Luke 23:44–56 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos
The Lord's Death and Burial
Today's passage is divided into two segments: Jesus' death and his burial. As we've seen in our previous week's study, the events surrounding the death of our Lord, as described by Luke, fall into three distinct sections: (1) Via Dolorosa, the way to the cross, described in vv. 26–32; (2) the actual crucifixion scene, the events surrounding the execution of our Lord, taking place on Calvary, vv. 33–43; and (3) today's account, vv. 44–49, of our Lord's death, including Luke's description of how these events had impacted those who witnessed it, e.g., the centurion, the crowd, and the women who'd accompanied Jesus from Galilee. We'll then focus on the impact that the Lord's burial had had on others (vv. 50–56).
His Death (vv. 44–49)
Having been nailed to the cross for three hours, Jesus was suspended between heaven and earth, with his life force draining out of him. Yet he had hope. He'd forgiven his executioners (v. 34); he'd promised Paradise to a thief dying beside him; now he waits, laboring to take his next breath by attempting to lift his chest. Thus, Christ Jesus breathed as long as he had strength, though the savage scourging by Roman soldiers had taken much out of him. He could feel himself weakening. It was about 9:00 a.m. when he was crucified (Mark 15:25), but at noon, darkness fell over the whole land; such darkness was personally felt as being heavy and foreboding.
Luke passes over Matthew's record of other momentous signs that took place, i.e., an earthquake and the resurrection of some of the saints (Matthew 27:52–53). But Luke's report focusses on another amazing phenomenon: "And the curtain of the temple was torn in two" (v. 45b). The curtain referred to (Greek katapetasma) seems to be the inner curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The Greek schizo (from which we get our English words "schism" and "schizophrenia") here means "to divide by use of force, split, divide, separate, tear apart."
Think of the force that would have been required to tear that massive curtain! Historians tell us of two curtains separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place: Both were 60 feet long and 30 feet wide, as thick as the palm of a man's hand, woven in 72 separate squares, and joined together [Edersheim, Life and Times, 2:611]. Alas, none of the gospel writers tells anything more about the cause, effect, and meaning of the split curtain.
Luke omits several of the Seven Last Expressions of Jesus Christ on the Cross. He concludes by giving us Jesus' last utterance: "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last" (v. 46). Notice the "loud voice," scarcely what one would expect from a man about to die. But Jesus seems to have been determined that his words would be heard. So ends the human life of Jesus, a.k.a. Son of God, Son of Man, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Next, Luke records the reactions of onlookers to Jesus' death: The reaction of the centurion was one of awe and praise (v. 47); the bystanders' reacted in deep grief (v. 48); Jesus' men and women disciples reacted in shock (v. 49). The centurion: A career Roman military officer had likely seen and supervised many crucifixions in his life. But in Jesus, whom he'd observed for only a few hours, he saw a death different than the many hundreds he'd witnessed: He was in awe. The bystanders: While the centurion reacted in awe and praise, the bystanders were in deep grief. Beating one's chest was a sign of contrition or sorrow (as seen in the fulfillment of prophecy in Zechariah 12:10). Jesus' closest followers: Both men and women disciples were in shock; they stood at a distance, separated from him by death.
His Burial (vv. 50–56)
Living in a world that's hostile to Christianity, it's not hard to choose to blend in, laugh at dirty jokes, never confront gossip, and never hint at identifying yourself as a Christian. Doing so might cost you your reputation, even your job! Sometimes, even among Christian friends, it's hard to maintain your convictions for fear of what others will think.
That's why the story of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who buried Jesus, should interest you. He was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the body of seventy men who governed religious and civic matters in Israel. The Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus to death, although Joseph hadn't consented to their plan or actions. But probably he hadn't spoken out as vigorously as he should have. John 19:38 tells us that he was a secret disciple of Jesus, for fear of the Jews. His fear had prevented him from taking a bold stand for Christ, even though in his heart he knew that he should have done so.
Thank you, Joseph! But now that Jesus was dead, and his followers had gone into hiding, Joseph gathered up his courage (Mark 15:43), went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus so that he could give him a proper burial. If he hadn't done so, Jesus' body would have probably been thrown on a garbage heap and burned, robbing us of many major proofs of the resurrection that we'll see in today's passage. So we can thank Joseph for honoring Jesus with a proper burial and for giving us many evidences for our faith.
