A Life Gone to the Dogs

29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. 30 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. 31 Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” 32 And when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out. 33 And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. 34 But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” 35 And the battle continued that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot. 36 And about sunset a cry went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!”

37 So the king died, and was brought to Samaria. And they buried the king in Samaria. 38 And they washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the Lord that he had spoken. 39 Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did, and the ivory house that he built and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 40 So Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son reigned in his place. 1 Kings 22:29-40 ESV

Despite being warned by the prophet Micaiah that his attack of Ramoth-gilead would end in disaster and his own death, Ahab had chosen to go through with his ill-fated plan. But in an attempt to thwart the will of God, Ahab had come up with the brilliant idea to wear a disguise that would keep the Syrians from recognizing him as the king. He knew he would be a target of Ben-Hadad’s wrath because his attack on Ramoth-gilead would be in violation of their long-standing peace agreement. And he was right to be worried because Ben-hadad had commanded his troops to focus their attention on Ahab.

Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” – 1 Kings 22:31 ESV

Ahab’s decision to go through with the battle despite Micaiah’s warning clearly indicates the rebellious nature of his heart and his blatant disregard for the will of Yahweh. He truly believed he could devise a plan that would allow him to escape God’s wrath and accomplish his will at the same time. Ahab was conniving and manipulative and, evidently, quite persuasive because he was somehow able to convince King Jehoshaphat of Judah to go into battle wearing his royal armor while he wore a disguise. He hoped that, in the heat of battle, the Syrians would mistake Jehoshaphat for himself and focus all their attention on him. Somehow, he convinced the king of Judah to go along with this blatant display of self-centered self-preservation.

And his plan almost worked. As the battle began, the Syrians spotted Jehoshaphat and gave chase, but they soon realized they were pursuing the wrong man. Ahab had managed to fool the Syrians, but he would not be able to hide his identity from God Almighty. And he would not be able to escape the judgment God had decreed against him.

As the battle raged, one of the Syrian archers loosed an arrow that flew through the air and ended up striking Ahab “between the scale armor and the breastplate” (1 Kings 22:34 ESV). But this seemingly lucky shot had been sovereignly ordained and directed by the hand of God. Ahab had tried to escape God’s will but had failed. His disguise had been unable to hide him from God’s all-seeing eye, and his armor had proved to be insufficient protection from God’s all-powerful judgment.

And as the battle continued all around him, Ahab slumped in his chariot, his blood pouring from his wound and his life slowly ebbing away. At sunset, he took his last labored breath and died, and the news of his demise quickly spread across the battlefield.

 …at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot. And about sunset a cry went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!” – 1 Kings 22:35-36 ESV

Micaiah had warned Ahab that his death was inevitable because his actions were in direct violation of God’s will. If he chose to go through with his attack on Ramoth-gilead, Ahab would suffer the divine consequences. And when Ahab died, lying in a pool of his own blood on the floor of his chariot, his troops abandoned the battle. The sheep found themselves without a shepherd, so they returned to their homes in peace, just as God had predicted they would.

“I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” – 1 Kings 22:17 ESV

With Ahab’s death, the battle for Ramoth-gilead came to an abrupt end, and the armies of Syria, Israel, and Judah abandoned the field and returned home. Ahab’s body, still lying in his chariot, was returned to Samaria. Amazingly, this wicked and rebellious king was given the honor of a royal burial. But the author describes a rather macabre scene that stands in stark contrast to the state funeral given to this unrepentant and undeserving king. As Ahab’s body was interred with all the pomp and circumstance that comes with a royal funeral, servants went about the unpleasant task of washing his blood from his chariot.

…his chariot was washed beside the pool of Samaria, and dogs came and licked his blood at the place where the prostitutes bathed, just as the Lord had promised. – 1 Kings 22:38 NLT

This scene took place in direct fulfillment of the words of Elijah the prophet. He had warned King Ahab that his complicity in the death of Naboth would result in his own death.

And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’” – 1 Kings 21:19 ESV

It would seem that the place where the servants chose to wash Ahab’s blood from the chariot was the same place where the innocent Naboth had been stoned to death. Ahab’s body was buried in a royal tomb, but his life’s blood was unceremoniously poured out in a place recognized for its sin and degradation. It was a site within the walls of Samaris inhabited by those who were considered unclean and immoral. And the king’s blood was literally licked up by scavenging dogs.

Ahab’s reign as king of Israel came to an abrupt and violent end. And while he would be remembered for many of his achievements, he would go down in history as one of the most wicked of all Israel’s kings. His legacy would be marked by apostasy, rebellion, idolatry, and immorality. He had proved to be a competent king, but his stubborn refusal to honor God would forever mar his reputation and leave a permanent stain on the northern kingdom of Israel. And when the author states that “Ahab slept with his fathers” (1 Kings 22:40 ESV), it is a thinly veiled inference that Ahab died unrepentant and unforgiven, just like his predecessors. While alive, Ahab made no place for God in his kingdom. In death, he would discover that he had no place in God’s kingdom. In life, he had chosen to replace God with false gods, and that decision would prove to have eternal consequences.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Battle for Belief

17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” 19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. 20 And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” 24 And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” 1 Kings 17:17-24 ESV

God had used Elijah to deliver His message of judgment against King Ahab and his foreign queen, Jezebel. In marrying this princess from Sidon, Ahab had also adopted her false god, Baal, and built a temple for its worship. He had also erected a shrine to honor Asherah, the moon-goddess and supposed mother of this pagan deity. And God, angered by these blatant acts of rebellion and apostasy, had sent Elijah to tell the royal couple that their kingdom would suffer under a great drought. Their disrespect and disregard for God had brought His discipline.

