Matthew 27 – Jesus’ Trial, Death, and Burial
A. The death of Judas.
1. (1-2) Jesus is handed over to Pilate.
When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
a. All the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death: This was the official gathering of the Sanhedrin following the informal (and illegal) night session, also described in Luke 22:66-71. As Luke shows, this morning trial was essentially the same as the previous, informal examination.
i. “But as it was contrary to all forms of law to proceed against a person’s life by night, they seem to have separated for a few hours, and then, at the break of day, came together again, pretending to conduct the business according to the forms of law.” (Clarke)
b. They led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate: The Sanhedrin gave Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman appointed governor over Judea, because they did not have the authority to put Him to death.
i. “Pilate was in fact appointed prefect or procurator by Tiberius Caesar in A.D. 26. Prefects governed small, troubled areas; and in judicial matters they possessed powers like those of the far more powerful proconsuls and imperial legates; in short, they held the power of life and death.” (Carson)
ii. “The ordinary residence of procurators was Caesarea, on the sea coast, but it was their custom to be in Jerusalem at Passover time, with a detachment of soldiers, to watch over the public peace.” (Bruce)
iii. Philo, the ancient Jewish scholar from Alexandria, described Pilate: “His corruption, his acts of insolence, his rapine, his habit of insulting people, his cruelty, his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity.” (Barclay)
iv. The Jewish leaders had reason to expect a favorable result when they went to Pilate. Secular history shows us that he was a cruel, ruthless man, almost completely insensitive to the moral feelings of others. Surely, they thought, Pilate will put this Jesus to death.
v. Pilate would not be interested in the charge of blasphemy against Jesus, regarding that as a religious matter of no concern to Rome. So all the chief priests and elders essentially brought Jesus to Pilate with three false accusations: that Jesus was a revolutionary; that He incited the people to not pay their taxes; and that He claimed to be a king in opposition to Caesar (Luke 23:2).
2. (3-10) Judas’ miserable end.
Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the LORD directed me.”
a. Was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver: Judas was filled with remorse, not repentance. Even though he knew exactly what he did (I have sinned by betraying innocent blood), Judas was more sorry for the result of his sin than for the sin itself. There is a huge difference in being sorry about sin, and being sorry for sin.
i. By throwing the money into the temple (the “naos, properly the inner sanctuary, where only the priests were allowed to go” according to France), Judas wanted to implicate the priests in his crime. It was his way of saying, “You also are guilty of this.”
ii. “The act of a desperate man, determined that they should get the money, and perhaps hoping it might be a kind of atonement for his sin.” (Bruce)
iii. All this happened seeing that He had been condemned. “Perhaps Judas expected that Jesus would miraculously deliver himself from his captors; and when he saw that he was condemned, remorse seized him, and he carried back to his fellow criminals the reward of his infamy.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Innocent blood: “Judas had been with our Lord in public and in private; and if he could have found a flaw in Christ’s character, this would have been the time to mention it; but even the traitor, in his dying speech, declared that Jesus was ‘innocent.’” (Spurgeon)
b. It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood: The hypocrisy of the chief priests was transparent. They didn’t want to defile themselves with the price of blood, even though it was a price that they themselves paid.
i. The religious leaders treated their servant Judas badly. “Tempters never make good comforters. Those who are the devil’s instruments, to command, entice, or allure men to sin, will afford them no relief when they have come to be troubled for what they have done.” (Poole)
ii. “God, Deuteronomy 23:18, had forbidden to bring the price of a whore, or a dog, into the temple; this they had interpreted of all filthy gain.” (Poole)
iii. “The treasury, perhaps the source from which the money had been paid to Judas, would be the natural place to deposit money left in the temple, but its use as blood money made it unclean. A burial ground (itself an unclean place) would be a suitable use for it.” (France)
c. Went and hanged himself: In his unrepentant remorse and despair, Judas committed suicide. Being the son of perdition (John 17:12), we are assured he went to eternal punishment.
i. Some hold that Matthew’s account of Judas’ death is at variance with Acts 1:18-19, which says that Judas fell headlong into a field, burst open in the middle, and all his entrails gushed out. Most reconcile this by suggesting that Judas hanged himself, and then his body was cast down on the ground, bursting open.
ii. “If Judas hanged himself, no Jew would want to defile himself during the Feast of Unleavened Bread by burying the corpse; and a hot sun might have brought on rapid decomposition till the body fell to the ground and burst open.” (Carson)
d. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet: There has been much question about the quotation attributed to Jeremiah, because it is found in Zechariah 11:12-13. Matthew says the word was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, though we find it recorded in Zechariah.
i. Some think it could be a copyist error. Perhaps Matthew wrote Zechariah, but an early copyist mistakenly put Jeremiah instead, and this rare mistake was repeated in subsequent copies.
ii. Some think that Jeremiah spoke this prophecy and Zechariah recorded it – the word spoken by Jeremiah, but recorded by Zechariah.
iii. Some think that Matthew refers to scroll of Jeremiah, which included the book of Zechariah.
B. Jesus before Pilate.
1. (11-14) Jesus greatly impresses Pilate.
Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” So Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.
a. Now Jesus stood before the governor: History shows us Pontius Pilate was a cruel and ruthless man, unkind to the Jews and contemptuous of almost everything but raw power. Here, he seems out of character in the way he treated Jesus. Jesus seems to have profoundly affected him.
i. Matthew condenses the full account, telling us only of the second appearance of Jesus before Pilate. The first appearance before Pilate is described in Luke 23:1-6. Hoping to avoid making a judgment about Jesus, Pilate sent Him to Herod, the sub-ruler of Galilee (Luke 23:6-12). Jesus refused to say anything to Herod, so He returned to Pilate as here described in Matthew.
b. Are You the King of the Jews? When they brought Him to Pilate, the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of promoting Himself as a king in defiance of Caesar (Luke 23:2). They wanted to make Jesus seem like a dangerous revolutionary against the Roman Empire. Therefore, Pilate asked Jesus this simple question.
