Notes Matthew chapter 27
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
Jesus is Delivered to Pontius Pilate 27:1-2
27:1 The official sentence of death on Jesus was pronounced by the Sanhedrin in the early morning. Apparently this had not happened at night (see 26:66). It is possible that a second meeting during the morning hours is involved here, but also that the night meeting lasted until the early morning. In the first case the morning meeting was no more than a formality, apparently intended to comply in some sense with the formal requirements of Jewish trial procedure (see commentary on 26:66). In the second case Matthew records that the verdict was reached on what had been discussed during the night as dawn broke and the meeting thereupon concluded.
2. Jesus was now fettered as a criminal (cf. also John 18:12) and delivered to Pilate, whose real residence was in Caesarea, but who resided in Jerusalem for special occasions. This delivery suggests that the Sanhedrin did not have the right to carry out the death penalty (what was called potestas gladii), see also John 18:31. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, was an atrociously cruel man, according to Flavius Josephus (Ant. XVIII, ii,2; iii,1-2; vi,5). But however the Jews may have suffered under his cruelty (cf. Luke 13:1), they did not hesitate to have Jesus undone through him.
The Death of Judas 27:3-10
3. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse. When Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned, he became repentant. It nowhere appears that he had foreseen this conclusion or even intended it. But when he saw that his betrayal had led to the death sentence of Jesus and that He was taken to Pontius Pilate in chains, he repented, i.e., he was affected by a deep revulsion at his deed. But his repentance did not bring him to God.
and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests. By returning the thirty pieces of silver he was trying to undo his part on the affair. It is not clear where the members of the Sanhedrin were at that moment; in the Temple (v.5), with Pilate (v.2), or on the way.
4. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Judas’ confession of guilt to the members of the Sanhedrin was improperly addressed. ‘Sin’ here does not mean ‘sin against God’, but only incorrect action in a moral sense (cf. 18:21). The wrong action consisted in betraying an innocent man (‘innocent blood’, cf. Deut 19:31; 1 Sam 19:5; Ps 94:21). The chief priests and the elders did not want to accept the money or to have anything to do with his repentance, and flatly told him so.
5. Judas threw the money into the temple and left. After being rejected by the members of the Sanhedrin, Judas impetuously threw the money in the Temple. If ’temple’ means the actual Temple building, he would have thrown the money inside (it is questionable whether that was possible) or maybe against the Temple wall. But it is more probable that the Greek word naos here, just as sometimes in Flavius Josephus, is used in the sense of hieron, i.e., the Temple complex. In that case Judas threw the money into the treasury, where the Temple treasure was kept (cf. v.6).
Then he went away (literally, retired above) to a secluded place lying somewhat higher and hanged himself (cf. Acts 1:18).
6. It is against the law to put this into the treasury. After consultation the chief priests – the highest officers of the Temple ministry – decided that the money was blood-money (the wages of crime) and could not be intended for the offertory box. They were right in a formal sense (cf. the hire of a whore and the price of a dog, Deut 23:18), but their preoccupation with the sanctity of the Temple blinds them to the fact that they themselves were guilty of this crime (they had paid for it, 26:15).
7. The chief priests decided to regard the money as community money and to use it for a community purpose. The Potter’s Field – apparently a field which he had excavated – was bought to make a burial-place for strangers (cf. Acts 1:18).
8. The land acquired the name The Field of Blood, a translation of the Aramaic akeldama (Acts 1:19). It is possible that this is a pun on akeldamak (‘sleeping place’, ‘cemetery’, see v.7). The taint adhering to the money that Judas obtained did not become silent. The parcel of land retained the name ‘The Field of Blood’ for decades (‘unto this day’, i.e. the time at which Matthew wrote his gospel).
9. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled. The fact that Matthew ascribes the quotation in vv.9b-10 to Jeremiah instead of to Zechariah (11:12-13) is not ascribable to a lapse of memory. Not only does he quote Zech 11:12-13 in a very free translation, but the most important point is that the second part of the quotation, ‘and gave them for the potter’s field as the Lord had appointed me’, cannot even be regarded as a free translation from Zechariah. The ‘Potter’s Field’, which is a central detail in the fulfilment of the prophecy for Matthew, does indeed occur in the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jer 18:2-12; 19:1-15). By way of conclusion, we may accept that Matthew combines details from Jeremiah and Zechariah and according to literary conventions names only the most important writer (cf. Mark 1:2-3).
10. As the services of the Good Shepherd were valued at thirty pieces of silver in Zech 11:12-13 – an unworthy sum, paid as a fine for causing the death of a slave (Exod 21:32) – so is the Messiah handed over for the same sum.
and they used them to buy the potter’s field. By ‘The Potter’s Field’ Matthew wishes to bring to mind one of the prophecies of judgment from Jer 19. All the more so in that a number of details in Matt 27:3-10 correspond to Jer 19, such as innocent blood (v.4; Jer 19:4); priests and elders (vv.3,6,7; Jer 19:1); the valley of Ben-Hinnom, where the Potter’s field was situated, was called the ‘Valley of Slaughter’, which has the same connotations as ‘field of blood’ (v.8; Jer 19:6); the land was used as a burial-place (v.7; Jer 19:11).
as the Lord commanded me. This is obviously an additon by Matthew (cf. Exod 9:12). These words emphasize in the concluding words, that what had occurred with the thirty pieces of silver had been in the Lord’s will.
The Trial before Pilate 27:11-14
11. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Matthew does not record an official charge, but the principal accusation may be deduced from Pilate’s question, i.e., that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, which the chief priests represent in political terms as the King of the Jews. In so doing it was doubtless their intention to present Jesus in a poor light to Pilate (who was after all the governor of a Roman province).
“Yes, it is as you say. Jesus’ answer to Pilate was confirmatory but with a clear limitation (cf. 26:25,64). By stressing ‘you’ it was left to the questioner to decide. Jesus did not want to accept responsibility for everything the Jews understood by ‘king of the Jews’ (cf. John 18:33-37).
12. When he was accused … he gave no answer. If Jesus’ words (v.11) had been unambiguously a confirmation, Pilate could not have postponed passing sentence on one guilty of high treason. But since this was not the case, the Sanhedrin continued with their accusations against Jesus. The charges they laid against Him are not recorded in detail. They would have tried to show how dangerous He was in all sorts of ways (cf. Luke 23:2,5). But Jesus did not respond.
13. Although Pilate regarded Jesus’ answer (v.11) as an admission (cf. vv.29 and 37), his attitude was one of reservation from the very beginning. He did not once follow up the answer. He knew from the beginning (see v.18) that Jesus’ kingship had no political significance and therefore attempted in his own way to prevent the sentence of execution on which the Sanhedrin had decided from being carried out.
14. Even after Pilate had urged Him to defend Himself, Jesus remained silent (cf. 26:63). This did not mean an agreement, but a refusal to respond to any one of the false accusations. We must regard this in the light of the prophecies in Isa 53:7, ‘He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.’
Jesus or Barabbas? 27:15-26
15. it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner. ‘Feast’ means the Passover, as in 26:5. Granting amnesty to prisoners was one of the statutory rights of a Roman governor, and as is seen here, this was done in practice on the eve of the Passover. We may accept that in this custom of freeing each year the prisoner whom the people wanted, Pilate was trying to curry favour with the Jewish people.
16. they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. Barabbas was quite a common name: ‘son of Abbas’. It may have been a personal name, but here it is more likely a nickname, especially if the reading ‘Jesus Barabbas’ [in some mss] is correct (cf. v.17).
The Greek epismon may occur in a neutral (‘known’) or in a pejorative sense (‘notorious’). In the first instance Pilate would have wished to emphasize the similarity between the two prisoners, i.e., that they were familiar to the people. On the basis of Barabbas’ deeds, which are recorded elsewhere (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19; John 18:40; and Acts 3:14) it is more likely that a notorious prisoner is intended. In that case Pilate would have wanted to emphasize the contrast between the two.
17-18. when the crowd had gathered. By ‘crowd’ we must not understand the members of the Sanhedrin, but the crowd (cf. vv.15 and 20), who according to Mark 15:8 asked for the release of a prisoner as it was customary then (see v.15).
“Which one do you want me to release to you. Pilate now tries to solve the matter of Jesus by responding to their choice, that is by allowing the people to choose between Jesus and Barabbas. He apparently supposed that they would certainly prefer Jesus to Barabbas, who was known to be a violent man, and Pilate wanted to play off the crowd against the chief priests and the elders. He had known from the beginning that the latter had handed Jesus to him because of an aversion to Jesus caused by His growing influence with the people (cf. Mark 15:10).
19. “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man. Pilate was also shown Jesus’ innocence through his wife. She had apparently accompanied him to his provincial residence, which was not customary at the time. The message she sent to her husband reached him while he was still on the seat of judgment, a sort of dais situated outside the Hall of Judgment (cf. v.27), on which the justice was seated to pronounce sentence.
I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” Nothing is recorded of the contents of the dream. But she regarded the fact that she had suffered much on account of Jesus as a warning sign and quickly sent a message to her husband: have nothing to do with that innocent man, or there will be serious consequences for us. Her message is not a defence of Jesus but a warning for her husband. On dreams, see commentary on 1:20.
20. the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas. It appears that Barabbas’ popularity was not the reason for the crowd’s demanding his release, but rather the influence of the Sanhedrin on the people. Further, most of those attending the Feast in Jerusalem did not belong to Jesus’ followers (see 21:10). Although it is the leaders and not the people who were responsible for Jesus’ death in the first instance, it still remains a fact that the whole crowd demanded His death.
21. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” The half-hearted Pilate repeats his question of v.17, still under the impression that the people will choose Jesus. Incited by the members of the Sanhedrin (v.20), the people opted for Barabbas. What now follows is one of the most dramatic passages in the Bible.
22. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate, who must have been a judge, now asks Jesus’ accusers what to do with Him. He may well have wanted to confront the people with an insight into the consequences of their choice to bring them to their senses. It did not work: the people were not deterred by the dreadful consequences and cried with one voice, ‘Crucify Him!’
23. “Why? What crime has he committed?” This third question was the last, feeble attempt to influence public opinion. The public outcry could not be assuaged and became so urgent that Pilate did not get an answer to his question. They shouted all the more, ‘Crucify Him!’
At the same time we also see here the consequences of Pilate’s perversion of justice. Once he had begun to put justice into the hands of the mob, he could not withdraw.
24. When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere. When Pilate saw that this was unavailing (or that he was achieving nothing), but rather that a riot was likely (or that the uproar was increasing), he took his wife’s advice (v.19): he washed his hands and declared, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’.
he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. Washing one’s hands was a Jewish custom to bear witness to one’s innocence (Deut 21:6-7; Ps 26:6; 73:13). Although the symbolism does not have to be exclusively Jewish, we are apparently concerned here with a deliberate application by Pilate, for he wished to express himself to the people (‘in front of the crowd’) in a comprehensible way.
Finally he said, ‘It is your responsibility!‘, in other words, it is your business, I accept no responsibility.
25. All the people answered. By the words ‘all the people’ (Gk. laos) Matthew wished to indicate that the whole Jewish people spoke through the crowd (ochloi, vv.20 and 24) before Pilate’s judgment seat.
Pilate’s words (v.24) induce the people en masse to take on themselves and their descendants the responsibility for Jesus’ death. Although the great mass of the people and the spiritual leaders reacted in contrary ways to Jesus’ message and works at the beginning of His ministry, the crowd now associates itself with its leaders (vv.20-25) and the whole people gives a unanimous response.
“Let his blood be on us and on our children!” For the expression ‘His blood be on us (litt. upon our heads)’ see 2 Sam 1:16; 3:28-29; Acts 18:6. The people took on themselves the blood-guilt and all the consequences of the sentence. In their ignorance they called down on themselves a judgment of which Jesus had spoken in His repeated Woes against the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23:32,35-36,38). But at that time the Lord Jesus also spoke of the limits of that judgment, see Matt 23:39 and commentary.
26. Pilate’s attempt to pit the people against the Sanhedrin had failed. Barabbas was released and Jesus was handed over to be scourged and crucified.
But he had Jesus flogged. Scourging was originally a Roman punishment, but was adopted by the Jews (Matt 10:17; Acts 5:40; 22:19; 2 Cor 11:25). A scourge was a leather strap into which pieces of bone and metal had been woven. The Roman custom was to scourge a condemned person before crucifying him.
Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers 27:27-31
27. Jesus, the crowd and the soldiers are still outside the front of the judgment seat on which Pilate had been seated (see v.19). His soldiers now took Jesus away with them to the praetorium, the praetor’s (the governor’s) palace, where the rest of their unit was; apparently this refers to the former palace of Herod in the west of the city, where Pilate resided in Jerusalem during the days of the feast, and not to the fortress of Antonia to the north of the Temple, although a cohort of soldiers was permanently stationed there. The cohort mentioned in our verse consisted of Pilate’s own soldiers, a unit which had escorted the governor on his journey from Caesarea (his permanent residence) to Jerusalem.
and gathered the whole company of soldiers round him. A ‘company’ (Gk. speira) was a Roman cohort, the tenth of a legion, and on paper comprised 600 men. No genuine Roman soldiers were in fact stationed in Palestine, only auxiliaries recruited in that country from among the non-Jewish population. This sort of cohort had a paper strength of 1.000 men.
