Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:CHAPTER 27
1. Delivered unto Pilate.(Matthew 27:1-2.) 2. The Suicide of Judas.(Matthew 27:3-10.) 3. Before Pilate. (Matthew 27:11-14.) 4. The Awful Choice.(Matthew 27:15-26.) 5. Crowned with Thorns and Crucified.(Matthew 27:27-44.) 6. The Death of the King. (Matthew 27:45-50.) 7. The Rent Veil and the Earthquake.(Matthew 27:51-56.) 8. The Burial. (Matthew 27:57-66.)
2. The Suicide of Judas.(Matthew 27:3-10.)
3. Before Pilate. (Matthew 27:11-14.)
4. The Awful Choice.(Matthew 27:15-26.)
5. Crowned with Thorns and Crucified.(Matthew 27:27-44.)
6. The Death of the King. (Matthew 27:45-50.)
7. The Rent Veil and the Earthquake.(Matthew 27:51-56.)
8. The Burial. (Matthew 27:57-66.)
In this great chapter we follow the Lamb of God to the cross. What a journey it was! He, who had lived that wonderful life, had healed the sick, commanded the demons, raised the dead, He, who is announced in the beginning of this Gospel to be Immanuel, God manifested in flesh, the Beloved of the Father is in the hands of men, led away to the cross. What sufferings were His? Who is able to follow the depths of that shame, which He despised, the cross which He endured? But feebly we can meditate on these things, which He suffered in our stead.
The previous chapter closed with that sad record of Peter’s denial and his bitter weeping. The Lord had given His great confession before the high priest, the confession of truth, which resulted in His being condemned to death. The morning had come after this eventful night. (We cannot enter here into the chronology of that week to correct some of the errors of the traditional View.) There was no sleep for many in that night. The Son of God who had watched and prayed in the garden saw no sleep; dragged along He was and reviled by sinners. Peter saw [little] sleep; he went out and wept. The forsaking disciples [had little] sleep; they had fled terror stricken. The chief priests waked and plotted on how to proceed against the Holy One in putting Him into the hands of the Roman governor. Securely bound they led Him away through the streets of Jerusalem, to hand Him over to Pontius Pilate. (Matthew 27:1-2) What humiliation for Him to be thus led away! What a contrast with that which happened a few days before, when He was welcomed by the multitudes as the King of Israel!
But before we see Him standing in the presence of the roman governor, the Holy Spirit gives us the record of what became of Judas. “Then Judas, who delivered Him up, seeing that He had been condemned, filled with remorse, returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, I have sinned in having delivered up guiltless blood” (Matthew 27:3-4). No doubt he stood there and witnessed all what was done to the Lord. He too spent a sleepless night. He saw the meek and lowly One, buffeted and spit upon. It left him all unmoved; there was no love for the Lord in that heart. Did he expect the Lord to manifest that power of which he, the traitor had been so often an eye witness? Perhaps this very thought it was, which Satan, who had entered into him suggested. His love for money, Satan used as bait. He may have whispered “You get the money and he will take care of Himself. He will not die but get free.” Thus Judas was deceived to sell the Lord. What a sin covetousness, the love of money is! It is the root of all evil; it is idolatry. And this sin is one of the great sins of the present day. Its worst feature is that betrayal of the Lord and His truth, for “filthy lucre’s sake” which goes on in Christendom. Professed teachers, who are described in the Epistle of Jude and in the Second Epistle of Peter, who are nothing but natural men, not having the Spirit, who use great swelling words, which the world calls “oratory” are betraying the Lord as Judas did. They are rushing too in a darkness, just as dense as that into which Judas rushed that night. The Word declares “to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.”
He goes to the priests, who were just as much under that satanic power as he was. He gives them his confession. He has betrayed guiltless blood. That much at least he acknowledges. Then he hanged himself. This is the way Satan uses his victims. He deceives; he is a master in reasoning in a subtle way. He leads on and on, deeper and deeper and when the sin is committed he leads into despair and drags his victim down with himself into the place, which is prepared for him and his angels. Oh, what grace and blessing, to be delivered from the power of darkness, from that awful master. Judas after committing suicide went to his place (Acts 1:25). The view given out by some teachers that Judas will come out of his place, to which he departed, and that he will be the final antichrist, the man of sin, is highly fanciful; one does well to beware of such views.
