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Saturday: The Tomb is Sealed

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“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” (Matthew 27:57–66)

Scripture gives us few details about what happened after the crucifixion of Christ. We do know that when Jesus breathed His last on Friday, a man named Joseph from Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. John’s Gospel tells us that Nicodemus was also involved in the burial (John 20:39–40). These two prominent Jews put Jesus in the tomb before the Sabbath in accordance with the law.

Another thing we know about Saturday is that the chief priests and the Pharisees went before Pilate and reminded him of the message Jesus had proclaimed. They recalled how Jesus, whom they referred to as “that impostor” (Matthew 26:63), spoke of coming back from the dead. They worried about his disciples stealing the body in order to validate Christ’s claims. Pilate told them to make the tomb as secure as possible.

Jesus’ disciples must have been confused. They were there when Jesus told a paralytic that his sins were forgiven (Mark 2:5). They were there when Jesus confronted a woman in her sin told her He was the Christ (John 4). They were there when Jesus declared to the Pharisees that He existed before Abraham was born (John 8:58). Yet, here He was, the Messiah, lying in a tomb. How could this be?

What the disciples didn’t realize at the time was that God’s plan was still being fulfilled. Even the details of Christ’s burial had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah:

And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:9)

The “rich man” referred to in Isaiah’s prophecy was Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Jewish ruling council. It’s worth noting that, even in His death and burial, Jesus seemed to have a transforming effect on people. The willingness of Joseph and Nicodemus to openly receive and bury the body of Jesus is probably an indication that they now wanted to be identified with Him. This is the same Nicodemus who formerly came to Jesus by night. Now he looked to be stepping into the light.

Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, were likely in the depth of despair. However, God was plotting for their ultimate joy. We are reminded that God’s Word is trustworthy, regardless of how things may appear. We are also reminded that the God’s purposes cannot be stopped. Pilate and the Pharisees believed that sealing the tomb and placing security in front of it would put an end to this new movement. But the next day would prove the futility of such gestures.

 (This article created with the assistance of Eric Roberts.)

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and president of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, and Counter Culture.
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