the Kingdom of God
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 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. 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. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. Mark 15:42-47
In these last verses of Chapter 15, we see some familiar characters, two women seen at the cross when Jesus died, the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion and declared Jesus the “Son of God,” and Pontius Pilate, who authorized his execution. Jesus is dead, and this surprises the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea.
Now we are introduced to a brand new character, Joseph of Arimathea. He is a respected member of the Sanhedrin and has the boldness to go to the Prefect to ask for the body. I call this courage not only because he goes to Pilate, but because he is risking association with the followers of Jesus, none of whom is around except the two women watching (not helping) what Joseph was doing and where he was placing the body.
So why was Joseph doing this? Unlike Matthew and John, Mark does not call Joseph a follower of Jesus and goes out of his way to equate him to other truly observant Jews like the scribes who hold strictly to the scriptures and were “looking for the kingdom of God” (see Mark 12:28-34). You see this in Joseph’s behavior while fulfilling Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which reads:
“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
As an observant Jew, he would be rendered unclean just before the Passover Sabbath if he handled the body. So it is likely that he had servants to help in the tasks. Regardless, there was a great deal of work to be done and approximately three hours to accomplish it. Here are those tasks: convince Pilate to release the corpse, take it down from the cross, bring it to a tomb cut out of rock, wrap the body in linen, and seal the grave where it will sit for one year when the bones will be placed in an ossuary box and buried in a cemetery. All this before sundown at around 6 pm.
Maybe Joseph will eventually realize that the Kingdom of God has arrived and become a follower of Jesus, which would explain Matthew and John. But for now, Joseph of Arimathea’s purpose is to show us that Jesus is dead, a necessity if there is to be a resurrection.
Where was everybody when your lifeless body was placed in the tomb? Where were Peter, James, and John? Where were the remaining eight? Where are all those who celebrated when you rode into Jerusalem five days before? We see only two women watching to see where your dead body was placed. Yet, you built the church upon all of them and us through your grace!
I pray in the name of the Lamb that was slain. Amen!