It is Friday around 3pm Jesus is pronounced dead. The long awaited Messiah who would regather the Jews and restore Israel is hanging on a cross. Didn't He say He was the King of the Jews? Didn't He say the kingdom was at hand? Where is the kingdom? How can a dead King reign?
When all of Jesus followers had denied and deserted Him (Mark 14:50, 14:66-72; Matt 26:55-56), and even the women who supported Him were at a distance (Mark 15:40-41;Luke 23:49), an unexpected person comes forward to insure Jesus' body is properly handled. According to Josephus (writing around 70 AD) this was a common practice
Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.
- Jewish War Book 4 Chapter 5.2
This most unlikely person and the last hero of faith presented in Mark (assuming that 16:8 marks the ending of the authentic text) is Joseph of Arimathaea. He is a highly respected/prominent member of the council, which is generally considered to be the Sanhedrin making him a religious leader (Mark 15:43). He is also wealthy (Matt 27:57).
Let's look at what we learn from his faith at the tomb of Jesus. As a religious ruler, Joseph would have been a learned man who studied the Scriptures. He was also regarded as a man who followed the Law (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50) and was waiting for the kingdom of God (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51).
His expectations about the kingdom probably aligned with the Jews of that day. That the Messiah would come, regather the Jews to the land of Israel, restore Israel to prominence, and bring retribution on their enemies. However, something about Jesus has attracted his attention and he starts to follow Him but very covertly becoming a secret disciple of Jesus (Matt 27:57; John 19:38). Certainly he lived and worked among people who were very hostile to Jesus.
On that fateful Thursday Jesus was given a mock trial by the religious leaders and condemned despite the lack of evidence (Mark 14:55,64-65). Here we start to see Joseph have to make a step to becoming a bolder disciple who took a stand for Christ in a hostile environment. Unlike the other religious leaders he did not consent to the plan to kill Jesus (Luke 23:51). That was not the end of the stand that he would have to make that weekend. As Jesus died and with it much of his expectations and theology regarding the kingdom he would have to decide whether Jesus’ body would be properly taken care of. His bold action (Mark 15:43) should be noted for its contrast to the fear in the rest of the discourse presented in Mark (Mark 14:50, 68, 15:40, 16:8).
Going before all of his council members, countrymen, and the Roman government, Joseph asked for the body of Jesus. Mark portrays the hostility of the people around the cross - they were mocking and spitting at Jesus (Mark 15:29-32), so it is not unlikely that Joseph bore similar treatment as he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a linen cloth (Mark 15:46). Then he took the wrapped body and laid it in a tomb and rolled a stone in front of it. From the other accounts we see that it was his tomb (Matt 27:60) and he likely had the help of another council member, Nicodemus (John 19:39).
We can see on that day that Joseph went from covert discipleship to having an active bold faith (the major theme of Mark's gospel).
- He was no longer ashamed of Jesus (Mark 8:38)
- He was willing to deny himself (Mark 8:34) – his action would likely cost him his high regard (reputation) and his position on the council (work). It also likely made him an outcast among other Jews (friends).
- He was looking forward to the kingdom of God, but was willing to repent (Mark 1:15) – that is he changed his mind about what he thought regarding the timing of the kingdom, the work of the Messiah/King, and how one could enter the kingdom.
Joseph of Arimathaea had a faith that follows Jesus. May we have that faith as well.