Joseph Of Arimathaea

INTRODUCTION: This study will look at the man referred to as Joseph from Arimathaea, as distinctly identified by his association with the town bearing this unique name. That is helpful because the name Joseph is fairly common, designating men in both the Old and the New Testaments, but Arimathaea appears only in relation to this particular man named Joseph. There is no clear detail in scripture to positively identify a geographic location called Arimathaea. Arimathaea is a term of Hebrew origin, and it can have the general meaning of heights or hill. It may refer to any of several towns in Israel that share the same basic derivation, but in those other cases the English translation was to Ramah, or Ramoth. Joseph of Arimathaea is mentioned only in the same series of events as covered in all four gospels. By examining the similarities, and variations, in the context of the four gospel accounts there are some interesting things to be learned about this man and about some others who are part of the narrative describing the crucifixion and burial of Christ.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the World English bible [WEB].


A - Mockers of Christ at the cross

Matthew 27 "38 Then there were two robbers crucified with him, one on his right hand and one on the left. 39 Those who passed by blasphemed him, wagging their heads, 40 and saying, "You who destroy the temple, and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!" 41 Likewise the chief priests also mocking, with the scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders, said, 42 "He saved others, but he can't save himself. If he is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now, if he wants him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'""

Mark 15 "27 With him they crucified two robbers; one on his right hand, and one on his left. 28 The Scripture was fulfilled, which says, "He was numbered with transgressors." 29 Those who passed by blasphemed him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha! You who destroy the temple, and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31 Likewise, also the chief priests mocking among themselves with the scribes said, "He saved others. He can't save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, that we may see and believe him." Those who were crucified with him insulted him."

Luke 23 "33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified him there with the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." Dividing his garments among them, they cast lots. 35 The people stood watching. The rulers with them also scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others. Let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen one!" 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming to him and offering him vinegar, 37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38 An inscription was also written over him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." 39 One of the criminals who was hanged insulted him, saying, "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!" 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Don't you even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." 42 He said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." 43 Jesus said to him, "Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.""

John 19 "17 He went out, bearing his cross, to the place called "The Place of a Skull," which is called in Hebrew, "Golgotha," 18 where they crucified him, and with him two others, on either side one, and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate wrote a title also, and put it on the cross. There was written, "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." 20 Therefore many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews therefore said to Pilate, "Don't write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'he said, I am King of the Jews.'" 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written.""

COMMENTS: Scripture tells us that the site of the crucifixion was along a road outside of Jerusalem, and those who passed by blasphemed the "King of the Jews" saying" come down from the cross. "Likewise the chief priests also mocking, with the scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders, said, 'He saved others, but he can't save himself. If he is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.'" The Old and the New Testament agree that many of those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus would remain in their unbelief as fulfillment of prophecy. John "12:37 But though he had done so many signs before them, yet they didn't believe in him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, "Lord, who has believed our report? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" 39 For this cause they couldn't believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 "He has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and would turn, and I would heal them." 41 Isaiah said these things when he saw his glory, and spoke of him."

In addition to those already mentioned, the men crucified on either side of Jesus mocked him, and the soldiers also taunted him with "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" All of these appear to be very distinct examples of wanting "just one more miracle" from a man known for performing miracles. It also places emphasis on saving the physical life, as they missed the crucial importance of resurrection to eternal life. This attitude may be representative of so many people in every period of history, who cannot accept the record of scripture, and the witness of the Holy Spirit. Each person, at least to some degree, may want God to provide comfort for them in their physical life before they will place complete faith in the promises of the Lord.

Before the cross of Christ, the resurrection of Lazarus took place in front of a number of eye witnesses. But just as controversy continues today about many of the details of how the Lord will bring about His sovereign will, there were disagreements and misunderstandings at that time about what would happen when Messiah appeared to Israel. Martha was among those who believed that the Old Testament scripture had promised resurrection, but there was division on this point even among Jewish religious leaders. Just before Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, he had this conversation with Martha. John "11:23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. 26 Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, God's Son, he who comes into the world.""


B - Followers who witnessed the crucifiction

Matthew27 "55 Many women were there watching from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, serving him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee."

Mark 15 "40 There were also women watching from afar, among whom were both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; 41 who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and served him; and many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem."

Luke 23 "49 All his acquaintances, and the women who followed with him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things."

John 19 "25 But there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 Therefore when Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son!" 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" From that hour, the disciple took her to his own home."

COMMENTS: Some women are identified by name in all four gospels as witnesses at the cross, but there is indication that some of the apostles may have also been there. The manner of expression in Luke's gospel, "All his acquaintances, and the women who followed with him ..." gives a very indefinite delineation of the group of witnesses allowing that many others may well have been present. John's gospel, in his characteristic indirect manner of his reference to himself, indicates that he was there, and at one point, John was even close enough for Jesus to speak to him from the cross. We are not given any clear description in the scripture of the thoughts or emotions of the followers of Jesus as they witnessed the crucifixion. We do not know if some of them may have been expecting a miraculous transformation from the cross to bring immediate victory for Jesus, in contrast with the mocking of the vocal unbelievers who doubted that he had any power at all, and would simply die as any other man. Others may have been in so much grief after watching the agonizing death of Jesus that it would be hard to even think ahead by faith to the manner of his promised resurrection on the third day, and to the related guarantees to those who believed Jesus to be the Son of God.


C - Joseph becomes a central figure in the gospel record

Matthew 27 "57 When evening had come, a rich man from Arimathaea, named Joseph, who himself was also Jesus' disciple came. 58 This man went to Pilate, and asked for Jesus' body. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given up."

Mark 15 "42 When evening had now come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathaea, a prominent council member who also himself was looking for the Kingdom of God, came. He boldly went in to Pilate, and asked for Jesus' body. 44 Pilate marvelled if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead long. 45 When he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph."

Luke 23 "50 Behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the council, a good and righteous man 51 (he had not consented to their counsel and deed), from Arimathaea, a city of the Jews, who was also waiting for the Kingdom of God: 52 this man went to Pilate, and asked for Jesus' body."

John 19 "38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away Jesus' body. Pilate gave him permission. He came therefore and took away his body."

COMMENTS: We have nothing in the text to reveal whether or not Joseph was among those Jewish leaders who mocked at the cross, or just how he knew when Jesus had actually died. We do know that one of the two thieves being crucified first mocked, but then asked forgiveness of Jesus, and that type of reversal could have been possible for others during the dramatic events over the six hour period. Joseph of Arimathaea did act in a timely manner after the unmistakable death of Jesus. We have these composite characteristics of Joseph from the above passages. Joseph was a rich man from Arimathaea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews. He was a prominent council member, who also was described as himself looking for the Kingdom of God, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their counsel and deed). Joseph boldly went in to Pilate, and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate gave him permission after the centurion confirmed that Jesus was indeed dead. Joseph came therefore and took away his body. Joseph may have been bold to go directly to Pilate with the request for the body of this very controversial man who had been executed by Roman authority. But surely there was also a factor of boldness, as the Jewish leaders who made outcasts of those who became followers of Jesus, could reasonably be expected to take some steps against a prominent member of the council who would provide such dignity to the body of a man they had condemned as a blasphemer of God. There is no indication anywhere else in scripture of any direct impact that Jesus previously had on Joseph that brought him to the decision for this bold course of action.

The "blacklisting" of those Jews who chose to follow Jesus had become a well established consequence. But there were even some among the Jewish leadership, such as Nicodemus, who were gradually being wooed by the Holy Spirit to accept the truth about Jesus. John "7:45 The officers therefore came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, "Why didn't you bring him?" 46 The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this man!" 47 The Pharisees therefore answered them, "You aren't also led astray, are you? 48 Have any of the rulers believed in him, or of the Pharisees? 49 But this multitude that doesn't know the law is accursed." 50 Nicodemus (he who came to him by night, being one of them) said to them, 51 "Does our law judge a man, unless it first hears from him personally and knows what he does?" 52 They answered him, "Are you also from Galilee? Search, and see that no prophet has arisen out of Galilee." 53 Everyone went to his own house," There is a separate MPN study on Nicodemus that provides some detail of his interaction with Jesus. Those who call themselves Christians should be careful not to piously judge others who seem to accept all tenants of a system of religion that rejects or minimizes some of the important truths about Christ Jesus. We should be reminded that it can be very difficult to break from religious affiliations that have provided comfort and confidence in beliefs that may include much established tradition that began based in truth. this excerpt from John reminds us of the difficulty for Jews, "12:42 Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they didn't confess it, so that they wouldn't be put out of the synagogue, 43 for they loved men's praise more than God's praise." The "praise of men" can seem much more attractive to our fleshly desires than the spiritually discerned praise of God, that we can only sense inwardly through the transformation wrought by having scripture firmly fixed in our hearts and minds.

Since Joseph is described as a prominent member of the council, he was almost certainly present during the event described in the passage below, as it indicates the whole council met. But also it is recorded in Luke 23 that he did not agree with the council decision against Jesus. Matthew "26:59 Now the chief priests, the elders, and the whole council sought false testimony against Jesus, that they might put him to death; 60 and they found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward, 61 and said, "This man said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.'" 62 The high priest stood up, and said to him, "Have you no answer? What is this that these testify against you?" 63 But Jesus held his peace. The high priest answered him, "I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God." 64 Jesus said to him, "You have said it. Nevertheless, I tell you, after this you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of the sky." 65 Then the high priest tore his clothing, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Behold, now you have heard his blasphemy. 66 What do you think?" They answered, "He is worthy of death!""


D - The body of Jesus laid in a tomb

Matthew 27 "59 Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut out in the rock, and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed."

Mark 15 "46 He bought a linen cloth, and taking him down, wound him in the linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb which had been cut out of a rock. He rolled a stone against the door of the tomb."

Luke 23 "53 He took it down, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb that was cut in stone, where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of the Preparation, and the Sabbath was drawing near."

John 19 "39 Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred Roman pounds. 40 So they took Jesus' body, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden. In the garden was a new tomb in which no man had ever yet been laid. 42 Then because of the Jews' Preparation Day (for the tomb was near at hand) they laid Jesus there."

COMMENTS: What a privilege for Joseph of Arimathaea to be the agent God used to fulfill the scripture for the burial of the Christ. Isaiah "53:9 They made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it pleased Yahweh to bruise him. He has caused him to suffer. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed. He shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Yahweh shall prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light and be satisfied. My righteous servant will justify many by the knowledge of himself; and he will bear their iniquities." Though Joseph was from Arimathaea, he had prepared his own tomb in this garden area outside of Jerusalem. John's gospel informs us that Nicodemus purchased the burial spices, and joined with Joseph for the thorough and respectful treatment of the body of Jesus as the custom of the Jews was to bury. After the preparation, the body of Jesus was placed in a tomb that was not a natural cave, but it had been hewn from the rock specifically for a tomb, and it had never before been used. Thus Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man after having been put to death with common criminals.


E - The burial of Jesus was not done in secret

Matthew 27 "61 Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb. 62 Now on the next day, which was the day after the Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together to Pilate, 63 saying, "Sir, we remember what that deceiver said while he was still alive: 'After three days I will rise again.' 64 Command therefore that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest perhaps his disciples come at night and steal him away, and tell the people, 'He is risen from the dead'; and the last deception will be worse than the first." 65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard. Go, make it as secure as you can." 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone. 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from the sky, and came and rolled away the stone from the door, and sat on it."

Mark 15 "47 Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses, saw where he was laid." 16:1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 They were saying among themselves, "Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?" 4 for it was very big. Looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back."

Luke 23 "55 The women, who had come with him out of Galilee, followed after, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid. 56 They returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they and some others came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb."

John 20 "1 Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went early, while it was still dark, to the tomb, and saw the stone taken away from the tomb. 2 Therefore she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have laid him!""

COMMENTS: After the body of Jesus had been buried, the chief priests and the Pharisees went together to see Pilate to ask that he seal the tomb of Jesus, and place guards there until after the third day. This is clear evidence that they understood that Jesus had said he would rise again on the third day. They apparently knew the location of the tomb, and therefore probably knew who had provided the burial. They however believed his disciples would need to steal the body away to make a deception that there had been the resurrection, which they perceived would be of no small consequence. Certain of the women had also observed where Jesus had been entombed, and they planned to bring spices to anoint the body after resting on the Sabbath according to Jewish law. It seems clear that the women, as well as the apostles, did not understand that Jesus would be resurrected on that third day, and there would be no corpse to receive the burial spices. The resurrection of the Lord did take place, and it was no deception! But we have no further information of any events involving Joseph of Arimathaea after he had completed the burial of the body of Jesus into his own tomb, and rolled the stone into place. Nonetheless, the man known as Joseph of Arimathaea and his small part in the ministry of the Lord Jesus, has been recounted to many over the centuries, even among non-Christians who have heard some of the "Bible stories."


--- Reflections in prayer ---

How difficult it must have been for the people of that time period to have your physical presence before them Lord, and yet to have many confusing points of view about your true identity and what events they should expect to take place while you were with them. It is a comfort to me to observe that so many of your followers were common people, but there were also some in leadership positions who humbly surrendered their knowledge and accomplishments to your glory and grace for the mercy you offer. Help me Lord to develop more of my thought processes to be guided by your word, such as that recorded from your lips. Matthew "23:12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." I want my prayer life to also be influenced by the teaching of your apostles who were guided by the Holy Spirit after your resurrection. Help me Lord to call to mind such passages as the following to be personalized in my prayers. 1Peter "5:5 Likewise, you younger ones, be subject to the elder. Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; 7 casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you." I believe you are the Living Word, and that I can draw closer to you through the written word. No greater evidence than your word needs to be presented to the heart that you have opened to the truth that you will exalt each believer to eternal life, by grace through faith. I believe Lord; help me in any unbelief, so I might have the incomparable comfort of casting all my cares upon you. Amen.


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Published 20 January 2012