On all these, the taunting challenge of the Sanhedrists, to come down from the Cross, and save Himself, if he would claim the allegiance of their faith, cast what Matthew and Mark characterize as the blaspheming of doubt. We compare with theirs the account of Luke and John. That of Luke reads like the report of what had passed, given by one who throughout had been quite close by, perhaps taken part in the Crucifixion - one might almost venture to suggest, that it had been furnished by the Centurion. The narrative of John reads markedly like that of an eyewitness, and he a Judean. And as we compare both the general Judean cast and Old Testament quotations in this with the other parts of the Fourth Gospel, we feel as if (as so often), under the influence of the strongest emotions, the later development and peculiar thinking of so many years afterwards had for the time been effaced from the mind of John, or rather given place to the Jewish modes of conception and speech, familiar to him in earlier days. Lastly, the account of Matthew seems as if written from the priestly point of view, as if it had been furnished by one of the Priests or Sanhedrist party, present at the time.
"He saved others; let Him save Himself, if this is the Christ, the chosen of God."
These are the words of the Sanhedrists, and they seem to respond to those of the soldiers, as reported by Luke, and to carry them further. The 'if' of the soldiers: ' If Thou art the King of the Jews, ' now becomes a direct blasphemous challenge. As we think of it, they seem to re-echo, and now with the laughter of hellish triumph, the former Jewish challenge for an outward, infallible sign to demonstrate His Messiahship. But they also take up, and re-echo, what Satan had set before Jesus in the Temptation of the wilderness. At the beginning of His Work, the Tempter had suggested that the Christ should achieve absolute victory by an act of presumptuous self-assertion, utterly opposed to the spirit of the Christ, but which Satan represented as an act of trust in God, such as He would assuredly own. And now, at the close of His Messianic Work, the Tempter suggested, in the challenge of the Sanhedrists, that Jesus had suffered absolute defeat, and that God had publicly disowned the trust which the Christ had put in Him.
The derision of the Sanhedrists under the Cross was, as previously stated, not entirely spontaneous, but had a special motive. The place of Crucifixion was close to the great road which led from the North to Jerusalem. On that Feast-day, when, as there was no law to limit, as on the weekly day of rest, locomotion to a ' Sabbath day's journey, ' many would pass in and out of the City, and the crowd would naturally be arrested by the spectacle of the three Crosses. Equally naturally would they have been impressed by the titulus over the Cross of Christ. The words, describing the Sufferer as ' the King of the Jews, ' might, when taken in connection with what was known of Jesus, have raised most dangerous questions. And this the presence of the Sanhedrists was intended to prevent, by turning the popular mind in a totally different direction. It was just such a taunt and argumentation as would appeal to that coarse realism of the common people, which is too often misnamed 'common sense.' Luke significantly ascribes the derision of Jesus only to the Rulers, and we repeat, that that of the passers by, recorded by Matthew and Mark, was excited by them. Thus here also the main guilt rested on the leaders of the people.
One other trait comes to us from Luke, confirming our impression that his account was derived from one who had stood quite close to the Cross, probably taken official part in the Crucifixion. Matthew and Mark merely remark in general, that the derision of the Sanhedrists and people was joined in by the thieves on the Cross. A trait this, which we feel to be not only psychologically true, but the more likely of occurrence, that any sympathy or possible alleviation of their sufferings might best be secured by joining in the scorn of the leaders, and concentrating popular indignation upon Jesus. But Luke also records a vital difference between the two 'robbers' on the Cross. The impenitent thief takes up the jeer of the Sanhedrists:
"If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."
The words are the more significant, alike in their bearing on the majestic calm and pitying love of the Savior on the Cross, and on the utterance of the 'penitent thief,' that - strange as it may sound - it seems to have been a terrible phenomenon, noted by historians, that those on the cross were wont to utter insults and imprecations on the onlookers, goaded nature perhaps seeking relief in such outbursts. Not so when the heart was touched in true repentance.
If a more close study of the words of the 'penitent thief' may seem to diminish the fulness of meaning which the traditional view attaches to them, they gain all the more as we perceive their historic reality. His first words were of reproof to his comrade. In that terrible hour, amidst the tortures of a slow death, did not the fear of God creep over him - at least so far as to prevent his joining in the vile jeers of those who insulted the dying agonies of the Sufferer? And this all the more, in the peculiar circumstances.
They were all three sufferers; but they two justly, while He Whom he insulted had done nothing amiss. From this basis of fact, the penitent rapidly rose to the height of faith. This is not uncommon, when a mind is learning the lessons of truth in the school of grace. Only, it stands out here the more sharply, because of the dark background against which it is traced in such broad and brightly shining outlines. The hour of the deepest abasement of the Christ was, as all the moments of His greatest Humiliation, to be marked by a manifestation of His Glory and Divine Character - as it were, by God's testimony to Him in history, if not by the Voice of God from heaven. And, as regarded the 'penitent' himself, we notice the progression in his soul.
