Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 27:57-61; MARK 15:42-47;
57. And when the evening was come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself was a disciple of Jesus. 58. He went to Pilate, and requested the body of Jesus; then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 59. And Joseph, having received the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. 60. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock, and having rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, he departed. 61. And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite to the sepulcher.
42. And when it was now evening, (because it was the preparation, 293 which goes before the Sabbath,) 43. Joseph of Arimathea, an honorable counselor, who was also himself waiting for the kingdom of God, came and boldly went in to Pilate, and asked the body of Jesus. 44. And Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and having called to him the centurion, he asked him if he had been long dead. 45. And having ascertained it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 46. And he, having brought a linen cloth, took him down (from the cross, 294 ) and wrapped him in the linen cloth, and laid him in the tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and rolled a stone to the door of the tomb. 47. And Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Joses, saw where he was laid.
50. And, lo, a man named Joseph, a counselor, a good and righteous man, 51. Who had not consented to their decision, and to their deed; a native of Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. 52. He came to Pilate, and requested the body of Jesus. 53. And he took him down, and wrapped him in a linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock, in which no man had ever been laid. 54. And it was the day of the preparation, and the Sabbath was approaching. 55. And the women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how the body was laid. 56. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments, and rested on the Sabbath, according to the commandment.
The burial of Christ is now added, as an intermediate transition from the ignominy of the cross to the glory of the resurrection. True, indeed, God determined, for another reason, that Christ should be buried, that it might be more fully attested that he suffered real death on our account. But yet it ought to be regarded as the principal design, that in this manner the cursing, which he had endured for a short time, began to be removed; for his body was not thrown into a ditch in the ordinary way, but honorably laid in a hewn sepulcher. Although at that time the weakness of the flesh was still visible, and the divine power of the Spirit was not clearly seen before his resurrection; yet God determined by this, as a sort of preparation, to shadow out what he was shortly afterwards to do, that he might exalt gloriously above the heavens his Son, the conqueror of death.
Matthew 27:57. And when the evening was come. Let it be understood that Joseph did not come in the dusk of the evening, but before sunset, that he might perform this office of kindness to his Master, without violating the Sabbath; for the Sabbath commenced in the evening, and therefore it was necessary that Christ should be laid in the grave before night came on. Now from the time that Christ died until the Sabbath began to be observed, there were three free days. And though John does not mention Joseph only, but joins Nicodemus as his companion, (Joh 19:39;) yet as he alone undertook the business at first, and as Nicodemus did no more than follow and join him, the three: Evangelists satisfied themselves with relating in a brief narrative what was done by Joseph alone.
Now though this affection of Joseph deserved uncommon praise, still we ought first to consider the providence of God, in subduing a man of high and honorable rank among his countrymen, to wipe away the reproach of the cross by the honor of burial. And, indeed, as he exposed himself to the dislike and hatred of the whole nation, and to great dangers, there can be no doubt that this singular courage arose from a secret movement of the Spirit; for though he had formerly been one of Christ’s disciples, yet he had never ventured to make a frank and open profession of his faith. When the death of Christ now presents to him a spectacle full of despair, and fitted to break the strongest minds, how comes he suddenly to acquire such noble courage that, amidst the greatest terrors, he feels no dread, and hesitates not to advance farther than he had ever done, when all was in peace? Let us know then that, when the Son of God was buried by the hand of Joseph, it was the work of God.
To the same purpose must also be referred the circumstances which are here detailed. Joseph’s piety and integrity of life are commended, that in the servant of God we may learn to recognize the work of God. The Evangelists relate that he was rich, in order to inform us that his amazing magnanimity of mind enabled him to rise superior to the obstruction which would otherwise have compelled him to retire. For rich men, being naturally proud, find nothing more difficult than to expose themselves voluntarily to the contempt of the people. Now we know how mean and disgraceful an act it was to receive from the hand of the executioner the body of a crucified man. Besides, as men devoted to riches are wont to avoid everything fitted to excite prejudice, the more eminent he was for wealth, the more cautious and timid he would have been, unless a holy boldness 295 had been imparted to him from heaven. The dignity of his rank is likewise mentioned, that he was a counselor, or senator, that in this respect also the power of God may be displayed; for it was not one of the lowest of the people that was employed to bury the body of Christ in haste and in concealment, but from a high rank of honor he was raised up to discharge this office. For the less credible it was that such an office of kindness should be performed towards Christ, the more clearly did it appear that the whole of this transaction was regulated by the purpose and hand of God.
We are taught by this example, that the rich are so far from being excusable, when they deprive Christ of the honor due to him: that they must be held to be doubly criminal, for turning into obstructions those circumstances which ought to have been excitements to activity. It is too frequent and customary, I acknowledge, for those who think themselves superior to others, to withdraw from the yoke, and to become soft and effeminate through excessive timidity and solicitude about their affairs. But we ought to view it in a totally different light; for if riches and honors do not aid us in the worship of God, we utterly abuse them. The present occurrence shows how easy it is for God to correct wicked fears by hindering us from doing our duty; since formerly Joseph did not venture to make an open profession of being a disciple of Christ, when matters were doubtful, but now, when the rage of enemies is at its height, and when their cruelty abounds, he gathers courage, and does not hesitate to incur manifest danger. We see then how the Lord in a moment forms the hearts to new feelings, and raises up by a spirit of fortitude those who had previously fainted. But if, through a holy desire to honor Christ, Joseph assumed such courage, while Christ was hanging on the cross, woe to our slothfulness, 296 if, now that he has risen from the dead, an equal zeal, at least, to glorify him do not burn in our hearts.
Mark 15:43, and Luke 23:51. Who also himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. The highest commendation bestowed on Joseph is, that he waited for the kingdom of God. He is likewise praised, no doubt, for righteousness, but this waiting for the kingdom of God was the root and source of his righteousness. By the kingdom of God, we must understand the renovation promised through Christ; for the perfection of order which, the prophets had every where promised, would exist at the coming of Christ, cannot exist, unless God assembles under his government those men who had gone astray. It is therefore pointed out in commendation of Joseph’s piety, that, during the disorder which then prevailed, he cherished the hope of that redemption which God had promised. Hence, too, arises the fear of God, and the desire of holiness and uprightness; for it is impossible for any one to dedicated himself to God, unless he expects that God will be his deliverer.
Yet let us observe, that while salvation through Christ was promised indiscriminately to all the Jews, and while the promise of it was common to them all, it is only of a very few that the Holy Spirit testifies what we are here told of Joseph. Hence it is evident, that nearly the whole of the people had buried in base forgetfulness the inestimable grace of God. All of them, indeed, had on their lips the language of boasting in reference to the coming of Christ, which was approaching; but few had the covenant of God fixed in their minds, so as to rise by faith to spiritual renovation. That was indeed an awful insensibility; and therefore we need not wonder if pure religion fell into decay, when the faith of salvation was extinguished. Would to God that a similar corruption did not prevail in this unhappy age! Christ once appeared as a Redeemer to the Jews and to the whole world, as had been declared in the predictions of the prophets. He set up the kingdom of God, by restoring affairs from confusion and disorder to a regular and proper condition. He has assigned to us a period of warfare, to exercise our patience till he come again from heaven to complete his reign which he has commenced. How many are there who aspire to this hope, even in a moderate degree? Do not almost all cleave to the earth, as if there had been no promise of a resurrection? But while the greater part of men, forgetful of their end, fall off on all sides, let us remember that it is a virtue peculiar to believers, to seek the things which are above, (Col 3:1;) and especially since the grace of God has shone upon us through the Gospel,
teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, justly, and piously, in the present world, looking for the blessed hope and manifestation of the glory of the great God,
Matthew 27:59. And having taken the body. The three Evangelists glance briefly at the burial; and therefore they say nothing about the aromatic ointments which John alone mentions, (Joh 19:39) only they relate that Joseph purchased a clean linen cloth; from which we infer, that Christ was honorably buried. And, indeed, there could be no doubt that a rich man, when he gave up his sepulcher to our Lord, made provision also, in other respects, for suitable magnificence and splendor. And this, too, was brought about by the secret providence of God, rather than by the premeditated design of men, that a new sepulcher, in which no man had ever yet been laid, was obtained by our Lord, who is the first-born from the dead, (Col 1:18,) and the first-fruits of them that rise, (1Co 15:20.) God intended, therefore, by this Mark to distinguish his Son from the remainder of the human race, and to point out by the sepulcher itself his newness of life.
61. And Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, were there. Matthew and Mark relate only that the women looked at what was done, and marked the place where the body was laid. But Luke states, at the same time, their resolution, which was, that they returned to the city, and prepared spices and ointments, that two days afterwards they might render due honor to the burial. Hence we learn that their minds were filled with a better odor, which the Lord breathed into his death, that he might bring them to his grave, and exalt them higher.
“Le jour de la preparation:” — “the day of the preparation.”
“De la croix.”
“Une saincte hardiesse.”
“Mandite soit nostre lascheté;” — “accursed be our sloth.”