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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Matthew 27

 

 

Verses 1-66

The redemption of man is comprised in many scenes. The last supper of our Lord — his agony in the garden, for there man first offended — the treason of Judas — the apprehension of Christ — his appearance before Annas — his arraignment before the sanhedrim — his deliverance to the Roman power when arraigned before Pilate — his appearance before Herod — his return to Pilate, condemnation, scourging, and crucifixion — his resurrection — his ascension — and the promise of his second coming. Here we trace the tragic footsteps of the divine wisdom, and discover that God has done what was best and fittest to be done for our redemption.

Matthew 27:5. He went and hanged himself. The Vulgate reads, se suspendit, “suspended himself;” but some read, strangulatus est, “was hanged.” One thinks, and no mean critic, that the devil took him up into the air, and strangled him, and on letting him fall he was almost broken in pieces. It seems however more likely that the abdomen burst, when somebody cut him down.

Matthew 27:9. By Jeremy the prophet. The above citation is found in Zechariah only. Jeremiah’s name was either inserted without authority, or as his name stood foremost of the minor prophets, any passage cited from them might be said to be in the book of Jeremiah. So Lightfoot. But as Zechariah and Jeremiah are twice distinctly cited by St. Matthew, the name has probably been mistaken by the copyist. Augustine thinks it was a defect of memory in the evangelist.

Matthew 27:11. The governor asked him, Art thou the king of the jews? The rulers, determined to take away his life, made this the grand charge, and urged that through all jewry he had stirred up the people to sedition against the Romans. The Saviour’s reply is modest, glorious, and convincing. Thou sayest. It is as thou sayest. I am the king of the jews. To this purpose was I born, and for this end came I into the world, to bear witness of the truth; but my kingdom is not of this world. Thus the Lord, having avowed his Divinity to the sanhedrim, that he should come on the clouds of heaven; now avows his regal dignity to the governor, as King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus, according to St. Paul, he “witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate.” — The governor now pronounced him faultless, which roused all the bloody passions in the rulers’ hearts.

Matthew 27:15. To release unto the people a prisoner. At festivals the jews used to put criminals to death, to deter the nation from crimes. But as they had been released from Egyptian bondage at the paschal feast, they humanely released a felon according to the popular humour. Pilate therefore followed this custom.

Matthew 27:19. Have thou nothing to do with that just man. I am utterly surprised at the comment which certain critics put upon these words. All agree that the dream was supernatural; but the question is, whether it proceeded from God or from Satan. “We commonly reckon,” says John Calvin, “that this woman was suborned of the devil to obstruct or retard the redemption of man.” Maldonatus obviously leans to the same idea. Why then should Satan enter into Judas, and hurry him on to betray his Master, and then immediately inspire the dream of this woman to prevent his crucifixion? If Satan act against Satan, how shall his kingdom stand? The dream was most assuredly of God, to prevent Pilate from destroying himself in ignorance, by becoming the principal agent in the Saviour’s death. But were not the rulers and Pilate fated, or predestinated from eternity, to be the instruments of the Saviour’s death? It is replied, and largely illustrated in Genesis 22., that Abraham had, after a hard inward conflict, bound and laid his Isaac on the wood, and had raised his arm to slay his only son; and consequently that the obedience both of the father and the son were as consummate as if Isaac had actually been immolated. No man doubts of this. Hence John Goodwin, in his “Redemption Redeemed,” strikingly infers from Isaac, the type of Christ, that if the jews had embraced the Saviour, being convinced of his divine mission by his miracles, his obedience or willingness to die would have been equally meritorious of our redemption.

This thought has a high claim to consideration; for St. Paul founds the merits of Christ on his obedience, saying, he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:8. Also in Psalms 40:7 it is said, Lo I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, oh my God. In that case our Saviour might probably, like Enoch, have been translated to the glory of the Father, after doing his will on earth. But against this supposition the words of Christ to Peter in the garden will be opposed. How then must the scriptures be fulfilled? I answer, the prophecies concerning Christ’s death were not more positive than those which once announced the sentence of death on Ahab, on Hezekiah, and on the Ninevites; yet in all these three cases, tears saved the men from punishment. And our Saviour himself twice said of Jerusalem, EXCEPT YE REPENT, ye shall all likewise perish. Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5. Moreover, sooner than admit that Pilate and the jews were absolutely fated to so foul a deed, I would adopt a system favoured by the Augustine theology; that the jewish rulers about the time of Lazarus’s resurrection, were rejected, passed into a state of reprobation, and so God employed them, as demons also are employed, to fulfil the scriptures in crucifying the Lord of glory.

