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The End of Judas.
Christ delivered to Pilate:
v. 1. When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death;
v. 2. and when they had bound Him, they led Him away, and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate, the governor.
The trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, the highest court of the Jewish Church, had lasted into the hours of early morning on Friday, to the time of cock-crowing. Even after that, the Lord had been given no rest, the wicked tortures which some of the servants and others inflicted upon Him robbing Him of even the few moments of respite which his racked and weary body needed. And as soon as the day dawned, the members of the Council convened once more to confirm the sentence of a few hours before, and to make plans for carrying out the resolution thus passed. The law required at least two sittings in grave criminal cases, and thus they observed the letter, even if they did not comply with the spirit of the Law. All the members being present, a formal vote was taken, really only a formality, since any opposing voices would quickly have been silenced. Again the object is nakedly stated: to put Him to death. It seems from the language used by Luke 22:66, that they led Jesus, in formal procession, from the palace of the high priest to the House of Polished Stones, the meeting-hall at the Temple, for according to the Talmud sentence of death could be pronounced only in this room. In the bitterness of their hatred and their burning desire for revenge, the Jews even overlooked the fact that on a festival day the rules of the Sabbath held good, according to which a meeting of the Sanhedrin was unlawful. Having agreed upon their course of action, they now led forth the Lord, bound like a criminal, and delivered Him to Pilate, the governor or procurator of the province. For since Judea had become a Roman province, after the deposition of Archelaus, the Jews no longer had the right to carry out a sentence of capital punishment. They were obliged to turn over criminals whom they believed guilty of death to the procurator, who resided at Caesarea, but came up to Jerusalem during the week of the Passover, partly to keep order among the many thousands of pilgrims, partly to overawe and thus keep in check any Revolutionary spirits by the power of Roman prestige.
The remorse and death of Judas:
v. 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,
v. 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.
v. 5. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the Temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
Here we see both facts, as Luther says, namely, that the sin enters in a very smooth way, but afterwards causes a terrible end. Judas had probably been under the impression that Jesus would do as He often had done, make use of His divine power, throw off His bonds, and walk away a free man. But the procession to the governor's palace showed him definitely that there would be no miraculous deliverance in this case. Christ's condemnation by the Jews had been voted upon, and it was to be expected that the governor would agree to the demand of the Jews. As this certainty was brought home to him, his eyes were suddenly opened to the heinousness of his offense against Jesus. Deep remorse and sorrow over this took hold of him, a repentance nursed by Satan, as seeing only the depth, the abyss of the transgression. His first thought was not to make an open confession of his sin to the Lord, humbly imploring the forgiveness which was even now being earned for this sin also, but to get rid of the fruits and proof of his sin. So he returned the thirty pieces of silver, the reward of iniquity, attempting to hand the money back to the high priests and elders that had accepted the offer of betrayal from him. He realized now that his betrayal of innocent blood, of the blood of an innocent, holy man, was a grievous sin. But he met with a cool reception, being told that this was no concern of theirs; he must attend to his own affairs. That is the manner of the tempters and deceivers: Before the sin is committed, they exhibit a kind face, but when the victim of their wiles is tortured by harrowing remorse, they disclaim all responsibility. Let each one take care of himself, is their cry at such a time. In this case the devil took care of his own. For Judas took the money which the high priests and elders rejected, threw it in the Temple, probably with the idea of making partial expiation for his sin, and then committed suicide by hanging. That was the end of a repentance which did not turn to the Savior, but despaired of ever finding mercy. The sorrow of the world worketh death, 2 Corinthians 7:10. "That is the other peculiarity of sin, which we should note carefully. In the beginning it sleeps, and seems to be an easy, harmless thing. But it does not sleep long, and when it awakens, it becomes an unbearable burden, which it is impossible to carry, unless God helps in a special way. This we see in the case of poor Judas... For when he sees the Lord being led to Pilate, and now must fear that His life is forfeited, he repents and sees for the first time what he really has done. There sin awakens and shows itself in its way so fierce and terrible that he cannot endure it. Before this he had loved the money, the thirty pieces of silver, so dearly that it seemed a small matter to him to betray and to sell Christ the Lord; but now he is changed: If he had the money and goods of the whole world, he would give it all in return for the assurance that the life of Christ the Lord might be saved."
