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Joseph of Arimathea is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible, but from looking at Christian writings through the centuries, it seems that his heroism has gone largely unrecognized. As we set forth the biblical truth regarding how significant a role this man played in human history, we trust that you will be encouraged by the magnificent precision of the God-breathed Word and also be inspired to fulfill whatever role God sets before you as you walk with Him day by day. As we will see in regard to Joseph of Arimathea, it may turn out to be far more important than you think in the moment.
Except for the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ burial, Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. It is extremely significant that Joseph is the only person who Scripture clearly indicates believed that Jesus would rise from the dead after three days and three nights just as he said he would (there were others who believed that Jesus was the Messiah but were confused by his death). Joseph’s conviction, courage, and commitment to Jesus and to the truth led him to “stand in the gap” when God needed him to do so, and what he did made possible the striking witness of the empty tomb, which was a catalyst for many to believe in the resurrection of the Son of God.
That Joseph is not well known is due in part to two translation errors in the King James Version in Isaiah 53:9, a verse that occurs in the most vivid Messianic prophecy of the suffering and death of Jesus. We will cover these mistranslations one at a time.
Isaiah 53:9a (KJV)
And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…
The word “made” is a mistranslation, and thankfully it is corrected in many modern versions, such as the New International Version.
Isaiah 53:9a (NIV)
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…
This correction is one key to the little puzzle we are putting together. The NIV properly translates the Hebrew word nathan as “appointed” (see Exod. 30:16; Num. 35:6; Josh. 20:2; 2 Kings 8:6; 1 Chron. 16:4; Ezra 8:20 et al), and that begs an important question: who appointed Jesus to be buried with the wicked?
The sacrifice of the Messiah had been foretold since Genesis. He was to die for the sins of others, even as was typified by animal sacrifices all through the Old Testament. God had appointed that one righteous man would die for the unrighteous many. This is important: the death of Jesus, and even the way he died, was not an accident. David had portrayed it in Psalm 22 almost 1000 years earlier. Furthermore, because Jesus was hung on a tree, he was “cursed” even as the Law says, “because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13).
Thus, prophetically speaking, it was God who assigned Jesus a grave with the wicked, because culture and custom dictated that criminals were buried apart from the rest of the people, and they certainly were not buried “with the rich.” Knowing that fact brings to light the other translation error in Isaiah 53:9, which few Bible versions recognize, and that is the word “and” in the phrase, “and with the rich.”
It is interesting that the phrase, “and with the rich” is not translated that way in a number of versions. For example, the New English Bible reads: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, a burial-place among the refuse of mankind….” This translation and similar renderings in other versions are based upon the knowledge that the wicked and the rich were not buried together.
This fact has led to a number of explanations of the phrase, “and with the rich,” by various scholars. Some have suggested that metaphorically the word “rich” stands for the wicked as does “poor” for the godly in some verses of Scripture. With a marginal note to that effect, Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible reads: “And appointed with lawless men was his grave, and with the wicked his tomb….” Other scholars suggest that the “rich” became rich by oppressing others, and thus were actually wicked. These suggestions by scholars are guesses, designed to make sense of why the Messiah would be assigned a grave with both the wicked and the rich.
Other translations take a different tack, however. The Darby Translation, for example: “And men appointed his grave with the wicked, but he was with the rich in his death….” The New American Standard Bible: “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death…” And it is most significant that the New King James Version changes this verse from the original KJV and reads, “And they made His grave with the wicked – But with the rich at His death….” It is important to know that the Hebrew word translated as “and” in this verse is a conjunction or introductory particle that is translated as “and,” “but,” “or,” “now,” “then,” “when,” “so,” and other ways as well. Thus the translation “but” in the verse is completely appropriate if it fits the context, which it does.
Because the Hebrew text does have the words, “with the rich,” and because there is no reason to make the word “rich” a figure of speech or understand it as anything but literal, we think the above three translations that translate the conjunction as “but” make the most sense. We also believe that because Joseph of Arimathea read Isaiah 53:9 in the Hebrew, he may well have recognized that it was a prophecy about the Messiah’s burial. Although it is possible that Joseph helped to fulfill this prophecy without realizing it, we believe there is a good possibility that God worked in him to realize that he was one person who could do so. How did he do it?
The answer is found in the Four Gospels. Although Joseph is mentioned in each of them, we will not look at all four because the records are quite similar.
Another great article breaks down 23 Arguments for the Historical Validity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and shows us, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Jesus Christ did indeed, rise from the dead.
These are the answers you’re searching for. Stop looking to an earthly man, to another reason, or another excuse for purpose in your life. All you have to do is look up, God is there.
Thanks for reading.