Matthew 27:1.But when it was morning. The high priest, with his council, after having examined him at an unseasonable hour of the night, finally resolve, at sunrise, to place him at the bar of the governor. By so doing, they observe the form of judicial proceedings, that they may not be suspected of undue haste, when they run to Pilate at an unusually early hour, as usually happens in cases of tumult. But it is probable, that when Christ had been led away from their council, they immediately held a consultation, and, without long delay, resolved what they would do; for we have been already told at what time Christ went out from them and met Peter, which was after the cock-crowing, and just as day was breaking. The Evangelists, therefore, do not mean that they removed from the place, (239) but only relate, that as soon as it was daylight, they condemned Christ to death, and did not lose a moment in earnestly putting into execution their wicked design. What Luke formerly stated, (Luke 22:26,) that they assembled in the morning, ought not to be explained as referring to the very beginning, but to the last act, which is immediately added: as if he had said, that as soon as it was day, our Lord having acknowledged that he was the Son of God, they pronounced their sentence of his death. Now if they had been permitted to decide in taking away life, they would all have been eager, in their fury, to murder him with their own hands; but as Pilate had cognizance of capital crimes, they are constrained to refer the matter to his jurisdiction; only they entangle him by their own previous decision. (240) For the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:59) took place in a seditious manner, as happens in cases of tumult; but it was proper that the Son of God should be solemnly condemned by an earthly judge, that he might efface our condemnation in heaven.
3.Then Judas, perceiving that he was condemned. By this adverb ( τότε) then, Matthewdoes not fix the exact point of time; for we shall find him shortly afterwards adding, that Judas, when he saw that the priests disdainfully refused to take back the reward of his treason, threw it down in the temple. But from the house of Caiaphas they came straight to the Pretorium, and stood there until Christ was condemned. It can scarcely be supposed that they were found in the temple on that day; but as the Evangelist was speaking of the rage and madness of the council, he inserted also the death of Judas, by which their blind obstinacy, and the hardness of their hearts like iron, were more fully displayed.
He says that Judas repented; not that he reformed, but that the crime which he had committed gave him uneasiness; as God frequently opens the eyes of the reprobate, so as to begin to feel their miseries, and to be alarmed at them. For those who are sincerely grieved so as to reform, are said not only ( μεταμελεῖν), (241) but, also ( μετανοεῖν), (242) from which is derived also ( μετάνοια), (243) which is a true conversion of the soul to God. So then, Judas conceived disgust and horror, not so as to turn to God, but rather that, being overwhelmed with despair, he might serve as an example of a man entirely shut out from the grace of God. Justly, indeed, does Paul say, that the sorrow which leads to repentance is salutary, (2 Corinthians 7:10;) but if a man stumble at the very threshold, he will derive no advantage from a confused and mistaken grief. What is more, this is a just punishment with which God at length visits the wicked, who have obstinately despised his judgment, that he gives them up to Satan to be tormented without the hope of consolation.
True repentance is displeasure at sin, arising out of fear and reverence for God, and producing, at the same time, a love and desire of righteousness. Wicked men are far from such a feeling; for they would desire to sin without intermission, and even, as far as lies in their power, they endeavor to deceive both God and their own conscience, (244) but notwithstanding their reluctance and opposition, they are tormented with blind horror by their conscience, so that, though they do not hate their sin, still they feel, with sorrow and distress, that it presses heavily and painfully upon them. This is the reason why their grief is useless; for they do not cheerfully turn to God, or even aim at doing better, but, being attached to their wicked desires, they pine away in torment, which they cannot escape. In this way, as I have just said, God punishes their obstinacy; for although his elect are drawn to him by severe chastisements, and as it were contrary to their will, yet he heals in due time the wounds which he has inflicted, so that they come cheerfully to him, by whose hand they acknowledge that they are struck, and by whose wrath they are alarmed. The former, therefore, while they have no hatred to sin, not only dread, but fly from the judgment of God, and thus, having received an incurable wound, they perish in the midst of their sorrows.
If Judas had listened to the warning of Christ, there would still have been place for repentance; but since he despised so gracious an offer of salvation, he is given up to the dominion of Satan, that he may throw him into despair. But if the Papists were right in what they teach in their schools about repentance, we could find no defect in that of Judas, to which their definition of repentance fully applies; for we perceive in it contrition of heart, and confession of the mouth, and satisfaction of deed, as they talk. Hence we infer, that they take nothing more than the bark; for they leave out what was the chief point, the conversion of the man to God, when the sinner, broken down by shame and fear, denies himself so as to render obedience to righteousness.
4.What is that to us? Here is described the stupidity and madness of the priests, since even after having been warned by the dreadful example of Judas, still they do not think about themselves. I do acknowledge that hypocrites, as they are accustomed to flatter themselves, had some plausible excuse at hand for distinguishing between their case and that of Judas; for they did not think that they were partakers of his crime, though they abused the treachery of Judas. But Judas not only confesses that he has sinned, but asserts the innocence of Christ; from which it follows, that they had meditated the death of a righteous man, and, therefore, that they were guilty of a detestable murder. Nor is there any room to doubt that God intended to sear their consciences with a hot iron, to discover the hidden corruption. Let us therefore learn, that when we see wicked persons, with whom we have any thing in common, filled with alarm, those are so many excitements to repentance, and that they who neglect such excitements aggravate their criminality. We ought also to believe, that the crime of one man can have no effect in acquitting all those who are in any way involved in it; and still more, that the leading perpetrators of a crime can gain no advantage by distinguishing between themselves and their agents, that they may not suffer the same punishment.
5.And he went away, and strangled himself. This is the price for which Satan sells the allurements by which he flatters wicked men for a time. He throws them into a state of fury, so that, voluntarily cutting themselves off from the hope of salvation, they find no consolation but in death. Though others would have permitted Judas to enjoy the thirty pieces of silver, by which he had betrayed Christ and his own salvation, he throws them down, and not only deprives himself of the use of them, but, along with the base reward of the death of Christ, he throws away also his own life. Thus, though God does not put forth his hand, wicked men are disappointed of their desires, so that, when they have obtained their wishes, they not only deprive themselves of the enjoyment of unsatisfying benefits, but even make cords for themselves. But though they are their own executioners by punishing themselves, they do not in any respect alleviate or diminish the severity of the wrath of God.
6.It is not lawful for us to throw it into the treasury. Hence it plainly appears that hypocrites, by attending to nothing more than the outward appearance, are guilty of gross trifling with God. Provided that they do not violate their Corban, (Mark 7:11,) they imagine that in other matters they are pure, and give themselves no concern about the infamous bargain, by which they, not less than Judas, had provoked against themselves the vengeance of God. But if it was unlawful to put into the sacred treasury the price of blood, why was it lawful for them to take the money out of it? for all their wealth was derived from the offerings of the temple, and from no other source did they take what they now scruple to mingle again with it as being polluted. Now, whence came the pollution but from themselves?
8.For a burying-place to strangers. The more that wicked men endeavor to conceal their enormities, the more does the Lord watch over them to bring those enormities to light. They hoped that, by an honorable disguise, they would bury their crime, were they to purchase a barren field for burying strangers. But the wonderful providence of God turns this arrangement to an opposite result, so that this field became a perpetual memorial of that treason, which had formerly been little known. For it was not themselves that gave this name to the place, but after the occurrence was generally known, the field was called, by common consent, The field of blood; as if God had commanded that their disgrace should be in every man’s mouth. It was a plausible design to provide a burying-place for strangers, if any of those who came up to Jerusalem from distant countries, for the purpose of sacrificing, should happen to die there. As some of them were of the Gentiles, I do not disapprove of the opinion of some ancient writers, that this symbol held out the hope of salvation to the Gentiles, because they were included in the price of the death of Christ; but as that opinion is more ingenious than solid, I leave it undetermined. The word corbana, (treasury,) is Chaldaic, and is derived from the Hebrew word ( קרבן), (corban,) of which we have spoken elsewhere.
9.Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet. How the name of Jeremiah crept in, I confess that I do not know nor do I give myself much trouble to inquire. The passage itself plainly shows that the name of Jeremiah has been put down by mistake, instead of Zechariah, (Zechariah 11:13;) for in Jeremiah we find nothing of this sort, nor any thing that even approaches to it. Now that other passage, if some degree of skill be not used in applying it, might seem to have been improperly distorted to a wrong meaning; but if we attend to the rule which the apostles followed in quoting Scripture, we shall easily perceive that what we find there is highly applicable to Christ. The Lord, after having complained that his labors were of no avail, so long as he discharged the office of a shepherd, says that he is compelled by the troublesome and unpleasant nature of the employment to relinquish it altogether, and, therefore, declares that he will break his crook, and will be a shepherd no longer. He afterwards adds, that when he asked his salary, they gave him thirty pieces of silver. The import of these words is, that he was treated quite contemptuously as if he had been some mean and ordinary laborer. For the ceremonies and vain pretenses, by which the Jews recompensed his acts of kindness, are compared by him to thirty pieces of silver, as if they had been the unworthy and despicable hire of a cowherd or a day-laborer; and, therefore, he bids them throw it before a potter in the temple; as if he had said: “As for this fine present which they make to me, which would not be less dishonorable in me to accept than it is contemptuous in them to offer it, let them rather spend it in purchasing tiles or bricks for repairing the chinks of the temple.” To make it still more evident that Christ is the God of armies, towards whom the people had been from the beginning malicious and ungrateful, when he
was manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16,)
it became necessary that what had formerly been spoken figuratively should now be literally and visibly accomplished in his person. So, then, when he was compelled by their malice to take leave of them, and to withdraw his labors from them as unworthy of such a privilege, they valued him at thirty pieces of silver. And this disdain of the Son of God was the crowning act of their extreme impiety.