The silver pieces he cast into the temple and the priests, as covetous as Judas, stoop down to pick them up. That which follows is only reported in this Gospel, in the other Gospel records no mention is made of the fate of Judas. It is put only in the Gospel of Matthew on account of its dispensational bearing. The priests judge very religiously that it is not lawful to put the money into the Corban, the treasury of the temple. They decide to buy with the pieces of silver, the field of the potter for a burying ground for strangers. This was in partial fulfillment of what was spoken by Jeremias. The full prophecy is found in Zechariah, but the Spirit calls here attention to what is also spoken by Jeremias. We read in that book (Chapters 17 and 19) of a potter’s field, which was situated on the side of the valley of Hinnom. That valley is also called “Tophet”, a fearful type with its awful memories of Gehenna. Perhaps there, Judas had ended his earthly existence, and after hanging himself had fallen down, and burst asunder. This potter’s field was bought with the blood money.
“By a fiction of law the money was still considered to be Judas’, and to have been applied by him in the purchase of that potter’s field, for the charitable purpose of burying in it strangers. But from henceforth the name of potter’s field, became popularly changed into that of “field of blood.” And yet it was the act of Israel through its leaders. It was all theirs, though they would have fain made it all Judas’: the valuing, the selling and the purchasing. And “the potter’s field”, the very spot on which Jeremiah had been divinely directed to prophecy against Jerusalem and against Israel, how was it now all fulfilled in the light of the completed sin and apostasy of the people, as prophetically described by Zechariah! This Tophet of Jeremiah, now that they had valued and sold at thirty shekels Israel ‘s Messiah-Shepherd -- truly a Tophet, and become a field of blood! Surely not an accidental coincidence this, that it should be the place of Jeremiah’s announcement of judgment, not accidental, but veritably a fulfillment of this prophecy. (Edersheim Life and Times of the Messiah.)
Prophetically all is a foreshadowing of what was to happen to Israel and Israel ‘s land on account of the bloodguiltiness, which they took upon themselves. Israel ‘s land becoming “a burying place for strangers” and Israel scattered among the nations, finding their graves in Haqal Dama, a field of blood.
We see Him now before Pilate, the Gentile governor, where He was to be condemned to die; the Jews had no power and right to execute any one. First He was condemned by the Jews and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, who also condemned Him. The crowning sin of the world was therefore committed by both, the Jews and the Gentiles. Israel ‘s long promised Messiah and King was delivered by His own people into the hands of the Roman governor, the Gentile power, which was oppressing them. The charge which the leaders of the nation had brought against the Lord before Pilate was the charge of being a rebel; one who made himself king in opposition to the Roman authority. An immense multitude of people must have followed Him to the Praetorium. The governor questions Him without delay, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” The answer comes at once from his lips “Thou sayest.” How brief and full of dignity! Then the accusation of the chief priests and elders began. One after the other spoke. They accused Him urgently, we read in the Gospel of Mark. Perhaps one tried to outdo the other in slandering Him and speaking malicious lies about Him. The Holy Spirit has not given us the detailed accusations they brought against Him; they all were undoubtedly of a political nature. But there He stood, the lamb of God and opened not His mouth. How calm He was in that Babel of voices. There was no need for Him to defend Himself against these unjust accusations. And the Gentile governor, the sharp, worldly, Roman politician wonders at that strange behaviour. Many a time accused criminals had been brought before him and he had witnessed their eagerness in defending themselves. Here stands one in his presence, who does not open His mouth. Nor does He say another word to Pilate after he had questioned him, so that Pilate wondered exceedingly. Such a prisoner had never been before him. He knew he was guiltless.
They had a custom, for how long we do not know, that on the feast the Roman governor would liberate a great criminal, under condemnation. As we read in the Gospel of Mark, the multitude began crying out and to beg, that he would do to them as he had always done. One notable criminal was at that time in custody; his name was Barabbas. Significant name! Translated it means “the son of the father.” The old Syriac version adds another name, the very name which our Lord bore on the earth, the name of Jesus. “Jesus Barabbas” -- a miserable, satanic counterfeit of the true “Son of the Father.” Who was he? He was an insurgent and had committed murder. May he not have been a false Messiah, one of these satanic instruments, who attempted to become leaders? It is not unreasonable to believe this; in all probability he was just such a character.
“Pilate said to them, whom will ye that I release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? For he knew that they had delivered Him up through envy.” What a scene! Barabbas still in prison, the guilty one; and here before a great multitude of people, among them the elders and the priests, moving around and whispering their satanic council in the ears of the people, there stands securely bound the Holy One, the blessed Lord, in His solemn silence. But ere the question is answered something else happens. We see a messenger coming in haste towards the seat which the governor occupies. He carries an important message, which Pilate has to see at once. The message was from his wife.
