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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 27

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:

When the morning was come: The rising sun having exposed the evil and illegal proceedings of the night, the Sanhedrin convenes formally to condemn Jesus to death. The whole council is present (Mark 15:1). They have already determined that Jesus deserves to die (26:66). Now all they need is an "official" vote. Their plot, however, needs help because by this time the Romans have taken the right to inflict capital punishment from the Sanhedrin. Such help will soon come through Pilate the governor (27:11).

all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: Jewish law requires the verdict of death be rendered only after a second session of the Sanhedrin that is held after an interval of at least a day—night sessions being illegal (Lenski 1076). Thus, this morning session, although only a few hours removed, is convened to give an appearance of legality. In reality, the morning session simply affirms the obvious—the fact that the previous night’s proceedings are improper.

Verse 2

And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.

And when they had bound him: Jesus is bound when He is arrested and when He appears before Annas (John 18:24). Because Jesus is bound again before His transport to Pilate, we can only infer that either He is unbound before Caiaphas or that He has additional bonds put upon Him.

they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor: Pontius Pilate becomes a Roman governor in A.D. 26 and continues to govern until A.D. 36. By this time in Pilate’s administration, Jewish sentiment against him is high (Ellicott 396). First, he removes the headquarters of his army from Caesarea, where previous governors commonly lived, and places it in Jerusalem. Along with the move come troops bearing their standards and the image of the emperor. So offended are the people that they threaten to riot; after five days Pilate acquiesces to the people’s wishes. Second, in his palace in Jerusalem, Pilate hangs gilt shields inscribed with names of heathen deities and will not remove them until an express order comes from Tiberius. He also takes money from the Corban or Temple treasury for the construction of an aqueduct—this act leads to another tumult that is suppressed by the slaughter of the rioters. Furthermore, on an unknown occasion, Pilate murders some Galileans while they are in the midst of sacrificing (Luke 13:1), creating ill feelings between Pilate and Antipas (Luke 23:12)

Verse 3

Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

This incident is found only in Matthew but is also noted in Acts 1:18-19. Judas, after realizing what he has done, "repented himself." The word is metameletheis and means to be "sorry afterwards" or to "regret." However, unlike the sorrow of Peter that leads to a change of life and mind (metanoia), the sorrow of Judas is not a "godly sorrow." Judas repents of the consequences of his sin but not of the sin itself. Many a sinner is sorry for his sin only because it finds him out and not because he truly desires to walk with God. "True repentance takes the sinner to the Lord, not away from Him to an improvised gallows" (Fowler 796).

The question that arises is, "When Judas betrays Jesus, does he really believe that the Sanhedrin will condemn his Master to death?" If so, then why does Judas have a change of heart? It seems that initially Judas thinks only of himself while he makes the dastardly bargain of thirty pieces of silver. He probably assumes that Jesus will defend himself, and all will work out. He has seen Jesus escape danger. Now that Judas begins to feel the full impact of his deeds, he panics and scurries off to the priests for a second time in hopes of reversing his actions. Judas must ease a conscience that will not let him keep his gain.

Verse 4

Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.

Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood:

"I have sinned" is an honorable confession. Judas takes full responsibility for his actions—he blames no one but himself. But in the end his words are hollow and empty, for they do not lead him to throw himself at the foot of the cross. He simply wants to return the blood money. Imagine the outcome had Judas repented, returned to Christ, and after the resurrection become a preacher of the gospel? Such might have been one of the greatest stories of grace in all the New Testament. But, Judas does no more than confess his sin. Confession is vital but by itself does not serve to cleanse sin. True sorrow not only confesses one’s need for a savior but also accepts the terms of the Savior. Jesus’ blood could have cleansed Judas as well as it did Peter—both had denied Him. But whereas Peter follows afar and returns to Jesus, Judas returns only to the chief priests.

And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that: Judas truly betrays innocent blood. However, little does he realize that Jesus must shed His innocent blood. While Judas seeks to gratify his own lust for money, he is fulfilling God’s plan. Unfortunately for Judas, the authorities are not interested in reopening the case. "What is that to us? see thou to it" simply means, "look after your own guilt; we are not interested in you anymore." These leaders have what they want. They have no further need for a "snitch" turned "moralist."

Verse 5

And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Now Judas, stricken with grief and remorse, casts the money into the Temple. Some suggest he casts the money into the Temple treasury but the Greek word (naos—sanctuary) denotes the inner holy place of the Temple where only the priests are allowed to enter; so only priests can retrieve it. "They had stood, it would seem, talking before the veil or curtain which screened it from the outer court, and he hurled or flung it into the Holy Place" (Ellicott 397).

Having so done, he turns and goes to an undisclosed place and commits suicide by hanging himself. Luke records the awful scene (Acts 1:18) by saying, "falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out." Matthew’s account and Luke’s account are harmonized in that Luke describes the result of Judas’ hanging whereas Matthew describes how he dies. Judas may have tried to hang himself unsuccessfully, perhaps on a hillside on a weak tree limb that broke, allowing his body to drop and be gashed open.

Or perhaps after several days of being suspended, Judas’ decaying, bloated body falls and bursts open. In either case, there is no contradiction between the evangelists.

Verse 6

And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.

Fowler refers to this verse as the "laundering of criminal money" (800). Knowing from where the money comes and its intended use, these leaders are reticent to use blood money for sacred purposes. "It is not lawful," they say, "for to put them into the treasury." After all the evil these men do, one wonders why they are so suddenly smitten with a conscience regarding the money. In saying, "it is the price of blood," they condemn themselves. The chief priests as much as admit they condemn an innocent man. "Strangely and perversely, the chief priests and elders had no compunction about taking the money out of the Temple treasury to pay Judas for the betrayal, but now they had qualms about putting it back" (MacArthur 229).

Verse 7

And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.

A potter’s field is a piece of land where clay for making pottery is obtained. In this case, it may have already been depleted of its clay, making the price affordable and a good place for a cemetery.

Commentators disagree over whom these leaders intend to bury in this field. The text simply says, "strangers" and may refer to Gentiles whom the Jews do not want to bury with their fellow Jews. Or the reference may be to foreign Jews who die while in Jerusalem visiting the festivals.

Verse 8

Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.

Even at the time of Matthew’s writing, perhaps some fifty years later, the field has a reputation and is known as "Akel Dama," that is "Field of Blood" (Acts 1:18). Matthew seems to indicate that the field obtains its name because of the "blood money" for which Judas sells Christ. Luke, however, connects the name with the gory details of Judas’ death and implies that this field is the place where Judas commits suicide. With a twist of horrific irony, the "field of blood" represents the wicked blood of a traitor and at the same time the innocent blood of God’s Son.

Verses 9-10

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.

Matthew again shows Christ to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In this instance, these events fulfill Zechariah 11:13. Why then does Matthew attribute the quote to Jeremiah? Several theories have been proposed in harmonizing the alleged discrepancy, and we recommend the synopsis provided by Broadus (558-559) and Fowler (802). The most logical explanation revolves around the fact that the Jews divided the Old Testament into three sections—The Law, The Writings, and The Prophets. In the rabbinical order of the prophetic books, Jeremiah is always listed first, the entire category is sometimes referred to as Jeremiah, just as the entire section of Writings is sometimes called "Psalms." The Talmud calls this scroll "Jeremiah," even though it contains Zechariah and other books (Fowler 803). Therefore, Matthew’s phrase, "spoken through Jeremiah the prophet" is paramount to saying, "recorded in the prophetic section of scripture."

Verse 11

And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.