What the soldiers did (vv.28-31) did not take place on Pilate’s orders but on their own initiative: by this mockery they were expressing their contempt of the Jewish people.
28. In the palace Jesus was again stripped (after the scourging, v.26) by the soldiers and dressed in a scarlet robe: a Roman soldier’s red cloak that would have been obtainable without difficulty. Considering the other items (v.29) it is clear that this was done as a caricature of the royal purple (cf. Mark15:17).
29. For the crown of thorns we have to think of a wreath of leaves from weeds, which in the south usually bore thorns. This had to represent the golden wreath worn in former times by the Maccabean vassal princes, as was also the purple robe (1 Macc 10:20). So the crown of thorns was intended in the first place as a caricature of kingly worth, although striking it (v.30) was soldierly cruelty and must have been extremely painful. The reed in His right hand had to serve as a royal sceptre: the symbol of ruling. The soldiers now fell on their knees before Him in mockery and gave Him the royal greeting. From first to last they wanted to make a mockery of Jesus’ kingship.
30. The climax of the mockery was the spitting, and with striking Jesus’ head with the reed this passed into torture.
31. The mock homage was over. The robe was taken off, Jesus’ own clothes were put back on Him and He was led outside to be crucified.
In Caiaphas’ hall, Jesus had been mocked as a prophet (26:68), in Pilate’s (temporary) residence He had to undergo scorn and mockery of His kingship. A king like Jesus was a cause of mockery to the people.
Jesus is Crucified 27:32-44
32. As they were going out. By ‘going out’ we must think of leaving the city. Crucifixion took place outside the city (cf. John 19:20; Num 15:35; Lev 16:27; Heb 13:12).
they forced him to carry the cross. It was usual for the condemned to carry his cross himself, i.e., the cross-beam. Jesus did so too (cf. John 19:17). But when the soldiers noticed that He was not strong enough they compelled a certain Simon from Cyrene to carry the cross-beam. On rights over people and property, see commentary on Matt 5:41.
Simon came from Cyrene, a place in North Africa, where many Jews lived (Acts 2:10; 6:9; 11:20; 13:1). He would have been in Jerusalem in connection with the Passover feast. From the fact that Matthew reveals his name and place of birth, it appears that he remained a known person.
33. The place where Jesus was crucified was called in Aramaic gulgultha (= skull) and in Greek kraniou topos (= the Place of the Skull). Judging from the name, it was a hill shaped like a skull. It was close to the city (John 19:20) and was near to a much-frequented road (v.39).
34. they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; Before Jesus was crucified the soldiers gave Him sour wine (national drink) mixed with some bitter substance. The Greek word for ‘gall’ (chol) was generally used to indicate some unpleasantly tasting substance, and in the LXX it has the meanings of bitterness and poison (this last in Job 20:14; Ps 69:21).
It was the Jewish custom to give a person condemned to execution a pain-killing drug before sentence was carried out to reduce the pain (SB I, 1037). It is clear that offering wine mingled with poison must here be regarded as an act of mercy. But when Jesus tasted what they were giving Him, He refused it. He wanted to endure His sufferings fully conscious.
35. At the place of execution the condemned was nailed naked by the outstretched arms to the cross-beam and this was then fixed in some way to the already erected upright. The body’s weight was supported by a kind of seat, and the feet were nailed separately to the upright. Death, usually not caused by bleeding but by exhaustion, often took long to supervene.
Gambling for and sharing the victim’s clothing was a usual custom. But here this is clearly a fulfilment of the not explicitly quoted scripture from Ps 22:18, ‘They divide my garments among them, and cast lots for my clothing.’
36. they kept watch over him. It could take a long time to die, somtimes several days. For this reason the soldiers kept watch to prevent any attempt at releasing the victims. The fact that Matthew expressly mentions it may be concerned with ideas which went the rounds later on, i.e., that Jesus was taken down from the cross before He was dead.
37. Two more occurrences associated with the death of Jesus are now related: the superscription for the cross (v.37) and the crucifixion of the two thieves (v.38).
Above his head they placed the written charge against him. A board carrying the official notification of the grounds for His crucifixion (the claim to be the King of the Jews – the Messiah) was fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head. It was usual for the condemned person to carry this hung round his neck on his way to the cross. It is not recorded whether this happened to Jesus. According to John the inscription was written and fastened on Pilate’s order (John 19:19). The wording was not so much intended to arouse mockery of Jesus as of the Jews (cf. John 19:21).
38. Two robbers were crucified with him. Two thieves (Gk. listhai) were crucified at the same time as Jesus. They may have been footpads or highwaymen (cf. Luke 10:30). The two thieves were brought along and crucified with Him (Luke 23:32-33). Although we have to accept that the trial of the two more criminals was simply a chance occurrence to the Romans, the whole is a striking fulfilment of Isa 53:12, ‘He was numbered among the transgressors’. In His crucifixion Jesus was counted among the dregs of mankind.
39. After the soldiers’ actions related above (vv.32-38) Matthew now passes on to detail the reactions of three groups of people: those who were passing by (39-40), the leaders of the people (41-43), and the thieves (v.44).
Those who passed by hurled insults at him. ‘Passers-by’ is an exact reproduction of the Greek word used here. Matthew may well mean the people passing along the busy road. But it is more likely that he means the sensation-seeking mob that had come out of the city.
shaking their heads. Wagging the head as an expression of insult and mockery is a custom familiar from the OT (Isa 37:22; Lam 2:15). Its occurence is a striking fulfilment of the Scripture in Ps 22:7, ‘All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.’
40. “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! This mockery by the passers-by was similar to the accusation of the Sanhedrin (26:61). Obviously the accusation had become known among the people (or had it been spread deliberately? cf. v.20).
As far as the second part of the verse is concerned, the division is not clear, i.e., whether a break occurs before or after ‘Save yourself’. If we omit the Greek kai (so Textus Receptus), ‘Save thyself’ must belong to the first part of the sentence (see KJV and NIV). If we accept kai, ‘Save thyself’ must belong to the second part of the sentence: ‘If you are the son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross’ (see NEB and others). It makes, however, little difference to the meaning.
Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” Mockery on the Sonship of God reminds us of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (26:63). In this mockery we encounter yet again a fulfilment of prophecy (Ps 22:8), but it is also a direct temptation for Jesus (cf. Matt 4:3,6). Even in these last hours of Jesus’ life Satan tries yet again to bring Him into disobedience to His calling to suffer as the ‘Servant of the Lord’ for the people’s sake (Isa 53). He approaches Jesus on the grounds of His power (cf. 26:53).
41. After insults from the soldiers (vv.28-30) and the people (vv.39-40), now come insults from the leaders of the people, representatives of the three groups comprising the High Council. It was beneath their dignity to address Jesus directly and therefore they used the third person (see v.42).
42. Since these words are obviously intended jeeringly we must not regard ‘He saved others’ as a recognition of His ministry. The scribes and Pharisees never denied the reality of His miracles in fact, but they ascribed His power to perform them to Satan (Matt 9:34). In their eyes, the cross is the complete proof that He could not be the Messiah (= the King of Israel; cf. 1 Cor 1:23).
43. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him. The leaders also ridicule His trust in God. If He really had a special relationship with God, God could indeed save Him. All the sufferings that the devout people of Israel had had to endure when enemies asked them, ‘Where is your God?’ are fulfilled in the words of this verse, strongly reminiscent of Ps 22:8 (cf. Ps 42:3 and 10). They derived Jesus’ trust in God from the fact that He had said, I am the Son of God (cf. 26:63-64). We therefore see that for the Jews the characteristic of sonship of God was a special relationship (a covenant) with God. The last words of v.43, like those of v.40, are a direct temptation of Jesus (see commentary on v.40).
44. Finally even the two murderous thieves crucified with Jesus join the ranks of the mockers. Ridicule and mockery come from practically all quarters: soldiers, the crowd that had gathered, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders and the two criminals. The attitude of one of the thieves did alter shortly afterwards. We read the account of this exceptional conversion in Luke 23:39-43.
The Death of Jesus 27:45-56
45 .In the Jewish system of horology, the period from the sixth to the ninth hour meant noon to 3 p.m.
darkness came over all the land. Because no contrast between heaven and earth is involved, the Greek word for ‘land'(g, earth) must mean the land of Israel (as also in Matt 2:6,20,21; 4:15; 10:15; 11:24; 14:34).
The darkening of the sun (Luke 23:45), which lasted for three hours, must have been an exceptional intervention by God into the natural order of events and not a normal eclipse, for the Jewish Passover was celebrated when the moon was full. Darkness was termed a sign of God’s wrath in the OT (Amos 8:9) and a foretoken of the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31; Matt 24:29). We note that this three-hour period of darkness was a visible sign of the judgment that Jesus had taken vicariously (20:28; 26:28) on Himself (cf. v.46). At the same time it bore witness to the eschatological significance of Jesus’ suffering and death (see also v.52). The Last Days began with the cross of Jesus Crist (cf. Acts 2:16-17).
