Secret Discipleship
John 19:38-42
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews…

Notice -

I. THAT JESUS IN EVERY AGE HAS SOME SECRET DISCIPLES. There are two mentioned here - Joseph and Nicodemus. Why were they secret?

1. Because of the danger with which they were surrounded. "For fear of the Jews." What were the influences which excited their fear?

(1) The influence of position. They were in a high worldly position, members of the chief council of the nation, and to confess Jesus meant the loss of this.

(2) The influence of caste. Caste feelings were very strong among the Jews; as they are, indeed, specially strong among all nations, Christian as well as heathen. These councilmen would be outcasts from society if they accepted Jesus as their Teacher.

(3) The influence of wealth. They were wealthy men, and their public confession of Jesus would mean the loss of this.

2. Their natural timidity of disposition. We may well assume that the natural disposition of Joseph and Nicodemus was modest, thoughtful, cautious, timid, and retiring; and this naturally influenced their public conduct. Their disposition was the very reverse to Peter's, and their temptation would lie in an opposite direction. On account of natural disposition it is no effort, and consequently no virtue, in one to be brave and heroic; while in the other it is the difficult task of life.

3. The essential incompleteness of their faith. Faith in Christ at this time, in the best, was weak and imperfect. It was so in the disciples, who had all the advantages of Christ's ministry and miracles. What must it have been in these more distant and secret disciples? They had not enjoyed the advantages of religious education, and therefore their faith was naturally incomplete.

4. Nevertheless, they were genuine disciples. The fear of the Jews, although it had some influence with them, was not really predominant. Publicity of profession is not a guarantee for sincerity; neither is secrecy a barrier to it. Every true discipleship commences in secret, and has much that is secret throughout its career. The true moral force of man is in the secrecy of his heart.


1. Additional evidence to faith.

(1) The evidence of Christ's conduct. His meek, patient, submissive, and dignified conduct in the most tried circumstances, and the most excruciating sufferings and provocation, was highly calculated to inspire faith in him.

(2) The false and mad conduct of his enemies. Their perjury, their extreme and mad cruelty in relation to such a character, would naturally tell in his favor, and would recoil upon themselves.

(3) The evidence of Pilate. Whatever the character of that remarkable governor, he most decidedly pronounced judgment against the Jews and for Jesus. He only delivered him up to them at last under a protest. This, to any reflective and well-disposed person, must have been very significant and even convincing.

(4) The evidence of nature. The rending of the veil and rocks, the quakings of the earth, the opening of graves, and the darkening of the sun at noontide when Jesus hung on the cross, spoke mightily to faith in his favor. There was such a concurrence of evidence from beginning to end which would naturally bring faith out wherever it was, and even produce it where it was not.

2. The death of Christ, in itself, was calculated to draw out latent love and courage. Death is a circumstance which has a tendency to lessen man's faults and magnify his virtues. Of the former Jesus had none, and through the gloom of death the latter shone with Divine brilliancy. In the timid breast they would naturally inspire conscience with regret, and with a desire to make amends, and would fan the smoking flax of love into flame. Only at the death of a dear one we and others come to know how much we loved him in life. Joseph and Nicodemus never knew that they loved Jesus so much till he was crucified and had passed away.

3. Latent love and courage were brought out by example. Joseph came out first, and his example was inspiring. Nicodemus caught the contagion, being the most timid of the two, and he came also; probably he watched the movements of Joseph. He was almost dying to show his respect and love to the crucified One, but felt too weak till he saw the decided action of his stronger brother. This at once decided his course, and he came also. Joseph and Nicodemus doubtless held many a secret converse on the object of their common love, and one encouraged and inspired the other.


1. A courageous request. Joseph came to Pilate to ask permission to take away the body of Jesus to be buried. This was a bold venture, as expressed by Mark, involving considerable personal risk, and so contrary to his natural temper and past conduct. But he is now his new self and not his old, or his old and real self in its true garb.

2. A courageous and loving deed. Permission was given. His inspired venture proved successful. His eloquent request was granted, and he took away the body. This was a public act, in which he shared and for which he was responsible. His fear of losing position, caste, and wealth is now gone. He is under the sway of the opposite principle of love. It is not the fear of the Jews, but the love of Jesus, sways him now, and he is soon joined by a timid brother.

3. Benevolent gifts.

(1) The gift of Nicodemus. A hundred pounds of costly spices. He came to the funeral neither empty-hearted nor empty-handed, but with a princely gift - abundance of spices to embalm the dead but sacred corpse.

(2) The gift of Joseph. The linen and the grave. He was determined that the body of Jesus should not share the fate of ordinary criminals, but that it should have a grave - a new grave in his garden, probably intended for himself. Jesus should sleep in his bed. But there would be no inconvenience, as Jesus would leave it early enough; so there was no danger of its being needed by Joseph before it would be left by Jesus. And he left it much improved. A garden was never the depository of such a seed; and a grave was never the resting-place of such a tenant.

(3) These were gifts and acts of devotional love. Theirs was the heroism of unconquerable affection, which could no longer be repressed. The river overflowed its banks and swept all before it. The living Christ was in Joseph's heart, and his dead body was now in his sacred grave. The hundred pounds of costly spices were the devotions of Nicodemus's love to the Savior.

4. All this was manifested at the darkest hour.

(1) When his enemies had completed their work. They had accomplished their purposes, and realized their fondest hopes in the crucifixion and death of Jesus. But while the council had crucified him, two of its members buried his body. When hatred had reached its highest mark of triumph, latent and secret love reached a higher mark of public courage.

(2) When his friends had deserted him. Only the women and the beloved disciple were in attendance at his last hour. None of his public followers came to bury him, nor follow his body to the tomb. Then these secret disciples came forward as the reserve force of the King, and courageously and lovingly performed his sacred obsequies.

(3) When his cause was apparently at an end. Nicodemus never came to him on such a dark night as this. The common faith was eclipsed, and hope all but extinguished; but then the faith, hope, and love of these private disciples glowed and shone in the gloom of death.


1. That general sincerity of character is advantageous to the reception of Jesus. Joseph was a just and honorable man. This was his general character, and to such Jesus must recommend himself.

2. In the most wicked councils generally there are some good men. In the very nest of his murderers Jesus had at least two genuine friends.

3. Genuine principle, however weak, will triumph in the end. Life ultimately will make itself seen and felt. Those who sincerely come to Jesus by night will come to him at last by day, and in the day of greatest need.

4. Jesus has ever some secret disciples, who wilt do for him what others will or cannot. It was intended that he should have a princely burial. If in life he was with the poor, he was with the rich in his death. No one could foresee how this could come to pass; but Jesus had secret friends among the rich, and they buried his body in a rich fashion, very befitting. Others buried him; he rose himself.

5. Christ was more influential in death than in life. In life he had failed to draw Joseph and Nicodemus out publicly; but in death they could not resist the attraction. He said, "If I die, I will draw;" and here is a striking illustration, but not the only one. - B.T.

Parallel Verses
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.

WEB: After these things, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away Jesus' body. Pilate gave him permission. He came therefore and took away his body.

Secret Discipleship
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