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Ch. 23:1 4. First phase of the Trial before Pilate
1 . the whole multitude ] Rather, the whole number ( plethos , not ochlos ).
unto Pilate ] The fact that our Lord “suffered under Pontius Pilate” is also mentioned by Tacitus ( Ann. xv. 44). Pontius Pilatus was a Roman Knight, who (a. d. 26) had been appointed, through the influence of Sejanus, sixth Procurator of Judaea. His very first act the bringing of the silver eagles and other insignia of the Legions from Caesarea to Jerusalem a step which he was obliged to retract had caused fierce exasperation between him and the Jews. This had been increased by his application of money from the Corban or Sacred Treasury to the secular purpose of bringing water to Jerusalem from the Pools of Solomon (see 13:4). In consequence of this quarrel Pilate sent his soldiers among the mob with concealed daggers (a fatal precedent for the Sicarii ) and there had been a great massacre. A third tumult had been caused by his placing gilt votive shields dedicated to the Emperor Tiberius, in his residence at Jerusalem. The Jews regarded these as idolatrous, and he had been obliged by the Emperor’s orders to remove them. He had also had deadly quarrels with the Samaritans, whom he had attacked on Mount Gerizim in a movement stirred up by a Messianic impostor; and with the Galilaeans “whose blood he had mingled with their sacrifices” (13:1). He reflected the hatred felt towards the Jews by his patron Sejanus, and had earned the character which Philo gives him of being a savage, inflexible, and arbitrary ruler. The Procurator, when at Jerusalem for the great Festivals, seems to have occupied an old palace of Herod’s, known in consequence as Herod’s Praetorium (Philo, Leg. ad Caium , p. 1034). It was a building of peculiar splendour, and our Lord was conducted to it from the Hall of Meeting, across the bridge which spanned the Valley of Tyropoeon. It is however possible that Pilate may have occupied a part of Fort Antonia, and it has been supposed that this view receives some confirmation from the discovery by Capt. Warren of a subterranean chamber with a pillar in it, which is believed to be not later than the age of the Herods, and is on the suggested site of Antonia. Mr Fergusson ( Temples of the Jews , p. 176) inclines to the view that this newly-discovered chamber may have been the very scene of our Lord’s flagellation. Our Lord was bound (Matthew 27:2 ) in sign that He was now a condemned criminal. This narrative of the Trial should be compared throughout with John 18:19 .
2 . We found ] A word intended to excite prejudice.
perverting the nation ] The technical Jewish name for an offender of this sort was Mesith , ‘seducer’ or ‘impostor,’ Acts 13:8-10 . This was their first head of indictment, and had the advantage of being perfectly vague.
forbidding to give tribute to Cesar ] This was a complete falsehood; but a political accusation was necessary for their purpose, since a heathen would not have listened to any religious accusation. The mixture of religion with politics is always perilous to truth and sincerity. This was their second charge.
that he himself is Christ a King ] The word ‘King’ is an explanation to bring the case under the head of treason. Yet they must have been well aware that this charge was all the more false in spirit from being true in the letter; for Christ had always refused and prevented every effort to make Him a temporal king (John 6:15 ). This was their third charge.
3 . Art thou the King of the Jews ?] St Luke narrates the trial very briefly. The Jewish priests had expected that on their authority Pilate would at once order Him to execution; but, on the contrary, he meant first to hear the case, and asked them what accusation they brought, refusing to accept their bare assertion that He was “a malefactor.” Pilate only attends to the third charge, and asks Christ this question on the Roman principle that it was always desirable to secure the confession of the accused. We see from St John (18:33) that Jesus had been led into the Praetorium while His accusers stayed without; that He had not heard their accusations (id. vs. 34), and that Pilate was now questioning Him at a private examination .
Thou sayest it ] For a fuller account of the scene read John 18:33-38 . It is alluded to in 1 Timothy 6:13 .
4 . I find no fault in this man ] This conclusion, which sounds so abrupt in St Luke, was the result of the conversation with Pilate in which Jesus had said “My Kingdom is not of this world.” It had convinced Pilate of His innocence, and he expressed his conviction in this unhesitating acquittal. The word for ‘fault’ ( aition ) occurs in Acts 19:40 .
5 24 . The Trial before Herod. Further endeavours of Pilate to procure His acquittal. The Choice of Barabbas. The condemnation to the Cross
5 . And they were the more fierce ] Rather, But they were more urgent . This and similar expressions hardly convey to us the terrible violence and excitement of an Oriental mob.
Jewry ] Rather, Judaea (comp. Daniel 5:13 ). These words furnish one of the traces in the Synoptists of the Judaean ministry which they imply, but do not narrate. Comp. “throughout the whole of Judaea,” Acts 10:37 .
beginning from Galilee ] See 4:14. This is probably mentioned to prejudice Pilate all the more against Him, as he had a quarrel with the Galilaeans, but dum rem amplificant, Pilato dant rimam . Bengel.
