Joseph and Nicodemus Bury Jesus
“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. . . . Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes. . . . So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews” (vv. 38–40).- John 19:38–42
Our study of John’s gospel resumes today as we pick up our exposition in John 19:38. We are in the middle of considering the most significant events in all of human history—the death and resurrection of Jesus—and our text for this study describes the burial of Jesus.
Once it was clear that Jesus was dead, Joseph of Arimathea approached Pontius Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus so that he could give it a proper burial (v. 38). Ancient Jews had tremendous respect for the human body, so much so that they were sure to bury the bodies of Jews even in cases where they had been convicted of a crime. Normally, in cases of sedition, the Romans left the bodies of crucified criminals on the cross for the vultures to take care of. However, leaving a body hanging on a tree overnight was a violation of the Mosaic law (Deut. 21:22–23), so the Romans would allow the Jews to follow their traditions and bury even those who had been found guilty of rebellion against Rome. Normally, the Jews would bury criminals in a common grave outside the city gates, but the body of Jesus got a different treatment. Some commentators believe that Pilate’s willingness to give the body to Joseph (and Nicodemus; v. 39) is a further indication that Pilate believed Jesus was innocent, since he allowed Jesus not to be buried with other criminals.
We do not know much about Joseph of Arimathea except that he was a wealthy disciple of Jesus who sat on the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of first-century Judaism (Matt. 27:57; Mark 15:43). John 19:38 tells us that he was a disciple in secret, and of course we know that Nicodemus’ devotion to Jesus was likely not public knowledge either, since he came to Jesus at night (3:1). We might be tempted to look down on Joseph and Nicodemus for their reticence to identify publicly with Jesus, yet it is worth noting that taking the body of Jesus for burial was a public declaration of their allegiance to our Lord. What is important is that they did not stay in hiding but finally showed their devotion to Christ.
Following the burial practices of the Jews, Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped the body of Jesus in linen strips and spices that would mask the smell of decomposing flesh. Though Jesus had suffered much humiliation, the honor shown in His burial marks the beginning of a shift to a more exalted state for our Lord. He was laid in a new tomb, a special place reserved in God’s providence for Him (19:40–42).
It is sin to hide our allegiance to Christ (Matt. 10:32–33), but it is not unforgivable. The key is that we repent of being ashamed or afraid of our identification with Christ and publicly declare that we are His disciples. This is what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus did when they took Jesus’ body for burial. If we have been ashamed of Jesus, let us repent today and ask the Lord to give us the courage to be known as disciples of Christ.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 15:1–11