From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 15 to 28                           Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Matthew

 

(Volume 2:  Chapters 27 to 28)

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

 

 

 

To “Legalize” Jesus’ Murder, He Is Delivered to the Roman Governor (Matthew 27:1-2):  1 When it was early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to execute him.  They tied him up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

            27:1     When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.   By the time the roosters had crowed (26:75), it was near morning and the preceding meeting broke up.  Reconvening a little later (an hour or two?) allowed them to meet the Talmudic requirement that the formal vote to convict had to be held at a different meeting than the one that examined the evidence.  They also needed to discuss among themselves the best manner to assure that He was actually executed:  Establishing a (more or less) “legal” excuse to execute Him had been difficult enough; now they also needed to discuss the best strategy to assure that the Romans could be convinced to carry out their wishes. 

            Need we even mention that keeping Him under arrest until after the festival was not a viable option?  Viewing the supporters of Jesus as just as prone to violence as themselves--mixed perhaps with a tinge of conscious guilt--it would have been easy for them to imagine outraged thousands storming the facility to release Him.  If they wished to be sure to pull off this travesty of justice, they had to do so before there was time for a protest to develop.     H

 

            27:2     And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.  Pontius Pilate, the only one with the actual authority to carry out the execution they sought, had been governor since 25 or 26 A.D.  He served in the post a decade until summoned to Rome to have his brutal actions against the Samaritans reviewed.  Banished to a different posting, he committed suicide in 39 A.D.

            Sidebar:  Pilate’s tenuous relationship with Jewish opinion.  His administration had already, prior to our Lord’s trial, been marked by a series of outrages on Jewish feelings.  (1)  He had removed the headquarters of his army from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and the troops brought their standards with the image of the emperor into the Holy City.  The people were excited into frenzy, and rushed in crowds to Caesarea to implore him to spare them this outrage on their religion.  After five days of obstinacy and a partial attempt to suppress the tumult, Pilate at last yielded (Jos. Ant. xvii. 3, §§ 1, 2; Wars, ii. 9, §§ 2-4).

            “(2)  He had hung up in his palace at Jerusalem gilt shields inscribed with the names of heathen deities, and would not remove them till an express order came from Tiberius (Philo, Leg. ad Caium, c. 38).

            “(3)  He had taken money from the Corban, or treasury of the Temple, for the construction of an aqueduct.  This led to another tumult, which was suppressed by the slaughter not of the rioters only, but also of casual spectators (Jos. Wars, ii. 9, § 4).

            “(4)  Lastly, on some unknown occasion, he had slain some Galileans while they were in the very act of sacrificing (Luke 13:1), and this had probably caused the ill-feeling between him and the tetrarch Antipas mentioned in Luke 23:12.  It is well to bear in mind these antecedents of the man, as notes of character, as we follow him through the series of vacillations which we now have to trace.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

 

A Guilt Ridden Judas Hangs Himself (Matthew 27:3-10):  Now when Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus had been condemned, he regretted what he had done and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!”  But they said, “What is that to us?  You take care of it yourself!”  So Judas threw the silver coins into the temple and left.  Then he went out and hanged himself.

The chief priests took the silver and said, “It is not lawful to put this into the temple treasury, since it is blood money.”  After consulting together they bought the Potter’s Field with it, as a burial place for foreigners.  For this reason that field has been called the “Field of Blood” to this day.  Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: They took the thirty silver coins, the price of the one whose price had been set by the people of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

           

            27:3     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.  The guilt of betrayal finally hits home in Judas.  What he had done was not merely a quick way to make some money.  It wasn’t even a quick way to force Jesus’ hands to compel Him to make a grab for power in the land--assuming that even entered Judas’ mind.  Perhaps there had been assurances that they “merely” wanted to arrest Jesus and, perhaps, imprison Him for a while like John the Baptist.  The speculation is endless. 

            But whatever the true and complete background, Judas was now overcome with remorse seeing that the officials had decided upon the death penalty and were taking Jesus to Pilate to pressure him into carrying it out.  For him to have reacted this strongly argues that actual execution was something that had not been in his mind.  Somehow it wasn’t supposed to happen.

 

            27:4     saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  And they said, “What is that to us?  You see to it!  Multiple Old Testament passages indicted Judas’ behavior, as he clearly was aware.  Accepting a bribe was forbidden (Deuteronomy 16:19; Psalm 15:4-5).  In light of the judicial murder being attempted, it is quite likely that the ritual exchange recorded in Deuteronomy 27:25 weighs heavily on his mind as well:  “ ‘Cursed is the one who takes a bribe to slay an innocent person.’  And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ”

            None of this meant anything to them.  Being good, cold, bloodless, soulless bureaucrats this did not concern them at all.  If he had a problem with what happened, let him take care of it.

 

            27:5     Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.  By this point, the hatred of them and of himself must have been radiating out of him.  But there is constructive guilt and destructive guilt and he chose the later.  Rather than allowing remorse and culpability to motivate a new life, he let it drive him to suicide.  Understandable, yes, yet the kind of guilt that does neither the person any good nor anyone else.  It gained him immortality of a sort.  But who wants to be the “spiritual Benedict Arnold” of all history?

 

            27:6    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.”  The priests were not about to let good money lie around when it was returned.  On the other hand it would not have been appropriate to put it in the treasury since it had paid for blood.  (But somehow it was right to pay it out of the treasury for such a purpose!)  So they faced a dilemma what to do with it.

            Sidebar:  Their quite natural conclusion was a rabbinic deduction reasonably based on the precedent of Deuteronomy 23:18:  You shall not bring the wages of a harlot or the price of a dog [colloquialism for a male prostitute] to the house of the Lord your God for any vowed offering, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.”  Hence the money earned in blatant evil was morally disqualified from being accepted.  There was an inherent absurdity in the pure and holy (= Temple) being supported by the dishonorable and discreditable.

 

            27:7      And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.  We don't know how long their discussion took but since it was (rightly) regarded as blood money, they surely wanted it off the premises as quickly as possible.  After discussing the matter, the consensus was to buy a field where they could bury people who died in the city while visiting from other places.  (At the annual festivals, people came from all over the known world, especially for Passover.)  This would do a positive good and reduce or remove the expenses of whoever had to take care of such unfortunates who died without anyone to take care of their burial. 

            However since it was blood money that was used to make the purchase, one can’t help but suspect that there was an intentional slight and contempt involved as well:  something had to done for the “undeserving poor and outcast.”  What better way to both

do a constructive good and show contempt for those who needed it than by using money from such a contemptible source?  (Especially if the location was used partly for Gentiles.)

 

            27:8     Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  The wording shows that a goodly amount of time (years, perhaps longer) had passed since the original purchase.  And the graveyard had retained the nickname of “Field of Blood” out of the memory of where the funds had come from.  And the text doesn’t just say that Christians called it this (out of memory of how it was purchased, literally, with the money for Christ's blood); it leaves the impression that this was the general designation at the time--arguing for the interpretation we suggested in verse 7. 

            Sidebar:  Although the priests carried out the purchase, they were regarded as agents of Judas in doing so:  Under Jewish Law such [unholy] money must be restored to the donor; if circumstances rendered this impossible, or the offerer insisted on giving it, it was to be expended for some public object, the original owner being considered, by a legal fiction, to be its possessor still, and that which was paid for by the money being deemed as his gift to the community (compare Acts 1:18, ‘This man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity’).”  (Pulpit Commentary)

 

            27:9-10     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, 10 and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”  The prophet had spoken of someone being purchased for thirty pieces of silver and how this amount was also used in connection with a potter’s field.  The verbal image fit well with what had happened with the possible exception of the purchase being “as the Lord directed me” (verse 10).  The working out of such a Divine element is only mentioned in the quotation and is omitted in the Matthewean narrative describing how it came about. 

