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THE DATE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER. The point of difficult is the day of the month. Our Lord died on Friday, but from very early times there has been a dispute whether this Friday was the 15 th of Nisan, or the 14 th. The former view places the institution of the Lord’s Supper at the regular time of eating the passover, on the 14 th in the evening (Exodus 13:6-2.13.8; Exodus 23:5), the crucifixion taking place on the 15 th, the first feast day, though ‘not the first day of unleavened bread,’ since the leaven was removed on the 14 th (Exodus 12:18-2.12.19). The other view is that Christ died on the 14 th, at the time when the Paschal Lamb should be slain (after three o’clock in the afternoon), hence that the Last Supper was eaten a day before the regular time for the passover feasts.
Reasons for preferring the former view:
1 . The accounts given in the first three Gospels undoubtedly make the impression that the Lord’s Supper was instituted during a passover feast at the regular time. They all speak of it as ‘the passover,’ and Mark says (Mark 14:12) that it was the day ‘when they killed’ (or ‘were wont to kill’) ‘the passover,’ while Luke (Luke 22:7) remarks: ‘when the passover must be killed;’ adding, ‘and when the hour was come’ (Luke 22:14). The disciples asked where they should prepare to eat the Passover (Matthew and Mark). An anticipation of the regular time would have been noted, if not by the disciples, by the man at whose house they met.
2 . Christ, who came to fulfil the law, would not have violated it in this instance.
3 . A celebration on the day before would not have been permitted, if it was the custom then to slay the lamb in the temple.
4 . The reasons for the other view are insufficient: ( a) If Christ had been crucified at the precise time when it was customary to slay the Paschal Lamb, some hint would have been given of so important a fulfillment of the Old Testament types. But in fact the afternoon of the 14 th at three o’clock was before the legal time. ( b) The passages in John which occasion the difficulty are not decisive: John 13:1-43.13.4, ‘Before the feat of the Passover Jesus riseth from the supper,’ does not necessarily mean the day before. John 13:27: ‘What thou doest, do quickly, was understood by the disciples as meaning, buy what is needed. It is urged that if the feast had begun, no purchases could be made. But if a whole day remained, the word ‘quickly’ seems unnecessary. In John 18:28, John speaks of the fear of defilement felt by the Jews, intimating that early on the morning of the day of the crucifixion they had not yet eaten the passover; but this expression may refer to the continuance of the passover-feast. Besides the defilement would have ceased in the evening, in time to eat the Passover, had the evening of the Friday been the regular time. John twice speaks (John 19:14; John 19:31) of that Friday as a ‘preparation.’ This need not be understood of the day before the Passover, since in all other instances the reference is to the day before the Sabbath, not before a feast-day. The Sabbath would be ‘a high day’ (John 19:31), as the first Sabbath of the Passover time, even thought not the first day itself, as the other view implies. ( c) The Chief priests were present at the crucifixion. But if that had been the time when the paschal lamb was slain, these men should have been present in the temple. ( d) The objection that an execution would not take place on the feast day, is of very little weight. According to Deuteronomy 17:12-5.17.13, executions were to be public and of a religious character, and one of the Rabbins distinctly states that they took place on feast days: Further the custom was to release a prisoner on the ‘feast day,’ (Matthew 27:15; John 18:39), and Barabbas seemed to have teen released before the crucifixion (Matthew 27:26).
DATE OF THE ANOINTING AT BETHANY. Matthew and Mark place the anointing at Bethany between the counsel of the chief priests and the treacherous proposal of Judas. John places it just after the arrival at Bethany, ‘six days before the Passover,’ the entry to Jerusalem taking place ‘in the next day.’ We accept the latter, as the correct date.
1 . While the marks of time in the several accounts do not decide which is the more exact, John 12:9 speaks of something as following, which must have occurred previous to the public entry to Jerusalem, while Matthew 26:14, and Mark 14:10, do not necessarily imply that the proposal of Judas immediately followed the Supper at Bethany.
2 . According to John the occasion was a supper made for Jesus, not an accidental eating there. Such an entertainment was more likely to have been given on the triumphal progress to Jerusalem than while Christ was so occupied in His public ministry in the temple. There would scarcely have been time for such a supper on Tuesday evening, as He went to the Mount of Olives at night (Luke 21:37), and then delivered a long discourse. Wednesday evening is too late, for the proposal of Judas followed, and the words of Matthew and Mark: ‘from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him,’ suggest a longer interval than from late on Wednesday night to Thursday night.
3 . There is no reason for John’s displacing it, while a displacement by Matthew and Mark can be accounted for. (a) In history the recapitulation of events is more natural than the anticipation; (b) The prophecy of the speedy death would suggest the anointing of the burial; (c) J udas had murmured (John 12:4), and the rebuke no doubt had its effect in ripening his treachery, which is mentioned at this point by Matthew and Mark. Neither of them speak of Judas as the objecter, but they cannot have been ignorant of the connection between the two events. Matthew is most apt to vary from the exact chronology so as to group together events that have a close relation independent of time.
Matthew 27:1. Now when morning was come. Luke: ‘as soon as it was day;’ comp. John 18:28. Probably about sunrise, since the twilight is short in that latitude.
All the chief priests and the elders of the people. The detailed statement of Mark (comp. Luke 22:66) shows that this was a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin, evidently a second one. The mocking spoken of in chap. Matthew 26:67-40.26.68, must have intervened. Luke 22:66, indicates that this meeting was held in the council-chamber within the temple-area, where alone, according to the Talmud, sentence of death could be pronounced; also that a formal procession conducted Him thither. It is characteristic of Pharisaism to be most formal when most unjust.
To put him to death. They decided how they should cause Him to be put to death in accordance with the decision of the midnight session. Their plan appears to have been: 1 . To ask Pilate’s consent, without inquiry, to their sentence of death (John 18:30). 2 . If necessary, to make the vague charge, that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11). This was the ground on which they forced Pilate to consent. 3 . Another charge mentioned by John (John 19:7), that He claimed to be the Son of God, may have been determined on, in case He denied the political character of His Messiahship. But it had no effect, and the other accusation was resumed.
This morning meeting of the Sanhedrin is mentioned more particularly by Luke (Luke 22:66-42.22.71). They must apply to the Roman governor to have their formal sentence against Jesus executed. They first decide how to proceed (Matthew 27:1), and then the actual delivery took place (Matthew 27:2). The account of the remorse and suicide of Judas is peculiar to Matthew, although referred to in Peter’s speech after the Ascension (Acts 1:16-44.1.19). Its insertion in connection with the prophecy quoted, accords with the character of this Gospel. The repentance of Peter and the remorse of Judas stand close together, in the narrative before us, as if to contrast them. They actually occurred in quick succession, although Matthew, to close the subject, adds events that must have happened later (see Matthew 27:7).
Matthew 27:2. And they bound him. The bonds put on Him in the garden seem to have been removed sometime during the night.
And led him away. Probably in a solemn procession, with a view of influencing both the people and the governor.
Delivered him up. The same word often translated ‘betrayed.’
Pilate the governor. The title is a general one; the office held by Pilate was that of Roman ‘procurator’ whose chief business it was to collect the revenues, and in certain cases to administer justice. Palestine had been thus governed since the banishment of Archelaus (A.D. 6 ), and Pilate was the sixth procurator, holding the office for ten years under the Emperor Tiberius (probably from A. D. 27 - 36 ). The usual residence of the procurator was in Cesarea (Acts 23:33; Acts 25:1; Acts 25:4; Acts 25:6; Acts 25:13), but during the great festivals he was generally at Jerusalem, to preserve order and to uphold the supremacy of the Roman power, perhaps also to administer justice. Pilate had an unyielding and severe disposition (comp. Luke 13:1), and his conduct led to repeated revolts among the Jews, which he suppressed by bloody measures. He was therefore hated and at last removed in consequence of the accusations made against his administration by the Jews. He died by his own hand. There are many legends about him, invented by both the early Christians and their opponents.
