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3. The trials of Jesus 26:57-27:26
Matthew stressed Jesus’ righteousness for his readers by highlighting the injustice of His trials.
"The breaches in law are so numerous as to be unbelievable . . ." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 549.]
". . . even the ordinary legal rules were disregarded in the following particulars: (a) The examination by Annas without witnesses. (b) The trial by night. (c) The sentence on the first day of trial. (d) The trial of a capital charge on the day before the Sabbath. (e) The suborning of witnesses. (f) The direct interrogation by the High Priest." [Note: Carr, p. 297.]
France noted that these rules applied later, as reflected in the Mishnah (at the end of the second century A.D.), so not all of them may have been in force when Jesus was tried. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 1019.]
It may be helpful to take a brief overview of Jesus’ trials since none of the Gospel evangelists gives the complete picture. There were essentially two trials, one Jewish and one Roman. The Jewish trial, really a preliminary hearing, began when Annas informally examined Jesus late Thursday night (John 18:12-14; John 18:19-23). During this examination, members of the Sanhedrin were evidently assembling. His accusers then brought Jesus before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin who decided He was guilty of blasphemy (Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65). At sunrise on Friday the Sanhedrin decided to send Jesus to Pilate for trial (Matthew 27:1-2; Luke 22:66-71). The Roman trial began with Jesus appearing before Pilate (Matthew 27:11-14; John 18:28-38 a). Pilate then sent Jesus to Herod for interrogation (Luke 23:6-12). Finally Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate for a second examination (Matthew 27:15-31; Joh_18:38 to Joh_19:16). The trials were over and Jesus was at Golgotha by mid-morning, about 9:00 a.m. (Mark 15:25).
VII. THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION OF THE KING CHS. 26-28
The key phrase in Matthew’s Gospel "And it came about that when Jesus had finished" (Matthew 26:1) indicates another major transition (cf. Matthew 7:28; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 13:53; Matthew 19:1). As usual, it occurs at the end of a major address. In this case it introduces the final and longest continuous narrative section that reaches its climax with another address, in this case a very brief but important one (Matthew 28:18-20). The Great Commission was the King’s final speech that set the final course for His disciples during the age between Jesus’ two advents.
"As the culmination of Matthew’s story, the passion account also constitutes the decisive stage in Jesus’ conflict with Israel (chaps. 26-28). [Note: Footnote 10: For a more detailed treatment of the passion account in Matthew, see Frank J. Matera, Passion Narratives and Gospel Theologies: Interpreting the Synoptics through Their Passion Stories, chs. 4-6; and Donald Senior, The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.] Here the resolution of this conflict works itself out in dramatic detail." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 84.]
The narrative section consists of two parts, the crucifixion (chs. 26-27) and the resurrection of the King (Matthew 28:1-15).
"Relentlessly the events of the King’s life move toward His death on the cross. He has completed His public manifestation to Israel and the nation has rejected Him. In addition, the disciples have been instructed concerning the rejection of Israel and the spiritual basis of entrance into the earthly kingdom. All that remains is the work of the Messiah to provide the means whereby those who exercise faith in Him may enter His kingdom. This work, the death and resurrection of the King, is recounted very succinctly by Matthew. In a large part Matthew’s argument is accomplished, and these last events form a fitting conclusion to his book since Jesus here moves through defeat unto victory." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 295.]
A. The King’s crucifixion chs. 26-27
Matthew reported Jesus crucifixion in five scenes: the preparations for it, Jesus’ arrest, His trials, the crucifixion itself, and His burial.
The formal decision of the Sanhedrin 27:1-2 (cf. Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71)
Matthew’s narrative directs the reader’s attention from the courtyard back to the Sanhedrin’s council chamber (Matthew 26:68).
The chief priests and elders had to decide how they would present Jesus’ case to Pilate to secure the verdict they wanted from him. The title "governor" is a general one. Really Pilate was a prefect (procurator) whom Tiberius Caesar had appointed in A.D. 26. [Note: Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. "Pilate, Pontius," by J. G. Vos, 4:790-93. For a list of the procurators of Judea, see Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:702.] Judea and Samaria had become one Roman province in A.D. 6 that Pilate now governed (in A.D. 33). Normally he lived in Caesarea, but during the Jewish feasts he often came to Jerusalem and stayed in Herod’s former palace because Jerusalem became a potential trouble spot then. The site of Herod’s palace was what is now known as the Citadel, south of the Jaffa Gate. "Pontius" was his family name.
Judas evidently felt remorse because he realized that he had condemned an innocent man to death. His remorse (Gr. metamelomai) resulted in a kind of repentance (Gr. metanoeo), but it was not complete enough. The first of these two Greek words does not indicate "sorrow for moral obliquity and sin against God, but annoyance at the consequences of an act or course of acts, and chagrin at not having known better." [Note: Vincent, 1:117.] Judas was sorry for what he had done and tried to make amends, but He never believed that Jesus was the Son of God (cf. Acts 1:16-19).
The suicide of Judas Matthew 27:3-10 (cf. Acts 1:18-19)
"Peter has sinned by words, under the pressure of the moment, and for him there can be a new start; Judas has sinned in deed, in a premeditated, settle course of action which has now borne fruit which, too late, he wishes he could have undone." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., pp. 1039-40.]
Judas’ testimony to Jesus’ innocence is an important part of Matthew’s witness that Jesus was the Messiah. The response of the Sanhedrin members likewise proved their guilt. It should have meant something to them that Judas said that Jesus was innocent. Judas betrayed innocent blood, and they condemned innocent blood. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 561.] They were wrong in thinking they could avoid responsibility for Jesus’ death because of Judas’ guilt in betraying Him.
"They are ’guileful’ and ’callous,’ purchasing the services of Judas to betray Jesus yet leaving Judas to his own devices in coming to terms with his burden of guilt (Matthew 26:14-16; Matthew 27:3-4)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., pp. 22-23.]
Judas threw the 30 pieces of silver that he had received for betraying Jesus into the temple sanctuary. Perhaps Judas thought he could atone for his sin to some extent with this gift. Then he went out and hanged himself (cf. 2 Samuel 17:23 LXX). Many scholars believe this was in the region of gehenna, the city dump of Jerusalem, near the confluence of the Kidron and Hinnom valleys south of the city.
