In this chapter, Jesus is brought before Pilate. Judas hangs himself. Pilate questions Jesus. He is sentenced to die. Soldiers mock Jesus. He is crucified and dies. Holy people rise from their graves and visit Jerusalem. Jesus is buried. Jewish authorities place a guard at the tomb. Please see a table of events during Passion Week, at the end of this post.
As I say in every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles. Everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course, but the goal is primarily for missions.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Is Brought before Pilate (Matt. 27:1-2)
1 When early morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 2 After they bound him, they led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
This scene carries on from the previous chapter. The Jewish leaders turn Jesus over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. The chief priests and elders go with him too.
Let’s introduce these characters in the drama one more time.
The Sanhedrin had seventy members (modeled on the Old Testament seventy elders), plus the high priest. Twenty-three made a quorum.
Please see this post for more information:
And now let’s introduce Pilate for the first time.
The Christian creeds remember him as the governor under whom Jesus Christ suffered (1 Tim. 6:13) (see the Apostles Creed). The NT calls him governor while other sources call him prefect (his official title). Pontius was his nomen (tribal name) and Pilate was his cognomen (family name). His praenomen (personal name) is nowhere recorded. He came to power in A.D. 26. He was an anti-Semite. He brought into Jerusalem the insignia of the Roman military bearing the image of Caesar. He planted armed Roman soldiers, disguised as civilians, among the populace. This may have been the historical occasion for Luke 13:1, which says that Pilate mingled Galilean blood with their sacrifices. It is surprising then that he felt pressure from the Jewish authorities to put Jesus to death. However, he could have believed his position in the empire was precarious; John 19:12 says that if he released Jesus he would be no friend of Caesar. The NT writers were eager to show that he was innocent in regards to Roman law. Yet the only way the Jewish Council could convict Jesus was to accuse him of claiming to be king. Pilate’s name does not appear in Judea after A.D. 36/37, and this indicates he was removed shortly after he slaughtered Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim (Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
The Death of Judas (Matt. 27:3-9)
3 Then, when Judas, the one who betrayed him, saw that he was condemned, he was moved with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying I have sinned, betraying innocent blood!” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself!” 5 And after he threw the silver coins into the temple, he withdrew and went away and hanged himself.
6 The chief priests, taking the silver coins, said, “It is not lawful to place them in the treasury, since it is the price of blood.” 7 After taking counsel, they bought with them the Potter’s field for a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore, that field was called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying:
And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one who had been priced, on whom some of the sons of Israel set the price; 10 and they gave the coins for the potter’s field, just as the Lord commanded me. [Zech. 11:12-13; Jer. 32:6-9]
Commentator Craig Keener has produced a table showing the similarities of Matthew’s account and Luke’s account in Acts, on the topic of Judas and his betrayal:
|Judas as the betrayer||Judas as the betrayer|
|Judas’s wages were used (by others) to buy a field (27:6-7)||Judas acquired a field as the “wage” of his injustice (1:18)|
|Judas died in an awful manner (27:5)||Judas died in an awful manner (1:18)|
|(Apparently the story remained widespread; (27:8)||Judas’s sorry end became widely known (1:19)|
|The occasion prompted naming the field “Field of Blood” (27:8)||This occasion prompted naming the field “Field of Blood (1:19)|
|The land became an impure burial plot (27:7)||The land became desolate, no longer suited for habitation (1:20)|
|Craig Keener, Acts, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge UP, 2020), p. 118|
We don’t need to obsess over the tiny differences such that our faith snaps in two because it is so brittle. We know the gist or essence of the story, as seen in the table. Instead celebrate the similarities.
Why Zechariah and Jeremiah? Blomberg is right in saying that Matthew and other biblical authors incorporated, in addition to direct verses from the OT, patterns and types in the OT into their narratives:
But Matthew attributes the citation to Jeremiah. Many commentators thus point to Jer 32:6–9, in which Jeremiah buys a field for seventeen shekels of silver. Better still, however, is the interpretation which sees Jer 19:1–13 in Matthew’s mind, especially with its references to “the blood of the innocent” (v. 4), the “potter” (vv. 1, 11), the renaming of a place in the Valley of Hinnom (v. 6), violence (v. 1), and the judgment and burial by God of the Jewish leaders (v. 11). Matthew is again employing typology and combining allusions to texts in both Jeremiah and Zechariah. (comment on 27:6-10)
Bottom line: sometimes the NT authors directly quoted verses, and other times the writers borrowed concepts and patterns and types and strung them together and referred to one main author (in this case Jeremiah). They were inspired and gave themselves permission to draw from the OT as best fits their narrative purposes.
Next, Turner has a simple table about Matthew citing Zechariah (p. 495):
Matt. 21:4-9 …… Zech. 9:9
Matt. 21:12-13 … Zech. 14:21
Matt. 26:15-16 … Zech. 11:12
Matt. 26:26-29 … Zech. 9:11
Matt. 26:30-35 … Zech. 13:7
Matt. 27:3-10 …. Zech. 11:12-13
Matt. 27: 51-53 … Zech. 14:4-5
Jesus is fulfilling Messianic prophecy:
That is a table of quoted verses. But he also fulfills OT patterns and types. For example, he fulfills animal sacrifices and the Aaronic priesthood (Heb. 8-10).
Did Judas repent?
The phrase “moved with remorse” comes from the one verb metamelomai (pronounced meh-tah-meh-lo-my). BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the verb thus: (1) “To have regret about something, in that sense that one wishes it could be undone, be very sorry, regret” (Matt. 27:3; 2 Cor. 7:8ab; Matt. 21:29, 32; (2), “to change one’s mind about something, without focus on regret, change one’s mind, have second thoughts”; (Matt. 21:29, 32; Heb. 7:21). BDAG says Matt. 27:3 belongs to the first definition. That’s fair because Judas exhibited regret and remorse. Giving back the money is a further act of repentance. He also confessed his sin. In Matt. 26:24, Jesus pronounced a woe on him. Is this a curse or pity? NT scholars and grammarians for the Gospel of Luke say that the interjection “introduces an expression of pity for him who stand under divine judgment” (Culy, Parsons, and Stigall, Luke: Handbook on the Greek Text [Baylor UP, 2010] p. 673). Right now, at this time in his life, Judas does indeed stand under divine judgment. However, we now see him repent and demonstrate his repentance by giving back the money.
It is a pity that he was so confused and distraught that he hanged himself before he could get restored, as Peter was. However, I do not believe that he necessarily and automatically went straight to hell, by virtue of his committing suicide or even the betrayal. Suicide does not mean automatic hell in some conditions. However, a strong argument can be made that he stood outside God’s mercy because of his betrayal and did go to hell, when Judas is contrasted with Peter’s restoration. Yet Judas’s betrayal fulfilled some sort of divine plan announced in Scripture (26:54, 56), which does not necessarily exempt him from condemnation.
Adding up all these factors, I, for my part, leave the door of mercy slightly ajar, like so:
Repentance or remorse + returning money + confession of sin → God’s mercy
The arrow means “leads to.”
Turner offer Judas no hope (p. 650), and neither does Matt. 26:24 (it would have been better if the betrayer had not been born).
Blomberg does not offer hope: “Suicide is always sinful, in violation of the Sixth Commandment (Exod 20:13), even if it can be forgiven. In Judas’s case, however, there is no scriptural warrant for the sentimental notion that he was actually saved. For the Jews, a hanging would have confirmed God’s curse (Deut 21:23). By emphasizing Judas’s fate, Matthew provides a dire warning to his community about the possible result of apostasy” (comment on 27:5). I like his last sentence. Apostasy is possible.
