Adam Clarke Commentary
In the morning, Christ is bound and delivered to Pontius Pilate, Matthew 27:1, Matthew 27:2. Judas, seeing his Master condemned, repents, acknowledges his transgression to the chief priests, attests Christ‘s innocence, throws down the money, and goes and hangs himself, Matthew 27:3-5. They buy the potter‘s field with the money, Matthew 27:6-10. Christ, questioned by Pilate, refuses to answer, Matthew 27:11-14. Pilate, while inquiring of the Jews whether they would have Jesus or Barabbas released, receives a message from his wife to have nothing to do in this wicked business, Matthew 27:15-19. The multitude, influenced by the chief priests and elders, desire Barabbas to be released, and Jesus to be crucified, Matthew 27:20-23. Pilate attests his innocence, and the people make themselves and their posterity responsible for his blood, Matthew 27:24, Matthew 27:25. Barabbas is released, and Christ is scourged, Matthew 27:26. The soldiers strip him, clothe him with a scarlet robe, crown him with thorns, mock, and variously insult him, Matthew 27:27-31. Simon compelled to bear his cross, Matthew 27:32. They bring him to Golgotha, give him vinegar mingled with gall to drink, crucify him, and cast lots for his raiment, Matthew 27:33-36. His accusation, Matthew 27:37. Two thieves are crucified with him, Matthew 27:38. He is mocked and insulted while hanging on the cross, Matthew 27:39-44. The awful darkness, Matthew 27:45. Jesus calls upon God, is offered vinegar to drink, expires, Matthew 27:46-50. Prodigies that accompanied and followed his death, Matthew 27:51-53. He is acknowledged by the centurion, Matthew 27:54. Several women behold the crucifixion, Matthew 27:55, Matthew 27:56. Joseph of Arimathea begs the body of Pilate, and deposites it in his own new tomb, Matthew 27:57-60. The women watch the sepulchre, Matthew 27:61. The Jews consult with Pilate how they may prevent the resurrection of Christ, Matthew 27:62-64. He grants them a guard for the sepulchre, and they seal the stone that stopped the mouth of the tomb where he was laid, Matthew 27:65, Matthew 27:66.
When the morning was come - As soon as it was light - took counsel against Jesus. They had begun this counsel the preceding evening, see Matthew 26:59. But as it was contrary to all forms of law to proceed against a person‘s life by night, they seem to have separated for a few hours, and then, at the break of day, came together again, pretending to conduct the business according to the forms of law.
To put him to death - They had already determined his death, and pronounced the sentence of death on him; Matthew 26:66. And now they assemble under the pretense of reconsidering the evidence, and deliberating on it, to give the greater appearance of justice to their conduct. They wished to make it appear that “they had taken ample time to consider of it, and, from the fullest conviction, by the most satisfactory and conclusive evidence, they had now delivered him into the hands of the Romans, to meet that death to which they had adjudged him.”
They - delivered him to Pontius Pilate - The Sanhedrin had the power of life and death in their own hands in every thing that concerned religion; but as they had not evidence to put Christ to death because of false doctrine, they wished to give countenance to their conduct by bringing in the civil power, and therefore they delivered him up to Pilate as one who aspired to regal dignities, and whom he must put to death, if he professed to be Caesar‘s friend. Pontius Pilate governed Judea ten years under the Emperor Tiberius; but, having exercised great cruelties against the Samaritans, they complained of him to the emperor, in consequence of which he was deposed, and sent in exile to Vienna, in Dauphiny, where he killed himself two years after.
Judas - when he saw that he was condemned, repented - There is much of the wisdom and goodness of God to be seen in this part of Judas‘s conduct. Had our Lord been condemned to death on the evidence of one of his own disciples, it would have furnished infidels with a strong argument against Christ and the Christian religion. “One of his own disciples, knowing the whole imposture, declared it to the Jewish rulers, in consequence of which he was put to death as an impostor and deceiver.” But the traitor, being stung with remorse, came and acknowledged his crime, and solemnly declared the innocence of his Master, threw back the money which they gave him to induce him to do this villainous act; and, to establish the evidence which he now gave against them and himself, in behalf of the innocence of Christ, hanged himself, or died through excessive grief and contrition. Thus the character of Christ was rescued from all reproach; infidelity deprived of the power to cry “imposture!” and the Jewish rulers overwhelmed with eternal infamy. If it should ever be said, “One who knew him best delivered him up as an impostor,” - to this it may be immediately answered, “The same person, struck with remorse, came and declared his own guilt, and Christ‘s innocence; accused and convicted the Jewish rulers, in the open council, of having hired him to do this iniquitous action, threw them back the bribe they had given him, and then hanged himself through distress and despair, concluding his iniquity in this business was too great to be forgiven.” Let him who chooses, after this plenary evidence to the innocence of Christ, continue the objection, and cry out imposture! take heed that he go not and do Likewise. Caiaphas, Pilate, and Judas have done so already, and I have known several, who have called Christ an impostor, who have cut their own throats, shot, drowned, or hanged themselves. God is a jealous God, and highly resents every thing that is done and said against that eternal truth that came to man through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, there is one class of Deists, viz. those who are vicious in their lives, and virulent in their opposition to Christianity, who generally bring themselves to an untimely end.
