“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.”
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.
“Again, they continued screaming, ‘Take him up! Take him up! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ And the chief priests answered, ‘We do not have a King except for Ceasar!’”
Those final words, “we have no king but Ceasar,” would be scandalous were individuals had spoken them during Jesus’ day, but it is not just individuals making this statement…in fact, it is not even the mob that continues to shout for Jesus’ death. It is the High Priests, those in spiritual leadership amongst the people, who are crying out — people whose only allegiance was to be pledged to God above, not to the men below who ruled over them. It was not to be given to Herod and certainly not to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar.
During Jesus’ lifetime, the Jewish aristocracy held Tiberius in relatively high esteem, even to the point of venerating him. Though Tiberius refused to be worshipped as a god, he did permit a temple to be built in his honor in Smyrna and Herod Antipas (the Herod of this account) built a city on the Sea of Galilee in Tiberius’ honor — a city that Herod would make his Capitol. Yet, the common people still resented Roman rule and the priests should have known better. Nevertheless, in the context of a mob, reason is never a highly esteemed virtue.
The language of “take him up!” should conjure up several images. The first is that of the insult paid by the young boys to Elisha (2 Kings 2:23-25). In a sense, the boys were saying to Elisha, “your master went up to God and out of our lives, you go too!” God judged those boys (and by extension the village) harshly for their sin. But the lifting that the people here had in mind was the lifting of Jesus’ body upon the cross. Yet, that too should conjure up the image of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-15) and how Jesus stated that he would be “lifted up” just as the bronze serpent was lifted up on the cross in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9).
We may not be in a mob context at the moment (I hope that is not the case!), but this should give us a moment to pause to ask ourselves to whom we are loyal. By our actions; by the way we invest our money; by the way we use our time; and by the fashion that we apply our energies…to whom are we loyal? Is it to an institution (even the church!)? Is it to a political party? Is it to a person? Is it to a corporation? Is it to Christ? If your loyalty is to anybody or anything other than to Christ Jesus, you stand convicted as do these chief priests…one cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).