7 . he sent him to Herod ] The word used is technical anepempsen , the Lat. remisit and means the remission of a question to a higher court (Acts 25:1 ; comp. Philemon 1:2 ; Jos. B. J. ii. 20, § 5). St Luke alone preserves this interesting incident. He seems to have had special information about Herod’s court. Pilate’s object may have been (1) to get rid of the responsibility or at least to divide it by ascertaining Herod’s opinion; (2) to do a cheap act of courtesy which might soothe the irritation which Herod, as well as the Jews, felt against him. Vespasian paid a similar compliment to Agrippa. Jos. B. J. iii. 10, § 10.
who himself also was at Jerusalem ] “ also ,” i. e. as well as Pilate. Herod lived at Tiberias, and Pilate at Caesarea. During the immense assemblages of the Jewish feasts the two rulers had come to Jerusalem, Pilate to maintain order, Herod to gain popularity among his subjects by a decent semblance of conformity to the national religion. At Jerusalem Herod occupied the old palace of the Asmonaean princes (Jos. B. J. ii. 16; Antt. xx. 8, § 11).
at that time ] Rather, in those days (of the Feast).
8 . many things ] These words should be omitted ( א , B, D, K, L, M).
and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him ] 9:7 9, Herod seems to have deteriorated. He had encouraged the visits of the Baptist on less frivolous grounds than these. It must have been a deep aggravation of Christ’s sufferings to be led bound, amid coarse attendants, through the densely crowded streets.
9 . he answered him nothing ] Isaiah 53:7 . A murderer of the Prophets, who was living in open and flagrant incest, and who had no higher motive than mean curiosity, deserved no answer. Our Lord used of Antipas the only purely contemptuous word which He is ever recorded to have uttered (13:32).
10 . and vehemently accused him ] They were now bent on securing their purpose, and perhaps feared that Herod’s well-known weakness and superstition might rob them of their prey; especially as he was much less afraid of them than Pilate was, having strong influence in Rome.
11 . with his men of war ] Literally, “ with his armies ,” i. e. with his soldiers.
set him at nought ] treating Him not as a criminal , but only as a person worthy of contempt. “He is despised and rejected of men;” “he was despised and we esteemed him not,” Isaiah 53:3 .
in a gorgeous robe ] Literally, “ bright raiment ,” Acts 10:30 . Probably a white festal garment.
sent him again ] anepempsen as before remisit in forum apprehensionis . This involved a second distinct acquittal of our Lord from every political charge brought against Him. Had He in any way been guilty of either (1) perverting the people, (2) forbidding to pay tribute, or (3) claiming to be a king, it would have been Herod’s duty, and still more his interest, to punish Him. His dismissal of the case was a deliberate avowal of His innocence.
12 . were made friends together ] Rather, became friends with one another . Psalms 2:1-3 .
they were at enmity ] perhaps in consequence of the incident mentioned in 13:1. This is the first type of Judaism and Heathenism leagued together to crush Christianity.
13 . called together the chief priests ] This was a formal speech from a bema perhaps the throne of Archelaus set on the tessellated pavement called by the Jews Gabbatha (John 19:13 ). Now was the golden opportunity which Pilate should have seized in order to do what he knew to be right ; and he was really anxious to do it because the meek Majesty of the Lord had made a deep impression upon him, and because even while seated on the bema , he was shaken by a presentiment of warning conveyed to him by the dream of his wife (Matthew 27:19 ). But men live under the coercion of their own past acts, and Pilate by his cruelty and greed had so bitterly offended the inhabitants of every province of Judaea that he dared not do anything more to provoke the accusation which he knew to be hanging over his head (comp. Jos. Antt. xviii. 3, § 2. B. J. ii. 9, § 4).
14 . have found no fault in this man ] Thus Pilate’s word ( heuron ) is a direct contradiction of that of the High Priest’s ( heuromen , vs. 2). The i is emphatic; you bring a charge, I after a public examination find it to be baseless.
15 . for I sent you to him ] Or for he sent Him back to us , ( א , B, K, L, M).
is done unto him ] Rather, hath been done by Him .
16 . I will therefore chastise him ] This was the point at which Pilate began to yield to the fatal vacillation which soon passed into guilt and made it afterwards impossible for him to escape. He had just declared the prisoner absolutely innocent . To subject Him, therefore, to the horrible punishment of scourging merely to gratify the pride of the Jews, and to humble Him in their eyes (Deuteronomy 25:3 ), was an act of disgraceful illegality, which he must have felt to be most unworthy of the high Roman sense of ‘Justice.’ The guilty dread which made Pilate a weak man is well illustrated by what Philo says of him ( Leg. ad Caium , 38). But he was the unconscious fulfiller of prophecy (Isaiah 53:5 ). The restless eagerness of his various attempts to secure the acquittal of Jesus is brought out most forcibly by St John.
17 . For of necessity , &c.] Rather, But . The whole verse, however, is of dubious genuineness, and may have come from a marginal gloss. It is omitted in A, B, K, L. In D it is placed after vs. 19. The Gospels are our sole authority for this concession, which is, however, entirely in accordance with Roman policy.
