Monthly Archives: December 2012

A Secured Tomb

Jesus’ murder is complete. Caiaphas, the chief priest, and those who participated in the decision to have the Romans execute an innocent man have spent the night thinking about what had just occurred. It was Passover, the holiest Sabbath of the year. There verbal intent to Pilate was to celebrate Passover without the spectacle of dying people hanging on crosses outside of Jerusalem to offend God.

Passover originated when God brought His people out of Egypt. It is a day of remembrance. He wanted those who are His to concentrate on what He had done freeing His people from the slavery of the Egyptian nation. His last plague, the plague which broke the grip of Pharaoh on the people he enslaved, was the sudden death of all first born in the entire nation from the lowest slave to the highest official including his own first born son. Israel was exempted from the death of the first born in their homes when they spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts before eating their meal while waiting expectantly to be freed. All of Israel was commanded by God to remember His deliverance every year.

Were these people remembering what God had done for them so long ago as God commanded? Had they prepared themselves to celebrate the historical event which solidified Israel as a nation with their own land? Were they even thinking about God?

Apparently, they were more concerned about what they had just done than in anything God had done. They were consumed in their thinking and feeling and actions in making sure Jesus stayed dead. Not that they thought Jesus would become not dead but that his disciples would make it look like he was resurrected. Remembering Jesus words, they paid attention only as far as it suited their emotional need to keep control of the people, they went back to Pilate with a request. They did not rest on the Sabbath as commanded by God but instead went and presented themselves to the executioner, a Greek, the Roman Governor on the day of the Passover. “The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate” [Matthew 27:62 ESV]. Whether they entered Pilate’s residence like they had done the day before or sent in a messenger to speak with him is unknown. What we do know is they gathered together and went to him as a group.

Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first. [Matthew 27:63-64 ESV]

They remember Jesus saying he would be resurrected which means they knew he would have to first die. Thinking Jesus’ disciples capable of engineering a lie of outrageous proportions they asked Pilate to secure the tomb for at least a few days. Did his disciples have a plan, could they even think of such a plan, where they would steal a corpse and then claim the corpse was still alive, or had never died, or was raised from death? Devious thinkers believe everyone as devious as they. There was no concept of what Jesus’ disciples were thinking or feeling. Jesus’ disciples followed a man the Chief priest and his followers considered an imposter making them as much like their teacher as they thought their teacher had been. Jesus was a fraud in their minds and hearts. His disciples were also frauds and capable of defrauding everyone in their lust for control. Jesus was deluded. So were his disciples. Perhaps if they had listened to all of the words of Jesus their thinking would have been different? But now that Jesus was dead they wanted his influence to die with him.

Pilate didn’t care about them or the man he executed, let alone anyone associated with them or Jesus. He gives them permission to do what they think necessary for whatever reason. Jesus was dead. He was not coming back to life. What anyone did with a dead body was no concern of his. His response shows his lack of caring. “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can” [Matthew 27:65 ESV]. Use your own guards. You’re not taking any of my men for such a silly request. Keep the corpse in the tomb. Don’t let anyone steal a dead body.

Caiaphas and those with him had obviously been thinking about what they could do. They had a plan to thwart the supposed preparation of the disciples to deceive everyone. They would lock the tomb with wax and a seal and post a group of armed men around it to keep anyone from opening the tomb. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” [Matthew 27:66 ESV]. By sealing the tomb they would know if anyone broke the seal and could declare to the world the evidence of intent. By posting the guard they could keep anyone, even a mob, from approaching the tomb for any reason.

Jesus was dead. People saw him die. Jesus was buried, placed in a tomb by men from their own ranks. A huge stone was rolled in front of the tomb which would take many men to move. A seal was placed on the tomb. A guard was placed around the tomb to make sure the corpse in the tomb was not removed. How much more could be done?

Jesus was resurrected. What God does no one can stop.

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Joseph’s Tomb

Accompanied by Nichodemus they wrapped the body with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 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 19:39-40 ESV] Jesus was accorded by these two members of the council a burial of an innocent man. Jesus’ entire body was covered in the spices and then wrapped tightly, the spices acting like an aromatic glue to reduce the odor of death and keep the body from falling apart. Rigor mortis had not yet begun so Jesus’ body was easily placed in a shape which would be fit in the place designed for a body in the tomb. After several years it was also the custom to open the tomb and collect the bones into a sarcophagus, or box large enough to hold the bones.

Here is a possible, even likely, image of the corpse. People were smaller 2,000 years ago than they are today. Jesus probably was not tall and may have weighed around 120 pounds. No one knows for sure. This is conjecture. Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus body after applying half his weight in spices and then bound it tightly with cloth. His body was imprisoned in a shroud. Next it would be imprisoned in a tomb. He was dead and not going anywhere.

