All the Way to Glory: “He was buried”

I’ve never heard anyone say it. “My husband died and they buried him.” “My mother passed away and was buried.” We don’t usually spend time wondering what happened to the body of someone who has died. But when Paul refers to the death of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15, he includes the detail “he was buried” (v4).[1] His burial is important. Why?


The burial of the Lord Jesus Christ is significant because it both proves His death and affirms His glorious resurrection, events which would later be doubted. Scripture makes it clear that the Lord Jesus was unmistakably dead. Even though the Gospel writers avoid the use of the word “dead” at the moment when Christ yielded up His spirit (thus demonstrating His sovereign control), all of them use the word afterward (Mat 27:64; 28:7; Mar 15:44; Luk 24:20,46; Joh 19:33; 20:9; 21:14). Also, the authorities would never allow crucifixion victims to be removed from their crosses unless they were certain of death, a detail Pilate confirmed with the Roman centurion before granting Joseph of Arimathaea permission to secure Jesus’ body (Mar 15:44). So, the swoon theory that Jesus was merely unconscious when they buried Him and subsequently resuscitated in the cool tomb won’t hold. Jesus really died.

And there were witnesses, plenty of them. We’ve already mentioned the centurion but could add the soldiers under his command. They were probably physically closer to Jesus than anyone else when He gave up His life. One of them pierced the Lord’s side with a spear and watched His blood flow. The Apostle John also saw and recorded it (Joh 19:34-35). They knew that Jesus was dead, as did the many women who were following the Lord and were present at His cross. Particular names are given by Matthew of women who could later be questioned. “Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (27:56 NET; see also Mar 15:40-41; Luk 23:49). Luke notes that not only did these women see Christ die, but some of them “saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it” (23:55 NET). Therefore, the “wrong tomb” theory won’t wash either. The women knew exactly where the Lord’s body was, and they knew He was dead. The fact that they came to His tomb later with spices to anoint His body (Mar 16:1) confirms it.

But two more witnesses could be consulted in the days following Christ’s death: Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. They handled His precious body and knew that He was dead. Why would Nicodemus bring “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight” (Joh 19:39) for someone who wasn’t dead? Why would they wrap His body in linen and place Him in Joseph’s new tomb if He were still alive? Also, John notes that this tomb was one “wherein was never man yet laid” (19:41). Only one person was ever in this tomb, and therefore that same person was the only one who could have risen. The burial of the Lord Jesus is proof of His actual death and subsequent resurrection. He alone was buried in the tomb, and He alone burst forth from it in glorious life on the third day. As Paul says, this is gospel truth: “I declare unto you the gospel … how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1Co 15:1-4).


John mentions two specific prophecies that were fulfilled immediately following Christ’s death (see Joh 19:36-37). The fact that the soldiers didn’t break His legs fulfilled Psalm 34:20: “He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.” The piercing of His side fulfilled Zechariah 12:10: “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.”

But in relation to Christ’s burial, another Scripture found fulfillment. Isaiah says, “They intended to bury him with criminals” (53:9 NET). Remarkably, Isaiah foretold that Christ would die a criminal’s death,[2] which is exactly what death by crucifixion was. Note the word “bury.” The Romans left the bodies of crucifixion victims to the vultures, which served as a harsh public warning, but the Jews practiced burial even for such criminals. They didn’t allow the bodies of the condemned to be placed in tombs with other corpses (which would desecrate them), but had a separate burial site for them just outside the city.[3] However, such a site wouldn’t be needed for the Lord Jesus, for the next part of Isaiah’s prophecy mentions “a rich man in [Christ’s] death” (v9 ESV). Enter Joseph of Arimathaea. Although Mark and Luke note that Joseph was a ruler and that he was righteous, Matthew points out that he was rich (27:57), drawing attention to Isaiah’s words. As if right on cue, Joseph, a man of sufficient means to have purchased a new rock-hewn tomb,[4] came to take the body of Jesus. Although the Jews’ intention would’ve been to bury Christ where condemned criminals were buried, Joseph’s arrival kept that from happening and fulfilled Isaiah’s ancient prophecy.

We must also consider the Lord Jesus’ own prophecy in Matthew 12:40, which has given rise to different views about which day He died. The Savior indicated He would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” On more than one occasion Christ told His disciples He would die and that He would rise again, but here He clearly indicates He would be buried “in the heart of the earth.” Some infer from this Scripture that Christ may have been crucified on a Thursday (or even a Wednesday) since “three nights” are mentioned. If He died on a Friday, there would only be two nights in which the Savior was in the tomb. However, it may be preferable to view the words “three days and three nights” as a Jewish colloquial expression for any part of a day. Thus, “it is probably a mistake to read this [Mat 12:40] as giving precision beyond what is rhetorically intended.”[5] Note that the Jewish authorities quoted the Lord as saying, “After three days I will rise again” (Mat 27:63). Did they believe that He was claiming He would therefore rise again on the fourth day? No. They gave instructions to make the tomb secure “until the third day” (v64). Note also that when Jesus prophesied His resurrection, He referred to its timing as both “after three days” (Mar 8:31) and on “the third day” (9:31; 10:34). Neither Christ nor His enemies saw a discrepancy in their own remarks, nor should we. Luke’s timeline (see Luk 23:53-54) makes it clear that Jesus was buried on the day before the Sabbath, which would mean a Friday crucifixion. Christ’s resurrection is repeatedly said to have occurred on “the third day,”[6] not “the fourth day” (or “the fifth day”) as a Thursday (or Wednesday) crucifixion would imply. Regardless of the day, the Lord’s burial involved a fulfillment of prophecy.


Sundown was fast approaching, and with it, the Sabbath. This “Sabbath was an especially important one” (Joh 19:31 NET), since it was Passover. The Jewish leaders were facing a significant challenge to have the bodies[7] removed from the crosses and buried before 6 p.m. (at which time the Sabbath began).[8] As it was 3 p.m. when the supernatural darkness lifted and Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (see Mat 27:45,46), this means the Jews had less than three hours to accomplish the burial task. They couldn’t depend upon the Lord’s disciples since they had abandoned Him.[9] No family member stepped forward to claim His body. The women who were present were from Galilee, so what would they be able to do with His body? Again, it is likely that the rulers would’ve taken the bodies to an outside burial plot for condemned criminals. But just before they were able to act, note the beautiful providence of God, who was working in the hearts of two men to carry out a swift but respectful burial for the Lord Jesus Christ. The 12 may have fled, but two secret disciples suddenly arrived. It seems that God has His servants everywhere!

Joseph and Nicodemus were both members of the Jewish Sanhedrin.[10] Pilate could easily have become irritated by the actions of this ruling body throughout the day. They challenged his loyalty to Caesar. They forced him to act against his own conscience by condemning an innocent man. The whole ordeal troubled his wife with nightmares. Then they tried to pressure him to change the title above Christ’s cross. The last person Pilate wanted to see was yet another member of the Sanhedrin coming to him with more demands. Yet Joseph went to ask for Jesus’ body. He obviously couldn’t claim any rights to the body as a family member, and Pilate might wonder why the rulers who wanted Jesus’ death would also want His body. But amazingly, Pilate gave him permission. Again, we see the wonderful providence of God.

So, two Sanhedrin members oversaw the dignified burial of the Man their council had put to a shameful death. Luke informs us that Joseph “had not consented to their plan and action” (23:51 NET), which was likely also true of Nicodemus. The fact that they worked together to give the Lord Jesus an honorable burial implies they knew of each other’s belief in Jesus as the Messiah. To this point, both of them had been relatively low-key about their convictions in relation to Christ. But now everything was out in the open. Their commitment would cost them, as any commitment to the Lord Jesus will. They would lose their positions, their reputations, perhaps even their wealth. But they believed that title on the Savior’s cross, that He was indeed the King of the Jews. Therefore, they sought to give Him a royal burial, as evidenced by the large amount of spices Nicodemus brought.[11] They believed Christ was worthy, regardless of the personal loss to themselves. “Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury” (Joh 19:40).

Note how near the tomb just happened to be: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus … for the sepulchre was nigh at hand” (vv41,42). So, Joseph had the sepulchre and Nicodemus had the spices. And the body of the Lord Jesus was in the tomb before sundown. Everything was in place according to God’s providential plan. Christ was not only dead but buried. God wants us to remember that His burial was not an insignificant detail.

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[2] See also Isaiah 53:12 – “He was numbered with the transgressors …”

[3] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 554.

[4] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999), 694 [footnote 271].

[5] Darrell L. Bock, Luke: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 2:1894.

[6] Mat 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Mar 9:31; 10:34; Luk 9:22; 18:33; 24:7,21,46; Act 10:40; 1Co 15:4.

[7] The plural “bodies” implies that the thieves crucified with Christ were also Jews.

[8] Bodies of criminals were to be buried before sunset according to Deuteronomy 21:22-23, so as not to defile the land. As this was on the eve of the Sabbath, a hasty burial was even more important.

[9] John had returned to the cross, but nothing more is said about him until the resurrection narratives.

[10] See Mar 15:43; Luk 23:50,51; Joh 3:1; 7:45-52.

[11] Note the spices at King Asa’s funeral in 2 Chronicles 16:14. Also, Herod the Great reportedly had 500 servants carrying spices at his burial.