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No. 68: Jesus’ Burial Clothes

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 68
December, 1994
Copyright 1994, Biblical Horizons

John devotes much attention to Jesus’ burial clothes. He tells us that Nicodemus brought about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes to spice Jesus body, and that He was bound in linen wrappings. We find out that His body and His head were wrapped separately. (John 19:39-40; 20:6-7). When Jesus was raised from the dead, He apparently passed through these wrappings, leaving them behind as they were. Only John tells us of these things. Also, only John tells us that the soldiers divided Jesus’ garments into four parts, but did not divide His seamless tunic (John 19:23-24).

All of this information is in keeping with Jesus as the Great High Priest. Aaron wore garments of glory and beauty when he carried out his work, and among these were a tunic of checkered work of fine linen (Exodus 28:39). We are not told that this was seamless, but the checkered work implies it. On the Day of Atonement, however, Aaron set aside these glorious garments and wore only "holy garments," consisting of linen tunics, undergarments, sash, and turban. When the work of atonement was concluded, Aaron put back on his garments of glory and beauty (Leviticus 16).

The linen garments in which Jesus was wrapped speak of His work as Great High Priest on the Great Day of Atonement. They were left behind "in a holy place" (Leviticus 16:23) when His work was finished, and He assumed his glorified body. The fact that the place of the linen garments was a holy place explains why John would not enter the tomb before Peter, for he saw the garments in the tomb (John 20:5).

Thus, the seamless tunic removed from Jesus at the crucifixion corresponds to Aaron’s garments of glory and beauty. The "tunic" of Aaron’s garments is the same word as the "garments" of skin God made for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) to cover their nakedness. Jesus’ nakedness was exposed on the cross, signifying His humiliation and His taking the punishment for our sins.

We now turn to the hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. Surprisingly, myrrh and aloes are associated with marriage and love-making in the Bible (Psalm 45:8, Proverbs 7:17; Canticles 4:14). Aloes are associated with God’s garden in Numbers 24:6. Myrrh is found eight times in Canticles, associated again with love-making (Canticles 1:13; 3:6; 4:6 & 14; 5:1, 5[twice], & 13). It is similarly associated with love-making in Esther 2:12. Finally, myrrh is the first spice mentioned as scenting the oil used to anoint the high priest and the tabernacle (Exodus 30:23).

With this set of associations in mind, we must ask why it would have been the custom to embalm Israelites in myrrh and aloes? Was death viewed as a time when a person left this world and entered into full marriage with Yahweh?

One thing we can be more sure of: These two scents would permeate Christ’s flesh as it reposed in the tomb. When He rose from the grave, He smelled of myrrh and aloes. Therefore, He presented Himself as a Groom ready for His bride.

Myrrh is also associated with kingship. The magi brought to the newborn king gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While these three items figure prominently in the Tabernacle structure and worship, at this point it is kingship that is highlighted. Solomon received much gold (1 Kings 10:11); indeed, too much (1 Kings 10:14!). Frankincense is associated with myrrh in the love-making of the king in Canticles 3:6 and 4:6 & 14. The old notion that gold, frankincense, and myrrh mean king, priest, and sacrifice (death) is, thus, in error.

There is one other association we should make with the burial clothes of Jesus. Since the gospels were written in order, and each gospel builds on the preceding, we are at liberty to make a connection from John not only to Matthew but to Luke 2:7, where Luke tells us that Mary wrapped Jesus in cloths and laid Him in a feeding-trough. Of course the mother wrapped the baby in secure, warm cloths, but why does the Holy Spirit call our attention to this? We may see Jesus as the food of the world, lying in the feeding-trough. He was placed there because there was no room for them in the inn. This event typologically prefigures the passion of Christ, when He is cast out of the Temple and of Jerusalem. Then He is wrapped in cloths and laid in a tomb.