John 19:38–42

“In the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (vv. 41–42).

"Crucified, dead, and buried” is how the Apostles’ Creed describes what happened to Jesus after He “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” In one sense, we might say that the specific mention of the burial is a bit superfluous. After all, the creed says that Jesus died. Evidently, however, the early church thought this aspect of our Lord’s passion was important enough to include in its confession. Why?

It would be difficult to discover why the authors of the Apostles’ Creed included Christ’s burial, but the Heidelberg Catechism gives us insight into the theological significance of this statement. According to the catechism, Jesus’ “burial testifies that he really died” (A. 41). This testimony to the actual death of the Savior is important given all that we have said about the curse of God and the satisfaction of His wrath. If there were any doubt that Jesus really died, there would be doubt as to whether the Father had actually meted out His wrath on Christ. Death is the sentence pronounced on sinners (Gen. 2:15–17; Rom. 6:23), and death is required for atonement (Isa. 53; Heb. 9:22). If Jesus had not died, we would have no assurance that the demands of God’s law were met in Christ and no foundation for believing we are at peace with the Father. The account of Jesus’ burial in today’s passage, then, is more than just a record of historical fact. Christ’s burial proved that He truly died and that He endured the curse for His people.

The accounts of Jesus’ burial also have value for defending our faith. Muslims believe that Jesus never died on the cross but was taken up to heaven. Some members of the Jesus Seminar teach that scavenging dogs ate Jesus’ corpse. But these positions are completely groundless, for the sources written the soonest after Jesus’ ministry was completed — the four Gospels — all agree that Jesus really died and that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus.

Finally, Matthew Henry points out that there may be more significance to Jesus’ burial in a garden tomb than we might see at first glance. He writes, “In the garden of Eden death and the grave first received their power, and now in a garden they are conquered, disarmed, and triumphed over. In a garden Christ began his passion, and from a garden he would rise, and begin his exaltation.”

Coram Deo

Because the Bible is the Word of God, nothing in it was included by accident. We may not always know why certain facts are recorded and not others, but we do know there is a reason for every word in Scripture. Understanding the meaning and significance of all the Bible’s words takes some work, but it is well worth the effort. Thus, we should be diligent students of Scripture and meditate on its contents.

For Further Study