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The Burial

Jan 28, 2015

Jesus died at the ninth hour of the day, which was also the time for the evening sacrifice in the temple. That sacrifice, no doubt, was interrupted by the violent earthquake which apparently broke the beam on which the veil was hanging. This tore the veil from top to bottom. However, we are told nothing about the chaos at that evening sacrifice.

Joseph of Arimathea

Luke then speaks of Joseph of Arimathea and how he buried Jesus in the tomb that he had already prepared for himself. Luke 23:50-53 says,

50 And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man 51 (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; 52 this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain.

Mark 15:43 calls Joseph “a prominent member of the Council.” Matt. 27:57 calls him “a rich man from Arimathea” and “a disciple of Jesus.” John 19:38 adds that he was a “secret” disciple, although his defense of Jesus at the trial probably exposed him. Luke says that “he had not consented to their plan and action,” which suggests more than mere silence in the face of the accusations. He voted “no” when the others voted “yes” to condemn Jesus.

The linens were an important feature of the story. Jesus had been wrapped in such linens at the time of His birth (Luke 2:7), and then again at His death. Lightfoot tells us that it was a common practice to wrap dead criminals in old linens that had been used to wrap books.

Mar Zutra saith, that out of the linen in which they wrapped up books, when it grew old they made shrouds for the dead of the precept, for this is to their disgrace. The Gloss [explanation] adds, “That they do it of the linen wherein they fold up the book of the Law.” Him who had suffered death by the sentence of the Sanhedrim, or magistrate, they were wont to call the dead of the precept, and such a one to them was our Jesus. [Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. III, p. 214]

Joseph, of course, disagreed with the sentence of the Sanhedrin (or Sanhedrim), so no doubt he wrapped Jesus’ body in fine linen, perhaps even the cloth that he had prepared for his own burial. Matt. 27:59 says “Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth.” This was his way of honoring Jesus in His death. Old linens would have signified “disgrace” on account of one’s lawlessness. The burial also fulfilled the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:9,

9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

All of the gospel writers record how Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in his own tomb, but for some reason none of them cite Isaiah 53:9 as further proof that Jesus was the Messiah.

Nicodemus

It is likely also that Nicodemus, another member of the Council, joined with Joseph in dissenting from the majority. When he approached Jesus the first time, it was at night in order to keep his visit a secret (John 3:1, 2). But at the moment of the greatest danger, we see him fearlessly emerge into the open.

John 19:39 tells us that Nicodemus helped Joseph in burying Jesus and even brought 100 litra of spices to preserve the body. A litra was about 12 ounces, so 100 litra would have constituted about 75 pounds in today’s terms. This was an expensive gift, but their willingness to expose themselves as disciples of Jesus at that particular time is the most prominent fact to ponder.

Hence, while Joseph provided the tomb and the linens, Nicodemus provided the spices. The Marys, who were among the bystanders at the crucifixion, remained for the burial itself, for Luke 23:54, 55 tells us,

54 And it was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin [epiphosko, “to dawn, to grow light”]. 55 Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed after, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 And they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

As the sun set toward the start of the Sabbath day (which began at sunset), the people customarily lit lamps. Lightfoot tells us,

Men and women are bound to light up a candle in their houses upon the sabbath day. If a man hath not bread to eat, yet he must beg from door to door to get a little oil to set up his light. These things being noted, the evangelist may not be improperly understood thus, “The sabbath began to shine with the lights set up;” respect being had to these sabbath candles. [Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. III, p. 215]

Luke, being familiar with this custom, uses terminology known to most in his day that as evening fell, the Sabbath was “shining” (epiphosko) with lamps being lit throughout the city. Hence, while the sun was setting, the Sabbath was being lit up.

As for the spices that the women would prepare to bring after the Sabbath, it seems somewhat strange that the women would prepare more spices if they had witnessed Nicodemus donating 75 pounds of spices when He was buried. I do not know if they considered it to be insufficient, or if they simply did not know fully how the body was buried. John’s account says that “they” (meaning Joseph and Nicodemus) “took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices” (John 19:40). The women “saw the tomb and how the body was laid,” but did not perform this service themselves. They may have arrived after the task had been completed.

At any rate, they did not have time to buy spices that afternoon, but it seems that Nicodemus had a quantity of spices stored in his mansion in Jerusalem. These were used at His burial.

The Approaching Sabbath

Haste was necessary, because the Passover was approaching (at sundown). All of the feast days were Sabbaths, but this particular Sabbath was a “high day” (John 19:31), because it was both a weekly Sabbath and the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is the day of Passover. It was to be kept as a Sabbath, regardless of which day of the week it might be (Lev. 23:6, 7).

The law said in Deut. 21:22, 23,

22 And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.

Regardless of what day of the week a criminal was hanged, the body had to be removed by sundown. But a body left hanging on a feast day would have been considered especially heinous.

The Lunar Eclipse

On the evening of Christ’s burial, April 3, 33 A.D., there was an eclipse of the moon. According to astronomers, the moon was already eclipsed when it rose above the horizon at 5:10 pm (as seen from Jerusalem). The eclipse had begun at 3:01 pm in Europe, which was also the moment of Jesus’ death (the ninth hour). Bonnie Gaunt says,

“It was on a lonely hill outside the walls of Jerusalem that this Heavenly One, who came to earth to be born, to suffer, and to die as a man, hung on a cruel cross that afternoon. The hill was called Calvary. Its Greek name was Kranion, whose numeric value is 301.

“At 3:01 in the afternoon, as he looked heavenward and said, ‘It is finished,’ the moon began to eclipse. It was at 3:01 Greenwich Time that the eclipse began. God makes no mistakes with His timing, nor does He rely on coincidences. The word ‘moon’ in the New Testament is Selene, and its Gematria is 301. Yes, He who had formed the moon and put it into its orbit around the earth, now had given up His human life at 3:01, on a hill called Calvary (301) precisely when the moon (301) began to eclipse. It was the exact hour when the priests were killing the lambs for Passover. ‘Lambs’ [in Hebrew] has a numeric value of 301.” [The Bible’s Awesome Number Code, p. 55]

Indeed, God had darkened the sun to prevent the people from killing the lambs until the middle of the afternoon, “between the two evenings” (literal rendering of Exodus 12:6). I have found in my own study and experience that 301 is the number of redemption.

Touching a Dead Body

Joseph and Nicodemus had to bury Jesus before sundown, but this also raises another interesting legal question. If a man touched a dead body, he was rendered unclean for a full seven days. Num. 19:11 says,

11 The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days.

Everyone would have expected Joseph and Nicodemus to refrain from keeping Passover that day, having touched the dead body of a convicted criminal. Perhaps they may have submitted to public opinion and waited for the Second Passover, since Num. 9:10, 11 says,

10 Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a dead person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the Lord. 11 In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.”

We are not told specifically what Joseph and Nicodemus did after burying the body of Jesus. Most likely they kept the Second Passover a month later. However, it raises an interesting question as to whether they had actually been rendered unclean by touching His dead body. Having borne the sin of the world, would touching His body mean that they were rendered unclean for a week?

In my view—and I may be wrong—they were not rendered unclean and could have kept the Passover at that time. However, since the Passover celebration involved entire households and often other friends as well, their participation could have brought serious charges against them. If news of their celebration had leaked out, they may have been expelled from the Sanhedrin.

Since these two were already being regarded with suspicion, due to their dissent at Jesus’ trial, it is most likely that they decided to keep the Second Passover a month later.


This is the 141st part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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