John 19:38-42 with Waldenström’s Commentary

The Gospel Lesson for the Saturday of Holy Week

by Paul Peter Waldenström and translated by Tommy Carlson

Dr. Paul Peter Waldenström based his comments on a Greek New Testament text which he translated into Swedish. Tommy Carlson has translated both the Biblical text and Waldenström’s comments from the Swedish text, 2nd Edition, 1902. — Ed.

Verse 38 — But1 Joseph of Arimathea,2 who was one of Jesus’ disciples, though in secret for fear of the Jews,3 asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus4 and Pilate gave his permission.5 So they came and took6 him.

1. For verses 38-42, see also Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-54.
2. Somehow he found out that Jesus was already dead. Possibly he was in the vicinity of the cross when Jesus gave up his spirit, or when they pierced his side.
3. The Jewish enemies of Jesus. In John’s Gospel the word Jews is used in two contexts. Some times it is used as a nation to distinguish it from other nations. In this sense, John himself was a Jew. In other places, however, the evangelist uses the word to mean those Jews who are against Jesus and his followers—a hostile religious party. In this context, John was (as every believer) no longer a Jew. To the nation he was and continued to be a Jew and at the same time a disciple of Jesus. It is in this last meaning, the evangelist here as in many other places, uses the word Jews. As shown in this context, he does not mean the Jews in general, but the leading men living in Jerusalem, the council and high priest, etc., in whom the old Judaism had its foremost representation.
4. The soldiers did not remove the body of Jesus immediately but waited for the robbers to die so they could take them down at the same time. Therefore, Joseph had time to go to Pilate and ask permission to remove Jesus’ body. The crucified did not die immediately no matter how they tried to hasten death.
5. After he had summoned the captain who had stood guard at the cross (Matthew 27:54). No crucified person could be taken down before the body was dead. According to Mark, Pilate wondered when he would hear that Jesus was dead. It was unusual for the crucified to die quickly even if they broke their legs.
6. Joseph had people with him to give him a helping hand. Another reading of this account reads: "He came and took."

Verse 39 — But even Nicodemus, who came to Jesus for the first time at night, came bearing a mixture of myrrh and aloes,1 weighing about one hundred pounds.2

1. Pulverized myrrh resin and aloe wood (Psalm 45:9) was sprinkled between the wrappings (v. 40).
2. The use of a large amount of spices for the embalming of the dead was an expression of great love and showed great honor. While only a part of the large amount, which is here noted, could be used between the wrappings, one can assume that the rest was spread on the bed in the grave where the body was to be laid. Compare 2 Chronicles 16:14. On Sunday morning the women came to further embalm his body with ointments (Mark 16:1).

Verse 40 — So they took Jesus’ body and wrapped him in linen cloth with the sweet scented (fragrant) spices, which is the customary way for Jews to bury.

Verse 41 — But at that place, where he had been crucified, was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb1 in which no one yet been laid to rest.

>1. Belonging to Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:60).

Verse 42 — There they laid Jesus, since it was the Day of Preparation1 and the tomb was near at hand.2

1. Since the coming Sabbath was near, it was necessary to hurry the burial.
2. Their thought was to move him to another grave after the Sabbath. The old Jewish burial places were seldom dug in the ground. Sometimes natural caves were used, sometimes graves were carved out the rock. The rich often prepared expensive burial chambers while they were still alive. Many such burial chambers are still preserved in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Such a burial chamber was the place in which Jesus’ body was laid. So then the Prophet’s saying was accomplished: "They gave him a grave among the rich" (Isaiah 53:9). Note how God leads events so that the words of the prophets are accomplished without human awareness of what is happening. Like the prophets themselves, so also are their accomplishment always of God. The thoughts of Joseph and Nicodemus were about the necessity, for the sake of the Sabbath, to hurry the burial. Surely, they intended to move the corpse later.