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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Matthew 27


A.M. 4037.. A.D. 33.

In this chapter we have,

(1,) The prosecution of Christ. He is early delivered up to Pilate, the Roman governor, Matthew 27:1 , Matthew 27:2 . Judas avows him to be innocent; and, in desperate grief, hangs himself, Matthew 27:3-5 . The chief priests buy a field with the money which had been given to Judas for his treachery, and which he had returned, Matthew 27:6-10 . Jesus is arraigned and tried before Pilate, Matthew 27:11-14 . Pilate, notwithstanding his conviction of Christ’s innocency, and his wife’s dream and warning, sentences him to be crucified, Matthew 27:15-26 .

(2,) The execution of Christ. His barbarous usage in the common hall, and being led to the place of execution, Matthew 27:27-33 . He is crucified, insulted, and reviled, Matthew 27:34-44 . An awful darkness covers the land, Jesus calls upon his Father, is offered vinegar to drink, and expires, Matthew 27:45-50 .

(3,) The prodigies which accompanied and followed his death, Matthew 27:51-53 . He is acknowledged as the Son of God by the centurion and others, Matthew 27:54 . Several women behold his crucifixion, Matthew 27:55 , Matthew 27:56 .

(4,) His honourable burial by Joseph of Arimathea; and the malice of the Jewish rulers, in setting a watch on his grave, Matthew 27:57-66 .

Verses 1-2

Matthew 27:1-2. When the morning was come As soon as the day dawned, the chief priests and elders took counsel against Jesus, &c. It seems they separated for the space of an hour or two, and at daybreak came together again to consult what method they should take to carry into execution the sentence they had passed against him, namely, to put him to death for the pretended crime of blasphemy. And now they resolved to carry him before Pilate the governor, loaded with chains, that he likewise might give sentence against him. For, indeed, otherwise they could not accomplish their purpose; the power of life and death being now taken out of their hands. The Roman governors of Judea, it must be observed, resided commonly at Cesarea, and there was only an inferior officer in Jerusalem, with a single legion to keep the peace of the city. At the great festivals, however, they came up to prevent or suppress tumults, and to administer justice; for the governors of provinces frequently visited the principal towns under their jurisdiction on this latter account. Accordingly it is insinuated, John 18:39, that Pilate was wont to give judgment in Jerusalem at the passovers. Being come, therefore, as usual, a while before the feast, Pilate heard of the stir that was among the rulers, and was informed, perhaps by Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea, of the character of the person on whose account it was made; and that the chief priests were actuated by envy in their proceedings against him, Matthew 27:18.

Verses 3-5

Matthew 27:3-5. Then Judas, when he saw that he was condemned Which probably he thought Christ would have prevented by a miracle; repented himself Of the fatal bargain he had made, and the great guilt he had thereby contracted; and being pierced with the deepest remorse and agony of conscience on that account; to make some reparation, if possible, for the injury he had done, he came and confessed his sin openly before the chief priests, scribes, and elders, bringing again the money with which they had hired him to commit it, and earnestly begging that they would take it back. It seems he thought this the most public testimony he could give of his Master’s innocence, and of his own repentance. I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood: and they said, What is that to us? They answer with the steady coolness of persons who knew no shame or remorse for their wickedness. See thou to that But was it nothing to them that they had thirsted after this innocent blood, and hired Judas to betray it, and had now condemned it to be shed unjustly? Was this nothing to them? Ought it not to have given a check to the violence of the prosecution; a warning to take heed what they did to this just man? Thus do fools make a mock at sin, as if no harm were done, no hazard run by the commission of the greatest wickedness. Thus light did these Jewish priests and elders make of shedding innocent blood! When Judas found that he could not prevent the dreadful effects of his traitorous conduct, “his conscience, being enraged, lashed him more furiously than before, suggesting thoughts which by turns made the deepest wounds in his soul. His Master’s innocence and benevolence, the usefulness of his life, the favours he had received from him, with many other considerations crowding into his mind, racked him to such a degree, that his torment became intolerable; he was as if he had been in the suburbs of hell. Wherefore, unable to sustain the misery of those agonizing passions and reflections, he threw down the wages of his iniquity, (which the chief priests and elders would not take back,) in the temple Probably in the treasury, before the Levite porters and others who happened to be there, and then went away in despair, and hanged himself Making such an end of a wicked life as one might expect those to make into whom Satan enters, and who are given up to the love of money, for which this wretch betrayed his master, friend, and Saviour, and cast away his own soul.” See Matthew 24:24. The word απηγξατο , here rendered, he hanged himself, plainly denotes strangling, but does not say whether by hanging or otherwise. The term used in those places where hanging is mentioned is different from this. Our translation follows the Vulgate, laqueo se suspendit. The Syriac renders it, he strangled himself. “St. Peter seems to give rather a different account, Acts 1:18. Falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And to reconcile the two passages, Tob 3:10 is adduced to prove that the word απηγξατο in Matthew may signify suffocation with grief in consequence of which a man’s bowels may gush out; and instances are cited of persons who are supposed to have died in this manner. But as these instances may be otherwise understood, it is more natural to suppose that Judas hanged himself on some tree growing out of a precipice; and that the branch breaking, or the knot of the handkerchief, or whatever else he hanged himself with, opening, he fell down headlong, and dashed himself to pieces, so that his bowels gushed out. Peter’s phrase, ελακησε μεσος , he burst asunder, favours this conjecture.” Macknight. Thus perished Judas Iscariot the traitor, a miserable example of the fatal influence of covetousness, and a standing monument of the divine vengeance, proper to deter future generations from acting contrary to conscience, through the love of the world. Some have said, that he sinned more in despairing of the mercy of God than in betraying his Master, but it is probable his sin was in its own nature unpardonable; at least it appeared so to him; at which we cannot wonder, if he noticed, as it is probable he did, the words uttered by Christ at his last supper with his disciples, Wo to that man, &c. It had been good for that man if he had not been born. Doubtless the terrors of the Almighty set themselves in array against him; and all the threatenings and curses written in God’s book entered his soul, as water may into the bowels, or oil insinuate itself into the bones, as was foretold concerning him, Psalms 109:18-19, and drove him to this desperate shift for the escaping of a hell within, to leap into a hell before him, which was but the perfection and perpetuity of the horror and despair felt in his soul. Thus we see in him, that even sorrow for sin, if it be not according to God, worketh death, even the worst kind of death, death eternal, while godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation. And as we saw the latter of these kinds of sorrow exemplified before in the story of Peter, so we see the former exhibited here in this of Judas.

Verses 6-8

Matthew 27:6-8 . And the chief priests took the silver pieces They refused to receive them from Judas, for fear, perhaps, of taking thereby the whole guilt of the murder of Christ upon themselves, which they wished Judas to bear with them; but the money being thrown down in some place belonging to the temple, in the precincts of which it is probable they held their council, they took it up; but were at first at a loss to know what use to make of it. It is not lawful, said they, to put them (the pieces of silver) into the treasury: because it is the price of blood Yes, of innocent blood: and was it lawful to purchase that? We see these priests and rulers had a conscience too! but what kind of a conscience! A conscience that strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel! They scrupled deviating from a ceremonial direction of Moses, while they were knowingly and wilfully transgressing, in the most flagrant instance possible, the eternal and unchangeable laws of justice and mercy! were adjudging to an ignominious and painful death the Holy One of God! These “arch hypocrites,” says Baxter, “make conscience of ceremony, and make no conscience of perjury, persecution, and murdering the innocent! Blood they thirst for, and will give money to procure it, but the price of blood must not be consecrated!” They scruple not to give money to procure the shedding of blood, but scruple the putting that money into the treasury! they are afraid to defile the treasury, but not afraid to pollute their souls. The word κορβαναν , here rendered treasury, occurs in no other passage in the Scriptures. Josephus makes use of it, and interprets it, τον ιερον θησαυρον , the sacred treasure. It is formed from κορβαν , originally Hebrew, which also occurs but once in the Greek form, namely, Mark 7:11, and signifies that which is given, or devoted to God. The unlawfulness of putting the thirty shekels into this repository arose from this single circumstance, that it contained the treasure consecrated to God; and the priests judged that such an offering, as this price of blood, would have been as much an abomination to the Lord, as the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, which were expressly forbidden to be brought into the house of God for any vow, or offering, Deuteronomy 23:18. They took counsel and bought the potter’s field Well known, it seems, by that name; to bury strangers in Foreigners, heathen, especially, of whom there then were great numbers at Jerusalem. To purchase this field with the money, they thought would be putting it to a pious use; so holy and charitable would they be! Perhaps they thought to atone for what they had done by this public good act of providing a burying-place for strangers, though not at their own charge! Thus, in the dark times of Popery, people were made to believe that building churches, and endowing monasteries, would make amends for immoralities. Thirty pieces of silver may seem but a small price for a field so near to Jerusalem as this was. Probably the potters, by digging earth out of it for their ware, had made it useless either for tillage or pasture. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood Because it was bought with the money Judas received for betraying his Master’s life. Providence seems to have set this name upon the field to perpetuate the memory of the transaction. Jerome, who had been upon the spot, tells us that they still showed this field in his time: that it lay south of mount Zion, and that they buried there the poorest and meanest of the people. The historian’s mentioning the purchase of the potter’s field with the money for which Judas betrayed his Master, being an appeal to a very public transaction, puts the truth of this part of the history beyond all manner of exception.

