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Bible Commentaries

J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

Matthew 27

Verses 27-44

THESE verses describe the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ after his condemnation by Pilate,—His sufferings in the hands of the brutal Roman soldiers, and His final sufferings on the cross. They form a marvelous record.

They are marvelous when we remember the sufferer, the eternal Son of God! They are marvelous when we remember the persons for whom these sufferings were endured. We and our sins were the cause of all this sorrow. He "died for our sins." (1 Corinthians 15:3.)

Let us observe in the first place, the extent and reality of our Lord’s sufferings.

The catalogue of all the pains endured by our Lord’s body, is indeed a fearful one. Seldom has such suffering been inflicted on one body in the last few hours of a life. The most savage tribes, in their refinement of cruelty, could not have heaped more agonizing tortures on an enemy than were accumulated on the flesh and bones of our beloved Master. Never let it be forgotten that He had a real human body, a body exactly like our own, just as sensitive, just as vulnerable, just as capable of feeling intense pain. And then let us see what that body endured.

Our Lord, we must remember, had already passed a night without sleep, and endured excessive fatigue. He had been taken from Gethsemane to the Jewish council, and from the council to Pilate’s judgment hall. He had been twice placed on his trial, and twice unjustly condemned. He had been already scourged and beaten cruelly with rods. And now, after all this suffering, He was delivered up to the Roman soldiers, a body of men no doubt expert in cruelty, and of all people least likely to behave with delicacy or compassion.—These harsh men at once proceeded to work their will. They "gathered together the whole band." They stripped our Lord of His raiment, and put on Him, in mockery, a scarlet robe. They platted a crown of sharp thorns, and in derision placed it on His head. They then bowed the knee before Him in mockery, as nothing better than a pretended king. They spit upon Him. They smote Him on the head. And finally having put His own robe on Him, they led Him out of the city, to a place called Golgotha, and there crucified Him between two thieves.

But what was a crucifixion? Let us try to realize it, and understand its misery. The person crucified was laid on his back on a piece of timber, with a cross-piece nailed to it near one end,—or on the trunk of a tree with branching arms, which answered the same purpose. His hands were spread out on the cross-piece, and nails driven through each of them, fastening them to the wood. His feet in like manner were nailed to the upright part of the cross. And then, the body having been securely fastened, the cross was raised up, and fixed firmly in the ground. And there hung the unhappy sufferer, till pain and exhaustion brought him to his end,—not dying suddenly, for no vital part of him was injured,—but enduring the most excruciating agony from his hands and feet, and unable to move. Such was the death of the cross. Such was the death that Jesus died for us! For six long hours He hung there before a gazing crowd, naked, and bleeding from head to foot,—His head pierced with thorns,—His back lacerated with scourging,—His hands and feet torn with nails,—and mocked and reviled by His cruel enemies to the very last.

Let us meditate frequently on these things. Let us often read over the story of Christ’s cross and passion. Let us remember, not least, that all these horrible sufferings were borne without a murmur. No word of impatience crossed our Lord’s lips. In His death, no less than in His life, He was perfect. To the very last, Satan found nothing in Him. (John 14:30.)

Let us observe, in the second place, that all our Lord Jesus Christ’s sufferings were vicarious. He suffered not for His own sins, but for ours. He was eminently our substitute in all His passion.

This is a truth of the deepest importance. Without it the story of our Lord’s sufferings, with all its minute details, must always seem mysterious and inexplicable. It is a truth, however, of which the Scriptures speak frequently, and that too with no uncertain sound. We are told that Christ "bare our sins in His own body on the tree,"—that He "suffered for sin, the just for the unjust,"—that "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him,"—that "He was made a curse for us,"—that "He was offered to bear the sins of many,"—that "He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities,"—and that "the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (1 Peter 2:22, and 1 Peter 3:18. 2 Corinthians 5:21. Galatians 3:13. Hebrews 9:28. Isaiah 53:5-6.) May we all remember these texts well. They are among the foundation stones of the Gospel.

