Joseph of Arimathea: an Unexpected Hero

An important lesson can be learned when considering what we know of Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible tells us that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, which is the group of Jewish leaders who convicted Jesus to death on the cross. The Bible also tells us that he asked Pontius Pilate for Jesus’ body, which he carefully removed from the cross and buried in his tomb.

“Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.” – Luke 22:52

“Then the high priest stood before them and asked Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They ALL condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards took him and beat him.” – Mark 14:60-65

A few verses later, after Jesus was crucified, we learn the following:

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.” – Mark 15:43-46

In just a handful of verses, we learn much about Joseph of Arimathea. For one, he contributed to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (53:9), which was written around seven hundred years earlier:

“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

We learn that Joseph was a prominent man in the Sanhedrin and the Sanhedrin had voted in favor of Jesus’ condemnation. And we may assume that his guilt of association may have led to his desire to give Jesus a proper burial. In Romans 2:15, Paul tells us that our consciences will convict us, so we do what we can to make amends. Joseph did what he could to make amends. He had not consented to their decision (Luke 24:51).

We also learn that women followed and witnessed Joseph of Arimathea’s actions and Jesus’ burial in Joseph’s tomb. Jesus’ family and His apostles were poor and likely had no tomb of their own to give Jesus a proper burial, so God intervened by working through Joseph of Arimathea. Furthermore, Jesus’ male apostles were not present during this period. They were in hiding. They only came out from hiding when the women, including Mary Magdalene, reported that the tomb was empty (in all four gospels). Women were the first to encounter Jesus after He resurrected. This is notable since women were not regarded as the sources of valid testimonies during that time. (See Josephus).

Finally, we learn of Jesus’ forgiveness. Even though Joseph of Arimathea voted to condemn Jesus, along with other prominent members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, Jesus forgave Joseph. Jesus forgives and loves and if we have faith in Him, we can all be saved. Joseph bravely approached Pilate, knowing that Pilate knew he was among those who had voted to crucify Jesus. As embarrassing as that must have been, he checked his ego at the door and asked Pilate to give him the chance to do something good for the Lord. He knew what he did was wrong – and he wanted to right the wrong. He will forever be remembered not as the one who convicted Jesus, but as the one who repented and showed us that it is never too late to bear our own crosses and to follow Jesus.

Thank you for your time.

7 Replies to “Joseph of Arimathea: an Unexpected Hero”

  1. Perhaps the ALL means all those present. I think this more likely – the indecent haste of the Sanhedrin leaders to dispose of Jesus probably meant it was impossible to get 100% attendance (Congress and Parliament often witness an undignified scramble by parties to get representatives in for votes they might lose). Joseph was joined in his request for the body by Nicodemus, another Sanhedrin member, and they might have chosen not to attend, knowing they would not get a hearing. It was Nicodemus who had said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him”, and who spoke out against any hasty condemnation of Jesus (John 7:50-52). They must have discussed Jesus and his ministry over a period of time and came to the conclusion that they should identify with him not against him. One wonders whether they were present among the 120, or the 3000 on the day of Pentecost.

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