Innocent blood - Αιμα αθωον , a Hebraism, for an innocent man. But instead of αθωον , innocent, two ancient MSS., Syriac, Vulgate, Sahidic, Armenian, and all the Itala; Origen, Cyprian, Lucifer, Ambrose, Leo, read δικαιον , righteous, or just.
What is that to us? - What is it? - A great deal. You should immediately go and reverse the sentence you have pronounced, and liberate the innocent person. But this would have been justice, and that would have been a stranger at their tribunal.
In the temple - Ναος signifies, properly, the temple itself, into which none but the priests were permitted to enter; therefore εν τῳ ναῳ must signify, near the temple, by the temple door, where the boxes stood to receive the free-will offerings of the people, for the support and repairs of the sacred edifice. See this amply proved by Kypke.
Hanged himself - Or was strangled - απηγξατο . Some eminent critics believe that he was only suffocated by excessive grief, and thus they think the account here given will agree with that in Acts 1:18. Mr. Wakefield supports this meaning of the word with great learning and ingenuity. I have my doubts - the old method of reconciling the two accounts appears to me quite plausible - he went and strangled himself, and the rope breaking, he fell down, and by the violence of the fall his body was bursted, and his bowels gushed out. I have thought proper, on a matter of such difficulty, to use the word strangled, as possessing a middle meaning between choking or suffocation by excessive grief, and hanging, as an act of suicide. See the note on Matthew 10:4. Dr. Lightfoot is of opinion that the devil caught him up into the air, strangled him, and threw him down on the ground with violence, so that his body was burst, and his guts shed out! This was an ancient tradition.
The treasury - Κορβαναν - the place whither the people brought their free-will offerings for the service of the temple, so called from the Hebrew קרבן (korban), An Offering, from קרב (karab), he drew nigh, because the person who brought the gift came nigh to that place where God manifested his glory between the cherubim, over the mercy-seat in the most holy place. It is from this idea that the phrase to draw nigh to God is taken, which is so frequently used in the sacred writings.
Because it is the price of blood - “What hypocrites, as one justly exclaims, to adjudge an innocent man to death, and break the eternal laws of justice and mercy without scruple, and to be, at the same time, so very nice in their attention to a ceremonial direction of the law of Moses! Thus it is that the devil often deludes many, even among the priests, by a false and superstitious tenderness or conscience in things indifferent, while calumny, envy, oppression of the innocent, and a conformity to the world, give them no manner of trouble or disturbance.” See Quesnel.
To bury strangers in - Τοις ξενοις , the strangers, probably meaning, as some learned men conjecture, the Jewish strangers who might have come to Jerusalem, either to worship, or on some other business, and died there during their stay. See here, the very money for which the blessed Jesus was sold becomes subservient to the purpose of mercy and kindness! The bodies of strangers have a place of rest in the field purchased by the price at which his life was valued, and the souls of strangers and foreigners have a place of rest and refuge in his blood which was shed as a ransom price for the salvation of the whole world.
The field of blood - In vain do the wicked attempt to conceal themselves; God makes them instrumental in discovering their own wickedness. Judas, by returning the money, and the priests, by laying it out, raise to themselves an eternal monument - the one of his treachery, the others of their perfidiousness, and both of the innocence of Jesus Christ. As, long as the Jewish polity continued, it might be said, “This is the field that was bought from the potter with the money which Judas got from the high priests for betraying his Master; which he, in deep compunction of spirit, brought back to them, and they bought this ground for a burial-place for strangers: for as it was the price of the blood of an innocent man, they did not think proper to let it rest in the treasury of the temple where the traitor had thrown it, who afterwards, in despair, went and hanged himself.” What a standing proof must this have been of the innocence of Christ, and of their perfidy!
Jeremy the prophet - The words quoted here are not found in the Prophet Jeremiah, but in Zechariah 11:13. But St. Jerome says that a Hebrew of the sect of the Nazarenes showed him this prophecy in a Hebrew apocryphal copy of Jeremiah; but probably they were inserted there only to countenance the quotation here.
Before the governor - My old MS. English Bible translates ηγημων Meyr cheef justyse, Presedent.
Art thou the King of the Jews? - The Jews had undoubtedly delivered him to Pilate as one who was rising up against the imperial authority, and assuming the regal office. See on Matthew 27:2 (note).