Matthew 27:3. Then Judas. Probably on Friday morning.
When he saw. This he could see from the procession to Pilate’s judgment-hall.
That he was condemned. That Judas did not expect this issue, seems contrary to the words of his confession (Matthew 27:4). This circumstance shows that his object was not to induce Jesus to display His glory; in that case his repentance would have led him to Christ and not to suicide.
Repented himself, felt sorrow or remorse; not the word usually translated ‘repent.’ Remorse is c aused by the consequences of sin; repentance is only occasioned by them; in remorse the sorrow is for the consequences, in repentance for the cause, and the sin itself. A terrible prophecy respecting the fate of the betrayer (chap. Matthew 26:24) had been joined with the prediction of this effect of the treachery. As the latter had been fulfilled, Judas must have felt the terrors springing from the former.
Brought back the thirty pieces of silver. He probably received them during the night. Peter first repented in solitude before God; Judas attempted some rectification before men. The bringing back of the money really supports the view that his one great motive was avarice. Remorse, calling for rectification before men, would point to the moving cause of his crime. It is unlikely that more was to have been paid him.
Matthew 27:4. I sinned. ‘ Erred’ is too weak. Although Judas had no real conception of the sinfulness of sin, his feeling was intense. All notions that he tried to make his guilt appear small seem to come from wrong views of his motives and of his remorse. Fearful sorrow for the consequences of sin may coexist with entire sinfulness.
In that I betrayed , lit, ‘in betraying,’ innocent blood. No sign of affection for his Master, but even Judas may testify to the sinless perfection of our Lord. Nothing in the three years’ intercourse could now be used to appease his conscience.
What is that to us? see thou to it. Tools of crime are lightly thrown away after the crime. The rulers have no remorse. Was Judas then worse than his employers?
Matthew 27:5. Flung down, with violence.
In the sanctuary, i.e., ‘the holy place.’ Either he stood just outside and spoke to the priests, who were in the holy place, or in his despair had even entered this forbidden place. In God’s temple lay the money for which God’s Son had been sold to death, as a testimony against the Jews.
And departed. Lange thinks into solitude, as if to lead a hermit’s life, a frequent effect of remorse; but it probably refers to the terror which drove him away, as if from danger. And went away. Probably from the temple, or from his retirement, if he did retire.
Hanged himself. This is to be taken literally, and occurred shortly afterwards. Peter, a few weeks afterwards (Acts 1:18-44.1.19), speaks of his death as well known. That passage shows that the suicide took place in the field spoken of in Matthew 27:7-40.27.8; supposed to have been ‘on the steep face of the southern hill, opposite Mount Zion, which bounds the valley of Hinnom.’ It would seem that Judas hanged himself over the precipice, fell headlong in consequence of the rope or branch breaking, struck on one of the sharp projecting rocks so common there, and lay ‘burst asunder’ in the field below, which he may be said to have ‘obtained’ (Acts 1:18), because it was bought with his ‘reward of iniquity,’ and he himself the first one buried there. Matthew’s account is part of a history, Luke’s account part of a speech to those who were acquainted with the facts. The former naturally brings into prominence the conduct of the priests, the latter looks at the death of Judas in the light of the Apostleship he had lost.
Matthew 27:6. It is not lawful, etc. Based upon Deuteronomy 23:18. What was put in the treasury was deemed an offering to God.
Since it is the price of blood. They thus stigmatized the crime of their tool, but not their own. Too conscientious to defile the treasury, they were not afraid to defile their own hands. A characteristically Pharisaical scruple.
Matthew 27:7. And they took counsel. Probably soon after the crucifixion.
The potter’s field. Some well known spot, of little value, because unfit for tillage.
To bury strangers in. Not heathen, but either foreign Jews, or, as is more likely, proselytes of the gate. ‘The field of blood’ would be deemed good enough for this class, who could not be wholly overlooked. The charity was at all events a cheap one, and Pharisaism is true to itself in this. Compare the traders in the court of the Gentiles (chap. Matthew 21:12). It is not expressly stated, but suggested by Acts 1:18, that Judas was buried there. This first graveyard (instead of the usual isolated sepulchres) was not consecrated but desecrated by the burial of a suicide; the remains of such are usually refused a place in ‘consecrated ‘burial-grounds.
Matthew 27:8. The field of blood. ‘Akeldama,’ Acts 1:19. The stain of the blood money remained in the name. It belonged to the Latins until the fourteenth century and afterwards became the property of the Armenians. Until the present century it was used as a burial place.
Unto this day, i.e., when Matthew wrote.
Matthew 27:9. Then was fulfilled. The action of the Sanhedrin undesignedly fulfilled prophecy.
Jeremiah the prophet. No such words can be found in the book of Jeremiah, but something very similar occurs in Zechariah 11:12. Explanations: ( 1 ) Zechariah was changed into Jeremiah. Of this there is no positive proof of any weight, and there is no motive for the change. ( 2 ) The book of Jeremiah, being actually arranged by the Jews as the first of all the prophets, gave its name to the whole body of their writings. This is the simplest view. ( 3 ) The discrepancy was purposed; to show the unity of prophecy. Altogether unsatisfactory. ( 4 ) A mistake of memory. This is out of the question. Matthew’s other citations from Zechariah have no name prefixed (chap. Matthew 21:5; Matthew 26:31), but he must have known the name of the prophet. ( 5 ) The most improbable theories are, that the passage occurred in some work of Jeremiah which has been lost, or was an oral statement, or expunged by the Jews. ( 6 ) Lange refers the words ‘as the Lord appointed me,’ to Jeremiah 32:8. But that passage is very obscure. The view is more ingenious than satisfactory. We regard the whole as a free adaptation from Zechariah 11:13. Here the prophet’s labors are valued at thirty pieces of silver which he is bidden to cast to the potter in the house of the Lord. If we accept the words: ‘a goodly price that I was prized at of them,’ as spoken to the prophet, the reference to the Messiah is undoubted. The word ‘them ‘is then expanded into the clause of the text: whom they priced on the part of the sons of Israel, referring to the contemptuous estimate (the price of a slave) put upon the Messiah by the representatives of the children of Israel, as in the case of the prophet. Others prefer to render it: ‘bought from the children of Israel,’ finding a reference to the selling of Joseph, taking Judas as the representative of the nation. But the Greek means ‘priced;’ Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver; the priests represented the nation.
Matthew 27:10. And they gave them for the potter’s field. In the prophecy we read: ‘ to the potter,’ a phrase of which many fanciful explanations have been given. The thirty pieces were paid to the potter for the field, and we have here a simple expansion, showing the full symbolical meaning of the prophecy.
As the Lord appointed me. This may readily be referred to the command given to Zechariah, without searching for something similar in Jeremiah.
Matthew 27:11. How Jesus stood before the governor. In ‘the judgment hall’ (John 18:28), which the Sanhedrin did not enter for the fear of defilement. Failing to get Pilate’s consent without inquiry, they charge Jesus with ‘saying, that he himself is Christ a king’ (Luke 23:2).