The chief priests properly refused to receive the silver into the temple treasury (cf. Deuteronomy 23:18). Here again they appear scrupulous about ritual observance of the Law while at the same time they failed to defend what is more important, namely, the innocence of Jesus (cf. Matthew 12:9-14; Matthew 15:1-9; Matthew 23:23: Matthew 28:12-13). They decided to use the money for a public project, a graveyard for foreigners. The place they used had evidently been an area of land from which potters obtained their clay but which by now had become depleted.
The account of Judas’ death in Acts 1:18-19 is slightly different, but it is easy to harmonize the two stories. Probably the chief priests bought the grave with Judas’ money. Judas evidently hanged himself, and then the corpse apparently fell to the ground and burst open. Perhaps the branch from which he hanged himself broke, or his body may have fallen when it began to decompose. The place of his suicide could have received the name "field of blood" before or after Judas’ death. If it was before, Judas may have chosen to kill himself on the field that his money had purchased. It seems more likely, however, that the Sanhedrin purchased the field sometime after the events of this night.
This difficult fulfillment seems to be a quotation from Zechariah 11:12-13, but Matthew attributed it to Jeremiah. Probably Matthew was referring to Jeremiah 19:1-13, which he condensed using mainly the phraseology of Zechariah 11:12-13 because of its similarity to Judas’ situation. [Note: See Douglas J. Moo, "The Use of the Old Testament in the Passion Texts of the Gospels," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of St. Andrews, 1979), pp. 191-210; and Gundry, The Use . . ., pp. 122-27.] See Mark 1:2-3 and 2 Chronicles 36:21 for other examples of this type of fulfillment involving the fusing of sources. Matthew named only Isaiah and Jeremiah as sources of his quotations (Matthew 2:17; Matthew 3:3; Matthew 4:14; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 13:14; Matthew 15:7; Matthew 17:9); he left his other prophetic sources unspecified. He also attributed one allusion to Daniel (Matthew 24:15).
"Joining two quotations from two Old Testament books and assigning them to one (in this case, Jeremiah) was also done in Mark 1:2-3, in which Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 are quoted but are assigned to Isaiah. This follows the custom of mentioning the more notable prophet first." [Note: Bailey, in The New . . ., p. 59.]
A different explanation of this problem is that Jeremiah was the first book in the prophets division of the Hebrew Old Testament. Jesus quoted Zechariah as from Jeremiah because the Book of Zechariah was in the section of the Hebrew Bible that began with the Book of Jeremiah. [Note: Lenski, pp. 1082-83; Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 227.] However, it is uncertain that the Book of Jeremiah occupied this leading position in the third division of the Hebrew Bible in Matthew’s day. [Note: See The New Scofield . . ., p. 1041.]
In Jeremiah 19 Israel’s rulers had forsaken God and made Jerusalem a place for foreign gods. The valley where the prophet delivered his prophecy and where he smashed the vessel received the name "Valley of Slaughter," symbolic of Judah and Jerusalem’s ruin. Similarly in Matthew 26-27 the rejection of Jesus led to the polluting of a field that is symbolic of death and the destruction of Israel, which foreigners were about to bury. In Zechariah 11 and in Matthew 26-27 the people of Israel reject God’s shepherd and value him at the price of a slave. In both passages someone throws the money into the temple and eventually someone else uses it to buy something that pollutes.
". . . what we find in Matthew, including Matthew 27:9-10, is not identification of the text with an event but fulfillment of the text in an event, based on a broad typology governing how both Jesus and Matthew read the OT . . ." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 565.]
This understanding of the fulfillment also explains the changes Matthew made in the texts he said the events involving Judas fulfilled. Matthew saw in Jeremiah 19 and Zechariah 11 not just several verbal parallels but a pattern of apostasy and rejection that found its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. [Note: See also Charles Lee Feinberg, God Remembers, A Study of Zechariah, pp. 167-69.]
The location of this trial is uncertain. It probably took place in Herod’s former palace (cf. Matthew 27:2). Another less probable site is the Antonia Fortress. This fortress was the site of Peter’s later imprisonment and miraculous release (Acts 12:3-11) and Paul’s defense before the people of Jerusalem and his imprisonment (Act_21:27 to Act_23:30).
Pilate’s question grew out of Jesus’ claim to be Israel’s Messiah (Matthew 26:64) that the Sanhedrin undoubtedly reported to Pilate (cf. Matthew 2:2). This was a political charge whereas the charge that Caiaphas had brought against Jesus had been religious (Matthew 26:61; Matthew 26:63). Jesus responded to Pilate’s question with the same affirmative but qualified statement that He had formerly given Judas (Matthew 26:25) and the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:64). He was the King of the Jews (cf. Matthew 2:2) but not in the way that Pilate would have thought of such a person. Only non-Jews used this title of Jesus. Herod the Great had been the last official king of the Jews, before the Romans had assumed sovereign control of them. Jesus was not a military rebel come to throw off Rome’s yoke violently. Matthew recorded Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah again.
The trial before Pilate 27:11-26 (cf. Mark 15:2-15; Luke 23:3-25; Joh_18:33 to Joh_19:16)
Pilate was a cruel ruler who made little attempt to understand the Jews whom he hated. [Note: Hoehner, Herod Antipas, pp. 172-83.] He had treated them unfairly and brutally on many occasions, but recently Caesar had rebuked him severely. [Note: Idem, Chronological Aspects . . ., pp. 105-14.] This probably accounts for the fairly docile attitude he displayed toward the Sanhedrin in the Gospel accounts. He wanted to avoid another rebuke from Caesar. However, his relations with the Jews continued to deteriorate until A.D. 39 when Caesar removed him from office and banished him. In the Gospels Pilate appears almost for Jesus, but he was probably favorable to Jesus because he hated the Sanhedrin that opposed Him. Pilate may also have dealt with Jesus as he did because Jesus posed no threat whatsoever to him from his viewpoint. Conviction by both the Sanhedrin and Pilate were necessary to condemn Jesus. These inveterate enemies united against Him. [Note: See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Pilate," by D. H. Wheaton.]
Having responded to the charge against Him, Jesus made no further attempt to defend or clear Himself (cf. Matthew 26:63). Pilate could hardly believe that Jesus would not try to defend Himself. Obviously Jesus was not trying to avoid the Cross (cf. Isaiah 53:7). Such an attitude led Pilate to conclude that Jesus was either foolish or crazy.
Only Luke reported that now Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas for questioning (Luke 23:6-12). Herod then returned Jesus to Pilate.
Evidently it had become traditional for Pilate to release one Jewish prisoner, that he had taken, as a favor to the Jews each Passover. He probably did this to improve relations with his subjects on a politically important occasion.
Barabbas’ name means "son of the father." Jesus, of course, was the true Son of the Father. The Greek word translated "notorious" (episemos) really means eminent or outstanding (cf. Romans 16:7). He was a famous prisoner but not necessarily one that the Jews regarded as an undesirable character. On the contrary, he had evidently been leading an insurrection against the Roman government as a freedom fighter (cf. Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19; John 18:40). His guerrilla actions were fairly common then. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 18:1:1.] Many of the Jews would have viewed Barabbas as a hero rather than as a villain. He was more of a messianic figure, in the minds of most Jews, than Jesus was.
Possibly the two men crucified with Jesus were Barabbas’ partners. Matthew used the same Greek word to describe them as the other evangelists used to describe Barabbas (i.e., lestes, "rebels" or "insurrectionists," Matthew 27:38). All three were more than common robbers; they were more like Robin Hood’s men.
Jesus really took the place of one rebel, Barabbas, because the people preferred one who tried to overthrow Rome’s power, to the Messiah that God had provided for them. This shows their insistence on having a Messiah of their own design (cf. 1 Samuel 8:5; 1 Samuel 8:19-20).
The "them" (NASB) or "crowd" (NIV) is the multitude of common people (Matthew 27:15; cf. Mark 15:8). Pilate saw that the Sanhedrin was trying to get him to eliminate someone they saw as a threat to their own authority, namely, Jesus. He knew the Sanhedrin had no special desire to advance the welfare of Rome. Pilate undoubtedly knew that Jesus enjoyed great popularity among many of the Jewish people (cf. Matthew 21:1-16). Therefore he appealed to the people to let him know which prisoner they wanted him to release. He undoubtedly thought the crowd would request Jesus thus giving him a reason to humiliate the Sanhedrin by releasing Jesus. He may have mistakenly concluded that the residents of Jerusalem supported Jesus because of His notoriety in Jerusalem at this time. However it was really the Galileans who were Jesus’ main supporters. The people of Jerusalem seem to have followed the lead of the Sanhedrin in rejecting Jesus willingly.
Pilate’s wife interrupted him as he sat on the judgment seat about to render a verdict in Jesus’ case. Matthew probably recorded this incident because it is another indication of Jesus’ innocence. Many of the Romans considered dreams a means of divine guidance (cf. Matthew 1:20). [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 1055.] In this case God did guide her to testify to Jesus’ righteousness.
"Tradition has given her the name Procula; an Apocryphal Gospel describes her as a convert to Judaism [i.e., The Gospel according to Nicodemus, ch. 2]; while the Greek Church has actually placed her in the Catalogue of Saints." [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:569.]
"Pilate’s ’wife’ (Matthew 27:19) serves as a foil for Pilate himself: her warning to Pilate not to have anything to do with that innocent man (Jesus) contrasts with Pilate’s decision to accede to the Jewish demand that Jesus be put to death. ’Barabbas’ (Matthew 27:15-26) serves as foil for Jesus; a notorious prisoner is set free, whereas an innocent man is delivered up to be crucified." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 27.]
The Sanhedrin members persuaded the crowd to insist that Pilate release Barabbas and crucify Jesus (cf. Mark 15:11). Initially this may seem incredible, but both Jesus and Barabbas were popular with the crowd. Pilate seemed to the people to be favoring Jesus’ release, but their religious leaders favored Barabbas’ release. It was quite natural that the Jerusalem people would side with their leaders against Pilate given such a choice, especially since Jesus was a "foreign" Galilean. The Sanhedrin had previously sowed doubts about Jesus in the people’s minds by circulating reports that He had blasphemed. To many of them He was now a heretic. Jesus Himself had failed to attempt what Barabbas had attempted, namely, overthrowing Rome’s authority over Israel. This may have been another reason the people wanted Barabbas released.
Pilate tried to reverse his tactical error by asking more questions, but mob sentiment against him and his choice became stronger with each question he asked the crowd. First, Pilate offered a milder sentence for Jesus, but the crowd would have none of it (Matthew 27:22). Second, he attested Jesus’ innocence, but the crowd’s original answer had become a mob chant that the governor could not change or silence.
"One can almost picture this scene, somewhat like a football stadium in which the crowd shouts ’Defense!’ Their cheer was ’Crucify, crucify!’" [Note: Barbieri, p. 87.]
The Jews wanted Pilate to crucify Jesus rather then to punish Him another way because, for the Jews, a person hanging on a tree was a demonstration that he was under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23).
Washing one’s hands to symbolize one’s innocence was a Jewish custom, not a Roman custom (cf. Deuteronomy 21:6; Psalms 26:6). [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 570.] Evidently Pilate did this to show contempt for the Jews. Pilate could wash his hands with a clear conscience because he had tried to release Jesus, but the Jews would not allow him to do so. This is not saying he was innocent of guilt, but he undoubtedly felt justified in doing what he did. Pilate delivered Jesus up for crucifixion out of cowardice and fear of the Jews whom he despised. He could no more pass his personal responsibility for Jesus’ death off on the people than the chief priests and elders could avoid their responsibility for it by blaming Judas (Matthew 27:4).
The people’s response was not new (2 Samuel 1:16; 2 Samuel 3:28; cf. Acts 18:6; Acts 20:26). "All the people" in the context refers to the crowd present, not just the Sanhedrin or the whole Jewish nation. This phrase did not cover the Jews who believed on Jesus but unbelieving Israel. Therefore it is inappropriate to use this verse to justify anti-Semitism. [Note: See Hagner, Matthew 14-28, p. 828; France, The Gospel . . ., pp. 1057-58.]
"The viciousness of their anger could hardly be described more graphically than by this horrible utterance." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 310-11.]
"Owing to the leaders’ abject repudiation of Jesus, they unwittingly effect, not the salvation of Israel as they had anticipated, but just the opposite, Israel’s demise as God’s special people: they bring a curse upon themselves and the people (Matthew 27:25); they provoke the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 22:7); and they unknowingly make themselves responsible for the transfer of God’s Rule to another nation, the church, which becomes God’s end-time people (Matthew 21:43; Matthew 16:18; Matthew 13:38)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 124. Cf. Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:578.]
Under Mosaic Law the Jews could not scourge someone with more than 40 lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24). However here the Romans, not the Jews, were scourging Jesus. They had no limit on the number of lashes they could impose on a prisoner. They customarily used a leather whip with pieces of bone and or metal embedded in the thongs, a flagellum. Scourging with this whip often turned human flesh into pulp and exposed the bones and internal organs. [Note: Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:21:5; 6:5:3.] People frequently died from this type of flogging. The Romans used it to weaken prisoners before crucifixion. After this beating, Pilate sent Jesus to die (cf. Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 53:12). This scourging fulfilled Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:19.
"Judas yielded to the devil in his great sin (John 13:2; John 13:27); Peter yielded to the flesh when he denied his Lord; but Pilate yielded to the world and listened to the crowd." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:101.]
Matthew’s account of the trial before Pilate makes Jesus’ innocence clear. [Note: See R. Larry Overstreet, "Roman Law and the Trial of Jesus," Bibliotheca Sacra JOH 135:540 (October-December 1978):323-32.] As in the religious trial, Jesus stood before an unjust judge whose personal prejudices guided him rather than justice. The self-sacrifice of the Suffering Servant also comes through in this trial. No one took Jesus’ life from Him as a martyr. He laid it down for others in self-sacrifice.
The soldiers in view were probably Pilate’s troops. The Praetorium or courtyard probably refers to the one in Herod’s palace near the Jaffa Gate or, less likely, the one in the Antonia Fortress. All the soldiers of the cohort present evidently took Jesus into the central courtyard. A cohort consisted of 600 soldiers. These soldiers would have been auxiliaries drawn from the non-Jewish population of surrounding areas since there was no Roman legion stationed in Palestine at this time. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 1062.]
The soldiers’ abuse of Jesus 27:27-31 (cf. Mark 15:16-20; John 19:16-17 a)
4. The crucifixion of Jesus 27:27-56
Matthew narrated the crucifixion of Jesus by emphasizing the Roman soldiers’ abuse of Jesus, the Jews’ mockery of Jesus, His actual death, and the events that immediately followed His death.
The Sanhedrin and or its servants had abused Jesus as a false Messiah (Matthew 26:67-68). Now Pilate’s soldiers abused Him as a false king. Ironically Jesus was all they charged Him with being. The scarlet robe (Gr. chlamys) they put on Jesus (Matthew 27:28) was probably the reddish purple cloak that Roman military and civil officials wore. Perhaps the thorny spikes that the soldiers wove into a circle to resemble the one on Tiberius Caesar’s head on Roman coins consisted of palm branches. The imperfect tense of the Greek verb translated "beat" means they beat Jesus on the head repeatedly (cf. Isaiah 52:14). Typically four soldiers plus a centurion accompanied a condemned prisoner to his crucifixion. The criminal normally carried the crosspiece to which the soldiers would later nail his hands (cf. John 19:17; John 19:23). [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 573.]
This pericope shows sinners at their worst mocking and brutalizing the very person who was laying His life down as a sacrifice for their sins (cf. Matthew 20:19).
"Few incidents in history more clearly illustrate the brutality in the desperately wicked heart of man than that which was inflicted on Jesus the Son of God." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 231.]
"The ultimate explanation of the cross is neither Jewish hostility nor Roman injustice, but the declared purpose of God." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 1060.]
Jesus was able to carry the crossbeam of His cross until He passed through the city gate (cf. Mark 15:21 John 19:17). Normally crucifixions took place outside the city wall (cf. Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35-36; 1 Kings 21:13; Acts 7:58). This location symbolized added rejection (cf. Hebrews 13:13).
Simon’s name was Jewish. He came from the town of Cyrene on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa (cf. Acts 2:10; Acts 6:9; Acts 11:20; Acts 13:1). The Roman soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. Perhaps Matthew mentioned this because it is another piece of irony. Jesus was really bearing Simon’s cross by dying in his place. The reader understands this, but at the time things looked completely opposite to onlookers. Another reason Matthew may have mentioned Simon by name is that he may have been well known among the early Christians. Ironically Simon Peter should have been present to help Jesus, in view of his previous boasts (Matthew 26:33; Matthew 26:35), but a different Simon had to take his place.
The Muslim teaching that Simon took Jesus’ place and died on the cross in His stead evidently rests on the teaching of Basilides, a second century Gnostic heretic. [Note: See Iraneus, Against Heresies 2:24:4; and J. M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English, p. 332.]
The crucifixion and mockery of Jesus 27:32-44 (cf. Mark 15:21-32; Luke 23:26-43; John 19:17-27)
"The overenthusiastic attempts to draw out the physical horror of crucifixion which disfigure some Christian preaching (and at least one recent movie [i.e., The Passion of the Christ]) find no echo in the gospels. Perhaps the original readers were too familiar with both the torture and the shame of crucifixion to need any help in envisaging what it really meant. At any rate, the narrative focus in these verses is rather on the surrounding events and the people involved (Simon, the soldiers, the bandits), together with the ironical placard over Jesus’ head which sums up the Roman dismissal of his claims." [Note: Ibid., p. 1064.]
Matthew’s emphasis in his account of Jesus’ crucifixion was on the mocking of the onlookers.
The word "Golgotha" is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic gulgolta meaning "skull." "Calvary" comes from the Latin calva, "skull." Its exact location is unknown. It was evidently north of the old city wall, probably not far from the site of the present Church of the Holy Sepulcher (cf. John 19:20). Edersheim believed that the site was very close to the present Damascus Gate. [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:585.] Gordon’s Calvary, which is not far from the Damascus Gate, does not enjoy much support as a site from scholars any more. [Note: See Andre Parrot, Golgotha and the Chruch of the Holy Sepulchre, pp. 59-65.] The traditional Via Dolorosa ("the way of sorrow"), the route from Jesus’ trial to the site of His crucifixion, rests on the assumption that Jesus’ trial before Pilate took place in the Antonia Fortress.