“But, as he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with this righteous man; for I have suffered today many things in a dream, because of Him” (Matthew 27:19). It was a solemn warning aimed at the conscience of the superstitious Roman. He knew the victim was without guilt. God in His mercy gave the Gentile a warning. He heeded it not.
The pause, which had come in was well used by the chief priests and the elders for they went among the multitudes and persuaded them that they should beg for Barabbas and to destroy Jesus. Fearful deed it was!
And now he puts the important question: “Which of the two will ye that I release unto you?” It does not take long to bring forth the answer. Barabbas is the people’s choice. Barabbas! Barabbas! Not a voice was heard for the Lord. Where were now the multitudes who had followed Him? Where they who had cried “Hosanna”? If one of them was present they kept silent for fear of the wicked leaders. But Pilate convinced of the awful choice, which had been made, against the authority which he had, makes another attempt: “What then shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?” What a solemn question it was; and it is so still. The question was answered there and it must also be answered by every, person to whom the Lord Jesus Christ is offered. He must either be accepted as Saviour and Lord or rejected. The choice decides the eternal destiny; those who accept Him and own Him as their Saviour are saved and all who reject Him as Son of God and Saviour are lost. Pilate’s second question is answered by a great cry, that fearful cry: “Let Him be crucified.” Again Pilate asks: “What evil then has He done?” But his voice is drowned in a greater demand: “Let Him be crucified.” Pilate was fully convinced of the innocence of the silent victim before him, but miserable coward he was, he would not act. When he saw he availed nothing and a great tumult was rising, he took water, washed his hands before the crowd and said: “I am guiltless of the blood of this righteous one, see ye to it.” A Roman ceremony this was not, but we think rather that he borrowed it from the Jews themselves. Deuteronomy 21:6; 2Samuel 3:28; Psalm 26:6 at least refer to what he did here. Pilate with his “See ye to it” casts the bloodguiltiness upon the Jews. The chief priests and elders had used almost the same phrase in speaking to Judas: “See thou to it,” they had said. And what did they answer to the governor’s action and “see ye to it” his word to them? And all the people answering said, “His blood be on us and our children. Then he released unto them Barabbas; but Jesus, having scourged Him, he delivered up that He might be crucified.”
Terrible answer it was. Barabbas is the nation’s choice and the blood of the Holy One is wished by them upon their heads and the heads of their children. Has that awful wish been granted? Let the history of the Jews answer down to the present day. How His blood came upon them and their children; the end is not yet. Barabbas has been their choice and there is still that false Christ to come, who comes in his own name and whom they will receive.
Delivered up to be crucified. The Holy One is now in the hands of cruel, wicked men and all the suffering, shame and cruelty sinful man energized by Satan is capable of inflicting was heaped upon the king, the Lord of Glory. Who could describe that scene, which is before us? Painters have attempted to picture the terrible ordeal on canvas. Recently Tissot has produced pictures, which the world calls “realistic” of great artistic value. Miserable, blasphemous works they are indeed, the imaginations of the human mind. What was done to Him and what He suffered in our stead no brush, no pen, no tongue can tell. The hands tied, the back bent, the cruel scourge of cruel Rome fell upon the Son of God. Satanic hatred against the Holy One supplied the strength to inflict that awful punishment, which Roman writers called “the intermediated death” preceding death by crucifixion. At last that Holy body was a mass of torn and bleeding flesh.
Then the wicked Gentile soldiers began their mockery.
“Then the soldiers of the governor, having taken Jesus with them to the praetorium, gathered against Him the whole band, and having taken off His garment, put on Him a scarlet cloak, and having woven a crown of thorns they put it on His head; and a reed in His right hand; and bowing the knee before Him, they mocked Him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And having spit upon Him, they took the reed and beat Him upon His head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the cloak off Him, and put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified” (Matthew 27:27-30.
A whole cohort of rough, barbaric soldiers are now taking hold of the willing victim. After that terrible scourging, the most awful indignities were heaped upon Him. First they tore His clothes from His outraged body, most likely in eager haste to have their sport with Him. Then they cast a scarlet cloak on Him. That garment was worn by kings, and the scarlet color was produced by the coccus cacti, the crushed insect. Then they wove a crown of thorns and put it on His blessed Head. The crown must have been put upon Him by these instruments of Satan, to inflict pain and to ridicule Him. The crown of thorns also points us back to the garden in which the first man fell. Thorns became the witnesses of the curse, as they are still in nature. The second Man, the Holy One, takes the curse upon His own head. They put a reed, a weak, perishable reed in His hand, the hand which upholds all things, the hand which had been outstretched in blessing over the weak, the erring, the sick, the blind and which had touched the leper; that mighty hand holds the reed, a scepter of mockery. And then the satanic drama of mockery and ridicule is complete. One after the other, these wicked men come and bow the knee before Him, they mock Him. “Oh Joy! or, Rejoice! King of the Jews.” This was their greeting. But they get up from their position and spit upon Him and take the reed and beat Him on His head.
