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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:4 He was buried

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 10, 2023

4 that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,

The second point in Paul’s gospel of first importance is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was buried after his death. The facts are these: Joseph of Arimathea took custody of the Lord’s body while it was still on the cross, with Pilate’s permission. Joseph “took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:58-60). There are other minor details in the Gospels. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead (Mark 15:44). Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin who had “not consented to their decision and action” (Luke 23:50-51). He was accompanied by Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1, 19:39), and they wrapped spices into the linen before they buried Jesus according to the usual custom (John 19:40). The tomb was not far away, but was right there at the place where Jesus was crucified (John 19:41).

When we ponder the burial of Jesus, one point rises up above all others: His death was real. He truly died, and he died for the sins of the world.

The burial of Jesus is not strictly part of his humiliation nor of his exaltation. In the Apostles’ Creed, there are five parts to his humiliation: (1) conceived, (2) born, (3) suffered, (4) crucified, (5) died. The steps of his exaltation begin with (1) the descent into hell (to proclaim his triumph over the devil), (2) rose, (3) ascended, (4) he is seated at God’s right hand, and (5) he will come again to judge all. The burial is placed between, usually counted as part of the humiliation when we teach our children, but really just the transition between his death and resurrection.

The burial of Jesus was special, and has one doctrinal proof that is worth remembering. He was crucified as if he was a criminal, alongside criminals (Luke 23:33). “So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘He was numbered with transgressors’” (Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37). Yet he was not buried with them. He was given a rich man’s tomb. He had no contact with other dead bodies, for the tomb had never been used (“a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid,” Luke 23:53). In this way, the Holy Spirit quietly proves that it was Christ and no one else who rose from that tomb, for there was no one else buried there to rise. There is also a spiritual mystery that connects his burial with his birth. The womb of the virgin Mary had never yet carried any children; there is a sanctified quality to its newness, for no sin and no human father were involved in his conception. And again, the tomb of Joseph (not his adoptive father Joseph, but we notice the same name) sanctified his burial with its newness, for no human body was buried there, and the tomb would not contain him long.

What can we say, then, about who was buried in that tomb? It was Jesus Christ, but was it only the human nature that was buried, or the divine nature, too? Certainly Jesus suffered on the cross in both his natures, God and man. When he died, did God die? Without any doubt, God died. Christ is the Son of God (John 20:28). To state the point clearly: Christ remained true man during his three days of death, from the inevitable end of the crucifixion to his burial and his time in the grave. The burial of Jesus was the burial of a dead being: He had not merely fainted on the cross, or swooned. He died, in accordance with the Scriptures: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed… He was assigned a grave with the wicked; and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:5,9).

We know that his body did not decay; it was preserved with no corruption whatsoever in accordance with the holy Scripture: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10). The answer to our question (which is really a question from the ancient scholastics) is: Christ was buried according to both natures, God and man. He did not lay aside what he had taken up. The soul that departed from the body at death (Ecclesiastes 12:7) was the soul of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and therefore both human and divine, for he is both. The body that lay in the tomb was the body of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and therefore both human and divine, for he is both, but that body was sanctified by the divine and did not see decay.

At the end of the verse we come to the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul does not touch on the descent into hell in this place, but he does in Colossians 2:15 as Peter does in 1 Peter 3:18-20. So we will move on to the resurrection, noticing especially the word in this verse: “he was raised.” The Greek language has more than one past tense, and here Paul uses the perfect tense to teach an important lesson. The perfect tense stresses an event in the past with results that continue on into the future. He is showing us that Christ’s resurrection occurred in the past, on Easter Sunday, and Christ continues to be raised from the dead even now, and he will remain risen for all eternity.

Paul assures us that the resurrection of Jesus was “in accordance with the Scriptures” (this proclamation is of course repeated in the second article of the Nicene Creed). Surely he has Psalm 16:10 in mind, “You will not let your Holy One see decay.” Some other passages call to mind the three days, such as 2 Kings 20:5, where the leader of God’s people is addressed, or Hosea 6:2, which is a shadowy prophecy at best. But there is the event Jesus himself spoke of many times: The release of Jonah from the belly of the whale, Jonah 1:17. Jesus said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

We will continue to talk about the Lord’s resurrection along with the many appearances he made in the verses to come. The truth of his resurrection is proved by the appearances. His resurrection assures us that the Father accepted his payment for our sins and that we, too, will rise. He said: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). The Corinthians didn’t seem to have any problem accepting that Christ’s death paid for their sins. The problem was with the resurrection. They did not understand that his resurrection means our resurrection; that we, too will rise, to live forever with him in heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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