But after Elijah had successfully delivered his message, God sent him away. He had ended up at a cave, where God had graciously and miraculously arranged for ravens to deliver all the food he needed to survive. But eventually, Elijah became a victim of the very drought he predicted. Soon, the brook dried up and the daily deliveries of bread and meat no longer appeared. So, God had sent Elijah to the Sidonian town of Zarephath, where he took up residence with a poor widow and her son. She too was suffering from the effects of the drought. But, once again, Yahweh proved Himself to be the one true God by causing her meager supply of flour and oil to miraculously multiply and never run out. In the midst of a drought and severe famine, she had more than enough to sustain herself, her son, and God’s prophet. And through it all, Elijah was learning to trust God for all His needs. But even more importantly, Elijah was discovering that his God was greater than the god of Ahab and Jezebel. While Baal, the so-called fertility god, was powerless to stop the drought or reverse the effects of the famine, Yahweh had turned “a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (1 Kings 17:12 ESV) into a never-ending food supply for Elijah and his gracious hostess.

Then suddenly, the story takes a dramatic turn for the worse. The woman’s young son dies unexpectedly. And, faced with this devastating change in her circumstances, the woman vented all her anger and frustration on the prophet of God.

“O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?” – 1 Kings 17:18 NLT

It seems that the woman had falsely assumed that her son’s death was a form of divine retribution for a former sin she had committed. Perhaps by this time, Elijah had shared the details of his encounter with Ahab and Jezebel, explaining that he had been the one to predict the drought as a punishment for their sin. So, when her son suddenly died, she would have naturally reasoned that God was using the prophet to deliver yet another judgment for sin – her own.

But ignoring her despair-driven accusation, Elijah took the lifeless body of her son and placed it on his own bed. Then Elijah turned his attention to God. But notice the tone of His prayer. He seems to echo the words of the widow, passing the blame up the food chain and questioning the goodness and graciousness of God.

“O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” – 1 Kings 17:20 NLT

Elijah’s response reveals his firm belief that God is sovereign over all things. But he is perplexed and confused by the seeming injustice of it all. And, in his frustration, He accuses God of doing something wicked. The Hebrew word is rāʿaʿ, which is most often translated as “evil.” The boy’s death makes no sense to Elijah. It seems unnecessary and completely unproductive. When Elijah had first met the woman, she had been fully expecting her son to die of starvation because of the drought. But God had intervened and provided more than enough food to keep all three of them alive. So, to Elijah, the boy’s death seemed pointless and, if anything, it appeared to be an act of cruelty.

But while Elijah was having a difficult time understanding the ways of God, he remained convinced of the power of God. Three times, he lay across the dead body of the boy and cried out, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him” (1 Kings 17:21 NLT). And the fact that Elijah repeated this process three separate times demonstrates both his persistence and dependence upon God.

It’s important to consider that Elijah had no precedence on which to base his prayer. He was asking Yahweh to do the impossible – to raise a dead body back to life. And there is no indication that Elijah had ever seen or heard of God doing such a thing. Elijah was not basing his request on some past miracle, recorded in the Hebrew scriptures. The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, contains no instance of God raising the dead back to life. So, Elijah was asking God to something that had never been done before. His request was a tremendous act of faith.

And in a classic example of understatement, the author simply records, “The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived!” (1 Kings 17:22 NLT). One can only imagine Elijah’s shock and surprise that Elijah as the lifeless body of the boy was suddenly reanimated. Two times, nothing had happened. But on the third try, God had suddenly chosen to intervene and answer Elijah’s prayer. We’re not told why God didn’t answer Elijah’s prayer the first time. Perhaps it was a test of Elijah’s faith, to see if he would continue to ask and believe even when his request went unanswered. But God had heard and He ultimately answered – in a remarkable way. And you can sense Elijah’s unbridled excitement and enthusiasm as he announced the news to the boy’s grieving mother.

“See, your son lives.” – 1 Kings 17:23 ESV

It would be easy to misread this statement and assume that Elijah is saying something like, “See, I told you so!” It almost appears as if he is chastising the woman for her lack of faith. But at no point in the story did Elijah tell the woman that her son would live. He had no way of knowing that God was going to answer his prayer or not. And, at least two times, God had failed to do so. But when God had finally provided the miracle for which Elijah was asking, the prophet couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. The New Living Translation provides a much more accurate rendering of Elijah’s response.

“Look!” he said. “Your son is alive!” – 1 Kings 17:23 NLT

No one was as shocked as Elijah, and his joy overflowed in a display of emotional celebration. He most likely walked into the room, carrying the boy in his arms, and then handed him over to the smothering embrace of his overjoyed mother. And, through tears mixed with laughter, the woman managed to express her gratitude to the prophet by declaring her belief in his God.

“Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the Lord truly speaks through you.” – 1 Kings 17:24 NLT

While Yahweh had been keeping her and her son alive, she must have had her doubts about Elijah and his God. But now, as she clutched her son in her arms, she finally recognized and confessed the sovereignty of God and the authority of His prophet. Her son had been dead but was now alive. Her greatest loss had been restored to her. Her sorrow had been turned to joy.

And don’t miss the fact that this miracle took place in an obscure village in the region of Sidon. While Jezebel had brought her false god to the land of Israel, Elijah had brought the God of Israel to the land of Sidon. The arrival of Baal had been accompanied by drought and famine. But when Yahweh made His appearance in the pagan land of the Sidonians, He had turned a widow’s poverty into plenty and had replaced death with life. And, in doing so, He had proved Himself to be the one and only God of the universe.

And God intended this powerful lesson to prepare His prophet for all that was about to come. Elijah didn’t know it yet, but the greatest test of his faith was in his future. After three years of a debilitating and devastating famine, God was going to send Elijah back to the land of Israel to go face-to-face with the king and queen and toe-to-toe with their false god.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Protection of God’s Grace

36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.

39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s servants ran away to Achish, son of Maacah, king of Gath. And when it was told Shimei, “Behold, your servants are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants. Shimei went and brought his servants from Gath. 41 And when Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and solemnly warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘What you say is good; I will obey.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the Lord and the commandment with which I commanded you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the harm that you did to David my father. So the Lord will bring back your harm on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died.