Verse 9

Matthew 27:9. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy The words here quoted are not in any copy of Jeremiah extant. But they bear a strong resemblance to the words of Zechariah 11:12-13. One MS., not of great account, has Ζεχαριου , of Zechariah. Another adds no name to the word prophet, and there is none added in the Syriac version, the words being only, which was spoken by the prophet. And it seems, from a remark of Augustine, that some copies in his time named no prophet. Indeed it is not improbable that the name Jeremiah was inserted by some officious transcriber. Or we may suppose, with Bishop Hall, that in copying the words, Jeremiah was put down for Zechariah, a blunder which transcribers might easily commit, especially if the names were written by abbreviation, Ιριου for Ζριου , as the bishop says he has seen in some ancient MSS. But if the present reading is retained, we may allow, that, as the Jewish Scriptures were divided into three parts, the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, what was found in the prophets might properly enough be said to be in Jeremiah, if his prophecies stood first in the collection, just as our Lord affirmed that whatever was in the Hagiographa concerning him, was contained in the Psalms, because the Psalms stood first in that division of the Scriptures. Or, we may adopt the solution offered by Grotius, who observes, that the Jews had many prophecies handed down to them by tradition, such as the prophecy of Enoch, Judges 1:14-15, and the traditionary prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem mentioned by Josephus, and that the later prophets often allude to and repeat the words of the former. He therefore declares it to be his opinion, that the prophecy concerning the thirty pieces of silver, recorded Zechariah 11:12-13, which represented symbolically, according to the manner of the prophets, the things that were to befall the Messiah, was originally acted and spoken by Jeremiah, as Matthew affirms; but that Zechariah, who in many particulars followed Jeremiah, was directed by the Spirit to repeat it afterward, and preserve it in writing among his other prophecies; and that the Jews had preserved the knowledge of this fact by tradition; wherefore, though it be now found in Zechariah, being originally spoken by Jeremiah, Matthew has committed no error here in referring it to him. See note on Zechariah 11:12-13.

Verse 11

Matthew 27:11. And Jesus stood before the governor As a prisoner before the judge. “Little did the governor imagine,” says Bishop Porteus, “who it was that then stood before him. Little did he suspect that he himself must one day stand before the tribunal of that very person whom he was then about to judge as a criminal.” Observe, reader, we could not have stood before God because of our sins, nor have lifted up our face in his presence, if Christ had not thus been judged and condemned, and thereby made a sin- offering for us. He was arraigned that we might be discharged. For a more full account of our Lord’s appearance before Pilate, see John 18:29, &c., and Luke 23:2, &c. And the governor asked him, Art thou the king of the Jews? From Pilate’s asking our Lord this question, we must suppose that the priests explained their accusation by telling him that Jesus had travelled continually through the country, and everywhere had given himself out for the Messiah; and that even during his trial before them, he had been so presumptuous as to assume that dignity in open court. Without some information of this kind, the governor would hardly have put such a question to Jesus, no prisoner being obliged to accuse himself. And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest That is, according to the Hebrew idiom, It is as thou sayest. John tells us that our Lord added, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? that is, Dost thou ask this question of thine own accord, because thou thinkest that I have affected regal power, or, dost thou ask it according to the information of the priests, who affirm that I have acknowledged myself to be a king? Jesus undoubtedly knew what had happened, but he spake to the governor after this manner, because, not being present when the priests accused him, he had not heard what they said. Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? dost thou think that I am acquainted with the religious opinions, expectations, and disputes of the Jews? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me, as a seditious person. What hast thou done to merit such a charge? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. See on John 18:35.

Verses 12-14

Matthew 27:12-14. When he was accused of the chief priests, &c., he answered nothing In consequence of the conversation that took place between Jesus and Pilate, referred to in the preceding note, Pilate was inclined to acquit Jesus, declaring he found in him no fault at all; but the priests were not disconcerted, nor abashed by the public declaration which the governor, in obedience to conscience and truth, made of the prisoner’s innocence; for they persisted in their accusations with more vehemence than before, affirming that he had attempted to raise a sedition in Galilee; see Luke 23:5. To this heavy charge Jesus answered nothing. Nay, he continued mute, notwithstanding the governor expressly desired him to speak in his own defence, saying, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? Yes, he did hear, and still hears all that is witnessed unjustly against his truth and ways; but he keeps silence because it is the day of his patience, and does not answer as he shortly will, Psalms 50:3. In answering nothing to the accusations of the witnesses, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, chap. Isaiah 53:7. But a conduct so extraordinary, in such circumstances, astonished Pilate exceedingly, for he had good reason to be persuaded of Christ’s innocence. Indeed, his humble appearance was a sufficient refutation of the charge which the Jews brought against him, and his silence served instead of the most elaborate defence; and possibly he might decline making any public defence, lest the common people, moved by what he must have said, should have asked his release, and prevented his death; in which respect he showed his followers a noble example of courage and submission to the divine will. Besides, the gross falsehood of the accusation, known to the chief priests themselves, and to all the inhabitants of Galilee, rendered any reply needless.

Verses 15-18

Matthew 27:15-18. Now at that feast, &c. It had become a custom with the Roman governors, at the feast of the passover, to gratify the people with the pardon and release of any one prisoner they pleased. There was no law to oblige them to do this, nor is it certain when or how this custom arose. But as acts of grace are generally popular things, it is probable it originated with the Romans themselves, and that they introduced and continued it to please their tributaries. It was, however, a bad custom, being an encouragement to wickedness, and an obstruction to justice. And they had then a notable, επισημον , a remarkable, or notorious prisoner Who had really been guilty of the crime whereof they falsely accused Jesus; had made an insurrection, with accomplices, and committed murder in the insurrection; a crime which, though their impudence exceeded all bounds, they durst not lay to Christ’s charge. When they were gathered together About Pilate’s tribunal, and began with great noise and clamour to demand of him that he would do, at this passover, as he had always done upon the like occasion, Mark 15:8; and would discharge a prisoner, Pilate asked, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas or Jesus? Pilate, desiring to preserve the life of Jesus, of whose innocence he was fully convinced, in order to induce the people to ask for his release, proposes no other alternative than that scandalous and outrageous criminal who has just now been mentioned. For he knew that for envy, as well as from malice and revenge, they had delivered Jesus. That it was not his guilt, but his goodness that they were provoked at: and that they envied him because the people magnified him. Hence Pilate was willing to make the proposal to the people in such a form as might be most likely to secure his life.

Verses 19-20

Matthew 27:19-20. When he was set down, &c. While Pilate was labouring to effect his purpose, he was confirmed in his unwillingness to condemn Jesus, by a message sent from his wife by way of caution; which message was probably delivered to him publicly, in the hearing of all present, for it was intended to be a warning, not to him only, but to the prosecutors: saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man Gr. τω δικαιω , that righteous man; an honourable testimony this, not only to our Lord’s innocence, but to his virtue and universal goodness, given even at a time when he was persecuted as the worst of malefactors. And, when his friends were afraid to appear in his defence, God made even those that were strangers and enemies to speak in his favour: when Peter denied him, Judas confessed him; when the chief priests pronounced him guilty of death, Pilate declared he found no fault in him; when the women that loved him stood afar off, Pilate’s wife, that knew little of him, showed a concern for him! Observe, reader, God will not leave himself without witnesses to the truth and equity of his cause, even when it seems to be most spitefully run down by its enemies, and most shamefully deserted by its friends. I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him Whether she dreamed of the cruel usage of an innocent person, or of the judgments that were about to fall upon those that had any hand in his death, or both, her dream, it seems, was very frightful and distressing, and made such an impression on her mind, that she could not be easy till she had sent an account of it to her husband, who was sitting on the tribunal in the pavement. And the special providence of God must be acknowledged in sending this remarkable dream at this time; for it is not likely that she had heard any thing before concerning Christ, at least not so as to occasion her dreaming of him, but that the dream was immediately from God. She might, indeed, be one of those termed devout and honourable women, and might have some sense of religion; yet God sometimes revealed himself to some that had not, as to Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. Be this as it may, her message was a fair warning to Pilate, and by it and similar instances we learn, that, as the Father of spirits has many ways of access to the spirits of men, and can give them instruction even in a dream, or vision of the night; so he has many ways of giving checks to sinners in their sinful pursuits; and it is a great mercy to have such checks, whether from the word of God, or from his providence, or from faithful friends, or from our own consciences, or in any other way. The people had not yet said whether they would have Jesus or Barabbas released to them. Therefore, when Pilate received his wife’s message, he called the chief priests and rulers together, and in the hearing of the multitude made a speech to them, wherein he gave an account of the examination which Jesus had undergone at his tribunal and at Herod’s, and declared that in both courts the trial had turned out honourably for his character. Wherefore he proposed to them that he should be the object of the people’s favour. See Luke 23:13-17. But the chief priests, &c., persuaded the multitude, both by themselves and their emissaries, whom they sent abroad among them, that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus Suggesting, doubtless, that he was an impostor in league with Satan; an enemy to their church and temple; that if he were let alone, the Romans would come and take away their place and nation; that Barabbas, though an ill man, yet, not having the interest that Jesus had, could not do so much mischief. Thus they managed the mob, who otherwise were well affected to Jesus, and, if they had not been so much at the beck of their priests, would never have done such a preposterous thing as to prefer Barabbas before Jesus. Here, 1st, We cannot but look upon these wicked priests with indignation. By the law, in certain matters of controversy, the people were to be guided by the priests, and to do as they directed them, Deuteronomy 17:8. This great power, put into their hands, they wretchedly abused, and the leaders of the people caused them to err. 2d, We cannot but look upon the deluded people with pity, to see them hurried on thus violently to such great wickedness, and failing into the ditch with their blind leaders!

