by Mike Benson
He was a member of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin (cf. Luke 23:50a). Think of the Sanhedrin as the Supreme Court of the Jews. It was the authoritative body to which all questions of Hebrew law were finally addressed.
Scripture tells us that he wasn’t just a member of the mighty council, but he was a prominent member of this judicial body (cf. Mark 15:43). Think upper crust.
Ironically, it was this man who stepped forward and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus following the crucifixion. I find that fascinating. As far as we know, Jesus’ own family didn’t request his body, nor did those closest to him, the twelve.
“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43).
Take special note of the phrase, “and taking courage…” Let that simmer in your skillet for a few moments.
All four gospel accounts mention Joseph’s request for the corpse of the Lord, but Mark’s account alone employs the words “and taking courage…” Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus (cf. John 19:38), but he took courage.
Think about the enormous courage it must have taken to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. Pilate probably already had a bad taste in his mouth with reference to the Sanhedrin. The Jewish council had brought Jesus to his court on trumped up charges, insisted that he find the Lord guilty, and then have him put to death.
When Pilate resisted the council’s will, the Sanhedrin threatened to go to the Romans. “From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, ‘If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend…’” (John 19:12a). “You are not Caesar’s friend…” was the council’s way of political intimidation.
I’m inclined to think that probably didn’t help Joseph’s cause. And yet, he—a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, went to Pilate (who didn’t exactly have close, warm associations with the Sanhedrin), and asked for the dead body of the very man the Sanhedrin at large (cf. Luke 23:51) wanted to kill!
That took courage.
Dear friend, the next time you’re tempted to not take a stand for Christ, the next time you’re inclined to remain in the shadows and not do a good work for fear of others, remember Joseph of Arimathea. He was a secret, fearful disciple, but he took courage.