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. – 1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV

There was one last piece of unfinished business that Solomon had to take care of. Just before his death, his father had charged him with the task of repaying Shimei for the disrespectful way he had treated David while he was evacuating Jerusalem after Absalom had taken over the kingdom (2 Samuel 16:5-14). This relative of David’s predecessor, King Saul, had held a grudge against David ever since he had supplanted Saul as the king of Israel. He was overjoyed to see David having to suffer the indignity of sneaking out of the capital city because his own son had stolen his kingdom. Shimei even threw stones at David, hurling insults and curses as he did so.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Some of David’s faithful soldiers, who had accompanied him out of the city, offered to strike Shimei down, but David would not allow it. Instead, he told them, ““My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT). David could empathize with Shimei’s anger and resentment. He understood why Shimei was so upset, and he had concluded that God was behind it all. When Shimei had called David a murderer, he had struck a very sensitive nerve. David would have immediately recalled his complicity in the death of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:14-17). Shimei was right; he was a murderer. And perhaps God was still repaying him for his sinful actions against an innocent man. So, David refused to punish Shimei for his actions.

But some time later, when the attempted coup had been thwarted, and Absalom had been killed, David returned to the city of Jerusalem. And one of the first people to greet him upon his arrival was Shimei.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

With the news of Absalom’s death and David’s return to Jerusalem, Shimei had feared for his life. He knew he was a dead man unless he could convince David of his remorse and regret for his previous actions. Feigning sorrow for his emotionally driven display of anger, Shimei begged the king for forgiveness.

Though Shimei deserved punishment, David was unwilling to spoil the joy of the occasion by meting out judgment. He could have had Shimei executed on the spot, but instead, “the king said to Shimei, ‘You shall not die.’ And the king gave him his oath” (2 Samuel 19:23 ESV).

David had kept that oath, but on his deathbed, it became clear that he had never really forgiven Shimei for what he had done. He had allowed Shimei to live but had never stopped dreaming of getting his revenge. So, as he lay dying, David gave Solomon a not-so-subtle hint about what should be done with Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings 2:8-9 NLT

David didn’t tell Solomon what to do. He simply reminded Solomon of what Shimei had done. And he fully expected Solomon to defend his honor by having Shimei put to death.

But Solomon had other plans. Rather than subjecting Shimei to capital punishment, he had him confined to the city of Jerusalem. Shimei, as a Benjamite, lived within the territory of his tribe. But Solomon ordered that he relocate within the city walls where his actions could be carefully monitored. And Shimei was given strict instructions never to venture outside the walls of the city for any reason, under penalty of death.

“Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

Solomon graciously spared Shimei’s life but placed him under house arrest. And this arrangement seemed to work well for Shimei. For three years, he enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous life. But then, the unexpected happened. Two of his servants ran away and, without thinking about it, Shimei saddled a donkey and pursued his missing property. But when he had recaptured his runaway servants and returned to Jerusalem, he was surprised to learn that he had been summoned to the king’s palace.

By this time, Shimei must have understood the gravity of his situation. He had broken his oath to the king. And Solomon reminded Shimei of their agreement.

“Didn’t I make you swear by the Lord and warn you not to go anywhere else or you would surely die? And you replied, ‘The sentence is fair; I will do as you say.’ Then why haven’t you kept your oath to the Lord and obeyed my command?” – 1 Kings 2:42-43 NLT

Notice that Solomon describes Shimei’s oath as having been made to the Lord. When he had agreed to the stipulations handed down by the king, he had been swearing an oath before God. Solomon had been acting as God’s appointed leader, and when Shimei had agreed to the terms of the contract, he had made a binding covenant with God Almighty. And now, he had broken that vow. He had failed to keep his word and would have to suffer the consequences. And Solomon made sure that Shimei understood the gravity of his situation.

“You certainly remember all the wicked things you did to my father, David. May the Lord now bring that evil on your own head. But may I, King Solomon, receive the Lord’s blessings, and may one of David’s descendants always sit on this throne in the presence of the Lord.” – 1 Kings 2:44-45 NLT

David had kept his word and had allowed Shimei to live. Now, Solomon was going to keep his word and have Shimei executed for the violation of his oath. Shimei’s death would not be because he had left the confines of the city of Jerusalem. The death sentence that hung over his head was due to his unlawful treatment of and rebellion against the Lord’s anointed, King David. He deserved to die because he was a rebel. But Solomon had shown him grace and mercy. And the city of Jerusalem had become a city of refuge, a place where he could find release from the condemnation of death he so richly deserved. As long as he remained within the walls of the city, he would be spared. The city was not a prison; it was actually a form of protection. As long as Shimei remained faithful to reside within the confines of the city, he was spared the penalty of death. But as soon as he walked outside the gates, he violated his oath and forfeited his right to life.

In so many ways, this narrative foreshadows what Jesus Christ would do for guilty sinners. He would become the place of refuge, the living Jerusalem, where those condemned to death could find mercy, grace, and life. As long as Shimei remained within Jerusalem’s protective walls, he would be spared the penalty he deserved. But when he allowed himself to be distracted by the cares of this world and went in pursuit of his runaway servants, Shimei revealed his true heart. He placed a greater value on material things than he did on the gift of life he had been offered by the king.

Jesus would later remind His disciples about the necessity of abiding in Him. He would challenge them to remain faithful, recognizing that their hope of eternal life was found in Him alone.

“Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” – John 15:5-7 NLT

Shimei had failed to remain in Jerusalem, and it cost him his life. He had seen the walls of the city as a prison rather than a protection. He had seen his agreement with the king as restrictive rather than redemptive. And how often do those who are offered the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ come to see that offer as a burden rather than a blessing? They prefer the “freedom” of sin over the emancipation from death that is offered within the protective walls of God’s gracious love. And, like Shimei, they end up forfeiting their lives.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Even in Death, He Gave

40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. Mark 15:40-47 ESV

Jesus died sometime after 3:00 pm on Friday afternoon. After more than six hours of excruciating suffering, His entire body racked by indescribable pain, He had been able to utter one last prayer to His Heavenly Father: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). Then He drew His final breath. Jesus had done what He had come to do. Despite the pain and suffering it had entailed, Jesus had willingly given His life as a ransom for many. He had accomplished His Father’s will and made atonement for the sins of mankind. And as the sun began to set that fateful Friday, His beaten, bloodied, and bruised body hung on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth, just as He had predicted.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:32-33 ESV

But even in His death, Jesus was to suffer one further indignity. John reports that the Jewish religious leaders were anxious that the three executions be expedited so that Jesus and the two other criminals would die more quickly. They wanted the bodies of the victims removed so they would not profane the Sabbath, which officially began at sundown.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. – John 19:31-34 ESV

But even this was in keeping with the Spirit-inspired prophecy of Isaiah.

he was pierced for our transgressions. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

John highlights the fact that, when the lifeless body of Jesus was pierced by a Roman spear, it poured forth blood and water. Even in death, Jesus continued to give.  The blood represented the sin-cleansing nature of His death.

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

…the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7 ESV

It was just as Jesus had told His disciples at their final Passover meal together: “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV).

And the water that poured from the side of the body of Jesus was meant to symbolize the gift of the Spirit of God. Once Jesus had died, been resurrected, and ascended back into heaven, the Spirit would be poured out on His disciples. And this would be in keeping with the prophecy of Joel.

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” – Joel 2:28 ESV

As this gruesome scene took place, a group of very interested bystanders watched from a distance. Included in the group were Mary Magdalene, her sister Salome, and Mary the mother of James and John. These three women had endured the entire six-hour ordeal, watching every second of Jesus’ slow and agonizing death. But there was another individual who had observed the death of Jesus. This man had likely been standing alongside his fellow members of the Sanhedrin, who had dared to mock and ridicule Jesus as He died. But John tells us that Joseph of Arimathea “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38 ESV). Luke provides further insight into Joseph’s unique relationship with Jesus.

He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. – Luke 23:50-51 ESV

He shared the same outlook as Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin, who had earlier come to Jesus in secret, desiring to know more about His true identity. These two men risked everything by approaching Pilate and asking for permission to remove the body of Jesus for burial. Their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would have been appalled at this display of respect for this disreputable and discredited Rabbi from Nazareth. But these two well-respected members of the Jewish high council risked their reputations in order to provide the body of Jesus with 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. 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. – John 19:40-41 ESV

And even their efforts were in keeping with the words of Isaiah, penned centuries earlier, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God.

And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. – Isaiah 53:9 ESV

Jesus had died alongside common criminals but was given the dignity of being buried in a rich man’s tomb. His body was not thrown into some nondescript plot of land reserved for paupers and petty thieves. Thanks to the kindness of Joseph, the body of Jesus was placed in a tomb that had been designed for a man of great worth and honor. And due to the generosity of Nicodemus, His body was properly prepared for burial with costly spices and perfumes. These two men spared no expense in providing Jesus with a proper funeral, wrapping His body in a linen cloth and then sealing the tomb with a large stone. Then they walked away.

And the efforts of Joseph and Nicodemus had not gone unobserved. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had both witnessed what had happened and taken note of the location of the tomb. But the entire scene carries a note of finality to it. Jesus was dead. His body had been anointed for burial and placed in a tomb. And like an exclamation point punctuating the end of a sentence, Mark writes that they “rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:60 ESV).

But this story was far from over.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

From Darkness to Light

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 ESV

At Noon on Friday, as Jesus hung on the cross, His life slowly ebbing away, the sky was suddenly darkened. Luke described it rather poetically: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). For three hours Jesus had suffered in broad daylight, in full sight of the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin, who mocked Him relentlessly. The crowd that had gathered to watch this macabre spectacle, cast their eyes and their ire on Jesus, taunting Him to save Himself by coming down from the cross. The soldiers looked up at Him with scorn as they gambled over His garments. Even the two criminals who were being crucified on either side of Him couldn’t resist the temptation to revile this so-called King of Israel. For three long hours, Jesus hung in broad daylight, facing the judgment of sinful men. Then. suddenly and unexpectedly, the sky grew dark. And for the next three hours, Jesus would face the righteous judgment of God.

Jesus had been charged with the crime of blasphemy by a religious council made up of mere men. He had been condemned to die by the earthly authority of another man, an official representative of the Roman government. And Jesus had been scourged, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross by men who wore the uniform of the Roman Legion, serving at the behest of the Emperor. But none of these men were responsible for what was taking place that day. This entire scene had been the pre-ordained plan of God. He had orchestrated the whole affair so that His sinless Son could bear the righteous judgment that must be poured out on mankind’s rebellion. With the darkening of the sun, the wrath of men was replaced by the wrath of God. What transpired at high Noon that Friday was the pouring out of God’s judgment against the sin and rebellion of mankind, just as the prophet Amos had predicted.

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.” – Amos 8:9 ESV

Isaiah had also prophesied about this dark day when “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NLT). Paul would later describe the nature of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice in terms that we could understand.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

At that very moment, the full weight of God’s divine retribution for the sin and rebellion of mankind was poured out on His Son. Jesus hung on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, destined to bear the full brunt of God’s just and righteous anger for the centuries-worth of open disdain and disregard for His rightful rule and reign. Paul tells us that “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NLT). And one of the ways God revealed His anger against mankind’s rebellion was to abandon them to a life of futility and hopeless slavery to sin. “God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT). 

But ultimately, mankind would be forced to pay for their sin and rebellion, and the payment required would be death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But the payment God would demand would involve much more than just physical death. It would require eternal separation from Him. Mankind’s rejection of God would eventually result in their permanent and painful casting from His presence. But God had a plan to remedy this problem. He had arranged to send His Son to act as the ransom for the sins of many.  He would give His life as the sinless substitute for a humanity that had been justly condemned by its own stubborn refusal to honor God.