The purchase of the field of blood:
v. 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.
v. 7. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
v. 8. Wherefore that field was called The Field of Blood, unto this day.
v. 9. 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;
v. 10. and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me
The evangelist here draws a picture of hypocrisy in its most repulsive form. The remorse of Judas over the betraying of innocent blood makes absolutely no impression upon them, but the possible infraction of a rule drawn from Deuteronomy 23:18 fills their hearts with consternation. In sanctimonious horror they hold up their hands to ward off a threatening calamity: It will never do to lay this blood-money (which they themselves had paid for that purpose) into the holy treasury. And so the pious frauds hold a solemn meeting and decide to invest the money in a cemetery for strangers, an old clay-pit being available for that purpose. Matthew refers to a prophecy which was here fulfilled in a most remarkable way, naming the more important prophet as his source, Jeremiah 18:2-3; Jeremiah 32:6-15; Zechariah 11:13. They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him who was valued at that sum, or the price of the inestimably Valuable One, whom they bought from the children of Israel, paying the money for the field of the potter, according to the command of the Lord. The two prophecies are here blended in a wonderful way, affording a further proof for the inspiration of both the gospel and the books of the prophets, since the Lord states His eternal truth according to His will. For many years after the events here recorded, the cemetery thus purchased was simply known as the Field of Blood, a fine monument to the chief priests and the betrayal of the Holy One of God.
The Trial before Pilate.
The beginning of the trial:
v. 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.
v. 12. And when He was accused of the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.
v. 13. Then said Pilate unto Him, Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee?
v. 14. And He answered him to never a word, insomuch that the governor marveled greatly.
Matthew's story of the events of this Friday morning brings out very strongly the dignity, the divinity, the deity of the Lord, accused before the governor as being a criminal. Upon the question of the procurator as to His being the King of the Jews, He gives him an emphatic answer in the affirmative, explaining incidentally to the unappreciative Pilate the nature of His kingdom, John 18:33-37. But with reference to all the other charges which the chief priests invented against Him, the Lord maintained a baffling silence. "The accusations were by His silence stamped as groundless, and this majesty of silence filled Pilate with wonder and amazement. " All the efforts of the governor to make Him answer the taunts of the Jews availed him nothing. Why waste breath when the Jews and Pilate knew very well that the charges were altogether unfounded! The wonder, but also the superstition of Pilate grew apace in the course of the trial.
The offer to release Jesus:
v. 15. Now, at the feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner whom they would.
v. 16. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
v. 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?
v. 18. For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him.
Pilate's was a weak, vacillating, unreliable character. He did not have the courage of his convictions, nor was he a man to enforce respect for his opinions. Rulers of his kind are liable to be unduly lenient and yielding at one time, and correspondingly harsh and cruel at another. The custom had been established at Jerusalem to release to the people, at the time of the Passover, some prisoner whom they desired to set free. The weak governor bethought himself that this custom might come to his aid in solving this difficulty without antagonizing the Jews. He had in jail at that time a most notorious and infamous criminal by the name of Barabbas, a seditionist and murderer. Now Pilate reasoned: Surely they will prefer the gentle Jesus to this dangerous, murderous person. In that sense he put the matter before them, emphasizing the fact that Jesus is called the Christ, the Messiah. He thought the choice would be easy, not reckoning with mob psychology. He was shrewd enough to see, what must have been evident to the disinterested observer from the start, that the accusations named by the Jewish leaders were nothing but trumped-up charges, due to envy on their part, because the common people heard Jesus gladly, and many of them had come to the knowledge of the truth.
The dream of Pilate's wife:
v. 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.
