The Entombment of Christ

Outline/Summary

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

From noon until three, darkness came over all the land. At about three o’clock, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of the bystanders heard him, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” Immediately, one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to Jesus to drink.” Others, however, said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice and gave up his spirit.

At that moment, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, and rocks split apart. Tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised (they came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city, and appeared to many people).

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly, this one was the son of God!”

Many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and given him support were also there, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalen, Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When evening came, a rich man arrived from Arimathea named Joseph, who was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate ordered that it be given to him.

Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that had been cut from the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the tomb’s entrance and went away, leaving Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sitting there, opposite the tomb.

The next day (the day of preparation), the chief priests and the Pharisees went before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that while the deceiver was still alive, he said, ‘After three days, I will rise again.’ So, give orders to secure the tomb until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples will steal his body and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”

Pilate told them, “Take a guard of soldiers and make it as secure as possible.”

So they went with soldiers of the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

What the story means to us today

Why did Jesus believe God had “forsaken him”?

Jesus’ words are a direct quote from Psalm 22:1:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The verse in Psalm continues, “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”

If Jesus could have lived long enough to continue the verses from Psalm, he would have said this:

“All who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads. ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him.’

“Dogs surround me. A pack of villains encircles me. They pierce my hands and my feet. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

And finally, Psalms concludes with,

“Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength, come quickly and help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions, save me from the horns of the wild oxen. I will declare your name to my people. I will praise you.”

It is a stunning discourse written thousands of years earlier that clearly describes exactly what Jesus had just gone through. Jesus’ exclamation was not a drunken cry of disbelief but the beginning of a shout for celebration.

Deeper thoughts and additional considerations

The awful pain of crucifixion

Crucifixion was an especially dreadful way to die. The victim would be tied or nailed to a wooden beam. The weight of the victim’s hanging body would make breathing difficult. The victim would have to use their feet to push themselves up to catch a breath. This action, combined with the wounds from flogging and beatings, would push the victim to the point of exhaustion and eventually death by suffocation, cardiac arrest, or loss of blood. If the victim took too long to die, typically a day or two, their legs would be broken so they could not raise themselves from the cross to catch a breath. This is what Jesus experienced.

How did darkness spread over the land when Jesus died?

The darkness Matthew mentioned was more than just a symbol of the tragedy that was about to occur. It was a sign to all in the land that, for what they had done to Jesus, judgment was coming.

Luke says the Sun was darkened for three hours – an astounding event. Possibly Luke mistakenly recorded a solar eclipse when he meant lunar eclipse. And astronomers know that a lunar eclipse occurred on Good Friday, April 3, 33 AD. However, that may not account for a literal “darkened” sky.

Maybe there was a lunar eclipse, or the sun was blotted from the sky by storms. Or maybe the Sun simply blinked out for three hours by forces unknown to us. We do not know.

Why did Jesus’ calling for Elijah alarm some of the onlookers?

Matthew says Jesus’ exact words were, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” The first two words, Eli, Eli, would sound quite like Elijah, especially coming from the lips of a dying man.

Whether bystanders thought Jesus was crying out in delirium or was truly calling for Elijah, is not quite clear. Old Jewish tradition from the time, held that Elijah, who was taken alive to heaven, would return to earth to rescue those in need. Thus the reason others in the crowd answer, “Wait, leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.” Either way, some rushed to ease his pain.

Dead saints appear before the people in the holy city

When describing the earthquake that occurred when Jesus died, Matthew says that tombs were opened, and the bodies of many Saints were “raised.” In a parenthetical note, it is written that “they came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the city where many people saw them.” The entire event is difficult to understand other than taking it simply for what it says. The tombs opened (to be expected during an earthquake), some bodies were exposed, and later people said they saw them walking about the city.

The women witness the beginning of Jesus’ explosive New Covenant

The disciples have all fled, but many of the women, disciples’ wives, and other followers of Jesus, were likely present during Jesus’ crucifixion. Still in danger for being a follower of Jesus, however, they watched the crucifixion from a distance.

Jesus’ New Covenant came to be at this very moment, a powerful change that event bore witness from outside historical references. It was a critically important epoch in world history. Much of the story of Jesus’ death may have come from these brave witnesses.

The rich man from Arimathea (Joseph) takes possession of Jesus’ body

Deuteronomy 21:22 instructs Jewish followers: 

“If someone is guilty of a capital offense is put to death, and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

This fell in direct contrast with the Romans’ objective – to leave the body in full sight as a lesson to others. Thus Joseph had to seek permission from the Roman authorities to remove Jesus’ body from the cross. His request was granted, allowing Jesus to be buried that same day.

The chief priests ask Pilate to stop a catastrophe

The chief priests are concerned that Jesus’ claims of Messiahship will be confirmed if the rises after three days. Thus, they ask Pilate to ensure the tomb is guarded. In fact, they personally went with the soldiers to Jesus’ tomb to ensure it was completely sealed and protected.

The soldiers were left at the tomb to provide around-the-clock protection. Under Pilate’s direct orders, they were to make the tomb “as secure as you can.” But could someone have stolen Jesus’ body during the night?

We do not know how long Jesus’ body was left in the grave before the tomb was sealed. Matthew tells us that Joseph went to Pilate “as evening approached,” and the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate “the next day.” Date/time measurements such as evening and the “next day” were different in Jesus’ time.

Days were carefully divided by the hours of sundown, especially during the Jewish festival that was taking place at the time. Thus the following day (which was the beginning of Sabbath, a Saturday) would begin around 6:00 PM. Evening would have been anytime before 6:00 PM, and the “next day” could have been shortly after dusk, maybe immediately following nightfall to ensure Jesus was buried quickly according to Jewish custom (see notes above). There may have been no time to “steal” Jesus’ body from the tomb.

And stealing Jesus’ body would be no easy task. Tombs were constructed by carving out a chamber in the rock face. It had a low entrance and an inclined slot where a disk-shaped stone fit. The heavy stone would be rolled into the slot to seal the tomb. The incline of the slot made the tomb easy to seal but very difficult to get back open without the aid of levers and several strong men to roll the heavy stone “uphill.”

And let’s not forget that humans of that era were not dumb (some research shows human intelligence peaked right around the time of Jesus). It goes without saying that before the chief priests ensured the tomb was guarded, they would have pushed the stone aside, ensured Jesus’ body was still there, and carefully examined the stone to ensure it was properly sealed. The verses make it clear that the chief priests and soldiers of the guard, under direct orders from Pilate, “made the tomb as secure as they could.” The chances of Jesus’ body being stolen under their noses are slim.

The soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb

Many envision Roman soldiers, provided by Pilate, standing guard at the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. This may not be accurate. The chief priests asked Pilate to “give orders to secure the tomb until the third day.” They explain that if the tomb is not guarded, someone may spirit away Jesus’ body and claim he rose from the dead. They are not afraid that Jesus will be raised from the dead but rather that someone may try to deceive them. Pilate’s response may not have been given in the vein most envision.

It is likely that Pilate was angry at the elders’ request. First, they feared Jesus when he was alive. They concocted a “treason” charge to have him executed. Pressured Pilate to convict him. Now they are afraid of Jesus when he is dead. Pilate may have wondered, “How much more can they want from me?”

The chief priests, under Roman law, could not make their own temple police available for use outside the temple – at least not without Pilate’s approval. Pilate said, “Take a guard of soldiers. Go and make it as secure as you can.” The soldiers, a “guard of soldiers,” are more likely the temple police rather than Roman soldiers. This would explain why, when they failed at their job, they reported back to the chief priests and not Pilate.

Still, by allowing Jesus’ body to “disappear,” they had failed at their tasks and would be held accountable by Pilate unless the chief priests intervened (as they promised the guards they would if they agreed to lie about their duty).

The science behind the story

Where is Jesus’ tomb located?

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is likely the true location of Jesus’ tomb. Such a place would have been revered, and its location would have remained well known, especially during the early years of Christianity.

We know that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was a stone quarry in the years prior, which fits the description of Jesus’ tomb being carved out of stone. However, shortly after Jesus’ death, the Romans filled the tombs in the area to create flat surfaces for building a temple to the gods of Jupiter and Venus.

About 200 years later, Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and sent his wife Helena to Jerusalem to look for Christ’s tomb. Finding the tomb, Constantine ordered the temple to be removed and replaced with a church. The soil was removed from the tomb believed to belong to Jesus. Around 326 AD, the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher began and was completed nine years later.

The temple curtain torn in two, an earthquake, and tombs spilled open

Clearly, the Temple’s curtain (of which there were two) torn from top to bottom, and bodies spilling from tombs could accompany an earthquake. Indeed, ancient Jewish writings say the doors of the Temple opened on their own about 40 years before the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD – around the time of Jesus’ death (~33 AD).

In addition, geologists studying cores taken from the Jerusalem area show an earthquake struck sometime between the years 26 AD and 36 AD. The only other significant earthquake seen in the geological record took place about 60 years earlier, in 31 BC.

Bible text

NIV

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). y 

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 

48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” 

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. 

27:57–61pp—Mk 15:42–47; Lk 23:50–56; Jn 19:38–42

57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. 

62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” 

65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. 

NET Bible

27:45 Now from noon until three, darkness came over all the land. 27:46 At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 27:47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 27:48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 27:49 But the rest said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.” 27:50 Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. 27:51 Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. 27:52 And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. 27:53 (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) 27:54 Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!” 27:55 Many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and given him support were also there, watching from a distance. 27:56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. 

27:57 Now when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 27:58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 27:59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 27:60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut in the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away. 27:61 (Now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb.) 

27:62 The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate 27:63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 27:64 So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day. Otherwise his disciples may come and steal his body and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 27:65 Pilate said to them, “Take a guard of soldiers. Go and make it as secure as you can.” 27:66 So they went with the soldiers of the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. 

28:1 Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 28:2 Suddenly there was a severe earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. 28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 28:4 The guards were shaken and became like dead men because they were so afraid of him. 28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 28:6 He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. 28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead. He is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you!” 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 28:9 But Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings!” They came to him, held on to his feet and worshiped him. 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.” 

NKJV

45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” 48 Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.

49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

54 So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

55 And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

57 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, 63 saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

The Message

      45–46 From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around mid-afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

      47–49 Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”

      50 But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last.

      51–53 At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)

      54 The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

      55–56 There were also quite a few women watching from a distance, women who had followed Jesus from Galilee in order to serve him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the Zebedee brothers.

      57–61 Late in the afternoon a wealthy man from Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, arrived. His name was Joseph. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate granted his request. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in clean linens, put it in his own tomb, a new tomb only recently cut into the rock, and rolled a large stone across the entrance. Then he went off. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary stayed, sitting in plain view of the tomb.

      62–64 After sundown, the high priests and Pharisees arranged a meeting with Pilate. They said, “Sir, we just remembered that that liar announced while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will be raised.’ We’ve got to get that tomb sealed until the third day. There’s a good chance his disciples will come and steal the corpse and then go around saying, ‘He’s risen from the dead.’ Then we’ll be worse off than before, the final deceit surpassing the first.”

      65–66 Pilate told them, “You will have a guard. Go ahead and secure it the best you can.” So they went out and secured the tomb, sealing the stone and posting guards.

KJV

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. 48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. 49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. 54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. 55 And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: 56 Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: 58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he 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 he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. 61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, 63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. 65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. 66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

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