The various compilations of eyewitness accounts in the four Gospels offer a full complement of perspectives. The person of Joseph of Arimathea is described with two very different labels—both entirely true. Today’s reading informs us that Joseph was a prominent member of the Council, the Sanhedrin. But today’s key verse gives him a seemingly contradictory title: a disciple of Jesus.
Up to that point, Joseph’s allegiance to Jesus may have been kept quiet, but now he boldly marched up to Pilate and requested the body of Jesus (v. 43). This was a privilege generally reserved for family members by Roman law, and it was not exactly the best way to keep His faith in Christ a secret from the Jewish Council. Burial in his own tomb would have been considered the equivalent of including Jesus in his family. Everything about this act was both bold and loving.
Perhaps the most obvious aspect of Joseph’s eyewitness account of Jesus in this particular instance was that Joseph could verify that Jesus was really deceased. It wasn’t only him, but the centurion as well. Jesus had died, and Joseph treated the body for burial. The Christ, the Son of the Living God, was laid to rest in a tomb and a stone sealed the entrance. The apparent finality must have been crushing.
Joseph wasn’t the only follower to witness Jesus’ body so closely after His death. Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother saw the place of burial, and John 19 informs us that Nicodemus assisted Joseph in preparing His body for burial (19:39–40). This was evidence not only of loyalty and love, but also of faith. These two men who had hidden their belief while Jesus was alive took the exact opposite approach after His death at the time when it would have been most convenient to hide that they loved and followed Him. They chose to embrace and attest to His identity as the Son of God. Even after the cross, they believed.