But you can decide for yourself, though I think Turner and Blomberg (and others) are correct, in the final analysis.
Now what about the manner of Judas’ death and where?
Osborne: “There is a discrepancy with Acts 1:18-19 here. Matthew says Judas ‘hanged himself,’ while Acts states he committed suicide by throwing himself into the field and ‘bursting open.’ What may well have happened is that the rope broke and his body fell into the field (or perhaps that his body was thrown into the field afterward). This is possible, for in Acts 1 Luke is explaining the name of the field and chose those details that fit his explanation. Note the contrast with Peter, who ‘went outside and wept bitterly,’ while Judas ‘went and hanged himself’” (comment on 27:5).
My own comments:
We should note what Luke’s version says of the death of Judas: “He then acquired a field from the unrighteous reward; and becoming headlong, his abdomen burst open and his guts spilled out” (Acts 1:18). Acts actually says, “becoming headlong / prostrate / head first / forward” (BDAG). It does not say “fall.” Matthew’s version describes the scene at the beginning of Judas’s suicide, while Luke describes the scene at the end, after the body somehow got detached from the tree or rope. Deut. 23:21 says a hanging body should not be left overnight. It’s possible that someone may have cut the rope. Whether a cut rope or a snapped rope or branch, Judas ended up in the field, on the ground. As Osborne notes, he could have been tossed there.
But would guts gush out after a fall (as the unrecorded gap in the process of suicide implies) or by some other means before he lay prostrate? BDAG cites an ancient source that says this internal spillage happened in another case. And so, let’s say two people walking by the sight at different times. One person could have seen Judas hanging from a tree at an early moment in the gruesome process of suicide, and then the other person could have seen his body prostrate on the ground, with the blood and guts spilled out, at the end of the process.
Now who bought or acquired the field? Matthew’s version says the chief priests and elders bought the field (v. 6), while Luke implies that Judas possessed / acquired it (Acts 1:18). This difference is not so difficult to reconcile. Matthew’s verb says “bought” (agorazō, pronounced ah-go-rah-zoh), the standard verb for “buy,” while Luke’s version says acquired / possessed (ktaomai, pronounced ktah-o-my). The two verbs are not true and complete synonyms. Judas did not buy the field; instead, the chief priests and elders bought it for him with the silver. And in both versions, “the field of blood” became associated with Judas throughout Jerusalem; in that sense, Judas, in Acts, possessed or acquired the field, by reputation. Matthew the tax collector was more precise about the financial transaction, while Luke was concerned with the aftermath of the process and Judas’s replacement.
Therefore, the two accounts are reconcilable. Different purposes from different angles, at different times, in the sad process.
HT: google “Does the death of Judas tell us we cannot trust the NT?” at the website Psephizo (posted Oct. 4, 2021).
The bigger issue is that our faith should not be so brittle, so that it snaps in two, about such discrepancies. Scripture itself is not brittle, but fiery pastors and youth pastors have insisted on an extremely high and unrealistic demand on Scripture. The point is that Judas met a miserable end. The table produced above tells us what the gist of the story about Judas was. Let’s just focus on that.
My view of Scripture. It’s very high:
Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels. Start with the Conclusion which has quick summaries and links back to the other parts:
The Gospels have a massive number of agreements in their storylines:
Celebrate the similarities.
See this part in the series that puts differences in perspective (a difference ≠ a contradiction):
But the bigger picture is, as noted, to not allow your faith to become so brittle that it snaps in two because of these puzzles. It’s time to stop demanding no discrepancies or else you will leave the Christian faith.
“strangers”: this probably refers to Jews who died in Jerusalem while attending religious festivals (Turner, comment on 27:6-8).
These verses indicate how scrupulous the chief priests were for the law, but not about the Messiah who had stood right in front of them. Their perspective and priorities were confused and misdirected.
The quoted Scripture, once again, teach us that God is working out a divine plan, even when the plan involves the suffering of his Son and his betrayal. God is still good, because the Father is about to raise him up from the dead and seat him at his right hand.
GrowApp for Matt. 27:1-10
A.. Have you ever done something horrible and repented? Do you dare write out a brief account of the mess up and God’s restoration?
Jesus Is Questioned by Pilate (Matt. 27:11-14)
11 Jesus stood before the governor. The governor questioned him, saying, “Are you the king of the Jews?” But Jesus said, “You are saying so.” 12 And while the chief priests and elders were accusing him, he did not answer anything. 13 The Pilate said to him, “Don’t you hear how many things they are testifying against you?” 14 But he did not answer one thing, nothing, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Luke 23:2 says that the Jewish authorities brought three charges before Pilate: (1) Jesus’s subversive movement; (2) his opposition to paying taxes to Rome; (3) he claimed to be Christ the king. The Jews found him guilty of blasphemy, but this was insufficient to execute him under Roman law. So those three charges would have to suffice.
“not … one thing, nothing.” The Greek is emphatic. My translation reflects it.
Evidently, Jesus intended (1) to let the false accusations fly, so the religious establishment would sink deeper into guilt before God and justly incur his judgment; and (2) the divine plan had to be fulfilled; Pilate had to condemn him to death. France says that Pilate’s surprise indicates a favorable impression (p. 1049). As for Pilate’s apparent capitulation to the Sanhedrin, while Pilate was hostile towards the Jews, France says that the pressure of the Sanhedrin and the Jerusalem crowd was the most prudent course of action for him (p. 1049). The political charge of another king than Caesar had to be dealt with.
Pilate asked him whether Jesus was the king of the Jews, and he answered honestly, without making a big issue of it: “You are saying so.” This is an oblique answer that says, “Yes,” but Pilate was too dull to understand it. So Jesus is playing with the ambiguity in the word king: (a) A Caesar-like king who conquers the world with the military and compels allegiance with bodily threats; (b) a heavenly king who conquers humanity’s heart with the gospel who persuades humanity to have allegiance with love. Jesus fits the second definition. He really was the king of the Jews, but in a spiritual sense, in the new kingdom that God was ushering in. This new kingdom has links to the kingdom God set up over Israel, but now it was entering a new phase, with King Jesus at its head. But the Roman governor and his accusers did not see it. Spiritual and moral blindness.
As to Jesus’s silence, let’s quote these verses one more time, as I did in Matt. 26. Peter summarizes Jesus’s demeanor before the authorities:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet. 2:21-23, ESV)
Now let’s turn to the remarkable verse in Isaiah’s accurate prophecy.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Is. 53:7, ESV)
However, he did make a confession before the high priests, chief priests and the elders of the people, quoting Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13 (Matt. 26:64). So let’s not overinterpret the silence here. It just means he did not go into a long speech about how wrong they were and how he really was the Messiah.
But Pilate did “exceedingly” marvel at it, because no doubt he had heard many trials when the courtroom erupted in words.
GrowApp for Matt. 27:11-14
A.. Sometimes is it best to remain silent in personal family matters. Have you ever broken into a quarrel where you did not belong? What happened?
B.. Have you ever kept quiet when it was right to do so? What were the results?
Jesus Is Sentenced to Die (Matt. 26:15-26)
15 On each festival, the governor had the custom to release one prisoner to the crowd, whomever they wanted. 16 At that time they held a notorious prisoner called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Jesus Barabbas or Jesus, called the Christ? 18 For he knew that out of envy they had handed him over.
