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Christ is delivered bound to Pilate. Judas hangeth himself. Pilate, admonished by his wife, washeth his hands, and looseth Barabbas. Christ is crowned with thorns, crucified, reviled, dieth, and is buried: his sepulchre is sealed and watched.
Anno Domini 33.
Matthew 27:1-2. When the morning was come, &c.— The preceding transactions of this malignant night being over, as soon as the day dawned, the priests and elders, having condemned Jesus, resolved to carry him, loaded with chains, before the governor, that hemightlikewisegivesentenceagainsthim:they could not otherwise accomplish their purpose, the power of life and death being now taken out of their hands. From the history of the Acts it appears, that the Roman governors of Judea resided commonlyat Caesarea, and that there was only an inferior officer at Jerusalem, with a single legion to keep the peace of the city. At the great festivals, however, they came up to suppress or prevent tumults, and to administer justice; for the governors ofprovincesfrequentlyvisitedtheprincipaltownsundertheirjurisdictiononthislatter account. See Joh 18:39 and Lardner's Credibility, part 1: b. 1. Pilate was, properly speaking, no more than procurator of Judea; but he was called governor, because this name was better known, and because Pilate discharged all the offices of a governor, namely, in taking cognizance of criminal causes, as his predecessors had done, and as was usual with the procurators in the smaller provinces of the empire, where there were no proconsuls. See Joseph. War, b. 2 and Tacitus, lib. 15. 100: 44. Our Saviour ate the paschal supper in the evening; then he went into the garden, where he was apprehended, and was in the high priest's palace the rest of the night. In the morning they hurry him away, bound with fetters to the common magist
Matthew 27:3. Then Judas—repented himself, &c.— St. Matthew introduces this account of the fate of Judas, as we see, immediately after the Jews had delivered Jesus to Pilate; but after this the Jews must have been so intent on persuadingPilate to consent to his death, that there was hardly time for the Sanhedrim's adjourning to the temple where this occurrence happened, before they had prevailed with Pilate to condemn him; and as Judas must have often heard his Master say that he should be crucified, Pilate's order for his execution must have more sensibly affected him, than the Jews passing sentence on him; as they had not then the power of putting any one to death; and therefore this event, most probably, happened immediately after the condemnation of Jesus by Pilate. The word τοτε, then, with which the Evangelist begins this history, may be taken in some latitude, to introduce the mention of an occurrence which happened about that time, whether a little before or after, and need not be interpreted with so much rigour, as to determine it to an assertion of observing the exactest order in all circumstances. See Doddridge, Gerhard, &c. Dr. Macknight however is of a different opinion; "Because," says he, "Judas cast down this money in the temple, it is thought that the council adjourned thither, before they carried Jesus to the governor, and that Judas found them there; but they were too much in earnest to delay their revenge one moment; besides, they had now no time to spend in the temple: he might come to the priests immediately after they had condemned his Master, while they were yet in the high priest's palace; or he might accost them as they were passing along the street to the praetorium; or he might find them standing before the praetorium; into which they would not enter, lest they should be defiled: this latter seems to be the true supposition; for the historian insinuates, that Judas addressed the priests, after they had carried Jesus to the governor. When they refused the money, he left them, and went to hang himself; but taking the temple in his way, he threw down the whole sum in the treasury, or that part of the women's court where the chests were placed for receiving the offerings of the people who came to worship. This money mightbe gathered up by the Levite porters, who always waited at the gates of the temple, (1 Chronicles 26:0.) and might be carried by them to the priests, with an account how they got it."
Matthew 27:5. And went and hanged himself— When Judas found that he could not prevent the horrid effects of his treachery, his conscience lashed him more furiously than before, suggesting thoughts which by turns made the deepest wounds in his soul. His Master's innocence and benevolence, the usefulness of his life, the favoursthat he had received from him, with many other considerations, crowded into his mind, and racked him to such a degree, that his torment became intolerable. Wherefore, unable to sustain the misery of those agonizing passions and reflections, he makes a full confession of his Master's innocence, returns the wages of iniquity, and goes and hangs himself. St. Peter seems to give a different account of the traitor's death:—Falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out, Acts 1:18. And to reconcile the two passages, Tob 3:10 is commonly brought to prove that the word απηγξατο, in St. Matthew, may signify suffocation with grief, in consequence of which a man's bowels may gush out; and instances are cited from Virgil, Eclogue Matthew 7:26.:
Invidia rumpantur ut ilia Codro. and from Josephus, Antiq. 15. 100: 13 where one Zenodorus is mentioned, who is supposed to have died in this manner. The Talmudists make such a suffocation the punishment usually inflicted by God upon such persons as bore false witness against their neighbour. But as the above-quoted instances may be otherwise understood, it is more natural to suppose that Judas hanged himself on some tree growing out of a precipice, and that the branch breaking, or the knot of the rope wherewith he hanged himself opening, he fell down headlong, and dashed himself to pieces, so that his bowels gushed out. St. Peter's phrase, ελακησε μεσος, he burst asunder, favours this conjecture; for ληκεω signifies properly lacero cum strepitu, to rend or tear with a noise or cracking, and so may imply that Judas burst asunder by falling from an height. See Le Clerc, Grotius, and Wetstein. Thus perished Judas Iscariot the traitor,—a miserable example of the fatal influence of covetousness and worldly passions, and a standing monument of the divine vengeance, fit to deter future generations from acting contraryto conscience through love of the world; for which this unhappy wretch betrayed his Master, Friend, and Saviour, and cast away his own soul!
Matthew 27:6-8. The treasury, &c.— Κορβαναν : the place where the gifts set apart for the service of the temple, and for other pious uses, were deposited, 2 Kings 12:10. Mark 12:41-42. Such an offering as this price of blood would have been as much an abomination to the Lord, as the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, Deuteronomy 23:18. The chief priests therefore determined to buy the potter's field with it, for burying strangers in: that is to say, such persons, whether Jews or Gentiles, as, happening to die at Jerusalem, had no burying-place of their own. Because the deliberation of the priests concerning this matter, and their buying the potter's field, had an immediate relation to Judas's treachery, St. Matthew very properly takes notice of it here, though the purchase might not have been made for some days, perhaps weeks or months, after the unhappy death of Judas. Thirty pieces of silver may seem a very inconsiderable price for a field so near Jerusalem. But as Grotius well observes, the ground was probably much spoiled by digging it up for earth to make potter's vessels, so that it was now unfit for tillage or pasture, and consequently of small value. This field was called Aceldama, or the field of blood, because it was bought with the money which Judas received for betraying his Master's life. Divine Providence seems to have set this name upon the field, to perpetuate the memory of the transaction: in St. Peter's speech it is intimated that Judas made an acquisition of this field; not as an estate, but as an eternal monument of infamy and disgrace; for the people of those times might be supposed to say, as they passed by, "This field was purchased with the money for which Judas sold his Master." Some ancient authors have even supposed that this was the place where Judas hanged himself, and was buried. St. Jerome, who had been upon the spot, tells us, that they still shewed this field in his time; that it lay south of mount Sion, and that they buried there the meanest of their people. The historians mentioning the purchase of the potter's field with the money for which Judas betrayed his Master, being an appeal to a very public transaction, serves to put the truth of this part of the history beyond all manner of exception.
Matthew 27:9-10. Then was fulfilled, &c.— I. Concerning this prophesy we must, first, remark, that Zachary, not Jeremy, is the prophet in whose writings this passage is found. Some learned men have supposed, that there might have been such a passage as this in some of Jeremiah's writings, which were extant in the apostles' times, but now are lost; and indeed St. Jerome expressly affirms, that these very words were read by him in an apocryphal book of the prophet Jeremy; and as we find in 2Ma 2:1-9 many words said to have been spoken by the prophet Jeremy, which are not in the book of his prophesy, why might not these words also have been spoken by him, and kept in memory, or in some writing, till the time of Zachary? of whom it is observable, that he loved to use the words of Jeremiah, as appears on comparing many passages; whence the Jews used to say, that the spirit of Jeremiah was in Zechariah; and so both made but one prophet: and Mr. Mede thinks it highly probable that Jeremiah wrote the 9th, 10th, and 11th chapters of Zechariah, in the last of which these words are found. Others assert, that, as the Jews place Jeremiah's prophesy first of the sixteen, the whole book of the prophets might be called by the single name of Jeremiah; so that by quoting Jeremiah, the book of the prophets, or the collection of prophesies in general, was quoted; just as by the Psalms they meant the hagiographa, or the moral books of Scripture in general, because the Psalms were placed at the head of this collection. See Luke 24:27. Though the present reading is certainly very ancient, it appears to me verydoubtful, whether any prophet's name was mentioned in the first copies, as the Syriac version, which is allowed to have been made in the most early times, reads only, which was spoken by the prophet; and St. Austin tells us, that in his time there were many Greek Copies, in which no particular name of any prophet was inserted. We may therefore well conclude, that the passage stood originally without any prophet's name, which was afterwards inserted from some marginal remark, and so has remained ever since Origen's time; a full proof, as it appears to me, not of what the enemies of Christianity would object, but entirely of the contrary; namely, that the writings of the New Testament, so far from being in any degree corrupted, have been preserved with such a scrupulous exactness, that the preservers of them have not presumed to alter a tittle even in points of the least consequence, and where they might have been justified; a reflection of great importance, and of much comfort to every true believer in these sacred books. II. Now, secondly, with respect to the prophesy itself, we refer to the notes on Zechariah 11:13. St. Matthew does not quote entirely either from the Hebrew or the LXX. but rather gives the sense than theexact words of the prophet; but by following the Syriac version, the passage may be translated thus, more agreeably to the original: "I have received of the children thirty pieces of silver,the price of him that was valued, to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me." Dr. Doddridge observes, "as for the general propriety of applying these words on this occasion, it may well be vindicated; for the connection and sense of the prophesy seems to be this: in order to represent to Zechariah the contempt which Israel put upon their God, he had a vision to the following purpose: he thought God first appointed him to appear among them as a shepherd, making him, by that emblem, a representation of himself. After some time he directs him to go to the rulers of Israel, and ask them what they thought he deserved for his laboursin that office. They give him the price of a slave, thirty pieces of silver, and this in the house of the Lord, where the court sat. On this, God, as relentingthis indignity offered to him in the person of his prophet, orders him to throw it down with disdain before the first poor labourer he met,—who happened to be a potter at work by the temple gates,—as a fitter price for a little of his paltry ware, than a suitable acknowledgment of the favours they had received from God. Now surely if there was ever any circumstance in which the children of Israel behaved themselves so as to answer this visionary representation, it must be when they gave this very sum of thirty pieces of silver, as a price for the very life of that person whom God had appointed their great Shepherd: and, in order to point out the correspondence more sensibly, Providence so ordered it, that the person to whom this money went should be a potter, though the prophesy would have been answered, if he had been a fuller, or of any other profession." It may also be further observed, that God's ceasing to be the Shepherd of Israel, which was represented by the prophet's breaking his pastoral staves, was never fully answered, till their final rejection after the death of Christ, which may further lead us to refer the affront of their giving the pieces of silver to this event. See Zechariah 11:0. We shall make some further remarks on this subject, when we come to the first chapter of the Acts. Sir Norton Knatchbull reads the passage, and I took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was prized of the children of Israel:—ver. 10. (and they gave them for the potter's field) as the Lord commanded me.
