Matthew 27 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Matthew 27
Pulpit Commentary
When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
Verses 1, 2. - Jesus brought to Pilate. (Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66; Luke 23:1; John 18:28.) Verse 1. - When the morning was come. This is the early morning of Good Friday, the 14th of Nisan. If the rulers had had special regard to legality, they could not have condemned Christ to death at night, as they had done at the late informal assembly; but their respect for conventional rules was overborne by passion and hatred. They had decreed his death by general consent, and then retired for a few hours' necessary rest. Now they again met together, still in the palace of Caiaphas (John 18:28), in order to complete their evil work, to endorse the previous sentence, and, under some pretence, hand their Victim over to the Roman governor, who alone could execute their murderous purpose. The particle δὲ (πρωι'´ας δὲ γενομένης), omitted by the Authorized Version, takes us back to the conclusion of the council (Matthew 26:66), the account of its further proceedings being interrupted by the episode of Peter. All the chief priests and elders of the people. It was a large assembly of the Sanhedrin, many members, doubtless, taking part in these proceedings, now that the capital sentence was past, who would not have deliberately planned a judicial murder. Such was the course of Jewish casuistry. To (ὥστε) put him to death. The council had merely to determine how to formulate such a political charge against Jesus as would compel the Romans to punish the offender with death. They were determined that he should die by an ignominious and cursed death, that his pretensions, as being sent by God, might be disposed of forever. Hence arose the persistent cry, "Crucify him!" (vers. 22, 23). The Jewish view of crucifixion is seen in Deuteronomy 21:23 and Galatians 3:13. They possibly feared some outbreak if they delayed the execution, and kept him prisoner till the conclusion of the feast.
And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
Verse 2. - When they had bound him. With his hands tied by a rope behind his back. This was the treatment inflicted on condemned malefactors. During the actual official proceedings it was customary to release the accused person from bonds; hence this new binding was necessary. What passed in the council before this indignity was inflicted is, perhaps, told by St. Luke: the Sanhedrists satisfied themselves that they had a case against Jesus sufficient for their purpose, and they proceeded in a body to lay it before the governor. Pontius Pilate the governor (τῷ ἡγεμόνι). Some good manuscripts omit "Pontius," as in Mark and Luke; but there seems to be no doubt that he bore this nomen gentilicium (see e.g. Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 15:44), which connected him with the Samnite gens of the Pontii. He was the sixth Roman Procurator of Judaea, and his title in Greek was ἐπίτροπος rather than ἡγεμών, which was a more general term for a commander or chief possessing more extensive powers. He held the office under the Prefect of Syria for ten years, at the end of which time he was removed for cruelty and extortion, and banished to Vienne, in Gaul, where he put an end to his own life. The turbulence and national animosity of the Jews had rendered it necessary to invest the procurator with the power of life and death, which he used in the most unscrupulous manner, so that he was universally hated and feared. The quarters of the Roman governor were called the Praetorium, and to this Christ was led. Pilate usually resided at Caesarea, but came to Jerusalem at the great festival, to be ready to quell any fanatical outbreak that might occur. So nowadays the Turks keep a body of troops in the same city to preserve the peace between Christian worshippers at Easter(!). Whether Pilate occupied the barracks at the fortress Antonia, or the magnificent palace of Herod, situated at the northwest angle of the upper city, is uncertain; but as we know that the Roman procurators did reside in Herod's palace, and as on this occasion Pilate was accompanied by his wife (ver. 19), it is most probable that he took up his abode in the latter, and that Jesus was brought before him there. Herod had a house of his own on the east of Zion, opposite the castle, which he seems to have occupied more often than his father's palace, thus leaving the latter at the pleasure of the Roman governors. Assuming this to be the case, Dr. Edersheim writes, "From the slope of the eastern angle, opposite the temple mount, where the palace of Caiaphas stood, up the narrow streets of the upper city, the melancholy procession wound to the portals of the grand palace of Herod. It is recorded that they who brought him would not themselves enter the portals of the palace, 'that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover'" ('Life and Times of Jesus,' 2:505).
Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
Verses 3-10. - Remorse and suicide of Judas, and the use made of the blood money. (Peculiar to St. Matthew; cf. Acts 1:18, 19.) Verse 3. - Then. This transaction took place either when Jesus was being conducted to the Praetorium, or during the interview with Herod (Luke 23:7-11). A great number of the Sanhedrists had now withdrawn to the temple, and were sitting in conclave there. When he saw that he was condemned. He evidently had not contemplated the full consequences of his crime; he never expected that the Jewish rulers would proceed to such extremities. It is probable that, in his lust for gain and his loss of love for his Master, he had. thought of nothing but his own sordid interests, and now was appalled at the share which he had had in bringing to pass this awful result. The excuse made in modern days for Judas, that he wished only to force our Lord to exert his Divine power, and to declare himself Messiah, is refuted by one out of many considerations (see on Matthew 26:14). His remorse at this moment has to be accounted for. If he still believed in Christ's Divine commission, he would not have despaired of a happy result even after his condemnation, nay, even when he was hanging on the cross. Christ's power to deliver himself and to assume his Messianic position remained unimpaired by these seemingly adverse circumstances, and a believer would have waited for the end before he surrendered all hope. Judas's character is not bettered by considering that he did evil that good might come, or that he was led to his base course by the hope that his worldly interests would be improved by the establishment of Messiah's temporal kingdom. That he had now any desire or ambition for a place in a spiritual kingdom cannot be conceived, for he had evidently lost all faith in Jesus, and followed him only for the most sordid motives. Repented himself (μεταμεληθείς). This word (differing from μετανοέω, which expresses change of heart) denotes only a change of feeling, a desire that what has been done could be undone; this is not repentance in the Scripture sense; it springs not from love of God, it has not that character which calls for pardon. "Mark," says St. Chrysostom, "when it is that he feels remorse. When his sin was completed, and had received an accomplishment. For the devil is like this; he suffers not those who are careless to see the evil before this, lest he whom he has taken should repent. At least, when Jesus was saying so many things, he was not influenced, but when his offence was completed, then repentance came upon him, and not then profitably." Only now did he fully realize what he had done; in the light of his crime his conscience awoke and confounded him with vehement re-preaches: the object for which he had sinned seemed utterly unworthy and base; its attraction vanished when no longer pursued. Brought again (returned) the thirty pieces of silver. He had received the whole price for which he had bargained, but he could not retain the money now; it was a silent witness which he could not endure. He may have thought that he would throw away the guilt of his crime as he deprived himself of its wages, or that he could repair its consequences by this tardy restitution.
Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
Verse 4. - I have sinned. He confesses his sin, indeed, yet not to God, but to the partners and instigators of his crime, and this, not with godly sorrow, but in self-disgust and vexation of spirit that could not be repressed. His was the sorrow that worketh death (2 Corinthians 7:10). In that I have betrayed [the] innocent blood (αῖμα ἀθῷον, or, according to some manuscripts, αῖμα δίκαιον, but in either case without the article). By speaking of "blood," he showed that he knew the murder was certain. Judas seems to have had no faith in Christ's Divinity, but he had perfect assurance of his holiness and innocence, and felt, and endeavoured to make the rulers feel, that an iniquitous sentence had been passed, and that a guiltless person was condemned to death. This consideration added to the bitterness of his regret. But he obtained no comfort from the hardened and unfeeling priests. They had gotten what they had desired. The question of Christ's moral guilt or innocence was nothing to them; equally indifferent to them was the fierce remorse of Judas. What is that to us? Τί πρὸς ἡμᾶς; See thou to that (σὺ ὄψει, tu videris, equivalent to "that is your concern," as in ver. 24). A more unfeeling, nay, fiendish answer could not have been given. It threw the wretched man back on himself, left him alone with his remorse, the blackness of his night unrelieved by any ray of human sympathy. In their own obduracy and impenitence they scorn the weakness of their miserable tool. As Bengel well moralizes, "Impii in facto consortes, post factum deserunt; pii, in facto non consortes, postea medentur." To sympathize with repentance is the duty and the privilege of the Christian; to deride and scoff at the returning sinner is devilish. It is profitable to contrast the sincere repentance of Peter after his fall with the remorse of the despairing Judas.
And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
Verse 5. - He cast down the pieces of silver in the temple (ἐν τᾷ ναῷ, in the sanctuary, or, as good manuscripts read, εἰς τὸν ναόν, into the sanctuary). The priests were in the priests' court (which would be included in the term ναός), separated by a stone partition from the court of the Gentiles. Into the latter area Judas had pressed; and, hurrying to the wall of division, he flung the cursed shekels with all his force into the inner place, as if to rescind the iniquitous contract and to cast away its pollution. He departed. He rushed away from the temple and the city into solitude, down into and across the valley of Hinnom, up the steep sides of the overhanging mountain - anywhere to escape human eyes, and, if it might be, to flee from himself. Vain endeavour! The memory of his useless crime haunts him; he has no hope in earth or heaven; life under this burden is no longer supportable. Went and hanged himself (ἀπήγξατο, he strangled himself; laqueo se suspendit, Vulgate). He mounted some precipitous rock, and unwinding the girdle (for it was unnecessary to find and take a rope with him) which he wore, and in which he had doubtless carried the pieces of silver, fastened it round his neck, and securing it to some tree or projecting stone, flung himself from the height. The horrible result is told by St. Peter in his first address to the disciples (Acts 1:48), "Falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out." This may have resulted from the breaking of the girdle. A fragment of Papias gives another explanation, recounting that he was crushed and disembowelled by a passing waggon. Thus Judas, the only man concerning whom the terrible expression is used, went "to his own place" (Acts 1:25). he is the Ahithophel of the New Testament (2 Samuel 17:23: Psalm 41:9; Psalm 55:12-14).
And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.
Verse 6. - Took the silver pieces. They picked up the coins which Judas had flung away on the marble pavement of the court, but were perplexed to determine what they should do with them. It is not lawful. These men, who had felt no doubt or hesitation in compassing the death of an innocent Man by the foulest treachery and perversion of justice, have, or hypocritically professed to have, religious scruples about the disposal of this blood money thus thrown on their hands. While they calmly outraged all moral feeling, they punctiliously observed certain outward ceremonial decencies. "They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." The treasury (τὸν κορβανᾶν). The temple treasury, supplied by the offerings (corbans) of the pious for the expenses of Divine worship. It is most probable that these scrupulous priests had taken from this treasury the silver which they now deemed it sinful to replace. The price of blood. The wages of murder. It was inferred from Deuteronomy 23:18 that no money unlawfully gained, or derived from an impure source, might be used in purchasing things for God's service. Under Jewish Law such 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 (comp. Acts 1:18, "This man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity").