18 . all at once ] if we read plethei for pamplethei , the meaning will be that ‘they (the priests) called aloud to the multitude,’ as in Matthew 27:20 . The choice of Barabbas by the mob was not spontaneous; it was instigated by these priestly murderers. The guilt of the Crucifixion rests mainly with the Priests, because it was mainly due to their personal influence (Mark 15:11 ).
release unto us Barabbas ] This was the last drop in the cup of Jewish iniquity. Romans 11:30-33 .
Barabbas ] Rather, Bar-Abbas, ‘Son of a (distinguished) father,’ or Bar-Rabbas, ‘Son of a great Rabbi.’ Origen had the reading, ‘Jesus Bar-Abbas,’ in Matthew 27:17 , and as Jesus was a common name, and Bar-Abbas is only a patronymic, the reading is not impossible. At this stage of the trial, Barabbas may have been led out, and the choice offered them between ‘Jesus Bar-Abbas and Jesus which is called Christ’ as they stood on the pavement side by side.
19 . who ] The word implies ‘a man of such a kind, that, &c.’
and for murder ] “Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you,” Acts 3:14 . Nothing is known of Bar-Abbas, but it has been conjectured from his name that he or his father belonged to the order of the Sanhedrists, who therefore desired his release. If he had been a follower of Judas of Galilee, or engaged in the riot against Pilate about his use of the Corban , he would enlist the sympathies of the people also.
20 . spake again to them ] Rather, called unto them again . He did not make them a second speech, but simply called out again his question as to their choice.
21 . they cried ] The word implies a continuous cry of increasing vehemence. The vox populi was in this instance vox Diaboli .
Crucify him, crucify him ] This wild and terrible outcry was provoked by Pilate’s unjust question to them how he should deal with Jesus. After this it was quite vain to say, “Why, what evil hath he done? “Yet even in yielding he cannot refrain from irritating them with the expression, “your king.” It was something more than a mere taunt. It was due to a flash of genuine conviction that the Prisoner before him was greater and nobler than the greatest and noblest Jew he had ever seen.
22 . the third time ] We can only obtain from all the four Evangelists, and especially from St John, a full conception of the earnestness with which Pilate strove to escape from the necessity of what he felt to be a needless crime. If he was not, as Tertullian says, “ jam pro conscientia sua Christianus ,” he was evidently deeply impressed; and the impossibility of doing right must have come upon him as a terrible Nemesis for his past sins. It is very noteworthy that he took step after step to secure the acquittal of Jesus. 1. He emphatically and publicly announced His perfect innocence. 2. He sent Him to Herod. 3. He made an offer to release Him as a boon. 4. He tried to make scourging take the place of crucifixion. 5. He appealed to compassion. St John shews still more clearly how in successive stages of the trial he sets aside, i. the vague general charge of being “an evil doer” (18:30); ii. of being in any seditious sense “a king” (18:39); iii. of any guilt in His religious claims (19:12). He only yields at last through fear (19:12), which makes him release a man guilty of the very crime for which he delivers Jesus to a slave’s death. The fact that Pilate’s patron Sejanus had probably by this time fallen, and that Tiberius was executing all connected with him, may have enhanced Pilate’s fears. He knew that an accusation of High Treason (under the Lex Majestatis ) was generally fatal (Tac. Ann. iii. 38. Suet. Tib. 58). All this, with other phases of these last scenes, will be found fully brought out in my Life of Christ , ii. pp. 360 391.
23 . the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed ] St Luke here omits the flagellation (Matthew 27:26 ); the derision and mock homage of the soldiery the scarlet sagum and crown of thorns; the awful scene of the Ecce Homo; the fresh terror of Pilate on hearing that He called Himself “the Son of God,” and the deepening of that terror by the final questioning in the Praetorium; the “Behold your King!”; the introduction of the name of Caesar into the shouts of the multitude; Pilate’s washing his hands; the last awful shout “His blood be on us and on our children;” and the clothing of Jesus again in His own garments. (See Matthew 27:0 ; Mark 15:0 ; John 18:19 .) To suppose that there was a second scourging after the sentence is a mistake. Matthew 27:26 is retrospective.
24 . gave sentence ] Epekrine (only found in 2 Macc. 4:47), not ‘followed their praejudicium,’ but gave final sentence . The two technical formulae for the sentence of death would be to the Prisoner ‘Ibis ad crucem’ (‘Thou shalt go to the Cross’); to the attendant soldier, ‘I miles, expedi crucem’ (‘Go soldier, get ready the Cross’).
whom they had desired ] Rather, whom they were demanding . Comp. Acts 13:18 .