What a scene for us to contemplate! Who can measure its depths! The Son of God, He who came from the bosom of the Father, the Only Begotten, whose Glory Isaiah had seen, insulted, outraged, spit upon trampled upon by His vile creatures. And oh! reader, it was our sin which did it. How affecting to our hearts it should be and indeed it is. How He did love us to give Himself to such shame and suffering.
In that hour it was fulfilled what His Spirit had predicted of His suffering. “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off my hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). And through it all He opened not His mouth. “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
And as we gaze upon this scene once more we behold His Glory as well. The scene of His shame and rejection, of mockery and suffering is prophetic of His exaltation and Glory.
He is the King in Glory; the King of kings and Lord of lords. The royal garment is His. The crown of thorne gives way to the many crowns which His brow will wear. The scepter is His. Every knee must bow before Him and every tongue confess Him Lord, to the praise of God the Father. The highest Glory He reached through suffering, the crown through the cross, because He loved such as we are; because God wants us to be with Him in all eternity. Oh! glorious, blessed Gospel, how sweet to our hearts!
Thy holy head, once bound with thorns, The crown of glory now adorns; Thy seat, the Father’s throne; O Lord, e’en now we sing Thy praise, Ours the eternal song to raise-- Worthy the Lord alone!
As Head for us Thou sittest there, Until Thy members too shall share In all Thou dost receive: Thy glory and Thy royal throne Thy boundless love has made our own Who in Thy name believe.
We triumph in Thy triumphs, Lord; Thy joys our deepest joys afford, The fruit of love divine. While sorrow’ng, suff’ring, toiling here How does the thought our spirits cheer The throne of glory’s Thine.
And now they led Him away that He should be crucified. “Once more was He unrobed and robed. The purple robe was torn from His bleeding body, the crown of thorns from His bleeding brow. Arrayed again in His own, now blood stained, garments, He was led forth to execution. Only about two hours and a half had passed since the time that He had first stood before Pilate (about half-past six), when the melancholy procession reached Golgotha (at nine A.M.).” (Edersheim)
“And as they went forth they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to go with them that he might bear His cross. And having come to a place called Golgotha, which means place of a skull, they gave Him to drink vinegar mingled with gall; and having tasted it He would not drink” (Matthew 27:32-35).
Physical weakness made it necessary that one should carry His cross. Was there ever such a procession seen before! The Lamb of God led forth to suffer outside of the camp! Oh, the man of sorrows, how He must have looked when they dragged Him to the place of death! But though He did not carry the cross and was weakened, yet He could not succumb at this point. The soldiers had led forth, no doubt, many a one to a similar death. Perhaps some died before the nails could be driven through the hands and feet. Did they fear that this might be the case with Him, whom they had maltreated, dishonored and mocked? Or was it mercy, which offered Him vinegar mingled with gall? Mercy, we believe it was not. It was a stimulant which they offered Him. They knew not that the Life which was in their hands could not succumb; no one could take that life from Him. He would not drink what was given to Him; He did not seek relief, He did not need it. His loving will was to endure all the suffering in perfect consciousness. But there is a prophecy that He should drink vinegar and gall in His suffering (Psalm 69:1-36). When the right moment had come for the fulfillment of that prophecy, He said, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “I thirst.” Then He drank. Before the crucifixion He refused the vinegar and the gall. Golgotha, the place where they took Him, must have been to the north of Jerusalem. It was outside of the gate near gardens, in which were tombs.
Here they crucified Him. No description of the act itself is given in any of the Gospels. Crucifixion was the most horrible torturing mode of putting criminals to death; it originated in Phoenicia and was adopted by the Roman government. The Jews themselves knew nothing of putting transgressors to death by the cross. Inasmuch as the Holy Spirit does not describe the awful act, the nailing of the Lord to the cross, we shall not attempt it. Lifted up, His hands and feet pierced by nails, every muscle stretched and life’s blood pouring out, He hung on the cross, suffering the unspeakable tortures of such a death.
Prophecy is now being fulfilled. All the predictions of His sufferings come true. That what was foreshadowed in the different offerings and sacrifices, is now beheld in its deep and awful reality. The heavenly Isaac is upon the altar and the hand of God about to smite Him; there is no deliverance from the cup, He drinks it to the last drop.
