38 After these things 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. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now 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. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. – John 19:38-42 ESV
Using His final breath, Jesus declared “It is finished,” and then He died. Only in His third decade of life, Jesus had brutally tortured and killed, by means of one of the most inhumane forms of capital punishment ever devised: Crucifixion. From the perspective of His mother and what remained of His followers, all that remained of Jesus was His beaten, bruised, and lifeless body.
Three times in five verses, John refers to “the body of Jesus.” There is a sense of finality in these closing verses of chapter 19. One almost gets the impression that John is bringing his gospel to an abrupt and unexpected end. With Jesus dead, this must be the end of the story. And everything John records in these verses seems intended to portray the shocking end of Jesus’ life and the disappointing failure of His mission.
John describes the efforts of Joseph of Arimethea, who came to Pilate asking for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross for burial. John provides no insights into this man’s identity, other than he was a disciple of Jesus. But in his gospel, Mark reveals that Joseph was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43 ESV). So, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious governing body of the Jews who had condemned Jesus to death. But Luke adds that he “had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders” (Luke 23:51 NLT).
This dissenting member of the Sanhedrin risked not only his reputation but also his place in the religious community of Israel. The Sanhedrin had threatened anyone who showed allegiance to Jesus with ex-communication from the synagogue. But out of love for Jesus, Joseph was willing to put it all on the line. And he was not alone. He was joined by Nicodemus, another member of the high council. This is the same man who had made a light-night visit to Jesus and received a head-scratching lecture on the need to be born from above in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
These two unlikely characters are the ones who remove the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross and prepare it for burial. It should not be overlooked that these men were members of the very same council that had condemned Jesus to death. Matthew records that when Caiaphas the high priest had asked the members of the council for their verdict, they had shouted, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And then, Matthew describes the scene that followed:
Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” – Matthew 26:67-68 ESV
Yet surprisingly, from out of this prideful and hate-filled mob emerged two men who showed their final respects for Jesus by ensuring He received a proper burial.
So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. – John 19:40 ESV
John’s emphasis on the body of Jesus is crucial. All throughout his gospel, John has stressed the deity and humanity of Jesus. These two aspects of Jesus’ identity are inseparable and equally vital in John’s understanding of the Gospel. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He was the Son of God who came from heaven and became a man so that He might dwell among us and reveal the glory of God to us. According to John, Jesus, in HIs incarnation, made God known (John 1:18). The apostle Paul declares that Jesus, by virtue of His humanity, was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT).
But there was far more behind the miracle of the incarnation than making God known. Jesus came to make God accessible. Paul describes that Jesus’ coming to earth “in a body like the bodies we sinners have,” had much more long-term and radical implications.
He [God] sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT
The physical body of Jesus had profound spiritual implications. It was His body that allowed Him to live as a man and to be “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And it was His sinlessness that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The author of Hebrews goes on to describe the absolute necessity that Jesus be fully human so that He could serve as the substitutionary atonement for the sins of a guilty and condemned humanity.
“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
as is written about me in the Scriptures.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 NLT
For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT
The body of Jesus, while lifeless, was also priceless. And John’s emphasis on the extravagant and expensive quantity of burial spices brought by Nicodemus is intended to drive home the infinite worth value of the body of Jesus. And Peter also emphasizes the priceless nature of Jesus’ sacrifice.
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1: 18-19 NLT
And Peter would go on to describe how Jesus paid the price for our sins with the offering of His own body on our behalf.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 ESV
And Peter was simply restating the prophetic words of Isaiah, who centuries earlier, described in stunning detail the atoning work of Jesus.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV
And John reveals that Joseph and Nicodemus treated the body of Jesus with utmost respect and dignity, washing it and anointing it with burial spices, then wrapping it in linen cloths. Then he adds that they placed the body of Jesus in “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV). Matthew notes that the tomb belonged to Joseph and this point becomes significant because of the prophetic words of Isaiah.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT
The sinless one was treated like a criminal. He died the death of a sinner even though He was without sin. He was “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins…beaten so we could be whole…whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). He was “struck down for the rebellion of my people” (Isaiah 53:8 NLT).
And His body, though lifeless, would not undergo the indignity of decay and decomposition. Because it was of immeasurable worth and value. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David would prophetically speak on behalf of Jesus when he wrote:
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:9-11 NLT
Years later, the apostle Paul would preach a sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, in which he stated:
“For God had promised to raise him from the dead, not leaving him to rot in the grave. He said, ‘I will give you the sacred blessings I promised to David.’ Another psalm explains it more fully: ‘You will not allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.’ This is not a reference to David, for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed. No, it was a reference to someone else—someone whom God raised and whose body did not decay.” – Acts 13:34-37 NLT
The body of Jesus, while just like the bodies we sinners have, did not suffer the same post-death fate that all human bodies do. And while John’s description of Jesus’ burial has a sense of finality to it, he is simply preparing his readers for what comes next. He subtly hints that there is more to come when he mentions what all of this took place on “the Jewish day of Preparation” (John 19:42 ESV). This is a reference to Friday, the day before the Sabbath. Joseph and Nicodemus were under pressure to make sure the body of Jesus was interred before the Sabbath began and all forms of work would have been prohibited. But his reference to the day of preparation has far more in mind than the mandatory observance of the Sabbath. He is preparing his readers for something even greater.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.