Here was an interlude. The first force of the attack against Jesus had spent itself, and there was a lull in the storm. The question of Pilate was before the people. And therefore the governor, who had spent some time in the inner room with Jesus in the effort to get at the bottom of the matter, took the opportunity to sit down on the official judgment-chair, which stood elevated upon a stone pavement. He awaited the decision of the people in order to render judgment accordingly. Here he received a warning from an unexpected quarter, for his wife, terrified by a dream she had had the night before, sent to him, beseeching him to have nothing to do with the proceedings against Jesus. She calls Him a just man and wants justice for Him. But apparently this did not influence Pilate in any way. In the apocryphal Acts of Pilate, this incident is carried out very extensively and embellished strongly.
The progress of the trial:
v. 20. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
v. 21. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
v. 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.
v. 23. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath He done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let Him be crucified.
The fact that Pilate had placed Jesus on a level with Barabbas had been a concession to the Jews, for it placed an innocent man in the same class with a criminal, while in reality there was no comparison. The Jews felt the weakness of Pilate's position and were not slow about taking advantage of it. The chief priests sent their messengers through the crowd to incite the passions ever more strongly. There was not much persuasion needed; a mob is easily swayed, especially when deeds of violence are contemplated. When Pilate therefore put the question to them as to their choice between the two men, they called loudly for the release of the guilty one. Many of the members of this crowd may have been more than half convinced a few short days before that Jesus was a great prophet, if nothing more, but under the skillful prodding of the Sanhedrin's agents they take the part of the enemies of Christ. They have an answer even for Pilate's somewhat perplexed inquiry as to how he was to dispose of Jesus. With increasing volume their hoarse cry rolled down through the narrow streets: Let Him be crucified! And upon Pilate's inane and futile inquiry: What evil has He done, anyway? they realized more strongly than ever that they had the governor in their power. It was no longer a question of Christ's guilt or innocence, but of yielding to the demand of the rabble and the threats of the elders and chief priests. The uproar increased from one minute to the next, and the governor was unable to cope with the situation.
Pilate's last attempt to reason:
v. 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.
v. 25. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us and on our children.
From the beginning, Pilate had miscalculated badly: He had not insisted upon proper legal procedure in demanding definite charges with sufficient testimony; he had not reckoned with mob influence, the chief priests outgeneraled him. It had now gotten to the point where he was facing a tumult which might develop into an insurrection. And so he continues the weakling's course in trying to shift the blame from his own person. Calling for some water, he washed his hands before all the people as a token of his innocence. He wanted to be held blameless in the entire matter; the guilt of this innocent blood should not rest upon him. In making this statement, he was either a hypocrite or a coward. Either he wanted to salve his conscience by declaring Christ's innocence openly, or he declared that he was forced into a condemnation against his sincere belief. In either case he was guilty, though he places the whole blame on the Jews. "But thus it always happens with the blood of Christ the Lord and with that of His Christians. The older Herod murders the innocent children about Bethlehem. His son murders the holy John the Baptist. And both of them thought they might get some benefit out of such murder. Pilate here also does not consider it a serious matter that he condemns Christ to death. He fondly imagines that, as he thinks of it, God will also think of it, and consider him blameless. But without doubt the wrath of God did not hesitate about coming, and the house, generation, and name of Pilate was annihilated, and body and soul condemned to hell and everlasting fire. There he found out how innocent he was of this blood. " The governor's action only brought out a most blood-curdling curse on the part of the people: May the blood of this man be upon us and upon our children! If this man be innocent, and we demand His death as a guilty person, may the punishment of such a crime be visited upon us, and upon our children after us! A little more than a generation later, this terrible curse was visited upon them, then their account was demanded of them with a heavy reckoning, in one of the most horrible judgments of God that history knows of.
Jesus condemned, and mocked by the soldiers:
v. 26. Then released he Barabbas unto them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.
v. 27. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto Him the whole band of soldiers.
v. 28. And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe.
v. 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!
v. 30. And they spit upon Him, and took the reed, and smote Him on the head.