The 22nd Psalm, that great prophecy concerning the sinbearer, comes first of all into view. “They parted His clothes amongst themselves, casting lots.” This was foretold by David (Psalm 22:18). It is said that the division of the garments of the victims was a Roman custom. But there is a deeper significance than a mere fulfillment of a prophecy. His enemies, those who nailed Him to the cross, received His clothes. And so for His naked creature He has provided the robe of righteousness by His death on the cross.
In the next place the superscription is mentioned. “And they set over His head His accusation written: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” A board on which the crime of the condemned was written was generally carried before the criminal, who was led forth to the place of execution through the crowded streets. This custom was most likely followed with our Lord. Pilate himself had the superscription drawn up and it was written in three languages: Latin, Greek and the Aramaean dialect of Hebrew. We can not follow here the report of the different Gospel records about the writing above the cross. The one here in Matthew was undoubtedly the Latin inscription, while the fullest, as reported by John “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” was written in Aramean and the one in Mark “The King of the Jews” is the Greek inscription. Pilate could not help himself, he had to write as he did, though he may have had the thought in mind to avenge himself and to mock the Jews. In spite of the hating Jews He received His true title and that from the Gentile. There it stood written and could not be changed; so it is still. Jesus of Nazareth, the despised, the rejected One, is the King of the Jews, one of His titles; the throne of His Father David is His and in the wider sense He will be the King of kings.
“Then are crucified with Him two robbers, one on the right hand and one on the left.” Another fulfillment of Scripture. “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
“But the passers-by reviled Him, shaking their heads and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou art the Son of God, descend from the cross. And in like manner the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and the elders, said, He saved others, Himself He cannot save. He is the King of Israel; let Him descend from the cross, and we will believe on Him. He trusted upon God, let Him save Him now if He will have Him. For He said, I am Son of God. And the robbers also who had been crucified with Him cast the same reproaches on Him” (Matthew 27:43-44).
We behold still deeper sufferings of the Holy One. We listen again to the voice of prophecy. “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20). There is none to pity in the scene before us. He is alone cruelly mocked and He must have felt the reproach as only one who is absolutely holy could have felt it. He was reviled but He reviled not again. Our Gospel does not report a single word coming from His lips. From the Gospel of Luke we learn that the first word He had spoken after He had been lifted up, was that wonderful prayer “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He is silent to the cruel and vile mockeries, born in the pit, the very breath of Satan. The old accusation is once more held up against Him. Little they knew that they were fulfilling that very Word about destroying the temple and that the third day, when He would arise as the mighty victor was not far hence.
But it was not only the rabble of the street, the low down element, the uncultured mob which mocked Him, but the chief priests, the elders had gone out to help in reproaching Him. They had come to deride Him in His agony. What awful depravity this reveals. It is astonishing to see that these cultured religionists in their fearful blindness quoted Scripture, when they gazed upon Him. They had said, “He is King of Israel; let Him descend now from the cross, and we will believe on Him.” The great King of Israel, David, had written by the Spirit that great prophetic psalm of the suffering One, the Twenty-second. They knew that Psalm well. The ancient synagogue even had given this Psalm a Messianic interpretation. The sufferer there in that Psalm cries out, “But I am a worm and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” They gazed upon this great suffering One. “All they that see me laugh me to scorn, they shoot out the lip, they shake the head.” They saw the laughing throng, the cruelly mocking crowds, and they themselves joined in. But there is more than that. The wicked enemies of the great sufferer speak in that Psalm. The very Words they were to utter in the presence of the forsaken sufferer, the words with which they were to revile Him are given. “He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him.” (Matthew 27:8.) These very words the sneering chief priests, elders and scribes uttered before the cross. What awful blindness had come upon them! But more solemn still and full of meaning are the words they also said. “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” How true, He saved others. And what a confession from their lips that He did save others. They owned His divine power and yet they rejected Him. He could not save Himself, for He would not. He had come to save others, and that could only be accomplished by taking the place of those He came to save. He had to die on the cross; Himself He could not save.
The robbers, too, cast the same reproaches on Him. The one, indeed, becomes ere he dies the mighty trophy of His Grace and hears from the blessed Lord that marvelous word, “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.” As this incident does not belong into this Gospel we pass it by.
