Joseph of Arimathea was a man who became noteworthy in the Bible for the role that he took in the burial of the body of the Lord Jesus, so much so that he is mentioned in the four Gospels (Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:42-46, Luke 23:50-55, John 19:38-42).
About his person, we are informed in these passages that he was a rich man, coming of Arimathea, city of the Jews where he was born, being a good and just man that also awaited the kingdom of God. He was an illustrious member of the Sanhedrin and had become a disciple of Jesus, but in hiding for fear of the Jews. We are informed that he had not consented in the counsel and in the actions of the Sanhedrin regarding Jesus but, if he ever did manifest his opposition, it had no effect. However he ended up making a move that was worth him his celebrity, as we will see.
Jesus having been crucified, after His death His body (as that of all who were crucified) was destined to be taken down from the cross and thrown into the rubbish in the “Valley of the son of Hinnom” (see Jeremiah 32:35) to be burned. The Messiah's crucifixion had taken place on “Preparation Day”, preceding the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in which all work was prohibited (called a “high day” to distinguish it from the weekly Sabbath - John 19:31, Exodus 12:16, Leviticus 23:7). The Jews would not admit anyone to remain on the cross on that Sabbath of the Feast (John 19:31).
Twilight was approaching, and it was then that Joseph of Arimathea, taking courage, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, so manifesting openly his love for that Man. We can imagine the surprise of Pilate, and the insult to the Sanhedrin when this illustrious member of their brotherhood openly took the side of He who they had despised, insulted and shamefully crucified. But God, in His sublime omniscience, had already foreseen this remarkable and surprising event, as we see in Isaiah 53:9: “they made His grave with... the rich at His death…”
Pilate marvelled that this crucified Man was already dead: he didn't know that this Man was giving His life, and that He had absolute control as to when he would do it. To make sure, Pilate called the centurion and received his confirmation of the fact, after having obtained proof by wounding His side. Pilate then ordered the corpse to be given to Joseph. Notice that Joseph asked for the body, but Pilate ordered them to give him the corpse: Pilate was absolutely sure that the body was really without life, contrary to what sceptics have been affirming, even in our days.
Joseph bought a cloth of fine linen, and went over to the cross, accompanied by Nicodemus (a Pharisee who was one of the chiefs of the Jews and had previously come to see Jesus at night - John 3:1-21) who had brought with him about a hundred pounds of a mixture of myrrh and aloes. In this we see the high opinion they held of the Lord Jesus, by providing the best that they could acquire for the preparation of His body for the grave. Until this time they had hidden their love for the Master, but now they would manifest it to all those present.
It was Joseph of Arimathea who personally removed the body from the cross and, with Nicodemus, wrapped it in linen cloths with the spices, as the Jews used to do in preparation for the grave, in order to delay corruption. But there would be no corruption, as God had also foreseen, having inspired King David to prophesy in Psalm 16:10: “… You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”
For the burial of the Messiah of Israel there were no pomp and ceremonies as it is customary for important personages as monarchs, national heroes, etc. Not even his relatives, disciples and other friends that had accompanied Him when He was acclaimed by crowds anxious for the benefits they received were there. All were invisible, distant, hidden by the fear of being apprehended and punished as accomplices. It is even more remarkable the absence of the apostles of the Lord Jesus, exactly like He had already foreseen, in fulfilment of prophecy (Zechariah 13:7): only the presence of Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph and James, called “the other Mary” by Matthew, is recorded. These women witnessed everything from beginning to end, becoming valuable witnesses for the report of all that happened.
The wrath, curse and punishment for our sin were suffered and were completed by our Saviour when, soon before giving up His spirit, He cried victoriously “it is finished” on the cross of Calvary. His soul went to Sheol, in this case paradise (Luke 23:43), also called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), there to await resurrection, that would take place after three days and three nights.
Having finished His task in the world, His mortal remains received a condign burial. Joseph of Arimathea again showed his great devotion, by giving for this purpose his new tomb, located in a garden in the same place where Jesus was crucified. It had been hewn out of the rock, and had not yet been used, therefore being most appropriate to receive His pure body, free from contamination from the remains of other bodies.
After depositing the body of Jesus in that tomb, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus rolled a great stone against the door of the tomb and left. This short report on Joseph of Arimathea brings to us the following lessons:
He was “a good and just man”: there are not many men to whom those qualifications are attributed in the Bible. But every believer is capable to obtain them, because he has been born again and has in himself the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome the flesh and to produce His fruit (Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5:9).
He awaited the kingdom of God: the hope of the kingdom of God is at the heart of our faith. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray “Your kingdom come”, and the coming in glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ is the blessed hope that we look for (Titus 2:13).
He was a rich man: with wealth comes responsibility for God’s servant. Rich believers in this world should not be haughty, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God (1 Timothy 6:17). They should follow the example of Joseph of Arimathea, who put everything aside to exalt his Saviour, as did Moses who “esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Matthew 6:24, Hebrews 11:26).
He was an illustrious member of the Sanhedrin: this honour was given him because of the qualities that he possessed. But his just character caused him to oppose the unjust decisions of the Sanhedrin and to challenge them, giving dignity to the Lord crucified. He showed that he had “the same mind in him which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5-8).
He acted at the right time with conviction and courage: he left his hiding place to do justice, not measuring the risk that he ran, and in this way he stood out among all men to honour the Messiah of God - the first among men to do so after His redemptive death. He will always be remembered for that.
He provoked an official investigation to verify if Christ was really dead: it was done by order of Governor Pilate, so eliminating any doubt on the fact. It was important that it should have happened, and God was able to use Joseph of Arimathea for that purpose. We don't know what importance our actions of justice may have in the future.
Joseph of Arimathea is not mentioned any more in the Bible. However, his courageous and important action at this crucial time, as revealed in the biblical text, distinguishes him from the other disciples, who were timorous people of little influence in their own environment and, being Galileans, were despised in the metropolis of Jerusalem. They were transformed into brave pioneers after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Who they saw and with Whom they lived for a few weeks before His ascension), and their baptism by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
In the absence of further authentic revelations about him, a century later the author of an apocryphal Gospel of Peter slightly embellished the biblical report on him. Legends sprung up later telling that he had gone to Great Britain in 63 AC, interested in taking the Gospel to metal exporters he was acquainted with, spending some time in the south of England, later travelling to Ireland, doing miracles besides ridding Ireland of serpents. He was named patron saint of the city of Glastonbury, in the south of England. These legends and many others are still told and stimulate tourism to those parts, but don't deserve credit.
Mat 27:57 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.
Mat 27:58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him.
Mat 27:59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
Mat 27:60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.
Mar 15:42 Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath,
Mar 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
Mar 15:44 Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time.
Mar 15:45 So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.
Mar 15:46 Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
Luk 23:50 Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man.
Luk 23:51 He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God.
Luk 23:52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
Luk 23:53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before.
Luk 23:54 That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.
Luk 23:55 And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid.
Joh 19:38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.
Joh 19:39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.
Joh 19:40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.
Joh 19:41 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.
Joh 19:42 So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews' Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.