And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
Verse 7. - They took counsel. They deliberated how to dispose of this blood money. This deliberation may have taken place after the Crucifixion. The potter's field. The spot was well known at the time. It is traditionally said to have lain on the south of Jerusalem - on the hillside across the valley of Hinnom, on what is called the Hill of Evil Counsel. Here is found a tract of clay, which is still used by the potters of the city. In the time of our Lord. the clay probably was considered to be exhausted, and the area, excavated in all directions, and useless for agricultural purposes, was sold for a trifling price. To bury strangers in. The "strangers" are probably not pagans, but foreign Jews and Gentile proselytes, who came to Jerusalem to attend the festival, and died there. Others think that foreigners (Greeks and Romans, etc.) exclusively are meant, the Jews regarding their very presence in the holy city as defilement, and a cemetery purchased by unclean money a fitting spot for their interment. The "field" was set apart in the Crusaders' times as a burial place for pilgrims, and to this day contains a charnel house wherein are deposited the poor and unhonoured dead of Jerusalem.
Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.
Verse 8. - The field of blood. Aceldama (Acts 1:19), the Syriac name. It was so called (διὸ) from the circumstances attending its purchase, which gave it an evil notoriety, and which the priests must have divulged. "This also," says Chrysostom, taking the blood to be that of Jesus, "became a witness against them, and a proof of their treason. For the name of the place more clearly than a trumpet proclaimed their blood guiltiness." Unto this day. Until the time when this Gospel was published, the new appellation obtained. It is implied that a considerable interval had elapsed. Such chronological hints are often found in the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 19:37, 38; Joshua 4:9, etc.).
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value;
Verse 9. - Spoken by Jeremy the prophet. The prophecy, which St. Matthew says was fulfilled by the use made of Judas's pieces of silver, is found, not in Jeremiah, as we now possess his text, but, with some variations, in Zechariah 11:12, 13. It must be noted, however, that, though the passage in Zechariah has many remarkable affinities to the quotation in our evangelist's history, it is not. identical with it. In the prophet's vision there is no mention of the field, and the money is to be "cast to the potter in the house of the Lord." The Septuagint Version gives a very different reading, "Lay them in the foundry [or, 'furnace'], and I will see if it is approved, as I was approved for their sakes." And the last part of our quotation is hardly a representation of the Hebrew, "Cast it unto the potter, the goodly price that I was prised at of them." In the face of these discrepancies, it is supposed by many that St. Matthew had in his mind some utterance of Jeremiah not now extant; but if, as most expositors affirm, he was citing, more or less accurately, the words of Zechariah, we have to account for their being attributed to a wrong author. Of this difficulty, as it is considered, many solutions are offered. For instance:

(1) The evangelist added no name to "the prophet;" and a scribe, hazily remembering the transaction in Jeremiah 32:6, etc., interpolated the word "Jeremiah." It is true that the Syriac omits "Jeremiah," but all other versions, and nearly all the Greek manuscripts, insert it; so there can be no reasonable doubt that it existed in the original text.

(2) The two words written abbreviated thus, Ζριου, Ιμιου, might be easily mistaken.

(3) The evangelist fell into error, by oversight or lapse of memory, as is supposed to be the ease in Mark 2:26 and Acts 7:4, 16.

(4) The last chapters of Zechariah were really the composition of Jeremiah.

(5) Jeremiah, being set at the head of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, gave his name to all the writings following, which were cited indiscriminately as the utterances of Jeremiah.

(6) St. Matthew has made (as in Matthew 2:23, and so Mark 1:2, 3) a cento of passages derived from Jeremiah 18:2, etc.; Jeremiah 19:1, 2; 32:8-14, combined with the prediction in Zechariah, and attributed the passage thus formed to the most celebrated prophet. Plainly the evangelist has not confined himself to the actual words of his author or authors, but has written a Targum thereon, being divinely guided to see in the present transaction a fulfilment of an obscure announcement and prefiguration in olden days There are many other solutions proposed, with which we need not concern ourselves; the one last stated is reasonable, and may be adopted safely by those simple Christians who believe that the writers of the Bible were supernaturally preserved from errors, not only in doctrine and precept and fact, but also in chronology, grammar, geography, citation, etc. The whole difficulty is of little importance, and too much has been made of what, alter all, may be simply an erratum perpetuated from an ancient copy. They took (ἔλαβον, which might mean, "I took," as in Zechariah). In the prophecy it is the despised Shepherd who casts the money to the potter; but "gave" in the next clause is plural. The price of him that was valued (priced), whom they of the children of Israel did value (price) (ο{ν ἐτιμήσαντο ἀπὸ υἱῶν, Ἰσραήλ). The Authorized Version supplies οἱ before ἀπὸ υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ. The Revised Version supplies τινες, "whom certain of the children of Israel did price." The words are ironical, answering to the prophet's expression, "the goodly price that I was prised at of them"! The preposition ἀπὸ may be rendered "on the part of;" so the evangelist means that the priests offered this mean price for the Shepherd at the instigation of, at the instance of, the children of Israel, who thus shared in and authorized the iniquitous transaction.
And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me.
Verse 10. - Gave them for the potter's field. This part of the citation is borrowed from Jeremiah's purchase of the field of Hanamel (ch. 32.). The Christian writer introduces a second fulfilment of the ancient word. As the Lord appointed me. This must be the equivalent of Zechariah's "the Lord said unto me" (Zechariah 11:13). The destination of these wages of iniquity was foreordained. They could not be used by the Shepherd, nor stored in the temple treasury, nor kept by Judas or the priests; they were to be employed for another purpose.
And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
Verses 11-14. - Jesus examined by Pilate. (Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:2-5; John 18:29-38.) Verse 11. - Jesus stood before the governor. St. Matthew omits here many details which the other evangelists, and especially St. John, supply. Pilate from the first had shown much reluctance to proceed, not being satisfied with the vague accusation that Jesus was a malefactor, and proposing that the Sanhedrists should try him according to Jewish Law, as if the question was merely a religious one. This treatment forced the priests to formulate a charge of which the roman authorities must take cognizance. They therefore stated unblushingly that Jesus had said that he was himself Christ a King (Luke 23:2). At this point St. Matthew's account steps in. Art thou (σὺ εϊ) the King of the Jews? This examination took place within the Praetorium, where Christ was detained in the custody of some guards. The accusation of the Jews had been made outside, as they had scruples about entering the building. Jesus had never actually (so far as recorded) called himself King, though the appellation had been applied to him by Nathanael (John 1:49), and the hosannahs of the multitudes had virtually so greeted him. His accusers had added the charge that he perverted the nation, and forbade to give tribute to Caesar. There is scorn and surprise, mingled with some awe, in Pilate's interrogation, "Thou - such a one as thou - art the King of the Jews?" Thou sayest. What thou sayest is true. A strong affirmation. Christ accepts in its fullest sense that which the governor puts as a question (comp. Matthew 26:25, 64). St. Paul alludes to this scene in 1 Timothy 6:13, "Christ Jesus, who before Pilate witnessed the good confession."
And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
Verse 12. - When Pilate went forth again to the door of the judgment hall, he was met by a storm of accusations from the chief priests and elders, who, seeing the impression produced on him by Christ's bearing, vied with each other in vociferating charges against the meek Prisoner. He answered nothing. With Divine patience he bore it all; he would not defend himself before people who cared nothing for truth and justice, and wanted only to secure condemnation and death. As for Pilate, he had told him expressly that his kingdom was spiritual and not of this world, and therefore his claims did not interfere with the sovereignty of Rome. To him and to the rest there was nothing more to be said.
Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
Verse 13. - Hearest thou not how many things (πόσα, quanta, what great things) they witness against thee? Among the charges was one that Jesus stirred up the people to revolt, both in Galilee and Judaea. The mention of Galilee offered to Pilate a chance of escaping the responsibility of the trial, and led to his sending Christ to Herod, as St. Luke relates (Luke 23:6-12). It was on the return from Herod that the final scene took place. Pilate evidently did not believe that this dignified, meek, inoffensive Man was guilty of sedition, and he desired to hear his defence, which he was willing to receive favourably (Acts 3:13).
And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
Verse 14. - To never a word (pro\ ou)de\ e%n ῤῆμα, not even to one word). He made no reply to a single one of the accusations die; he was a willing sacrifice; so he acted as his prophet had foretold, "He opened not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). Marvelled greatly. The Roman governor in all his experience had never beheld such calm resigntion, such unshaken equanimity, such intrepid resolution in the face of death.
Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
Verses 15-26. - Barabbas preferred to Jesus. (Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:17-25; John 18:39, 40.) Verse 15. - Pilate now tries another expedient for delivering himself from the responsibility of condemning Jesus. At that feast (κατὰ ἑορτήν, at a feast, at feast time). Doubtless the Passover is meant, which was the feast especially of the Jews, and it is very improbable that the practice mentioned in the clause was allowed at any other of the feasts. The governor was wont to release unto the people (τῷ ὄχλῳ, the multitude), etc. St. Luke says, "Of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast." The custom is not elsewhere mentioned. It was, however, most probably an institution established of old time in memory of the Exodus (John 18:39), and continued by the Romans when they became masters of the country. A similar custom obtained at Rome and in Greece on certain great festivals. Whom they would. The governor usually left the priests and people unfettered in their choice; on the present occasion he desired Jesus to be selected.
And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
Verse 16. - They had then a notable prisoner. The plural verb must refer to the multitude, to whose class the man belonged. The Vulgate, with Origen, reads, "he had," habebat, referring to Pilate, whose prisoner he was. The man was notorious; as St. Mark tells us, "He lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, men who had committed murder in the insurrection." We have no account elsewhere of this particular rising, nor of its leader, but such commotions were very common, and under the guise of political aims were utilized for purposes of robbery and assassination. Called Barabbas. The word means "Son of the father," which some explain "Son of a rabbi," which is improbable; and it is a question whether this was his real name, or one applied to him with reference to his pretensions to being "a political anti-Christ" - "a hideous caricature of the true Jesus, the Son of the eternal Father." It is a strange fact that in some (not very trustworthy) manuscripts the name is given as Jesus Barabbas, which affords a remarkable antithesis in Pilate's question in the following verse, "Wilt ye that I release Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called Christ?" There can be no reasonable doubt that the prefix is not genuine, but has crept into some texts inadvertently.
Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
Verse 17. - Therefore when (when then, οϋν) they were gathered together. The illative particle refers to the fact just mentioned that the notorious Barabbas was at that time in prison. The multitude, together with the Sanhedrists summoned from their meeting in the temple, were gathered at the doors of the Praetorium, when Pilate came out and spoke to them. Whom will ye that I release unto you? He had great hope that their answer would favour Jesus. When it came to choosing between a vile robber and murderer and a beneficent, moral teacher, common sense would guide the choice aright. Which is called Christ (ver. 22). In Mark Pilate terms him, "the King of the Jews." He puts before them these two names as the limit of their choice, minor offenders being not worthy of consideration in the lace of these celebrated prisoners. And he names Christ's claims, as if he would remind the people that in Jesus they possibly had the Messiah whom they desired.
For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
Verse 18. - For he knew. He had recourse to this expedient because he was well acquainted with the motives which led the Sanhedrists to desire his death. They had shown their envy of Christ's influence with the people; they were jealous of his reputation and success; grudged him his marvellous powers; were embittered by his attacks on rabbinism, and the undermining of their popularity. Pilate saw much of this; he penetrated behind their flimsy pretence of averting some possible danger from the Roman dominion, and he laboured in this indirect way to save the victim of this vindictive plot. Of course, Pilate could not fully appreciate Christ's character, nor enter into the question of his supernatural claims; he saw only that he was brought before him from the basest motives, that no real offence was proved against him, and that no fear could be entertained of his heading a popular tumult.
