Friday of the Crucifixion.
§ 135. — JESUS TAKEN BEFORE PILATE, Matthew 27:1-14.
1.The morning — Of Friday, the day of the crucifixion. All the chief priests and elders of the people — The Sanhedrim. See note on Matthew 26:3.
2.And when they had bound him — Doubtless while the keepers of our Lord had been waiting for the morning they had relaxed the severity of his bonds. They now rebind him, and lead him forth. The entire Sanhedrim present seem to have gone in a body with their prisoner to the palace of Pilate. Pontius Pilate the governor — Pilate was at this time procurator of Judea, an office rather of a pecuniary nature, yet, in the irregularities of the times, extended over every department of government. He was the sixth governor of Palestine after the cessation of the royalty. He was noted for his severity, cruelty, and despotic will. On one occasion, contrary to the practice of the Roman governors, who respected as far as possible the religious peculiarities of subject provinces, he introduced the Roman standards into the city with the images of the emperor upon them, esteemed idolatrous by the Jews. When the Jews remonstrated he threatened to massacre them. Upon this they threw themselves unanimously on the ground, protesting that they would rather die than consent to the profanation; upon which the Roman governor relented. On another occasion, when the Jews seditiously opposed his expending the sacred money upon the city water-works, he sent a body of soldiers with concealed arms to fall upon them unawares, who committed a much greater massacre than he intended. Saint Luke refers to a massacre by him, committed at a passover, when he mingled the blood of certain Galileans with the sacrifices they were performing. A similar cruelty in the massacre of certain Samaritans, after they had submitted, proved the ruin of Pilate. The Samaritan senate sent a complaint of his cruelty to Vitellius, president of Syria, by whom Pilate was ordered to Rome, to answer to the charge before the emperor Tiberius. Before he arrived Tiberius died; but Pilate was banished by his successor Caligula to Vienne in Gaul, where, in mortification for his disgrace, he committed suicide.
In his conduct at the trial of our Saviour, Pilate appears like a true Roman politician. He is on the side of justice, in regard to which his perceptions are acute and his procedures exact and just, so far as no passion or self-interest of his own interfered. He is versatile and inventive of expedients to rescue Jesus from an unjust death, until the Jews make him feel that such a course endangers his standing as Cesar’s friend. He examines Jesus, and pronounces him innocent; he expostulates with the Jews; he endeavours to release him instead of Barabbas; he sends him to Herod; he presents him as an object of sympathy, to move the Jews to pity; he proposes to chastise and set him free, and finally, he washes his hands in token of irresponsibility of Jesus’s death. It was only to save himself from the danger of what he finally suffered, an arraignment before Cesar for maladministration, that he yielded the point. But to save his own life or interests, the life of a single man or of any number of men would have been readily sacrificed.
3.Saw that he was condemned — The actual perception of the result, and the clear consciousness of the enormity of the crime, produced in Judas’s mind a revulsion. A conscious feeling also that he had sinned beyond mercy, seems to have possessed his soul. He felt that his trifling gains could never be used; and, with a desperate desire to know the worst of his case, he rushed through the gate of a voluntary death into the presence of his final Judge. Repented himself — Such a repentance as brings no true reformation. It was guilt starting back from the consequence of its doings. There is much repentance of this kind in the world of the lost.
§ 139. — REPENTANCE AND DEATH OF JUDAS, Matthew 27:3-10.
Matthew now interrupts his narrative of the fate of the Saviour to give his final account of Judas. It hardly seems probable that Judas would give up all for lost before the final sentence and surrender of Jesus by Pilate.
4.What is that to us? — So unsympathizing are Satan and his agents to the victims they have ruined. He probably stood at the railing between the court of Israel and the court of the priests. (See Temple Plan.) The priests in their own court may have been arranging matters for the passover festivals. Judas flung the money probably over the railing upon the pavement at the feet of the priests.
5.Hanged himself — There is no discrepancy between this account and the narrative given in Acts 1:18. Judas hung himself near one of the precipices with which the environs of Jerusalem abound, and the rope breaking, perhaps intentionally on his part, he was precipitated down and dashed to pieces. On this point Prof. Hackett says: “I measured the precipitous, almost perpendicular walls in different places, and found the height to be, variously, forty, thirty-six, thirty-three, thirty, and twenty-five feet. Olive trees still grow quite near the edge of these rocks, and, no doubt, in former times they were still more numerous in the same place. A rocky pavement exists also at the bottom of the precipices; and hence, on that account, a person who should fall from above would be liable to be crushed and mangled as well as killed. The traitor may have struck in his fall upon some pointed rock and caused ‘his bowels to gush out.’“
6.The price of blood — The true confession that they had bought Jesus for death. The money made abominable by certain crimes, was by law excluded from the treasury of God. Deuteronomy xxiii, 18. Many retain a sort of ecclesiastical conscience while committing the grossest immoralities.
7.Potter’s field — Pottery, or the manufactory of earthenware, was a very ancient art. The remains of it are found among the relics of the most ancient nations. The clay being dug from the surface, for the purposes of pottery, rendered the soil unfit for tillage or other uses, so that it was sold for the small price here paid.
