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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 27

 

 

Verses 1-66


Before Pilate. The Crucifixion

1, 2. Jesus delivered to Pilate (Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1; John 18:28 : see on Jn).

1. When the morning] Since according to St. Luke, who follows an excellent and independent authority, the trial itself did not take place 'until it was day' (Luke 22:66), this second meeting must be placed some time later in the morning, considerably after cock-crowing (Matthew 26:74). The object of the meeting, which was evidently largely attended, was simply to consider how to induce Pilate to carry out the sentence, and not as some think to pronounce sentence of death, and so technically to comply with the law which forbade the death sentence to be pronounced on the day of the trial.

2. Pilate] the fifth Roman procurator of Judaea, was appointed in 26 a.d., and held office for ten years. He was then summoned to Rome to answer certain charges made against him, and was banished to Vienna in Gaul, where he is said to have committed suicide. The Roman governor resided generally at Cæesarea, but came to Jerusalem at Passover time to keep order. The Sanhedrin could not lawfully execute Jesus without the consent of Pilate (John 18:31), and Pilate was not likely to regard seriously the purely religious charge upon which Jesus had been condemned. They, therefore, altered the charge to one of treason (Matthew 27:11).

3-10. End of Judas (see Acts 1:18). The divergences of the two accounts of the end of Judas are well known. In St. Matthew he hangs himself; in Acts he is killed by a fall. In St. Matthew the priests buy a field with the blood-money to bury strangers in; in Acts Judas himself buys a field, presumably for his own purposes. It is possible by various ingenious conjectures to harmonise the accounts, but the truth of the matter probably is that the Apostles did not care to investigate at the time so hateful a subject as the fate of the traitor, and that when the Gospels came to be written the exact circumstances could no longer be ascertained.

3. When he saw that he was condemned] This somewhat favours the view that Judas did not intend by betraying Jesus to cause His death. But it is more probable that the meek demeanour of the Sufferer at His arrest and during His trial, brought about a revulsion of feeling in Judas, who now detested himself for what he had done. 'This is the way of the devil. Before we sin, he suffers us not to see the evil of it, lest we should repent. But after the sin is done, he suffers us to see it, to cause us remorse, and to drive us to despair' (Euthymius). Repented himself] Yet his sorrow was not of a godly nature (2 Corinthians 7:9), for it led to despair, and further sin.

4. What is that?] His wicked companions n crime desert him when the crime is done.

5. In the temple] RV 'into the sanctuary,' i.e. into the holy place. Judas in his recklessness and despair penetrated where no one but the priests had a right to enter, or, it may be, standing outside the holy place, flung the money violently through the door.

6. It is not lawful] An argument from Deuteronomy 23:18. The treasury] lit. 'the Corbanas,' so called because what was placed in it was 'Corban,' i.e. given to God: see John 8:20.

7. Bought] In Acts Judas buys the field. The potter's field] The potter probably used to obtain clay from it.

8. The field of blood (Heb. Aceldama)] In Acts it receives its name from the death of Judas in it.

9. By Jeremy the prophet] This quotation, really from Zechariah 11:12-13; (q.v.), is ascribed to Jeremiah, because Jeremiah stood first in the book of the Prophets, from which it was taken; the order being Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Isaiah, the Twelve Minor Prophets. The passage is paraphrased rather than quoted.

This explanation is due to J. Lightfoot, who quotes 'a tradition of the rabbis.' 'This is the order of the prophets. The book of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings (former prophets), Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Isaiah, the Twelve (latter prophets).' Other explanations are, a lapse of the evangelist's memory; the word Jeremiah due not to the evangelist but to the first transcriber, who was thinking of Jeremiah 18:2 an oral or traditional utterance ascribed to Jeremiah; a quotation from a lost work of Jeremiah.

And they took] or, 'I took.' Whom they] RV 'whom certain,' RM 'or, whom they priced on the part of the sons of Israel.'