46. There is a close link between the darkness in v.45 and this exclamation. The first is an outward sign of the second. Jesus uttered these words at about the time when the darkness was passing away, at 3 p.m. He spoke in a loud voice, evidencing an overwhelming emotion. Matthew gives the Hebrew words, ‘eli, eli’, instead of (the Aramaic) ‘eloi, eloi’ in Mark (15:34), apparently to make the people’s distortion of the facts (v.47) comprehensible to Greek readers.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At the deepest point of the way He had to take Jesus expresses His suffering with the opening words of Ps 22 (v.1). It was not an exclamation of despair, but these were the words of someone suffering rightfully and still trusting in God for protection (‘My God, my God’) and expecting salvation (Ps 22:22,24): the fulfilment of a prophetic psalm (see also Ps 22:14,16 and 18). No revolt or despair from Jesus in these last moments, but obedience to His calling (cf. Isa 53:10).
47. they said, “He’s calling Elijah. ‘Eli, eli’ (v.46) cannot be misunderstood in the sense of ‘Elijah, Elijah’. This must rather be seen as a play on words and a deliberate mockery. Even at the last moments of Jesus’ life they were playing with Him in a taunting way.
Elijah did not die, but was taken alive into heaven (2 Kings 2:9-12) and the Jews believed that he might come at any moment to help the righteous, as might angels (SB IV, 2, 769-771).
48. filled it with wine vinegar,… and offered it to Jesus to drink. Someone, probably a soldier, soaked a sponge in sour wine and gave it for Jesus to drink. The context indicates that giving this sour wine to drink was not an act of kindness, but was another part of the soldiers’ mockery and play (see Luke 23:34). It was a well-known means of torture among the Romans and was employed in various ways. The sour wine was mixed with salt or gall and the mixture given as a drink, or poured over the wounds. In the OT we read of the painful and harmful nature of sour wine (Prov 10:26; 25:20). At the same time it is quite possible that they wanted to prolong Jesus’ life (and His sufferings) with this strong stimulant. Certainly this occurrence is a fulfilment of Ps 69:21 (‘They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst’) only in this mocking sense.
49. But others said to the man with the sponge, now leave him alone, i.e. ‘Stop’, ‘Don’t do it’. These ‘others’ will be the mockers of v.47. They wanted to continue their mockery about Elijah and not let Him have the sour wine immediately, for they would consider this to be another form of mockery. It is very likely, however, that the man in v.48 had given the sour wine in the first place, intending to prolong Jesus’ life (see commentary on v.48), and in so doing also contemplated extending the Elijah mockery (cf. Mark 15:36).
50. The plans of the mockers (vv.48-49) could not of course alter the plans of God. Jesus would die now.
when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. ‘He gave up his spirit’ means ‘He breathed his last’ and emphasizes the voluntary nature of His death (cf. John 10:17,18). Expelling the last breath of his life was coupled to a loud cry. This is the second (‘again’) and last time that Matthew mentions Jesus’ words on the cross (cf. v.46). No less than in v.46 is an inarticulate scream on dying meant here. Luke (23:46) tells us what Jesus cried out: ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ John (19:30) records an further word: ‘It is finished.’ The commission Jesus had received from the Father was completed. In His death He completed the most important part of His calling, ’to give His life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:28).
51. In vv.51-53 Matthew records some of the signs that took place at the end of the three-hour period of darkness (v.45) at the moment of and immediately after Jesus’ death (v.50).
the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. In the first place the veil of the Temple was split from top to bottom. In view of the minor importance of the first curtain between the entry and the Holy Place and the major importance of the second curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (Exod 26:31-33) the latter must be meant. A similar occurrence, that of closed doors in the Temple opening by themselves, which Flavius Josephus and others relate, was regarded as a foretoken of the destruction of the Temple (Jos. Bell. VI,v,3). From 21:12 onwards Matthew has pointed ever more urgently to the destruction of the Temple and in 23:38-39, 26:61 and 27:40 this is closely linked to Jesus’ death. At the same time the rending of the veil before the Holy of Holies was a symbolic sign of the new way into God’s presence, which has now opened for everybody (Heb 10:19-20; it had previously been a privilege of the high priest).
