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3.6 Burial and Resurrection

The Gospel of Saint John tells us that Joseph of Arimathea, fearing the Jews, was a secret follower of Jesus (John 19:38). His identity is still not well known as none of the four Gospels introduces him before the crucifixion. However we know he was rich and a member of the Sanhedrin. He was also waiting for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:51) as all the Christian believers. After Jesus’ crucifixion he had enough courage to go to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body (Mark 15:43). Being a Jew, Joseph could not enter the praetorium at that time so Pontius Pilate had to come to the courtyard to meet him. Joseph explained that being the day of preparation of the Sabbath and Passover, the bodies could not remain on the cross. He asked permission to take the body and bury it (John 19:31). A centurion, sent to check that Jesus was dead, reported that it was the case and that he saw the wound of a lance in his side from which blood and water had come out (John 19:34). Having obtained the authorisation to bury Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea bought a burial cloth at a stall and went to the crucifixion site were Nicodemus was waiting for him with spices and a donkey (John 19:39). The Jewish burial ritual implied washing and anointing the body, placing myrrh and aloes along the torso, putting a chin strap around the head and lower jaw to keep it in place, and drawing the burial clothe over the body. Some small coins were sometimes placed on the eyelids. The two men were in a hurry as they had to finish before sundown and the task was even more difficult as rigor mortis set in more quickly in a crucified man. They noticed that Jesus’ legs were not broken although the Roman soldiers had broken the legs of the two criminals crucified with him.

They did not touch Jesus as they saw that he was already dead. Jesus’ body was taken, with the help of the disciple John, son of Zebedee, to a new tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had made for himself and located near by in a garden (John 19:41;Luke 23:53; Matthew 27:60). When they came out of the burial chamber the sun touched the horizon and they only had time to close the entrance with a big stone. They then noticed that some women including Mary Magdelene were watching. All of them went back to Jerusalem.

The next day the chief priests reminded Pilate that Jesus had said that he would rise again after three days. They asked Pilate to put some guards in front of the tomb in order to prevent his disciples to steal the body saying then to the people that he had risen from the dead. To avoid possible trouble Pilate agreed (Matt.27:63,64,65). Some legionnaires were assigned to the guard and the entrance was sealed with Pilate’s own seal. The soldiers were on duty all day and during the next night. When Jesus had been buried for about thirty-six hours and the cock crowed ,the earth started to shake as it had done the Friday of the crucifixion. The seal broke and a bright light came out of the tomb. The stone blocking the entrance rolled aside. Inside the tomb the soldiers saw the burial cloth but there was no body inside it. The soldiers were so afraid that they escaped. The silence came back and the tomb was empty. (30)

Mary Magdelene came to Jesus’ tomb the day after the Sabbath and saw that it was empty. She ran to Simon Peter and John saying that somebody has taken Jesus’ body out of the tomb to hide it in an unknown place. They both ran to the tomb and saw too that it was empty. Peter first, then John, entered the tomb and only saw the burial cloth (John 20:2-8). After Peter and John had left, Mary Magdelene looked again at the sepulchre and saw two Angels. They asked her why she was crying and she answered that the body of Jesus had been taken away to an unknown place. She then saw Jesus standing near by, but she did not recognise him at first. He made himself known and told her not to touch him and that “He was ascending to His Father, who is Our Father, to his God, who is Our God”. She then ran to tell the disciples that she had seen the Lord and repeated his message (John 20:10-11, 13, 15-18). The disciples refused to believe that Jesus was alive and that Mary Magdelene had seen him (Mark16:10). In the meantime in Jerusalem everybody talked about the empty tomb and Jesus of Nazareth. The guards reported to the chief priests what happened and those assembled the Elders to talk about the situation. They bribed the soldiers to say that the disciples had stolen the body while they slept and promised that Pilate would not punish them (Matt.28:13-14).

Jesus was seen by up to 500 people after his resurrection. Some of these people are mentioned in the Gospels, first of all the disciples. To them he appeared in rooms that had be locked by fear of persecution. The first time he appeared one of the disciples, Thomas, was not there and he refused to believe the other who said that Jesus had come among them. “Doubting Thomas” wanted to see for himself (John 20:25). Jesus appeared again to his disciples eight days later and Thomas was there. Jesus told him to look and to touch him and this time he believed that Jesus had come back. Jesus reproved him for not believing without seing (John 20:26-29). Jesus’ appeared in closed rooms after his resurrection and he could be seen and touched as a physical being. (30)

On Friday morning, after Jesus had been accused before Pilate, Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver that he had been paid to betray Jesus. According to a story he then hanged himself (Matt.27:5). Another story says that he bought a field with the money, then he fell and died (Acts 1:18).

When Jesus appeared again after the crucifixion he asked his believers to make more disciples, to baptise them and to teach them to behave according to His Laws (Matt.28:18-20). Then he led his apostles to Bethamy and blessed them before he parted for ever. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Luke 24:50-51).

The four Gospels end at this point but the “Book of Acts” goes on with the narrative. Most scholars believe that Luke, after writing his Gospel, wrote also the “Book of Acts”. This document first resumes the end of the Gospels (Acts 1:9-11). Other sources confirm what the New testament says about Jesus. The Samaritan Thallus, a secular chronicler, wrote in Greek about the eclipse that occurred in April about 30 AD. Josephus made two references to Jesus in his book called “Antiquities of the Jews”. In the second, he indicated that Jesus had a brother called James that was accused of breaking the Law and was condemned to be stoned. The Protestants agree that James was Jesus’ brother while the Catholics now say that he was his cousin. Paul, the Apostle, carried Jesus’ message to the Gentiles while the others remained in Jerusalem to convert the Jews; he mentioned James too and said that he was Jesus’ brother (Gal.1:18-19). Moreover the Gospels often imply that James was older that Jesus. It is obvious that Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and even his mother, did not believe that he was the Messiah at the beginning of his ministry (Mark 3:21,31). Eusebius, a church historian, indicates that James, who died in about 62 AD, was Bishop of Jerusalem. The Scriptures confirm that he was a leader of the church before the destruction of the city and the Temple. Many other non-biblical historians have left records that do not prove that Jesus of Nazareth lived, but they state that most people of that time thought he did. Julius Africanus (circa 221 AD) cited Thallus who wrote in around 52 AD and was the first non-Jew to mention Jesus Christ and also the eclipse that occurred the day of Jesus’ death. Cornelius Tacitus (circa 112 AD) wrote of the mad Emperor Neron’s reign and how Christians were blamed for the fire that destroyed Rome in 64 AD. Suetonius (circa 120 AD) and Pliny the Younger (about 112 AD), Justin Martyr (about 150 AD) and Tertullia (about 197 AD) made reference to the Christians and to Jesus. Even the Jewish Talmud confirms that Jesus of Nazareth lived but, of course, it does not agree with the Christian teaching.

What is certain is that the person called Jesus Christ, as mentioned in the Gospels, has influenced the world for 2000 years as nobody before or after has ever done, and probably never will. However history is vague or silent about him, and we do not know why. This does not prevent millions of people of all races and of all the continents to believe in Him and in his teaching. But this is faith that does not have to be confirmed by history. For the believers it does not really matter if Jesus existed as a man or was a myth. (30)