Matthew 27 - Jesus' Trial, Death, and Burial
A. The death of Judas.
1. (1-2) Jesus is handed over to Pilate.
When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
a. They led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate: The Sanhedrin gave Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman appointed governor over Judea, because they did not have the authority to put Him to death.
i. The Jewish leaders had reason to expect a favorable result when they went to Pilate. Secular history shows us that he was a cruel, ruthless man, almost completely insensitive to the moral feelings of others. Surely, they thought, Pilate will put this Jesus to death.
b. Essentially, they did this on the basis of three totally false, politically motivated charges: that Jesus was a revolutionary; that He incited the people to not pay their taxes, and that He claimed to be a king in opposition to Caesar.
2. (3-10) Judas' miserable end.
Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? You see to it!" Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood." And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me."
a. Was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver: Judas was filled with remorse, not repentance. Even though he knew exactly what he did (I have sinned by betraying innocent blood), Judas was more sorry for the result of his sin than for the sin itself. There is a huge difference in being sorry about your sin, and being sorry for your sin.
b. It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood: The hypocrisy of the chief priests is transparent. They don't want to "defile" themselves with the price of blood, even though it was a price that they themselves paid.
c. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet: There has been much question about the quotation attributed to Jeremiah, because it is found in Zechariah 11:12-13. Why does Matthew say the word was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet when it is recorded in Zechariah?
i. Some think it could be a copyist error. Perhaps Matthew wrote Zechariah, but an early copyist put Jeremiah instead.
ii. Some think that Jeremiah spoke this prophecy and Zechariah recorded it. This may be the word spoken by Jeremiah, but recorded by Zechariah.
iii. Some think that Matthew refers to scroll of Jeremiah, which included the book of Zechariah.
B. Jesus before Pilate.
1. (11-14) Jesus greatly impresses Pilate.
Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" So Jesus said to him, "It is as you say." And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?" But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.
a. Now Jesus stood before the governor: History shows us Pontius Pilate was a cruel and ruthless man, unkind to Jews, and contemptuous of almost everything but raw power. Here, he seems out of character in the way he handles Jesus. Jesus must have profoundly affected him.
b. Are You the King of the Jews? When they brought Him to Pilate, the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of promoting Himself as a king in defiance of Caesar. They wanted to make Jesus seem like a dangerous revolutionary against the Roman Empire. Therefore, Pilate asked Jesus this simple question.
i. Of course, we can only wonder what Pilate thought when he first laid eyes on Jesus, when he saw this beaten and bloodied Man before him. Jesus didn't look especially regal or majestic as He stood before Pilate, so the Roman governor was probably sarcastic or ironic when he asked, "Are You the King of the Jews?"
c. It is as you say: No majestic defense, no instant miracle to save His own skin. Jesus gave Pilate the same simple reply He gave to the high priest (Matthew 27:11). This amazed Pilate; he asked "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?" Pilate couldn't believe that such a strong, dignified man - as beaten and bloody as He was - would stand silent at these accusations.
i. There is a time to defend one's cause or one's self, but those times are rare. When we rise to our own defense, we would usually be better off staying silent and trusting God to defend us.
2. (15-23) The crowd chooses Barabbas; Pilate's desire to release Jesus.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him." But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" They said, "Barabbas!" Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!" Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried out all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"
a. Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, and had only be brought to him because of envy. So he looked for a way to release Jesus, and hoped he found a way in the custom of releasing one Jewish prisoner at the time of Passover.
b. His wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man": Pilate had all the evidence he needed to do the right thing and release Jesus. But he would not do what he knew was right, because he cared more about what the crowd said than what he knew was right.
- He saw the strength and dignity of Jesus, and he knew this was no criminal or revolutionary.
- He knew that it was no just charge that brought Jesus before his judgment seat - it was only the envy of the religious leaders.
- He saw that Jesus was a man so at peace with His God that He didn't need to answer a single accusation.
- He already declared Jesus an innocent man (I find no fault in this Man, Luke 23:4).