Art thou the king of the Jews? They had condemned Him for ‘blasphemy,’ but they bring a political accusation now, since Pilate would probably not take notice of the religious one (see John 18:31).
Thou sayest, i.e., ‘ yes.’ He first inquires in what sense Pilate puts the question, and then explains the nature of His kingdom (John 18:34-43.18.37 ). This is implied here. Had Pilate understood it in the political sense, he would not have been so anxious to release Him.
The account of Matthew is least detailed, but contains two incidents (Matthew 27:19; Matthew 27:24) peculiar to itself. The Jews first attempted to obtain Pilate’s consent to the death of Jesus, without formal accusation (John 18:28-43.18.32). Failing in this they make the political charge (Luke 23:2). Then comes the question of Pilate (Matthew 27:11). Our Lord acknowledges His Messiahship, but first inquires in what sense Pilate puts the question (John 18:34). Before His Jewish accusers He was silent (Matthew 27:12-40.27.14). Pilate finds no fault in Him, but hearing He is a Galilean sends Him to Herod (Luke 23:4-42.23.12). On the return from Herod, Pilate offers them the choice between Jesus and Barabbas (Matthew 27:15-40.27.18), seeking to release Jesus (Luke 23:13-42.23.17); but the multitude, under the influence of the priests, ask that Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified (Matthew 27:20-40.27.23). Luke records three successive efforts of Pilate to release our Lord; Matthew three answers of the people (Matthew 27:21-40.27.23). Pilate was no doubt influenced also by the message of his wife (Matthew 27:19). Yet by having put Christ on a level with Barabbas he had already committed himself and gave way to avoid a tumult. After the significant hand washing and the awful response of the multitude (Matthew 27:24-40.27.25), Jesus was scourged (Matthew 27:26). Pilate may have hoped that this would satisfy the Jews; for, after the crown of thorns had been put upon Christ, Pilate exhibited Him to the multitude (John 19:1-43.19.4, ‘ Ecce homo’). Between Matthew 27:30-40.27.31 we place a number of incidents mentioned by John (John 19:6-43.19.15): the new accusation on the part of the Jews, the subsequent interview of Pilate and Jesus, the threat of the Jews, the final decision of Pilate, his taunts calling forth the cry: ‘We have no king but Cesar.’
Matthew 27:12. Accused. When they sought to establish their charge.
He answered nothing, as before Caiaphas. An answer would not have convinced them, nor furthered Pilate’s wish to release Him.
Matthew 27:13. How many things! Comp. Luke 22:5, as a specimen of the testimony, or accusations, they brought. The main charge was true in form, but false in fact: His claim to be a king was not a political offence. So as to the evidence: He had stirred up the people, etc., but not to mutiny or for political purposes. Honest advocates at the bar should avoid the tricks of these murderers of Christ.
Matthew 27:14. And he gave him no answer, not even to one word. This is the emphatic force of the original.
Marvelled greatly. The silence of our Lord continued until just before the final decision (see John 19:10-43.19.11). Those accused are not often silent, and Pilate had probably found the Jews tried at his bar especially vehement.
Matthew 27:15. Now at the feast, or ‘a feast’ Annually at the Passover.
Was wont. Expressly mentioned by three Evangelists. When the custom arose is unknown, but it was undoubtedly designed to soften the Roman yoke. A turbulent people always sympathizes with criminals condemned by hated rulers. That they could choose the prisoner was a prominent feature.
Matthew 27:16. A notable prisoner. A leader in an insurrection in which he had committed murder (Mark and Luke). John calls him ‘a robber.’ Probably one of the Zealots, of whom Josephus speaks. His crime was really political.
Barabbas, ‘Barabbas,’ i.e., ‘the son of his father;’ although other meanings have been discovered in it. Some minor authorities call him, ‘Jesus Barabbas,’ and many think he was a false Messiah; but this is a mere conjecture.
Matthew 27:17. When therefore they were gathered together. The Sanhedrin was gathered by Pilate himself, after Jesus had been sent back by Herod (Luke 23:7). As the morning wore on, there would be a greater crowd of others.
Jesus who is called Christ. Pilate seems to have known of the Messianic claim. His policy was crooked. He ought to have released Jesus, but he would avoid opposing the council. He chose this expedient, probably with the idea, that the popularity of Jesus would lead the multitude to call for His release. But he was outwitted, or at least mistaken. To put Jesus, as yet uncondemned, on a level with Barabbas, was a crime; a cowardly shirking of responsibility, and a blunder; for this proposal placed Pilate in the power of the Sanhedrin. Pilate was not ‘weak and irresolute;’ but baffled in his purpose by superior cunning. Yet his purpose, like his character, was lacking in moral earnestness; the grand defect of the heathen world at that time. Comp, his question:’ What is truth’ (John 18:38), and his mocking tone throughout.
Matthew 27:18. For envy, of His popularity. This implies that Pilate knew something of Jesus before; but it shows his injustice, in not protecting Him as innocent. Still Pilate, while not wishing to directly oppose the rulers, really desired to thwart them.
Matthew 27:19. While he was sitting. Probably while the people were considering the matter.
The judgment seat. A lofty seat of authority, usually on a stone pavement; comp. John 19:13. On this occasion he ascended the seat of judgment to receive the decision of the people, in the other case (in John) to mock the Jews and pronounce the final sentence against Jesus.
His wife sent to him. From the time of Augustus the Roman governors were in the habit of taking their wives with them into their provinces. Tradition gives the name of Pilate’s wife, as Claudia Procula or Procla, and the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus says she was a proselyte of the gate, but little weight is to be attached to this.
That righteous man. She may have known something of Jesus and was satisfied of His innocence. Her request hints that Pilate might incur Divine vengeance by injuring Jesus. She alone pleads the cause of our Saviour. Compare Plato’s description of the perfectly just man, who ‘without doing any wrong, may assume the appearance of the grossest injustice;’ yea who ‘shall be scourged, tortured, fettered, deprived of his eyes, and after having endured all possible sufferings, fastened to a post, must restore again the beginning and prototype of righteousness.’
Suffered many things, or ‘much.’ Some fearful apparition must be meant
In a dream. The dream may have been entirely natural. The governor’s wife knew something of the mission of Jesus; and the night before, the Sanhedrin had in all probability alarmed the procurator’s household, coming to demand a guard. Pilate’s desire to release Jesus was doubtless increased, but he was already committed to the choice of the people.
Matthew 27:20. Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes. Probably while Pilate was receiving the message from his wife. The leaders ‘would say, Jesus had been condemned by the orthodox court. Barabbas was, on the contrary a champion of freedom; that Pilate wished to overthrow their right of choice, their civil rights, their spiritual authority, to persecute the friend of the people,’ etc. The fact that Jesus was a Galilean may also have been used against Him.
Matthew 27:21. But the governor answered. He may have tried to obtain a decision before the arguments of the rulers produced an effect, or simply to end the matter.
Barabbas. Pilate’s cunning recoiled on himself. From this point he was committed against Jesus. When questions of justice are entrusted to a mob, the innocent usually suffer.
Matthew 27:22. What then shall I do unto Jesus? An effort to escape the consequences of his previous false step by appealing to the people, perhaps also an expression of surprise.
Let him be crucified. Pilate did not expect this. Their own law would have punished Jesus by stoning. But Pilate had placed Jesus on a level with Barabbas and they ask the punishment due to him. They put the Innocent One in the place of the guilty. Thus the details of prophecy in regard to the manner of Christ’s death were to he fulfilled. Contrast this demand with the ‘Hosannas ‘of the previous Sunday. Popular movements which do not rest on moral convictions are as shifting as the sand. The ‘voice of the people,’ when misguided, may be the voice of Satan; yet God overrules even this for good.
