Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Buried Friday, an Empty Tomb Sunday
BY NOW it is late Friday afternoon, and the Sabbath of Nisan 15 will begin at sundown. Jesus’ dead body hangs limp on the stake, but the two robbers alongside him are still alive. Friday afternoon is called Preparation because this is when people prepare meals and complete any other pressing work that cannot wait until after the Sabbath.
The Sabbath soon to begin is not only a regular Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) but also a double, or “great,” Sabbath. It is called this because Nisan 15, which is the first day of the seven-day Festival of Unfermented Cakes (and is always a Sabbath, no matter on what day of the week it comes), falls on the same day as the regular Sabbath.
According to God’s law, bodies are not to be left hanging on a stake overnight. So the Jews ask Pilate that the death of those being executed be hastened by breaking their legs. The soldiers, therefore, break the legs of the two robbers. But since Jesus appears to be dead, his legs are not broken. This fulfills the scripture: “Not a bone of his will be crushed.”
However, to remove any doubt that Jesus is really dead, one of the soldiers jabs a spear into his side. The spear pierces the region of his heart, and immediately blood and water come out. The apostle John, who is an eyewitness, reports that this fulfills another scripture: “They will look to the One whom they pierced.”
Also present at the execution is Joseph from the city of Arimathea, a reputable member of the Sanhedrin. He refused to vote in favor of the high court’s unjust action against Jesus. Joseph is actually a disciple of Jesus, although he has been afraid to identify himself as one. Now, however, he exercises courage and goes to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. Pilate summons the army officer in charge, and after the officer confirms that Jesus is dead, Pilate has the corpse handed over.
Joseph takes the body and wraps it in clean fine linen in preparation for burial. He is assisted by Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus also has failed to confess his faith in Jesus because of fear of losing his position. But now he brings a roll containing about a hundred Roman pounds [33 kg] of myrrh and expensive aloes. Jesus’ body is wrapped in bandages containing these spices, just the way the Jews have the custom of preparing bodies for burial.
The body is then laid in Joseph’s new memorial tomb that is carved in the rock in the garden nearby. Finally, a large stone is rolled in front of the tomb. To accomplish the burial before the Sabbath, preparation of the body is hasty. Therefore, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the Less, who have perhaps been helping with the preparation, hurry home to prepare more spices and perfumed oils. After the Sabbath, they plan to treat Jesus’ body further in order to preserve it for a longer period of time.
The next day, which is Saturday (the Sabbath), the chief priests and the Pharisees go to Pilate and say: “Sir, we have called to mind that that impostor said while yet alive, ‘After three days I am to be raised up.’ Therefore command the grave to be made secure until the third day, that his disciples may never come and steal him and say to the people, ‘He was raised up from the dead!’ and this last imposture will be worse than the first.”
“You have a guard,” Pilate answers. “Go make it as secure as you know how.” So they go and make the grave secure by sealing the stone and posting Roman soldiers as guards.
Early Sunday morning Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, along with Salome, Joanna, and other women, bring spices to the tomb to treat Jesus’ body. En route they say to one another: “Who will roll the stone away from the door of the memorial tomb for us?” But on arriving, they find that an earthquake has occurred and Jehovah’s angel has rolled the stone away. The guards are gone, and the tomb is empty! Matthew 27:57–28:2; Mark 15:42–16:4; Luke 23:50–24:3, 10; John 19:31–20:1; 19:14; 12:42; Leviticus 23:5-7; Deuteronomy 21:22, 23; Psalm 34:20; Zechariah 12:10.
◆ Why is Friday called Preparation, and what is a “great” Sabbath?
◆ What scriptures are fulfilled in connection with Jesus’ body?
◆ What do Joseph and Nicodemus have to do with Jesus’ burial, and what is their relationship to Jesus?
◆ What request do the priests make of Pilate, and how does he respond?
◆ What occurs early Sunday morning?