And Jesus stood before the governor: This is Jesus’ first of two appearances before Pilate. Having come from Caiaphas early in the morning (perhaps 5 a.m.) on Friday, they arrive at the Praetorium. This is the governor’s residence in Jerusalem and also serves as the judgment hall. It is probably located in the Fortress of Antonia, just north of the Temple. John says the Jews do not enter the Praetorium for fear of being ceremonially defiled that will prohibit them from celebrating the rest of the Passover. Therefore, Pilate is forced to come out to hear the accusation they bring against Jesus (John 18:28-29). Luke notes the charge: "We found this man perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King" (23:2). Knowing they must have some specific charge the Romans will find threatening, they accuse Jesus of misleading the nation, being an insurrectionist, subverting the Roman taxation system, and claiming to be a competing political ruler. All the charges are laughable in light of Jesus’ meek character and Rome’s absolute intolerance for rebellion. Had Jesus been guilty, Pilate would have known it and would have long since arrested and executed Him.

Interestingly enough, Pilate at first wants nothing to do with judging Jesus. "Take ye him, and judge him according to your law," he says. To this statement, the Jews reply, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death" (John 18:31). Their words prove the seriousness of their accusation and force Pilate’s involvement.

and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, "Thou sayest." Pilate cannot ignore such an admission if he wants to be in favor with Rome. Anyone claiming rivalry with Caesar must be investigated. John records the full interrogation of Pilate, which apparently takes place within the privacy of the palace walls. He also records Jesus’ startling revelation, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" (18:36). After this conversation Pilate goes back out to the Jews and states, "I find in him no fault at all" (John 18:37).

Verse 12

And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.

Obviously, Pilate knows the charges against Christ are spurious; yet he is arbitrating between an enraged Sanhedrin on one hand and a silent Jesus on the other. Never has Pilate tried a case where there are no counter arguments. But Jesus answers nothing, for this is no trial at all. This is a battle of wills. The Sanhedrin has already determined that Jesus will die. Pilate has already pronounced Jesus innocent. In the end, the Sanhedrin will win. Pilate, after being warned by his wife and worn out by the Jews, gives in to their murderous cries.

If Jesus is a rebel-rousing, anti-Roman insurrectionist, He is uncharacteristically calm. No doubt Pilate expects to see someone who rails against his captors and reviles Rome. Obviously, this is no ordinary prisoner and is guilty of none of the charges they bring. Jesus stands in silence. The prophet predicts the scene, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).

Verses 13-14

Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.

The silent dignity of Jesus amazes Pilate but also seems to impress him. Luke records that at Jesus’ silence the Jews are more urgent saying, "He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place" (Luke 23:5). When Pilate hears that Jesus is a Galilean, he sends Him to Herod Antipas who is visiting in Jerusalem at the time. Luke 23:6-12 records Herod’s delight in seeing Jesus. "For he was desirous of a long season to see him…and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him." (Luke 23:8). Herod wants Jesus to perform some magical trick for him. Jesus refuses. After mocking Jesus and arraying him in gorgeous apparel, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate. On that same day, Pilate and Herod, formerly enemies, become friends (Luke 23:12).

Verse 15

Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.

Having failed to shift the responsibility to Herod and knowing Jesus is innocent, Pilate tries another tactic in hopes of getting Jesus released. Apparently long before Pilate takes office, a practice has arisen in which the Romans release a Jewish prisoner during the yearly Jewish Passover feast. The custom is probably the brainchild of the Jews, but the Romans go along with it as an act of diplomacy and also to help reduce the ever-present tension that exists between the two powers (John 18:39). It is to this custom that Pilate appeals in hopes of making Jesus the lucky prisoner. He asks, "Will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?" (John 18:39).

Verse 16

And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.

That Barabbas is a notable prisoner is indeed an understatement when we consider his background. Broadus suggests that Barabbas is one of the many rebels who rise up against Rome not long after Pilate takes office (562). To some Jews these rebel-terrorists are heroes. But not only is Barabbas a noted prisoner, he is a robber, insurrectionist, and murderer (John 18:40). In short, Barabbas is a leader in a liberation movement against Rome. Fowler suggests that his robbery is to finance his campaign. He says, "When the campaigns of the underground do not enjoy adequate financial backing, its clandestine activities must be financed by banditry" (821).

Rebels like Barabbas make Palestine a dangerous place. They not only challenge the political stability of the nation but also endanger both Jewish and Roman citizens with their vigilante style of terrorism. However, the Roman authorities are often in a quandary as to what to do with such men. To kill them, might incite further uprisings, a distinct possibility given that Jerusalem is currently packed with nervous Passover pilgrims. But to release a prisoner such as Barabbas might give the appearance of weakness and instability, an image Rome cannot afford to have. Pilate offers what he thinks is the perfect solution. Given the option of releasing a murderer or a rabbi, surely these religious Jews will choose a rabbi. If so, then Pilate dodges the bullet. He eases his conscience by releasing a man he knows is innocent while at the same time keeping a notorious murderous bandit in prison.

Verse 17

Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?

The offer Pilate makes is simple. Who in their right mind would choose a murderer over an humble rabbi? What the governor fails to understand is their hatred of Jesus. Their rejection of Pilate’s proposal is not really a rejection of him as governor but a rejection of God.

The choice that Pilate lays before these Jews is ironic. Barabbas (Bar Abbas) means the "son of the father." Jesus, on the other hand, is "The Father’s Son." Sinless Deity stands before them on one hand while evil, murderous humanity stands on the other. The choice should have been simple, and with a twist of irony it is. They choose the "one" with whom they could identify best. Their own murderous "son" would be returned to them while they set about to murder the Son of God.

Verse 18

For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.

Pilate knows that whatever title Jesus claims does not make Him guilty of insurrection. He has no intentions of being a "king" in the ordinary sense of the word (John 18:36). Just days earlier He had commanded, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s" (22:21). Pilate knows why these Jews have delivered Jesus—for envy! These leaders are jealous of Jesus’ popularity.

Verse 19

When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.

As if Pilate does not have enough to worry about with the riotous crowd and the politically charged question, another problem crops up. Just as he takes his place on the judgment bench (bema) that sits above an elevated and ostentatious platform called "The Pavement" (John 19:13), his wife sends him an urgent message. The words are simple yet unnerving, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him."

Pilate rises early to open the Roman tribunal for justice. His wife, however, who is sleeping late, suddenly and violently is awakened from a dream so convincing she feels compelled to warn her husband (Fowler 824). The content of the dream is not stated, but it is obviously upsetting. The advice she gives her husband, however, will be impossible to follow. Pilate is already involved with Jesus, and he must make a decision. Ironically, the time Pilate takes to receive his wife’s warning apparently gives the rulers time to circulate among the crowd and incite them to ask for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus.

Pilate’s wife calls Jesus a "just man." No doubt both she and her husband have heard of Jesus, know His character, and understand the motivation of the Jews who now bring the charges. Lenski supposes that Pilate and his wife have even conversed previously about Jesus, perhaps even the night before (1091).

Verse 20

But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.

Whether they act accordingly or not, the one thing that all political rulers have in common is that they feel the heat of public pressure. As these Jewish leaders scurry about drumming up support for their cause and inciting the people (Mark 15:11), the situation is getting farther and farther out control. Soon Pilate will be unable to escape the fire.

Verse 21

The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.

Apparently unaware that while he is dealing with his wife’s dream the leaders are circulating among the crowds, Pilate again offers what seems to be a reasonable choice. Surely this crowd, no matter how unreasonable, will not ask for Barabbas to be released. The notion defies all logic. Why would any reasonable society actively seek to have a murderer walking its streets? But without hesitation they unequivocally scream, "Barabbas."

Verse 22

Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.

No doubt by this time Pilate realizes this crowd wants blood instead of justice. Ironically, without realizing it, these leaders ask for the very thing that can save them. It will take the blood of an innocent victim to atone for their sins—even the one that they are about to commit.

Verse 23

And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.