i. “The question reveals the form in which the Sanhedrists presented their accusation.” (Bruce)
ii. Of course, we can only wonder what Pilate thought when he first set eyes on Jesus, when he saw this beaten and bloodied Man before him. Jesus didn’t look especially regal or majestic as He stood before Pilate, so the Roman governor was probably sarcastic or ironic when he asked, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
iii. “Pilate was evidently not alarmed by the charge brought against Jesus. Why? Apparently at first glance he saw that the man before him was not likely to be a pretender to royalty in any sense that he need trouble himself about…The [you] in an emphatic position in verse 11 suggests this = You the King of the Jews!” (Bruce)
c. It is as you say: No majestic defense, no instant miracle to save His own life. Instead, Jesus gave Pilate the same simple reply He gave to the high priest (Matthew 26:64). This amazed Pilate; he asked, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” Pilate couldn’t believe that such a strong, dignified man – as beaten and bloody as He was – would stand silent at these accusations. The governor marveled greatly.
i. There is a time to defend one’s cause or one’s self, but those times are rare. When we rise to our own defense, we would usually be better off to keep silent and to trust God to defend us.
ii. Spurgeon explained why Pilate marveled greatly: “He had seen in captured Jews the fierce courage of fanaticism; but there was no fanaticism in Christ. He had also seen in many prisoners the meanness which will do or say anything to escape from death; but he saw nothing of that about our Lord. He saw in him unusual gentleness and humility combined with majestic dignity. He beheld submission blended with innocence.” (Spurgeon)
2. (15-18) Pilate hopes to release Jesus.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.
a. At the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished: Judging there was something different – and innocent – about Jesus, Pilate hoped this custom of releasing a prisoner might help solve the problem.
b. A notorious prisoner called Barabbas: Mark 15:7 tells us what made Barabbas notorious. He was one of several insurrectionists, who had committed murder in the insurrection. We would today regard a man like Barabbas as something like a revolutionary terrorist.
c. For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy: Pilate saw through the manipulative words of the religious leaders. He knew their motive was envy, not any other concern.
i. Because of envy: “Let it be remembered that malice as often originates from envy as it does from anger.” (Clarke)
3. (19-20) Pilate influenced by both his wife and the religious leaders.
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.
a. While he was sitting on the judgment seat: As Pilate sat in judgment of Jesus, he failed to give the accused justice. Pilate had all the evidence he needed to do the right thing – to release Jesus.
· He saw the strength and dignity of Jesus, and he knew this was no criminal or revolutionary.
· He knew that it was no just charge that brought Jesus before his judgment seat – it was only the envy of the religious leaders.
· He saw that Jesus was a man so at peace with His God that He didn’t need to answer a single accusation.
· He already declared Jesus an innocent man (I find no fault in this Man, Luke 23:4).
b. His wife sent to him, saying: In addition to all of these, Pilate also had a unique and remarkable messenger – his wife’s dream. We can only conjecture what she saw in this dream. Perhaps she saw Jesus, an innocent man, crowned with thorns and crucified. Maybe she saw Him coming in glory with the clouds of heaven. Maybe she saw Him at the Great White Throne of judgment, and she and her husband facing Jesus.
i. We know that the vision of Jesus in her dream made her suffer (I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him). “Whatever it was, she had suffered repeated painful emotions in the dream, and she awoke startled and amazed.” (Spurgeon)
ii. It was a remarkable occurrence. She awoke late in the morning, disturbed by the dream. She asked where her husband was, and her attendants told her that he was called away early to his business as a governor – the religious leaders of Jerusalem sent over a prisoner for judgment. Immediately, she asked a messenger to go to her husband with news of her dream.
iii. “Most dreams we quite forget; a few we mention as remarkable, and only now and then one is impressed upon us so that we remember it for years. Scarcely have any of you had a dream which made you send a message to a magistrate upon the bench.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Because of all this, there was a great urgency about her message to Pilate. She was bold to send it, and she implored him to simply having nothing to do with this man Jesus. “Let Him go. Send Him away. Don’t punish Him even a little.” It was an influence, a warning that he tragically ignored. All of this was God’s merciful message to Pilate; a merciful message that he rejected.
c. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus: The religious leaders knew the best way to influence Pilate. Not through his own judgment of Jesus, not through his wife, and not through the religious leaders themselves directly. The best way to push Pilate in a certain direction was by the voice of the multitudes.
i. Here is a man who knows the right thing to do – and knows it by many convincing ways. Yet he will do the wrong thing, a terrible thing, in obedience to the multitudes.
ii. “But this it appears they did at the instigation of the chief priests. We see here how dangerous wicked priests are in the Church of Christ; when pastors are corrupt, they are capable of inducing their flock to prefer Barabbas to Jesus, the world to God, and the pleasures of sense to the salvation of their souls.” (Clarke)
4. (21-23) The crowd demands the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus.
The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”
a. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” The voice of the crowd is not always the voice of God. The mob did not answer Pilate’s request for evidence or proof when he asked, “What evil has He done?” They only continued to shout for Jesus’ death. They called for more than His death – they called for Him to be executed by torture through crucifixion (“Let Him be crucified!”).
i. “The call Let him be crucified is remarkable on the lips of a Jewish crowd, for crucifixion was a Roman punishment, abhorrent to most Jews.” (France)
ii. They all said to him: “There were none in the crowd silently sympathizing with the Saviour; they all said, ‘Let him be crucified.’” (Spurgeon)
iii. When the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus, it reflected the fallen nature of all humanity. The name “Barabbas” sounds very much like son of the father. They chose a false, violent son of the father instead of the true Son of the Father. This prefigures the future embrace of the ultimate Barabbas – the one popularly called the Antichrist.
iv. “I impeach humanity again of the utmost possible folly; because, in crucifying Christ, it crucified its best friend. Jesus Christ was not only the friend of man, so as to take human nature upon himself, but he was the friend of sinners, so that he came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Spurgeon)
v. People today still reject Jesus and choose another. Their Barabbas might be lust, it might be intoxication, it might be self and the comforts of life. “This mad choice is every day made, while men prefer the lusts of their flesh before the lives of their souls.” (Trapp)
b. They said, “Barabbas!” If anyone knew what it meant that Jesus died in his place, it was Barabbas. He was a terrorist and a murderer, yet he was set free while Jesus was crucified. The cross Jesus hung on was probably originally intended for Barabbas.
i. We can imagine Barabbas, in a dark prison cell with a small window, waiting to be crucified. Through the window he could hear the crowd gathered before Pilate, not far away from the Fortress Antonia where he was imprisoned. Perhaps he could not hear Pilate ask, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” But surely he heard the crowd shout back, “Barabbas.” He probably could not hear Pilate’s one voice ask, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” But he certainly heard the crowd roar in response, “Let Him be crucified.” If all Barabbas heard from his cell was his name shouted by the mob, then the “Let Him be crucified,” when the soldiers came to his cell, he surely thought it was time for him to die a tortured death. But when the soldiers said, “Barabbas, you are a guilty man – but you will be released because Jesus will die in your place,” Barabbas knew the meaning of the cross better than most. We wonder if he ever took it to heart.
