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Matthew 27

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Introduction

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 Christ is delivered bound to Pilate.

3 Judas hangeth himself.

19 Pilate, admonished of his wife,

24 washeth his hands: 26 and looseth Barabbas.

29 Christ is crowned with thorns,

34 crucified,

40 reviled,

50 dieth, and is buried:

66 his sepulchre is sealed, and watched.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Took counsel to put him to death. — They had already pronounced him “guilty of death,” and now they take counsel to carry the sentence into effect. In this two things were to be effected: one was to obtain the confirmation of their sentence from Pilate; the other, so to mix up charges of seditious designs against the Roman power with the pretended offence against their religion, as to engage the Roman governor to take his execution upon himself, and to carry it into effect in the Roman mode by crucifixion. See note on Matthew 26:66.

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Pontius Pilate the governor. — Pilate has here the title of ηγεμων , which properly belonged to the proconsular or proprætorian governors of the Roman provinces; because, though only procurator of Judea, which was an inferior dignity, he had the proconsular power of life and death, which was not unusual in the lesser provinces. Hence, although Josephus calls him επιτροπος , or procurator, he sometimes gives him the higher title also, and thus confirms the accuracy of the evangelist.

Verses 3-8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Then Judas, when he saw that he was condemned, &c. — This circumstance brought even Judas to repentance, that is, it awakened the horror of his conscience that he had been the means of murdering a person who he knew was guiltless of any crime. He had obtained the cursed pelf, the hope of which had blinded his judgment and stifled the struggles of his better feelings; and, the infatuating prize being in possession, the passion had subsided, reason had resumed her functions, the whole extent of his baseness and guilt flashed upon his soul, with the fears of the righteous retribution which awaited him. He repented himself, indeed; he would probably have parted with the world for the moment, avaricious as he was, if the foul, the damning deed could have been undone; but the result proved that, strong and agonizing as this feeling was, it was not “godly sorrow, which worketh repentance unto salvation;” it was the repentance of the damned at the day of judgment, when the gate of mercy is for ever shut; for the wo was upon him, the wo of Him whom he had basely betrayed. Still, before he was permitted to execute upon himself that last act which was to seal his eternal destiny, his remorse was so overruled as to force from even him a public declaration of the blameless character of the Master of whom he had been so unworthy and false a disciple; a testimony which was to be perpetuated by the purchase of a field and the imposition of a new name upon it, arising out of the circumstance of its purchase, which should render it a public monument for time to come both of the truth of the fact, and the evidence it affords to the innocency of our Lord and the malice of his unjust judges.

The whole action is most vividly represented, and the more impressively so from the absence of all emotion in the evangelical narrative in this as well as in all other scenes, even those the most moving. He comes to the chief priests and elders, assembled in council, in the chamber appointed for the sittings of that court, in a part of the temple, whither they seem to have adjourned from the house of Caiaphas; he brings with him the thirty pieces of silver, wrung from the grasp of his covetousness by his agonized conscience; he declares to his employers that he had sinned, that he had betrayed innocent blood; and when they refused to take back the money, he casts it down in the temple, as though his possession of it only heightened his torment; departs, and hangs himself, unable to sustain life and bear the light of offended Heaven! The cold villany of the chief priests and elders, the leading magistrates and judges of the Jewish nation, stands in singular contrast to this; but is equally forcible as a testimony to the unjust manner in which our Lord had been treated at his trial. What is that to us? see thou to that: as though they were not equally guilty who used a wicked instrument to accomplish an unjust purpose as the instrument himself; and as though they were not bound to receive this evidence of a repenting traitor in his favour, and give it its due weight in their representation of the case to the Roman governor. Thus the judges, by proclaiming their own guilt, demonstrated by their sanguinary obduracy, as fully as Judas by his remorse, the triumphant innocence of our blessed Lord of every thing which could render him, according to their unjust sentence, “guilty of death.” But the evidence does not close here, and the reader will mark what follows.

And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful, &c.— The money cast away by Judas is now to be disposed of, and they determined that it could not lawfully be put into the treasury, κορβαναν , the place where the offerings for the service of the temple were put; thus verifying our Lord’s words,” Straining out the gnat, and swallowing a camel,” purchasing innocent blood with the money, and yet scrupling to deposit it in a sacred place: but thus tacitly and unintentionally declaring that it had been the wages of iniquity, and was itself polluted by the unholy purpose to which it had been appropriated. This scruple rested on no written law; but they probably reasoned from analogy: if “the hire of a harlot,” Deuteronomy 23:18, was not to be offered to God in pursuance of a vow; how much more the money by which a life had been purchased, and, they might have added, by which spotless innocence had been betrayed and murdered! After taking counsel on this point, they agreed, under an overruling Providence, to purchase “the potter’s field,” so called, probably because potters’ earth had been dug out of it; and being now exhausted of that material, and unfit for any agriculture, its value was small, and it was therefore purchased for the mean price of “thirty pieces of silver.”

From this time the field was called Aceldama, the field of blood; not, we may well conjecture, from the imposition of that name upon it by the chief priests, as by popular and habitual designation. Thus it remained marked with this new and expressive name, both as a proof of the fact, if it should be hereafter questioned, and a memorial of that remorse of Judas, for his treachery, which afforded so striking a proof of the guiltlessness of his betrayed Master. “The ordering of Divine Providence in these events was most signal, and not less in the overruled purpose of the Jewish sanhedrim in the use to which they applied it; for by making it a burial place it was the longer preserved, by the respect paid to places appropriated to such purposes, from obliteration, and might probably remain marked by its tombs, the tombs of strangers, long after the capture of Jerusalem. At all events, it remained till after the publication of St. Matthew’s gospel in Judea; and as he could not relate a fact as notorious to all the inhabitants without being contradicted, if not truly stated, so the fact being established, the history with which it stood connected was confirmed by a durable and visible monument. To thee publicity of the fact Peter appeals, Acts 1:19. And it was known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue Aceldama, that is to say, “the field of blood.” Jerome says that it was to be seen in his days in Ælia, (the name of the city built upon the site of Jerusalem,) on the south side of Mount Sion.

The mode in which Judas committed suicide has exercised the ingenuity of critics, ancient and modern. This has arisen from a supposed discrepancy between the account of Matthew and that of Peter in Acts 1:18, who says nothing of hanging, but states that, falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. Suicer’s Thesaurus shows the different opinions of the fathers. Among the moderns some suppose he died of suffocation from grief; others, from rage and remorse; and that after death his body swelled and burst. Campbell translates, “he went away and strangled himself,” leaving the mode undetermined; Wakefield, “was choked with grief,” following Hammond and still older commentators. All, however, acknowledge that the word used by Matthew commonly means to hang one’s self; of which classical examples are abundant, as also examples from the Septuagint. The ancient versions too give the same sense; nor is there the least inconsistency between the statement of the evangelist and St. Peter, in Acts 1:18; and no necessity therefore exists to strain the meaning of the passage of the former, απελθων απηγξατο , he went and hanged himself, into any unusual sense. St. Matthew relates the fact and mode of his suicide generally; St. Peter, to mark more strongly the infliction of the Divine vengeance upon so wretched a criminal, dwells upon these additional circumstances in his death, which so strikingly impressed it with the character of a supernatural retribution. He hanged himself; but, πρηνης γενομενος , becoming prostrate, that is, falling headlong or rather upon his face, — either after death, or during the struggles of death, being violently cast down from the place where he was hanging by the hand of avenging Heaven, in order to make him a public example, — he burst asunder, and all his bowels gushed out. That something preternatural is implied in this account, appears evident from the description of his body: for this effect could not follow from the mere breaking of the rope and his falling upon the ground, unless he had chosen a precipice for the place of his execution, which indeed some have supposed, but without any warrant from the history, or the real import of the terms employed.