The deepest agony has not yet been reached. Awful as the physical and mental sufferings of the Son of God must have been, there was still greater suffering before Him, a suffering before which all the other sufferings pale. Up to this point He had suffered from wicked men, energized by the devil. But now He is approaching the moment when He who knew no sin is to be made sin, when, instead of suffering from men, He is to suffer from God Himself. The cup from which His holy Being shrank He takes now to drink to the last drop.
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour; But about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45-47).
A solemn darkness settled over the whole land. Was it a darkness which covered the entire earth? Hardly, for in a part of the world it was night and darkness was not possible. No doubt the darkness covered the entire land and perhaps the entire Roman world. It enshrouded the cross with the great sufferer so that He was no longer visible to those who kept guard and those who looked on. That it was not an eclipse of the sun is learned from the fact that it was full moon at that time. It was a supernatural darkness. At the termination of the darkness about the ninth hour we hear His voice out of the darkness. About the ninth hour He cried, not in feebleness, but with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” But what is the meaning of this darkness? It was the outer sign of what passed over Him, who was then the sinner’s substitute before a holy and righteous God. God had hidden His face from Him; He was forsaken by God Himself. His cry explains the meaning of the darkness, and the darkness gives us the meaning of His bitter cry. God had turned from Him, left Him, who had taken the sinner’s place. He then bore our sins, was made sin for us and was the offering for sin. But who can fathom it? Who can understand the deep mystery, the deep suffering when the holy and righteous God dealt with sin in Him, who had no sin, but who was made sin?
“He was alone with God, made sin; nothing to turn aside the cup of justice; nothing to deaden it. The power which was in Him did not shelter Him; it rendered Him capable of bearing that which weighed on His soul, the feeling of the horror of the curse in the measure in which the love of the Father was familiar to Him, the feeling of that which it was to be made sin in the measure of the divine holiness which was in Him. Neither the one nor the other could be measured. He drank then the cup of judgment of God against sin. All forces Him to utter the cry, a cry which we are allowed to hear that we might know what passed there, the reality of atonement: ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ It is a forsaking which none can fathom, save He who felt it.” (John N. Darby.)
Oh the blessed mystery of what transpired then in those three hours of darkness! It is true we cannot fathom it. We cannot know what it cost to make reconciliation, but we know the great work was done. The just died for the unjust that He might bring us to God. All done for us that God might be just and the justifier of him, who believes in Jesus. “And some of those who stood there, when they heard it said, This man calls for Elias. And immediately one of them running and getting a sponge, having filled it with vinegar and fixed it on a reed, gave Him to drink. But the rest said, Let be; let us see if Elias comes to save Him” (Matthew 27:47-50). Who were those who said, This man calls for Elias? It is generally assumed that they were some of the soldiers. They knew perhaps little of Hebrew, it is said, and mistook the word “Eli” My God, for Elias. But against this it must be said that they equally knew little or nothing of Elias. We think rather the persons were mocking Jews, who understood the words and made them the occasion of new mockery. At this time it happened what is more fully recorded in the Gospel of John. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now finished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, says, I thirst.” Then they gave Him to drink after which He gave up the spirit. The work was done in the three hours of darkness. After that little unfulfilled Scripture is fulfilled at the right time He said, “It is finished.”
But here in our Gospel we read “And Jesus having cried again with a loud voice dismissed His spirit.” It is significant that twice we read of His loud voice. There was no sign and evidence of exhaustion. His life was not taken from Him but He gave His life; He laid it down Himself. The King Himself, when the moment had come, dismissed His spirit. And now we behold a three-fold result of His death. The veil in the temple was rent. The earth was shaken, and the tomb’s were opened and the centurion made his confession as well as those who were with him.
“And lo, the veil of the temple was rent in two from top to the bottom, and the earth was shaken, and the rocks were rent, and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints fallen asleep arose, and, going out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered into the holy city and appeared unto many. But the centurion, and they that were with him on guard over Jesus, seeing the earthquake and the things that took place, feared greatly, saying, Truly this man was Son of God” (Matthew 27:51-54).
The rent veil is the first event following the death of the Lord. The veil was the inner one of the temple, dividing the holy of holies from the holy part. It was not an earthquake, which rent this heavy veil, but the power of God. It was done from above and not from below, “from top to bottom.” It must have happened just about the time when the priests entered the holy part at the evening sacrifice. What terror must have seized these officiating priests when they beheld that unseen hand throwing open the most holy place. It has been suggested that this miracle was responsible that so many priests became converted in Jerusalem. For we read in the Book of Acts “and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). The veil itself was the sign that man was barred from coming to God; that heavy, solid veil, ever gave that testimony that it is impossible for man to approach God. The rent veil shows that it has been made possible. The rent veil declares that the great sacrifice on the cross of the spotless Lamb of God has been accepted. It is the first great answer of God to the majestic word of the dying Saviour, “It is finished.” It likewise shows that the Jewish ceremonial law is fulfilled and ended. Most beautiful and uplifting is that inspired reference to this great event in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say His flesh, and having a high priest over the house of God. Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of Hope without wavering; for He is the faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:19-23).
