Joseph of Arimathea, Donor of Jesus' Tomb

Jesus is buried
Jesus is buried in the sepulchre, engraving by Gustave Dore (1832-1883), from The Holy Scriptures containing the Old and New Testaments: Translated from The Latin Vulgate by Antonio Martini (1721-1809), with friezes by Enrico Giacomelli, John 19, Volume 2, 1869-1870 edition.

De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images

Following Jesus Christ has always been dangerous, but it was especially so for Joseph of Arimathea. He was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, the court which condemned Jesus to death. Joseph of Arimathea risked his reputation and his life by standing up for Jesus, but his faith far outweighed his fear.

Question for Reflection

Joseph of Arimathea had been a secret follower of Christ because he feared the Jews, but after the crucifixion, he went to Pilate and boldly asked for Jesus' body. Joseph risked his reputation among the religious leaders to give his Lord a proper burial. When Joseph laid Jesus’ body in his own new tomb, he showed both great love and great courage.

Is fear keeping you a secret follower of Jesus? Would standing up for your faith in Christ threaten your reputation? If so, remember Joseph of Arimathea. He is one of only two religious leaders of his day that is honored and remembered today by Christian believers. The other is Nicodemus.

Joseph of Arimathea in the Bible

The Bible references Joseph of Arimathea in Matthew 27:57, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:50-52, and John 19:38.

As a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph would have been a resident of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' death, but he was born and lived previously in a Judean town called Arimathea. Scholars are divided on the location of Arimathea, but some place it at Ramathaim-zophim in the hilly region of Ephraim, where Samuel the prophet was born.

Joseph of Arimathea was a highly visible, distinguished member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council led by the high priests. The seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin were the wealthiest and most powerful men of Jerusalem and the surrounding region. Matthew calls Joseph rich, a fact which is verified by his ownership of a tomb carved in the rocks. Scripture gives no indication of what he did for a living, however, unsubstantiated legend has it that Joseph was a dealer in metal goods.

Secret Disciple

All four Gospels confirm that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus Christ, although John emphasizes that this had been done secretly (John 19:38) until the time of Christ's burial.

Mosaic law required that the bodies of those who were executed by hanging on a tree must not be allowed to remain on the tree overnight (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Since Jesus’ death occurred around three in the afternoon, the time for burying him before the beginning of the Sabbath at sunset was short.

To make sure Jesus received a proper burial, Joseph of Arimathea boldly asked Pontius Pilate for custody of Jesus' body. Joseph's desire to properly bury the dead despite personal risk showed that he was a devout Jew. Not only did he risk ritual uncleanness by entering the quarters of a pagan, but together with Nicodemus, another Sanhedrin member, he further contaminated himself under Mosaic law, by touching a corpse.

Joseph of Arimathea brings Jesus down from cross
Joseph of Arimathea brings Jesus down from the cross, engraving by Gustave Dore (1832-1883), from The Holy Scriptures containing the Old and New Testaments: Translated from The Latin Vulgate by Antonio Martini (1721-1809), with friezes by Enrico Giacomelli, Mark 15, Volume 2, 1869-1870 edition. De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images

Joseph of Arimathea donated his new tomb for Jesus to be buried in. This fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 53:9: "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth." (NIV)

According to Jewish custom, Jesus' body was anointed with spiced oils of myrrh and aloes, wrapped with a linen cloth to preserve it, and placed in the unused tomb.

Character Strengths

  • Joseph believed in Jesus, despite pressures from his colleagues and the Roman rulers. He boldly stood up for his faith, trusting the consequences to God.
  • The Bible says Joseph was "expecting the Kingdom of God," which indicates that he expected the Kingdom to come through Jesus Christ (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51).
  • Luke 23:50 calls Joseph of Arimathea a "good and upright man."

Life Lessons From Joseph of Arimathea

Sometimes our faith in Jesus Christ carries a high price. No doubt Joseph was shunned by his peers for caring for Jesus' body, but he followed his belief anyway. Doing the right thing for God may bring suffering in this life, but it carries eternal rewards in the next life.

Key Bible Verse

John 19:38-42
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (NIV)

Sources

  • "Joseph of Arimathea." newadvent.org. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08520a.htm.
  • The New Compact Bible Dictionary. Edited by T. Alton Bryant.