Matthew 27:20. The chief priests — persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas. When a strong passion has once gained possession of the mind, not only the moral principle becomes extinct, but the understanding is blinded as to the consequences of guilt. Surely, had they thought at all, they must have seen the developement of their malice; aye, and what is most to be dreaded, the vengeance of heaven for the innocent blood of a prophet.

Matthew 27:24. Pilate — took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person. This custom was primitive. “If I am wicked, why then labour I in vain? If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.” Job 9:29-31. In cases of an undiscovered murder, Moses required the elders of Israel to wash their hands over a heifer, slain in the valley for expiation. Deuteronomy 21:6. Ovid, the Roman poet, is then not quite accurate in ascribing this custom wholly to the Greeks. He says, “The ancients believed, by the lustrations they prepared, that murder might be expiated. The commencement of this error was in Greece, where it was thought that an impious murder might be expiated by ablutions. Thus the son of Actor, surnamed Aruneus, was absolved by Peleus; and Peleus himself, from the murder of Phocus, was absolved by Acastus in the camp of Heraclea. —

The son of Amphiarus too, cries in fury, wash away, oh river Achelous, the guilt of my parricide; and lo, he is washed at once from his crime and his remorse. — Oh no, no! The sword awaits its victim. Canst thou be so credulous as to think that water can wash away a crime so foul?”

Omne nefas omnemque mali purgamina causam Credebant nostri tollere posse senes. Græcia principium moris fuit: illa nocentes Impia lustratos ponere facta putat. Actoriden Peleus, ipsum quoque Pelea Phoci Cæde per Hæmonias solvit Acastus aquas. — Amphiaraides Naupactoo Acheloo, Solve nefas, dixit, solve et ille nefas. Ah nimiùm faciles, qui tristia crimina cædis Flumineâ tolli posse putetis aquâ. FASTORUM, lib. 2. Matthew 5:35. Ed. Paris, 1804.

The repose which Pilate procured by this sacrifice of innocence to fury was but momentary. Some insurrection having happened in Samaria, Pilate destroyed many; and being accused to the emperor Vitellius, he was deposed, and died on his passage to Rome. But Eusebius says, he was banished to Vienne in France.

Matthew 27:25. His blood be on us, and on our children. The people who said this were misguided by the rulers and their dependents. But alas, they little thought that one million one hundred and ninety three thousand lives would so soon be required for this and all their other sins. — Josephus’s Wars of the Jews, book 7.

Matthew 27:26. When he had scourged Jesus, with the lictors, who did the same to Paul and Silas. This was a cruel punishment which they inflicted on malefactors in order to extort confessions. A full tragedy in character now followed, in planting the crown of thorns on his head, putting on him the robe, placing in his hands the reed for a sceptre, and paying to him the regal homage of bowing the knee. Such was the barbarism of the primitive world. When the French and the English made their first establishments in North America, great jealousies were excited among the six Indian nations; and when they got hold of a solitary traveller, they treated him with mockery and insults conformably to their humour. Oh what a heart is there in man. Those insults were permitted to the Saviour, that being the hour and the power of darkness, that the Father might by contrast, crown him with glory and honour, array him in the robes of light and majesty, and command the nations to bow the knee, lest with his iron sceptre he should dash them to pieces.

Matthew 27:34. They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall. St. Mark says, “myrrh,” the usual draught of bitter poisonous herbs, to dull the exquisite pains of crucifixion. This draught our blessed Lord declined.

Matthew 27:37. This is Jesus the king of the jews. Pilate wrote this in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin, for he knew that such a claim of regal power would justify him with Cæsar. Every insult the Saviour received connected the cross with the crown; he was indeed the King of the jews, and also of the gentiles, who in his times shall show who is the only potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Matthew 27:38. Two thieves crucified with him. The supineness of the Hebrews in taking life, and the encrease of crimes and tyranny, caused the country to abound with bands of robbers. There were also robbers in the city. The zealots who opposed the Roman yoke were often outlawed, and encreased the number.

Matthew 27:43. He said, I am the Son of God. This is equivalent to saying, “I and my Father are one.” John 10:30. Matthew 26:64.

Matthew 27:45. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land to the ninth hour, when the Saviour gave up the ghost into the hands of the Father. Of this darkness we have the testimony of Dionysius, in his seventh epistle to Polycarp, and in his eleventh epistle to Apollophanes. Several heathen writers also bear the same testimony.