Although there is no indication that Pilate likes Jesus and while this governor is anything but righteous, he retains a certain sense of Roman justice. He knows full well that Jesus is innocent. Thus, he rebuts the crowd, "Why, what evil hath he done?" The question is rhetorical and has no impact on the mob. The more they are faced with logic, the more they rely on their frenzied emotions. John records that at this moment Pilate asks, "Shall I crucify your King?" To which they answer, "We have no king but Caesar" (18:15). What a strange confession from a group of people who hate the Romans and have long maintained that only Yahweh is their King. Their alleged shift in allegiance is only for the sake of convenience.

Verse 24

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

Pilate knows that if the crowd continues their frenzy a riot might break out, and he will be in danger of being called into question by his own superiors. Above all, Pilate has to do two things to be a successful governor: collect tribute for Rome and maintain peace in his corner of the empire. The events of this day, the charge that Jesus is a "king," and Jerusalem’s being crowded with Passover pilgrims make this a volatile situation. Whatever Pilate does has to be diplomatic and appeasing to the Jews. Seeing that the Jews want Barabbas instead of Jesus, he consents.

Mosaic Law prescribes the washing of hands in a case where real innocence is proclaimed (Deuteronomy 21:6-9). Whether or not Pilate knows about this ceremony is uncertain, but he chooses an action that naturally symbolizes innocence. The ceremony, however, is nothing but a feeble attempt to ease his conscience. Pilate is more concerned about his own innocence than that of Jesus. With the political pressure too much to handle and with water dripping from his fingertips, this pathetic governor impotently proclaims, "I am innocent of the blood of this just man: see ye to it."

Verse 25

Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

The mob’s cries do not absolve Pilate of responsibility, but they no doubt help to ease his conscience. Now, however, the Jewish throng takes full responsibility for their actions by crying, "His blood be on us and our children." They soon forget this assumption of guilt when, only a few months later, the Sanhedrin self-righteously rebukes the apostles for holding them accountable for Christ’s blood (Acts 5:28) (MacArthur 244).

It is obvious that this mob does not realize the impact of their words. Jerome says, "What a fine inheritance these Jews leave to their children" (Broadus 565). In the case of an unsolved murder, Moses commands the elders to pray, "Do not lay innocent blood to the charge of your people Israel" (Deuteronomy 21:8). In an ironic reversal, these leaders ask Jesus’ blood to be placed strictly at their doorstep. Though only a few thousand Jews stand outside the Praetorium, their verdict is that of every unbelieving Jew in the nation. MacArthur (244) notes that it is this act that causes the branch of Israel to be broken off the tree of God’s redemptive blessing (Romans 11:17).

Besides the obvious spiritual implications of Israel’s rejection of Christ, many have supposed the Jew’s awful historic plight is a result of their cry. From those days forward, perhaps no people has felt the fire of persecution more than Jews. But are events such as the holocaust the result of their rejection of Christ? In rejecting Jesus, do the Jews forever become the disdain of heaven? Several considerations should be made in answering this question:

1. There is the tendency of English versions to translate this verse in the form of a wish. "Let his blood BE on us and our children." In the Greek, however, there is no verb. R.T. France notes that the sequence of the passage suggests a simple indicative. Thus, the cry might well be, "His blood IS on us and our children" (226). It may be more appropriate then to interpret this passage not as a prophecy or a wish but a statement of fact. According to the mob, Christ’s blood is not on Pilate. It is on them!

2. It is clear from scripture that the Jews of Jesus’ generation and future generations suffer spiritual consequences for rejecting Jesus. As noted above, Israel’s rejection of their Messiah causes God to prune the Jews from the root of His spiritual tree (Romans 11:17). Paul makes it clear, however, that all who accept Christ will be grafted into the "new" spiritual Israel. Thus, the consequences for rejecting Jesus are primarily spiritual.

3. By rejecting the Messiah, Israel primes herself for the awful day that visits her in A.D. 70. Jesus’ "coming" upon Jerusalem proves that He had ascended to the throne of God (24:30). Thus, in at least this sense, Jesus’ blood falls on these Jews and their children who, within forty years, suffer destruction at the hand of Rome.

4. God’s Word is clear that the sins of the Father are not tagged to the son (Ezekiel 18:20). While generations to come may bear the consequences of their fathers’ deeds, they do not bear the immediate glory or guilt. If the Jews of Jesus’ day start a chain of events that continue afterwards, the chain is only so long as the consequences are concerned, not the guilt. To hold modern Jews accountable for the death of Christ is no fairer than to hold modern Christians accountable for the atrocities of the crusades. While we may live with pained memories of our father’s actions, we are not immediately responsible.

5. Contextually, the Jews make the statement, "Let his blood be on us." These are not the words of Jesus or God, and there is nothing that demands they be interpreted as divine prophecy. To interpret the crimes perpetrated against the Jews as a fulfillment of these words is at best conjecture. Besides the spiritual implications that result from the Jews’ rejection of Christ and the events of A.D. 70, it is doubtful that one can fairly make any other analysis.

6. We must remember that if God heeds the Jews’ wish to have Jesus’ blood on their hands, so likewise God hears the dying Jesus’ prayer to forgive them.

7. Whatever else may be said, this verse does not justify anti-Semitism or racial hatred in any form. Jesus teaches forgiveness of one’s enemies. He teaches the supreme sentiment of love. To use this verse as an excuse for ill treatment of others is unjustified.

Verse 26

Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

The sinner is released to freedom while the sinless is condemned to death. Before death, however, in accord with Roman law Jesus is scourged. Eusebius notes that many die from this process before they are ever crucified (Ecclesiastical History IV, 15, 4). Broadus describes the awful and agonizing procedure:

The suffered was striped and bound to a pillar or post, bending forward so as to expose his back completely; the heavy whip or strap often contained bits of bone or metal, and tore the quivering flesh into one bloody mass. The law of Moses had provided (Deuteronomy 25:3) that a scourging should not exceed forty stripes, and Jewish custom made sure of this by stopping at "forty save one" (2 Corinthians 11:24); but the Roman scourgers were restricted by nothing but strength and inclination (565).

Verse 27

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.

Pilate’s soldiers now take Jesus into the Praetorium, the palace in which the governor resides (compare Acts 23:35). Originally, the word applies to the tent of the praetor, or general, and so to the "headquarters" of the camp. Over time, however, it comes to have a wide range of meanings, including the house where the governor resides or for the barracks attached to such a residence (Ellicott 403). Mark says the "whole band" (15:16), or cohort, is called together, normally numbering six hundred men. In this case, it probably refers to everyone not on duty elsewhere.

Verse 28

And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.

Adding further injury, they strip Jesus of His clothing and mockingly place a purple robe on His back. By this time Jesus’ body is blood soaked and raw. In places skin hangs in ribbons from the scourging. Internal organs may even be partially exposed. His face and lips are bruised and swollen from the slaps. It is on His lacerated body that the soldiers plaster a robe. Some believe this is the same gorgeous robe in which Herod arrays him in Luke 23:11. Most likely, however, this "robe" is the common scarlet-colored mantle that military soldiers and civil officials wear. Broadus says, "the soldiers would naturally take this as a mocking substitute for a king’s purple robe" (566).

Verse 29

And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the

knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

Every "king" needs a crown, so in mockery the soldiers provide a garland of thorns (probably a stephanon not a diadema). The plant from which it is constructed is probably the "nubk" tree whose flexible branches are well suited for such a garland (Broadus 567). In Jesus’ hand, they also place reed as a mock scepter.

How ironic that Jesus wears thorns as a crown. In Eden when the first Adam sins, God drives him from the garden and curses the soil with thorns. Thorns become the symbol of sin and suffering. Now, with an ironic twist of providence, Jesus triumphs over sin in His death. Little do they realize as they place a flimsy scepter in Jesus’ hand that soon He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalms 2:9; Revelation 12:5; Revelation 19:15).