The earth shook and the rocks split. The earthquake, the splitting of the rocks and the opening of the graves (v.52a) are closely linked. The last two are apparently a consequence of the earthquake. The Jews would regard an earthquake as a sign of God’s wrath (cf. Jos. Bell. VI,v,3). But like the darkness (see commentary on v.45) and the resurrection of the dead (v.52), the splitting of the rocks bore witness at the same time to the eschatological significance of Jesus’ death on the cross (cf. Zech 14:4). Jesus’ cross marks the beginning of a new era.
52. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. The opening of the graves is closely connected to, and must be probably be considered a consequence of, the earthquake. At the same time Matthew relates now that many believers were awakened too. It was a consequence of the shocking occurrence on Golgotha (v.50). The resurrection of these believers is a fulfilment of and a prelude to the resurrection of the righteous (= holy people) during the Last Days, of which the OT prophesies (Dan 12:2). It is a proof that the power of death has been conquered by Jesus’ death on the cross and that the perfected redemption of the believers has begun in principle.
53. after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city. While v.52 gives the impression that the resurrection of the saints who had fallen asleep took place immediately after Jesus’ death on the cross, we read here that they emerged from their graves ‘after His resurrection’. It appears here that the resurrection of these believers also took place at the same time as or just after Jesus’ own resurrection. That Matthew relates this occurrence here is due on the one hand to the inseparable bonds between Jesus’ death and resurrection and on the other hand to the signs accompanying Jesus’ death (earthquake, splitting of rocks), which caused the graves to open.
and appeared to many people. They ‘appeared to’ is literally ’they became visible’. This indicates that there is no question of a return to natural earthly life, as with Lazarus of Jairus’ daughter, nor yet of any normal contact with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This deals with a revival of believers in a glorified body and as such they appeared to many people in Jerusalem, as did Jesus after His resurrection. They did not come to live with them and did not die again later. The results of Jesus’ death and resurrection are demonstrated to many people through their resurrection and appearances (see further commentary on v.52).
54. The centurion and the soldiers who with him guarded Jesus (v.36) were seized with great fear when they observed the earthquake and everything that happened (vv.45-52, esp. 51-52). “Surely he was the Son of God!” The whole thing was so overwhelming that they came to a confession of faith ‘surely he was the (or a) Son of God!’. ‘Son of God’ (without the article) is non-defining in the mouth of these heathen men and means: a divine person. They did not confess Jesus as the Messiah, but in their fashion admitted that someone had died who was in touch with the world of the gods in an exceptional way.
55. Many women were there … They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.At the moment of Jesus’ death there were also many women from Galilee who had come with Him to Jerusalem. They had followed Jesus to serve Him with what they possessed (cf. Luke 8:3). These women’s possessions had provided for Jesus and His disciples during Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem. Now they were witnesses to Jesus’ death from a distance. No-one will be able to persuade them of anything, for example that the Lord Jesus was taken down from the cross before He died. Further the presence of these women near the cross, while the apostles had fled (26:56; cf. however John 19:26ff.), is a striking example of faithfulness unto death.
56. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. Mary Magdalene was the woman whom Jesus had freed from seven evil spirits (Luke 8:2). Magdala (now Migdal) lay on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Mary the mother of James and Joses is called ’the other Mary’ in v.61 and 28:1. Probably she was the same person as Mary the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). Nothing more is known of this woman and her two sons. The third woman mentioned by name is the mother of the sons of Zebedee (cf. Matt 10:20), i.e., the mother of the apostles James and John. According to Mark (15:40) her name was Salome and was apparently the sister of Jesus’ mother, about whom John speaks when he mentioned the names of a number of women who were standing near the cross (John 19:25).
The Burial of Jesus 27:57-61
57. As evening approached. The Jews recognized two eventides. The first began when twilight fell (about 3 p.m.), the second when it was completely dark (about 6 p.m.). In the OT we encounter the expression ‘between the two evenings’ Exod 12:6; 29:39,41: RSV). Joseph would have begun his preparations as twilight fell (cf. the more extended report in Mark 15:42-46), so that he was ready towards evening proper. A dead body might not hang on the cross overnight (Deut 21:23) and definitely not on the sabbath (John 19:31).
there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph. Because Joseph was rich he had the means to bury Jesus (vv.59-60). Further the prophecy of Isa 53:9 was brought to fulfilment: ‘he was assigned a grave … with the rich in his death …’. We also read that Joseph came from Arimathea and had become a disciple of Jesus. Arimathea was formerly Ramah or Ramathaim-zuphim (1 Sam 1:1), which was situated north-west of Lydda, near the border with Samaria. From the fact that Joseph had a grave in Jerusalem, it appears that he had moved to this city. We note that Jesus had disciples outside Galilee, even in the most influential circles in Jerusalem.
58. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. It was the Roman custom to let the body of the condemned person hang on the cross until it rotted away. But there are suggestions from the time of Augustus that the body was incidentally given to the relatives. Joseph was not a relative. But as a result of his position (a distinguished member of the Sanhedrin, Mark 15:43), he was able relatively quickly to gain access to Pilate, who granted his request. By revealing himself as on Jesus’ side, Joseph was risking his position (John 19:38), but he summoned all the necessary courage (Mark 15:43) and obtained permission to bury the body of Jesus. Apparently the body had to be removed from the cross by the soldiers, for Pilate ordered that it should be given to Joseph.
59. wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. Joseph, no doubt with assistance (cf. John 19:39) wrapped the body in an unused (katharai) linen cloth, according to Jewish custom. Because all the details in vv.59-60 suggest an ordinary burial and because Matthew gives a summary account compared with the other evangelists, we may accept that he omits mentioning anointing the body because he takes it for granted (for the ins and outs of the anointing see Mark 16:1 and John 19:40).
60. The details suggest an ordinary grave, a burial chamber cut horizontally in the rock, such as are typically found around Jerusalem. The bodies were laid in niches in the walls or on flat slabs. After the first had been laid in the grave, a large heavy stone was rolled in front of the entrance. Joseph laid Jesus in his new family grave, i.e., not yet used. Because Jesus had been condemned as a criminal the law forbade the owner of a grave to use it again (SB I,1049).
61. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (see v.56) are again mentioned as witnesses. They were sitting (the form of the Greek verb is continuative) opposite the grave (to mourn) and had seen how Jesus was buried by Joseph. They had not only been witnesses of His death (v.56) but also of the place where He was buried. This is of extreme importance in view of 28:1, where the same women occur again.
The Guard at the Tomb 27:62-66
62. The next day… the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. The next morning, the leaders of the people noticed that Pilate had given Jesus’ body to Joseph of Arimathea for burial (vv.57-61). They had apparently not taken this into consideration. They took immediate measures and went in a body to Pilate. It was not an official delegation from the Sanhedrin (as in 2:11), but a group consisting of chief priests and Pharisees. The two groups, which as a rule opposed each other, were united in their opposition to Jesus. Even their religious convictions were set at naught: the action of these guardians of the Law took place on the day after the Preparation, i.e., on the sabbath! They are totally concerned not to lose their grip on the people (v.64).
63. that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again. ‘Note how humbly they addressed to Pilate (‘Sir’), but how disparagingly Jesus was mentioned (’that deceiver’). The saying these men remembered is Matt 12:40 (cf. 16:4), which Jesus had uttered against the Pharisees (12:38). One of them might have been there or had heard it from one of the party members from Galilee. Not that they believed in the fulfilment of the prophecy, they considered only the political danger in it (see v.64). It is remarkable that Jesus’ enemies remembered His words and had apparently understood them, while His friends, to whom He had spoken so much more clearly about His resurrection (16:21; 17:23; 20:19), had not understood them.
64. The group asked Pilate to set a watch on the grave. We feel a clear criticism of Pilate’s indulgence towards Jesus’ disciples, although it is not mentioned explicitly. They put the case that the political danger, which this ‘deceiver of the people’ had represented during His lifetime by virtue of His claim to being the Messiah (= first error), would return in an enhanced form if His disciples were able to steal the body and then claim, pointing to the empty grave, that He had risen again (= second error). In the latter case He would exercise much more influence on the people after His death than He had during His lifetime.
65. “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. Pilate granted their request for a watch to be set over the grave for the Jews’ sake. Because Matt 28:14 indicates that the watch consisted of the governor’s own soldiers, Pilate said ‘You have a watch’, and not ‘You have your own watch’ (the Greek may be translated in both ways), i.e., your Temple-guard. His words indicate impatience. And there is certainly irony in the words, Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.
66. and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone. The chief priests and the Pharisees went with the watch (on the sabbath!). They instructed the watch and went their way only after sealing the stone. Sealing was effected by stretching a cord over the stone, to which it was fastened by a seal (cf. Dan 6:18). In this way they ensured the security of the grave. The irony of this whole incident can be denied with difficulty. How much trouble was taken to keep Jesus’ grave close: a heavy stone, a watch, and a seal!