Verses 21-22

Matthew 27:21-22 . The governor said, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? He still hoped to gain his point, and have Jesus released: but, to his great surprise, they said, Barabbas As if his crimes were less than those of Jesus, and therefore he less deserved to die; or, as if his merits were greater, and therefore he better deserved to live! Be astonished, O heavens, at this, and thou earth, be horribly afraid! Were ever men that pretended to reason or religion guilty of such prodigious madness, such horrid wickedness! This was it that Peter charged so home upon them, when he said, Acts 3:14, Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and ye killed the Prince of life. Pilate saith, &c. Pilate, being amazed at their choice of Barabbas, was willing to hope it was rather from a fondness to him than from enmity to Jesus, and therefore put this question to them, What shall I do then with Jesus? Shall I release him likewise for the greater honour of your feast? Or, will you leave the disposing of him to me? No: They all say, LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED The punishment which Barabbas had deserved: and this probably made them think of it. But in their malice they forgot with how dangerous a precedent they furnished the Roman governor. And indeed, within the compass of a few years, it turned dreadfully upon themselves. They desired he might die that death, because it was looked upon as the most scandalous and ignominious; and they hoped thereby to make his followers ashamed to own him, and their relation to him. It was absurd for them to prescribe to the judge what sentence he should pass, but their malice and rage made them forget all rules of order and decency, and turn a court of justice into a riotous and seditious assembly. Though they that cried thus, perhaps, were not the same persons that the other day had cried, HOSANNA; yet see what a change was made in the face of the populace in a little time! When he rode in triumph to Jerusalem, so general were the acclamations of praise, that one would have thought he had no enemies; but now, when he was led in dishonour to Pilate’s judgment-seat, so general were the outcries of enmity, that one would think he had no friends! Such revolutions are there in this changeable world, through which our way to heaven lies, as our Master’s did, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report, counterchanged. 2 Corinthians 6:8.

Verse 23

Matthew 27:23. The governor said, Why? what evil hath he done? A proper question to be asked before we censure any in common discourse, much more for a judge to ask, before he pass a sentence of death. It is much for the honour of the Lord Jesus, that, though he suffered as an evil doer, yet neither his judge nor his prosecutors could find that he had done any evil. Had he done any evil against God? No: he always did those things that pleased him. Had he done any against the civil government? No: as he did himself, so he taught others to render to Cesar the things that were Cesar’s. Had he done any against the public peace? No: he did not strive or cry, nor was his kingdom of this world. Had he done any evil to particular persons? Whom had he defrauded, or otherwise injured? Not one: so far from it, that he continually went about doing good. But they cried the more, LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED. They do not go about to show any evil he had done, but, right or wrong, he must be crucified. Quitting all pretensions to the truth of the premises, they resolved to hold fast the conclusion, and what was wanting in evidence to make up in clamour.

Verses 24-25

Matthew 27:24-25. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing That he could not convince them what an unjust, unreasonable thing it was for him to condemn a man whom he believed to be innocent, and whom they could not prove to be guilty; and that instead of doing any good by his opposition to their will, a tumult was made Through their furious outcries; he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude Pilate did this, says Origen, according to the custom of the Jews, being willing to assert Christ’s innocency to them, not in words only, but by deed. Thus, in the instance of a murder, committed by an unknown hand, the elders of the city nearest to the place where the dead body was found, were to wash their hands over a heifer slain by way of sacrifice to expiate the crime, and to say, Our hands have not shed this blood, Deuteronomy 21:6. Alluding to which ceremony, the psalmist, having renounced all confederacy with wicked and mischievous men, says, I will wash my hands in innocency. But as washing the hands in token of innocence was a rite frequently used. also by the Gentiles, it is much more probable that Pilate, who was a Gentile, did this in conformity to them. He thought, possibly, by this avowal of his resolution to have no hand in the death of Christ, to have terrified the populace; for one of his understanding and education could not but be sensible that all the water in the universe was not able to wash away the guilt of an unrighteous sentence. Saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it Nevertheless, solemn as his declaration was, it had no effect; for the people continued inflexible, crying out with one consent, His blood be on us and on our children That is, We are willing to take the guilt of his death upon ourselves. The governor, therefore, finding by the sound of the cry that it was general, and that the people were fixed in their choice of Barabbas, passed the sentence they desired. He released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired, but he delivered Jesus to their will, Luke 23:25. In this conduct, notwithstanding his efforts to save Jesus, he was utterly inexcusable, and the more so the more he was convinced of Christ’s innocence. He had an armed force under his command sufficient to have scattered this infamous mob, and to have enforced the execution of a righteous sentence. But if not, he ought himself rather to have suffered death than to have knowingly condemned the innocent. Accordingly, as the ancient Christians believed, great calamities afterward befell him and his family, as a token of the displeasure of God for his perversion of justice in this instance. According to Josephus, he was deposed from his government by Vitellius, and sent to Tiberius at Rome, who died before he arrived there. And we learn from Eusebius, that quickly after, having been banished to Vienne in Gaul, he laid violent hands upon himself, falling on his own sword. Agrippa, who was an eye-witness to many of his enormities, speaks of him, in his oration to Caius Cesar, as one who had been a man of the most infamous character.

As to the imprecation of the Jewish priests and people, His blood be on us and on our children, it is well known, that as it was dreadfully answered in the ruin so quickly brought on the Jewish nation, and the calamities which have since pursued that wretched people in almost all ages and countries; so it was particularly illustrated in the severity with which Titus, merciful as he naturally was, treated the Jews whom he took during the siege of Jerusalem; of whom Josephus himself writes, [ Bell. Jud., 50. 5:11, (al. Matthew 6:12,) § 1,] that μαστιγουμενοι ανεσταυρουντο , having been scourged, and tortured in a very terrible manner, they were crucified in the view and near the walls of the city; perhaps, among other places, on mount Calvary; and it is very probable, this might be the fate of some of those very persons who now joined in this cry, as it undoubtedly was of many of their children. For Josephus, who was an eye-witness, expressly declares, “that the number of those thus crucified was so great that there was not room for the crosses to stand by each other; and that at last they had not wood enough to make crosses off.” A passage which, especially when compared with the verse before us, must impress and astonish the reader beyond any other in the whole story. If this were not the very finger of God, pointing out their crime in crucifying his Son, it is hard to say what could deserve to be called so. Elsner has abundantly shown, that among the Greeks, the persons on whose testimony others were put to death used, by a very solemn execration, to devote themselves to the divine vengeance, if the person so condemned were not really guilty. See Doddridge.

Verse 26

Matthew 27:26. And when he had scourged Jesus, &c. This was an ignominious and cruel punishment, usually, but most unreasonably inflicted by the Romans on such as were condemned to be crucified; as if the exquisite tortures of crucifixion were not a punishment sufficient of any crime, real or pretended, without adding to them those of the scourge. Matthew and Mark seem to signify, that the scourging of Jesus was performed on the pavement; for they tell us, that after it was over, the soldiers took him into the prætorium, and mocked him. We may, therefore, suppose, that the priests and multitude required the governor to scourge him openly in their sight; and that he, to pacify them, consented, contrary to his inclination, hoping, as some suppose, that this previous punishment would excite the pity of the Jews and prevent Christ’s crucifixion. That, however, was not the case. Nothing short of that ignominious and torturing death would satisfy them. Jesus being thus scourged, the Scriptures were fulfilled, I gave my back to the smiters, Isaiah 50:6. The ploughers ploughed on my back: they made long their furrows, Psalms 129:3. By his stripes we are healed.