No one could have been ignorant - least of all those who were led forth with Him to crucifixion, that Jesus did not suffer for any crime, nor for any political movement, but because He professed to embody the great hope of Israel, and was rejected by its leaders. And, if any had been ignorant, the 'title' over the Cross and the bitter enmity of the Sanhedrists, which followed Him with jeers and jibes, where even ordinary humanity, and still more Jewish feeling, would have enjoined silence, if not pity, must have shown what had been the motives of 'the condemnation' of Jesus. But, once the mind was opened to perceive all these facts, the progress would be rapid. In hours of extremity a man may deceive himself and fatally mistake fear for the fear of God, and the remembrance of certain external knowledge for spiritual experience. But, if a man really learns in such seasons, the teaching of years may be compressed into moments, and the dying thief on the Cross might outdistance the knowledge gained by Apostles in their years of following Christ.
One thing stood out before the mind of the 'penitent thief,' who in that hour did fear God. Jesus had done nothing amiss. And this surrounded with a halo of moral glory the inscription on the Cross, long before its words acquired a new meaning. But how did this Innocent One bear Himself in suffering? Right royally - not in an earthly sense, but in that in which alone He claimed the Kingdom. He had so spoken to the women who had lamented Him, as His faint form could no longer bear the burden of the Cross; and He had so refused the draught that would have deadened consciousness and sensibility.
Then, as they three were stretched on the transverse beam, and, in the first and sharpest agony of pain, the nails were driven with cruel stroke of hammer through the quivering flesh, and, in the nameless agony that followed the first moments of the Crucifixion, only a prayer for those who in ignorance, were the instruments of His torture, had passed His lips. And yet He was innocent, Who so cruelly suffered. All that followed must have only deepened the impression. With what calm of endurance and majesty of silence He had borne the insult and jeers of those who, even to the spiritually unenlightened eye, must have seemed so infinitely far beneath Him! This man did feel the 'fear' of God, who now learned the new lesson in which the fear of God was truly the beginning of wisdom. And, once he gave place to the moral element, when under the fear of God he reproved his comrade, this new moral decision became to him, as so often, the beginning of spiritual life.
"Remember me, Lord, when You come into Your kingdom" conveys the idea of what we might call a more spiritual meaning of the thief's petition. But we can scarcely believe that at that moment it implied either that Christ was then going into His Kingdom, or that the 'penitent thief' looked to Christ for admission into the Heavenly Kingdom. The words are true to the Jewish point of vision of the man. He recognized and owned Jesus as the Messiah, and he did so, by a wonderful forthgoing of faith, even in the utmost Humiliation of Christ. And this immediately passed beyond the Jewish standpoint, for he expected Jesus soon to come back in His Kingly might and power, when he asked to be remembered by Him in mercy. And here we have again to bear in mind that, during the Life of Christ upon earth, and, indeed, before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, men always first learned to believe in the Person of the Christ, and then to know His teaching and His Mission in the forgiveness of sins. It was so in this case also.
If the thief on the cross had learned to know the Christ, and to ask for gracious recognition in His coming Kingdom, the answering assurance of the Lord conveyed not only the comfort that his prayer was answered, but the teaching of spiritual things which he knew not yet, and so much needed to know. Thus did Christ give him that spiritual knowledge which he did not yet possess. This was the Second Utterance from the Cross. The first had been of utter self-forgetfullness; the second of deepest, wisest, most gracious spiritual teaching. And, had He spoken none other than these, He would have been proved to be the Son of God.
Nothing more would require to be said to the 'penitent' on the Cross. The events which followed, and the words which Jesus would still speak, would teach him more fully than could otherwise have been done. Some hours - probably two - had passed since Jesus had been nailed to the Cross. We wonder how it came that John, who tells us some of the incidents with such exceeding particularity, and relates all with the vivid realization of a most deeply interested eyewitness, should have been silent as to others - especially as to those hours of derision, as well as to the conversion of the penitent thief. His silence seems to us to have been due to absence from the scene. We part company with him after his detailed account of the last scene before Pilate.
The final sentence pronounced, we suppose him to have hurried into the City, and to have acquainted such of the disciples as he might find - but especially those faithful women and the Virgin-Mother - with the terrible scenes that had passed since the previous evening. Then he returned to Golgotha, just in time to witness the Crucifixion, which he again describes with peculiar fulness of details. When the Savior was nailed to the Cross, John seems once more to have returned to the City - this time, to bring back with him those-women, in company of whom we now find him standing close to the Cross. A more delicate, tender, loving service could not have been rendered than this. Alone, of all the disciples, he is there - not afraid to be near Christ, in the Palace of the High-Priest, before Pilate, and now under the Cross. And alone he renders to Christ this tender service of bringing the women and Mary to the Cross, and to them the protection of his guidance and company. He loved Jesus best; and it was fitting that to his manliness and affection should be entrusted the unspeakable privilege of Christ's dangerous inheritance.
Jesus makes John responsible for his mother
"And Jesus' mother stood by the cross, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son." Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother." And from that time, the disciple took her into his own home." (John 19:25-27, HBFV)
The narrative leaves the impression that with the beloved disciple these four women were standing close to the Cross: the Mother of Jesus, the Sister of His Mother, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala (Magdalene). A comparison with what is related by Matthew and Mark supplies further important particulars. We read there of only three women, the name of the Mother of our Lord being omitted. But then it must be remembered that this refers to a later period in the history of the Crucifixion. It seems as if John had fulfilled to the letter the Lord's command: ' Behold thy mother, ' and literally 'from that very hour' taken her to his own home. If we are right in this supposition, then, in the absence of John - who led away the Virgin-Mother from that scene of horror - the other three women would withdraw to a distance, where we find them at the end, not 'by the Cross,' as in John 19:25, but 'beholding from afar, ' and now joined by others also, who had loved and followed Christ.
We can now in some measure realize events. When John had seen the Savior nailed to the Cross, he had gone to the City and brought with him for a last mournful farewell the Virgin, accompanied by those who, as most nearly connected with her, would naturally be with her: her own sister Salome, the sister-in-law of Joseph and wife (or more probably widow) of Clopas, and her who of all others had experienced most of His blessed power to save - Mary of Magdala. Once more we reverently mark His Divine calm of utter self-forgetfulness and His human thoughtfulness for others. As they stood under the Cross, He committed His Mother to the disciple whom He loved, and established a new human relationship between him and her who was nearest to Himself. And calmly, earnestly, and immediately did that disciple undertake the sacred charge, and bring her - whose soul the sword had pierced - away from the scene of unutterable woe to the shelter of his home. And this temporary absence of John from the Cross may account for the want of all detail in his narrative till quite the closing scene.
Now at last all that concerned the earthward aspect of His Mission - so far as it had to be done on the Cross - was ended. He had prayed for those who had nailed Him to it, in ignorance of what they did; He had given the comfort of assurance to the penitent, who had owned His Glory in His Humiliation; and He had made the last provision of love in regard to those nearest to Him. So to speak, the relations of His Humanity - that which touched His Human Nature in any direction - had been fully met. He had done with the Human aspect of His Work and with earth. And, appropriately, Nature seemed now to take sad farewell of Him, and mourned its departing Lord, Who, by His Personal connection with it, had once more lifted it from the abasement of the Fall into the region of the Divine, making it the dwelling-place, the vehicle for the manifestation, and the obedient messenger of the Divine.
For three hours had the Savior hung on the Cross. It was midday. And now the Sun was draped in darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour. It must be freely admitted, that the language of the Evangelists seems to imply that this darkness extended, not only over the land of Israel, but over the inhabited earth. The expression must, of course, not be pressed to its full literality, but explained as meaning that it extended far beyond Judea and to other lands. No reasonable objection can be raised from the circumstance, that neither the earthquake nor the preceding darkness are mentioned by any profane writer whose works have been preserved, since it would surely not be maintained that an historical record must have been preserved of every earthquake that occurred, and of every darkness that may have preceded it. But the most unfair argument is that, which tries to establish the unhistorical character of this narrative by an appeal to what are described as Jewish sayings expressive of similar expectancy.
It is quite true that in old Testament prophecy - whether figuratively or really - the darkening, though not only of the sun, but also of the moon and stars, is sometimes connected, not with the Coming of Messiah, still less with His Death, but with the final Judgement. But Jewish tradition never speaks of such an event in connection with Messiah, or even with the Messianic judgments, and the quotations from Rabbinic writings made by negative critics must be characterized as not only inapplicable but even unfair.
But to return from this painful digression. The three hours' darkness was such not only to Nature; Jesus, also, entered into darkness: Body, Soul, and Spirit. It was now, not as before, a contest - but suffering. It was of the Body; yet not of the Body only, but of physical life. And it was of the Soul and Spirit; yet not of them alone, but in their conscious relation to man and to God. And it was not of the Human only in Christ, but in its indissoluble connection with the Divine: of the Human, where it reached the utmost verge of humiliation to body, soul, and spirit - and in it of the Divine, to utmost self-examination.
The increasing, nameless agonies of the Crucifixion were deepening into the bitterness of death. All nature shrinks from death, and there is a physical horror of the separation between body and soul which, as a purely natural phenomenon, is in every instance only overcome, and that only by a higher principle. And we conceive that the purer the being the greater the violence of the tearing asunder of the bond with which God Almighty originally bound together body and soul. In the Perfect Man this must have reached the highest degree. So, also, had in those dark hours the sense of man-forsakenness and His own isolation from man; so, also, had the intense silence of God, the withdrawal of God, the sense of His God-forsakenness and absolute loneliness.
Jesus is forsaken, spear thrust into side, temple veil torn, tombs opened
About 3 p.m.
"And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" That is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" And some of those who were standing there heard and said, "This one is calling for Elijah." And immediately one of them ran and, taking a sponge, filled it with vinegar and put it on a stick, and gave it to Him to drink. But the rest said, "Let Him alone! Let us see if Elijah comes to save Him."
"Then another took a spear and thrust it into His side, and out came water and blood. And after crying out again with a loud voice, Jesus yielded up His spirit. And suddenly the veil of the temple was ripped in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks were split, And the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had died arose. And after His resurrection, they came out of the tombs and entered into the holy city, and appeared to many." (Matthew 27:46-53, HBFV)
Christ on the Cross suffered for man; He offered Himself a sacrifice; He died for our sins, that, as death was the wages of sin, so He died as the Representative of man - for man and in room of man; He obtained for man 'eternal redemption,' having given His Life 'a ransom, for many.' It was this combination of the Old Testament idea of sacrifice, and of the Old Testament ideal of willing suffering as the Servant of Jehovah, now fulfilled in Christ, which found its fullest expression in the language of the twenty-second Psalm.
