Death / Burial / Resurrection

The apostle John provides the details surrounding the actual burial of Christ as well as the flow of events immediately after Jesus' resurrection.
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In our last chapter we carefully looked at the final close encounter that Jesus had with an individual before His death. The four authors each reconstruct the time Jesus spends with Pilate and give an account of the Lord's appearances before the Roman governor.

This was the only other Roman (centurion was the first) person Jesus comes in contact with and the clash of the two cultures (Jewish and Roman) is seen in their exchanges. In the end we see Pilate, a victim of his own pride, disbelief, and thirst for power as he is outmaneuvered by the Jewish leaders in sending Jesus, a person he knew to be innocent, to His death.

But the illegal hearings by the Jews and trials with Pilate do allow Jesus one more chance to witness His divinity before both the Jewish and Roman leadership and supply the reason for their own condemnation in the end. You see, it was they who were on trial, they who were being judged by God as the choice to believe or not to believe was presented before them, and they convicted themselves by not believing and as a result sent the Savior to His death.

It is ironic and sad that their disbelief and consequential actions produced the event (Christ's death) that would forever more save those who would believe. This is an example of God's divine economy at work producing a profit from a loss.

Death and burial – Chapter 19:30-42

John's account focuses primarily on the interaction between Jesus, the Jewish leaders and the Roman governor, Pilate. John's purpose is to profile the belief and disbelief expressed before Jesus' witness. He does not, therefore, spend much time describing the torture and death of the Lord. His description of the death of Jesus in verse 30 is given as yet another way to support Jesus' claim of divinity.

A. Jesus' death – vs. 30-37

Vs. 30 – Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

In this verse John claims three things with the death of Christ:

  1. That it was the culmination of many things ("It is finished"). The prophecies about His life and work and the purpose for all He did was deliberate and planned out. This was not a fluke or a bad turn of events. It was the goal and all that was supposed to precede it had been completed.
  2. That it was a success. All things were completed in the way God had wanted them to be done. Jesus had told His disciples beforehand that this was the reason He had come to die and not to die would have been a failure. His death, although ugly, humiliating, and painful, was the successful end to the life He was sent to live.
  3. That He was still in control (He gave up His spirit). I said last week that since He had no sin, no matter how bloodied and bruised He was, no one could take His soul from His body. Jesus, Himself, released His soul from His body to show that He submitted to death for our sakes, but He was not a slave of death like we are. (Even with His death He builds our faith.)

And so, after his brief description of Jesus' moment of death on the cross, John goes on to a more detailed description of His burial.

Vs. 31-34 – Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.

The Jewish law required that those who had been executed needed to be removed before sundown so as to not pollute the land. The Romans normally left their victims to rot on their execution crosses as a visual reminder of their brutality and as a warning to others. The Jewish leaders ask Pilate to accommodate them in speeding up the death process by breaking the legs of the victims so that they can be removed. They were on the eve of the Passover and could not begin their preparations before the bodies were out of the sight of the general population.

Pilate quickly agrees, wanting the matter to be over. The orders are passed on and the two other criminals have their legs broken but, as we already know, Jesus is dead and so the soldiers do not bother breaking His legs. Instead, to assure themselves of His death they pierce Him with a spear and John notes that blood and water come out of His side. Much has been written about the medical or symbolic nature of this blood and water. This may be interesting, but John notes in his book that the significance of these events lay in the fact that these things happened as a fulfillment of Scripture.

Vs. 35-37 – And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, "Not a bone of Him shall be broken." And again another Scripture says, "They shall look on Him whom they pierced."

John repeats the theme of his book, that the events that have taken place, even those events taking place concerning the mutilation of His lifeless body, are a source of witness for our faith. In this case, the sparing of His bones and piercing of His side, a fulfillment of prophecy concerning the Messiah and His treatment at the hands of others (Exodus 12:46; Zechariah 12:10). All of this is made even more unusual because the soldiers disobeyed a direct order from the governor in not breaking His legs and spearing Him instead. Their action fulfilled God's plan. John points to this as yet another witness of God's divine act in sending Jesus.

B. Jesus' burial – vs. 38-42

After the gruesome events at the cross, John switches scenes and introduces the characters that buried the Lord.

Vs. 38 – After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.

Joseph of Arimathea was part of the Jewish council, Sanhedrin (Luke 23:51), but who was opposed to their actions and who secretly believed. Prisoners who were executed were taken down and thrown into a common felon's grave. The Romans would allow the families of prisoners to bury them upon request, however no such request was made by Jesus' family.

Joseph sets aside his fear and goes to Pilate to request the body. This could not be kept secret for very long and Joseph would be revealed as a disciple for this act.

This action on Joseph's part also fulfills another prophecy about Jesus, that He would be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9). Joseph, as a leader in Israel, was wealthy and by placing Him in his own tomb Jesus was buried in a rich man's grave and not the poor criminal's common grave.

We also see the cycle of faith turning again as Joseph, one of the Jewish leaders, breaking with his fellow Jews to express his faith in Christ, even at His death! This was great faith indeed because the Lord is now dead. It would have been easier to disbelieve at this point than to believe.

Vs. 39 – Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.

Nicodemus, also of the Sanhedrin, also a secret disciple, screws up his courage and steps forward along with Joseph to provide the spices for burial. Joseph brought the linen wraps and Nicodemus the spices. This suggests they knew and agreed on each other's participation. The weight of the spices, the position of the buriers and the quality of the grave show that Jesus had a king's burial.