The price of him that was valued. Matthew does not quote the words of Zechariah; for he merely alludes to the metaphor, under which the Lord then complains of the ingratitude of the people. But the meaning is the same, that while the Jews ought to have entirely devoted themselves, and all that they possessed, to the Lord, they contemptuously dismissed him with a mean hire; as if, by governing them for so many ages, he had deserved nothing more than any cowherd would have received for the labors of a single year. He complains, therefore, that though he is beyond all estimation, he was rated by them at so low a price.
Whom they of the children of Israel did value. This expression, which he uses towards the close, must be taken in a general sense. Judas had struck a bargain with the priests, who were the avowed representatives of the whole people; so that it was the Jews who set up Christ for sale, and he was sold, as it were, by the voice of the public crier. The price was such as was fit to be given to a potter.
10.As the Lord appointed me. By this clause Matthew confirms the statement, that this was not done without the providence of God; because, while they have a different object in view, they unconsciously fulfill an ancient prediction. For how could it have occurred to them to purchase a field from a potter, if the Lord had not turned their blameworthy conduct so as to carry into execution his own purpose?
Matthew 27:11.Now Jesus stood before the governor. Though it was a shocking exhibition, and highly incompatible with the majesty of the Son of God, to be dragged before the judgment-seat of a profane man, to be tried on the charge of a capital offense, as a malefactor in chains; yet we ought to remember that; our salvation consists in the doctrine of the cross, which is
folly to the Greeks, and an offense to the Jews,
(1 Corinthians 1:23.)
For the Son of God chose to stand bound before an earthly judge, and there to receive sentence of death, (253) in order that we, delivered from condemnation, may not fear to approach freely to the heavenly throne of God. If, therefore, we consider what advantage we reap from Christ having been tried before Pilate, the disgrace of so unworthy a subjection will be immediately washed away. And certainly none are offended at the condemnation of Christ, (254) but those who are either proud hypocrites, or stupid and gross despisers of God, who are not ashamed of their own iniquity.
So then, the Son of God stood, as a criminal, before a mortal man, and there permitted himself to be accused and condemned, that we may stand boldly before God. His enemies, indeed, endeavored to fasten upon him everlasting infamy; but we ought rather to look at the end to which the providence of God directs us. For if we recollect how dreadful is the judgment-seat of God, and that we could never have been acquitted there, unless Christ had been pronounced to be guilty on earth, we shall never be ashamed of glorying in his chains. Again, whenever we hear that Christ stood before Pilate with a sad and dejected countenance, let us draw from it grounds of confidence, that, relying on him as our intercessor, we may come into the presence of God with joy and alacrity. To the same purpose is what immediately follows: he did not answer him a single word. Christ was silent, while the priests were pressing upon him on every hand; and it was, in order that he might open our mouth by his silence. For hence arises that distinguished privilege of which Paul speaks in such magnificent terms, (Romans 8:15,) that we can boldly cry, Abba, Father; to which I shall immediately refer again.
Art thou the King of the Jews? Although they attempted to overwhelm Christ by many and various accusations, still it is probable that they maliciously seized on the title of King, in order to excite greater odium against him on the part of Pilate. For this reason Luke expressly represents them as saying, we have found him subverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to caesar, saying that he is the Christ, A King Nothing could have been more odious than this crime to Pilate, whose greatest anxiety was to preserve the kingdom in a state of quietness. From the Evangelist John we learn that he was accused on various grounds; but it is evident from the whole of the narrative that this was the chief ground of accusation. In like manner, even at the present day, Satan labors to expose the Gospel to hatred or suspicion on this plea, as if Christ, by erecting his kingdom, were overturning all the governments of the world, and destroying the authority of kings and magistrates. Kings too are, for the most part, so fiercely haughty, that they reckon it impossible for Christ to reign without some diminution of their own power; and, therefore, they always listen favorably to such an accusation as that which was once brought unjustly against Christ.
On this account Pilate, laying aside all the other points, attends chiefly to the sedition; because, if he had ascertained that Christ had in any way disturbed the public peace, he would gladly have condemned him without delay. This is the reason why he asks him about the kingdom. According to the three Evangelists, the answer of Christ is ambiguous; but we learn from John (John 18:36) that Christ made an open acknowledgment of the fact which was alleged against him; but, at the same time, that he vindicated himself from all criminality by denying that he was an earthly king. But as he did not intend to take pains to vindicate himself, as is usually the case with criminals, the Evangelists put down a doubtful reply; as if they had said, that he did not deny that he was a king, but that he indirectly pointed out the calumny which his enemies unjustly brought against him.
12He answered nothing. If it be asked why the Evangelists say that Christ was silent, while we have just now heard his answer from their mouth, the reason is, that he had a defense at hand, but voluntarily abstained from producing it. And, indeed, what he formerly replied about the kingdom did not arise from a desire to be acquitted, but was only intended to maintain that he was the Redeemer anciently promised,
before whom every knee ought to bow, (Isaiah 45:23.)
Pilate wondered at this patience; for Christ, by his silence, allowed his innocence to be suspected, when he might easily have refuted frivolous and unfounded calumnies. The integrity of Christ was such that the judge saw it plainly without any defense. But Pilate wished that Christ might not neglect his own cause, and might thus be acquitted without giving offense to many people. And up to this point, the integrity of Pilate is worthy of commendation, because, from a favorable regard to the innocence of Christ, he urges him to defend himself.
But that we may not, like Pilate, wonder at the silence of Christ, as if it had been unreasonable, we must attend to the purpose of God, who determined that his Son—whom he had appointed to be a sacrifice to atone for our sins—should be condemned as guilty in our room, though in himself he was pure. Christ therefore was at that time silent, that he may now be our advocate, and by his intercession may deliver us from condemnation. He was silent, that we may boast that by his grace we are righteous. And thus was fulfilled the prediction of Isaiah, (Isaiah 53:7,) that he was led as a sheep to the slaughter.
And yet he gave, at the same time, that good confession, which Paul mentions, (1 Timothy 6:12,) a confession not by words, but by deeds; not that by which he consulted his own advantage, but that by which he obtained deliverance for the whole human race.
Matthew 27:15.Now the governor was wont at the festival Here is described to us, on the one hand, the insatiable cruelty of the priests, and, on the other, the furious obstinacy of the people; for both must have been seized with astonishing madness, when they were not satisfied with conspiring to put to death an innocent man, if they did not also, through hatred of him, release a robber. Thus wicked men after having once begun to fall, are driven headlong by Satan, so that they shrink from no crime, however detestable, but, blinded and stupefied, add sin to sin. There can be no doubt that Pilate, in order to prevail upon them through shame, selected a very wicked man, by contrast with whom Christ might be set free; and the very atrocity of the crime of which Barabbas was guilty ought justly to have made the resentment of the people to fall on him, that by comparison with him, at least, Christ might be released. But no disgrace makes either the priests, or the whole nation, afraid to ask that a seditious man and a murderer should be granted to them.
Meanwhile, we ought to consider the purpose of God, by which Christ was appointed to be crucified, as if he had been the basest of men. The Jews, indeed, rage against him with blinded fury; but as God had appointed him to be a sacrifice ( κάθαρμα) to atone for the sins of the world, (259) he permitted him to be placed even below a robber and murderer. That the Son of God was reduced so low none can properly remember without the deepest horror, and displeasure with themselves, and detestation of their own crimes. But hence also arises no ordinary ground of confidence; for Christ was sunk into the depths of ignominy, that he might obtain for us, by his humiliation, an ascent to the heavenly glory: he was reckoned worse than a robber, that he might admit us to the society of the angels of God. If this advantage be justly estimated, it will be more than sufficient to remove the offense of the cross.
The custom of having one of the prisoners released by the governor on the festival, to gratify the people, was a foolish and improper practice, and, indeed, was an open abuse of the worship of God; for nothing could be more unreasonable than that festivals should be honored by allowing crimes to go unpunished. God has armed magistrates with the sword, that they may punish with severity those crimes which cannot be tolerated without public injury; and hence it is evident that lie does not wish to be worshipped by a violation of laws and punishments. But since nothing ought to be attempted but by the rule of his word, all that men gain by methods of worshipping God which have been rashly contrived by themselves is, that under the pretense of honoring, they often throw dishonor upon Him. We ought therefore to preserve such moderation, as not to offer to God any thing but what he requires; for he is so far from taking pleasure in profane gift that they provoke his anger the more.