And when the sun darkened, it was a visible display of God’s glory departing the scene. As the Son took on the full sum of humanity’s sin, the Father was forced to look away. As Isaiah put it, “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” The guilt and condemnation for every sin – past, present, and future – was placed upon Jesus. But not only did He bear the guilt, but He also experienced the full measure of God’s displeasure and divine judgment. And that is what led Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV). At that precise moment, Jesus experienced the unbearable reality of being separated from His Heavenly Father, for the first time in His eternal life.

Back during God’s deliverance of His people from their captivity in Egypt, He had brought a series of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The tenth plague was darkness. God had told Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21 ESV). And that pervading darkness lasted for three long days. Interestingly enough, the plague of darkness was followed by the death of the firstborn. And in the same way, the three hours during which all of Israel was plunged into darkness would be followed by the death of the firstborn Son of God.

Even in His cry of despair and pain, Jesus quoted Scripture. He cited Psalm 22:1, demonstrating that His sacrificial act on the cross was in fulfillment of God’s Word. Jesus was not questioning the actions of His Heavenly Father. He was simply acknowledging that this moment had been pre-ordained and was a non-negotiable part of the redemptive plan of God. Jesus had to be forsaken so that mankind’s sins could be forgiven.

For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

Jesus knew that His suffering for sin was necessary. He also knew that His Father would be forced to turn His back on Him as long as He bore the sins of mankind. And the only thing that would satisfy the just demands of His Father would be the sacrifice of His own life as payment. The author of Hebrews reveals that the death of Jesus was the only solution to mankind’s sin problem.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“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…” – Hebrews 10:4-7 NLT

Jesus had come to do God’s will. And that required Him to suffer the unbearable reality of separation from His own Father. And during that three-hour interval, when darkness covered the land of Israel, God provided yet another visible sign to demonstrate the efficacy of His Son’s sacrifice. Mark indicates that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38 ESV). This massive curtain, that hung in the temple, and separated the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two. This rending of the curtain symbolized that the barrier that separated sinful men from a Holy God had been removed. With His death, Jesus was making access into God’s presence possible for all who would accept His sacrifice on their behalf.

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

He poured out His own blood on the mercy seat located within the Most Holy Place. He atoned for the sins of mankind by offering His sinless life as the all-sufficient sacrifice, once for all. And as the darkness receded and the light was restored, Jesus breathed His last. His mission complete, He laid down His life and died. And one of the men who had assisted in His crucifixion and bartered over His garments looked on in wonder. And all he could say was, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV). The doubter became a believer. The one who had mocked Jesus became His follower. Into the darkness of his life, the Light of God shone bright and clear. This man experienced exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:21 ESV

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Filled With Faith

22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25 ESV

With His unidentified betrayer seated at the table with them, Jesus and His disciples began to eat the Passover meal together. As each course of this sacred meal was served, these men would have found it difficult to take their minds off of Jesus’ earlier announcement. One of them was going to do the unthinkable and betray the Lord. And the only hint that Jesus had given as to who the culprit might be was that it was “one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me” (Mark 14:20 NLT). That meant it could be any one of them.

But, acting as the head of the family in their shared Passover celebration, Jesus administered the various rites associated with this traditional meal to His 12 “sons.” And on this night, this annual and highly familiar event took on new meaning for these men. Little did they understand at the time that their Lord and Master was standing before them as the Pascal Lamb. He was as John the Baptist had said, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). And He was “the bread of God…who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33 ESV).

These declarations concerning Jesus’ true identity were being illustrated right before their eyes. Jesus used the various elements associated with the Passover meal to point to His God-ordained mission as their deliverer. This meal, which they had eaten every year throughout their lives, had always been a foreshadowing of something greater to come. Yes, it was a commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. But it had also been given as a sign of the deliverance Jesus would bring when He came to earth as the sacrificial Lamb. Through the offering of His sinless body and the shedding of His innocent blood, Jesus would provide mankind with a way to be delivered from its captivity to sin and death.

So, during the meal, Jesus took some of the unleavened bread (a symbol of sinlessness) and “after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body’” (Mark 14:22 ESV). And Luke records that Jesus added, “which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). He offered them the bread and invited them to consume it, as a symbol of their faith in the sacrificial offering He was about to make on their behalf. It seems likely that the disciples recalled an earlier statement made by Jesus concerning the bread from heaven.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51 ESV

As they held the broken pieces of bread in their hands, the disciples had to wrestle with the significance of Jesus’ words and actions. But before they had tie to take in what Jesus was saying, He “took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23 ESV). And according to Matthew’s account, Jesus told them, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV).

Once again, the minds of the disciples must have been filled with memories of Jesus’ earlier teachings concerning the bread and the blood. At that time, His words had made little sense. But now, they were coming into clearer focus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” – John 6:53-56 ESV

Just as the disciples consumed the bread and the wine that night, they would have to ingest the body and blood of Jesus. In order to benefit from what Jesus was about to do for them, they would have to make His life a part of their own. In an act of faith, they would need to take in the gift of His body and blood, believing that these sacred elements would provide them with eternal life. The eating of bread and wine is an act of faith, It is an outward demonstration of trust that their consumption will provide nourishment to the physical body, In the same way, the body and blood of Christ are “consumed” as an act of faith, a willful display of faith in the efficacious nature of Jesus’ death on our behalf. He becomes part of us. He comes to live within us. That is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56 ESV).

In time, the disciples would understand the nature of Jesus’ words. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, they would be given the power to grasp and appreciate all that they had heard Jesus say to them. The apostle Paul would later describe the memorial aspect of what Jesus had done that fateful night. The church would go on to establish the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine as a regularly occurring part of their corporate worship experience.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV

And the proclamation of His death is to continue until He returns again. It is His death that brings life. It was the sacrifice of His body and blood that made forgiveness of sin and freedom from death possible. But we must never forget that His death was followed by His resurrection. He was restored to life by the power of the Spirit of God. And He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But, one day, He will return. And Jesus told His disciples, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25 ESV). Jesus was assuring His disciples that His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension would be followed by His return. When He comes back, He will establish His Kingdom on earth and once again share a cup of celebration with His faithful followers.