5. (24-25) Pilate tries to avoid responsibility for Jesus’ fate.
When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
a. When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all: It was out of character for Pilate to bend this way to the religious leaders and the crowd. He could have chosen differently.
b. He took water and washed his hands before the multitude: Pilate washed his hands saying, “It’s out of my control. Personally I wish this Jesus no harm, but these things happen.” Yet the power and responsibility of what to do with Jesus rested with him. Saying “I find no fault in Him” was not enough. Looking for a clever solution in releasing a prisoner at Passover was no solution. Washing his hands was meaningless. Therefore he could not escape responsibility, and is forever associated with the crime of sending Jesus to the cross, echoed through history in the creeds (crucified under Pontius Pilate).
i. “Oh, the daring of Pilate thus in the sight of God to commit murder and disclaim it. There is a strange mingling of cowardliness and courage about many men; they are afraid of a man, but not afraid of the eternal God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Spurgeon)
c. I am innocent of the blood of this just Person: Hidden in Pilate’s attempt at self-justification is a declaration of Jesus’ innocence. When he called Jesus “this just Person,” he admitted that Jesus was the innocent man – not Pilate. Just because Pilate said “I am innocent” doesn’t mean that he was innocent.
i. Strangely, in later periods of Christian anti-Semitism, some Christians tried to rehabilitate Pilate, wanting to put all the blame on the Jews. Some even said that Pilate and his wife became Christians, and “to this day the Coptic Church ranks both Pilate and his wife as saints.” (Barclay)
d. His blood be on us and on our children: They really had no understanding of what they asked for. They didn’t understand the glory of Jesus’ cleansing blood, and how wonderful it would be to have His blood…on us and on our children. They also didn’t understand the enormity of the crime of calling for the execution of the sinless Son of God, and the judgment that would be visited on their children some forty years later in the destruction of Jerusalem.
i. This is one of the passages wrongly used as a justification by wicked and misguided Christians who persecuted or allowed persecution of the Jews. They did not understand that even if this did put these people and their descendants under a curse, it was never the duty of the church to bring this curse to bear upon the Jews. Indeed, as God promised Abraham, I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you (Genesis 12:3). Those Christians wicked and foolish enough to curse the Jews have indeed been cursed by God in one way or another.
C. The suffering of Jesus Christ.
1. (26) Scourging: a customary prelude to crucifixion.
Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.
a. When he had scourged Jesus: The blows came from a whip with many leather strands, each having sharp pieces of bone or metal at the ends. It reduced the back to raw flesh, and it was not unusual for a criminal to die from a scourging, even before crucifixion.
i. “Scourging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt.” (Dr. William Edwards in the article “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” from the Journal of the American Medical Association, 3/21/86)
ii. The goal of the scourging was to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse and death. “As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive the cross.” (Edwards)
iii. “The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.” (Edwards)
b. When he had scourged Jesus: Commonly the blows of scourging would lessen as the criminal confessed to his crimes. Jesus remained silent, having no crimes to confess, so the blows continued with full strength.
2. (27-31) Jesus is beaten and mocked.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.
a. Gathered the whole garrison around Him: They only needed a regular group of four soldiers – called a quaternion – to carry out the execution. Yet they gathered the whole garrison around Him. It wasn’t to prevent His escape. It wasn’t to prevent a hostile crowd from rescuing Him. It wasn’t to keep the disciples away.
i. “Take heed of sinning in a crowd. Young man, abandon the idea that you may sin in a crowd. Beware of the notion that, because many do it, it is less a guilt to any one of them.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The soldiers of the governor were auxiliaries, not Roman legionaries, and would be recruited from non-Jewish inhabitants of the surrounding areas (e.g. Phoenicians, Syrians, perhaps Samaritans).” (France)
iii. Garrison: “The detachment is called a speira; in a full speira there were six hundred men. It is not likely that there were as many as that in Jerusalem. These soldiers were Pilate’s bodyguard who accompanied him from Caesarea, where his permanent headquarters were.” (Barclay)
iv. Praetorium: “Called so from the praetor, a principal magistrate among the Romans, whose business it was to administer justice in the absence of the consul. This place might be termed in English the court house, or common hall.” (Clarke)
b. Mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Everything about this was intended to humiliate Jesus. The Jewish rulers had already mocked Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 26:67-68). Now the Roman powers mocked him as king.
· They stripped Him: When a prisoner was crucified, they were often nailed to the cross naked, simply to increase their humiliation. Jesus hasn’t been crucified yet, but His humiliation had begun, and He was publicly stripped.
· Put a scarlet robe on Him: Kings and rulers often wore scarlet, because the dyes to make fabrics that color were expensive. The scarlet robe was intended as cruel irony.
· They had twisted a crown of thorns: Kings wear crowns, but not crowns of torture. The specific thorn-bushes of this region have long, hard, sharp thorns. This was a crown that cut, pierced, and bloodied the head of the King who wore it.
· A reed in His right hand: Kings hold scepters, but glorious, ornate scepters that symbolize their power. In their mockery of Jesus, they gave Him a scepter – but a thin, weak reed.
· They bowed the knee before Him: Kings are honored, so they offered mocking worship to this King.
· “Hail, King of the Jews!” Kings are greeted with royal titles, so in their spite they mocked Jesus with this title. It was meant to humiliate Jesus, but also the Jews – saying, “This is the best King they can bring forth.”
i. We might say that in contrast, Jesus says to the kings and rulers of this age that their crowns are false and their scepters are reeds.
ii. We can also decide to do the opposite of what these did to Jesus. “Oh, that we were half as inventive in devising honor for our King as these soldiers were in planning his dishonor! Let us offer to Christ the real homage that these men pretended to offer him.” (Spurgeon)
c. Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head: They now shifted from mockery to cruelty. They seized the ironic scepter, took off the mock-royal robe, and began to hurl their spit and their fists at the head of Jesus.