10. And gave] RM 'and I gave.'

11-26. Trial before Pilate] (Mark 15:2; Luke 23:1-7, Luke 23:13-25; John 18:28 to John 19:16). St. Matthew and St. Mark give practically the same account. St. Luke and St. John are independent of one another and of the others. All give a substantially harmonious account of the trial. Peculiar to St. Matthew was the dream of Pilate's wife, the washing of Pilate's hands, and the cry of the people, 'His blood be on us and on our children.' Peculiar to St. Luke are the exact formulation of the political charges (viz. stirring up rebellion against Cæsar, refusing to pay tribute to Cæsar, and professing to be Christ or king), and the trial before Herod.

The peculiarities of St. John are many (see on Jn). The chief are the conversations between Pilate and Jesus, Pilate's merciful purpose in scourging Jesus, and the final cry which overcame Pilate's resistance, 'If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend.' Pilate does not appear at the trial in an altogether unfavourable light. He is not without a rude sense of justice. He shrinks from the guilt of innocent blood, and finally yields only to the fear of being accused at Rome of disloyalty if he exasperates too much the Jewish leaders. Pilate shows his truly Roman contempt for the Jews, his superstition, and, what often goes with superstition, his shallow scepticism. He was, however, genuinely impressed with Jesus, which shows that he was not without religious susceptibility.

11. Thou sayest] i.e. 'I am.' But Jesus explained to Pilate privately that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn). Here, as so often, the Fourth Gospel alone renders the narrative clearly intelligible.

15. At that feast] This is the only evidence of such a custom, which is, however, appropriate to the season of the Passover, which commemorates a deliverance.

17. Barabbas] Some ancient authorities have here. the interesting reading 'Jesus Barabbas,' which may really have been the man's full name. The people may have preferred him to Christ because he had led a rebellion against Rome, whereas Christ had said, 'Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's.' The two thieves probably belonged to his company.

19. His, wife] In tradition her name is given as Procla, or Claudia Procula, and she is said to have been inclined to Judaism, or even to have been a proselyte, and afterwards to have become a Christian. In the Greek Church she is canonised. From the time of Augustus the wives of provincial governors commonly accompanied their husbands.

20. The multitudes were not unfriendly, until the chief priests used their influence against Jesus.

24. Washed his hands] A piece of Jewish symbolism (see Deuteronomy 21:6) adopted by Pilate to make himself intelligible to the multitude.

I am innocent] It was customary for Gentile judges to protest 'before the sun' that they were innocent of the blood of the person about to be condemned.

25. His blood be on us] A cry of blind and vindictive rage. They care not who bears the blame, so that Jesus be put to death. There is tragic irony in this unconscious prophecy, which was fulfilled in two ways. (1) As a curse upon the unbelieving part of the nation, on whom the blood of Jesus was avenged at the destruction of Jerusalem. (2) As a blessing upon believers, on whom the blood of Jesus came for sanctification, and the remission of sins: cp. John 11:50.

26. Scourged] in accordance with the Roman custom before crucifixion. The culprit was stripped and tied in a bending posture to a pillar, or stretched on a frame, and the punishment was inflicted with a scourge made of leathern thongs, weighted with sharp pieces of bone or lead. Criminals sometimes died under it. According to St. John, Pilate scourged Jesus to move the Jews to pity.

27-30. Jesus is mocked by the Roman soldiers (Mark 15:16; John 19:1).

27. Common hall] RV 'palace': see on John 18:28. But the expression may mean 'barracks.' The whole band] RM 'cohort': about 600 men: see on John 18:3, John 18:12.

28. Stripped him] RM 'Some ancient authorities read, clothed Him.' The latter is probably right. He had been stripped previously for scourging. A scarlet (or purple) robe] an emblem of royalty. The reed was to represent a sceptre.