Matthew 27:14. And he answered him to never a word, &c.— Jesus made no reply to the heavycharges laid against him; nay, he continued mute, notwithstanding the governor expressly required him to speak in his own defence. See Isaiah 53:7. A conduct so extraordinaryin such circumstances, astonished Pilate exceedingly; for he had good reason to be persuaded of Christ's innocence. Indeed his humble appearance was a sufficient refutation of the charge which the Jews brought against him; and his silence servedinsteadofthemostelaboratedefence;andpossibly Jesus might decline making any public defence, lest the common people, moved by what he must have said, should have asked his release, and prevented his death; in which respect, he has shewn his followers a noble example of courage and submission to the divine
Matthew 27:15. Now at that feast, &c.— Pilate had already sent Jesus to Herod, having learned that he belonged to Galilee; and Herod had sent him back to him. Luke 23:6-11. At former passovers the governor had courted the favour of the people, by gratifying them with the pardon of any one prisoner whom they pleased. There was no law to oblige him to this; but as acts of grace are generally popular things, this seems to have been first freely used by the Romans, to please their tributaries, and now by custom was in a manner established.
Matthew 27:16. A notable prisoner— A notorious criminal. Heylin. It seems he was the head of the rebels; (see John 18:40. Luke 23:19; Luke 23:25.) the ringleader of a sedition, in which murder had been committed.
Matthew 27:18. (For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.) Pilate had probably heard of the stir made by the rulers on this occasion; and, as a prudent magistrate, could not but have inquired into the reason of it. The modesty with which Jesus appeared before him, must have given credit to the report that he had received; and theconfidence which Jesus placed in his innocence, by not replying to any charge that was brought against him, might have been sufficient to convince Pilate,that there was no fault in him. Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea, might have been consulted by Pilate at the first appearance of the tumult; for Joseph of Arimathea most probably was personally acquainted with Pilate, as may be inferred from his going to him to beg the body of Jesus. We can have no doubt of their being acquainted, if Joseph was one of the council who assisted Pilate in managing the affairs of his province, and particularlyin judging causes. All governors of provinces had a council of this kind. Accordingly we find it mentioned, Act 25:12 by the name of Συμβουλιον . It is objected to Joseph's being a member of Pilate's council, that it was composed of Romans only; yet even on this supposition he might be a member of it, since he might have enjoyed the privileges of a Roman citizen, as well asSt. Paul. What other reason can be assigned for his being called Βουλητης, a counsellor, Luk 23:50 and an honourable counsellor? Mark 15:43 a name not commonly given to the members of the Sanhedrim, whose proper title was αρχοντες, rulers. Further, St. Luke tells us, Luk 23:51 that Joseph did not consent to the counsel (Βουλη ) and deed of them; that is to say, he did not agree to the advice which the governor's council gave, when they desired him to gratify the Jews. See Macknight, Grotius, and Lardner's Credibility, b. 1 Chronicles 2:0.
Matthew 27:19. When he was set down, &c.— Or, While he was sitting on, &c. While Rome was governed by a commonwealth, it was unusual for the governors of provinces to take their wives with them; but afterwards it grew customary, and the motion made against it in the fourth year of Tiberius was rejected with some indignation. This circumstance ascertains the time of the event, and affords a strong proof of the veracity of the sacred historian. Possibly the word σημερον, rendered this day,may imply, that she had dreamed these things that morning, since Pilate rose; and as the heathens imagined those dreams most significant which came about break of day, she might on that account lay the greater stress upon them. Jansenius thinks, and very probably, that she had now a representation or foresight of those calamities which afterwards befel Pilate and his family. Josephus assures us, that Pilate, having slain a considerable number of seditious Samaritans, was deposed from his government by Vitellius, and sent to Tiberius at Rome, who died before he arrived there. And Eusebius tells us, that quickly after having been banished to Vienne in Gaul, he laid violent hands upon himself, falling on his own sword. Agrippa, who was an eye-witness to many of his enormities, speaks of him in his oration to Caius Caesar, as one who had been a man of the most infamous character. The words δικαιω εκεινω, would be rendered more properly, that just or righteous one.
Matthew 27:23. Why, what evil hath he done?— So bent were the chief-priests and elders to have Jesus put to death, that though the governor urged them again and again to desire his release, declaring his innocence, and offering there several times to dismiss him, they would not hear him; to such a pitch was their enmity carried against the Lord of life! They insisted upon his crucifixion, as being the most ignominious death; they insisted upon his being sentenced to this death by a Roman governor; and among the Romans it was inflicted only upon the vilest of slaves. To have inflicted such a punishment as this upon any free Jew, would probably have been sufficient to have thrown the whole city and nation into an uproar. But now they were deaf to every thing but the clamour of passion; and in their madness forgot with how dangerous a precedent they might furnish the Roman governor: and indeed it turned dreadfully on themselves, when such vast numbers of them were crucified for their opposition to the Romans during the time of their last war. See on Mat 27:25 and Inferences on ch. 24:
Matthew 27:24. Pilate—took water, &c.— It is well known that the Jews in some cases were appointed to wash their hands, as a solemn token that they were not themselves concerned in a murder committed by some unknown person. See Deuteronomy 21:6-9. In allusion to which law the Psalmist says, I will wash mine hands in innocency, that is to say, in testimony of my innocence. But as this was also a rite which was frequently used by the Gentiles in token of innocence, it is more probable that Pilate, who was a Gentile, did it in conformity to them. He thought possibly, by this avowal of his resolution to have no hand in the death of Christ, to have terrified the populace; for one of his understanding and education could not but be sensible that all the water in the universe was not able to wash away the guilt of an unrighteous sentence. The following lines of Ovid may be justly applied to Pilate:
Ah! nimium faciles, qui tristia crimina caedis Fluminea tolli posse putetis aqua! Fast. l. ii. v. 45.
Ah! ye easily self-deceived, who fondly imagine that you can wash away the horrid guilt of murder with the water of the stream!
Matthew 27:25. His blood be on us, &c.— As this terrible imprecation was dreadfully answered in the ruin so quickly brought on the Jewish nation, and the calamities which have since pursued that wretched people, in almost all ages and countries; so it was peculiarly illustrated in the severity with which Titus, merciful as he naturally was, treated the Jews whom he took during the siege of Jerusalem; of whom Josephus himself writes, that μαστιγουμενοι ανεσταυρουντο, having been scourged, and tortured in a very terrible manner, they were crucified, in view and near the walls of this city, (perhaps, among other places, on mount Calvary; and it is probable that this might be the fate of some of those very persons who now joined in this cry, as it undoubtedly was of many of their children.) For Josephus, who was an eye-witness, expressly declares, "That the number of those thus crucified was so great that there was not room for the crosses to stand by each other, and that at last they had not wood enough to make crosses of:" a passage which, especially when compared with the verse before us, must impress and astonish the attentive reader beyond any other in the whole history. If this were not the very finger of God, pointing out their crime in crucifying his Son, it is hard to say what could deserve to be called so. Elsner has abundantly shewn, that among the Greeks, the persons on whose testimony others were put to death, used by a very solemn execration to devote themselves to the divine vengeance, if the persons so condemned were not really guilty. See his Observat. vol. 1: p. 123. Joseph. War, lib. 5. 100: 11 and Doddridge. Bishop Fleetwood observes, that the modern Jews are as virulent against the name of Jesus, as their fathers were against his power; so that they suffer as their fathers did, and for a like reason.
Matthew 27:26. And when he had scourged Jesus— The Romans usually scourged the criminals whom they condemned to be crucified: this was the reason why Pilate ordered our Lord to be scourged, before he delivered him to the soldiers to be crucified. St. Matthew and St. Mark insinuate, that the scourging was performed on the pavement; for they tell us that, after it was over, the soldiers took Jesus into the praetorium, and mocked him; we may therefore suppose that the priests and the multitude required the governor to scourge him openly in their sight, and that he, to pacifythem, consented, contrary to his inclination; which, as he believed Jesus to be innocent, must have led him to shew him all the favour in his power; and probably he thought that this previous punishment would have excited the pity of the Jews, and have prevented the crucifixion of Jesus. See Elsner and Wetstein.
Matthew 27:28. And they—put on him a scarlet robe— St. Mark says, they cloathed him with purple; but the ancients gave the name of purple to all colours which had any mixture of red in them. This was probably some old purple robe which they put upon him in derision of his claim to the kingdom of Judea, purple being worn by kings and great personages. See Braunius, de Vestit. Sacerd. 50: 1. 100: 14.
Matthew 27:29. And when they had platted a crown of thorns— Though it is unquestionable that they intended hereby to expose our Lord's pretended royalty to ridicule and contempt, as well as by the purple robe and mock sceptre; yet had that been all, a crown of thorns alone might have served as well. They meant, without all doubt, to add cruelty to their scorn, which especially appeared in their striking him on the head, to drive the horrid thorns into the tender parts of his temples, when this crown was put on. If the best descriptions of the Eastern thorns are to be credited, they are much larger than any commonly known in these parts. Hasselquist, speaking of the naba, or nabka of the Arabians, says, "In all probability this is the tree which afforded the crown of thorns put on the head of Christ; it grows very common in the East, and the plant is extremely fit for the purpose, for it has many small and most sharp spines, which are well adapted to give great pain. The crown might be easily made of these soft, round, and pliant branches; and what in my opinion seems to be the greatest proof of it is, that the leaves much resemble those of ivy, as they are of a very deep green: perhaps the enemies of Christ would have a plant somewhat resembling that with which emperors and generals were used to be crowned, that there might be calumny even in the punishment." It has been observed, that the curse inflicted on our first parents included thorns as the product of the earth, and this curse was put an end to, by the thorns here used. See Solomon's Song, Song of Solomon 2:2. The word καλαμος, does indeed sometimes signify a slender reed, (ch. Mat 11:7 Matthew 12:20; Matthew 3:0 John, Matthew 27:13.) but it also includes all kinds of canes, and it is most probable that this was a walking cane, which they put into his hand as a sceptre; for a blow with a slight reed would scarcely have been felt, or have deserved mention in a detail of such dreadful sufferings. See Hasselquist's Travels, p. 288 and Doddridge.
Matthew 27:31. They took the robe off from, &c.— It is not said that they took the crown of thorns off his head, which served to gratify their passions both of malice and contempt: probably our Lord died wearing it, that the title which was written over him might be better understood. It was a Jewish custom in the time of Moses to execute delinquents without the camp; but after Jerusalem was built, they were executed without the city walls. Dr. Lardner has abundantly proved by many quotations, that it was customary not only for the Jews, but also for the Sicilians, Ephesians, and Romans, to execute theirmalefactors without the gates of the cities. See Heb 13:12-13 and Lardner's Credibility, part, 1: vol. 1.
Matthew 27:32. And as they came out, &c.— We learn from the other Evangelists, that our blessed Lord had borne his cross agreeable to the custom in executions, at his first setting out. It was not indeed the whole cross which criminals carried, but only that transverse piece of wood to which the arms were fastened, and which was called antennae, or furca, going cross the stipes, or upright beam, which was fixed in the earth; the criminal, from carrying this, was called furcifer. Our blessed Lord, through the fatigue of the preceding night, spent wholly without sleep, the agony that he had undergone in the garden, his having been hurried from place to place, and obliged to stand the whole time of his trial, the want of food, and the loss of blood which he had sustained, was become so faint, that he sunk beneath the burden, and was not able to bear the weight of the cross. The soldiers therefore (for among the Romans the execution of criminals was performed by them) meeting with Simon of Cyrene, a town of Africa abounding with Jews, seized on him, probably bythe instigation of the Jews, and compelled himto carry the cross after Jesus. Simon's sons, Alexander and Rufus, were two noted men among the first Christians, at the time St. Mark wrote his Gospel. See Mark 15:21. The soldiers, however, did not remove the cross out of compassion to Christ; but from an apprehension of his dying by theexcessive fatigue, and thereby eluding the public punishment to which they were escorting him; or to prevent delay. See Lipsius de Cruce, and Bishop Pearson on the Creed, p. 203
Matthew 27:33. A place called Golgotha— A Syriac word, which signifies a skull or head. In Latin it is called Calvary: the place was so named, either because malefactors used to be executed there, or because the charnel house, or common repository for bones and skulls, might have been there. See Mark 15:22.
