John 19:38-42 “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.
The time between the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ is a bit obscure as it relates to what was going on in the world in His physical absence. There’s simply not a lot covered with regards to many of the characters, but each of the Gospels does speak on Joseph and laying Christ in “his new tomb” after Preparation (Matt. 27:60). This happened later in the same day that Christ died on the cross. Mark 15:44 tells us that Pilate was “amazed” that the Christ could have died so soon; He did not need to suffer any more than what God had ordained for Him. When Jesus’ time had come and all things had been fulfilled, He yielded up His spirit and died that moment.
We also know that the two Marys watched Jesus being laid in the tomb, and that the Pharisees, on Saturday, would go to Pilate as recorded in Matt. 27:62-66:
On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said,`After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people,`He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.
There are a few occasions in the Gospels where we come across secret disciples. John 19:38 tells us that it was for fear of the Jews that Joseph of Arimathea would keep his faith to himself. By the way, isn’t it gracious how the Bible doesn’t speak in a condemning tone towards Joseph and Nicodemus? While being secretive isn’t a positive highlight for either of them, Scripture says that they were followers of Jesus; it doesn’t question that their faith was genuine, just that they had faith with fear—a place of growth for us all.
Joseph of Arimathea is only mentioned after Jesus had died; there’s no account of him before that time in the New Testament. We learn just a little about him from Mark 15:43: “Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” In Matthew 27:57, it identifies him as such: “Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.” In Luke 23:50-51, it says, “Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God.” The composite image we get is that he was prominent, rich, had a good reputation, was a council member of the Sanhedrin (Pharisees), and had a fancy tomb already prepared (and it very likely cost a lot of money). He, like Nicodemus, had much to lose. Perhaps we might think of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus (Luke 18:18-25); he claimed to have been a keeper of the Law and we know he had great possessions, because giving them up was his line in the sand with following Christ. The common picture of these religious leaders in the Bible is that they were not poor and had much to lose should they abandon their roles or alter their position, such as believing in Jesus.
The first time we will see a secret disciple in the New Testament will be Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus in John 3 in which we get to the most well-known of verses, John 3:16. In the Greek, the word for secret in John 19:38 is “kruptos” from which we get the word “cryptic.” It means to conceal or to keep from being seen. The verb from John 19:38 speaking of Joseph’s fear was a perfect passive verb: he had feared for some time and the fear remained and continued to ensnare him; being a passive verb, Nicodemus was acted upon, or driven, by his fear. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.” The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word for secret in Genesis 3:8, when Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness and hid themselves from God among the trees.
John 3:2 tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night; he was intrigued by Jesus and His message but was so fearful of the repercussions He would incur for becoming a follower as he was a Pharisee—more specifically, a ruler of the Pharisees (Jn. 3:1). We’ll meet him again twice in Scripture: in John 7:50-53, there is a debate among the Jews and without overtly saying he was supportive of Christ, Nicodemus intercedes for Jesus as the Pharisees sent officers to take him (v. 32). Notice Nicodemus’ role from the text:
Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” And everyone went to his own house.
The last time we see Nicodemus mentioned in the accounts of the New Testament is in John 19:39, where he brings “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” From estimates I could find in research, a couple things came up (there’s always room for discrepancy): first, the usual amount used on a body of this kind of mixture was twenty pounds, not 100. Secondly, multiple sources estimate in today’s cost that what Nicodemus provided would be worth about $150,000 to $200,0000 in US dollars. Do you see why these men seemed a little secretive? They both had much to lose; they were both leaders among the Pharisees; they both sought to honor Jesus and were having trouble reconciling their roles with their beliefs. Isaiah 53:9 tells us, “And they made His grave with the wicked– but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”
The call of Christ to follow Him will cost us all something. There is comfort in knowing that God isn’t calling perfect people to follow Him, but rather is calling people out of depravity into a life of conformity to the image of Christ. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” If you are a believer, by the grace of God you are who you are; you’re not who you were and you’re not who you’re being made to be, but by His grace you have been brought thus far. Praise Him this Easter weekend for grace on account of a Savior who died and rose again.
Prayer by Pastor Sam:
Lord, be glorified in our hearts. Forgive us our failures and strengthen us to stand as we move into greater conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. Use us to your pleasure and glory. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.