Verses 27-30

Matthew 27:27-30. Then the soldiers took Jesus The soldiers, having received orders to crucify Jesus, carried him into the common hall, or prætorium, in Pilate’s palace, after they had scourged him. Here they added the shame of disgrace to the bitterness of his punishment; for, sore as he was, by reason of the stripes they had laid on him, they dressed him as a fool in an old purple robe, (Mark, John,) in derision of his being called King of the Jews. Then they put a reed into his hand, instead of a sceptre; and having made a wreath of thorns, they put it on his head for a crown, forcing it down in such a rude manner that his temples were torn, and his face besmeared with blood. It is certain that they intended by this crown to expose our Lord’s pretended royalty to ridicule and contempt; but, had that been all, a crown of straws might have served as well. They undoubtedly meant to add cruelty to their scorn; which especially appeared in their striking him on the head, (Matthew 27:30.) when this crown was put on. If the best descriptions of the eastern thorns can be credited, they are much larger than any commonly known in these parts. Hasselquist, speaking of the naba, or nabka, of the Arabians, ( Trav., p. 288,) says, “In all probability this is the tree which afforded the crown of thorns put on the head of Christ: it grows very common in the East, and the plant is extremely fit for the purpose; for it has many small, and most sharp spines, which are well adapted to give great pain. The crown might be easily made of these soft, round, and pliant branches, and, what in my opinion seems to be the greatest proof of it, is, that the leaves much resemble those of ivy, as they are of a very deep green: perhaps the enemies of Christ would have a plant somewhat resembling that with which emperors and generals were used to be crowned, that there might be calumny even in the punishment.” Bishop Pearce, Michaelis, and a late learned writer, indeed, have remarked, that ακανθων may be the genitive plural either of ακανθα , thorn, or of ακανθος , the herb called bear’s-foot, a smooth plant, and without prickles. But in support of the common version let it be observed, 1st, That in both Mark and John it is called στεφανος ακανθινος , a thorny crown. This adjective, both in sacred and classical use, plainly denotes thorny; “that it ever means bear’s-foot,” says Dr. Campbell, “I have seen no evidence. Thus in the LXX., Isaiah 34:13, in the common editions, the phrase, ακανθινα ξυλα , is used for prickly shrubs. 2d, That the word ακανθα , thorn, both in the right case, and in the oblique cases, occurs in several places of the New Testament and of the LXX., is unquestionable. But that in either the word ακανθος is found, has not been pretended. Not one of the ancient, or of the Oriental versions, or indeed of any versions known to me, favours this hypothesis. The Italic and the Syriac, which are the oldest, both render the word thorns. Tertullian, the first of the Latin fathers, mentions the crown as being of thorns, and speaks in such a manner as clearly shows that he had never heard of any different opinion, or even a doubt raised upon the subject, which is very strong evidence for the common translation. Add to this, that an eminent Greek father, Clement of Alexandria, a contemporary of Tertullian, understood the word in the same manner. It is absurd, says he, (Pæd., 50:2, c. 8,) in us who hear that our Lord was crowned with thorns, ακανθαις , to insult the venerable sufferer by crowning ourselves with flowers. Several passages, equally apposite, might be given from the same chapter, but not one word that betrays a suspicion that the term might be, or a suggestion that it ever had been, otherwise interpreted. To this might be added all the ancient commentators, both Greek and Latin. There is therefore here the highest probability opposed to mere conjecture.” To the Son of God, in this condition, the rude soldiers bowed the knee, and said, Hail, king of the Jews Pretending respect, but really mocking him, and at the same time giving him severe blows, some with the reed, others with their hands. Those who smote him with the reed laid their blows upon the thorns, with which his head was crowned: thereby driving the prickles thereof afresh into his temples. Those who smote him with their hands, aimed at his cheeks or some part of his body. To see an innocent and virtuous man treated with such barbarity, one would suppose must have excited feelings of pity and sympathy in the minds of some, even of his unfeeling and hard- hearted enemies! Of this, however, if it took place, the evangelist’s are silent.

Verses 31-32

Matthew 27:31-32. After they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him But it is not said they took the crown of thorns off his head, which served to gratify both their malice and contempt; probably he died wearing it, that the title, which was written over him, might be the better understood. And led him away to crucify him It was a Jewish custom, in the time of Moses, to execute delinquents without the camp; but after Jerusalem was built, they were executed without the city walls. And Dr. Lardner has proved, by many quotations, that it was customary not only for the Jews, but also for the Sicilians, Ephesians, and Romans to execute their malefactors without the gates of their cities. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene According to custom, Jesus walked to the place of execution, and bore his cross at his first setting out, (John 19:17,) not indeed the whole cross, but the transverse beam to which he was to be nailed; the other part being at the place already. But the fatigue of the preceding night, spent without sleep, the sufferings he had undergone in the garden, his having been hurried from place to place, and obliged to stand the whole time of his trials, the want of food and loss of blood, which he had sustained, and not his want of courage on this occasion, concurred to make him so faint, that he was not long able to bear his cross. The soldiers, therefore, laid it on one Simon, a native of Cyrene in Egypt, the father of Alexander and Rufus, two noted men among the first Christians at the time Mark wrote his gospel, (see Mark 15:21,) and forced him to bear it after Jesus. This they did, however, not out of compassion for Jesus; but lest he should die with fatigue, and by that means should elude his punishment. As Jesus went along he was followed by a great crowd, particularly of women, who sighed, shed tears, beat their breasts, and bitterly lamented the severity of his lot; which gave occasion to his predicting, once more, the calamities coming on his country: for, turning unto them, he said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children, &c.; see Luke 23:27-30; thus showing, that the thoughts of those calamities afflicted his soul far more than the feelings of his own sufferings.

Verses 33-34

Matthew 27:33-34. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha A Syriac word which signifies a scull, or head. In Latin it is called Calvary. The place was so named, either because malefactors used to be executed there, or because the charnel-house or common repository for bones and sculls might have been there. Being upon an eminence, it seems to have been a proper spot of ground for the execution of criminals, as those that were crucified there might be seen at a considerable distance, and by a great number of spectators. They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall The word χολη , here rendered gall, is used with great latitude in the Septuagint. The Hebrew word, signifying wormwood, is twice so rendered, Proverbs 5:4; Lamentations 3:15. At other times it seems to denote any bitter or poisonous infusion that tasted like gall. Mark says, They gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh, εσμυρνισμενον οινον . But, it seems, the two evangelists speak of the same ingredients. For though Mark terms that wine which Matthew calls vinegar, he may really have meant vinegar, which was a common drink among the ancients, (see Numbers 6:6,) and such as might very properly be called wine, as it was usually made of wine, or of the juice of grapes. Besides, it is well known that the ancients gave the general name of wine to all fermented liquors whatsoever. It is evident, therefore, that to reconcile the evangelists here, we have no occasion for the reading of Beza’s copy, which has οινον instead of οξος . As to the other ingredient of this potion, it is probable the bitter, or poisonous infusion of Matthew mentioned above, might be called myrrh by Mark, because it had myrrh mixed with it; there being nothing more common than for a medicine, compounded of many ingredients, to take its name from some one of them that is prevalent in the composition. Or the evangelists maybe reconciled more directly by supposing, that the word used by Matthew and rendered gall, and which, as we have seen, is applied to wormwood, signifies any bitter drug whatsoever, and therefore may denote myrrh, which has its name from a Hebrew word signifying bitterness. Casaubon has given a third solution of this difficulty. He thinks that our Lord’s friends put a cup of myrrhed wine into the hands of one of the soldiers to give to him, but that the soldier, out of contempt, added gall to it. Whatever were the ingredients in this liquor, it is probable that it was offered to Christ by some of his friends, with a view to stupify and render him insensible of the ignominy and pain of his punishment. For it appears it was not unusual to give criminals drink of this kind, before their execution, in order to make them insensible of the pains of death. Jesus, however, refused the potion that was offered him, because he would bear his sufferings, however sharp, not by intoxicating and stupifying himself, but through the strength of faith, fortitude, and patience.

Verses 35-36

Matthew 27:35-36. And they crucified him The person crucified was nailed to the cross as it lay on the ground, through each hand, extended to the utmost stretch, and through both the feet together. Then the cross was raised up, and the foot of it thrust with a violent shock into a hole in the ground prepared for it. This shock disjointed the body, whose whole weight hung upon the nails, till the person expired through mere dint of pain. This kind of death was used only by the Romans, and by them inflicted only on slaves and the vilest criminals. With regard to Jesus, therefore, as soon as he refused the liquor offered him, the soldiers, according to custom, stripped him quite naked, and in that condition began to fasten him to the tree. But while they were piercing his hands and his feet with the nails, instead of crying out through the acuteness of his pain according to Luke 23:34, he calmly, though fervently prayed for them, and for all who had any hand in his death, beseeching God to forgive them, and excusing them by the only circumstance that could alleviate their guilt their ignorance. Saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. This was infinite meekness and goodness, truly worthy of God’s only-begotten Son; an example of forgiveness which, though it never can be equalled by any, is fit to be imitated by all. Dr. Heylin ( Theolog. Lect, p. 103) has well described our Lord’s passion, as follows: “The appointed soldiers dig the hole in which the cross was to be erected. The nails and the hammer are ready. The cross is placed on the ground, and Jesus lies down upon the bed of sorrows. They nail him to it. They erect it. His nerves crack. His blood distils. He hangs upon his wounds,” naked, “a spectacle to heaven and earth.” Thus was the only-begotten Son of God, who came down to save the world, crucified by his own creatures! Hear, O heavens!

O earth, earth, earth, hear! The Lord hath nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against him!

And parted his garments, casting lots When the soldiers had nailed his naked body to the cross, and raised him up upon it, they divided his garments into four parts, John 19:23, and cast lots for the shares. This was according to the Roman custom; among whom soldiers performed the office of executioners, and divided among them the spoils of the criminals. His coat was excepted out of this division, because, as it was without seam, they agreed to cast lots for it by itself. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, &c. This clause, though wanting in many valuable copies of this gospel, and in several early versions, is, however, found in the parallel place of John’s gospel, to the text of which it unquestionably belongs, not being omitted by one MS. or version, or ancient commentator. As it was a practice with some transcribers to correct, and, as they imagined, improve one gospel by another, Dr. Campbell thinks it probable, that it was at first copied by some one out of John’s gospel, and inserted in this. The prophet here referred to is David, who, Psalms 22:0., foretold this, and several other circumstances of the Messiah’s sufferings, upward of a thousand years before they took place. And sitting down, they watched him The Romans used also to appoint a guard to stay by the crucified persons, that none might come and take them away. And the chief priests, doubtless, would take care that this guard was set, lest any of the people, of whom they were still jealous, should rise and rescue Jesus. But Providence so ordered it, that those who were appointed to watch him, became thereby unexceptionable witnesses for him; having the opportunity to see and hear those things which extorted from them that noble confession, Matthew 27:54, Truly this was the Son of God.

Verses 37-38

Matthew 27:37-38. And set over his head his accusation That is, a superscription, containing the substance of his pretended crime, written in capital letters, and in these remarkable words, THIS IS JESUS, (John adds, OF NAZARETH,) THE KING OF THE JEWS. The two other evangelists do not express the title so fully. See the note on John 19:19, &c. Bishop Pearson, (On the Creed, p. 205,) and Dr. Lardner, ( Credibil., vol. 1. p. 347,) have abundantly proved it to be usual, in cases of any extraordinary punishment, to put an inscription over the head of the sufferer, indicative of the crime for which he suffered. Then were there two thieves crucified with him “They placed Jesus in the middle, by way of mock honour, because he had called himself a king, and was now crowned with thorns; or, if the priests had any hand in this, they might design hereby to impress the spectators more strongly with the thought of his being an impostor, and to make them look on him as the chief malefactor. Thus, however, as Mark observes, the Scripture, namely, Isaiah 53:12, was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. For, in giving the history of our Lord’s sufferings, the evangelists endeavour all along to make their readers sensible that all the circumstances of them had been foreseen and foretold by the prophets. Their design in which was, to prevent the offence which might otherwise have been taken at Christ’s sufferings.

Verses 39-44

Matthew 27:39-44. They that passed by reviled him, &c. As it was a great aggravation of our Lord’s sufferings that he was crucified along with two thieves, and in the middle of them, as though he had been the chief malefactor of the three, so it was a further aggravation thereof that he was reviled, mocked, and derided by different descriptions of persons. The common people, whom the priests had incensed against him by the malicious lies which they spread concerning him, and which they pretended to found on the evidence of witnesses, seeing him hang as a malefactor on the cross, and reading the superscription that was placed over his head, expressed their indignation against him by railing on him, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, &c., save thyself The rulers having, as they imagined, wholly overturned his pretensions as the Messiah, ridiculed him on that head, and, with a meanness of soul which will render them for ever infamous, mocked him while in the agonies of death, and even most basely upbraided him with the saving power, which they could not deny that he had exerted; saying, he saved others, himself he cannot save Thus they scoff at the wonderful miracles of healing, by which he had demonstrated that he was the Messiah; and they promise to believe on him on condition that he would prove his pretensions by coming down from the cross. In the mean time nothing could be more false and hypocritical, for they continued in their unbelief notwithstanding that he raised himself from the dead, which was a much greater miracle than his coming down from the cross would have been; a miracle also that was attested by witnesses whose veracity they could not call in question; for it was told them by the soldiers whom they themselves had placed at the sepulchre to watch his body. It is plain, therefore, that their incorrigible stubbornness would not have yielded to any proof, however convincing, and that when they said they would believe if he would come down from the cross, they only meant to insult him; thinking it impossible now for him to escape out of their hands. In saying, He trusted in God, &c., they deride his faith and reliance on God, whom he had called his Father, and thus show themselves to be either real infidels, or very profane, though under a profession of religion. In speaking thus, however, they fulfilled a remarkable prophecy concerning the Messiah’s sufferings, Psalms 22:8, where it is foretold that his enemies would utter these very words, in derision of his pretensions. The thieves also, &c., cast the same in his teeth That is, one of them did so, for, according to Luke 23:39, &c., the other exercised a most extraordinary faith in our Lord, and that at a time when he was deserted by his Father, mocked by men, and hung on a cross as the worst of malefactors. Some commentators endeavour to reconcile the two evangelists by supposing, that both the thieves might revile Jesus at first. But this solution is not very probable. In Scripture, a single person or thing is often expressed in the plural number, especially when it is not the speaker’s or writer’s intention to be more particular.

Verse 45

Matthew 27:45. Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour From mid-day till three in the afternoon with us, (see note on Matthew 20:1,) there was darkness over all the land Or, over all the earth, as the original expression, επι πασαν την γην , is more literally rendered in the Vulgate, and understood by many learned men; “the sun being darkened,” says Grotius, “as Luke informs us, not by the interposition of the moon, which was then full, nor by a cloud spread over the face of the sky, but in some way unknown to mankind.” It is true, the same expression sometimes evidently signifies only all the land, as Luke 4:25, where it is so translated. It seems, however, highly probable, if the darkness did not extend to the whole earth, or, to speak more properly, to the whole hemisphere, (it being night in the opposite one,) it extended to all the neighbouring countries. “This extraordinary alteration in the face of nature was peculiarly proper,” says Dr. Macknight, “while the Sun of righteousness was withdrawing his beams from the land of Israel, and from the world, not only because it was a miraculous testimony borne by God himself to his innocence, but also because it was a fit emblem of his departure, and its effects, at least till his light shone out anew with additional splendour, in the ministry of the apostles. The darkness which now covered Judea, together with the neighbouring countries, beginning about noon and continuing till Jesus expired, was not the effect of an ordinary eclipse of the sun; for that can never happen except when the moon is about the change, whereas now it was full moon; not to mention that total darknesses occasioned by eclipses of the sun never continue above twelve or fifteen minutes. Wherefore it must have been produced by the divine power, in a manner we are not able to explain.” The Christian writers, in their most ancient apologies to the heathen, while they affirm that, as it was full moon at the passover, when Christ was crucified, no such eclipse could happen by the course of nature; “they observe, also, that it was taken notice of as a prodigy by the heathen themselves. To this purpose, we have still remaining the words of Phlegon, the astronomer and freedman of Adrian, cited by Origen, ( Contra Cels., p. 83,) at a time when his book was in the hands of the public. That heathen author, in treating of the fourth year of the 202d Olympiad, which is supposed to be the year in which our Lord was crucified, tells us, ‘That the greatest eclipse of the sun which was ever known happened then; for the day was so turned into night, that the stars in the heavens were seen.’ If Phlegon, as Christians generally suppose, is speaking of the darkness which accompanied our Lord’s crucifixion, it was not circumscribed within the land of Judea, but must have been universal. This many learned men have believed, particularly Huet, Grotius, Gusset, Reland, and Alphen.” Tertullian ( Apol., cap. 21.) says that this prodigious darkening of the sun was recorded in the Roman archives; for, says he, “at the same moment, about noontide, the day was withdrawn; and they, who knew not that this was foretold concerning Christ, thought it was an eclipse.” And Eusebius, in his Chronicle, at the eighteenth year of Tiberius, says, “Christ suffered this year, in which time we find in other commentaries of the heathen, these words: ‘There was a defection of the sun: Bithynia was shaken with an earthquake; and many houses fell down in the city of Nice.’” And then he proceeds to the testimony of Phlegon. See Whitby.

Verse 46

Matthew 27:46. About the ninth hour Just before he expired; Jesus cried with a loud voice Our Lord’s great agony probably continued these three whole hours, at the conclusion of which he thus cried out, while he suffered from God himself, and probably also from the powers of darkness, what was unutterable; Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani These words are quoted from the first verse of the twenty-second Psalm. (where see the note,) but it is to be observed, that they are not the very words of the Hebrew original; but are in what is called Syro-Chaldaic, at that time the language of the country, and the dialect which our Lord seems always to have used. Mark expresses the two first words rather differently, namely; Eloi, Eloi, which comes nearer to the Syriac. Some think our Lord, in his agony, repeated the words twice, with some little variation, saying at one time, Eloi, and the other, Eli. “This,” says Dr. Doddridge, “is possible, and if it were otherwise, I doubt not but Mark has given us the word exactly, and Matthew a kind of contraction of it.” Both the evangelists have added the interpretation of the words, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? which words the last-mentioned divine paraphrases thus: “O my heavenly Father, wherefore dost thou add to all my other sufferings, those which arise from the want of a comfortable sense of thy presence? Wherefore dost thou thus leave me alone in the combat, destitute of those sacred consolations, which thou couldst easily shed abroad upon my soul, and which thou knowest I have done nothing to forfeit.” Thus, in a most humble and affectionate manner, he intimated to his heavenly Father that he was only by imputation a sinner, and had himself done nothing to incur his displeasure, and showed that the want of the light of God’s countenance on his soul, and the sense of divine wrath due to the sins of mankind, were far more than all his complicated sufferings; but that his confidence in his Father, his love to him, and submission to his will, were unabated, even in that dreadful hour. In other words, while he utters this exclamation of the psalmist, he at once expresses his trust in God, and a most distressing sense of his withdrawing the comfortable discoveries of his presence, and filling his soul with a terrible sense of the wrath due to the sins which he was bearing. Some would interpret the words, My God, my God, to what a degree, or, to what length of time, or, to what [sort of persons] hast thou forsaken me? because lama, in the Hebrew, may have this signification, and the expression εις τι , whereby Mark has rendered it. But certainly the word ινατι , which answers to it here in Matthew, is not liable to such ambiguity; nor can such an interpretation of Psalms 22:1, be made in any degree to accord with the verses immediately following, as the reader will see, if he will please to turn to them. The truth is, our Lord’s words here must be viewed in the same light with his prayer in the garden. For as that prayer expressed only the feelings and inclinations of his human nature, sorely pressed down with the weight of his sufferings, so his exclamation on the cross proceeded from the greatness of his sufferings then, and expressed the feelings of the same human nature, namely, an exceeding grief at God’s forsaking him, and a complaint that it was so. But as his prayer in the garden was properly tempered with resignation to the will of his Father, while he said, Not as I will, but as thou wilt; so his complaint on the cross was doubtless tempered in the same manner, though the evangelists have not particularly mentioned it. For that in the inward disposition of his mind he was perfectly resigned while he hung on the cross, is evident beyond all doubt, from his recommending his spirit to his Father in the article of death, which he could not have done if he had either doubted of his favour, or been discontented with his appointments. That the sufferings which made our Lord utter this exclamation, “were not merely those which appeared to the spectators, namely, the pains of death which he was then undergoing, is evident from this consideration, that many of his followers have suffered sharper and more lingering bodily torture, ending in death, without thinking themselves on that account forsaken of God; on the contrary, they both felt and expressed raptures of joy under the bitterest torments. Why then should Jesus have complained and been dejected under inferior sufferings, as we must acknowledge them to have been, if there were nothing in them but the pains of crucifixion? Is there any other circumstance in his history which leads us to think him defective in courage or patience? In piety and resignation came he behind his own apostles? Were his views of God and religion more confined than theirs? Had he greater sensibility of pain than they, without a proper balance arising from the superiority of his understanding? In short, was he worse qualified for martyrdom than they? The truth is, his words on the cross cannot be accounted for but on the supposition that he endured in his mind distresses inexpressible, in consequence of the withdrawing of his heavenly Father’s presence, and a sense of the wrath due to the sins of mankind, which he was now suffering.” See Macknight. It is justly observed here by Dr. Doddridge, “That the interruption of a joyful sense of his Father’s presence (though there was, and could not but be, a rational apprehension of his constant favour, and high approbation of what he was now doing) was as necessary as it was that Christ should suffer at all. For had God communicated to his Son on the cross those strong consolations which he has given to some of the martyrs in their tortures, all sense of pain, and consequently all real pain, would have been swallowed up; and the violence done to his body, not affecting the soul, could not properly have been called suffering.” Some think Jesus on this occasion repeated the whole twenty-second Psalm. And, as it contains the most remarkable particulars of our Lord’s passion, being a sort of summary of all the prophecies relative to that subject, it must be acknowledged, that nothing could have been uttered more suitable to the circumstances wherein he then was, or better adapted to impress the minds of the beholders with becoming sentiments. For by citing it, and thereby applying it to himself, he signified that he was now accomplishing the things predicted therein concerning the Messiah. See the notes on that Psalm.

Verses 47-49

Matthew 27:47-49. Some said, This man calleth for Elias These must have been some of the strangers, of whom there was always a great concourse at the passover, who did not understand the dialect then spoken in Jerusalem. And one of them ran, &c. Jesus knowing that he had now accomplished every thing required by God of the Messiah, and foretold by the prophets, excepting that circumstance of his sufferings, which was predicted Psalms 69:21, In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink, in order to give occasion to the accomplishment of this like wise, he said aloud, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar, (John 19:28.) And one took a sponge and filled it with vinegar It is well known, that vinegar and water (which mixture was called posca) was the common drink of the Roman soldiers, for which purpose they usually carried vinegar with them in vessels when on duty. Perhaps, therefore, this vinegar was set here for their use, or for that of the crucified persons, whose torture would naturally make them thirsty. And put it on a reed They put the sponge, as John tells us, upon hyssop, that is, a stalk of hyssop, called by the other evangelists καλαμος , which signifies not only a reed, but the stalk of any plant. For that hyssop was a shrub, appears from 1 Kings 4:33, where it is reckoned among the trees. This office they performed to Jesus, not so much from pity, as to preserve him alive, in the hopes of seeing the miracle of Elijah’s descent from heaven, as appears from the next verse.

Verse 50

Matthew 27:50. And Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice According to John 19:30, when Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished, meaning that the predictions of the prophets, respecting his sufferings and ministry on earth, were all fulfilled, and that the redemption of the world was on the point of being accomplished; and probably these were the words which he uttered with a loud voice, showing thereby, that his strength was not exhausted, but that he was about to give up his life of his own accord. And when he had thus cried, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46. And yielded up the ghost Or rather, dismissed his spirit, as the original words, αφηκε το πνευμα , properly signify: an expression admirably suited to our Lord’s own words, John 10:18, No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself. He died by a voluntary act of his own, and in a way peculiar to himself. He alone, of all men that ever were, could have continued alive, even in the greatest tortures, as long as he pleased, or have retired from the body whenever he thought fit. And how does it illustrate that love which he manifested in his death! Inasmuch as he did not use his power to quit the body, as soon as it was fastened to the cross, leaving only an insensible corpse to the cruelty of his murderers: but continued his abode in it, with a steady resolution, as long as it was proper. He then retired from it with a majesty and dignity never known, or to be known in any other death: dying, if one may so express it, like the Prince of life.

Verse 51

Matthew 27:51. And behold Immediately upon his death, while the sun was still darkened; the veil of the temple The inner veil which divided the holy from the most holy place; though made of the richest and strongest tapestry; was rent in two from the top to the bottom: so while the priest was ministering at the golden altar, (it being the time of the evening sacrifice,) the sacred oracle, by an invisible power, was laid open to full view: God thereby signifying the speedy removal of the Jewish ceremonies, the abolition of the Mosaic dispensation, the breaking down the partition- wall between Jews and Gentiles, who were both to be now admitted to equal privileges, and the opening a way, through the veil of Christ’s flesh, for all believers into the most holy place. And the earth did quake There was a general earthquake, probably through the whole globe, though chiefly at and near Jerusalem: God testifying thereby his wrath against the Jewish nation, for the horrid impiety they were committing. And the rocks rent Mr. Fleming ( Christology, vol. 2. pp. 97, 98) informs us, that a Deist, lately travelling through Palestine, was converted by viewing one of these rocks. For when he came to examine the clefts of it narrowly and critically, he was convinced that the rent had been made in a supernatural manner, as he acknowledged to his fellow-travellers, saying, I have long been a student of nature and the mathematics, and I am sure these rents in this rock were not made by a natural, or ordinary earthquake; for by such a concussion the rock must have split according to the veins, and where it was weakest in the adhesion of its parts; for this I have observed to have been done in other rocks, when separated or broken by an earthquake, and reason tells me, it must always be so. But it is quite otherwise here, for the rock is split athwart and cross the veins in a most strange and preternatural manner. This, therefore, I plainly see to be the effect of a real miracle, which neither nature nor art could have effected. Sandys ( Trav., p. 264) has given an accurate description and delineation of this fissure; and Mr. Maundrell (in his Journey from Aleppo, p. 73, 74) tells us, that it is about a span wide at the upper part, and two spans deep; after which it closes, but opens again below, and runs down to an unknown depth in the earth.