- His wife warned him to leave Jesus alone, being divinely warned in a dream. Surely, that was something exceptional!
c. "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" They said, "Barabbas!" The voice of the crowd is not always the voice of God. The mob does not answer Pilate's request for reasons ("What evil has He done?"), they only call for Jesus' death. Really, the call for more than His death - they call for Him to be executed by torture through crucifixion.
d. When the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus, it reflected the fallen nature of all humanity. The name "Barabbas" means son of the father. They chose a false, violent son of the father instead of the true Son of the Father. This prefigures the future embrace of the ultimate Barabbas - the one popularly called the Antichrist.
e. If anyone knew what it meant that Jesus died in their place, it was Barabbas. He was a terrorist and a murderer, yet he was set free while Jesus was crucified. The cross Jesus hung on was probably originally intended for Barabbas.
i. We can imagine Barabbas, in a dark prison cell with a small window, waiting to be crucified. Through the window he can hear the crowd gathered before Pilate, not far away from the Fortress Antonia where he is imprisoned. Perhaps he could not hear Pilate ask, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" But surely he heard the crowd shout back, "Barabbas." He probably could not hear Pilate ask, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" But he certainly heard the crowd respond, "Let Him be crucified." If all Barabbas heard from his cell was his name shouted by the mob, then "Let Him be crucified," when the soldiers came to his cell, he surely thought it was time for him to die a tortured death. But when the soldiers said, "Barabbas, you are a guilty man - but you will be released because Jesus will die in your place," Barabbas knew the meaning of the cross better than most. We wonder if he ever took it to heart, and if we will hear the testimony of his salvation in heaven.
3. (24-25) Pilate tries to avoid responsibility for Jesus' fate.
When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it." And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."
a. He took water and washed his hands before the multitude: Pilate could never wash his hands of this. It was a responsibility that could not be avoided, and his guilt is echoed in the creeds (crucified under Pontius Pilate) throughout the centuries.
b. I am innocent of the blood of this just Person: Hidden in Pilate's attempt at self-justification is a declaration of Jesus' innocence. When he called Jesus this just Person, he admitted that Jesus was the innocent man - not Pilate. Just because Pilate said "I am innocent" doesn't mean that he was innocent.
c. His blood be on us and on our children: They really had not understanding of what they asked for. They didn't understand the glory of Jesus' cleansing blood, and how wonderful it would be to have His blood . . . on us and on our children. They also didn't understand the enormity of the crime of calling for the execution of the sinless Son of God, and the judgment that would be visited on their children some forty years later in the destruction of Jerusalem.
C. The suffering of Jesus Christ.
1. (26) Scourging: a customary prelude to crucifixion.
Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.
a. When he had scourged Jesus: The blows came from a whip with many leather strands, each having sharp pieces of bone or metal at the ends. It reduced the back to raw flesh, and it was not unusual for a criminal to die from a scourging, even before crucifixion.
i. "Scourging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt." (Dr. William Edwards in the article "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" from the Journal of the American Medical Association, 3/21/86)
ii. The goal of the scourging was to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse and death. "As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim's back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive the cross." (Edwards)
iii. "The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus' physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical." (Edwards)
b. The blows of scourging would lessen as the criminal confessed to his crimes. Jesus remained silent, having no crimes to confess, so the blows continued with full strength.
2. (27-31) Jesus is beaten and mocked.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on 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!" Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.
a. Mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Everything in this scene was intended to humiliate Jesus.
- They stripped Him: When a prisoner was crucified, they were often nailed to the cross naked - simply to increase their humiliation. Jesus hasn't been crucified yet, but His humiliation has begun, and He was publicly stripped.
- Put a scarlet robe on Him: Kings and rulers often wore scarlet, because the dyes to make fabrics that color were expensive. The scarlet robe was intended as cruel irony.
- They had twisted a crown of thorns: Kings wear crowns, but not crowns of torture. The specific thorn-bushes of this region have long, hard, sharp thorns. This was a crown that cut, pierced, and bloodied the head of the King wearing it.
- A reed in His right hand: Kings hold scepters, but glorious, ornate scepters that symbolize their power. In their mockery of Jesus, they give Him a scepter - but a thin, weak reed.
- They bowed the knee before Him: Kings are honored, so they offer mocking worship to this King.
- "Hail, King of the Jews!" Kings are greeting with royal titles, so in their spite they mocked Jesus with this title. It was meant to put down not only Jesus, but also the Jews - saying, "This is the best King they could come up with."
b. Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head: They now shift from mockery to cruelty. They seize the ironic "scepter," take off the "kingly" robe, and begin to hurl spit and fists and the head of Jesus.
c. And led Him away to be crucified: The march to the place of crucifixion was useful advertising for Rome. It warned potential troublemakers that this was their fate should they challenge Rome. A centurion on horseback led the procession, and a herald shouted the crime of the condemned.
i. As Jesus was led away to be crucified, He was - like all victims of crucifixion - forced to carry the wood He would hang upon. The weight of the entire cross was typically 300 pounds. The victim only carried the crossbar, which weighed anywhere from 75 to 125 pounds. When the victim carried the crossbar, he was usually stripped naked, and his hands were often tied to the wood.