It was not a trial which here came to an end, but a travesty upon justice; Barabbas is released, but Jesus condemned. A type of the redemption, even at that: The innocent found guilty, the guilty released. But Pilate adds insult to injury and gives further evidence of the cruelty of small natures by having Jesus scourged, His naked back bent over a post, to which He was tied, and cut to pieces with leather thongs, as it was thus stretched out on the rack of pain. And having thus, as he hoped, fully regained the confidence of the Jews, he spoke the formal sentence of condemnation upon Jesus, sentencing Him to the death of the cross. This was a signal for the soldiers of the procurator, the prisoner was now delivered to their mercy. They first led Him into the judgment-hall of the palace, which was called praetorium from the fact that the praetor, or Roman magistrate, administered justice in this room in the absence of the higher officer of the empire. Here all the members of the Pretorian guard assembled to have their sport with the helpless victim. For a second time they stripped Him, throwing about Him, instead of His clothes, the scarlet mantle of a soldier, which had some resemblance to the robe of a king or emperor. They braided a crown of sharp thorns and pressed it down upon His head, thus lacerating the skin. They placed an old rod into His hand instead of a scepter. In mock solemnity and with feigned seriousness, they bowed their knees before Him, giving Him homage as King of the Jews. It was an insult to Christ, but also incidentally to the Jews. Their real nature came out in the climax of their torture, when they grew tired of acting, and spit in His face, while some of them took the mock scepter and drove the thorns still more deeply into the sensitive skin of the forehead by sharp blows. And in all these things the prophecies of the Old Testament, reinforced with those of Christ Himself, were fulfilled for the sake of mankind's redemption.
The Crucifixion and Death.
v. 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.
v. 32. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear His cross.
v. 33. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
v. 34. they gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall; and when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink.
v. 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.
v. 36. And sitting down they watched Him there;
v. 37. and set up over His head His accusation written, This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
The cruel mockery finally began to pall upon the soldiers; they proceeded to carry out the sentence. Taking off the mantle, they clothed Him once more in His own clothes, and led Him away to crucify Him. The very simplicity of the narrative enhances its effect a hundredfold, besides being internal evidence for the truth of Scriptures. Matthew relates only some of the chief incidents of the day. Just beyond the gates of the city the procession came upon one Simon of Cyrene, a town in African Libya, where many Jews were living. This man they pressed into service, Jesus having proved too weak to carry His cross; for the bearing of the cross was a part of the criminal's punishment. Thus they all came to a place called Golgotha, or the place of the skull, undoubtedly named so from its shape, which resembled that of the upper human skull. It was outside the walls of the city, Hebrews 13:12. Here, in accordance with the prophecy, Psalms 69:21, they gave Him vinegar or sour wine to drink, mixed with gall, a potion which was supposed to stupefy the senses and deaden the sense of pain; a Jewish custom. But Jesus refused the draught; He wanted to endure all His sufferings with full consciousness, also the pains which attended the act of crucifying. Crucifixion was a punishment of criminals. And among these Christ was reckoned; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, Isaiah 53:5. After the crucifying had been performed, the soldiers amused themselves by gambling for the garments of Jesus, probably in this manner that they first put up the several pieces and cast lots according to the value, each one thus getting a part. The coat they then made a separate stake, since it could not be divided, John 19:23-24. Thus again a prophetic word was fulfilled, Psalms 22:18, and the mocking soldiers unconsciously performed the will of God. They then settled down to their duty of watching their crucified charges, in order that no one might meddle with them, especially not for the purpose of taking any one of them down. They also affixed, at Pilate's command, a sign to the head of the cross, giving the reason for the sentence: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews; written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew-Aramaic. Thus did Pilate give vent to the bitterness of his heart, for he felt the sting of his defeat at the hands of the Jews. Thus did the soldiers enjoy their final jest at the expense of Jesus and of the nation to which He belonged. And, unconsciously, but none the less truly, they uttered therewith a comforting bit of Gospel-truth, for Jesus of Nazareth is the promised King of the Jews, the Messiah of the world.
The form of execution by means of crucifying had been introduced into Judea by the Romans when this country became a province of the Roman Empire. The Jews had made use of a post or upright pole for hanging, called the cursed tree, Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23, but the Romans employed some form of a cross-beam, and nailed the body to the cross thus formed by driving nails through the hands and feet. Since there was rarely more than a small strip beneath the feet to support the weight of the body, the pains attending crucifixion must have been the most unbearable torture, a slow straining of muscles and sinews, a gradual wrenching apart of ligaments and joints, to which was usually added the fever caused by the open wounds, Psalms 22:14-17. By Roman custom the crucified criminal was compelled to die in this excruciating agony, after which his flesh was given to the birds or to wild animals. According to Jewish custom, due partly to reasons of humanity, partly to demands of Levitical purity, the bodies must be taken down and buried. By a combination of the two customs, the practice of breaking the legs, to hasten death, and of giving the mercy-stroke of piercing the body, with a lance, was introduced.
The taunts of the people:
v. 38. Then were there two thieves crucified with Him, one on the right hand and another on the left.
v. 39. And they that passed by Revelation led Him, wagging their heads
v. 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.
v. 41. Likewise also the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders, said,
v. 42. 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.
v. 43. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him, for He said, I am the Son of God.
v. 44. The thieves also which were crucified with Him cast the same in His teeth.
Christ was numbered with the criminals, with the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12. On either side of Him were suspended men that had committed crimes worthy of death. And here the sinless Son of God, by His obedience to the will of the Father for the redemption of the world, was guilty with them, yea, a thousand, a millionfold more guilty than they. The pains of the cross were intensified by the taunting remarks of the people that thronged out from the city to see the spectacle, most of them still in a bloodthirsty mood, some brought by morbid curiosity, some few in a feeling of sincere affection and sympathy. The large majority improved the occasion after the manner of similar mobs the world over: They shook their heads, not merely in disapproval or in malignant joy, Psalms 22:7; Job 16:4; Psalms 109:25; Isaiah 37:22, but as over one whose sound intelligence one is inclined to doubt; they quoted His prophecy concerning the temple of His body, in its garbled form, a prophecy which was even then being fulfilled before their eyes, and urged Him to save Himself and to step down from the cross. To this blasphemy of the members of the mob was added the mockery of the leaders of the Jewish Church, who on this occasion so far forgot their dignity and fear of pollution as to come out and enjoy their supposed triumph, the tortures of Him whom they foolishly considered their victim. They concede that He saved others, they blasphemously conclude that He cannot save Himself. Let Him prove His claim of being the Messiah by stepping down from the cross, whereupon they would gladly believe on Him. They were totally blind in not understanding that such an attempt, if undertaken by Jesus, would utterly frustrate the entire work of redemption. It was necessary for Him to suffer to the end, if full atonement should be made. Even the criminals, the murderers on the other crosses, joined in the maledictions heaped upon Christ, until one of them was led to repentance by the influence of the Lord's patience, Luke 23:40-43.
The last hours of suffering:
v. 45. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
v. 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?
v. 47. Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
v. 48. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave Him to drink.
v. 49. The rest said, Let be; let us see whether Elias will come to save Him.
It was now high noon and the brightest time of the day. But suddenly the sun's rays were cut off, not by the obstructing circle of the moon, for it was now the time of full moon, when an eclipse of the sun is impossible (this would also not last for three full hours), but by a miracle of God. It was an extraordinary phenomenon, associated with the death of Jesus In the most intimate and mysterious manner. According to some accounts, this darkness was chronicled even by secular historians, together with the earthquake that followed. Over the whole world this darkness extended, shrouding all things in its mysterious obscurity, as on the Black Good Friday of early American history. In these three hours the Son of God was obliged to taste and endure the full force, the full horror of the divine wrath over the sins of mankind. Here the Vicar of mankind was in prison and judgment. Forsaken, rejected by God: that is the torture of hell. What deep humiliation for the eternal Son of God to enter into the depths of everlasting death and torment! But by His enduring the torments of hell we have been liberated, for in the midst of this most terrible Passion He remained obedient to God and thus conquered wrath, hell, and damnation for us. When He uttered His cry of extreme pain and terror, in the Aramaic tongue, some of the bystanders again took occasion to mock Him. Jesus had quoted the words of the prophet, Psalms 22:1, using the dialect to which He was accustomed. But they, either deliberately or foolishly, misunderstood or pretended to misunderstand Him to be calling for the help of Elijah. And while one of them, upon His second cry for something to quench His thirst, had enough feeling of compassion to reach up a sponge filled with vinegar to His lips, the others jeeringly sought to restrain him by bidding him wait until they might see whether Elijah would actually come to help Jesus. All this taunting mockery was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, Psalms 69:22. Not one word of the Lord regarding the Passion of the Savior fell to the ground.
