That You May Believe
Dr. F. J. May and Dr. H. Lynn Stone
Section III – The Lord Reigns Through His Passion (John 18-21)
Lecture 7, THE LORD AND THE TOMB WHICH HELD HIM (John 19:38-42)
Scripture Text – John 19:38-42
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for
fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and
Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there
came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a
mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the
body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the
Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and
in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they
Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulcher was nigh
No earthly kingdom has ever been established from the tomb of a monarch. Yet
there is a sense in which God chose the sepulcher of Christ to inaugurate the Kingdom of
Heaven. It is true that there were manifestations of the Kingdom before the Lord's death.
But His death was not the death of a king. His death was the death of the Son of Man,
dying for the sins of the world. It was from the tomb that He was "declared to be the Son
of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead"
(Romans 1:4). The tomb was not the end of His Lordship. His tomb was at one time both
the culmination of His humanity and the inauguration of His Kingdom.
A. The Lord and the Men Who Buried Him
1. Joseph of Arimathea
All four gospels mention this benefactor of the Lord who breaks abruptly into the
passion story. He has never been mentioned before and we never hear from him again.
John says he was "a disciple, but secretly for fear of the Jews" (see also Matthew 27:57).
Both Mark (15:43) and Luke (23:51) say that he "was looking for the kingdom of
God." Both authors also record that he was a member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43;
Luke 23:50) and Luke further explains, "The same had not consented to the counsel and
deed of them" (Luke 23:51).
The exact same circumstances which caused those disciples who had openly
proclaimed Jesus to suddenly flee from Him had the opposite effect upon this Joseph who
had only "secretly" followed Him. Now he "went in boldly unto Pilate" (Mark 15:43) and
"besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus" (John 19:38).
Neither of the Synoptic writers makes any mention of Nicodemus. John is careful
to point out that he is the same member of the Sanhedrin who had come to Jesus at night.
John also records that at one gathering of the priests and Pharisees Nicodemus said unto
them, "Doth our Law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" (John
But like Joseph it seems that Nicodemus had not been affected by the life and
ministry of Jesus to the point of being willing to openly proclaim Him as Lord. His mind
was centered on this world, as seen in his blindness to the true meaning of Lord's "new
birth." "How can a man be born when he is old?" he .had asked. "Can he enter the second
time into his mother's womb, and be born?" (John 3:4).
But now that He is dead the Lord speaks, much like the writer of Hebrews says of
Able, "by it he being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:4). We don't know the
circumstances. We know not from where nor how he might have witnessed the
crucifixion. But through the Spirit of God which was already at work in the hearts of both
Joseph and Nicodemus, the Lord spoke and they heeded His voice, providing for Him a
burial worthy of the King.
B. The Lord and the Spices Which Anointed Him
1. The Anointing Spices of Nicodemus
Now Nicodemus joins his fellow counselor in the burial of Christ by bringing
approximately one hundred Roman pounds of "a mixture of myrrh and aloes." Since the
Roman "pound" was only twelve ounces as compared to our pound of sixteen ounces,
one hundred Roman pounds would be the equivalent of seventy of our pounds today.
According to Leon Morris, "It was the custom to put spices of this kind in with
the sheets round the body, so Nicodemus was performing a normal courtesy" (p. 825).
However, what was unusual was the amount. This was not a normal amount of burial
At the same time, if the entire body was to be covered by the spices the seventy
pounds would not be excessive. Rather than being the amount needed for the common
burial, this was the amount needed for the royal burial of a king. It can be compared to
the burial of King Asa (II Chron. 16:14).
And they buried him in his own sepulchers, which he had made for himself in the
city of David, and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odours and
divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries' art: and they made a very
great mourning for him.
2. The Anointing Spikenard of Mary of Bethany
However, while the ointments of Nicodemus would insure a proper Jewish burial
fit for a king, this is not the first time that Jesus had been anointed for burial. John has
earlier recorded that when Jesus came to Bethany, "Then took Mary a pound of ointment
of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair:
and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment" (John 12:3). When the disciples
complained about the expense, "Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my
burying hath she kept this" (v. 7).
Matthew explains even further (Matthew 26:6-13).
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto
him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on
his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation,
saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for
much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why
trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have
the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured
this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you,
Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also
this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
Mark's wording is slightly different. "She had done what she could; she is come
aforehand to anoint my body to the burying" (Mark 14:8). But the meaning is the same.
Matthew simply says she "throws" the ointment (MURON) upon Him while Mark uses
the verb form of ointment (MURIDZO), or, she "anoints" Him.
In both instances (cf. also Luke 23:50-56) Jesus strongly affirms that Mary's
action is a blessed anointing for His burial. It was a "pouring out" of an anointing upon
His death. And like the spices of Nicodemus it was a worthy gift, estimated to cost about
300 denarii which would be the equivalent of a common laborer's yearly wages in today's
world. Furthermore, Jesus told the disciples, wherever the Gospel would be preached this
anointing by Mary would be spoken of.
3. The Eternal Significance of Christ's Anointing for Burial
We cannot turn to earthly examples for the complete significance of the Lord's
anointing for burial. It is true that other humans have had even more lavish ointments
administered over their dead bodies. Perhaps there have been some religious rituals in
which living persons were ceremoniously anointed to die as a sacrifice for a particular
god. Or the annals of history may reveal that in some instance a mortal was proclaimed as
a god while yet alive and given a lavish preparation for death.
But never has another earthling been so lavishly anointed for a tomb that would
itself be the platform for kingdom coronation. It was through His tomb that Jesus Christ
entered into the most glorious phase of His Kingdom on earth. From the sepulcher the
Lord would begin His reign.
The true significance of the Lord's anointing for burial, therefore, must be found
in the Scriptures themselves. Consider the two examples given by God
to Moses from the flaming summit of Mount Sinai.
Moreover the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take thou also unto thee principal
spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much,
even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty
shekels, and of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and
of oil olive an hin: and thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment
compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil. And
thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the
testimony, and the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels,
and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt-offering with all his vessels, and
the laver and his foot. And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy
And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha,
and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a
like weight: and thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the
apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: and thou shalt beat some of it very
small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation,
where I will meet with thee: It shall be unto you most holy (Exodus 30:34-36).
So God told Moses, "Thou shalt anoint the tabernacle" with the "holy anointing
oil" and put the "perfume" "before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation,
where I will meet with thee."
The writer to the Hebrews explains that these "serve unto the example and
shadow of heavenly things" because God told Moses to "make all things according to the
pattern shewed to thee in the mount" (Hebrews 8:5). The anointing of Jesus unto His
burial was the anointing of the true tabernacle which was "made flesh" and "tabernacled
among us" and "we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father"
C. The Lord and the Sepulcher Which Held Him
1. The Sepulcher
Because of the swiftly approaching Sabbath ("the Jews' preparation day") the site
chosen for the Lord's burial was in a garden very close to the scene of the crucifixion.
Jesus was placed in Joseph's own tomb (Mt. 27:6) which was "a new sepulcher, wherein
was never man yet laid" (John 19:41). Thus was fulfilled the prophecy by the prophet
Isaiah, "he made his grave ... with the rich in his death" (Isaiah 53:9). Leon Morris
describes it. "Tombs were commonly hewn out of the solid rock, and closed with heavy
stones. The stone at the mouth would run in a groove and finish right over the opening"
2. The Significance of the Tomb
This tomb which belonged to the rich Sanhedrin member in which no body had
ever been placed is significant. As William Hull explains, "The fact that no one had ever
been laid in this rock-hewn tomb made it especially suitable for use by Jesus since Jewish
law prohibited the burying of executed criminals in family tombs" (page 362).
So in the death and burial of Jesus Christ His Lordship is proclaimed. Disciples
who had formerly only followed Him in secrecy and fear now boldly lay claim to His
body. Even in death He is anointed as the Heavenly Tabernacle come to earth whereby
God will now meet with mankind. While He had been executed as a common criminal by
the Roman soldiers, nevertheless He was placed in a tomb befitting a King.
Section 3, The Lord Reigns Through His Passion, Lecture 7
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