44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts. 49 And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee were standing at a distance, seeing these things.
Around noon, the skies became dark. The duration of this event rules out an eclipse. It could be heavy clouds, hanging like a shroud, blocking any light from shining this day. It could be a localized supernatural event. But there is a sense of oppression or a sense of dread hanging over the land. The mood is somber.
At 3 o’clock, Jesus cries out, committing His spirit to His Father. No man takes My life, He had said, and so here, He yields to death. He tastes the final consequence of mankind’s sin. He takes death upon Himself, suffering a punishment He did not have to bear. He chose to die for our sakes, that we might be free from the curse of death and that we might share in His life.
Inexplicable events are described as taking place next. The earth shakes. Something significant has happened. Not just the death of the Son of God, but the end of sin and death have begun. The Temple veil that separated the Holy of Holies and the ark of the covenant from the people is torn from top to bottom. Sin is ended. The gates to heaven are opened again. Matthew describes a limited resurrection of the righteous dead. It’s like a curse slowly unrolling or cracks in a dam appearing. The strength of death has been broken and slowly it is becoming undone.
When the centurion sees this, he realizes that Jesus was innocent. Elsewhere, the centurion declares Jesus the Son of God. Battle-hardened as he is, immune to the suffering of the condemned, he recognizes something different about Jesus and the way He died. Traditionally, he becomes a Christian: St. Longinus though that name does not appear until the 4th century. His spear that lances Jesus’ side becomes a relic. There are at least four relics that claim to be or contain pieces of the original lance.
50 And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man 51 (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; 52 this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. 54 It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes.
And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Jesus’ body would likely have been thrown into a mass pauper’s grave, unmarked and forgotten, but a Jewish leader takes it upon himself to ensure that Jesus is properly buried and honored. Joseph of Arimathea , being a member of the Sanhedrin, was aware of what had happened, though he seems to have been powerless to prevent it. Perhaps he had not even been invited to participate in the trial. He is joined, according to John, by Nicodemus. The two men ask for Jesus’ body from Pilate. Pilate was surprised Jesus had died so quickly, but after verifying with the centurion that He was dead, he gives them permission to take and honor the body according to their customs. Perhaps Pilate allows this special dispensation because his conscience continues to afflict him. Perhaps he does it because he knows it will annoy the rest of the Sanhedrin.
The two men must work in a hurry. It is late, soon the sun will be down and the Sabbath will have started. They would be forbidden from continuing their work. So they wrap Jesus’ body in linen and carry Him to Joseph’s family tomb, to a cave where no one had yet been buried. There they lay the body on a shelf and roll a heavy stone in front of the grave to keep out animals, vandals, or grave robbers. They were finished before the Sabbath and left to return to their homes.
They weren’t alone. While the disciples were gone, a band of women who had followed Jesus and how had stayed with Him during His execution, had followed the two men. They marked where Jesus had been laid to rest, then gathered spices and perfumes so they could return on Sunday to add their own honors to the Lord’s body.