Matthew 27:34. They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall— It was usual to give criminals, before they suffered, a stupifying potion to render them insensible of the ignominy and pain of their punishment; but our blessed Lord, because he would bear his sufferings, howeversharp, not by intoxicating and stupifying himself, but through the strength of patience, fortitude, and faith, refused to drink of it. St. Mark says, they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh, Ch. Matthew 15:23. But the two Evangelists speak of the same ingredients: for though St. Mark terms that wine, which St. Matthew calls vinegar; he may have really meant vinegar, which was a common drink among the ancients, (see Numbers 6:3.) and such as might very properly be called wine, in regard that it was usually made of wine, or of the juice of grapes; besides, it is well known that the ancients gave the general name of wine to all fermented liquors: it is evident therefore that to reconcile the Evangelists here, we have no occasion for the reading of Beza's copy, which has οινον instead of οξος. Οξος might be rendered sour wine, as indeed the word vinegar properly imports; and this mixed with water was the common drink of the Roman soldiers, and consequently was in a vessel at hand. As to the other ingredient of this potion, let it be observed, that the word χολη in the LXX, is often used as the translation of the Hebrew word ראשׁ rosh; which properly was the name of a poisonous herb common in those countries, and remarkable for its bitterness; hence an infusion of it is called υδωρ πικρον, bitter water, Jer 23:15 and υδωρ χολης, the water of bitterness, Jeremiah 8:14; Jeremiah 9:15. Probably it was a weak infusion of this herb in vinegar and water, which our Lord's friends offered him, (as we have observed was usual on such occasions) to make him insensible, and to shorten his life. It is called indeed by St. Mark εσμυρνισμενον οινον, myrrhed vinegar, perhaps because it had myrrh mixed with it, there being nothing more common than for a medicine compounded of many ingredients, to take its name from some one of them which is prevalent in the composition. That myrrh was proper in a potion of this kind has been shewn by Vossius; who proves from Dioscorides, lib. 2. 100. 70 that frankincense, macerated in liquors, makes those who drink them mad; and that if the quantity taken be large, it sometimes produces death. Hence, when Ptolemy Philopater designed to engage his elephants, "He gave them wine mingled with frankincense, to enrage them." The Evangelists may be reconciled more directly still, by supposing that χολη signifies any bitter drug whatsoever; for it is applied to wormwood, Pro 5:4 and by parity of reason may denote myrrh, which has its name from a Hebrew word signifying bitterness. Casaubon has given a third solution of this difficulty; he thinks that our Lord's friends put a cup of myrrhed wine into the hands of one of the soldiers to give it to Jesus; but that he, out of contempt, added gall to it. See the note on Psalms 69:21. Lipsius de Milit. Rom. and Wetstein.
Matthew 27:35. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, &c.— This was the custom of the Romans; the soldiers performing the office of executioners, divided among them the spoils of the criminals. There was only Christ'stunick which they did not divide, but cast lots to see whose it should be. See John 19:23-24. They also used to appoint a guard, to watch by the crucified persons, that nobody might come and take them away, Matthew 27:36. Respecting the inscription Mat 27:37 which was also a Roman custom, we shall speak, when we come to John 19:19., &c.
Matthew 27:38. Then were there two thieves crucified with him— They placed Jesus in the middle, by way of mock honour, because he had called himself a king, and was now crowned with thorns; or, if the priests had any hand in this, they might design hereby to impress the spectators with the thought of his being an impostor, and to make them look upon him as the chief malefactor: by thieves may be meant here persons concerned in an insurrection, perhaps confederates with Barabbas: for the Greek word signifies those who take up arms, without commission or authority of a superior; and such, by the Roman laws, were subject to crucifixion. See Mar 15:28 and on Matthew 27:44.
Matthew 27:39-40. And they that passed by reviled— The common people whom the priests had incensed against our Lord by the malicious lies which they spread concerning him, and which they pretended to found on the evidence of the witnesses seeing him hang as a malefactor on the cross, and reading the superscription placed over his head, expressed their indignation against him by railing on him,—blaspheming—in the original. See Psalms 22:7. They thought their sarcasm, thou that destroyest the temple, &c. the more biting, as this was one of the charges brought against him by the false witnesses, Ch. Mat 26:61 and the latter part of the verse contains the charge on which they had condemned him as being guilty of blasphemy.
Matthew 27:41-43. Likewise also the chief priests, mocking, &c.— The rulers having, as theyimagined, wholly overturned our Lord's pretensions as Messiah, ridiculed him on that head, and with a meanness of soul which will for ever render them infamous, mocked him even in the agonies of death. They scoffed at the miracles of healing, by which he demonstratedhimself the Messiah; and promised faith, on condition that he would prove his pretensions by coming down from the cross. In the mean time nothing could be more false and hypocritical; for they continued in their unbelief, notwithstanding Jesus raised himself from the dead, which was a much greater miracle than his coming down from the cross would have been; a miracle also that was attested by witnesses, whose veracity they could not call in question; for it was told them by the soldiers, whom they had themselves placed at the sepulchre to watch his body. It is plain, therefore, that the priests said they would believe if Jesus came down, not because their incorrigible stubbornness would have yielded to any proof, however convincing, but to insult Christ; fancying it impossible for him now to escape out of their hands. It is difficult to tell what it was that the rulers alluded to in the 43rd verse: He trusted in God;—let him deliver him now, if he will have him;— ει θελει αυτον, if he delight in him, &c. Perhaps those who now spake, were the persons who attended Judas and the armed band when they apprehended Jesus. Luke 22:52. On that occasion they had heard him order Peter to put up his sword, telling him that he could pray to his Father, and he would give him more than twelve legions of angels. In derision of this expression of his reliance on God, whom he called his Father, they say to him, now that he was hanging on the cross, "He trusted in God that he would deliver him, and claimed a peculiar relation to him as his Son. If God really delights in him as his Son, let him shew it now, by delivering him from thisignominious punishment." But whatever the particular was to which they now alluded, certain it is that the rulers, by speaking as above, fulfilled a remarkable prophesy concerning the Messiah's sufferings, Psa 22:8 where it is foretold, that the Messiah's enemies would utter these words in derision of his pretensions. Many of the Jewish writers themselves acknowledge that these words belonged to the Messiah; and it certainly merits a serious reflection, that at the very time when these priests and elders intended to explode our Lord's pretensions to the Messiahship, they should make use of what their own writers acknowledged to be a characteristic of the true Messiah. See Macknight and Doddridge.
Matthew 27:44. The thieves also—cast the same in his teeth— Reproached him in like manner. St. Luke says, that one only of the thieves reproached him. See Luke 23:39-40. Some commentators endeavour to remove this difficulty, by supposing that both the thieves might revile Jesus at first; but this solution is not very probable. The phrase is a Hebraism, it being very common in that language to express a single thing in the plural number, especially when it is not the speaker's or writer's intention to be more particular. Thus, Jdg 12:7 then died Jephtha the Gileadite, and was buried in the cities of Gilead; that is to say, in one of the cities of Gilead, as it is well supplied by our translators. So likewise the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, speaking of the worthies of the Old Testament, says, they stopped the mouths of lions, they were sawn asunder; whereas the former sentence is applicable only to Daniel, and the latter to Isaiah. So that by the word thieves, both here and in St. Mark, we are to understand only one of the thieves.
Matthew 27:45. Now from the sixth hour, &c.— During the last three hours that our Lord hung on the cross, a darkness covered the face of the earth, to the great terror and amazement of the people present at his execution. This extraordinary alteration in the face of nature was peculiarly proper, while the Sun of Righteousness was in some sense withdrawing his beams from the land of Israel, and from the world; not only because it was a miraculous testimony borne by God himself to his innocence, but also because it was a fit emblem of his departure and its effects, at least till his light shone out anew with additional splendour, in the ministry of his Apostles. The Jews had been accustomed to the figurative language of the eclipse of the luminaries, as significative of some extraordinary revolution or calamity, and could hardly avoid recollecting the words of Amo 8:9-10 on this occasion. The heathens likewise had been taught to look on these circumstances as indications of the perpetration of some heinous and enormous crime; and how enormous was that now committed by the Jews! The darkness which now covered Judea, together with the neighbouring countries, beginning about noon, and continuing till Jesus expired, was not an ordinary eclipse of the sun, for that can never happen, except when the moon is about the change; whereas now it was full moon; not to mention that total darknesses, occasioned by eclipses of the sun, never continue above twelve or fifteen minutes. Wherefore it must have been produced by the divine power, in a manner that we are not able to explain. Accordingly, Luke, after relating that there was a darkness over all the earth, adds, and the sun was darkened, Luke 23:44-45. Farther, the Christian writers, in their most ancient apologies tothe heathens, affirm, that as it was full moon at the passover, when Christ was crucified, no such eclipse could happen by the course of nature. They observe also, that it was taken notice of as a prodigy by the heathens themselves. To this purpose we have still remaining the words of Phlegon the astronomer, and freed-man of Adrian, cited by Origen from his book, at the time when it was in the hands of the public;—that heathen author, in treating of the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, which was the 19th of Tiberius, and supposed to be the year in which our Lord was crucified, tells us, "That the greatest eclipse of the sun that ever was known, happened then; for the day was so turned into night, that the stars in the heavens were seen." See Orig. contr. Cels. p. 83. If Phlegon, as Christians generally suppose, is speaking of the darkness which accompanied our Lord's crucifixion, it was not circumscribed within the land of Judea, but must have been universal. This many learned men have believed, particularlyHuet, Grotius, Gusset, Reland, and Alphen. Another ancient writer asserts, "that walking in Heliopolis, a town of Egypt, with a studious friend, he observed this wonderful darkness, and said, that it certainly portended something extraordinary: that either the God of nature was suffering, or nature itself was about to be dissolved." Josephus, it is true, takes no notice of this wonderful phoenomenon; but the reason may be, that he was unwilling to mention any circumstance favourable to Christianity, of which he was no friend; and the Jews would, no doubt, disguise this event as much as they could, and perhaps might persuade him and others who heard the report of it at some distance of time or place, that it was only a dark cloud, or a thick mist, which the followers of Jesus had exaggerated, because it happened when their Master died. Such representations are exceedingly natural to hearts corrupted by infidelity. See Macknight, Doddridge, and Calmet's Dissertation on the subject.