He answered nothing - An answer to such accusations was not necessary: they sufficiently confuted themselves.
Marveled greatly - Silence under calumny manifests the utmost magnanimity. The chief priests did not admire this because it confounded them; but Pilate, who had no interest to serve by it, was deeply affected. This very silence was predicted. Isaiah 53:7.
The governor was wont to release - Whence this custom originated among the Jews is not known, - probably it was introduced by the Romans themselves, or by Pilate, merely to oblige the Jews, by showing them this public token of respect; but if it originated with him, he must have had the authority of Augustus; for the Roman laws never gave such discretionary power to any governor.
A notable prisoner - Barabbas - This person had, a short time before, raised an insurrection in Jerusalem, in which it appears, from Mark 15:7, some lives were lost. In some MSS., and in the Armenian and Syriac Hieros., this man has the surname of Jesus. Professor Birch has discovered this reading in a Vatican MS., written in 949, and numbered 354, in which is a marginal note which has been attributed to Anastasius, bishop of Antioch, and to Chrysostom, which asserts that in the most ancient MSS. the passage was as follows: - Τινα θελετε απο των δυω απολυσω υμιν, ΙΝ τον βαραββαν, η ΙΝ τον λεγομενον ΧΝ : Which of the two do ye wish me to release unto you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? As Jesus, or Joshua, was a very common name among the Jews, and as the name of the father was often joined to that of the son, as Simon Barjonah, Simon, son of Jonah; so it is probable it was the case here, Jesus Barabba, Jesus, son of Abba, or Abbiah. If this name were originally written as above, which I am inclined to believe, the general omission of Jesus in the MSS. may be accounted for from the over zealous scrupulosity of Christian copyists, who were unwilling that a murderer should, in the same verse, be honored with the name of the Redeemer of the world. See Birch in New Test.
For envy - Δια φθονον , through malice. Then it was his business, as an upright judge, to have dispersed this mob, and immediately released Jesus.
I have suffered many things - in a dream - There is no doubt that God had appeared unto this woman, testifying the innocence of Christ, and showing the evils which should pursue Pilate if this innocent blood should be shed by his authority. See Matthew 27:2.
Ask Barabbas - Who had raised an insurrection and committed murder - and to destroy Jesus, whose voice was never heard in their streets, and who had, during the space of three years and a half, gone about unweariedly, from village to village, instructing the ignorant, healing the diseased, and raising the dead.
They said, Barabbas - What a fickle crowd! A little before they all hailed him as the Son of David, and acknowledged him as a gift from God; now they prefer a murderer to him! But this it appears they did at the instigation of the chief priests. We see here how dangerous wicked priests are in the Church of Christ; when pastors are corrupt, they are capable of inducing their flock to prefer Barabbas to Jesus, the world to God, and the pleasures of sense to the salvation of their souls. The invidious epithet which a certain statesman gave to the people at large was, in its utmost latitude, applicable to these Jews, - they were a Swinish Multitude.
What shall I do then with Jesus? - Showing, hereby, that it was his wish to release him.
What evil hath he done? - Pilate plainly saw that there was nothing laid to his charge for which, consistently with the Roman laws, he could condemn him.
But they cried out the more - What strange fury and injustice! They could not answer Pilate‘s question, What evil hath he done? He had done none, and they knew he had done none; but they are determined on his death.
Pilate - took water, and washed his hands - Thus signifying his innocence. It was a custom among the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins, to wash the hands in token of innocence, and to show that they were pure from any imputed guilt. In case of an undiscovered murder, the elders of that city which was nearest to the place where the dead body was found, were required by the law, Deuteronomy 21:1-10, to wash their hands over the victim which was offered to expiate the crime, and thus make public protestation of their own innocence. David says, I will wash my hands in innocence, so shall I compass thine altar, Psalm 26:6. As Pilate knew Christ was innocent, he should have prevented his death: he had the armed force at his command, and should have dispersed this infamous mob. Had he been charged with countenancing a seditious person, he could have easily cleared himself, had the matter been brought before the emperor. He, therefore, was inexcusable.
His blood be on us and on our children - If this man be innocent, and we put him to death as a guilty person, may the punishment due to such a crime be visited upon us, and upon our children after us! What a dreadful imprecation! and how literally fulfilled! The notes on chap. 24, will show how they fell victims to their own imprecation, being visited with a series of calamities unexampled in the history of the world. They were visited with the same kind of punishment; for the Romans crucified them in such numbers when Jerusalem was taken, that there was found a deficiency of crosses for the condemned, and of places for the crosses. Their children or descendants have had the same curse entailed upon them, and continue to this day a proof of the innocence of Christ, the truth of his religion, and of the justice of God.