            On the other hand if the betrayal and death are viewed as the work of God--utilizing the evil motives of mankind for its ultimate redemption--then it would not be illogical for the author to view the purchase of the property as similarly growing out of the Lord’s intent and direction.  On the level of human consciousness, the motives for all this is entirely different, but God utilizes them for His own purposes and intents at the same time.

            Sidebar on the origin of the prophecy:  Oddly enough this “Jeremiah” prophecy seems to have been adapted (call it paraphrased or adopted into a Targum form--the latter targeting the needs of the Aramaic speaking population) from Zechariah 11:12-13:  Then I said to them, ‘If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.’  So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.   And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’—that princely price they set on me.  So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter.”

            This contains key elements but doesn’t quite fully match up.  Hence some have speculated that other wording is included or adapted from Jeremiah.  In that source we read of the command to Jeremiah to go down to a potter’s house to teach (18:2), which involved going “to the Valley of the son of Hinnom,” which is where Judas’ purchased land is commonly believed to have been at (19:1-2).  The prophet is commanded to buy a piece of land and assure the preservation of the record (32:8-14).  By itself this also doesn’t quite match what we would expect if this were the root source of what Matthew quotes.     

            Hence it is argued that these two verses blend together material from both Zechariah and Jeremiah.  If so, Jeremiah is probably the only one specifically mentioned because of his statue and prominence. 

            Another popular scenario is that Jeremiah was then regarded as the first of the prophetic section--i.e., prophets who wrote prophecy rather than recorded history.  As such the reference means, essentially, “it is written in the prophets.”  

 

 

Pilate Is Puzzled by Jesus’ Behavior at the Trial Since His Life Is At Stake (Matthew 27:11-14):  11 Then Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.”  12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he did not respond.  13 Then Pilate said to him, “Don’t you hear how many charges they are bringing against you?”  14 But he did not answer even one accusation, so that the governor was quite amazed.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            27:11     Now Jesus stood before the governor.  And the governor asked Him, saying, Are You the King of the Jews?”  Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”  The fact that the question is asked shows that Pilate had already been informed of the accusation.  In Luke 23:2 we find that this was one of three charges lodged against Him:  We found this fellow (1) perverting the nation, and (2) forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that (3) He Himself is Christ, a King.”   

            The fact that Pilate wants to hear the response of the accused shows he is not blindly going to accept the claims of the accusers.  On the other hand, even if Jesus had actually been making such a claim, the last thing Pilate would have expected was an open admission such as this.  Yet Jesus quietly confesses that the charge is correct--at least literally and verbally.  But this is without factoring in the fact that it is a spiritual kingdom and that the “citizens” He is seeking are volunteers rather than the conquered.

 

            27:12     And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.  It was a potentially explosive admission He had given since such could be easily taken in a political sense and as evidence of the man being an insurrectionist.  To drive home the worst possible interpretation He was repeatedly accused of misconduct by the Jewish leaders.  In Luke 23:5 we find that they overplayed their hand:  He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.”  If this had been true, would not Pilate’s own sources have passed along earlier reports?  Yet there is not even a denial of any of the accusations that are now flowing freely and fast--nothing that the governor can invoke in His behalf even though he is deeply suspicious of His critics’ motives!        

           

            27:13     Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?”  These were the most important religious power brokers of the land and He was going to stand there without defending Himself--especially upon life-threatening charges like these?

 

            27:14     But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.  The norm is for desperate men to say something to defend themselves even if it is nothing but lies and misrepresentation.  But this Jesus refuses to say anything, which had to strike Pilate as extremely odd indeed—especially since even a modestly perceptive listener to the words of His critics would recognize that the governor was deeply skeptical of what they were saying. 

            Pilate’s willingness to risk the ongoing hostility of the religious leaders was unquestionably limited.  He knew full well that just as there were ways for him to make their lives difficult, there were also ways they could do the same to him and his ease of administration.  But this case clearly annoyed him and he was being given nothing to work with to help this innocent Man.  Nor to defy those seeking His death. 

            Sidebar:  Part of the description of the coming Messiah in Isaiah 53 is this very silence:  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (verse 7).

 

 

Pilate Offers to Free Barabbas in an Effort to Divert the Rage at Jesus (Matthew 27:15-26):  15 During the feast the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner to the crowd, whomever they wanted.  16 At that time they had in custody a notorious prisoner named Jesus Barabbas.  17 So after they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Christ?”  18 (For he knew that they had handed him over because of envy.)

19 As he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent a message to him: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man; I have suffered greatly as a result of a dream about him today.  20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.  21 The governor asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”  And they said, “Barabbas!”  22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?”  They all said, “Crucify him!” 2 3 He asked, “Why? What wrong has he done?”  But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but that instead a riot was starting, he took some water, washed his hands before the crowd and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.  You take care of it yourselves!”  25 In reply all the people said, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”  26 Then he released Barabbas for them.  But after he had Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            27:15     Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  How many years he had been doing it, how the prisoner was selected, how many more years the custom continued afterwards we have no idea.  In non-Biblical literature the custom is not referred to at all and, therefore, presumably must have been one that was not continued by others.  However, on its own merits, it obviously offered any governor that chose to use it, a “pressure valve” he could yield to the people while barely touching the full extent of his own governing power.  Furthermore doing so at the time of the Passover (John 18:39) conveyed an obvious symbolism:  Just as death “passed over” the ancient Israelites as a group, now death “passed over” some particular individual Israelite.

 

            27:16     And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  There are prisoners and there are infamous prisoners.  Every society makes the distinction.  This Barabbas fell into the extreme category for he was a “notorious” one awaiting execution.  He had been thrown in jail for an attempted insurrection in Jerusalem and had committed murder during it (Luke 23:19).  This included robbery--assuming that λῃστής has that meaning rather than “insurrectionist” when used of him (John 18:40), as it does in John 10:1.  The details of his offenses are not presented but the reason for his infamy can easily be grasped. 

 

            27:17     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?”  The fact that the governor was even willing to consider such a trade off argues that he considered Barabbas too extreme an alternative even for their tastes.  Which also implies that his conduct had been such that under normal circumstances the religious power brokers would have looked upon the public as “deaf, dumb, and blind” in making such a choice.  Common sense cried out “let Jesus go,” but self-centered institutional prejudice guaranteed that they would refuse to listen to it and torpedo any interest of their supporters.

            Remember that though technically this was an appeal to the mob that was the audience (verse 20), since this was the mob they had arranged--at such an absurdly early hour to be present!--it was one that they would have great influence over.  These weren’t just idle passersbys at such an hour.  They were far from a representative sample of the population at large.  Yet from Pilate’s standpoint, this still represented the best chance to split off the loud followers from their priestly leaders.

 

            27:18     For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.  Pilate had adopted a definite opinion of what was going on; he diagnosed the situation as one where pure “envy” of Jesus’ success had motivated the prosecution (“envious hatred,” Weymouth; “out of self-interest,” NIV).  He doesn’t demand that they like Jesus; only that they exercise common sense when faced with these two alternatives.  Unfortunately for justice it wasn’t available any longer:  rage, bias, and hatred had “turned off” that capacity.

 

            27:19     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.”  Here enters a personal motive for hesitancy to act:  His wife had sent him word that she had seen terrible things happen in a dream and that they were somehow related to this Jesus.  The mythmaker could easily run with such a tantalizing passing remark.  Matthew simply records the oddity and leaves the details in the unwritten pages of history. 

            Was it a miracle?  Some post-Biblical traditions claim that she was even a proselyte and would have had an automatic interest in Jewish things for that reason.  Or was the dream conjured up simply out of kind words about Jesus--note that He is not described as supernatural or anything like it but is still honored with the respectful term “just”?  Kind words spoken perhaps by an underling on their household staff and the knowledge that her husband was to try Him?  If one has to have an opinion, it was far more likely the latter since God has never been much for miracles with no purpose and since it was part of the Divine purpose--painful as it was--that Jesus needed to die for the redemption of the human race. 

 

            27:20     But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.  Pilate’s perceptive plan falls to pieces, but the common sense reasoning that it was far better that an irresponsible troublemaker died clearly had a strong appeal:  The priestly leaders had to work to “persuade” them to stick with the execution of Jesus.  They were a crowd assembled at a very early hour--certainly only those who were regarded as reliably pro-religious bureaucracy supporters were recruited! 

            What arguments were used to turn the crowd?  Reminders of who they owed loyalty to?  Who was paying for their presence?  Whatever the rhetorical tools, they win out.  They would rather a dangerous man be free to hurt or kill again than to let an innocent one--howbeit “heretic,” from their standpoint--walk the streets alive.

 

            27:21     The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”  Being so physically close, he has surely heard the disagreements and arguing.  After time has been granted for them to work out their preferences, Pilate again throws out his question. . . .

 

            27:22     Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”  They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”  Technically the governor hasn’t asked “which of the two should be crucified,” but only “which of the two should be freed?”  Now he grabs that very narrow difference and offers the implicit opportunity for them to urge that Jesus also be set at liberty.  Having been pressured into following the Sanhedrin line on Barabbas, however, they promptly endorse the death of Jesus.  The one who deserves death is to be freed; the one who has done nothing criminal is to be punished. 

            The story is rewritten every year in one country or another and often many times.  But in this case the innocent one was not merely innocent of a particular charge but innocent of any legitimate accusation of misconduct completely. 

 

            27:23     Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”  But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”  Pilate wants a punishable crime--a good reason for a man to die.  He wants an outright “evil” that this Man is guilty of . . . not merely annoying the religious establishment.  Ah, but lynch mobs aren’t all that concerned with guilt or innocence.  They merely “know” what “needs” to be done and demand that everyone fall in line without protest or thinking.  So they vehemently cry out that Jesus should die.

 

            27:24     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.  Pilate perceived by now that he was not going to be able to win this argument and that there was a real danger of a major riot ensuing.  Being a good politician he avoids the riot.  He literally washes his hands of the situation and tells them that this innocent blood is not his responsibility but should be on them.  This bothers the mob--for surely by this point it has degenerated from a mere crowd--not in the least. . . .

 

            27:25     And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”  Mobs say stupid things and this one does too.  They cry out their willingness to accept full responsibility.  So certain are they that Jesus is dangerous.  So certain are they that He is an unacceptable heretic who will undermine the souls of the masses.  Not the least thought that a fair hearing has not been given.  Not the least thought that a legitimate executable offense has not been committed.  After all, their respected religious leaders--and in the majority of cases quite possibly their employers--wouldn't think of leading them astray!  Would they?  Unthinkable--wasn’t it?

 

            27:26     Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.  Pilate fulfilled both his promises.  Barabbas walked free.  (What an astounding day it must have seemed to him!)  He also followed the custom of having the death bound victim scourged before execution.

            Sidebar on the viciousness of such a scourging:  This was no ordinary whip, but commonly a number of leather thongs loaded with lead or armed with sharp bones and spikes, so that every blow cut deeply into the flesh, causing intense pain.  The culprit was stripped of his clothes, pinioned, and bound to a stake or pillar, and thus on his bare back suffered this inhuman chastisement.”  (Pulpit Commentary)

 

 

The Soldiers Mock Jesus’ Claims to Kingship (Matthew 27:27-31):  27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the governor’s residence and gathered the whole cohort around him.  28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe around him, 29 and after braiding a crown of thorns, they put it on his head.  They put a staff in his right hand, and kneeling down before him, they mocked him: “Hail, king of the Jews!” 

30 They spat on him and took the staff and struck him repeatedly on the head.  31 When they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes back on him.  Then they led him away to crucify him.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            27:27     Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.  Roman soldiers rarely had much use for Jews.  Least of all one who, in some sense, claimed to be a king.  Now they take out their pent up hatred on Jesus as the embodiment of all they despise.

 

            27:28     And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.   They “visually” elevate Him in status by removing His modest peasant level clothing and putting a scarlet colored robe upon Him in its place.  This was the color of royalty and kings.  After all, shouldn’t a “king” wear the color of kings?  Some think it was some soldier’s garment; others that it was a worn out garment of the governor himself.

 

            27:29     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!”  Since any “respectable” king has a crown, they decided to weave one for Him--of thorns.  A king has a scepter--so they gave Him a reed.  This visual mockery was now joined with verbal mockery as well, as they kneel as they would toward a “real” king and mocked Him as “King of the Jews.”  There was, in a sense, more than a little pleasurable fantasy in their mockery:  This was the kind of king of the Jews they wanted:  helpless, certain to die, one they could freely mock and abuse.  And they were exhibiting the kind of malice they would happily manifest toward any man truly claiming the post and title.

 

            27:30     Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  To have one person spit at you is “merely” insulting; to have a group do so--is there even a word that does it justice?  He is still wearing the crown of thorns, so when they hit Him around the head with the mock reed-scepter they are driving the painful thorns even deeper.  They could not safely treat all Jews this way, but this Jew they could vent all their contempt upon.  And did so.

 

            27:31     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.  When they finished their period of ridicule, they returned His own clothes to Him.  Perhaps they left the fake crown on His head to show a continuing contempt; the Biblical texts do not tell us either way.  Their own next role is to lead Him down the streets of the city to the place of crucifixion.

            Sidebar:  The typical Roman method of carrying out such executions is described in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures:  Instead of being led forth by lictors, the command of whom Pilate, as sub-governor, did not enjoy, Jesus is conducted to the cross by the soldiery.  A centurion on horseback, called by Tacitus exactor mortis, by Seneca, centurio supplicio prœpositus, headed the company.  A herald, going in front of the condemned, proclaimed his sentence.”

 

 

Jesus Crucified and Mocked on the Cross (Matthew 27:32-44):  32 As they were going out, they found a man from Cyrene named Simon, whom they forced to carry his cross.  33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”)  34 and offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink.  But after tasting it, he would not drink it.  35 When they had crucified him, they divided his clothes by throwing dice.

36 Then they sat down and kept guard over him there.  37 Above his head they put the charge against him, which read:  “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.”  38 Then two outlaws were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

39 Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!  If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross!”  41 In the same way even the chief priests—together with the experts in the law and elders—were mocking him:  42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!  He is the king of Israel!  If he comes down now from the cross, we will believe in him!  43 He trusts in God—let God, if he wants to, deliver him now because he said, ‘I am God’s Son’!”  44 The robbers who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            27:32     Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross.   Jesus had gone through a lot of pain and anguish by this point.  Bleeding, repeatedly abused.  Weakened by such mistreatment and the loss of blood, He could not even carry the cross as He was supposed to.  Simon from Cyrene happened to be passing by and the Romans ordered him to take over the task.  It wasn’t “being nice to Jesus,” but avoiding having to do it themselves.  The fact that his sons’ names were also known (Mark 15:21) argues that at some point his family became connected with Jesus’ movement.

            Sidebar:  In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus had referred to this claimed right of impressment into government service:  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41).

            Sidebar:  The cross that was being carried--“The cross was probably the ordinary Latin cross, crux immissa, of which, however, the lower limb below the transom was longer than the upper; and this latter afforded a place where could be affixed the board containing the inscription.  It was not as tall as usually represented; we are told that beasts of prey were able to gnaw the bodies hung thereon.  In fact, the culprit’s feet were only just raised above the ground, being drawn up till the soles lay flat on the upright beam.  Nails were driven through the hands and feet, and the body was supported partly by these, and partly by a projecting pin of wood called the seat.

            “The rest for the feet, often seen in pictures, was never used.  A slight covering was allowed for decency’s sake, the rest of the body being stripped of clothing; and thus the condemned, exposed to scorching sun, bleeding from the cruel scourge, suffering untold agonies, was left to die.  Whether Jesus carried the whole cross or only the transom is uncertain.  It is possible that the two were tied together by a rope at one end, so as to form an inverted V, and fastened in the proper position at the place of execution.  However this may be, it proved too heavy a burden for him to bear.” (Pulpit Commentary)

 

            27:33     And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull.  Finally they reached the place of execution.  It was near the city (John 19:20), which is only natural for why would they go any further than they had to?  Some have thought that its name meaning “Place of a Skull” came from it being a small hill with a vaguely skull shape.  Others that it was a raised spot with a bare top, like a bald head.  Yet others think it refers to the fact that dead skulls had been left there at some point in its past.  Whatever the origin of the term, it was apparently the place regularly used by Pilate’s executioners.

 

            27:34     they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink.  But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.  Jesus took a sip of the wine they offered Him but nothing more.  Why only a taste?  Some think it was simply a courtesy toward those women of the city who allegedly provided this for all who were executed. No more was appropriate for it was deemed necessary that He would endure the full pain of suffering humanity in His death rather than have any of the anguish diluted away. 

            Less dramatically, perhaps it simply tasted too vile.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way but chicanery targeting Jesus in particular is far from impossible--or simply bad fortune.  What is believed to have been given was a mixture that had a narcotic type effect to take some of the edge off the inevitable anguish.  Scriptural precedent was found in Proverbs 31:6-7:  Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart.  Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”               

 

            27:35     Then they crucified Him, 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.”  Those carrying out an execution had the right to the man’s clothing.  In this case the detachment consisted of four men (John 19:23).  To decide who would get what, they cast lots just as an ancient prophetic psalmist had spoken of (Psalms 22:18).  This wasn’t done out of callousness, but as an obvious method of preserving the whole tunic:  the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece” (John 19:23).

            27:36     Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.   Crucifixion might take many hours.  And there were enough such hours spent standing normal guard duty.  So given the opportunity to rest, it is not surprising to read that they sat down while they kept an eye on the proceedings.  Depending on who was being crucified, there was always the modest danger that someone would try to rescue the man being executed.  Not likely, but none would have been foolish enough to ignore the potential.

 

            27:37     And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:   THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.  So far as Roman soldiers went, all supposed kings of the Jews should be treated this way and deservedly.  So far as Herod went, it was a snub at the Jewish leaders for having pressured him into approving the death:  They accused Him of regal intentions, so he will describe Jesus as exactly that.    

 

            27:38     Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.  How many were normally crucified at one time at that location is unknown, but an execution squad could handle multiple ones at the same time just as in this case.  Hence any variance in number is unlikely to have caused any problem beyond an increase in the number of guards--as an elementary security precaution.  In this case two others were also scheduled to die, both of whom had been guilty of robbery. 

 

            27:39     And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads.  Golgotha must have been next to a major road because we read of how “those who passed by” were involved in the mocking and speaking ill of the dying Christ.   Cf. John 19:20:  Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city. . . .”  One can easily imagine them pausing there and enquiring of the Sanhedrin supporters why this was happening before proceeding further on their own business.    

                        Such a location makes inherent sense:  the Romans wanted crucifixions to be known and seen.  They were to serve as vivid warnings of the power Rome was ready to bring down on any who challenged its authority and rule.  It is one of the oddities of modern civilization that those who believe that the death penalty discourages serious crime usually have a strange aversion to the public witnessing of it.

 

            27:40     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.”  The typical insult thrown at Jesus by these casual mockers was that if He could destroy and rebuild the temple in three days He ought to save Himself.  Surely that would be just as easy!  Furthermore He had claimed to be “Son of God” and if that were true surely He should be able to “come down from the cross” and not permit the crucifixion to be completed!  Note again how the label was clearly considered even by foes to carry a superhuman connotation.

            The Messianic 22nd Psalm had spoken of such mistreatment and how it would wear upon the spirit of the Christ:  But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people.  All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8 ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!’ ”   

 

            27:41     Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said  The “leading lights” of the city’s religious structure—the “chief priests” joined in showing their contempt along with those who were “mere” scribes and elders—in comparison with them, minor bureaucrats in the parlance of today.  Are the minor officials showing derision to please their superiors or are they doing it to demonstrate their orthodoxy and worthiness to hold higher positions?  Or is this simply a case where everyone is so mentally deranged by rage, that everyone is doing it simply because it “felt good” to them—finally triumph had been gained over the long recognized adversary of the high priests and top leaders! 

 

            27:42     “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.  They appealed to His past healings:  “He saved others;” how odd that He could do nothing to protect Himself.  He claimed to be “King:  He really ought to get Himself down from the cross if that were true.  Then they would believe in Him.  Of course, by this time would anything have convinced them?  When the will to disbelieve overcomes all moral scruples as it had in this case, how can there be anything so convincing that a person will reverse course?

 

            27:43     He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’   If the trust He claimed to have in God were that well founded, then God ought to be rescuing Him from the cross.  After all He went far beyond this and claimed to be “Son of God” as well.  If either were true, how could God permit this to happen?  (Yet again the clear connotation that far more than a mere “righteous person”/morally upstanding individual is intended by the expression “Son of God.”)

            If the available apocryphal literature could speak of how the honorable Israelite would be unjustly abused for unfaltering trust in God (Wisdom 2:12-20), it should have come as no surprise that the Messiah Himself would be similarly abused for His trust in

the Father.  (And you don’t have to believe in the inspiration of the apocrypha to recognize this fundamental reality and its application to both.)

 

            27:44     Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.  After all either this Jesus was thoroughly delusional and probably deserved a violent death just as much as they did . . . or else He could liberate Himself and was absolutely insane for not doing so.  This was not a forum for intellectual discussions in which the possibility that there was a very good reason for Jesus not acting might be reasonably considered and discussed . . . but one of intense pain, discomfort, and blind emotion.  One of the few things they still could do was to express their contempt.

 

 

Jesus Dies on the Cross and the Strange Events That Occur Immediately Afterwards (Matthew 27:45-56):  45 Now from noon until three, darkness came over all the land.  46 At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 4

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.  49 But the rest said, “Leave him alone!  Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.”  50 Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit.

