In the gospel of John we read of an unlikely partnership of two men from rival parties. The Sadducees were the Temple party who controlled the priesthood, and had political power, with authority under Roman rule. The Pharisees focused on the law, with personal piety, and had influence over the general population. How did Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, men from opposing groups, come to be working together?
Joseph of Arimathea in the Bible
Joseph came from Arimathea, a small town in the hill country of Ephraim, some twenty miles north-west of Jerusalem. He was a man of influence and authority, used to moving in political and legal circles. The different gospels give us insight into his character, that he was a rich man, and also a secret disciple of Jesus. He was a prominent member of the Jewish Council, and regarded as a good and upright man. He had not consented to the Sanhedrin’s decision and action to condemn Jesus to death.
What is Nicodemus known for?
The Pharisees were the ‘teachers of the law’ in Israel. They added their own interpretation to the law for the changing times that they were living in. They were inflexible in their adherence to their oral traditions which added a religious burden on the people. But they had influence and the general support of the public.
Nicodemus is mentioned in John’s gospel, when he sought a private interview with Jesus. He came at night, either to be discreet and unseen or because a long conversation would not have been possible in the daytime with the crowds who followed Jesus everywhere. Nicodemus recognised that Jesus was a godly teacher by the signs and miracles that He was doing.
What did Jesus Tell Nicodemus?
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, who were the teachers of the law in Israel, so Jesus spoke clearly to him of God’s love and plan for our salvation. But he struggled to grasp the spiritual concepts of what Jesus was saying – that to enter the kingdom of God we need to be spiritually reborn.
Jesus went on to explain further that as the Son of Man He would be ‘lifted up’ and that everyone who believed in Him would have eternal life. Then Jesus shared these words with Nicodemus, on which we base our hope for the future:
“For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”John 3:16-17
And at the end of the discussion Jesus shares a final thought with Nicodemus, that one day he would have to choose. The time would come to step forward out of the shadows and into the light:
“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”John 3:21
Both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were ‘secret’ disciples of Jesus. They had a lot to lose in publicly acknowledging their belief in Jesus, as the Messiah, the Son of God. But God’s perfect timing had them strategically placed in the right positions, to act at just the right time.
What Did Joseph and Nicodemus Do?
In the darkest moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, when all hope seemed to be lost, God was working. In those times when we feel that He is so far from us, and we cannot see the way forward, He is still working.
It was there at the cross that Jesus triumphed over death. What appeared to be the greatest defeat was in fact an eternal victory, with the glory of the resurrection to come.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, when prompted to act responded together to honour Jesus. Joseph could gain an audience and speak boldly to Pilate because of his position as a member of the Sanhedrin. He could do what the other disciples could not. And Nicodemus was well regarded by the people and could influence the crowds – if there was to be any opposition to their actions.
Who Buried Jesus Christ?
Joseph was no longer concerned about concealment, the injustice that he saw caused him to act, and to step out of the shadows. He wished to arrange a suitable burial for Jesus and was willing to approach Pilate to receive permission.
It was unusual for someone who was not a close relative to make this request. Often the remains of an executed criminal were left unburied, discarded, or at best placed in a pauper’s grave.
Nicodemus had spoken out and challenged his fellow Pharisees on a point of law when they sent the Temple guards to arrest Jesus. He could now see their hypocrisy, how their insistence in observing the law did not prevent them from breaking it, in their desire to see Jesus arrested.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus moved out of the shadows and into the light – the light of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah. There came for them a defining moment to choose – they considered the cost and realised the worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord surpasses all else.
Joseph of Arimathea Bible Verse
A new spirit of reconciliation and unity was beginning as these two men worked together to honor Jesus at the time of His death.
“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who had earlier visited Jesus by night.”John 19:38-39 NIV
Joseph of Arimathea Tomb
They came to prepare the body for burial, as according to their customs. Joseph brought with him a new linen cloth to wrap the body in. Nicodemus brought a large amount of myrrh and aloes to anoint the body with. Then together, they took Jesus’ body to a new tomb, belonging to Joseph. This was in a nearby garden, a place of memorial and reflection. There they placed Jesus, not amongst criminals or in a pauper’s grave, but, with the rich as prophesied by Isaiah:
“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”Isaiah 53:9 NIV
After His death, Jesus’ body was not dishonored and abandoned – God is in every detail. The evidence of Jesus’ death, His body, was secure and in the grave. There could be no doubt cast on the miracle that was still to come. The disciples grief would only be short lived – joy comes in the morning.