4 April 2015

John 19:40

“They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.” (v. 40)

Psalm: Psalm 130



All four Gospels record Joseph of Arimathea requesting of Pilate that he might remove the body of Jesus. Only John's Gospel records the role of Nicodemus in the burial of Jesus. However, neither of them has an auspicious description.

Joseph is described as a disciple, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews. Given the somewhat damning description in John 12:42-43 of people who were afraid to confess their faith in Jesus for fear of the Pharisees, this is hardly a positive description.

In chapter 3 of this Gospel, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and his encounter was in sharp contrast to Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4. Whereas she clearly turns to Christ, it is only here, 16 chapters later, that we discover that Nicodemus has also become a disciple.

And yet despite these inauspicious beginnings it is these two unlikely candidates that we find taking responsibility for the burial of Jesus. That they are men makes this unusual, women normally took responsibility for burials. It is for this reason that all the Gospels record that on the first day of the week it is the women who come to seek Jesus' body.

However, that they were prominent men, makes their engagement with the grisly task of recovering and burying the body of Jesus all the more unusual.

Romans of course did not often bury those who were crucified. The final indignity was to leave their bodies exposed to the scavengers. Family members were normally the ones to request that a body be released. However, family members were often reluctant to identify themselves to Roman authorities as the family of one so condemned.

It therefore makes sense that Joseph, a man of some standing, should take on the responsibility of requesting the release of Jesus' body. That Pilate grants this unusual request suggests that Pilate had some sympathy for the view that the charges against Jesus were unfounded.

The amount of spices used for Jesus burial is exceedingly large. It is the kind of burial one might expect of a king.

By recording Jesus' burial in this way, his body attended by men of standing in the community, who had previously been reticent to own their faith but who in light of the events of the cross were now emboldened to declare it, John portrays Jesus even in death as a king.

To Ponder

  • Is there a place for secret discipleship or does genuine faith require that we never deny Christ? Why?
  • Something happened to Joseph and Nicodemus as the result of Jesus' crucifixion. What is it about the cross of Christ that emboldens discipleship?


Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel is a Methodist minister, currently stationed as Director of Wesley Study Centre, Durham - a Methodist theological institution which is part of St John's College within the University of Durham. Prior to this he was New Testament Tutor at Spurgeon's College in London and Chaplain to Farringtons School in Kent