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After Jesus died upon the cross on Thursday afternoon of Passion week any hope His followers had that God might send Elijah or otherwise somehow rescue Him gave way to the reality that He was dead; what then of His body?  His enemies had Him crucified between two criminals to cast Him as an evildoer and justify their actions to the Hoi Polloi, who, like Pilate, found no guilt in Him.  As the bodies of criminals were typically disposed of at the city dump, or burned, they were no doubt counting on His grave to be assigned with wicked men to punctuate His ignominious end and prove to the many swayed by His teaching that He couldn’t have been the Messiah they supposed He might be.  But such an end to His body would also have made His resurrection all the more difficult to prove to those who were already slow to believe.  And so God had ordained that He would be with a rich man in His death, and raised up Joseph of Arimathea—to the chagrin of those who had Jesus put to death.  For Joseph was himself a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who had secretly become a disciple of Jesus.  He had not consented to their action, likely having not been summoned to the meeting very early that morning under the pretense that He lived a distance from Jerusalem.  Laying aside his reputation and fear of the repercussions from his colleagues, he gathered up the courage to ask Pilate for the body in order to give it a decent burial. 

Pilate himself, in spite of being a stranger to the covenants of promise, also had more righteous sentiments towards Jesus than those who had delivered Him up.  He knew that it was from envy that they had done so, and had wanted to release Jesus.  He made numerous attempts to do so, but in the end he gave in to the political pressure the Jewish leaders brought upon Him.  He was therefore amenable to Joseph’s request and after ascertaining that Jesus was in fact dead—which was surprising to him—he ordered the body to be given to him.  How furious would the religious leaders have been at both Joseph and Pilate for their actions that dignified Christ’s death rather than justifying it as they desired?  How does this again help us to understand the fears Joseph had to overcome to ask Pilate for the body as he did?  Although we often think of it the other way around, how much easier is it for those who are not so rich or prominent to overcome their fears to serve God within their sphere as they know He would have them, and why?  Cf. Mat 19:23-24. 

Many Christians today think nothing of having their remains cremated; why have Jews throughout history typically been opposed to cremation, and how much happier would the religious leaders have been if Jesus’ body had been burned to ashes than buried in a tomb?  Cf. Amo 2:1, and note that the Jews rightly understood that the human body is not our own, but belongs to God who created it, and so to cremate a body is to destroy God’s property; cf. 1Co 6:19, Jud 1:9.  Many Jews also believed that the soul does not immediately leave the body upon death, but departs from it slowly as the body decays (for which reason they are also opposed to embalming); but see Gen 35:18, 1Ki 17:21-22 KJV.  From this they also believed that rapid decomposition of the body through burning would cause pain to the soul even after death; see here and here.  After the Holocaust, Orthodox Jews today are even more opposed to cremation.  As God’s peculiar people, set apart unto Himself, cremation was viewed by the Jews as a pagan practice from which they were to separate themselves.  It was perhaps after the example of pagan heroes like Achilles who were burned upon a pyre that Saul was cremated by the valiant men of Jabesh Gilead; see 1Sa 31:11-13.  Such was perhaps a fitting end for the worldly hero he was (cf. 1Sa 9:2, 2Sa 1:22-25), but not for God’s hero who was a man after His own heart; contrast 1Sa 17:42, 1Ki 2:10, Psa 16:8-10, Act 2:29-31, 13:34-37.  If Scripture was their guide, cremation was reserved for the likes of Achan who troubled Israel; see Jos 7:25 and cf. Gen 38:24, Lev 21:9, Jdg 15:6, 2Ch 34:5 and here.  It is possible that the religious leaders were deliberating that very thing in regard to Jesus’ body as the ultimate stigma upon His person, which would also have spurred Joseph to act.  In hindsight they no doubt wished Jesus’ body had been burned to ashes, for how much easier would it have been for them to deny Jesus’ resurrection if there had not been an empty grave to point to?  

Christians throughout history typically followed the lead of the Jews and rejected cremation as a pagan ritual to be opposed.  It was commonly asserted that cremation would prevent one from being resurrected, and during the Counter-Reformation it was not unusual for the Roman Catholic Church to disinter those whom it deemed to be heretics and burn their remains to ashes supposing it would pain their souls for eternity.  Although God is certainly able to resurrect a cremated body as easily as one that over a longer period of time is completely reduced to dust, and we simply don’t know what effect, if any, cremation might have upon one’s soul, in what way does a Christian burial clearly testify of a hope in the resurrection in a way that cremation does not?  Did you know that graves typically face east so that when Christ returns the dead will rise to meet Him?  See Mat 24:27.  On the other hand, in what way does cremation testify of the pagan hope that after death there is no judgment, and if there is, they won’t have to face it because they are completely gone?  According to Scripture, is that hope a safe bet?  See 2Pe 2:4,6,9.

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