A Rich Man Buries a Poor Man
“Joseph took the body…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” (vv. 59–60).- Matthew 27:57–61
Mary Magdalene and the other women are not the only ones who show faithfulness to Jesus in His death (Matt. 27:55–56). Today’s passage tells us about Joseph, “a disciple of Jesus,” who is responsible for His burial (vv. 57–60). Joseph is from Arimathea, known in the Old Testament as Ramathaim-zophim, a town twenty-two miles northwest of Jerusalem where the prophet Samuel was born (1 Sam. 1:1–20). This Arimathean has secretly followed Christ (John 19:38), probably because Joseph’s seat on the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43) would be in jeopardy if the other council members found him out. Since Joseph sits on the Sanhedrin, we know that not all the religious leaders reject Jesus completely. The reverent acts of Joseph and the Pharisee Nicodemus, who helps Joseph provide Jesus with a proper burial, (Matt. 27:57–61; John 3:1–21; 19:38–42) show that the Jewish clergy at the time do not universally oppose our Lord.
Joseph needs all the help he can get because he must take Jesus down from the cross, wash His body, anoint Him for burial, and finally place His body in the grave. He and Nicodemus only have a three-hour window in which to accomplish this work; Jesus died at the ninth hour (Matt. 27:45–50) and all work must stop when the Sabbath begins at the twelfth hour. Because he is a rich man, Joseph likely has servants who are helping in the process, although even with this help there will remain more work to be done, which is why the women return to His tomb on the first day of the week (Mark 16:1). That Jesus is buried in a rich man’s tomb is yet another fulfillment of prophecy (Isa. 53:9).
Jesus’ fellow Israelites consider it especially charitable to provide a proper burial for someone who might not otherwise get one. No doubt this fact motivates Joseph of Arimathea; however, he is not merely doing a good deed. In coming forward to bury Jesus, Joseph identifies himself as a disciple of Christ and risks the Sanhedrin’s fury. After years of following Jesus behind closed doors, Joseph makes his true allegiance known. The church father John Chrysostom exhorts us to likewise follow Jesus even if doing so might bring shame upon us (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 10, p. 522).
Besides Joseph of Arimathea’s faithfulness in our Lord’s burial, note that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph are also present when Jesus is laid to rest (Matt. 27:56, 61). Matthew Henry writes, “True love for Christ will carry us through to the utmost, in following him. Death itself cannot quench that divine fire.” Pray today that your fervor for Jesus would increase and that neither shame nor fear would keep you from following Him.
Passages for Further Study