Matthew 27:46. Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, &c.— A little before he expired, Jesus repeated the first verse of the 22nd Psalm, pronouncing it in the Syriac dialect, which was the common language of the country; and speaking with a loud voice, that all who stood around might hear him distinctly, and know that he was the person spoken of by David. Some would translate the words, My God, my God, to what a degree, or to what a length of time, hast thou forsaken me? Lama in the Hebrew has this signification. Accordingly St. Mark, in the parallel passage, has rendered it by εις τι . But, however translated, our Lord's words must be viewed in the same light with his prayer in the garden. For, as that prayer expressed only the feelings and inclinations of his human nature, sorely pressed down with the weight of his sufferings; so his words on the cross proceeded from the greatness of his sufferings then, and expressed the feelings of his human nature; viz. an exceeding grief at God's forsaking him, and a complaint that it was so. But as his prayer in the garden was properly tempered by the addition of the clause, yet not as I will, but as thou wilt; so his complaint on the cross may have been tempered in the same manner; perhaps byhis repeating the following third verse of the Psalm, though the Evangelists have not mentioned it particularly: for that, in the inward disposition of his mind, Jesus was perfectly resigned, even while he hung on the cross, is evident beyond all doubt, from his recommending his spirit to God in the article of death; which he could not have done, had he been discontented with the divine appointments. The sufferings which made our Lord cry out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? were not merely those which appeared to the spectators, viz. the pains of death which he underwent. Many of his followers have suffered sharper and more lingering bodily tortures, ending in death, without thinking themselves on that account forsaken of God; on the contrary, they both felt and expressed raptures of joy under the bitterest torments. Why then should Jesus have complained and been so dejected under inferior sufferings, as we must acknowledge them to be, if there was nothing here but the pains of crucifixion? Isthere any other circumstance in this history which leads us to think him defective in courage or patience? In piety and resignation came he behind his own Apostles? Were his views of Deity and religion more confined than theirs? Had he greater sensibility of pain than they, without a proper balance arising from the superiorityof his understanding? In short, was he worse qualifiedfor martyrdom than they? The truth is, his words on the cross cannot be accounted for, but on the supposition that he suffered in his mind pains inexpressible, inflicted on him by an immediate interposition of the power of God, the nature and intenseness of which cannot in the language of men be more justly, or more emphatically expressed, than by the metaphor of God's forsaking him. Some think that Jesus on this occasion repeated the whole 22nd Psalm; and certainly, as it is composed in the form of a prayer, it must be acknowledged, that no address could be more suitable to the circumstances wherein our Lord then was, or better adapted to impress the minds of the beholders with becoming sentiments. Nevertheless, the things mentioned by the Evangelists as next happening, were of such a kind, that they must have followed immediately upon the repetition of the first three or four verses of the Psalm. It is probable, therefore, that he stopped there. Perhaps it was not his intention to go farther; for it was the custom of the Jews, when they quoted large portions of Scripture, to mention only the firstverses or words of the passage. Such of his hearers as knew these to be the first verses of the 22nd Psalm, would easily understand that Jesus meant to apply the whole Psalm to himself. And as it contains the most remarkable particulars of our Lord's passion, being a sort of summary of all the prophesies relative to that subject, by citing it on the cross, and applying it to himself, Jesus signified, that he was now accomplishing the things therein predicted concerning the Messiah. Farther, as the Psalm is composed in the form of a prayer, by citing it at this time, Jesus also claimed of his Father the performance of all the promises that he had made, whether to him, or to his faithful people, the chiefof which are recorded in the latter part of the Psalm.
Matthew 27:47. This man calleth for Elias— Though Jesus spoke in the vulgar dialect, some of the people present did not understand him; for they fancied that he called upon the prophet Elijah to help him. Hence some have conjectured, that they were Roman soldiers who thus misunderstood Christ's words. The conjecture, however, cannot be admitted, unless these soldiers were proselytes, and had learned the language and religion of the Jews more perfectly than it is reasonable to suppose. We may therefore believe, that it was our Lord's own countrymen who gave their opinion concerning the meaning of his words; and though they misunderstood him, it may have arisen, neither from their ignorance of the language in which he spoke, nor from their hearinghim indistinctly, for he spake with a loud voice; but from their not considering that he was repeating the words of the 22nd Psalm. Others have supposed that this was the mistake of some Hellenist Jews, who did not understand the Syro-Chaldaic language. See Craddock's Harmony, part 2: p. 256 and Grotius.
Matthew 27:48. One of them—took a sponge, &c.— We have before observed, that vinegar, or a small sharp wine and water,—a mixture which was called posca,—was the common drink of the Roman soldiers. Possibly, therefore, this vinegar was set here for their use, or for that of the crucified persons, whose torture would naturally make them thirsty. See Joh 19:28-29 where we are told that they put the sponge upon hyssop, that is to say, a stalk of hyssop, called by the other Evangelists καλαμος, which signifies not only a reed or cane, but the stalk of any plant: for that this hyssop was a shrub, appears from 1Ki 4:33 where it is reckoned among the trees. They did this office to Jesus, not so much perhaps from pity, as to preserve him alive, in hopes of seeing the miracle of Elijah's descent from heaven.See the next verse.
Matthew 27:50. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost— St. John tells us, that when our Lord had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished. "The predictions of the prophets are all fulfilled, and the redemption of the world is finished, to accomplish which I came into the world." And the other Evangelists inform us, that in speaking these words, our Lord cried with a loud voice; probably to shew that his strength was not exhausted, but that he was about to give up his life of his own accord. The Evangelists use different words in expressing our Lord's death, which our translators, notwithstanding, render in the same manner,—He yielded or gave up the ghost; St. Mark and St. Luke say, εξεπνευσε, He expired; St. John, παρεδωκε το πνευμα, He yielded up his spirit; but St. Matthew's language is most singular, αφηκε το πνευμα, He dismissed his spirit; as the same word αφιημι is used, Ch. Matthew 13:36. Mark 4:36; Mar 11:6 and elsewhere. Now this expression seems admirably to suit our Lord's words, John 10:18. No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself, &c. shewing (as did also the strong cry, which so much impressed the centurion) that he died by the voluntary act of his own mind, and in a way peculiar to himself, by which he alone of all men that ever existed could have continued alive, even in the greatest tortures as long as he pleased, or have retired from the body whenever he thought fit. Which view of the case, by the way, suggests an illustration of the love of Christ manifested in his death, beyond what is commonly observed; inasmuch as he did not use this power to quit his body as soon as ever it was fastened to the cross, leaving only an insensible corpse to the cruelty of his murderers; but continued his abode in it with a steady resolution as long as it was proper, and then retired from it with a majestyand dignity never known, or to be known in any other death; dying, if we may so express it, like the Prince of Life! See Hebrews 5:7. Doddridge, and Gerhard.
Matthew 27:51. The veil of the temple was rent, &c.— While Jesus breathed his last, the veil of the temple was miraculously rent from top to bottom; most probably in the presence of the priest who burned the incense in the holy place at the evening sacrifice; for the ninth hour, at which Jesus expired, was the hour of offering that sacrifice. The sudden rending of that veil was a supernatural sign of the destruction of the temple being at hand, and of the dissolution of the Jewish oeconomy. The earth also trembled, and the rocks rent, in token of the Almighty's displeasure against the Jewish nation, on account of the horrid impiety whereof they were now guilty. Mr. Fleming tells us, that a deist, lately travelling through Palestine, was converted by viewing one of these rocks, which still remains torn asunder, not in the weakest place, but across the veins; a plain proof that it was done in a supernatural manner. Mr. Sandys, in his travels, p. 264 has given a natural description and delineation of this fissure; and Mr. Maundrell tells us, that it was about a span wide at the upper part, and two spans deep, after which it closes, but opens again below, and runs down to an unknown depth in the earth. He adds, that every man's sense and reason must convince him, that this is a natural and genuine breach. See Fleming's Christology, vol. 2: p. 97 and Maundrell's Journey from Aleppo, p. 73.
Matthew 27:52-53. And the graves were opened, &c.— The ancient sepulchres were hewn out of rocks, which being rent by the earthquake, discovered the cells wherein the bodies of the dead were deposited; but though these sepulchres were opened by the earthquake at our Lord's death, yet the dead in them did not come to life till his resurrection: for Jesus himself was the first-born from the dead. Col 1:18 and the first-fruits of them that slept, 1 Corinthians 15:20. It seems probable that those saints were not some of the most eminent ones mentioned in the Old Testament, but disciples who had died lately; for when they went into the city, they were known by the persons who saw them, which could not well have happened, had they not been their cotemporaries; and as the rending of the veil of the temple intimated that the entrance into the holy place, the type of heaven, was now laid open to all nations, so the resurrection of a number of saints from the dead, demonstrated that the power of death and the grave was broken, the sting was taken from death, and the victory wrested from the grave. In short, our Lord's conquests over the enemies of mankind were shewn to be complete, and an earnest was given of a general resurrection from the dead. There is an ancient Greek manuscript, which reads in Mat 27:53 after their resurrection; and this reading is followed by the Arabic and Ethiopic versions. Perhaps it may be as natural to read the passage with Grotius, when he yielded up the ghost, the graves were opened; and after his resurrection, many bodies of saints arose, and came out of their graves.
Matthew 27:54. Truly this was the Son of God— Or the Messiah. It is probable that this centurion was a proselyte to the Jewish religion, and acquainted with their opinions. Others however think, that it should be rendered, This was a Son of God; for as the centurion was a Roman, say they, among whom it was not uncommon to stile a person of remarkable abilities and merit a son of some deity, the centurion, in consequence of this custom, seeing the circumstances which attended this event, was convinced, that though Christ was executed as an impostor, yet he could not be less than the son of a god. The former however seems the most probable opinion, as it is most likely that these words of the centurion refer to those of the chief priests and scribes, Matthew 27:43. He said, I am the Son of God, See Ch. Matthew 26:63-64. Elsner, in a note on this place, has shewn, that some of the heathens had a notion among them, that prodigies, especially storms and earthquakes, sometimes attended the death of extraordinary persons peculiarly dear to the gods. Bishop Sherlock has made a fine useof the passage before us in the following words: "Go to your natural religion, (says he) lay before her Mahomet and his disciples arrayed in armour and in blood, riding in triumph over the spoils of thousands and tens of thousands who fell by his victorious sword. Shew her the cities which he set in flames, thecountries which he ravaged and destroyed, and the miserable distress of all the inhabitants of the earth. When she has viewed him in this scene, carry her to his retirements; shew her the prophet's chamber, his concubines and wives: let her see his adultery, and hear him allege revelation and a divine commission to justify his lust and his oppression. When she is tired with this prospect, then shew her the blessed Jesus, humble and meek, doing good to all the sons of men, patiently instructing both the ignorant and the perverse: let her see him in his most retired privacies; let her follow him to the mount, and hear his devotions and supplications to God: carry her to his table, to view his poor fare, and hear his heavenly discourse;let her see him injured, but not provoked; let her attend him to the tribunal, and consider the patience with which he endured the scoffs and reproaches of his enemies; lead her to his cross, and let her view him in the agony of death, and hear his last prayer for his persecutors, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
"When natural religion has viewed both, ask which is the prophet of God?—but we have already had her answer; when she saw part of this scene through the eyes of the centurion who attended at the cross by him,—she spoke and said, truly this was the Son of God."
Matthew 27:56. And the mother of Zebedee's children— Though the construction of the original be dubious, yet I think it very rational, says Dr. Doddridge, to conclude, that the mother of the sons of Zebedee, or of James the greater and John, was a different person from the mother of James the less and Joses; both as the sons of Zebedee, though such distinguished friends of Christ, are never called his brethren, as James and Joses are, (See Ch. Mat 13:55 and Mark 6:3.) and as some Scriptures plainly intimate, that no more than two of the Apostles were the sons of Zebedee. See Ch. Mat 10:2 Mat 26:37 and Mark 3:17. The frequent mention which is made in the Evangelists of the generous and courageous zeal of some pious women in the service ofChrist,andespeciallyofthefaithfulandregular constancy with which they attended him in those last scenes of his sufferings, might very possibly be intended to obviate that haughty and senseless contempt which the pride of men, often irritated by those vexations to which their own irregular passions have exposed them, has in all ages affected to throw on that sex; which probably in the sight of God constitute the better half of mankind, and to whose care and tenderness the wisest and best of men generallyowe and ascribe much of the dailycomfort and enjoyment of their lives. See Mark 15:40.
Matthew 27:57. A rich man of Arimathea— A city of the Jews, anciently called Ramoth, which lay in the tribe of Ephraim, and was the city of the prophet Samuel. St. Mar 15:43 describes Joseph under these two characters; first, that he was an honourable counsellor; secondly, that he waited for the kingdom of God. And St. Luk 23:51 adds, that he had not consented to the condemnation of Jesus with the rest of the Sanhedrim. See Joh 19:38 and the note on Mat 27:1 of this chapter. Some critics would render the last clause, who himself also made disciples to Jesus; that is to say, after his ascension. The word εμαθητευσε has that sense in the 19th verse of the next.
Matthew 27:58. He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus— St. Mark says, Mar 15:43 that he went in boldly, and craved the body. And it was certainly a courageous act for that rich and noble senator thus publicly to own his friendship for Jesus in the midst of his greatest infamy; and a person of such sagacity could not but know, that if a resurrection should happen, nothing would have been more natural than that he should be brought into question as a confederate in the pretended fraud of conveying him away. But the regard he had for his Master overcame all other considerations; he therefore requested leave to take down his body, because, if no friend had obtained it, it would have been ignominiously cast out with those of the common malefactors. See a more distinct account of this event in John 19:38; John 19:42.
Matthew 27:60. In his own new tomb— See John 19:41. The sepulchre in which they laid our Lord, being but lately made, was unfinished, and had not yet a lock on its door; therefore they fastened the door by rolling a great stone to it. The word roll implies, that the stone was both ponderous and large, too large to be carried, and therefore it was rolled upon the ground; according to Beza's copy, it was so weighty, that twenty men could not roll it; which was the reason why the women asked that question recorded by another Evangelist,—Who shall roll away the stone for us? Which implied, that they were both too few and too weak to do it for themselves. This sepulchre it seems, differed from that of Lazarus, in being partly above ground; whereas the other, being wholly under ground, had a stone laid on the mouth of it, covering the entry of the stairs by which they went down to it. See Beza and Macknight.
Matthew 27:62-64. Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, &c.— That is, after the sun was set. They took this measure, therefore, not on the morrow, in our sense of the word, but in the evening after sun-setting, when the Jewish sabbath was begun, and when they understood the body was buried: to have delayed it till sun-rising would have been preposterous, as the disciples might have stolen away the body during the preceding night. Besides, there is no inconsistency between this account of the time when the watch was placed, and the subsequent articles of the history, which proceed on the supposition that the women present at our Lord's funeral were ignorant that any watch was placed at his grave; for they departed so early, that they had time to buy spices and ointment in the city before the preparation of the sabbath was ended; whereas the watch was not placed till the sabbath began. The day of preparation was the day before the sabbath, (see Mark 15:42.) whereon they were to prepare for the celebration of it. The next day then was the sabbath, according to the Jewish style; but the Evangelist here expresses it by the circumlocution, the day which followed the day, because the Jewish sabbath was then abolished, and a new order succeeded. The Christian sabbath is the octave of that week. See Heylin.
When the scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, he referred them to that of the prophet Jonah, see Ch. Mat 12:39-40 where he foretold his own resurrection from the dead the third day. Also at the first passover, when the Jews required a miracle of him, in confirmation of his mission, he replied, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days." See also what he said further to the Pharisees, John 10:17-18. Now if the persons to whom these two last declarations were made happened to hear the promise of the miracle of the prophet Jonah, they might, by connecting the three, understand, that Jesus meant to signify to them his resurrection from the dead on the third day, and might tell Pilate they remembered that he had said, while yet alive, after three days I will rise again. Perhaps also, on some occasions not mentioned by the Evangelists, our Lord might have made a public declaration of his resurrection in the very terms here set down; or we may suppose that Judas informed the council of his prediction; in short, whatever way they came to the knowledge of it, certain it is, that the chief priests and Pharisees were well acquainted with our Lord's predictions concerning his resurrection. It seems they were often repeated, and so public, that they were universally known; and one cannot help remarking upon this circumstance, that if our Lord's resurrection had been a cheat, imposed upon mankind by his disciples, it was the most simple thing imaginable for him to speak of it beforehand, because the only effect of such a prediction was to put all his enemies on their guard. Accordingly, the precaution and care which we find the rulers used in guarding the sepulchre, rendered it next to impossible for the disciples to be guilty of any deceit in this matter; and so by the Providence of God, what they meant for the entire subversion of the Christian cause, turned out the strongest confirmation of it. Mr. West, in his excellent observations on the history of the resurrection, has the following very useful remarks concerning the evidence of our Saviour rising on the third day: "That he did not rise before the third day, says this author, p. 222 is evident from what St. Matthew here relates of the watch or guard set at the door of the sepulchre. Now I observe from these words, 1. That the watch or guard was set at the sepulchre the very next day after the death and burial of Christ. 2. It is most probable this was done on what we call the evening of that day, because it was a high day—not only a sabbath, but the passover; and it can hardly be imagined that the chief priests, and especially the Pharisees, who pretended to greater strictness and purity than any other sect of the Jews, should, before the religious duties of the daywere over, defile themselves by going to Pilate; for that they were very scrupulous upon that point, appears from what St. John says, Joh 18:28 of their not entering into the hall of judgment or praetorium, where Pilate's tribunal was the day before, lest they should be defiled, and so kept from eating the passover. And if it should be said, that, the paschal lamb being always eaten in the night, all their sacrifices upon that account were over, and they at liberty to go to Pilate in the morning, or at what other time they pleased; I answer, that allowing the objection, it is still farther to be considered, that this was the sabbath-day; and can it be supposed that the Pharisees, who censured Jesus for healing, and his disciples for plucking and eating the ears of corn on the sabbath-day, would profane that day, and defile themselves, not only by going to Pilate, but with the soldiers, to the sepulchre of Christ, and setting a seal upon the door of the sepulchre, before the religious duties of that solemn day were past? Especially, as they were under no necessityof doing it before the evening, though it was highly expedient for them not to delay it beyond that time. Jesus had said, while he was yet alive, that he should rise again from the dead on the third day; which prophesy would have been equally falsified by his rising on the first or the second as on the fourth. If his body therefore was not in the sepulchre at the close of the second day, the chief priests and Pharisees would gain their point, and might have asserted boldly that he was an impostor; from whence it will follow, that it was time enough for them to visit the sepulchre at the close of the second day. On the other hand, as he had declared he should rise on the third day, it was necessary for them (if they apprehended what they gave out,—that his disciples would come and steal him away) to guard against such an attempt on that day, and for that day only. And as the third day began from the evening or shutting in of the second, according to the way of computing used among the Jews, it was as necessary for them not to delay visiting the sepulchre, and setting their guard, till after the beginning of that third day; for if they had come to the sepulchre, though never so short a time after the third day was begun, and had found the body missing, they could not from thence have proved him an impostor. And accordingly Matthew tells us, they went thither on the second day, which was the sabbath; and though the going to Pilate, and with the Roman soldiers to the sepulchre, and sealing up the stone, was undoubtedly a profanation of the sabbath in the eyes of the ceremonious Pharisees, yet might they excuse themselves to their consciences, or
(what seems to have been of greater consequence in their opinions) to the world, by pleading the necessity of doingit that day: and surely nothing could have carried them out on such a business, on such a day, but the urgent necessity of doing it then or not at all. And, as I have shewn above, that this urgent necessity could not take place till the close of the second day, and just, though but one moment, before the beginning of the third, it will follow, from what has been said, that in the estimation of the high priests and Pharisees, the day on which they set their guard was the second day, and the next day consequently was the third, to the end of which they requested Pilate to command that the sepulchre might be made sure. Here then we have a proof, furnished by the murderers and blasphemers of Christ themselves, that he was not risen before the third day; for it is to be taken for granted, that before they sealed up the sepulchre, and set the guard, they had inspected it, and seen that the body was still there. Hence also we are enabled to answer the cavils that have been raised upon these expressions, three days and three nights, and after three days; for it is plain that the chief priests and Pharisees, by their going to the sepulchre on the sabbath-day, understood that day to be the second; and it is plain, by their setting the guard from that time, and the reason given to Pilate for their so doing, viz. lest the disciples should come in the night, and steal him away, that they construed that day, which was just then beginning, to be the day limited by Christ for his rising from the dead; that is the third day. For had they taken these words of our Saviour, The Son of man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, in their strict literal sense, they needed not have been in such haste to set their guard; since, according to that interpretation, there were yet two days and two nights to come; neither for the same reason had they any occasion to apprehend ill consequences from the disciples coming that night, and stealing away the body of their Master; so that unless it be supposed that the chief priests and Pharisees, the most learned sect among the Jews, did not understand the meaning of a phrase in their own language; or that they were so impious or impolitic as to profane the sabbath, and defile themselves without any occasion; and so senseless and impertinent, as to ask a guard of Pilate for watching the sepulchre that night and day, to prevent the disciples stealing away the body of Christ the night or the day following; unless, I say, these strange suppositions be admitted, we may fairly conclude, that in the language and to the understanding of the Jews, three days and three nights, and after three days, were equivalent to three days, or in three days. That he rose on the third day, the testimony of the angels, and his own appearances to the women, to Simon, and to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, which all happened on that day, are clear and sufficient proofs."
Matthew 27:65. Pilate said unto them, ye have a watch— See Matthew 27:54. Pilate, thinking their request reasonable, allowed them to take as many soldiers as they pleased out of the cohort, which at the feast came from the castle Antonia, and kept guard in the porticoes of the temple; for, that they were not Jewish but Roman soldiers, whom the priests employed to watch the sepulchre, is evident from their asking them of the governor. Besides, when the soldiers returned with the news of Christ's resurrection, the priests desired them to report, that the disciples had stolen him away while they slept; and, to encourage them to tell the falsehood boldly, promised that if their neglect of duty came to the governor's ear, proper means should be used to pacify him, and to keep them safe; a promise which there was no need of making to their own servants. See Josephus's Antiq. L. 20: 100: 4.
Matthew 27:66. So they went, &c.— The priests going along with the guards granted them by the governor, placed them in their post, and sealed the stone that was rolled to the door of the sepulchre, to hinder the guards from combining with the disciples in carrying on any fraud whatever. We find a precaution of the like kind made use of by Darius, Dan 6:17 in the case of Daniel shut up in the lion's den. Thus while the priests cautiously proposed to prevent our Lord's resurrection from being palmed upon the world, resolving, no doubt, to shew his body publicly after the third day, to prove him an impostor; they put the truth of his resurrection beyond all question, by furnishing a number of unexceptionable witnesses to it, whose testimony they themselves could not refuse.
Inferences.—The sentence of death is past, and who now with dry eyes can behold the sad pomp of the Saviour's bloody execution. All the streets are full of gazing spectators waiting for the ruthful sight; at last, O Saviour, I behold thee coming out of Pilate's gate, bearing that which shall soon bear thee; but alas! worn out with sorrows, and unequal to the burden, the blessed Jesus soon sinks beneath its insupportable weight. It is not out of any compassion to thy misery, or care of thine ease, blessed Sufferer, that Simon of Cyrene is forced to sustain thy cross: it was out of thine enemies' eagerness for thy dispatch; thy feeble paces were too slow for their purpose; their thirst after thy blood made them impatient of delay.
Hadst thou done this out of choice, which thou didst out of constraint, how should I have envied thee, O Simon, as too happy in the honour to be the first man who bore that cross of thy Saviour—an honour, wherein multitudes of blessed martyrs, since that time, have been ambitious to succeed thee! Thus to bear thy cross for thee, O Saviour, was more methinks than to bear a crown from thee. Could I be worthy to be thus graced by thee, I should pity all other glories.
