The Most Neglected Part of Christ's Saving Work
In recent years, it has become more commonplace to hear certain theologians emphasize that the ascension and present reign of Christ are the most neglected aspects of His work of redemption; and, while there is great merit in highlighting the consequences of such a neglect of these precious truths, I have come to believe that the most neglected part of Christ's saving work is actual what happened to Him in between His death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul put Jesus' burial on par with His death and resurrection. When he spoke of the "Gospel" he did so by singling out the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. So what part does the burial of Jesus play in the work of redemption? Here are three significant features about His burial:
1. The Burial of Jesus attests to the fact that He really did die. Some might wonder why this is important; however, when we consider the fact that it was necessary for Jesus to "taste death for everyone" in order to atone for our sins, to die in order to "destroy him who had the power of death" and to be a plague to--and the destruction of--death itself for His people (Hosea 13:14), Jesus had to die. No death, no resurrection. Just as the resurrection attested to the fact that His death on the cross was a suitable and justice-satisfying death for the redemption of His people, so His burial was a witness to the death itself.
2. The Burial of Jesus proves that He is the sinless Son of God. There are three significant details about the burial of Jesus that serve to build our faith in Him as the sinless Son of God. The first was that Isaiah had prophesied 700 years before Christ came that "they made His grave with the wicked but with the rich in His death, because He had done no wrong neither was there deceit in His mouth" (Isaiah 53:9). Instead of being thrown in a trash heap, the body of Jesus was placed in the tomb of a rich disciple. He was given a dignified burial. Isaiah tells us that this is because He had done no wrong. Jesus was the holy, harmless, undefiled One who was separate from sinners. His body would not be thrown on the trash heap with the wicked men with whom He had been crucified. Secondly, the Scriptures tell us that He was placed in "a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid" (John 19:41). When we consider the fact that someone was pronounced ceremonially unclean if they touched a dead body and couple it was the fact that after the resurrection we find two Angels sitting over the place where Jesus' body had lain (just like the cherubim overarching the mercy seat where the Shekinah glory appeared after the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled in the Most Holy place), we can safely conclude that the tomb was a sort of holy place for the body of Jesus. (For a more detailed explanation, see this and this). Finally, the Spirit of Christ had born witness, a 1000 years before Christ entered the world, that His body would not see corruption (Psalm 16:10-11; Acts 2:22-31). John's details about Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus embalming Jesus with the 100 pounds of spices and the linen cloths are linked to this prophetic utterance about the holiness of Jesus (John 19:39-40). God did not allow Jesus' body to decay because He is the sinless Son of God.
3. The Burial of Jesus is a reminder to believers that our sin has been put away from the presence of God. Whenever the Apostle Paul spoke of our union with Christ he did so under the figure of His death, burial and resurrection (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:4). When Jesus died, we our old man (our sin nature) died with Him. When Jesus was buried, our old man was buried with Him. When Jesus rose, we rose with Him to newness of life (having a new nature). This means that when we think about the body of Jesus being buried in that garden tomb, we should think of our old man being buried in that tomb with Him--that our sins have been put away from the presence of God." The body of Jesus in the tomb symbolized the same thing as the scapegoat sent into the wilderness with the sins of God's people imputed to it. Our sins were imputed to Christ. After He satisfied the justice of God and atoned for our sins, He was buried. When Paul speaks of definitive sanctification he throws it under the figure of our dying, being buried and risen with Christ. This has enormous implications for our growth in grace. We must remember that Jesus as He was dead and buried, so too we are spiritually dead and buried with the Christ to whom we are united by faith.