Home      Back to Holy Saturday        





Calvin's Commentaries  
On the Harmony of the Gospels
(Volume XVII)
MATTHEW 27:57-61; MARK 15:42-47; LUKE 23:50-56 

The burial of Christ is now added, as an intermediate transition from the ignominy of the cross to the glory of the resurrection. True, indeed, God determined, for another reason, that Christ should be buried, that it might be more fully attested that he suffered real death on our account. But yet it ought to be regarded as the principal design, that in this manner the cursing, which he had endured for a short time, began to be removed; for his body was not thrown into a ditch in the ordinary way, but honorably laid in a hewn sepulcher. Although at that time the weakness of the flesh was still visible, and the divine power of the Spirit was not clearly seen before his resurrection; yet God determined by this, as a sort of preparation, to shadow out what he was shortly afterwards to do, that he might exalt gloriously above the heavens his Son, the conqueror of death. 

Matthew 27:57. And when the evening was come. Let it be understood that Joseph did not come in the dusk of the evening, but before sunset, that he might perform this office of kindness to his Master, without violating the Sabbath; for the Sabbath commenced in the evening, and therefore it was necessary that Christ should be laid in the grave before night came on. Now from the time that Christ died until the Sabbath began to be observed, there were three free days. And though John does not mention Joseph only, but joins Nicodemus as his companion, (14:39;) yet as he alone undertook the business at first, and as Nicodemus did no more than follow and join him, the three: Evangelists satisfied themselves with relating in a brief narrative what was done by Joseph alone. 

Now though this affection of Joseph deserved uncommon praise, still we ought first to consider the providence of God, in subduing a man of high and honorable rank among his countrymen, to wipe away the reproach of the cross by the honor of burial. And, indeed, as he exposed himself to the dislike and hatred of the whole nation, and to great dangers, there can be no doubt that this singular courage arose from a secret movement of the Spirit; for though he had formerly been one of Christ’s disciples, yet he had never ventured to make a frank and open profession of his faith. When the death of Christ now presents to him a spectacle full of despair, and fitted to break the strongest minds, how comes he suddenly to acquire such noble courage that, amidst the greatest terrors, he feels no dread, and hesitates not to advance farther than he had ever done, when all was in peace? Let us know then that, when the Son of God was buried by the hand of Joseph, it was the work of God. 

To the same purpose must also be referred the circumstances which are here detailed. Joseph’s piety and integrity of life are commended, that in the servant of God we may learn to recognize the work of God. The Evangelists relate that he was rich, in order to inform us that his amazing magnanimity of mind enabled him to rise superior to the obstruction which would otherwise have compelled him to retire. For rich men, being naturally proud, find nothing more difficult than to expose themselves voluntarily to the contempt of the people. Now we know how mean and disgraceful an act it was to receive from the hand of the executioner the body of a crucified man. Besides, as men devoted to riches are wont to avoid everything fitted to excite prejudice, the more eminent he was for wealth, the more cautious and timid he would have been, unless a holy boldness had been imparted to him from heaven. The dignity of his rank is likewise mentioned, that he was a counselor, or senator, that in this respect also the power of God may be displayed; for it was not one of the lowest of the people that was employed to bury the body of Christ in haste and in concealment, but from a high rank of honor he was raised up to discharge this office. For the less credible it was that such an office of kindness should be performed towards Christ, the more clearly did it appear that the whole of this transaction was regulated by the purpose and hand of God. 

We are taught by this example, that the rich are so far from being excusable, when they deprive Christ of the honor due to him: that they must be held to be doubly criminal, for turning into obstructions those circumstances which ought to have been excitements to activity. It is too frequent and customary, I acknowledge, for those who think themselves superior to others, to withdraw from the yoke, and to become soft and effeminate through excessive timidity and solicitude about their affairs. But we ought to view it in a totally different light; for if riches and honors do not aid us in the worship of God , we utterly abuse them. The present occurrence shows how easy it is for God to correct wicked fears by hindering us from doing our duty; since formerly Joseph did not venture to make an open profession of being a disciple of Christ, when matters were doubtful, but now, when the rage of enemies is at its height, and when their cruelty abounds, he gathers courage, and does not hesitate to incur manifest danger. We see then how the Lord in a moment forms the hearts to new feelings, and raises up by a spirit of fortitude those who had previously fainted. But if, through a holy desire to honor Christ, Joseph assumed such courage, while Christ was hanging on the cross, woe to our slothfulness, if, now that he has risen from the dead, an equal zeal, at least, to glorify him do not burn in our hearts. 

Mark 15:43, and Luke 23:51. Who also himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. The highest commendation bestowed on Joseph is, that he waited for the kingdom of God. He is likewise praised, no doubt, for righteousness, but this waiting for the kingdom of God was the root and source of his righteousness. By the kingdom of God, we must understand the renovation promised through Christ; for the perfection of order which, the prophets had every where promised, would exist at the coming of Christ, cannot exist, unless God assembles under his government those men who had gone astray. It is therefore pointed out in commendation of Joseph’s piety, that, during the disorder which then prevailed, he cherished the hope of that redemption which God had promised. Hence, too, arises the fear of God, and the desire of holiness and uprightness; for it is impossible for any one to dedicated himself to God, unless he expects that God will be his deliverer. 

Yet let us observe, that while salvation through Christ was promised indiscriminately to all the Jews, and while the promise of it was common to them all, it is only of a very few that the Holy Spirit testifies what we are here told of Joseph. Hence it is evident, that nearly the whole of the people had buried in base forgetfulness the inestimable grace of God. All of them, indeed, had on their lips the language of boasting in reference to the coming of Christ, which was approaching; but few had the covenant of God fixed in their minds, so as to rise by faith to spiritual renovation. That was indeed an awful insensibility; and therefore we need not wonder if pure religion fell into decay, when the faith of salvation was extinguished. Would to God that a similar corruption did not prevail in this unhappy age! Christ once appeared as a Redeemer to the Jews and to the whole world, as had been declared in the predictions of the prophets. He set up the kingdom of God, by restoring affairs from confusion and disorder to a regular and proper condition. He has assigned to us a period of warfare, to exercise our patience till he come again from heaven to complete his reign which he has commenced. How many are there who aspire to this hope, even in a moderate degree? Do not almost all cleave to the earth, as if there had been no promise of a resurrection? But while the greater part of men, forgetful of their end, fall off on all sides, let us remember that it is a virtue peculiar to believers, to seek the things which are above, (Colossians 3:1;) and especially since the grace of God has shone upon us through the Gospel, 

teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, justly, and piously, in the present world, looking for the blessed hope and manifestation of the glory of the great God, 
(Titus 2:11-13.) 

Matthew 27:59. And having taken the body. The three Evangelists glance briefly at the burial; and therefore they say nothing about the aromatic ointments which John alone mentions, (19:39) only they relate that Joseph purchased a clean linen cloth; from which we infer, that Christ was honorably buried. And, indeed, there could be no doubt that a rich man, when he gave up his sepulcher to our Lord, made provision also, in other respects, for suitable magnificence and splendor. And this, too, was brought about by the secret providence of God, rather than by the premeditated design of men, that a new sepulcher, in which no man had ever yet been laid, was obtained by our Lord, who is the first-born from the dead, (Colossians 1:18,) and the first-fruits of them that rise, (1 Corinthians 15:20.) God intended, therefore, by this Mark to distinguish his Son from the remainder of the human race, and to point out by the sepulcher itself his newness of life. 

61. And Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, were there. Matthew and Mark relate only that the women looked at what was done, and marked the place where the body was laid. But Luke states, at the same time, their resolution, which was, that they returned to the city, and prepared spices and ointments, that two days afterwards they might render due honor to the burial. Hence we learn that their minds were filled with a better odor, which the Lord breathed into his death, that he might bring them to his grave, and exalt them higher. 

MATTHEW 27:62-66 

Matthew 27:62. And the next day. In this narrative Matthew did not so much intend to show with what determined rage the scribes and priests pursued Christ, as to exhibit to us, as in a mirror, the amazing providence of God in proving the resurrection of his Son. Cunning men, practiced at least in fraud and treachery, plot among themselves, and contrive a method by which they may extinguish the memory of a dead man; for they see that they have gained nothing, if they do not destroy the certainty of the resurrection. But while they are attempting to do this, they appear rather as if they had expressly intended to bring it forth to the light, that it might be known. The resurrection of Christ would undoubtedly have been less manifest, or, at least, they would have had more plausible grounds for denying it, if they had not taken pains to station witnesses at the sepulcher. We see then how the Lord not only disappointeth the crafty, (Job 5:12,) but employs even their own schemes as snares for holding them fast, that he may draw and compel them to render obedience to him. The enemies of Christ were indeed unworthy of having his resurrection made known to them; but it was proper that their insolence should be exposed, and every occasion of slander taken away from them, and that even their consciences should be convinced, so that they might not be held excusable for ignorance. Yet let us observe that God, as if he had hired them for the purpose, employed their services for rendering the glory of Christ more illustrious, because no plausible ground for lying, in order to deny it, was left to them when they found the grave empty; not that they desisted from their wicked rage, but with all persons of correct and sober judgment it was a sufficient testimony that Christ was risen, since his body, which had been placed in a grave, and protected by guards who surrounded it on all sides, was not to be found. 

63. We remember that that impostor said. This thought was suggested to them by divine inspiration, not only that the Lord might execute upon them just vengeance for their wickedness, (as he always punishes bad consciences by secret torments,) but chiefly in order to restrain their unholy tongues. Yet we again perceive what insensibility seizes on wicked men, when they are bewitched by Satan. They go so far as to call him an impostor, whose divine power and glory were lately manifested by so many miracles. This certainly was not to defy the clouds, but to spit in the face of God, so to speak, by ridiculing the brightness of the sun. Such examples show us that we ought, with pious and modest thoughtfulness, to direct our attention early to the glory of God when it is presented to our view, that our hardness of heart may not lead us to brutal and dreadful blindness. Now though it may appear strange and absurd for wicked men to indulge in such wicked mockery over Christ when dead, that our minds may not be rendered uneasy by this licentiousness, we ought always to consider wisely the purpose to which the Lord turns it. Wicked men imagine that they will overwhelm the whole of the doctrine of Christ, together with his miracles, by that single blasphemy, which they haughtily vomit out; but God employs no other persons than themselves for vindicating his Son from all blame of imposture. Whenever these wicked men shall labor to overturn everything by their calumnies, and shall launch out into unmeasured slander, let us wait with composure and tranquillity of mind until God bring light out of darkness. 

65. You have a guard. By these words, Pilate means that he grants their request by permitting them to post soldiers to keep watch. This, permission bound them more firmly, so that they could not escape by any evasion; for though they were not ashamed to break out against Christ after his resurrection, yet with Pilate’s signet they as truly shut their own mouths as they shut up the sepulcher.