The death of Jesus:
v. 50. Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
v. 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;
v. 52. and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
v. 53. and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared unto many.
Christ, in His capacity as Vicar and Mediator, as the Substitute for all mankind, had now endured the eternal tortures, the full punishment for the sins of the whole world. While darkness had covered the earth, He had fought His last great battle and remained victorious. And so His last cry was not that of a soul giving up the unequal battle, but that of a victor. Of His own free will and power He gave His soul into the keeping of His heavenly Father. He went into death as its conqueror. But this was like a signal to the forces of nature. The great, costly, and heavy curtain which separated the Holy Place of the Temple from the Most Holy Place, and which was never lifted but on the great Day of Atonement, to enable the high priest to bring the sacrifice for the sins of the people into the presence of God, was torn into two pieces, from the top to the bottom. This was just at the time of evening sacrifice, and must have made a deep impression upon the priest that was officiating at the altar of incense. God here indicated that there was no longer any need for this veil. The sin, which formerly separated God and man, has been removed by the one great sacrifice of the true High Priest, and there are no further sacrifices necessary, Hebrews 9:1-28. At the same time, an earthquake shook the city and country, causing rocks to be torn asunder and opening many rock-graves of the saints, of such as had died in the hope of the Messiah. Their bodies having been brought back to life, these people left their graves after the resurrection of Christ and were seen by many inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem. This indicated that the cruel reign of death had now been thrown off, that it is impossible for death to hold the bodies of them that fall asleep in Jesus.
The effect of Christ's death on the bystanders:
v. 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!
v. 55. And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto Him;
v. 56. among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.
The centurion and the soldiers of his band that had been detailed to watch the cross were deeply impressed by the remarkable evidences in nature that accompanied the death of this man whom they had mocked with the rest. A great fear fell upon them, not of superstition, but of supernatural influence. They felt that it was God speaking to them in these phenomena. And the captain voiced, not only the impression, but the conviction of all: Truly, the Son of God was this man! The happenings of that morning, together with the knowledge that the Jews were expecting a Messiah with divine attributes, which every intelligent person living in Judea was bound to learn in the course of time, had opened his eyes and given him that understanding which is necessary for salvation. In this hour of trial also, as often since, the women proved themselves more courageous than the men. They did not come forward to the very foot of the cross, as did Mary, the mother of Jesus, but they were witnesses of all that transpired there from some little distance. Some of these women had held positions of wealth and influence, but had readily and gladly left their homes, where their presence was not required, and devoted themselves to the ministry of Christ. The names of a few of them have been recorded, in lasting remembrance of this occasion, namely, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. It is a laudable thing when women that have the time, the ability, and the means to serve their Lord freely give of these talents and place themselves in the service of Christ.
The Burial of Christ.
The burial of Christ:
v. 57. When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple.
v. 58. He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
v. 59. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
v. 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 sepulcher and departed.
v. 61. And there was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulcher.