These words, cried with a loud voice at the close of the period of extreme agony, marked the climax and the end of this suffering of Christ, of which the utmost compass was the withdrawal of God and the felt loneliness of the Sufferer. But they that stood by the Cross, misinterpreting the meaning, and mistaking the opening words for the name Elias, imagined that the Sufferer had called for Elias. We can scarcely doubt, that these were the soldiers who stood by the Cross. They were not necessarily Romans; on the contrary, as we have seen, these Legions were generally recruited from Provincials. On the other hand, no Jew would have mistaken Eli for the name of Elijah, not yet misinterpreted a quotation of Psalm 22:1 as a call for that prophet. And it must be remembered, that the words were not whispered, but cried with a loud voice. But all entirely accords with the misunderstanding of non-Jewish soldiers, who, as the whole history shows, had learned from His accusers and the infuriated mob snatches of a distorted story of the Christ.
And presently the Sufferer emerged on the other side. It can scarcely have been a minute or two from the time that the cry from the twenty-second Psalm marked the high-point of His Agony, when the words ' I thirst ' seem to indicate, by the prevalence of the merely human aspect of the suffering, that the other and more terrible aspect of sin-bearing and God-forsakenness was past.
By accepting the physical refreshment offered Him, the Lord once more indicated the completion of the work of His Passion. For, as He would not enter on it with His senses and physical consciousness lulled by narcotised wine, so He would not pass out of it with senses and physical consciousness dulled by the absolute failure of life-power. Hence He took what for the moment restored the physical balance, needful for thought and word. His first cry 'with a loud voice' was not like that of one dying. After a spear was thrust into his side BEFORE his death, Jesus cried out a second time to God and died.
"And after crying out with a loud voice, Jesus said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." And when He had said these things, He expired." (Luke 23:46, HBFV)
In the language of the early Christian hymn, it was not Death which approached Christ, but Christ Death. Christ encountered Death, not as conquered, but as the Conqueror. And this also was part of His work, and for us: now the beginning of His Triumph.
And now a shudder ran through Nature, as its Sun had set. The gospels record the rending of the Temple Veil in two from the top downward to the bottom; as the second, the quaking of the earth, the rending of the rocks and the opening of the graves. While the rending of the Veil is recorded first, as being the most significant token to Israel, it may have been connected with the earthquake, although this alone might scarcely account for the tearing of so heavy a Veil from the top to the bottom. Even the latter circumstance has its significance.
But even if the rending of the Temple Veil had commenced with the earthquake, and, according to the Gospel to the Hebrews, with the breaking of the great lintel over the entrance, it could not be wholly accounted for in this manner. According to Jewish tradition, there were, indeed, two Veils before the entrance to the Most Holy Place. The Talmud explains this on the ground that it was not known, whether in the former Temple the Veil had hung inside or outside the entrance and whether the partition-wall had stood in the Holy or Most Holy Place. Hence (according to Maimonides) there was not any wall between the Holy and Most Holy Place, but the space of one cubit, assigned to it in the former Temple, was left unoccupied, and one Veil hung on the side of the Holy, the other on that of the Most Holy Place.
According to an account dating from Temple-times, there were altogether thirteen Veils used in various parts of the Temple - two new ones being made every year. The Veils before the Most Holy Place were 40 cubits (60 feet) long, and 20 (30 feet) wide, of the thickness of the palm of the hand, and wrought in 72 squares, which were joined together; and these Veils were so heavy, that, in the exaggerated language of the time, it needed 3000 priests to manipulate each. If the Veil was at all such as is described in the Talmud, it could not have been rent in twain by a mere earthquake or the fall of the lintel, although its composition in squares fastened together might explain, how the rent might be as described in the Gospel.
Indeed, everything seems to indicate that, although the earthquake might furnish the physical basis, the rent of the Temple Veil was - with reverence be it said - really made by the Hand of God. As we compute, it may just have been the time when, at the Evening-Sacrifice, the officiating Priesthood entered the Holy Place, either to burn the incense or to do other sacred service there. To see before them, not as the aged Zacharias at the beginning of this history the Angel Gabriel, but the Veil of the Holy Place rent from top to bottom - that beyond it they could scarcely have seen - and hanging in two parts from its fastenings above and at the side, was, indeed, a terrible portent, which would soon become generally known, and must, in some form or other, have been preserved in tradition. And they all must have understood, that it meant that God's Own Hand had rent the Veil, and for ever deserted and thrown open that Most Holy Place where He had so long dwelt in the mysterious gloom, only lit up once a year by the glow of the censer of him, who made atonement for the sins of the people. Other tokens were not wanting. In the earthquake the rocks were rent, and their tombs opened.
But on those who stood under the Cross, and near it, did all that was witnessed make the deepest and most lasting impression. Among them we specially mark the Centurion under whose command the soldiers had been. Many a scene of horror must he have witnessed in those sad times of the Crucifixion, but none like this. Only one conclusion could force itself on his mind. It was that which, we cannot doubt, had made its impression on his heart and conscience. Jesus was not what the Jews, His infuriated enemies, had described Him. He was what He professed to be, what His bearing on the Cross and His Death attested Him to be - the Son of God.
Jews request Jesus' body off the cross before Holy Day begins
One, if not the, most common error in trying to determine the exact time of Jesus' death and resurrection stems from not accounting for the annual Spring holy day celebrations. First, its important to understand that Biblical days begin and end at sunset. The Biblical Passover occurs each year, from sunset to sunset, on Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar. It is celebrated just AFTER the sun sets ending Nisan 13, when Nisan 14 is beginning. Jesus celebrated his last Passover with his disciples just after sunset on Tuesday, April 4, 30 A.D. - when Nisan 14 was beginning. His death occurred at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5 - just a few hours before sunset which would end Nisan 14 and begin Nisan 15.
The Jews wanted Jesus and the others being crucified to be dead and taken off their crosses before sunset for a particular reason.
"The Jews therefore, so that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, because it was a preparation day (for that Sabbath was a high day), requested of Pilate that their legs might be broken and the bodies be taken away.
"Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first one, and the legs of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; But one of the soldiers had pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water had come out. And he who saw this has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that what he says is true, so that you may believe. For these things took place so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of Him shall be broken." And again another scripture says, '"They shall look upon Him Whom they pierced.'" (John 19:31-37, HBFV)
Many make the mistake in assuming the Sabbath referred to in the gospels that would occur just a few hours after Jesus' death is the weekly Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). This, however, is incorrect. The Jews were especially anxious to have the bodies off the cross before sunset because it was the start of the annual Biblical holy day known as the First Day of Unleavened Bread. This commanded Biblical high day (Exodus 12:15-20), on which no work was allowed, started as the sun set on Wednesday, April 5th.
The Law ordered that the body of a criminal should not be left hanging unburied over night. Perhaps in ordinary circumstances the Jews might not have appealed so confidently to Pilate as actually to ask him to shorten the sufferings of those on the Cross, since the punishment of crucifixion often lasted not only for hours but days. And what the Jews now proposed to Pilate was, indeed, a shortening, so that the bodies could be removed and taken care of before an annual High Day.
If, on the Cross of Christ, these two fundamental ideas in the prophetic description of the work of the Messiah had been set forth: the fulfilment of the Passover Sacrifice, which, as that of the Covenant, underlay all sacrifices, and the fulfilment of the ideal of the Righteous Servant of God, suffering in a world that hated God, and yet proclaimed and Realizing His Kingdom, a third truth remained to be exhibited. It was not in regard to the character, but the effects, of the Work of Christ - its reception, alike in the present and in the future. This had been indicated in the prophecies of Zechariah, which foretold how, in the day of Israel's final deliverance and national conversion, God would pour out the spirit of grace and of supplication.
Yet one other scene remains to be recorded. Whether before, or, more probably, after the Jewish deputation to the Roman Governor, another and a strange application came to Pilate. It was from one apparently well known, a man not only of wealth and standing, whose noble bearing corresponded to his social condition, and who was known as a just and a good man. Joseph of Arimathaea was a Sanhedrist, but he had not consented either to the counsel or the deed of his colleagues. It must have been generally known that he was one of those 'which waited for the Kingdom of God.' But he had advanced beyond what that expression implies. Although secretly, for fear of the Jews, he was a disciple of Jesus. It is in strange contrast to this 'fear,' that Mark tells us, that, he dared asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.
Thus, under circumstances the most unlikely and unfavorable, were his fears converted into boldness, and he, whom fear of the Jews had restrained from making open avowal of discipleship during the life-time of Jesus, not only professed such of the Crucified Christ, but took the most bold and decided step before Jews and Gentiles in connection with it. So does trial elicit faith, and the wind, which quenches the feeble flame that plays around the outside, fan into brightness the fire that burns deep within, though for a time unseen.
Joseph of Arimathaea, now no longer a secret disciple, but bold in the avowal of his reverent love, would show to the Dead Body of his Master all veneration. And the Divinely ordered concurrence of circumstances not only helped his pious purpose, but invested all with deepest symbolic significance. It was Wednesday afternoon, and the High Day Sabbath was drawing near. No time therefore was to be lost, if due honor were to be paid to the Sacred Body. Pilate give it to Joseph of Arimathaea. Such was within his power, and a favor not unfrequently accorded in like circumstances. But two things must have powerfully impressed the Roman Governor, and deepened his former thoughts about Jesus: first, that the death on the Cross had taken place so rapidly, a circumstance on which he personally questioned the Centurion, and then the bold appearance and request of such a man as Joseph of Arimathaea. Or did the Centurion express to the Governer also some such feeling as that which had found utterance under the Cross in the words: "Truly this man was the Son of God."
The proximity of the annual Sabbath, and the consequent need of haste, may have suggested or determined the proposal of Joseph to lay the Body of Jesus in his own rock-hewn new tomb, wherein no one had yet been laid. The symbolic significance of this is the more marked, that the symbolism was undersigned. These rock-hewn sepulchres, and the mode of laying the dead in them, have been very fully described in connection with the burying of Lazarus We may therefore wholly surrender ourselves to the sacred thoughts that gather around us. The Cross was lowered and laid on the ground; the cruel nails drawn out, and the ropes unloosed. Joseph, with those who attended him, 'wrapped' the Sacred Body 'in a clean linen cloth,' and rapidly carried It to the rock-hewn tomb in the garden close by. Such a rock-hewn tomb or cave had niches , where the dead were laid. It will be remembered, that at the entrance to 'the tomb' - and within 'the rock' - there was 'a court,' nine feet square, where ordinarily the bier was deposited, and its bearers gathered to do the last offices for the Dead.
"And when evening was coming on, a rich man of Arimathea came, named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. After going to Pilate, he begged to have the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given over to him. And after taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen cloth, And placed it in his new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and after rolling a great stone to the door of the tomb, he went away. But sitting there opposite the sepulcher were Mary Magdalene and the other Mary." (Matthew 27:57-61, HBFV)
We suppose Joseph to have carried the Sacred Body, and then the last scene to have taken place. For now another, kindred to Joseph in spirit, history, and position, had come. The same spiritual Law, which had brought Joseph to open confession, also constrained the profession of that other Sanhedrist, Nicodemus. We remember, how at the first he had, from fear of detection, come to Jesus by night, and with what bated breath he had pleaded with his colleagues not so much the cause of Christ, as on His behalf that of law and justice. He now came, bringing 'a roll' of myrrh and aloes, in the fragrant mixture well known to the Jews for purposes of anointing or burying.
It was in 'the court' of the tomb that the hasty embalmment - if such it may be called - took place. None of Christ's former disciples seem to have taken part in the burying. John may have withdrawn to bring tidings to, and to comfort the Virgin-Mother; the others also, that had stood afar off, ' appear to have left. Only a few faithful ones, notably among them Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of Jesus (Matthew 27:55-56), stood over against the tomb, watching at some distance where and how the Body of Jesus was laid. It would scarcely have been in accordance with Jewish manners, if these women had mingled more closely with the two Sanhedrists and their attendants.
The history of the Life of Christ upon earth closes with a Miracle as great as that of its inception. It may be said that the one casts light upon the other. If He was what the Gospels represent Him, He must have been born of a pure Virgin, without sin, and He must have risen from the Dead. If the story of His Birth be true, we can believe that of His Resurrection; if that of His Resurrection be true, we can believe that of His Birth. In the nature of things, the latter was incapable of strict historical proof; and, in the nature of things, His Resurrection demanded and was capable of the fullest historical evidence. If such exists, the keystone is given to the arch; the miraculous Birth becomes almost a necessary postulate, and Jesus is the Christ in the full sense of the Gospels. And yet we mark, as another parallel point between the account of the miraculous Birth and that of the Resurrection, the utter absence of details as regards these events themselves. If this circumstance may be taken as indirect evidence that they were not legendary, it also imposes on us the duty of observing the reverent silence so well-befitting the case, and not intruding beyond the path which the Evangelic narrative has opened to us.
Religious leaders secure Jesus' tomb
Thursday, April 6, 30 A.D.
"Now on the next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate, Saying, "Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while He was living, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore, command that the sepulcher be secured until the third day; lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He is risen from the dead'; and the last deception shall be worse than the first." Then Pilate said to them, "You have a guard. Go, make it as secure as you know how." And they went and made the sepulcher secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard." (Matthew 27:62-66, HBFV)
What thoughts concerning the Dead Christ filled the minds of Joseph of Arimathaea, of Nicodemus, and of the other disciples of Jesus, as well as of the Apostles and of the pious women? They believed Him to be dead, and they did not expect Him to rise again from the dead - at least, in our accepted sense of it. Of this there is abundant evidence from the moment of His Death, in the burial spices brought by Nicodemus, in those prepared by the women (both of which were intended as against corruption), in the sorrow of the women at the empty tomb, in their supposition that the Body had been removed, etc. that are expressed in the statment:
"For they did not yet understand the scripture which decreed that He must rise from the dead." (John 20:9)
And the notice in Matthew's Gospel, that the Sanhedrists had taken precautions against His Body being stolen, so as to give the appearance of fulfilment to His prediction that He would rise again after three days - that, therefore, they knew of such a prediction, and took it in the literal sense - would give only more emphasis to the opposite bearing of the disciples and their manifest non-expectancy of a literal Resurrection. What the disciples expected, perhaps wished, was not Christ's return in glorified corporeity, but His Second Coming in glory into His Kingdom.
But if they regarded Him as really dead and not to rise again in the literal sense, this had evidently no practical effect, not only on their former feelings towards Him, but even on their faith in Him as the promised Messiah. This appears from the conduct of Joseph and Nicodemus, from the language of the women, and from the whole bearing of the Apostles and disciples. All this must have been very different, if they had regarded the Death of Christ, even on the Cross, as having given the lie to His Messianic Claims. On the contrary, the impression left on our minds is, that, although they deeply grieved over the loss of their Master, and the seeming triumph of His foes, yet His Death came to them not unexpectedly, but rather as of internal necessity and as the fulfilment of His often repeated prediction.