By identifying himself with Jesus at this point in time, Joseph seemingly had nothing to gain but everything to lose. Jesus was dead and no one had expected his resurrection. It would have been much easier for Joseph to have thought, Oh, well! Jesus was a good man and a prophet of God. Too bad that these things happened, but life must go on. I'll have more influence if I don't rock the boat and I keep my seat on the Sanhedrin. I'd better not do anything to upset anyone and jeopardize my position of influence. But in spite of the risks, Joseph came out of hiding and took a strong stand for Jesus by providing him a proper burial. He gives us an example of what other Scriptures teach: The Lord wants us all to take a hearty stand for him in this hostile world.
Jesus had breathed his last. His friends and disciples worked quickly to see to an honorable burial before nightfall and the start of the Sabbath that began Friday night at sundown. Why do gospel writers discuss Jesus' burial? First, it's remarkable that Jesus, a condemned criminal, received a proper burial at all. In the Roman world, condemned prisoners were typically denied burial. More importantly, gospel writers had laid the groundwork to describe the amazing circumstances of the resurrection that was to take place on Sunday morning. That's why the details of Jesus' burial were so important to them and us.
For Joseph of Arimathea to have been a member of the Council of the Sanhedrin is noteworthy. He not only held an exalted position in society, Luke describes him as a good (agathos) and righteous (dikaios) person, a man of integrity. Clearly, Joseph hadn't gone along with the Sanhedrin's condemnation of Jesus nor consented to their decision.
We also see in v. 51 that Joseph was a seeker, "waiting for the kingdom of God." The Greek verb prosdechomai for "waiting" was used early in Luke's gospel to describe godly people who don't yet participate in the Kingdom, but are eagerly awaiting it, e.g., Simeon (2:25), Anna (2:38), and others.
Joseph was a wealthy (Matthew 27:57), "prominent member" of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43, linked above). He used his personal resources and position to assist the Lord whom he loved. On Jesus' behalf, not to further his own career, Joseph immediately approached Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. John's gospel notes that Joseph was assisted by Nicodemus (19:39–40), a fellow member of the Sanhedrin who'd previously met with Jesus by night (John 3:1–8). He, too, was ready to declare his allegiance to Jesus.
After Pilate learned that Jesus was dead, as certified by the centurion in charge of the crucifixion detail (Mark 15:43–45), Joseph was permitted to claim Jesus' body (v. 53a), then proceeded to personally place the body in a new tomb (v. 53b). What's the significance of Jesus being buried in a brand new tomb? Probably to reflect the great esteem in which Joseph held Jesus. It also counteracts any suggestion that, when Jesus' body was missing on resurrection morning, the women mistook it for another burial location. After preparing the body, Joseph and Nicodemus gently placed it on one of the stone ledges in the tomb, rolled a large stone in front of the door (Matthew 27:60b), and departed.
Luke carefully noted the time of the burial: "It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin" (v. 54). The Greek noun paraskeue, for "preparation," refers to the day of the week prior to Sabbath. Here "Friday" was meant.
Earlier in his gospel, Luke told us that Jesus' company of disciples traveling with him included women, such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many others (8:1–3). Now he again tells us that Jesus' company of disciples included women who played a different role in Jesus' life. In caring for his burial's final needs, they'd participate in one of the central truths of Jesus' life and ministry. Several women had followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the garden tomb known to be the place of Jesus' burial, for on resurrection morning there'd be no mistaking of locations.
The women returned home, planning to come back with spices and perfumes, after the Sabbath, to complete the preparation of Jesus' body. Incidentally, though the synoptic gospels don't mention it, John indicates that Joseph and Nicodemus had brought with them about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, which they added gradually as they wrapped each limb with strips of linen (John 19:39–40, linked above).
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 What did the centurion see in Jesus' last hours that caused him to declare him to be innocent and righteous (v. 47)?
- Q. 2 What does a people-pleaser have to learn and do to become a God-pleaser?
- Q. 3 How do you know when you've given enough to the Lord and his work?
This Week's Passage
New International Version (NIV) [To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 23.]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from the "JESUS" film titled "Death of Jesus."
† You can also watch this passage-specific video clip titled "Burial of Jesus."
The Death of Jesus
44It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man." 48When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
The Burial of Jesus
50Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body. 53Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
55The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.