Jerusalem could not want malefactors, though Barabbas was dismissed: that all this execution might seem to be done out of zeal for justice, two capital offenders shall accompany thee, O Saviour, both to thy death, and in it. Long ago was this unbecoming society foretold by the evangelical seer. He was taken from prison and from judgment; he was cut off out of the land of the living; he made his grave with the wicked. It had been disparagement enough to thee, adorable Jesus, to be sorted with the best of men. But to be matched with the refuse of mankind, whom justice would not suffer to live, is such an indignity as confounds my thoughts! Surely there is no angel in heaven, but would have rejoiced to attend thee; and what could the earth afford worthy of thy train? No, ye fond judges, ye are deceived. This is the way to grace your dying malefactors. This is not the way to disgrace him, whose guiltlessness and perfection triumph over your injustice. His presence was able to make your thieves happy: their presence could no more blemish him than your own. Thus guarded, thus attended, thus accompanied, is the blessed Sufferer led to that loathsome and infamous hill, which now his last blood shall make sacred. There, while he is addressing himself for his last act, he is presented with that bitter and farewell potion, wherewith dying malefactors were accustomed to have their senses stupified, that they might not feel the torments of their execution. It was but the common mercy to alleviate the death of offenders, since the intent of their last doom is not so much shame, as dissolution. That draught, O Saviour, was not more welcome to the guilty, than hateful to thee. In the vigour of all thine inward and outward senses thou wouldst encounter the most violent assaults of death, and scornedst to abate the least touch of thy quickest apprehension! Thou dost but taste of this cup; it is a far bitterer than this that thou art about to drink up to the dregs. Thou refusedst that which was offered thee by men; but that which was mixed by thine eternal Father, though mere wormwood and gall, thou didst drink up to the last drop; and therein, O blessed Jesus! lies all our health and salvation. I know not whether I do more suffer in thy pain, or joy in the issue of thy sufferings.
Now, even now, O Saviour, art thou entering into those dreadful lists, and now art thou grappling with thy last enemy, as if thou hadst not suffered till now. Now thy bloody passion begins. A cruel exspoliation is the preface to this violence; again do these merciless soldiers lay their rude hands upon thee, and strip thee naked; again are those bleeding marks of the scourges laid open to all eyes; again must thy sacred body undergo the shame of an abhorred nakedness: Lo! Thou that cloathest man with raiment, and all nature with its covering, standest exposed to the scorn of all beholders! As the first Adam entered into his paradise, so dost thou the second Adam into thine,—naked: and as the first Adam was cloathed in innocence, when he had no other covering, so wert thou the second too: and more than so, thy nakedness, O Saviour, cloathes our souls, not with innocence only, but with beauty: hadst not thou been naked, we had been cloathed with confusion. O happy nakedness! whereby we are covered with shame: O happy shame! whereby we are invested with glory.
Shame is succeeded by pain; methinks I see and feel, how, having fastened thee transverse to the body of that fatal tree, laid upon the ground, they racked and strained the tender and sacred limbs of my Redeemer, to fit the extent of their four appointed measures, and having tortured out his arms beyond their natural reach, how they fastened him with cords, till those strong iron nails which were driven up to the head through the palms of his blessed hands, had not more firmly than painfully fixed him to the cross! The fatal tree is raised up, and with a vehement concussion settled in the mortice!—woe is me, how are the joints and sinews of this patient sufferer torn by this severe distension! how does his own weight torment him, while his whole body rests upon this forced and dolorous hold! how did the rough iron pierce his soul, while, passing through those tender and sensible parts, it carried his flesh before it, and rivetted it to that shameful tree!
There now, Almighty Sufferer, there now thou hangest between heaven and earth, naked, bleeding, forlorn, despicable, a spectacle of miseries, the scorn of men. Is this the head that was decked by thine eternal Father with a crown of pure gold, of immortal and incomprehensible Majesty, which is now bleeding with a diadem of thorns? Is this the eye that saw the heavens opened, and the Holy Ghost descending upon that head, which now begins to be overclouded with death? Are these the ears that heard the voice of thy Father owning thee out of heaven, which now glow with reproaches, and bleed with thorns? Are these the lips, that spake as never man spake,—full of grace and power, which are now swollen with blows, and discoloured with blueness and blood? Is this the face that should be fairer than the sons of men, which the angels of heaven so desired to see, and can never be satisfied with seeing—which is thus defiled with the foul mixtures of sweat and blood and spittings? Are these the hands, that stretched out the heavens as a curtain; that by their touch healed the lame, the deaf, the blind; which are now bleeding with the nails? Are these the feet, which walked lately upon the liquid pavement of the sea, before whose footstool all the nations of the earth are commanded to worship, which are now so painfully fixed to the cross? O cruel and unthankful men, that offered such treatment to the Lord of life! O infinitely merciful Saviour, who wouldst suffer all this for unthankful men; where shall we find words sufficiently strong to express our boundless obligations!
Now, O ye cruel priests and elders of the Jews, you have full leisure to feed your eyes with the sight that you have so much longed for! there is the blood which ye purchased; and is not your malice yet satiated? Is not all this enough, without your taints and scoffs at so exquisite a misery? The people, the passengers, are taught to insult, where they should pity; every man has a scorn ready to cast at a dying innocent: a generous nature is more wounded by the tongue than with the hand. Thine ear, O Saviour, was more painfully pierced than thy brows, or hands or feet. It could not but go deep into thy soul, to hear these bitter reproaches from those whom thou camest to save.
But alas! how trifling were these in comparison of the inward torments which thy soul felt, in the sense and apprehension of thy Father's wrath for the sins of the whole world, which now lay heavier upon thee for satisfaction. This, O this it was that pressed thy soul, as it were to the nethermost hell. While thine eternal Father looked lovingly upon thee, what didst thou, what needest thou care for the frowns of men or of devils? But once he turned his face from thee, or bent his brows upon thee, this was worse than death. It is no wonder now if darkness was upon the face of the whole earth, when thy Father's face was eclipsed from thee by the interposition of our sins; how should there be light in the world without, when the God of the world, the Father of lights, complains of the want of light within! that word of thine, O Saviour, was enough to bring down the sun out of heaven, and dissolve the whole frame of nature, when thou criedst, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!
O what pangs were those, blessed Lord, which drew this doleful complaint from thee! thou well knewest that nothing could be more cordial to thine enemies, than to hear this mournful language from thee! they could see but the outside of thy sufferings. Never could they have conceived so deep an anguish of thy soul, if thy own lips had not expressed it. Yet as not regarding their triumph, thou thus pouredst out thy sorrow; and when so much is uttered, who can conceive what is felt! This was the very acme of that bitter passion, which thou wouldst undergo for us; when the Lord laid on thee the iniquities of us all. O Saviour, hadst thou not thus suffered, we must have borne the heavy weight for ever. Thy sufferings are our salvation; thy dissolution is our safety.
But the severity of this torment was not long to be borne; and now the measure of thy sufferings, as well as the prophesies concerning thee, being fulfilled; all types and ceremonies, all satisfactions, both happily effected and proclaimed; nothing now remains but a voluntary, sweet, and heavenly resignation of thy blessed soul into the hands of thine eternal Father; and a bowing of thy head for the change of a better crown, and an instant entrance into rest, triumph, and glory.
And now, O blessed Jesus, how easily have carnal eyes all this while mistaken the passages and intentions of this thy last and most glorious work! Our weakness could hitherto see nothing here but pain and ignominy; now my better enlightened eyes see in the elevation of thine both honour and happiness. Lo, thou that art the mediator between God and man, the reconciler of heaven and earth, art lifted up betwixt earth and heaven, that thou mightst accord both. Thou that art the great captain of our salvation, the conqueror of all the adverse powers of death and hell, art exalted upon this triumphal chariot of the cross, that thou mightst trample upon death, and drag all those infernal principalities manacled after thee. Those arms which thine enemies meant violently to extend, are stretched forth for the embracing of all mankind. Even while thou sufferedst, thou reignedst. O the impotent madness of vain men! they think to disgrace thee with bitter scoffs, with poor wretched indignities; when in the mean time, the heavens declare thy righteousness, O Lord, and the earth shews forth thy power! the sun withholds his light, as not enduring to see the suffering of his Creator. The earth trembles under a sense of the wrong done to her Maker. The rocks rend; the veil of the temple tears from the top to the bottom; in short, the frame of the whole world acknowledges the dominion of that Son of God, whom man despised. Thou therefore, O my soul, unite in acknowledgment, not only of his dominion, but of his love; and living in constant adoration of his tender mercies, who did die for thee on the cross, intreat him in the last hour to sustain thee, and to enable thee to say, with his fortitude and faith, Father, into thine hands I commend my spirit.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Though the Sanhedrim had condemned the innocent Jesus as worthy of death, they had not in their hands the power of capital punishments, and therefore must have him sentenced by the Roman governor before they could proceed to execution, the sceptre being now departed from Judah, and the country become a Roman province. Hereupon we are told,
1. On a second council held in the morning, in order effectually to get their bloody purposes executed of putting him to death, they determined to accuse him before Pilate, at that time the Roman president, as an infamous malefactor and incendiary; and accordingly, binding him as a criminal, they led him ignominiously through the streets, from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's palace, and delivered him up, that sentence might be pronounced upon him, and that he might die the death of the cross; thus undesignedly fulfilling the predictions of Jesus, Chap. Matthew 20:19.
2. Remorse had by this time seized on the conscience of Judas. When he saw that Jesus was condemned and ready to be executed, filled with horror, and agitated with self-indignation, anguish and despair, he ran to the temple, and there in one of the chambers to which the council seems to have been adjourned, he brought the hated price of his wickedness, the thirty pieces of silver, and publicly acknowledging the atrocious crime that he had committed in betraying innocent blood, would have returned their wages of unrighteousness. But they, instead of being struck with conviction, treated his confession with contempt. He had answered their ends; and as to the means employed, or the guilt that he had incurred, they cared not about it; as if it was nothing to them that they had bribed him to commit the villainy, and were that moment persecuting to death the innocent person whom he had betrayed. Made desperate by such neglect, and the unavailableness of this attempt to stop the prosecution of Jesus, his life became a burden, and the devil urged him to put an end to it. Casting down the abhorred silver in the temple before them, and flying to some solitude, he immediately hung himself, by self-murder finishing the measure of his iniquities. Note; (1.) The time will come when the sweetest sins will be turned into the poison of asps. (2.) There is no repentance without restitution, as far as possible, of ill-gotten gain. (3.) When wicked men can bring the professors of religion to join them, indifferent to the remorse which they afterwards behold in them, they only mock at the calamity, and at sin the cause of it. (4.) The love of money has been the fatal snare to many a soul: for this they have plunged themselves into the gulph of perdition. (5.) Despair is among the greatest crimes, and often ends in self-murder, a remedy still worse than the disease: for the deepest guilt there is mercy to be hoped, while life continues; but, when men fly from God to the devil for ease by suicide, they are undone for ever.
3. The money being left, they consulted how to dispose of it. Pretending conscience, they would not put it into the temple treasury, though probably it was taken thence, because it was the price of blood; and therefore, with the shew of great piety and humanity, laid it out to purchase a small piece of ground which had been dug up by a potter and was of little value, in which to bury strangers or proselytes: whereby they perpetuated their own infamy; the people, who knew what money made the purchase, calling it justly Aceldama, or the field of blood. And herein they exactly fulfilled what the prophet had foretold, Zechariah 11:12-13. The words are said to be in Jeremy, though only found in Zechariah: concerning which there are many ways suggested to solve the difficulty. The most probable seems to be, either that, in the division of the sacred books, the last volume began with Jeremiah, and therefore, though containing all the later prophets, bore his name; or that Jeremiah had so prophesied first, but had not committed it to writing, and Zechariah confirmed and wrote it in his prophesy. The words, as they stand in the prophet, are, 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. Thus did they who rejected the Messiah fulfil many of the great prophesies concerning him. Note; (1.) Many who are bitter persecutors of God's people, still study to maintain the character of piety and humanity among men. (2.) Christ's blood has provided a resting-place for poor sinners after death; and though he was treated with such contempt, and his price so low, we see in his humiliation peculiar glory; and the deeper his abasement was, it renders him in the eyes of all that believe more precious.
