Matthew 27: 57-66 The Guarded Body of Jesus

Wall Mosaic of the Entombment of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Photo shared by Antan0 under CC.

Matthew 27: 57-66

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir,[1] we remember what that impostor[2] said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guardof soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

The conclusion of the crucifixion scene brings before Pilate two very different appeals: one comes from a rich disciple of Jesus requesting the body and one comes from the religious leaders to ensure that the elimination of Jesus’ power is completed. Ironically, it is the chief priests and the Pharisees who have understood the words that Jesus speaks about rising up while many of his disciples remained unable to hear and understand these predictions. Also, the religious leaders’ actions to prevent a deception by the disciples of Jesus will require their own deception after the resurrection.  Now a rich male disciple, two women, and a guard of soldiers will witness a sealed tomb with the body of the crucified Jesus placed inside.

Joseph of Arimathea is both a disciple of Jesus and wealthy. The challenge to the rich young man in 19:21 is not universalized in the gospel for all followers of Jesus. Yet, like the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany with a very costly ointment (26:6-13), Joseph uses this wealth in the service of preparing Jesus for his death. He provides the clean linen cloth and his own new tomb in service of Jesus. As Warren Carter notes, Joseph’s act is a courageous one. The eleven disciples presumably fled to avoid guilt by association with Jesus as he is crucified and Joseph’s request for the body to provide a proper burial could stain him with association with a crucified criminal. (Carter 2001, 539) Like Joseph the son of Jacob in the Egyptian court he refuses to be swayed by the imperial power and like Joseph, who fulfills the role of an earthly father to Jesus, he seeks to be faithful to God’s ways rather than the ways of those reigning at the time.

Two women disciples also remain keeping watch, and their mention on either side of Joseph of Arimathea strengthens the link in Matthew that these women are considered disciples as well. There is the possibility that Matthew understands these women as awaiting the resurrection, but they may also, like Joseph, be giving a final offering to the one they have followed since Galilee. Their position at the tomb at the time of Jesus’ entombment prepares for their arrival after the sabbath going to the tomb.

Even if the women are not waiting in expectation of the resurrection, the religious leaders are anticipating some action by the disciples of Jesus to fulfill their leader’s words. The chief priests are now rejoined by the Pharisees who have been absent since Matthew 22-23. Both groups of religious leaders have dealt with Jesus at various points in his ministry and attempting to ensure his legacy is ended brings these often-opposed groups together. Although the main disciples of Jesus have scattered, the religious leaders fear some or all of them returning to perpetuate the legacy of Jesus. As mentioned above, their actions to prevent deception require a new deception and their guards will prove one more witness they will need to silence. The tomb is sealed, the body prepared, and the guards and the women will wait with all of creation for the first day of the week.

[1] This is the Greek kupios which is translated Lord throughout Matthew when referring to Jesus. Although it can be the simple honorific ‘sir’ it is significant that the religious leaders now use this same address for the representative of Rome.

[2] In vs. 63 and 64 the Greek planos as a noun means deceiver or deception. It is the same word in both verses and instead of imposter I would translate vs. 63 as deceiver.

1 thought on “Matthew 27: 57-66 The Guarded Body of Jesus

  1. Pingback: Matthew 28: 1-15 Two Stories of an Empty Tomb | Sign of the Rose

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