Verses 52-53

Matthew 27:52-53. And the graves were opened Some of the tombs were shattered and laid open by the earthquake, and doubtless continued open all the sabbath, since the law would not allow of any attempt to close them on that day: but the dead bodies which were in them did not come to life till Christ’s resurrection had taken place, as is implied in the next clause, for he was the first-born from the dead, Colossians 1:18; and the first- fruits of them that slept, 1 Corinthians 15:20. And many bodies of the saints which slept The bodies of many eminently holy persons; arose and came out of their graves Or tombs, while they remained unclosed; after his resurrection Probably immediately after it; and went into the holy city That is, Jerusalem, called the holy city, on account of the temple and its worship; and appeared unto many Who knew them; thus attesting the truth of that most important event, Jesus’s resurrection, and declaring their own rescue from the grave, as a kind of first-fruits of his power over death, which should at length accomplish a general resurrection. It is and must remain uncertain who these saints were that had now the honour of being the first-fruits of Christ’s resurrection. Mr. Fleming thinks, that they were some of the most eminently holy mentioned in the Old Testament; and that they appeared in some extraordinary splendour, and were known by revelation to those to whom they appeared, as Moses and Elijah were to the disciples at the transfiguration. But Mr. Pierce, Dr. Macknight, and many others, think it more probable that they were persons who had died but lately, perhaps, such as had believed on Christ, and were well known to surviving disciples. Whoever they were, their resurrection was a most extraordinary event, and doubtless was much spoken of in Jerusalem among those to whom they appeared, and other well-disposed persons to whom they mentioned it. It is not improbable that Christ’s prophecy, recorded John 5:25, referred to this event, and thereby received its accomplishment, being distinguished from the general resurrection predicted in Mat 27:28-29 of that chapter. As it is only said, these saints appeared to many in Jerusalem, but not that they continued with them, it is probable that as they were undoubtedly raised to immortality, they attended their risen Saviour, during his abode on earth, and afterward accompanied him in his ascension, to grace his triumph over death and the grave, and all the powers of darkness, Ephesians 4:8; Colossians 2:15. Thus, as the rending the veil of the temple intimated that the entrance into the most holy place, the type of heaven, was now laid open to all nations, so the resurrection of a number of saints from the dead demonstrated that the power of death and the grave was broken; that the sting was taken from death, and the victory wrested from the grave; and if they ascended with him too, it was thus shown that the Lord’s conquest over the enemies of mankind was complete, and not only an earnest given of a general resurrection of the dead, but of the kingdom of heaven being opened to all believers.

Verse 54

Matthew 27:54. When the centurion The officer who commanded the guard, called centurio, from centum, a hundred, because he had the command of a hundred men; and those that were with him The soldiers that attended him; watching Jesus And standing over against him; saw the earthquake, and the things that were done The other wonders wrought at his crucifixion, together with his meek and patient behaviour under his sufferings, and the composure and confidence with which he committed his departing soul into the hands of his heavenly Father; they feared greatly Were greatly alarmed and influenced by a religious fear of that Being who had given such awful proofs of his displeasure at what had just taken place. Luke says, The centurion glorified God, and that not only by acknowledging his hand in the prodigies they had witnessed, but by confessing the innocence of Jesus, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man Gr. δικαιος , the character which Pilate’s wife had given of him before he was condemned, Matthew 27:19. According to Mark, chap. Matthew 15:39, he said likewise, Truly this man was the Son of God. It is true, because the article is here wanting in the original, and the words, both in Matthew and. Mark, are only υιος θεου , and not ο υιος του θεου , some would render the expression, a son of God; a phraseology which they think perfectly suitable in the mouth of a polytheist and an idolater, such as they take it for granted this Roman centurion was. But it is evident that no argument can be brought in justification of such a sense of the words from the absence of the Greek article, because it is often wanting when the true God is evidently meant, as Matthew 27:43, and John 19:7. It is probable this centurion was not now an idolater, but a proselyte to the Jewish religion, and therefore a worshipper of the true God. At least he must have been acquainted with the opinions of the Jews, and have known that Jesus was put to death by them for averring himself to be, not the son of a heathen god, but the son of the God whom the Jews worshipped: and therefore, when he made his confession, he doubtless referred to that circumstance, or to the words of the chief priests and scribes, recorded in Matthew 27:43, He trusted in God, &c., for he said, I am the Son of God. Matthew says, They that were with the centurion joined in the same confession. It maybe questioned, indeed, as they seem to have been the same soldiers that crowned Jesus with thorns and mocked him, whether they understood the proper meaning of the expression, The Son of God. They probably, however, were convinced that he was a person approved of, and beloved by, the God of the Jews; and that his heavenly Father would certainly avenge his quarrel very terribly on them, and on the Jewish nation, who had delivered him into their hands to be crucified. In the mean time, though the Roman centurion, and his heathen soldiers, were thus alarmed by the prodigies which they had beheld, these wonders appear to have had no influence on the minds of the Jewish priests, scribes, and elders: their minds, it seems, continued impenetrable and obstinate, and full of unbelief and invincible prejudice against Christ, so that neither the miracles done by him in his life, nor those wrought at his death, could convince them that he was any other than an impostor and deceiver. This, however, was not the case with the common people. From Luke 23:48, we learn that not only the centurion and his soldiers, but all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, for sorrow and remorse; in terrible expectation that some sad calamity would speedily befall them and their country, for the indignities and cruelties they had offered to a person for whom God had expressed so high a regard, even in his greatest distress. “They had, indeed, been instant with loud voices to have him crucified, but now that they saw the face of the creation darkened with a sullen gloom during his crucifixion, and found his death accompanied with an earthquake, as if nature had been in an agony when he died, they rightly interpreted these prodigies to be so many testimonies of his innocence; and their passions, which had been inflamed and exasperated against him, became quite calm, or moved in his behalf. Some could not forgive themselves for neglecting to accept his life when the governor offered to release him; others were stung with remorse for having had an active hand both in his death, and in the insults that were offered to him; others felt the deepest grief at the thought of his lot, which was undeservedly severe; and these various passions appeared in their countenances, for they came away from the cruel execution pensive and silent, with downcast eyes, and hearts ready to burst: or groaning deeply within themselves, they wept, smote their breasts, and wailed greatly. The grief which they now felt for Jesus, was distinguished from their former rage against him by this remarkable character, that their rage was entirely produced by the craft of the priests, who had wickedly incensed them; whereas their grief was the genuine feeling of their own hearts, greatly affected with the truth and innocence of him that was the object of their commiseration. Nor was this the temper only of a few, who may be thought to have been Christ’s particular friends. It was the general condition of the people, who had come in such numbers to look on, that when they parted, after the execution, they covered the roads, and, as it were, darkened the whole fields around.” Macknight.

Verses 55-56

Matthew 27:55-56. And many women were there, beholding afar off Viewing these things with weeping eyes and sympathizing hearts: which followed Jesus from Galilee To Jerusalem, eighty or a hundred miles, out of the great love they had to him, and to his heavenly doctrine; ministering unto him Liberally assisting him and his disciples with their property. Among which were Mary Magdalene Or rather, Mary the Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, as Μαρια η Μαγδαληνη , would be more properly rendered; even as Ιησους ο Ναξαρερηνος , is Jesus the Nazarene, or Jesus of Nazareth. “There can be no doubt that this addition, employed for distinguishing her from others of the same name, is formed from Magdala, the name of a city, mentioned Matthew 15:39, probably the place of her birth, or at least of her residence.” Campbell. And Mary the mother of James, (namely, James the Less, 15:49,) and Joses Probably our Lord’s mother’s sister, (called, John 19:25, Mary the wife of Cleophas,) and the mother of Zebedee’s children Namely, Salome. The three evangelists agree in affirming that these women stood afar off, looking on. Yet this is not inconsistent with John 19:25, where two of them, with our Lord’s mother, are said to have stood by the cross. It seems they were kept at a distance a while, perhaps by the guards, or they were afraid to approach. But when the greatest part of the soldiers were drawn off, and the darkness began, they gathered courage, and came so near that Jesus had an opportunity to speak to them a little before he expired. It is greatly to the honour of these excellent women, that they thus manifested more courage and attachment to their Lord and Master, than even the apostles themselves, who, notwithstanding that they had promised to die with him rather than desert him, had forsaken him and fled. But O! who can describe the feelings of these pious females, while they attended Jesus in these last scenes of his sufferings! What words can express, or heart conceive the depth of sorrow, compassion, anxiety, and despondency which must have been excited in their breasts, by what their eyes saw, and their ears heard during these mournful and awful hours! Of some other circumstances which occurred while our Lord hung on the cross, see the notes on Luke 23:39-43; John 19:26-27; John 19:31-37.

Matthew 27:57-61 . When the even was come That is, when it was past three o’clock; for the time from three to six they termed the first evening: this being Friday, or the day before the sabbath, which began at six o’clock, after which no work could lawfully be done, our Lord’s body must have been applied for and obtained as soon as four, or a little after, otherwise there would not have been time to bury it before the sabbath began. There came a rich man of Arimathea A city of the Jews, anciently called Ramoth: (Luke says, he was a counsellor; Mark, an honourable counsellor, and a good man and just;) who also himself was Jesus’s disciple (But secretly, John 19:38,) not having courage openly to profess his faith in him, for fear of the Jews and their rulers. And he also waited for the kingdom of God, Luke 23:51; that is, for the manifestation of the Messiah’s kingdom; and, of consequence, had not consented to the deed of them who condemned Jesus: though a member of the sanhedrim, he had not joined them in their unjust sentence. He had either kept away from the court when they sat on the trial of Jesus, or, if he was present when the sentence was passed, he remonstrated against it. This honourable, just, and pious person went (Mark says, boldly) to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus Joseph had nothing to fear from the governor, who in the course of the trial had showed the greatest inclination to release Jesus; but he had reason to fear that this action would draw upon him abundance of ill-will from the rulers, who had been at such pains to get Jesus crucified. Nevertheless, the regard he had for his Master overcame all other considerations, and he asked leave to take his body down; because, if no friend had obtained it, it would have been ignominiously cast out among the executed malefactors. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered Namely, after he had called the centurion to him, and had been assured by him that Jesus was certainly dead, which Pilate had at first doubted. Pilate was probably the more willing to grant the body to Joseph, both because he was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was innocent, and because it was generally thought by the heathen that the spirits of the departed received some advantage from the honours of a funeral paid to their bodies. “In discharging this last duty to his Master, Joseph was assisted (as we learn from Joh 19:39 ) by another disciple named Nicodemus, the ruler who formerly came to Jesus by night, for fear of the Jews. But he was not afraid of them now, for he showed a courage superior to that of the apostles, bringing such a quantity of spices along with him as was necessary to the funeral of his Master. These two, therefore, taking down the naked body, wrapped it with the spices in the linen furnished by Joseph. And laid it in his own new tomb, hewn out in the rock Here we learn that Joseph, though a man of great wealth, and in a high situation of life, lived mindful of his mortality. For he had erected for himself a sepulchre in his garden, John 19:41, the place of his pleasure and retirement, that it might be often in his view, and suggest to him the thoughts of death and eternity. In the description of the sepulchre given by the evangelists, it is particularly remarked, that it was nigh to the place where he was crucified, consequently nigh to Jerusalem. By this circumstance all the cavils are prevented which might otherwise have been occasioned, in case the body had been removed farther off. Moreover, it is observed that the sepulchre was a new one, wherein never any man had been laid. This plainly proves that it could be no other than Jesus who rose out of it, and cuts off all suspicion of his being raised by touching the bones of some prophet buried there, as happened to the corpse which touched the bones of Elisha, 2 Kings 13:21. Further, the evangelists take notice that it was a sepulchre hewn out of a rock, to show that there was no passage by which the disciples could get into it but the one at which the guards were placed, Matthew 27:62, &c., and consequently that it was not in their power to steal away the body while the guards remained there performing their duty. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre To block up the entrance. The sepulchre, it seems, differed from that of Lazarus, being partly above ground; whereas Lazarus’s being wholly under ground, had a stone laid on the mouth of it, covering the entry of the stair by which they went down to it. The rolling of the stone to the grave’s mouth was with them as filling up the grave is with us; it completed the funeral. Having thus in silence and sorrow deposited the precious body of our Lord Jesus in the house appointed for all living, they departed without any further ceremony. It is the most melancholy circumstance in the funerals of our Christian friends, when we have laid their bodies in the dark and silent grave, to go home and leave them behind; but, it is not we that go home and reave them behind; no, it is they that are gone to the better home, and have left us behind! There was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary Namely, the mother of James and Joses, Matthew 27:56. The mother of Jesus, it appears, was not there, being hindered, probably, by the excess of her sorrow, or, perhaps, she might have been taken to the house of John as to her home, John 19:26-27. Thus we see the company which attended the funeral was very small and mean. There were none of the relations in mourning to follow the corpse; no formalities to grace the solemnity, but only these two good women, that were true mourners, who, as they had attended him to the cross, so they followed him to the grave, as if they gave themselves up to sorrow; and they sat over against the sepulchre, “not so much,” says Henry, “to fill their eyes with the sight of what was done, as to empty them in rivers of tears:” for true love to Christ will carry us to the utmost in following him: death itself will not, cannot, quench that divine fire.

Verses 62-66

Matthew 27:62-66. Now the next day; the day that followed the day of the preparation That is, after the sun was set, for the Jewish day began then. The day of preparation was the day before the sabbath, whereon they were to prepare for the celebration of it. The next day, then, (namely, Saturday,) was the sabbath, according to the Jews. But the evangelist seems to express it by this circumlocution, to show that the Jewish sabbath was then abolished. The chief priests, &c., came together unto Pilate The chief priests and Pharisees, remembering that Jesus had predicted his own resurrection more than once, came to the governor and informed him of it begging that a guard might be ordered to the sepulchre, lest the disciples should carry his body away and affirm that he was risen from the dead. But they took this measure not on the morrow, in our sense of the word, but in the evening, after sunsetting, when the Jewish sabbath was begun, and when they understood the body was buried. To have delayed it to sunrising would have been preposterous, as the disciples might have stolen the body away during the preceding night. Besides, there is no inconsistency between this account of the time when the watch was placed and the subsequent articles of the history, which proceed upon the supposition that the women present at our Lord’s funeral were ignorant that any watch was placed at his grave. For they departed so early, that they had time to buy spices and ointments in the city before the preparation of the sabbath was ended; whereas the watch was not placed till the sabbath began. Saying, Sir Thus the word Κυριε is here very properly rendered, as in many other places it is as improperly translated lord. It should certainly always be translated sir, when no more than civil respect is intended. We remember that deceiver said, After three days Or, as

μετα τρεις ημερας may be properly rendered, within three days, I will rise again We do not find that he had ever said this to them, unless when he spoke of the temple of his body, (John 2:19; John 2:21.) And if they here refer to what he then said, how perverse and iniquitous was their construction on these words, when he was on his trial before the council!

Matthew 26:61. Then they seemed not to understand them! Perhaps, however, they may refer to what he said (when the scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign of him) respecting the Prophet Jonas, namely, that as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, the Son of man should be so long in the heart of the earth. Or, on some occasion not mentioned by the evangelists, our Lord may have made a public declaration of his resurrection in the very terms here set down. But, in whatever way they came to the knowledge of it, certain it is that the chief priests and Pharisees were well acquainted with our Lord’s predictions concerning it; and hence the precaution and care which they used in guarding the sepulchre, all which was overruled by the providence of God to give the strongest proofs of Christ’s ensuing resurrection. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure This, as being a servile work, it might be thought they would not ask to be done on the sabbath. But we must observe, that they asked this of Romans, whom they did not consider as bound by the law of the sabbath. Jews to this day do not scruple to avail themselves of the work done by Christians on the Jewish sabbath. Pilate said, Ye have a guard “Pilate, thinking their request reasonable, allowed them to take as many soldiers as they pleased of the cohort which, at the feast, came from the castle Antonia, and kept guard in the porticoes of the temple. For that they were not Jewish but Roman soldiers whom the priests employed to watch the sepulchre, is evident from their asking them of the governor. Besides, when the soldiers returned with the news of Christ’s resurrection, the priests desired them to report that his disciples had stolen him away while they slept; and, to encourage them to tell the falsehood boldly, promised, that if their neglect of duty came to the governor’s ears, proper means should be used to pacify him and keep them safe; a promise which there was no need of making to their own servants.” Macknight. So they went The priests and Pharisees having got a party of soldiers, placed them in their post, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone To hinder the guards from combining in carrying on any fraud. See Daniel 6:17: where we learn that a precaution of the like kind was made use of in the case of Daniel shut up in the lions’ den. “Thus, while the priests cautiously proposed to prevent our Lord’s resurrection from being palmed upon the world, resolving no doubt to show his body publicly after the third day, as a proof that he was an impostor, they put the truth of his resurrection beyond all question; for, besides that there could be no room for the least suspicion of deceit, when it should be found that his body was raised out of a new tomb, where there was no other corpse, and this tomb hewn out of a rock, the mouth of which was secured by a great stone, under a seal, and a guard of soldiers; by appointing this guard, they furnished a number of unexceptionable witnesses to it, whose testimony they themselves could not refuse. See Matthew 28:11.” “The chief priests and Pharisees,” says Bishop Porteus, “having taken these precautions, waited probably with no small impatience for the third day after the crucifixion when they made no doubt they should find the body in the sepulchre, and convict Jesus of deceit and imposture.”

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 27". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.