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Nicodemus’ Participation

“So, after these things, Joseph, who was from Arimathea and a disciple of Jesus (covertly out of fear of the Jews), asked Pilate that he might take down the body of Jesus. And Pilate commanded it. So, he went and took down his body. And Nicodemus, who had formerly gone to him at night, came also, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloe — about a hundred pounds.”

(John 19:38-39)

We find that John identifies that Nicodemus joins Joseph in securing Jesus’ body for burial. Why the other evangelists do not record Nicodemus’ presence is a matter of speculation. Joseph is clearly mentioned as the man who approached Pilate, but perhaps John has lingered still and witnesses a second man joining Joseph. Given that John is the only one to record Jesus’ earlier meeting with Nicodemus, perhaps he considers that significant. It could also be suggested that, as John is writing his Gospel much later than the Synoptics, that perhaps Nicodemus was still keeping a low profile when the earlier gospels were written (remember, he was a member of the Sanhedrin). Then, by the time John writes his gospel, his involvement has become more widely known. A definite answer on this we will not have until heaven, but nonetheless, John makes a clear point that he was present.

The practice that they are engaging in is called “Taharah,” and is a ritual preparation of the body for burial. It is considered to be the last and most sincere gift that one can give to the deceased because that kindness cannot be repaid. It is more than just the practical dressing of the body, it is an act of kindness, one that honors the fact that the deceased is an Image-Bearer of God, and is done with reverence. Even today, it is a beautiful thing.

Some commentators suggest that the weight of spices is exaggerated, given the wealth of Joseph and Nicodemus, it is hard to believe that John is exaggerating the amount. Josephus records that when Gamaliel died (between 40-50 AD), eighty pounds of spice was used in the burial of this Jewish teacher — the quantity brought at the burial of Herod the Great was even larger. It should also be noted that our English translations will vary some in the record here. The ESV and the NIV record “seventy-five pounds” and the NASB and the KJV traditions record “a hundred pounds.” Which is true? 

This is not so much a matter of textual tradition as it is that of translation philosophy. According to research done, a Roman pound was the equivalent of twelve ounces (like we would still measure gold and silver today). So, in the case of the NASB and the KJV, they are simply translating the words that are found in the text. The ESV and the NIV are choosing to interpret the weight for the reader, translating it into contemporary English measurements. Unless one is aware of this conversion, it can be confusing and even a bit misleading…it reminds me of the old puzzle my dad used to catch me with: “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?” The answer, of course, is “a pound of feathers” because feather-pounds are 16 ounces and gold-pounds are only 12. So, which is heavier? Seventy-five English pounds or 100 Roman pounds? Neither, they are the same.

And so the final kindness is demonstrated to Jesus as these two men prepare his body for the tomb — hurriedly as the Sabbath is soon to start.

Joseph of Arimathea

“When evening came, a rich man from Arimathea, who was named Joseph (and was also a disciple of Jesus), arrived. And he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. This, Pilate commanded to be given him.”

(Matthew 27:57-58)

“Joseph, who was from Arimathea, a respected Counselor who was also waiting for the Kingdom of God, came and dared to approach Pilate and ask him for the body of Jesus.”

(Mark 15:43)

“And behold! A man named Joseph, who was a Counselor and a good and righteous man, who did not agree with the Council’s action toward him, who was from Arimathea (a Jewish city) and who was waiting for the Kingdom of God, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.”

(Luke 23:50-52)

“So, after these things, Joseph, who was from Arimathea and a disciple of Jesus (covertly out of fear of the Jews), asked Pilate that he might take down the body of Jesus. And Pilate commanded it. So, he went and took down his body.”

(John 19:38)

Here is the only spot in the Bible where we are introduced to Joseph of Arimathea. We know very little about either the man or the place from where he came. Based on the writings of Jerome and Eusebius, most scholars hold that Arimathea was the contemporary city located at Ramah, where the Judge Samuel was born (1 Samuel 1:19). This was a Jewish city located close to the border between Judea and Samaria and quite possibly one that Jesus frequented as he traveled through the Samaritan region.

We are also told that Joseph is a “Counselor.” Given his Jewish identity, this is most likely a reference to the Sanhedrin (which explains his connection to Nicodemus). We are told here that he was a follower of Jesus (at least behind the scenes), he was awaiting the Kingdom of God, and that he was discontent with the way that the trials of Jesus were handled. Hence he is called a “good and righteous man” — good, not in the eternal sense, but good in the sense that he was moral and had integrity.

Mark further tells us that he “dared” to approach Pilate. The term τολμάω (tolmao), which is used here, implies that there was a real sense of risk associated with this request. Perhaps it was risking his personal cleanliness just prior to the Sabbath, or it could have been his standing amongst the Jews of the Sanhedrin, or perhaps it was simply that of intruding on the home of a Roman official to request a favor on behalf of a convicted criminal. Perhaps it was all three. Even so, Joseph’s act stands as a reminder to us that no matter the risk or dangers, there are times in which we must act. In this case, not just out of Jewish propriety (as noted above), but out of integrity and to do a friend a kindness. Indeed, doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do (regardless of public opinion or the consequences) is the mark of integrity.

So, as we reflect and meditate on this “Good Friday” — “good” because of the work Jesus accomplished on the cross for those who believe — one of the questions we must be quick to ask ourselves is whether we will walk with the integrity of this man and whether or not we will cease being “closet Christians” (which is an oxymoron) and be bold in our witness and in our testimony to the world that there is only one name under heaven by which man may be saved and that is the name of Jesus Christ.