8.The field of blood — The name stood as a memento of the direful sale and execution. The name, “called in their proper tongue Aceldama,” is at the present day traditionally given to a spot south of the Valley of Hinnom. Unto this day — Unto the time that Matthew writes. This was perhaps about eight years of interval. Sceptics have quoted this phrase in proof that Matthew was written in a later age. But it is a curious coincidence, that we fell upon this phrase a few days since in a New York newspaper, in regard to an event not more than eight years distant.
9.Then was fulfilled — Verified by an event of which the words were strikingly expressive. Jeremy — This is no doubt a mistake of the transcribers. The true name is Zechariah, and the reference is to Zechariah 11:12-13. The mistake arose probably because the contracted form of the name Zechariah, which would be Zriou, was taken for Jriou, the contracted form of Jeremy. The passage is quoted for sense, and not word for word, as is often the case with the evangelists. Their inspired interpretation is always a guarantee for the true sense of the passage which they quote in substance.
JESUS BEFORE PILATE, AND THE SURRENDER OF BARABBAS, Matthew 27:11-26.
11.Jesus stood before the governor — The Sanhedrim in a body, followed by their partisans, marched with their prisoner from the palace of Caiaphas to Pilate’s abode, which probably was at the town of Antonia, north of the temple. (See note on Matthew 21:12, and Temple Plan.) This tower was built by the Maccabees, the illustrious princes of Judah, (see note on Matthew 1:17,) as a depository of the high priest’s vestments, and rebuilt with great splendour by Herod. It was a fortress, but at the same time a most magnificent palace. To avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews decline entering Pilate’s palace. We must, then, figure to ourselves the multitudes standing in the broad area before the palace, while Jesus is taken in, either to the court or some public apartment of the building, called thence “the Pretorium,” or pretor’s (governor’s) office. Hence it appears by the narrative, especially in John, that Pilate alternately went out unto them, and returned into the judgment hall, or Pretorium, to Jesus. We may be aided in understanding this by supposing that in the diagram at Matthew 26:68, the court answers to the pretorium; and the area or broad space where the Jews are, is at the place marked “street.” It was towards this open yard that Pilate presents Jesus. John 19:4.
From the Jews in the front area Pilate learns the charge, and that Jesus is brought before him because the Jews had no power to execute him. Pilate then enters the Pretorium and learns of Jesus that he claims to be a spiritual king. Pilate then goes out to the Jews and pronounces Jesus innocent. Then the multitude raises a clamour of accusations, to which Jesus is so serenely and firmly silent that the governor marvelled greatly.
Art thou the King of the Jews? — The fullest and most striking account of the colloquy between our Lord and Pilate is given by John, and full notes upon it belong to a commentary upon that evangelist. Thou sayest — An affirmative answer of the question. It is as thou sayest.
14.The governor marvelled greatly — It might not be so wonderful that a prisoner should make no defence; but the many circumstances of a mysterious nature, which Jesus refused to explain, greatly perplexed the governor.
15.Was wont — Was accustomed. The Jewish nation was under the Roman government, and there would often be men in prison whose crime was some attempt in favour of Jewish liberty, or some popular offence against the Roman power. Hence, when the governor came down from Cesarea to Jerusalem, it would be a popular act to grant pardon to some turbulent patriot in prison for sedition.
16.A notable prisoner — A famous outlaw. Mark says that he had raised “an insurrection,” and that his adherents, who “had committed murder in the insurrection,” were also, like himself, under arrest and in prison. As they probably lived by plunder, Barabbas is called “a robber.” As a fierce and brave Jewish patriot, he had become notable or famous among the populace. He was, perhaps, like Robin Hood among the old English, hateful to the government but popular with the masses.
18.Knew that for envy — Pilate was perfectly satisfied that the charge brought by the Jews against Jesus, as seeking to be the rival king against Cesar, was a fiction. He knew the innocence of the accused. When he surrendered him he was guilty of innocent blood. No washing of his own hands could cleanse his soul or clear his character in history.
From the other evangelists we learn to supply several facts omitted by Matthew. Pilate, on learning that Jesus was of Galilee, sent him to Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee, who was then in Jerusalem, hoping that he would dispose of his case. But Herod, after putting Jesus to mockery, remands him back to Pilate. Pilate endeavours to induce the Jews to allow Jesus to be dismissed with a few stripes, and they refuse with clamour. After he had endeavoured to have him released by amnesty, and they prefer the release of Barabbas, he washes his hands, in token of protesting his innocence of the death of Jesus. They respond loudly by taking the responsibility of his blood upon their own heads and their children’s. Pilate then surrenders Jesus apart, to mockery and scourges and then brings him out as a piteous spectacle, and presents him, with the words, Behold the man.” So far from being melted at the sight, they cry out the more to “crucify him!” On his demanding for what possible reason Jesus is to be crucified, they reply, “Because he called himself the Son of God.” Struck with this new charge, and with the strange assumption of this divine title by his prisoner, Pilate returns to Jesus to examine him, and is so impressed with his noble bearing as to make one more effort to save him. But at last the cry, “If you let this man go you are not Cesar’s friend,” settled the matter. Pilate did not bear to have his faithfulness to the emperor questioned, and to save his own position he sacrificed Jesus. He thus became sharer in their guilt. Taking his seat upon the tribunal of the pavement, so called, in front of his palace, he received the last rejection of Jesus by the Jews, and gave him up to death at about nine o’clock on Friday the day of the crucifixion.