Matthew 27:23. What evil hath he done? Pilate repeated this question three times, joining with it the proposal to chastise Him and let Him go (Luke 23:22). The only answer is a more excited demand, leading to an uproar. The persistence of Pilate shows his real desire to release Jesus. But the multitude felt that Pilate, by his previous proposal, was committed to a decision against Jesus. Hence a governor, representing the proud Roman power, the nation of legal enactments, was forced to parley with a mob, which at another time he would have crushed with the severest measures. When Christ is to be crucified, no alliance of godless men is impossible, Comp. Luke 23:12.
Matthew 27:24. When Pilate saw that he prevailed nothing. The mob triumphed (see Luke 23:23). It was a dangerous time for an insurrection and Pilate would have been called to account for it, since the Jews were constantly presenting complaints at Rome. He could not have made a defence to his superiors; so he preferred to sanction wrong, knowing and confessing it to be such.
Took water and washed his hands, etc. A symbolical act, well understood by the Jews (Deuteronomy 21:6), to express freedom from guilt. But he condemned himself, even while he washed his hands.
This righteous man. Significant language just here, when ‘this righteous man ‘is about to suffer the punishment of one (Barabbas) confessedly guilty. He suffered, the just for the unjust.
Matthew 27:25. His blood, i.e., the guilt of the punishment, if He be innocent, be upon us. Pilate formally puts the responsibility upon them; but in a fanatical hate they assume it themselves, even adding, and on our children. Peculiar to Matthew, who wrote mainly for Jewish Christians. The imprecation has been a fearful legacy from that generation. But the curse will be turned to a blessing, and the blood of Christ be on that people in its cleansing, healing power (Romans 11:25-45.11.26). As the persecutions of the Jews have been mainly through unjust civil enactments, compare the last cry of the chief priests: ‘We have no king but Cesar’ (John 19:15).
Matthew 27:26. And Jesus he scourged. The guilty one was released, and the innocent one entered upon his punishment. Scourging usually preceded crucifixion. As Pilate made further attempts to release Jesus (John 19:4-43.19.15), some have thought that this scourging was not the one which usually preceded crucifixion, but a distinct punishment others even think that our Lord suffered twice from the lash. Pilate probably ordered the usual scourging, hoping still to release Jesus. He then showed Him (Ecce Homo) to the people, but in vain, as he might have known, for he had (Luke 23:16; Luke 23:22) already twice proposed this punishment. Roman scourging was a fearful punishment. The entire body was bared, the lashes were given without number, thus differing from the Jewish mode. It could not be inflicted upon a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25), but was for slaves. In this case it was inflicted by soldiers. So that the whips were thongs with lead or bones attached. The prisoner was usually bound in a stooping posture so that the skin of the back was stretched tightly; as their backs were flayed by the process, they frequently fainted, and sometimes died. The soldiers, who afterwards mocked Him, were not likely to be mild in this case. Yet the representative of civil justice proposed this as a milder punishment for One who was innocent.
And delivered up to be crucified. After the mocking, etc. The delivery was to the Roman soldiers who executed the sentence, and yet it was also to the will of the Sanhedrin (comp. Luke 23:25). Thus Pilate sacrificed his independent position as a representative of the Roman law, to the fanaticism of the Jewish hierarchy. The State became a tool in the hands of an apostate and bloodthirsty Church. Pilate’s conduct is an awful warning to rulers, who to gain popularity pander to religious fanaticism. His political fall was due to the accusation of these very people.
Matthew 27:27. Into the palace, or, ‘praetorium.’ The scourging had taken place outside. From Mark (Mark 15:16) we learn that it was into the court (comp. chap. Matthew 26:68). The word praetorium was applied first to the general’s tent in the Roman camp, then to the residence of the provincial governors, who were usually generals. Pilate,, when in Jerusalem, probably lived in the former palace of Herod, ‘on the northern brow of Zion, overlooking the enclosure of the temple, and connected with it by a bridge’ (J. A. Alexander). But Lange thinks that Herod Antipas would probably have occupied this, and Pilate the castle Antonia.
The whole band. The tenth part of a legion, the ‘cohort,’ numbering from four hundred to six hundred men, then on duty at Pilate’s residence. It was probably in the open guardroom of the cohort, but this does not prove that the place was the castle Antonia.
Matthew 27:28. And they stripped him. Some ancient authorities read ‘clothed him.’ His clothing was replaced after the scourging, and probably also the robe which Herod had put on Him to mock Him (Luke 23:11), usually supposed to have been white, marking Him as a candidate for royal honors. This robe was removed, and instead they put on him a scarlet robe, the sign of His having attained royal honors. It was probably an ordinary military cloak. Mark and John speak of it as ‘purple;’ but imperial or royal purple is more scarlet than blue.
Matthew 27:29. A crown of thorns. This would wound as well as mock Him, though the latter was the chief design. It is difficult to determine what kind of thorns was used. Alford says: ‘Hasselquist, a Swedish naturalist, supposes a very common plant, naba or nubka of the Arabs, with many small and sharp spines; soft, round, and pliant branches; leaves much resembling ivy, of a very deep green, as if in designed mockery of a victor’s wreath.’
And a reed in his right hand, as a mock sceptre. The original, according to the best authorities, represents the passive demeanor of Christ, as if His hand did not close on the reed.
They bowed the knee. In feigned homage, greeting Him in the usual form: Hail, King of the Jews! A symbolical meaning may be found in all this mock-adoration.
Matthew 27:30. And they spat upon him. The sport of wicked men wounds; if they are rough, it becomes brutality. Yet the Jews had done this (chap. Matthew 26:67); Herod had taught these rude soldiers how to mock, and Pilate invited them to do it.
The reed. The mock sceptre. There was an alternation of mocking homage and cruel treatment.
Matthew 27:31. And when they had mocked him. After this occurred the presentation to the people (John 19:5) and Pilate’s last attempt to release Him. But his previous permission of the mockery shows a great lack of moral earnestness. ‘The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.’ Though Pilate was neither weak nor irresolute, he exhibited that lack of moral principle which then characterized the heathen world. His position, authority, and convictions, render the course he pursued one which entitled his name to the continued pillory of shame accorded to it in the Apostles’ creed.
Matthew 27:32. Came out. From the city. Executions took place outside of the camp, here outside of the holy city. Numbers 15:35; 1 Kings 21:13; Acts 7:56. This may have been the Roman custom also. As Pilate had no lictors, soldiers led our Lord forth; a centurion (Matthew 27:54) as usual headed the company. A herald generally went before the condemned person, but the Evangelists do not mention this.
A man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Mark (Mark 15:21): ‘who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus; ‘Luke: ‘coming out of the country.’ Probably a Jew who had come to attend the Passover, as many of them lived in Cyrene (in African Libya), frequently coming to Jerusalem (comp. Acts 2:10; Acts 6:9). Some think he was chosen, because he was an African; others: because he was a slave, as one of this class would be considered fit for such a service; others: because he was a disciple; others still: because meeting the procession, he showed some sympathy for Jesus. The last is the likeliest supposition. As his sons were known in the early. Church, he probably became a Christian; but we know nothing more of him. Simon Peter was not there; Simon of Cyrene took his place.
Him they compelled, or ‘impressed’ (comp. chap. Matthew 5:41), etc. Jesus at first bore His own cross (John 19:17), as was customary. The phrase ‘coming out of the country ‘suggests that Simon met the procession after the greater part of the way to Golgotha had been passed. Tradition says, that our Lord sunk to the ground beneath the load, but the more exact expression of Luke (‘that he might bear it after Jesus ‘) shows that the after part of the cross alone, which usually dragged upon the ground, was put upon Simon. Those who bear the cross after Jesus carry the lightest end. Another incident on the way is mentioned by Luke (Luke 23:27-42.23.31).
This section describes the central fact of the world’s history. The accounts of the four Evangelists agree perfectly as to the main points; but each mentions circumstances omitted by the others. Matthew gives ‘the fullest statement of the blasphemy against Christ’s Messianic dignity; and he alone relates the effect produced upon the realm of the dead by the death of Jesus. The chief points are, Simon of Cyrene; Golgotha; the bitter wine; the parting of the garments; the watch (this last is recorded by our Evangelist alone); the two robbers crucified with Jesus; the blasphemies of the foes; the mocking by the robbers; the darkening of the sun; Jesus exclamation, My God, and the varying interpretations and the real meaning of the same; the giving up of His spirit; the rending of the temple vail; the excitement in the world of the dead; the centurion’s testimony; the women beholding’ (Lange).
. According to tradition this was the form of the Saviour’s cross, which appears probable from the fact that the ‘title ‘was placed over the head. The so-called Greek cross is a form of the crux immissa, where the two beams cross each other in the middle, and the four arms are of equal length. 2 . Crux commissa, a transverse beam placed on the top of a perpendicular one, resembling the letter T. 3 . Crux decussata or ‘St. Andrew’s cross,’ like the letter X. The cross which appeared to Constantine was of this form, with the Greek letter R in it, so as to represent the first two letters of the word Christos.
In the middle of the perpendicular beam there was a piece of wood, on which the sufferer rested, to prevent the whole weight of the body from falling upon the hands and tearing them from the nails; but as it protracted the sufferings it might itself become a source of great pain. Usually the cross was erected, and the condemned one then fastened on it; but often the nailing took place first, and then the cross was lifted and let fall with violence into the hole dug for it, giving the sufferer a violent shock. Our Lord was fastened to His cross by nails, driven through His hands and feet (comp. Luke 24:39); which seems to have been the usual mode. Each foot was probably nailed separately. Our Lord may have still worn the crown of thorns; especially as the removal of the robe is mentioned, and not that of the crown (Matthew 27:31). This mode of punishment was introduced into Judea by the Romans. The Jews often hanged those who had been stoned to death, but the corpse must be buried the same day, so as not to pollute the land (Deuteronomy 21:22-5.21.23). The Romans permitted the crucified to die slowly; and the sufferings sometimes continued for three days. Their flesh was given to the birds or other wild animals. At times their sufferings were shortened, by kindling a fire beneath, or allowing lions and bears to tear them to pieces. As according to Jewish custom, the bodies must at once be taken down and buried, death was hastened by the Crucifragium, the breaking of the legs, to which was sometimes added ‘a mercy-stroke,’ that is, the piercing of the body. If they were already dead, the latter alone was given, to make the matter sure. It was a disgraceful punishment among the Romans, and yet more so in the eyes of the Jews. The physical sufferings were fearfully great. Dr. Richter thus describes them. ‘ 1 . On account of the unnatural and immovable position of the body and the violent extension of the arms, the least motion produced the most painful sensation all over the body, but especially on the lacerated back and the pierced members. 2 . The nails caused constantly increasing pain on the most sensitive parts of the hands and feet. 3 . Inflammation set in at the pierced members and wherever the circulation of the blood was obstructed by the violent tension of the body, and increased the agony and an intolerable thirst. 4 . The blood rushed to the head and produced the most violent headache. 5 . The blood in the lungs accumulated, pressing the heart, swelling all the veins, and caused nameless anguish. Loss of blood through the open wounds would have shortened the pain, but the blood clotted and ceased flowing. Death generally set in slowly, the muscles, veins, and nerves gradually growing stiff, and the vital powers sinking from exhaustion.’
Matthew 27:33. Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull. The name is the form then used, for the Hebrew word ‘skull’ (comp. Luke 23:33, where ‘Calvary’ means simply skull). It is very unlikely that it was the place of execution, and that the name arose from the skulls of the criminals lying there. The Jews did not leave bodies unburied, and in their mode of execution (stoning) the skulls would be broken; there is no evidence that the Jews had a special place for public execution; and a rich man like Joseph of Arimathea would not have a garden near such a spot (John 19:41). In that case, too, the name would have been: ‘the place of skulls.’ It is now generally believed that the form of the elevation (scarcely a hill) resembled a skull. There is a curious tradition, that Adam was buried where the second Adam died and rose again.
Tradition has for fifteen centuries pointed out the site of the present ‘Church of the Holy Sepulchre’ as the actual spot. The arguments in favor of this popular opinion are: the unbroken tradition, the fact that no good case has been made out for any other locality. But tradition has proved an unsafe guide on such points, and it is highly probable, that this spot was inside the city wall at that time. Nor is it necessary to fix the site, the whole question, however interesting, being of little practical importance. The Apostles and Evangelists barely allude to the places of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. They fixed their eyes upon the great facts themselves, and worshipped the exalted Saviour in heaven, where He lives forever. Since the age of Constantine, in the fourth century, these localities have been abused in the service of an almost idolatrous superstition, yet not without continued protest from many of the wisest and best men of the Church. It is repugnant to sound Christian feeling to believe that a spot so often profaned and disgraced by the most unworthy superstitions, impostures, and quarrels of Christian sects, should be the sacred spot where the Saviour died for the sins of the race. A wrong estimate of these holy places led to the fearful loss of life in the Crusades; the contention respecting them occasioned the Crimean war; even those who profess to be above such superstitions often spend more of time, trouble, and money in journeyings of sentimental curiosity thither, than they do for the spread of the gospel of the crucified and risen Redeemer. It would therefore seem a wise ordering of Providence that the exact locality cannot be determined. Even if the traditional site be accepted, it is very unlikely that our Lord parsed along the so-called ‘Via Dolorosa,’ whether Pilate lived in the palace of Herod or in the castle Antonia.
Matthew 27:34. Wine, according to the best authorities; but the sour wine used might be called ‘vinegar.’ See Luke 23:36, where the ‘vinegar’ offered Him by the soldiers must have been their ordinary drinking wine; comp. Matthew 27:49; Psalms 69:21.
Mingled with gall. Mark: ‘myrrh.’ The term ‘gall’ was applied to many bitter substances, including ‘myrrh.’ It was a stupefying draught, such as was commonly given before execution. The custom was, however, a Jewish rather than a Roman one.
He would not drink. He afterwards took the unmixed vinegar wine, when He was about to say: ‘It is finished’ (comp. John 19:28-43.19.30). He tastes this mixture, to show that He was aware of its purpose, and refuses it. He would drink of the cup His Father had given Him, but not of this. The early martyrs felt justified in thus mitigating their pains; but His vicarious sufferings must be borne to the fullest extent.
Matthew 27:35. A nd when they had crucified him. Here occurs His touching prayer for the soldiers (Luke 23:34). To all the physical torture described in the note on ‘the cross,’ we must in this case add the result of these upon a soul sensitive and capable of suffering beyond all human comparison: the effect of ingratitude, of loneliness, of taunts from those who represented His own chosen people, and above all His state of soul as He consciously bore the sins of men. Men may honestly differ in their statements of the doctrine of the Atonement, but that our Lord then and there so suffered for men, that by virtue of His death we may be at peace with God, who hates our sins, is the only view that accounts for the facts. Hence the cross, the instrument of such torture, the sign of such shame, and on that account in itself a hindrance to the gospel among those who saw in it only this, has become the symbol of honor, blessing, and redemption. Our forgetfulness of its original significance is an evidence of this charge. Even the superstition that bows to it, however to be deprecated, witnesses that the cross is the centre of the Christian scheme.
They parted his garments, casting lots. Those crucified were probably entirely naked, at least their clothes were given to the executioners. John tells why it was necessary to gamble for the coat. There were four soldiers (John 19:23). The rest of the verse is not found here in the oldest manuscripts, but was probably inserted from John 19:24.
Matthew 27:36. And they sat and watched him there. This was usual, to prevent the condemned from being taken down. ‘In this case they had a peaceful bivouac which assumed a significant meaning.’
Matthew 27:37. And they set up over his head. Not necessarily the soldiers. It was customary for the person to be crucified to carry ‘a title,’ suspended from his neck, to the place of execution. Pilate had written this title, in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and it was undoubtedly intended mainly to mock the Jews (see John 19:19-43.19.22).
His accusation, put in a form which conveyed a sneer against His accusers. Thus He died, with His proper title over His head.
This is Jesus the king of the Jews. Each of the four Evangelists gives a different form of this title. It was written in three languages, and possibly in three forms. John was an eye-witness, and if there were but one form, that given in his account must be accepted as correct. See John 19:19-43.19.22. The entire independence of all four Gospels is fully proven by this variation.
Matthew 27:38. Then. Luke (Luke 23:32) tells us that the two robbers were led out with Him.
Two robbers. Probably associates of Barabbas, and hence placed on either side of Jesus, who had taken the punishment due to Barabbas. This proceeding carries out the mockery implied in the title; these two representing the subjects of ‘the King of the Jews.’ The usual punishment for robbery was crucifixion.
Matthew 27:39. They that passed by. People walking about, probably coming that way, for the purpose of seeing the execution. The morbid taste for horrors no doubt existed then, and popular hatred was aroused. Besides, the dignitaries were there (Matthew 27:41)! The elevation seems to have formed a natural stage for the public exposure of the crucified.
Reviled, literally, ‘blasphemed.’ They reviled, but it was in this case blasphemy.
Wagging their heads (comp. Psalms 22:6), in malignant triumph mingled with contempt.
Matthew 27:40. Thou that destroyest the temple, etc. The testimony before the Sanhedrin (chap. Matthew 26:61) was taken up by the citizens of Jerusalem, who were proud of their temple. Such taunting of one executed has been repeated often enough, and does not, in itself, show that these spectators were worse than the mass of men.
Save thyself. Power to destroy the temple implies power to do this.
If thou art the Son of God. Another reference to the proceedings before the Sanhedrin (chap. Matthew 26:64). The taunt is in a poetic form (Hebrew parallelism); and the crowds at an execution in the east are said to give vent to their feelings in this way still. Mark gives the same taunt in different words, and it was no doubt uttered in many different ways. Luke says (Matthew 23:35): ‘the people stood beholding.’ It appears therefore that the derision of the people was by no means so malignant as that of the rulers. But their taunts were especially ungrateful.
Matthew 27:41. In like manner also the chief priests, etc. All classes of the Sanhedrin were represented, probably in large numbers, and their taunt is of a public, national character. Thus the chief ecclesiastical personages acted on the great festival day of their religion. The language is differently reported by the several Evangelists. The mockery was probably continued for some time, and would vary in form.
Matthew 27:42. He saved others. This may be ironical, or it is a recognition of His miracles of mercy, to taunt Him with a supposed loss of power just when He needed it most for Himself. His very mercy is used in mockery.
He is the king of Israel, etc. Ironical, with a mocking suggestion of still being open to the proof of His Messiahship.
And we will believe on him. Unless there was an atoning purpose in Christ’s death, it will always seem strange that He did not offer some such miraculous proof of His power. The soldiers repeated this reproach, but of course without this last clause (see Luke 23:36-42.23.37).
Matthew 27:43. He trusteth on God. In their mockery they repeat almost the very language of Psalms 22:8. Their Pharisaical scrupulousness made them substitute ‘God’ for ‘Jehovah,’ which occurs in the Psalm, and which the Jews would not utter. Yet that Psalm was now finding its fulfilment, and the verse they echo is preceded by a description (Matthew 27:7) of their very gestures. See Matthew 27:46.
Matthew 27:44. The robbers also east the same in his teeth, or ‘cast on him the same reproaches.’ Luke alone tells of the penitence of one (see Luke 23:30-42.23.43). Both probably at first reproach Him, out one was afterwards converted, during the three hours they hung side by side. It is not satisfactory to refer ‘the robbers ‘to but one. At this point occurred the touching incident recorded in John 19:26-43.19.27.
Matthew 27:45. N ow from the sixth hour. Twelve o’clock. The nailing to the cross took place at nine o’clock (Mark 15:25: ‘It was the third hour’). John (John 19:14) says that it was’ about the sixth hour,’ when Pilate presented our Lord to the people for the last time. Whatever be the explanation of that passage, we accept the accuracy of the verse before us, confirmed by the statements of Mark and Luke. From midday to three o’clock in the afternoon, usually the brightest part of the day, there was a darkness. Besides the testimony of the three Evangelists, early Christian writers speak of it and appeal to heathen testimony to support the truth. It could not have been an ordinary eclipse, for the moon was full that day. Although an earthquake followed (Matthew 27:51), yet even that was no ordinary earthquake, and the obscuration was too entire and too long continued to be the darkness which often precedes an earthquake. It was a miraculous occurrence designed to exhibit the amazement of nature and or the God of nature at the wickedness of the crucifixion of Him who is the light of the world and the sun of righteousness. To deny its supernatural character seems to impair this design. If Jesus of Nazareth is what the Gospels represent Him to be, the needs of humanity ask Him to be, and the faith of the Christian finds Him to be, the supernatural here seems natural.
Over all the land. Possibly only the whole land of Judea; the main point being the fact in Jerusalem. Still it may refer to the whole world, i.e., where it was day, especially as the heathen notices of what is generally supposed to be the same event, justify an extension beyond Judea. Heubner : Suidas relates that Dionysius the Areopagite (then a heathen), saw the eclipse in Egypt, and exclaimed: ‘Either God is suffering, and the world sympathizes with Him, or else the world is hurrying to destruction.’
Matthew 27:46. And about the ninth hour. During the three hours of darkness, our Lord was silent. He seems not to have become gradually exhausted, for after nearly six hours on the cross, according to three Evangelists, Jesus cried out with a loud voice (comp. Matthew 27:50). The agony resembles that in Gethsemane, but seems even more intense. Matthew and Mark mention only this utterance from the cross.
Eli, Eli. The first words of Psalms 22:0, given by Mark in the Aramaic dialect then spoken: ‘Eloi, Eloi.’
Lama, or ‘Lema’ (Aramaic, and better supported).
Sabaohthani, also Aramaic. The translation follows: My God, etc., suggesting that Matthew wrote in Greek. The 22 d Psalm, from which this cry is taken, had already been cited (from Matthew 27:8) in mockery by the rulers (Matthew 27:43), whose conduct is described in the Psalm (Matthew 27:7). The casting lots for His garments (Matthew 27:35) is a fulfilment of Matthew 27:18 (comp. John 19:24). There are so many other points of agreement, that the Psalm has been deemed a direct and exclusive prophecy of Christ’s passion. But it is better to admit a primary reference to David, or to an ideal person representing the righteous. It is then typical of the life, sufferings, and victory of Christ, necessarily finding its highest and most striking fulfilment in Him.