But we must not be content with a vague general belief, that Christ’s sufferings on the cross were vicarious. We are intended to see this truth in every part of His passion. We may follow Him all through, from the bar of Pilate, to the minute of His death, and see him at every step as our mighty Substitute, our Representative, our Head, our Surety, our Proxy,—the Divine Friend who undertook to stand in our stead, and by the priceless merit of His sufferings, to purchase our redemption.—Was He scourged? It was that "through His stripes we might be healed."—Was he condemned, though innocent? It was that we might be acquitted though guilty.—Did He wear a crown of thorns? It was that we might wear the crown of glory.—Was He stripped of His raiment? It was that we might be clothed in everlasting righteousness.—Was he mocked and reviled? It was that we might be honored and blessed.—Was He reckoned a malefactor, and numbered among transgressors? It was that we might be reckoned innocent, and justified from all sin.—Was he declared unable to save Himself? It was that He might be able to save others to the uttermost.—Did He die at last, and that the most painful and disgraceful of deaths? It was that we might live for evermore, and be exalted to the highest glory.—Let us ponder these things well. They are worth remembering. The very key to peace is a right apprehension of the vicarious sufferings of Christ.

Let us leave the story of our Lord’s passion with feelings of deep thankfulness. Our sins are many and great. But a great atonement has been made for them. There was an infinite merit in all Christ’s sufferings. They were the sufferings of One who was God as well as man. Surely it is meet, right, and our bounden duty, to praise God daily because Christ has died.

Last, but not least, let us ever learn from the story of the passion, to hate sin with a great hatred. Sin was the cause of all our Savior’s suffering. Our sins platted the crown of thorns. Our sins drove the nails into His hands and feet. On account of our sins His blood was shed. Surely the thought of Christ crucified should make us loathe all sin. Well says the Homily of the Passion, "Let this image of Christ crucified be always printed in our hearts. Let it stir us up to the hatred of sin, and provoke our minds to the earnest love of Almighty God."

Verses 45-56

IN these verses we read the conclusion of our Lord Jesus Christ’s passion. After six hours of agonizing suffering, He became obedient even unto death, and "yielded up the ghost." Three points in the narrative demand a special notice. To them let us confine our attention.

Let us observe, in the first place, the remarkable words which Jesus uttered shortly before His death, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

There is a deep mystery in these words, which no mortal man can fathom. No doubt they were not wrung from our Lord by mere bodily pain. Such an explanation is utterly unsatisfactory, and dishonorable to our blessed Savior. They were meant to express the real pressure on His soul of the enormous burden of a world’s sins. They were meant to show how truly and literally He was our substitute, was made sin, and a curse for us, and endured God’s righteous anger against a world’s sin in His own person. At that awful moment, the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him to the uttermost. It pleased the LORD to bruise Him, and put Him to grief. (Isaiah 53:10.) He bore our sins. He carried our transgressions. Heavy must have been that burden, real and literal must have been our Lord’s substitution for us, when He, the eternal Son of God, could speak of Himself as for a time "forsaken."

Let the expression sink down into our hearts, and not be forgotten. We can have no stronger proof of the sinfulness of sin, or of the vicarious nature of Christ’s sufferings, than His cry, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me." It is a cry that should stir us up to hate sin, and encourage us to trust in Christ. [Footnote: The following quotations deserve notice, and throw light on this peculiarly solemn portion of Scripture.

"Our Lord said this, under a deep sense of His Father’s wrath unto mankind, in whose stead He now underwent that which was due for the sins of the whole world. When He said ’Why hast thou forsaken me,’ He implied that God had for the time withdrawn from Him the sense and vision of His comfortable presence. When He said, ’My God,’ He implied the strength of His faith whereby He did firmly apprehend the sure and gracious aid of His eternal Father."—Bishop Hall. "

All the wailings and howlings of the damned to all eternity, will fall infinitely short of expressing the evil and bitterness of sin with such emphasis as these few words, ’My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.’ "—Jamieson.]

Let us observe, in the second place, how much is contained in the words which describe our Lord’s end. We are simply told, "He yielded up the ghost."

There never was a last breath drawn, of such deep import as this. There never was an event on which so much depended. The Roman soldiers, and the gaping crowd around the cross, saw nothing remarkable. They only saw a person dying as others die, with all the usual agony and suffering, which attend a crucifixion. But they knew nothing of the eternal interests which were involved in the whole transaction.