26 32. Simon the Cyrenian. The Daughters of Jerusalem
26 . Simon, a Cyrenian ] There was a large colony of Jews in the powerful African city of Cyrene, and the Cyrenians had a synagogue at Jerusalem (Acts 2:10 , Acts 6:9 , Acts 11:20 ). Simon may have come to keep the feast. St Mark calls him “the father of Alexander and Rufus,” possibly the Christians mentioned in Acts 19:33 ; Romans 16:13 .
coming out of the country ] Not necessarily from labouring in the fields: still the notice accords with the many other incidental signs that this was not the Feast-Day, but the day preceding it. See Excursus V. The Apocryphal ‘Acts of Pilate’ says that the soldiers met Simon at the city gate (John 19:17 ). There is no historical authority for the identification of the Via Dolorosa or for the ‘Stations’ of the Via Crucis . The latter are said to have originated among the Franciscans.
on him they laid the cross ] Probably because our Lord, enfeebled by the terrible scourging and by the long hours of sleepless agitation, was too feeble to bear it. This seems to be specially implied by Mark 15:21 . It is not certain whether they made Simon carry the entire cross or merely part of the burden. (Comp. Genesis 22:6 ; Isaiah 9:6 .) The Cross was not carried in the manner with which pictures have made us familiar, but either in two separate pieces the body of the cross ( staticulum ) and its transom ( antenna ); or by tying these two pieces together in the shape of a V ( furca ). The Cross was certainly not the crux decussata (X) or St Andrew’s Cross; nor the crux commissa (T St Anthony’s Cross); but the ordinary Roman Cross († crux immissa . See Matthew 27:37 ). The Hebrew word for Cross is the letter Thau (Ezekiel 9:4 ), which gave abundant opportunities for the allegorising tendency of the Fathers. On the body of the Cross was certainly a projecting piece of wood ( πῆγμα , sedile ) to support the sufferer, but there was no suppedaneum or rest for the feet; and from 24:39 it seems certain that one nail (if not two) was driven through the feet. Nothing could exceed the agony caused by this “most cruel and horrible punishment” as even the ancients unanimously call it.
that he might bear it after Jesus ] Hence various Gnostic sects (e. g. the Basilidians) devised the fable that Simon was executed by mistake for Jesus, a fable which, through Apocryphal legends, has found its way into the Koran (Koran, Suras 3, 4). St Matthew (27:32) and St Mark use the technical word ἠγγάρευσαν , ‘impressed for service.’ Perhaps the Jews had received a hint that Simon was a disciple.
27 . of women ] Some of them may have come to offer the anodynes which were supposed to be demanded by the Rabbinic interpretation of Proverbs 31:6 . This is the only other recorded incident of the procession to Calvary, and it is mentioned by St Luke alone. It is a sad fact that no man not even His Apostles seems to have come forward to support these His last hours.
bewailed ] Rather, were beating their breasts for Him . Comp. 8:52, 18:13.
28 . turning unto them said ] The only recorded words between His condemnation and crucifixion. Pity wrung from Him the utterance which anguish and violence had failed to extort.
Daughters of Jerusalem ] The wailing women were not therefore His former Galilaean followers, 8:2, 3.
for yourselves ] Some of them at least would survive till the terrible days of the Siege.
and for your children ] Comp. Matthew 27:25 , “His blood be on us and on our children .”
29 . Blessed are the barren ] Comp. 11:27; Hosea 9:12-16 . The words received their most painful illustration in the incident of the Siege, which had long been foretold in prophecy (Deuteronomy 28:53-57 ; Jeremiah 19:9 ), that women were driven even to kill and eat their own children: Jos. B. J. v. 10, vi. 3. The ‘Blessed’ shewed an awful reversal of the proper blessedness of motherhood.
30 . to the mountains, Fall on us ] Comp. Hosea 10:8 . Hundreds of the Jews at the end of the siege hid themselves in subterranean recesses, and no less than 2000 were killed by being buried under the ruins of these hiding-places (Jos. B. J. vi. 9, § 4). We cannot fail to see in these events something of what St John calls “the wrath of the Lamb,” Revelation 6:16 . Even a terror is entreated as a relief from yet more horrible calamities.
31 . For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? ] Rather, what must happen in the dry ? The meaning of this proverb is not clear, and hence it early received the most absurd explanations. It can however only mean either (1) ‘If they act thus cruelly and shamefully while the tree of their natural life is still green, what horrors of crime shall mark the period of its blighting?’ in which case it receives direct illustration from Ezekiel 20:47 ; comp. 21:3, 4; or (2) ‘If they act thus to Me the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and false?’ in which case it expresses the same thought as 1 Peter 4:17 , 1 Peter 4:18 . (See Proverbs 11:31 ; Ezekiel 20:47 , Ezekiel 20:21 :4; Matthew 3:10 , and p. 385.) For the historic fulfilment in the horrors of a massacre so great as to weary the very soldiers, see Jos. B. J. vi. 44.
32 . two other ] Perhaps followers of the released Barabbas. They were not ‘thieves,’ but ‘robbers’ or ‘brigands,’ and this name was not undeservedly given to some of the wild bands which refused Roman authority. See Isaiah 53:9 .
malefactors ] Kakourgoi . The same English word is used in John 18:30 , where it is literally “ doing evil .”
33 38. The Crucifixion and Mockery. The Title
33 . the place, which is called Calvary ] It is nowhere in Scripture called ‘a hill,’ and it was certainly not in any sense a steep or lofty hill. The only grounds for speaking of it as a hill are (1) tradition; and (2) the name. Calvary is the Latin form of Golgotha, and means ‘a skull’ (as the same Greek word kranion is rendered in Matthew 27:33 ). Like the French Chaumont , this name might describe a low rounded hill. Ewald identifies it with Gareb (Jeremiah 31:39 ), and Kraft accordingly derives Golgotha from גל , ‘hill,’ and גועת , ‘death.’ The name has led to the legend about Adam’s skull lying at the foot of the Cross, which is so often introduced into pictures.
34 . Father, forgive them ] Isaiah 53:12 , “He bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” These words were probably uttered at the terrible moment when the Sufferer was outstretched upon the Cross and the nails were being driven through the palms of the hands. They are certainly genuine, though strangely omitted by B, D. We must surely suppose that the prayer was uttered not only for the Roman soldiers, who were the mere instruments of the executors, but for all His enemies. It was in accordance with His own teaching (Matthew 5:44 ), and His children have learnt it from Him (Acts 7:59 , Acts 7:60 ; Euseb. H. E. ii. 29). They were the first of the seven words from the Cross, of which three (vs. 34, 43, 46) are recorded by St Luke only, and three (John 19:27 , John 19:28 , John 19:30 ) by St John only. The last cry also began with the word “Father.” The seven words are
Luke 23:34 . The Prayer for the Murderers.
Luke 23:43 . The Promise to the Penitent.
John 19:26 . The provision for the Mother.
Matthew 27:46 ; Mark 15:34 . Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
John 19:28 . The sole expression of human agony.
John 19:30 . “It is finished.”
Luke 23:46 . “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”
Thus they refer to His enemies, to penitents, to His mother and disciple, to the agony of His soul, to the anguish of His body, to His work, and to His Heavenly Father. St Luke here omits our Lord’s refusal of the sopor the medicated draught, or myrrh-mingled wine (Mark 15:23 ; Matthew 27:34 ), which, if it would have deadened His pains, would also have beclouded His faculties.
forgive them ] aphes ; Christ died “for the remission ( aphesin ) of sins,” Matthew 26:28 .
they know not what they do ] Rather, are doing . “Through ignorance ye did it,” Acts 3:17 ; 1 Corinthians 2:8 . “Judaei clamant Crucifige; Christus clamat Ignosce. Magna illorum iniquitas sed major tua, O Domine, pietas.” St Bernard.
they parted his raiment ] For the fuller details see John 19:23 , John 19:24 .
35 . beholding ] The word implies that they gazed as at a solemn spectacle, Psalms 22:17 ; Zechariah 12:10 . They seem as a body to have been far less active in insult than the others.
with them ] These words are omitted in א , B, C, D, L, &c.
derided ] The same strong word which is used in 16:14; 1 Esdr. 1:51.
He saved others ] They said this in the same spirit as the Nazarenes, 4:23.
if he be Christ, the chosen of God ] Literally, “if this man (contemptuously) be the Christ of God, the chosen.” For other insults see Matthew 27:40-43 ; Mark 15:29-32 . Observe how the universal derision of what appeared to be such abject failure and humiliation enhances our estimate of the faith of the dying robber.
36 . the soldiers also mocked him ] A quaternion of soldiers (John 19:53) with a centurion. Similarly Tacitus says of the Christian martyrs who perished in the Neronian persecution, “ pereuntibus addita ludibria ” ( Ann. xv. 44).
offering him vinegar ] It was their duty to watch Him (Matthew 27:36 ), for sufferers sometimes lingered alive upon the cross for days. It is hardly to be wondered at if, with such a vile example before them as the derision by the Priests and Elders, these provincial or Roman soldiers men of the lowest class, and “cruel by their wars, to blood inured” beguiled the tedious hours by the mockery of the Innocent. By the word “mocked” seems to be meant that they lifted up to His lips the vessels containing their ordinary drink sour wine ( posca , John 19:29 . Comp. Numbers 6:3 ; Ruth 2:14 ) and then snatched them away. Probably a large earthen jar of posca for the use of these soldiers lay near the foot of the Cross (Psalms 69:21 ; John 19:29 ). All these insults took place during the earlier part of the Crucifixion, and before the awful darkness came on.
37 . If thou be the King of the Jews ] as the title over Thy Cross asserts. The soldiers would delight in these taunts, because, like the ancients generally, they detested all Jews. Tumults of the most violent kind often arose from the brutal insolence of hatred which they shewed to the conquered nation.
38 . a superscription ] A titulus written in black letters on a board smeared with white gypsum , and therefore very conspicuous. To put such a board over the head of a crucified person was the ordinary custom. The jeers of the soldiers were aimed at the Jews in general quite as much as at the Divine Sufferer; and these jeers probably first opened the eyes of the priests to the way in which Pilate had managed to insult them.
in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew ] This is omitted in א , B, L, and some ancient versions, though the fact is undoubted from John 19:20 . Thus the three great languages of the ancient world the languages of Culture, of Empire, and of Religion bore involuntary witness to Christ.
This is the King of the Jews ] The superscription is given differently by each Evangelist. St Luke perhaps gives the peculiarly scornful Latin form. “ Rex Judaeorum hic est .” The other Evangelists give
This is Jesus the King of the Jews. Matthew 27:37 .