2nd, Behold the Son of God a prisoner at a human bar; and he, to whom every knee must bow, and whom we all must meet as our eternal Judge, now appears as a criminal before Pilate: having condescended to bear our sins, he submits to suffer in our stead as a transgressor. We have,
1. The charge laid against him. Knowing the jealousy of the Roman government, the chief priests, his accusers, had suggested that, in assuming the character of the Messiah, he meant to raise an insurrection, and make himself a king. Pilate therefore interrogated him on this head, whether he presumed to arrogate the title of King of the Jews? and Jesus acknowledged the charge; though he assumed no such temporal dominion as they suggested; his kingdom was not of this world: (see John 18:36.) The chief priests and elders were hereupon very loud and clamorous in their accusations, as if he was a perverter of the people, a sower of sedition, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and affecting the sovereignty of the country. To all which Jesus, with astonishing patience, made no reply. What they said was indeed notoriously false, as themselves knew: but he wanted not to defend himself; his hour was come, and he stood prepared to answer the demands of divine justice, and to bear our sins in his own body on the tree. Therefore, when Pilate urged him to reply to the charges, and clear himself of these accusations, he observed a profound silence, to the great astonishment of the governor, who could not account for so unusual a behaviour in a person whose life was at stake, and depended on that moment. Note; (1.) It has been usual with the enemies of the servants of Jesus to dress them up so as to render them suspected by the civil government, and to insinuate ill designs against the state, in order the more easily to oppress them. (2.) Silence is often the best answer to the accusations of malice; and when we know our defence is sure to be overruled, it is fruitless to contend.
2. Pilate, convinced of the innocence of Jesus, and well knowing the motive of the virulence shewn against him by the chief priests, who were stung with envy at the excellence of his character, and the high reputation he held with many, which eclipsed their own, wished for a pretext to release him. And hereunto he was yet more induced by a message from his wife, who just at that time, while the trial was going on, sent to entreat him to do nothing against that just man before him: for she had that morning been terrified by a very uncommon dream concerning him, which bore strong marks of a divine original; and therefore conjured him to discharge the prisoner, lest he should bring down the wrath of God upon himself and family by condemning the innocent. Therefore, as it was an established custom at that feast to gratify the people with the release of any prisoner whom they chose, Pilate thought he could not fail of succeeding by proposing to the people their choice, whether of Barabbas or Jesus. The infamous character of Barabbas, who for sedition and murder, and other villanies, was held in the greatest detestation, left him no room to doubt that the people would prefer Jesus, whom they had so lately ushered with hosannahs into the city, and whose excellencies all must have seen. Note; (1.) God has access to the spirit, and can speak to our souls when our senses are locked up in deep repose. (2.) Sinners have sometimes solemn warnings; but they are too apt to slight the heavenly admonition. (3.) The nearer and dearer any person is to us, the more are we obliged to watch over him for good.
3. The multitude, instigated by the craft of their wily priests, who represented Jesus in every black and diabolical colour, and engaged them to prefer Barabbas before him, demanded the murderer, to the astonishment of Pilate, and rejected the Lord of life and glory: and, not content with this, when the governor, willing to release Jesus, inquired of them what they wished he should do with him whom many regarded as the Christ, or Messiah; they with one consent cried out, Let him be crucified, a death the most painful, ignominious, and accursed. Shocked at such a demand, Pilate remonstrates with them on the injustice and cruelty of such an action, Why, what evil hath he done? On the severest scrutiny his judge could see no fault in him, his adversaries prove none, nor did even the traitor suggest the shadow of a crime—A glorious testimony of the avowed innocence of Jesus. But this tumultuous assembly, notwithstanding, wrought up to a pitch of fury by their malignant priests and rulers, with louder cries demanded his crucifixion, determined to extort the governor's consent, and bear down reason and justice with rage and clamour. Note; (1.) How little dependance is to be placed on popular applause. They who one day cried, Hosannah to the Son of David, now cry, Crucify him, crucify him. (2.) The unspotted innocency of the Lamb of God evidently shews, that he bore not his own sins, but the sins of others: he voluntarily submitted to die as a criminal, that he, though just, might suffer the punishment due to the unjust, and thereby bring us unto God.
4. Pilate, unable to prevail with them, and not having resolution to deny their request, so importunately and clamorously urged, for fear of an uproar; yet conscious of the innocence of Jesus, and shocked at the thought of murdering a just man, bethought himself of a miserable expedient to pacify his conscience without disobliging the people: and therefore, though yielding to their importunity, he protests against the fact; and, taking water before them all, he washed his hands, that by this significative action he might appear clear from all the guilt which should ensue, declaring himself innocent of this righteous blood; and therefore, since they compelled him to condemn the innocent, he lays it wholly upon them to answer for the crime before God and the world.—An absurd procedure indeed in a judge, whom nothing should awe from the administration of impartial justice.
5. They hesitate not to subject themselves to all the consequences which might ensue: and, since Pilate seemed scrupulous, they are very ready to quiet his conscience by solemnly transferring all the guilt upon their own, madly imprecating on themselves, and their latest posterity, the vengeance, if any were due, His blood be on us, and on our children. So daring do presumptuous sinners grow: so little are they apprehensive of the consequences of their impiety. But these murderers soon found the vengeance which they had imprecated terribly lighting on their devoted heads in the utter destruction of themselves and families; such multitudes being crucified by Titus during the siege, that the crosses stood so thick around the walls, that there was no more room for them; five hundred in a day thus miserably expiring. And to this hour the effects of that imprecation are visible upon this miserable people; and will be, till, returning to the Lord whom they once rejected, the wrath shall be removed, and their iniquity be forgiven.
3rdly, The matter being thus determined:
1. Pilate having released Barabbas, that most infamous criminal, delivered Jesus over to their will, having first scourged him severely, in hopes of moving their compassion, John 19:1.; but finding it all ineffectual, and that they were bent on his destruction, he appoints his immediate execution on the cross, as they insisted. And herein we may observe, (1.) The fulfilment of the Scriptures, Psalms 129:3.Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 50:6; Isa 53:5 where these stripes had been foretold. (2.) In the release of Barabbas we have an emblem of our own deliverance through Jesus Christ. As guilty perhaps have we been as this notorious prisoner: we have robbed God of his glory, and often laboured to murder our own and others' souls. For which we must all have perished without hope, had not our divine substitute yielded up himself that we might go free, and that the chief of sinners might find in him plenteous redemption. (3.) Bloody as the stripes of Jesus appear, we need bless God for them, since by these stripes we are healed.
2. Being delivered into the hands of the inhuman soldiers, they dragged him into the common hall, and, to make themselves merry in his miseries, and in the view of the character that he assumed as a king, they stripped off his clothes, arrayed him in a scarlet robe in mockery, and, platting a crown of thorns, in derision placed it on his head, giving him a reed, or hollow cane, for a sceptre; and, gathering the whole band around him, they, with insulting homage, bowed the knee, and addressed him with the deriding title of king of the Jews; while some spat in his face in contempt of his majesty, and others snatched the cane out of his hand and smote him on the head that the thorns might wound the deeper his sacred temples. While we reflect on their wickedness with horror, indignation, and astonishment, let some measure thereof be transferred to ourselves. They were the instruments, but all mankind, and we in particular, have been the cause of all his torment. And when we see the innocent Lamb of God submitting to these indignities, and look on that face, marred more than any man's, defiled with spitting, black with buffetings, and dyed with blood streaming from his temples, what emotions of love and gratitude should glow in our bosom towards him who endured such things for us, that we might not be the mockery of devils, the scorn of angels, and abhorred of God?
3. Glutted with cruelty, and satiated with such inhuman mirth, they stripped off his robes of mock majesty, and put on him again his own seamless garment, the perquisite of those who should be more immediately employed in his execution. Then, binding his cross upon him, Joh 19:17 they led him, as a lamb to the slaughter, a spectacle through the city, to suffer without the gate. But, it seems, wearied out with his sufferings, his strength failed him, and they were obliged to release him of his load, lest they should be disappointed of their cruelty in nailing him alive to the tree. Seizing on one who was passing by, known probably to have been a disciple of Jesus, and therefore treated with such indignity, they compel him to bear the cross after Christ to the place of execution. Note; Every true believer must expect his cross, and be content to go to Jesus without the camp, bearing his reproach.
4thly, We have an account of the crucifixion of Jesus.
1. The place where he suffered was called Golgotha, signifying the place of a skull; either from the form of the hill, or because the malefactors executed there were buried on the spot. Where death therefore erected his trophies, there Christ, who tasted death for every man, erected his cross, that he might in triumph look down upon his vanquished foe, as it was said, O death, I will be thy destruction.
2. Before they nailed him to the tree they offered him a bitter cup of vinegar mingled with gall. (See the Annotations.) He tasted it, but refused to drink. He wanted not to prolong his life, nor would do ought to discompose his mind, prepared to feel every misery before him, and desiring not to be excused the sensation of any one painful pang that he must endure. The gall of that cup our sins supplied; had he not atoned for them, we must eternally have drank to the dregs the cup of bitterness and trembling.
3. They crucified him; which was done by stretching the arms on the wood as it lay upon the ground, and nailing them; then they fattened the feet to a piece of wood fixed to the body of the cross, and lifting it up, stuck it fast in a hole prepared to receive it, the shock of which frequently dislocated the bones of the criminal; and there hanging upon the nails, in convulsions and torments inexpressible, he expired. Thus did the Son of God humble himself to death, even the death of the cross. Whilst angels with wonder and amaze behold him, what sentiments of transcendent admiration and love should glow in our bosoms, when we see him dying on the accursed tree, for us men and for our salvation?
4. The executioners divided his garments as their fee; and while they sat down and watched him, that no rescue might be attempted should the people now relent, they cast lots for his outer garment, which was without seam, and must have been spoiled if cut to pieces; thus in the most exact manner fulfilling the prophetic word, Psalms 12:8; They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
5. On the cross a tablet was hung, importing the crime for which he suffered, as was usual on these occasions. But this bespoke his honour rather than reproach: This is Jesus the king of the Jews. Such indeed he really was; and whatever intention they had who wrote it, God designed even here that a testimony should be borne to his Messiah.
6. Two thieves were crucified with him, and he placed in the midst, as if to stamp the most indelible infamy upon him, as the vilest of all malefactors. Thus was he numbered with transgressors, and with the wicked in his death. Though he had done no violence, yet, bearing the sins of the world, divine justice treated him as a criminal, and he died under the curse of our iniquities.
7. On the cross he endured the greatest contradiction of sinners against himself:
[1.] From the common people, and passengers who went by as he hung on the tree. Unmoved at his sufferings, unaffected with the astonishing patience wherewith he bore them, they vented their blasphemies against him, wagging their heads, as insulting over his miseries, (Psalms 22:7.) and triumphing in his torments; upbraiding him with his pretended ability of destroying the temple, and raising it in three days; and bidding him now put forth some of that power of which he boasted, in coming down from the cross to which he was nailed, and thus at least prove the truth of the high pretensions that he made, as being the Son of God. Note; (1.) When a man is run down, and cast out for his religion, under the name of enthusiasm, by the great and the rulers, almost every one is ready to join in the cry. (2.) If Christ was thus reviled and ridiculed, let us not think it strange, if the mouth of the ungodly be opened upon us in bitter words.
