When highlighting major points about the Gospel story, why does Paul mention specifically that Christ “was buried”? The burial is not mentioned as merely incidental information but as one of Paul’s primary points of emphasis. In today’s post, Part 2 of our series, we will explore why the burial of the Messiah is a major point in our salvation story.
Sharing in Our Mortality
In order for Jesus to be our Messiah (our Anointed Priest-King) it wasn’t enough for him to be God, he must also be human. And one of the defining characteristics of humanity is mortality. We die. Every single one of us dies. We are mortal creatures.
God formed mankind from the dust and to the dust we must all return (Genesis 3:19). Ever since humanity was exiled from the Garden and the Tree of Life, we have been destined for the dirt, for the grave, for the tomb. Jesus fully shared in that mortality.
The biblical authors expressed the idea of mortality in multiple ways, one of which was the phrase, “flesh and blood.” When they used the phrase “flesh and blood” they didn’t just mean physical, but mortal. All human beings are flesh and blood. We all can get tired, hungry, sick, and hurt; most importantly, we can all die.
On this point, consider Hebrews 2:14-17 (emphasis mine):
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
One reason it is important for us to emphasize that Jesus was buried is to emphasize the fact that he fully shared in our mortality in order to serve now as our high priest.
To Fulfill Scripture
When Jesus compared his three days in the tomb to the three days Jonah spent in the belly of the fish (Matthew 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32), it illustrates the way Jesus and the apostles thought about the fulfillment of Scripture.
Often, when Jesus and the apostles pointed back to the Hebrew Scriptures, they were not necessarily claiming those passages were specific predictions about the coming Messiah or that the passages were intentional foreshadows of what was to come. Sometimes that was the case, but often Jesus and the apostles were simply saying, “See, this fits the patterns and themes in the story of Scripture.”
It’s not hard to find a burial theme in Scripture. For instance, the only plot of land Abraham ever personally owned in the Promised Land was a burial plot (see Genesis 23). Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah were all buried in that tomb (Genesis 49:29-32). At the end of Joseph’s life, he made the people of Israel swear they would take his bones back to the Promised Land for burial (Genesis 50:22-26). Generations later, Moses kept that promise and took Joseph’s bones out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land (Exodus 13:19).
When someone was buried, the people of Israel called it being gathered to their people or being gathered to their fathers. It was necessary for the Messiah of Israel to be gathered to his people in every conceivable way. Jesus came not only to save the living, but also the dead.
Furthermore, there is a very distinct theme of God’s chosen people being cast into pits, holes, and graves:
- Joseph was cast into a pit by his jealous brothers.
- Daniel was cast into a lion’s den because he was faithful to God.
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast into a furnace for their loyalty to God.
- Jeremiah was cast into a cistern because of his unpopular prophecies.
- Jonah was cast into the sea to be swallowed up by a fish.
Of course, all of these people were also rescued from their pit; they were raised up by the power of God…but that’s for the next point in our series.
Our Burial with Jesus
The burial of Jesus was not only him associating himself with us, but it also becomes the way for us to symbolically associate ourselves with him. The apostle Paul wrote that when we are baptized, we are buried “with him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). When a person is plunged into the water of baptism, they are allowing their old sinful life to die and are uniting themselves to the Messiah in faith, so he can raise them up to a forgiven and Spirit-empowered life (see Romans 6 and Colossians 2).
If in this way we are buried with Jesus, then we are promised that like the children of Israel, we have been delivered from slavery. The dirt, the grave, the tomb is no longer our permanent destination. Death has no more claim on us because our burial has already taken place and it was a burial with the Messiah.
I like to think of this story from 2 Kings 13:20-21:
So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.
Because we are buried with Jesus, in baptism, we have life and the guarantee of a coming resurrection.
I love you and God loves you,
P.S. Please note that this is Part 2 of a series in the series, “What is the Gospel?” check out the previous posts and make sure to subscribe to our e-mail list so you don’t miss the next posts in the series.