51 Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart.  52 And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised.  53 (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) 

54 Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!”  55 Many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and given him support were also there, watching from a distance.  56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            27:45     Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  An air of spookiness was added to the events when the light began to disappear and for the following three hours (Noon-3 PM) darkness covered the region.  Of course the times are approximates since this was before modern clocks existed.  It is also a time length that would rule out any natural eclipse.  The darkness may or may not have been over more than Judea--such as Galilee, the two places most associated with His ministry. 

            Sidebar:  A concise estimate of various times involved in the arrest and crucifixion--“The first three Gospels agree as to time and fact.  Assuming them to follow the usual Jewish reckoning (as in Acts 2:15; 3:1; 10:3, 9) this would be noon, the fixing to the cross having been at the third hour, 9 A.M. (Mark 15:25), and the darkness lasting till 3 P.M.  St. John names the ‘sixth hour’ as the time of our Lord’s final condemnation by Pilate, following apparently . . . the Roman or modern mode of reckoning from midnight to noon.  Looking to the facts of the case, it is probable that our Lord was taken to the high priest’s palace about 3 A.M. (the ‘cock-crow’ of Mark 13:35).  Then came the first hearing before Annas (John 18:13), then the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, then the formal meeting that passed the sentence.  This would fill up the time probably till 6 A.M., and three hours may be allowed for the trials before Pilate and Herod.  After the trial was over there would naturally be an interval for the soldiers to take their early meal, and then the slow procession to Golgotha, delayed, we may well believe, by our Lord’s falling, once or oftener, beneath the burden of the cross, and so we come to 9 A.M. for His arrival at the place of crucifixion.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  

 

            27:46     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?”  Finally Jesus cried out loudly pleading with God out of despair at His sense of utter aloneness.  Endless rhetoric flows out of this text:  Had God forsaken Him?  How could Jesus, if He were who He claimed, have given in to such despair?  Beautiful theoretical questions for those who safely sit in well padded chairs with a full stomach and years of life ahead of them.  But for those who have been savagely beaten, have nails in their hands and feet, and are bare hours away from death--well, those people hurt.  Such is adequate to fully understand why such words would be uttered.  Literally forsaken or not, one would feel that way.

 

            27:47     Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”  All languages have certain words that sound alike.  Since Jesus had spoken in Aramaic, it was easy enough to confuse some of those as well, especially if they were uttered--as they almost certainly were--in a near groan of extreme anguish. 

            There was a not uncommon suspicion that Elijah would be physically returning to earth as the agent of God and as predecessor to the Messiah:  See the passing allusions to this in Matthew 16:14 and 17:10.  Hence an unspoken but implied subtext to their mocking response could be:  “Yes, it will take a miracle by Elijah to get you off that cross; one you are not going to have!” 

            (Many think there was no misunderstanding involved at all; merely pure vindictiveness and mockery--which would also fit the setting well.)    

 

            27:48     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.  This is typically read as an act of kindness by the guards.  They may well have thought He was losing control of His senses and rushed to get Him something to drink in the hope that it might help, at least in some minor way.  There was, after all, nothing beyond a little liquid nourishment that could be provided.

            Our verse unquestionably can be read that way.  But note the introductory words, “Immediately one of them”--would this not refer to the “them” just mentioned in verse 47:  “one of those who stood there” in the hostile crowd . . . whether personally hostile or just ambivalent? This scenario also fits well the use of “ran:  It is hard to imagine that the guards were so far away that they had to “run” to get the drink.

 

            27:49     The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”  The cynical urged that no more help be given.  Since Jesus wanted the help of Elijah why not just wait and see if Elijah would come?  One can imagine the tone of cynicism and self-satisfied triumph.  “Let Him suffer!  Let Him suffer!” are the unspoken underpinning of their words.

            If we go Mark 15:36 we find that the one offering the help shared in the sentiment of “the rest” referred to in the current verse:  “Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”  In other words the assistance was not being given out of good will but the desire to prolong the--to them--“entertaining” agony?

 

            27:50     And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  “Yielded up” could carry no connotation beyond “dying,” but the expression seems far more congenial to the idea of His letting Himself die . . . that He had done and said everything that needed to be and now it was time to lay all the earthly burdens aside.  Augustine expressed it well:  He gave up His life because He willed it, when He willed it, and as He willed it.” 

            But from the standpoint of His critics:  They wanted Him dead and now they have accomplished it.  There must have been more than a few smiles.  What they fail to realize is that in death, He will turn out to be an even bigger embarrassment to the religious status quo that He had ever been when He walked the earth in flesh and blood.

            Sidebar:  The 3 PM death of the Lord--the great Passover Lamb of God’s people--was at the same time the Temple would begin cooking the lambs for the physical Passover of antiquity.  The ancient rite memorialized Israel’s escape from physical death; the death of Christ made possible the spiritual escape from eternal death.  Hence Jesus is described as “our Passover [who] was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7) and Peter describes how it was made possible “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19).    

 

            27:51     Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.  At the same time as the death, the inner veil of the temple was split in two.  Huge and heavy duty, it was not a mere tear but a literal rip from one end to the other, top to bottom.  It was thirty feet by sixty and the thickness of a hand.  Can you imagine how much work was involved in the replacement! 

            The curtain was visible rather than hidden; the outside--the holy place--contained the altar of incense that was used daily and anyone who had duties there would immediately see the damage.  In other words, it would be seen and word would quickly spread.  It couldn’t be suppressed. 

            But on top of that there was a major earthquake in the region as well.  And, unless we believe that two distinctly different major miracles occurred at the same time, then surely the damage caused by the earthquake caused the lintel holding the veil to break and produce the destruction.  Those who were the least bit sympathetic at Jesus’ legalized murder could hardly have heard of this without seeing in it a Divine judgment.  And surely a fair number of the traditionalist anti-Jesus element would have felt queasy and uneasy at the combined events as well.  For that matter, could even the most orthodox view this as anything less than a hostile Divine judgment?  Especially at the most sacred feast of all, Passover!

            Sidebar:  The writer of Hebrews turns the physical split of the curtain into a spiritual lesson.  The physical veil between the holy and the holiest in the Temple was one of artificial manufacture.  The “veil” between this world and acceptance to God was sin and it was removed through the sacrificial death of the Lord (John 10:19-23). 

 

            27:52-53     and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  This is strange even for those who firmly believe in miracles and the literal bodily resurrection.  Yet this remark, so easy for the critic to dismiss as mythical elaboration, is barely developed:  How many were raised?  How did the people of the city react?  What finally happened to those who were raised?  Would a person conjuring this story up out of the imagination leave hanging such natural questions?

            The chronological note in the verse should not be overlooked:  this happened “after His resurrection.”  The report of Jesus’ body disappearing from a tomb that had guards had to be disconcerting enough; but this magnified problems for the religious power brokers.  As word circulated among others, would the idea of Jesus being resurrected seem all that odd to many of the locals?  More than one “strange thing” had happened that day!   

 

            27:54     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!”  Jesus’ restrained behavior . . . the hours of darkness . . . the excesses of the observers . . . the earthquake.  The centurion saw it all and could not avoid the conclusion that a truly extraordinary event had occurred and that this had in fact been a unique man in the most literal of senses:  “Truly this was the Son of God.”  Being a pagan polytheist, he is hardly likely to have put on the term the interpretation of either the disciples or the enemies of Jesus (vs. 43). 

            Yet they certainly bear witness that he considered Jesus--in some significant and meaningful sense--as far more than the normal prisoner he encountered.  Certainly a righteous and honorable man; perhaps even far more.  All the potential ramifications were surely uncertain even in his own mind. 

 

            27:55-56     And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar.  56 among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.  Jesus’ traveling party to the Passover festival included “many women” from His home region.  Although most Passovers would be observed at home, doing so in Jerusalem--the holiest site in the country because of the Temple--was especially desirable.  So they would often travel with their families on that journey as well.  As customary in the society of that day, the women provided for the physical comfort and welfare of their kin and, since they were followers of Jesus, do whatever was feasible to help in that regard as well.  A similar group is mentioned earlier in His life in Luke 8:1-3 and these might well, at least in part, be still with Him:  unquestionably Mary was since she is also named there.

 

           

The Unused Burial Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea Becomes That of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61):  57 Now when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.  58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then Pilate ordered that it be given to him.  59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut in the rock.  Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away.  61 (Now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb.)     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            27:57     Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.  Even though some of the disciples were rich, the number was surely very limited because the proportion of wealthy was always modest in any community.  The bulk were either poor or only moderately successful. 

            Aside:  From the other gospels we know that the two others being put to death had the process speeded up by having their legs broken--thereby producing the desired result of suffocation since one could no longer hold the body up in order to breathe.  Normally the Romans could have cared less since they would happily leave you up there for days, if need be, for they reasoned that if you deserved to die you deserved to die in maximum discomfort for the maximum time.   

            But the Jews had a fundamental bias in that they regarded a hanging body left into the night as a sacrilegious act desecrating the land (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  Hence in the interest of keeping the  population docile, the normal pattern was modified in Judea.  Especially with countless thousands of additional Jews present due to Passover; their very presence from other places warning that they took their religion with great seriousness and would view any insult to it with strong animosity.      

 

            27:58     This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him.  He was wealthy and important enough that he was able to gain admission to Pilate’s presence and seek permission to bury the victim.  Jesus had not offended Pilate and had not been an enemy of Roman law, so the governor willingly issued the order for the corpse to be transferred to Joseph once He verified that He was indeed dead (Mark 15:44-45).

 

            27:59     When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth.  As customary, Joseph prepared the body for burial by wrapping “clean linen cloth” around it.  The honorable dead should be treated with respect so a clean wrapping was the only proper one.  This action--personally carried out--exhibited how great a commitment he felt to the Lord.  Contact with a corpse caused ceremonial defilement of seven days’ duration, and thus they would be debarred from taking their part in the great Paschal solemnity, with its solemn and joyful observances.”  (Pulpit Commentary)

            Sidebar:  Although the term “embalming” today normally applies to something far more elaborate--just as it did in ancient Egypt--the Jews practiced a rough equivalent.  Barnes Notes:  “ ‘He wrapped it in a clean linen cloth.’ John adds that this was done ‘with spices’ (John 19:40).  The Jews were accustomed to use myrrh, aloes, and other aromatics in large quantities when they buried their dead. . . .  [T]hey enclosed the spices in the folds of the linen, or wrapped the body in it.  Spices were sometimes used in such quantities as to form a ‘heap or bed,’ on which the dead body was laid.  Thus it is said of Asa (2 Chronicles 16:14), ‘they laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odors and spices,’ etc. . . .  The women who attended Him, either not being aware of this, or desirous of showing a further regard for Him, returned from the sepulcher and prepared other spices with which to embalm him on the first day of the week (Luke 23:56-24:1).”   

 

            27:60     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.  It was not a traditional family site that had already been used as a place for multiple burials:  this can be seen by the fact that it was a “new tomb.”  It was located in a garden and close by the place of crucifixion (John 19:41).  So at least three things entered into the choice of burial site:  (1)  It was nearby; (2) the owner willingly volunteered it; (3) it did not run the possible perceived undesirability of burying an “outsider” along with the remains of other family members already in it.  A large stone was rolled across the door to assure that the body could not easily be disturbed.  This was routine practice.

            The nearby location of execution site and burial also fulfilled the paradox of the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:9:  And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death. . . .”

 

            27:61     And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.  Hence the location of the tomb and burial site was not open to question.  The two Marys who had been at the cross sat across from its entrance while some of these preparations were underway.  In other words, they could not be mislead or mistaken as to the true location of the tomb when they visited it on the first day of the week.  There was simply no way possible they went to the wrong place.

 

 

To Avoid False Claims that Jesus Has Been Resurrected, a Roman Guard Unit Is Assigned to the Site (Matthew 27:62-66):  62 The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  64 So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day.  Otherwise his disciples may come and steal his body and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”

65 Pilate said to them, “Take a guard of soldiers.  Go and make it as secure as you can.”  66 So they went with the soldiers of the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            27:62     On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate.  With the Passover now gone by, they realize that if the disciples are as unscrupulous as they themselves have been, that there are additional dangers that even a quite dead Jesus can inflict upon them.

 

            27:63     saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’  From their words, it was clearly no secret that Jesus had claimed He would be resurrected from the dead.  Since there “was only one way possible” that even the pretense could occur, they wanted to protect against it.  Their concern raises two possibilities:  either they had heard this in addition to the claim that Jesus could destroy and rebuild the temple in three days or they knew that the real topic in the conversation had been His ability to conquer death through resurrection.  Hence either the “misunderstanding” was intentional and malicious or they already knew that the words never posed a “threat” in any sense of the word.

 

            27:64     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.”  Those unscrupulous enough to railroad a man to death could easily think others just as unprincipled as themselves.  So, to them, the possibility that some disciples might steal the body was not an outlandish idea at all.  And if the body did disappear, the allure of Jesus could be even stronger in death than life. 

            So they wanted Pilate to have the tomb guarded until the three days were over to provide absolute assurance it wouldn’t “disappear:  If a Roman guard couldn’t provide an unquestionable guarantee nothing in the world could.  Unmentioned is the fact that they could have provided one themselves.  But Jesus had been, “legally” punished as a state criminal rather than a religious one; hence it was logically up to the state to provide both execution and guard.  (Not to mention that provided the Sanhedrin a little further “distance” from responsibility for what happened:  “If we were all that involved, wouldn’t we have guarded the site?”) 

 

            27:65     Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.”  Yes the guard would be assigned to them but Pilate issued them orders to take care of the rest of the matter.  It would be their own responsibility to assure that the tomb was as thief proof as human ingenuity could make it.  Romans would guard, but the priests would do the rest of the work, securing the site for them.  Pilate had not wanted to be involved in the death in the first place and He definitely did not want any further involvement that could be avoided. 

 

            27:66     So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.  The religious leaders assured that the stone was “sealed” to their satisfaction--which would mean there the seal would be broken if it were tampered with.  They also  oversaw the setting of the guard in such a manner that no one could interfere with the tomb or its contents.  Which had to make the professional Roman soldiers feel like a bunch of idiots being under the charge of militarily “ignorant” Jewish religious leaders.  They were the ones who knew how to handle such things; not these uninformed civilians!

            Sidebar on the nature of the “sealing:”  The sealing was performed by stretching a cord across the stone and fastening it to the rock at either end by means of sealing clay.  Or, if the stone at the door happened to be fastened with a cross beam, this latter was sealed to the rock.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

 

 

           

Female Disciples Are the First to Discover That Jesus Has Been Resurrected (Matthew 28:1-10):  1 Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  Suddenly there was a severe earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were shaken and became like dead men because they were so afraid of him.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he was lying.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.  He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  You will see him there.’  Listen, I have told you!”