31-34. He is led to the Cross (Mark 15:20; Luke 23:26; John 19:16). The cross was regarded as the most horrible and most degrading form of punishment, fit only for slaves. 'It is an outrage for a Roman citizen to be bound; a crime for him to be scourged. It is almost parricide to have him put to death. What can I call having him crucified? No word can be found adequate to describe so monstrous a proceeding '(Cicero). Crucifixion was not a Jewish punishment. It originated among the Phœnicians, from whom it passed to the Greeks and Romans. Alexander the Great once crucified 2,000 Tyrians. After the death of Herod the Great, Varus crucified 2,000 rioters. The crucifixion of Jesus was unconsciously avenged by the Romans, who, after the fall of Jerusalem, crucified so many Jews that there was neither wood for the crosses nor room to set them up. The cross consisted of two parts, a strong stake or pole 8 or 9 ft. high, which was fixed in the ground, and a movable cross-piece (patibulum), which was carried by the criminal to the place of execution. Sometimes the patibulum was a single beam of wood, but more often it consisted of two parallel beams fastened together, between which the neck of the criminal was inserted. Before him went a herald bearing a tablet on which the offence was inscribed, or the criminal himself bore it suspended by a cord round his neck. At the place of execution the criminal was stripped and laid on his back, and his hands were nailed to the patibulum. The patibulum, with the criminal hanging from it, was then hoisted into position and fastened by nails or ropes to the upright pole. The victim's body was supported not only by the nails through the hands, but by a small piece of wood projecting at right angles (sedile), on which he sat as on a saddle. Sometimes there was also a support for the feet, to which the feet were nailed. The protracted agony of crucifixion sometimes lasted for days, death being caused by pain, hunger, and thirst. Jesus was crucified on a cross with four arms (crux immissa), as is proved by a title being placed over His head.

The Seven Words from the Cross

1. 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34).

2. 'Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43).

3. 'Woman, behold thy son! Behold thy mother!' (John 19:26-27).

4. 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? '(Matthew 27:46; Psalms 22:1).

5. 'I thirst' (John 19:28).

6. 'It is finished' (John 19:30).

7. 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit' (Luke 23:46; Psalms 31:5).

32. As they came out] viz. of the city, executions being forbidden within the walls (Numbers 15:35; 1 Kings 21:13; Acts 7:58; Hebrews 13:12). Up to this point Jesus had carried His own cross (patibulum): see John 19:17. The tradition that Jesus fainted under the cross is probably true: see Mark 15:22. He had been greatly weakened by the scourging. Simon] If Simon was coming home from working in the fields (see Mk, Lk), this is another indication that the Feast of the Passover had not yet begun. He was probably a Jew resident in Jerusalem, but born at Cyrene in Libya (N. Africa) where there were many Jews. The Cyrenians had a synagogue in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). Simon afterwards became a Christian (Mark 15:21 : cp. Romans 16:13).

Compelled] see on Matthew 5:41. Here is to be inserted Christ's address to the daughters of Jerusalem (Luke 23:28), among whom, tradition says, was Berenice, or Veronica, a pious woman of Jerusalem, who gave Him her kerchief, or napkin, that He might wipe the drops of agony from His brow. The Lord accepted her offering, and, after using it, handed it back to her, bearing the image of His face miraculously impressed upon it. This napkin, it is alleged, is now in St. Peter's at Rome, but possession of it is claimed also by Milan, and Jaen in Spain. The legend of Veronica is unhistorical, but interesting from its wide diffusion.

33. Golgotha (Aramaic), or Calvaria (Latin), means 'a skull.' It received its name either from being the place of execution, or from being an eminence shaped like a skull. It was certainly not a 'mountain,' as it has been popularly called since the 5th cent. Calvary was close by the garden in which Jesus was buried (Jn), and there is no reason why the traditional site (which lies within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) should not be the true one. 'The traditional site, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, has lately been proved to lie beyond the second wall, which was the outside wall at the date of the Crucifixion, and several rock tombs have been found about it. It was near a road. It may therefore have been the site '(Dr. G. A. Smith). Similarly Sir chapter Warren.

34. Vinegar (RV 'wine') .. mingled with gall] Mk 'wine mingled with myrrh': see Psalms 69:21. Pious women of Jerusalem were ac customed to offer to condemned criminals a draught of wine and myrrh just before their execution, to stupefy them. The editor of the Gk. Matthew, not understanding the custom, and thinking that the myrrh was added to make the cup bitter and distasteful to Jesus, has rendered it 'gall,' seeing in the incident a fulfilment of Psalms 69:21. Tasted] Jesus tasted it, in acknowledgment of the kindness of the women who offered it, but would not drink it, because. He would die for the sins of the world with all His faculties of mind unimpaired.

35. Crucified him] It is important to notice, as bearing upon the question of the reality of Christ's death and resurrection, that the feet were nailed as well as the hands. Even if Christ was not quite dead, the nailing of the feet would effectually prevent His leaving the tomb to appear to the apostles: see Luke 24:40. The time of the crucifixion was the third hour according to St. Mark, but after the sixth hour according to St. John: see on John 19:14.

Parted his garments] At this time the criminals' clothes were the perquisites of the executioners. That it might be fulfilled] This reference to Psalms 22:18 is omitted by RV: see on John 19:23, John 19:24.

37 The variations of the inscription on the cross are unimportant. St. John alone states that it was written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

38. Thieves] RV 'robbers,' i.e. brigands, as distinguished from thieves: see on Lk.

39. Passed by] The reference to the passengers along the roads is another indication that this was a working day, not the Passover.

40. Thou that destroyest the temple (RV 'sanctuary')] They called upon Him to perform what He was actually about to do, for 'the temple' was His body: see John 2:21.

43. He trusted in God] Psalms 22:8. The action of the judges in jeering at the sufferings of the man they had condemned to death, is indecent and brutal. Their misuse of the words of Scripture is blasphemous.

45. From the sixth hour (noon)] Jesus had now been about three hours on the cross (Mark 15:25).

Darkness over all the land (or, 'earth')] The chief, if not the only, historical objection to this darkness, is the silence of Josephus.

But Josephus is silent, not only as to this, but as to almost every event connected with Christianity. Whether as a coincidence, or as a miracle, the fact of the darkness must be received, for the oldest tradition is unanimous on the point. The theory of an eclipse is impossible, as the moon was at the full. The apocryphal Gospel of Peter says, 'And it was midday, and darkness covered all the land of Judæa. And many went about with lamps thinking that it was night, and they fell. Then the sun shone out, and it was found to be the ninth hour.'

46. Eli, Eli, etc.] Psalms 22:1. It is not certain whether Jesus spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic, for most MSS contain a mixture of both.

These words are a cry of the human nature of Jesus, which alone could suffer desertion, when He experienced the bitterness of death. They may serve to comfort Christian men and women when they experience the greatest of all trials, the temporary withdrawal of the consciousness of God's presence. But a deeper meaning is also to be sought. Upon the cross Jesus was making atonement for the sins of the world, 'bearing our sins in his own body on the tree,' for upon Him was laid 'the iniquity of us all.' He was so closely identified with the race which He came to save, that He felt the burden of its sin, and cried as the Representative of Humanity, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' 'The Lord was forsaken, that we might not be forsaken; He was forsaken that we might be delivered from our sins and from eternal death; He was forsaken that we might show His love to us, and manifest to us His justice and His pity; that He might attract to Himself our love, in short that He might exhibit to us a pattern of patience. The way to heaven lies open, but it is steep and difficult. He willed to go before us with an example full of wonder, that the way might not alarm us, but that the stupendous example of a suffering God might incite us' (St. Cyprian).

47. Calleth for Elias] RV 'calleth Elijah.' 'No Jew could have mistaken Eli for the name of Elijah, nor yet misinterpreted a quotation of Psalms 22:1 as a call for the prophet' (Edersheim). 'The Jews said this in mockery, having many stories of appearances of Elijah to rescue men from peril of death' (Wetstein).

48. Vinegar] i.e. posca, the sour common wine drunk by the Roman soldiers. Whatever may have been the sentiments of the bystanders, the motive of the man who offered the vinegar was compassion. The Fourth Gospel alone gives the reason of the act. It was our Lord's fifth word, 'I thirst' (John 19:28).

49. Here many ancient authorities insert an account of the spear-thrust mentioned John 19:34. It is remarkable that the interpolation (if such it is) mentions the spear-thrust before the death of Jesus, and not after it, as in St. John.

50. Cried again] with a loud voice in triumph, 'It is finished' (John 19:30), adding immediately, 'Father, into thy hands,' etc. (Luke 23:46).

50. Yielded up] He died voluntarily (John 10:18).

51. The veil of the temple] Two veils, a cubit apart, hung before the Holy of Holies. They are said to have been 40 cubits (60 ft.) long, 20 wide, and of the thickness of the palm of the hand. Both were rent. Josephus, for obvious reasons, does not record this event.

The significance of the rending of the veil is variously understood. Some see in it a sign that the old covenant was at an end, the sacrifices abolished, and the divine presence withdrawn from the Temple, even the Holy of Holies being now made common ground, open to the feet of all. Others who regard the Holy of Holies as a type of heaven, and the rest of the Temple as a type of earth, see in the rending of the veil the removing of the barrier between heaven and earth, the reconciling of God and man through the death of Christ: cp. Hebrews 10:19, Hebrews 10:20.

The earth did quake] Probably to be connected with the rending of the veil. 'In the Gospel (according to the Hebrews) we read that the lintel of the Temple of infinite size was broken and divided. Josephus also relates that the angelic powers, who once presided over the Temple, then together cried out, Let us depart from these abodes' (Jerome). The statement of Josephus, however, refers to a later period. Rocks rent] 'It would not be right altogether to reject the testimony of travellers to the fact of extraordinary rents and fissures in the rocks near the spot' (Alford); 'To this day Golgotha is a proof of it, where the rocks were rent on account of Christ' (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 315-386 a.d.).

52. The graves were opened] i.e. by the shock of the earthquake. And many bodies of the saints, etc.] i.e. they rose, not immediately, but with Christ at His Resurrection.

This incident seems to be a pictorial setting forth of the truth that in the Resurrection of Christ is involved the resurrection of all His saints, so that on Easter Day all Christians may be said in a certain sense to have risen with Him.

54. The Son of God] RM 'a son of God,' i.e. a hero or demigod, which is more suitable in the mouth of a heathen soldier. St. Luke, 'Truly this man was righteous.'

55. Ministering] It was the custom of Jewish women to contribute to the support of famous rabbis: see on Luke 8:1-3.

56. Mary Magdalene] Most authorities regard 'Magdalene' as equivalent to 'of Magdala,' a town near Tiberias. There is no ground for the common identification of this Mary with the sister of Lazarus, or with the 'sinner' who anointed our Lord's feet (Luke 7:37).

Mary the mother of James and Joses] St. Mark calls this James, 'James the little': see on John 19:25. The mother of Zebedee's children] i.e. Salome (Mk). The synoptists omit all mention of the presence of the Virgin, either because she had been already led away by St. John, or because she was not one of the ministering women.

57-61. Burial of Jesus (Mark 15:42; Luke 23:51; John 19:38 : see on Jn). The burial of Jesus in the tomb of a wealthy and influential man was a literal fulfilment of Isaiah 53:9 : 'with the rich in his death.'

57. Arimathæa] unidentified. Perhaps Ramathaim Zophim in the hill-country of Ephraim.

Joseph] According to St. Luke he was a member of the Sanhedrin, who had not consented to the death of Jesus. According to St. John he was assisted by Nicodemus.

58. Begged the body] According to St. Mark, Pilate assured himself that Jesus was really dead before surrendering the body. It was not lawful to suffer a man to hang all night upon a tree, Deuteronomy 21:23. Strictly speaking, Jesus had no legal right to honourable burial. The Jewish law was, 'They that were put to death by the council were not to be buried in the sepulchres of their fathers, but two burial places were appointed by the council.'

60. He had hewn] Only St. Matthew mentions that the tomb belonged to Joseph.

61. The other Mary] i.e. Mary the mother of James and Joses.

62-66. The sepulchre is guarded (peculiar to St. Matthew). It is sometimes argued that this incident is unauthentic, because the enemies of Christ would not be likely to remember obscure prophecies of the Resurrection, which even the disciples failed to understand. This view is possible. But they remembered the obscure saying, 'Destroy this temple,' etc., two years after it had been spoken, and there was a still more recent and clearer prediction addressed to the Pharisees (Matthew 12:40).

62. Now the next day] RV 'Now on the morrow, which is the day after the Preparation.' The 'Preparation' is the usual word for Friday.

63. After three days] John 2:19; Matthew 12:40, etc.

65. Ye have] BM 'Take a guard,' viz. of Roman soldiers.

66. And setting a watch] RV 'the guard being with them.'

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 27:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-27.html. 1909.

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