Lesson 122: Removing the Body from the Cross / The Burial / The Tomb Guarded
Matt 27:57-66, Mark 15:43-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:31-42
A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. This is lesson # 122. Welcome! After the darkness from noon until 3 PM on Friday when Jesus "bowed his head, and gave up the ghost" (John 19:30) the sunlight came back again. It was during that brief period before the sun set that Jesus' body was removed and buried by some of his disciples. The scriptures teach plainly that Jesus' death on the cross was necessary for our redemption from sins. That same John who watched Jesus bow his head and give up the ghost, said at a later time: "he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for sins of the whole world." (I John 2:1). Vine, in his dictionary, says this means: "that through the expiatory sacrifice of His Death, is the Personal means by whom God shows mercy to the sinner who believes on Christ as the One thus provided." The apostle Paul at a later time said, "we have redemption through his blood..." (Eph. 1:7) The writer of the Hebrew letter said, "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." (Heb. 9:28). There is great significance in Christ's death for you and me. He was the great sacrifice for our sins. These first four books simply tell us of God's Son, Jesus the Christ, and His death on the cross. But, it's only when we see His resurrection from the dead and understand this in relation to the rest of the N.T. that we learn the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Take a moment to read the first three verses of I-Cor. ch. 15. Then, let's begin our reading today in John 19:31. We'll read John 19:31-37. If you have your eyes on that, let's read. Beginning in John 19:31. "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 a high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forth with came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the Scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another Scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced."
It is my understanding that normally the Romans left a body on the cross until it decayed and the birds ate their flesh. But, the O.T. in Deut. 21:23 required that the body of one so killed not be left on a tree over night; but, the body was to be buried the same day. So, on this "high day" as John called it; the Jews observed that law as a way of emphasizing what a great criminal Jesus was. Thus, they went to Pilate requesting that the body not be left on the cross over night. Pilate sent the soldiers to accomplish what the Jewish leaders had requested. If the person on the cross was not completely dead, it was customary for the soldiers to finish murdering the victim. The soldiers apparently commonly used a little test of cutting the body to see if their blood still flowed. By this little test, they could establish definitely if death had occurred. Jesus' blood had began to separate; thus, confirming that Jesus was definitely dead and indicating that it was not necessary for the soldiers to take further action in killing Jesus. John, who was an eyewitness, told us already that he observed Jesus' death (John 19:30). Since Jesus died for our sins, John put much importance upon the fact that he was an eyewitness, "he that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe." (v.35). John's statement here is very much related to his statement in the next chapter, John 20:31, that we've referred to many times: the purpose of John's writing. "These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name." Then John, like Matthew points out that the things the soldiers did on that occasion fulfilled scripture. V.36 comes from Psalm 22:18 and v.37 comes from Zech. 12:10.
Let's continue our reading in John through the end of ch. 19. This was to do with the burial of Jesus. We'll begin in John 19:38 and read thru v.42. Are you ready? "And after this Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never a man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand." This is the first time we have come upon the name Joseph of Arimathea. All four writers mention Joseph of Arimathea. Each contribute a little more information about the man. John's reference is interesting. John said that this man, Joseph was "a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews." Is it possible to be a secret disciple of Jesus? We learn from another writer that Joseph was a counselor, i.e. a member of the Sanhedrin court. But, even though this man, Joseph, feared the Jews he walked right into Pilate's office and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Then, John mentions another counselor, the man Nicodemus that we met back in John ch. 3. John points out this is the same Nicodemus, in v.39, John said, "which at the first came to Jesus by night." It's very interesting that Jesus was buried by men from the same body, the Sanhedrin council, that also demanded his death. This helps us to see that not all the members of that court were in agreement on this. And understanding the disposition of some on that council, it is easier to understand why Joseph feared the Jews, his own people, if he believed in Jesus. In v.40, John refers to the manner of the Jews to bury. It is my understanding that they used the mixture, referred to in v.39, to smear very liberally on to the body and then they used the linen cloth to wind around the body like what we would call an ace-bandage. The linen was made into narrow strips and wound as v.40 says around the body. This was very much like the Egyptians used to mummify a dead person. The mixture of spices and herbs probably had a pleasant odor and may have had some kind of bacterial inhibiting powers by chemical action. V.41-42 would imply that they simply placed Jesus in a convenient place until after the preparation and the sabbath; intending no doubt to move the body the first of the week to another location.
But, at this point, let's back up and read the other accounts. We'll take them in order. Matthew first. The reference is Matt. 27:57-61 right now. Then we'll read Mark and Luke. Are you ready? Beginning in Matt. 27:57. Let's read. "When the event was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, which also himself was Jesus' disciple: he went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre." No one seems to know where the place of Arimathea is; so, you can't put that one on your map. But, Matthew tells us the man, Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, v.57. We learned that the tomb where they laid Jesus was property of this rich man, Joseph. John points out that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus were sitting close by, no doubt in great sorrow, as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body for burial in that fancy, new, cave-like tomb. I trust you remember that we met Mary Magdalene for the first time back in Luke 8:2. She had been healed by Jesus casting out seven devils. She was listed there as one who ministered to Jesus of their substance. So, she must have been a person of some wealth which devoted the rest of her life to supporting Jesus' ministry after she was healed.
Let's read some from Mark. The reference is Mark 15:42 beginning. We'll read through the rest of the chapter, ending in v.47. Have you turned there? Let's read beginning in Mark 15:42. Let's read. "And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, an honorable counselor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. 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. And he brought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid." In v.43, Mark pointed out that Joseph was an honorable counselor, i.e. a highly respected man. The other writers pointed out that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, although secretly so. But, notice something here about Mark's statement: "Joseph...waited for the kingdom of God..." Thus, to wait for the kingdom was the same as a disciple. But, don't miss this point: There has been great controversy in years past as to when the kingdom or the church started. Some think it started with John the Baptist. Some think it started when Jesus began his personal ministry. Some think it started when Jesus died on the cross. But, you might notice that an hour or two after Jesus died on the cross Joseph of Arimathea still waited for the kingdom. Some think and teach it was when Jesus arose from the dead. But, we'll learn if you continue your study into the book of Acts that it was 50 days after Jesus arose from the grave. Pilate was surprised that Jesus died so soon. Everything else in Mark we had already learned from one of the other writers.
Let's go to Luke. The reference is Luke 23:50-56. Again the last seven verses of the chapter. Have you found Luke ch. 23? Let's begin reading in v.50. Are you ready? "And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counselor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them:) he was of Arimathea, a city of the Jews; who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment." O.K. since we read Luke last, we learn very little new material. Luke said it was a new sepulcher where Joseph and Nicodemus laid Jesus that evening. It must have been very close to sundown when they finished preparing the body. Luke said in v.54, "the sabbath drew on", i.e. the sabbath was starting. We've said before, the 24 hour count, also called a day, started with sundown. Thus, Saturday or the sabbath day, began with sundown on Friday, the day of preparation. After Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and perhaps others from Galilee left the tomb or sepulchre they went to the place where they were staying in Jerusalem and prepared spices and ointments. I would assume that was some kind of good smelling stuff that they planned to pour on the body and saturate the linen to keep it smelling good. It was their substitute for flowers in our day. But, the sabbath had already started; so, they did not take it to the grave site on the sabbath (v.56).
Now, there are about five more verses in Matthew about the next day, i.e. the sabbath day. Let's back up to Matthew and read that. The reference is Matt. 27:62-66. Please turn to that! We'll begin in Matt. 27:62 and read to the end of the chapter. Ready? "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." I sense the chief priests and Pharisees didn't sleep too well Friday night. It's amazing that they remembered that Jesus had said, "After three days I will rise again"; because, during the so-called trial: they applied that statement to Jesus claiming to destroy the temple. So, they saw the next step in their political game as trying to head off any attempt on the part of the disciples to steal the body away by night. Thus, they appealed to Pilate to use his men to make the tomb of Jesus secure. Can't you just imagine the thinking of Pilate, a foreigner to Judea? He must have thought these people are never satisfied. They want me to use my troops to guard a dead man. They really feared this man, they still fear him after he's dead. But, Pilate probably figured those troops may as well be over by the tomb as in the barrack, it's a cheap way to keep them happy and keep their good will. Now, look at v.66, "So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch." Back up in Matt. 27:60, it said he, i.e. Joseph "rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre and departed." When it talks about sealing the stone here in v.60, I used to think of something like concrete or more stones. But, in reading something one day, I learned how the Romans sealed things. They were pretty shrewd. They used wax, something like candle wax. A little wax was melted and stuck to a door and then a little wax stuck to the door-frame. Fibers of some kind were melted into the wax connecting the door and the door-frame. Then they would use a signet ring and imprinted the official Roman seal into the wax after it hardened. Thus, if one tampered with the tomb it could be detected by examining the wax and the fibers. Then on top of that they placed armed guards at the tomb. Can you imagine the clever little jokes those Roman soldiers must have made about guarding a dead man? They probably said, I've guarded a lot of dangerous men; but, this is my first dead man. However, at that point the chief priests and Pharisees thought they had things under control. Until our next lesson, have a good day.