Why hast thou forsaken me? These words express feeling, and the feeling indicated by their obvious meaning. Bodily causes, inflammation, interruption of the flow of blood, dizziness, no doubt acted on His real human body and soul. But His soul was capable of unusual sufferings. The speedy death, while He could cry with a loud voice (Matthew 27:50) points to a deeper struggle. This was an experience of sin and death in their inner connection and universal significance for the race, by One who was perfectly pure and holy, a mysterious and indescribable anguish of the body and the soul in immediate prospect of, and in actual wrestling with, death as the wages of sin and the culmination of all misery of man, of which the Saviour was free, but which He voluntarily assumed from infinite love in behalf of the race. In this anguish, He expresses His actual feeling of abandonment. But His spirit still holds fast to God, and thus our hold on God is established. Here the vicarious nature of the sufferings distinctly appears.
Matthew 27:47. This man calleth Elijah. The resemblance between the word ‘Eli’ and the name Elijah is very close in the original. There is here an allusion to the belief that Elijah would come before the Messiah, and hence a sarcastic denial of His Messiahship. A real misapprehension of His language, and a fear that Elijah might come, seem improbable.,
Matthew 27:48. Straightway one of them. This was occasioned by our Lord’s cry: ‘I thirst’ (John 19:28), but all occurred in quick succession.
Took a sponge. It would be impossible to use a cup.
Vinegar. The sour wine (without the ‘myrrh’) used by the soldiers, and placed there in a vessel for their refreshment. The soldiers had offered Him drink (Luke 23:36) hours earlier, so that this was probably not one of them.
A reed. ‘Hyssop’ according to John. This was to reach it to Him. The head of one crucified would be about two feet above that of one standing on the ground.
Gave him to drink. He drank (John 19:30), and this reception of refreshment from one who still mocked is a token that His love vanquishes the world’s hate.
Matthew 27:49. And the rest said, wait, etc. According to Mark, the man himself says this; giving Him the vinegar, in mingled pity and contempt, he probably responded in the same mocking tone to the jest of the others. The latter say, Wait, do not thus sustain Him; for He is expecting Elijah to help Him, the one who offers it responds: This will sustain Him until Elijah comes.
Matthew 27:50. Cried again with a loud voice. The last words were those recorded in Luke 23:46: ‘Father, into thy hands,’ etc., immediately preceded by the triumphant cry: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). The order of the Seven Words (as they are called) is: Before the darkness: 1 . The prayer of Christ for His enemies. 2 . The promise to the penitent robber. 3 . The charge to Mary and John. At the close of the darkness: 4 . The cry of distress to His God. Just before His death: 5 . The exclamation: ‘‘I thirst.’ 6 . ‘It is finished.’ 7 . The final commendation of His Spirit to God.
And yielded up his spirit. Actually died. The form implying, though perhaps not alluding to, the dying exclamation. The interval between the agonized cry: ‘My God,’ etc., and the actual death in triumph and confidence, was very brief. The intervening expression of human want (‘I thirst ‘) seems to have been uttered, to show that one of our race was suffering there, and at the same time to obtain the physical support needed to proclaim the victory won by that One of our race for us. After the victory came the Spirit’s rest in the Eternal Father. More than victory is rest in God. It has been urged with much force that the physical cause of our Lord’s death was ‘a broken heart.’ This view accounts for the discharge of water and blood mentioned by John (John 19:34). Rupture of the heart is followed by an effusion of blood into the pericardium, where it quickly separates into its solid and liquid constituents, technically termed crassamentum and serum, but in ordinary language ‘blood and water.’
Matthew 27:51. The vail of the temple, etc. The vail before the Holy of Holies, separating it from the Holy Place. This may have been a result of the convulsion mentioned in the next clause, but the accounts do not indicate this. Supernatural agency is more than probable in view of the significance of the occurrence. This took place toward the time of the evening sacrifice. Even if at first known only to the priests, it would still be made known to Christians, since ‘a great company of the priests’ were afterwards converted (Acts 6:7). It was ‘a sign of the removal of the typical atonement, through the completion of the real atonement, which insures us a free access to God, Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:6; Hebrews 10:19.’
And the earth did quake. The earthquake and the events mentioned next, are peculiar to Matthew’s account. Here, too, miraculous power is most probable. This was a token of the greatness of the death of Christ, a sign, too, of the influence of His death upon the destiny of the earth itself.
And the rocks were rent. The effect of the earthquake, splitting the foundations of the holy city. A sign of wrath, but more than this. Travellers still point to extraordinary rents and fissures in the rocks in the neighborhood.
Matthew 27:52-40.27.53. The tombs were opened. The Jewish tombs, unlike our own, were natural or artificial excavations in rocks, the entrance being closed by a door or a large stone. These, the stone doors of the tombs, were removed, probably by the force of the earthquake, to testify that Christ’s death had burst the bands of death.
That had fallen asleep. Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:15.
Were raised. Matthew alone mentions this. The next verse indicates that the actual rising did not take place until ‘after His resurrection.’ This remarkable event was both supernatural and symbolic, proclaiming the truth that the death and resurrection of Christ was a victory over death and Hades, opening the door to everlasting life. Who these ‘saints ‘were, is doubtful. Perhaps saints of the olden times, but more probably those personally known to the disciples, as seems implied in the phrase: appeared unto many. Such saints as Simeon, Anna, Zachariah, Joseph, John the Baptist, or open friends of Christ, it has been suggested. Whether they died again is also doubtful. But probably not, as the next verse intimates an appearance for a time, not such a restoration as in the case of Lazarus, and others. They may have had glorified bodies and ascended with our Lord. Not much has been revealed, but enough to proclaim and confirm the blessed truth of which the event is a sign and seal. Jerusalem is still called ‘the holy city,’ a title it could retain at least until the day of Pentecost.
Matthew 27:54. The centurion, who superintended the execution.
And they that ware with him. The soldiers, as is evident from the phrase: watching him. Mark and Luke speak of the centurion only, the latter adding the general consternation of other spectators.
The things that were done, i.e. , how Jesus died, as Mark tells us. The two accounts supplement each other, but show the usual independence.
Truly this was the Son of God, or, ‘God’s Son.’ The heathen officer may have used these words in the heathen sense: hero or demigod; but this is not probable. For he had heard this accusation, must have known something of Jewish opinion; heathen became Christians through the preaching of the cross, why not through the sight of the dying Redeemer. Such a conversion would be thus indicated. Nor is it certain that this phrase meant demigod. It might be the germ of a Christian confession without being expressed in the full form, the Son of God. Comp, the statement of Luke (Luke 23:47) which does not oppose this view. Only the centurion thus spoke, but as the soldiers ‘feared, some decided spiritual effect may have been produced on them also.
Matthew 27:55. Many women. Luke (Luke 23:49) speaks of ‘all His acquaintance’ before these women. John was certainly present, probably some of the other disciples.
Beholding from afar. At one time a few ventured near the cross (John 19:25-43.19.27), but not ‘many.’
Who had followed. For some time, since the journey from Galilee was not direct.
Ministering unto him, i.e., while they followed Him. Comp, on this ministry, Luke 8:2. Others, who had followed Him to Jerusalem, are distinguished from these (Mark 15:41), but it is not necessary to suppose there were two separate groups of women.
