Biblical prophecy is sometimes described as “history written in advance”, because when reading passages that have already been fulfilled the details read, not so much like the vague predictions of a mystic, but like a news report after the event – with highly specific details. One such example is Zechariah 9:1-8 which described, in advance, a conquest of Phoenicia that corresponds with what secular history books record of Alexander the Great’s campaign in that area. Tyre’s famous navy succumbed to Alexander’s persistent attack on them (Zechariah 9:4). Gaza’s king (he was named “Batis” according to Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus) was brutally killed at Alexander’s command (Zechariah 9:5). The Phoenicians’ loss of their distinctive identity is considered to be a consequence of Alexander’s victory over them and his policy of resettling Greek colonists in conquered cities to spread Greek culture (Zechariah 9:6). Notably Jerusalem, which was nearby and had previously been targeted by many oppressors, was not attacked by Alexander (Zechariah 9:8).
When it comes to the burial of the Christ, a specific detail was given in Isaiah 53, This is one of the most stunning of all the prophetic passages on the death of Christ. Written around 700 years before the event, it describes a pitiful figure; despised and rejected by his peers, who died as a stand-in for transgressors, yet who went through it all without resisting. The chapter also gives God’s perspective on what happened: inspite of human culpability for this death, it was ultimately orchestrated by Jehovah. Jehovah describes the person who died as “My righteous Servant”, and through knowing Him, “many” will be made righteous. The most remarkable feature of the chapter, however, is that it’s written as a gut-wrenching confession coming from the lips of the people who did the despising and rejecting: Israel. This is incredibly exciting: not only was the Bible spot on when it anticipated Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, it looks forward to a day – that still lies ahead – when Israel will receive Him, and come into the sin-bearing benefits of His death!
But tucked into this chapter is a detail about the burial of the Christ:
And they made His grave with the wicked–But with the rich at His death (Isaiah 53:9)
While Jesus was still hanging on the cross, the Jewish religious leaders’ thoughts were already turning toward carrying on their show of outward respectability: if they did not deal that evening with the corpses of the three crucified, then they would be ceremonially unclean the next day, compromising their ability to keep the Passover feast. Their solution was to speed up the death of the three so they could be “taken away” (John 19:31). An ignominious joint burial along with two other rejects of society was the sum-total of their regard for Jesus.
That is not what happened however. Enter Joseph of Arimathea: a member of the Jewish council (the very group who led the calls for the crucifixion), but who was evidently out of step with his peers. He begged Pilate for Jesus’ body so he could give it a respectful burial, Upon receiving permission he supplied a fresh grave for Jesus’ body, and bought fine linen to wrap it in (Matthew 27:57-60). Enter also Nicodemus: a leading teacher in Israel (John 3:10), who up until that point had been a secret follower of Jesus. He lavishly supplied expensive ointments and spices (John 19:39). Together these men of wealth honoured their Lord in His death by giving Him the finest burial money could buy (John 19:40). It matters not whether these men were acting deliberately or unwittingly to fulfil Isaiah 53:9. Either way, 700 years earlier God said this is how the sin-bearer would be buried, and that is exactly how it happened!