i. “They spat on him and used the staff, the symbol of his kingly authority, to hit him on the head ‘again and again’ (cf. the imperfect tense of the verb).” (Carson)
ii. Even the hands that drove the nails into His hands unto the cross did only what they were commanded to do. Yet they spat in His face just for the pleasure of doing it. “But, my brethren bad as man is, methinks he never was so bad — or rather, his badness never came out to the full so much — as when gathering all his spite, his pride, his lust his desperate defiance, his abominable wickedness into one mouthful he spat into the face of the Son of God himself.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Even in this, Jesus stood in the place of sinners. Rebellious man wants to be a king, yet he is a sorry kind of king. Even so, Jesus endured the mocking kind of royalty that man, left to himself, is capable of.
iv. It is possible for us to mock Jesus today by the way we live. “You have mocked him by a feigned worship, and thus you have put the purple robe upon him. For that purple robe meant that they made him a nominal king, a king who was not in truth a king, but a mere show. Your Sunday religion, which has been forgotten in the week, has been a scepter of reed, a powerless ensign, a mere sham. You have mocked and insulted him even in your hymns and prayers, for your religion is a pretense, with no heart in it; you brought him an adoration that was no adoration, a confession that was no confession, and a prayer that was no prayer. Is it not so?” (Spurgeon)
v. Spurgeon wondered how Matthew heard of this crown of thorns and the mocking that went along with it. He wonders if it was not one of the soldiers that was later converted and came to faith in Jesus. “Our Lord’s marred but patient visage preached such a sermon that one at least who gazed upon it felt its mysterious power, felt that such patience was more than human, and accepted the thorn-crowned Savior as henceforth his Lord and his King.”
d. And led Him away to be crucified: The march to the place of crucifixion was useful advertising for Rome. It warned potential troublemakers that this was their fate should they challenge Rome. Normally a centurion on horseback led the procession, and a herald shouted the crime of the condemned.
i. “The criminal was led to the scene of crucifixion by as long a route as possible, so that as many as possible might see him and take warning from the grim sight.” (Barclay)
ii. As Jesus was led away to be crucified, He was – like most victims of crucifixion – forced to carry the wood He would hang upon. The weight of the entire cross was typically 300 pounds. The victim only carried the crossbar, which weighed anywhere from 75 to 125 pounds. When the victim carried the crossbar, he was usually stripped naked, and his hands were often tied to the wood.
iii. The upright beams of a cross were usually permanently fixed in a visible place outside of the city walls, beside a major road. It is likely that on many occasions, Jesus passed by the very upright He would hang upon.
iv. When Jesus said, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me (Matthew 16:24), this is exactly the scene He had in mind. Everyone knew what the cross was – an unrelenting instrument of death and only death. The cross wasn’t about religious ceremonies; it wasn’t about traditions and spiritual feelings. The cross was a way to execute people. But in these twenty centuries after the death of Jesus, we have sanitized and ritualized the cross. How would we receive it if Jesus said, “Walk down death row daily and follow Me”? Taking up your cross wasn’t a journey; it was a one-way trip. There was no return ticketing; it was never a round trip.
3. (32-34) On the way to Golgotha (in Latin, Calvary).
Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.
a. A man of Cyrene, Simon by name: This man was probably a visitor to Jerusalem, there as a faithful Jew to celebrate the Passover. Visiting Jerusalem, he was far from Cyrene in North Africa (some 800 miles/1300 kilometers away).
b. Him they compelled to bear His cross: Simon knew little if anything about this Jesus, and had no desire to be associated with this Man who was condemned to die as a criminal. Yet the Romans ruled, and Simon was not given a choice. Him they compelled to bear His cross. Perhaps he was chosen because he was an obvious foreigner and more conspicuous in the crowd.
i. Wonderfully, we have reason to believe that Simon came to know what it really meant to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus. There is some evidence to suggest that his sons became leaders among the early Christians (Mark 15:21 and Romans 16:13).
ii. “How easy it would have been to carry the cross had he known Jesus as he came to know Him afterwards!” (Meyer)
c. A place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull: There was a specific place outside the city walls of Jerusalem, yet still very close, where people were crucified. At this Place of a Skull Jesus died for our sins, and our salvation was accomplished.
i. Golgotha – in Latin, “Calvary” (Luke 23:33) means “Place of a Skull.” It was called that because it was the established place where criminals were crucified. As a place of cruel, humiliating death it was outside the city walls, yet likely on a well-established road. It may also be that the hill itself had a skull-like appearance, as is the case with the site in Jerusalem known as Gordon’s Calvary.
d. They gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink: It was customary to give those about to be crucified a pain-numbing and mind-numbing drink, to lessen their awareness of the agony awaiting them. But Jesus refused any numbing drug. He chose to face the spiritual and physical terror with His senses awake.
i. “The wine would be the sour wine or posca used by Roman soldiers. In Mark Jesus declines the drink, apparently without tasting, desiring to suffer with a clear mind.” (Bruce)
4. (35a) Jesus is crucified.
Then they crucified Him,
a. They crucified: We have yet to see an accurate, full depiction of crucifixion in modern media. If it were ever made, it would be limited to adult audiences, because of its intense horror and brutality.
i. The Bible spares us the gory descriptions of Jesus’ physical agony, simply stating “then they crucified Him.” This is because everyone in Matthew’s day was well acquainted with the terror of crucifixion, but especially because the greater aspect of Jesus’ suffering was spiritual, not physical
ii. “It originated in Persia; and its origin came from the fact that the earth was considered to be sacred to Ormuzd the god, and the criminal was lifted up from it that he might not defile the earth, which was the god’s property.” (Barclay)
iii. In 1986, Dr. William Edwards wrote a remarkable article in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association titled “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.” Following are some of the observations of Dr. Edwards and his associates. The quotations belong to the article, and much of the other text is paraphrased from the article.
iv. “Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering.”
v. The victim’s back was first torn open by the scourging, then opened again as the congealing, clotting blood came off with the clothing that was removed at the place of crucifixion. When thrown on the ground to nail the hands to the crossbeam, the wounds were again opened, deepened, and contaminated with dirt. With each breath attached to the upright cross, the painful wounds on the back scraped against the rough wood of the upright beam and were further aggravated
vi. Driving the nail through the wrist severed the large median nerve. This stimulated nerve caused bolts of fiery pain in both arms, and often resulted in a claw-like grip in the victim’s hands.
vii. Beyond the severe pain, the major effect of crucifixion inhibited normal breathing. The weight of the body, pulling down on the arms and shoulders, tended to lock the respiratory muscles in an inhalation state, thus hindering exhalation. The lack of adequate respiration resulted in severe muscle cramps, which hindered breathing even further. To get a good breath, one had to push against the feet and flex the elbows, pulling from the shoulders. Putting the weight of the body on the feet produced more pain, and flexing the elbows twisted the hands hanging on the nails. Lifting the body for a breath also painfully scraped the back against the rough wooden post. Each effort to get a proper breath was agonizing, exhausting, and led to a sooner death.
