“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19: 38-42)
Crucifixion has long been regarded as one of the most brutal means of execution ever invented. The Romans were masters at it and used crucifixion to keep their Empire in check. Whenever there was unrest in some part of the Roman Empire, the military would brutally crush the rebellion and crucify any who survived to be arrested. The sight of people being crucified publicly, suffering slow and agonizing deaths over the course of several hours or even days, was often enough to prevent another rebellion in that sector of the conquered territories.
The horror of crucifixion did not stop at the condemned person’s death. The bodies would be left on their crosses for several days as a reminder to what happened to those who rebelled against the government. One can easily imagine what the vultures and other animals would do to those bodies. After several days, what was left of the corpses would be thrown onto the trash heap outside the city. Crucified criminals were not entitled to a burial.
With this background, the above passage about Joseph and Nicodemus’ role in the burial of Jesus becomes even more significant. It took a courageous man to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body. There was no reason to expect Pilate to release the body to them. Jesus, after all, had been executed for proclaiming Himself a king.
Perhaps Pilate’s release of the body confirms the Gospel accounts of his reluctance to have Jesus killed in the first place. This small gesture of releasing Jesus’ body was something he could do to ease the grief of Jesus’ followers. No matter why Pilate released the body, this event was pivotal to the resurrection story.
In removing Jesus’ body from the cross, these two men would have checked it carefully for any signs of life. While not part of the inner circle of the Twelve, Joseph and Nicodemus were believers who obviously cared about giving Jesus a dignified burial. If somehow Jesus had survived the crucifixion, and somehow his friends his missed the life signs, the burial wrapping with the seventy-five pounds of burial spices would have sealed the deal. Jesus would have asphyxiated in that setting.
After preparing the body, Joseph and Nicodemus put Jesus in Joseph’s own tomb and then sealed it. This is another important fact. They put the body in a specific tomb and then closed the tomb as they would for any other person who had died. There would be no mix up about where Jesus’ body was placed. They knew exactly where they had put him and had carefully sealed the tomb by rolling a large stone across the entrance.
This simple act of ensuring that Jesus was really dead and then giving him a decent burial is one of the most important evidences of the resurrection. If Jesus’ dead body had been disposed of on the city trash dump, there would have been an a break in the chain-of-evidence. God is all-mighty and could still have raised Jesus from the dead, even in the city trash dump. It would not have had the same impact, however.
With multiple witnesses observing Jesus’ dead body removed from the cross and then buried in a specific tomb, everyone was assured that he was really dead. When the women came to the tomb on that Sunday morning, they came expecting that the dead Jesus was still in the tomb. Joseph and Nicodemus had a significant role in the Easter story and we can be thankful that their care for Jesus’ body led to one of the clearest arguments for the resurrection of Jesus.
Annie and I pray that this Easter is meaningful and powerful as you celebrate and worship the One Who conquered death and the grave. If you would like to be a part of what we are doing around the world, just click here. Every gift helps and we appreciate your support!