The apostle John provides us with a glimpse into this future day when Jesus will share another meal with His disciples. On this occasion, there will be no bread broken as a sign of death or wine consumed as a symbol of His shed blood. This will be a victory meal, a time of joyous celebration as the people of God rejoice in the finished work of the Son of God.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” – Revelation 19:6-9 ESV

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Just As God Had Planned

10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.

12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Mark 14:10-21 ESV

Two very different people performed two distinctively different actions that fateful night and both would be remembered. The first was the unidentified woman who graciously anointed the head of Jesus with expensive oil. The other was Judas, one of His own disciples who, driven by greed, chose to betray Him. Concerning the first, Jesus stated, “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9 ESV). She would be memorialized for her display of selfless sacrifice and love. But the name of Judas would become a byword for treachery and deceit. HIs selfish sellout of His friend and Master would forever label him as the consummate icon of betrayal. Jesus would say of him, “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21 ESV).

The woman did what she did out of love for Jesus. But the actions of Judas were motivated by financial gain. Matthew tells us that Judas left the upper room and headed straight to the Sanhedrin, where he bargained away the life of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), which was the average price for a slave. This man, who had spent the last three-and-a-half years of his life with Jesus, showed no remorse in placing a price tag on His life. Perhaps Judas had finally recognized that Jesus was not going to set up His Kingdom on earth, and he and the other disciples were not going to enjoy the positions of power and prominence for which they had hoped. So, he thought to make the most of his disappointment by turning Jesus over to the authorities.

But before Judas would have the opportunity to sell Jesus out, the two of them would celebrate one final Passover meal together. Jesus sent Peter and John into the city with instructions to make preparations for this important ceremony. He told them they would find “a man carrying a jar of water.” Since it was uncommon for men to perform such a menial task, this man would have stood out to the disciples. Once they found him, they were to follow him to his master’s house. There they would find a large room already arranged for their use. This meant that, in keeping with the laws concerning Passover, the entire house had been cleansed of all leaven. Peter and John then prepared the meal, which included the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb. All of this had to be done according to the commands given by God to Moses.

“You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset…” – Deuteronomy 16:5-6 ESV

All of this took place on Thursday night. The lamb was slaughtered at sunset and the Passover meal was eaten that evening. So, once all the preparations had been made, Jesus gathered with the 12 disciples in the upper room to celebrate the Passover with them. And it was during the meal that He announced His betrayal.

“Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” – Mark 14:16 ESV

This unexpected news came as a shock to all 12 of the disciples, including Judas. How could his carefully concealed plan have been so easily exposed? He must have been in a state of near panic as he considered what the rest of the disciples would do if they discovered he was the guilty party. Would they turn on him? Should he run?

But much to Judas’ relief, the other 11 disciples show no sign that they suspect him. Instead, saddened by Jesus’ accusation, they each question whether they might be the one of whom Jesus spoke. With a sense of disbelief tinged with concern, each man asks Jesus to clear his name by absolving him of any role in this terrible act of treachery. Rather than casting aspersion on one another, each man wonders aloud if he is the one who is destined to fulfill this infamous role. But Jesus’ answer provides them with little relief.

It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.– Mark 14:20 ESV

The perpetrator of this heinous act of betrayal is one of them. And not only is this individual one of their own, but he has also just shared the Passover meal with them. There is a degree of intimacy and familiarity conveyed by Jesus’ words. This is no stranger, but a member of the family. And this brings to mind the warning Jesus had previously given to His disciples.

“Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you.” – Luke 21:16 NLT

Judas was part of the family. He had shared an intimate relationship with Jesus and each of the other 11 disciples. They had shared countless meals, walked side-by-side over hundreds of miles, and enjoyed a variety of never-to-be-forgotten experiences. But now, one of them was going to do the unthinkable.

Yet, Jesus reveals that it was all part of God’s divine plan. This shocking act of betrayal was not an unexpected detour, but a divinely orchestrated sequence in the sovereign plan of God. Judas was playing the part for which he had been chosen. And even though Jesus had known all along that Judas would be the one to betray Him, He had treated him as one of His own. Judas had experienced the same unconditional love like all of the other disciples. And yet, he would turn his back on Jesus, selling Him out for 30 pieces of silver. But even this was in keeping with the sovereign decree of God as prophesied by Zechariah.

Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. – Zechariah 11:12-13 ESV

God’s will would be done. The Son would be betrayed. The Lamb of God would be sacrificed. And the Savior of the world would become the ransom for many.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Be Careful What You Ask For

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:32-45 ESV

For the third time, Jesus reveals to His disciples what awaits Him in Jerusalem, including additional details that paint an even bleaker picture. They are making their way from the region of Perea to the capital city, and it is a somber and silent procession. This time, there are no arguments about greatness taking place among the disciples. They are still trying to take in all that Jesus had shared with them while they were in Perea. And the last thing they heard Him say must have made an impact on them.

“I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions…” – Mark 10:29-30 NLT

To their shock and surprise, Jesus had told them that one of the rewards awaiting them for having left everything to follow Him (Mark 10:28) was persecution. They each aspired to greatness, but Jesus had thrown cold water on those lofty aspirations, promoting a lifestyle of humility and service instead. In fact, He had turned their expectations upside down by claiming, “many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31 ESV).

So, as Jesus leads the way, the 12 disciples and a small contingent of other faithful followers tag along behind Him, confused and perplexed about what may lie ahead.

Jesus, fully aware of their reservations about returning to Jerusalem, pulls aside the 12 and provides them with one last reminder of His fate.

“Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and experts in the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him severely, and kill him. Yet after three days, he will rise again.” – Mark 10:33-34 NLT

Jesus was painfully explicit, refusing to hide the truth from His disciples. They are on the path that leads to Jerusalem, and Jesus reminds them that once they reach their destination, all hell will break loose – literally. The religious leaders of Israel will allow their hatred of Jesus to come to an explosive crescendo, resulting in His torture and execution. The one they consider to be the Messiah of Israel is telling them that He is going to die. Rather than being crowned the King of Israel, He will be condemned to death. Instead of being revered as the chosen one of God, He will be ridiculed and mocked as a common criminal, then killed.

But, as He had done before, Jesus adds the most important detail that His disciples continue to ignore: “after three days, he will rise again” (Mark 10:34 NLT).

What happens next is truly amazing, and it portrays the disciples in a very unflattering light. But it is not the first time these men revealed their true colors. In the previous chapter, Mark recorded their response to another one of Jesus’ attempts to explain His destiny in Jerusalem. The disciples had gotten into an argument over which of them was the greatest.

This time, it’s James and John who get exposed for their insensitivity and apparent stupidity. They just didn’t get it. Nothing Jesus had said seemed to have registered with them. Perhaps they were simply trying to avoid the awkward subject Jesus had raised. But, whatever their motive, their actions are difficult to comprehend or justify. Immediately after hearing Jesus describe His pending death in Jerusalem, these two brothers have the unmitigated gall to approach Jesus with a totally self-centered request.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask. – Mark 10:35 NLT

These two men were the sons of Salome, the sister of Mary. This would have made them the half-cousins of Jesus. And it would appear that they believed their blood ties to Jesus qualified them for special treatment. In essence, they ask Jesus for a blank check. They want Him to affirm their request even before they make it known. But Jesus makes no such assurances, instead, He asks them to state their request. And what they share is truly remarkable and unfathomable.

“Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

Had they heard nothing Jesus had said? Were they so incredibly dense that they could not comprehend a single word He had spoken to them? All His comments regarding greatness in the Kingdom of God had gone in one ear and out the other. They were still expecting Jesus to ascend the throne of David and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, and they were hoping to nab the two most powerful and prominent positions in His administration. These two fishermen from Galilee were demanding that Jesus elevate them to the two highest ranks available in any royal court. When they had heard Jesus say, “many who are first will be last, and the last first,” they had completely misconstrued His meaning. They must have assumed that their lowly estate as fishermen made them the perfect candidates for these two highly prestigious roles.

But they had no idea what they were asking. When they mentioned Jesus coming into His glory, there were thinking a royal throne. But Jesus had referred to His glory as being His crucifixion. He told His disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25 ESV). 

The cross would be the means by which Jesus received glory from the Father. He would die, but then He would be raised back to life again. And it would be His death and resurrection that provided the final proof that He was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. That is why Jesus was able to say, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). And John clarified that Jesus was speaking of His death.

He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:32 ESV

So, when James and John asked for the right to sit on Jesus’ right and left when He came into His glory, they were unwittingly asking to take the place of the two thieves who would be crucified beside Him. That’s why Jesus told them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” (Mark 10:38 NLT). 

Their understanding of glory was way off. They were thinking of thrones, crowns, royal robes, power, and prominence. But Jesus was speaking of doing the will of His Heavenly Father. He would be “lifted up,” but to a cross and not to a royal dais with a golden throne. Jesus’ path to greatness and glory would pass through the valley of death. He would have to drink the cup of God’s wrath and be immersed into the suffering that must accompany the sacrifice of His life for the sins of mankind.

James and John, still unable to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words, boldly proclaimed their readiness and willingness to handle whatever responsibilities came with their new positions. But Jesus informed them that their time would come. They would get their opportunity to prove their allegiance by experiencing the same kind of harsh treatment from the world as Jesus was about to undergo.

“You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience.” – Mark 10:39 NLT

James would be the first of the disciples to become a martyr for the cause of Christ (Acts 12:2). John would later be exiled by the Roman Emperor to the island of Patmos. And it is believed that he too eventually suffered a martyr’s death. But both men would be glorified and reunited with Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom.

When news of what James and John had done reached the rest of the disciples, they were incensed. Once again, the issue of greatness raised its ugly head as the remaining disciples fumed over the attempt of James and John to secure for themselves the two best spots in Jesus’ royal administration. And once again, we see that none of the 12 disciples were able to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. Their anger reveals their jealousy and thinly veiled hope that they might be chosen for greatness. So, one more time, Jesus attempts to open their eyes to the truth. He contrasts the ways of the world with the ways of the Kingdom of God. They are two diametrically opposed systems that promote completely different brands of leadership.

In the Gentile world, leadership was all about power and domination. It was maintained by wielding authority and motivated by self-promotion and the subjugation of others. But God’s Kingdom operated on a completely different paradigm.

“…whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.” – Mark 10:44 NLT

And just to make sure they understood what He was talking about, Jesus used Himself as the quintessential example of true greatness.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45 NLT

Jesus was about to lay down His life for the sheep. Even though He was the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, He was going to make the ultimate sacrifice that would pay the ransom for the sins of mankind. He would lead by serving. He would display His sovereignty by sacrificing. He would achieve glory through dying. And when James and John later witnessed the two thieves hanging on either side of their friend and teacher, it seems likely that their awkward conversation with Jesus would have come to mind. There before them was the greatest display of what Jesus had been trying to tell them. The innocent Lamb of God dying on behalf of sinful men and flanked by two common criminals who deserved exactly what was happening to them. In that moment, James and John must have realized that those were the two positions they had so arrogantly requested and so rightfully deserved.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All In God’s Timing

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” Mark 9:9-13 ESV

Being a disciple of Jesus must have been a roller-coaster ride of emotions and experiences. Every day for three years, these 12 men had been exposed to mind-blowing displays of never-before-seen miracles. And these relatively uneducated men had received a daily dose of profound and difficult-to-understand teaching that left even the scribes and Pharisees dumbfounded. Their time with Jesus had been an adventure but also a head-spinning whirlwind of cryptic sayings and confounding experiences.

As Peter, James, and John made their way down the mountain, their minds must have been reeling from what they had just witnessed. Just minutes earlier, they had watched as Jesus was transformed right before their eyes. Suddenly, without warning or explanation, Jesus began to emanate a brilliant light. Mark described it this way: “his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them” (Mark 9:3 NLT). These three men had seen Jesus do a lot of inexplicable and unprecedented things over the last three years, but nothing quite like this. When they had witnessed Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a storm, it had made a distinct impression. In fact, they had initially thought He was some kind of ghostly apparition. So, what must have been going through their minds as they took in the transfiguration of Jesus?

But when the long-departed prophets, Moses and Elijah, had suddenly appeared on the scene, it seems that the disciples began to put two and two together. They knew that something spectacular was happening. And as they took in the scene transpiring before them, they must have wondered if this was it – was Jesus getting ready to usher in His Kingdom? Had Moses, the great deliverer come to assist Jesus in His quest to release the people of Israel from their captivity to the Romans? And was the appearance of Elijah proof that the time had come? Was this the fulfillment of the long-awaited prophecy?

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

But the miracle on the mountain had ended just as fast as it had started. Suddenly, Elijah and Moses were gone and Jesus stood before them just as He had been before. The glory was gone but the impact of the moment lingered with the disciples. And they must have been bursting at the seams, eager to tell the other nine disciples all that they had seen. But Jesus threw cold water on their plans, commanding them to keep it all to themselves until the proper time.

he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. – Mark 9:9 NLT

Now stop and think about this statement for a second. The disciples had just witnessed Jesus speaking to Moses and Elijah. Their minds must have been filled with thoughts of the coming Kingdom. Their hopes and dreams of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah were about to come true. And yet, He brings up the subject of death again. This was the same topic He had raised before the transfiguration.

Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. – Mark 8:31 NLT

Peter had found this news unacceptable and had told Jesus so. But his verbal dismissal of Jesus’ words had earned him a stern rebuke. Now Peter, James, and John were hearing Jesus bring up the same incomprehensible and objectionable subject again. And Mark makes it clear that they had no idea what Jesus was talking about.

…they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. – Mark 9:10 ESV

It wasn’t that the disciples had no concept of the resurrection. As Jews, they believed in a future resurrection of the dead. They would have been familiar with the writings of Isaiah and Daniel.

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead. – Isaiah 26:19 ESV

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. – Daniel 12:2-3 ESV

In a later scene from Jesus’ life, He would tell Martha that her dead brother Lazarus would “rise again” (John 11:23 ESV). And her response would be: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24 ESV). She believed in a future resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. So did the disciples. But they were having difficulty understanding what any of this had to do with Jesus establishing His Kingdom.

Confused by Jesus’ words, the disciples simply ignore them and turn their attention back to the scene they had witnessed on the mountain top. They had seen Elijah with their own eyes and this most likely had led them to believe that the prophecy of Malachi was being fulfilled. So, they asked Jesus for clarification.

“Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?” – Mark 9:11 NLT

Their question has a purpose behind it. They had just seen Elijah, so they were asking Jesus to confirm that His messiahship was about to begin. One thing was meant to follow the other. Elijah had appeared, now it was time for Jesus to do His part. The disciples had to have been thinking about another familiar Messianic passage from the pen of Malachi.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:1-4 NLT

You can see the imagery used by Malachi that supported what the disciples had seen on the mountain top. The blazing Messiah, reigning from His temple and restoring the nation of Israel to its former glory.

It seems that the disciples had linked their siting of Elijah with the timing of the Messiah’s appearance. They had just seen Elijah, so it must be time for Jesus to drop the charade and reveal Himself for who He really was: The Messiah of Israel. It was time for Him to get down to the serious business of ruling and reigning from the throne of David. The time for miracles and difficult-to-understand messages was over.

But Jesus revealed that the scribes had interpreted Malachi correctly. Elijah would precede the Messiah.

“Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. – Mark 9:12 NLT

But the scribes and the disciples had left out a very important part of the prophecy. Not only was Elijah to come first, but the Messiah was going to endure great suffering. The people of Israel had conveniently ignored the many Old Testament passages that alluded to the Messiah’s death. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David had written about the Messiah’s treatment at the hands of men.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” – Psalm 22:6-8 ESV

And Matthew records the fulfillment of this prophecy.

So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” – Matthew 27:41-43 ESV

The prophet Isaiah predicted the tremendous suffering and agony that the Messiah would have to endure at the hands of sinful men.

See, my servant will prosper;
    he will be highly exalted.
But many were amazed when they saw him.
    His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,
    and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:13-14 NLT

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

Jesus wants His disciples to know that the very same Scriptures that predict the coming of Elijah also predict the suffering of the Son of Man. So, He asks them, “why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be treated with utter contempt?” (Mark 9:12 NLT). There is a divine order to things. God has a plan and every detail of that plan must take place in order, including the suffering of the Savior.

Then Jesus dropped the real news that must have exploded like a bombshell on the unsuspecting disciples.

“But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they chose to abuse him, just as the Scriptures predicted.” – Mark 9:13 NLT

And Jesus wasn’t referring to the same Elijah they saw on the mountain top. He was speaking of John the Baptist. This was confirmed by the angel who visited Zechariah and informed him that his wife would give birth to a son.

Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” – Luke 1:13-17 NLT

At the time when Jesus and His disciples were descending the mountain, John the Baptist was dead, a victim of the wrath of Herod. And Jesus let the disciples know that the death of John would precede His own death.

“…they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” – Matthew 17:12 ESV

The disciples’ experience on the mountain had left them eagerly anticipating that Jesus was about to establish His Kingdom. But something else had to happen first. The Son of Man must suffer.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lifeless, Yet Priceless

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson