The Significance of the Burial of Jesus

This past Sunday I preached from John 19:38-20:18, on the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I want to comment on something I didn't speak to in my sermon: why is the burial of Jesus important to the Christian faith? Indeed, Paul declared that "He was buried" is one of the matters "of first importance" that he received and delivered to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 15:3-4).

First, the burial of Jesus ensures that the resurrection of Jesus was just that: a resurrection from the dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared Jesus' body for burial, and buried Him in a new tomb, in which no other body had yet been laid (John 19:38-42). These men could testify that there was no life in the body they buried. He had not "swooned," lost consciousness, or fainted. He had truly died. Therefore, if in three days He were alive, the burial proved that He had risen from death to new life.

Second, the burial of Jesus was itself an aspect of His humiliation. The Westminster Larger Catechism #50 reminds us, "Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell." Jesus did not die and then immediately come back to life. His suffering and humiliation descended to the point of remaining under the power of death from Friday through Sunday. As the Westminster divines point out, one aspect of the meaning of the statement "He descended into hell" is clearly the separation of His body and soul in death. As Herman Bavinck puts it, "The state of death in which Christ entered when he died was as essentially a part of his humiliation as his spiritual suffering on the cross. In both together he completed his perfect obedience" (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3, p. 417). Though Psalm 16:10/Acts 2:24-27, 31 assure us that Jesus did not see corruption, and His soul was not abandoned to Hades/Sheol (the state of death), yet it is great comfort to know that Jesus has experienced the whole measure of human suffering, even tasting the grave for a season - He fully bore the wages of sin.

Third, the burial of Jesus fulfilled Scripture, and the words of Jesus Himself. Isaiah 53:9 declares that the grave of the Suffering Servant would be "with a rich man in his death" - fulfilled in the person of Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus taught that His death, burial and resurrection was foreshadowed by the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish: "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Had Jesus not been buried, He would have been proved wrong, or worse, a liar. But He was indeed in the heart of the earth; Scriptural typology, and Jesus' prophecy, were fulfilled.

To deny or ignore the burial of Jesus is certainly to deny or ignore a truth "of first importance" for Christians.