19.The judgment seat — He seats himself in order to pronounce the amnesty or release of Jesus or some other person. He makes every effort in his power to induce the Jews to demand the release of Jesus, but they prefer the outlaw to the just and holy one. Judgment seat — Or tribunal erected in the open court or area before the palace, with the people before it. His wife — Her name Claudia Procula, and tradition says she was converted to Christianity by this dream. It is one of those minute coincidences which mark the accurate knowledge of the author of this Gospel, that it was only just at this time that Roman governors were allowed to have their wives with them. That just man — That innocent man. This day — Perhaps it was a morning dream, occurring to her after Pilate had gone forth upon the business which now occupied him. Morning dreams were held as specially prophetic. Stern as was the character of Pilate, it is clearly evident, as our comment on John will more fully show, that he was not a little affected by the circumstances of the trial and death of Jesus. Nor is the thought to be of course rejected that the same divine power that warned Joseph of Jesus’s birth by a dream, may have warned Pilate by the same means to beware of a share in his death.
20.Chief priests and elders persuaded — The people had been upon his side. They had brought him into Jerusalem with triumph, while the rulers were compelled to hide their heads in low murmurs. They dared not openly apprehend him, for fear of the people; but taking him secretly, and surrendering him with all the appendages of a culprit guilty of something, the people are induced to consider him as a deceiver and blasphemer and traitor. The very fact that he is there in fetters seems to prove that he is not divine, and so make out that he was a deceiver, who had claimed to be the Son of God. Nevertheless, when it comes to the point that he shall not be demanded for release, but the outlaw shall be preferred before him, it takes a fresh onset of persuasion to induce the people to take that step.
Doubtless the friends of Jesus were mostly absent, frightened away by this fearful revolution.
21.They said, Barabbas — This was the deepest human degradation, to have the vilest of mankind preferred before him. He was held worse than the worst, and lower than the lowest.
22.Let him be crucified — This was the decisive utterance of the fatal word.
24.Washed his hands — An emblem of his own innocence of the murder. See note on Matthew 26:18.
25.His blood be on us — Terrible imprecation of wrath upon themselves and offspring. In less than forty years from this exclamation the Romans came. They crucified such numbers of Jews that, Josephus says, there was no room for more crosses. Doubtless some of these very persons, and certainly their children, died by this very death, perhaps on the very spot.
SCOURGING BY PILATE AND DELIVERY FOR CRUCIFIXION, Matthew 27:26-31.
The purpose of this whole scene of course is to burlesque Jesus’s claim to royalty. A notable king forsooth is this, for whom the proper crown is a garland of thorns, the sceptre a reed, the robe an old cast off cloak. Mock homage, interspersed with insults and injuries, completes the wretched drama.
26.Scourged Jesus — The Greek word here used is borrowed from the Roman flagellum, which was the scourge with which slaves were chastised before execution. It was composed of ox nerves, extremely sharp, interwoven with sheep bones, so as to lacerate the flesh.
27.The common hall — The Pretorium, or court. See note on Matthew 27:11.
Whole band — There were five cohorts of soldiers, comprising each about 600 men, retained by the governor at Cesarea, and one at Jerusalem. This one whole Roman cohort is therefore now summoned to perform or witness the degradation of the victim.
28.A scarlet robe — A kind of round cloak, which was confined on the right shoulder by a clasp, so as to cover the left side of the body, worn by military officers and called paludamentum. Those of the emperors were purple. This cloak or robe, called by Matthew scarlet, is by Mark called purple. The two colours blend into each other, and the words are interchangeable. The scarlet dye, however, was made from a shrub; the purple from a shell-fish.
29.Had platted — The old English verb to plat or plait, signifies to braid or interweave. A crown of thorns — The question has been raised whether this crown was intended for mockery or for pain. Undoubtedly mockery was the leading object, and yet that mockery is all the more effective by being made painful. A crown of straw would have been mockery; a crown of thorns was a painful mockery. What sort of thorns composed this crown is uncertain. But Haselquist, a Swedish naturalist, says, of the Nabea Palisius Athanaei of Alphinus, now Zizyphus Spina Christi, “In all probability this is the tree which afforded the crown of thorns put upon the head of Christ. It is very common in the East. This plant is very fit for the purpose, for it has many small and sharp spines which are well adapted to give pain; the crown might easily be made of these soft round and pliant branches; and what in my opinion seems to be the greater proof is, that the leaves very much resemble those of the ivy, as they are of a very deep glossy green. Perhaps the enemies of Christ would have a plant somewhat resembling that with which emperors and generals were crowned, that there might be a calumny even in the punishment.” — Kitto, Art., Thorns.