Evidently some women gave Jesus some wine to drink to which they had added myrrh to decrease His pain (Mark 15:23). [Note: Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a.] Jesus refused it because He chose to endure the cross fully conscious. Matthew wrote "gall" because of the myrrh’s bitter taste and to make the fulfillment of Psalms 69:20-21 clearer. Another view is that the soldiers offered the drink to Jesus, but it seems uncharacteristic that they would have tried to lessen His sufferings.
The Roman’s normally tied or nailed the victim to the crossbeam of his cross. In Jesus’ case they did the latter. They would then hoist the crossbeam and the prisoner up onto the upright member of the cross. Next they would fasten the crucified person’s feet to the upright by tying or nailing them. The Romans constructed crosses in various shapes: an X, a T, or, as in Jesus’ case, the traditional T with the upright extending above the crossbeam (Matthew 27:37). Sometimes the victim was only a few inches off the ground, but Jesus appears to have been a few feet higher (Matthew 27:48; John 19:29). Normally the Romans crucified their victims naked. The executioners took the criminal’s clothes for themselves. In Jesus’ case they cast lots for his robe fulfilling Psalms 22:18 (cf. John 19:23-24). This happened in the late morning on Friday (Mark 15:25; John 19:14).
"In the case of Jesus we have reason to think that, while the mode of punishment to which He was subjected was un-Jewish [i.e., crucifixion], every concession would be made to Jewish custom, and hence we thankfully believe that on the Cross He was spared the indignity of exposure. Such would have been truly un-Jewish." [Note: Edersheim, 2:584.]
Muslims believe that God took Jesus to heaven before He died and that He will come back to earth to finish His work. They believe that it was Judas who died on the cross.
"Crucifixion was unspeakably painful and degrading. Whether tied or nailed to the cross, the victim endured countless paroxysms as he pulled with his arms and pushed with his legs to keep his chest cavity open for breathing and then collapsed in exhaustion until the demand for oxygen demanded renewed paroxysms. The scourging, the loss of blood, the shock from the pain, all produced agony that could go on for days, ending at last by suffocation, cardiac arrest, or loss of blood. When there was reason to hasten death, the execution squad would smash the victim’s legs. Death followed almost immediately, either from shock or from collapse that cut off breathing." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 574. Cf. M. Hengel, Crucifixion; J. A. Fitzmyer, "Crucifixion in Ancient Palestine, Qumran Literature, and the New Testament," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978):493-513; and Edwin A. Blum, "Jesus and JAMA," Christian Medical Society Journal 17:4 (Fall 1986):4-11, which contains drawings of a Roman scourging, a Roman cross, the placement of the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet, how Jesus would have hung on the cross, and the piercing of His side.]
The Romans reserved crucifixion for the worst criminals from the lowest classes of society. Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion unless Caesar himself ordered it. For the Jews crucifixion was even more horrible because it symbolized a person dying under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23). Israel’s leaders hung up those who had died under God’s curse for others to see and learn from. Jesus bore God’s curse for the sins of humankind so we would not have to experience that curse.
This verse is unique to the first Gospel. Sometimes people took criminals down from their crosses to prevent them from dying. The solders guarded Jesus to prevent this from happening. Jesus really did die; no one rescued Him.
Often the Romans wrote the charge against the crucified criminal on a white tablet with red or black ink and attached it to his cross. Pilate had Jesus’ charge written in Aramaic, Greek, and Latin (John 19:20). He meant it to be insulting to the Jews. The title "King of the Jews" meant "Messiah" to the Jews. Pilate meant that Jesus was a messianic pretender, but of course He was indeed the Messiah. Pilate ironically stated what Matthew wanted his readers to understand, that Jesus was the Messiah that the Old Testament had predicted: Son of God and Suffering Servant.
"’This is Jesus the King of the Jews’ is actually the theme of the book, though it here is used in sheer derision." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 312.]
The full accusation, compiled by comparing the various Gospel accounts, was evidently "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (cf. Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19).
"In one sense, this title proved to be the first ’Gospel tract’ ever written." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:102-3.]
I regard this verse as the key verse in Matthew’s Gospel because it states concisely Matthew’s message.
The two men crucified with Jesus were guerrilla freedom fighters, not simply robbers (Gr. lestai, cf. Matthew 27:16). Jesus, the true Messiah, hung between two men who wanted to bring in Israel’s kingdom through violent action against Israel’s enemies contrary to God’s will. Matthew may have had Isaiah 53:12 in mind when he wrote this verse.
The Romans crucified people publicly to be an example to others. Evidently the site of Jesus’ crucifixion was beside a road. Israel’s leaders had charged Jesus with being a blasphemer because of His claim to be the One they would see seated at God’s right hand (Matthew 26:64). Matthew pointed out that the people passing by were really the ones blaspheming since they charged Jesus unjustly (cf. Matthew 9:3; Matthew 12:31; Matthew 26:65). Their derision fulfilled prophecy (Psalms 22:7; Psalms 109:25; Lamentations 2:15). These blasphemers continued to question Jesus’ identity (cf. Matthew 26:63). Like Satan they tempted Him to prove who He was by demonstrating His identity in a way contrary to God’s will (cf. Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6). Here Matthew showed the Jews mocking Jesus as the Romans had done earlier (Matthew 27:27-31).
The chief priest, scribes, and elders represented all segments of the Sanhedrin (cf. Matthew 21:23; Matthew 26:59). They all mocked Jesus, probably with words that Jesus heard.
The reference to His saving others probably goes back to Jesus’ healing ministry. The religious leaders threw doubt on Jesus’ healing ministry by claiming that He could not even heal His own condition. Perhaps these Jerusalemites were also recalling Jesus’ triumphal entry and the cries of His mainly Galilean followers: "Save us now!" (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15). Of course, Jesus could have saved Himself from His suffering on the cross, but He could not have done so and provided salvation for humankind. In one sense the religious leaders spoke the truth.
The critics continued to point out Jesus’ apparent helplessness. They implied that their failure to believe on Jesus was His fault. They promised to believe on Him if He would come down off the cross. If He had done so, there would have been no salvation for anyone (cf. Matthew 1:21; Matthew 8:16-17; Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:26-29; Matthew 28:18-20). They may also have been ridiculing the belief of the simple Galileans who had become His disciples.
