With a Rich Man in His Death

Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking [Jesus] down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid” (vv. 46–47).

- Mark 15:42–47

Not every member of the Sanhedrin—the council that pronounced Jesus worthy of execution and handed Him over to Pilate for crucifixion (Mark 14:53–65; 15:1–15)—was antagonistic to Jesus. In fact, at least two of them were followers of Him. John’s gospel informs us about Nicodemus, one of the rulers of the Jews who on at least one occasion learned from Jesus in secret. Later, he helped to bury Jesus’ body (John 3:1–21; 19:38–42). All four Gospels tell us about Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council who is described as “a disciple of Jesus” (Matt. 27:57; John 19:38) and as “looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50–51). He was expecting the messianic kingdom and believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah who would usher it in.

Besides revealing that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin and from the town of Arimathea, a town located about twenty miles northwest of Jerusalem, the New Testament tells us Joseph was wealthy (Matt. 27:57). When Jesus died, Joseph buried Him. Ordinarily, crucified people were thrown into ditches, but Jews believed fellow Jews deserved a proper burial. Roman officials sometimes gave the bodies of crucified victims to their friends or family for burial. That Pilate allowed Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus may indicate Pilate’s ongoing belief that Jesus was an innocent man (Mark 15:45). Mark 15:44 reveals Pilate’s surprise that Jesus was already dead on that Friday afternoon, and this was because crucifixion often took several days to kill a person. But as the perfect sacrifice for sin, Jesus died as soon as God had exhausted His wrath against His people, which took only a few hours. One of the great mysteries of the cross is that the punishment sinners could not satisfy in an eternity of suffering in hell was satisfied by Christ in a short time. His suffering alone had infinite value and could satisfy infinite justice.

Joseph, a rich man, buried Jesus in a grave He had constructed (Mark 15:46). This was the beginning of our Lord’s exaltation. Though He was condemned to death like a common criminal, Jesus enjoyed a magnificent burial of which no lawbreaker could be worthy. But Jesus was no lawbreaker; He, the only perfectly righteous man who has ever lived, bore the curse in our place but had no sin of His own (1 Peter 2:22–24). Thus, His Father could not let Him have a common burial. Christ had to be exalted in His burial, for He was worthy of nothing less.

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments that in Jesus’ burial, “the cursing, which he had endured for a short time, began to be removed; for his body was not thrown into a ditch in the ordinary way, but honorably laid in a hewn sepulcher.” His burial proves that His work of atonement was perfect, so we are called to look only to Him for reconciliation with God. Our works do not and cannot atone for our sin.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 50:22–26
Isaiah 53:9
Matthew 27:57–61
Luke 23:50–56

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