Scourged Jesus - This is allowed to have been a very severe punishment of itself among the Romans, the flesh being generally cut by the whips used for this purpose: so the poet: -
And sometimes it seems, they were whipped to death.
See also Horat. Epod. od. iv. v. 11.
Delivered him to be crucified - Tacitus, the Roman historian, mentions the death of Christ in very remarkable terms: -
The common hall - Or, praetorium. Called so from the praetor, a principal magistrate among the Romans, whose business it was to administer justice in the absence of the consul. This place night be termed in English the court house, or common hall.
Stripped him - Took off his mantle, or upper garment.
A scarlet robe - Or, according to Mark and John, a purple robe, such as emperors and kings wore.
A crown of thorns - Στεφανον εξ ακανθων . It does not appear that this crown was intended to be an instrument of punishment or torture to his head, but rather to render him ridiculous; for which cause also they put a reed in his hand, by way of scepter, and bowed their knees, pretending to do him homage. The crown was not probably of thorns, in our sense of the word: there are eminently learned men who think that the crown was formed of the herb acanthus; and Bishop Pearce and Michaelis are of this opinion. Mark, Mark 15:17, and John, John 19:5, term it, Ϛεφανον ακανθινον , which may very well be translated an acanthine crown or wreath, formed out of the branches of the herb acanthus, or bear‘s foot. This, however, is a prickly plant, though nothing like thorns, in the common meaning of that word. Many Christians have gone astray in magnifying the sufferings of Christ from this circumstance; and painters, the worst of all commentators, frequently represent Christ with a crown of long thorns, which one standing by is striking into his head with a stick. These representations engender ideas both false and absurd.
There is the most remarkable coincidence between this account and that given by the evangelists; and the conjecture concerning the acanthus will probably find no inconsiderable support from the byblos and papyrus of Philo. This plant, Pliny says, grows to ten cubits long in the stem and the flowers were used ad deos coronandos, for Crowning The Gods. See Hist. Nat. lib. xiii. c. 11.
And they spit upon him - “Let us pay our adoration,” says the same pious writer, “and humble ourselves in silence at the sight of a spectacle which faith alone renders credible, and which our senses would hardly endure. Jesus Christ, in this condition, preaches to the kings of the earth this truth - that their scepters are but reeds, with which themselves shall be smitten, bruised, and crushed at his tribunal, if they do not use them here to the advancement of his kingdom.”
A man of Cyrene - him they compelled to bear his cross - In John, John 19:16, John 19:17, we are told Christ himself bore the cross, and this, it is likely, he did for a part of the way; but, being exhausted with the scourging and other cruel usage which he had received, he was found incapable of bearing it alone; therefore they obliged Simon, not, I think, to bear it entirely, but to assist Christ, by bearing a part of it. It was a constant practice among the Romans, to oblige criminal to bear their cross to the place of execution: insomuch that Plutarch makes use of it as an illustration of the misery of vice. “Every kind of wickedness produces its own particular torment, just as every malefactor, when he is brought forth to execution, carries his own cross.” See Lardner‘s Credib. vol. i. p. 160.
A place called Golgotha - From the Hebrew גלגתה or גלגלת, (golgoleth), a skull, probably so called from the many skulls of these who had suffered crucifixion and other capital punishments scattered up and down in the place. It is the same as Calvary, Calvaria, i.e. calvi capitis area, the place of bare skulls. Some think the place was thus called, because it was in the form of a human skull. It is likely that it was the place of public execution, similar to the Gemoniae Scalae at Rome.
They gave him vinegar - mingled with gall - Perhaps χολη , commonly translated gall, signifies no more than bitters of any kind. It was a common custom to administer a stupefying potion compounded of sour wine, which is the same as vinegar, from the French vinaigre, frankincense, and myrrh, to condemned persons, to help to alleviate their sufferings, or so disturb their intellect that they might not be sensible of them. The rabbins say that they put a grain of frankincense into a cup of strong wine; and they ground this on Proverbs 31:6: Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, i.e. who is condemned to death. Some person, out of kindness, appears to have administered this to our blessed Lord; but he, as in all other cases, determining to endure the fullness of pain, refused to take what was thus offered to him, choosing to tread the winepress alone. Instead of οξος , vinegar, several excellent MSS. and versions have οινον , wine; but as sour wine is said to have been a general drink of the common people and Roman soldiers, it being the same as vinegar, it is of little consequence which reading is here adopted. This custom of giving stupefying potions to condemned malefactors is alluded to in Proverbs 31:6: Give strong drink, שקר (shekar), inebriating drink, to him who is ready to Perish, and wine to him who is Bitter of soul - because he is just going to suffer the punishment of death. And thus the rabbins, as we have seen above, understand it. See Lightfoot and Schoettgen.