Tombs in this area were cut into the sides of the mountains and hills, done so for those who were especially wealthy. Jewish culture demanded a body be buried immediately, or a soon as possible after death. Those crucified with Jesus, the executed criminals who deserved death, were taken down and thrown on the trash heap and eaten by scavenger animals. Jesus was buried according to current (for that time) Jewish custom. They put Jesus “in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock” [Matthew 27:60 ESV]. This tomb belonged to Joseph and where “no one had ever yet been laid” [Luke 23:53 ESV]. Then, they rolled a huge stone in front of the entrance to the tomb. This stone was cut in a circle, weighed probably several thousand pounds, and set in a groove so it could be rolled into place and not easily moved once in place. “And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” [Matthew 27:60 ESV].

There is no doubt about Jesus’ death. They buried a dead body. He may have been able to raise others from death but now he was dead there was no expectation he could any longer do anything. It was fast approaching evening, which is the beginning of the Passover Sabbath, and they needed to be done with their morbid task. Joseph’s tomb was nearby and convenient. 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. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” [John 19:41-42 ESV]. Those women who loved Jesus watched as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body and placed it in the tomb. They saw where the tomb was and how Jesus body was placed in the tomb. “The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid” [Luke 23:55 ESV]. As the Sabbath began they went to where they were staying and continued gathering spices with which they could further anoint Jesus body. They would not do this the next day but the day after. “Then they returned (to where they were staying during the Passover) and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” [Luke 23:56 ESV]. How they intended to open the tomb and accomplish their intended desire is not addressed in the documents. Perhaps they were relying on some of the disciples to roll the stone away so they could continue to lavish on his body more of the expensive spices they gathered.

Joseph and Nicodemus take Jesus’ Body

As the sun went down the Jewish Sabbath began. This evening was the beginning of the Passover Sabbath commemorating the Exodus of God’s people from slavery to freedom. It was a holy day and the Jewish leaders, who had used the Romans to murder Jesus, asked the crucified men die quickly and be taken off their crosses. Pilate agreed and ordered the condemned men’s legs be broken so they would die before sundown. Jesus’ legs were not broken because he was already died.

All four documents tell about Joseph of Arimathea. He was two things. He was a disciple of Jesus. “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus” [Matthew 27:57 ESV]. But, he was also a respected member of the council, probably the Sanhedrin. “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” [Mark 15:43 ESV]. According to Luke, Joseph had not agreed with the High Priest and others who wanted Jesus executed. “He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action” [Luke 23:50-51 ESV]. He is called honorable and good and righteous, and was “looking for the kingdom of God” [Luke 23:51].

John gives what may be considered conflicting evidence about Joseph. Whereas the three synoptic documents tell Joseph was a disciple of Jesus and voted against the rest of the council when they wanted to murder him John says he was a secret disciple of Jesus because of fear. “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” [John 19:38 ESV]. John also tells us he was accompanied by Nichodemus, another member of the council. Nichodemus visited Jesus several years earlier and at night so he might not be seen talking intimately with someone the rest of the council had already condemned as dangerous. “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him” [John 3:1-2 ESV]. John was known by the High Priest and admitted into the courtyard where the hastily assembled council met at night to pass judgment and condemn him (see John 18:15). He watched some of what occurred and may not have seen Joseph disagree with the council. Since Joseph and Nicodemus may have been secret disciples of Jesus before his crucifixion it is not hard to understand John’s comment about Joseph being one secretly.

Joseph asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. He was no longer a secret disciple of Jesus. This was a bold move on his part. Going to the Roman Governor as a known member of the council and asking for the body of a man condemned by the council would compromise any political influence he may have had. Jesus was dead, executed as a common criminal, and there is no indication they would have treated his body with respect after he died any more than they would have while he was alive and during his death. Pilate may have already given the order to finish off the criminals at the request of the council but was surprised Jesus was already dead when Joseph made his request. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph” [Mark 15:44-45 ESV].

When Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus body from the cross they made themselves ritually unclean and were then unable to participate in the Passover celebration. They touched a dead body. They not only touched him but wrestled him from the cross, carried him to a tomb and prepared his body for burial.“And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud” [Matthew 27:59 ESV]. When Joseph took Jesus’ body he had to first take it off the cross. Luke’s says he “took it down” [Luke 25:53] while Mark says he “took him down” [Mark 15:46 ESV]. This is a curious mix of English phrases translated for identical wording in the Greek. Luke, a physician, would look at the body as a thing no longer inhabited by a person while Mark would still see a person. This does not explain the differing translation of the identical words.

Had Jesus still be alive, even a spark of life in the body, these two men, and the servants who accompanied them, would have seen it. Jesus was dead and they are reliable witnesses to his death. Even the confusion of phrases between the documents is not evidence of the reality of the actions of these men. When Jesus was seen alive a few days later it was not resuscitation but a resurrection.