A reed — A burlesque sceptre for this fictitious king. The reed is a plant with a hollow jointed stalk, growing in wet grounds. It was sometimes used for light walking canes, and one may have been taken from the bystanders for the present purpose. Bowed’ mocked’ Hail — These were all ironical offers of mocking homage to Jesus as he sat in a semblance of royalty. What followed was real and professed abuse and injury.
30.Smote — The blow of the reed would have been too light to inflict much pain upon any other part than the head, and there it would aggravate the pain of the thorns.
At the present day, such is the spirit of Christianity, the criminal is left to the serene but stern action of the law, without any such voluntary insults and tortures as these, which serve to deprave the perpetrators as much as they torture the victim.
After this scourging and mockery Jesus is led forth from the inner court or Pretorium to the door of the palace, by Pilate, who presents him before the multitude in the hope that the sorrowful sight may awaken pity and produce his release. He declares Jesus innocent. They reply, that by Jewish law he is liable to death for blasphemy in claiming to be the “Son of God.”
Startled at this supernatural name, Pilate takes Jesus again into the interior court, and demands of him what is his true origin. Jesus retains his own mystery and silence; but Pilate coming forth, again pronounces Jesus innocent. At this point the Jews give Pilate the finishing stroke. If he lets this man go he is not Cesar’s friend. Before that threat the iron will of Pilate bent and yielded. See John 19:12-13.
The Roman emperors had ever lent a ready ear to the complaints of provinces against their governors. Augustus Cesar did so against Herod the Great. The remonstrances of the Jews prevented Archelaus from being king, and finally their complaints overthrew him. And Pilate himself was in fact ruined, as we have elsewhere narrated, by such a complaint of the Samaritans against him. He sacrifices Jesus, therefore, to his own security.” See note on Matthew 27:2.
§ 140. — LEADING FORTH AND CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS, Matthew 27:32-34.
31.Led him away to crucify him — From the judgment hall of Pilate at the fortress of Antonia, Jesus is led forth to crucifixion. That he was led to a spot without the city gates, we are assured by St. Paul. Hebrews 13:11-12. But in what direction, whether east or west, neither Scripture, nor any reliable tradition, nor any circumstantial evidence informs us. Tradition, indeed, of a later date has fixed upon a spot, where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands as a monument of the event. (See map of city.) But clear circumstantial proof shows that the site of that church was not without the ancient city walls.
While our Lord was led forth a multitude, mostly women, follow him weeping. Jesus addresses them with a compassionate prophecy of the sorrows which the sins of their countrymen were bringing upon their heads. Luke 23:27-31.
33.Place called Golgotha — This was a Hebrew word signifying a skull-place. It is in Latin Calvaria, and thus it is in Luke called Calvary, which is the common name in English. It was called thus, some think, because, being the usual place of execution, the skulls of malefactors whose bodies had been there buried often become visible. But more probably it was so called from a supposed resemblance of the mound to a human skull. Calvary might have been a little elevated, but it could not have been a mountain or mount. Dr. Barclay, (with reasoning that may stand as valid enough in the existing absence of any proof to the contrary,) identifies Golgotha with Goath, (Jeremiah 31:39,) which he locates on the east, close between the city wall and the Kedron, a little north of Gethsemane. If that was the place of crucifixion, there, also, was the garden containing Joseph’s new tomb. John 19:4. The scene of bloody sweat, the crucifixion, and the entombment was then properly one.
34.Vinegar to drink — The fainting prisoner was brought to the place of execution, and the cross was taken from the shoulder of the bearer preparatory to driving the nails into his limbs; and they offer a stupefying potion to him, according to custom, to deaden the sense of pain. Jesus tastes it, as if to accept the insulting mercy; but declines to drink it, as it would obscure the clearness of his faculties. The vinegar mingled with gall is the same as the wine mingled with myrrh, mentioned by Mark; for the wine was so sour as to be truly a vinegar, and the word for gall would stand for anything bitter, as myrrh.
§ 141. — TRANSACTIONS WHILE ON THE CROSS, Matthew 27:35-50.
35.And they crucified him — The victim was nailed to the wooden post, with his arms extended upon the cross beam, his four limbs being pierced by the spikes. The post sunk into the ground with a sudden shock, producing an agonizing torture. By pain, by loss of blood, and by mental suffering, death slowly and wearily would come. The cross was a Roman mode of execution, reserved for slaves and the vilest of the race, and therefore selected by the Jews, although not a Jewish punishment, as a proof of their contempt. The halter among us is scarce so ignominious a term of shameful suffering. Thence the cross became in the apostolic writings a symbol, not only of the atonement, but of the offence and contempt with which the Jews and Pagans viewed Christianity. At the same time it was the symbol of the suffering fidelity with which Christians adhered to their religion. It is now the ensign of Christian nations, and is a badge of Christian honour. It floats upon commercial banners and hangs upon the neck of beauty. The Romanists have carried their reverence for the material and formal cross too far; but as a visible symbol of Christianity it is worthy of Christian use, nor should there be a superstitious extreme in the very act of rejecting the superstitious use of the symbol.
The order of facts in the crucifixion of Jesus may be stated as follows: The two thieves are elevated on crosses by his side. Pilate fixes upon the cross of Jesus the superscription. The soldiers divide his garments. The passers-by and others revile him; while his mother and John and the women survey the scene at a distance with sorrow.
As the criminal was usually crucified naked, as far as decency permitted, the executioners divided his garments among themselves. It seems by John that there were four soldiers; and when they came to the coat of Jesus, inasmuch as it was seamless, they would not rend it, but cast lots for its possession. Casting lots — Each man’s name was written upon a ballot and cast into a vessel or receiver of some kind; the vessel was shaken, and he whose name leaped out was the winner.
Parted his garments — Of the parting of his garments, the fullest account is given by John.
36.Sitting down’ watched — The four Roman soldiers, who were the proper executioners, sat down to witness and secure the process of death. They witnessed the passing revilers, the sorrowing friends, the darkness, the confession of the thief, the draught given to drink, and the dying cry of the Lamb of God.
37.Accusation — The indictment or charge upon which he was executed. It was written with black letters upon a white ground. The purport of a criminal charge was often proclaimed also by the public crier, and may have been done in this case.
38.Two thieves — A fuller account in regard to the thieves is given by Luke.
REVILING OF JESUS ON THE CROSS, Matthew 27:39-44.
In the extremity of his physical pain the Son of man must endure the utmost that human contempt can think and say and do. The accidental spectator, the chance specimens of our race; the chief priests, the representatives of rank, sacred and secular, are present. The powerful exert the uttermost of their power, and the vilest do their best and vilest. They utter taunts founded on calumnious misrepresentations of his words; they ridicule his kingship, and even his piety. They trample on his pretences, and exult over his weakness.
39.Wagging their heads — An accompanying gesture, expressive of the contempt uttered in their words.
40.Thou that destroyest — Our Saviour’s real words did not express the destroying the temple, but rebuilding it if they destroyed it. There is a beautiful innocence in the words, which they have to pervert before they can make them condemnable. See note on Matthew 26:21. Save thyself —Here is their strong argument. The people who had shouted but a day or two ago, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” now plainly see their mistake. If this man were divine, the Messiah, the Son of God, he would certainly never have been caught and crucified. So the chief priests are after all right, and this man is an impostor. See note on Matthew 26:51. The fact that he is crucified is proof that he ought to be crucified. So are men worshippers of success. Come down from the cross — All his miracles, his lessons, and the perfection of his character, go for nothing unless he perform this test miracle. Let him show his superiority over his enemies, assert his power, and save his own life. If he does not, then he is so far from being the Messiah that he is justly crucified for maintaining himself to be so.
41.Chief priests’ scribes and elders — They are all there, and they all have their mock.
42.He saved others; himself he cannot save — A noble Saviour, forsooth, who cannot save himself! And yet, as learned men, they know or ought to know that the Old Testament foretold a suffering as well as a glorious Messiah. They ought to have remembered that it was by suffering that the Messiah was to save. Come down from the cross — And if he should come down from the cross, what then? What hope of mercy for his enemies? What would be the fate of men who say to him, The test of your Messiahship is to overcome our purpose of murdering you? And, still worse, if he should come down from the cross, and leave the great work of the atonement unfinished, what redemption for you miserable sinners?
43.Let him deliver him — Here is another argument. If God is on this man’s side he will not suffer him to be slain.
44.The thieves also — Jesus has had the thief Barabbas preferred before him. He has been placed by the people below the lowest criminals. He is now placed by the executioners between these the chief of criminals. Such was the opinion of the world. And now the criminals themselves have their say; which is, that he is more criminal and contemptible than themselves.
Few are so mean but they fancy there is somebody below them. At the bottom of all, in present estimation, is this Jesus. See note on Matthew 27:40.
45.From the sixth — The Jews reckon twelve hours from sunrise to sunset. The sixth hour was, therefore, noon; and the ninth hour was three o’clock. Darkness over all the land — This was no eclipse, for astronomy allows none at this time. Neither was it what is sometimes called the sympathy of nature over the scene; for that is too poetical for the plain reality of the facts before us. But it was a token of divine displeasure, calculated to dismay the hearts of these wicked men, and awaken in them some misgiving as to the being they were crucifying.
§ 141. — THE DARKNESS, vv. THE RELENTING, vv. AND THE DEATH, Matthew 27:45-50.
From the sixth hour to the ninth there was a wonderful darkness over the land. And already a relenting in men’s hearts follows so solemn a token of divine displeasure. One of the thieves who had reviled Jesus repents and confesses the Messiah. When Jesus thirsts he is relieved; and the multitude stands in suspense to see whether a divine interposition will not in fact save him. The centurion confesses him the Son of God.
46.About the ninth hour — At the close of the darkness. Eli — These words are the first verse of Psalms 22, quoted by our Lord in the Syro-Chaldaic language, the language in common use. The evangelist gives them in the very words of Jesus, rather than in the Greek, to show the reason of their mistake who supposed that he called for Elias. These words do not, we think, contain any reference to the darkness which was now disappearing, and which was given for his murderers rather than for him. The Saviour here applies the holy psalm to himself as prophetic. The particular words are expressive of the divine abandonment, of the departure of the divine presence as part of his atonement endurance. They are uttered by him to show that he is enduring an intolerable agony, deeper than any external infliction.