So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  But Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings!”  They came to him, held on to his feet and worshiped him.  10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee.  They will see me there.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            28:1     Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.  Determined to get as early a start as possible, the two Marys left their residence as soon as first light began to show.  They could not have done this on the Sabbath day itself.  That would have involved violations of both the distance to travel limits and that of “working on the Sabbath”--since they were carrying spices for the body and were going to apply them to it (Luke 24:1).  Furthermore although the Sabbath was over at sunset the previous night (under the Jewish calendar), the necessary work was obviously not practical until the “dawn” of the new day.     

 

            28:2     And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.  There had been a major earthquake the day of Jesus’ execution itself, at the time of His death (27:51-53).  Here again there was another one--a second intense one.  Described as “great,” other translations prefer to substitute “violent” (Holman, NIV), “severe” (NASB, NET), “powerful” (GW, ISV), and “strong” (CEV). 

            This one is described as the result of an angel coming down from heaven and rolling back the stone that served as door blocker to Jesus’ tomb.  In one sense, this was “melodramatic;” in another it assured that the guards (verse 4) did not feel the urge to needlessly attack them and the angel have to use its power against them.            

            And an angel “sat on” the stone.  Can we not virtually see the gleam of triumph in his eyes?  Death was being conquered by the new King!

 

            28:3     His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.  In other words, a bright and powerful white gleam, with all the overtones of purity and even holiness that the colors traditionally convey:  The heavenly creatures Ezekiel saw in his vision in chapter 18 were “in appearance like a flash of lighting” (verse 14).  In Daniel’s judgment day vision “the Ancient of days” was seated on His throne and “His garment was white as snow” (7:9).  In the transfiguration, Jesus’ garments were “white as the light” (Matthew 17:2).  

 

            28:4     And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.  The Roman guards were ready for any earthly foe, but this extraordinary manifestation scared them so deeply that they dared not--could not--move.  They were petrified by fear into the extreme immobility found among the dead who no longer even have the capacity to move at all.  Although they were certainly humans their background and combat training was such that normal fear could never do this to them. 

            By the angels appearing out of “nowhere,” and the blocking stone rolled from the door, they recognized that this was no foe that could be dealt with by even well trained Roman soldiers.  Perhaps they next fled instinctively (cf. verse 11); perhaps they were simply told to “go”--and who was going to be stupid enough to argue the point? 

            28:5     But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  The women arrived and the angel cautioned them not to be terrified.  (The guards had been terrified and as soldiers they were psychologically predisposed to handle such things; these were mere “civilians” and “mere” women who were even less likely to be emotionally prepared for anything this startling.)  Then they provided the positive message that they needed:  They assured them that Jesus was no longer dead; the One who had been crucified now lived again. . . .

 

            28:6     He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay.  You find these words impossible to accept?  Enter the tomb and see for yourselves that it is empty.  (Perhaps he even escorted them in to assure they did not “freeze” into inaction.)  They saw, as Peter did a little later, only “the linen [burial] cloths lying there” (John 20:5). 

 

            28:7     And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.  Behold, I have told you.”  This was not a time to sit around wondering “what in the world is going on.”  It is time to rush to the apostles with the news as soon as you’ve verified it.  Tell them that no matter whether they see Him locally or not, that they would see Him again in Galilee, a meeting that Jesus had earlier referred to Himself (26:32).  Since you could normally make about twenty miles a day, a journey in either direction would take three or four days.  Whatever happened now was not going to be over in a mere day or two--it would take forty (Acts 1:3). 

 

           28:8     So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.  It was not unnatural that powerful rival emotions played in their heart.  They had just heard angels speak--this was inherently at least startling if not outright terrifying.  Yet this emotion vied with overflowing happiness that their Lord was again alive and they not merely “hurried” to the disciples but “ran” in order to get there the fastest humanly possible.  (Also doing their best to fulfill the instruction to “go quickly” in the preceding verse.)

            Sidebar:  Presumably they took the spices back with them since they had not been used.  They were expensive and either they or others would eventually find a use for them.

 

            28:9     And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!”  So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.  Although “worshiped” can be taken in the more limited sense of respectful awe and honor, it is surely hard to limit it in a context like this one!  They aren’t interested in a good, intellectual discussion of the resurrection and its nature . . . they are overpowered at seeing the reality of it in front of their faces.  And could any one except the long promised Messiah accomplish this?

            The salutation of the day was “rejoice” . . . only one word, yet what would be more appropriate?  They had hated to see His death but now they could rejoice because He had conquered the ultimate human enemy. 

            “Held Him by the feet” seems a strange thing to do, but what better non-verbal way of expressing one’s utter inferiority to someone profoundly more important or better?  (This prostration to the ground and touching of the feet may be the unexpressed accompaniment of “worshipped” in references to Jesus in passages such as Matthew 9:18.)   

 

            28:10     Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”  The angel’s message should have been enough to convince them to do this, but human nature being what it is, perhaps the Lord deemed a strong personal reinforcement to be the best way to assure that they actually did it.  From the apostolic standpoint, if Jesus was appearing in Jerusalem why risk it stopping by going somewhere else?  However much short term appearances in and near Jerusalem served a purpose, Galilee had distinct advantages as well.  For one thing, the apostles would be safely out of the arm’s reach of hostile Sanhedrin forces for awhile.   

            Sidebar:  A compendium of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances during the forty days preceding the Ascension (from the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) -- “(1) To Mary Magdalene alone (John 10:14 foll.; Mark 16:9).

            (“2) To Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and perhaps other women (Matthew 28:9-10).

            “(3) To Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).

            “(4) To Cleophas and another on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

            “(5) To the apostles, in the absence of Thomas, at Jerusalem (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:35; John 20:19).

            “(6) To the eleven apostles at Jerusalem (John 20:26).

            “(7) To seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-24).

            “(8) To the eleven on the highland of Galilee (Matthew 28:16).

            “(9) To five hundred brethren at once—possibly the same appearance as 8 (1 Corinthians 15:6).  [On this the Pulpit Commentary wisely writes, “This is a mere conjecture, probable, but not certain.  If it was the case, we must consider that St. Matthew singles out the eleven apostles as the most eminent among the company, and those to whom the Lord specially addressed the commission which he mentions.”]

            “(10) To James, the Lord’s brother (1 Corinthians 15:7).

            “(11) To the eleven in the neighborhood of the Holy City (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50; Acts 1:3-12; 1 Corinthians 15:7).      

 

 

The Roman Soldiers Are Bribed to Claim that the Disciples Had Some How Stolen the Body (Matthew 28:11-15):  11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.  12 After they had assembled with the elders and formed a plan, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came at night and stole his body while we were asleep.’  14 If this matter is heard before the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed.  And this story is told among the Jews to this day.     --New English Translation (for comparison) 

 

 

            28:11     Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.  Undoubtedly terrified at the consequences of what they were going to report to their Roman superiors, they took the “bad news” first to the leading priests.  It was neither wise nor prudent to inform armed Roman soldiers--who are a combination of awed and terrified at what has just happened--that they would be held to account for the body disappearing.  They already faced severe retribution for betrayal of their guard duty; they would lose little further by taking a goodly number of complaining priests along with them.  At the very least, this offered the best chance of the priests not complaining about their “inefficiency” to Herod.

            They also had an obvious line of rebuttal for any priestly criticism:  They could speak of the earthquake, of the appearing of the angel, of the removal of the stone, of the absence of the body which they were appointed to watch.  Their task was done; the corpse was gone, they knew not how taken; they could not be expected to contend with supernatural visitants, or to guard against supernatural occurrences.  St. Matthew seems to have introduced this incident in order to account for the prevalence of the lying rumor which he proceeds to mention [about the ‘stolen’ body], and which had been widely disseminated among his countrymen.”  (Pulpit Commentary)       

 

            28:12     When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers.  The strange tale of an angelic appearance caused a general meeting of all those most involved in the conspiracy in order to determine what line of explanation to present.  In order to assure that the priestly version was backed up, they promised the soldiers a large bribe. 

            And that was just as necessary as the lie itself for they desperately needed an alternative explanation other than the resurrection for the Jewish masses--one that Roman military personnel would support.  But that “stolen” scenario would expose the Roman lives to forfeiture for they had not carried out their orders to keep the body in the tomb.  But the truth was just as dangerous:  the resurrection might easily be laughed at as a brazen lie to escape just retribution.  The lie won out because of the “large” bribe they were given and because they were given the Sanhedrin  promise of intervention at the highest levels if it were necessary to assure their safety (verse 14).

            We have no idea what they reported to their superiors.  One expects some “grand ambiguity” like “the Sanhedrin was pleased with our work and released us to return to barracks.”   

 

            l28:13     saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’  The money was to assure that they stick to the story that they had fallen asleep.  That was theoretically possible, of course, and it was also theoretically possible for the disciples to have stolen the body.  But if they had fallen to sleep how could they know for sure who removed the body?  Not to mention that the grunting of stressed bodies moving the entrance stone out of the way would surely have woken them.  This was an excuse that would only work with those wanting a reason to believe it, i.e., an excuse for continuing their contempt and rejection of Jesus of Nazareth.

            Remember that the controlling faction of the Sanhedrin was the Sadducees and, according to them, there was no such thing as a resurrection.  Therefore, by definition, the body could not have been resurrected whether Jesus was the Messiah or not.  The ultimate triumph of predetermined theology over actual evidence.  

 

            28:14     And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.”  The story presented an element of danger, of course.  Roman soldiers who let a prisoner escape paid for it with their lives--and it wasn’t going to matter one bit that their prisoner was dead!  In addition falling to sleep on duty automatically justified the death penalty.  Do we need to mention letting untrained civilians get away with the theft?  One can easily imagine their superiors deciding what painful and humiliating punishment they should be given if they somehow escaped that of death . . . or inflict upon them before death for that matter. 

            But Pilate had delegated the guard to the Jewish officials (27:65) so the report would not necessarily have to reach him or even their own superior officers.  Certainly not in the short term.  Furthermore, if the report did go higher up the military hierarchy, the officials promised to brief Pilate as to how they had not actually been guilty of such misconduct as sleeping on duty. 

            (And one can imagine the gleeful sarcasm Pilate would throw at them:  Perhaps, “Maybe you deserved a resurrected Jesus after what you did to Him without any legal reason under our law!”  And a genuinely resurrected Jesus was no real problem for the Roman governor; only for the Jewish religious “experts” who maneuvered His death.) 

 

            28:15     So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.  They took the money, they repeated the tale when asked, and it became the common explanation for the disappearance of the body among Jews who did not accept the Christian version of the incident. 

            What kind of story they told fellow Romans is unknown, but prudence and embarrassment would surely have caused them to try to avoid discussing that night at all.  Probably they would dodge the question by saying, “Surprisingly the Jewish leaders were quite happy with our work.  They even gave us a little cash for our extra effort”--a plausible cover story to explain how they had come into some money . . . carefully avoiding how much it was (“a large sum of money,” verse 12).  

 

 

The Great Commission to Spread the Story of Jesus Throughout the World (Matthew 28:16-20):  16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated.  17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.

18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            28:16     Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them.  The other gospels speak of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in Jerusalem but Matthew’s account has been preparing the way (26:32; 27:7; 28:10) for a direct line between the resurrection and the final appearance(s) further north, in His home region.  Hence we read in the current verse of how the disciples not only returned to Galilee but also to the specific mountain “which Jesus had appointed for them.” 

            Since this decision as to a specific site is nowhere before hinted at, this alone would show that something has been left out of the narrative.  This is something to remember about all our gospel accounts:  They are relatively short compared to a modern history text; hence the special need to blend together the various pieces of data when we wish to grasp the full details of Jesus' life.

            One of the possible motives for this abrupt shifting of location could well be that suggested by the Pulpit Commentary:  The evangelist's object being to set forth Christ in his character as King and Lawgiver, he puts aside all other incidents in order to give prominence to this appearance, where Jesus announces his supreme authority (verse 18), gives the commission to His apostles, and promises His perpetual presence (verses 19, 20).”

            Sidebar:  Before Jesus left the earth permanently the apostles returned to Jerusalem again.  Jesus ascended to heaven from outside Jerusalem, near Bethany (Luke 24:50-51).

           

            28:17     When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.  Not doubts of the resurrection but as to what purpose all this was serving and what was to come next.  Jesus explains that to them in the closing three verses.  Events were clearly heading to a dramatic narrative finale, but what was it to be? 

            (Alternatively, if this is part of the appearance to the 500, the “doubt” could be explained as “doubts” coming from those who had not been in Jerusalem and seen the earlier events recorded there.  An incredible event had certainly occurred but fully absorbing it into the intellect and emotions takes time.  The apostles had had more time than they to do so.)

 

            28:18     And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  First of all, Jesus had repeatedly claimed to be authoritative spokesman for God throughout His ministry--as in Matthew 11:27.  Now He makes the assertion even more comprehensive, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”  He was not only a new law giver as was Moses, but completely authoritative in all things as well. 

            In addition, by having “all authority” He had obtained the power of a king and, if the power, then the kingdom either now exists or is so close that it can be treated as if now existing.  By “in heaven and on earth,” He asserts a double reign.  Since He reigns in both realms, if He chooses to exercise power from heaven rather than personally on earth, that in no way removes His power in the earthly portion of the domain.

 

            28:19     Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  During the earthly ministry, Jesus had sent them out within the narrow geographic boundaries of Judea and Galilee--and barely beyond it:  “do not go into the way of the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:5; “do not go among the Gentiles,” ESV).  Now the mission is one that extends far beyond those earlier comparatively narrow limits--to “all the nations”--and in carrying this out they were to continue to baptize as they had in the past.  The practice was not to be set aside.  But the “name” or authority for it had now shifted to include all three of the Godhead:  “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

            For between five and ten years (depending on how one dates New Testament events), they would interpret “all the nations” to mean the Jews scattered throughout those nations.  Only then would the recognition and revelation be given them that the gospel was to be equally available to Gentiles as well.  But for the time being this was more than enough to assure that the Jesus movement would not curl up into a Galilee only movement and ultimately disappear due to its narrow geographic range.

 

            28:20     teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Amen.  Jesus had asserted complete authority (verse 18).  Therefore it is not surprising that His teaching is to continue to be the authoritative standard throughout the movement.  Furthermore, the new disciples were to be taught “to observe all things that I have commanded you.”  Hence the apostles were authority figures not in their own right but only as conduits of Jesus’ own instruction--given already or later by inspiration. 

            Even without His physical and visible presence they were not to worry or despair.  Seen or unseen He would be with them “always, even to the end of the age.”  Through faith, that would be quite sufficient.