And they crucified him - Crucifixion properly means the act of nailing or tying to a cross. The cross was made of two beams, either crossing at the top at right angles, like a T, or in the middle of their length, like an X. There was, besides, a piece on the center of the transverse beam, to which the accusation or statement of the crime of the culprit was attached, and a piece of wood which projected from the middle, on which the person sat, as on a sort of saddle; and by which the whole body was supported. Tertullian mentions this particularly: Nobis, says he, tota crux imputatur, cum antenna scilicet sua, et cum illo Sedills excessu. Advers. Nationes, lib. ii. Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, gives precisely the same description of the cross; and it is worthy of observation that both he and Tertullian flourished before the punishment of the cross had been abolished. The cross on which our Lord suffered was of the former kind; being thus represented in all old monuments, coins, and crosses. St. Jerome compares it to a bird flying, a man swimming, or praying with his arms extended. The punishment of the cross was inflicted among the ancient Hindoos from time immemorial for various species of theft; see Halhead‘s Code of Gentoo Laws, p. 248, and was common among the Syrians, Egyptians, Persians, Africans, Greeks, and Romans: it is also still in use among the Chinese, who do not nail, but tie the criminal to it. It was probably the Romans who introduced it among the Jews. Before they became subject to the Romans, they used hanging or gibbeting, but not the cross. This punishment was the most dreadful of all others, both for the shame and pain of it: and so scandalous, that it was inflicted as the last mark of detestation upon the vilest of people. It was the punishment of robbers and murderers, provided they were slaves; but if they were free, it was thought too infamous a punishment for such, let their crimes be what they might.
The anguish occasioned by crucifixion was so intense, that crucio, (a cruce), among the Romans, was the common word by which they expressed suffering and torment in general.
And parted his garments, casting lots - These were the Roman soldiers, who had crucified him: and it appears from this circumstance, that in those ancient times the spoils of the criminal were claimed by the executioners, as they are to the present day. It appears that they divided a part, and cast lots for the rest: viz. for his seamless coat, John 19:23, John 19:24.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots - The whole of this quotation should be omitted, as making no part originally of the genuine text of this evangelist. It is omitted by almost every MS. of worth and importance, by almost all the versions, and the most reputable of the primitive fathers, who have written or commented on the place. The words are plainly an interpolation, borrowed from John 19:24, in which place they will be properly noticed.
They watched him - To prevent his disciples or relatives from taking away the body or affording any relief to the sufferer.
His accusation - It was a common custom to affix a label to the cross, giving a statement of the crime for which the person suffered. This is still the case in China, when a person is crucified. Sometimes a person was employed to carry this before the criminal, while going to the place of punishment.
Two thieves - ΛῃϚαι , robbers, or cutthroats: men who had committed robbery and murder; for it does not appear that persons were crucified for robbery only. Thus was our Lord numbered (his name enrolled, placed as it were in the death warrant) with transgressors, according to the prophetic declaration, Isaiah 53:12; and the Jews placed him between these two, perhaps to intimate that he was the worst felon of the three.
Wagging their heads - In token of contempt.
Thou that destroyest - Who didst pretend that thou couldst have destroyed the temple, and built it up again in three days. This malicious torturing of our Lord‘s words has been noticed before. Cruelty is obliged to take refuge in lies, in order to vindicate its infamous proceedings.
If thou be the Son of God - Or rather, Υἱος του Θεου A son of God, i.e. a peculiar favorite of the Most-High; not Ὁ Υἱος του Θεου , The Son of God. “It is not to be conceived,” says a learned man, “that every passenger who was going to the city had a competent knowledge of Christ‘s supernatural conception by the Holy Spirit, or an adequate comprehension of his character as the Messiah, and ( κατ ‘ εξοχην ) The Son Of God. There is not a single passage where Jesus is designed to be pointed out as the Messiah, The Son Of God, where the article is omitted: nor, on the other hand, is this designation ever specified without the article, thus, ‹ Ὁ Υἱος του Θεου . See Matthew 16:16; Matthew 26:63; Matthew 28:19.”
Chief priests - scribes and elders - To these, several ancient MSS. and versions add, και Φαρισαιων , and Pharisees. But though the authority for this reading is respectable, yet it does not appear that the Pharisees joined in with the others in the condemnation of our Lord. Probably his discourses and parables, related in some of the preceding chapters, which were spoken directly to them, had so far convinced them that they would at least have no hand in putting him to death. All the infamy of this seems to fall upon the Priests, scribes, and elders.
He saved others; himself he cannot save - Or, Cannot he save himself? Several MSS. read this with the mark of interrogation as above; and this makes the sarcasm still more keen.
We will believe him - Instead of αυτῳ , him, many excellent MSS. have επ ‘ αυτῳ , In him: this is a reading which Griesbach and other eminent critics have adopted.