47.This man calleth for Elias — They confound the word Eli with Elias. We cannot think that this was a mockery.
48.One of them ran — In consequence of our Lord having said, “I thirst.” Thrice was our Lord offered a draught. First, before he was nailed to the cross, a drugged cup was presented him to assuage pain. Next, (Luke 23:36, the sour wine is offered in insult. And now it is given in kindness to assuage his thirst. Took a sponge — To absorb the liquid. Put it on a reed — The reed was used to reach to the elevation of his mouth. It was a hyssop stalk.
49.Let be — This was not spoken to the soldier who was relieving his thirst with the sponge. As appears by Mark, the soldier himself joined in the expression. It means, “Wait and let us see if Elias will come to his rescue.” These words plainly show that there was no jest. There was an actual suspense, awakened by the awful darkness, as to whether the divine interposition would not take place.
After this verse, I am inclined to place the prayer of the penitent malefactor, in Luke 23:42-43. Matthew (Matthew 27:44) clearly affirms that the thieves reviled him. Now it might be perfectly reasonable to say, as some do, that Matthew uses the plural for the singular, if the other thief silently assented, or did not dissent from the reproaches. But it is too much to concede that Matthew includes both in the plural as reviling, at the very moment when one never did revile, but reproved the reviler and prayed to Jesus. The only way of fair reconciliation is to hold Matthew and Luke as narrating different moments of the action of the malefactors. To suppose that one of them relented after the approach of supernatural darkness, brings the fact into correspondence with other proofs of a subsidence of hostile feeling at that point.
50.Cried again with a loud voice — The words are given by John: “It is finished!” They mean, that the atonement is wrought. The great work of penal suffering is done. The last pang is suffered, and his soul shall never sorrow again. The body must, indeed, rest in the grave; but the spirit will be in paradise, and glory eternal is won. For the joy that was set before him he had endured the cross, despising the shame, and will henceforth sit down at the right hand of the majesty of God.
51.The vail of the temple — The interior of the temple was an extended oblong room, divided into two apartments by a large curtain. The front one of these apartments was called the Holy Place; and the further one, concealed by a second curtain or vail, was called the Holy of Holies. Into the Holy of Holies none entered but the high priest; and he but once a year, on the great day of atonement. Vailed in this Holy of Holies, the divine presence was supposed to dwell. When the temple’s vail was rent from top to bottom, it was declared in fact that God no longer dwelt there. There was nothing to conceal. It was but an ordinary room, and the vail was but a rent cloth. It was also shown that the separation was removed; and that Judaism and Gentilism were no longer two, but one in a universal Christianity, an irrespective and impartial Gospel. Judaism is now dead. From the top to the bottom — The vail or curtain was some sixty feet long; and it was impossible for it to be thus rent, as some have imagined, by the force of the earthquake. And the earth did quake, and the rocks rent — Those who maintain that this earthquake was a mere natural coincidence, might as well go farther and say that the resurrection that followed was also in some way natural. It is indeed very unnatural to say that the darkness, the rending of the vail, the earthquake, and the resurrection, were natural. They are plainly all narrated by the evangelist as supernatural attendants of the transactions of the cross.
§ 142. — THREEFOLD EFFECTS OF THE DEATH OF JESUS, Matthew 27:51-54.
The temple vail rent in twain, the earthquake, and the resurrection of saints.
When our Lord proclaimed the atonement finished, the stroke of his power smote three realms; the realm of grace, of nature, and of death. In the first, the temple’s vail was rent, indicatively of the departure of the old dispensation and its nullity at the approach of the new. In the second, the earth was rent, indicating that the same power would destroy and renew again the face of nature. In the third, the dead rose from their open graves, indicating that the dominion of the destroyer should be destroyed, and the human race be raised from his power to a complete resurrection.
52.The graves were opened — In the East it is often the case that tombs are broken up by the violence of earthquakes; but this was now the intended effect. The graves are often excavations in a rock, with a stone placed against them for a door, which the shock throws from its place. Many bodies of the saints which slept arose — Here is the third effect of the Saviour’s death. It pierces the domains of death. A few of the blessed saints, who are precious to Christ, are awakened to life as specimens in advance of his resurrection power.
We should put a period after the word opened. Then we shall perceive that the bodies of the saints did not rise and come into the city until after his resurrection. His death opened their graves; his resurrection raised them from the dead. Bodies — Observe, it was not the souls or spirits alone of the dead who were recalled from the domains of death. But their bodies were re-animated by the spirit, and returned again to life. Saints — Some think they were saints lately dead. Otherwise, how should it be known who they were? But this is by no means certain. See note on Matthew 17:3. Slept — A beautiful figurative term for death; used in Scripture, usually in a good sense, of the happy dead.
53.After his resurrection — It must be specially noted that these saints appeared only after the resurrection of Christ. The fact that not the slightest allusion is made in any other part of the New Testament to this resurrection, has induced many commentators to think that there is something mythical in these two verses. But let it be remarked that the appearance of these saints to many occurred in the midst of the passover, when thousands if not millions were present from various parts of the world; and that the persons to whom they may have appeared were soon dispersed to their various abodes, so as to leave a much less permanent and public account of the transaction than would otherwise have been the case. Hence it is not strange that Matthew alone notices the fact; and that, too, only to show the immediate effects of Christ’s death and resurrection. Holy city — Jerusalem, so called not from its present wicked character, but from the holy recollections of prophets and holy men in its history. See note on Matthew 4:5. Hence we think that those who were raised from the dead were saints of the olden times, to whom indeed it was a holy city. Appeared unto many — Matthew narrated these facts in Jerusalem, the very city where they are supposed to have taken place; and there were probably those who were able to attest them.
54.The centurion — The captain of a hundred men. He was doubtless the commander of the quaternion of soldiers who watched Jesus’s death. Pilate departed after having fixed the superscription. The chief priests had left after they had done mocking; perhaps during the supernatural darkness.
And they that were with him — The soldiers under his command. They feared greatly — A deep feeling came over them that they were engaged in a great crime against a good, nay, a divine being. Luke adds: “All the people that came down to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts and returned.” This was the Son of God — No doubt the centurion heard that the prisoner had during his trial laid claim to this title. It is possible that he was present at the trial of Jesus, and heard that announcement by the Jews, that they required his death for making “himself the Son of God.” John 19:7. There was something in this announcement which, as appears from the following verses in John, startled the pagan Pilate, and could very easily impress the memory of Pilate’s centurion. The centurion knew that he was executed for claiming to be Son of God; he now recognizes that, whatever that title meant, (and probably his conceptions in regard to it were very indefinite,) it was divinely attested by these supernatural phenomena. Jesus was the Son of God because he so claimed, and God has affirmed his claim. And this strikingly harmonizes with the centurion’s expression, as reported by Luke: “Certainly this was a righteous man.” He was righteous in that his claim, for which he was executed, was sustained by God. So then the innocence of Jesus is admitted by Pilate, by Judas, by Peter, by even the soldiers that slay him, and by all but the Jewish hierarchy who brought the charges against him.
55.And many women were there — Relatives, and followers of his doctrines. They stood the ground more firmly than his disciples. Indeed, their weakness was the source of their strength; for, from their sex, they were in less danger than the male followers of the Lord. At a modest distance, now that the worst of the Lord’s enemies are gone, they dare appear conspicuous in sight. These women (as we are informed, Mark 15:41, Luke 8:2-3) ministered unto Jesus of their substance while he was in Galilee. They had come now to Jerusalem for the same purpose. Mary the mother of Jesus, who previously stood at the cross, and whom Jesus on the cross committed to the guardianship of John, (John 19:25-27,) seems now to have departed.
§ 142. — THE FRIENDS OF JESUS, vv. AND HIS BURIAL, Matthew 27:55-61.
Pilate had early disappeared; the chief priests had been driven off by the darkness and earthquake: the revilers had been put to silence; and even the soldiers having confessed, the cross seems now to have been surrounded by the friends of Jesus, and his faithful followers heave in view. His death seems to have conquered all, and to have won the field to his own side. The voice of hostile triumph is changed to consternation, and words of revilings give place to confessions of his divinity. Amid the display of divine power and displeasure, the alarmed supplicators begin to fear that Elias may appear to the rescue; or that Jesus will come down from the cross, and the wrath of Jehovah be executed upon themselves for his murder. Alas! the fulfilment of that fear, predicted indeed in these convulsions of nature, is postponed, not abolished. The same multitudes must undergo the woes of Roman cruelty; and the same men must meet him when he has exchanged the cross for the throne, and “look on him whom they have pierced and mourn.”
56.Mary Magdalene — Mary of the town of Magdala, so called to distinguish her from the other Marys. See note on Matthew 5:39. The Lord had delivered her from the dominion of several evil spirits, which may have possessed her more as a sad misfortune than from any guilt. The reputation for impurity of life which has been imputed to her is without any proof, and the habit of connecting her name with ideas of unchastity should be disused. Mary the mother of James and Joses — She was the sister of the virgin mother, and wife of Cleophas. James and Joses were therefore cousins of our Lord. This James was sometimes called James the Less. The mother of Zebedee’s children — This was Salome of Bethsaida. See note on Matthew 20:20.
The crucifixion was now closed. The beloved Jesus is a corpse, still in the hands of his enemies, and upon the cross. But, by the Jewish law, no dead body must lie unburied after sundown. The three crucified are therefore taken down; and of the two thieves the legs are broken, to secure their certain death. But as the Saviour is found apparently dead they break not his body, but a soldier pierces his side. These facts — the actuality of his death — John testifies as seen by his own eyes.
57.Even — The old word for evening. Arimathea — This was probably Rama-thaim Zophim, lying a few miles west of Jerusalem. Joseph was a believer, though a timid one, in Jesus; but at this crisis he dismisses all fear, and goes boldly forward to claim the holy body. As a “noble counsellor,” that is probably, a member of the Sanhedrim, his request would have weight with Pilate; and, as a “rich man,” he could afford an honourable tomb. Thus, according to prophecy, “they appointed him his grave with the wicked, but he was with the rich man after his death.” Isaiah 53:9, Hengstenberg’s translation.
58.Pilate commanded the body to be delivered — It was customary to allow the bodies of deceased criminals to be disposed of by friends, though sometimes wicked rulers exacted money from the friends for the privilege.
59.A clean linen cloth — A large square shroud, or sheet. Nicodemus came also, as John (John 19:39) tells us, and brought the liberal amount of a hundred pounds of spices to embalm the sacred body. The sindon, or clean linen winding-sheet, was wrapped several times round him, the spices being placed in the first fold so as to bring them in contact with the body. It is well remarked by Olshausen, that a sacred providence seems to watch over the body of our Lord. Christianity does not contemn the corporeal frame in the which the soul resides. Prophecy also had foretold of his body, that not a bone should be broken; and the victims of sacrifice, which typified his body under the old dispensation, must be without bodily blemish.
60.Own new tomb — Probably the new-made vault for his own family. Its first service is consecrated to the Lord. The sepulchre, John tells us, was in a garden, which probably belonged to Joseph. The interment of our Saviour here was probably a temporary arrangement, provided hastily on account of the approaching Sabbath. But Joseph’s love was never called upon for further provision. He had the honour of providing the sleeping abode of his Master. Such an interment, and such a hospitality in this, the rocky bed of his own future repose, Joseph could well afford; for his blessed guest would there repose but two brief nights, and would then awake and fly. And in return, when this world’s millennial Sabbath is past, the guest will awake that host from his own repose, that he too may take his undying flight. Hewn out in the rock — We must figure to ourselves a large room cut horizontally into the solid rock for a vault. In this room we enter, from the open air, by a large door. On entering you would see small, long cells, or niches, cut into the solid adamantine sides, as depositories of the corpses: or from this first main room you may enter one or several smaller apartments, in whose walls the niches for corpses are cut. A person could enter into the first main vault, and then into either of the small apartments. See note on Matthew 28:6. Rolled a great stone — The stone probably was flat, and rolled by successive overthrows. And departed — Either to Arimathea or to his dwelling-place in Jerusalem.
61.Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting — After Joseph and all others are gone, they may be seen sitting. Their heads are bowed with grief and their eyes are fixed on the tomb. Until the sun falls and the Sabbath shades are upon them, their motionless forms might be descried drooping, yet fixed, as if statues hewn out from the same rock as the sepulchre they watched.
Saturday, the Sabbath Eve.
§ 143. — TRANSACTIONS THE DAY AFTER THE CRUCIFIXION, Matthew 27:62-66.
62.The next day — This began the moment the sun disappeared; it being the eve introducing the Saturday-Sabbath. The day of the preparation — As Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, so Friday, the day of the crucifixion, was the day of preparation, that is, for the Sabbath. The preparation of the Jews began strictly at three o’clock in the afternoon; but the name preparation was popularly applied to the whole day. It is a palpable mistake that some commentators have made, that the watch was not set until the next morning, or after. This would have allowed full time for the commission of the theft of the body. The next day came on at sunset; and the watch of the two Marys had not long ceased when that of the soldiers commenced. Chief priests and Pharisees — A part probably of the Sanhedrim.
63.We remember — It seems strange that these men should remember a prophecy of our Lord which his own disciples seemed to forget. But the disciples did not forget that our Lord made this prophecy. They were only doubtful as to its true meaning, and so practically allowed it no meaning at all. It required high faith in them to believe that he would rise on the third day; but it required little faith for these men to believe that Jesus had made this prophecy, and that his disciples might try by deception to render it apparently fulfilled. Deceiver — Literally, strolling juggler.
64.The last error — Namely, the triumph of the disciples of Christ in creating a faith in the resurrection. The first — The temporary faith produced by Christ’s miracles and preaching in the popular mind that he was the Messiah. The Jews talk as if a previous error or mismanagement had allowed Jesus a temporary triumph while living; they fear that a worse oversight may give a permanent triumph to his cause after his death. How much worse has proved that error and how much greater the triumph, than they could have imagined!
65.Ye have a watch — The imperative construction which the Greek verb would bear, Have a watch, is not natural. Yet the indicative mood of the verb possesses essentially the same force as the imperative. The Jews desired that a custodia or guard of Roman soldiers should be placed at their command to watch the body. Pilate gives his consent by reminding them that they have one already; alluding probably to the quaternion who watched the crucifixion. Compare Acts 12:4 and John 19:23. The Jews by this measure intended to prevent the existence of any proof of the divinity of Christ, but they furnished in fact, by their precaution, an additional confirmation. Here, as previously, Pilate appears chary of having any thing to do in the transaction, and determined to leave all action and responsibility with them.
66.Sealing the stone — A cord was fastened, with sealing-clay at each end, to the sepulchre, being drawn across the door. Upon the clay the seal of Pilate, or of the priests, was stamped. The door could not be opened, therefore, without breaking the seal; which was a crime against the authority of the proprietor of the seal. The guard was to prevent the duplicity of the disciples; the seal was to secure against the collusion of the guard. So in Daniel 6:17: “A stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords.” A watch — Probably a guard of four soldiers. Such certainly was the number who watched the crucifixion. John 19:23.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 27". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany