Jesus—His Life and Message: The Death of Jesus (Part 5)

May 24, 2022

by Peter Amsterdam

In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, we are told that about the ninth hour (3 p.m.) Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”1 We are also told that someone took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.2 Then Jesus cried out one last time and died.

The Gospel of Matthew says: Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.3 The Gospel of Mark tells us Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.4 The Gospel of John states: When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.5 In the Gospel of Luke we read: Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.6

Each of the four Gospels gives an account of the events which happened once Jesus breathed his last, and we’ll look at all of them here. The Gospel of John explains:

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.7

The day of Preparation is a technical term for the preparation for the Sabbath. The Sabbath begins on Friday evening, therefore in the Jewish faith it is necessary that all work stops before Friday evening. Since Jesus and the two others were crucified on a Friday, they needed to be taken down from their crosses and buried before the Sabbath started. And because Jesus and the two others were crucified under the authority of Rome, it was necessary to receive the governor’s permission to take Jesus off the cross and bury Him.

The Jewish leadership asked Pilate to have the legs of those who were crucified broken, as this would cause them to die more rapidly. With broken legs, they would no longer be able to support their weight, and they would be unable to breathe. If their legs weren’t broken, those who were crucified could remain on the cross for days before dying; however, if their legs were broken, they would suffocate within minutes. Permission was granted, and the legs of the two criminals were broken, resulting in their deaths. Jesus, however, had already died, most likely because He had been weakened due to the whipping and beating He had endured prior to being crucified; therefore His legs were not broken.

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”8

The account of a soldier piercing Jesus with a spear, and blood and water coming out of Jesus’ side, is only found in the Gospel of John. This Gospel probably included these events because they were foretold in Scripture. The piercing of His side likely refers to Zechariah 12:10, which says: when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. The reference to the sacrificial lamb’s bones not being broken is found in Exodus 12:46. It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.

The Curtain in the Temple

Two of the Gospels tell us that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. The Gospel of Matthew states,

Behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.9

The Gospel of Mark says:

The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”10

The Gospel of Matthew starts with the temple and speaks about the curtain. There were two curtains, which divided the temple into three sections. Once someone entered the temple, they stood in the first section, where laymen were admitted. One of the curtains separated the first section from the second section. Only the Jewish priests were allowed to pass through the first curtain, which brought them into the Holy Place. There was a second curtain, which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, which no one was allowed to enter, except for once a year when the High Priest entered on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals and offer incense.

It is uncertain whether it was the outer curtain or the inner curtain which was torn in two. Whichever it was, the impression is that of judgment on the temple, and Matthew is indicating that symbolically, the way into the Holy Place was opened by the death of Jesus. This is reinforced by what is written in the book of Hebrews.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.11

The Burial

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body.12 

All four of the Gospels mention Joseph of Arimathea. Each Gospel gives some information about him. The Gospel of Matthew says he was a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.13 The Gospel of Mark says that he was a respected member of the council who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God.14 The Gospel of Luke states: He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God.15

The Gospel of John adds that Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.16 The custom was to put such spices in between the sheets that were wrapped around the body. The Synoptic Gospels17 don’t mention Nicodemus’ participation, but it seems that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus worked together to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The amount of spices, myrrh, and aloes—about 34 kilos—was unusual. However, if Nicodemus intended to cover the body completely, then this amount would likely be needed.

At a time when Jesus’ disciples were in hiding, these two “secret” disciples came to the fore. They had nothing to gain by publicly associating themselves with Jesus; nevertheless, through their actions they boldly declared themselves as His followers and gave Jesus an honorable burial according to the customs of Judaism. They prepared the body by wrapping it in a sheet or shroud. They put spices within the sheets. They then brought Jesus’ body to a nearby tomb.

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.18 

According to the Gospel of Matthew, this tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea.

Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.19

Tombs were often cut out of solid rock and were closed using a heavy stone. The stone at the mouth of the tomb would be rolled in a groove so as to seal the entrance. It could also be rolled away from the entrance, in order to gather the bones at some point in the future, and also so the tomb could be used again.

Jesus’ burial had to be done speedily, as the Sabbath began at sundown, at which point, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to be buried. The burial rituals were obviously not completed, as on the first day of the new week, the women would return to the tomb to finish them.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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1 Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34.

2 Matthew 27:48, Mark 15:36.

3 Matthew 27:50.

4 Mark 15:37.

5 John 19:30.

6 Luke 23:46.

7 John 19:31–33.

8 John 19:34–37.

9 Matthew 27:51–53.

10 Mark 15:38–39.

11 Hebrews 10:19–22.

12 John 19:38.

13 Matthew 27:57.

14 Mark 15:43.

15 Luke 23:50–51.

16 John 19:39–40.

17 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

18 John 19:41–42.

19 Matthew 27:59–60.