The Pulpit Commentary

John 19:38-42 (John 19:38-42)

(7) The burial—the two friends, Joseph and Nicodemus .

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John 19:41 (John 19:41)

Now there was in the place where he was crucified, close at hand to the very cross, a garden, and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein as yet no man was laid (on site, see John 19:17 , notes). John alone tells us of the "garden;" and he clearly saw the significance of the resemblance to the "garden" where Christ agonized unto death, and was betrayed with a kiss, and also to the garden where the first Adam fell from the high estate of posse non peccare. We are not told, however, by him that this sepulcher was Joseph's own (Matthew gives this explanation), nor that it was cut out of a rock, nor the nature or quality of it. Matthew, Luke, and John remark that it was καίνον , not simply νέον , recently made, but new in the sense of being as yet unused, thus preventing the possibility of any confusion, or any subordinate miracle, such as happened at the grave of Elisha ( 2 Kings 13:21 ), and so our Lord's sacred body came into no contact with corruption. Thus from the hour of death, in which the love of God in Christ is seen at its most dazzling moral luster, and the glorification of Christ in his Passion reaches its climax, death itself beaus to put on new unexpected forms and charms:

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John 19:38-42 (John 19:38-42)

The burial of Jesus.

It was an honorable interment.

I. THE DEVOTED MINISTRY OF FRIENDS . "After this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave."

1. The character and position of Joseph.

2. His application to Pilate .

(a) The disciples, who were openly identified with him in life forsake him in his last extremity, and have no share in the honors of his burial.

(b) Two disciples, who had no open relations with him in life, step forward boldly at his death, and give him the last offices of the dead.

II. THE ASSOCIATION OF NICODEMUS WITH JOSEPH IN THE HONOR DONE TO THE DEAD . "And there came also Nicodemus, which, at the first, came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pounds."

1. The character and position of Nicodemus .

2. The two friends wind the body of Jesus in linen with spices, and then place it in the sepulcher of Joseph.

3. The two friends then disappear from history .

(a) It is better to be a timid disciple than none at all.

(b) There are drawbacks to secret disciples' life. How much they lost by missing the opportunity of constant association with Christ in life!

(c) Timidity does not save men from annoyance. Joseph and Nicodemus would lose the confidence of those with whom they were still visibly identified, while they would be exposed to the first just reproach of Christ's open friends.

(d) Let none of us tread the solitary way, but rather openly confess the Lord.

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John 19:38-42 (John 19:38-42)

The last stage of the Savior's humiliation.

John, who presents to us the most sublime views of the Divine nature and glory of the Christ, does not shrink from relating in this passage to how deep humiliation that Christ condescended.

I. THE HISTORICAL PURPOSE FULFILLED BY CHRIST 'S BURIAL . It is observable that all four evangelists record, and with many details, the interment of the Son of man. This is accounted for, not so much by any intrinsic importance belonging to burial, as by its intermediate position between the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord.

1. The burial of Jesus is of moment, as establishing the fact of his actual death. It has been absurdly contended by some infidel theorizers, at a loss to know how to deal with the evidence for our Lord's subsequent appearances, that he did not really die upon the cross, that he merely fell into a swoon, from which, under the care of his friends, he recovered. If such had been the case, the body could not have been laid in the tomb and left there.

2. The narrative is also conclusive as to the reality of our Lord's resurrection. He could not have risen from the dead unless he had first died. It is not possible to disconnect the several parts of the narrative from one another. As it stands, the record is consistent and credible.

II. THE APPLICANT AND THE APPLICATION . It is remarkable that, in the very crisis when the professed and prominent disciples of Jesus were timid and vanished from the scene, two secret disciples came forward and discharged the last offices of friendship for the Lord in his humiliation. Of Joseph we know that he was from Arimathaea, that he was rich and an honored member of the Sanhedrin, that he did not agree to the condemnation passed upon the Prophet of Nazareth; We also know concerning his religious position that he was one of those who were looking for God's kingdom to be set up, and that he was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly, for fear of the Jews. With Joseph was associated Nicodemus, who seems to have been emboldened by the example of Joseph to come forward, to declare his affection for Jesus, and to take part in the interment of his Master. An illustration of the contagion of a courageous example, which may be commended to those who are hesitating between secret and open discipleship. With respect to Pilate, it is to be observed that, as he had no personal hostility to Jesus, and probably took a pleasure in annoying the Jewish leaders, he was naturally willing enough, apparently without being bribed, to agree to the request of Joseph. He satisfied himself, by the testimony of the centurion, that Jesus was dead, and then suffered the applicant to take the body. Thus neither was the corpse exposed during the Paschal solemnities, nor was it consigned to the indignity of a criminal's interment.

III. THE PLACE AND MANNER OF THE BURIAL . Tender care is manifested in every line of this picture. Affectionate hands wound the body in folds of costly linen. Consecrated wealth placed myrrh and aloes in the folds. Generous fellowship offered the tomb which was designed for the owner's family, but which was deemed to be honored and sanctified by becoming the temporary abode of the Savior's form. Strong and willing hands rolled the great stone against the opening to the rock-hewn sepulcher. Reverent and loving women, who had watched the Sufferer when on the cross, now watched the lifeless body consigned to its peaceful resting-place. These are homely incidents, but they are hallowed and glorified by the human love which they reveal. Fancy lingers by the garden which was the scene of these ministrations, and finds it seemly that, as a garden had witnessed the Savior's agony, a garden also should witness his repose.

IV. THE WONDROUS FACT OF CHRIST 'S BURIAL . That Jesus, being what he was, the Son of God, the Lord of glory, the King of men, should consent to die and to be buried, is amazing indeed. That such a life—a life devoted to benevolent purposes, a life evincing the possession of irresistible power—should end in the grave, this appears altogether anomalous. That men should slay their Savior, that he should consent to die, that the Father in heaven should suffer such an end to such a career,—this must fill a thoughtful and sensitive observer with wonder akin to fear! Earth was for some hours the sepulcher of the Son of God!


1. We remark Jesus sharing the whole of our lot in its utmost humiliation. He who stooped to the manger at his birth did not disdain the grave after his death. As Son of man, he would shrink from no human experience. It behooved him in all things to be made like his brethren. Thus he qualified himself to be at once our Representative before God, and our eternal Brother—a High Priest touched with a feeling of our infirmities.

2. We remark that the end of our Lord's humiliation was the beginning of his glory and reign. He was made perfect through suffering. Through the grave he passed to the throne. His "precious death and burial" were the means and the introduction to the majesty and dominion which are his of right, and his for ever.


1. Our obligation to gratitude and love is brought strikingly before our hearts when we thus learn what our Savior bore for us.

2. Christians are spiritually to share Christ's death and sepulture. They are buried with Christ,—by their baptism unto his death.

3. The grave loses its terrors to those who know that Jesus shares it with his people. As the tomb could not hold him, so the stone which seals his people's sepulcher shall surely be rolled away.—T.

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John 19:38-42 (John 19:38-42)

Secret discipleship.


I. THAT JESUS IN EVERY AGE HAS SOME SECRET DISCIPLES . There are two mentioned here—Joseph and Nicodemus. Why were they secret?

1. Because of the danger with which they were surrounded . "For fear of the Jews." What were the influences which excited their fear?

2. Their natural timidity of disposition . We may well assume that the natural disposition of Joseph and Nicodemus was modest, thoughtful, cautious, timid, and retiring; and this naturally influenced their public conduct. Their disposition was the very reverse to Peter's, and their temptation would lie in an opposite direction. On account of natural disposition it is no effort, and consequently no virtue, in one to be brave and heroic; while in the other it is the difficult task of life.

3. The essential incompleteness of their faith . Faith in Christ at this time, in the best, was weak and imperfect. It was so in the disciples, who had all the advantages of Christ's ministry and miracles. What must it have been in these more distant and secret disciples? They had not enjoyed the advantages of religious education, and therefore their faith was naturally incomplete.

4. Nevertheless, they were genuine disciples . The fear of the Jews, although it had some influence with them, was not really predominant. Publicity of profession is not a guarantee for sincerity; neither is secrecy a barrier to it. Every true discipleship commences in secret, and has much that is secret throughout its career. The true moral force of man is in the secrecy of his heart.


1. Additional evidence to faith.

2. The death of Christ, in itself, was calculated to draw out latent love and courage. Death is a circumstance which has a tendency to lessen man's faults and magnify his virtues. Of the former Jesus had none, and through the gloom of death the latter shone with Divine brilliancy. In the timid breast they would naturally inspire conscience with regret, and with a desire to make amends, and would fan the smoking flax of love into flame. Only at the death of a dear one we and others come to know how much we loved him in life. Joseph and Nicodemus never knew that they loved Jesus so much till he was crucified and had passed away.

3. Latent love and courage were brought out by example . Joseph came out first, and his example was inspiring. Nicodemus caught the contagion, being the most timid of the two, and he came also; probably he watched the movements of Joseph. He was almost dying to show his respect and love to the crucified One, but felt too weak till he saw the decided action of his stronger brother. This at once decided his course, and he came also. Joseph and Nicodemus doubtless held many a secret converse on the object of their common love, and one encouraged and inspired the other.


1. A courageous request . Joseph came to Pilate to ask permission to take away the body of Jesus to be buried. This was a bold venture, as expressed by Mark, involving considerable personal risk, and so contrary to his natural temper and past conduct. But he is now his new self and not his old, or his old and real self in its true garb.

2. A courageous and loving deed . Permission was given. His inspired venture proved successful. His eloquent request was granted, and he took away the body. This was a public act, in which he shared and for which he was responsible. His fear of losing position, caste, and wealth is now gone. He is under the sway of the opposite principle of love. It is not the fear of the Jews, but the love of Jesus, sways him now, and he is soon joined by a timid brother.

3. Benevolent gifts .

4. All this was manifested at the darkest hour .


1. That general sincerity of character is advantageous to the reception of Jesus. Joseph was a just and honorable man. This was his general character, and to such Jesus must recommend himself.

2. In the most wicked councils generally there are some good men . In the very nest of his murderers Jesus had at least two genuine friends.

3. Genuine principle, however weak, will triumph in the end . Life ultimately will make itself seen and felt. Those who sincerely come to Jesus by night will come to him at last by day, and in the day of greatest need.

4. Jesus has ever some secret disciples, who wilt do for him what others will or cannot. It was intended that he should have a princely burial. If in life he was with the poor, he was with the rich in his death. No one could foresee how this could come to pass; but Jesus had secret friends among the rich, and they buried his body in a rich fashion, very befitting. Others buried him; he rose himself.

5. Christ was more influential in death than in life . In life he had failed to draw Joseph and Nicodemus out publicly; but in death they could not resist the attraction. He said, "If I die, I will draw;" and here is a striking illustration, but not the only one.—B.T.

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