PassageAfter a few hours on the cross, darkness comes over the land, and then a few hours after that, Jesus dies.
Before going, he cries out, asking why God has forsaken him (quoting Psalm 22 (ESV)). However, the crowd misunderstands the words he uses—“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”—and thinks that he is calling Elijah to come and save him. Someone runs and gets him a drink of sour wine, and then the crowd waits to see if Elijah will come to save him.
Elijah doesn’t come, of course, and Jesus dies. When he does, the curtain in the temple—that is, the curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place—tears in two.
There is a centurion watching this, and as Jesus dies he exclaims, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (verse 39b (ESV)), and there are also some women who used to minister to Jesus, watching from a distance.
That evening, Joseph of Arimathea—the text tells us that he is “a respected member of the council,” but that he is also looking for the kingdom of God—approaches Pilate to ask him for Jesus’ body. Pilate is surprised that Jesus is already dead, and has to confirm the fact with the centurion, but having done so he lets Joseph have Jesus’ body, so Joseph takes the body down, wrapped in linen, and places him in a tomb. He also rolls a stone against the entrance. We are told that at least two of the women who had been watching from a distance also see where Jesus is buried.
ThoughtsI didn’t realize it until now, but there appears to be divided opinion as to whether the crowd misheard Jesus, thinking that he was calling for Elijah, or whether they were continuing to mock him. Personally, based on the rest of the passage, I don’t think they’re mocking him.
The tearing of the curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place is not just an interesting thing that happened when Jesus died, it is actually a point of real religious significance: The Most Holy Place represents the dwelling place of God. It represented the one place on Earth where God dwelled, in a more real and significant way from how He dwells anywhere else. For this reason, nobody was allowed to go in there: God is too holy for humans to come into direct contact with Him. The one exception, the one person who was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place, was the High Priest, who was allowed to go in on one particular day of the year, for a very specific purpose. It is also worth noting that when he did go in there, he was supposed to have a rope tied around his ankle, so that if he died—if the Glory of the LORD overtook him—his fellow priests could drag his body back out. Again: God is too Holy for us to be physically near Him. Or at least… that used to be the case. With Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, I, and other Christians, are now considered holy enough to enter into God’s presence. I’m no longer unclean; Jesus took my uncleanness upon himself. There no longer has to be a separation between sinful people and a Holy God, there is now a way for people to get rid of their sin (or rather, to let Jesus take it away from them)—hence the tearing of the curtain, and the physical removal of that separation.
Aside from that religious significance, the other thing to point out is that Jewish custom (I’m told, in the ESV Study Bible) dictates that Jewish burials were to take place within 24 hours of death. This was supposed to take precedence even over Passover. It is assumed that the tomb where Jesus was laid probably belonged to Joseph’s family. From what I can tell, it seems that the intent would have been to leave Jesus there until he had decayed, at which point his bones might have been moved somewhere else.
Because Joseph was a member of the council—also called the Sanhedrin, which you might see from time to time in your reading—it probably took some courage on his part to assume the responsibility of burying Jesus. To put it mildly, Jesus wasn’t held in high esteem by the religious leaders.