When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
Verse 19. - When he was set down (was sitting) on the judgment seat. This was a curule chair placed on a raised stone platform in front of the Praetorium, where the Roman governors sat to give judgment in cases brought before them (see John 19:13). It was while he was waiting to hear the decision of the multitude with respect to the selection of the prisoners that the episode that follows (mentioned alone by St. Matthew) occurs. His wife. Her name, according to ecclesiastical tradition, was Claudia, the addition of Procula being probably a mistake. In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (ch. 2) she is said to have been a convert to Judaism. Other accounts affirm that she ultimately became a Christian; and the Greek Church has canonized her, and inserted her in the Menology on October 27. It is probable that she was well acquainted with, and favourably disposed towards, the claims of Christ; and if she had impressed her husband in some degree with her own views, this fact may have influenced him to make some effort to save Jesus. Doubtless she had thought much upon the subject, and talked it over with Pilate; hence her dream was the natural sequence of that with which her mind had been filled in her waking moments, though providentially ordered. It speaks for the accuracy of the evangelist's account, that lately the governors had been allowed to take their wives with them into their official districts, a law previously having forbidden this indulgence (see Tacitus, 'Annul.,' 3:33, 34). Have thou nothing to do with that just Man. Wordsworth well remarks, "In the whole history of the Passion of Christ no one pleads for him but a woman, the wife of a heathen governor, the deputy of the emperor of the world." This was another wanting given to Pilate to arrest him in his criminal cowardice. The expression used means literally, "Let there be nothing to thee and that Righteous One," which is equivalent to "Do nothing to him for which you will be hereafter sorry." I have suffered (ἔπαθον, I suffered) many things this day in a dream because of him. It is useless to inquire the nature of her dream. From the way in which it is here introduced, and from what we know of God's employment of dreams in other cases to communicate his will to men, we may reasonably conclude that this was divinely sent to convey a lesson to Pilate through his wife, who alone, perhaps, was able to arouse the better feelings of his heart. The mention of her suffering shows that she had some dreadful experiences to relate in connection with the fate of the righteous Jesus. As at the beginning of Christ's life, so at its close, such communications were addressed to strangers. Pilate's superstitious fears would be excited by this mysterious dream, but they were not able to overpower counteracting influences.
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
Verse 20. - But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude. For a short time the people appear to have wavered in their choice, and Pilate had hopes that his stratagem worked well. But the Sanhedrists were at hand with their insidious suggestions; not a voice was raised for Christ; all his friends were scattered or silenced; and his enemies easily swayed the fickle crowd. That they should ask (ask for) Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. By directing popular favour to Barabbas, they could make the condemnation of Jesus more certain. The expression in the Greek implies that they used their persuasive powers in order that (ἵνα) the people should demand the release of Barabbas, and compass the death of Jesus.
The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
Verse 21. - Answered, to the various cries which reached him. Whether of the twain? Which of the two? He repeats the question before asked (ver. 17), having given the multitude time for deliberation, and offering them no alternative but to choose one of these two prisoners. Barabbas. They prefer a murderer to the Prince of life - a selection on their part guilty and malevolent, but on the part of God necessary for our salvation (Quesnel). Truly, Jesus "was despised and rejected of men." If he had been released now, his liberation would not have been, as it ought to have been, an act of simple justice, but an imperial concession, an act of grace, in which the character of the prisoner was not regarded.
Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
Verse 22. - It was with disappointment and indignation that Pilate heard the rabble's decision. He could not refuse to release the robber and murderer; but he still entertained some hope of a better feeling in the crowd which would allow him to acquit Jesus. What shall I do then with Jesus? Τί οϋν ποιήσω Ἰησοῦν; What then shall I do to Jesus? As you demand the release of Barabbas, what am I to do with the other prisoner? He dared not act boldly, as his conscience and the justice of the ease dictated; if the popular voice was not with him, he would take no open step. He added, which is called Christ, or, according to Mark, "whom ye call the King of the Jews," in scorn of the title itself, and of the fickleness which honoured him one day and now clamored for his destruction. Let him be crucified! They have their dreadful answer ready. He is a political offender; he is a mover of sedition against the Roman supremacy; let him meet the punishment to which Rome dooms her lowest criminals and runagates. This was the death which Christ had foretold for himself (ch. 20:19), the most painful, barbarous, and ignominious punishment which the cruelty of man ever invented.
And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
Verse 23. - Why, what evil hath he done? Τί γὰρ κακὸν ἐποίησεν; The particle γὰρ implies a certain reasoning in the question, the speaker for the nonce putting himself in the people's position, and demanding the ground of their decision. The authorized translation is adequate. Pilate thus showed his pusillanimity and irresolution, while exercising no control over the feelings of the excited mob. But they cried out the more (περισσῶς ἔκραζον, they kept shouting out exceedingly). The very sight of the governor's predilection, combined with his indecision, excited them to more vehement clamour; they saw that he would end by yielding to their violence. Jerome refers, in illustration, to Isaiah 5:7, "He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry."
When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
Verse 24. - He could prevail nothing (οὐδὲν, ὠφελεῖ, he prevailed nothing). Naught that he did altered the determination of the multitude. But that rather a tumult was made (γίνεται, is arising). The present tense gives a graphic touch to the narrative. The delay and hesitation of the governor exasperated the people, and there were ominous signs of a riot, which must be suppressed at any sacrifice of principle or equity. He feared that a report might reach Rome of his having occasioned dangerous excitement at the Passover by refusing to punish a pretender to the Jewish throne, he submits to the popular will, but endeavours to save himself from the guilt of an accomplice in a most atrocious murder. Took water, and washed his hands before the multitude. This symbolical action would appeal to the Jewish sentiment, as it was a mode of asserting innocence prescribed in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21:6; Psalm 26:6). Pilate thus publicly, in the sight of all the multitude who might not have been able to hear his words, attested his opinion of the innocence of Christ, and weakly cast the guilt upon the people, as if the administration of justice lay with them and not with him. Such lustrations were not exclusively Jewish, but were practised both among Greeks and Romans in expiation of guilt (see Wetstein, ad loc.; and Kuinoel, ad cap. 3:6). I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. Some manuscripts, followed by Alford, Tischendorf, and Westcott and Hort, omit "just Person (δικαίου)." If the word is genuine, it must be regarded as an echo of the wife's message to Pilate (ver. 19). The cowardly governor thus shakes off the responsibility of the perversion of justice which he allows. See ye to it (ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε, vos videritis, as ver. 4). You will take all the responsibility of the act; the blame will not be mine. Vain hope! Pilate may wash his hands, he cannot purify heart or conscience from the stain of this foul murder. As long as the Church lasts so long will the Creed announce that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate."
Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
Verse 25. - Then answered all the people. Instigated by the Sanhedrists working insidiously among them, the multitude, now very numerous, respond with fiendish alacrity to Pilate's deprecation. It was a unanimous, a national assumption of guilt, lightly undertaken, terribly vindicated. His blood be on us, and on our children. The consequences of this condemnation, be they what they may, we are willing to suffer. Let God visit it, if he will. upon us and our children; we and they will cheerfully bear the penalty. A mad and impious imprecation. the fulfilment of which quickly commenced, and has continued unto this day. The terrible events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem, the overthrow of the theocracy, and the eighteen centuries of exile and dispersion, bear witness to the reality of the vengeance thus wantonly invoked. "As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them" (Psalm 140:9).
Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Verse 26. - Released he Barabbas - "him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired" (Luke). When he had scourged Jesus. This was the usual preliminary to crucifixion, especially in the case of shires, and was a punishment of a most severe and cruel nature. The verb here used, φραγελλόω, is formed from the Latin flagellum, and denotes the employment of that terrible implement the Roman scourge. 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. To think that the blessed Son of God was subject to such torture and indignity is indeed a lesson for us written in blood. When "he gave his back to the smiters" (Isaiah 50:6), he was taking the punishment of our sin upon his sacred shoulders. "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Possibly Pilate thought that the sight of Christ's suffering might arouse at this last moment the pity of the Jews (John 19:1-16). But he was mistaken. The appetite of the bloodthirsty crowd was only whetted by this anticipatory taste; they insisted on the whole programme being canted out, and Pilate yielded to the demand, giving up the useless struggle. He delivered him to be crucified. Pilate delivered Jesus to the will of the people, directing the soldiers to carry out the ordered execution. On the view taken by the Romans themselves of crucifixion, commentators quote Cicero, 'In Verr.,' 2:5. 66, "It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is an act of wickedness; to put him to death is almost parricide: what shall I say of crucifying him? An act so abominable it is impossible to find any word adequately to express."
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
Verses 27-30. - Jesus mocked by the soldiers. (Mark 15:16-19; John 19:2, 3.) Verse 27. - The soldiers of the governor. The brutal soldiers, far from feeling compassion for the meek Sufferer, take a fiendish pleasure in torturing and insulting him. They fling upon his bleeding body his upper garments, and take him into the common hall (πραιτώριον, the Praetorium). This name was applied to the dwelling house of the provincial governor, and here refers to the open court of the building, outside which the preceding events had taken place (see on ver. 2). The whole band (σπεῖραν), which usually signifies "a cohort" (Acts 10:1), but sometimes only a maniple, which was a third part of the same (Polybius, 11:23:1). This is probably what is meant here, as they would not denude the barracks of all its occupants, who consisted of one cohort of about six hundred men (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2:15. 6). The soldiers summoned their comrades on guard at the palace or in the Tower of Antonia to come and join in the cruel sport. "The devil was then entering in fury into the hearts of all. For indeed they made a pleasure of their insults against him, being a savage and a worthless set" (Chrysostom, in loc.).
And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
Verse 28. - They stripped him (ἐκδύσαντες). Some manuscripts read ἐνδύσαντες, "when they had clothed him;" but this seems to have been derived from St. Mark, and to be here somewhat tautological. They had heard of his claim to be a King, so they determined to deride him with the mockery of royal honours. They tore his garments from his mangled form, thus opening afresh his half-dried wounds. Put on him a scarlet robe (χλαμύδα κοκκίνην). This was probably the short military woollen cloak worn by officers, in colour either scarlet or purple, and fastened by a buckle on the right shoulder. Some think it was a cast-off garment from the wardrobe of King Herod, which they found and appropriated to this purpose. Whatever it was, its bright hue was suitable for this mockery of regal splendour.
And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon 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!