Nor can we wonder at this, since He had, ever since the Transfiguration, labored, against all their resistance and reluctance, to impress on them the act of His Betrayal and Death. He had, indeed - although by no means so frequently or clearly - also referred to His Resurrection. But of this they might, according to their Jewish ideas, form a very different conception from that of a literal Resurrection of that Crucified Body in a glorified state, and yet capable of such terrestrial intercourse as the Risen Christ held with them. And if it be objected that, in such case, Christ must have clearly taught them all this, it is sufficient to answer, that there was no need for such clear teaching on the point at that time; that the event itself would soon and best teach them; that it would have been impossible really to teach it, except by the event; and that any attempt at it would have involved a far fuller communication on this mysterious subject than, to judge from what is told us in Scripture, it was the purpose of Christ to impart in our present state of faith and expectancy.
Accordingly, from their point of view, the prediction of Christ might have referred to the continuance of His Work, to his Vindication, or to some apparition of Him, whether from heaven or on earth - such as that of the saints in Jerusalem after the Resurrection, or that of Elijah in Jewish belief - but especially to His return in glory; certainly, not to the Resurrection as it actually took place. The fact itself would be quite foreign to Jewish ideas, which embraced the continuance of the soul after death and the final resurrection of the body, but not a state of spiritual corporeity, far less, under conditions such as those described in the Gospels. Elijah, who is so constantly introduced in Jewish tradition, is never represented as sharing in meals or offering his body for touch; nay, the Angels who visited Abraham are represented as only making show of, not really, eating. Clearly, the Apostles had not learned the Resurrection of Christ either from the Scriptures - and this proves that the narrative of it was not intended as a fulfilment of previous expectancy - nor yet from the predictions of Christ to that effect; although without the one, and especially without the other, the empty grave would scarcely have wrought in them the assured conviction of the Resurrection of Christ.
Spices for Jesus' body purchased, women rest on weekly Sabbath
After sunset on Thursday, April 6th, 30 A.D.
"Now when the Sabbath (the high day Sabbath - First Day of Unleavened Bread) had passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic oils, so that they might come and anoint Him." (Mark 16:1, HBFV)
"And they returned to the city, and prepared spices and ointments, and then rested on the Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) according to the (fourth) commandment." (Luke 23:56, HBFV)
Women come and check Jesus' tomb
near Sunset Saturday, April 8th
"Now late on the Sabbath, as the first day of the weeks was drawing near, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to observe the sepulcher." (Matthew 28:1, HBFV)
Early on first day of week, before anyone arrives, an angel opens Jesus' tomb
Sunday morning, April 9th
"And in the morning suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone from the door, and sat upon it. Now his appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him, those who were keeping guard trembled, and became as dead men." (Matthew 28:2-4, HBFV)
Jesus already resurrected before women come to tomb
Sunday Morning, April 9th
"Now on the first day of the weeks, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb; and she saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." As a result, Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. Now the two ran together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; And he stooped down and saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not enter. Then Simon Peter came following him, and he went into the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying, And the napkin that had been on His head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had come to the tomb first, also went in and saw these things; and he believed. For they did not yet understand the scripture which decreed that He must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their home." (John 20:1-10, HBFV)
"But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are seeking Jesus, Who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord Himself was lying. And go quickly, and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead. And behold, He goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see Him. Listen! I have told you." And they quickly left the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell it to His disciples." (Matthew 28:5-8, HBFV)
By the time the women came to Jesus' tomb early on Sunday he had already been resurrected! In fulfillment of the prophecy given regarding being three days and three nights (72 hours) in the tomb (Matthew 21:38-40), Jesus was raised from the dead near sunset on Saturday, April 8, 30 A.D.
Hastening from the Tomb, Mary Magdalene ran to the lodging of Peter and to that of John. Her startling tidings induced them to go at once - probably so soon as they were outside the town and near the Garden. John, as the younger, outran Peter. Reaching the Sepulchre first, and stooping down, 'he seeth' the linen clothes, but, from his position, not the napkin which lay apart by itself. If reverence and awe prevented John from entering the Sepulchre, his impulsive companion, who arrived immediately after him, thought of nothing else than the immediate and full clearing up of the mystery.
As he entered the sepulchre, he 'steadfastly (intently) beholds' in one place the linen swathes that had bound about His Head. There was no sign of haste, but all was orderly, leaving the impression of One Who had leisurely divested Himself of what no longer befitted Him. Soon 'the other disciples' followed Peter. The effect of what he saw was, that he now believed in his heart that the Master was risen - for till then they had not yet derived from Holy Scripture the knowledge that He must rise again. And this also is most instructive. It was not the belief previously derived from Scripture, that the Christ was to rise from the Dead, which led to expectancy of it, but the evidence that He had risen which led them to the knowledge of what Scripture taught on the subject.
The two Apostles returned to their home, either feeling that nothing more could be learned at the Tomb, or to wait for further teaching and guidance. Or it might even have been partly due to a desire not to draw needless attention to the empty Tomb. But the love of the Magdalene could not rest satisfied, while doubt hung over the fate of His Sacred Body.
Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene
"Now after Jesus had risen, early the first day of the weeks He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and told it to those who had been with Him, who were grieving and weeping. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe it." (Mark 16:9-11, HBFV)
"But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white who were sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been laid. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." And after saying these things, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but did not know that it was Jesus.
"Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Thinking that He was the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him off, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary." Turning around, she said to Him, "Rabboni"; that is to say, "Teacher." Jesus said to her, "Do not touch Me, because I have not yet ascended to My Father. But go to My brethren and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God." Mary Magdalene came to the disciples, bringing word that she had seen the Lord, and that He had said these things to her." (John 20:11-18, HBFV)
It must be remembered that Mary Magdalene knew only of the empty Tomb. For a time she gave away the agony of her sorrow; then, as she wiped away her tears, she stopped to take one more look into the Tomb, which she thought empty, when, as she gazed, the Tomb seemed no longer empty. At the head and feet, where the Sacred Body had lain, were seated two Angels in white. Their question, so deeply true from their knowledge that Christ had risen: 'Woman, why are you weeping?' seems to have come upon the Magdalene with such overpowering suddenness, that, without being able to realize - perhaps in the semi-gloom - who it was that had asked it.
As she spake, she became conscious of another Presence close to her. Quickly turning round, 'she gazed' on One Whom she recognized not, but regarded as the gardener, from His presence there and from His question: 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?' The hope, that she might now learn what she sought, gave wings to her words - intensity and pathos. If the supposed gardener had borne to another place the Sacred Body, she would take It away, if she only knew where It was laid. This depth and agony of love, which made the Magdalene forget even the restraints of a Jewish woman's intercourse with a stranger, was the key that opened the Lips of Jesus. A moment's pause, and He spake her name in those well-remembered accents, that had first unbound her from sevenfold demoniac power and called her into a new life. It was as another unbinding, another call into a new life. She had not known His appearance, just as the others did not know at first, so unlike, and yet so like, was the glorified Body to that which they had known. But she could not mistake the Voice, especially when It spake to her, and spake her name. So do we also often fail to recognize the Lord when He comes to us 'in another form' than we had known. But we cannot fail to recognize Him when He speaks to us and speaks our name.
It was precisely this which now prompted the action of the Magdalene - prompted also, and explains, the answer of the Lord. As in her name she recognized His Name, the rush of old feeling came over her, and with the familiar ' Rabboni! ' - my Master - she would fain have grasped Him. Was it the unconscious impulse to take hold on the precious treasure which she had thought for ever lost; the unconscious attempt to make sure that it was not merely an apparition of Jesus from heaven, but the real Christ in His corporeity on earth; or a gesture of generation, the beginning of such acts of worship as her heart prompted? Probably all these; and yet probably she was not at the moment distinctly conscious of either or of any of these feelings.
Not the Jesus appearing from heaven - for He had not yet ascended to the Father; not the former intercourse, not the former homage and worship. There was yet a future of completion before Him in the Ascension, of which Mary knew not. Between that future of completion and the past of work, the present was a gap - belonging partly to the past and partly to the future. The past could not be recalled, the future could not be anticipated. The present was of reassurance, of consolation, of preparation, of teaching. Let the Magdalene go and tell His 'brethren' of the Ascension. So would she best and most truly tell them that she had seen Him; so also would they best learn how the Resurrection linked the past of His Work of love for them to the future.
Thus, the fullest teaching of the past, the clearest manifestation of the present, and the brightest teaching of the future - all as gathered up in the Resurrection - came to the Apostles through the mouth of love of her out of whom He had cast seven devils.
Roman soldiers bribed to lie about Jesus' resurrection
"And as they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that were done. Then, after gathering together with the elders and taking counsel, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, Saying, "Tell everyone that His disciples came by night and stole Him while you were sleeping. And if the governor hears of this, we will persuade him to release you from responsibility." And they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this report has been spread abroad among the Jews to this day." (Matthew 28:11-15, HBFV)
Jesus appears to the disciples
Sunday, April 9, 30 A.D. near sunset
After Jesus appears to two disciples as they journey to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) he shows himself alive to Peter and most of the other disciples.
"But as they were going to tell His disciples, all at once Jesus Himself met them, saying, "Hail!" And they came to Him and held His feet, and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid. Go, tell My brethren to go into Galilee, and there they shall see Me.'" (Matthew 28:9-10, HBFV)
We are expressly told, that the appearance of the Risen Christ, so far from meeting their anticipations, had affrighted them, and that they had thought it spectral, on which Christ had reassured them, and bidden them handle Him, for 'a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold Me having.' Lastly, who removed the Body of Christ from the tomb? Six weeks afterwards, Peter preached the Resurrection of Christ in Jerusalem. If Christ's enemies had removed the Body, they could easily have silenced Peter; if His friends, they would have been guilty of such fraud.
The importance of all this cannot be adequately expressed in words. A dead Christ might have been a Teacher and Wonder-worker, and remembered and loved as such. But only a Risen and Living Christ could be the Savior, the Life, and the Life-Giver, and as such preached to all men. And of this most blessed truth we have the fullest and most unquestionable evidence. We can, therefore, implicitly yield ourselves to the impression of these narratives, and, still more, to the realization of that most sacred and blessed fact. This is the foundation of the Church, the inscription on the banner of her armies, the strength and comfort of every Christian heart, and the grand hope of humanity: 'The Lord has risen!"