Summary: Weakness is not something valued by our culture or this age. But the death of Jesus shows us the strength we can all find in the weakest of moments.
As we look at the events following the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah let’s get one fact straight: Jesus really died on the cross. The Roman Centurion who oversaw the execution testified to it in Mark 15:39. We know from John 19:31-34 that the soldiers made double sure by piercing His side. For all intents and purposes the disciples of Jesus had a slain leader on their hands and nothing more. No one was thinking of the resurrection at this point, only in what to do with the body and what was going to happen next.
So I thought it might be a good opportunity, as we go through Mark 15:42-47 to talk a bit about what actually happened on the cross, not so much physically, but spiritually. What does the cross mean? We’ll probably cover this in a couple of studies and before we get there, let’s look at the events just after the crucifixion.
Remember, it is Passover and on the eve of the Sabbath. No work could be done on the Sabbath so if someone didn’t remove the body then the Romans would have done it. Often a body was simply left to rot, or if it was a Roman, it was thrown into a common grave. For the Jews, a body could not be left overnight (Deuteronomy 21:23). If the body had not been removed by the Jews, no one could have testified about His death, or His resurrection.
John records that it was Joseph and Nicodemus who came to claim Jesus’ body. Both of these men were secret disciples until this moment. Nicodemus had come to Jesus in John 3 by night. Jesus’ statements about being born again confused Nicodemus, but later must have made sense. Joseph was also a part of the Sanhedrin (the council) and was from a town about 20 miles from Jerusalem. He was a Pharisee because he “was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God.” Not everyone on the Sanhedrin hated Jesus or took part in the murder plot. Now for these two it was time to step forward. As the Sanhedrin was the group who brought Jesus to be crucified, it would have made sense to Pilate that they would claim the body. Once secret disciples, now they come “boldly.” Sometimes it takes a crisis to shake us from our fears of making it known that we belong to Jesus.
44 – 45
As I mentioned last time, it usually took days for a victim of crucifixion to die. Because it was a Passover Sabbath, the Jews had asked the Romans to break the legs of those crucified so they could no longer support themselves to breath, thus dying from suffocation. Pilate wouldn’t have known this so he asks the centurion to confirm the death. So not only was it confirmed by the soldiers but Pilate too was satisfied. So just as the religious leaders saw Him die, and the soldiers confirmed it for themselves and Pilate—all of the three major institutions that rejected Him, religious, civil, and military, admitted to His death. He did not “swoon” on the cross as the Muslims claim. He died—period. It is highly unusual that Pilate gave permission. Usually only family members could claim a body, but since Jesus was accused of treason, He wouldn’t have been considered fit for a proper burial. Perhaps lingering feelings about Jesus’ innocence led Pilate to his decision.