19 And while he was sitting on the judicial platform, his wife sent a message to him, saying, “Don’t let there be any dealings between you and that righteous man, for today I suffered much in a dream because of him.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds they should request Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 But in reply, the governor said to them, “Of the two, whom do you want me to shall release to you?” And they said, “Barabbas!” 22 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus, called the Christ?” They all said to him, “Let him be crucified!” 23 But he said, “Why? What wrong has he done?” They began to cry out even more, saying, “Let him be crucified!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that an uproar was taking place, he took water and dipped his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. You shall see to it yourself.” 25 And in reply, the people said, “His blood be upon us and our children!” 26 Then he released to them Barabbas, but he had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.
Back in Matt. 20:19, Jesus predicted he would be handed over, flogged, and crucified and mocked. Verse 26 here and the rest of the Matt. 27 (minus the burial and guard) fulfills the prediction.
Jesus Barabbas and Jesus the Messiah? Is this confusing? No, it’s very simple. In Hebrew Jesus is really Joshua. And Joshua was a common name. But the power and character of the two persons behind the same name is very different. Barabbas was a notorious criminal, while the Lord Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. The custom was a Passover amnesty.
The entire pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section of Scripture is tragic and awful, full of injustice and bitterness and blindness against the most just man who ever lived. It was a wrong decision based on a shouting match. Pilate was weak because his tenure in Judea had weakened by his cruelty, but the Father was behind the scenes, orchestrating the push for his Son to die. That’s how much he loved you. Someone had to die for sins. You or someone else. God, represented in the Son of God, did this for you.
Pilate was reluctant because his wife had a dream, and dreams were taken seriously in the ancient world. Rational Bible interpreters may dismiss them, but not the ancients (and not me, or at least a few of them). This dream may have prompted him to wash his hands of the whole affair. Also, he perceived their motive—envy, not justice. France says that the intervention of Pilate’s wife deepens the guilt of the Jewish leaders. God told this Gentile woman that this innocent and righteous Jew was innocent, in contrast to the unjust accusation of the religious leaders (p. 1055).
See my post:
But none of this exonerates the foolish mob. Their hearts had been hard and filled with injustice and moral blindness. God simply allowed their hearts to drink the full cup of their preconditioned unrighteousness. In other words, they were unrighteous before the trial began and were part of the opponents. For all we know, they may have been part of the temple complex, including the families of the money-changers whose tables he had overturned.
This leads us to the question: How many were shouting in favor of crucifixion? It was not the whole city, for the people liked Jesus, but it was enough of a crowd to shout so loudly that they prevailed or dominated the outcome.
“judicial platform”: it is the noun bēma (pronounced bay-mah) and it is used 12 times in the NT and literally means “a step or footsteps, space to set one’s foot on; an elevated place ascended by steps; a tribunal, throne” (Mounce, p. 1048). It is an official’s place or seat of judgment. Think of a judge sitting behind his “bench” today. Therefore it is often means “judgment seat.” Paul uses it in Rom. 14:10 for God’s judgment seat, and in 2 Cor. 5:10, for Christ’s judgment seat. It is clear where he got the image from—right here (and other places). In Acts 12:21, it is used of Herod’s throne, where he delivered a speech. Also see Acts 25:6, 10, 17.
In v. 24, “you see to it yourselves” closely parallels the chief priests’ and elders’ words to Judas in v. 4. So this is irony again. Justice comes right back on them, and they don’t even realize it.
By the way, a clever interpreter on TV has noted that the name Jesus Barabbas literally means “Jesus, son of the Father.” The interpreter connects the contrast between Jesus, who is the true son of the Father, and Barabbas, to the Day of Atonement. Recall that there were two goats during this most holy day: one was sacrificed, and the other was released. Evidently, the interpreter wants us to draw the inference that Jesus was sacrificed, while the scapegoat was released out into the wilderness, with the sins of the nation still on him. This interpretation is clever, and you can decide what to do with it. I don’t emphasize it myself because I don’t believe in outsmarting the original author.
If you don’t like the connection, then just realize that the guilty man (Barabbas) goes free, while the innocent one (Jesus) suffers for the guilty one. This is a perfect picture of penal substitution of the atonement.
The crowd was mixed with the people of Jerusalem and Judea in the south and the people of Galilee in the north. Generally, the southerners did not like the Galileans. This explains why some of the crowd turned against Jesus—they were likely from the south. Their self-incriminating words recall Jesus’s prediction that the blood of all the righteous from Abel would come upon his contemporaries (Turner, on 27:24-26).
Why was Pilate so weak? The commentator and translator for the NET says on Luke 23:12 that Pilate had a superior, named Sejanus, who had died recently. Apparently Sejanus had been anti-Jewish, and so Pilate had been treating the Jews insensitively. Now he was intending to please them by having Jesus flogged and crucified.
Jesus was flogged or scourged and then handed over to the mob to be crucified. Of the flogging, Keener writes: “The preliminary scourging here (27:26) is more serious than the maximum thirty-nine lashes administered by synagogue communities (10:17; cf. 2 Cor. 11:23) and more severe than most Roman public corporal disciplines as well (cf. Acts 16:22; 2 Cor. 11:25…); sometimes this kind of scourging caused death itself … Unlike the lesser fustigatio (beating) the severer disciplines of flagellatio (flogging) and especially verberatio (scourging) accompanied the death sentence …,” though the Gospel writers may not have made such distinctions (p. 672).
Keener continues: Romans used rods or sticks on soldiers, they used scourges on slaves and provincials of equivalent status. “Thus, Pilate here orders the preliminary scourging that, whether with rods or ships, generally preceded crucifixion and other forms of capital punishment” (p. 672).
On v. 25, which says that his blood should fall on their heads, Osborne writes:
But this does not constitute anti-Semitism, and the use of this passage in the Crusades, the pogroms, and the Holocaust was a terrible tragedy that has led to acts of horrible depravity. Matthew does not say anything that was not said often by the OT prophets, and he nowhere says that God and the church have rejected the Jews. While they are indeed guilty of the death of Jesus, so are the Romans—indeed so are all of us! In 28:18, the Jews are part of the nations to whom the gospel will go (see on 10:5-6; 15:24). This is also true of the Jewish sermons in Acts, which also stress the Jewish guilt but say in effect, “You put Christ on the cross, but he died for you. Come to him and be saved!” (Acts 2:36-39; 3:17-20; 13:27-29, 38-39).
I say that only the Jerusalem establishment and the Jews of Jerusalem egged on by the establishment were shouting their self-imposed guilt, so the guilt does not fall on all Jews. So I partly disagree with Osborne (though I’m sure Osborne would not say this, either).
Blomberg’s opinion is more balanced:
Clearly the crowd is not condemning their entire race. All of Jesus’ followers at this stage were also Jews, and the crowd does not refer to them. What is more, only a small subsection of even the uncommitted masses is involved. “On our children” does not refer to all Jewish people for all eternity but reflects a formula of corporate solidarity and a strong protestation of the crowd’s innocence (cf. Lev 20:9–16). In fact, the rhetoric of this verse has been shown to be relatively mild by ancient conventions. [L. T. Johnson, “The New Testament’s Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic,” JBL 108 (1989): 419–41.] (comment on 27:25).
As usual, we must take things in their historical context, to get the right perspective.
GrowApp for Matt. 27:15-26
A.. Jesus was unjustly put on trial. Do you believe God still has a plan when you suffer injustice? How do you trust him?