In the time of trial and greatest danger, when the chosen apostles of the Lord failed in their loyalty, some of those that had secretly clung to Him were made manifest. It was now the first evening according to the reckoning of the Jews, the time just preceding sunset, toward six o'clock. The bodies of such as were hanged were not permitted to remain on the cross until the next day, which began with sunset, Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Therefore Joseph of Arimathea, or Ramathaim Zophim, 1 Samuel 1:1, a rich counselor of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrin, who had not voted in favor of Christ's death, made the necessary arrangements for the burial of his Master. He secured permission for obtaining the body of Jesus from the governor, after which he took down the body of the Lord from the cross with the aid of Nicodemus, John 19:39, wrapped it in a new linen burial-cloth, and finally deposited it in his own new tomb, a grave hewn into the rock in his own garden. Jesus, in His death, received all the honors which the prosperous Jews expected for themselves, far more than He had ever been accustomed to during His life, Isaiah 53:12. It was a fine token of veneration and affection, and teaches some lessons. "That is, then, the fruit of the death of Christ the Lord, that the weakest, most fearful hearts come forward without dread or fear, confess Christ, bury His body, which was hanging there in all dishonor, with all signs of respect, in order to testify to the Jews, the high priests, Pilate, and all enemies of Christ that they regard Him as the Son of God, and thus glory in Him, hope in His kingdom, and are full of comfort even now that He is dead and every one is of the opinion that His career is definitely ended. For that is what Mark and Luke mean when they say that Joseph waited for the kingdom of God, that is, he hoped God would by this man organize a new kingdom on earth, forgive sins, give the Holy Ghost and eternal salvation. For that is really what the kingdom of God means, as it is promised in the prophets to be organized by Christ or the Messiah. We should also note the example of Joseph, who had ordered his grave to be made while he was still living. From which it is evident that he did not forget his last hour, as people generally do. For every one makes all arrangements for this earthly life, as though we should stay here forever. But those that fear God rather consider their whole life here upon earth as a pilgrimage, where there is nothing continuing, but where we must always be looking forward to the true fatherland. Thus pious Joseph also did. He was rich and a respected citizen of Jerusalem, yet his thoughts were ever centered: Here there is nothing continuing, thou must finally be buried. And therefore he has a grave prepared in his garden, where he otherwise took his pleasure, where he intended to look forward to the joyful resurrection with all saints, through the Lord Jesus Christ. " While these last rites were being performed for the beloved Master, and a heavy stone was then being rolled before the door of the tomb, two of the faithful women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, sat opposite the sepulcher, mourning the loss of their Lord and their Friend, but taking careful note of everything that was done.
Guarding against the theft of the body:
v. 62. Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
v. 63. saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while He was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
v. 64. Command therefore that the sepulcher 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.
v. 65. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch; go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
v. 66. So they went, and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch.
Whether it was due to a bad conscience or to vindictiveness, cannot be determined, but the Jewish chiefs even now were not satisfied. The day of preparation closed at sundown, and they were so anxious about a certain matter that they disregarded the rules of the great festival. Jesus was hardly laid into the grave when their delegation attended upon Pilate. It had occurred to them that yonder seducer, pointing contemptuously in the direction of the cross, had predicted that He would rise on the third day. What they now wanted was a way of safeguarding the tomb, in order that the body might not be stolen by fanatical disciples and His resurrection then proclaimed. In that event, they believe that the last delusion, the belief in the resurrection of Jesus, would be worse than the first one was, the belief in His Messiahship. Pilate, in a somewhat gruff manner, as though heartily disgusted with the whole affair, granted the request: Have your watch: there will be mighty little need of it, I am sure; secure the tomb as ye know how! This they proceeded to do in as thorough a manner as possible. They stretched a cord across the stone, fastening it on either side of the door with wax, upon which the seal of the governor was stamped. This was done in the presence and with the aid of the watch detailed for that purpose, the soldiers finally remaining to guard the tomb. Without knowing or in the least intending it, the Jews here prepared the way for a sound proof of the resurrection of Christ. The testimony of the very men whom they had chosen, soldiers that were entirely disinterested, would be strong evidence in favor of the great resurrection miracle.
Summary. Judas, in false remorse over his betrayal of Christ, commits suicide when the Lord is delivered to Pilate, while Jesus Himself is tried before the Roman court, sees Barabbas preferred to Him by the mob, is condemned to death by crucifixion by the court, though no guilt is found in Him, suffers the pains of crucifixion, dies on the cross, and is buried by His friends.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 27". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany