William Kelly Major Works Commentary
When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:Matthew Chapter 27
All through this Gospel the Holy Ghost bears in mind very particularly our Lord's relations with Israel. Hence, in the preceding chapters, where we had the destruction of Jerusalem foretold, care was taken to bring out also the preservation of a godly remnant of Israel - a fact which would be of special comfort to His own people. And, just as we have seen in that prophetic testimony, so in the narrative of the crucifixion, what comes out peculiarly in Matthew's Gospel is the part which Israel took in that solemn act, in their accomplishment of what was written in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, touching their rejection of their own Messiah. Our Evangelist wrote with express view to the Jews, and hence it was of the greatest importance to convince them that God had accomplished the promises in the sending of the Messiah, whom Israel's unbelief had refused and crucified by Gentile hands on the tree. What would be the special value of quoting from the Law and the Prophets to Gentiles? The Old Testament Scriptures formed a book of which the heathen had the scantiest knowledge. We do find references to these Scriptures in Luke, just enough to give a link, but that is all. But Matthew, while written for all surely, has Israel especially in view. Hence it is that the Lord is so distinctly and care fully presented as Messiah in this Gospel; but from the first enough is intimated to show His rejection. In the subsequent details we see not only broad predictions accomplished, but the progress and development of that enmity. The guilt of the religious leaders is prominent, and their religious evil works, which are especially offensive to God; the devil bringing in the name of God to give effect to and to sanction what is done by man.
Hence the activity of evil here is by the priests. "When the morning was come" - they rise early to accomplish their design. And mark, it is said, "all the chief priests," etc. This shows the utter ruin and blindness of the nation. It was a most startling fact, and a capital one for a Jew to understand (for a Jew knew that the priesthood was instituted and ordered of God), that those who ought to have been the sure guides of the people were their misleaders in the greatest of all sins. Were not the sons of Aaron divinely chosen? Were not these their successors? Were not the Jews a people called out from the rest of the world to own the true God and His law? All most true surely; but what were they and their leaders now about? Taking counsel and planning to destroy their Messiah! And these were the men who had the best light of any nation! All the use man made of the light possessed was to become more hardened and bitter in rejecting the Son of God! "And when they had bound Him, they led Him away, and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor" (ver. 2). Whatever part the Gentiles take in it, God takes care to point out that the Jews were not only the instigators but the open prosecutors in the awful deed.
"Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, repented himself. . . . saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood" (vers. 3, 4). Awful picture of what Satan brings about in a wretched human heart! Only the farther from Jesus morally because he was the nearer externally. Most of all guilty are those who have the greatest outward privileges while the truth of God does not govern the soul. We see, too, the mockery of Satan - the way in which he cheats his victims. Manifestly Judas did not expect such an end for Jesus. He had known the Lord in imminent peril before; he had seen Him, when the people took up stones to cast at Him, hiding Himself, going through the midst of them, and passing on His way. He knew how Jesus could walk on the sea - how He could conquer all the obstacles of nature; and why not the raging storm of human passion and violence? But Judas was deceived, whatever his calculations may have been; he yielded to covetousness; he bargained for the blood of Jesus. To his horror, he found it but too true. And Satan, who had led him on by his love of money, leaves him without hope - in black despair. He goes to the priests, who heartlessly turn away from a miserable, despairing soul. Alas, confession of sin without confidence in God for His grace, is worthless - fruitless of any good. Cleave to God, my soul! and give Him credit for what He is in Christ. But there is no faith where Jesus is not loved; and Judas had neither. All the outward nearness he had enjoyed before was only a greater weight upon his lost soul now. What a thing is the end of sin even in this world, sin against Jesus!
Judas brings the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders with the confession, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." They could not deny the truth of this; but with utter heartlessness, more hardened if possible than Judas' own heart, they say, "What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself" (vers. 4, 5). Many a one sells Jesus virtually, if not literally. Let every soul look to it that his sin be not in some way akin to that of Judas. If God is calling sinners to a knowledge of His Son, and of His grace by Him, it is an awful thing to reject Him; it is selling Jesus for some object in this world which either we seek to attain or love too well to part with. In Judas this came out in its worst form; but perdition is not confined to him who is the son of perdition.
"And the chief priests took the silver pieces," etc. Conscience would have told them that theirs was the guilt of bribing Judas to betray Jesus, but it had long been seared as with a hot iron, and now was utterly dead toward God, as it shows itself heartlessly cruel toward Judas. Religion without Christ only serves as the means to cheat the soul. They said, "It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood." Here was religion; but where was conscience in giving the money for Jesus? "And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day" (vers. 7, 8). The memory of their guilt is thus perpetuated to their own condemnation. And this is a picture of what the people had become - the chief priests as the pattern of what the nation was. A field of blood that land remains to this day; a field "to bury strangers in." Israel being cast out of their own land, it is left to others, if only to be buried there.*
* This rather applies to the Jews themselves. Cast out of their own land on account of the blood of the Just One, of which they maid, "His blood be on us, and on our children," they have been "strangers" among all nations in the world since - where they have their graves, but not their home. - [Ed.
But it is not the chief priests and elders, nor the wretched condition of Judas, nor the perpetuation of Israel's wickedness, foretold by the prophet, that occupies us now. It is our Lord Himself, standing before the governor. He acknowledges the power of the world when Pilate asks Him, "Art Thou the King of the Jews?" To the chief priests and elders He answers nothing. Pilate, struck by the silence and moral dignity of his prisoner, desires His release, sees through the malice of the people, and proposes to them a choice, such as was the governor's custom: "Whom will ye that I release unto you?" But he had to find out the hatred with which men regarded Jesus: there is no person or thing the malice of man does not prefer to Him. God takes care, too, that there should be a home testimony to the conscience of the governor. His wife sent a message, saying, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him" (ver. 19). This, which is recorded only in Matthew, disturbed Pilate the more. All of it God ordered that man's iniquity in rejecting Jesus should be evident and without excuse. Then observe the solemn lesson: "The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus" (ver. 20). The greater the moral advantages, where there is not simple faith in God, the greater the hatred of Jesus. The reception or rejection of Jesus now is the same thing in principle, though, no doubt, the circumstances of the world are changed.
Persons may know just enough of Jesus for their souls' salvation, and experience little of the world's rejection; but if I really cling to a crucified and now glorified Christ, I must know what it is to have the scorn and ill-will of the world. If the world rejected Him, I must be prepared for the same thing. We cannot make both heaven and earth our object any more than we can serve God and mammon. The cross and the glory go together. The Lord presented hopes of blessing on the earth to Israel if they had received Him; but they refused, and this brought in the cross of Jesus. God knew it was inevitable, because of man's wickedness; it was the occasion of bringing in His purpose as to the Church and heavenly glory; but we must prepare for as much as man chooses to do in the present state of society. It is a lie of Satan that man is altered for the better during the last eighteen hundred years; the natural man's heart is always the same, though there may be times when it comes to a crisis. The very people, who "wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth," the same day sought to cast Jesus down headlong. And what was it that brought out their enmity? The assertion of man's evil and God's true grace. Man cannot endure the thought that his salvation depends upon God's mercy, and is for the worst of sinners, as for any other. "Is it possible," he says, "that I, who have tried to serve God for so many years, should be treated like a drunkard, a swindler, or a harlot?" He turns round on God, and becomes His open enemy. But, after all, it is not a question of justice to man in the salvation of a sinner. It must be grace, if God saves any; and this He delights to show. Nor is it a partial remedy, for there is no case so desperate that His grace cannot reach.
"Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus who is called Christ? They all say unto Him, Let Him be crucified." Here we see the bitter unrighteousness of these religious men; and if Pilate seemed too sensible at first to act thus, we shall also see what his righteousness amounts to. He asks, "Why, what evil hath He done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let Him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water," etc. (vers. 23, 24). This is what the world's righteousness amounts to, whether in the chief priests or in the Roman. True righteousness is only found where God governs. One alone in this scene is found in the patience, goodness, wisdom of God - perfect in every way. When it was the time to speak, His word is spoken; when it was the time to be silent, He holds His peace. He was God upon earth, and all His ways perfect. But this is not the great point here. As John's Gospel specially develops the deity of our Lord, and Luke His humanity, in Matthew we see Him as Messiah; therefore Pilate asks Him here, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" When Pilate had "washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it" (as if that could relieve him of the fearful crime he was perpetrating), all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us, and on our children" and there the dark, fatal stain abides to this day. "When he (Pilate) had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified." And this is the righteousness of the judge! This was he who had just before called Jesus a just man. Then come the soldiers. They too, and all, are proved guilty. Not a class or condition of man but evinces its hatred of God in the person of His Son - shown, too, in that which was their pride. For what base cowardice is that which tramples down one who suffers unresistingly! "And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head; . . . and they spat upon Him, and took the reed, and smote Him on the head," etc. (vers. 28-30). The soldiers' tyranny comes out in this connection: they compel one in nowise implicated to do a service which they would not do - "As they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear His cross."
At the cross "they gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall" (ver. 34). We must not confound this circumstance with that mentioned in John where the Lord says, "I thirst." In Matthew's narrative it was the stupefying draft administered to prisoners before they suffered; and this the Lord would not drink. Whereas in John, the Lord, while on the cross, fulfils a scripture. In John He is regarded, not as One who did not suffer, but withal as the absolute Master over all circumstances. Alive therefore to the honour of Scripture, and in fulfilment of a word which had not as yet received its accomplishment, He says, "I thirst." "And they filled a sponge with vinegar. . . . and put it to His mouth." He did drink the vinegar then. But here in Matthew, on the contrary, "when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink" (ver. 34) - He wished for no alleviation from man. "And they crucified Him, and parted His garments, casting lots."
The superscription differs in the various Gospels. We must remember that Pilate wrote it in three different languages, and it may not, therefore, have been exactly the same in each. One Gospel (Mark) does not profess to give anything but the substance of what was written, the accusation, or charge, against Him; in the others the Holy Ghost gives the words. And what appropriateness is here! "This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (ver. 37). The great thing for the Jew is the identifying of their Messiah and King with Jesus. In Luke the word "Jesus" ought to be omitted, as in the best authorities. It is really, "The King of the Jews, this!" and means, "this fellow" - a term of contempt. The object there is to show that "He is despised and rejected of men ": here, "He came to His own, and His own received Him not because, though the Gentile shares the guilt, it is the Jew who leads Pilate to condemn Him to death. In John we have, characteristically, the fullest form of all - "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." The reason is, it unites two things in our Lord not anywhere else so brought into juxtaposition - the most complete humiliation and the highest glory. He by whom all things were made, God Himself, was a man of "Nazareth." The beauty of this must appear to any spiritual mind. Throughout John's Gospel the Lord is both higher and lower than anywhere else.
"The thieves also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth" (ver. 44). They found time to revile Jesus too, venting their bodily anguish in mockery of the Son of God. Oh, beloved friends, was there ever such a scene?
We have briefly looked at man's part, but what was God doing there? "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?" (ver. 46.) We have full evidence that this was not the exhaustion of nature. And "when He had cried again with a loud voice, He yielded up the ghost" (ver. 50). Our Lord died a willing victim. Man might will His death, and be the instrument of it. A man He became, that as a man He might die: but in every circumstance it is so marked as to show that He was there who could as easily have swept away a world as of old He laid the foundations of heaven and earth by His word. He "yielded up the ghost; 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" (vers. 50, 51). Nature was made to yield its testimony above and below; and the darkness over the land was no mere eclipse. The Jewish system, too, yielded its solemn witness in the rent veil - the shadows were passing away: the fulfilment of them, the great Reality, had come. Unrent, it had been the symbol that man could not draw near to God. Under the law it could never be. God dwelt then in the thick darkness. But in the death of Jesus fulness of grace has come. God and man may now meet face to face. The blood is sprinkled upon and before the mercy-seat, and man is invited to draw near with holy boldness. It is due to that precious blood. God in Him had come down from heaven to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. For every soul that believes, it is done. The Jewish system might linger on, like a corpse waiting so many days for burial; but the rending of the veil was the soul severed from the body. Thus there was witness on every hand - from the earth, the heaven, the law, and the unseen world. Jesus has the keys of hades and of death. The very graves were unlocked when Jesus died, if the bodies of the saints did not rise till after the resurrection. He was Himself the first-fruits, and the power of life was brought in through His resurrection. What testimony could be more complete? The centurion set for the watch, heathen as he was, no doubt, "feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God."
"And many women were there beholding afar off." But where were the disciples? Oh, what withering condemnation of all boasted courage! They had forsaken Jesus and fled; but here were these women, contrary to their natural timidity, "out of weakness made strong," beholding, even though afar off. In Joseph of Arimathea we see a man who had a great deal to lose: a rich man and a counselor, and withal a secret disciple of Jesus. Now God brings him to a point when you might least expect it. With the death of Jesus on the cross - "numbered with the transgressors" - he goes to Pilate, begs His body, and having laid it in his own new tomb, rolls a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, unwittingly fulfilling Isaiah 53:9 - "with the rich in His death." If apostles and disciples fled, God can, and does, raise up testimony for His name's sake.
We have traced the history of self in this chapter. If we had all the riches, the learning, the power, of this world, none, nor all, of these could make us happy. Jesus can, and does. But let us remember that we are in the enemy's country, which has shown its treachery to our Master. If we do not feel that we are passing through the camp of those who crucified Jesus, we are in danger of falling into some ambuscade of the enemy. The Lord grant us that calmness of faith which is not occupied with self, but with Him who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree!
And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
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,
Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
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.
And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.
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;
And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me.
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.
And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
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?
For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
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.
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
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.
Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
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!
And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
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.
And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.
And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
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.
And sitting down they watched him there;
And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
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.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
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.
He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
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?
Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
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.
The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
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;
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
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.
And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.
When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:
He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
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.
And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
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.
Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.