Jesus Is Mocked and Beaten by the Soldiers (Matt. 27:27-31)
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus away to the governor’s residence and gathered the whole cohort to him. 28 After they stripped him, they put a scarlet robe around him; 29 and after they had woven a crown from thorns, they placed it on his head and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and were striking his head. 31 And when they mocked him, they stripped the robe off of him and put on him his own garments and led him away to crucify him.
“cohort”: usually 600 soldiers or a manipulus, about one-third of that number. Matthew is probably using the term loosely, not precisely. Hundreds of soldiers is the main idea (Keener, p. 674)
“reed”: some translate it as a “stick.”
This whole scene, yes, was animalistic, but it was also satanic. There is just something deeply irrational and unnecessary about this abuse. Only several demons, believing that they had won the victory over the Son of God, would inspire this much cruelty. For all we know, Satan himself may be here, invisible. However, the text does not say this openly, so we should not press this invisible demonic presence too far.
To forestall any criticism that this abuse could not be of God, once again, please see my post:
No, God did not cause this abuse; evil humans did this. But I really like this verse, to clarify matters: Jesus had to suffer, in order to relate to humanity. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance. (Is. 52:14, ESV)
After the attendants had finished striking him (Matt. 26:67-68), the Roman soldiers had their turn. No wonder Isaiah prophesied that his appearance would be marred, beyond human semblance. Beating his head with a reed, while the thorny crown was on it, added to the disfigurement.
Jesus’s “kingship” here is seen as a joke. However, their mock enthronement with cheap substitutes like the scarlet robe and reed or stick for a scepter will be replaced and smacked down with the real enthronement in Matt. 28:18.
The soldiers are subject to divine irony—they “know” that he is a false Messiah and King, but in reality he is the true Messiah and King! So they dress him up in the accoutrements of a king. Eventually, these soldiers (or some soldiers in the crew) will give homage and worship for the conquering son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14; Phil. 2:9-11). “They will soon rethink their mockery” (Turner on 27:28-31).
GrowApp for Matt. 27:27-31
A.. Jesus was being physically abused, but he could not flee. He was destined to die for the whole world. However, you can flee abuse. Do you have a personal story to tell or know of a story you can recount?
Jesus Is Crucified (Matt. 27:32-44)
32 While they were going out, they found a man, a Cyrenian named Simon. They compelled him to pick up his cross. 33 And going to the place called Golgotha, which is translated the Place of the Skull, 34 they gave to him wine to drink, mixed with gall, and on tasting it, he did not want to drink it. 35 After they crucified him, they divided his garments, casting lots. 36 They were sitting and keeping watch over him there. 37 And they placed over his head the written charge against him: “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” 38 At that time they crucified two insurrectionists with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who were passing by abused him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “The one who could destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” 41 Likewise, also, the chief priests with the teachers of the law and elders, mocking him, were saying, 42 “He saved others; he is unable to save himself! He is the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him! 43 He trusted in God, let him now rescue him, if he delights in him! For he said, ‘I am God’s Son!’” 44 In the same way also, the insurrectionists who were crucified with him were scorning him.
Jesus is now ratifying the New Covenant, as he promised during the Last Supper:
26 As they were eating, Jesus, taking bread and blessing it, broke it, and giving it to the disciples, said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” 27 And taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, everyone, 28 for this is my blood of my covenant which poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:26-28)
Blomberg describes how crucifixion was done and how people died:
So Christ is nailed to the cross (this is what is implied by “crucified” in v. 35)—his feet nailed together at his ankles at the bottom of a vertical pole, his hands nailed at the wrists to either end of the crossbeam. Crucifixion was undoubtedly one of the most gruesome forms of torture and death humans have ever invented. It involved prolonged suffering for up to several days. The final cause of death was usually asphyxiation, since the victim finally became too weak to lift his head far enough off his chest to gasp for air. (comment and 27:35-37)
Simon the Cyrenian is a better translation. Cyrene is in N. Africa, where Tripoli is. Keener says that archaeologists have uncovered a grave of an “Alexander son of Simon,” a Cyrenian Jew, near Jerusalem (p. 677). But identifying him with this Simon is not nailed down. It does make one think, however. Keener further insightfully says that Simon carrying the cross underscores the disciples’ failure to carry the cross with Jesus (p. 677).
He was coming from the agricultural field where he was working.
Mark 15:21 identifies him as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Paul wrote: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well” (Rom. 16:13, ESV). How did Mark know who Rufus was? No doubt he met him in the Christian community in Rome. Recall that Peter arrived there, and Mark assisted Peter in putting together Peter’s preaching. I can easily imagine that Rufus liked to say, “My dad carried the beam for Jesus! That’s right!” However, all this is no more than a possibility, because Rufus was a popular name among Jews who wanted to Latinize their Hebrew name Reuben.
The soldiers made him carry the cross beam. The upright or vertical beam was already there at the place of crucifixion.
They have reached the place outside of Jerusalem called “the Skull Place.” The Latin word for skull is calvaria, and we get our word calvary from it (Turner on 27:33). The site of “Gordon’s Calvary” and the Garden Tomb is not historically confirmed.
The soldiers offered him sour wine or vinegar, which evidently lessened the pain. It refers to Ps. 69:21: “And for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink” (ESV). He tasted it but did not drink it. John 19:30, Mark 15:23, and Luke 23:36 agree that he did not drink it, but he did fulfill Bible prophecy when it was offered and put to his mouth. France points out that the wine was mixed with gall from the gall bladder, though France says that in this case it may not be the animal byproduct. It could be wine mixed with myrrh, which served as a narcotic. But France is not sure (p. 1066). If it was a narcotic, it is good that Jesus rejected the drink. He wanted to feel the full effect of the pain, in empathy for our own pain. Don’t take narcotics to deaden your personal pain.
Further verses in this Psalm perfectly summarize the blindness of the religious leaders and the Roman soldiers:
Let their own table before them become a snare;
and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
23 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, (Ps. 69:22-23, ESV)
For they persecute him whom you have struck down,
and they recount the pain of those you have wounded. (Ps. 69:26, ESV)
Again: Messianic Prophecies
This section of Ps. 69 speaks of God punishing those who persecute the righteous. It may make the soft-hearted squeamish, but look at this idea more theologically. God is the God of justice (not irrational vengeance), and he cannot deny who he is. Yes, he will forgive those who repent, but there is no evidence that these men repented, except one soldier and those with him (v. 54). God was going to visit on Jerusalem and the temple judgment, which happened in A.D. 70. See Matt. 24:4-35 for a thorough discussion of this judgment:
Also, see this post on the Synoptics:
Dividing up the clothes by lots speaks of putting them in a pile and then casting lots for them. Jesus was about to be crucified naked, for his clothes were gambled away by lot.
These verses move us along to another angle. The guards sat down to keep watch over him. But before then, they had placed the written charge or cause against him, over his head.
Now we learn of two more (unnamed) criminals. Matt. 27:38 and Mark 15:27 call them lēstēs (pronounced layss-tayss) and means, depending on the context: “robber, highwayman, bandit … revolutionary insurrectionist.” Barabbas was called a lēstēs (John 18:40). Luke 23:18 says that Barabbas participated in an insurrection. For all we know, Barabbas knew these two men, and they knew him. France seems to think so (p. 1068).
This scene goes back to another prophecy of Jesus: “For I tell you that it is necessary that what was written be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the lawless’” (Luke 22:37, referring to Is. 53:12).
The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders—the very ones who had accused him—and the two insurrectionists sneer because they expected the Messiah would storm Jerusalem and blow every enemy away. But here he is on the cross. “What a loser!” they thought. But they could not put two-and-two together. Is. 53 talks about the suffering Messiah. So the first mockery were done by Jews (26:67-68). Then the ridicule was done by soldiers (27:27-31). And now the people and the religious leaders and even the Jewish insurrectionists entered the verbal fray (vv. 39-44).
This pericope is one of the greatest scenes of irony written in the entire Bible. Recall that irony means you think you know something, but in reality you do not. Job’s comforters and friends tried to figure out why calamity struck Job, and they got a small level of insight once in a while—and the poetry is beautiful—but they did not know as much as they had thought. God showed up on the scene and proved them wrong. Their assessment of their own knowledge was inflated above their own capacity.
Comic irony: In the 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, Col. Klink brags that there has never been a successful escape from Stalag Thirteen. The truth: there were all kinds of escapes and they successfully accomplished their missions. Stalag Thirteen was like “Mole City” under his feet.
Tragic irony: King Oedipus believed he was wise, and he investigated why a plague was attacking Thebes. But he was ignorant of the fact that he was the cause, until later on in the play. He learned the truth too late. It was tragic.
Divine irony of the wise and powerful: In the same way, these religious rulers don’t understand Scripture, like Is. 53 and the Suffering Servant. They don’t know that he is about to be resurrected, which is his vindication. They are ignorant, and sneeringly ignorant. Maybe this is worse than comedic boasts and ignorance or Job’s ignorance!
“if he delights in him”: That is, if God delights in him. We already learned that God does delight in and love his Son.
And being baptized, Jesus instantly got up out of the water, and look! the heaven opened up to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down as a dove and coming upon him. 17 And listen! A voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight!” (Matt. 3:16-17)
A bright cloud covered them. And then listen! A voice from heaven from the cloud speaking: “This one is my beloved Son, in whom I have been well pleased. Listen to him.” (Matt. 17:5)
So these religious leaders were swimming around in irony. God endorsed his Son, already. They were ignorant of this, yet they thought they understood the mind of God in getting rid of Jesus—but not for long. Vindication is coming.
The mockers didn’t fully understand the title Son of God, but we do now, so let’s explore it more deeply.
Let’s get into a little systematic theology.
Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Quick teaching about the Trinity with even more systematic theology. The Father in his role as the Father is over the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant. Look at it this way: a human father and son are equal in their essence. Both have a soul and spirit. But in their roles and family relationship, the Father is over the Son.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son in his incarnation and redemptive plan
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
Let’s return to the passage at hand. Blomberg’s words are inspiring:
For the sake of our eternal salvation, we praise God that he chose to remain faithful despite this unspeakable and excruciating agony. He thus perfectly illustrated the principle of 16:25 (“whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it”), which applies to all people. It is difficult to study the crucifixion sensitively and sympathetically and not break down in tears. It is almost inconceivable that believers who frequently meditate on Jesus’ suffering on their behalf could exalt themselves or quarrel with each other (hence 1 Cor 1:18–2:5 as Paul’s response to the problems of 1 Cor 1:10–17). The ground is indeed level at the foot of the cross. (comment on 27:38-40)
GrowApp for Matthew 27:32-44
A.. Jesus loved you so much that he was willing to go through crucifixion for you. What does his great and sacrificial love mean to you?
B.. What does his crucifixion mean to you?
The Death of Jesus (Matt. 27:45-56)
45 Darkness descended on the entire land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour. 46 Around the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 Some of those standing there heard and said, “He is calling on Elijah.” 48 And immediately one of them ran and took a sponge soaked with sour wine and put it around a reed and gave him it. 49 The rest were saying, “Leave it! Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him!” 50 Jesus again cried out with a loud voice and released his spirit.
51 And look! The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 And the tombs opened up and many bodies of holy people who had fallen asleep were raised 53 and left their tombs after his resurrection and went into the sacred city and appeared to many.
54 The centurion and those with him keeping watch over Jesus, seeing the shaking and the events, were exceedingly afraid, saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there, watching at a distance, who followed Jesus from Galilee, to minister to him, 56 some of whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Jewish and Roman Writers on the Death of Jesus
|1||Mara bar Serapion (c. AD 73): “For what advantage did … the Jews [gain] by the death of their wise king, because from that time their kingdom was taken away?”|
|2||Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.3: “Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified.”|
|3||Agapius Book of Titles (summarizing Josephus): “Pilate condemned him to be crucified.”|
|4||Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (c. AD 110-20): This name [i.e. Christian] originates from ‘Christus’ who was sentenced to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.”|
|5||Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin 43a: “On the eve of the Passover they hanged Jesus the Nazarene. And a herald went out in front of him, for forty days, saying: ‘He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead on his behalf.’ But not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of Passover.”|
|Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. (Baker 1996), p. 1843. Bock wrote these summaries before the web was up and running for the public, but now you can find them everywhere, in reputable videos and websites. We should give the printed, published authors credit.|
Most scholars I have read about the reference in Josephus (no. 2) conclude that the core of his record is authentic, though later Christians embellished it. Bock preserves the core. It is obvious that these writers differ greatly in the details, which is natural enough since they wrote at different times and in different places; the Talmudic record seems hostile and dishonest, which gives it a sort of credibility, an admission against its own interest. However, they all agree that Jesus lived and died. And I don’t discount the four Gospels on the basics, either.
4. Did Jesus Even Exist? (part four in my series on the reliability of the Gospels)
The sixth hour was noon (12:00), and the ninth hour was 3:00 p.m. (15:00). France argued at 26:17 that this was done around the time of the slaughter of the Passover lambs (p. 1075, n. 11). See my long quotation of him there.
Matthew 26 (scroll down to v. 17)
This pericope is divided into three aspects: Jesus, the people, and supernatural phenomena, like the curtain tearing in two. At the death of Jesus, people, living or dead, react, and so do nature and the curtain in the temple.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Let’s go into the significance of Jesus’s death.
“Why have you forsaken me?” It could be translated as “abandoned.” He is quoting Ps. 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (ESV). Why did Jesus feel abandoned? Some Bible teachers say that he was feeling the sin of humanity imputed or credited to him in a vicarious or substitutionary or representative way. Jesus took the penalty of our sin, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Jesus died in our place. He was our substitute. I believe that this reason is strong enough. However, a teaching circulated about a decade ago that said that the Father really didn’t abandon him, but Jesus simply felt abandoned. Maybe. But I prefer the idea that the Father poured out on him the penalty and judgment for our sin, so the penalty and judgment we deserved was imputed over to him. Now we do not have to be punished for our sin, at judgment. In fact we now have free access to the throne of grace, because of Jesus (Heb. 4:16). We are right now benefited by his sacrificial and substitutionary act on the cross. We don’t have to get the benefit only at judgment.
Yes, Jesus was quoting Scripture, when he said, “My God, my God ….” But France insightfully points out a poignant dimension. He had referred to God as his Father (11:25, 26; 26:39, 42). Thus it was a change in mood or atmosphere from the intimacy in Gethsemane, where he did say “My Father” (p. 1076), to the pain of actually being on the cross now.
Keener: “By expiring at 3:00 p.m. [15:00], Jesus died close to the official time of the evening lamb offering in the temple, especially significant in a paschal context … though I would argue that the final Passover lambs were being slaughtered the preceding day. … (p. 684). “Some more recent studies suggest that dehydration and loss of blood are more plausible causes” of death (p. 684). Earlier studies said that the crucified victim was unable to lift the diaphragm and died of asphyxiation. Maybe all these causes contributed to his death. But truthfully, Jesus died earlier than expected (John 19:33), so he gave up his spirit, voluntarily (v. 50).
Jesus was satisfying the justice of God by taking our place on the cross. Our sins deserved death, but he took it instead of (substitution) of us. Now what is the “wrath” of God? Let me show it in pictures:
God’s wrath is judicial.
It is not like this:
But like this:
That is a picture of God in judgment.
God’s wrath is not primitive or human or uncontrolled rage. It is slow and methodical and tied to his justice.
Now a little more theology. If Jesus dies on the cross, did God die? No. God lived on, but his body and humanity died. We can understand this if we look at our lives. When we die, our spirits live on, but our bodies die. So only a part of us dies. God did not die when Jesus did, and neither, incidentally, did his own spirit. Jesus commended his spirit to God the Father (v. 50).
Let’s look more deeply at the atonement, which is connected with Jesus’s death on the cross.
Atonement literally means in English at-one-ment or being one with God or being reconciled to him (the -ment suffix means “the result of”).
It is the extensive and costly process of reconciling sinners to God.
The Hebrew verb is kapar (used 102 times) and is generally translated as “to atone,” “to wipe clean,” and “to appease.” In Gen. 32:20, Jacob sent gifts ahead of him to “wipe” (atone) the anger off his brother Esau’s face. As it turned out, Esau was not angry because time healed his wounds, and he was prosperous. The main point, however, is that sacrifice and gifts atone for or wipe away just wrath. The sacrifice of an animal during the sin offering (Lev. 4:1-5:13), for example, was to atone for the worshiper’s own sins, by blood manipulation primarily. Then God’s judicial wrath would be lifted and he would smile on his people again. Jacob and Esau were reconciled, and God and his people were reconciled.
The NT Greek nouns are hilasmos (used twice and pronounced hih-lahs-moss) and hilastērion (also used twice and pronounced he-lah-stay-ree-own). The first noun appears in 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 and means “an atoning sacrifice, propitiation.” Propitiation means “satisfaction” or “appeasement.” Jesus is the sacrifice that atones for sins. Our sins destroyed and separated us from God, but the sacrifice of Jesus reconciles us to God (1 John 1:6-7).
For more information, please click on this post:
Once again, to forestall objections that falsely accuse God of being primitive or petty, please see this post:
Is. 6 is a wonderful passage that describes a holy man—Isaiah—in the very presence of God, and he saw himself as undone and ruined, because he was an unclean man living among an unclean people. God reached out to him and put a coal on his lips to speak with power and anointing. God cleansed him.
Is. 27:9 talks about the extreme need of Israel’s sins to be removed, and one way to do this was to cut down fertility poles and crush altars to false gods. But this would not bring about reconciliation for all of humanity, forever, but the need for it is clear.
Dan. 9:24 speaks of Israel living in exile seventy years to finish transgression and atone for their wickedness. The verb “atone” means to “wipe away” or appease or placate God’s righteous demands.
John 1:29 shows John the Baptist proclaiming to the people about Jesus, “Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”
Source: Atonement: Bible Basics
Why was the blood of Jesus necessary, and what does it accomplish?
Personally, I like how the blood of Jesus cleanses our guilty consciences from past sins. And I like that last point about the blood of the Lamb tramples underfoot the accusation of Satan. The thing is—when he accuses us he knows which sins we have committed. They are not life by our own experience. But in Christ we realize that Satan’s accusations are lies, because God already wiped clean and forgave and released our sins. They no longer apply.
Source: Why the Blood of Jesus?
What did the cross accomplish for us?
First, the cross put to death the curse of the old law. Paul wrote to the Galatians that according to the old law, everyone who hanged on a pole was cursed (Deut. 21:23), so Christ became that curse in our place (Gal. 3:13). Now the curse of the law is broken over us, so God does not judge us in his justice-wrath-judgment. We are in Christ and are spared his wrath.
Second, the cross took away our sins. The power that the law and regulations was broken and canceled over our lives, by the cross. Those things used to condemn us but now through the cross we have forgiveness of sins (Col. 2:13-14). 1 Peter 2:24 says that Christ himself bore our sins in his body, which happened at the cross (Is. 53:5).
Third, the cross reconciled us to God. Paul writes that humanity used to be divided by ethnic and cultural differences, but through the cross, all humans are made into one new human, united in Christ (Eph. 2:16). The fullness of deity lived in bodily form in Christ, and now God reconciled all things to himself by his cross and the blood that was shed there.
Fourth, the cross brought us eternal life. Jesus taught that when he was lifted up on the cross, so that everyone who sees him and believes can have eternal life.
Fifth, the cross triumphed over our enemies. As noted, Col. 2:15 says all the decrees issued against us were canceled, and Christ dragged behind him all of his enemies like a roman emperor led captive people in his victory parade.
Source: Why the Cross?
What is reconciliation, and how does Christ’s death on the cross accomplish it? Reconciliation is when God calls us to surrender fighting him and become his friend. He doesn’t have to move, but we do. He did act, however, by sending his Son to die.
First, God’s law and holiness required payment for human degradation and sin, if redemption is to be done. God cannot ignore or overlook sin. So how can humankind be reconciled or brought near to God, with such a wide gulf? Christ willingly became a sin offering in our place (substitute) and paid the penalty of sin that engulfed humankind. Now reconciliation between God and humans can take place because Christ is the mediator between the two. God can be just and the justifier of humanity (Rom. 3:26).
Then, second, there is another point of view. Redemption is a gift. Out of his love God gave his all through his Son and his Spirit. Humanity that was plunged into sin and darkness and the devil’s kingdom overcomes by Jesus atoning life and work. God maintains his justice, expresses his love and triumphs over darkness and Satan.
Source: What Is Redemption in the Bible?
That last link has tables, comparing the different accounts of Jesus’s death.
Jesus gave up or entrusted or commended his spirit to his Father. Jesus didn’t allow himself to be a victim of natural causes, like suffocation. He had complete control over his death. He declared when it was over.
When we die, our spirit is entrusted to our Father. It is not a ghost or goes into a soul sleep (see the comment on v. 43). If we are converted, saved or redeemed, then our spirit goes to heaven. If we are not saved, converted or redeemed, our spirit goes to hell waiting the final resurrection when our transformed bodies are reunited with our soul / spirit and go through final judgment. But there is some unclarity about what this hell is. Is it outer darkness? Fire? How can fire and outer darkness coexist? Whatever it is, it is separation from God.
Sleeping in all NT passages that speak of death is simply a metaphor for death. It’s a great image, because when we die, we appear to sleep as our body lies in the coffin, but our spirit or soul is very much alive and not sleeping. We are awake, even though our body is dead.
The focus shifts over to the onlookers. First, the centurion and those with him, who were seeing the signs, concluded that this man really was the Son of God. That is a profession of faith. However, the centurion and company did not see all of the events in one moment, since they happened over a (short) time. But he did see the sky darken. Matthew has simply telescoped or condensed the events. France says that the crucifixion and death and the earthquake and darkened sky explained the guards’ terror and triggered their confession of faith (pp. 1083-84). In Matthew’s community, the soldier’s and his company’s confession of faith in God’s Son is supposed to trigger the same reaction. God twice declared that Jesus was his Son (3:17; 17:5); Peter called him the Son of the living God (16:16); demons declared his Sonship (4:3, 6; 8:29). And Jesus said so himself (11:25-27; cf. 24:36). Now we are to declare his Sonship for our salvation (Gal. 2:20).
I really, really like how Matthew mentions the women. This honorable mention sets the stage of the beginning of the next section when they spy out the place where his body was laid. It refers to Ps. 38:11, which will become true in the near future: “My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away” (Ps. 38:11, NIV). Peter and the others thought the women’s report about the resurrection was “nonsense” (24:11).
It takes a deep commitment from the women to observe him crucified. It must have broken their hearts. But I wonder if they remembered his words, deep in their spirits, hope against hope, that he would rise from the dead. They are about to get the burial spices and perfumes ready, so their commitment to him goes even further.
Luke 8:2 says that Jesus expelled seven demons out of her. Her name here is Maria in Greek, so Matthew did not feel the requirement to keep the Hebrew name Miriam. He intended his Gospel to go out to the provinces in a language the people could understand. That’s the way it should be when the Bible is translated into various languages around the globe today. Use names and words that people understand. There is nothing “extra-pure” about Hebrew roots, as if Gentile believers around the world are unfulfilled if they do not have these Hebrew names and fulfilled if they do in their translations. Slow down, Hebrew Roots Movement!
Seven is the number of completion, so you can interpret the seven demons as a deep need for deliverance or there really were seven demons. I take the number literally. It is good to see her restored and still following Jesus.
Mary, the mother of James and Joseph:
Her name is also Maria in Greek. James is identified as James the Younger (Mark 15:40). Therefore, she is the wife of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3). Apart from these small hints, scholars don’t know who she is.
The mother of the sons of Zebedee:
Here are the two sons and their father:
21 Then he went ahead from there and saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, repairing their net, and he called them. 22 And instantly they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matt. 4:21-22)
And here she is demanding or requesting (you choose) that her two sons get special privileges and status in the Messiah’s kingdom:
20 At that time the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached him with her sons, bowing before him and asking something from him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you wish for?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine would sit, one on your right and one on your left, in your kingdom. (Matt. 20:20-21)
James and John (and Peter) formed the inner circle of Jesus. He must have seen something stable in them, in the end.
Some believe that she is Salome (Mark 15:40), as France seems to say (p. 1087). That is, v. 55 says that an unnamed woman, the mother of James and John, was watching the crucifixion from a distance. Mark 15:40 says that Salome was there. Then John 19:25 says that an unnamed woman was the sister of Mary (Jesus’s mother). If this unnamed woman is Salome, this would make James and John Jesus’s cousins. This would explain, in part, why he chose Capernaum as his adopted hometown and ministry base up north in Galilee. Zebedee and his two sons had their fishing business there. And if the beloved disciple was John, and he likely was, then this explains why he handed his mother to him (John 19:27). (Jesus’s brothers may have been indifferent to him and his mother who believed in her Son.) However, Matt. 27:55, Mark 15:40 and Luke 23:49 say any number of Galilean women were watching the crucifixion from a distance. So the unnamed woman could be one of them. For Mark, the woman named Salome may simply be a well-known witness in his community or to him. In contrast, Matthew dropped her name (or never knew it) because for him she was not a well-known witness (Bauckham p. 50).
Therefore, I am skeptical, but who knows? It could be true. You decide.
Resurrected Holy People
I have written a separate article on these people in those two verses.
Nature and the Curtain
You have two (or three) options in interpreting these events: literally or symbolically or both, in part.
Let’s take the curtain in the temple first.
A small local earthquake happens, and apparently it is strong enough to tear the curtain in two. Keener writes:
But some rabbinic sources may report a garbled account of a similar tradition, though the evidence is not clear. Josephus may know a related tradition about a heavy gate to the inner court opening by itself presaging Jerusalem’s destruction, though he or his source place it closer to the latter event (Jos. War 6:293-96); likewise, the priestly aristocracy would certainly not have publicized a rending of the inner veil at Jesus’s death (which they might regard as a coincidence … but early “leaks” to the Christians unconfirmed by the hierarchy would be possible (Acts 6:7). (p. 687)
The tearing of the curtain happened around the time of the evening sacrifice of the evening sacrifice (vv. 45-46), so it would be obvious to attending priests (p. 686). “The rending [tearing] could symbolize the departure of God’s presence that preceded God’s judgment against the temple. Perhaps the old veil was ‘rent’ because the new order would not fit it (p. 696).
It for sure the curtain or veil tearing relates to this teaching in Hebrews, which says that Christ entered the holy place in the heavenly tabernacle.
23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb. 9:23-28, ESV, emphasis added)
In line with the above passage, this tearing symbolized that the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place was now accessible for Jesus’s followers, spiritually speaking. Jesus entered the heavenly tabernacle by means of his once-and-for-all sacrifice. Old Judaism was ending.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:19-22, ESV, emphasis added)
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he opened the curtain, so that we can have complete access to God. We can enter the Most Holy Place. We enter through the curtain, that is, through his body.
Nature was bowing in reverence. The sixth hour was noon (12:00), and the ninth hour was at three in the afternoon (15:00). Some identify the darkness with a solar eclipse in A.D. 33 (BTSB), yet Jesus was crucified, more likely, in A.D. 30. So this event was a supernatural occurrence. On the other hand, you can interpret the sign in the sky as symbolic—the sky darkened when the Son of God was just about to expire. In the OT, when a major eschatological change happens, like the judgment on nations, the cosmos or creation reacts apocalyptically. They do not react literally. For a list of the Scriptures, click on this link:
Here are some:
“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.” (Amos 8:9, ESV)
The mountains quake before him;
the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
the world and all who dwell in it.
6 Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. (Nahum 1:5-6, ESV)
11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, (1 Kings 19:11, ESV)
Whichever way you take the cosmic sign and the curtain tearing, whether symbolic or literal, the significance is the same as just described. A massive eschatological shift just happened. The world would never be the same—it would get better, but only when people hear and receive the gospel.
And whatever you do, don’t make the literal or symbolic belief in these phenomena a test of orthodoxy. Keep the main thing the main thing, and these verses are not the main thing. The resurrection will be.
Here are biblical allusions in the Crucifixion narrative:
|27:34||Wine mixed with gall (mercy or mockery?)||Ps. 69:21|
|27:35||Garments divided by casing lots||Ps. 22:18|
|27:36||Soldiers watch Jesus||Ps. 22:17|
|27:38||Numbered with transgressors||Is. 53:12|
|27:39||Shaking head in derision||Ps. 22:7|
|27:44||God will deliver Jesus if he trusts in him||Ps. 22:8|
|27:45||Darkness at noon||Amos 8:9|
|27:46||“Why have you forsaken me?”||Ps. 22:1|
|27:57-60||Jesus’s grave with a rich man||Is. 53:9|
|Turner, p. 662|
GrowApp for Matt. 27:45-56
A.. Jesus gave his life—his all—for you. Please read Matt. 10:38 and 16:24. What had to die in you when you converted to Christ?
The Burial of Jesus (Matt. 27:57-61)
57 When evening came, a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus, arrived. 58 He approached Pilate and requested the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded it to be given. 59 And taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen cloth 60 and placed it in his own new tomb which he had cut into the rock. And when he had rolled a large stone at the entrance of the tomb, he left. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite of the grave.
Arimathea: the exact location remains unknown (BTSB on Luke 23:51), but the best guess is Ramathaim, the birthplace of the prophet Samuel, northwest of Lydda (Carson). My website is not set up for maps. You can google these locations nowadays.
Joseph was a prominent member of the Jewish council and court (Sanhedrin) (Mark. 15:43). He did not consent to the condemnation of Jesus (Luke 23:51). John 19:38 says that he was a disciple of Jesus, but only in secret, because he feared the Jewish leadership. Luke 23:50 says that Joseph was a good and righteous man. One way we can know he was good and righteous is that he did not agree with the Sanhedrin’s plot and action to execute Jesus. And he showed kindness to Jesus’s body. Who knows? Maybe Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection and thanked him for his kindness.
In Luke 23:51, Joseph was expecting or waiting for the kingdom of God. This expands the definition of why he was considered a good and righteous man. He probably did not know what the kingdom really was, but he sensed that Jesus was the main source of it. Now what would happen to his kingdom expectation? He may have not considered the resurrection, so his hopes must have crashed and burned. Yet, he had the courage to get the body.
Speaking of courage, Joseph approached Pilate and asked for the body. Pilate must have thought about it. Did the governor shake his head in disappointment that he got involved in the whole sorry “trial”? Or did he just say yes and told Joseph to go? If his heart was softened, then he probably did say something about the recent events. Mark 15:44 says that he asked a centurion whether Jesus had died so quickly. He was amazed when the centurion confirmed it. It usually took two to three days for the crucified man to die.
No doubt, since Joseph was rich and it took more than one man to physically move the body, he had his servants take down the cross and level it on the ground, the lifeless body moving, the head bobbing with the descent of the cross. Then Joseph ordered his servants to unfasten the body by pulling out the spikes.
The rock-hewn tomb was probably specially chosen for Joseph. In any case, no other body was lain there before (Luke 23:53). This act of generosity showed extra kindness and respect.
The other Mary: Mark 15:47 says she was the mother of Joses, or as verse 56 says, the mother of James and Joseph (v. 56). They were devoted followers of Jesus. They wanted to be sure that they knew where he was buried. Evidently, they planned to visit the tomb immediately after the Sabbath ended (28:1).
GrowApp for Matt, 27:57-61
A.. Joseph was courageous enough, because of possible persecution from his fellow Jewish leaders, to show sacrificial kindness to Jesus. What sacrificial kindness have you shown a disciple of Jesus or a future disciple who is about to convert?
The Guard at the Tomb (Matt. 27:62-66)
62 The next day, which was after the Preparation Day, the chief priests and Pharisees assembled before Pilate, 63 saying, “Sir, we remember that this deceiver said while he was alive, ‘After three days I will be raised.’ 64 Therefore order that the tomb be secured until the third day, in case his disciples come and steal him and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead!’ And the final deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard. Go, secure it as you know how. 66 Then they went and secured the tomb and sealed the stone, along with the guard.
This scene sets up the resurrection and the inserted pericope about bribing the guard (Matt. 28:11-15). The guards will tremble with fear and fall like dead men when the angel arrive (28:4). Jesus resurrection is more powerful than the might Roman empire and the nation of Israel.
Preparation Day was Friday, and the day after was Saturday or the Sabbath. The chief priests and Pharisees were not breaking the Sabbath if they walked less than a small distance. More importantly, they must have believed that they were protecting the nation and Judaism, the theocratic religion of their nation. They were protecting a life—the life of the nation.
Now this scene finishes with a totally secure tomb—a seal and a guard. The seal was probably a wax all around the stone and the entrance to the tomb (France, p. 1095, n. 20).
And now with the guard and seal, no group of disciples can come and steal the body and make false claims about a resurrection. However, God knows better. The resurrection will be even more miraculous.
GrowApp for Matt. 27:62-66
A.. Jesus is dead and buried. Some followers may have been hopeful, but no one truly knew whether he would be resurrected. What part of your life of discipleship had to be dead and buried before God resurrected it?
Summary and Conclusion
Let’s look at a table that lays out the events of Passion Week:
|Friday||Arrival in Bethany (Jn 12:1)|
|Saturday||Mary’s anointing of Jesus (Jn 12:2-8; Mt 26:6-13 // Mk 14:3-9)|
|Sunday||Triumphal Entry (Mt 21:1-11 // Mk 11:1-10 // Lk 19:28-38); surveying temple (Mk 11:11), return to Bethany (Mt 21:17 // Mk 11:11)|
|Monday||Clearing temple (Mt 21:12-17 // Mk 11:15-19 // Lk 19:45-48); cursing fig tree (Mt 21:18-22; // Mk 11:12-14); miracles and challenge temple (Mt 21:14-16); return to Bethany (Mk 11:19)|
|Tuesday||Disciples’ question about fig tree (Mk 11:20-21); debates with leaders of temple (Mt 21:23-22:46 // Mk 11:27-12:40 // Lk 20:1-44); Olivet Discourse (Mt 24-25; Mk 13; Lk 21:1-36); return to Bethany, but Lk 21:37 says he lodged on Mount of Olives|
|Wednesday||Little recorded in Gospel—Jesus and disciples apparently remain in Bethany; Judas arranges for Jesus’ betrayal (Mt. 26:14-16 // Mk 14:10-11 // Lk 22:3-6); I say he could be teaching in the temple or praying privately|
|Thursday||Preparation for Passover (Mt 26:17-19 // Mk 14:12-16 // Lk 22:7-13); after sundown, Passover meal and Last Supper (Mt 26:20-35 // Mk 14:17-25 // Lk 22:14, 21-23, 15-20); Farewell Discourse (Jn 13-17); Gethsemane (Mt 26:30-46 // Mk 13:32-42 // Lk 22:40-46)|
|Friday||After midnight, betrayal and arrest (Mt 26:47-56 // Mk 14:43-52 // Lk 22:47-53);
Jewish trials—Annas (Jn 18:13-14); Caiaphas and partial Sanhedrin (Mt 26:52-75 // Mk 14:53-72 // Lk 22:54-71); full Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1-2);
Roman trials—Pilate (Mt 27:2-14 // Mk 15:2-5 // Lk 23:2-5); Herod Antipas (Lk 23:6-12); Pilate (Mt 27:15-26 // Mk 15:6-15 // Lk 23:17-27);
Mocked by soldiers (Mt 27:27-31 // Mk 15:16-20);
Road to Golgotha (Mt 27:32 // Mk 15:21 // Lk 23:26-32);
Crucifixion 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. / 15:00h (Mt 27:27-56 // Mk 15:22-41 // Lk 23:33-49);
Burial (Mt 27:57-61 // Mk 15:42-47 // Lk 23:5-56)
|Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2010), who got it from Michael J. Wilkens, Matthew: NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2004). I modified it.|
In this bleak chapter, some of the disciples were hopeful—Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary”—sat opposite to the tomb, when Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus. They must have sensed something might happen. But the other disciples were frightened or were in unbelief. We can look back on them and blame them from our superior position, but we got to be careful about that. We have the hindsight of two thousand years. They lived it.
This chapter is about the Lord’s Passion (or suffering). Pilate was reluctant to sentence Jesus to death, but he felt pressure from the Jewish authorities, because Jesus was accused of making himself king—a political charge. Pilate could not overlook this. Jesus was also rejected by a segment of the crowd when they chose Barabbas. Ouch. But Jesus knew the Father was working everything out.
Jesus is further beaten by soldiers after he already got punched and slapped by the Jewish authorities. He was nailed to the cross with big spikes. While he hung on the cross, a parade of people walked by and mocked him further. He felt the agony of abandonment at the time when God transferred his judgment on humanity to him. Then he released his spirit to the Father. He chose his time to die. Then Joseph, a rich man and disciple, took the body down and buried it in his own tomb. (As it happened, Jesus was about to occupy it temporarily and then leave it empty for him!) Both Carson and France say that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is probably the right location for the tomb.
Now we move on the next chapter about the triumph of the Son, brought on by the Father.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 15-28: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).