[2.] From the chief priests, scribes, and elders. They came to feast their eyes with this sight of misery, and, instead of being at their devotions in the temple, (Leviticus 23:7.) meanly mixed with the rabble around the cross, to gratify their malice, and spit their venom; mocking at him; and saying, He saved others, himself he cannot save. His present state, they suggest, evidently proved the delusion of the miracles to which he pretended, and the impossibility of his being the Saviour of the world; whereas in fact the very reason why he would not save himself, was, because it would not then be possible for him to save others, since on his sufferings their salvation depended. As he assumed the honour of Israel's King, they upbraid him with his arrogance, and bid him exert his authority, and loose himself from the cross; then, they profess, they will believe in him; though after what he had done, this was a mere subterfuge for their infidelity. Had he complied with their proposals, they would instantly have found new objections, and would suppose that some trick had been played; that he had never been nailed to the tree; as they afterwards evaded the evidence of his resurrection, by the absurd pretence that his disciples stole away the body by night. Because Jesus had professed such unshaken confidence in God, and claimed so near a relation to the Most High, they now bid him put it to the proof; intimating, that God's not delivering him in his distress, shewed him a deceiver; and while they thus vilified him in the eyes of the people, they hurled a fiery arrow against the faith of the Redeemer, to terrify his innocent soul, as if there was no hope for him in his God. (Psalms 22:8.) Unmoved, the Saviour heard in silence their blasphemies, and persisted patiently in accomplishing his own glorious work. Note; Many pretend want of evidence as a reason for their unbelief; but were Christ to indulge them with the grant of what themselves propose, they would be as far from faith in him as ever. The fault is in the heart: they who believe not Moses and the prophets, will be proof against every other method of conviction.
[3.] From the thieves who were crucified with him. See the Annotations.
8. A dreadful darkness now came on over all the land. The sun miraculously withdrew his light, as if terrified at beholding his Maker's agony, and terrifying his abhorrence of such transcendently atrocious wickedness; affording an emblem of that judicial blindness to which this devoted people were now abandoned. It might be intended also to represent the dreadful conflict with the rulers of the darkness of this world, which Jesus maintained on the cross, when, by dying, he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. And this eclipse of the great luminary of heaven was also but a faint image of the darker eclipse in the Redeemer's soul, when every cheering beam of consolation was withdrawn, the light of his Father's countenance withheld, and a sense of this dereliction, arising from the wrath of an offended God, completed the measure of his suffering. Three such hours had never passed since darkness was upon the face of the deep.
9. After a long and silent conflict, about the ninth hour, his agony being now at the summit, with a loud but lamentable voice Jesus cried, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?—Strange accents from him whom God had repeatedly owned for his beloved Son, and in whom he had testified himself so well pleased! We never hear one complaint from these sacred lips of all his inhuman treatment or bodily torment. What he then felt was infinitely more insupportable, and extorted this exceeding bitter cry. Not that the hypostatic union was dissolved, or that there was any real abatement of the Father's love towards him; never did he as Mediator appear more amiable than now, when, through the Eternal Spirit, he offered himself without spot unto God. But since he took upon himself the sins of the world, he was given for a while into the enemy's hands, and all the powers of hell were let loose upon him; every divine support was withdrawn, and the terrors of wrath due from an offended God seized on his soul, and sunk him in the lowest deeps. Despair excepted, I question much, whether the spirits of the damned have felt the wrath of God in this its utmost depth of bitterness: yet, though forsaken, firm and unshaken Jesus hangs fast on God, and in this deepest dereliction still can say, My God.
Lastly, The by-standers, either wilfully or ignorantly mistaking his words, said he called for Elias, as if he wanted his help, and that it was too late for him to cry now. And hereupon one ran and filled a spunge with vinegar, and with a cane lifted it to his lips, which might be a suggestion of compassion, since his pains must have created intolerable thirst; though usually it is supposed to have been done to mock and teaze him, and add to his anguish: while the rest deriding said, Let be, let him alone; let us see whether Elias will come to save him, since he is to be the forerunner of the Messiah; but no such help, they presumed, would be afforded him, alike abandoned by heaven and earth.
5thly, The conflict is now over, the victory complete, sin atoned for, Satan's head bruised, justice satisfied, death vanquished, hell shut up, the kingdom of heaven opened for all believers, and all this by the death of Jesus here recorded; concerning which we are told,
1. The manner in which he expired. Having finished the work the Father had given him to do, he cried, not as a dying man exhausted and spent, but with a loud voice, the shout of victory over all his conquered foes, and thus in his full strength yielded up the ghost; freely resigned his soul into his Father's hands, and his body to death, the threatened wages of sin, which he had consented to bear. Thus fell the spiritual Samson, spoiling principalities and powers, and triumphing over them on his cross. Thus died the great Redeemer, just at the time when the evening sacrifice of the lamb was slain, the figure of him who in the evening of the world appeared, to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
2. The miracles which attended his death.
[1.] Behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain, which separated the holy of holies from the outer tabernacle, where the table of incense stood, and the golden candlestick; and this at the very time probably when the priests were there ministering, and burning the sacred incense before it. Whereby was signified, (1.) The abolition of the Mosaical services, the darkness of that dispensation being now removed, and its mysteries unveiled; so that with open face we now behold the glory of the Lord. (2.) The demolition of the partition-wall between Jews and Gentiles, who are alike called into the fellowship of the Gospel, and partakers of the same privileges. (3.) The free access which every sinner has to God; so that he may now come boldly to a throne of grace: and every faithful soul, when death shall rend the veil of flesh, shall be admitted to a throne of glory, by that new and living way which Jesus hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 10:19-20.
[2.] The earth did quake, and the rocks were rent by it; marks of God's wrath against these murderers, and of that fury which he would pour out upon them, when their rocky hearts should be broken in pieces. Hereby also was signified the destruction of Satan's kingdom, and the wondrous changes now about to be wrought in the world, when the most stout-hearted sinners should tremble before the Lord, and feel their souls rent with deepest conviction when led to look up to a crucified Jesus.
[3.] The graves were opened, immediately by the earthquake, and many bodies of the saints which slept, arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many,—a glorious proof of Christ's victory over death and the grave, and an assurance to all his saints of a joyful resurrection.
Who these saints were, whether the patriarchs, or such as had seen Christ in the flesh; to whom they appeared; what they said or did; these and the like inquiries, being matters of mere curiosity, the Holy Ghost has not thought fit to reveal to us. All that is needful for us to know, is told us, and therein we should thankfully acquiesce, not coveting to be wise above what is written.
3. The effect which the death of Christ and the subsequent miracles had on the centurion and soldiers who kept guard at the place of execution. Though heathens and strangers to the true God, and probably the very persons who had treated Jesus with such indignity, had dragged him to that place, and nailed him to the tree; these strange sights, the darkness, earthquake, and expiring cry of the Redeemer filled them with consternation. Their stout hearts trembled for fear lest they should be swallowed up in righteous vengeance; and these amazing effects of divine power and interposition extorted from them that noble testimony to the Saviour's divine mission and character, Truly this was the Son of God.
4. To the honour of the female sex, mention is made of several women, and three of their names are recorded, who, though the disciples in general had forsaken their Master, and fled, continued their attendance in his last moments; and, having followed Jesus out of Galilee, and ministered to him of their substance, now stood afar off, perhaps not daring to approach nearer; and with broken hearts and floods of tears beheld and lamented their dying Lord, unable to minister to him either help or comfort. Note; (1.) The longer and the farther we have followed Christ, the more should it engage us to cleave to him, even to the end. (2.) They who love the Lord Jesus in their hearts, will be happy to employ their substance in his service.
6thly, It was foretold, that the Messiah should make his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; and we see it fulfilled in the honourable interment given him by Joseph of Arimathea, after he had died as a malefactor, and suffered in our stead the wages of sin. Several circumstances concerning his burial are taken notice of by the Evangelist.
1. The time,—the evening of the day on which he suffered, which was Friday, some time before the Jewish Sabbath commenced.
2. The person who charged himself with the care of the burial,—Joseph of Arimathea, a man of wealth and distinction, one of the sanhedrim, and a secret disciple of Jesus, though through fear he had not publicly avowed it; but now, when Christ seemed deserted of all, he dared step forth, boldly went in to Pilate, and begged the corpse, that he might inter it with due respect; which was granted immediately, and an order sent to deliver the body to him. Note; (1.) There are more secret disciples than we are often aware of. (2.) The possession of worldly wealth and honour is usually a grievous check to the faithful and open profession of Jesus and his cause. (3.) In times of trial, when the boldest are ready to shrink, we sometimes see those who were scarcely numbered among the disciples before, come forth with unexpected courage and fidelity, and make a noble confession before many witnesses.
3. The manner of it. He took down the body from the cross, and wrapped it in clean linen, according to the custom of the Jews; and he himself attended, and performed these last kind offices to his dear Master.
4. The place where Joseph laid the corpse,—In his own new tomb, hewn out in a rock, and closed with a great stone at the mouth; which when Joseph had done, he departed in silent sorrow to bewail his loss. So divine Providence ordered the circumstances, that none having lain there before, there could be no doubt, when Christ arose, concerning the person: and the solid rock out of which the sepulchre was hewn, prevented the possibility of suspicion of any secret access to the body, except by the entrance, and that was sufficiently guarded. Note; (1.) He who when alive had not a house to cover his head, when dead, wanted a grave: so destitute was the Lord of glory: who then after him dares complain? (2.) Since Jesus has lain in the grave, he has perfumed the noisome abode; and in this bed of dust, as the phoenix in her fabled nest, the faithful now lie down, only to rise in brighter array, and take their flight to mansions of eternal glory.
5. The care which Christ's enemies took to have the sepulchre secured. The chief-priests and Pharisees, who were such scrupulous observers of the Sabbath, had not patience to wait till it was over, but assembled, and went in a body to Pilate, to petition him for a guard, in order to secure the body against the following day; because, they suggest, Jesus, that deceiver, (so do they call him who is the truth itself) had said, while he was yet alive, (so that they admit he was now certainly dead,) After three days I will rise again. We find not indeed that he had ever expressly said so to them; and if they founded their suggestion upon what they had heard, (John 2:19.) then their own bare-faced wickedness was yet more evident; since on this very passage, which they applied to the temple, they formed a great part of their accusation against him. Pretending therefore to fear, lest his disciples should come by night and steal him away, and say he is risen, they desire to be furnished with a band of soldiers, to prevent all such attempts; lest, if such a trick should be played, the consequences of this last error, in not properly guarding the sepulchre, should be worse than the first, in suffering him to preach and live so long; for should this be once believed, the character of Jesus would then be established, and his doctrines spread with greater rapidity than ever. Pilate readily gratified them in granting their request, though no doubt he regarded their fears as absurd and ridiculous, and presumed that they had little now to apprehend from a dead man. They had a body of soldiers in the tower of Antonia for the service of the temple, and he permits them to detach what number they pleased to guard the sepulchre, and to use every other method to make the place as sure as they could. Nor did they fail to take every step to prevent the possibility of an imposture; setting a guard of soldiers, in whom they could confide, to watch the body that night, and sealing the stone with the public seal, either of Pilate or the sanhedrim, that none might presume to enter, till the next day they should return themselves, and, producing the dead corpse, undeceive the people, and detect the impostor. Thus by the gracious Providence of God was every circumstance so ordered, respecting the resurrection of Jesus, that our faith in that grand event might have the most unshaken grounds of evidence indisputable, and be more strongly confirmed by all the methods that his enemies took to guard the body from the possibility of being clandestinely removed. Indeed it can scarcely be supposed, that his disciples, who all so basely forsook him and fled when he was alive, would ever return to steal him away when he was dead: and they could have no end to answer by it; for to endeavour, by saying he was risen, to impose on the people, would be inconceivable madness and folly in them; since they must thereby expose themselves to every suffering for their testimony, and be of all men the most miserable in this world; conscious of dying with a lie in their right hand, and having no hope in the next. But had they desired or designed to execute such a scheme, they must have been now effectually prevented. In the face of a body of armed soldiers, placed as centinels on the sepulchre, and whose lives depended upon their watchfulness,—to suppose that they would ever have attempted to break the public seal, roll back a ponderous stone, descend into the tomb, and carry off the body by stealth, is an absurdity too glaring to be conceived. So far as human, as diabolical power could go, Christ's enemies went; but counsel and might are alike vain against the Lord. They who oppose his kingdom will find their attempts not only baffled but turned to their own confusion; their guilt but the more aggravated, and their eternal ruin more dreadful.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 27". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29