Verse 9

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Then was fulfilled, &c. — Because in these words the prophecy said to have been fulfilled is referred to Jeremy the prophet, attempts have been made, but in vain, to find in the writings of Jeremiah something corresponding with them. The quotation is manifestly from Zechariah 11:12-13: “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prized at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.” There is a considerable variation in the words as they stand in St. Matthew; and this, together with what is alleged to be the obscurity of the prediction as it stands in Zechariah, has been made use of to support the notion that here as well as in other places, the evangelist does not quote the prophecy as fulfilled by the event which he narrates, but accommodates the words to the event. But no end could be answered by this, except to introduce a sort of literary ornament into his narrative; an artifice which we are forbidden to attribute to any of the evangelists from the rigid simplicity they uniformly observe. The subject has, it is true, its difficulties; but none which are insuperable. No practical end of conviction or illustration can be assigned for the introduction of these words of the prophet, unless we admit the intention of St. Matthew to have been to adduce, in addition to many others, a signal and direct fulfilment of those prophetic indications of the life of our Lord which the Jewish Scriptures were allowed to contain. The first inquiry necessary to settle this point must be into the import of that section of the prophecy of Zechariah in which the quotation stands. And on this it may be generally observed that it has no apparent reference to any events which took place previously to the time of Christ. The evidence of this is so strong that the most ancient Jewish commentators themselves refer it to the Messiah, although, of course, they give it a different interpretation, but an entirely conjectural one; thus declaring that THEY know of no fact or series of facts in their history to which they can refer it. The prophecy is highly figurative, and therefore proportionably obscure; but several points break through it which no one can mistake, as,

1. That God had appointed one eminent shepherd to feed his flock, the Jewish people, called emphatically. “the flock of slaughter,” with reference to some wasting destruction which threatened to come upon them, and which from the time when Zechariah wrote we know must be subsequent to that which had already been produced by the invasion of the king of Babylon. This is a circumstance which agrees with the ministry of our Lord, who announces himself under the character of a shepherd, and the object of whose care was to avert the impending ruin of his people by bringing them to repentance.

2. That “the shepherds,” of the flock spoken of, were without regard to them: “Their own shepherds pity them not;” in which we have an exact picture of the Jewish teachers in our Lord’s days, men who neglected their charge and despised the people.

3. That a strong enmity existed between these shepherds and him whom God himself had appointed: “My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me;” words which have the force of even historical truth though in the form of prophecy, and justly describe the holy “loathing” which Christ had of the pride, hypocrisy, and wickedness of the scribes and Pharisees, and their malignant abhorrence of him.

4. That even this divinely appointed Shepherd finally gives up his charge in judicial visitation: “Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another;” an awful description of a people abandoned to entire ruin, which nothing has occurred to realize, but the destruction of the Jews by the Romans, an event which signally answers to the prophecy.

5. That a covenant between the people intended and this Shepherd was broken: “And I took my staff, even beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people.” And to what can this refer but to the entire annulling of the whole Mosaic covenant, by the rejection of the Jews as a peculiar people?

6. That a part of this very rejected and abandoned flock should admit his authority and mission: “And so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew” (“certainly knew,” margin) “that it was the word of the Lord.” This is one of the most noticeable part of the prophecy; and the distinction made between the body of the flock, and a portion called the poor of the flock, who are characterized by “waiting upon him,” or, as the phrase implies, worshipping and serving this great Shepherd, and acknowledging the truth of his word, as “the word of Jehovah,” can only be referred to the few, and the despised and persecuted part of the Jews, who followed Christ believed on him worshipped him as their God, and acknowledged the heavenly origin of his doctrine. Now all these particulars, which bring us down to the passage quoted by St. Matthew, do so directly and obviously relate to our Lord and his official administration, that the only conclusion to which such a connection and scope of the discourse can justly lead us, is, that the words themselves so quoted relate to him likewise, and that, in fact, they give the great reason of this his terrible dealing with his ancient “flock,” which was then despising and rejecting him; one most marked and flagrant instance of which is, their estimating him at the price of a slave, “thirty pieces of silver,” — the “goodly price,” as the prophet sarcastically observes, “at which I was prized of them.” This application, is made the more striking by the particular, which is added, that this price was “cast unto the potter,” that is, cast down in order, as the event was, to be given to the potter, for the purchase of his field. So consistently does the application of the whole to Christ run through the prophecy; and so manifestly does it appear that the evangelist must have quoted the passage, as a direct and proper prediction of the event!

The second inquiry respects the verbal differences between the words of Zechariah and those cited by St. Matthew. The only variations of any importance arise from this, that the Messiah is represented by the prophet as the actor in the transaction: “If ye think good, give me my price. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter,” &c.; which difficulty is solved by reflecting, that it is frequent in Scripture to represent a thing as done by him who is the occasion of its being done. Instances abound in the prophets; and even in relation to this very event, we have an instance in Acts 1:18, where St. Peter, speaking of Judas, says, “Now this man purchased a field with the reward of his iniquity;” meaning in a style of speaking familiar to a Hebrew, that he was the occasion of the field being purchased, by bringing back the reward of his iniquity and casting it down in the temple. The spirit and energy which this mode of expression gives to writing, is manifest; but in prophecy there was often a deeper intention. The object was to throw a veil over the events predicted; and this was effectually done often by transferring the actions made the subject of prophecy to a higher and more mysterious agent, distinct from the real one, yet so that the event, when it occurred, should explain the whole. God himself is therefore frequently, nay, almost constantly, in the writings of the prophets, said to do what he permits to be done for good or for evil; and thus the doctrine of his control over the whole course of things is preserved, and prophecy is prevented from assuming that historical character which might have interfered with the free agency of men. To apply this rule to the passage in question: it was not to be expected that the prophet should narrate the event of the betrayal of Messiah in the manner it occurred, by bringing the Pharisees and Judas in person upon the scene.

The act is therefore transferred to the Divine Messiah himself, because of his permitting it, and so controlling the CIRCUMSTANCES of the sin, though not the sin itself, that that vicious intention and purpose of the actors should be accomplished in one particular mode, and with such circumstances as should overrule it to their ultimate confusion. For this reason the Messiah is brought in by the prophet as though he were the great actor; but St. Matthew, taught the intent of the Holy Spirit, gives the SENSE of the prediction rather than the exact words, and refers the acts to the true actors, — and THEY took and gave them, &c. Nor was it necessary to quote them with precise exactness in order to convince the Jews, for whose use in the first place he wrote his gospel. He evidently quotes them in brief, but with sufficient plainness to refer the Jew to the passage in his own Scriptures, that he might read them there. This view renders much of that criticism superfluous which has been resorted to in order to confirm the citation of St. Matthew with the words of Zechariah, and which, after all, is for the most part conjectural.

A third question on this quotation arises out of its being referred by the evangelist, not to Zechariah, but to Jeremiah, in whose acknowledged book of prophecies it is not certainly found. For this various solutions have been offered; as, an error of transcription; that the words occur in some lost prophecy of Jeremiah; that the Old Testament was divided by the Jews into three great parts, the law, the Psalms, and the prophets, beginning with Jeremiah; so that any quotation from them might go under the name of that prophet; that several of the last chapters of Zechariah were written by Jeremiah, which is supported by Mr. Mede and Bishop Kidder. Against some of these solutions great objections lie; and the most probable is, that St. Matthew wrote only, δια του προφητου , by the prophet, which is confirmed by some MSS., and by the Syriac version. “And,” says Bishop Pearce, “I am the more inclined to think so, because I find that Matthew does five times make no mention of the prophet whose words he quotes, one instance of which we have in verse 15 of this chapter.” The word Jeremy crept very early into the text; which might arise from some transcriber having the celebrated passage respecting the potter and the clay in his mind, though that relates to a different subject. — From the identity of the expressions it must be concluded that the words are from the book of Zechariah.

Verse 11

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Art thou the king of the Jews? — This question could not have arisen from any thing which occurred at the trial before the sanhedrim, and was probably suggested to Pilate by the chief priests, whose object it was to implicate Jesus in a charge of seditious intentions, so that the Roman governor might both the more readily consent to his death, and take his execution into his own hands, and, according to the Roman manner crucify him.