If he will have him - Or, if he delight in him - ει θελει αυτον . The verbs θελω and εθελω , are used by the Septuagint in more than forty places for the Hebrew חפץ (chaphets), which signifies, earnestly to desire, or delight in. Now as this is a quotation from Psalm 22:8, He trusted in the Lord, that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, (כי חפץ בו (ki chaphets bo)), for he Hath Delighted In Him: - ὁτι θελει αυτον , Sept. This will sufficiently vindicate the above translation; as the evangelist quotes the words from that version, with the simple change of ει , if, for ὁτι , because.
The thieves also - cast the same in his teeth - That is, one of the robbers; for one, we find, was a penitent, Luke 23:39, Luke 23:40. See this form of expression accounted for, on Matthew 26:8 (note).
There was darkness over all the land - I am of opinion that πασαν την γην does not mean all the world, but only the land of Judea. So the word is used Matthew 24:30; Luke 4:25, and in other places. Several eminent critics are of this opinion: Beza defends this meaning of the word, and translates the Greek, super universam Regionem over the whole Country. Besides, it is evident that the evangelists speak of things that happened in Judea, the place of their residence. It is plain enough there was a darkness in Jerusalem, and over all Judea; and probably over all the people among whom Christ had for more than three years preached the everlasting Gospel; and that this darkness was supernatural is evident from this, that it happened during the passover, which was celebrated only at the full moon, a time in which it was impossible for the sun to be eclipsed. But many suppose the darkness was over the whole world, and think there is sufficient evidence of this in ancient authors. Phlegon and Thallus, who flourished in the beginning of the second century, are supposed to speak of this. The former says: “In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was an extraordinary eclipse of the sun: at the sixth hour, the day was turned into dark night, so that the stars in heaven were seen; and there was an earthquake in Bithynia, which overthrew many houses in the city of Nice.” This is the substance of what Phlegon is reputed to have said on this subject: - but
1.All the authors who quote him differ, and often very materially, in what they say was found in him.
2.Phlegon says nothing of Judea: what he says is, that in such an Olympiad, (some say the 102nd, others the 202nd), there was an eclipse in Bithynia, and an earthquake at Nice.
6.Phlegon speaks of an eclipse that happened in some year of the 102nd, or 202nd Olympiad; and therefore little stress can be laid on what he says as applying to this event.
The quotation from Thallus, made by Africanus, found in the Chronicle of Syncellus, of the eighth century, is allowed by eminent critics to be of little importance. This speaks “of a darkness over all the world, and an earthquake which threw down many houses in Judea and in other parts of the earth.” It may be necessary to observe, that Thallus is quoted by several of the ancient ecclesiastical writers for other matters, but never for this; and that the time in which he lived is so very uncertain, that Dr. Lardner supposes there is room to think he lived rather before than after Christ.
My God! My God! why hast thou forsaken me! - These words are quoted by our Lord from Psalm 22:1; they are of very great importance, and should be carefully considered.
This man calleth for Elias - Probably these were Hellenistic Jews, who did not fully understand the meaning of our Lord‘s words. Elijah was daily expected to appear as the forerunner of the Messiah, whose arrival, under the character of a mighty prince, was generally supposed to be at hand throughout the east. See Malachi 4:5; Matthew 2:2-4; Matthew 17:10-12.
Took a sponge - This being the most convenient way to reach a liquid to his mouth; tied it on a reed, that they might be able to reach his lips with it. This reed, as we learn from St. John, was a stalk of hyssop, which, in that country, must have grown to a considerable magnitude. This appears also to have been done in mercy, to alleviate his sufferings. See Matthew 27:34.
After this verse, BCL and five others add, Another, taking a spear, pierced his side, and there came out blood and water. Several of the fathers add the same words here: they appear, however, to be an interpolation from John 19:34.
Yielded up the ghost - Αφηκε το πνευμα , He dismissed the spirit. He himself willingly gave up that life which it was impossible for man to take away. It is not said that he hung on the cross till he died through pain and agony; nor is it said that his bones were broken, the sooner to put him out of pain, and to hasten his death; but that himself dismissed the soul, that he might thus become, not a forced sacrifice, but a free-will offering for sin.
The veil of the temple was rent - That is, the veil which separated the holy place, where the priests ministered, from the holy of holies, into which the high priest only entered, and that once a year, to make a general expiation for the sins of the people. This rending of the veil was emblematical, and pointed out that the separation between Jews and Gentiles was now abolished, and that the privilege of the high priest was now communicated to all mankind: All might henceforth have access to the throne of grace, through the one great atonement and mediator, the Lord Jesus. See this beautifully illustrated in Hebrews 10:19-22.
And the graves were opened - By the earthquake; and many bodies of saints which slept, i.e. were dead, sleep being a common expression for death in the Scriptures.