In the next place the earth was shaken, the rocks were rent, and the tombs opened. This statement is peculiar to Matthew; we do not find it in the other Gospel records. The death of the King shook the earth and rent the rocks. The opened tombs declared the glorious news, that His death hath broken the bands of death forever; through death He destroyed him, that had the power of death, the devil (Hebrews 2:14). The interpretation that the rocks were rent and the graves opened, because the Lord in spirit descended into hades, we reject as unscriptural and fanciful, leading towards more serious errors. The Lord did not descend into hades; He went to paradise.
But besides this great sign, showing the captivity led captive, the power of death destroyed by His death, we read something else. “Many bodies of the saints fallen asleep arose, and going out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered into the holy city and appeared to many.” The reader notices that the resurrection of the bodies of these saints did not take place immediately after the Lord had dismissed His spirit. They came forth after His resurrection. They could not precede Him. He is the first fruits, and these saints could not rise till He was risen on the third day. But why is it mentioned here and not in the next chapter in connection with His own resurrection? It belongs there historically. It is put here by the Holy Spirit to show the effect of the great work accomplished on the cross, the efficacy of the death of our Saviour. Death is now to be swallowed up in victory. “Where O death is thy sting? Where O death thy victory? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin the law. But thanks to God, who gives us the victory by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinth 15:55-57). By His death the great work of deliverance has been accomplished, and this makes resurrection possible. The rising of the bodies of these saints is a solemn and glorious anticipation of the first resurrection, soon to come. These risen Saints, who came forth after He had left the grave, entered actually in the holy city and appeared to many. It was another mighty, supernatural witness of what had been wrought. But one might ask many questions in connection with this event. Who were they? What became of them? Where are they now? To whom did they appear and for what purpose? These questions and similar ones are unanswerable. It is useless to speculate about it. It is well in these days to abide very close to the written Word.
And the third event, the confession of the Saviour as Son of God by the centurion and the company of soldiers under him. In Luke and Mark we find the centurion mentioned alone, but here it is the entire company. They were Gentiles, heathen. The earthquake, the darkness, the loud voice which had spoken from the cross, all had filled these poor pagans with fear and from their lips, gazing up to the cross where He had bowed His adorable head, came the confession “Son of God.” No such word came from Jewish lips. What a prophetic foreshadowing again. The Gentiles were to believe on Him. That for which they had condemned them and delivered Him into the hands of the Gentiles is confessed by those who had put Him to death.
The work was finished, and God made it impossible that any other indignities could be put upon Him, whose body could not see corruption. It was customary to leave the bodies of the crucified hanging on the cross, the prey of wild birds. What happened about the breaking of the bones and the spear thrust is not recorded in our Gospel, but is fully made known in the Gospel of John. We mention it, therefore, briefly without attempting an exposition. “The Jews, therefore, that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, for it was the preparation, for the day of that Sabbath was a great day, demanded of Pilate that their legs might be broken and they taken away.” Had they succeeded, instruments of Satan as they were, the Scriptures would have been broken. But what happened? “The soldiers, therefore, came and broke the legs of the first and of the other that had been crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead they did not break His legs, but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear and immediately there came out blood and water. And he who saw it bears witness, and his witness is true, that ye also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Not a bone of Him shall be broken. And again another Scripture says, They shall look on Him whom they pierced” (John 19:32-37).
Then there were many women who witnessed the sufferings of the second man how He bore the curse. They gazed upon Him from afar (Matthew 27:55-56).
“Now when even was come a rich man of Arimathea, his name Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus. He going to Pilate begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given up. And Joseph having got the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn in the rock; and having rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, went away. But Mary of Magdala was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the sepulchre” (Matthew 27:57-61).