The stage is now set. In mock humility, they bow before Jesus and spew forth words fit for royalty, "Hail, King of the Jews." Mark 15:19 says they pretend to "worship him."

Verse 30

And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.

With each blow the reed implants the crown of thorns deeper into Jesus’ brow. Just as the Jews had done (26:67), the soldiers now spit with derision into Jesus’ swollen eyes and face.

Verse 31

And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.

Having finished their fun, they remove the robe, again dress Jesus in His peasant clothes, and lead Him away to be crucified. John 19:16-17 says He goes out bearing the cross for Himself.

There is some disagreement as to what Jesus carries, whether it is the entire cross or just the cross beam which will be assembled at the crucifixion site. Lenski, MacArthur, and others take the position that it is the entire cross. Either way Lenski says that by literally bearing His cross, Jesus lends a powerful effect to His figurative words about our taking up our cross and bearing it after Him (1105).

Verse 32

And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.

The death march now heads forth from the city for the crucifixion. Executions are not carried out within the city walls. The scene is all too common for the Jews—a condemned criminal partially carrying, partially dragging his own instrument of death to the place of execution—a placard around his neck giving notice of the indictment of which he has been found guilty. In this case, however, after the previous night’s tortures, the beatings, the mental anguish of the garden, the human Jesus can make it no farther. He falls beneath the cross. At that moment they commandeer Simon of Cyrene to bear the cross for him.

Simon is a common Jewish name, and no doubt he is a pilgrim visiting Jerusalem for the Passover. He is identified as being from Cyrene, a Greek settlement located west of Alexandria on the North African coast of the Mediterranean, in what is today Libya. As he comes into the city from the countryside (Luke 23:26), he becomes unintentionally involved. Mark further identifies Simon as the "father of Alexander and Rufus" (15:21), indicating the Christian community to whom Mark writes knows these two men. MacArthur suggests that because Mark probably writes from Rome, Alexander and Rufus may have been active in the church there. This Rufus may have been the same as Paul greets in Romans 16:13 (253).

Verse 33

And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,

The grisly procession now comes to a place called Golgotha. In Hebrew, the term means "skull." The Greek term is kranion, thus John’s comment, "the place of a skull" (19:17). Our common term "Calvary" is derived from the Vulgate’s use of the Latin word (calvaria—skull) in translating the Greek.

There is much conjecture as to where the spot is located and as to how it gets its name. Jerome suggests it is a burial place marked by skulls lying on the surface of the ground. This idea is unlikely since Jewish law does not allow bones to remain unburied, especially in a site so near the city. Broadus believes it to have been a rock or hill resembling a skull in shape (568). There seems little reason to dispute this idea, and such a site lies just north of the Damascus Gate having two small caves that resemble the eye sockets of a skull. Gordon’s Calvary, as it is called, is just a stone’s throw away from a peaceful garden in which lies an ancient, and apparently unused, rock-hewn tomb. Although some date the tomb to the second century, the scene gives a picturesque reminder of the place Jesus is buried. Many believe this to be a likely site for the crucifixion and burial of our Lord. Despite various traditions, the exact site will likely never be identified. The traditional site discovered at the request of Helena, mother of Constantine, and now covered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is likely not the place. Jesus dies "without the gate" (Hebrews 13:12), but the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is far within any probable position of the city wall at the time of Jesus’ death (Broadus 568).

Verse 34

They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.

As the soldiers prepare to nail Jesus to the cross, they "gave him vinegar (wine) to drink mingled with gall." The mixture is so designed to deaden the pain and induce a narcotic and stupefying effect on the victim. According to tradition, the noble women of Jerusalem furnish this drink at their own expense as an act of civility. The term "gall" simply means any bitter or nauseous substance. Mark 15:23 identifies it as "myrrh," an expensive substance used in perfumes and embalming (John 19:39).

Once Jesus tastes the liquid, He will not drink. Not because the taste is bitter, but because He wants to be fully cognizant of the pain. He is determined to drink the cup the Father gives Him and taste death for every man.

Verse 35

And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.

And they crucified him: The brevity with which the evangelists describe the crucifixion scene amazes the modern reader. Matthew simply states, "They crucified him." There is no detailed description, no attempt to work the reader into an emotional frenzy, just a simple statement of fact. Yet we can say with certainty that Matthew’s purpose is not to minimize the awful death Jesus dies but to maximize the spiritual purpose of his death. The reason Jesus dies is more important than the grisly manner in which He dies.

Crucifixion is by far the cruelest method of execution the Romans have at their disposal. The practice originates in Persia, where a deity named Ormazd is believed to consider the earth sacred. Thus, a criminal must to be raised above the earth so as not to defile it. After the Persians, the practice is adopted by Carthage, then by the Greeks who in turn pass it on to the Romans with whom it becomes identified. It is estimated that by the time of Jesus, the Romans have crucified some thirty thousand men in Israel alone (MacArthur 254). To the Romans the crucifixion of Jesus is all in a day’s work.

Although the synoptic writers give few details, history demonstrates the awfulness of crucifixion. After carrying His cross to Golgotha amid the jeers and taunts of His enemies, Jesus is stripped of His clothes and then placed on the cross, as it lies flat on the ground. First, His feet are nailed to the upright beam. Afterwards His hands, perhaps just above the wrist, are nailed to the transverse beam. The cross is then hoisted skyward and dropped with a thud into a hole, causing excruciating pain as His body tears against the nails. For the next several hours, Jesus slowly suffocates. Insects ravage His bloody body as mockers swarm below Him with taunts and jeers. The constrained and immovable posture of the body eventually results in violent aching and cramps and then the limbs become inflamed, producing fever and thirst. As circulation is hindered, blood gathers in the head and lungs causing excruciating pain (Broadus 570).

In his classic work, The Life of Christ, F.W. Farrar describes the scene:

His arms were stretched along the cross-beams; and at the centre of the open palms, the point of a huge iron nail was placed, which, by the blow of a mallet, was driven home into the wood. Then through either foot separately or possibly through both together as they were placed one over the other, another huge nail tore its way through the quivering flesh. Whether the sufferer was also bound to the cross we do not know; but, to prevent the hands and feet from being torn away

by the weight of the body, "which could not rest upon nothing but four great wounds," there was, about the centre of the cross, a wooden projection strong enough to support at least in part, a human body which soon became a weight of agony (648).

Farrar also says:

For indeed a death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of horrible and ghastly--dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds–all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, by all stopped just short of the point which would give the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries– especially of the head and stomach–became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst; and all these physical complications caused an internal excitement and anxiety, which made the prospect of death itself–of death, the awful unknown enemy, at whose approach man usually shudders most–bear the aspect of a delicious and exquisite release (650).

And parted his garments, casting lots: Jewish men usually wear five items of clothing: sandals, a headpiece, a belt, an inner cloak, and an outer cloak or tunic. Here the outer tunic is in view. John tells us the tunic is without seam, woven from the top throughout (19:23-24). Since there is no way to divide the tunic without ruining it, the four soldiers cast lots to determine its new owner. But even this act is a fulfillment of prophecy (John 19:24).

that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots: "That it might be fulfilled…." is a reference to Psalms 22:18. The oldest manuscripts do not include this reference in Matthew’s account, and it is perhaps an interpolation by some well-intentioned scribe who remembered John 19:24 (McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew 245; Broadus 570; MacArthur 256).

Verse 36

And sitting down they watched him there;

By now it is probably just after 9 a.m. for Mark 15:25 notes it is the third hour when they crucify Jesus. Having finished their grisly work of nailing Jesus to the cross, the soldiers sit down and take a break. Their job is over, and now it is the job of the quaternion to remain with the victim until death is certain. "Perhaps even at this point….they took a break for a drink and, as a crude joke, toasted the health of the King of the Jews, deriding him (Luke 23:36)" (Fowler 849).

Verse 37

And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

As an accused criminal is marched to his death, a placard stating his crime is hung around his neck or in some cases carried by a soldier. In Jesus’ case the placard is written in Greek, the universal language of the day; in Latin, the official language; and in Aramaic, the local dialect. This fact may account for the variations listed by the evangelists as to the exact reading of the title nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head. When taken together, the charge must have read: "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (John 19:19-20).

The wording of the placard is obviously the work of Pilate. And ingenious it is! It lists the accusation in such a way as to vindicate Pilate with Caesar and Rome. For a man to claim to be the "Son of God" would have meant little to Rome; but for a man to claim, unlawfully, to be a "king" is quite a different matter. Fowler notes, however, that while in theory it names Jesus’ crime, in reality it gives Him a title, for no crime whatsoever is indicated. Jesus has already explained the nature of His kingdom; so the charges of political insurrection remain unproved. Thus, Pilate cleverly transforms the accusation into a vindictive insult to those who have forced him to authorize the death of an innocent man (Fowler 850). Whether the Jews like it or not, Pilate has elevated Jesus to "king," a Jewish king, a title that is wholly unacceptable to these wicked Jewish leaders. John notes that the chief priests say to Pilate, "Write not, The king of

the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews" (19:21). To this Pilate smugly replies, "What I have written I have written!"

How little do Pilate and the Jews realize the truth of the accusation above Jesus’ head. Earlier that day, as He stood before the governor, Pilate had asked Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). Now with a twist of divine irony, Pilate has answered his own question. Jesus is the king of the Jews, their spiritual king, and not theirs only but also Pilate’s. The governor has tried desperately to wash Jesus’ blood from his hands with water. Little does he realize his need for being bathed in that blood.

Verse 38

Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.

We are not told who these robbers are. Broadus suggests they are friends of Barabbas, who would have been there with him had Jesus not taken his place (571; Robertson 232). That Jesus is crucified with such company is a fulfillment of prophecy. Isaiah 53:12 says, "he was numbered with the transgressors; and bare the sins of many." Luke notes that before his death one of the thieves has a change of heart and accepts Jesus’ Messiahship (Luke 23:42).

Verse 39

And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,

Because it is customary for executions to be carried out along major thoroughfares, those who pass by can read the accusation and ridicule the dying victim. In this case, these may be Passover pilgrims who attend the feast. Traffic during Passover is heavier than usual, making Jesus’ death a greater spectacle. Those who pass by revile (blaspheme) Jesus and wag their heads in mockery. David predicts this scene a thousand years earlier, "All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver, seeing he delighted in him" (Psalms 22:7-8).

Verse 40

And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself: The accusation regarding the "temple" is the same one the false witnesses have brought against Jesus as He stands before the Sanhedrin (see notes on 26:61). Apparently, rumors of the proceedings and the accusation have circulated among the crowd, and they once again take up the mistaken charge. As noted previously, Jesus’ comment regarding the "temple" is not a reference to the Holy Place at Jerusalem but a reference to the "temple of His body." Though they misquote them, His words are a prediction of His death and subsequent resurrection (John 2:19). Ironically, these wicked revilers are in the process of making Jesus’ words come true.

If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross: "If thou be the Son of God" has the ring of an earlier taunt. Twice on the mount of temptation at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry Satan says, "If thou be the Son of God…." (4:3-7). Now at the end of Jesus’ ministry, Satan is back in the person of his hirelings. To these Jews, the real Messiah, the true Son of God, would never be so weak as to die, let alone die on a cross. Like Satan, these mockers know only one style of Sonship, that of self-interest, personal rights, and self-vindication (Fowler 856).

Verses 41-43

Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said: The chief priests, scribes, and elders are the three groups that make up the Sanhedrin. These supposed leaders of Israel leave the manners, poise, and dignity of their age to wallow in the mire of a common rogue. They make three distinct taunts:

He saved others; himself he cannot save: This statement is no doubt a reference to the miracles, healing, and resurrections Jesus has performed. Their accusation is not an admission of faith in what Jesus does but is simply a convenient goad at their disposal. They have heard of Jesus’ power and perhaps some have even witnessed it, but it has little impact on their hearts. We see the true character of these shepherds—like a pack of wolves with razor sharp teeth they tear into the Good Shepherd. In the words of the Psalmist, "They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion" (Psalms 22:13).

If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him: Obviously, these words are spoken in mockery. These leaders neither believe that Jesus is the King of Israel nor will they accept Him if He miraculously comes down. Such unbelief is demonstrated by the fact that even after the resurrection occurred, they refuse to accept Jesus and instead fabricate a lie to cover up the miracle.

He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God: If Jesus’ claims are true and if He really is the Son of God, where is God when His Son needs Him? What kind of father rejects a son in a time like this? The thrust of these Jews’ comments suggests that Jesus is not God’s Son and that God does not care what happens to Him.

Careful analysis of their words exposes a critical flaw in these leaders’ understanding of God. Their taunt, "Let him deliver him now!" indicates God is somehow under the constriction of time. To them, this is the critical moment. If Jesus really is God’s Son, God needs to act "now," for acting later will be too late. Little do they realize that "later" will be exactly on time. God acts but only on His terms. Three days from now the tomb will burst open, and Jesus will arise from the dead. Though Jesus knows all of this, such harsh words must still have been excruciating.

Verse 44

The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

There is no discrepancy between Matthew’s account, which says that "thieves" rail on him, and Luke’s account that indicates one of the thieves accepts Jesus (23:39-43). Apparently, at first both robbers join the chief priests and elders in vilifying Jesus. Later one has a change of heart and demonstrates saving faith in the Messiah (23:43).

We must remember that no single gospel account paints the entire scene of the cross. Each, according to his interests and purpose, describes the events from his own perspective. John, for example, notes that sometime during the first three hours Jesus looks down on John and with undying love entrusted His mother’s care to him (19:25-27). Jesus apparently speaks three times during the first three hours of His crucifixion: "Father forgive them" (Luke 23:34); "Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43); "Woman, behold thy son" (John 19:27). Not once does He revile His captors, not once does He curse His Father, not once does He use His power for selfishness. His words are not the angry screams of profanity that normally belch from the mouths of dying criminals. The only sounds that fall softly from the Savior’s lips are words of love.

Verse 45

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.

From the sixth hour (noon) until the ninth hour (3 p.m.) the heavens weep. There is darkness over the whole land at the time the sun should be the brightest. Commentators agree this cannot be a natural eclipse of the sun because Passover falls in the middle of the month, and the month always begins with a new moon. Thus, the moon would be full (Broadus 573; McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew 246).

That the sun is darkened seems to fulfill no specific Old Testament prophecy regarding the death of the Messiah. Why then does such occur? Fowler, in his usual astute way, suggests some possibilities: Are heaven and earth in convulsion, mourning Him that created them? As in popular apocalyptic language of the day does the sun’s turning to darkness symbolize a radical change in world affairs? Does God screen the last tormented hours of his Son’s death from gawking human eyes? Is this the heavenly sign that Jesus’ enemies have long demanded? Does this darkness serve to remind those who rejected Christ of the eternal darkness they will ultimately feel if they do not accept the Messiah? (864). All of these possibilities are worth pondering.

Verse 46

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

And about the ninth hour: It is about 3 p.m. when Jesus cries with a loud voice. By this time He has been on the cross some six hours.