The King of the Jews. Mark 15:26 .
Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews. John 19:19 .
Although no serious and sensible writer would dream of talking about ‘a discrepancy’ here, it is very probable that the differences arise from the different forms assumed by the Title in the three languages. We may then assume that the Title over the Cross was as follows:
ישו הנצרי מלך היהודים John. Ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων Mark. Rex Judaeorum hic est. Luke. It will be seen that St Matthew’s is an accurate combination of the three , not one of which was an accusation .
It was only while the Priests were deriding Christ that it began to dawn on them that Pilate, even in angrily yielding to their violent persistence, had avenged himself in a way which they could not resent, by a deadly insult against them and their nation. This was their King, and this was how they had treated Him. Thus our Lord reigned even on His Cross, according to the curious old reading of Psalms 96:10 , ἐβασίλευσεν ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου (LXX.), Regnavit a ligno. (See Life of Christ , i. 12, n. ) For the attempt of the Priests to get the superscription altered see John 19:21 , John 19:22 . In refusing it Pilate shewed the insolent obstinacy which Philo attributes to him. The actual title was a glorious testimony to Jesus and an awful reproach to the Jews. Psalms 2:6 . Thus His Cross becomes, as St Ambrose says, His trophy; the gibbet of the Malefactor becomes the feretrum the spoil-bearing sign of triumph of the Victor. See this alluded to in Colossians 2:14 , Colossians 2:15 . ( Life of St Paul , ii. 461.)
39 43. The Penitent Robber
39 . one of the malefactors ] In St Matthew and St Mark we are told that both the robbers “reviled” Him. Here then we might suppose that there was an irreconcilable discrepancy. But though the Evangelists sometimes seem to be on the very verge of mutual contradiction, no single instance of a positive contradiction can be adduced from their independent pages. The reason of this is partly that they wrote the simple truth, and partly that they wrote under divine guidance. The explanation of the apparent contradiction lies in the Greek words used. The two first Synoptists tell us that both the robbers during an early part of the hours of crucifixion reproached Jesus ( ὠνείδιζον ), but we learn from St Luke that only one of them used injurious and insulting language to Him ( ἐβλασφήμει ). If they were followers of Barabbas or Judas of Galilee they would recognise no Messiahship but that of the sword, and they might, in their very despair and agony, join in the reproaches levelled by all classes alike at One who might seem to them to have thrown away a great opportunity. It was quite common for men on the cross to talk to the multitude, and even to make harangues (for instances see my Life of Christ , ii. 409, n. ); but Jesus, amid this universal roar of execration or reproach from mob, priests, soldiers, and even these wretched fellow-sufferers, hung on the Cross in meek and awful silence.
If thou be Christ ] or, Art thou not the Christ ? א , B, C, L.
40 . But the other ] The ‘bonus latro,’ or ‘Penitent Robber,’ is called by various traditional names, and in the Arabic ‘Gospel of the Infancy’ (an Apocryphal book) he is called Titus and Dysmas in Ev. Nicodem. x., and a story is told that he had saved the Virgin and her Child from his comrades during their flight into Egypt. There are robber caves in the Valley of Doves which leads from Gennesareth to Kurn Hattin (see on 6:12), and he may have been among the crowds who hung on the lips of Jesus in former days. “Doubtless the Cross aided his penitence. On the soft couch conversion is rare.” Bengel.
Dost not thou fear God ] Rather, Dost not thou even fear God ?
41 . we receive the due reward of our deeds ] Literally, “ we receive back things worthy of the crimes we did .”
hath done nothing amiss ] Literally, “ did nothing out of place ” (like our “out of the way,” i. e. nothing unusual or wrong). The word prasso in both clauses implies grave actions (see vs. 51), and this testimony implies entire innocence. It is the broadest possible acquittal. The word atopos occurs in 2 Thessalonians 3:2 .
42 . Jesus, Lord ] Rather, Oh, Jesus ; the “Lord” is omitted in א , B, C, L. He may well have been encouraged by having heard the prayer of Jesus for His murderers, vs. 34. “ Oravit misericordia ut oraret miseria .” Aug.
Lord, remember me ] A truly humble prayer for a far-off remembrance. He calls Him Lord whom the very Apostles had left, and recognises Him as a King who even when dead could benefit the dead. Even Apostles might have learnt from him. (Bengel.)
into thy kingdom ] Rather, in thy kingdom . We must not lose sight of the faith which can alone have dictated this intense appeal to One who hung mute upon the Cross amid universal derision.
43 . To day ] An unexpected boon, for the crucified often lingered in agony for more than two days.