Verse 29. - Platted a crown of thorns. In carrying out their mockery, the soldiers next supply a regal crown. Palestine was a country thickly set with brambles and thorn-growing bushes. They would have no difficulty in finding plants to suit their cruel purpose, and in plucking with their gauntlet-covered bands sprays sufficient to weave into a rude coronet. What was the particular shrub employed cannot be known for certainty. The zizyphus, Spina Christi, a kind of acacia with long reflex thorns, is of too brittle a nature to be used in this way. Some variety of the cactus or prickly pear may be meant. "Hasselquist, a Swedish naturalist, supposes a very common plant, naba or nabka of the Arabs, with many small and sharp spines, soft, round, and pliant bushes, leaves much resembling those of ivy, being of a very deep green, as if in designed mockery of a victor's wreath, 'Travels,' 288" (F.M.). Thorns were the fruits of the primal curse, which Christ, the second Adam, was now bearing, and by bearing removed. A reed in his right hand. By way of sceptre. This must have been a reed or cane of a thick and solid character (see ver. 30, and note on ver. 48). Bowed the knee before him. Doing mock obeisance to him as King. Thus these wretched heathens did that in derision which sonic day all Gentiles shall do in solemn earnest, when "all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him" (Psalm 22:27). Hail, King of the Jews! Doubtless they cried, "Ave, Rex Judaeorum!" in imitation of the "Ave, Imperator!" addressed to the Emperor ot Rome.
And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
Verse 30. - They spit upon him. Repeating the atrocious outrage already offered (Matthew 26:67). Smote him (ἔτυπτον, imperf., kept smiting him) on the head. They tore the mock sceptre from his trembling hands, and one after the other, as they passed, struck him with it on the head, at every blow driving the thorns deeper into his flesh. Here must be introduced some other attempts of Pilate to save him, narrated by St. John (John 19:4-16), especially the episode of "Ecce Homo!"
And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.
Verses 31-33. - Jesus is led to crucifixion. Via dolorosa. (Mark 15:20-23; Luke 23:26-33; John 19:16, 17.) In these accounts, those of Matthew and Mark are most alike, though varied in expression and in some details; that of Luke is the fullest; that of John distinct from the rest. Verse 31. - St. Matthew, omitting some details, hurries to the final scene. Took the robe off from him; i.e. the scarlet robe with which they had arrayed him (ver. 28). Whether they removed the crown of thorns is uncertain. The Lord is always depicted wearing it upon the cross. His own raiment (τὰ ἱμάτια αὐττοῦ, his garments). The term would include the outer and inner garments, especially the seamless tunic for which the soldiers cast lots (John 19:23; Psalm 22:18). Thus unknowingly they were preparing to fulfil prophecy. Led him away to crucify him. This must have been about 9 a.m. Executions took place outside the city walls (see Numbers 15:35, 36; Acts 7:58). "The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Hebrews 13:11, 12). Lange describes the procession: "Instead of being led forth by litters, 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 praepositus,' headed the company. A herald, going in front of the condemned, proclaimed his sentence." Behind him walked the prisoner, bearing the instrument of his punishment; a small company of soldiers completed the cavalcade.
And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.
Verse 32. - As they came out; i.e. from the city gate which led to the place of execution. They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. He was, as the other synoptists mention, coming out of the country to Jerusalem, where probably he lived. Cyrene was a district in the north of Africa, under Roman rule, and colonized by a large number of Jews (Josephus, 'Cont. Apion.,' 2:4; 'Ant.,' 14:07. 2), who had a synagogue of their own at Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). Simon doubtless became a follower of Christ, and St. Mark mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus, as well known believers (see Romans 16:13). Probably the guards saw in him some tokens of sympathy with Christ and compassion for his sufferings; or they used his services simply as being a foreigner, and not likely to resent being put to a task which a Hebrew would deem the lowest degradation. Him they compelled (ἠγγάρευσαν, impressed) to bear his cross. The verb translated "compelled" is derived from the Persian, and implies the compulsory power possessed by couriers of requisitioning horses and carriages in forwarding despatches (see Matthew 5:41). 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 he, it proved too heavy a burden for him to bear. Spent with his long vigil and lack of food, his spirit afflicted by the agony in the garden and the unknown sufferings then and afterwards, his body tortured with open wounds and weakened with loss of blood, he sank beneath the weight, as he staggered weariedly along the rough and hilly streets, Either from a momentary compunction, or more probably flora impatience at the slowness of the poor Sufferer's movements, the soldiers gladly seized on Simon to relieve the Prisoner of the cross, or to share its weight, and thus enable them sooner to complete their cruel task.
And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
Verse 33. - A place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull; quod est Calvariae locus (Vulgate). Hence the Latinized name Calvary. The word means "a skull;" but why the spot was so called is a doubtful question. That it was the usual place of execution is a suggestion with no proof, and one would expect the designation in this case to be "the place of skulls." Tradition (authorized by Origen) pointed to it as the spot where Adam was buried, and where his skull was found - a story that seems to have arisen from the typical reason that it was congruous that the first Adam and the second Adam should meet in death, the latter winning the victory there where the former showed his defeat. Most probably the name was given to it as descriptive of its appearance, a bare space of rock (not a hill) denuded of verdure, and bearing a distant resemblance to a human skull wanting hair. The actual situation of Calvary is hotly contested by exegetes and travellers, and is still far from being determined. The only criterion offered by our accounts in the Gospels is that it was without the then walls of the city, not far from one or the gates, and by the side of one of the principal roads leading from the city to the country. A certain knoll on the hill Gareb towards the northwest, by which the Damascus road led, and to which Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:39) refers, is supposed, not very happily, to answer these requirements, If the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the northwest of Jerusalem, really contains the actual Golgotha and the tomb of our Lord, the course of the second wall as usually drawn cannot be correct, as it embraces this site completely (see the Guardian, August 30, 1893, p. 1353). Opinion, always altering, has lately been inclined to endorse the authenticity of many of the traditional sites in the holy city and its neighbourhood. Further discoveries will set this and other matters at rest. Meantime, judgment must be suspended (see on ver. 51).
They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
Verses 34-44. - The Crucifixion and the mockery. (Mark 15:23-32; Luke 23:32-43; John 19:18-24.) Verse 34. - Vinegar...mingled with gall (χολῆς). Instead of "vinegar" (ὄξος) very many manuscripts, followed by Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, and others, read here, as in Mark, "wine" (οϊνον). Dederunt ei viaum bibere (Vulgate). Doubtless the two words represent the same fluid, a wine of a sharp and acrid taste. The received reading in our text is supposed to be derived from Psalm 69:21, "They gave me gall for my meats, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." "Gall" here signifies some bitter ingredient (St. Mark calls it "myrrh"), which was infused in the wine to impart a narcotic quality. It was the custom to offer this draught to criminals about to undergo crucifixion, either as an anodyne or to give them adventitious strength to bear their sufferings. The beverage is said to have been prepared by some benevolent ladies in Jerusalem, and to have been owed to a gloss on Proverbs 31:6, 7, "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul; let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more." This was not an additional insult offered to Jesus, as some have opined, but a usual act of kindliness. When he had tasted thereof, he would not (οὐκ ἤθελε) drink. He accepted the kindly offer so far as to put his lips to the cup, but, recognizing its stupefying qualities, he refused to drink it. He willed to endure all the coming pains without mitigation; he would meet all with the powers of mind and body undarkened; he would have his senses and his self-consciousness unimpaired to the end.
And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
Verse 35. - They crucified him. We should try to realize the utter degradation as well as the anguish of such a death. No modern form of punishment carries with it the abhorred ignominy with which crucifixion was regarded, and we must put ourselves back eighteen centuries, and enter into the feelings of Jews and Romans, if we would view it in its genuine aspect. The narrative of this harrowing scene could not be simpler. The writer leaves it reverently to speak for itself, without any attempt at sensational adjuncts or rhetorical amplification. There is no indignation at the outrage, no compassion for the Sufferer, no commendation of the Divine patience. These are suppressed, because they needed no words; the unvarnished details are more than sufficient to place the reader by the Saviour's side, and make him feel every pang, sympathize with the grief, the shame, the horror, that rent the heart of Jesus. The sacred authors have said little about the mode of crucifixion, and have left untold many particulars which we should have liked to hear. This horrid punishment was too well known at that time to need description, and they saw no necessity for dwelling on its revolting details. (For some of these, see on ver. 32.) Whether in the present case the upright beam of the cross was fixed in its position before the Prisoner was fastened to it, or whether it was laid flat on the ground, set in order, and the Sufferer was nailed thereto before it was raised and settled in its place, we are not informed. The former was the method commonly employed. To carry out the execution a quaternion of soldiers (Acts 12:4) was appointed under the command of a centurion (ver. 54) Parted his garments, casting lots. The clothes of criminals were the perquisite of the soldiers charged with the execution. They divided these amongst the four, casting lots to determine what each should take. Further details are supplied by St. John (John 19:23, 24). That it might be fulfilled...they cast lots. These words are retained in the Clementine Vulgate and a few cursives, but omitted by the best uncials and most other manuscripts. Modern editors almost universally have rejected them as an interpolation from the parallel passage in St. John. There can be no doubt, however, that, whether genuine or not in this place, they represent the truth. The soldiers' act did fulfil in marvellous fashion the psalmist's enunciation (Psalm 22:18), where the stripping of the Lord's Anointed and the disposal of his raiment are prophetically stated.
And sitting down they watched him there;
Verse 36. - They watched him there. The soldiers, in relays, had to guard the criminal from any attempt of his friends to remove him from the cross - a long and tedious duty, during the performance of which they were allowed to sit. Crucifixion was not accompanied by immediate death. It was one of its greatest horrors that the tortured sufferer sometimes lived for days before death relieved him from his agony. Till this supervened, the guard had to keep watch. That this caution was not superfluous, we have intimations in ancient history, which tells of crucified persons being sometimes removed by their friends and restored to the use of their limbs and faculties. Josephus ('Vita,' 75) relates that he thus took down three criminals after a lengthened suspension, one of whom completely recovered, though the others succumbed to their injuries. This vigilance of the soldiers was providentially ordered as one of the means of proving the reality of Christ's death.
And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Verse 37. - Set up over his head his accusation written. This was the titulus. A wooden tablet smeared with gypsum, had on it, written in black letters, the charge on which the prisoner was condemned. This, which had been hung round the criminal's neck or carried before him on the way to execution, was now affixed to the upper portion of the cross over his head. THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. The title had been prepared by Pilate (John 19:19, 22), and was conceived in terms studiously offensive to the Jews, with whom he was deeply indignant. It was written in three languages, so that all of whatever nationality might read it - in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek (for the order, see Westcott on John 19:20); i.e. the national Aramaic, familiar to all Jews; the official Latin,understood by the soldiers and Romans; the current Greek, the dialect of Hellenistic Jews, and largely used by all classes. "These three languages gathered up the results of the religious, the social, the intellectual preparation for Christ, and in each witness was given to his office" (Westcott). The title is given by the four evangelists with some verbal variations, which are owing in part to the actual differences existing in the three versions of the inscription. They run thus: "'This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (Matthew); "The King of the Jews" (Mark); "This is the King of the Jews" (Luke); "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" (John). Of these titles, those given by Mark and Luke probably represent the Latin; that of Matthew, the Greek; while that of John was intended for the national population, who alone would understand the veiled sneer contained in the addition, "of Nazareth." The legend of the finding of the cross and its inscription is given by Butler, 'Lives of the Saints,' on 'The Invention of the Holy Cross.' A supposed fragment of the title is preserved at Rome, in the Church of the Holy Cross, and declared by a papal bull to be authentic. In this case infallibility has rather overstepped its limits.
Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
Verse 38. - Then. St. Matthew does not give the exact sequence of events, generally grouping them together for ethical and other kindred reasons. Probably these two malefactors were crucified immediately after cur Lord. Thieves; λῃσταί: robbers, brigands (Matthew 21:13). Thus was Christ "numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). St. Luke alone relates the acceptance of the penitent thief. If he was the one set on the right hand, possibly the careful mention of the position of the two robbers, which is found in the ether evangelists, may have a silent reference to this episode. We know from Josephus ('Ant.,' 16:10, 8; 20:8, 10; 'Belt. Jud.,' 2:12, 2, etc.) that Palestine was infested with banditti, who were rigorously pursued by the Romans, and were commonly crucified when captured. Doubtless these two criminals had been taken red-handed in some act of robbery and murder, and it was an exquisite malice that treated Jesus as their comrade and accomplice, and placed him in the position of their leader. But Augustine sees a spiritual signification in this scene: "The very cross was the tribunal of Christ; for the Judge was placed in the middle; one thief, who believed, was set free; the other, who reviled, was condemned; which signified what he was already about to do with the quick and dead; being about to set some on his right hand, but ethers on his left."
And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
Verse 39. - They that passed by. Golgotha being near a great high road and a much-frequented city gate (John 19:20), passersby were numerous, even without counting those who were attracted by the woeful sight. Many of them knew nothing of Christ's case, but seeing him punished in company with the two malefactors, thought that he was doubtless guilty of the same crimes as they; others, perhaps, who had seen his miracles and heard something of his teaching, conceived the notion that one whom the priests and rulers condemned must be a dangerous impostor, and deserved the cruelest of deaths. Reviled him; ἐβλασφήμουν: railed on him; blasphemabant (Vulgate). The expression, indeed, is true in its worse sense, for they who could thus revile the Son of God were guilty, however ignorantly, of gross impiety and irreverence. Wagging their heads. In mockery and contempt, thus fulfilling the psalmist's words, "All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head;" and, "I am become a reproach unto them; when they see me, they shake their heads" (Psalm 22:7; Psalm 109:25).
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
Verse 40. - Saying. Some manuscripts (but not the best) insert οὐά after "saying." So the Vulgate (vah!) and other versions. But it seems to he derived from the parallel passage in Mark. What the evangelist gives is only a specimen of the insults hurled at the meek Sufferer, who looked for some to take pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but found none (Psalm 69:20). Thou that destroyest the temple, etc. They shamelessly revive the old accusation (Matthew 26:61; John 2:19), doubtless at the instigation of the Sanhedrists who mingled with the crowd (ver. 41). The saying rankled in the rulers' mind, and we see it playing a part later in the condemnation of Stephen (Acts 6:13, 14). Save thyself. Thou who boastest of thy power to destroy and rebuild this magnificent and solid temple, employ that power in delivering thyself from thy well deserved death. Little they knew that Christ was then fulfilling his own prediction, which would ere long be fully accomplished. As little did they understand that by his words ("I am able to destroy," instead of, "Destroy ye") they were bearing witness to the truth that he was voluntarily laying down his life, and that but for this surrender they could have had no power over him. If thou be the Son of God, etc. Some manuscripts and versions read the passage thus: "Save thyself, if thou be the Son of God, and come down from the cross." But the Received Text is most probably correct. These revilers are doing the devil's work, and are quoting his words (Matthew 4:6), in thus taunting Jesus. They refer to our Lord's own statement before Pilate (Matthew 26:64), thinking it expedient to keep this claim before the people's mind. He might, indeed, have answered the jibe by coming down from the cross; but then, as Bishop Pearson says, in saving himself he would not have saved us.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
Verse 41. - Likewise also. All classes that composed the Sanhedrin were present at the execution, and took part in the reviling; but, unlike the soldiers (Luke 23:36) and the mob, they did not address him personally, either from supreme contempt, or because they stood aloof from the herd, and spake among themselves. Some few authorities of no great weight, after "elders" add "and Pharisees;" but the words are an interpolation, though they are without doubt true in fact. That these leaders should presume thus to revile One whom they knew to be innocent is unspeakably iniquitous.
He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
Verse 42. - He saved others. They knew something of his many miracles of healing; many among them had witnessed the cure of the man blind from his birth (John 9.); most must have heard of the raising of Lazarus; - they made these very works of mercy a reproach against him. He had proved himself a beneficent Saviour; he had shown superhuman power, and yet they say, Himself he cannot save. There was indeed a sense, not their sense, in which this was true. Christ willed to die; it was his purpose thus to redeem mankind; in adhering to this steadfast determination he could not deliver himself from suffering and death. Some read the clause interrogatively, "Cannot he save himself?" It is then parallel to the expression used at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:37). If he be the King of Israel. "If" (εἰ) is omitted by א, B, D, L, etc., and many modern editors. Its omission is more concinnons to the other taunts, e.g. "He saved others;" "He trusted in God." His claim to be Messiah would involve the Kingship of Israel (Matthew 2:6), which the title over his head asserted. We will believe him (pisteu/somen au)tw = ""). We will believe (not subj., "let us believe") what he says. The Sinaitic, Vatican, and other good manuscripts read ἐπ αὐτόν, "on him." So Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, etc. This form of expression would imply that they would put their trust in him, become his followers. A confident boast! for they were so fully persuaded of the final triumph of thcir malice, that they decreed they might safely make such a promise. And yet Christ did a greater thing than come down alive from the cross; he rose from the dead; but they believed not in him. And if the sign which they asked had been vouchsafed, they would have explained it away, or evaded its meaning, and nave been no nearer to salvation than now.
He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
Verse 43. - He trusted in (ἐπὶ, on) God. These scoffers cite a passage from Psalm 22:8, "He trusted unto the Lord that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, seeing he delighteth in him" (Hebrew); or, according to the Septuagint, "He hoped in the Lord; let him deliver him, let him save him, because he desires (θέλει) him." Let him deliver him now, if he will have him (εἰ θέλει). Θέλω is used in the Septuagint in the sense of "I love," "I wish for" (see Deuteronomy 21:14; Psalm 17:19; 40:11). But the Vulgate, by omitting the first αὐτόν, possibly takes the verb in the usual sense, Liberet nunc, si vult, eum. The Sinaitic and Vatican manuscripts and others support this reading, which is followed now by Tischendorf, and Westcott and Hort, so that the clause will run, Let him now, if he will, deliver him. But the Received Text and the Authorized Version are in closer agree ment with the original language of the psalm. For he said, I am the Son of God. Insultingly they allude to his own assertions concerning his Divine nature, implying that, were he such as he pretended to be, he would not now be dying on the shameful cross. There are wonderful coincidences in thought and language between this passage and one in the Book of Wisdom (2:13-20), which speaks of the oppression of the righteous, e.g. "He professeth to have the knowledge of God; and he calleth himself the child of the Lord.... Let us see if his words be true; and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the Son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies." The similarity of expression is to be attributed to the typical nature of the treatment of Christ, which the writer of Wisdom, with remarkable insight, thus forcibly delineated.
The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
Verse 44. - The thieves also... cast the same in his teeth (ὠνείδιζον αὐτῷ, were reviling him). The mention of the penitent robber is found only in Luke (Luke 23:39-42). It does not seem to have occurred in the traditional account followed by Matthew and Mark. Augustine thought that these synoptists used the plural for the singular, referring, in fact, to the impenitent malefactor. It is more likely that both the thieves at first joined the mob in their abuse and ribaldry, but that one, after a time, persuaded by the Divine patience and meekness of the Saviour, and awed by the gathering darkness, repented, confessed, and was forgiven.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
Verses 45-50. - Supernatural darkness. Last words, and death of Jesus. (Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30.) Verse 45. - The sixth hour; i.e. noon. Christ was crucified about 9 o'clock a.m., the hour of the morning sacrifice; he had therefore by this time been hanging three hours on the cross. His agonies, his sufferings mental and spiritual, were at their height. There was darkness over all the land (ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν). The historical accuracy of this darkness there is no more reason to doubt than there is to doubt the death of Christ itself: The great fact and its details stand on the same basis. How the phenomenon was produced we know not. That it could not be an ordinary eclipse is certain, as the moon was then full, it being the Paschal time, and the darkness thus produced would have lasted but a few minutes. Nor had it any connection with the subsequent earthquake (ver. 51), as some unscientific exegetes have supposed. On such occasions a thickness of the atmosphere has been noticed, but such an occurrence could never have been described in the words used by the synoptists; and. the earthquake itself was no ordinary event, and took place in no ordinary manner. We cannot doubt that the darkness was supernatural, conveying a solemn lesson to all who beheld it. When we consider what was being done on Calvary, who it was that was dying there, what was the object of his Passion, what was the infinite and unspeakable effect of the sacrifice there offered, is it wonderful that the Divine Architect controlled Nature to sympathize with her Creator, that as a supernatural effulgence heralded the Saviour's birth, a supernatural darkness should shroud his death? We are in the region of the Divine. What we have learned to regard as natural laws (but which really are only our formulary for expressing our experience of past uniformity) were superseded for the time by the interference of the Lawgiver; he used the material to enforce the spiritual being the Lord of both. Whether the darkness extended beyond Judaea unto all that part of the earth which was then illumined by the light of the sun, we cannot tell. Some of the Fathers refer to it as if it was universal. A supposed allusion was made by Phlegon, a writer of the second century, whose work, called 'Annals of the Olympiads,' is not extant, but is quoted by Julius Africanus and Eusebius (see Wordsworth, in loc.); but it seems certain that Phlegon is speaking of an astronomical eclipse which occurred in the ordinary course of nature. Tertullian states that a notice of this darkness was to be found in the archives of Rome ('Apol.,' 21.); but we have no further information on this point. There are some other uncertain references, as that of Dionysius the Areopagite, who is related to have said on the sudden obscuration, "Either the God of nature is suffering, or the machinery of the world is being dissolved;" but none of these will stand the test of criticism; and perhaps it is safer to determine that Gentile notices of the phenomenon are not forthcoming, because the darkness was confined to Palestine. It had, doubtless, a doctrinal and typical significance. Chrysostom considers it a token of God's anger at the crime of the Jews in crucifying Jesus; others see in it an emblem of the withdrawal of the light of God's presence from this wicked land. It was, in Iced, to all who would receive it, a sign of some awful event in the spiritual world of unspeakable consequence to the children of men. The ninth hour. Three o'clock p.m., about the time of the evening sacrifice.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Verse 46. - Cried (ἀνεβόησεν, cried out) with a loud voice. The loud cry at this terrible moment showed that there was still an amount of vitality in that mangled form from which extreme anguish of soul and body forced that pleading utterance. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say (that is), My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken (ἐγκατέλιπες, didst thou forsake) me? This is the only one of our Lord's seven sayings from the cross recorded by St. Matthew and St. Mark. The other evangelists do not mention it at all. The language is Aramaic, doubtless that used commonly by our Lord. He quotes the words of the twenty-second psalm as applicable to himself, as offering a foreordained expression of his agony of soul. Into the full meaning of this bitter cry we cannot venture irreverently to intrude. At the same time, thus much may be said. It was not mere bodily anguish that elicited it; it arose from some incalculable affliction of soul. He was bearing the sins of the whole world; the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all; there was no one to comfort him in his heaviness; and the light of God's countenance was for the time withdrawn from him. He was "left" that he might bear man's sins in their full and crushing weight, and by bearing save. Yet there is no despair in this lamentable outcry. He who could thus call upon God has God with him, even in his utter loneliness. "Amid the faintness, or the confusion of mind, felt at the approach of death, he experiences his abandonment by God; and yet his soul rests firmly on, and his wilt is fully subject to, God, while he is thus tasting death forevery man through God's grace .... He held firmly to God and retained the Divinity of his life, at the time when in his unity with mankind, and in his human feeling, the feeling of abandonment by God amazed him" (Lange). The verb "forsaken" is not in the perfect tense, as translated in the Authorized Version, but in the aorist; and it implies that during the three hours of darkness Christ had been in silence enduring this utter desolation, which had now come to its climax. The Man Christ Jesus asked why he was thus deserted; his human heart would fain comprehend this phase of the propitiatory sufferings which he was undergoing. No answer came from the darkened heaven; but the cry was heard; the unspeakable sacrifice, a sacrifice necessary according to the Almighty's purpose, was accepted, and with his own blood he obtained eternal redemption for man.
Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
Verse 47. - Some of them that stood there. These could not have been the Roman soldiers, for they would not have understood the Saviour's language, and could have known nothing about Elias. Edersheim supposes that the guards were provincial soldiers, and not necessarily of Latin extraction. At any rate, the speakers are Jews standing near enough to the cross to catch more or less the words uttered by Jesus. This man (οῦτος, he, pointing at him) calleth for Elias. Whether they wilfully misinterpreted the half-heard cry, "Eli, Eli!" or whether they really misunderstood it, is an undecided question. In the first case, we must suppose that they spoke in cruel mockery - the last of the brutal insults vented on the meek Sufferer. He cannot save himself; he appeals to the old prophet to come to rescue him; was there ever such presumption? There are two considerations which militate against this supposition. The time of ribaldry and abuse is now past; the supernatural darkness has had a calming and terrifying effect; and there is no spirit of mockery left in the awed bystanders. Besides this, it is not likely that Jews, who with all their errors and vices paid an outward respect to holy things, would have presumed to make a play on the sacred name of God. Therefore it is no more reasonable to hold that, misunderstanding Christ's words, they spoke seriously, with some vague, superstitious idea that Elijah might appear at this crisis, and rescue the Sufferer (see ver. 49).
And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
Verse 48. - Ran, and took a sponge. According to St. John, Jesus had just said, "I thirst." The sponge and the wine were provided for the purpose of ministering some relief to the crucified. Common humanity was not quite extinct even in the executioners and spectators. Vinegar. The acid wine used by the soldiers, and called posca (see on ver. 34). Put it on a reed. St. John calls it a stalk of hyssop; and if this is the caller plant, it, though of a climbing nature, can produce a stick some three or four feet long (see on ver. 29). Gave him to drink (ἐπότιζεν, imperf., was offering him to drink); perhaps with the idea of helping him to endure till Elijah came. Thus was fulfilled the psalmist's word, "In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21).
The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
Verse 49. - The rest [but the rest] said, Let be (ἄφες). This is a common expression, meaning, "Stand off!" "Be quiet!" "Soft!" The bystanders addressed the person who had presented the drink. In St. Mark the verb is in the plural, ἄφετε, that is, the giver of the drink calls upon the others to keep quiet and wait. Let as see whether Elias will come (ἔρχεται, cometh, is coming). They speak in a kind of superstitious mockery, half deriding and half believing in the possible appearance of the great prophet. Between this verse and the following, the Sinaitic, Vatican, and some other manuscripts, together with some few versions, insert a passage borrowed from John 19:34, "And another taking a spear pierced his side, and there came out water and blood." This evident interpolation has been introduced by a scribe, who deemed it expedient to rectify an omission on St. Matthew's part, and clumsily inserted it in a wrong place. It is to be rejected, not only on critical, but on historical and theological grounds, seeing that it makes the piercing of the side to precede Christ's death, and conveys the impression that it was this spear wound that cut short his life.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
Verse 50. - When he had cried again. He had cried aloud once before (ver. 46). But he does not repeat the former words; the horror of great darkness was past. Probably the cry here resolved itself into the words recorded by St. Luke, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." With a loud voice. This loud cry at the moment of death proved that he laid down his life voluntarily; no man could take it from him (John 10:17, 18); he himself willed to die; and this preternatural voice proceeded from one who died not altogether from physical exhaustion, but from determined purpose. Yielded up the ghost (a)fh = ke to\ pneu = ma); literally, dismissed his spirit; emisit spiritum). The phrase has been interpreted to signify that Christ exerted his power to anticipate the actual moment of dissolution; but there is no necessity of importing this idea into the expression. It is used ordinarily to denote the act of dying, as we say, "He expired." Perhaps the exertion of uttering this great cry ruptured some organ of the body. We know from the effect of the piercing of his side that his sacred heart was previously broken; and thus he verily and really died upon the cross. He, being in the form of God, and equal with God, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, suffered death forevery man. It is to be noted that the death of Christ occurred at 3 p.m., the very time when the Paschal lambs began to be slain in the temple courts. Thus the long prepared type was at last fulfilled, when "Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us."
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
Verses 51-56. - Signs following the death of Christ. (Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:47-49.) Verse 51. - And, behold. St. Matthew thus introduces his account of the portents which attended the death of the Son of God. The rending of the veil is mentioned by the synoptists as consequent on, and occurring simultaneously with, the completion of the ineffable sacrifice. The veil of the temple (τοῦ ναοῦ). There were two principal veils in the present temple - one between the vestibule and the holy place, and one other which is that here referred to, a constituent part of the edifce. This was the veil between the holy place and the holy of holies, which was moved aside only once a year to admit the high priest to the shrine on the great Day of Atonement (Exodus 26:33). It was large and costly, some sixty feet high, and made of rich materials. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 5:05. 4) tells us of one of the veils in the temple, that it was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with linen in various colours, woven together with wonderful art, such as the eye loved to rest upon. Was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. An apocryphal Gospel ('The Gospel of the Hebrews'), quoted by St. Jerome, in loc., asserts that the exquisitely carved lintel to which the veil was fastened was at this moment shattered to pieces, and in its fall tore the curtain asunder. The direction of the rent would show that no human hands had torn it apart, and the rending seems to have preceded the earthquake. The violent act was supernatural, and of a typical nature, as we are taught by Hebrews 9:6-12. The sanctuary enshrined the presence of God, from which the veil excluded every one but the high priest on one special occasion, thus denoting the imperfect reconciliation between God and his people, and that the way to the holiest was not yet made manifest. The rending of this veil betokened the opening of the access to heaven through the wounded body of Christ: as we read in Hebrews 10:19, 20, "Having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." "When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." The distinction between Jew and Gentile was abolished, the mysteries of the old Law were opened and manifested, all rites and ceremonies were made of sacramental efficacy, and ministered grace. How soon this ominous occurrence was discovered, we know not. The priest who offered incense at the evening sacrifice about this same hour must have seen it, and spread abroad among his comrades the news, to which many would attach a meaning fatal to the security of their religion. But this was comparatively a private sign; the next one was of a more comprehensive and public character. The earth did quake, and the rocks rent. The last verb is the same as was used just before in the case of the veil. There was a local earthquake at this awful moment, as if the very land shuddered at the terrible crime that had been committed. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem is supposed to cover the Golgotha of the Crucifixion (see on ver. 33). "An opening, faced with silver, shows the spot where the cross is said to have been sunk in the rock, and less than five feet from it is a long brass open work slide, over a cleft in the rock, which is about six inches deep, but is supposed by the pilgrims to reach to the centre of the earth. This is said to mark the rending of the rocks at the Crucifixion" (Geikie, 'Holy Land and Bible,' p. 447). The fact of the earthquake is testified by Phlegon, whose words were quoted by Julius Africanus, in his 'Chronographia' (fragments of which work have been published by Routh and others), and by Eusebius, in his 'Chronicon' (the passage, no longer extant in the original, being preserved by Jerome, and in an Armenian version; see Morison, on ver. 45). The rending of the rocks is attested by St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem ('Cateches.,' 13:33), who speaks of the remarkable fissure in Golgotha, which he had often noticed.
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
Verse 52. - The graves (the sepulchres) were opened. The earthquake tore away the stones that closed the mouths of many of the adjacent tombs. This and the following fact are mentioned only by St. Matthew. Many bodies of the saints which slept (τῶν κεκοιμημένων, who had fallen asleep) arose. Matthew anticipates the time of the actual occurrence of the marvel, which took place, not at this moment, but after our Lord's resurrection, who was "the firstfruits of them that slept" (see the next verse). Who are meant by "the saints" here is doubtful. The Jews probably would have understood the term to apply to the worthies of the Old Testament (comp. 2 Peter 3:4). But the opening of the sepulchres in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem would not have liberated the bodies of many of those who were buried far away. The persons signified must be those who in life had looked for the hope of Israel, and had seen in Christ that hope fulfilled; they were such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, true believers, who are called saints in the New Testament. How did these bodies arise? or how were they raised up? They were not mere phantoms, unsubstantial visitants from the spirit world, for they were in some sense corporeal. That they were not resuscitated corpses, as Lazarus, Jairus's daughter and the son of the widow, who lived for a time a second life, seems plain from the expression applied to them in the next verse, that "they appeared unto many," i.e. to persons who had known them while living. Some have thought that in them was anticipated the general resurrection, that, delivered from Hades and united to their bodies, they died no more, but at the Ascension accompanied Christ into heaven. Scripture says nothing of all this, nor have we any reason to suppose that any human body, save that of our blessed Lord (mediaeval legends add that of the Virgin Mary), has yet entered the highest heaven (see Hebrews 11:39, 40). Another opinion is that these were not strictly resurrections, but bodily appearances of saints like those of Moses and Elias at the Transfiguration; but it is a straining of language to make the evangelist describe such visitations as bodies arising from open sepulchres. Farrar tries to elude the difficulty by a supposition, as baseless as it is dishonouring to the evangelist's strict and simple veracity. He writes, "An earthquake shook the earth and split the rocks, and as it rolled away from their places the great stones which closed and covered the cavern sepulchres of the Jews, so it seemed to the imaginations of many to have disimprisoned the spirits of the dead, and to have filled the air with ghostly visitants, who, after Christ had risen, appeared to linger in the holy city. Only in some such way," he adds, "can I account for the singular and wholly isolated allusion of Matthew." Because a fact is mentioned by one evangelist only, it is not on this account incredible. St. Matthew was probably an eyewitness of that which he relates, and might have been confuted by his contemporaries, if he had stated what was not true. An early witness to the fact is found in Igmatius, who, in his 'Epistle to the Magnesians,' ch. 9, speaks of Christ when on earth raising the prophets from the dead. The whole matter is mysterious and beyond human ken; but we may well believe that at this great crisis the Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life, willed to exemplify his victory over death. and to make manifest the resurrection of the body, and this he did by releasing some saintly souls from Hades, and clothing them with the forms in which they had formerly lived, and permitting them to show themselves thus to those who knew and loved them. Of the future life of these resuscitated saints we know nothing, and will not presumptuously venture to inquire. When they have demonstrated that the sting was now taken from death, that the power of the grave was broken, that men shall rise again with their bodies and be known and recognized, they pass out of sight into the unseen world, and we can follow them no further.