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani: Both Matthew and Mark note the original words of Jesus to set the context for the accusation that Jesus is calling for Elijah. The question, however, is whether those on the ground really believe Jesus is calling for this Old Testament sage or perhaps are mocking Jesus. The words Jesus speaks are from a familiar Messianic passage (Psalms 22:1) and are spoken in Aramaic, the common tongue. Thus, it is distinctly possible that the crowd understands fully Jesus’ cry.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me: While it is obvious that Jesus believes God has forsaken Him, in what sense is this is the case? Perhaps we can never know for sure but a few points are worth considering.

1. It does not mean, as some have suggested, that at this moment Jesus’ deity abandons His "humanity." It is not the splitting of His divine personality. From the moment of His birth until the moment of His death Jesus is "Emmanuel"—God with us. He is truly the "God-Man" every moment He walks the face of the earth. He is not now experiencing a loss of a part of Himself but rather a loss of communion with God. When He says, "My God.…why hast thou forsaken me?" He is addressing the Father; He is not referring to the split of His "own self."

2. We must not infer from Jesus’ words that God is somehow displeased with His Son. God does not abandon Jesus because He sins or because He somehow violates the criteria of their unique and unfathomable relationship. The unity Christ has with His Father from the beginning is substantially intact.

3. Jesus does not die because of His own sin but as a sacrifice for ours. The prophet says, "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:5). He was delivered for "our" transgressions (Romans 4:25). He bore our sins in His body (1 Peter 2:24). He redeemed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13) and became the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). Christ not only bore our sin, but He who knew no sin became sin for us—that is, though Jesus was pure, God treats Him as if He is a sinner and meets out the punishment we deserve (2 Corinthians 5:21). Since God’s eyes are too pure to look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13), some interpret Jesus’ cry to mean that for one awful

4. moment God turns His back on His Son as He is subjected to the woes a true sinner deserves. This separation, however, is not one of nature, essence, or substance (Jesus is still deity) but rather a psychological and philosophical one—one in which sin is incompatible with holiness.

5. Perhaps in some limited sense, there is already a partial separation in the Godhead that occurs at Jesus’ birth. Paul speaks to the Philippians about Jesus’ departure from heaven and his self-imposed humility (Philippians 2). Now, however, this separation is more pronounced and profound. No longer is He simply separated from His Father to live as a human being on the earth, but now He hangs on a cross dying as a common criminal. The mental anguish that He bears is profound. Even in the garden as He contemplates the "cup" He is about to drink, Jesus’ "sweat is as great drops of blood." While literally speaking, God is with His Son until the exact point Jesus relinquishes His spirit to Him, there is, nonetheless, a moment where psychologically and emotionally God turns His face from His sinless Son.

6. The Psalm that Jesus quotes (Psalms 22:1) is more than the cry of a forsaken Son. A careful look at the entire passage reveals that while it obviously reflects a desperate lament of anguish it is also an affirmation of "trust" and anticipated "deliverance" (Psalms 22:20-21). Thus, from a prophetic perspective, Jesus’ prayer is not one of hopelessness. It is a request for "mercy" and "deliverance." Having taken on the sins of the world and His Father having turned His head, Jesus cries, "Has it not been long enough? Can it now be over? Is it not time for your mercy and deliverance?" To this cry, the Father lovingly again turns His face and cradles Jesus spirit’ in His hands.

The particulars of why and how God forsakes Christ can never be fully fathomed. The mystery is far too deep for human minds to understand. As mortal men we live our entire lives in an attempt to develop an understandable and meaningful fellowship with the Almighty. Jesus, however, has perfect communion with His Father. We can only try to imagine how He feels as His Father, for the first time, turns His presence away.

Verse 47

Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.

We are not told who says, "This man calleth for Elias." If it is the Roman soldiers, then perhaps in the midst of the noise they honestly misunderstand the words that fall from the swollen tongue of the Son of God. More than likely, however, those who hear Jesus are Jews. If so, their statement is not a misunderstanding but simply another cruel and heartless jab at Jesus’ deity. The Jews expect Elijah to come first and usher in the Messianic era (Malachi 4:5). But if Jesus is now calling for Elijah, it must mean Elijah has not yet come. But if Elijah has not yet come, then by His own admission, Jesus is an imposter and cannot be the Messiah.

Jesus’ words are part of David’s Messianic prophecy (Psalms 22:1) and are well known to Jews. Jesus quoting the Psalm implies He feels it appropriate to apply it to Himself as the Messiah.

Verse 48

And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.

John says that about this time Jesus says, "I thirst" (19:28-29). Matthew omits this statement but gives the response to Jesus’ words. The word "straightway" may imply that an order is given to give Jesus a drink. Perhaps a solider, having received an order, scurries off to obey.

Because crucifixions last several hours or even days, victims experience excruciating thirst. Vinegar is commonly offered to the dying as an act of "kindness." Barnes says wine vinegar is the preferred drink of common soldiers because it quenches the thirst better than water (309). In this case Luke 23:36 indicates it is offered in mockery. When we compare John’s gospel we see that such is administered with a reed and a sponge (19:29). At the beginning of the crucifixion, Jesus refuses "wine" when mixed with the sedative "gall" (27:34). Now, however, He accepts this benign drink (John 19:30), perhaps to enable Him to cry in a loud voice, "Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit" (Luke 23:46) and finally, "It is finished" (John 19:30).

Verse 49

The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

This verse continues the thought of verse 47. In spite of the midday darkness and the obvious innocence of Jesus, there are some that continue their mockery. One wonders at the callousness of a heart undaunted by such wonders.

Verse 50

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

John alone records Jesus’ cry "It is finished" (30:30). Luke records the words, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit" (23:46). All three synoptics record that Jesus cries loudly and yields up His spirit.

The implication is that Jesus, in a final voluntary act, turns His spirit over to God and dies. None of the evangelists say, "He died," but all use the euphemism, "He gave up his spirit." Thus, the above interpretation seems plausible. Furthermore, Jesus says, "No one takes my life from me but I lay it down of myself" (John 10:18). It is unclear whether John’s record is in reference to the passion process in general or the exact timing of Jesus’ death.

Fowler suggests that for Jesus to will Himself to die before the natural time seems to border on "suicide" (871). The implication of such a conclusion is untenable. Fowler also raises the possibility that the phrase "yielded up his spirit" is simply an idiom for death that is also used to describe others. See for example Stephen’s words, "Lord, Jesus receive my spirit" when, as the first Christian martyr, he sees death approaching and simply commits his last moments to God’s care (Acts 7:59).

Whatever the truth about the matter, there are several evident factors about Jesus’ death.

First, Jesus experiences the fullness of death as any other man (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15). Even if He in some sense "wills himself to die," we must not assume that He does so a single second prematurely. Above all, Jesus dies naturally and in accordance with the laws that He, as creator, lays down. He does not "will" His death in order to avoid prolonged pain and suffering! Second, Jesus’ prayer, not necessarily His death, is His own deliberate act. Feeling the icy hands of death taking hold of His mortal body and knowing the end is near, Jesus cries, "Father into Thy hands I commend my spirit." In a divine and incomprehensible mystery, heaven and earth link so that the perfect Lamb of God might be slain for the sins of the world.

