19 April 2014

John 19:38-42

“They laid Jesus there.” (v. 42)


What do you do with the body of someone who has been executed publicly and barbarously in a way normally reserved for slaves, outcasts and lower class enemies of the state? The Romans normally left the body for the vultures, as a final humiliation. For anything different to happen, high officials will have to be involved. At this point, two important characters enter the story. One is Joseph of Arimathea, a Jew of such high status that he is able to approach Pilate directly. We are told that he is secretly a disciple of Jesus, like those mentioned in John 12:42-43; but he has kept this hidden because he is afraid of the response of the Jewish authorities and other Jews. Whether he tells Pilate that he is a disciple, or whether he appeals to Pilate's repeated attempts to release Jesus, we are not told. But he manages to get permission from Pilate for the body to be released to him for burial.

At this point he is joined by Nicodemus, a wealthy, high status Jewish leader who was another hidden follower of Jesus, and had once come to him discretely under the cover of night for an important conversation (John 3:1-21). He brings an enormous amount of expensive spices. He and Joseph have to work quickly, because the Passover Festival will begin as the first star comes out in the early evening, and after that they will not be able to work. They already possess or gain access to a new tomb close to the site of the Crucifixion. They wrap the body in linen cloths (like Lazarus' body had been in John 11:44) along with the spices, according to Jewish burial customs.

It is a lavish, respectful and devout burial done at great speed. Whether Joseph and Nicodemus intended it to be permanent or temporary (and followed by removal to another tomb), we do not know. What God intended it to be we shall discover two days later.

To Ponder

  • Are Joseph and Nicodemus to be condemned for being secret followers of Jesus, or praised for taking the risk of coming out into the open when they were needed? Why?

Bible notes author

Ken Howcroft

Ken Howcroft was designated by the Conference in 2013 to be the President of the 2014 Conference. He is currently a minister of the British Conference of the Methodist Church seconded to the Methodist Church in Italy to look after the English-language Methodist Church in Rome.