To day shalt thou be with me in paradise ] Paradeisos is derived from the Persian word Pardes , meaning a king’s garden or pleasaunce. Here it is ‘a garden’ in which are more blessed trees than those in the garden of Golgotha. (Bengel.) It is used (1) for the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8 , &c.); and (2) for that region of Hades ( Sheol ) in which the spirits of the blest await the general Resurrection, Acts 2:31 ; 1 Corinthians 15:55 ; Revelation 2:7 . The Sapphic verse on the tomb of the great Copernicus alludes to the prayer of the Penitent Robber:
“Non parem Paulo veniam requiro
Gratiam Petri neque posco, sed quam
In crucis ligno dederis latroni
44 49. Darkness. The Veil of the Temple rent. The End. Remorse of the Spectators
44 . it was about the sixth hour ] i. e. mid-day. This seems at first sight to contradict John 19:14 , but there is fair ground to conjecture that ‘sixth’ (which would be written ςʹ ) was an early misreading for ‘third’ (written Γʹ ). For other proposed solutions of the discrepancy see Life of Christ , ii. 385. The solution which asserts that St John used a different way of reckoning time is very precarious. St Luke omits the presence of the Virgin and the two other Marys and Salome at the Cross, and the words “Woman, behold thy son,” “Behold thy mother.” During the three hours’ darkness no incident is recorded, but we trace a deepening sense of remorse and horror in the crowd. The fact that the sun was thus “turned into darkness” was, at last, that ‘sign from heaven’ for which the Pharisees had mockingly asked.
over all the earth ] Rather, over all the land . There is no reason to believe that the darkness was over all the world. The Fathers (Origen, c. Cels. ii. 33, 59, and Jerome, Chron. ) indeed appeal to two heathen historians Phlegon and Thallus for a confirmation of it, but the testimony is too vague to be relied on either as to time or circumstance. They both speak of an eclipse .
45 . And the sun was darkened ] Instead of these words some MSS. ( א , B, C, &c.) read “ the sun eclipsing ,” or “ failing .” The reading seems only to be an attempt, and that a very unsuccessful one, to account for the darkness. That it could not have been due to an eclipse is certain, for the Paschal moon was at the full.
the vail of the temple was rent in the midst ] The veil intended must be what was called the Parocheth , or inner veil , which hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. It was very heavy, and splendid with embroidery. It is alluded to in Hebrews 6:19 , Hebrews 6:9 :3, Hebrews 6:10 :19, Hebrews 6:20 . The obvious significance of the portent was the departure of the Shechinah or Presence of God from His now-deserted Temple. This particular event is (naturally) not mentioned by the Jews, but we may have a reference to it in the various omens of coming wrath which they say occurred “forty years” before the destruction of the Temple, and in which Jochanan Ben Zakkai saw the fulfilment of Zechariah 11:1 . For a fuller account of these events see Matthew 27:51-53 ; Mark 15:33 . Jerome on Matthew 27:51 says that a great lintel over the gate of the Temple fell and was shattered.
46 . And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said ] Rather, And, crying with a loud voice, Jesus said . St Luke here omits the Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani , and the effect of that cry on the multitude (Matthew 27:46-50 ); the “I thirst,” which was the sole word of physical suffering wrung from Him in all His agonies; and the one word ( Tetelestai ) in which He expressed the sense that His work was finished.
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit ] A reference to Psalms 31:5 ; comp. Acts 7:59 ; 1 Peter 2:23 . These words have been among the dying utterances of St Polycarp, St Augustine, St Bernard, John Huss, Jerome of Prague, Luther, Melancthon and Columbus.
he gave up the ghost ] None of the Evangelists use the word “He died” ( ethanen ), but exepneusen (literally, ‘He breathed forth,’ here and Mark 15:37 ), and ‘He sent forth’ or ‘gave up His spirit’ ( apheken, paredōken to pneuma , Matthew 27:50 ; John 19:30 ); probably because they wish to indicate the truth stated in John 10:18 , that He gave up His life “because He willed, when He willed, how He willed.” Aug. Comp. Ephesians 5:2 ; Galatians 2:20 .
47 . the centurion ] who commanded the quaternion of soldiers. It is remarkable that St Luke gives us several instances of ‘good centurions,’ 7:2, 23:47; Acts 10:1 , Acts 22:26 , Acts 27:43 .
saw what was done ] See Mark 15:39 ; Matthew 27:54 .
he glorified God ] A notice characteristic of St Luke (2:20, 5:25, 7:16, 13:13, 17:15, 18:43).
this was a righteous man ] This remark might have been drawn forth by the silent majesty and holiness of the Sufferer. After the earthquake he may have added, “Truly this man was a Son of God” (Matthew 27:54 ). The latter phrase sounds at first incongruous on the lips of a heathen, though ‘Son of God’ is found as a title of Augustus in some inscriptions. But the centurion had twice heard our Lord pray to ‘His Father’ (vss. 34, 46), and even Pilate had been overpowered by the awful dread lest He should be something more than man (John 19:7-9 ).
48 . all the people ] Rather, all the crowds .
smote their breasts, and returned ] Rather, returned, smiting their breasts . It must be remembered that the People had not acted spontaneously in this matter, but had been goaded on by the Priests.
49 . And all his acquaintance ] Rather, But . Peculiar to St Luke. Comp. 2:44.
stood afar off, beholding these things ] The word used is not theorountes , as in vs. 35. There is, perhaps, in the “afar off” a sad allusion to Psalms 38:11 , “My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off .” St Luke omits the breaking of the legs of the robbers, and the piercing of the side of Jesus by the soldiers, which are narrated in John 19:31-37 .
50 54. Joseph of Arimathaea. The taking down from the Cross. The Entombment
50 . a counseller ] i. e. a member of the Sanhedrin, and therefore (as one of the 70 most distinguished members of the ruling classes) a person of great distinction. St Mark (15:43) calls him ‘an honourable councillor.’ Godet somewhat fancifully sees in St Mark’s description of him the Roman ideal; as in St Luke’s ‘good and just,’ the Greek ideal ( καλὸς κἀγαθός ); and in St Matthew’s ‘a rich man,’ the Jewish ideal.
a good man, and a just ] The first word describes his moral character, the latter his strict religious life as an orthodox Jew. Romans 5:7 .
51 . the same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them ] It is remarkable that Joseph is the only Sanhedrist of whom this exception is recorded. We cannot, however, doubt that it was true of Nicodemus also, since he was “ the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10 ), which may possibly mean the third officer of the Synagogue, who was known by the name of the Chakam or ‘Wise Man.’ The word ‘deed’ might almost be rendered ‘crime.’
Arimathea ] The name is a modification of the later Hebrew Ramtha , ‘a hill,’ and is the same name as Ramah, Ramathaim, &c. Hence the town of Joseph has been variously identified with Ramleh in Dan, Ramathaim in Ephraim (1 Samuel 1:1 ), and Ramah in Benjamin (Matthew 2:18 ).
also ] i. e. as well as Christ’s open followers. The same word is preserved in Matthew 27:57 , “who also himself was a disciple,” though as St John (19:38) adds, “secretly for fear of the Jews.”
waited for the kingdom of God ] See 2:25, and p. 382.
52 . went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus ] This was a bold, and might even have proved to be a perilous request. Hence the ‘boldly’ ( tolmēsas ) of Mark 15:43 . Pilate seems to have granted the boon without a bribe because the Jewish care for burial was well known (Matthew 14:12 ; Acts 8:2 ; Jos. B. J. iv. 5, § 2), and was indeed a part of their Law (Deuteronomy 21:23 ). For the surprise of Pilate at the rapid death of Jesus, and his enquiry about it from the centurion, and other details, see Mark 15:44 .
53 . wrapped it in linen ] in a sindôn , or piece of fine white linen. Comp. Mark 14:51 . Two other words, othonia (John 19:40 ) and soudarion (John 20:7 ), are used of the various cerements of Jesus. That Joseph bought this sindôn , apparently on this day (Mark 15:46 ), is one of the many incidental signs furnished even by the Synoptists that the true Passover did not begin till the evening of the Friday on which our Lord was crucified. On the part taken by Nicodemus in the Entombment, and the spices which he brought, see John 19:39 , John 19:40 . Both Joseph and Nicodemus in acting thus not only shewed great courage, but also great self-sacrifice; for the touching of a corpse made them ceremonially unclean, and thus prevented them from any share in the Paschal Feast.
in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone ] This rock-hewn tomb (Matt., Mk., comp. Isaiah 22:16 ) was in a garden (comp. Jos. Antt. ix. 10, § 4; x. 3, § 2) adjoining the scene of the crucifixion, if not an actual part of it. John 19:41 . “He made His grave with the rich,” Isaiah 53:9 . The mouth of these rocky tombs was closed with a large stone, called by the Jews Gôlal , which could only be rolled there by the labour of several men (John 11:39 ).
54 . the preparation ] This word paraskeuē became the ordinary Greek word for Friday, because on Friday the Jews diligently prepared for the Sabbath, which began at sunset. The afternoon is called prosabbaton in Mark 15:42 . Jos. Antt. xvi. 6. We are told that Shammai, the almost contemporary founder of the most rigid school of legalists, used to spend the whole week in meditating how he could best observe the Sabbath.
drew on ] Literally, “began to dawn .” This expression is used, although the Sabbath began at sunset (Mark 15:42 ), because the whole period of darkness was regarded as anticipatory of the dawn. Hence the Jews sometimes called the evening of Friday ‘ the daybreak .’ When St John (19:31) calls the coming Sabbath “a high day,” the expression seems clearly to imply that it was both the Sabbath and the day of the Passover.
55 . the women also ] The two other Synoptists mention specially Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James and Joses.
followed after ] Literally, “ following closely .”
56 . they returned ] As the sunset was now rapidly approaching, they must have hurried home to complete their preparations before the Sabbath began.
prepared spices and ointments ] The spices are dry, the ‘perfumes’ liquid. They wished to complete the imperfect embalming of the body which Joseph and Nicodemus had hastily begun. Comp. 2 Chronicles 16:14 . They had to purchase the spices (Mark 16:1 ). St Matthew alone relates the circumstances under which the Jews obtained leave to place a watch over the sepulchre, and to seal the stone, 27:62 66.
and rested ] This clause is closely connected with the next chapter, “And during the Sabbath day they rested … but on the first day of the week &c.”
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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29