Verse 51

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

The significance of these events is almost beyond description. As long as the veil of the Temple remains intact, it symbolizes the separation between God and man. The veil, both in the tabernacle and then later in the Temple, is a barrier between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Only the high priest enters beyond the veil into the Holiest of All and that once a year bearing sacrifice for the sins of the people. As long as the veil exists, atonement for man’s sins can only be accomplished via the work of sinful high priests and imperfect animal sacrifices. When the veil is ripped apart exposing the Holy of Holies, the symbolism is clear. Through the death of Jesus, man can now make a direct approach to the divine throne of God through the perfect sacrifice of a sinless high priest (Hebrews 9:6-9; 11-14; 23-28). Now, without dread, man may come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Jewish tradition suggests that the Temple veil is composed of two exceedingly heavy draperies. Robertson says the veil is elaborately woven and is sixty feet long and thirty feet wide (236). Thus, for it to be ripped from top to bottom is nothing short of a miracle. In one mighty miraculous act, God proves that the physical Temple is obsolete. The Old Covenant is abolished. The Ark of the Covenant has been gone for centuries, and the glory of God no longer dwells between the cherubim. What exists with the Temple, its Holy Place, Most Holy Place, and its veil is simply a façade—merely a vestige of what it had once meant. Now God makes it clear. Physical Israel, with all of its corruption, is as empty as the room the torn curtain exposes. Israel is no longer God’s chosen nation. A new era has dawned. God’s Shekinah glory will once again dwell with His people and in their lives—not in a dark room. Jesus’ death occurs about 3 p.m., thus the rending of the veil occurs while the Temple mount is full of worshipers. Since the inner part of the Temple is off limits to any but the priests, they alone will see the actual events of the day; but no doubt the story quickly spreads. One wonders if those priests

who become obedient to the faith in Acts 6:7 are some who had witnessed this day’s events.

Verses 52-53

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Because many tombs are cave-like rooms hewn into hillsides over whose mouths great stones are rolled, such an earthquake of this magnitude might easily cause them to split wide open. Matthew mentions that many dead saints come to life in connection with these events. Furthermore, he adds the phrase at the end of verse 53, "after his resurrection." Lenski and other respected commentators suggest this phrase modifies only their appearance in Jerusalem, thus making their resurrections occurring on Friday evening at the time of Jesus’ death. Lenski says, "Already the death of Jesus brought resurrection to these saints, hence the account of this occurrence is properly connected with the death of Jesus and not with his resurrection." (1130-31). In other words, the power of Jesus’ death is such that it causes a "pre-resurrection resurrection" of certain saints. Lenski adds:

The great importance of this resurrection of the saints for us is the fact that the resurrection is not merely a future event; it has already begun in the case of these saints. Not only Jesus is raised from the dead, an advance number of the saints have risen with him. This is an assurance that we shall also rise (1132).

It is possible that Matthew notes the events of verses 52-53 together to demonstrate, no matter the time frame, the entire magnificent scope of what Jesus’ death produces. If so, then "after his resurrection" grammatically refers to both their coming back to life and their appearance in the Holy City. Fowler argues this position effectively (877). In other words, these saints do not arise and appear until Jesus rises. Jesus is the first born from the dead (Colossians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 15:20). Admittedly, the language in the text is difficult, but it seems illogical that saints would arise at the time of Christ’s death, remain hidden, perhaps in their own tombs, until three days later.

Like other parts of his narrative, Matthew’s point is not chronological but apologetic. Here, along with the earthquake, the darkness, and the torn Temple veil is yet more proof that Jesus is the Son of God. We would love to know who these saints are and to whom they appear. Are these former believers in Christ? Are they sages from the Old Testament? Do they appear to friends or to enemies? Whatever the case, their presence is undeniable and must have struck awe in those who see them. We also desire to know more about the type of bodies they have. Are they glorified, and do they soon afterward make their journey to heaven? MacArthur argues that this "full and final resurrection and glorification, makes this miracle another foretaste of God’s sovereign work during the end times when all the death in Christ shall rise (1 Thessalonians 4:16) (275).

Verse 54

Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

This centurion has no doubt witnessed many executions but never one like this. No doubt he has stood beneath many a cross and heard his victims’ screams of anguish, curses, and profanities. On this middle cross, however, is a different sort of fellow. Here is a man whose actions are anything but vile. Here is a man who begs His Father to forgive His executioners. Here is a man whom heaven has blanketed with the dignity of darkness. Here is a man who entrusts His mother to His closest disciple. Here is a man who blesses one of the thieves who hangs by His side. Here is a man whose final words are to commit His spirit to God. Here is man, nay not a man at all. Here is the "Son of God."

Some conjecture that this centurion’s words reflect only his pagan philosophy that Jesus, like so many in the Greek pantheon of demigods, is "a son of the gods." The Greek phrase is, however, often used as definite. Furthermore, given the accusation above Jesus’ head and the Jewish context, there is no reason that the centurion should have used it any differently than they (Broadus 577). If the centurion views Jesus as only a "son of the gods," we are left to question the evangelists’ motives for including the confession in their inspired record. In tradition, this Gentile centurion is named Longinus and comes to faith beneath the dead Savior’s cross (Lenski 1133).

Verse 55

And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:

Luke mentions "all his acquaintance" as well as the "women that followed him from Galilee" who now stand a far off watching His death (Luke 23:49). From John 19:25-27, we learn that earlier some of the women, as well as John, have been at the foot of the cross. Now, perhaps because the scene is too difficult to bear or perhaps because the encroaching darkness has caused the soldiers to cordon off the area, the little band of mourners stood some distance away.

It is clear that during His ministry, especially while in Galilee, Jesus has many who attended to His needs (Mark 15:41). A ministry such as His required long hours and arduous work, and a support team would be critical to its success. Fowler suggests that this team, consisting of many women, prepared food, washed clothes, and did other tasks so that Jesus and His disciples could labor unhindered (882). Fowler further says, "The normalness of this service is more evident when it is remembered that of the women named by the gospel writers, three are mothers or aunts of a number of the apostles and Jesus" (882). In addition, we learn from Luke 8:1-3 that such wealthy women as Joanna and Susanna contribute heavily to the group’s financial support.

Verse 56

Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

Among which was Mary Magdalene: Mary bears the name "Magdalene" because she was from the seaside village of Magdala (Luke 8:2). She may be identified in this way because she is unmarried and cannot be identified in connection with a husband or a son. This is the same woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons; as a result, she has apparently become part of Jesus’ support team. Although tradition identifies this Mary as the "woman who was a sinner" (Luke 7:37), the theory is unsupported and should be rejected (Broadus 577; Fowler 882).

and Mary the mother of James and Joses: The second Mary is the mother of James and Joses (Joseph). This James is also known as "James the Less" (Mark 15:40), so-called to distinguish him from "James the son of Zebedee," another apostle. John identifies this Mary as the wife of Clopas (19:25), perhaps another name for Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3); nothing else can be said of her identity.

and the mother of Zebedee’s children: This woman is Zebedee’s wife. Mark identifies her as Salome (15:40). The sons of Zebedee are James and John (Matthew 4:21) whom Jesus nicknames "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). There is intriguing speculation that Salome is the same as "his mother’s sister" in John’s account (19:25). If so, then James and John are cousins to Jesus.

Except for John, there is no mention of the other eleven apostles at the crucifixion. Judas has committed suicide and the other ten, just as Jesus has predicted, are hiding for their lives. Jesus says, "He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Now all except one have not only abandoned their cross but have abandoned their leader who is now impaled on His cross.

Verse 57

When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

It is now "even" on Friday. According to the Jews, there are two evenings. The first evening is from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the second from 6 p.m. until dark after which the Sabbath begins. Matthew apparently has reference to the first "even." Jesus utters his last words about the ninth hour (3 p.m., 27:46); thus, if Joseph acts quickly, there is sufficient time for him to beg the body and hastily bury it before the Sabbath technically begins. In non-Jewish settings, bodies might be left hanging until they rot or are scavenged by wild beasts. But, Jewish law demands that bodies be removed the same day, lest they desecrate the land (Deuteronomy 21:23). This point is especially important here since the Sabbath is approaching. In this connection, the gospel of John says the Jews ask Pilate to break the victims’ legs to hasten their death (19:31). For this procedure, a huge wooden mallet is used to shatter the legs of the victim, making it impossible for him to raise himself to breathe (MacArthur 293). Death quickly results from suffocation. When they come to Jesus, however, He is already dead; so in prophetic fulfillment, "they break not his legs" (John 19:33). At this point a soldier administers what was termed by Rome as the "death stroke," jabbing a spear into the heart (John 19:34).