19.While he was sitting on the judgment-seat. Although the thoughts which had passed through the mind of Pilate’s wife during the day might be the cause of her dream, yet there can be no doubt that she suffered these torments, not in a natural way, (such as happens to us every day,) but by an extraordinary inspiration of God. It has been commonly supposed that the devil stirred up this woman, in order to retard the redemption of mankind; which is in the highest degree improbable, since it was he who excited and inflamed, to such a degree, the priests and scribes to put Christ to death. We ought to conclude, on the contrary, that God the Father took many methods of attesting the innocence of Christ, that it might evidently appear that he suffered death in the room of others, — that is, in our room. God intended that Pilate should so frequently acquit him with his own mouth before condemning him, that in his undeserved condemnation the true satisfaction for our sins might be the more brightly displayed. Matthew expressly mentions this, that none may wonder at the extreme solicitude of Pilate, when he debates with the people, in the midst of a tumult, for the purpose of saving the life of a man whom he despised. And, indeed, by the terrors which his wife, had suffered during the night, God compelled him to defend the innocence of his own Son; not to rescue him from death, but only to make it manifest, that in the room of others he endured that punishment which he had not deserved. As to dreams, which serve the purpose of visions, we have spoken elsewhere.
20.But the chief priests and elder’s persuaded the multitude. The Evangelist points out the chief instigators of the wicked proceedings; not that the foolish credulity of the people, who were influenced by others, admits of any excuse; but for the purpose of informing us that they were not, of their own accord, hostile to Christ, but that, having sold themselves to gratify the priests, they forget all justice and modesty, (260) as well as their own salvation. Hence we learn how pernicious is the influence of wicked men, who can easily turn in every direction, to all kind of wickedness, the giddy and changeful multitude. Yet we must attend to the design of the Evangelist, which was to show, that the death of Christ was so eagerly demanded by the voice of the people, not because he was universally hated, but because the greater part of them, ambitiously desirous to follow the inclination of their rulers, threw aside all regard to justice, and might be said to have sold and enslaved their tongue to the wicked conspiracy of a few.
22.What then shall I do with Jesus? Perceiving that they are so blinded by madness, that they do not hesitate, to their own great dishonor, to rescue a robber from death, Pilate resorts to another expedient for touching them to the quick, and bringing them to a sound mind. He argues that the death of Christ would bring disgrace on themselves, because it had been commonly reported of Jesus, that he was the King and the Christ. As if he had said, “If you have no compassion for the man, pay some regard, at least, to your own honor; for it will be generally thought by foreigners, that he was put to death for a chastisement to you all.” (261) Yet even this did not abate the fierceness of their cruelty, or hinder them from proceeding to manifest a greater degree of opposition to the public interests than of private hostility to Christ. Thus, according to Mark, Pilate, in order to wound them still more deeply, says that even themselves call Jesus the King; meaning, that this title was constantly used, as if it had been his ordinary surname. Yet, throwing aside all shame, they obstinately insist on the murder of Christ, which brought along with it the disgrace of the whole nation. The Evangelist John (John 14:15) states a reply, which the other three Evangelists do not mention; namely, that they had no king but Caesar. Thus they choose rather to be deprived of the hope of the promised redemption, and to be devoted to perpetual slavery, than to receive the Redeemer, whom God had offered to them.
Matthew 27:24.But Pilate, perceiving that he gained nothing by it. As sailors, who have experienced a violent tempest, at last give way, and permit themselves to be carried out of the proper course; so Pilate, finding himself unable to restrain the commotion of the people, lays aside his authority as a judge, and yields to their furious outcry. And though he had long attempted to hold out, still the necessity does not excuse him; for he ought rather to have submitted to any amount of suffering than to have swerved from his duty. Nor is his guilt alleviated by the childish ceremony which he uses; for how could a few drops of water wash away the stain of a crime which no satisfaction of any kind could obliterate? His principal object in doing so was not to wash out his stains before God, but to exhibit to the people a Mark of abhorrence, to try if perhaps he might lead them to repent of their fury; as if he had employed such a preface as this, “Lo, you compel me to an unrighteous murder, to which I cannot come but with trembling and horror. What then shall become of you, and what dreadful vengeance of God awaits you, who are the chief actors in the deed?” But whatever might be the design of Pilate, God intended to testify, in this manner, the innocence of his Son, that it might be more manifest that in him our sins were condemned. The supreme and sole Judge of the world is placed at the bar of an earthly judge, is condemned to crucifixion as a malefactor, and — what is more — is placed between two robbers, as if he had been the prince of robbers. A spectacle so revolting might, at first sight, greatly disturb the senses of men, were it not met by this argument, that the punishment which had been due to us was laid on Christ, so that, our guilt having now been removed, we do not hesitate to come into the presence of the Heavenly Judge. Accordingly, the water, which was of no avail for washing away the filth of Pilate, ought to be efficacious, in the present day, for a different purpose, to cleanse our eyes from every obstruction, that, in the midst of condemnation, they may clearly perceive the righteousness of Christ.
25.His blood be on us. There can be no doubt that the Jews pronounced this curse on themselves without any concern, as if they had been fully convinced that they had a righteous cause before God; but their inconsiderate zeal carries them headlong, so that, while they commit an irreparable crime, they add to it a solemn imprecation, by which they cut themselves off from the hope of pardon. Hence we infer how carefully we ought to guard against headlong rashness in all our judgments. For when men refuse to make inquiry, and venture to decide in this or the other matter according to their own fancy, blind impulse must at length carry them to rage. And this is the righteous vengeance of God with which he visits the pride of those who do not deign to take the trouble of distinguishing between right and wrong. The Jews thought that, in slaying Christ, they were performing a service acceptable to God; but whence arose this wicked error, unless from wicked obstinacy, and from despising God himself? Justly, therefore, were they abandoned to this rashness of drawing upon themselves final ruin. But when the question relates to the worship of God and his holy mysteries, let us learn to open our eyes, and to inquire into the matter with reverence and sobriety, lest through hypocrisy and presumption we become stupefied and enraged.
Now as God would never have permitted this execrable word to proceed from the mouth of the people, if their impiety had not been already desperate, so afterwards he justly revenged it by dreadful and unusual methods; and yet by an incredible miracle he reserved for himself some remnant, that his covenant might not be abolished by the destruction of the whole nation. He had adopted for himself the seed of Abraham, that it might be
a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, his peculiar people and inheritance,
(1 Peter 2:9.)
The Jews now conspire, as with one voice, to renounce a favor so distinguished. Who would not say that the whole nation was utterly rooted out from the kingdom of God? But God, through their treachery, renders more illustrious the fidelity of his promise, and, to show that he did not in vain make a covenant with Abraham, he rescues from the general destruction those whom he has elected by free grace. Thus the truth of God always rises superior to all the obstacles raised by human unbelief.
26Then he released to them Barabbas. Our three Evangelists do not mention what is related by John, (John 15:13,) that Pilate ascended the judgment-seat to pronounce sentence from it; for they only state that the clamor of the people and the confused tumult prevailed on him basely to deliver up Christ to death. But both of these things must be observed, that a compliance was forced from him contrary to his will, and yet that he exercised the office of a judge in condemning him whom he pronounces to be innocent. For if the Son of God had not been free from all sin, we would have had no right to look for satisfaction from his death; and, on the other hand, if he had not become our surety, to endure the punishment which we had deserved, we would now have been involved in the condemnation of our sins. So then God determined that his Son should be condemned in a solemn manner, that he might acquit us for his sake.
But even the severity of the punishment serves to confirm our faith, not less than to impress our minds with dread of the wrath of God, and to humble us by a conviction of our miseries. For if we are desirous to profit aright by meditating on the death of Christ, we ought to begin with cherishing abhorrence of our sins, in proportion to the severity of the punishment which he endured. This will cause us not only to feel displeasure and shame of ourselves, but to be penetrated with deep grief, and therefore to seek the medicine with becoming ardor, and at the same time to experience confusion and trembling. For we must have hearts harder than stones, if we are not cut to the quick by the wounds of the Son of God, if we do not hate and detest our sins, for expiating which the Son of God endured so many torments. But as this is a display of the dreadful vengeance of God, so, on the other hand, it holds out to us the most abundant grounds of confidence; for we have no reason to fear that our sins, from which the Son of God acquits us by so valuable a ransom, will ever again be brought into judgment before God. For not only did he endure an ordinary kind of death, in order to obtain life for us, but along with the cross he took upon him our curse, that no uncleanness might any longer remain in us.
27.Then the soldiers of the governor. It is not without reason that these additional insults are related. We know that it was not some sort of ludicrous exhibition, when God exposed his only-begotten Son to every kind of reproaches. First, then, we ought to consider what we have deserved, and, next, the satisfaction offered by Christ ought to awaken us to confident hope. Our filthiness deserves that God should hold it in abhorrence, and that all the angels should spit upon us; but Christ, in order to present us pure and unspotted in presence of the Father, resolved to be spat upon, and to be dishonored by every kind of reproaches. For this reason, that disgrace which he once endured on earth obtains for us favor in heaven, and at the same time restores in us the image of God, which had been not only stained, but almost obliterated, by the pollutions of sin. Here, too, is brightly displayed the inconceivable mercy of God towards us, in bringing his only-begotten Son so low on our account. This was also a proof which Christ gave of his astonishing love towards us, that there was no ignominy to which he refused to submit for our salvation. but these matters call for secret meditation, rather than for the ornament of words.
