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.

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.