Vs. 40-42 – So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 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. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Joseph and Nicodemus receive the body from the Romans and bring it to Joseph's family burial place located in a garden nearby. Burial places were carved out of hillsides or caves, unlike today where we bury in the ground. It was a new tomb where the rock was carved out to produce a chamber in the side of a hill. Usually, for a rich man's tomb, they would also carve a mantle and door facades on the top and sides of the entrance. A "round" stone like a wheel was carved and placed before the entrance to the tomb. It was rounded so it could be rolled away to place more bodies in the tomb later on when necessary.

It was too late in the day to complete the burial process (perfume the body, etc.) so they laid the body in the tomb and intended to come back and finish after the Sabbath. And so Jesus, even with His lifeless body, evokes a response from those who come near Him to believe or disbelieve, even in the way they react to His dead body.

The resurrection – 20:1-18

None of the gospel writers describe the actual resurrection because there are no witnesses. Jesus was quickened from the dead and silently left the tomb through its walls in His resurrected state.

Matthew talks about an earthquake and an angel rolling away the stone, but this was after the fact and done to witness the completed deed.

John spends little time describing the scene and focuses on the reaction of the women and their witness to the Apostles and the Apostles' reaction to the empty tomb.

Vs. 1-2 – Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So 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 do not know where they have laid Him."

Joseph and Nicodemus were probably coming later in the day to prepare the body but the women, including Mary Magdalene, came at dawn. There were several women but John focuses on the experience of only one. By this time Jesus has risen, the earthquake has rumbled, an angel has rolled the stone away and the soldiers guarding the place have run away in fear.

The women note the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene goes to tell the Apostles that someone has taken away the Lord's body.

Vs. 3-10 – So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

Peter and John rush to the tomb to verify what she has said. Peter gets there last but enters first and what he sees are two signs of resurrection:

  1. The wrappings are there exactly as they had been placed around the body. If the body had been stolen, the wrappings would have been kept not stripped off. In John's description the wrappings form an empty shell as if someone had passed through them.
  2. The handkerchief placed over the face was not taken or thrown down but carefully folded and placed in a corner, all done purposefully.

Note that what John is describing here is his and Peter's coming to faith in an "after the fact" way. They both knew but did not grasp (understand) the Scriptures that said that the Messiah would rise from the dead (Psalms 16:10). They had both acknowledged their faith in Him as Messiah, but with the crucifixion their faith had waned (even though the Scriptures and the Lord said He had to die, they did not believe it would happen). Now with the evidence of the resurrection before them they realize that all of it was true and that their faith had been so small.

John explicitly says that, "...he saw and he believed", placing himself in the company of Thomas. That he and Peter part company without joy or enthusiasm and return to their own homes shows that they are stunned into silence by the event and their own personal failure to remain believing throughout the entire ordeal.

It is not that they were completely disbelieving like the Jews, it is that their faith, which they thought to be so strong, was tested and found to be lacking. (i.e. Peter ready to die for the Lord (John 13:37), John ready to be at the right or left of the Lord in His kingdom (Matthew 20:21).

The proof of the resurrection at the tomb brought this home to them and humbled them to silence as the truth of the moment sank in. The feeling in today's culture would be expressed by saying "It is really true!"

Vs. 11-13 – But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him."

Meanwhile, Mary is still under the impression that someone has actually stolen the body. Peter and John have silently slipped away and she remains. She now looks into the tomb and sees the angels who she questions after they address her. She thinks they will help her find the corpse.

Vs. 14-15 – When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away."

At this point Jesus Himself appears to her asking the same question as the angels and she answers in the same way. In her sorrow she recognizes neither the nature of the angels nor the person of Jesus whom she thinks to be the gardener and asks if perhaps he might know where the body is so she can properly prepare and bury it.

Vs. 16-18 – Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and that He had said these things to her.

We see Jesus break through her grief by simply calling her name, and this personal address opens her eyes to see who is truly addressing her. Her response, Rabboni, which was a Galilean form of the word Rabbi (Mary was from the north) shows that she recognizes Him. Rabboni means "my master" or "Lord" and was used as a title of respect for Jewish teachers. This response is accompanied by Mary's joyful and relieved clinging to the Lord. This would probably be her clinging to His lower legs or feet as an act of enthusiastic and heartfelt worship. She thought He was gone but He is there alive and she clings to him in relief, not wanting to lose Him again.

Many see Jesus' response as harsh or impatient when it is actually one of encouragement and revelation. Jesus is reassuring her that she will not lose Him, there is no need to cling to Him. As a matter of fact He will be closer to her in the future than He ever was (Holy Spirit). He tells her that He has not yet ascended to the Father (He will not leave her right away, she will see Him again, she can let go). She needs to compose herself and go tell His "brethren." This term was meant as a word of encouragement to the Apostles who must be feeling badly about their small and failing faith. She is to tell them that they may have missed the resurrection, but if they come to Him they will witness the last step of His earthly ministry, and that is His visible bodily ascension to heaven.

John recounts that Mary followed the Lord's instructions and sought out the Apostles to announce to them the good news of the resurrection. In this we see, among others, two interesting points:

  1. God gives the privilege of seeing and announcing the resurrection to a woman which is a high honor and indication of His love for women.
  2. Another example of the cycle of miracle and belief. Mary looked at the angels and did not recognize them; looked at Jesus and did not recognize or believe her eyes at first. When He called her name, she finally believed what was before her.

Today, through the Word, many see the miracle of the resurrection and are called through the gospel, but not all respond with faith to the risen Jesus like Mary did.

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