We are also taught that the kingdom of Christ ought not to be estimated by the sense of the flesh, but by the judgment of faith and of the Spirit. For so long as our minds grovel in the world, we look: upon his kingdom not only as contemptible, but even as loaded with shame and disgrace; but as soon as our minds rise by faith to heaven, not only will the spiritual majesty of Christ be presented to us, so as to obliterate all the dishonor of the cross, but the spittings, scourgings, blows, and other indignities, will lead us to the contemplation of his glory; as Paul informs us, that
God hath given him a name, and the highest authority, that before him every knee might bow, because he willingly emptied himself ( ἐκένωσε) even to the death of the cross,
If, therefore, even in the present day, the world insolently mocks at Christ, let us learn to rise above these offenses by elevated faith; and let us not stop to inquire, what unworthy opposition is made to Christ by wicked men, but with what ornaments the Father hath clothed him, with what scepter and with what crown he hath adorned him, so as to raise him high, not only above men, but even above all the angels.
Mark uses the word purple instead of scarlet; but though these are different colors, we need not trouble ourselves much about that matter. That Christ was clothed with a costly garment is not probable; and hence we infer that it was not purple, but something that bore a resemblance to it, as a painter counterfeits truth by his likenesses.
32.They found a man, a Cyrenian. This circumstance points out the extreme cruelty both of the Jewish nation and of the soldiers. There is no reason to doubt that it was then the custom for malefactors to carry their own crosses to the place of punishment, but as the only persons who were crucified were robbers, who were men of great bodily strength, they were able to bear such a burden. It was otherwise with Christ, so that the very weakness of his body plainly showed that it was a lamb that was sacrificed. Perhaps, too, in consequence of having been mangled by scourging, and broken down by many acts of outrage, he bent under the weight of the cross. Now the Evangelists relate that the soldiers constrained a man who was a peasant, and of mean rank, to carry the cross; because that punishment was reckoned so detestable, that every person thought himself polluted, if he only happened to put his hand to it. (265) But God ennobles by his heralds the man who was taken from the lowest dregs of the people to perform a mean and infamous office; for it is not a superfluous matter, that the Evangelists not only mention his name, but inform us also about his country and his children. Nor can there be any doubt that God intended, by this preparation, to remind us that we are of no rank or estimation in ourselves, and that it is only from the cross of his Son that we derive eminence and renown.
Matthew 27:33.And they came to the place. Jesus was brought to the place where it was customary to execute criminals, that his death might be more ignominious. Now though this was done according to custom, still we ought to consider the loftier purpose of God; for he determined that his Son should be cast out of the city as unworthy of human intercourse, that he might admit us into his heavenly kingdom with the angels. For this reason the apostle, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 13:12,) refers it to an ancient figure of the law. For as God commanded his people to burn without the camp the bodies of those animals, the blood of which was carried into the sanctuary to make atonement for sins, (Exodus 29:14; Leviticus 16:27;) so he says that Christ went out of the gate of the city, that, by taking upon him the curse which pressed us down, he might be regarded as accursed, and might in this manner atone for our sins. (272) Now the greater the ignominy and disgrace which he endured before the world, so much the more acceptable and noble a spectacle did he exhibit in his death to God and to the angels. For the infamy of the place did not hinder him from erecting there a splendid trophy of his victory; nor did the offensive smell of the carcasses which lay there hinder the sweet savor of his sacrifice from diffusing itself throughout the whole world, and penetrating even to heaven.
34.And they gave him vinegar. Although the Evangelists are not so exact in placing each matter in its due order, as to enable us to fix the precise moment at which the events occurred; yet I look upon it as a probable conjecture that, before our Lord was elevated on the cross, there was offered to him in a cup, according to custom, wine mingled with myrrh, or some other mixture, which appears to have been compounded of gall and vinegar. It is sufficiently agreed, indeed, among nearly all interpreters, that this draught was different from that which is mentioned by John, (John 14:29,) and of which we shall speak very soon. I only add, that I consider the cup to have been offered to our Lord when he was about to be crucified; but that after the cross was lifted up, a sponge was then dipped and given to him. At what time he began to ask something to drink, I am not very anxious to inquire; but when we compare all the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to suppose that, after he had refused that bitter mixture, it was frequently in derision presented to his lips. For we shall find Matthew afterwards adding that the soldiers, while they were giving him to drink, upbraided him for not being able to rescue himself from death. Hence we infer that, while the remedy was offered, they ridiculed the weakness of Christ, because he had complained that he was forsaken by God, (Matthew 27:49.)
As to the Evangelist John’s narrative, it is only necessary to understand that Christ requested that some ordinary beverage might be given him to assuage his thirst, but that vinegar, mingled with myrrh and gall, was attempted to be forced upon him for hastening his death. But he patiently bore his torments, so that the lingering pain did not lead him to desire that his death should be hastened; for even this was a part of his sacrifice and obedience, to endure to the very last the lingering exhaustion.
They are mistaken, in my opinion, who look upon the vinegar as one of the torments which were cruelly inflicted on the Son of God. There is greater probability in the conjecture of those who think that this kind of beverage had a tendency to promote the evacuation of blood, and that on this account it was usually given to malefactors, for the purpose of accelerating their death. Accordingly, Mark calls it wine mingled with myrrh. Now Christ, as I have just now hinted, was not led to refuse the wine or vinegar so much by a dislike of its bitterness, as by a desire to show that he advanced calmly to death, according to the command of the Father, and that he did not rush on heedlessly through want of patience for enduring pain. Nor is this inconsistent with what John says, that the Scripture was fulfilled, In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. For the two accounts perfectly agree with each other; that a remedy was given to him in order to put an end to the torments of a lingering death, and yet that Christ was in every respect treated with harshness, so that the very alleviation was a part, or rather was an augmentation, of his pain.
35.They parted his garments. It is certain that the soldiers did this also according to custom, in dividing among themselves the clothes of a man who had been condemned to die. One circumstance was perhaps peculiar, that they cast lots on a coat which was without seam, (John 19:23.) But though nothing happened to Christ in this respect but what was done to all who were condemned to die, still this narrative deserves the utmost attention. For the Evangelists exhibit to us the Son of God stripped of his garments, in order to inform us, that by this nakedness we have obtained those riches which make us honorable in the presence of God. God determined that his own Son should be stripped of his raiment, that we, clothed with his righteousness and with abundance of all good things, may appear with boldness in company with the angels, whereas formerly our loathsome and disgraceful aspect, in tattered garments, kept us back from approaching to heaven. Christ himself permitted his garments to be torn in pieces like a prey, that he might enrich us with the riches of his victory.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet. When Matthew says that thus was fulfilled the prediction of David,
they part my garments among them, and cast the lot upon my vesture,
we must understand his meaning to be, that what David complained of, as having been done to himself metaphorically and figuratively, was literally, (as the common phrase is,) and in reality, exhibited in Christ. For by the word garments David means his wealth and honors; as if he had said that, during his life, and under his own eyes, he was prey to enemies, who had robbed his house, and were so far from sparing the rest of his property, that they even carried off his wife. This cruelty is represented even more strikingly by the metaphor, when he says that his garments were divided by lot. Now as he was a shadow and image of Christ, he predicted, by the spirit of prophecy, what Christ was to suffer. In his person, therefore, this is worthy of observation, that the soldiers plundered his raiment, because in this pillage we discern the signs and marks by which he was formerly pointed out. It serves also to remove the offense with which the sense of the flesh might otherwise have regarded his nakedness, since he suffered nothing which the Holy Spirit does not declare to belong truly and properly to the person of the Redeemer.
Matthew 27:37.And placed over his head. What is briefly noticed by Matthew and Mark is more fully related by Luke, (Luke 23:38,) that the inscription was written in three languages. John also describes it more largely, (John 14:19.) Under this passage my readers will find what I pass over here for the sake of brevity. I shall only say, that it did not happen without the providence of God, that the death of Christ was made known in three languages. Though Pilate had no other design than to bring reproach and infamy on the Jewish nation, yet God had a higher end in view; for by this presage he caused it to be widely known that the death of his Son would be highly celebrated, so that all nations would everywhere acknowledge that he was the King promised to the Jews. This was not, indeed, the lawful preaching of the Gospel, for Pilate was unworthy to be employed by God as a witness for his Son; but what was afterwards to be accomplished by the true ministers was prefigured in Pilate. In short, we may look upon him to be a herald of Christ in the same sense that Caiaphas was a prophet, (John 11:51.)
38.Then were crucified with him two robbers. It was the finishing stroke of the lowest disgrace when Christ was executed between two robbers; for they assigned him the most prominent place, as if’ he had been the prince of robbers. If he had been crucified apart from the other malefactors, there might have appeared to be a distinction between his case and theirs; but now he is not only confounded with them, but raised aloft, as if he had been by far the most detestable of all. On this account Mark applies to him the prediction of Isaiah, (Isaiah 53:12) he was reckoned among transgressors; for the prophet expressly says concerning Christ, that he will deliver his people, not by pomp and splendor, but because he will endure the punishment clue to their sins. In order that he might free us from condemnation, this kind of expiation was necessary, that he might place himself in, our room. Here we perceive how dreadful is the weight of the wrath of God against sins, for appeasing which it became necessary that Christ, who is eternal justice, should be ranked with robbers. We see, also, the inestimable love of Christ towards us, who, in order that he might admit us to the society of the holy angels, permitted himself to be classed as one of the wicked.
