Theme: Life from death.This week’s lessons show us that God is greater than the grave.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 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.
In Matthew’s account, the burial of Jesus was arranged by Joseph of Arimathea, “a rich man” who went to Pilate to ask that the body be given to him. Matthew calls him “a disciple of Jesus” (v. 57). Mark and Luke add that he was “a member of the Council,” which means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Mark says that he was “waiting for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43) and Luke that he was “a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action” (Luke 23:50-51). John alone reports that he was assisted by Nicodemus, who brought the spices. The Romans did not normally allow crucified persons to be buried, least of all traitors. So the fact that Joseph approached Pilate is a testimony to his courage.
It is an interesting fact that this is the only time we hear of Joseph. He has not been mentioned before in the gospels, nor does his name appear again after this event. Yet at the moment when Christ’s other disciples (save John) had forsaken him, he alone came forward to identify with Jesus. He did it at great personal cost too. For if Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, as Mark and Luke say he was, his care for Jesus’ body must have ended his career with that court. The Sanhedrin would have had no use for him once he had shown an interest in their enemy.
Are there not many people like Joseph in our day? Many who are known by the Lord and who know him, but are unknown by us? We should be encouraged by this. Are there not always seven thousand at least who have not bowed down to Baal?
When Pilate consented to the crucifixion and washed his hands of it, he must have thought that he was finished with the case. But he had already had one visitor with a continuing interest in Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, who asked for the body. Now there were more, these irritating Jewish leaders. They were back again, this time asking that a guard be placed around the tomb “until the third day” lest “his disciples…come and steal the body and tell the people that he had been raised from the dead” (v. 64). Their fear of what they call “this last deception” as well as their mention of the third day shows that they had understood Jesus’ words about destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days. They knew Jesus was promising to prove that he was the Messiah by his resurrection. They did not believe him. They would not believe him even after his resurrection, but they wanted to do everything they could to keep this terrible thing from happening.
Pilate may have been irritated by the intrusion, but I think he must have been amused too. They were asking for Roman soldiers to guard the tomb. I do not think he gave them. “You have a guard,” is what he literally said; that is, they had their own temple guard; they did not need his troops. But he did give them permission to seal and guard the tomb with their soldiers, if they were really worried, “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how,” he told them. I think that was said with amusement and scorn. For what could Pilate possibly have meant? He must have meant one of two things, as Matthew Henry suggests. Either Pilate was laughing at the leaders for their folly—imagine setting a guard to watch a dead man!—or, more likely, he was mocking them for their fears. It was as if he were saying, “Do your worst, try your wit and strength to the uttermost; but if he be of God, he will rise in spite of you and all your guards.”1 That is what Charles Spurgeon thought the words meant. He seems to have laughed himself as he described the priests begging Pilate “to do what he could to prevent the rising of their victim.”2
1 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 5, Matthew to John (New York, London and Edinburgh: Revell, n.d.), p. 436.2 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Popular Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Pasadena, Tex: Pilgrim Publications, 1974), p. 253.
Write out a brief description of Joseph of Arimathea.
How do we know that Joseph was a courageous man?
Why did the Jewish leaders want guards posted around the tomb?