The leaders were probably unwittingly quoting Psalms 22:8 (cf. John 11:51-52). They meant that God’s failure to rescue Jesus proved that God did not delight in Him. Jesus’ claims to be God’s Son were therefore pretentious in their sight. God would identify His Son by delivering Him from death, but not in the way the religious leaders supposed. Presently God had to abandon His Son (cf. Psalms 2).
The insurrectionists crucified with Jesus joined the others who mocked Him (cf. Isaiah 53:12). Matthew did not record that anyone spoke in His defense.
This section presents many different groups and individuals mocking Jesus: the Roman soldiers, the mob, the Jewish leaders, and the insurrectionists. The picture is of the Suffering Servant totally forsaken, misunderstood, and rejected by everyone. Yet through all this, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about Messiah.
"As the leaders see it, Jesus threatens the overthrow of law and tradition and the destruction of the nation (Matthew 12:1-14; Matthew 15:12; Matthew 21:43). In claiming to be the Son of God and the decisive figure in the history of salvation [cf. Matthew 21:33-42; Matthew 26:63-64], Jesus makes himself guilty of blasphemy against God and is deserving of death (Matthew 26:65-66). Accordingly, in effecting the death of Jesus, the leaders understand themselves to be purging Israel of the error with which a false messiah would pervert the nation (Matthew 27:63-64). The irony, however, is that in abjectly repudiating Jesus, the leaders achieve the opposite of what they had intended: far from purging Israel from error, they plunge it into fatal error, for they make both themselves and the people responsible for the death of the one who is in fact the Son of God and through whom God proffers salvation to Israel; unwittingly, therefore, the leaders make themselves responsible for Israel’s [temporary] loss of its privileged place among the nations as God’s chosen people (Matthew 15:13-14; Matthew 21:37-43; Matthew 22:7; Matthew 27:20-25)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 162.]
That "land" (Gr. ge) became abnormally dark from noon until 3:00 p.m. This was quite clearly an abnormal, literal darkening of the sky. It could not have resulted from a solar eclipse since the Passover was celebrated at full moon. [Note: F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament, pp. 29-30.] Matthew’s use of ge probably implies Israel as well. Darkness in Scripture often represents judgment and or tragedy (cf. Amos 8:9-10). Compare the three days of darkness in Egypt (Exodus 10:21-23) and the three hours of darkness here. Matthew’s description of the setting "conveys a strong sense of impending disaster." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 28.] This was a judgment on Israel and its people, but it was also a judgment on Jesus. His cry of desolation came out of this darkness (Matthew 27:46). This was a time of judgment on Jesus for the sins of all humanity.
The death of Jesus 27:45-50 (cf. Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30)
Matthew now turned his spotlight away from the observers of Jesus to Jesus Himself.
Jesus cried out the words of Psalms 22:1 because His Father was abandoning Him. It was out of a similar sense of abandonment that David originally wrote the words of this psalm.
". . . the psalm expresses the spiritual desolation of a man who continues to trust and to appeal to God in spite of the fact that his ungodly opponents mock and persecute him with impunity." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 1076.]
Separation from the Father must have been the worst part of the Cross for Jesus who had never before experienced anything but intimate fellowship with His Father. Jesus became the center of God’s judgment on mankind’s sin (cf. Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21). [Note: See S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "The Death of Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra 125:497 (January-March 1968):10-19.]
"Here Jesus was bearing the sins of the whole world, and even God the Father had to turn away as Jesus bore the curse and identified Himself with the sins of the whole world. When Jesus actually died, He commended Himself back into the Father’s hands." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., pp. 234-35.]
The NASB has "Eli, Eli" that transliterates the Hebrew words that mean "My God, my God." The NIV has "Eloi, Eloi," the Aramaic words that mean the same thing. Probably the NIV is correct here. Jesus evidently quoted these words in Aramaic (cf. Mark 15:34). The remaining words "lama sabachthani" are Aramaic. Matthew translated Jesus’ Aramaic words into Greek, or perhaps a later copyist made the change.
By comparing the Gospel accounts we know that Jesus spoke seven times while hanging on the cross. First, He said, "Father, forgive them" (Luke 23:34). Second, He told one of the insurrectionists crucified with Him, "Today you shall be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Third, He told His mother, "Woman, behold your son," and He told John, "Behold, your mother" (John 19:26-27). Fourth, He cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Fifth, He said, "I thirst" (John 19:28). Sixth, He exclaimed, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Seventh, He cried, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46).
This statement by some onlookers reflects a belief that Elijah, whom God took to heaven without dying, would come to rescue the righteous from their distress. There is no biblical basis for this idea, though later Jews held it. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "El(e)ias," by J. Jeremiah , 2:930.] Perhaps it had some connection with the prophecy about Elijah’s return to herald Messiah’s appearing.
Evidently one of the soldiers took another opportunity to mock Jesus further (cf. Matthew 27:34). The Greek word translated "sour wine" or "wine vinegar" is oxos and means "vinegar." It probably describes the wine that the soldiers strengthened with vinegar and drank themselves. By giving this to Jesus they really lengthened His sufferings. It was a profession of compassion to offer Jesus the drink, but it did Him no favor (cf. Psalms 69:21). "But" (Gr. de) in the NASB in Matthew 27:49 is too strong a translation. "Leave Him alone now" gives the sense better. The soldiers wanted to see what the result of Jesus’ drinking the vinegar would be. With false piety the soldiers sarcastically said they would wait to see if Elijah would come to rescue Jesus.
Forsaken by everyone including His Father, Jesus again cried out loudly in His agony (cf. John 19:30). This was His sixth utterance on the cross. Then followed, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46; cf. Psalms 31:6). Shortly thereafter He dismissed His spirit (i.e., what animated His life, Gr. pneuma). Matthew’s description of the moment of Jesus’ death shows that Jesus had sovereign control over His own life (cf. John 10:18). Jesus manifested His kingly authority even with His dying breath. He did not commit suicide as Judas had done, but He laid down His life in self-sacrifice for the sins of humankind (cf. Matthew 20:28).
"The Greek words used here and in John 19:30 are unique in the N.T. In fifteen other Bible verses, ’gave up the spirit,’ or ’yielded up the spirit,’ is used to translate a single Hebrew or Greek word meaning breathe out or expire. This is true of the description of the death of Jesus in Mark 15:37; Mark 15:39 and Luke 23:46. But in Matthew 27:50 and John 19:30 alone these expressions translate a Greek phrase of two words, meaning give over the spirit or deliver up the spirit. The death of Jesus was different from that of any other man. No one could take His life from Him except as He was willing to permit it (John 10:18). Christ chose to die so that we might live." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., pp. 1043-44.]
The inner veil of the temple is probably in view here, the one separating the holy place from the temple courtyard (cf. Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 6:19-20; Hebrews 9:11-28; Hebrews 10:19-22). [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., pp. 1079-80.]
"According to Jewish Tradition, there were, indeed, two Veils before the entrance to the Most Holy Place (Yoma Matthew 27:1). . . . one Veil hung on the side of the Holy, the other on that of the Most Holy Place. . . . The Veils before the Most Holy Place were 40 cubits (60 feet) long, and 20 (30 feet) wide, of the thickness of the palm of the hand . . ." [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:611.]
The tearing happened at 3:00 p.m., the time of the evening incense offering. A priest would normally have been standing in the holy place offering incense when it tore (cf. Luke 1:8-10). Some early non-biblical Jewish sources also report unusual phenomena in the temple 40 years before its destruction in A.D. 70, one of which is the temple curtain tearing. [Note: See Robert L. Plummer, "Something Awry in the Temple? The Rending of the Temple Veil and Early Jewish Sources that Report Unusual Phenomena in the Temple around AD 30," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48:2 (June 2005):301-16.]
"The fact that this occurred from top to bottom signified that God is the One who ripped the thick curtain. It was not torn from the bottom by men ripping it." [Note: Barbieri, p. 90.]
This was a supernatural act that symbolized the opening of access to God and the termination of the Mosaic system of worship. This event marked the end of the old Mosaic Covenant and the beginning to the New Covenant (cf. Matthew 26:26-29). Jesus Himself now replaced the temple (cf. Matthew 26:61). He also became the great High Priest of His people. The rent veil also prefigured the physical destruction of the temple, a necessary corollary to its spiritual uselessness from then on.
Earthquakes often accompanied divine judgment and the manifestation of God’s glory in the Old Testament (1 Kings 19:11; Isaiah 29:6; Jeremiah 10:10; Ezekiel 26:18). [Note: See R. J. Bauckham, "The Eschatological Earthquake in the Apocalypse of John," Novum Testamentum 19 (1977):224-33.] This one may have been responsible for the rending of the temple veil, the splitting of the rocks, and the opening of the tombs. The temple stood on a geological fault that has caused minor damage throughout history. [Note: D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible, p. 25.] The supernatural occurrences that accompanied Jesus’ crucifixion hinted at its spiritual implications.
One writer suggested that the sentence begun in Matthew 27:51 should really end with "were opened" or "broke open" in Matthew 27:52. [Note: J. W. Wenham, "When Were the Saints Raised?" Journal of Theological Studies 32 (1981):150-52.] There were no punctuation marks in the original Greek text. Thus the two events that accompanied the earthquake were the rending of the temple veil and the splitting of the rocks. These things happened when Jesus died.
The resurrection of the saints (lit. holy people) that Matthew described happened when Jesus arose from the dead. This explanation obviates the problem of people coming out of their graves when Jesus died but not showing themselves until He arose. Matthew did not answer many questions that we would like answers to such as what type of bodies they had and whether they died again or went directly to heaven. They were Old Testament saints. I suspect that they experienced the same type of resurrection that Lazarus did. Perhaps Matthew mentioned their resurrections here to help us appreciate the fact that Jesus’ death provided the basis for the resurrection of believers who died before the Cross as well as after it. Maybe he placed it here also to avoid breaking the narrative flow of chapter 28 and to connect Jesus’ death immediately with resurrection. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 582.] The King had authority over life and death.
"This event is nowhere explained in the Scriptures but seems to be a fulfillment of the feast of the first fruits of harvest mentioned in Leviticus 23:10-14. On that occasion, as a token of the coming harvest, the people would bring a handful of grain to the priest. The resurrection of these saints, occurring after Jesus Himself was raised, is a token of the coming harvest when all the saints will be raised." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 236.]
The immediate results of Jesus’ death 27:51-56 (cf. Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:45; Luke 23:47-49)
What the centurion and the other soldiers meant when they called Jesus "the Son of God" depends somewhat on who they were and what their background was. The centurion was a Roman soldier responsible for 100 men, not that that many guarded Jesus then. The other soldiers may have been Romans from outside Palestine or Gentile residents of the land who served in the army. They probably meant that Jesus was a divine being in a pagan sense. If so, they spoke more truly than they knew. The darkness, earthquake, and Jesus’ manner of dying convinced these hardened soldiers that this was no ordinary execution. They seem to have reacted superstitiously and fearfully. Matthew recorded the centurion’s comment as another ironical testimony to Jesus’ messianic identity. Here Gentiles testified to the identity of Israel’s Messiah whom the Jews had rejected.
"In declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, the Roman soldiers ’think’ about him as God ’thinks’ about him [cf. Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; Matthew 16:23]. Accordingly, their evaluative point of view concerning Jesus’ identity can be seen to be in alignment with that of God. . . .
"Two consequences flow from this. The first is that the soldiers acclamation becomes the place in Matthew’s plot where Jesus is, for the first time, both correctly and publicly affirmed by humans to be the Son of God. And the second consequence is that, as a result of the soldiers’ acclamation, the way is in principle now open for the task of ’going and making disciples of all nations.’ Or, to put it differently, one could also say that the way is now open for the task of making the salvation Jesus has accomplished in his death owing to his conflict with Israel redound to the benefit of all humankind. Then, too, since the Roman soldiers are themselves Gentiles, they attest in this way as well that the time for embarking upon the universal mission is at hand." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 90.]
Other confessions that Jesus is God’s Son appear in Matthew 3:17; Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6; Matthew 8:29; Matthew 11:25-27; Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16; Matthew 17:5; Matthew 21:37-39; Matthew 22:42-45; and Matthew 24:36.