Matthew 27:39.And they that passed by. These circumstances carry great weight; for they place before us the extreme abasement of the Son of God, that we may see more clearly how much our salvation cost him, and that, reflecting that we justly deserved all the punishments which he endured, we may be more and more excited to repentance. For in this exhibition God hath plainly showed to us how wretched our condition would have been, if we had not a Redeemer. But all that Christ endured in himself ought to be applied for our consolation. This certainly was more cruel than all the other tortures, that they upbraided, and reviled, and tormented him as one that had been cast off and forsaken by God, (Isaiah 53:4.) And, therefore, David, as the representative of Christ, complains chiefly of this among the distresses which he suffered; (Psalms 22:7.) And, indeed, there is nothing that inflicts a more painful wound on pious minds than when ungodly men, in order to shake their faith, upbraid them with being deprived of the assistance and favor of God. This is the harsh persecution with which, Paul tells us, Isaac was tormented by Ishmael, (Galatians 4:29;) not that he attacked him with the sword, and with outward violence, but that, by turning the grace of God into ridicule, he endeavored to overthrow his faith. These temptations were endured, first by David, and afterwards by Christ him-self, that they might not at the present day strike us with excessive alarm, as if they had been unusual; for there never will be wanting wicked men who are disposed to insult our distresses. And whenever God does not assist us according to our wish, but conceals his aid for a little time, it is a frequent stratagem of Satan, to allege that our hope was to no purpose, as if his promise had failed.
40.Thou who destroyedst the temple. They charge Christ with teaching falsehood, because, now that it is called for, he does not actually display the power to which he laid claim. But if their unbridled propensity to cursing had not deprived them of sense and reason, they would shortly afterwards have perceived clearly the truth of his statement. Christ had said,
Destroy this temple, and after three days I will raise it up,
but now they indulge in a premature triumph, and do not wait for the three days that would elapse from the commencement of its destruction. Such is the daring presumption of wicked men, when, under the pretense of the cross, they endeavor to cut them off from the hope of the future life. “Where,” say they, “is that immortal glory of which weak and credulous men are accustomed to boast? while the greater part of them are mean and despised, some are slenderly provided with food, others drag out a wretched life, amidst uninterrupted disease; others are driven about in flight, or in banishment; others pine away in prisons, and others are burnt and reduced to ashes?” Thus are they blinded by the present corruption of our outward man, so as to imagine that the hope of the future restoration of life is vain and foolish but our duty is to wait for the proper season of the promised building, and not to take it ill if we are now crucified with Christ, that we may afterwards be partakers of his resurrection, (Romans 6:5.)
If thou art the Son of God. Wicked men demand from Christ such a proof of His power that, by proving himself to be the Son of God, he may cease to be the Son of God. He had clothed himself with human flesh, and had descended into the world, on this condition, that, by the sacrifice of his death, he might reconcile men to God the Father. So then, in order to prove himself to be the Son of God, it was necessary that he should hang on the cross. And now those wicked men affirm that the Redeemer will not be recognized as the Son of God, unless he come clown from the cross, and thus disobey the command of his Father, and, leaving incomplete the expiation of sins, divest himself of the office which God had assigned to him. But let us learn from it to confirm our faith by considering that the Son of God determined to remain nailed to the cross for the sake of our salvation, until he had endured most cruel torments of the flesh, and dreadful anguish of soul, and even death itself. And lest we should come to tempt God in a manner similar to that in which those men tempted him, let us allow God to conceal his power, whenever it pleases Him to do so, that he may afterwards display it at his pleasure at the proper time and place. The same kind of depravity appears in the other objection which immediately follows: —
42.If he is the King, of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe him. For they ought not to embrace as King any one who did not answer to the description given by the prophets. But Isaiah (Isaiah 52:14) and Zechariah (Zechariah 13:7) expressly represent Christ as devoid of comeliness, afflicted, condemned, and accursed, half-dead, poor, and despised, before he ascends the royal throne. It is therefore foolish in the Jews to desire one of an opposite character, whom they may acknowledge as King; for, by so doing, they declare that they have no good-will to the King whom the Lord had promised to give. But let us, on the contrary, that our faith may firmly rely on Christ, seek a foundation in his cross; for in no other way could he be acknowledged to be the lawful King of Israel than by fulfilling what belonged to the Redeemer. And hence we conclude how dangerous it is to depart from the word of God by wandering after our speculations. For the Jews, in consequence of having imagined to themselves a King who had been suggested to them by their own senses, rejected Christ crucified, because they reckoned it absurd to believe in him; while we regard it as the best and highest reason for believing, that he voluntarily subjected himself on our account to the ignominy of the cross.
He saved others; himself he cannot save. It was an ingratitude which admits of no excuse, that, taking offense at the present humiliation of Christ, they utterly disregard all the miracles which he had formerly performed before their eyes. They acknowledge that he saved others. By what power, or by what means? Why do they not in this instance, at least, behold with reverence an evident work of God? But since they maliciously exclude, and—as far as lies in their power—endeavor to extinguish the light of God which shone in the miracles, they are unworthy of forming an accurate judgment of the weakness of the cross. Because Christ does not immediately deliver himself from death, they upbraid him with inability. And it is too customary with all wicked men to estimate the power of God by present appearances, so that whatever he does not accomplish they think that he cannot accomplish, and so they accuse him of weakness, whenever he does not comply with their wicked desire. But let us believe that Christ, though he might easily have done it, did not immediately deliver himself from death, but it was because he did not wish to deliver himself. And why did he for the time disregard his own safety, but because he cared more about the salvation of us all? We see then that the Jews, through their malice, employed, in defense of their unbelief, those things by which our faith is truly edified.
43.He trusted in God. This, as I said a little ago, is a very sharp arrow of temptation which Satan holds in his hand, when he pretends that God has forgotten us, because He does not relieve us speedily and at the very moment. For since God watches over the safety of his people, and not only grants them seasonable aid, but even anticipates their necessities, (as Scripture everywhere teaches us,) he appears not to love those whom he does not assist. Satan, therefore, attempts to drive us to despair by this logic, that it is in vain for us to feel assured o the love of God, when we do not clearly perceive his aid. And as he suggests to our minds this kind of imposition, so he employs his agents, who contend that God has sold and abandoned our salvation, because he delays to give his assistance. We ought, therefore, to reject as false this argument, that God does not love those whom he appears for a time to forsake; and, indeed, nothing is more unreasonable than to limit his love to any point of time. God has, indeed, promised that he will be our Deliverer; but if he sometimes wink at our calamities, we ought patiently to endure the delay. It is, therefore, contrary to the nature of faith, that the word now should be insisted on by those whom God is training by the cross and by adversity to obedience, and whom he entreats to pray and to call on his name; for these are rather the testimonies of his fatherly love, as the apostle tells us, (Hebrews 12:6.) But there was this peculiarity in, Christ, that, though he was the well-beloved Son, (Matthew 3:17,) yet he was not delivered from death, until he had endured the punishment which we deserved; because that was the price by which our salvation was purchased. (273) Hence it follows again that the priests act maliciously, when they infer that he is not the Son of God, because he performs the office which was enjoined upon him by the Father.
44.And the robbers also. Matthew and Mark, by synecdoche, attribute to the robbers what was done only by one of them, as is evident from Luke And this mode of expression ought not to be accounted harsh; for the two Evangelists had no other design than to show that Christ was attacked on every hand by the reproaches of all men, so that even the robbers, who were fast dying, did not spare him. In like manner David, deploring his calamities, exhibits their violence in a strong light by saying, that he is the reproach of all sorts of men, and despised by the people. Now although they leave out the memorable narrative which Luke relates as to the other robber, still there is no inconsistency in their statement, that Christ was despised by all, down to the very robbers; for they do not speak of particular individuals, but of the class itself. Let us now, therefore, come to what is stated by Luke
Matthew 27:45.Now from the sixth hour. Although in the death of Christ the weakness of the flesh concealed for a short time the glory of the Godhead, and though the Son of God himself was disfigured by shame and contempt, and, as Paul says, was emptied, (Philippians 2:7) yet the heavenly Father did not cease to distinguish him by some marks, and during his lowest humiliation prepared some indications of his future glory, in order to fortify the minds of the godly against the offense of the cross. Thus the majesty of Christ was attested by the obscuration of the sun, by the earthquake, by the splitting of the rocks, and the rending of the veil, as if heaven and earth were rendering the homage which they owed to their Creator.
But we inquire, in the first place, what was the design of the eclipse of the sun? For the fiction of the ancient poets in their tragedies, that the light of the sun is withdrawn from the earth whenever any shocking crime is perpetrated, was intended to express the alarming effects of the anger of God; and this invention unquestionably had its origin in the ordinary feelings of mankind. In accordance with this view, some commentators think that, at the death of Christ, God sent darkness as a Mark of detestation, as if God, by bringing darkness over the sun, hid his face from beholding the blackest of all crimes. Others say that, when the visible sun was extinguished, it pointed out the death of the Sun of righteousness. Others choose to refer it to the blinding of the nation, which followed shortly afterwards. For the Jews, by rejecting Christ, as soon as he was removed from among them, were deprived of the light of heavenly doctrine, and nothing was left to them but the darkness of despair.
