Joseph of Arimathea was a man of wealth, a member of the Sanhedrin, a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus) who was waiting for the kingdom of God. He was a good and just man from Arimathea, approximately 15-20 miles North of Jerusalem. He hadn’t consented to the decision of the council and he was known as a ‘secret believer’ Nonetheless, he took courage and his actions demonstrated the clear unmistakeable outworking of his genuine faith. Could it be the case that there are people like Joseph of Arimathea around today?
Notice evening came and it was the preparation day, so the Sabbath was drawing near. Joseph of Arimathea needed access to the body of Yeshua quickly, so that he could bury Him and then rest on the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea was accompanied by Nicodemus who first came to Jesus at night (John 3:1-21) and was asked if he was one of Yeshua’s followers in John 7:45-52. They returned with spices and fragrant oils. Today Jewish funerals still usually occur soon after the death of a loved one and are held neither on the sabbath nor on Jewish holidays.
The body of Yeshua
It is easy to overlook the importance of Joseph requesting the Lord’s body. Remember the timing. Joseph’s request would render him ceremonially defiled during Passover. By asking Pilate for His body, he was identifying himself as a follower of Yeshua. This is a bold step of faith for both Joseph and Nicodemus and something that believers in Him must do.
Pilate marvelled that Yeshua was dead and summoned the centurion to confirm that He was dead. The centurion would be a professional soldier and well acquainted with death. If he made a mistake, there would be serious consequences for him. Joseph asked for the ‘body’ of Yeshua. Pilate consented and said that he could have the ‘corpse/carcass’. Two words for the body are used in the Greek that speak volumes and also of true faith. Joseph spoke of ‘soma’. This is the entire person, spoken with care and tenderness. But Pilate spoke of ‘ptoma’. This is the corpse or carcass. The words sound similar though the use of the words here reveals a world of difference and the respective reverence for God and relationship with Him were poles apart.
Joseph took the body of Jesus and they wrapped Him in linen and laid him in a new tomb, hewn out of the rock. A large stone was rolled across the door of the tomb. No one had laid there before. When Yeshua was born, Mary’s womb was a new vessel in which our Saviour grew. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and rode in on a colt on which no one had ridden. Even in His death, Yeshua lay uncorrupted in a new tomb where no one had laid before.
A ‘secret’ believer
We would do well to consider what ‘type’ of secret believer Joseph of Arimathea was. At the scene of the crucifixion, other than John, Mary and a few of the women, most of the disciples were afraid and far off. However, the minute that he asked to bury the body of Jesus it was irrevocably clear that he was identifying himself as a dedicated follower and simultaneously exposing himself to being expelled from the Sanhedrin, persecution and potential violence.
Today there is a huge cost for many Jewish people who come to faith in Yeshua as Messiah. Being misunderstood and excluded from friends, family, financial security and the immediate community are all real prospects. There is inevitably a great cost involved for every believer who trusts in the Lord. Yet there is also an eternal reward and assurance for every believer; and it would be foolish to try and hold on to what we cannot keep, and much wiser to give that up up to gain what can never be taken away.
Joseph of Arimathea plays a part in fulfilling prophecy from the Tanakh
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 speaks of Messiah. This chapter isn’t included in the synagogue readings and until Rashi, most Jewish commentary said this passage spoke of Messiah, rather than Israel. But Isaiah 53:9 tells us ‘And they made His grave with the wicked, but with the rich at His death’. The context here is clearly speaking of an individual not a nation. Usually, a crucified body would normally be disposed of and even eaten by wild creatures. Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy and provided the tomb thereby fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.
But there is also David’s prophecy of the resurrection of the Lord in Psalm 16:10. “You shall not allow Your holy One to see corruption.” Joseph cared for His body. His tomb had never been used and the body of Yeshua was wrapped in clean linen. Joseph of Arimathea therefore played an integral part in fulfilling two vital prophecies.
Does it surprise you that Nicodemus brings 100lbs of myrrh and aloes? As mentioned, Nicodemus came first at night in John 3 where he met Yeshua and though he was the Teacher of Israel learnt how he might be born again. This was a vast, costly amount. It paralleled the alabaster oil poured over our Lord before his death. It showed how much Nicodemus valued Yeshua, and what He meant to him. Nicodemus in a remarkable way was supporting Joseph and was active in fulfilling prophecy.
Trusting in Yeshua the Messiah in today’s world
Let us put this in today’s context. Is it possible for a Rabbi, a leader of a synagogue or someone who is Jewish to trust in Yeshua as their Messiah and Lord? Many are in regular contact with believers and indeed, some have come to trust in Him. Many Jewish people have come to trust in Yeshua both in Messianic fellowships in Israel and throughout the world.
Joseph and Nicodemus were both obviously Jewish, yet Joseph came secretly for fear of his countrymen and Nicodemus came at night. Maybe you want to know who Yeshua really is and you have never read the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) and people have told you that it is antisemitic whilst in reality it was written by Jewish authors about a Jewish Messiah who is the Messiah of the whole world.
In 1892, Rabbi Leopold Cohn arrived in New York from Hungary as a Jewish immigrant. He heard a Jewish preacher proclaim the gospel in Yiddish and spoke with Him and came to faith in Yeshua as Messiah. Rabbi Cohn trained theologically, led his wife to the Lord and founded ‘The Brownsville Mission to the Jews’ now known as ‘Chosen People Ministries’. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Rabbi Cohn, David Baron and Rabbi Saul of Tarsus all came to faith trusting Yeshua as their Lord and Messiah. Trusting in Yeshua is very Jewish since Yeshua is the promised Messiah and the Saviour of all.