Thou sayest. — This, as above observed, was a form of affirmation. Our Lord without hesitation declared that he was the King of the Jews; but showed that he knew the authors of the charge of sedition suggested it by asking, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” At the same time he takes care that Pilate should not proceed in ignorance upon the malicious suggestions of the priests, that he had professed to be the King of the Jews politically, by explaining his meaning, “My kingdom is not of this world,” it is not a civil but a spiritual reign; and this was done that Pilate might know that Cesar had nothing to fear from him, John 18:33, &c. There was great artifice in preferring so dangerous a charge against him before the Roman governor: Pilate appears at once to have perceived, that if our Lord had professed to be a king, it was in some mystical sense, and not literally. Accordingly, St. Luke adds, “Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.” This so enraged his accusers, that Pilate, anxious to get quit of the case, and gathering from their clamours against him that he was a Galilean, sent him to Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, who was then at Jerusalem. See Luke 23:5, &c. This circumstance is omitted by Matthew, who proceeds with what occurred after Jesus had been sent back to Pilate. It is to be remarked that although our Lord replied to Pilate when he asked him whether he professed to be King of the Jews, he remained quite silent when Pilate asked him again, after his accusers had poured forth various accusations Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? The reason is obvious: had not our Lord repelled the charge of sedition, Pilate would have had a show of justice in condemning him; but to clamorous and vague charges he answered nothing, as knowing that they could not affect his character, nor make his condemnation appear less unjust. He was to die the innocent for the guilty; and it was enough that he established his innocence against every specific charge, that it might appear; and how truly it did appear, is showed in the reiterated justification of him by Pilate.

Verse 15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Now at that feast, &c. — The Persian version renders it, “every year, on the day of the feast,” that is, the passover. But this release of a criminal does not appear to have been a custom which originated with the Jews. It was certainly not derived from their law, which, as St. Paul says Hebrews 10:28, inflicted death “without mercy,” χωρις οικτιρμων . It was the custom with both Greeks and Romans to distinguish some of their festivals in this manner; and this had probably been first imitated by Herod the Great, who conformed in many respects to Gentile manners. The Christian emperors Valentinian, Theodosius, and Arcadius, used to release all prisoners at Easter, except for some specified crimes.

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A notable prisoner, called Barabbas. — This man was notable marked or distinguished, for his crimes, being guilty of sedition and murder: and was withal a robber, probably a leader of one of those banditti who infested the country. His name, Bar Abba, the son of a father, was a common one among the Jews; but his character is strongly exhibited to show the excessive hatred of the Jewish council to our Lord, and their eagerness for his blood. To accomplish this end they were willing that a mischievous and dangerous felon should be again let loose upon society. Thus, by another circumstance, was the partial and unjust character of Christ’s judges made manifest, and by consequence the innocence of our Lord was the more strongly illustrated. It was not the populace that cried, “Not this man, but Barabbas,” until the members of the sanhedrim, the great judges and magistrates of the land, had persuaded them, verse 20; and thus, in prosecuting our Lord, they openly declared that they had no regard to justice or law. This was evident to Pilate, who knew that for envy, through a malignant feeling occasioned by his excellence, they had delivered him, and explains his reluctance to surrender him to their wishes.

Verse 19

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

On the judgment seat. — Causes were heard by the Roman governors in the prætorium; but judgment was pronounced in the open air, from a βημα , or tribunal formed of stone or marble.

His wife sent to him, &c. — Her name was Claudia Procula, and Grotius observes, this circumstance marks the time of the event, and affords an incidental proof of the veracity of the evangelist, for it was only in the reign of Tiberius that the wives of governors had obtained permission to attend them in the provinces. On this dream it would be useless to quote at length the various opinions, ancient and modern, which have been entertained. By the fathers and the most respectable commentators it has been referred to a supernatural cause; by some, and especially those of the so denominated rational school, it has been resolved into some natural cause, and especially to her having had her imagination disturbed by the accounts she had received of the character of Jesus, and the proceedings which were instituted against him. To make this the more probable, some have conjectured her to have been a devout woman and a Jewess; for which no authority is given. As some of these notions are influenced by the desire to get rid, as far as possible, of every thing supernatural, and especially of admonitory dreams, it may be generally observed that no critics are consistent here but this German neologians, who explain away every thing supernatural in the Scriptures. If critics are not, therefore, prepared to go to that infidel extreme, it is useless to object to one event in the Gospel history as supernatural, when many such must be allowed by themselves.

The believer in the Bible, as a revelation from God, must believe that dreams have often been produced by a Divine agency: and it is as objectionable in reason as it is in faith, to deny that a phenomenon, so adapted to produce powerful impressions upon the mind, should not often be an agency which Providence employs for its own purposes. In this case no natural cause could be given for this singular and timely dream; for the attempt to solve it by supposing the wife of Pilate to be acquainted with Christ’s character and works has no foundation. All that can be pleaded for it is probability: but probability is against it; for as Pilate was obviously unacquainted with our Lord, as he indicates a total ignorance of his former life, there is no reason to assume that Pilate’s wife had turned her attention to his proceedings, if she had ever heard of them, or that she had felt any interest in them, since our Lord was but occasionally at Jerusalem, and the Romans held the religion of the Jews in great contempt. But even had she known more of him, then there is not any reason to conclude, if she had even reverenced him, her dream could not have been produced by her knowledge of his dangers.

For it occurred during the same night in which he had been secretly apprehended, and his trial had been going on in the council while she was asleep, and all without the knowledge and consent of Pilate himself, who was called upon only to confirm a sentence passed in a Jewish, not in a Roman court, and which they had a right to hold without his permission. She must, therefore, be considered as wholly ignorant of the transactions of the night, of Christ’s betrayal, apprehension, and condemnation by the sanhedrim. The occurrence of the dream, the powerful manner in which it affected her, the message which she sent to her husband during the day, after the proceedings against Jesus had become public, when seated on the tribunal; and the testimony given by a Gentile woman of rank, from the impression of a singular dream, in favour of the righteous character of Christ, must all be referred to a higher than a natural cause, or to mere accident. It was the design of God to multiply testimonies to the holy and blameless character of our Lord, that it might be the more strongly marked to all future ages that he died, “the JUST for the unjust, to bring us to God.” Judas, by his confession; the false witnesses, by their disagreement; the judges, by their violence, manifest injustice, and the vagueness of their charges; Pilate’s wife, by her message to her lord; and Pilate himself, all proclaimed the perfect INNOCENCE of the victim; who was, nevertheless, yielded up to the clamours of his persecutors. How strange are these events! and yet how perfectly they accord with the true character and design of our Saviour’s passion and death!

Have thou nothing to do, &c. — Μηδεν σοι και τω δικαιω εκεινω , a mode of speaking equivalent to a strong exhortation not to do him the least injury, nor implicate himself in the guilt of condemning the innocent.

This day in a dream. — By this day is meant this night, because the day in Judea was reckoned to begin on the preceding evening, and therefore the night on which she had the dream was a constituent part of the day on which she sent the message. So Genesis 1:5, “The evening and the morning were the first DAY.”

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

But they cried out the more, &c. — Thus it is manifest that our Lord had no charge against him examined with judicial care by Pilate, but was sacrificed to a popular clamour, the fear of a tumult, and an apprehension lest the Jews should represent him as negligent in his government, and a careless friend or an enemy to Cesar. As a popular tumult in favour of our Lord had been apprehended by the chief priests, for which reason they had proceeded so secretly against him, the circumstance of the multitude now clamouring for his crucifixion under the influence of his persecutors, has given occasion to many reflections being made on the sudden changes to which popular opinion is liable. These observations are indeed very just, but not quite applicable in this case. The people most favourable to our Lord were chiefly those from the country, who were attending the feast, and especially from Galilee. The multitude, now under the direction of the priests and elders, were the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and probably those of the lowest rank, over whom the leading members of the council, chiefly wealthy Sadducees, would have great control. Now also the Roman governor had the cause before him, with the military at command, and those who were better disposed to Christ were overawed.