Why did Matthew include reference to the women who observed the crucifixion? Even though Jewish society did not regard women equally with men, their witness of Jesus’ death would have added some credibility to Matthew’s account (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27-31). As Mary, who seemed to understand and believe something of what Jesus had said about dying (Matthew 26:6-13), they did not abandon Him as most of His unfaithful male disciples had done. The only believing disciples who did not abandon Him appear to have been a few powerless women, who could not help Him but only observed His sufferings from afar, and John (John 19:26-27). These women were the last at the cross and the first at the tomb (cf. Matthew 28:1) indicating their devotion to Jesus whom they had followed in Galilee and ministered to financially (Luke 8:2-3). Thus one reason for this mention of the women appears to be to bridge Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection. The women Matthew chose to identify by name were probably those whom his original readers knew best by the names he used to describe them. The chart below attempts to harmonize the references in the Gospels that identify the women who observed Jesus on the cross.
|Some Women Who Observed the Crucifixion|
|Matthew 27:56||Mark 15:40||John 19:25|
|Mary Magdalene||Mary Magdalene||Mary Magdalene|
|Jesus’ mother (Mary)|
|Mary the mother of James and Joseph =||Mary the mother of James the less and Joses =||Mary the wife of Clopas|
|Mother of Zebedee’s sons =||Salome =||Jesus’ mother’s sister|
Evening would have been late afternoon. The next day, a Sabbath, began at sundown, which would have occurred about 6:00 p.m. at this time of year in Palestine. Hoehner calculated that this was the evening of Friday, April 3, A.D. 33. [Note: Hoehner, Chronological Aspects . . ., p. 143.]
The location of Joseph’s home is uncertain. It may have been Ramathaim-zophim that stood about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 1089.] Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin who had not consented to Jesus’ death (Luke 23:51). Matthew only mentioned that he was a rich disciple of Jesus (cf. Isaiah 53:9-12). In the Greek text the word translated "rich" is in the emphatic position in the sentence. Matthew apparently wanted to stress the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9: "His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, yet with a rich man in His death." Evidently Joseph was a follower from a distance since John wrote that he was a secret disciple for fear of the Jews (John 19:38). Matthew noted that even a member of the body that condemned Jesus believed on Him, another testimony that He was indeed the Messiah.
The placing of Jesus in the tomb 27:57-61 (cf. Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:31-42)
Normally the Romans let the bodies of crucified criminals rot on their crosses without burial. If family members wanted to bury a crucified loved one, they had to apply for permission to do so. The Romans usually granted these requests with the exception of criminals who had committed high treason. The Jews, however, did not want dead corpses to remain unburied overnight (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
5. The burial of Jesus 27:57-66
Matthew emphasized two things about Jesus’ burial: the fulfillment of prophecy, and the impossibility of the theory that someone stole Jesus’ body.
Joseph was bold enough to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. The fact that Pilate allowed Joseph to bury Jesus’ body shows that the governor did not think Jesus was guilty of treason. Joseph prepared the body of Jesus for burial with the help of Nicodemus (John 19:39) and perhaps other friends and or servants.
Matthew did not mention how these men wrapped Jesus’ body for burial but simply stated that the cloth (Gr. sindon) they used was expensive. This reflected their respect for Jesus.
Joseph’s new tomb, a sign of his wealth, was probably near the present Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This area had been a stone quarry centuries earlier out of whose walls the Jews had cut tombs. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 584.] Joseph had prepared this tomb for himself, but now he put Jesus in his place. This was an extravagant act of devotion (cf. Matthew 26:6-13). It was impossible for Jesus to escape from a tomb hewn out of solid massive rock (Gr. petra, cf. Matthew 16:18) even if He had been alive when placed in it. Matthew built a strong case for the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, as he did for the virgin birth of Jesus.
"Tombs were of various kinds. Many were sealed with some sort of boulder wedged into place to discourage wild animals and grave robbers. But an expensive tomb consisted of an antechamber hewn out of the rock face, with a low passage (cf. ’bent over,’ John 20:5; John 20:11) leading into the burial chamber that was sealed with a cut, disk-shaped stone that rolled in a slot cut into the rock. The slot was on an incline, making the grave easy to seal but difficult to open: several men might be needed to roll the stone back up the incline." [Note: Ibid.]
The Romans did not permit friends to mourn the deaths of criminals they executed. These women then witnessed Jesus’ burial along with Joseph and Nicodemus (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:4). Matthew’s notation of what they saw prepares for Matthew 28:1.
The day to which Matthew referred was the Sabbath. He probably referred to it as he did to avoid the confusion that often arises when describing the Sabbaths associated with feasts. The Sanhedrin members could confer with Pilate if they did not have to travel more than a Sabbath day’s journey and if they did not have to enter his residence (cf. John 18:28). However they could hardly do everything else they did without violating the Sabbath, something they hypocritically had charged Jesus with doing.
The guarding of Jesus’ tomb 27:62-66
Matthew’s Gospel is the only one that includes this pericope. It is a witness to the falsehood of the chief priests and elders’ claim that someone stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15).
Jesus was in the tomb only about 36 hours, but because these hours included parts of three days the Jews viewed the period as three days long (cf. Matthew 12:40). The fact that Jesus’ prediction of His resurrection had reached the ears of these men reflects badly on the disciples’ lack of faith. They should have understood and believed that Jesus would arise since knowledge of His prediction of this event was so widespread. These Sanhedrin members did not believe Jesus would rise. They wanted to guard against any plot that His disciples might concoct alleging that He arose. The Jews needed Pilate’s approval for any military action.
Jesus’ first "deception" from their viewpoint was His messiahship, and His last (second) was His claim that He would rise from the dead. The chief priests and Pharisees wanted to protect the people from deception. Matthew viewed their action as self-deception designed to deceive others. They had formerly accused Jesus of being a deceiver (Matthew 26:4).
Pilate refused to assign his own troops to guard Jesus’ tomb, but he allowed the Jewish leaders to use their temple guards for this purpose (cf. Matthew 28:11). Pilate’s reply was probably cynical. These men had feared Jesus when He was alive, and now they feared His disciples after He was dead. Pilate did not think the chance that Jesus’ disciples would steal His body was very great. The chief priests and Pharisees secured the tomb by posting their guards at the site and by putting an official wax seal on the stone door (cf. Psalms 2:4).
This pericope stresses the corruptness of Israel’s rulers and their willful rejection of Jesus. [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 314.] It also shows that Jesus was definitely dead.
"The incongruous, ironical result is that the opponents took Jesus’ words about rising from the dead more seriously than did the disciples." [Note: Hagner, Matthew 14-28, p. 864.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 27". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
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