viii. “Not uncommonly, insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim, and birds of prey would tear at these sites. Moreover, it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross to be devoured by predatory animals.”
ix. Death from crucifixion could come from many sources: acute shock from blood loss; being too exhausted to breathe any longer; dehydration; stress-induced heart attack; or congestive heart failure leading to a cardiac rupture. If the victim did not die quickly enough, the legs were broken, and the victim was soon unable to breathe.
x. A Roman citizen could not be crucified except by direct order of Caesar; it was reserved for the worst criminals and lowest classes. No wonder that the Roman statesman Cicero said of crucifixion: “It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is an act of wickedness; to execute him is almost murder: What shall I say of crucifying him? An act so abominable it is impossible to find any word adequately to express.” The Roman historian Tacitus called crucifixion “A torture fit only for slaves” – fit only for them because they were seen as sub-human.
xi. How bad was crucifixion? We get our English word excruciating from the Roman word “out of the cross.” “Consider how heinous sin must be in the sight of God, when it requires such a sacrifice!” (Commentator Adam Clarke)
b. Then they crucified Him: It is significant to remember that Jesus did not suffer as the victim of circumstances. He was in control. Jesus said of His life in John 10:18, no one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. It is terrible to be forced to endure such torture, but to freely choose it out of love is remarkable. Can we ever rightly doubt God’s love for us again? Has He not gone to the most extreme length to demonstrate that love?
5. (35b-37) The Roman soldiers at the crucifixion of Jesus.
And divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:
“They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.”
Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
a. Divided His garments, casting lots: Jesus lost even His clothing at the cross. He was nailed to the cross as a naked, humiliated man.
i. Jesus came all the way down the ladder to accomplish our salvation. He let go of absolutely everything – even His clothes – becoming completely poor for us, so we could become completely rich in Him.
b. That it might be fulfilled: Yet even in all this sin, pain, agony, and injustice God guided all things to His desired fulfillment. It may seem that Jesus has no control over these events. Yet the invisible hand of God guided all things, so that specific prophecies were specifically fulfilled.
c. Sitting down, they kept watch over Him: This was to prevent someone from rescuing Jesus from the cross. “Men were known to have lived after being taken down from a cross.” (Carson)
d. THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS: In John 19:21 we read that the religious leaders among the Jews objected to this title. They felt it was false, because they did not believe that Jesus was the King of the Jews. They also believed it was demeaning, because it showed Rome’s power to humiliate and torture even the “King of the Jews.” Yet Pilate would not alter this, and when asked to take down the inscription he answered, What I have written, I have written (John 19:22).
i. “The written charge (or titulus) was normally carried before a criminal on the way to execution, or hung around his neck, and would then be fixed to the cross, thus reinforcing the deterrent effect of the punishment.” (France)
ii. “Over his head perhaps indicates that Jesus’ cross was of the traditional t-shape, rather than the T-shape frequently used.” (France)
6. (38-44) Jesus is mocked on the cross.
Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.
a. Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left: In His crucifixion, Jesus stood right in the center of sinful humanity. With the mockery of the criminals, the rejection of Jesus by His people is complete. Even criminals rejected Him.
i. “The Jews placed him between these two, perhaps to intimate that he was the worst felon of the three.” (Clarke)
ii. One of these robbers repented and trusted in Jesus, and one did not (Luke 23:39-43).
b. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads: In the midst of His staggering display of love, Jesus was not honored. Instead, He was blasphemed and His enemies sneered, saying, “Save Yourself. If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
i. “Nothing torments a man when in pain more than mockery. When Jesus Christ most wanted words of pity and looks of kindness, they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Significantly, they mocked Jesus for who He really was and is.
· They mocked Him as a Savior.
· They mocked Him as a King.
· They mocked Him as a believer who trusted in God.
· They mocked Him as the Son of God.
iii. They acted as if Jesus did what they said, they would believe Him. Yet it is precisely because He did not save Himself that He can save others. Love kept Jesus on the cross, not nails! Jesus did greater than come down from the cross; He rose from the dead, yet they did not believe even then.
iv. Jesus also showed us how we should regard the scorn and mocking of this world – that is, to not regard it at all. “Scorn! Let us scorn scorn. Does the world laugh at us? Let us laugh at the world’s laughter, and say to it, ‘Dost thou despise us? It is not one half as much as we despise thee. Our fathers despised thy sword, O world, thy dungeons, thy racks, thy gibbets, thy stakes, and dost thou think that we shall tremble at thy scoffs, and jeers?’” (Spurgeon)
c. Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing: There were many low points to Jesus’ ordeal on the cross, but this is surely one of the lowest. Even among the three crucified men, Jesus was put in the “lowest” position.
i. This was the peak of God’s love for man: to endure this for our salvation. But it was also the summit of man’s hatred for God; God came to earth, and this is what man did to Him.
ii. Jesus had to suffer this alone, outside the gate. He was cut off from the community; both so we could be joined to His community, and also so that our experiences of isolation can be redeemed and made into opportunities of fellowship with Him.
D. The death of Jesus.
1. (45) An unusual darkness on the land.
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.
a. Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour: From the Roman reckoning of time, this was approximately from 12:00 noon until 3:00 in the afternoon. This unusual darkness lasted for some three hours, much longer than any natural eclipse.
i. This was not the entire time Jesus was on the cross, but the later part of that time. According to Mark 15:25 and 15:34, we can surmise that Jesus hung on the cross for about 6 hours (approximately between 9:00 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon).
ii. The first three hours of Jesus’ ordeal on the cross were in normal daylight, so that all could see that it was in fact Jesus on the cross, and not a replacement or an impostor.
iii. This darkness was especially remarkable because it happened during a full moon – during which time Passover was always held – and during a full moon it is impossible that there be a natural eclipse of the sun.
b. There was darkness over all the land: The remarkable darkness all over the earth showed the agony of creation itself in the Creator’s suffering.