Verse 24

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He took water and washed his hands, &c. — Figurative allusions to this custom appear in the Old Testament. “I will wash my hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar.” It has been disputed whether Pilate in this act followed a Jewish or a Gentile custom. That it was a Jewish emblematical action, appears from Deuteronomy 21:6-7: “And all the elders of that city that is next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley,” the heifer slain for expiation, “and they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.” It is scarcely probable, however, that Pilate paid much regard to Jewish ceremonies. Washing the hands was used by the Greeks and Romans on the commission of involuntary homicide; but that was for the purpose of expiation, which Pilate could not intend; for by this act he declared that he was innocent of the blood of Christ, not that he had contracted a guilty stain which needed lustration. It may be taken therefore as a strong mode of declaring his sentiments, by an emblematical action, suggested by the earnestness of his mind, without any reference to any particular rite either Jewish or Pagan, though founded upon the general practice of washing as a symbol of purity, and one which was overruled to render his declaration of our Lord’s innocence the more impressive and remarkable; for the act could not be mistaken, though attempts might afterward be made to pervert his words; and to the Jews the assertion of Christ’s innocence must have been most unwelcome. This action he accompanied with the memorable saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person;” most iniquitously indeed surrendering to death one he declared just; but at the same time proclaiming that those who were guilty of the act were guilty of blood, and brought themselves under the charge of murdering the innocent.

See ye to it. — Pilate reasoned, as ill as he acted. He vainly hoped to transfer the guilt from himself to the Jews; and because he had attempted in vain to persuade them to desist from their purpose, thought himself excused in yielding to the difficulties to which their violence and threats exposed him. Philo describes him as “naturally inflexible, rigid, and self- willed;” but he had already had to contend with two insurrections of the Jews produced by his opposing their religious prejudices; one, on occasion of his attempting to bring the Roman standards into Jerusalem; the other, from his applying the wealth of the sacred treasury to other uses; and the fear of a third, on this occasion, coupled with the still powerful apprehension lest the Jews should misrepresent his conduct to his jealous and sanguinary master, the Emperor Tiberius, prevailed over his convictions. Yet the supreme power of life and death was in his hands, and the difficulty and danger of acting right form no justification for acting wrong. Pilate washed his hands; but his conscience was still left black with the very guilt which he declared would lie upon the Jews, — the guilt of innocent blood.

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

His blood be upon us, &c. — What Pilate was eager, though in vain, to transfer from himself, these infatuated and infuriated people were ready to take — the blood of the innocent. Among the Athenians, witnesses devoted themselves and their children, if they should accuse falsely. This also is implied in the form of our judicial oath, “So help you God,” only as you speak the truth. Grotius shows that this kind of denunciation and devotement was used by the Roman witnesses, “Sit sanguis istius super nos,” as here the Jews, “His blood be upon us!” and, as they were before a Roman tribunal, they might naturally adopt the Roman form. But they render it more emphatic by adding, and upon our children: and fearfully was their bold imprecation verified. In the subsequent Roman war, “wrath came upon them to the uttermost;” and, to make the retribution the more marked, great numbers of them were put to death by crucifixion — that torturing mode of death, for the infliction of which upon our Lord they so fiercely clamoured. Five hundred of them a day were sometimes crucified by Titus, till at length, as Josephus, who was witness of these horrors, says, “Room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses for the bodies.”

Verse 26

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

When he had scourged him. — Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus concerning himself, “And they shall mock him, and scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and kill him,” Mark 10:34. Scourging among the Romans preceded capital punishment; but as Pilate attempted after this to save our Lord, it is probable that he hoped, by this minor infliction, to pacify them, and effect his deliverance. Slaves among the Romans were scourged with the flagella, a severe instrument which cut deep into the flesh; but freemen with rods. The original word here used would, however, intimate that the severer instrument was used in the case of Jesus. And in this particular also the retributive justice of God upon the Jews was strikingly marked; for we learn from Josephus that in this manner they were treated before crucifixion: “when they had SCOURGED them, and TORMENTED them before death all manner of ways, they crucified them over against the wall of the city.”

Delivered him to be crucified. — At length yielding against his convictions, and admitting that very charge of sedition made against him by his enemies, as the kind of death inflicted upon him shows; although he had previously declared that he found no fault in him. The conduct of Pilate admits therefore of no palliation.

Verse 27

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The common hall. — The prætorium, or Pilate’s residence, formerly the palace of Herod, in the upper part of the city. Pilate’s tribunal or “judgment seat” was on the outside; and the place into which Christ was now led was probably the interior court of the palace.

The whole band of soldiers. — This was a cohort of soldiers, or the tenth part of a legion. Five Roman cohorts were stationed at Cesarea, and one at Jerusalem: but the latter was a cohort of the largest number.

Verse 28

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A scarlet robe. — Χλαμυδα κοκκινην , or a crimson robe, such as that worn by kings and people of rank; and this was done in mockery of his title, the king of the Jews. St. Mark says, “a purple robe,” πορφυρα ; but the terms are not unfrequently interchanged, both designating the same or nearly the same colour. A cloak of this colour was worn by the superior Roman officers.

Verse 29

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A crown of thorns. — Ακανθα is used as a general term for those prickly plants which we denominate thorns; so that the species cannot be determined by it. “The naba or nabda of the Arabians,” says Hasselquist in his Travels, “is in all probability the tree which afforded the crown of thorns put upon the head of Christ: it grows common in the east. This plant was very fit for the purpose, for it has many small and sharp spines: a crown might easily be made of those soft, round, and pliant branches; and what in my opinion seems to be the greatest proof is, that the leaves resemble those of ivy, as they are of a very deep green. Perhaps the soldiers would have a plant somewhat resembling that with which the emperors and generals were used to be crowned, that there might be satire and calumny even in the punishment.” Bishop Pearce, however, thinks that the herb acanthus was used, which has the epithet smooth, as well as flexible, in the Latin poets; and that mocking, not torture, was the object of thus placing a crown or wreath upon the head of our Saviour. But whether this plant grows in Palestine, is not certain; and some common thorn nearest at hand, and to be found in any waste place, was more likely to be used by the ferocious Roman soldiers. Both Mark and John call the crown στεφανος ακανθινος , which “adjective,” says Campbell, “both in sacred use and classical, plainly denotes spineus, thorny.” The crown having been placed on the head of our Saviour, and a reed, the mock representative of a sceptre, they bowed the knee before him, and in derision said, Hail, king of the Jews. They did not turn his claim to be the Messiah into mockery; this these pagans knew nothing of; but they regarded him in the light in which it had been the artifice of the chief priests and elders to place him, as a state prisoner condemned for aspiring to the sovereignty in opposition to Cesar. During the whole of this scene of contumely and barbarous sport, to which were added spitting upon him, and smiting him on the head with the reed or cane, the evangelists record no word, or action of our Lord. He sustained the whole in silence and unresisting submission, and thus fulfilled the words of the prophet, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter: and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.”

Verse 32

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And as they came out. — Out of the city; for as in the wilderness offenders were executed without the camp, so at Jerusalem without the walls of the city. There was also a typical allusion in this, to which St. Paul refers, Hebrews 13:11-13: “For the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without THE GATE. Let us go forth therefore unto him without THE CAMP, bearing his reproach.”

Him they compelled to bear his cross. — It was usual for criminals to bear their own cross. So Plautus: Patibulum ferat per urbem, deinde affigatur cruci, “Let him carry his cross through the city, and then be fastened to it.” Our Saviour bore his own cross for some time; but, probably exhausted by previous ill usage, he appears to have sunk under its weight, so that, meeting Simon, a Cyrenian, “coming,” says St. Mark, “out of the country,” they compelled him to bear his cross, — they pressed him into this service, as the word imports. He was of Cyrene, a city of Lybia, where many Jews were located; but was now probably a resident at Jerusalem, and was returning thence from the country. It is not unlikely that he was singled out at the instigation of the Jews as a favourer of Christ; for St. Mark adds, he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, both celebrated among the first Christians.

Verse 33

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull. — Golgotha is from the Chaldee גלגלתא Golgoltha, which signifies a skull, the last ל being suppressed for the sake of euphony. It was a hill near Jerusalem, and had its name from the skulls of malefactors who had been executed there. Koinoel asserts that when their bodies were permitted to be buried, the skulls were excepted, and left on the ground; but it is more probable that as the Jews did not bury malefactors in the sepulchres of their fathers, they were interred on the spot, and by digging fresh graves in the place at common executions, skulls would frequently be turned up, and perhaps left on the ground with little respect. The name Calvary is of the same import as Golgotha.

Verse 34

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Vinegar to drink mingled with gall. — St. Mark says, “wine mingled with myrrh;” but the word χολη designates whatever is bitter, and so might be used of gall or myrrh. The vinegar was the sharp, common wine which, from its acidity, was called οξος . This wine was often mixed with certain bitter herbs, to impart to it an intoxicating quality, and was given to criminals before their execution. It was a custom for the honourable women of Jerusalem to prepare wine of this kind, and to give it freely to those about to suffer death, to render them less sensible of pain. We have no intimation that our Lord experienced this attention from this class of females, but some of his friends might thus minister to him; but when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink, resolved to sustain the whole weight of his sufferings, and not to submit to have his senses or reason dulled by any stupifying draught. There may probably be an allusion to this custom in the words of Solomon, Proverbs 36:6 “Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish.”

Verse 35

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And they crucified him. — This was at once the most ignominious and cruel of deaths; and was inflicted as the last mark of detestation upon slaves, robbers, murderers, and the vilest of the people. Hence the emphatic manner in which St. Paul refers to the crucifixion of Christ: “And became obedient unto death, EVEN THE DEATH OF THE CROSS.”

And parted his garments, casting lots. — From John 19:23, it appears that the garments were divided into “four parts, to every soldier a part;” so that four soldiers were the executioners, under the direction of a centurion. The coat or robe being seamless, “woven from the top throughout,” and probably peculiar in this respect, remained after this partition; and for this they cast lots, throwing the lots, as was customary, into a helmet. In this they unconsciously accomplished a prophecy: “They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots,” Psalms 22:18. Several MSS. and versions wanting this quotation, it has been supposed that the words were written in the margin from St. John’s gospel, where they are unquestionably found. Still it may be observed that it is quite in the manner of St. Matthew to notice, for the conviction of the Jews, the fulfilment of the ancient prophecies respecting the Messiah, and especially those which are expressed in a particular and minute manner.

The whole Psalm from which this quotation is made, must be understood of Messiah, or if David was at all intended, it is in a lower sense; and, as in all those prophecies which have a twofold reference, there are passages which can only apply to the higher and ultimate person or event, so in this Psalm. Our Lord himself appears to give the Psalm a prophetic character relating to himself, by quoting its opening words when suffering on the cross. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” This act of the Roman soldiers is another instance of the exact and minute prescience of “the spirit of prophecy.” No contrivance of Christ or of his disciples could bring about this correspondence of events to those spoken of him in a prophetic writing which had been in existence for ages. It was fulfilled by the Roman soldiers themselves, to whom the garments of malefactors fell as their perquisites; but was taken quite out of the common course of things, by the circumstance that they cast lots for his “vesture,” or robe, which would not have happened but for another circumstance certainly not to be conjectured, not possible to have been foreseen by man, that this robe was “without seam, woven from the top throughout,” so that to possess it whole excited the desire of each soldier, while each was anxious to submit his claim to the decision of the “lot.”

Verse 36

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

They watched him there. — That is, the centurion and the soldiers under his command sat down near the cross, to see that the sentence was carried into complete effect, and that no one removed the body from the cross.

Verse 37

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And set up over his head his accusation. — This was according to custom. The crime for which the person was executed was written in black letters upon a white ground. The Syriac and Persian versions render it, “the cause of his death.” Luke and John inform us that this τιτλος was in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin: Hebrew, that is, the Palestinian dialect, which went vaguely by that name, as being the language of the populace; Greek, as a prevalent language both in Judea, and among the foreign Jews who were present at the passover at Jerusalem; and Latin, as the language of the conquerors of the country. The inscription which excluded Gentiles from the inner court of the temple was written in those three languages. The evangelists give the sense of the inscription rather than the exact words, and hence the variation which appears in their account. All agree, however, that the crime for which he was executed by the Romans was, that he claimed to be THE KING OF THE JEWS; but that for which he was condemned by the sanhedrim was, that he said, “I am the Son of God.” The reasons why the sanhedrim urged his execution on a charge of treason have been above stated. Nor can any thing be a stronger proof of the utterly unjust treatment suffered by our blessed Lord from his judges than that he was condemned for one crime, and executed for one quite distinct; that is, he was not executed for the crime for which he was tried, nor tried on the charge for which he was executed!

Verse 38

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Two thieves. — These were public robbers, with which the country was infested, and, as usual, had been reserved to one of the great feasts for execution, that the example might be the more influential. Here too another signal accomplishment of prophecy may be noticed, which is stated by St. Mark: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:12. It is remarkable also, that our Lord, some time before this, applied this prophecy to himself: “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end,” Luke 22:37.

Verses 39-44

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And they that passed by, &c. — The crowd of his enemies probably passed in a sort of procession, before the cross, in order to satisfy themselves with a nearer view of his agonies, and to address to him personal insults. They reviled him, εβλασφημουν , they blasphemed him, accusing him of various crimes, wagging their heads, a usual mark of malevolent derision and exultation; but, in this, unconsciously fulfilling the words of the Psalm above quoted, which prophetically describes the sufferings of Messiah: “All they that see me laugh me to scorn, they shoot out the lip, they shake the head,” Psalms 22:7. To this sarcastic mockery and contempt was our Saviour exposed from the common people, who taunted him, according to the perverted testimony of the false witnesses on his trial, with his threat of destroying the temple in three days, and bade him, if such was his power, to save himself, and if he was the Son of God to come down from the cross; nor could the chief priests, and scribes, and elders, restrain themselves from this brutal mockery, but joined in the insults: but this also was signally overruled for the fulfilment of another portion of the same prophetic Psalm; for in nearly the words of that sacred composition, they said, He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him, ει θελει αυτον , “if he regards him,” or “delights in him.” The words of the Psalm are, “he trusted in the Lord, that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him,” verse 8. Thus they themselves undesignedly applied the prophecy to our Lord, and themselves fulfilled it.

For he said, I am the Son of God. — It is to be remarked that the Jews mainly reproach Christ, not with the crime for which he was actually put to death by Pilate, a seditious assertion of sovereignty in opposition to the Roman power, for which, notwithstanding their hypocritical pretence of respect for the rights of Cesar, they world have honoured him; but for the very profession on which their own council had condemned him, — FOR HE SAID, I AM THE SON OF GOD; thus confessing that they had urged upon Pilate a false pretence, and that the ground of their hatred to him was his assumption of a Divine character, and the spirituality of his kingdom.

Cast the same in his teeth. — Reproached him with pretending to a power which he could not execute, joining in the same revilings as the chief priests, elders, and scribes; of which the motive might be to move some compassion as to themselves, by an affected zeal, and to obtain deliverance from death; for instances are on record, in which persons, after having been for some time nailed to the cross and taken down, were by proper care recovered. St. Luke confines this reviling to “one of the malefactors;” to remove which difficulty, some have supposed that both at first joined in these insults, but that one was speedily touched with penitence. This is at least a better solution than that the plural is used for the singular; for the instances of this which are given are not apposite. Another solution is, that St. Matthew, not designing to relate the conversion of the penitent thief, speaks vaguely and generally in a matter on which nothing in his narrative depended; but that St. Luke, relating farther particulars, states the case with designed exactness.

Verse 45

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

From the sixth hour there was darkness, &c. — This darkness was remarkable, from the time when it occurred, which was the passover, which was always celebrated at full moon, so that it could not be occasioned by an eclipse of the sun, and was therefore preternatural.

2. From its duration, from the sixth to the ninth hour, that is, from twelve at noon, to three in the afternoon, whereas an eclipse never continues more than fifteen minutes.

3. From its extent over all the land, meaning, probably, not over the whole globe, but over Palestine. References to a preternatural darkness over- spreading other countries at this time have been made by both ancient and modern commentators; but they are too vague and unsatisfactory to be depended upon; and if any end had been intended to be answered by this extension of the miracle, Divine Providence would no doubt have taken care that some more certain record should have been preserved of it. This was the first of the miraculous events which accompanied the crucifixion of our Saviour. The great sacrifice for the sins of the world was now offering; and as on great occasions God had been wont to show his acceptance of sacrifices by some visible token, and preternatural phenomena, so on this the greatest, the most solemn, and most important, the Father testifies from heaven that a more than ordinary death was undergoing, to mark which the sun itself was darkened, and the face of heaven veiled. There was in this also, doubtless, something designedly and strikingly emblematical. The eternal Light of light, who had frequently compared himself to the sun, the natural light of the world, was now undergoing temporary obscuration under the deep cloud of his humiliation, only to shine forth again in his true splendour at his resurrection from the dead.

Verse 46

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani? &c. — These words are partly Hebrew and partly Chaldee. St. Mark for Ηλι , writes Ελωι ; which Grotius takes to have arisen from the gospel of St. Mark, the friend of St. Peter, chiefly being used among the Jewish converts in the Babylonish διασπορα , or dispersion, founded by St. Peter, who had all a language partaking of the Chaldee, and were more used to אלהי . The words are from Psalms 22:1: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This exclamation has perplexed those who deny the sacrificial character of the death of Christ, as indicating something of complaint and shrinking from suffering, whereas according to their view of his heroic virtue, he doubtless ought to have gone through the whole scene without complaint. Their refuge from this difficulty is to consider these words as used not as a complaint, but as a mere reference to the prophetic Psalm in which they stand, didactically to show that the whole was a prophecy of him. This end, however, was answered by making these words the vehicle of uttering what must still be considered as an exclamation wrung from his fainting nature by the extremity of anguish. But this was not bodily anguish; for then the malefactors must be considered as superior to Christ in their patience under torture. It was not repining language, that God had so forsaken him as to leave them in the hands of his enemies. It was a deeper anguish which extorted this mournful cry, than that produced by corporal suffering, which the doctrine of the atonement can alone account for, although it is a mystery which none can explain.

They are not the words of complaint as implying reluctance to suffer, but as expressive of deep internal agony, internal desertion of sensible support and consolation; in a word, the completion of what was begun in the garden, the drinking of the last dregs of bitterness out of the cup of wrath, when he having placed himself voluntarily in the room and stead of the guilty, was dealt with as though he were really such. Yet was there no distrust in God; for he almost immediately adds, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The Socinian looks only for that magnanimity in Christ which makes him superior to bodily pain: we see all regard to bodily pain absorbed in the deeper sorrows of a pierced spirit, pressed with the weight of human transgression, laid upon him; the effect of which was manifested in this pathetic cry, that we might be convinced that a sinless mind could not suffer thus on its own account, and yet that we might equally witness the strength and majesty of him who could sustain the load, conquer in the awful conflict, maintain his trust in an unparalleled trial, and finally with calmness resign his pure spirit into the hands of God. The peculiar character of Christ’s sufferings, and his equally peculiar demeanour under them, are among the strongest presumptive evidences of his VICARIOUS and ATONING death. It is scarcely necessary to say, that in the language of scripture, God is said to FORSAKE any one when he leaves him without aid and comfort.

Verse 47

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

This man calleth upon Elias. — This arose from our Lord’s having used the term Eli, “my God.” Either the Hellenistic Jews, who were not familiar with the language, mistook the word, or in the crowd some heard indistinctly, or, what is more probable, the whole was a continuance of the raillery exercised upon his claim as the Messiah; for a common notion among the Jews was, that Elias would precede the Messiah.

Verses 48-49

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. — Jesus had previously said, as we learn from John, “I thirst;” so that this might be an act of relenting compassion in the individual, who would find the vinegar or posca used by the Roman soldiers placed hard by in a vessel, as we learn from the same evangelist. He ran probably to obtain the reed, or the sponge. But the rest seem to have interrupted this act of kindness; for they said, still in the same obdurate spirit, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come and save him. St. John says, the sponge was put upon hyssop, meaning the STALK of that herb, which there might be long enough for the purpose, as the crosses were not lofty. This stalk might be called a reed, as καλαμος was used metonymically for a rod, a staff, &c.

Verse 50

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

When he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. — The words he thus loudly uttered were, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” Luke 23:46; and with that he yielded up the ghost, αφηκε το πνευμα , “he dismissed his spirit.” The notion which has been built upon this form of expression, that our Lord voluntarily hastened his death by an act of his Divine power, dying, not as exhausted by his sufferings, but by cutting them short, is an instance of the liability of critics to be dazzled by a striking thought. If it were so, if our Lord died not as the effect of his crucifixion, but of an exertion of his Divine power, he was not put to death by the Jews, and he did not, as St. Paul says, become “obedient to the death of the cross,” although he died upon it. Doddridge, who adopts this view from Theophylact and others, speaks of the majesty and dignity of our Saviour in thus retiring from his sufferings, “dying, if one may so express it, like the Prince of life.” This, however, is said in forgetfulness of the inspired declaration that the Jews “killed the Prince of life,” not indeed that he killed himself. As for the passage quoted in confirmation of this criticism, “No man taketh away my life from me, but I lay it down of myself,” it teaches just the contrary doctrine; not that he would exert his Divine power to prevent men from inflicting death upon him; but that, although possessing that power, he would not exert it, but surrender himself to their will; for to lay down his life was surely to yield up himself to be put to death by his enemies. The truth is, that the meaning of the phrase, he dismissed or gave up his spirit, is altogether strained to support a notion which, theologically considered, would entail some perplexing consequences. It is no more than a periphrasis for death. A similar phrase is used in the Septuagint to express the death of Rachel, and the Greek writers have numerous examples. Wetstein gives the very words, αφηκε το πνευμα , signifying simply to die, from Euripides. So also the Latins: Animam dimittere, animam reddere, &c. The early death of our Lord is not, therefore, to be ascribed to his own volition, but to the extremity of his sufferings; the violence of which rather CRUSHED his frame, than allowed him, as the malefactors, to linger on in exhaustion.

Verses 52-53

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And the graves were opened, &c. — This was the most extraordinary prodigy of all, and the moral is equally obvious: the death of Christ gives life to the very dead, and the first fruits of the general resurrection appear visibly among men! That the earthquake was the instrument employed in opening the sepulchres is clear from the narrative; that it could not give life to the bodies contained in them is certain; so that in this we have another instance of the direct employment of the power of God, marking the death of his Son with such events as never occurred at the death of a mere mortal, or the holiest martyr, or the most useful apostle. The earthquake opened the tombs, which could not be closed again, because the Sabbath was at hand; and in this state they remained until after our Lord himself had risen from the grave: then many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, the current appellation of Jerusalem, though then most unworthy of it, and appeared unto many. They rose not before Christ, for he was the “first-born from the dead,” and the “first fruits of them that slept;” but they followed as the proof that he was, according to his own profession, “the Resurrection and the Life;” and in fulfilment of his own words, John 5:25, “The hour is coming, and now is,” at hand, or near, “when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” On this miracle we may remark,

1. That, like the other prodigies, it was manifestly emblematical: it showed that the power of death and the grave was vanquished by the death and resurrection of Christ, and that he had obtained, by his submission to death, “the keys,” the supreme dominion, “of death and hades,” or the place of separate spirits, whom he commanded to resume their bodies laid down by death, and quickened into life for that purpose.

2. That it is a proof of the Divinity of our Lord; for the life which was imparted to them was given by him, so that to him belong the words ascribed to Jehovah in the Psalms, “For with thee is the fountain of life;” and this doctrine is intimated also by himself in the verse which follows his own prediction of the event, just quoted from John 5:25, “For as the Father hath life IN HIMSELF, so hath he given to the Son to have life IN HIMSELF.”

3. That it was a strong confirmation of the resurrection of Christ, vouchsafed probably to some of the disciples to whom our Lord did not himself appear. The witnesses were many; they went into the holy city, the burial places of the Jews being all without the walls; and they appeared unto many. That they were the bodies of saints but recently deceased may be gathered from this, that their appearing unto those who never knew them could convey no proof of their being raised from the dead; they might be persons assuming the names of those who had long ago died, for any thing the persons who saw them could determine; but by showing themselves to their acquaintance the proof was complete. To the question, “What became of them?” there is no reasonable reply; but that, as our Lord existed in secret until his ascension, so were they also hidden; and that they returned with him to heaven, and are there as the pledges, to angels and to us, that the general resurrection of all the saints shall most certainly take place in the fulness of time. The bodies of these saints, while yet they tarried upon earth, like the body of our Lord, wore not that glorious appearance which his body assumed after or at the ascension, and to the splendour of which the bodies of his people are to be conformed. There were obvious reasons, in each case, for the delay of this “glorification;” but doubtless, like his, their bodies were even then immortal. — That we hear no more of them, indicates that they did not remain among men, and die a second time; which would have been an evil. On this event Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, has a beautiful passage: “He descended into hades, and broke those bars that had hitherto remained firm and untouched, and raised up together with himself those who for many ages had slept. So that though he came down from heaven alone, he ascended to his Father with a numerous train, and was honourably seated at his right hand.”

Verse 54

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Truly this was the Son of God. — They were witnesses of the darkening of the sun, the tremendous earthquake, the demeanour of Christ, his meekness, his prayer for the forgiveness of his enemies, his conduct to the penitent thief; and though they saw not the veil of the temple rent, they might yet hear of it. The prodigies struck all the soldiers with fear; but the centurion, as of a more reflecting character, probably revolved all the circumstances in his thoughts, and at length exclaimed, Truly this was the Son of God; and with this testimony the soldiers themselves appear to have consented. According to St. Luke, his words were, “Certainly this was a righteous man.” He might, and probably did, use both expressions, as it is not likely that he restrained his strong emotions unto one exclamation; and the one implied the other. If Christ was the Son of God incarnate, he was also a righteous man, innocent of all guilt; and if a righteous man, he was then the Son of God, because he professed himself to be so, which, in the sense in which our Lord used the term, no mere man could profess and be righteous. It has been disputed in what sense the centurion, who was probably a Pagan, and not a proselyte, as some have conjectured, used the term SON OF GOD; but this is clear, that he attributed it to Christ in the same sense in which Christ had claimed it, and in which the Jews had disputed it. This is indubitable.

He had probably heard that Christ had been condemned in the Jewish council, on a charge of blasphemy, because he said, I am the Son of God;” and he had certainly heard the Jews who insulted him in his sufferings taunt him with this profession, which according to them was blasphemy, or it could have been no crime. He knew, therefore, that it was a title implying a claim to a participation of the Divine nature, the nature of that one supreme God whom, as a man of education, he could not but know the Jews alone worshipped, to the exclusion of all belief in the existence of all inferior, subordinate deities. It follows, therefore, that it must have been with reference to this claim, as understood by the Jews, and not with reference to any of the idolatrous notions of Paganism, that he was convinced that God himself was the author of all these prodigies, and that they were all attestations in favour of the sufferer, or the exertions of his own power, and that he therefore acknowledged him emphatically to be that Son of God which the Jews denied. This is plain, not from the use of the mere phrase itself; but from the adverb αληθως , truly, certainly, indubitably, this was the Son of God in manifest opposition to the criminality affixed by the Jews to his assumption of that title.

But the phrase used being υιος Θεου , without the article, some would render a son of God; an expression, they think, suitable in the lips of a polytheist; but when the disciples in the ship, after Christ had quelled the storm, came to him and worshipped him, and said, “Truly thou art the Son of God,” the article is wanting, and yet they, being Jews, cannot be charged with polytheistic notions; and even a Socinian critic has acknowledged that the phrases υιος Θεου , and ο υιος του Θεου , or υιος του Θεου , mean exactly the same thing. As the centurion used the phrase “Son of God” with reference to what Christ had professed himself to be, so he adds what is recorded by St. Luke, “Certainly this was a righteous or just man,” probably with reference to the message of Pilate’s wife, which being delivered to him “on the judgment seat,” might be known to others. She had said, “Have thou nothing to do with that JUST MAN;” and the centurion exclaims, “Truly this was a just man.”

If not precisely the same, yet a powerful effect was produced by the extraordinary events which occurred. Against the impression of the darkness many of the obdurate spectators of the crucifixion, buoyed up, it may be, by the effrontery of the chief priests, and scribes, and elders, maintained an indomitable stubbornness, and continued their mocking of our Lord; but the repetition of these “mighty signs” at length broke down the resolution of the multitude; for it is added by St. Luke, in connection with the confession of the centurion, “And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, smote their breasts, and returned,” Luke 23:48.

Verse 55

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent, &c. — This was the second great prodigy which accompanied the crucifixion: for as our Lord expired at the ninth hour, or three in the afternoon, at the commencement of the offering of the evening sacrifice in the temple, the veil would be rent while the priest was offering incense in the holy place, and the people praying without; and on festivals the number was great; all of whom would be witnesses of the fact, which could not take place without their knowledge. The relation of St. Matthew, therefore, if not true, might have been contradicted by many at the publication of his gospel. If Matthew knew that this veil was rent, all the priests who had access to the ναος , or sanctuary, knew it, and many of the people. If not true, where is the denial of it? Of this we have no record; and no such denial can have been made at the time when this gospel was first published, because the falsification of its statement was so easy, and would have been so fatal to the credit of the whole relation, that the Jews must have contradicted the story had it been in their power. The veil here spoken of was that which separated the sanctuary, where the priests daily officiated, from the holy of holies. It is sometimes called “the second veil;” the first being placed at the porch of the sanctuary, separating that from the court where the people assembled. This second veil was called emphatically, THE VEIL, Το καταπετασμα . And as the rending of it opened and exposed the way into this most sacred place, which was the type of heaven, the dwelling place of God, so we are taught by St. Paul to consider this prodigy as emblematical of the effect of the rending of the body of our Lord, in that moment, on the cross, the sacrificial efficacy of which opened, even to the guilty, the way of access to God, and to his glorious presence in a future life, to all that believe. It intimated also the abolition of the Jewish ceremonial law; for while that continued, that free and direct approach to God which is now attained by simple faith in Christ was obstructed by the interposition of imperfect and mystic rites. — These have now given place to a clear revelation of evangelical realities, hopes, and privileges, so that our confiding approach to God is encouraged by all those views which the death of Christ unfolds to the eye of faith. God is our Father; his throne is a throne of grace, his justice is satisfied, and as he is able to show mercy consistently with the rectitude of his government, so he delights in its exercise, and admits the most unworthy, when they are truly penitent and “draw near” with “faith” into the immediate enjoyment of his friendship and blessing.

The earth did quake, and the rocks rent. — Here was a third miracle resulting from the immediate interposition of the Divine power, designed to attest his approbation of the Sufferer, and his anger against his persecutors. The symbolical import of the earthquake was probably the destruction of the Jewish state; for as the rending of the veil intimated the abolition of the religion of the Jews, by the bringing in of a “better hope,” and the opening of a “new way” to God, so, as earthquakes in prophetic language signify the subversion of kingdoms, this shaking of the earth was not rhetorical, but a real symbol of those convulsions which should entirely destroy their civil polity and overwhelm them in inevitable destruction. Earthquakes, it is true, occur in the course of events produced by natural causes. Yet even these vast and often destructive commotions of the globe cannot, by any true Christian, be supposed left to themselves, and not to be under both the control and DIRECTION of Providence. — In this case the hand of God was strikingly manifest in the production of this earthquake at the time of our Lord’s death, and on the place; leaving, as travellers still observe, marks of an extraordinary convulsion in the fissures and positions of the rocks near the site of the crucifixion.

Verses 55-56

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And many women were there, &c. — These heroic women appear to have been the only disciples, except John, present at the crucifixion. They had followed him out of Galilee, and some of them were in opulent circumstances; they ministered to him, and by their grateful benevolence he appears to have been chiefly supported during the later period of his ministry. So dependent did the Lord of all voluntarily render himself! These beheld afar off, as prevented by delicacy or fear from mingling with the multitude. The mother of Jesus stood by the cross, with John; she being, no doubt, treated with some respect from natural pity, and John being regarded in the light of her protector. Encouraged by the presence of these two, some of these women who at first stood at a distance, seem afterward to have approached nearer: of these was Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, a respectable woman, out of whom our Lord had cast seven devils, whose power over her was her affliction, not crime; at least the notion that she had been an impure woman has no foundation in what is recorded of her. This notion appears to have arisen from confounding her with the woman who was “a sinner,” but whose name is not mentioned. The mother of Zebedee’s children was Salome.

Verses 57-60

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And when even was come. — The Jews had two evenings, one from three o’clock P.M., or the ninth hour, till sunset, the other from sunset until dark. The evening here mentioned was the second evening. The phrase here used means that this second evening, when the Sabbath began, was at hand, was fast approaching, before which the bodies must be taken down, and, if not dead, despatched by breaking their bones, that they might be buried at the foot of the cross, in the Golgotha on which they were executed. This Joseph, a rich man of Arimathea, or Ramathaim, as the Hebrews named it, the birthplace of Samuel, is said to have been a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, “for fear of the Jews.” He is called “a counsellor,” as being a member of the sanhedrim; but as “a good man and just,” the still more honourable appellations given him by St. Luke, had “not consented to the counsel and deed of them.” His former timidity had probably been removed by the prodigies of our Lord’s death working in him a still stronger conviction that Jesus was the Messiah; and he now avowed himself a friend of Christ by going to Pilate, and begging the body of Jesus for interment. He the more easily prevailed, no doubt, on account of his riches and rank; but hereby was fulfilled another signal prophecy Isaiah 53:9: “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with THE RICH in his death,” or, as Lowth translates, “And his grave was appointed with the wicked; but with the rich was his tomb:” that is, he was appointed to be buried as well as the malefactors, but with this remarkable distinction, that his tomb should be with the rich man; which was accomplished when Joseph laid him in his own new tomb, “wherein never man was laid.” This tomb was hewn out in the rock: the Jewish sepulchres were frequently caves hollowed out of the rocks with which the country abounded. Joseph’s tomb was near; and the time before the commencement of the Sabbath being short, the body, wrapped in clean linen with a costly mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight, was hastily deposited in the cave, and a great stone was rolled against the entrance; more complete embalming of the body being reserved until after the Sabbath.

In this pious work Nicodemus was also assisting, and thus with Joseph nobly avowed his faith in Christ; and yet neither they nor the women had any idea of his rising again, as appears from the preparations made for a regular embalmment of the body. Was it that they understood all that our Lord had so plainly declared respecting his resurrection in a figurative sense? This is probable; and how and when he, whom they still believed, though put to death, to be the Messiah, was again to manifest himself, they appear to have left to God, without any settled opinion, or perhaps conjecture. One thing was, however, before them, — to show respect to their despised Master; and in this duty they failed not: though their faith was confused and unsettled, yet their love was strong. But the very circumstance of the care of these truly sincere disciples to pay all funeral honours to their Lord, even to embalming, is an incident of great importance in the evidence of the truth of the resurrection; for those who made such anxious preparations for the regular embalming of the body as soon as the Sabbath should be over, and evidently anticipated that he would continue to lie in the grave, could have been no parties to a plot for taking away the body in the night. This is one of those powerful evidences of the veracity of the Gospel which so frequently occur without any design on the part of the writers of these narratives, and so unequivocally stamp them with TRUTH. The linen cloth, σινδων , in which Joseph wrapped the body of Christ, was a square sheet, in which the body was bound up with swathes or bandages. The stones placed at the mouths of sepulchres were large and weighty, designed to defend the bodies laid in the cave within from beasts of prey, and from other intrusion. Hence Matthew says the stone was rolled, indicating the weight, which was done by those who assisted Joseph in carrying away the body and bearing it to the tomb, who were probably his own servants.

Verse 61

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Sitting over against the sepulchre. — Sitting was the posture of mourners; and in this character these pious women attended the interment. In this again they professed their belief in his innocence; for the Jews are forbidden to show any external marks of mourning at the burial of malefactors. They might “grieve in the heart,” but not “mourn.” That the women retired immediately after the interment, appears from their going into the city to provide the spices for the proper embalming of the body; for sunset, when the Sabbath commenced, was just at hand.

Verse 62

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The next day that followed the preparation, &c. — The preparation was the day before the Sabbath, so called because they prepared every thing requisite for the Sabbath. It was sometimes called προσαββατον . The next day was therefore the Sabbath itself; not the following morning, as we should say, but immediately after six o’clock the same evening, when the Sabbath commenced. A night did not elapse, as might appear from our mode of computing time, before the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate to urge him to set a guard upon the tomb, for then it would have been left many hours unguarded; but as our Lord was buried just on the eve of the commencement of the Sabbath, that is, close upon six o’clock in the evening of Friday, they would go almost immediately to Pilate, before the darkness had set in, which would have been favourable to the removal of the body. They intruded indeed somewhat upon the Sabbath, which had commenced before they reached Pilate; but though they might not employ themselves in any business on the Sabbath, they made no scruple of requiring the Romans to do so, or they might conclude that the importance of the case created a lawful necessity.

Verse 63

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

That deceiver. — The word is highly opprobrious, and signifies an impostor and vagabond.

After three days I will rise again. — Our Lord does not appear to have explicitly conversed with any but his disciples on the subject of his resurrection; so that the chief priests probably concluded that he had professed that he would rise again after three days, that is, according to the Jewish mode of speaking, on the third day, verse 64, from his having publicly said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days will I raise it up again;” and thus these base hypocrites showed that they well enough knew that in these word she did not threaten the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, the interpretation which they forced upon them at his trial.

Verse 65

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Ye have a watch. — The κουστωδια consisted of sixty soldiers. These were Roman soldiers, as the term used, which is the Latin custodia, shows, as well as other circumstances. But they hereby unwittingly mightily strengthened the evidence of the resurrection; not only by adding sixty independent witnesses to the number, but by making it certain that sixty men could not all at once be asleep on guard, and that a feeble band of disciples could not overcome sixty armed and disciplined men. The word used by Pilate admits of being taken either in the indicative or imperative. The latter is to be preferred; for if they had had a guard at their disposal already, they need not have applied to the governor. The sense therefore is, “Take a guard.”

Verse 66

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Sealing the stone. — This custom is mentioned in Daniel 6:17: “And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet.” The seal used in this case was either that of Pilate or some public seal, so that the stone could not be removed but by the authority which the seal represented. The seal would be so fixed as that the stone could not be moved out of its place without breaking it. For this purpose a band of leather or cord was in such cases used, to each end of which the seal was attached.

The enemies of our Lord had now completed their plot against the Lord’s anointed: they had obtained his blood; silenced his reproving voice; seen him laid in the sepulchre; secured the stone at its entrance by a seal; placed over it a numerous guard of soldiers; and one thing only seemed wanting to complete their triumph, and that they no doubt eagerly anticipated, — to throw open the tomb on the third day, bring forth the body, and prove to all the people that he was “a deceiver.” How truly then did the resurrection of the rejected and persecuted Saviour illustrate the words of their own Psalm, addressed to all the enemies of Messiah, “he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision!” The next and concluding chapter of this gospel narrates this event, the grand foundation of the Christian faith. The accounts of the four evangelists present some apparent discrepancies, which, however, but more strongly mark their veracity as witnesses. The manner in which they are to be harmonized will be stated at the conclusion of the notes upon the gospel of St. John.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 27". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-27.html.
 
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