The key to solving the Easter mystery is Joseph of Arimathea (J of A). This Joseph was a Pharisee and a well-respected member of the ruling council that convicted Jesus of Blasphemy. Once one can fully understand why he did what he did, then the “mystery” of the first Easter becomes clear.
According to the bible, we are told that J of A was a closet Christian who took Jesus’ body from the cross and buried him (Jesus) in his (Joseph’s) tomb. To those who don’t understand the cultural context within this claim is being made, this seems to make sense. However, to those who do, this could never be.
The crime of Blasphemy was a very serious one in Jesus’ day. Indeed, it was the worse crime any Jew could commit. Blasphemers who were found guilty were put to death. After death, their corpses were to be buried in the criminal’s graveyard.
Can anyone really conceive J of A, a highly respected member of the same ruling council that helped to convict Jesus of this detestable crime taking the kind of pity on him as described in the bible? Most certainly not!
However, there is another, much simpler explanation. After J of A, helped to convict Jesus of blasphemy and helped to have him executed and nailed to the cross it was very near the Sabbath.
According to Jewish law, the corpses of convicted criminals must be reburied in the criminals’ graveyard. Also, according to law, they could not be left on the cross during the Sabbath. Being the well-respected member of the council, J of A could not ignore the law. Indeed, it was his job to help enforce it. So, what was he to do?
J of A did the only legal thing he could do - had Jesus’ corpse placed in the tomb. It is important to note that Joseph’s actions did not amount to a burial. The tomb that J of A used was not his personal tomb - it belonged to the state. Also, this tomb was what we today would call a public morgue.
It is very likely that other criminals were also placed in this tomb from time to time. As for Jesus, J of A had to place Jesus’ corpse in the tomb as he died just as the Sabbath was about to start. Being a strict observer and enforcer of the law, J of A could not attempt to bury Jesus when he died in the criminal’s graveyard as he would be violating the law of the Sabbath.
Of course, as soon as the Sabbath was over, which would have been late Saturday, J of A (or the court) would have carried out the law - by removing Jesus’ corpse and burying it in the criminal’s graveyard. This is why the tomb was “found empty” on that first Easter Sunday, or soon after.
Much is said of why J of A acted the way he did. If we were to take the claim that J of A was a closet Christian to be true, then that alone would ensure that he would have acted strictly within the law. Why? The bible itself makes this clear.
Remember what happened when the crowd accused Peter of being a Christian? Peter strenuously denied it - three times, in fact. Now Peter, a relative nobody, did not want to be tainted with any hint of being a Christian at that time.
Imagine J of A, a highly respected member of the ruling council appearing to bend the application of the law to this same Jesus and the attraction he would be getting! Most unlikely! Indeed, if he were a closet Christian, J of A, like Peter, would not want to appear to be a Christian. As such, he would enforce the law - right down to the letter!
History is clear: There was no closet Christian called Joseph of Arimathea and the only resurrection that occurred is the one the early Christians invented.
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