Phlegon says, Anno quarto Olympiadis 202, fuit eclipsis solis omnium quæ ante innotuerunt maxima, et nox horâ diei sextâ facta est, ita ut stellæ in cœlo apparerent; magnus item terræmotus in Bithynia factus magnam partem Nicææ evertit. That is, “In the fourth year of the two hundred and second Olympiade, there was a total eclipse of the sun, the greatest ever known, which occasioned darkness from the sixth hour, and so great that the stars appeared in heaven; and at the same time a great earthquake in Bithynia, in which part of the city of Nice was destroyed.”

This darkness is also recorded by Thales; and Tertullian, in his apology, boldly appeals to the archives of the Romans, as containing the record of Phlegon; an event unknown before, that the sun in the midst of heaven should give this sign of obscuration. Likewise Apollophanes, then a gentile philosopher, having observed the darkness at the full moon, when a solar eclipse was impossible, writing to Suidas, said, Aut Divinitas patitur, aut compatitur ei qui patitur. “Either the divinity suffers, or sympathizes with him who suffers.” — Vide Poli Synop. See note on Luke 23:44.

Matthew 27:46. Why hast thou forsaken me? Our Saviour is thought to have suffered in his soul the anguish due to us. Hence, in the garden, his soul was sorrowful even unto death; for he felt the whole wrath of God against the human kind for sin. So RICHARD WARD. His humanity therefore complained, because help and succour were deferred. So URSINUS. Besides the mocking of the jews, he is supposed to have suffered all the horrible injections with which hell in the hour and power of darkness was permitted to assail his soul. Yet there was no momentary dissolution of the hypostatical union; nor can we say that inward solace or comfort was denied, for his confidence was retained, saying, my God, my God. Let believers learn of their dear Lord never to let go their confidence, for that is the anchor-hold. And, as he never forsook his servants in trouble, so we should never give up our hope of deliverance.

Matthew 27:50. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. The voice of expiring men dies away like the vibrating sound of a bell; but the Saviour’s voice was strong. His enemies had indeed done their worst, but no man, said our Lord, taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself. His death was voluntary, and he surrendered up his soul into his Father’s hands. His whole divinity was in that prayer, which left his body in the hands of men. His dying voice opened heaven, shook the earth, and awoke the dead. He rent the veil of the temple, and disclosed its mysteries to vulgar eyes; figurative that the veil of his flesh was now rent, that the sublime mysteries of faith stood disclosed, even life and immortality, and that the new and living way was opened for us to enter, following his flight into the holiest of all.

Matthew 27:51. The veil of the temple was rent in twain. Maimonides says, in the first temple there was a wall one cubit thick, separating the holy from the holy of holies. On building the second temple, it was doubted whether the thickness of that wall should belong to the holy, or to the holy of holies; they therefore hung up two veils at a cubit distance, and called it paraxis, or trouble. If the two veils remained in our Saviour’s time, they were both rent, and the holy of holies exposed to view, and just about the time of the day when the priest would be burning incense. This veil, St. Paul says, signified that the way into the holy place was not yet laid open, till Christ entered heaven by a new and living way; that is, by the rending of his flesh on the cross. Hebrews 9:8.

Matthew 27:52. Many bodies of the saints arose. These, says Ignatius, were the holy prophets, raised to live with Enoch and Elijah in the paradise of God. To help our weak faith God was pleased to do this, as a sort of firstfruits of the general resurrection.

Matthew 27:54. When the centurion and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and as Mark adds, that he gave up the ghost, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God. In the course of the day, they had understood his claims of divinity, and had mocked him in all his offices, as the prophet, priest, and king of Israel. Now the grandeur and terrors of his death, the earthquake, and the supernatural darkness, which could not proceed from an eclipse, it being then the full moon, drew these expressions from the centurion. Having learnt these words of the jews, they amount to a full confession of his Godhead, as in John 1:49. Thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel.

Matthew 27:55. Many women were there, beholding afar off, conformably to the modesty of the east, attesting all his agony of love, weeping in his tears, and dying in his death. A sight they would never forget, a sight we should always keep in view, and set Christ crucified before the eyes of the people. Galatians 3:1. Many men also who had stood aloof through fear, returned, smiting their breasts in anguish and grief: a cloud of witnesses attesting the love of God to fallen man.

Matthew 27:57-58. When the evening was come, as was the ancient law, Joshua 10:27, Joseph of Arimathea — went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus, the precious grain of wheat, whose resurrection produced a harvest of converts. Joseph buried him in his own new sepulchre, in which, as yet, no corpse had been interred. Nicodemus assisted in all those decencies of haste; for Christ crucified brings the dead to life: and thus without design made the evidences of his resurrection incontestible, by which he was declared to be the Son of God with power. Romans 1:4.

Matthew 27:66. They went and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch. God takes the wise in their own craftiness. All those precautions were collateral proofs of the Saviour’s resurrection. Death liberates from the persecutor’s arm, but malice operates unceasingly in the heart. Paradise and the tomb gave the Saviour repose, but a guilty conscience allowed no rest to his murderers. Their honour was now at stake; and if he had not risen they would have exposed his body to the public, as Achilles exposed the body of Hector around the walls of Troy.

REFLECTIONS.

We now follow the Lamb of God to see him set us an example in suffering, and to view him taking away the sin of the world. In every view we trace a wisdom and a temper worthy of his infinite dignity and glory. While Annas asked him of his doctrine and disciples, an officer, perceiving that Jesus answered with the dignity of a prophet, rather than the muttering of a felon, struck him. The Saviour explained to him his duty, to bear witness of evil, and not to strike, and left him to blush for his sin. This little circumstance marks the christian as possessing a superiority above all others.

The council or sanhedrim were ready in a nocturnal session, as wolves, to devour the Lamb. They sought for false witnesses, whose evidences, being political, would affect the Saviour’s life; but they found no such evidence. The highpriest therefore, more learned in wickedness than the temporal counsellors, adjured him in the name of God to say whether he was the Christ. This demand was contrary to every law of jurisprudence. It was unworthy of a minister of justice to urge it. But wrong as it was, the Lord confessed, and denied not, but said, Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

Here was truth in the fact, here was modesty in the expression, here was an affirmation that he inherited the glory which the jews had seen in the desert, and should inherit it for ever. Here was in short, a positive declaration of his Godhead; for it is written, My glory will I not give to another. So indeed the highpriest understood it, for he rent his robes at the presumed blasphemy, and persuaded the court to deliver him to Pilate as worthy of death; and yet this court agreed to keep silence before Pilate, and to forge charges of seditious expressions against Jesus. What incomparable wickedness! What sad fruits of rejecting the divine words and works of the Lord! Oh Caiaphas, thou hast rent thy robe, and God has rent the mitre from thy head, and from thy house; he has rent away the glory from thy people. Oh sanhedrim, you have taken counsel, deep as hell, against the Lord, and against his anointed; but he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at you, the Lord shall have you in derision. You shall come to nought, that the kingdom and the glory may revert to Jesus; and that you, reprobates by choice, may shortly be summoned to his high tribunal.

The morning came, the sun chased away the night; but ah, the darkness of that nocturnal guilt could never be removed. Jesus was early hurried before Pilate. The jews had power indeed to put thieves and murderers to death; but it would seem that the Romans in all cases reserved a right to judge state prisoners. Now in this prince we see a man of selfish policy, of weakness and fear, and a full portrait of embarrassment. He knew that the jews had delivered Jesus for envy; he saw it was not a political, but a religious affair; and therefore he sought to release him by impossible means, by a futile attempt to soften hearts which could not be softened. His weakness and indecision were perceived; and on being menaced with an appeal to Rome, instead of acting an independent part, he discovered the extreme of weakness and fear. He declared once and again, yea, three several times, that he found no fault in Christ. Yet to procure political repose, he scourged the innocent, and delivered him to die. Thus he foolishly procured the detestations of virtue, and an infinitude of pangs for his conscience.

In the flagellation or scourging of our blessed Lord, we may learn many lessons. We are healed by his stripes, and receive glory through his shame, when in reality all these indignities justly belonged to us for sin. Our Saviour, though apparently by the Roman custom of scourging criminals, was most significantly mocked in all his offices of prophet, priest, and king. He was crowned with thorns, arrayed in regal purple, and invested with the reed for a sceptre. But God, ever the advocate of innocence, converted them into real and immortal dignities. He crowned him with glory and honour, he arrayed him in the garments of majesty, and put a rod of iron into his hand, that he might rule the guilty nations. Yea, either for mercy or for judgment he will make every knee bow at the name of Jesus, and every tongue confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

We may next remark as the apostles do, the surpassing excellence of our Saviour’s temper before the council, and before Pilate. When he was smitten he threatened not, for punishment was due to us; when he was accused he answered nothing, for we were guilty; except when called upon, he witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate, and before the jews. Thus he has taught the suffering saints to commend their cause to God.

We must also observe, the dignity with which he died. He kept his eye on the accomplishment of prophecy; for that is the grand design of providence. He took care of his mother by recommending her to John. He pitied the ignorance and infatuation of his country, and prayed for the pardon of his enemies. He took care of the penitent thief. He, knowing that his work was finished, as Daniel had foretold, died with confidence — Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Thus he gave up life of his own accord, before the usual crisis of expiring nature. See farther Reflections on Mark 15.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 27:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/matthew-27.html. 1835.

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Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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