Joseph was "waiting for the kingdom of God." Well versed in the Old Testament, he anticipated the reign of the promised Messiah. Barnes writes:
But this expression means more than an 'indefinite' expectation that the Messiah 'would' come, for all the Jews expected that. It implies that he believed 'Jesus' to be the Messiah, and had 'waited' for HIM to build up the kingdom of God. . . .
Mark emphasizes that Joseph exhibited "great courage" in going before Pilate to request Jesus' body. Of the four accounts, only Mark adds that he went "boldly" in to Pilate. Much is left unsaid here, such as how did Joseph get in to see Pilate? The procurator was not a man that would receive just anyone, especially without a prior appointment. Joseph, however, "went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus." Before deciding, Pilate sought more information. Summoning the centurion in charge of the crucifixion would take time. In all likelihood, Joseph remained and talked with Pilate while awaiting the centurion's arrival. Upon learning that Jesus "had been dead for some time," Pilate seems not to have hesitated to release His body to Joseph. Did they perhaps know each other?
Joseph of Arimathea
Several points stand out in this passage:
» Evening was beginning—at best Joseph had only about three hours before sunset, when the Sabbath would begin. The task of preparing and applying the spices for burial required work, which is expressly forbidden on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-10). Additionally, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 demands that an executed criminal be buried before nightfall, and the Jewish law of the time required all dead bodies to be buried before a Sabbath or a feast day (John 19:31).
» Before he could take the body down, Joseph had to go before Pilate and receive permission. At first Pilate did not believe Jesus had died so quickly, so he called the centurion of the crucifixion detail to verify it (Mark 15:44-45). This delay must have taken at least a half hour.
» After being granted the body, Joseph went to a local shop and bought several yards of fine linen in which to wrap Jesus. With the help of Nicodemus, he then took the body down, wrapped it in the linen—along with about a hundred pounds of spices—and placed it in the tomb (John 19:39-41).
With all this activity and work between the various locations, Joseph and Nicodemus must have had very little daylight left when they finally rolled the stone over the entrance to the tomb. On this point all the accounts again concur; sunset was very near (Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:54; John 19:31).
No one disputes that Jesus was laid "in the heart of the earth" at sunset. If, as we have shown, He was buried for exactly 72 hours, He was also resurrected at sunset—not at dawn!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'