Though Jesus dies with the wicked (Isaiah 53:9), His grave will not be the common grave or garbage dump Rome generally uses in disposing of criminals’ bodies. God would see to a kinder resting place for His Son. Because Rome sometimes allows families to take the bodies of victims and provide decent burials, Joseph makes his way to Pilate to request the body. We know little of the gracious Joseph. He is from the Jewish city of Arimathaea (Luke 23:51), he is a secret follower of Jesus (John 19:38), he looks for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:51), and he is rich. Furthermore, Mark and Luke say he is a "councilor of honorable estate"—in other words Joseph is a righteous member of the Sanhedrin and one who has not consented to Jesus’ death (Luke 23:50).

Verse 58

He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

Mark adds that Joseph goes "boldly" to Pilate to request the body (15:43). This act takes a great deal of courage, for it exposes him to potential public ridicule. No doubt afraid of angering the Sanhedrin, of whom Joseph is a member, Pilate grants the request. The time is still Friday, late afternoon, the same day Jesus is buried.

Verse 59

And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

Nicodemus joins Joseph in the burial process by bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight (John 19:39). In keeping with the custom of the Jews, they take the body and wrap it in clean linen strips with the spices (19:40). Unlike the Egyptians, the Jews do not attempt to embalm bodies but simply wind them in strongly perfumed burial clothes to help mask the stench of decay (MacArthur 296). Broadus also says that along with the strips of cloth a "napkin" was placed under the chin and tied about the head to keep the facial features in place (580).

Verse 60

And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

We are not told where Joseph’s tomb is located. Many have speculated it is the same as the "Garden Tomb," which can be observed just outside the Damascus gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. This location is unproved but because Joseph is rich and his tomb is new, it is obviously better than the damp caves typically used for burial by common Jews.

To occupy a "new tomb" is considered a special honor (Broadus 580), again proving the courtesy and devotion extended by Joseph. After placing Jesus’ body in the tomb, a great stone is rolled in front of the entrance to prevent animals or grave robbers from entering.

It is clear that these followers, as well as the other disciples, believe Jesus’ death is final. Though their preparations are done in haste, they are not carried out with a resurrection in mind. To their thinking, Jesus is dead, and His ministry is over. All that remains is heartache. Joseph and Nicodemus, having finished their task, head for home, leaving the two Mary’s to weep and wonder.

Verse 61

And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulcher.

Two Mary’s are present. One is Mary Magdalene. Mark identifies "the other Mary" as "the mother of Joses" (15:47). Luke says these two women, who have come with Jesus out of Galilee, follow Joseph and Nicodemus to "see how his body was laid" and to learn the location of the tomb (23:55). Because Jesus is buried in a private grave and not in a regular cemetery, they will need to know its location in order to return after the Sabbath and further tend the body (Luke 23:36). They do not remain at the tomb long. The day is nearing an end, and the women return to prepare more spices.

Verse 62

Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,

Now the next day: "The next day" is Saturday. Since for Jews Saturday begins on what non-Jews call Friday evening, this verse probably refers to Friday night after sunset. Guards are set at the tomb after night falls on the same day Jesus is crucified.

that followed the day of the preparation: The "day of preparation" would be Friday, the day Jesus died. It is called preparation day because this is the first day of the Passover feast and is the day preparations are made for the rest of the celebration.

Matthew avoids using the term "Sabbath" in describing the day following Jesus’ death because in this case the term would be ambiguous. During feasts, the term "Sabbath" can have its normal meaning (the last day of the week) or can refer to the day after any feast is observed. Since the day of the crucifixion (Friday) is itself observed as a "Sabbath," (the first day of Passover) the next day (the regular Sabbath) is considered a high holy day (Broadus 581).

the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate: It might seem strange that these "religious leaders" pursue such a matter on a high Sabbath. It might also seem strange that while these Jews have feigned avoidance of the "Praetorium" for fear of being defiled (John 18:28), they now apparently march right into Pilate’s presence. Neither action should surprise us. In the first instance, Roman soldiers in violation of no Jewish law will guard the tomb. In the second place, these leaders may have assumed that because it is such a holy day there will be no one around to see, or perhaps they simply do not care. Having so flagrantly violated the Law by condemning Jesus, this action is nothing in comparison.

The chief priests are largely Sadducees; and because of theological differences, they normally find themselves at odds with the Pharisees. But in this case, they combine forces to insure their plan. Since the Sadducees reject an afterlife, they want no "resurrection tale" being circulated. But neither do the Pharisees. Even though they concede the theological possibility, they certainly do not believe Jesus will arise; and they want to squelch any apostolic claims of a resurrection. In only one other recorded instance do the Sadducees and Pharisees combine forces. In both cases they do so against Jesus (21:45).

Verse 63

Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.

Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive: This statement seems strange coming from those who so seldom take Jesus’ words to heart. In this case, however, they explicitly remember that Jesus predicts His resurrection, and they want to take no chances.

After three days I will rise again: The occasion the scribes remember is not stated. Jesus makes many predictions about His resurrection (16:21; 17:9; 17:22; 20:18; John 7:33-36; John 8:21-29; John 10:17). One of His classic predictions comes when the scribes and Pharisees ask for a sign. To this request, Jesus replies, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (12:38 NKJV). It is doubtful the Jews understand Jesus’ saying, but they no doubt mull it over in their minds and debate its significance.

Furthermore, to these leaders, the fact that Jesus has predicted His resurrection sets up the possibility that the disciples might be planning some "empty tomb scenario." And with the resurrection of Lazarus still fresh in their minds, a miracle that had galled the Jewish leaders, Jesus’ predictions cannot be ignored (John 11:45-57).

Verse 64

Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.

Having used trickery, dishonesty, and deception in the betrayal and murder of Jesus, these leaders assume that Jesus’ disciples might do the same. It is interesting how many times we judge others on the basis of our own character. If we are dishonest, we expect others will also be dishonest. If we are suspicious, we expect others are suspicious. If we are evil, we expect the same of others. As these leaders look at the disciples, they do not see honest, godly men devastated by the death of their leader. Rather they see rogues waiting to pull off history’s greatest hoax.

"The last error" refers to any claim the disciples might make that Jesus is raised from the dead. To these evil leaders such a claim would be worse than any claim Jesus has previously made that he is the Messiah (the first error).

But why would the Jews worry so much about the rumor of a resurrection? Because the genuine belief in a resurrection would justify much more zeal and ardent action by Jesus’ followers than simply believing their renegade leader has been killed. Such a little, upstart, uneducated band of Galileans would likely fade into the woodwork if their leader were killed. But if they honestly believe, or could be persuaded, that Jesus has risen from the dead, that would be quite another story.

Verse 65

Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.

Whether through indifference to the request or whether he too wants to squelch any possibility of political trouble, Pilate gives the orders to have the tomb sealed and guarded. His words, "Make it as sure as you can" are a hallmark to the veracity of the resurrection and the impossibility that the empty tomb is a product of deception. With all military authority, the tomb is sealed, and guards are stationed to stand watch.

Verse 66

So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

The tomb is sealed with an official government seal. To break such is a high crime that results in the most severe punishment. The seal is probably a cord drawn across the door that is then fastened to each side of the tomb with wax (Broadus 583). It does not serve to hold the door shut but rather to threaten any unauthorized person from removing the door and entering the grave.

The seal means that non-disciples are forced to be the first to bring the astounding news to Jesus’ enemies that all their precautions have been futile. It is not the disciples who tamper with the tomb or the body. He arose! (Fowler 898).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 27". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-27.html. 1993-2022.
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