“when it was evening.” In the biblical culture, “evening” was used two different ways. It was “either from our three to six o’clock p. m., …or from our six o’clock p. m. to the beginning of night,”a That the people in the biblical culture thought of evening in terms of an early evening and a later evening explains verses such as Exodus 12:6; 16:12, and 29:39 where the Hebrew text reads, “between the evenings” (cp. Young’s Literal Translation; Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible). The cultural use of “evening” beginning at 3 p.m. also explains why the daily afternoon sacrifice, which was killed around 3 p.m., was called “the evening sacrifice.” Jesus had died at 3 p.m., so according to biblical culture, “evening” had come.
After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and got permission to take the body of Jesus (Matt. 27:58; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:52; John 19:38). He then went and bought the linen to wrap Jesus in. He did not do that earlier, perhaps in expectation that Jesus would somehow not die at the hands of the Romans (Mark 15:46). He wrapped the body in a clean linen cloth and put it in the tomb without using any spices, which was not the traditional Jewish burial custom (Matt. 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 22:53). Why would Joseph do that? The most likely reason is that Nicodemus, who brought the spices, was supposed to meet Joseph at the tomb but was delayed. Then Joseph, not knowing what had happened to Nicodemus, closed the tomb and left (Matt. 27:60; Mark 15:46). At that point, the women from Galilee who were watching Joseph, and had seen that he had laid Jesus’ body in the tomb without preparing it with spices according to the common custom, left also (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). The Sabbath would have been about to start or just starting by that time.
It has sometimes been taught that the reason that Joseph only wrapped Jesus in a linen cloth without spices was that he believed Jesus would be raised from the dead, and thus he did not bother to bury Jesus with all the spices and formal wrappings. However, that explanation is not likely. It leaves us with some unanswered questions, such as how did Nicodemus know Joseph was going to get Jesus’ body and how did he know where Joseph buried him? Also, if Joseph did not properly bury Jesus because he believed Jesus would be raised from the dead in three days, it would have been inappropriate and presumptuous for Nicodemus to go to Joseph’s personal tomb, open it, and wrap Jesus’ body without Joseph’s permission.
The women from Galilee had watched Joseph put Jesus’ body in the tomb without preparing with spices as was not only the common custom but certainly would have been the respectful thing to do to Jesus. That is why they went and bought and prepared spices, and went to properly bury Jesus on Sunday morning—they weren’t expecting Jesus to get up either. It was Wednesday just before sunset when the women saw Joseph bury Jesus without spices, but they could not buy the spices at that time. Luke 23:54 says the Sabbath was beginning, however, this “Sabbath” is not the weekly Sabbath, but the Sabbath that was the day of Nisan 15, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was always a Sabbath (Exod. 12:16-17; Lev. 23:6-8). The year Jesus was crucified, Nisan 15 was a Thursday. So the woman bought and prepared the spices on Friday, and rested Saturday (the weekly Sabbath), and then brought the spices to the tomb early Sunday morning (see commentary on John 20:1).
That the women had to wait until after the Special Sabbath on Thursday to buy spices explains why Mark 16:1 says they bought the spices after the Sabbath, but Luke 23:56 says they bought and prepared them before the Sabbath. They bought and prepared the spices on Friday, which was after the Special Sabbath on Thursday, which was the first day of Unleavened Bread, and before Saturday, which was the regular weekly Sabbath.
Although the women would have had time to bring the spices to the tomb on Friday, they did not do that. The most logical explanation for that is that they knew there was a guard at the tomb. The guard had been set for three days (Matt. 27:62-66). However, they would have thought that by Sunday, the fourth day, the guard would be gone and they could successfully anoint Jesus’ body, which is why they came on Sunday morning.
After Joseph of Arimathea and the women left the tomb, Nicodemus came with his servants and gave Jesus a burial that was according to Jewish custom. He brought spices with him, and rewrapped Jesus’ body with the spices. However, the women had already left and did not see what Nicodemus had done. It would have been natural for a rich man like Nicodemus to have servants with him, who are the “they” of John 19:40. After all, Nicodemus was a wealthy man and member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1), and he was bringing 75 pounds of spices, which would have required help and were very valuable. Also, as an older man, 75 pounds of spices would have been a lot to carry. Furthermore, because Joseph and his servants had already sealed the tomb with the huge rolling stone, Nicodemus would have needed his servants to open it back up (Matt. 27:60; Mark 15:46). It is possible that Nicodemus’ work was completed after dark, and thus on the Sabbath, or he may have gotten Jesus buried just before the Sabbath started. In either case, he would not have been able to eat the Passover meal because he had touched Jesus’ dead body.
[For more on the three days and nights between Jesus’ death and resurrection, see commentary on Matthew 12:40. For more on the chronology of the last week of Jesus’ life beginning with his arrest, see commentary on John 18:13, “first.” For more on Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus burying Jesus, see commentary on John 19:40.]