That death discharged in full the mighty debt which sinners owe to God, and threw open the door of life to every believer. That death satisfied the righteous claims of God’s holy law, and enabled God to be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly. That death was no mere example of self-sacrifice, but a complete atonement and propitiation for man’s sin, affecting the condition and prospects of all mankind. That death solved the hard problem, how God could be perfectly holy, and yet perfectly merciful. It opened to the world a fountain for all sin and uncleanness.—It was a complete victory over Satan, and spoiled him openly. It finished the transgression, made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness.—It proved the sinfulness of sin, when it needed such a sacrifice to atone for it.—It proved the love of God to sinners, when He sent His own Son to make the atonement. Never, in fact, was there, or could there be again, such a death. No wonder that the earth quaked, when Jesus died, in our stead, on the accursed tree. The solid frame of the world might well tremble and be amazed, when the soul of Christ was made an offering for sin. (Isaiah 53:10.)

Let us observe, in the last place, what a remarkable miracle occurred at the hour of our Lord’s death, in the very midst of the Jewish temple. We are told that "the veil of the temple was rent in twain." The curtain which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple, and through which the high priest alone might pass, was split from top to bottom.

Of all the wonderful signs which accompanied our Lord’s death, none was more significant than this. The mid-day darkness for three hours, must needs have been a startling event. The earthquake, which rent the rocks, must have been a tremendous shock. But there was a meaning in the sudden rending of the veil from top to bottom, which must have pricked the heart of any intelligent Jew. The conscience of Caiaphas, the high priest, must have been hard indeed, if the tidings of that rent veil did not fill him with dismay.

The rending of the veil proclaimed the termination and passing away of the ceremonial law. It was a sign that the old dispensation of sacrifices and ordinances was no longer needed. Its work was done. Its occupation was gone, from the moment that Christ died. There was no more need of an earthly high priest, and a mercy seat, and a sprinkling of blood, and an offering up of incense, and a day of atonement. The true High Priest had at length appeared. The true Lamb of God had been slain. The true mercy seat was at length revealed. The figures and shadows were no longer wanted. May we all remember this! To set up an altar, and a sacrifice, and a priesthood now, is to light a candle at noon-day.

That rending of the veil proclaimed the opening of the way of salvation to all mankind. The way into the presence of God was unknown to the Gentile, and only seen dimly by the Jew, until Christ died. But Christ having now offered up a perfect sacrifice, and obtained eternal redemption, the darkness and mystery were to pass away. All were to be invited now to draw near to God with boldness, and approach Him with confidence, by faith in Jesus. A door was thrown open, and a way of life set before the whole world. May we all remember this! From the time that Jesus died, the way of peace was never meant to be shrouded in mystery. There was to be no reserve. The Gospel was the revelation of a mystery, which had been hid from ages and generations. To clothe religion now with mystery, is to mistake the grand characteristic of Christianity.

Let us turn from the story of the crucifixion, every time we read it, with hearts full of praise. Let us praise God for the confidence it gives us, as to the ground of our hope of pardon. Our sins may be many and great, but the payment made by our Great Substitute far outweighs them all.—Let us praise God for the view it gives us of the love of our Father in heaven. He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will surely with Him give us all things.—Not least, let us praise God for the view it gives us of the sympathy of Jesus with all His believing people. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He knows what suffering is. He is just the Saviour that an infirm body, with a weak heart, in an evil world, requires.

Verses 57-66

THESE verses contain the history of our Lord Jesus Christ’s burial. There was yet one thing needful, in order to make it certain that our Redeemer accomplished that great work of redemption which He undertook. That holy body, in which He bore our sins on the cross, must actually be laid in the grave, and rise again. His resurrection was to be the seal and head-stone of all the work.

The infinite wisdom of God foresaw the objections of unbelievers and infidels, and provided against them.—Did the Son of God really die? Did he really rise again? Might there not have been some delusion as to the reality of His death? Might there not have been imposition or deception, as to the reality of His resurrection?—All these, and many more objections, would doubtless have been raised, if opportunity had been given. But He who knows the end from the beginning, prevented the possibility of such objections being made. By His over-ruling providence, He ordered things so that the death and burial of Jesus were placed beyond a doubt.—Pilate gives consent to His burial. A loving disciple wraps the body in linen, and lays it in a new tomb hewn out of a rock, "wherein was never man yet laid." The chief priests themselves set a guard over the place where His body was deposited. Jews and Gentiles, friends and enemies, all alike testify to the great fact, that Christ did really and actually die, and was laid in a grave. It is a fact that can never be questioned.—He was really "bruised." He really "suffered." He really "died." He was really "buried." Let us mark this well. It deserves recollection.

