The Burial of Jesus 42 This all happened on Friday, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. As evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.) 44 Pilate couldn't believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. 45 The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. 46 Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus' body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus' body was laid.
Jesus' crucifixion has taken place on Friday, the day before the Sabbath. It is now evening and the Sabbath is about to begin. Joseph, a secret follower of Jesus and a member of the Jewish high council, goes to Pilate and asks for the right to bury Jesus. Pilate calls for the Roman officer, who testifies that Jesus is actually dead. Pilate then gives Joseph permission to bury Jesus. Joseph wraps the body in a linen cloth, places it in a cave-tomb, and then rolls a rock in front of the entrance. Two of Jesus' female followers see where he has been buried.
Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43)
Because the Sanhedrin "had condemned Jesus and because his disciples had fled, the onus falls on the members of the council to arrange for Jesus' burial. Refusal to bury Jesus would have been provocative to the Jewish public. The sooner the corpse of Jesus was out of public view, the better. The task of burial is assigned to Joseph."1780 (While the Sanhedrin's role/responsibility in Jesus' burial makes sense, none of the gospel writers mention it specifically.) Jewish law required that a crucified person be taken down and buried prior to sunset (see Deuteronomy 21:23), and of course the fact that the Sabbath - a day when no work was allowed - was fast approaching only added to the need for haste.1781 "If Jesus had died on the Sabbath when Joseph was unavailable, his body would have been taken down by the Romans. An executed man lost all dignity - it was common to simply leave the body to rot away. Remains would be thrown into a common grave. Had the Romans taken Jesus' body, no Jews could have confirmed his death, and opponents could have disputed his resurrection."1782 Why did Joseph need permission to bury Jesus' body? As one source explains: "Taking down a crucifixion victim required permission; to do so before the victim was dead was a serious offense, comparable to aiding an escape from prison."1783 Obtaining the required permission required much courage on Joseph's part. While "the Romans quite generally allowed the relatives and friends of men who had been executed to bury their bodies if they so desired,"1784 nonetheless Joseph's "interest in giving Jesus a decent burial could be interpreted as support for Jesus' cause"1785 - which, in turn, would put him at odds with the authorities both Roman and Jewish.1786 ("Only Mark recorded Pilate's questioning of the centurion, perhaps to show his Roman readers that Jesus' death had been verified by a Roman military officer."1787)
While they did not apply to Jesus (because he was resurrected), nonetheless it is interesting to note Jewish burial practices in general:
Jews of the NT period buried their dead promptly, as soon as possible after death and almost always on the same day. Preparations began at the moment of death: the eyes of the deceased were closed, the corpse was washed with perfumes and ointments (Acts 9:37), its bodily orifices were stopped and strips of cloth were wound tightly around the body - binding the jaw closed, the feet together and the hands to the sides of the body (John 11:44). The corpse was then placed on a bier and carried in a procession to the family tomb (Luke 7:12). Eulogies were spoken, and the corpse was placed inside the tomb, along with items of jewelry or other personal effects. The funeral was thus conducted without delay, and most bodies were interred by sunset on the day of death. But Jewish burial rituals did not conclude with this first, or primary, burial. A year after the death, members of the immediate family returned to the tomb for a private ceremony in which the bones were reburied after the body had decayed.1788
Sheet of linen cloth ... a tomb (Mark 15:46)
The apostle John's parallel account reveals that Joseph was assisted by another secret disciple, "Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night" (John 19:39). Knowing that their actions - that is, the touching of a dead body - would render them ceremonially unclean, nonetheless together they wrapped Jesus' body in a linen cloth which, according to custom, would have included about one-hundred pounds "of a gummy, sticky resinous mixture of myrrh and aloes" (see John 19:40) used both to help slow decay and to mask the odor associated with a decaying body.1789 Joseph and Nicodemus laid Jesus' body inside a cave-tomb. Typically the stone used to cover the opening of such a tomb was no more "than three or four feet in diameter, since tomb openings were not usually as tall as doorways. In fact, John 20:5 plainly says that one had to stoop down to peer in."1790 The stone covering the entrance "fit into a sunken groove," making it "difficult to remove."1791 Jewish burial customs dictated that family members be buried in the same tomb. The body of the deceased would be allowed to decompose for one year, after which "the eldest son or other closest family member would return, gather the bones for burial in a box and deposit them in a slot on the tomb wall."1792
Mary ... Mary (Mark 15:47)
Mark notes that two Mary's "saw where Jesus' body was laid." "[S]imply to say that these two women 'saw' where Jesus was laid fails to bring out the full picturesque description. They were watching, were observing ... carefully, intently, devoutly."1793 Their careful observation anticipates their return on Sunday morning: because they saw where Jesus was buried, they knew exactly where to go.1794 At a time and place where women were not allowed to testify in court, God nonetheless chose two women to be witnesses to the most significant event in history: the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For their part, the women were doing all they could do. While they could not testify before the high council, or appeal to Pilate, or overpower the Roman guards, they did stay at the cross, follow Jesus' body to the tomb, and prepare spices for his body. As a reward for their devotion and diligence, they were the first witnesses to the resurrection.1795
THE DEATH OF JESUS: A PARALLEL ACCOUNT1796
Betrayal & Arrest
Jesus betrayed, arrested, and forsaken (Matthew 26:47–56; Mark 14:43–52; Luke 22:47–53; John 18:2–12)
First Jewish phase, before Anna (John 18:13–24)
Second Jewish phase, before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:57–68; Mark 14:53–65; Luke 22:54)
Peter's denials (Matthew 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–65; John 18:25–27)
Third Jewish phase, before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1a; Luke 22:66–71)
Remorse and suicide of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:18–19) (Matthew 27:3–10)
First Roman phase, before Pilate (Matthew 27:2, 11–14; Mark 15:1b–5; Luke 23:1–5; John 18:28–38)
Second Roman phase, before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6–12)
Third Roman phase, before Pilate (Matthew 27:15–26; Mark 15:6–15; Luke 23:13–25; John 18:39–19:16)
Journey to Golgotha (Matthew 27:31–34; Mark 15:20–23; Luke 23:26–33a; John 19:17)
First 3 hours of crucifixion (Matthew 27:35–44; Mark 15:24–32; Luke 23:33b–43; John 19:18–27)
Last 3 hours of crucifixion (Matthew 27:45–50; Mark 15:33–37; Luke 23:44–45a, 46; John 19:28–30)
Witnesses of Jesus' death (Matthew 27:51–56; Mark 15:38–41; Luke 23:45b, 47–49)
Certification of death and procurement of the body (Matthew 27:57–58; Mark 15:42–45; Luke 23:50–52; John 19:31–38)
Jesus' body placed in a tomb (Matthew 27:59–60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53–54; John 19:39–42)
Tomb watched by the women and guarded by the soldiers (Matthew 27:61–66; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55–56)
Only Three Showed Up
Late one evening in mid-September of 1898 a traveling Christian businessman named John Nicholson checked into a hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin. Because there were no vacancies, he wound up sharing a room with a fellow believer named Samuel Hill.
When he was only a boy John had promised his dying mother that he would read from the Bible every evening at bedtime. As he began reading to himself, Sam asked him to read aloud. And so he John read John 15, and then the two men knelt for prayer. After that, they stayed awake until 2:00 in the morning discussing the spiritual needs of traveling Christians.
After running into each other again some eight months later, John and Sam decided to start an association of Christian salesmen, and their first meeting would be on July 1, 1899. Their first meeting consisted of a grand total of three people: John, Sam, and a fellow named Will Knights.
Despite the embarrassingly low turnout, the men proceeded with their plans to launch an "organization to mobilize Christian commercial travelers for encouragement, evangelism, and service."
After mulling it over, they decided to name their organization the Gideons.
"The Gideons have since distributed over seven hundred fifty million copies of Scripture in over one hundred seventy nations."1797 Jesus' powerful life and ministry ended with two disappointed men seeking to be true to their faith by giving Jesus a decent burial. But because he did not remain in the grave, today there are millions of people around the world who know the love, joy, and peace that comes only through following Jesus. Faithfulness to a mundane task on the part of two seemingly insignificant men helped to make this a reality.