Sometime this week, I was reading about Ken Costa, an accomplished and successful South African banker and philantropist who had just become chairman of a private equity fund. He had written a book about Joseph of Arimathea and this piqued my interest to study further about this Joseph. Below are my findings about this rich and godly man who you find mentioned in the four gospels but only in so few a verse that it’s easy to miss all the detail packed into them. I also include notes on Nicodemus, who shared a number of similarities with Joseph, including being his contemporary at work, and his partner on that glorious night.
In summary, learning about these men teaches the role that our wealth and influence could have in doing God’s work in these evil last days, as those days were equally evil. It also shows wealthy men who studied the word of God faithfully, truly surrendered their heart to God, generously gave their best to God, faithfully kept the Sabbath day holy, stood by their moral convictions and were willing to be mocked for Christ’s sake.
If you want to study more about Joseph of Arimathea for yourself, read: Matthew 27: 57-61, Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; and John 19:38-42
- Respected Jewish leaders: Joseph was a prominent and respected member of the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus was also a member. The (great) Sanhendrin (a.k.a. council of elders, chief priests, teachers of the law) was the most powerful leadership body of the Jews, acting like a Supreme Court with 71 members, so these men were highly revered among peers.
- Men of affluence: Joseph was rich. Nicodemus likely also was, as he brought spices aplenty to apply on Jesus’ dead body.
- Students of the word of God: Both men had become disciples of Jesus. Joseph believed and was waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God. He was a good and just man i.e morally righteous and reasonable. Nicodemus sought Jesus, the word of God.
- Secret disciples: Joseph was afraid of the Jews and fellow Jewish leaders who castigated anyone found to follow Jesus. His partner that night, Nicodemus, who you read in John 3, was a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews; he secretly sought audience with Jesus at night to ask questions about the word. That these good men operated behind the scenes shouldn’t be surprising as Solomon tells us in Proverbs 28:28 that:
“when the wicked rise [to power], men hide themselves; but when the wicked perish, the [consistently] righteous increase and become great”.Proverbs 28:28 (AMP)
- Men of strong moral conviction: Joseph did not consent to the council’s decision to condemn Jesus to death, despite the risk of being mocked or putting his own life at risk. Nicodemus also asked that Jesus be listened to first before being condemned but was mocked by other council leaders. Both men had evil/immoral colleagues but they stayed faithful to their moral beliefs.
- Man of influence: Joseph went to Pilate (Roman leader), asked for and was permitted to take Jesus body. To gain access to Pilate on such a tense night, either Joseph was well known in the Roman quarters or something about his status/ranking helped facilitate audience with Pilate that day.
- Man of courage and faith: After much deliberation on whether or not to do something, Joseph took a risk and summoned courage by going to Pilate. This required strong faith as these were very tense times and so many people hated Jesus. There was no time to be lost as the Sabbath was fast approaching that Friday evening and they couldn’t leave Jesus’ body on the cross on the Sabbath – meaning Joseph must have been under a lot of pressure, needing to decide very quickly.
- Calm and patient amidst fear/pressure: After requesting Jesus’ body, Joseph needed to wait for Pilate to confirm from the centurion if Jesus was indeed dead. Anyone could have seen Joseph there and reported him to his fellow council members. Also remember that these Roman leaders were very wicked to the Jews so Joseph was taking quite a big risk as he may have been jailed or even killed.
- Man of foresight: Joseph had already built a tomb for himself in advance.
- Man of good taste: Joseph’s tomb was in a garden. He bought fine linen for Christ’s burial, not some ordinary material. He gave God his best!
- Generous men who gave God their best: Joseph spent his own money buying fine linen. He also gave up his own lovely tomb so Christ could get a proper respectable burial. Nicodemus his partner on the night was also generous – he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds to apply on Jesus’ dead body. Both men embody what 1 Timothy 6:17-19 meant:
“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NKJV)
- Faithful Sabbath keepers: Both men did what needed to be done quickly and departed after closing the tomb door with a stone, as Friday sunset was rapidly approaching and they needed to faithfully keep the Sabbath.