During the Easter season, we meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without question, both events are vitally important and deserving of our attention and praise.
But another event can be lost between the death and resurrection of Jesus—namely, our Lord’s burial. This is an event that also holds spiritual significance for God’s people. His burial is an article of the faith that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed and is worthy of our meditation. I am indebted to Dr. Hywel Jones, whose teaching on Christ’s burial helped me to see anew the significance of this event.
Christ’s burial is significant because it was so seemingly unfit for a crucified man. Normally, when crucified men were buried, they were piled together in a common grave. Even if a family member claimed the body of one who had been crucified, the family would not bury him in the family plot. This was because a crucified man was cursed by God (Deut. 21:23), and a cursed man would not even be buried with the bodies of the righteous. And so, Jesus’ body might have been unceremoniously dumped with the bodies of the two thieves in a common grave.
But that is not what happened. In fact, John 19:31–42 tells us that Jesus experienced a burial fit for the righteous King of Israel. Christ’s body was claimed and attended to by two very important figures in the Jewish religious leadership. First was Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, good and righteous, and a respected member of the Sanhedrin who was looking for the kingdom of God. Joseph had not consented in the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of Jesus (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50–51). He was a disciple of Jesus, but in secret for fear of the Jews (John 19:38). The second man was Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had come to Jesus by night (ch. 3). He had spoken up cautiously for Jesus, asking the Pharisees, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (7:51).
Notice how the death of Jesus drew these Jewish leaders out of the shadows and into the light. By claiming and caring for the body of Jesus, they made a courageous public declaration of their faith in Jesus as their Lord and King. They buried Jesus as believing Jewish leaders, with all the honors befitting a righteous Israelite. They testified by this burial that all Israel ought to regard Jesus not as an accursed criminal but as the Messiah, their King.
They buried Jesus in haste because the Sabbath was coming. This, too, is significant. The last Old Testament Sabbath began with Jesus’ body at rest. Just as the first Sabbath was inaugurated by God when He rested from all His work in creation, so the last Old Testament Sabbath began with Jesus’ body at rest, after He had accomplished all His work in redemption. Between Christ’s death and resurrection was His holy rest, provided for by His Father through faithful Jewish leaders who believed and declared that Jesus is the Christ (see John 7:47–48).