrifices took place, according to ancient Jewish sources, (Josephus, Antiquities 14.4.3), the morning offering of the Tamid took place at 9 am, while the evening offering took place at 3 p.m.

What is fascinating about these daily sacrifices, is that there were also daily prayers being offered along with the sacrifice. This is referenced in Acts 3:1; and 2:15, “Now Peter and John went up to the Temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.” The ninth hour was nine hours after the sun rose, (approximately 6:00am) making the ninth hour to be about 3:00pm. Jewish tradition tells us exactly what these prayers said. They were called the “Eighteen Benedictions”.

If these ancient Jewish traditions are correct, then the Jews in the Temple would have been daily praying these benedictions during the Tamid and the Evening Sacrifice, and would have also been praying them on Friday at the same time Jesus was nailed to the cross (9:00am) and when he died around 3:00pm. Four of these daily benedictions were finally fulfilled when Jesus Christ was being crucified…

1. The 6th Benediction: According to Jewish tradition, at 9am and 3pm, the Jews in the Temple would have been praying for the forgiveness of sins: “Forgive us, O our Father, for we have sinned; pardon us, O our King, for we have transgressed; for you pardon and forgive. Blessed are you, O Lord, who is merciful and always ready to forgive.”

2. The 7th Benediction: the Jews in the Temple would have been praying for redemption: “Look upon our affliction and plead our cause, and redeem us speedily for your name’s sake, for you are a mighty redeemer. Blessed are you, O Lord, the redeemer of Israel.”

3. The 15th Benediction: According to Jewish tradition, at 9a.m. and 3p.m., the Jews in the Temple would have praying for the coming of the Messiah: “Speedily cause the offspring of your servant David to flourish, and let him be exalted by your saving power, for we wait all day long for your salvation. Blessed are you, O Lord, who causes salvation to flourish.”

4. The 2nd Benediction: According to Jewish tradition, at 9a.m. and 3p.m., the Jews in the Temple would have been praying for the resurrection of the dead: “You, O Lord, are mighty forever, you revive the dead, you have the power to save. You sustain the living with loving kindness, you revive the dead with great mercy, you support the falling, heal the sick, set free the bound and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust… Who resembles you, a king who puts to death and restores to life, and causes salvation to flourish? And you are certain to revive the dead. Blessed are you, O Lord, who revives the dead.”

The next three hours, after Jesus died, from 3:00pm to sundown, (which occurs at approx 5:45pm in Jerusalem during this time of the year), Joseph of Arimathaea would have had to request the body of Jesus from Pilate, Jesus’ body would have to be taken down from the cross, and transported to his tomb. Then, the linen cloths and 100# of spices have to be purchased, the body quickly cleansed, hastily prepared with the spices, and placed in the tomb. All this has to be done before sundown. This character sketch documents the precise and miraculous details of how God orchestrated the events and transformed Joseph of Arimathaea’s heart so that it all gets done and Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled.

Holy Week #1: Synchronizing the Gospels: What time did Jesus die on the cross?

What time was Jesus put on the cross? What time did Jesus die?
There seems to be some contradiction in the Gospels about the time of day Jesus was tried and crucified. John says Jesus was tried about the sixth hour and Mark says Christ was crucified at the third hour and died the ninth hour. This is easily explained to produce harmony in the Gospels…

John 19:14-16 states, “ And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. … Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.” John is using the Roman method of telling time which began at midnight. (much like ours is currently) When John wrote his Gospel, the Temple had been destroyed in 70AD and the practicing of the Jewish ceremonial laws was non-existent. Therefore Jesus was sentenced to be crucified during the sixth hour after midnight, or just after dawn (6:00am) which was when the Sanhedrin brought Jesus to Pilate and demanded he be crucified. During this time, Barabas was released and Jesus condemned to be crucified.

The Gospel of Mark states “And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.” (Mr 15:25). Mark is using the Jewish method of telling time in which the day began at sunrise, or approx. 6:00am. Therefore Jesus was nailed to the cross in the third hour after sunrise, approximately 9:00am. It took approximately three hours, from 6:00am – 9:00am for Jesus to be condemned, the cross to be brought to Jesus, and be carried to Golgotha where he was nailed to it.

Mark continues to use the Jewish method of telling time when he said, “And when the sixth hour [noon] was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. [3:00pm] … And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost..” (Mark 15:33. 37) The Greek word used for darkness is “skotos” means “very dark”. The Greek word for “land” is “ges” and it and refers to, “ the whole earth, literally”. The entire earth became simultaneously darkened. This was prophesied by Amos, , “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day:” (Amos 8:8)