I rather think that, as stupidity had shut the eyes of that people against the light, the darkness was intended to arouse them to consider the astonishing design of God in the death of Christ. For if they were not altogether hardened, an unusual change of the order of nature must have made a deep impression on their senses, so as to look forward to an approaching renewal of the world. Yet it was a terrific spectacle which was exhibited to them, that they might tremble at the judgment of God. And, indeed, it was an astonishing display of the wrath of God that he did not spare even his only begotten Son, and was not appeased in any other way than by that price of expiation.
As to the scribes and priests, and a great part of the nation, who paid no attention to the eclipse of the sun, but passed it by with closed eyes, their amazing madness ought to strike us with horror; (283) for they must have been more stupid than brute beasts, who when plainly warned of the severity of the judgment of heaven by such a miracle, did not cease to indulge in mockery. But this is the spirit of stupidity and of giddiness with which God intoxicates the reprobate, after having long contended with their malice. Meanwhile, let us learn that, when they were bewitched by the enchantments of Satan, the glory of God, however manifest, was afterwards hidden from them, or, at least, that their minds were darkened, so that, seeing they did not see, (Matthew 13:14.) But as it was a general admonition, it ought also to be of advantage to us, by informing us that the sacrifice by which we are redeemed was of as much importance as if the sun had fallen from heaven, or if the whole fabric of the world had fallen to pieces; for this will excite in us deeper horror at our sins.
As to the opinion entertained by some who make this eclipse of the sun extend to every quarter of the world, I do not consider it to be probable. For though it was related by one or two authors, still the history of those times attracted so much attention, that it was impossible for so remarkable a miracle to be passed over in silence by many other authors, who have described minutely events which were not so worthy of being recorded. Besides, if the eclipse had been universal throughout the world, it would have been regarded as natural, and would more easily have escaped the notice of men. (284) But when the sun was shining elsewhere, it was a more striking miracle that Judea was covered with darkness.
46.And about the ninth hour Jesus cried. Though in the cry which Christ uttered a power more than human was manifested, yet it was unquestionably drawn from him by intensity of sorrow. And certainly this was his chief conflict, and harder than all the other tortures, that in his anguish he was so far from being soothed by the assistance or favor of his Father, that he felt himself to be in some measure estranged from him. For not only did he offer his body as the price of our reconciliation with God, but. in his soul also he endured the punishments due to us; and thus he became, as Isaiah speaks,a man of sorrows, (Isaiah 53:3.) Those interpreters are widely mistaken who, laying aside this part of redemption, attended solely to the outward punishment of the flesh; for in order that Christ might satisfy for us, (285) it was necessary that he should be placed as a guilty person at the judgment-seat of God. Now nothing is more dreadful than to feel that God, whose wrath is worse than all deaths, is the Judge. When this temptation was presented to Christ, as if, having God opposed to him, he were already devoted to destruction, he was seized with horror, which would have been sufficient to swallow up a hundred times all the men in the world; but by the amazing power of the Spirit he achieved the victory. Nor is it by hypocrisy, or by assuming a character, that he complains of having been forsaken by the Father. Some allege that he employed this language in compliance with the opinion of the people, but this is an absurd mode of evading the difficulty; for the inward sadness of his soul was so powerful and violent, that it forced him to break out into a cry. Nor did the redemption which he accomplished consist solely in what was exhibited to the eye, (as I stated a little ago,) but having undertaken to be our surety, he resolved actually to undergo in our room the judgment of God.
But it appear absurd to say that an expression of despair escaped Christ. The reply is easy. Though the perception of the flesh would have led him to dread destruction, still in his heart faith remained firm, by which he beheld the presence of God, of whose absence he complains. We have explained elsewhere how the Divine nature gave way to the weakness of the flesh, so far as was necessary for our salvation, that Christ might accomplish all that was required of the Redeemer. We have likewise pointed out the distinction between the sentiment of nature and the knowledge of faith; and, there ore, the perception of God’s estrangement from him, which Christ had, as suggested by natural feeling, did not hinder him from continuing to be assured by faith that God was reconciled to him. This is sufficiently evident from the two clauses of the complaint; for, before stating the temptation, he begins by saying that he betakes himself to God as his God, and thus by the shield of faith he courageously expels that appearance of forsaking which presented itself on the other side. In short, during this fearful torture his faith remained uninjured, so that, while he complained of being forsaken, he still relied on the aid of God as at hand.
That this expression eminently deserves our attention is evident from the circumstance, that the Holy Spirit, in order to engrave it more deeply on the memory of men, has chosen to relate it in the Syriac language; (286) for this has the same effect as if he made us hear Christ himself repeating the very words which then proceeded from his mouth. So much the more detestable is the indifference of those who lightly pass by, as a matter of jesting, the deep sadness and fearful trembling which Christ endured. No one who considers that Christ undertook the office of Mediator on the condition of suffering our condemnation, both in his body and in his soul, will think it strange that he maintained a struggle with the sorrows of death, as if an offended God had thrown him into a whirlpool of afflictions.
47.He calleth Elijah. Those who consider this as spoken by the soldiers, ignorant and unskilled in the Syriac language, and unacquainted with the Jewish religion, and who imagine that the soldiers blundered through a resemblance of the words, are, in my opinion, mistaken. I do not think it at all probable that they erred through ignorance, but rather that they deliberately intended to mock Christ, and to turn his prayer into an occasion of slander. For Satan has no method more effectual for ruining the salvation of the godly, than by dissuading them from calling on God. For this reason, he employs his agents to drive off from us, as far as he can, the desire to pray. Thus he impelled the wicked enemies of Christ basely to turn his prayer into derision, intending by this stratagem to strip him of his chief armor. And certainly it is a very grievous temptation, when prayer appears to be so far from yielding any advantage to us, that God exposes his name to reproaches, instead of lending a gracious car to our prayers. This ironical language, therefore — or rather this barking of dogs — amounts to saying that Christ has no access to God, because, by imploring Elijah, he seeks relief in another quarter. Thus we see that he was tortured on every hand, in order that, overwhelmed with despair, he might abstain from calling on God, which was, to abandon salvation. But if the hired brawlers of Antichrist, as well as wicked men existing in the Church, are now found to pervert basely by their calumnies what has been properly said by us, let us not wonder that the same thing should happen to our Head. Yet though they may change God into Elijah, when they have ridiculed us to their heart’s content, God will at length listen to our groanings, and will show that he vindicates his glory, and punishes base falsehood.
48.And immediately one ran. As Christ had once refused to drink, it may be conjectured with probability, that it was repeatedly offered to him for the sake of annoyance; though it is also not improbable that the vinegar was held out to him in a cup before he was raised aloft, and that a sponge was afterwards applied to his mouth, while he was hanging on the cross.
Matthew 27:50.Jesus having again cried with a loud voice. Luke, who makes no mention of the former complaint, repeats the words of this second cry, which Matthew and Mark leave out. He says that Jesus cried, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit; by which he declared that, though he was fiercely attacked by violent temptations, still his faith was unshaken, and always kept its ground unvanquished. For there could not have been a more splendid triumph than when Christ boldly expresses his assurance that God is the faithful guardian of his soul, which all imagined to be lost. But instead of speaking to the deaf, he betook himself directly to God, and committed to his bosom the assurance of his confidence. He wished, indeed, that men should hear what he said; but though it might be of no avail to men, he was satisfied with having God alone as his witness. And certainly there is not a stronger or more decided testimony of faith than when a pious man—perceiving himself attacked on every hand:, so that he finds no consolation on the part of men—despises the madness of the whole world, discharges his sorrows and cares into the bosom of God, and rests in the hope of his promises.
Though this form of prayer appears to be borrowed from Psalms 31:5, yet I have no doubt that he applied it to his immediate object, according to present circumstances; as if he had said, “I see, indeed, O Father, that by the universal voice I am destined to destruction, and that my soul is, so to speak, hurried to and fro; but though, according to the flesh, I perceive no assistance in thee, yet this will not hinder me from committing my spirit into thy hands, and calmly relying on the hidden safeguard of thy goodness.” Yet it ought to be observed, that David, in the passage which I have quoted, not only prayed that his soul, received by the hand of God, might continue to be safe and happy after death, but committed his life to the Lord, that, guarded by his protection, he might prosper both in life and in death. He saw himself continually besieged by many deaths; nothing, therefore, remained but to commit himself to the invincible protection of God. Having made God the guardian of his soul, he rejoices that it is safe from all danger; and, at the same time, prepares to meet death with confidence, whenever it shall please God, because the Lord guards the souls of his people even in death. No as the former was taken away from Christ, to commit his soul to be protected by the Father during the frail condition of the earthly life, he hastens cheerfully to death, and desires to be preserved beyond the world; for the chief reason why God receives our souls into his keeping is, that our faith may rise beyond this transitory life.
Let us now remember that it was not in reference to himself alone that Christ committed his soul to the Father, but that he included, as it were, in one bundle all the souls of those who believe in him, that they may be preserved along with his own; and not only so, but by this prayer he obtained authority to save all souls, so that not only does the heavenly Father, for his sake, deign to take them into his custody, but, giving up the authority into his hands, commits them to him to be protected. And therefore Stephen also, when dying, resigns his soul into his hands, saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, (Acts 7:59.) Every one who, when he comes to die, following this example, shall believe in Christ, will not breathe his soul at random into the air, but will resort to a faithful guardian, who keeps in safety whatever has been delivered to him by the Father.