Who was this Joseph of Arimathea? A wealthy man of the Jews and a secret disciple of the Lord Jesus. He was an honorable councillor, belonging to the Sanhedrin, who also himself was awaiting the kingdom of God (Mark 15:43). He was a good man and just. When the Sanhedrin had come together to condemn the Holy One Joseph of Arimathea had not assented to their counsel and deed (Luke 23:51). Fear of the Jews had kept his discipleship in the background, but now when the Lord had expired on the cross, and after the mighty events, which had taken place, he comes boldly to the front. His fear became a holy boldness. During the earthly life of the Lord, though he knew Him and believed on Him, fear kept him back from avowing openly his discipleship; but now as His Lord had died He makes His great confession of Him before the Jews, the Sanhedrin and the Gentiles as well. He went right to Pilate. This person had the authority to dispose of the bodies of the crucified. Generally they were, after all dishonor had been done to them, thrown in the malefactors’ graves. He then begged for the body of Jesus, and Pilate consented readily and gave his permission. The death of Christ had made a deep impression upon the Roman governor. That Jesus should have died so soon was a great amazement to Pilate. He called for the centurion to get the details from him and perhaps that official gave him his conviction that the crucified One was Son of God (Mark 15:44). And now to the astonishment of Pilate the well known, prominent and wealthy Joseph comes and begs for the body to do Him honor. How it must have disturbed the coward and troubled his conscience. But another one was there, too. That One helped in the hasty preparation for the burial. “And Nicodemus also, who at first came to Jesus by night, came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. They took, therefore, the body of Jesus and bound it up in linen with the spices, as it is the custom with the Jews to prepare for burial” (John 19:39-40). Nicodemus was a very timid man by nature. How he came to the Lord by night for fear of the Jews is well known. From His own lips he heard the blessed truth, the words of life. The precious seed had been sown in his heart. Did it spring up? He also belonged to the council. When the officers returned, having been sent to capture the Lord and they gave their report, Nicodemus, the great acknowledged teacher in Israel ventured a weak defense of the Lord (John 7:50-53). It showed the seed working. But the death of Christ brought him and Joseph of Arimathea deliverance from the fear of men; light and liberty flashed in their souls as the result of the death of Christ. The Lord had said to Nicodemus: “As Moses lifted up a serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He had been lifted up and Nicodemus believing, confessed Him.
What honor then was done to the Lord. Wrapped in a clean linen sheet, after He had been lifted from the cross and then the resting place for Him, who had finished the work the Father gave Him to do, a new tomb hewn in the rock. It was a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9. It is unfortunate that the authorized version gives us such a poor translation of this verse. Literally translated it is “And men appointed His grave with the wicked, but He was with the rich in His death, because He had done no violence, neither was there guile in His mouth.” The authorized version “He made His grave with the wicked” is wrong. The enemy would cast His body to the place where the bodies of the wicked were cast, but the power of God made that impossible.
The great stone is rolled to the door of the tomb. Joseph and Nicodemus depart. Only Mary of Magdala and the other Mary keep their love watch opposite the sepulchre. Thus closed the greatest day in the history of the world, the day on which the Prince of life, the Lord of Glory died on the cross of Golgotha, when the great work of reconciliation had been accomplished and peace was made in the blood of His cross.
That which follows in the chapter is peculiar to Matthew. None of the other Gospels have it. It is indeed the proper place for it.
“Now on the morrow, which is after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate, saying, Sir, we have called to mind that that deceiver said when He was still alive, after three days I arise. Command therefore that the sepulchre be secured until the third day, lest His disciples should come and steal Him away, and say to the people He is risen from the dead; and the last error shall be worst than the first. And Pilate said to them, Ye have a watch; go, secure it as well as ye know how. And they went and secured the sepulchre, having sealed the stone with the watch besides” (Matthew 27:62-66).
But little comment on this striking incident is necessary. The enemy is at work to make all secure, but instead of it he only makes his own defeat complete, and the wrath of the enemy is made to praise Him. They remembered suddenly the words of the Lord, showing how they had watched His utterances. The disciples to whom He had said so often that He would rise on the third day, had forgotten all about it. It did not enter into their minds. This is proven by the way they took the news of His resurrection. It was a forgetfulness, no doubt, produced by the Spirit of God; in this very fact lies a strong argument for the resurrection of the Lord. Their imaginations could not produce, as infidelity has claimed, a supposed appearing of the One who had died. But the enemy remembered. Yet could they really fear that His disciples would steal His body? The disciples had been scattered like sheep. Poor Peter, where was he? They had fled. Would the feeble women roll the stone away and steal His body? Could they think that fraud and deception might be practiced? It was the bad conscience which made them fear. Pilate made no objections; he let them have their desire. The stone is sealed, the guard is placed there to make fraud and illusion an impossibility. Little did they know that they were working to make the fact of the glorious resurrection of the Son of God secure beyond controversy. They furnished one of the strongest proofs for that event, thus becoming involuntary witnesses of His resurrection.