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Meet Joseph of Arimathea – a major, minor character of the Bible

April 2016 | by Timothy Cross

One of the major, ‘minor’ characters of the Bible is a man by the name of Joseph, who hailed from the Jewish town of Arimathea. Truth be told, we do not know a great deal about this Joseph, nor about his home town. It is as though he walks in and out of the limelight in just a few seconds.

But the Holy Spirit, who caused the Bible to be written, has ensured that a brief paragraph is devoted to Joseph of Arimathea in all four Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Spirit would have us know about and learn from Joseph, a man described as ‘a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews’(John 19:38).

In a nutshell, Joseph was to make his outstanding mark on world history as the one who provided his own new rock tomb, as the place in which the Lord Jesus was buried after his crucifixion.

We can learn at least three things from Joseph of Arimathea:

He was devoted to the Lord Jesus

Joseph’s devotion to the Saviour is evident from the Gospel records. His greatness then was not intrinsic, but by association with the Son of God.

After all the cruel hate of Calvary, Joseph’s tender love for Jesus is very moving. Luke, for instance, records how Joseph ‘went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down [from the cross] and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid’ (Luke 23:52ff.).

From this we see that Joseph was devoted to the Lord Jesus both in life and in death, and herein lies his greatness. Herein lies our greatest blessing too, for it is in a faith-union with Christ that we — insignificant though we are in the world’s eyes — receive God’s gift of eternal life.

Paul explained to the Romans, ‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

‘For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his’ (Romans 6:3ff.).

He did one thing well

Joseph of Arimathea is remembered primarily for just one thing: he was the human provider of Jesus’ tomb. He, according to Matthew 27:60, ‘laid [the body of the Lord] in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock.’

At the beginning of Christ’s earthly life, God provided the Lord Jesus with a virgin womb; at the end of his earthly life, God provided Jesus with a virgin tomb — and he did so through his servant Joseph.

There is a message for us here, and it is this: put your all at God’s disposal, for he can use it in a much greater way than you can ever conceive. The message for us is to do even one thing well for God.

Joseph’s one thing was his disposal of his tomb for the Lord. Some of us are hindered and handicapped by the knowledge that we are not widely gifted. Yet surely there is at least one thing we can do for the Lord, which will bring glory to him and blessing to others.

By God’s grace, let us seek out this one matter — a task which is unique to ourselves — and let us do it with all the zeal and strength God gives us.

His tomb became a vacant tomb

Joseph of Arimathea and the empty tomb of the resurrection morning are inextricably bound. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is one of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Joseph buried Jesus, lovingly and securely, in his own tomb, but three days later Jesus rose from the dead. Joseph’s tomb could not contain Christ.

The earliest Christian creed explains that, ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

The detailed fulfilment of Scripture that occurred here is inexplicable apart from divine inspiration. Hundreds of years previously, Isaiah foretold of Christ that ‘they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death’ (Isaiah 53:9).

Matthew 27:57 describes Joseph as ‘a rich man from Arimathea’.David wrote in verse 10 of the messianic Psalm 16: ‘Thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the pit’.

This prophecy was wonderfully fulfilled on the first Easter morning, when the message of the angel rang out from Joseph of Arimathea’s empty tomb, ‘He is not here; for he has risen as he said. Come see the place where he lay’ (Matthew 28:6).

Jesus changes lives

Joseph of Arimathea did what he could with what he had, to the glory of God and to the glory of the risen Saviour, who conquered the grave and is still at work changing lives, even today.

He lives, triumphant from the grave;

He lives, eternally to save;

He lives, all glorious in the sky;

He lives, exalted there on high.

 

He lives to bless me with his love,

And still he pleads for me above;

He lives to raise me from the grave,

And me eternally to save.

Samuel Medley (1783-1799)

Timothy Cross has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC (www.TimothyJCross.org)