i. “The darkness is the symbol of the wrath of God which fell on those who slew his only begotten Son. God was angry, and his frown removed the light of day…The symbol also tells us what our Lord Jesus Christ endured. The darkness outside of him was the figure of the darkness that was within him. In Gethsemane a thick darkness fell upon our Lord’s spirit.” (Spurgeon)
ii. There was contemporary evidence for this unusual darkness. “Origen (Contra Celsus, ii,33) and Eusebius (Chron.) quoted words from Phlegon (a Roman historian) in which he made mention of an extraordinary solar eclipse as well as of an earthquake about the time of the crucifixion.” (Geldenhuys in his commentary on Luke)
iii. Phlegon, Roman historian wrote: “In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was an extraordinary eclipse of the sun: at the sixth hour, the day turned into dark night, so that the stars in heaven were seen; and there was an earthquake.” (Cited in Clarke)
2. (46-49) Jesus cries out to the Father in agony.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”
a. My God, My God:In quoting Psalm 22, Jesus declared His fulfillment of that prophecy, in both its agony and in its exultation. The Psalm continues to say, You have answered Me. I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You (Psalm 22:21b-22).
i. “The probability is that Jesus spoke in Hebrew. It is no argument against this that the spectators might not understand what He said, for the utterance was not meant for the ears of men.” (Bruce)
ii. “Cried (anaboao, used only here in the New Testament) is a strong verb indicating powerful emotion or appeal to God.” (France)
iii. “This is, remarkably, the only time in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus addressed God without calling him ‘Father’.” (France)
b. Why have You forsaken Me? Jesus had known great pain and suffering (both physical and emotional) during His life. Yet He had never known separation from His Father. At this moment, He experienced what He had not yet ever experienced. There was a significant sense in which Jesus rightly felt forsaken by the Father at this moment.
i. “His one moan is concerning his God. It is not, ‘Why has Peter forsaken me? Why has Judas betrayed me?’ These were sharp griefs, but this is the sharpest. This stroke has cut him to the quick.” (Spurgeon)
ii. At this moment, a holy transaction took place. God the Father regarded God the Son as if He were a sinner. As the Apostle Paul would later write, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
iii. Yet Jesus not only endured the withdrawal of the Father’s fellowship, but also the actual outpouring of the Father’s wrath upon Him as a substitute for sinful humanity.
iv. Horrible as this was, it fulfilled God’s good and loving plan of redemption. Therefore Isaiah could say, Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him (Isaiah 53:10).
v. At the same time, we cannot say that the separation between the Father and the Son at the cross was complete. Paul made this clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself at the cross.
vi. “I even venture to say that, if it had been possible for God’s love towards his Son to be increased, he would have delighted in him more when he was standing as the suffering Representative of his chosen people than ever he had delighted in him before.” (Spurgeon)
c. Why have You forsaken Me? The agony of this cry is significant. It rarely grieves man to be separated from God or to consider that he is a worthy object of God’s wrath, yet this was the true agony of Jesus on the cross. At some point before He died, before the veil was torn in two, before He cried out it is finished, an awesome spiritual transaction took place. God the Father laid upon God the Son all the guilt and wrath our sin deserved, and He bore it in Himself perfectly, totally satisfying the wrath of God for us.
i. As horrible as the physical suffering of Jesus was, this spiritual suffering – the act of being judged for sin in our place – was what Jesus really dreaded about the cross. This was the cup – the cup of God’s righteous wrath – that He trembled at drinking (Luke 22:39-46, Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15). On the cross, Jesus became, as it were, an enemy of God who was judged and forced to drink the cup of the Father’s fury. He did it so we would not have to drink that cup.
ii. Isaiah 53:3-5 puts it powerfully: He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
iii. “His Father now dried up that sacred stream of peaceful communion and loving fellowship which had flowed hitherto throughout his whole earthly life…We lose but drops when we lose our joyful experience of heavenly fellowship; and yet the loss is killing: but to our Lord Jesus Christ the sea was dried up — I mean his sea of fellowship with the infinite God.” (Spurgeon)
iv. We can imagine the answer to Jesus’ question: Why? “Because My Son, You have chosen to stand in the place of guilty sinners. You, who have never known sin, have made the infinite sacrifice to become sin and receive My just wrath upon sin and sinners. You do this because of Your great love, and because of My great love.” Then the Father might give the Son a glimpse of His reward – the righteously-robed multitude of His people on heaven’s golden streets, “all of them singing their redeemer’s praise, all of them chanting the name of Jehovah and the Lamb; and this was a part of the answer to his question.” (Spurgeon)
v. Knowing this agony of the Son of God on the cross should affect how we see sin: “O sirs, if I had a dear brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I valued the knife which had been crimsoned with his blood? – If I made a friend of the murderer, and daily consorted with the assassin, who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart? Surely I, too, must be an accomplice in the crime! Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it?” (Spurgeon)
d. This man is calling for Elijah: Sadly, Jesus was misunderstood and mocked until the bitter end. These observers thought it was all an interesting test case to see if Elijah would actually come.
i. As Jesus hung on the cross, His listeners misunderstood Him by taking the part for the whole. He said, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Not only did they get wrong what they heard (Jesus said, “Eloi” not “Elijah”), but they also only heard one word of what He said. This will not do for the true follower of Jesus; we hear not only one word from Jesus, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
ii. One of the first things we know about Jesus was that He was misunderstood. When Joseph and Mary left Him behind at Jerusalem, they didn’t understand that He had to be about His Father’s business. Now at the end of His earthly ministry, He is also misunderstood on the cross.
iii. Jesus knew what it was to have His motives misunderstood. He healed people, and others said He did it by the devil. He reached out to sinners, and people called Him a drunken pig. The followers of Jesus also sometimes have their motives misunderstood.
iv. Jesus knew what it was to have His words misunderstood. He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again,” no doubt motioning towards His own body as He said it. Still, people insisted that He spoke of the literal temple in Jerusalem. Another time He knew Lazarus was dead, and He told others that Lazarus was sleeping. They misunderstood Jesus and thought He meant Lazarus was getting much-needed rest. The followers of Jesus sometimes have their words misunderstood.
v. Jesus knew what it was to have His silence misunderstood. When He first appeared before Pilate, Pilate sent Him off to Herod. When Herod questioned Jesus, He didn’t say a word. Herod misunderstood the silence of Jesus and saw it as weakness and powerlessness. Herod was blind to the power and dignity in the silence of Jesus. The followers of Jesus also sometimes have their silence misunderstood.
3. (50) The death of Jesus.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
a. Jesus cried out again with a loud voice: Most victims of crucifixion spent their last hours in complete exhaustion or unconsciousness before death. Jesus was not like this; though tremendously tortured and weakened, He was conscious and able to speak right up to the moment of His death.
i. “The Fathers found in the loud cry a proof that Jesus died voluntarily, not from physical exhaustion. Some modern commentators, on the contrary, regard the cry as the utterance as one dying of a ruptured heart.” (Bruce)
ii. John 19:30 tells us that Jesus said, “It is finished,” which is one word in the ancient Greek – tetelestai, which means, “paid in full.” This was the cry of a winner, because Jesus fully paid the debt of sin we owed, and finished the eternal purpose of the cross.
b. And yielded up His spirit: No one took Jesus’ life from Him. Jesus, in a manner unlike any other man, yielded up His spirit. Death had no righteous hold over the sinless Son of God. He stood in the place of sinners, but never was or became a sinner Himself. Therefore He could not die unless He yielded up His spirit.
i. As Jesus said, I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. (John 10:17-18)
ii. “Every man, since the fall, has not only been liable to death, but has deserved it; as all have forfeited their lives because of sin. Jesus Christ, was born immaculate, and having never sinned, had not forfeited his life, and therefore may be considered as naturally and properly immortal.” (Clarke)
iii. “He gave up his life because He willed it, when He willed it, and as He willed it.” (Augustine)
4. (51-56) The immediate results of Jesus’ death.
Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
a. The veil of the temple was torn in two: The veil was what separated the holy place from the most holy place in the temple. It was a vivid demonstration of the separation between God and man. Notably, the veil was torn from top to bottom, and it was God who did the tearing.
i. “As if shocked at the sacrilegious murder of her Lord, the temple rent her garments, like one stricken with horror at some stupendous crime.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Acts 6:7 says that in the days of the early church, a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. Perhaps this torn veil demonstrated to them the greatness of the work of Jesus. It is also probably how the torn veil became common knowledge.
iii. “It is not a slight rent through which we may see a little; but it is rent from the top to the bottom. There is an entrance made for the greatest sinners. If there had only been a small hole cut through it, the lesser offenders might have crept through; but what an act of abounding mercy is this, that the veil is rent in the midst, and rent from top to bottom, so that the chief of sinners may find ample passage!” (Spurgeon)
b. The earth quaked, and the rocks were split: Nature itself was shaken by the death of the Son of God.
i. “Men’s hearts did not respond to the agonizing cries of the dying Redeemer, but the rocks responded: the rocks were rent. He did not die for rocks; yet rocks were more tender than the hearts of men, for whom he shed his blood.” (Spurgeon)
ii. There should probably be a break between the end of Matthew 27:51 and the start of Matthew 27:52. We aren’t to suppose that the earthquake that happened and split rocks during the crucifixion also opened graves of some of the righteous dead; who waited in those open graves for three days until coming out of the graves after His resurrection. It is better to understand that Matthew intended us to see that the earthquake happened on the day Jesus was crucified. Then, on the day He was revealed as resurrected, the radiating power of new life was so great that it resuscitated some of the righteous dead.
c. Coming out of the graves after His resurrection: This is one of the strangest passages in the Gospel of Matthew. We don’t know about this event from any other source, and Matthew doesn’t tell us very much. So we really don’t know what this was all about, but apparently these resuscitated saints died once again, because they were raised from the dead in the sense that Lazarus was – not to resurrection life, but to die again.
i. They were raised, “Not to converse again, as heretofore, with men, but to accompany Christ, that raised them, into heaven; and to be as so many ocular demonstrations of Christ’s quickening power.” (Trapp)
ii. “These first miracles wrought in connection with the death of Christ were typical of spiritual wonders that will be continued till he comes again – rocky hearts are rent, graves of sin are opened, those who have been dead in trespasses and sins, and buried in sepulchers of lust and evil, are quickened, and come out from among the dead, and go unto the holy city, the New Jerusalem.” (Spurgeon)
d. Truly this was the Son of God! The scene at the crucifixion of Jesus was so striking that even a hardened Roman centurion confessed that this was the Son of God. This man had supervised the death of perhaps hundreds of other men by crucifixion, but he knew there was something absolutely unique about Jesus.
i. This was the Son of God: The only thing wrong is his verb tense; Jesus isthe Son of God. The Roman centurion seemed to assume that He was no longer the Son of God.
ii. “There are those that think that these soldiers, our Saviour’s executioners, were truly converted by the miracles they had seen, according to what Christ had prayed for them, Luke 23:34.” (Trapp)
e. And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar: Jesus not only made an impact upon rough and hardened men like the Roman centurion, but He also made an impact on women, even women like Mary Magdalene (the formerly demon-possessed woman who followed Jesus from Galilee, according to Luke 8:2).
i. Many women: “To their everlasting honour, these women evidenced more courage, and affectionate attachment to their Lord and Master, than the disciples did, who had promised to die with him rather than forsake him.” (Clarke)
ii. Think of who was there at the cross.
· Men and women.
· Jews and Gentiles.
· Rich and poor.
· High class and no class.
· Religious and irreligious.
· Guilty and innocent.
· Haters of Jesus and lovers of Jesus.
· Oppressors and the oppressed.
· Weepers and mockers.
· Educated and uneducated.
· The deeply moved and the indifferent.
· Different races, different nationalities, different languages, different classes.
iii. “That mixed crowd was surely a prophecy. All sorts and conditions of men have been attracted by that Cross.” (Morgan)
E. The burial of Jesus.
1. (57-61) Joseph of Armithea sets Jesus in his own tomb.
Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.
a. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus: Customarily, the bodies of crucified criminals were left on their crosses to rot or to be eaten by wild animals. But the Jews wanted no such horror displayed during the Passover season, and Romans were known to grant the corpses of executed men to friends or relatives for proper burial.
b. He wrapped it in a clean linen cloth: Joseph followed the burial customs of that day – the best he could, considering that they had very little time because the Sabbath drew near (Luke 23:54).
c. Laid it in his new tomb: He came into the world from a virgin’s womb; He came forth again from a virgin tomb. No body had ever been set in that tomb, so that when a body came forth and the tomb was empty, there was no possible confusion as to which body came forth.
i. “It was a new tomb, wherein no remains had been previously laid, and thus if he came forth from it there would be no suspicion that another had arisen, nor could it be imagined that he rose through touching some old prophet’s bones, as he did who was laid in Elisha’s grave.” (Spurgeon)
d. He rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb: This was the customary way to seal an expensive tomb. A rich man like Joseph of Arimethea probably had a tomb carved into solid rock; this tomb was in a garden near the place of crucifixion (John 19:41). The tomb would commonly have a small entrance and perhaps one or more compartments where bodies were laid out after being somewhat mummified with spices, ointments, and linen strips. Customarily, the Jews left these bodies alone for a few years until they decayed down to the bones, then the bones were placed in a small stone box known as an ossuary. The ossuary remained in the tomb with the remains of other family members.
i. The door to the tomb was typically made of a heavy, circular shaped stone, running in a groove and settled down into a channel, so it could not be moved except by several strong men. This was done to ensure that no one would disturb the remains.
ii. He rolled a large stone: “The usual mode of shutting the door of the tomb; the Jews called the stone golal, the roller.” (Bruce)
iii. John 19:42 specifically tells us that the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea that Jesus was laid in was close to the place of Jesus’ crucifixion (and each of the two suggested places for Jesus’ death and resurrection bear this out). Joseph probably didn’t like it that the value of his family tomb decreased because the Romans decided to crucify people nearby – yet it reminds us that the in God’s plan, the cross and the power of the resurrection are always permanently and closely connected.
iv. Tombs like this were very expensive. It was quite a sacrifice for Joseph of Arimathea to give his up – but Jesus would only use it for a few days!
2. (62-66) The tomb is sealed and guarded.
On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.
a. Sir: They gave Pilate a title of honor and respect. But the day before these same religious leaders rejected the King of Kings. They mocked and despised Him, putting Jesus to open shame, but they honored Pilate.
i. On the next day: “It must mean that the chief priests and Pharisees actually approached Pilate on the Sabbath with their request. If they did that, it is clear to see how radically they broke the Sabbath Law.” (Barclay)
b. We remember…how that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise”: Ironically, the enemies of Jesus remembered His promise of resurrection better than His own disciples remembered.
c. While He was still alive: In this, the enemies of Jesus admit that Jesus is dead. They did not believe the “Swoon Theory,” a conjecture that denies the resurrection, saying that Jesus never really died, but just “swooned” on the cross, and then somehow wonderfully revived in the tomb.
i. A humorous letter to the editor to a Christian magazine accurately evaluated the “Swoon Theory”:
Dear Eutychus: Our preacher said, on Easter, that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered
Dear Bewildered: Beat your preacher with a cat-of-nine-tails with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his heart; embalm him; put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens. Sincerely, Eutychus
d. Lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away: They couldn’t have been afraid of the disciples. They knew they were terrified and in hiding. They knew they were gone from the crucifixion scene. Their intelligence sources and informants let them know the disciples were terrified. Instead, they were afraid of the power of Jesus.
i. After all, look at their words: And say to the people, “He has risen from the dead.” If that were to happen, why not just say to the disciples, “So where is Jesus? Produce the supposedly living body of your risen Lord!” They knew that it would do nothing for the disciples to steal the body of Jesus, because they could not present a dead body and pretend it was alive. That would prove nothing. What they were really afraid of was the resurrection power of Jesus.
ii. It is sad that the religious leaders were afraid of the resurrection power of Jesus, but at least they believed it was true. On Saturday morning, the chief priests and the Pharisees preached a better resurrection sermon than the disciples did.
iii. “Justin says that such stories were still being actively disseminated in the middle of the second century (Dialogues 108). The fact of such propaganda in itself indicates that it could not be denied that the tomb was empty; what was questioned was how it came to be empty.” (France)
e. Command that the tomb be made secure… you have a guard… make it as secure as you know how: This shows that both the Jewish leaders and the Romans were well aware of the need to guard the tomb, and that they took all necessary measures to secure it. These security measures simply gave greater testimony to the miracle of the resurrection. If Jesus’ tomb was unguarded, one might suggest that an unknown person or persons stole the body, and it would be difficult to refute. Yet because the tomb was so well guarded, we can be certain that His body wasn’t stolen.
i. You have a guard was Pilate’s promise to supply a Roman guard. “It is unlikely that the Jews would have needed Pilate’s permission at all to deploy their own police; moreover the word for guard is (uniquely in the New Testament) a transliteration of the Latin word custodia. It is therefore more likely that it was Pilate’s troops who were used; the Jewish leaders are going for maximum security.” (France)
ii. “Vain men! As if the same power that was necessary to raise and quicken the dead could not also remove the stone, and break through the watch they had set. But by their excessive care and diligence, instead of preventing Christ’s resurrection, as they intended, they have confirmed the truth and belief of it to all the world.” (Poole)
f. Sealing the stone and setting the guard: This describes the measures taken to secure the tomb of Jesus.
i. The tomb was secured by astone, which was a material obstacle. These stones were large, and set in an inclined channel. This was a real obstacle. For sure, the stone could not be rolled away from the inside. The disciples, if you had enough of them, could roll away the stone – but not quietly. Besides, they would have to work together to roll it away, and that didn’t seem likely.
ii. The tomb was secured by a seal, which was an obstacle of human authority. The seal was a rope, overlapping the width of the stone covering the entrance to the tomb. On either side of the doorway, there was a glob of wax securing the rope over the stone. You could not move the rock without breaking the seal. It was important that the guards witness the sealing, because they were responsible for whatever was being sealed. These Roman guards would watch carefully as the stone was sealed, because they knew their careers, and perhaps their lives, were on the line. The Roman seal carried legal authority. It was more than yellow tape barricading a modern crime scene; to break a Roman seal was to defy Roman authority. That stone was secured by the authority of the Roman Empire.
iii. The tomb was secured by a guard, which was an obstacle of human strength. A typical Roman guard had four soldiers. Two watched while the others rested. This guard may have had more. The soldiers would be fully equipped – sword, shield, spear, dagger, armor. We should also remember that these were Roman soldiers. They didn’t care about Jesus or Jewish laws or rituals. They were called to secure the tomb of a criminal. To them the only sacred thing at this tomb was the Roman seal, because if that were broken, their careers were ruined and they might be executed themselves. Soldiers cold-blooded enough to gamble over a dying man’s clothes were not the kind of men to be tricked by trembling disciples, or would not jeopardize their necks by sleeping at their post.
iv. None of these obstacles mattered. They all fall away before Him!
· Material obstacles don’t stand before the resurrected Jesus.
· Human authority doesn’t stand before the resurrected Jesus.
· Human strength doesn’t stand before the resurrected Jesus.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission