Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus who is mentioned in all four Gospels in the New Testament. He is most well-known for providing the tomb where Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. Here is an overview of what the Bible reveals about Joseph of Arimathea:
Joseph was a wealthy, prominent member of the Jewish Sanhedrin
The Gospels describe Joseph as a rich man (Matthew 27:57), as well as a member of the Sanhedrin council in Jerusalem (Mark 15:43, Luke 23:50). The Sanhedrin was the ruling religious council over the Jews that condemned Jesus to death. Even though Joseph was part of this council, the Bible indicates he did not consent to their decision or actions (Luke 23:51).
Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus
The Gospels explain that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but in secret because he feared the Jewish leaders (John 19:38). Joseph did not openly follow Jesus during his ministry because it would have led to persecution from the other members of the Sanhedrin.
Joseph courageously asked for Jesus’ body
After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body” (Mark 15:43). This was a courageous act because publicly burying Jesus could have gotten Joseph in trouble with the Sanhedrin. Joseph cared more about properly burying Jesus than protecting his status and position with the Jewish leaders.
Joseph donated his own unused tomb for Jesus’ burial
The Gospels record that after receiving permission from Pilate to take Jesus’ body, Joseph donated his own new tomb that had never before been used (Matthew 27:59-60). This fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 53:9 that the Messiah would be buried in a rich man’s tomb. Joseph sacrificially gave up his own tomb to provide a proper burial for Jesus.
Joseph and Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial
The Gospel of John records that Joseph was assisted in burying Jesus by another secret follower named Nicodemus (John 19:39-42). Together they lovingly prepared Jesus’ body for burial according to Jewish customs, including wrapping it in linen cloths with costly burial spices.
Joseph rolled a stone to seal the tomb
To finish the burial process, Joseph “rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb” (Matthew 27:60). This stone sealed the tomb and protected Jesus’ body from wild animals or grave robbers. The stone was also later rolled away by an angel, revealing the empty tomb on resurrection morning (Matthew 28:2).
Joseph witnessed Jesus’ death and burial
As someone present at the crucifixion who then buried Jesus, Joseph serves as a powerful eyewitness confirming that Jesus truly died and was laid in a tomb. Joseph’s actions verify the historicity of these crucial events in Jesus’ life.
Little else is known about Joseph of Arimathea
Other than his important role in Jesus’ burial, the Bible says little else about the identity or life of Joseph of Arimathea. He mysteriously appears in the crucifixion story and then disappears from Scripture after Jesus’ burial.
Some traditions outside the Bible speculate that Joseph brought the Holy Grail to England, built a church in Glastonbury, and was the uncle of Jesus’ mother Mary. But these extra-biblical stories are legendary, not historical. The Bible gives us no reason to believe Joseph of Arimathea had any further interactions with Jesus’ followers after his burial.
Key passages about Joseph of Arimathea
Here are the primary Scripture passages that mention Joseph of Arimathea:
– Matthew 27:57-60 – Joseph asks Pilate for Jesus’ body and buries it in his own tomb
– Mark 15:42-46 – Joseph courageously asks for the body and purchases burial linens
– Luke 23:50-53 – Joseph was a good member of the Sanhedrin who did not consent to Jesus’ death
– John 19:38-42 – Joseph and Nicodemus prepare Jesus’ body and lay it in the tomb
Joseph’s legacy: Affirming the burial of Jesus
Joseph of Arimathea’s appearances in the Gospels centered around his affirmation and eyewitness testimony that Jesus truly died on the cross and that his body was laid in a vacant tomb donated by Joseph himself. The fact of Jesus’ burial in a verifiable tomb was important evidence for the resurrection, confirming that the tomb was later found empty on Easter morning.
Though Joseph disappears from the biblical story as quickly as he arrived, his courageous actions to give Jesus an honorable burial in the face of opposition from the Sanhedrin testify to Joseph’s devotion as a secret disciple. Along with Nicodemus, Joseph prioritized caring for Jesus’ body even at personal risk, leaving us an example of sacrificial service.
Ultimately, Joseph of Arimathea will be remembered for his crucial role in fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be assigned a grave with the rich (Isaiah 53:9). By donating his own expensive tomb, Joseph made sure the Savior was not buried in a common pit, but laid in an honorable place, setting the stage for Jesus’ resurrection victory over the grave.
Other people named Joseph in the Bible
In addition to Joseph of Arimathea, several other prominent Josephs are mentioned in the Old and New Testaments:
– Joseph the earthly father of Jesus (Matthew 1:16)
– Joseph the son of Jacob who became a ruler in Egypt (Genesis 37:1-36)
– Joseph called Barsabbas, one of Jesus’ disciples (Acts 1:23)
– Joseph of Cyprus, an early Christian mentioned in Acts (Acts 4:36)
It is important not to confuse Joseph of Arimathea with these other Josephs in Scripture. Each refers to a different biblical character. Only Joseph of Arimathea was the wealthy Sanhedrin member who donated his tomb for Jesus’ burial after the crucifixion.
Joseph of Arimathea in Bible prophecy
Unlike many other biblical figures, Joseph of Arimathea is not directly referenced in any Messianic prophecies or typology in the Old Testament. However, his actions did fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the suffering servant Messiah would be assigned a grave with the rich (Isaiah 53:9). In this sense, Joseph unknowingly played a prophetic role as part of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s predictions about the death and burial of Jesus the Messiah.
Significance and meaning of Joseph of Arimathea
As a secret follower of Jesus afraid to publicly express his faith, Joseph of Arimathea’s actions give us several meaningful lessons:
1. Obeying God may require courage in the face of opposition from respected religious leaders. Though Joseph feared the Jewish elders, he courageously obeyed God by caring for Jesus.
2. Outward status and position matter far less than personal integrity and obedience to Christ. Joseph was willing to risk his place in the Sanhedrin by associating himself with the crucified Jesus.
3. Serving Jesus sacrificially with our resources and abilities demonstrates true discipleship. Joseph did not merely say he believed in Jesus – he showed his devotion through sacrificial service.
4. Proclaiming the truth requires backing up our words with actions. Joseph affirmed Jesus’ death and resurrection with his deeds, not just words.
5. No act of caring and kindness for Jesus is wasted, no matter how small it may seem. Joseph’s offering of his tomb blessed Jesus.
Ultimately, though Joseph was a minor character in the Gospel narrative, he set an example of integrity, courage, and service that points to the Lord he followed. His noble actions honored Christ in a dark moment.
In summary, Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy, righteous, secret disciple of Jesus who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. When Jesus was crucified, Joseph courageously asked Pilate for his body and donated his own unused tomb for Jesus’ burial, assisted by Nicodemus. Joseph thus provided verification of Jesus’ death and burial in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9, setting the stage for the resurrection. Though little else is known about him, Joseph’s legacy is his affirmation of Christ’s burial and his example of serving Jesus sacrificially despite the cost. The account of noble Joseph and his godly actions lives on as a testimony of devotion to Jesus.