And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Verse 53. - Came out of (ἐξελθόντες) the graves after his resurrection. The masculine participle, not agreeing with "bodies" (σώματα), denotes the personality of the bodies of the saints, that these arose perfect in soul and body. They could not rise before Christ rose. "Christ the firstfruits, afterwards they that are Christ's." Ewald and others have understood "after his resurrection" to mean "after he raised them from the dead." But the language is against such an interpretation, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the words refer to Christ's own resurrection. If it be contended that the word used, ἔγερσις, is active in sense, we may reply that, granting this, it merely emphasizes Christ's voluntary action in raising himself. As was said above, St. Matthew anticipates the regular sequence of events in order to complete at one view his accounts of the portents that attended the death and resurrection of Christ. The holy city. Jerusalem, as in ch. 4:5. The guilty Jerusalem is still the holy city, as retaining the temple, with its services, the ministry, the Scriptures. Some would understand the heavenly Jerusalem, into which these spiritual bodies entered; but the context is wholly against such an exposition. Appeared unto many. They were permitted to show themselves openly in their well known forms to pious relations and friends, as witnesses and proofs of the resurrection. If they had already gone to heaven, they could not have thus appeared. It may he right to add that many of the Fathers and modern commentators hold that these resuscitated saints were those to whom Christ preached (1 Peter 3:19) when he descended into hell, and that they accompanied him into glory when he ascended into heaven.
Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
Verse 54. - The centurion, and they that were with him. The officer with the small body of soldiers appointed to perform and take charge of the Crucifixion. St. Matthew relates the impression which these events made upon the soldiers' minds. Saw those things that were done. Instead of this reading, which has high authority, Alford, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort read, "that were being done," as the Vulgate, quae fiebant. This would point especially to the loud cry, in accordance with the words of St. Mark, "saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost." But there is no sufficient reason for altering the Received Text; and plainly it was not merely the closing incident that affected the soldiers, but the whole course of events which they witnessed. They saw the darkness, the earthquake, the rending of the rocks, the Divine meekness of the Sufferer; they heard his last words, his loud cry, and marked his patient death. All these things contributed to their awe and fear. They feared greatly. This crucified Man must be something more than human, for all these wonders to accompany his death: will he not visit upon us our part in his crucifixion? Have we nothing to fear from his vengeance? Some such course their apprehensions may have taken. But they learned something beyond selfish dread of possible danger. Truly this was the Son (Υιὸς, anarthrous, Son) of God; or, according to St. Luke, "Certainly this was a righteous Man." They recognized his innocence, and acknowledged that he suffered unjustly. What the centurion meant (for the words appear to have been his) by calling him "Son of God" is more doubtful. It may have been on his lips merely an affirmation that Jesus was holy and beloved by God; but more probably it meant much more than this. He knew that Christ claimed to be the Son of God, and in this hour of overwhelming awe he felt that the claim was just, whatever it might mean. This crucified Person was at least a hero or a demigod, or that which the words would imply in a Jewish sense, though he knew only imperfectly what was signified thereby. Tradition affirms that the centurion's name was Longinus, that he became a devoted follower of Christ, preached the faith, and died a martyr's death.
And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
Verse 55. - Many women. These are mentioned as witnesses of all these events which the apostles are not recorded to have seen. Courageous and loving, they had followed the procession to Calvary, and at a distance watched the woeful proceedings there. Some, we know, had ventured to come closer to their dying Lord (see John 19:25). Which followed (equivalent to had followed) Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him. They had accompanied Jesus on his last journey to the Passover at Jerusalem, tending him during all the time, and of their substance ministering to his wants (Luke 8:3).
Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.
Verse 56. - The historian mentions the most prominent of these pious women. Mary Magdalene (ἡ Μαγδαληςή, the Magdalene). She was a native of Magdala (Matthew 15:39, where see note), a small village on the shore of Gennesaret. Some have identified her with the sister of Lazarus, chiefly because, taking her to be the "sinner" mentioned in Luke 7:37, she is related to have behaved in a somewhat similar way to our Lord as her namesake. But this is clearly a mistake. Of the two events, the locality, the scene, the occasion, the circumstances, are different. Of this Mary of Magdala we really know nothing, except that out of her Jesus had cast seven devils (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). That these were demons of impurity, or that she was the sinful woman who anointed our Lord, there is nothing whatever to prove; though the notion connected with the name Magdalene is so rooted in men's minds and language that it is impossible to eradicate it, however erroneous it may be shown to be. She had probably been one who was melancholy mad, and subject to fits; Christ had seen the spiritual cause of this malady, and removed it by freeing her from demoniacal possession. What wonder is it that she followed him from Galilee, tending him lovingly and anxiously until the end? Mary the mother of James and Joses. Some manuscripts read Joseph; but the Received Text is correct. These two persons are mentioned among our Lord's "brethren" in Matthew 13:55. The former is called "James the Less" (Mark 15:40), and is the apostle of that name. Mary is usually supposed to be the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25), and the sister of the mother of our Lord; so that these two disciples would be Christ's first cousins. The matter is shrouded in difficulty, and cannot be decided with absolute certainty. From the present passage, at any rate, one fact is shown, that they were not Christ's uterine brothers - a truth which needed no mention, were not the dishonouring heresy of Helvidius still rife among us. The mother of Zebedee's children. Salome (Matthew 20:20; Mark 15:40). The rejection of her ambitious petition had not lessened her love and devotion to Christ.
When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:
Verses 57-61. - The burial of the body of Jesus. (Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42.) Verse 57. - When the even was come. This was what was called the first evening, the time between the ninth hour, or three o'clock, and sunset, and the great sabbath would shortly be beginning. It was the Roman custom to leave criminals hanging on the cross for days, till their bodies were devoured by birds and wild animals; the Jewish Law enacted that when bodies were penally suspended, they should be taken down and buried before night (Deuteronomy 21:22, 23), that the land might not be defiled. Tomorrow (beginning at sunset), being a specially solemn day, as combining the sabbath and the Passover celebration, the Jews were particularly anxious that the crucified bodies of our Lord and the two robbers should be taken away and put out of sight before the sabbath began. To effect this object, they went to Pilate, and begged him to put an end to their sufferings by the sharp, short process of breaking their legs. St. John's account must be referred to for this and the result of the soldiers' examination of our Lord. There came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple. He is further said to have been "an honourable counsellor," i.e. a member of the Sanhedrin, "a good man and a just, who also waited for the kingdom of God, and had not consented to the counsel and deed" of the rest of the rulers. "It was divinely appointed," says the Ven. Bede, "that Joseph should be rich, in order to have access to Pilate, for no mean man could have access to the governor; and that he should be a just man, in order to receive the body of our Lord." This man's native place was Arimathaea, a town with much probability identified with Ramathaim-Zophim of 1 Samuel 1:1, which lay in Mount Ephraim, and was the birthplace of the Prophet Samuel. That he was "a rich man" naturally gave him some influence with Pilate, and joined with his position as a Sanhedrist, made his request more likely to be granted. "One Joseph was appointed by God to be guardian of Christ's body in the virgin womb, and another Joseph was the guardian of his body in the virgin tomb, and each Joseph is called a 'just man' in Holy Scripture" (Wordsworth).
He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
Verse 58. - He went to Pilate. St. Mark says, "came and went in boldly unto Pilate." He had hitherto been a disciple of Christ, "secretly for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38); now that Christ was dead, and his death accompanied with such manifest wonders, according absolutely with ancient prophecy, and fulfilling Christ's own predictions, he hesitated no longer, he openly professed his partisanship, and threw in his lot with the Crucified. If from expediency or pusillanimity he had refrained from taking a prominent position as a favourer of this wonderful Teacher, he had lately learned a new lesson, and hailed the opportunity of publicly honouring him deceased whom in his heart he had loved and reverenced while alive. So he went to the Praetorium to see the procurator, whose sanction was required for removing the body of a criminal from the cross. It was probably after the deputation of the Jews to Pilate, mentioned by St. John (John 19:31), that Joseph had his interview. Begged the body of Jesus. It was not unusual for friends to obtain leave to pay the last rites and to give decent sepulture in such cases; otherwise the corpses were thrown carelessly into nameless graves, if they were not left to rot on the cross. The indignities which Christ had suffered during life now began to be reversed. Commanded the body to be delivered. Pilate first, we are told, sent for the officer in charge of the execution, and finding from him that Jesus was really dead, granted Joseph's request. Perhaps he desired at the same time to flout the chief priests, and likewise to make some slight reparation to the innocent Victim of his policy.
And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
Verse 59. - When Joseph had taken the body. In order to effect this, the cross would be taken up and deposited upon the ground, the nails would be drawn from hands and feet, the cord unbound (if cord there was), and the corpse laid reverently down. We must remember that this act of Joseph and his friends was not only a bold proceeding, but an act of great self-denial. 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. But the love of Jesus and the unselfish desire to render him honour enabled them to rise superior to religious prejudices, and willingly to make the required sacrifice. Wrapped it in a clean linen cloth; literally, swathed it in clean linen. The body was enveloped in a sheet of fine linen, pure and clean, as was fitting. The linen was a fine Indian cloth or muslin, much used for such purposes in Egypt. The body would then be taken to its destination on an open bier. St. John adds the fact that Nicodemus took part in the entombment, bringing a large amount of myrrh and aloes for a temporary embalming, the near approach of the sabbath leaving no time for more elaborate offices. All had to be done with the utmost expedition consistent with propriety and reverence, to avoid encroachment on the rest of that high sabbath. Some of the preparations for burial would doubtless be made in the vestibule of the tomb, which was a small court, but spacious enough for the purpose. Here the limbs would be separately bound with folds of linen, between layers of spices, the head being wrapped in a napkin.
