29 March 2013

John 19:38-42

“After these things, Joseph of Arimethea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus.” (v. 38)


Jesus was dead and the question now was how to dispose of his body. A new character is introduced into the story, Joseph of Arimathea. He is a character mentioned in all the Gospels and we are able to build up quite a clear picture of him. He was a rich and powerful man who was a member of the council of elders who condemned Jesus and turned him over to Pilate for execution. In spite of his position and power he was very cautious in his approach to Pilate. He was also a believer in Jesus: "a disciple" according to Matthew (Matthew 27:57), a good man "waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God" in Luke (Luke 23:51) and Mark (Mark 15:43), and a "secret" disciple in John.

The point is well made by all four of the Gospel writers that Joseph was there when all the other disciples had disappeared. He perhaps gave Jesus the grave which he bought for himself and he lovingly prepared Jesus' body for burial. However, it is intriguing to know what lay at the heart of all this ambivalence around the nature of Joseph's commitment as a follower of Jesus.

If he was a prominent member of the council why did he not speak out when Jesus was condemned? Luke's Gospel describes the council in some detail (Luke 22:66-71), but no dissenting voice is mentioned.

What kind of discipleship is this? It sounds like being a disciple is something Joseph can pick up or put down depending on where he is. It would be dangerous and embarrassing to admit to being a follower of Jesus in the council. Yet, under cover of darkness, on a busy Sabbath eve he was able to give Jesus a dignified burial.

The "secret" discipleship shows reverence for Jesus' body, but on reflection, the "secret" discipleship also condemned Jesus to death.

To Ponder

  • Who are we protecting when we say faith is a private matter?
  • What is it like to be a Christian in the place where you meet your friends / work /study?

Bible notes author

The Revd Diane Clutterbuck

Diane is an ordained presbyter in the Methodist Church. She works as as a coach, supervisor and trainer mainly in the public and voluntary sectors with people and organisations who are committed to growth and development.