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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 27

 

 

Verses 1-66

All night the Lord Jesus had been subjected to the persecution of the Jewish council. Now early in the morning, determined that He might be put to death as soon as possible, they bring Him bound to the Roman governor, Pilate. Roman law did not allow the Jews to pass a death sentence (John 19:6-7), so they were urgent in their demand that Pilate should take this responsibility.

It seems that Judas had thought that the Lord would have no difficulty in delivering Himself from the power of the Sanhedrin, whether by supernatural power (as in Luke 4:30) or by the fact that no charge of evil against Him could possibly be sustained. The unhappy man sees that Jesus is condemned, and power is all on the side of the chief priests and elders. He is smitten with remorse at the thought of how awful his guilt has been. Taking the thirty pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders, he confessed to them his sin in having betrayed innocent blood. But they show only contempt for him: they have used him: what do they care for him now ?

However, the despairing man shows no repentance of faith. He does not go to the Lord Himself , but evidently going unlawfully into the temple, he threw his money down, then went out to commit suicide by hanging. Peter adds to this (Acts 1:18) that he fell headlong and all his bowels gushed out. The rope by which he hung himself must have broken. Acts 1:25 further tells us, "Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place." Solemn end of one who chose to be a deceiver and traitor!

The chief priests, though in moral character unscrupulous, can be most scrupulous in regard to the use of this blood-money. They buy with it the potter's field in which to bury strangers. This refers no doubt to Gentile proselytes, whom the chief priests considered on a lower level than Jews, even though they compassed sea and land to make one proselyte (Ch.23:15). But there is a more ominous prophetic meaning here then they realize. Since that time the Gentile world itself has become a potter's field in which to bury Jews scattered as strangers to the ends of the earth. Jews themselves have virtually purchased it with the price of the blood of Christ. God is the great Potter, who is accomplishing His own work in His people by this means, Israel being figuratively dead and buried during the present age, yet in view of a national resurrection.

The field was then called "the field of blood," a solemn testimony to the blood-guiltiness of Israel in reference to their Messiah! As to this, Jeremiah's prophecy is said to be fulfilled, which speaks, not only of Judas, but of Israel estimating their Messiah's value at thirty pieces of silver. But in exchange they have themselves received the potter's field, the field of blood! This was by the appointment of Jehovah, in sovereign, righteous government.

Before the governor the Lord answers the question as to who He is, the King of the Jews; but to the many accusations of the chief priests and elders He answered nothing. There was no reason to do so, for they could sustain no charge, and Pilate himself recognized all their charges as not worth considering. Yet he does not understand the Lord's remaining silent, for he knew that the first natural impulse of men is to defend themselves. He cannot but be deeply impressed by the calm dignity of one so viciously accused: he marvelled greatly.

Thinking to find a way out, Pilate introduced another element at this point. The Romans had adopted a custom of releasing a prisoner of the people's choice at the Passover feast, no doubt with the object of currying the people's favour He proposes then a choice between Christ and a notorious prisoner named Barabbas, whom Mark says was a rebel and a murderer (Mark 15:7). The suggestion of course was unjust, for Christ should have been released apart from this.

Pilate was convinced in his own mind and conscience that the Jews demanded judgment against Jesus because of their own envy. Besides this, a most unlikely witness adds a solemn warning to Pilate. His own wife sends a message to him, urging him to refrain from having any part in judgment as regards "that just Man." God had sent her a deeply disturbing dream because of Him. Actually this only confirmed what he knew already. Why did he not then silence the unjust accusations of the Jews, and dismiss the case? The answer appears to be that he feared that his own position might be threatened if he did so (John 19:12-16).

The unprincipled chief priests and elders use their influence to persuade the crowd to ask for the release of a man who was a danger to all society and demand the death of One whose grace had been a marvellous blessing to their nation! No doubt Pilate was surprised at this grossly perverted sense of justice, and asked them what Jesus had done to call for His crucifixion. They have no answer to this, but cry our unreasoningly, clamouring for his blood.

Now the unjust judge, unable to control the tumult, washes his hands in water publicly, pronouncing himself to be innocent of the blood of the Man he acknowledges to be just. The people respond with an answer of terrible import, which has since haunted the nation for centuries: "His blood be upon us, and on our children."

Yet how can Pilate think this releases him from responsibility? Utterly weakened by the strength of popular opinion, he is guilty of passing the sentence of crucifixion. Can a man do evil and absolve himself by declaring that he does not accept the responsibility for doing it? He released Barabbas, but also added to his guilt in scourging Jesus before His crucifixion. This may have been an effort to satisfy the Jews without condemning Him to death (Cf. John 19:1-4), but Matthew only states the fact. Pilate's temporising only involved him in greater guilt.

However, we are now to see added to this the cold-hearted wickedness of the Roman soldiers (the whole band) venting its spite against their Creator. They would not have done the same to a guilty criminal, but One who is manifestly innocent and just they take advantage of in the most hateful way. This expresses just what is in the heart of man toward God.

In mockery they clothe Him as a king, but His crown woven of thorns, the symbol of the curse, little as they understood His own willing bearing of the curse of God on account of man's sins (Galatians 3:13). Their mockery too is accompanied by contempt, as they dare to spit upon the blessed Lord of glory; and violence also as they strike Him on the head. Can we imagine what dread dismay will be theirs when they see this same Man of sorrows sitting in judgment upon them?

Part of the way He had borne His own cross (John 19:17), but Simon, a man of Cyrene, was then commandeered to do so. Yet we must not trust the assumption of some who have imagined that Jesus fainted beneath the load: this is merely imagination. However, Simon illustrates the fact that there is a sense in which believers may bear the cross of Jesus. The world virtually forces it on us; for if we take our stand with Him, we shall feel the keen edge of the world's rejection (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 6:14).

At Golgotha, before raising Him up on the cross, they give Him vinegar to drink, but mingled with gall. He tasted it first before refusing it. Of course He know what it was before tasting it, but by tasting it He let His enemies know that He was not merely defiantly refusing something to drink, but was refusing it because of the stupefying gall added to it. He would bear His sufferings without this, and in full consciousness of all that was involved, not only in what men inflicted, but of the far deeper sufferings of being made a curse of God.

The soldiers crucify Him and part His garments among them by lottery. While the world hates Him personally, it will gladly make merchandise of His pure character and habits, of which His garments speak: indeed, most false religions do this. This fulfils Psalms 22:18.

Sitting down to gloat over their deed of horrible iniquity, they watch Him, taking morbid pleasure in His sufferings and no doubt hoping in vain to see some sign of moral weakening on the part of this unusually patient Sufferer.

The superscription over the cross was written by Pilate in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (John 19:19-21). The words are reported a little differently in each language, or it may be that each writer quoted only that part of the words that specially suited the theme of his Gospel. In this case the entire message would be, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." He is crucified between two guilty men, "numbered with the transgressors."

Not content with all that has been done to Him, the people add the venom of abusive tongues. At the very time they are destroying the temple of His body (John 2:19-21) they mock at this prophecy of His, though He would certainly raise it up in three days. If He had come down from the cross when they spoke, the prophecy could not have been fulfilled. Chief priests, scribes and elders continue their vicious abuse also. They do publicly admit, "He saved others," which was something they had not done, but they are totally blind to the fact of why He would not save Himself from dying.

Their mockery is directed against the two vital truths of His being King of Israel and Son of God. But because of these very facts, He was the only one who could, by His death of sacrifice, accomplish the redemption which Israel and all mankind needed. Giving Himself, in the greatest, most gracious sacrifice of love imaginable, He had no-one there to admire the wonder of His pure, amazing love, for even believers were only crushed and saddened by His sufferings and death, while unbelievers heaped upon Him mockery, scorn and contempt. The robbers crucified with him, in spite of their own imminent death, join the sour chorus. In Luke 23:1-56 we read that even here the grace of God intervened to awaken and lead one robber to repentance and faith, but Matthew does not record this.

From the sixth hour (noon) God brings darkness over all the land for three hours. It is reported that the Jews afterward smugly spoke of this as God's expressing His displeasure with Christ personally, thereby justifying their unholy rejection of Him. How far from the truth they were! Indeed, no-one, not even His most devoted disciples, understood what this awesome darkness involved. At the end of this, how piercing and heart-rending is His cry of utter abandonment, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In those hours of darkness He had borne in solitary anguish the full weight of the terrible wrath of God in judgment against sin and against our sins. This was for deeper, for greater than natural thought can estimate, for only this could atone for the awful scourge of sin and the guilt of men's sins. In lowly, wondrous submission He had gone to the cross, a willing sacrifice, moved by pure love and grace, yet understood by no-one at the time.

Likely it was Romans who thought He called for Elias (Elijah), for Jews would know their own language better then that. Neither Luke nor John mention His cry of abandonment, but John records His saying, "I thirst" (John 19:20), at which time the vinegar was given to Him, so that He must have said this immediately after His loud cry. After all His suffering they will still not give Him water, but the bitter vinegar. What they had witnessed already ought to have been enough to subdue men's hearts in wonder at the way in which He had borne their cruelty, and at His truth and grace so shining out at such a time.

Contrary to what might be expected from an exhausted victim of crucifixion, the Lord again cried out with a loud voice. John tells us His words at this time, "It is finished," which is said to be only one triumphant word in the Greek language His two loud cries were intended for all the universe to hear, the last declaring the perfect completion of His work of redeeming grace. He did not die of exhaustion therefore: He laid down His life. Luke tells us that He said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," with which words He yielded up His spirit (Luke 23:46).

Immediately there are signs undeniably from God. The veil of the temple being torn in two from the top to the bottom is most significant. The veil is typical of "His flesh" (Hebrews 10:20). As soon as His flesh was rent in death, God bore witness of the value of this matchless death, the rending being from above. While still living, His flesh, as the veil, barred the way into the holiest for anyone else. Only His death could make the way into the holiest manifest. Through that veil, as being rent, believers are invited to enter with boldness today (Hebrews 10:19-20). Apart from its being rent, they could not dare to do this. Wonderful testimony to the ritualistic Jews!--for their ritual was certainly interrupted by this miraculous intervention of God. We are not told what the chief priests did about this.

A severe earthquake also caused rocks to be broken and graves to be opened. At the very time when the Lord's body was taken to be buried and sealed in a closed tomb, there were many graves that had been opened. Was this not a forewarning to the effect that the grave could not retain the body of the Lord? These graves remained open until the third day, when, after the Lord's resurrection many bodies of the saints a rose and came out of their graves, going into Jerusalem to appear to many. They must have been those of that present generation, who had been known, and therefore this was a striking testimony to the value of the death of Christ. His death and resurrection lays a foundation that assures the resurrection of all the dead, whether to eternal blessing or to eternal judgment. These raised at this time were saints, not unbelievers. They appeared unto many. What happened to them after that Is not stated, but the language does not sound as if they remained.

The earthquake and other occurrences so impress the centurion in charge of the execution, and others with him, that they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God." If this confession came from their hearts, then they will be welcomed in heaven by this same sufferers In spite of their involvement In His crucifixion.

Particularly mentioned by the Spirit of God here are the "many women" who come with Him from Galilee. Watching from a distance, whose devoted affections are no doubt precious to God, three of them specifically singled out.

God had already wrought in the heart of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, of whom we do not read before, to stir him to request the body of Jesus. Evidently the apostles were so stunned and weakened that the remained no energy of faith in them to do anything. The faith of Joseph is most refreshing, specially since we read in Mark and Luke that he was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50), an honourable man who had not consented to the council's condemnation of Christ. Of course he would expose himself to the censure and contempt of the chief priests and elders, for this was a bold step to identify himself with Christ crucified, which would bring him into their permanent disfavour. Nicodemus, who came also, is mentioned only in John. The body, wrapped in a clean linen cloth, is laid in a new tomb prepared for Joseph himself, cut out in the rock. A great stone, evidently also previously prepared, was rolled over the entrance. No mention is made of any of the apostles being near, but two devoted women, both named Mary, were watching near by.

The day following the crucifixion the chief priests and Pharisees, remembering the Lord's words that He would rise again the third day, approached Pilate, urging that the grave should be sealed to prevent the disciples of the Lord Jesus from stealing His body and claiming that He was raised from the dead. This of course was the Sabbath, but they conveniently forget their zeal for keeping it holy. The Lord had told them that they would kill Him: that prophecy came true. He had also told them He would rise again the third day. They were afraid that prophecy also might come true, so they were determined to prevent it! As to the disciples' stealing His body away, they themselves had totally forgotten His words that He would rise again, and they had no slightest inclination to take away His body: they were at the time utterly weak and defeated.

Pilate tells the chief priests and elders to take care of the matter themselves. Is there not the ring of irony and doubt in his words when he tells them, "make it as sure as ye can?" For he had seen such spiritual power in the Lord Jesus in contrast to the chief priests that he evidently despised their precautions. They however seal the stone and set a watch, that is, four soldiers of the Sanhedrin in turn, around the clock. They defeat their own ends in doing so, for the watch was there to witness the startling events attending His resurrection.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 27:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/matthew-27.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, September 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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