And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
Verse 60. - Laid it in his own new tomb. It was placed on one of the shelves or recesses formed in the sides of the sepulchre. Thus did the Saviour make "his grave with the wicked" (dying between two thieves), "and with the rich in his death" (Isaiah 53:9). It was fitting that he whose body saw no corruption should be buried in a grave which had never been tainted by a human corpse. Thus also it was ensured that no other body could rise thence except his who alone was buried therein. This tomb, St. John tells us, was quite close at hand, which at that hurried time would be an additional reason for making use of it. Which he had hewn out in the rock. The tomb was a chamber artificially excavated in the face of the rock, with one entrance only. The wealthy Jews were especially fond of appropriating vaults for the burial of themselves and their families. The neighbourhood of Jerusalem (as other parts of Palestine) abounds with tombs cut in the solid limestone. Recent opinion has veered round to adherence to the traditional site of the holy sepulchre, of which the identification dates from the earliest days; that which is known as "Gordon's tomb" meeting with scant acceptance from experts, and other sites not fully answering the requirements of the case. The existing Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, in the church of that designation, is thus described by Dr. Geikie ('Holy Land and Bible,' pp. 437, etc.): On entering the church, "immediately before you is 'the stone of unction,' said to mark the spot on which our Lord's body was laid in preparation for burial, after being anointed. It is a large slab of limestone A few steps to the left is the place where, as they tell us, the women stood during the anointing, and from this you pass at once, still keeping to the left, into the great round western end of the church - the model of all the circular churches of Europe - under the famous dome, which rests on eighteen pillars, with windows round the circle from which the dome springs. In the centre of this space, which is sixty-seven feet across, is the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, about twenty-six feet long and eighteen feet wide, a tasteless structure of reddish limestone, like marble, decorated all along the top with gilt nosegays and modern pictures, and its front ablaze with countless lamps. Inside it is divided into two parts, the one marking, as is maintained, the spot where the angels stood at the Resurrection, the other believed to contain the sepulchre of Christ In the centre, cased in marble, stands what is called a piece of the stone rolled away by the angel; and at the western end, entered by a low doorway, is the reputed tomb chamber of our Lord, a very small spot, for it is only six feet wide, a few inches longer, and very low. The tomb itself is a raised table, two feet high, three feet wide, and over six feet long, the top of it serving as an altar, over which the darkness is only relieved by the dim lamps." A great stone. Joseph and his friends closed the entrance to the cave by rolling up to it, and partly in it, a huge stone, to obviate all danger of the sacred body being meddled with by evil beasts or men. The Jewish sepulchres were often furnished with real doors, either of stone or wood, as is proved by existing remains, which show grooves and marks where hinges have been; Joseph's tomb was not thus supplied, either from being still in an unfinished state, or constructed on a different principle. We can not reason from the present state of the sepulchre that it is too unlike what we must conceive the original to have been to permit of the supposed identification. If other criteria point to this site, the difficulties connected with present appearances may be overcome by the consideration that the whole features of the place were altered by Constantine, the Crusaders, and other builders. The surrounding rock has in many parts been cut away, and the surface levelled or lowered, and the only portion left in situ is the inner chamber where the Lord's body was laid. Captain Conder objects to the traditional site. His own theory, which points to a rock-hewn tomb near the Grotto of Jeremiah, may be seen in the Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund, April, 1883. And departed. He had done what he could: sorrowing, he left the place of sepulture. Tradition has traced the later life of Joseph. He is said to have been sent by the Apostle Philip to Britain, in company with other disciples, and to have settled at Glaston bury, in Somersetshire, then much nearer to an arm of the sea than it is now. Here he erected a little oratory of wickerwork, the first Christian house of prayer that England saw, which was afterwards superseded by the noble abbey whose remains we admire to this day. There is no certain foundation on which the story rests; the only evidence of visitors from Palestine having ever arrived at Glastonbury is the existence of an Eastern thorn tree on Wearyall Hill, which possesses the curious property of blossoming at Christmas. The original tree, which sprang from Joseph's staff, is reported to have flourished till the reign of Charles I., when it was destroyed by the Puritans; but scions or cuttings were taken from it, and many such bushes are still to be found in different parts of the country.
And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
Verse 61. - The other Mary. The mother of James and Joses (ver. 56). These pious women could not tear themselves from the spot where their Lord was buried. The last to leave him dead, they were the first to see him risen. And now they watch the last ceremonies at a distance, intending to complete the imperfect embalmment with loving care as soon as ever the sabbath was over. "Seest thou women's courage?" says Chrysostom; "seest thou their affection? seest thou their noble spirit in expending money [Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56]? their noble spirit even unto death? Let us men imitate the women; let us not forsake Jesus in temptations." We may note that the care of Joseph in providing an inviolable tomb, and the preparations of these good women, showed that they as yet had no faith in the incorruptibility of Christ's body or of his corporeal resurrection from the dead.
Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
Verses 62-66. - The great sabbath. The sepulchre sealed and watched. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) Verse 62. - The next day, that followed the day of the preparation; ἥτις ἐστὶ μετὰ τὴν παρασκευήν, which is [the day] after the preperation. The language of the original Implies that the day was one of a class. The present day was the 15th of Nisan, and both a sabbath and the chief day of the Passover festival. The term "preparation," or "prosabbath" (Judith 8:6), was applied by the Jews to the day preceding the sabbath or the chief festivals (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 16:06. 2); but by the time the gospel was committed to writing, Paraskeue had become among Christians the usual designation of the day of Christ's death; hence the sabbath, which was of less importance than the crucifixion day, is here called, "the day after the Paraskeue." The language of the synoptists leads to the conclusion that the action of the Sanhedrists in applying to Pilate took place on the sabbath, their uneasy conscience and fear of some surprising event overcoming that scrupulous regard to the sanctity of the holy day which they would have strictly enforced upon others. It is just possible, however, that they postponed their application till the evening, having nothing to fear till "the third day." Came together unto Pilate; were gathered together. A large deputation of the chief men presented itself before the procurator, anxious to obtain his aid to prevent all tampering with the buried body of Jesus, at the same time apprehending some event, they knew not what, which might tend to corroborate his claims. Neologians have argued against the credibility of this section of the gospel history, and have been followed by some commentators of greater faith. A refutation of the most prominent objections will be found in Alford's notes on ver. 62.
Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
Verse 63. - We remember, etc. The prophecy concerning Christ's resurrection on the third day might have been made known to them in various ways. Thus they may have heard and partially understood our Lord's allusion to Jonah (Matthew 12:40), or the words on which the false accusation was founded (John 2:19); or the apostles themselves may have divulged the mysterious announcement, and a general impression had been produced that Jesus had constantly affirmed that he would rise on the third day. It is true that the apostles and the good women were far from believing in the realization of this assertion in the manner in which it came to pass. They probably looked for Christ's return in glory to establish his kingdom and to reign as Messiah. The rulers received the prediction in its literal sense, "hatred being more keen sighted than love;" hence they took practical precautions against its collusive or pretended fulfilment. That deceiver (ἐκεῖνος ὁ πλάνος: literally, that vagabond yonder). That impostor, who has become so famous, and whom you know all about. They imply that without further definition, Pilate understands whom they mean; and their calumnies and reviling cease not even with their Victim's death. While he was yet alive. These bitter enemies of Jesus, who had the best means of ascertaining the truth, certainly regarded him as now dead. Yet some modern sceptics resort to the theory of a trance to account for the Resurrection, whose historical accuracy they cannot gainsay. After three days. A popular form of expression, which would denote any space which embraced portions of three days, in the present ease being part of Friday, all Saturday, and part of Sunday. I will rise again (ἐγείρομαι, I rise). The present tense implies greater and more assured certainty than the future.
Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
Verse 64. - Command therefore. In consideration of the fact which we have stated, and of our apprehension of some imposture. The rulers had no power in themselves to take the measures which they required. Jesus was a state criminal, and they dared not assume the responsibility of guarding his tomb from invasion. Until the third day. Which was all that was necessary, as Christ had promised to rise on that day - neither before nor after it; and if it passed without the predicted event, he would be proved to be an impostor. Come by night (νυκτός). This word is absent from the best manuscripts and from the Vulgate. It seems to have been an early interpolation. And steal him away. A most unlikely hypothesis under the circumstances. The disciples had forsaken Christ while alive, were now hiding in terror, and utterly demoralized and depressed; were they likely to incur further danger for the sake of supporting an assertion, which, unless it proved absolutely true, would only further crush their faith and hope? The rulers seem to have had an uneasy feeling that Jesus might reappear, and they thus prepared themselves to cast discredit upon him, even if, like Lazarus, he rose from the dead. This explanation of the Resurrection has obtained among the Jews from the time of Justin Martyr ('Dial. c. Tryph.,' 17; 108.), and has scarcely yet died out, though in many quarters what is called the "vision-hypothesis" has taken its place (see on Matthew 28:15, and Edersheim, 2, pp. 626, etc.). The people. The Pharisees were always disdainful of the vulgar herd. "This people who knoweth not the Law are cursed" (John 7:49). The last error...the first. "Error" is πλάνη, as they had called Christ πλάνος (ver. 63), so the word here may be taken actively, as meaning "imposture." The deception arising from his death and supposed resurrection would be of graver consequence than that concerned with his previous life. Morison, considering the word to have its usual meaning of "error," regards it as used by the Pharisees in a political sense, in accordance with the governor's standpoint: "If that deceiver's body should be stolen by his disciples, the fickle people will undoubtedly leap back to their old conclusion, that after all he was what he professed to be. This conclusion would be, as we all know, an 'error;' but yet it would be most thin, ions to the interests of Caesar. There would be more political disaffection than ever." It is more simple to say that the first error, the acceptance of Christ's Messianic claims, was not of such decided and far-reaching consequence as would be the belief in his resurrection. They do not, indeed, see all that such belief involves; but they understood enough to know that it would give supernatural importance to all the words and acts of his life.
Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
Verse 65. - Ye have a watch (ἔχετε κουστωδίαν, take a guard). Pilate answers briefly and haughtily, "Well, I give permission; do as you like; take a body of soldiers as a guard, and go your way." This last verb is imperative, so the former is most probably imperative also. If taken as indicative, the question arises - What guard had they? This is difficult to answer, unless, as Alford supposes, it may refer to some detachment placed at their disposal during the feast. But of this we know nothing historically. Make it as sure (ἀσφαλίσασθε, secure it for yourselves) as ye can; literally, as ye know how. Take any precaution you think fit to employ.
So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
Verse 66. - So they (οἱ δὲ, and they) went. They left the procurator's presence, relieved at having gained their request and precluded all fear of collusion. Sealing the stone, and setting a watch (μετὰ τῆς κουστωδίας, with the watch; cum custodibus). The last words are variously rendered. Thus: "scaled the stone by means of the watch" (Alford); "scaling the stone, the guard being with them" (Revised Version); "as well as having the watch" (Webster and Wilkinson); "in concert with the guard" (Morison). This last expositor has best seized the complex notion contained in the evangelist's language: "They made the sepulchre sure by sealing the stone in concert with the guard (and thereafter leaving the guard to keep watch)." The stone was sealed probably in this manner: a cord was passed round the stone that closed the mouth of the sepulchre to the two sides of the entrance; this was scaled with wax or prepared clay in the centre and at the ends, so that the stone could not be removed without breaking the seals or the cord (comp. Daniel 6:17). Thus carefully did Christ's enemies obviate the possibility of any fraud or collusion; thus did they themselves prove unanswerably the truth and reality of the resurrection of that same Jesus whoso dead body they so carefully guarded. "Everywhere deceit recoils upon itself, and. against its will supports the truth. It was necessary for it to be believed that he died, and that he rose again, and that he was buried, and all these things are brought to pass by his enemies .... The proof of his resurrection has become incontrovertible by what ye [his enemies] have put forward. For because it was sealed, there was no unfair dealing. But if there was no unfair dealing, and the sepulchre was found empty, it is manifest that he is risen, plainly and incontrovertibly. Seest thou how even against their will they contend for the proof of the truth?" (St. Chrysostom, in loc.).

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