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Joseph of Arimathea was a secret follower of Jesus because he feared the Jewish leaders. He is probably best known for asking Pilate for Jesus’ body and then placing it in his own tomb.
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Joseph of Arimathea appears in each of the four Gospels (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-54 and John 19:38-42) specifically around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. These short verses in the Gospels reveal a surprising amount of information relating to Joseph of Arimathea and his characteristics which we will explore below.
Luke states that Joseph of Arimathea was a “good and just man” who didn’t consent to the Sanhedrin’s “decision or deed” to crucify Jesus. (See Luke 23:50, 51.) He was a prominent member of the Jewish council (Mark 15:43), and yet was “waiting for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51). Joseph of Arimathea secretly followed Christ, and yet found the courage to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus. (See Mark 15:43.)
In Luke 23:51, Joseph of Arimathea is said to have not “consented to their decision and deed” in regards to the Jewish council’s crucifixion of Jesus. Imagine how hard it would have been to hear your fellow council members verbally attack Jesus and then finally see the culmination of their hatred towards Jesus at the cross.
Matthew 27:57, explains that Joseph was from Arimathea. The Greek word for Arimathea (Ἁριμαθαία), transliterated “harimathaia” means “heights”. The word Arimathea is of Hebrew origin and is transliterated “ramah” meaning “hill”. There appears to be four places in Palestine with the name Ramah, one of which is the birthplace of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1, 19), the priest who served during the time of Saul and a portion of David’s reign.
The Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states that Joseph of Aramathea was likely from Mt Ephraim, the same place where Samuel was born.
The Bible says in John 19:38, that Joseph of Arimathea secretly followed Christ because he feared the Jews. Like Nicodemus, it wasn’t until after Jesus’ death that he openly showed his allegiance to Jesus. At Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea no longer cared what those around him thought and he took Jesus down from the cross.
Luke 23:50, 51, says that Joseph of Arimathea was “a good and just man” and was waiting for the kingdom of God. He probably even secretly hoped that Jesus was the Messiah and would establish His kingdom during Joseph's lifetime.
As a prominent member of the Jewish council (Mark 15:43), Joseph of Arimathea would no doubt have been a well-known public figure and had the respect of many of his peers. His position and prominence didn’t restrict him from eventually showing his full support for Jesus after His death.
Matthew 27:57, also points out that Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man. This is evident in the way the Bible describes Joseph:
Joseph of Arimathea’s riches however didn’t restrict his character, personality or devotion as can be seen in how he and Nicodemus treated Jesus after His death. Not only did Joseph of Arimathea boldly ask for Jesus’ body, but he also took Jesus down from the cross and lovingly and carefully wrapped His body in linen.
“Joseph of Arimathea...who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43). This passage only mentions Joseph, and no one else, approaching Pilate and asking for Jesus’ body. Imagine the courage and faith it would have taken to do this by yourself.
Joseph of Arimathea had a tomb prepared for his own burial. He planned ahead and was ready for his death. However, Matthew 27:60, says that Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus’ body, “...in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.” He was preparing a burial place for his own death, but when he saw his Master’s need, Joseph of Arimathea quickly and willingly laid Jesus in his own tomb “where no one had ever lain before” (Luke 23:53).
As you look at Joseph of Arimathea and his character why not reflect upon your own life and devotion to Jesus. Although not much is said about this man, Joseph of Arimathea’s actions helped remove the shame of Jesus hanging on the cross overnight and provided a burial for Jesus.
What have you done for your Master recently? Perhaps another question to ask is, who is your true master? Will you, like Joseph of Arimathea, use your position, money and courage to stand for what is right?