What does John 19:38 mean?
ESV: 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.
NIV: Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away.
NASB: Now after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, requested of Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.
CSB: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus--but secretly because of his fear of the Jews--asked Pilate that he might remove Jesus's body. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and took his body away.
NLT: Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away.
KJV: And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
Verse Commentary:
As in any large group, there was diversity among Jerusalem's religious leaders. Not every member rejected Christ's claims. Nicodemus, who came to speak to Jesus in private (John 3:1–2), was a Pharisee and member of the ruling council. He is an example of a traditional leader who maintained a sincere interest in truth (John 7:51). Most likely, such men were deliberately excluded from the hasty, secret midnight meeting which condemned Jesus to death (Matthew 26:57–59; Luke 23:50–51).

Joseph of Arimathea is one of these spiritually open religious leaders. His sincerity does not translate to courage. While Nicodemus was at least willing to challenge his peers (John 7:51), we have no public expressions from Joseph until after Jesus is dead. His fear is understandable, given the hardened views of most of the council (John 9:22) and their murderous approach to Jesus' ministry (John 11:48–53).

On the other hand, associating with Jesus after His death is still a risky choice (John 20:19). Joseph's nerve might have come about late (Mark 15:43), but his act demonstrates compassion and bravery. He will be joined by the other known religious leader who believes in Christ, Nicodemus (John 19:39), as they bury Jesus in Joseph's own tomb (Matthew 27:59). The abnormality of a poor man (Matthew 8:20) being buried in the extravagant crypt of a rich leader (John 19:41) is also a fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 53:9).
Verse Context:
John 19:38–42 describes Jesus' hasty burial. A member of the Jewish leadership and secret follower of Jesus, Joseph, gets permission to bury Jesus. He works with Nicodemus, who has also been secretive about his faith. They quickly wrap Jesus in grave cloths and place Him in a borrowed tomb. Parallel passages are Matthew 27:57–61, Mark 15:42–47, and Luke 23:50–56.
Chapter Summary:
Pilate recognizes Jesus' innocence, but fears the mob assembled by Jewish religious leaders. He attempts to satisfy them by having Jesus viciously whipped and mocked. This only results in more cries for Jesus' death. The governor then shifts to protect his own reputation, ordering Jesus to be crucified on a charge of being "King of the Jews." John is directly present as Jesus is executed. He notes the fulfillment of several prophecies as Jesus dies. Once He is confirmed to be dead, Jesus' body is taken by two friendly members of the ruling council. They hastily bury Him in the borrowed crypt of a rich man.
Chapter Context:
When Jesus was first brought to Pilate, His innocence was obvious (John 18:36–38). However, the mob refuses to be satisfied with anything less than crucifixion. Pilate gives in to these demands. John, who is present for the entire gory spectacle, notes several instances of fulfilled prophecy (Psalm 22:18; Psalm 69:21; Exodus 12:46; Zechariah 12:10). Jesus is then buried in the borrowed tomb of a rich man (Isaiah 53:9) to complete yet another Old Testament prediction. A guard will be posted to ensure no one steals the body (Matthew 27:62–68), which will only serve to confirm that Jesus' eventual resurrection was a true miracle (John 20:1–8).
Book Summary:
The gospel of John was written by the disciple John, decades later than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls “signs”—in order to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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