ii. The upright beams of a cross were usually permanently fixed in a visible place outside of the city walls, beside a major road. It is likely that on many occasions, Jesus passed by the very upright He would hang upon.
iii. When Jesus said, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me (Matthew 16:24), this is exactly the scene He had in mind. Everyone knew what the cross was: an unrelenting instrument of nothing but death. The cross wasn't about religious ceremonies; it wasn't about traditions and spiritual feelings. The cross was a way to execute people. But in these twenty centuries after the death of Jesus, we have sanitized and ritualized the cross. How would we receive it if Jesus said, "walk down death row daily and follow Me"? Taking up your cross wasn't a journey; it was a one-way trip. There was no return ticketing; it was never a round trip.
3. (32-34) On the way to Golgotha (in Latin, Calvary).
Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.
a. A man of Cyrene, Simon by name: This man was probably a visitor to Jerusalem, there as a faithful Jew to celebrate the Passover. He was far from Cyrene in North Africa (some 800 miles away).
b. Him they compelled to bear His cross: Simon knew little if anything about this Jesus, and had no desire to be associated with this Man who was condemned to die as a criminal. Yet the Romans were the law, and Simon was not given a choice. Him they compelled to bear His cross. Perhaps he was chosen because his skin was black, and he was more conspicuous in the crowd.
i. Wonderfully, we have reason to believe that Simon came to know what it really meant to take up one's cross and follow Jesus. We know that his sons became leaders among the early Christians (Mark 15:21 and Romans 16:13).
c. A place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull: There was a specific place outside the city walls of Jerusalem, yet still very close, where people were crucified. At this Place of a Skull Jesus died for our sins, and our salvation was accomplished.
i. Golgotha - in Latin, "Calvary" (Luke 23:33) means "Place of a Skull." It was called that because it was the established place - outside the city walls, yet on a well-established road - where criminals were crucified. It may also be that the hill itself had a skull-like appearance, as is the case with the site in Jerusalem known as Gordon's Calvary.
d. They gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink: It was customary to give those about to be crucified a pain and mind-numbing drink, to lessen their awareness of the agony awaiting them. But Jesus refused any numbing drug. He chose to face the spiritual and physical terror with all His senses awake.
4. (35a) Jesus is crucified.
Then they crucified Him,
a. We have yet to see an accurate depiction of crucifixion in our media. If it were ever made, it would be limited to adult audiences, because of its sheer horror and brutality.
i. The Bible spares us the gory descriptions of Jesus' agony, simply stating then they crucified Him. This is because everyone in Matthew's day was well acquainted with the terror of crucifixion, and because the greater aspect of Jesus' suffering was spiritual, not physical
ii. In 1986, Dr. William Edwards wrote a remarkable article in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association titled "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ." Following are some of the observations of Dr. Edwards and his associates. The quotations belong to the article, and much of the other text is paraphrased from the article.
iii. What was it like to be crucified? In days the New Testament was first written, the practice needed no explanation. But we would do well to appreciate just what happened at a crucifixion. "Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering."
iv. The victim's back would first be torn open by the scourging, then the clotting blood would be ripped open again when the clothes were torn off the victim. When thrown on the ground to fix his hands to the crossbeam, the wounds would again be torn open and contaminated with dirt. Then, as he hung on the cross, with each breath, the painful wounds on the back would scrape against the rough wood of the upright beam and be further aggravated
v. Driving the nail through the wrists would sever the large median nerve - this stimulated nerve would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms, and could result in a claw-like grip in the victim's hands.
vi. Beyond the excruciating pain, the major effect of crucifixion inhibited normal breathing. The weight of the body, pulling down on the arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the respiratory muscles in an inhalation state, and hinder exhalation. The lack of adequate respiration would result in severe muscle cramps, which would hinder breathing even further. To get a good breath, one would have to push against the feet, and flex the elbows, pulling from the shoulders. Putting the weight of the body on the feet would produce searing pain, and flexing of the elbows would twist the hands hanging on the nails. Lifting the body for a breath would also painfully scrape the back against the rough wooden post. Each effort to get a proper breath would be agonizing, exhausting, and lead to a sooner death.
vii. "Not uncommonly, insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim, and birds of prey would tear at these sites. Moreover, it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross to be devoured by predatory animals."
viii. Death from crucifixion could come from many sources: acute shock from blood loss; being too exhausted to breathe any longer; dehydration; stress-induced heart attack, or congestive heart failure leading to a cardiac rupture. If the victim did not die quickly enough, the legs would be broken, and the victim would soon be unable to breathe.
ix. How bad was crucifixion? We get our English word excruciating from the Roman word "out of the cross." "Consider how heinous sin must be in the sight of God, when it requires such a sacrifice!" (Commentator Adam Clarke)
x. The most significant thing about Jesus' sufferings was that He was not, in any sense, the victim of circumstances. He was in control. Jesus said of His life in John 10:18, no one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. It is terrible to be forced to endure such torture, but to freely choose it out of love is remarkable. Can we ever doubt God's love for us again? Has He not gone to the most extreme length to demonstrate it?
b. No wonder that the Roman statesman Cicero said of crucifixion: "It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is an act of wickedness; to execute him is almost murder: What shall I say of crucifying him? An act so abominable it is impossible to find any word adequately to express."
c. The Roman historian Tacitus deemed crucifixion "A torture fit only for slaves" who were seen as sub-human.
d. No Roman citizen could be crucified except by direct order of Caesar; it was reserved for the worst criminals and lowest classes.
5. (35b-44) Jesus is mocked on the cross.
And divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: "They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots." Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: This is Jesus the King of the Jews. Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is 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.'" Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.
a. Divided His garments, casting lots: Jesus came all the way down the ladder to accomplish our salvation. He let go of absolutely everything - even His clothes - becoming completely poor for us, so we could become completely rich in Him.
b. That it might be fulfilled: It may seem that Jesus has no control over these events. Yet the invisible hand of God guides all things, so that specific prophesies are specifically fulfilled.
c. This is Jesus the King of the Jews: In John 19:21, it is written that the religious leaders among the Jews objected to this title. They felt it was false, because they did not believe that Jesus was the King of the Jews. They also believed it was demeaning, because it showed Rome's power to humiliate and torture even the "King of the Jews." Yet Pilate would not budge, and when asked to take down the inscription answered, What I have written, I have written (John 19:22).
d. Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left: In His crucifixion, Jesus stands right in the center of sinful humanity. One of these robbers repented and trusted in Jesus, and one did not (Luke 23:39-43).
f. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads: In the midst of this awesome display of love, Jesus is not honored. Instead, He is blasphemed, and His enemies sneered, saying, "Save Yourself. If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." They acted as if Jesus did this, then they would believe Him.
i. It is precisely because He did not save Himself that He can save others. Love kept Jesus on the cross, not nails!
ii. Jesus did greater than come down from the cross; He rose from the dead, yet they did not believe even then.
g. Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing: It's hard to go lower than this. Even among the three crucified men, Jesus was put in the "lowest" position.
i. This is the epitome of God's love for man, to go through this for our salvation. But it is also the epitome of man's hatred for God; God came to earth, and this is what man did to Him.
D. The death of Jesus.
1. (45) An unusual darkness on the land.
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.
a. There was darkness over all the land: The remarkable darkness all over the earth showed the agony of creation itself in the Creator's suffering. "Origen (Contra Celsus, ii,33) and Eusebius (Chron.) quote words from Phlegon (a Roman historian) in which he makes mention of an extraordinary solar eclipse as well as of an earthquake about the time of the crucifixion." (Geldenhuys in his commentary on Luke)
b. Phlegon, Roman historian wrote this: "In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was an extraordinary eclipse of the sun: at the sixth hour, the day turned into dark night, so that the stars in heaven were seen; and there was an earthquake." (Cited in Clarke)
ii. This is especially remarkable because during a full moon - which Passover was always held at - it was impossible that there be a natural eclipse of the sun.
2. (46-49) Jesus cries out to the Father in agony.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, "This Man is calling for Elijah!" Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him."
a. My God, My God: In quoting Psalm 22, Jesus declared His fulfillment of that prophecy, in both its agony and it exultation. The Psalm goes on to say, You have answered Me. I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You. (Psalm 22:21b-22)
b. Why have You forsaken Me? Jesus knew great pain and suffering - both physical and emotional - in His life, but had never known separation from His Father; now He does. There was a significant sense in which Jesus rightly felt forsaken by the Father at this moment.
i. How? Because God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
ii. But Jesus not only endured the withdrawal of the Father's fellowship, but also the actual outpouring of the Father's wrath upon Him as a substitute for sinful humanity.
iii. Horrible as this was, it fulfilled God's good and loving plan of redemption. Therefore Isaiah can say Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. (Isaiah 53:10)
iv. At the same time, we cannot say that the separation between the Father and the Son at the cross was complete. Paul made this clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself at the cross.
c. The agony of this cry is significant. It rarely grieves man to be separated from God, or to consider that he is a worthy object of God's wrath. Yet this was the true agony of Jesus on the cross.
d. This man is calling for Elijah: Sadly, Jesus was misunderstood and mocked until the bitter end. These observers thought it was all an interesting test case to see if Elijah would actually come.
