THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD BODY OF JESUS AND SECURING HIS GRAVE FULFIL MESSIANIC PROPHECY AND SUPPORT THE VALIDITY OF HIS RESURRECTION
Donald Hagner: In the kerygma of the early church it is not only the death of Jesus that is important but also his burial (see 1 Cor 15:3–4; Acts 13:29). The burial is further confirmation of the reality of Jesus’ death; together they provide the necessary prelude to the resurrection itself. As with the death and resurrection, the burial of Jesus is applied spiritually to the life of the Christian in the Pauline letters (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12).
Grant Osborne: This is a transition story that both concludes the crucifixion and prepares for the resurrection. The emphasis is on the reality of Jesus’ death and its significance as the death of the royal Messiah.
David Thompson: The book of Matthew is designed to teach that Jesus Christ was Israel’s Messiah, King and Savior. The book begins with Jesus’ kingly lineage. It develops with Jesus’ kingly life. In the 27th chapter we see Jesus’ kingly death and, as we near the end of the chapter, we see Jesus’ kingly burial.
THE BURIAL OF JESUS CHRIST’S BODY IS A FULFILLMENT OF BIBLICAL PROPHECY, WHICH CLEARLY PROVES JESUS CHRIST IS THE GOD / KING / SAVIOR.
Approximately 700 years before these events occurred, Isaiah, God’s prophet, predicted this: “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” Isaiah predicts that somehow Jesus’ death and grave will be connected to a rich man. Here in Matthew is the literal fulfillment of that prediction.
Thomas Constable: Matthew emphasized two things about Jesus’ burial:
- the fulfillment of prophecy,
- and the impossibility of the theory that someone stole Jesus’ body.
Stu Weber: Jesus the Messiah died and was buried, proving that he paid for our sin and that his resurrection was the miracle the Bible claims it to be. Matthew’s description of Jesus’ burial is brief and to the point. But it is also critical. The fact that Jesus was dead and buried is the foundation on which the validity of the Resurrection is based. . .
Despite Pilate’s provision of a well-trained Roman guard and the seal of the Roman Empire on Jesus’ tomb, the king would prove that he was still in control. Nothing – not even the long arm of Rome’s “sovereign” power – would be able to prevent his victorious return to life.
Leon Morris: Matthew prepares us for the resurrection narrative by recounting the way Jesus’ burial was carried out and the precautions that were taken to ensure that nobody stole the body out of the tomb. We might have expected family members to arrange for the burial, or if not, then some of his close followers, but Matthew brings into the narrative Joseph of Arimathea, who went to see Pilate to get permission to bury Jesus and then placed him in his own tomb. This was an action of some generosity, for a rock tomb was expensive, and it was not permitted to bury a criminal in a family grave (Sanh. 6:5; cf. Daube, pp. 310-11); the tomb could probably not be used afterward for anyone else. Matthew goes on to tell us that the Jewish leaders recalled Jesus’ prophecy that he would rise from the dead and persuaded Pilate to secure the tomb until the third day after the crucifixion.
I. (:57-61) BURYING JESUS IN A RICH MAN’S NEW TOMB
A. (:57-58) The Initiative of Joseph of Arimathea
- (:57) Coming Out as a Disciple of Jesus
“And when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.”
Donald Hagner: i.e., Friday but before the beginning of the sabbath, the dead body of Jesus still hung on the cross. . . .
Matthew uses the word “rich” to indicate the kind of power and influence Joseph had to make his request of Pilate and to have it granted.
Charles Swindoll: Perhaps emboldened by Joseph’s willingness to reveal his devotion to Jesus before his fellow Jerusalem elites, Nicodemus – a Pharisee and also a member of the Sanhedriin – who had encountered Jesus earlier in His ministry (John 3:1-21), also stepped out of the shadows and assisted in what had to be a very hasty and incomplete burial before sundown (John 19:39-40).
Leon Morris: It is not without its interest that the crucifixion that sent most of Jesus’ followers into hiding had the opposite effect on Joseph and brought him out into the open. . . That he was able to speak to the governor gives us some indication of his importance.
- (:58) Calling upon Pilate to Release to Him the Body of Jesus
“This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
Then Pilate ordered it to be given over to him.”
David Turner: The bodies of those who had died by crucifixion were often not given a proper burial, but left on the crosses to disintegrate or thrown on the ground to be disposed of by scavengers and natural decay. But Jewish piety objected to any body being left unburied (Deut 21:22–23), and so there was provision there for the burial of those executed (Josephus, War 4.317) in a common burial plot rather than in a family tomb. To provide proper burial for someone otherwise unprovided for was a valued act of charity (Tob 1:16–18); cf. the provision for the burial of “strangers” in 27:7. But the provision of a new, rock-cut tomb for Jesus was quite exceptional, and indicates that Joseph was motivated by more than conventional piety. It is, like the act of the woman who anointed Jesus in 26:6–13, a quite extravagant act of devotion.
John Schultz: Late in the afternoon, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body so it could be buried before the beginning of the Sabbath. The Pulpit Commentary comments: “It was the Roman custom to leave criminals hanging on the cross for days, till their bodies were devoured by birds and wild animals; the Jewish Law enacted that when bodies were penally suspended, they should be taken down and buried before night (… Deuteronomy 21:22, 23), that the land might not be defiled. Tomorrow (beginning at sunset), being a specially solemn day, as combining the sabbath and the Passover celebration, the Jews were particularly anxious that the crucified bodies of our Lord and the two robbers should be taken away and put out of sight before the sabbath began.”
Commenting on Joseph’s actions, The Pulpit Commentary states: “We must remember that this act of Joseph and his friends was not only a bold proceeding, but an act of great self-denial. Contact with a corpse caused ceremonial defilement of seven days’ duration, and thus they would be debarred from taking their part in the great Paschal solemnity, with its solemn and joyful observances. But the love of Jesus and the unselfish desire to render him honor enabled them to rise superior to religious prejudices, and willingly to make the required sacrifice.”
B. (:59-60) The Internment of the Body of Jesus
- (:59) Preparation of the Body
“And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,”
- (:60a) Placement of the Body
“and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock;”
David Turner: There are many rock-cut tombs of the period in and around Jerusalem. Many are large family vaults with spaces for a considerable number of bodies, and Joseph, as a rich man, is likely to have had such a tomb quarried out for his own family. That he should be prepared to use it for Jesus is a mark of considerable loyalty, especially when it was “new,” which both Luke and John explain as meaning that no one had yet been buried there. The point is significant for apologetics, in that it makes it more difficult to explain the women’s discovery as due to mistaken identity: there was only one body in the tomb.
D. A. Carson: Tombs were of various kinds. Many were sealed with some sort of boulder wedged into place to discourage wild animals and grave robbers. But an expensive tomb consisted of an antechamber hewn out of the rock face, with a low passage (cf. “bent over,” Jn 20:5, 11) leading into the burial chamber, which was sealed with a cut disk-shaped stone that rolled in a slot cut into the rock. The slot was on an incline, making the grave easy to seal but difficult to open. Several men might be needed to roll the stone back up the incline. This sort of tomb is presupposed in the gospel records.
- (:60b) Protection of the Body
“and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.”
C. (:61) The Identity of Two Women Witnesses to the Location of the Tomb
“And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.”
Donald Hagner: The body of Jesus is taken and buried by an influential man who was a disciple of Jesus. The location of the tomb in which the body of Jesus was placed is thus directly known to a disciple of Jesus. And a further guarantee of the location of the tomb is the note that the two Marys were also there opposite the tomb.
D. A. Carson: No mourning was permitted for those executed under Roman law. The women followed with broken but silent grief and watched the burial.
II. (:62-66) SEALING AND SECURING THE GRAVE
Donald Hagner: There is a twofold miscalculation here.
- First, the Jewish authorities underestimate Jesus by failing to realize God’s purpose in and through him. That Jesus could rise from the dead they wrongly rule out a priori. And when they have no explanation for what happened to the body of Jesus, ironically they invent the very lie they attempted to protect against (28:13).
- Second, they overestimate the disciples, who were not thinking of Jesus’ words about rising from the dead and whose psychological condition hardly made it possible for them to perpetrate such a hoax as the Jewish authorities feared.
The incongruous, ironical result is that the opponents took Jesus’ words about rising from the dead more seriously than did the disciples. A vague fear in this case was a greater motivation than the hope of the disciples. Calling attention to the irony in the passage, Gnilka aptly concludes: “The laughter of God roars through the pericope” (2:489). Such must be said also of the pericope that completes this one (28:11–15).
Charles Swindoll: The last five verses in this chapter are unique to Matthew’s account. In a sort of addendum to the description of the burial, Matthew cuts to the chief priests and Pharisees again trying to manipulate things behind the scenes by plotting and conniving. Matthew points out that they did all of this “on the next day, the day after the preparation” (27:62). That is, they were doing all this work on the Sabbath, which was forbidden by Jewish Law. Those hypocrites who had condemned Jesus and His disciples for “working” on the Sabbath were now hard at work against the so-called deceiver they had condemned!
Grant Osborne: Nearly all commentaries and studies of the Resurrection Narrative begin the resurrection narrative with 28:1, viewing the posting of the guard at the tomb (27:62-66) as the final event of the transition from the Passion Narrative to the Resurrection Narrative. While viable, this is not the best way to view Matthew’s structure. While vv. 51-61 relate to the crucifixion, vv. 62-66 contain material that connect it more closely to the resurrection (Jesus’ promise to “rise again” after three days, the guards, and the sealing of the tomb).
The Matthean account is structured beautifully, showing the contrast between Jesus/God and his opponents. It is structured in three episodes, each with two parts contrasting the efforts of Jesus’ enemies with the victory of the Risen Lord/God over them (as in the infancy narratives):
- Preparation: The setting of the guard (27:62-63) vs. the going forth of the women (28:1)
- Reaction: The fear of the guard (28:2-4) vs. the joy of the women (vv. 5-10)
- Results: The spreading of lies (vv. 11-15) vs. the proclamation of truth (vv. 18-20).
In this way Matthew shows the exaltation and glory of the enthroned Lord whose enemies are “a footstool for [his] feet” (Ps 110:1). Also there is a contrast between the figures involved in the action, between the guards and the women and between the leaders and the supernatural actions of God (see Luz).
A. (:62-63) Concern of the Jewish Religious Leaders
- (:62) Meeting with Pilate on the Sabbath
“Now on the next day, which is the one after the preparation,
the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate,”
- (:63) Mention of Jesus’ Resurrection Prophecy
“and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’”
Thomas Constable: Jesus was in the tomb only about 36 hours, but because these hours included parts of three days the Jews viewed the period as three days long (cf. Matthew 12:40). The fact that Jesus’ prediction of His resurrection had reached the ears of these men reflects badly on the disciples’ lack of faith. They should have understood and believed that Jesus would arise since knowledge of His prediction of this event was so widespread. These Sanhedrin members did not believe Jesus would rise. They wanted to guard against any plot that His disciples might concoct alleging that He arose. The Jews needed Pilate’s approval for any military action.
Jesus’ first “deception” from their viewpoint was His messiahship, and His last (second) was His claim that He would rise form the dead. The chief priests and Pharisees wanted to protect the people form deception. Matthew viewed their action as self-deception designed to deceive others. They had formerly accused Jesus of being a deceiver (Matthew 26:4).
B. (:64-65) Command to Secure the Grave
- (:64) Rationale for the Command
Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”
David Turner: The authorities’ fears focus (explicitly at least) not on the possibility that Jesus might actually rise from death, but on the opportunity for his disciples to cash in on such language to stage a fake resurrection (an explanation which they will continue to uphold even after the event, 28:13–15). A Messiah allegedly returned to life after being officially executed for blasphemy, will, they rightly perceive, be far more dangerous to their religious authority than Jesus had been while alive.
D. A. Carson: The disciples disbelieved Jesus’ words about rising again, not because they could not understand the plain words, but because they had no frame of reference capable of integrating a dying and rising Messiah into their own messianic expectations. Shattered by the demoralizing turn of events, they cowered in fear (Jn 20:19), unable and even unwilling to trust their judgment and understanding on anything except the terrible fact that their Messiah had been crucified.
Leon Morris: They were probably uneasy that the body had been given to friends of Jesus for burial, so they wanted to make sure that no one removed the body from the tomb where it had been placed. Accordingly they asked Pilate to take steps to ensure that the body was not stolen. “Command,” they say, for it was only the governor who could order troops to be stationed at the tomb. There was, of course, no reason why they should not have put some of the temple police there, but evidently they felt that some Roman soldiers would be preferable. In any case, once they had handed Jesus over to the Romans he would have been removed from their control and they might not have any rights at the sepulchre. Therefore looks to Jesus’ prophecies. They are not saying that there was a danger that the ordinary kind of grave robber would remove Jesus’ body (and they probably would not have been greatly concerned had this taken place). But because of the prophecies they wanted a guard. They wanted the tomb to be made secure; they did not specify that they wanted soldiers to be there, but security demanded no less. They wanted help until the third day, for that was the time specified in the prophecies, and if the disciples stole the body after that time they could point out that Jesus’ words had not been fulfilled. But if the body was stolen within that time, the disciples could claim that he was raised from the dead. It is, of course, true that the disciples would have had a difficult time claiming a resurrection when all they had was a dead body, but the leaders did not want to give them the opportunity. If such a claim were made, they thought, “the last error will be greater than the first.” Presumably they saw Jesus’ claim to messiahship as the first error and a claim to resurrection as a possible last. They were castigating his teaching and specifically they called his prophecy of his resurrection an error and held that a claim to resurrection would be an even greater error. They did not consider for a moment that there was any element of truth in what Jesus had said.
- (:65) Receptivity to Issuing the Command
“Pilate said to them,
‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.’”
Robert Gundry: The chief priests had temple guards at their disposal. But to use them the chief priests wouldn’t have had to make a request to Pilate; nor would they later need to shield them from Pilate’s anger for failure at guard duty, for their own guards weren’t answerable to him (28:14). So “Have a guardsquad” means that Pilate is providing them with guards.
Van Parunak: It is sometimes suggested (France, Carson) that he is cynically sending them off to use their own temple guard. But the use of a Latin loan word here, the term “soldiers” in 28:12, and the fact that the guard is afraid that Pilate will care what became of the body, all show that these are Romans. We know that the group that arrested the Lord included a Roman cohort (John 18:3) as well as the temple guard (Luke 22:52), and Pilate is likely referring to this previously assigned body of soldiers. “Take the same men I gave you for the arrest.”
[Alternative View] David Turner: The Jewish leaders want Pilate to deploy his own troops, but he prefers to leave the responsibility to them; “you have a guard” refers to the Jewish temple guards (see on 26:47). It is their problem; let them take care of it with their own resources. The less natural alternative translation, “Take a guard”, would probably indicate that Pilate made a detachment of his own soldiers available, and the fear of punishment by the governor (v. 14) has led some to assume that this was so. But the fact that the guard will subsequently report back not to Pilate but to the priests (28:11), and that the governor’s hearing of their failure is mentioned only as a possibility (28:14), makes it more probable that it was the temple guards that were used. The sealing of the tomb is an additional precaution along with the presence of a guard who were supposed to maintain constant watch.
Grant Osborne: Thus, Pilate does the same as he did at the trial, seeking to please the leaders and avoiding controversy during the volatile period of the Passover. Even though he is filled with contempt for them, he does not want any further trouble from these Jewish diehards.
C. (:66) Commitment to Secure the Grave
“And they went and made the grave secure,
and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”
David Thompson: The grave is made secure three ways:
1) large stone;
2) stationed guard;
3) sealed tomb.
The only way that body would get out of that tomb would be through a miraculous resurrection.
John Schultz: According to Edersheim, in his book about Israel in the days of Jesus, the large stone that closed the grave was held in place by smaller stones and the seal was placed between those little stones and the large one. The leaders of the nation felt more threatened by Jesus in His death than they did during His life! Their fear about what a dead Jesus could do to them must have evoked the ridicule of “the One enthroned in heaven. David wrote: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.”
There must have been something frightening in Jesus’ own announcement of His resurrection. It meant that He had foretold His own death. It meant that death had not come to Him as an unpleasant surprise. Everything had gone so far according to plan, Jesus’ plan. The strange phenomenon is that those who hated Him paid more attention to what He had said than those who loved Him.
We must think of the similarity between the sealing of Jesus’ tomb and the seal placed on the lions’ den in which Daniel was supposed to find death. Human initiative tries to seal stones in an effort to prevent what God had promised to do on the basis of the blood of an eternal covenant. No power in heaven or hell would have been able to prevent the resurrection of Jesus Christ.