Matthew 27:56. Among whom, the ministering women, who stood there.
Mary Magdalene. Mentioned first here and in Luke 8:2 (among those who ministered to Him). Comp. chap. Matthew 28:2; John 20:1; John 20:11-43.20.18. There is no evidence that she was the sinful woman who anointed our Lord’s feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:37). Many confuse her with another Mary, the sister of Lazarus (who anointed our Lord in Bethany, chap. Matthew 26:6-40.26.13, etc.).
Mary the mother of James and Joses. Mark: ‘Mary the mother of James the less and Joses.’ Comp, on chap. Matthew 13:58. She was the wife of Clopas or Alpheus (John 19:25), but in our view not the sister-in-law of Mary or of Joseph, who is supposed to have adopted her children.
The mother of the sons of Zebedee, i.e., ‘Salome’ (Mark); comp. chap. Matthew 20:20. As John (John 19:25) mentions a group of women near the cross (at an earlier point of time, however), two of whom are mentioned here (Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Clopas), we identify the person spoken of by him as ‘His ( i.e., Jesus) mother’s sister,’ with Salome, not with the Mary last named. The mother of Jesus, so touchingly mentioned by the beloved disciple, had probably been led away by him before the time of which Matthew speaks. When the mother of our Lord withdrew, the others remained ‘beholding afar off.’ These pious women, who, with the courage of heroes, witnessed the dying moments of their Lord and Master, and sat over against the lonely sepulchre (Matthew 26:61), are the shining examples of female constancy and devotion to Christ which we now can witness every day in all the churches, and which will never cease. On the events which immediately succeeded before the request of Joseph (the piercing of His side, in consequence of the scruples of the Jews, which required burial that evening), see John 19:31-43.19.37.
Matthew 27:57. When evening was come. The first evening before sundown, at which time the bodies must be removed (Deuteronomy 21:23). Our Lord’s death took place at three in the afternoon.
There came a rich man. Probably, to the company of women standing on Golgotha (Matthew 27:56). His going to Pilate is mentioned afterwards. The fact of his being a ‘rich man’ is mentioned here, in allusion to Isaiah 53:9: ‘With the rich in His death.’
Of Arimathea. Either Ramah in Benjamin (Joshua 18:25; comp. Matthew 2:18) or Ramah (Ramathaim) in Ephraim, the birth-place of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:19). The form favors the latter view; the addition of Luke: ‘a city of the Jews’ the former.
Named Joseph. One Joseph takes care of Jesus in His infancy, another provides for His burial. Jesus’ disciple. ‘Secretly for fear of the Jews’ (John 19:38). He was a member of the Sanhedrin, of high character, who had not consented to the murder (Luke 23:50-42.23.51). He seems to have feared that the body might be removed in a disgraceful manner, and his secret faith having been quickened, he took a decisive step. Ecclesiastical tradition makes him one of ‘the seventy’ and the first who preached the gospel in England.
OUR LORD’S INTENSE AGONY OF MIND no doubt hastened death, although viewed in another aspect, it may be said, that the Saviour hastened His death by a voluntary self-surrender which the Father accepted (comp. Luke 23:46). The evidence of His death to the soldiers was the incident mentioned John 19:34. This early death was unusual (comp. Pilate’s surprise, Mark 15:44), but thus the Scripture was fulfilled (John 19:36-43.19.37). The request of the Jews is also mentioned in John’s account. This was the first step towards burial, a legal scruple of His murderers: then follows the request of Joseph of Arimathea and the events as recorded in the section before us. The burial, as an important fact, is mentioned by all four Evangelists; the sealing and guarding of the sepulchre, with the request which led to these precautions, are peculiar to Matthew. The objections which have been urged against the accuracy of these details, are readily answered.
Matthew 27:58. This man went to Pilate. To the palace. ‘He went in boldly’ (Mark 15:43). Although it was the Jewish custom to bury the bodies of the crucified before sunset, Pilate’s consent was necessary. On Pilate’s surprise, see Mark 15:44.
Then Pilate commanded. The ready consent may have been owing to the station and character of Joseph.
Matthew 27:59. And Joseph took it. The body was taken down by Joseph (Mark, Luke, and John).
Wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. A winding sheet. This would enclose the spices used in the temporary embalming, which now took place, Nicodemus having brought the spices (John 19:39-43.19.40). There was not time enough to embalm on Friday evening, so the costly gifts of Nicodemus were used to preserve the body, the women preparing in the interval what they thought necessary for the further anointing.
Matthew 27:60. In his own new tomb. Peculiar to Matthew, but implied in the other accounts. The fact that it was ‘new’ (comp. Luke 23:53; John 19:41), seems designed to overcome any suspicion as to the identity of Him who rose. The location was in a ‘garden’ (John 19:41), near the spot of the crucifixion and hence well adapted for the hurried burial.
In the rock, an artificial excavation, probably prepared at great cost. It seems to have been cut horizon-tally and not downward.
He rolled a great stone. The common method of closing sepulchres.
To the door. There was but one entrance.
Matthew 27:61. Was there, at the tomb.
The other Mary. ‘The mother of Joses’ (Mark 15:47 ), already mentioned in Matthew 27:56. According to Luke the female disciples from Galilee all beheld the sepulchre, and returned to prepare spices and ointments, resting on the Sabbath, which began that evening. These two not only saw where He was laid (Mark) but lingered there, sitting over against the sepulchre, as the evening came on.
Matthew 27:62. The morrow, which is the day after the preparation. The day of the preparation was Friday, as is plain from Mark 15:45. ‘The morrow’ was therefore the Jewish Sabbath, though it is not called so here. The first day of the Passover (Friday) was in one sense a Sabbath, hence this designation is more definite. It is also supposed that the word ‘preparation’ was the solemn designation in use among the Christians to distinguish the Friday of the crucifixion (Meyer).
Gathared together. On Saturday morning; the great Sabbath of the year, as the verse plainly states. While our Lord rested in the tomb, they desecrated the Sabbath, despite their great scrupulousness. It is urged that this must have taken place on Friday evening after six o’clock, since the rulers would guard against the stealing away on the first night as well as on the subsequent one. But their anxiety was about the night preceding the third day (Matthew 27:64). Besides the women were evidently not aware of the presence of the guard (Mark 16:3). This is accounted for, if we suppose that this incident occurred on Saturday, and not on Friday evening after six o’clock.
Matthew 27:63. We remember, etc. Comp. chap. Matthew 12:40 ; John 2:19 . Even if the meaning of the saving was hid from the disciples; enmity was quick to apprehend it
That deceiver. The language of triumph, despite their request. Friends and foes were both busied about the dead Christ.
Matthew 27:64. Until the third day, from His death, the third after and including Friday. The best authorities omit ‘by night .’
Worse than the first. The claim to be the Messiah, etc., was in their view the first deceit. As regards the effects of a belief in the resurrection, they judged rightly.
Matthew 27:65. Ye have a guard, or, ‘have a guard,’ i.e., I permit you to take one. The Roman soldiers, who certainly composed the guard (chap. Matthew 28:14), were not under their command.
Make it sure as ye know how. Not ‘as sure as ye can,’ nor is it at all ironical. He gives them the guard, and they are to use the means as they think best. Pilate shirks the responsibility, but again gives way. Yet this was overruled for good.
Matthew 27:66. Sealing the stone. A string was stretched across the stone, and sealed to the rock at either end, with wax or sealing-clay. After these precautions, the body could not disappear, except through the miracle of the resurrection.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 27". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent