John 19:38-42 – “The Burial of Jesus”

Sermon for Sunday, October 25th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Isa 53:9-12 ESV] 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

New Testament reading:

[1Co 15:1-8 ESV] 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 19:38-42 ESV] 38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.



The burial of Christ is less prominently emphasized than his death or his resurrection, but it is integral to the account.

The burial of Christ is so important that it was included in the early creeds of the church:

The Apostle Creed says

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and WAS BURIED.”

The Nicene Creed says

“And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and WAS BURIED.”

In our Shorter Catechism, we read also of Christ’s humiliation consisting as it did of “his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; IN BEING BURIED, and continuing under the power of death for a time.”

The burial of Christ is an important element of the Gospel. Paul wrote:

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 THAT HE WAS BURIED, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Why is this fact emphasized? Surely the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ are important. But why is the burial afforded such prominent mentions. Is it merely a historical note or is there something more important going on here?

Today, we’ll look at three reasons why the burial of Christ is important. [REPEAT: three reasons why the burial of Christ is important.]

I. The Burial of Christ fulfills prophecy.

II. The Burial of Christ defeats the “Swoon Theory.”

III. The Burial of Christ defeats the “Swap Theory.”


I. The Burial of Christ fulfills prophecy.

They needed to bury Jesus before the day was out. The Sabbath would begin at dark that evening. And once the Sabbath was upon them, no work could be done. They had to bury the body now (Friday) or wait until after the Sabbath. John (19:3) also mentions “that Sabbath was a high day.” It was the Passover festival, and it seems they didn’t want to desecrate the day having a body on the cross.

Now, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea seemed to have prepared ahead of time. They worked together. One had the tomb, the other bought and brought the spices for burial at considerable expense.

And here is where we find the fulfillment of prophecy, for Isaiah (53:9) had said “He was with a rich man in his death.” According to Matthew’s Gospel (27:6) the tomb was Joseph’s own. Joseph of Arimathea was the rich man. He owned this tomb.

This is the transition then from Jesus’ humiliation to his exaltation. Throughout his life Jesus was a servant. And the most extreme humiliation occurred on the cross. But now he is buried in the tomb of a rich man! He is no longer humiliated but exalted! And from then till now and forevermore the name of Jesus Christ is exalted above all others. Included in his exaltation also is an amount of spices for for a king! 100 lbs of them.

The burial of Christ is not an earthen burial, 6 ft under, as we are accustomed to. It was in a rock-hewn cave. Or, as Luke says, “a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.” (Luke 23:53)

I mentioned last week a place called “Gordon’s Calvary” where there is a rock that looks like a skull so that some believe this is the place of Golgotha. Well, there is in this spot also a place called “the Garden Tomb.” It is a tomb hewn out of the rock. We can’t know with any real confidence that this was the tomb in which Jesus was buried, but it is at least similar to that tomb.

This rich man, Joseph of Arimathea is a figure little known. There has been more created legend about him than historical fact. He often figures prominently in stories about the Holy Grail, even being responsible for bringing it to far off lands. What is known is that he was a rich man (Matthew 27:57) from the town of Arimathea (Luke 23:50) who was a member of the council / Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43), a good and righteous man (Luke 23:50) who had not consented to their decision (Luke 23:51) and who was secretly a disciple of Jesus (Mark 15:43, John 19:38). And he was responsible for Jesus’ body after his death. (Luke 23:52, Matthew 27:58)). He took the body and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid it in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. (Luke 23:53, Mark 27:59-60)

The burial of Christ was also necessary to fulfill the prophecy of Christ himself that just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus’ burial put him “in the heart of the earth” before his resurrection on the third day.

Then we have another prophecy that is fulfilled.

Criminals would be either thrown into the garbage heap where dogs would devour them or where they were be burned up in the ever-burning fires there, or they would be left on the cross where vultures would pick at the body. But Psalm 16:10 says of the Messiah, “[Psa 16:10 ESV] 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” Being buried in a tomb there would be no corruption upon the body of Christ.

So the burial of Christ fulfills prophecy, but it also prevents some erroneous views. We’ll look at this next. The “Swoon theory” and the “Swap theory.”

II. The Burial of Christ defeats the “Swoon Theory.”

The “swoon theory” is the idea that Jesus never really died; that he somehow survived the crucifixion and was resuscitated rather than resurrected.

The Scriptures make clear the impossibility of this. We saw last week how much suffering Jesus went through on the cross. It is hard to imagine that anyone could survive this. And if they did they would surely soon succumb to their injuries.

Apparently the two criminals with Jesus were yet clinging to life. The soldiers then went and broke their legs so that they would die quickly. But when they came to Jesus they found that he was already dead and so they did not break his legs. To confirm that he was indeed dead, they pierced his side with a spear. His lack of reaction would prove that he was dead.

Jesus had not merely swooned—or fallen unconscious—he was dead.

The soldiers knew it, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus knew it. They wrapped him in linen cloths; not exactly something conducive to living through. It sounds rather suffocating. And they placed him sealed in a tomb. Again, not a place where one could recover from injuries given the cold temperatures and lack of food, water, and medical attention.

The idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion, says one modern doctor, is “impossible” and “a fanciful theory without any possible basis in fact.”

The burial of Christ defeats the “Swoon Theory.” Jesus was not merely unconscious, he was dead.

III. The Burial of Christ defeats the “Swap Theory.”

The burial of Christ also defeats the “Swap theory.” This is also called the “substitution hypothesis.”

There are some variants of it, but the idea is that someone else (not Jesus) was crucified, or someone else impersonated him after his death. The theory is that Jesus and another were “swapped.”

This swap theory is commonly held by Muslims. (They also are known to hold to the swoon theory).

This theory doesn’t have much traction.

Some of Jesus’s disciples, like John, SAW Jesus crucified. They were unlikely to mistake his identity! Also there were the secret disciples who later buried the body – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. And even Jesus’ own mother Mary was there! Do you think SHE would misidentify Jesus?

Then, when the body is buried we find that Joseph was there and Nicodemus and the women, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clopas. Luke says, “The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.” (Luke 23:55)

If there were some sort of “swapping” going on, one might think the suspects would be the close disciples of Jesus. But look at the text. The disciples—the main ones—weren’t involved. It was Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who handled the body. And it was the women who found the empty tomb. This combined with the fact that making up a story such as the resurrection would be to deceive themselves and to risk death for nothing.

The Swap Theory simply fails.

In fact—and this is important—there is no accepted secular theory about what happened with Jesus and his resurrection. They used to make up these various theories, but all of them have fallen flat. They no longer try to produce theories. They simply don’t have an alternative. Jesus Christ Is risen.


How then are we to understand what happened? The best and only understanding is that which the disciples of Jesus Christ later came to understand – he died, he was buried, and he rose again.

Only this would convince them to risk their lives for the Gospel. Only this being the truth would lead them to preach it and to write it in the Gospels for all to hear. And only this—the actual death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament and New.

Jesus Christ was born

Jesus Christ died

Jesus Christ WAS BURIED

Jesus Christ rose from the dead

Jesus Christ will come again. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. Amen.