And came out of the graves after his resurrection - Not Before, as some have thought, for Christ was himself the First Fruits of them who slept, 1 Corinthians 15:20. The graves were opened at his death, by the earthquake, and the bodies came out at his resurrection.
And appeared unto many - Thus establishing the truth of our Lord‘s resurrection in particular, and of the resurrection of the body in general, by many witnesses. Quesnel‘s reflections on these passages may be very useful.
“1.The veil being rent shows that his death is to put an end to the figurative worship, and to establish the true religion.
2.The earthquake, that this dispensation of the Gospel is to make known through the earth the judgments of God against sin and sinners.
5.The rising of the bodies of the saints shows that this death of Christ is to merit, and his Gospel publish, the eternal happiness of body and soul for all that believe in his name.”
It is difficult to account for the transaction mentioned Matthew 27:52, Matthew 27:53. Some have thought that these two verses have been introduced into the text of Matthew from the gospel of the Nazarenes; others think that the simple meaning is this: - by the earthquake several bodies that had been buried were thrown up and exposed to view, and continued above ground till after Christ‘s resurrection, and were seen by many persons in the city. Why the graves should be opened on Friday, and the bodies not be raised to life till the following Sunday, is difficult to be conceived. The place is extremely obscure.
The centurion - The Roman officer who superintended the execution, called centurio, from centum, a hundred, because he had the command of one hundred men.
Truly this was the Son of God - An innocent, holy, and Divine person; and God thus shows his disapprobation of this bloody tragedy. It is not likely that this centurion had any knowledge of the expectation of the Jews relative to the Messiah, and did not use the words in this sense. A son of God, as the Romans used the term, would signify no more than a very eminent or Divine person; a hero.
Many women - To their everlasting honor, these women evidenced more courage, and affectionate attachment to their Lord and Master, than the disciples did, who had promised to die with him rather than forsake him.
Beholding afar off - At a distance - απο μακροθεν . Though this expression may be understood to refer, rather to the distance from which they came, (viz. from Galilee), than the distance they stood from the cross; yet, as all malefactors were crucified naked, perhaps this may account for the distance at which these modest women stood.
Mary Magdalene - She probably had her name from Magdala, a village or district in Lower Galilee. See Matthew 15:39. Some think she was called Magdalene from מגדלא (magdala), which signifies a plaiter of hair. See Lightfoot.
Mary the mother of James - She was mother of him called James the lesser, or junior, who was son of Alpheus or Cleopas - see Matthew 10:3; Mark 15:40; John 19:25; and she was sister to the holy virgin. Thus it appears that there were four remarkable Marys mentioned in the Gospels.
1.Mary the Virgin, wife of Joseph.
2.Mary Salome, her sister, wife of Cleopas, John 19:25.
4.Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, John 11:1.
Though Baronius asserts, and Lightfoot is of the same opinion, that Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was one and the same person. It is difficult to ascertain and distinguish these women where their names occur in the Gospels, so many being called by the name of Mary.
Joses - Several MSS. and versions read Joseph.
When the even - This must have been about three o‘clock, or a little after; for our Lord having expired about three o‘clock, Matthew 27:46, and the Jewish passover beginning about four, it was necessary that Joseph, who would not fail to eat the passover at the usual time, should have obtained and buried the body of Christ some time before four o‘clock. But such was the general consternation, occasioned by the prodigies that took place on this most awful occasion, that we may safely conjecture that nothing was done in order, and perhaps the passover itself was not eaten at the usual hour, if at all, that day. See at the end of the preceding chapter.
A rich man - He was a counsellor of the great Sanhedrin, Luke 23:50; and, from the accounts given of him by the evangelists we learn that he was a man of the greatest respectability. He now acted a more honorable part than all the disciples of our Lord. He was of Arimathea, or Rama, in the tribe of Benjamin, Matthew 2:18, but lived ordinarily in Jerusalem, as being a member of the great council.
Begged the body - That he might bury it honorably otherwise, by the Jewish customs, he would have either been burned, or buried in the common place appointed for executed criminals.
Wrapped it in a clean linen cloth - The Jews, as well as the Egyptians, added spices to keep the body from putrefaction, and the linen was wrapped about every part to keep the aromatics in contact with the flesh. From John 19:39, John 19:40, we learn that a mixture of myrrh and aloes of one hundred pounds‘ weight had been applied to the body of Jesus when he was buried. And that a second embalmment was intended, we learn from Luke 23:56; Luke 24:1, as the hurry to get the body interred before the Sabbath did not permit them to complete, the embalming in the first instance. See an account of the mode of embalming among the Egyptians, in the note on Genesis 50:2, Genesis 50:26 (note).
Laid it in his own new tomb - To all human appearance the body of Christ must have had the same burial-place with those of the two robbers, as he was numbered with the transgressors, and suffered with them; for then he was a sacrifice, bearing the sin of the world in his own body on the tree; but now the sacrifice is offered, the atonement made and accepted, he is no longer to be enrolled with the transgressors, and, according to a prophecy delivered nearly seven hundred years before that time, he is to have the burying-place of a rich man. See Isaiah 53:9, Isaiah 53:10. Had our Lord been buried in the common burial-ground of the malefactors, his resurrection could not have been so distinctly remarked, as the chief priests would never have thought of sealing the stone there, or setting a watch; but now that the body is got into the hands of a friend, they judge it necessary to make use of these precautions, in order, as they said, to prevent imposture; and from this very circumstance the resurrection of Christ had its fullest evidence, and was put beyond the power of successful contradiction. What a number of objections would not human prudence have made to Joseph‘s conduct, had he consulted it on this occasion! It would have represented to him that, “this was to expose himself, to bring himself into trouble, to render himself suspected, to put himself out of all capacity of doing good, to ruin himself irrecoverably; and now it could do no good to his teacher - he is now dead, and needs no longer any office of kindness from men.” There is, sometimes in our whole life, but one opportunity in which God designs signally to employ us; and, through our general backwardness to every good work, we are for reserving ourselves to other opportunities, in which God neither requires nor will accept our services.
Rolled a great stone to the door - Some are of opinion that this tomb was cut down into the rock, perpendicularly from the surface; and that the great stone spoken of here covered over the entrance to it. The stone, no doubt, was intended to secure the place as much as possible.
Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary - The mother of James and Joses, Matthew 27:56. The mother of our Lord had probably, by this time, been taken home to the house of John. See John 19:26, John 19:27.
Sitting over against the sepulchre - These holy women, filled with that love to their Lord which death cannot destroy, cleaved to him in life, and in death were not divided. They came to the grave to see the end, and overwhelmed with sorrow and anguish, sat down to mourn.
The next day - This was the seventh, or Saturday, and might be what we should term the evening of the sixth, or Friday, because the Jews always ended their day when the sun set, and then began the next.
That followed the day of the preparation - That is, of the Sabbath. The victuals, etc., which were to be used on the Sabbath by the Jews, were always prepared the preceding evening before the sun set. It is of this preparation that the evangelist speaks here; and it is the same which is mentioned by Mark, Mark 15:42; by Luke, Luke 23:54; and by John, John 19:31. But there was another preparation which happened in the same day: viz. The preparation of the passover; this began about twelve o‘clock, and continued till four, the time in which they ate the paschal lamb. See John 19:14.
Sir, we remember, etc. - While these wicked men are fulfilling their own vicious counsels, they are subserving the great cause of Christianity. Every thing depended on the resurrection of Christ; if it did not appear that he rose from the dead, then the whole system was false, and no atonement was made. It was necessary therefore that the chief priests, etc., should make use of every precaution to prevent an imposture, that the resurrection of Christ might have the fullest evidence to support it. See on Matthew 27:60 (note).
After three days I will rise again - This they probably took from his saying, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up. If so, they destroyed, by their own words, the false accusation they brought against him to put him to death; then they perverted the meaning, now they declare it. Thus the wise are taken in their own craftiness. Neither the devil nor his servants ever speak truth, but when they expect to accomplish some bad purpose by it.
Lest his disciples come by night - Νυκτος , by night, is wanting in ten of the uncial MSS., and in several others, and in most of the versions. Erasmus, Aldus, Bengel, and Boghard, with Griesbach, leave it out of the text.
Ye have a watch - The Jews had a corps of Roman troops, consisting of several companies, as a guard for the temple, Acts 4:1. These companies mounted guard by turns, see Luke 22:4. Some of these companies, which were not then on duty, Pilate gave them leave to employ to watch the tomb.
Made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch - Or rather, made the tomb secure by the guard, and by sealing the stone. I follow Kypke, in construing μετα της κουστωδιας , with ησφαλισαντο . The guard was to take care that the disciples should not steal him away; and the seal, which was probably the seal of the governor, was to prevent the guards from being corrupted so as to permit the theft. So every thing was done which human policy and prudence could, to prevent a resurrection, which these very precautions had the most direct tendency to authenticate and establish. How wonderful are the wisdom and goodness of God! - and how true is it, that there is neither might nor counsel against him!
1.The death of Christ was ordered, so as to be witnessed by thousands; and if his resurrection take place, it must be demonstrated; and it cannot take place without being incontestable, such are the precautions used here to prevent all imposture.
2.The more the circumstances of the death of Christ are examined, the more astonishing the whole will appear. The death is uncommon - the person uncommon - and the object uncommon; and the whole is grand, majestic, and awful. Nature itself is thrown into unusual action, and by means and causes wholly supernatural. In every part, the finger of God most evidently appears.
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