Let us learn, for one thing, from these verses, that our Lord Jesus Christ has friends of whom little is known.

We cannot have a more striking example of this truth, than we see in the passage now before us. A man named Joseph of Arimathæa comes forward, when our Lord was dead, and asks permission to bury Him. We have never heard of this man at any former period of our Lord’s earthly ministry. We never hear of him again. We know nothing, but that he was a disciple who loved Christ, and did Him honor. At the time when the apostles had forsaken our Lord,—at a time when it was a dangerous thing to confess regard for Him,—at a time when there seemed to be no earthly advantage to be gained by confessing His discipleship,—at such a time as this Joseph comes boldly forward, and begs the body of Jesus, and lays it in his own new tomb.

This fact is full of comfort and encouragement. It shows us that there are some quiet, retiring souls on earth, who know the Lord, and the Lord knows them, and yet they are little known by the church. It shows us that there are diversities of gifts among Christ’s people. There are some who glorify Christ passively, and some who glorify Him actively. There are some whose vocation it is to build the Church, and fill a public place, and there are some who only come forward, like Joseph, in times of special need. But each and all are led by one Spirit, and each and all glorify God in their several ways.

Let these things teach us to be more hopeful. Let us believe that many shall yet come from the east and west, and sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. There may be in some dark corners of Christendom many, who, like Simeon, and Anna, and Joseph of Arimathæa, are at present little known, who shall shine brightly among the Lord’s jewels in the day of His appearing.

Let us learn, for another thing, from these verses, that God can make the devices of wicked men work round to His own glory.

We are taught that lesson in a striking manner, by the conduct of the priests and Pharisees, after our Lord was buried. The restless enmity of these unhappy men could not sleep, even when the body of Jesus was in the grave. They called to mind the words, which they remembered he had said, about "rising again." They resolved, as they thought, to make His rising again impossible. They went to Pilate. They obtained from him a guard of Roman soldiers. They set a watch over the tomb of our Lord. They placed a seal upon the stone. In short, they did all they could to "make the sepulchre sure."

They little thought what they were doing. They little thought that unwittingly they were providing the most complete evidence of the truth of Christ’s coming resurrection. They were actually making it impossible to prove that there was any deception or imposition. Their seal, their guard, their precautions, were all to become witnesses, in a few hours, that Christ had risen. They might as well have tried to stop the tides of the sea, or to prevent the sun rising, as to prevent Jesus coming forth from the tomb. They were taken in their own craftiness. (1 Corinthians 3:19.) Their own devices became instruments to show forth God’s glory.

The history of the Church of Christ is full of examples of a similar kind. The very things that have seemed most unfavorable to God’s people, have often turned out to be for their good. What harm did the "persecution which arose about Stephen" do to the Church of Christ? They that were scattered went every where, preaching the word.—(Acts 8:4.) What harm did imprisonment do Paul? It gave him time to write many of those Epistles, which are now read all over the world.—What real harm did the persecution of bloody Mary do to the cause of the English Reformation? The blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church.—What harm does persecution do the people of God at this very day? It only drives them nearer to Christ. It only makes them cling more closely to the throne of grace, the Bible, and prayer.

Let all true Christians lay these things to heart, and take courage. We live in a world where all things are ordered by a hand of perfect wisdom, and where all things are working together continually for the good of the body of Christ. The powers of this world are only tools in the hand of God. He is ever using them for His own purposes, however little they may be aware of it.—They are the instruments by which He is ever squaring and polishing the living stones of His spiritual temple, and all their schemes and plans will only turn to His praise. Let us be patient in days of trouble and darkness, and look forward. The very things which now seem against us, are all working together for God’s glory. We see but half now.—Yet a little, we shall see all. And we shall then discover that all the persecution we now endure was, like the seal and the guard, tending to God’s glory. God can make the "wrath of man praise him." (Psalms 76:10.)

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Bibliographical Information
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Matthew 27". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ryl/matthew-27.html.