The cry shows also the intensity of the feeling; for there can be no doubt that Christ, out of the sharpness of the temptations by which he was beset, not without a painful and strenuous effort, broke out into this cry. And yet he likewise intended, by this loud and piercing exclamation, to assure us that his soul would be safe and uninjured by death, in order that we, supported by the same confidence, may cheerfully depart from the frail hovel of our flesh.
51.And, lo, the veil of the temple was rent. When Luke blends the rending of the veil with the eclipse of the sun, he inverts the order; for the Evangelists, as we have frequently seen, are not careful to mark every hour with exactness. Nor was it proper that the veil should be rent, until the sacrifice of expiation had been completed; for then Christ, the true and everlasting Priest, having abolished the figures of the law, opened up for us by his blood the way to the heavenly sanctuary, that we may no longer stand at a distance within the porch, but may freely advance into the presence of God. For so long as the shadowy worship lasted, (287) a veil was hung up before the earthly sanctuary, in order to keep the people not only from entering but from seeing it, (Exodus 26:33; 2 Chronicles 3:14.) Now Christ, by
blotting out the handwriting which was opposed to us,
removed every obstruction, that, relying on him as Mediator, we may all be a royal priesthood, (1 Peter 2:9.) Thus the rending of the veil was not only an abrogation of the ceremonies which existed under the law, but was, in some respects, an opening of heaven, that God may now invite the members of his Son to approach him with familiarity.
Meanwhile, the Jews were informed that the period of abolishing outward sacrifices had arrived, and that the ancient priesthood would be of no farther use; that though the building of the temple was left standing, it would not be necessary to worship God there after the ancient custom; but that since the substance and truth of the shadows had been fulfilled, the figures of the law were changed into spirit. For though Christ offered a visible sacrifice, yet, as the Apostle tells us (Hebrews 9:14) it must be viewed spiritually, that we may enjoy its value and its fruit. But it was of no advantage to those wretched men that the outward sanctuary was laid bare by the rending of the veil, because the inward veil of unbelief, which was in their hearts, (288) hindered them from beholding the saving light.
And the earth trembled, and the rocks were split. What Matthew adds about the earthquake and the splitting oft he rocks, I think it probable, took place at the same time. In this way not only did the earth bear the testimony to its Creator, but it was even called as a witness against the hard-heartedness of a perverse nation; for it showed how monstrous that obstinacy must have been on which neither the earthquake nor the splitting of the rocks made any impression.
52And graves were opened. This was also a striking miracle, by which God declared that his Son entered into the prison of death, not to continue to be shut up there, but to bring out all who were held captive. For at the very time when the despicable weakness of the flesh was beheld in the person of Christ, the magnificent and divine energy of his death penetrated even to hell. This is the reason why, when he was about to be shut up in a sepulcher, other sepulchers were opened by him. Yet it is doubtful if this opening of the graves took place before his resurrection; for, in my opinion, the resurrection of the saints, which is mentioned immediately afterwards, was subsequent to the resurrection of Christ. There is no probability in the conjecture of some commentators that, after having received life and breath, they remained three days concealed in their graves. I think it more probable that, when Christ died, the graves were immediately opened: and that, when he rose, some of the godly, having received life, went out of their graves, and were seen in the city. For Christ is calledthe first-born from the dead, (Colossians 1:18,) and the first-fruits of those who rise, (1 Corinthians 15:20,) because by his death he commenced, and by his resurrection he completed, a new life; not that, when he died, the dead were immediately raised, but because his death was the source and commencement of life. This reason, therefore, is fully applicable, since the opening of the graves was the presage of a new life, that the fruit or result appeared three days afterwards, because Christ, in rising from the dead, brought others along with him out of their graves as his companions. Now by this sign it was made evident, that he neither died nor rose again in a private capacity, but in order to shed the odor of life on all believers.
But here a question arises. Why did God determine that only some should arise, since a participation in the resurrection of Christ belongs equally to all believers? I reply: As the time was not fully come when the whole body of the Church should be gathered to its Head, he exhibited in a few persons an instance of the new life which all ought to expect. For we know that Christ was received into heaven on the condition that the life of his members should still be hid, (Colossians 3:3,) until it should be manifested by his coming. But in order that the minds of believers might be more quickly raised to hope, it was advantageous that the resurrection, which was to be common to all of them, should be tasted by a few.
Another and more difficult question is, What became of those saints afterwards? For it would appear to be absurd to suppose that, after having been once admitted by Christ to the participation of a new life, they again returned to dust. But as this question cannot be easily or quickly answered, so it is not necessary to give ourselves much uneasiness about a matter which is not necessary to be known. That they continued long to converse with men is not probable; for it was only necessary that they should be seen for a short time, that in them, as in a mirror or resemblance, the power of Christ might plainly appear. As God intended, by their persons, to confirm the hope of the heavenly life among those who were then alive, there would be no absurdity in saying that, after having performed this office, they again rested in their graves. But it is more probable that the life which they received was not afterwards taken from them; for if it had been a mortal life, it would not have been a proof of a perfect resurrection. Now, though the whole world will rise again, and though Christ will raise up the wicked to judgment, as well as believers to salvation, yet as it was especially for the benefit of his Church that he rose again, so it was proper that he should bestow on none but saints the distinguished honor of rising along with him.
53.And went into the holy city. When Matthew bestows on Jerusalem the honorable designation of the holy city, he does not intend to applaud the character of its inhabitants, for we know that it was at that time full of all pollution and wickedness, so that it was rather a den of robbers, (Jeremiah 7:11.) But as it had been chosen by God, its holiness, which was founded on God’s adoption, could not be effaced by any corruptions of men, till its rejection was openly declared. Or, to express it more briefly, on the part of man it was profane, and on the part of God it was holy, till the destruction or pollution of the temple, which happened not long after the crucifixion of Christ.
54.Now the centurion. As Luke mentions the lamentation of the people, the centurion and his soldiers were not the only persons who acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God; but the Evangelists mention this circumstance respecting him for the purpose of heightening their description: for it is wonderful that an irreligious man, who had not been instructed in the Law, and was ignorant of true religion, should form so correct a judgment from the signs which he beheld. This comparison tends powerfully to condemn the stupidity of the city; for it was an evidence of shocking madness, that when the fabric of the world shook and trembled, none of the Jews were affected by it except the despised rabble. And yet, amidst such gross blindness, God did not permit the testimonies which he gave respecting his Son to be buried in silence. Not only, therefore, did true religion open the eyes of devout worshippers of God to perceive that from heaven God was magnifying the glory of Christ, but natural understanding compelled foreigners, and even soldiers, to confess what they had not learned either from the law or from any instructor.
When Mark says that the centurion spoke thus, because Christ, when he had uttered a loud voice, expired, some commentators think that he intends to point out the unwonted strength which remained unimpaired till death; and certainly, as the body of Christ was almost exhausted of blood, it could not happen, in the ordinary course of things, that the sides and the lungs should retain sufficient rigor for uttering so loud a cry. Yet I rather think that the centurion intended to applaud the unshaken perseverance of Christ in calling on the name of God. Nor was it merely the cry of Christ that led the centurion to think so highly of him, but this confession was extorted from him by perceiving that his extraordinary strength harmonized with heavenly miracles.
The words, he feared God, (289) must not be so explained as if he had fully repented. (290) It was only a sudden and transitory impulse, as it frequently happens, that men who are thoughtless and devoted to the world are struck with the fear of God, when he makes an alarming display of his power; but as they have no living root, indifference quickly follows, and puts an end to that feeling. The centurion had not undergone such a change as to dedicate himself to God for the remainder of his life, but was only for a moment the herald of the divinity of Christ.
When Luke represents him as saying no more than certainly this was a righteous man, the meaning is the same as if he had plainly said that he was the Son of God, as it is expressed by the other two Evangelists. For it had been universally reported that Christ was put to death, because he declared himself to be the Son of God. Now when the centurion bestows on him the praise of righteousness, and pronounces him to be innocent, he likewise acknowledges him to be the Son of God; not that he understood distinctly how Christ was begotten by God the Father, but because he entertains no doubt that there is some divinity in him, and, convinced by proofs, holds it to be certain that Christ was not an ordinary man, but had been raised up by God.
As to the multitudes, by striving their breasts, they expressed the dread of punishment for a public crime, because they felt that public guilt had been contracted by an unjust and shocking murder. (291) But as they went no farther, their lamentation was of no avail, unless, perhaps, in some persons it was the commencement or preparation of true repentance. And since nothing more is described to us than the lamentation which God drew from them to the glory of his Son, let us learn by this example, that it is of little importance, or of no importance at all, if a man is struck with terror, when he sees before his eyes the power of God, until, after the astonishment has been abated, the fear of God remains calmly in his heart.
55.And there were also many women there. I consider this to have been added in order to inform us that, while the disciples had fled and were scattered in every direction, still some of their company were retained by the Lord as witnesses. Now though the Apostle John did not depart from the cross, yet no mention is made of him; but praise is bestowed on the women alone, who accompanied Christ till death, because their extraordinary attachment to their Master was the more strikingly displayed, when the men fled trembling. For they must have been endued with extraordinary strength of attachment, since, though they could render him no service, they did not cease to treat him with reverence, even when exposed to the lowest disgrace. And yet we learn fromLuke that all the men had not fled; for he says that all his acquaintances stood at a distance. But not without reason do the Evangelists bestow the chief praise on the women, for they deserved the preference above the men. In my opinion, the implied contrast suggests a severe reproof of the apostles. I speak of the great body of them; for since only one remained, the three Evangelists, as I mentioned a little ago, take no notice of him. It was in the highest degree disgraceful to chosen witnesses to withdraw from that spectacle on which depended the salvation of the world. Accordingly, when they afterwards proclaimed the gospel, they must have borrowed from women the chief portion of the history. But if a remedy had not been miraculously prepared by Providence against a great evil, they would have deprived themselves, and us along with them, of the knowledge of redemption.
At first sight, we might think that the testimony of the women does not possess equal authority; but if we duly consider by what power of the Spirit they were supported against that temptation, we shall find that there is no reason why our faith should waver, since it rests on God, who is the real Author of their testimony. (292) Yet let us observe, that it proceeded from the inconceivable goodness of God, that even to us should come that gospel which speaks of the expiation by which God has been reconciled to us. For during the general desertion of those who ought to have run before others, God encouraged some, out of the midst of the flock, who, recovering from the alarm, should be witnesses to us of that history, without the belief of which we cannot be saved. Of the women themselves, we shall presently have another opportunity of saying something. At present, it may be sufficient to take a passing notice of one point, that their eagerness for instruction led them to withdraw from their country, and constantly to learn from the lips of Christ, and that they spared neither toil nor money, provided that they might enjoy his saving doctrine.
Matthew 27:57.And when the evening was come. Let it be understood that Joseph did not come in the dusk of the evening, but before sunset, that he might perform this office of kindness to his Master, without violating the Sabbath; for the Sabbath commenced in the evening, and therefore it was necessary that Christ should be laid in the grave before night came on. Now from the time that Christ died until the Sabbath began to be observed, there were three free days. And though John does not mention Joseph only, but joins Nicodemus as his companion, (John 19:39;) yet as he alone undertook the business at first, and as Nicodemus did no more than follow and join him, the three: Evangelists satisfied themselves with relating in a brief narrative what was done by Joseph alone.
Now though this affection of Joseph deserved uncommon praise, still we ought first to consider the providence of God, in subduing a man of high and honorable rank among his countrymen, to wipe away the reproach of the cross by the honor of burial. And, indeed, as he exposed himself to the dislike and hatred of the whole nation, and to great dangers, there can be no doubt that this singular courage arose from a secret movement of the Spirit; for though he had formerly been one of Christ’s disciples, yet he had never ventured to make a frank and open profession of his faith. When the death of Christ now presents to him a spectacle full of despair, and fitted to break the strongest minds, how comes he suddenly to acquire such noble courage that, amidst the greatest terrors, he feels no dread, and hesitates not to advance farther than he had ever done, when all was in peace? Let us know then that, when the Son of God was buried by the hand of Joseph, it was the work of God.
To the same purpose must also be referred the circumstances which are here detailed. Joseph’s piety and integrity of life are commended, that in the servant of God we may learn to recognize the work of God. The Evangelists relate that he was rich, in order to inform us that his amazing magnanimity of mind enabled him to rise superior to the obstruction which would otherwise have compelled him to retire. For rich men, being naturally proud, find nothing more difficult than to expose themselves voluntarily to the contempt of the people. Now we know how mean and disgraceful an act it was to receive from the hand of the executioner the body of a crucified man. Besides, as men devoted to riches are wont to avoid everything fitted to excite prejudice, the more eminent he was for wealth, the more cautious and timid he would have been, unless a holy boldness (295) had been imparted to him from heaven. The dignity of his rank is likewise mentioned, that he was a counselor, or senator, that in this respect also the power of God may be displayed; for it was not one of the lowest of the people that was employed to bury the body of Christ in haste and in concealment, but from a high rank of honor he was raised up to discharge this office. For the less credible it was that such an office of kindness should be performed towards Christ, the more clearly did it appear that the whole of this transaction was regulated by the purpose and hand of God.
We are taught by this example, that the rich are so far from being excusable, when they deprive Christ of the honor due to him: that they must be held to be doubly criminal, for turning into obstructions those circumstances which ought to have been excitements to activity. It is too frequent and customary, I acknowledge, for those who think themselves superior to others, to withdraw from the yoke, and to become soft and effeminate through excessive timidity and solicitude about their affairs. But we ought to view it in a totally different light; for if riches and honors do not aid us in the worship of God, we utterly abuse them. The present occurrence shows how easy it is for God to correct wicked fears by hindering us from doing our duty; since formerly Joseph did not venture to make an open profession of being a disciple of Christ, when matters were doubtful, but now, when the rage of enemies is at its height, and when their cruelty abounds, he gathers courage, and does not hesitate to incur manifest danger. We see then how the Lord in a moment forms the hearts to new feelings, and raises up by a spirit of fortitude those who had previously fainted. But if, through a holy desire to honor Christ, Joseph assumed such courage, while Christ was hanging on the cross, woe to our slothfulness, (296) if, now that he has risen from the dead, an equal zeal, at least, to glorify him do not burn in our hearts.
Matthew 27:59.And having taken the body. The three Evangelists glance briefly at the burial; and therefore they say nothing about the aromatic ointments which John alone mentions, (John 19:39) only they relate that Joseph purchased a clean linen cloth; from which we infer, that Christ was honorably buried. And, indeed, there could be no doubt that a rich man, when he gave up his sepulcher to our Lord, made provision also, in other respects, for suitable magnificence and splendor. And this, too, was brought about by the secret providence of God, rather than by the premeditated design of men, that a new sepulcher, in which no man had ever yet been laid, was obtained by our Lord, who is the first-born from the dead, (Colossians 1:18,) and the first-fruits of them that rise, (1 Corinthians 15:20.) God intended, therefore, by this Mark to distinguish his Son from the remainder of the human race, and to point out by the sepulcher itself his newness of life.
61.And Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, were there. Matthew and Mark relate only that the women looked at what was done, and marked the place where the body was laid. But Luke states, at the same time, their resolution, which was, that they returned to the city, and prepared spices and ointments, that two days afterwards they might render due honor to the burial. Hence we learn that their minds were filled with a better odor, which the Lord breathed into his death, that he might bring them to his grave, and exalt them higher.
Matthew 27:62.And the next day. In this narrative Matthew did not so much intend to show with what determined rage the scribes and priests pursued Christ, as to exhibit to us, as in a mirror, the amazing providence of God in proving the resurrection of his Son. Cunning men, practiced at least in fraud and treachery, plot among themselves, and contrive a method by which they may extinguish the memory of a dead man; for they see that they have gained nothing, if they do not destroy the certainty of the resurrection. But while they are attempting to do this, they appear rather as if they had expressly intended to bring it forth to the light, that it might be known. The resurrection of Christ would undoubtedly have been less manifest, or, at least, they would have had more plausible grounds for denying it, if they had not taken pains to station witnesses at the sepulcher. We see then how the Lord not only disappointeth the crafty, (Job 5:12,) but employs even their own schemes as snares for holding them fast, that he may draw and compel them to render obedience to him. The enemies of Christ were indeed unworthy of having his resurrection made known to them; but it was proper that their insolence should be exposed, and every occasion of slander taken away from them, and that even their consciences should be convinced, so that they might not be held excusable for ignorance. Yet let us observe that God, as if he had hired them for the purpose, employed their services for rendering the glory of Christ more illustrious, because no plausible ground for lying, in order to deny it, was left to them when they found the grave empty; not that they desisted from their wicked rage, but with all persons of correct and sober judgment it was a sufficient testimony that Christ was risen, since his body, which had been placed in a grave, and protected by guards who surrounded it on all sides, was not to be found.
63.We remember that that impostor said. This thought was suggested to them by divine inspiration, not only that the Lord might execute upon them just vengeance for their wickedness, (as he always punishes bad consciences by secret torments,) but chiefly in order to restrain their unholy tongues. Yet we again perceive what insensibility seizes on wicked men, when they are bewitched by Satan. They go so far as to call him an impostor, whose divine power and glory were lately manifested by so many miracles. This certainly was not to defy the clouds, but to spit in the face of God, so to speak, by ridiculing the brightness of the sun. Such examples show us that we ought, with pious and modest thoughtfulness, to direct our attention early to the glory of God when it is presented to our view, that our hardness of heart may not lead us to brutal and dreadful blindness. Now though it may appear strange and absurd for wicked men to indulge in such wicked mockery over Christ when dead, that our minds may not be rendered uneasy by this licentiousness, we ought always to consider wisely the purpose to which the Lord turns it. Wicked men imagine that they will overwhelm the whole of the doctrine of Christ, together with his miracles, by that single blasphemy, which they haughtily vomit out; but God employs no other persons than themselves for vindicating his Son from all blame of imposture. Whenever these wicked men shall labor to overturn everything by their calumnies, and shall launch out into unmeasured slander, let us wait with composure and tranquillity of mind until God bring light out of darkness.
65.You have a guard. By these words, Pilate means that he grants their request by permitting them to post soldiers to keep watch. This, permission bound them more firmly, so that they could not escape by any evasion; for though they were not ashamed to break out against Christ after his resurrection, yet with Pilate’s signet they as truly shut their own mouths as they shut up the sepulcher.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 27". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany