Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, this is Episode 150 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since Episode 134 I’ve been developing the last hours of Jesus’ life, from His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night all the way to the last episode where we saw Him breathe His last on the cross on Friday afternoon around 3pm. Last time, I talked about the final moments of Jesus’ life where He uttered several important phrases like “I thirst” and “it is finished”, and we looked at some unique details that Matthew’s Gospel records for us. Today, I want to look at what all four of the Gospels say about the moments after His death, including His burial. Let’s start today by reading from John 19:
"Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”"
(John 19:31–37 ESV)
John gives us more chronological points of reference here to help us see and believe what Jesus said about His own death and resurrection. He said that Jesus died on “the day of Preparation”, and indicated that the bodies of Jesus and the two rebels should not remain on the crosses because the next day was a Sabbath - yet not only a Sabbath, but a “high” Sabbath. These are important details that can give us confidence in the veracity of the accounts from the Gospel authors. Recall back to Episode 139 where I talked about this a little bit. The “Preparation Day” did not mean “preparation” for the Passover meal. The “Preparation Day” was the day before the Sabbath day. Mark 15:42 makes this perfectly clear, as we’ll read in a little bit. Now this Saturday Sabbath was not just an ordinary Sabbath, it was a “high” Sabbath because it was a Sabbath during the Passover feast, and this “high Sabbath” followed the Day of Preparation. Some believers miss these details and say that Jesus’ death was on Wednesday and He was in the grave for exactly 72 hours, but what is often forgotten is that throughout the Scriptures, time is reckoned inclusively. In other words, Jesus’ prediction about rising “on the third day” inclusively counts Friday, Saturday, and then Sunday - Sunday being “the third day”. Does that make sense? I’ll link to a well-written article below for more of these details if you’re interested.
Now the Jews asked Pilate that the legs of all three men who were crucified could be broken in order that they might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, or Saturday. The Romans would normally leave victims on the cross until they had died, at which point animals and birds would often come to feast on the corpses. However, the Jewish authorities were still thinking about ritual purity, this time specifically from Deuteronomy 21. They didn’t want the land defiled for the Passover by having bodies hanging on a tree. So this is why they wanted to hasten the death of Jesus and the two rebels by breaking their legs, which would prevent them from being able to breathe and thus die more quickly. Once again we see such irony in the behavior of the Jewish authorities.
Now John tells us that after breaking the legs of the other two rebels, the soldiers came to Jesus and found Him already dead. One of them then pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. All of the beatings over the past number of hours would have severely weakened Jesus, and likely He had not slept well since Wednesday night, and here it is Friday afternoon. The soldier’s spear may have pierced Jesus’ heart, which is why some say that blood and water flowed as it did. Whatever the case, Jesus was genuinely dead. He had been crucified as the righteous suffering servant as a propitiation for the sins of the nation, and, while He had never sinned, He was paid the wage of death for the sins of the nation of Israel and even the sins of the whole world. His manner of life and not loving His life even unto death is what we’re called to imitate as believers. May God give us grace to make much of Jesus. Well, let’s look at the burial of Jesus now, I’ll read from Luke 23:
"Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment."
(Luke 23:50–56 ESV)
The Gospels introduce us to a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. Unfortunately we’re not sure where this town was located, though a couple of early church writings say that Arimathea was the same place as Ramathaim-Zophim or Ramah, which was the birthplace and burial place of the prophet Samuel. Now each of the Gospels add some unique details about Joseph, saying that he was rich and was a respected member of the Jewish ruling council (Mark 15:42), yet he was a disciple of Jesus and was a good and righteous man who had not consented to the decision and actions of the rest of the Sanhedrin in their condemnation of Jesus. He was also looking for the kingdom of God, according to Mark and Luke. Throughout the Gospels we’ve seen the authors tell us about others like this - people like Simeon and Anna from Luke chapter 2, ones who were walking uprightly and were eager for God to fulfill all of His promises to the nation. What’s uncommon about Joseph is that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. Imagine how secretive he had to be about his discipleship. He was respected among the group of the most powerful Jews in the nation who had conspired to kill Jesus because of their jealousy and envy. And now, because he feared God and believed that Jesus was who He had claimed to be, He secretly went to ask Pilate to take away Jesus’ body. This must have taken some courage. First of all, he was approaching the powerful Roman governor Pilate as a member of the Sanhedrin after everything that had happened earlier that morning. And secondly, he feared what the other council members might say or do to him if they found out that he was a disciple of Jesus. According to John 19, Pilate gave him the permission to take the body and give it a proper burial. Now John 19 also gives us another surprising detail, check this out:
"After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there."
(John 19:38–42 ESV)
Notice how John tells us about another man we’ve already seen in his Gospel - Nicodemus. We looked at Jesus’ words with Nicodemus from John chapter 3 all the way back in Episode 50. Remember when Nicodemus had come to Jesus by night and Jesus had corrected his understanding of how the nation was going to be delivered not by the strength of man through an insurrection, but by God’s hand alone? I think that Nicodemus must have taken to heart what Jesus had said to him, because not only did we see him attempting to be fair in his judgment back in John 7, now we see him bringing burial spices with Joseph of Arimathea to embalm the body of Jesus. Perhaps Nicodemus had become a disciple, but at the very least, he was sympathetic to Jesus. Now what else is astounding about Nicodemus here is the quantity of spices he brings to the hasty burial of Jesus. The ESV says that it was 75 pounds, but commentators say that it was likely closer to 65 pounds or 30 kilograms of myrrh and aloes. This was a truly appropriate burial for a king, and indeed that’s who Jesus is. Now Matthew gives us a few more details, so let’s read from Matthew 27:
"And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb."
(Matthew 27:59–61 ESV)
Joseph laid Jesus in his own new tomb which he had cut in the rock, in which no one else had yet been laid. After wrapping Jesus according to the burial customs of the Jews, he laid Him in the tomb and rolled a large stone over the entrance. All three of the Synoptic Gospels tell us that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were sitting there, watching everything happening. Luke adds the detail that they left to go prepare the spices or aromatics and myrrh. They were present at the cross, and this is how they knew where Jesus was buried. Now once again, it was the “Preparation Day”, the day before the “high Sabbath”, and it was important that Joseph and Nicodemus complete the burial before the Sabbath began at sundown. So this burial was done in haste, yet as we’ve seen, was not spared in extravagance in other ways. Let’s read a little more from Matthew’s account:
"The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard."
(Matthew 27:62–66 ESV)
So now it’s Saturday, and the Jewish authorities are before Pilate again. Of course they don’t believe Jesus’ predictions about rising from the dead, but they certainly do believe that His disciples might come and steal his body and claim a resurrection. So, the tomb is secured, perhaps with some sort of soft clay, and impressed with a Roman imperial stamp. The seal would then be attached to the stone with a large rope or cord of some type. Not only would the soldiers act as a deterrent to anyone coming to rob Jesus’ body, but the seal would indicate that robbing the grave would be illegal and punishable. And with this, it looked like the power of darkness and the Jewish authorities had won. Jesus was dead, and the problem had finally been dealt with.
Well in the next episode we’re going to talk about some glorious news - Jesus did not stay in that grave. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series, find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Blessings to you, and come back next time.