3. (50) The death of Jesus.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
a. Jesus cried out again with a loud voice: John 19:30 tells us that He said, "it is finished," which is one word in the ancient Greek - tetelestai, which means, "paid in full." This is the cry of a winner, because Jesus fully paid the debt of sin we owed, and finished the eternal purpose of the cross.
b. At some point before He died, before the veil was torn in two, before He cried out it is finished, an awesome spiritual transaction took place. God the Father laid upon God the Son all the guilt and wrath our sin deserved, and He bore it in Himself perfectly, totally satisfying the wrath of God for us.
i. As horrible as the physical suffering of Jesus was, this spiritual suffering - the act of being judged for sin in our place - was what Jesus really dreaded about the cross. This was the cup - the cup of God's righteous wrath - that He trembled at drinking (Luke 22:39-46, Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15). On the cross, Jesus became, as it were, an enemy of God who was judged and forced to drink the cup of the Father's fury. He did it so we would not have to drink that cup.
ii. Isaiah 53:3-5 puts it powerfully: He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
iii. "Reader! one drop of this cup would bear down thy soul to endless ruin; and these agonies would annihilated the universe. He suffered alone: for the people there was none with him; because his sufferings were to make an atonement for the sins of the world: and in the work of redemption he had no helper." (Clarke)
c. And yielded up His spirit: No one took Jesus' life from Him; He, in a manner unlike any man, yielded up His spirit. Death had no righteous hold over the sinless Son of God. He stood in the place of sinners, but was never a sinner Himself. So He could not die unless He yielded up His spirit.
i. As Jesus said, I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. (John 10:17-18)
ii. "He gave up his life because He willed it, when He willed it, and as He willed it." (Augustine)
4. (51-56) The immediate results of Jesus' death.
Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God!" And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.
a. The veil of the temple was torn in two: The veil is what separated the holy place from the most holy place in the temple. It was a vivid demonstration of the separation between God and man. Notably, the veil was torn from top to bottom, and it was God who did the tearing.
i. Acts 6:7 says that in the days of the early church, a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. It would be interesting to know if this torn veil demonstrated to them the greatness of the work of Jesus. It's also probably how the torn veil became common knowledge.
b. The earth quaked, and the rocks were split: Nature itself is shaken by the death of the Son of God.
c. Graves were opened: This is one of the strangest passages in the Gospel of Matthew. We don't know about this event from any other source, and Matthew doesn't tell us very much. So we really don't know what this was all about, but apparently these resuscitated saints died again, because they were raised from the dead in the sense that Lazarus was.
d. Truly this was the Son of God! The scene at the crucifixion of Jesus was so striking that even a hardened Roman centurion confessed that this was the Son of God. This man had supervised the death of perhaps hundreds of other men by crucifixion, but he knew there was something absolutely unique about Jesus.
i. This was the Son of God: The only thing wrong is his verb tense; Jesus is the Son of God. The Roman centurion seems to assume that He was no longer the Son of God.
E. The burial of Jesus.
1. (57-61) Joseph of Armithea sets Jesus in his own tomb.
Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.
a. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus: Customarily, the bodies of crucified criminals were left on their crosses to rot or be eaten by wild animals. But the Jews wanted no such horror displayed during the Passover season, and Romans were known to grant the corpses of executed men to friends or relatives for proper burial.
b. He wrapped it in a clean linen cloth: Joseph followed the burial customs of that day - the best he could, considering that they had very little time because the Sabbath drew near (Luke 23:54).
c. He rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb: This was the customary way to seal an expensive tomb. A rich man like Joseph of Arimethea would probably have a tomb that was carved into solid rock; this tomb was in a garden near the place of crucifixion (John 19:41). The tomb would have a small entrance and perhaps one or more compartments where bodies were laid out after being somewhat mummified with spices, ointments, and linen strips. Customarily, the Jews left these bodies alone for a few years until they decayed down to the bones, then the bones were placed in a small stone box known as an ossuary. The ossuary remained in the tomb with the remains of other family members.
i. The door to the tomb was typically made of a heavy, circular shaped stone, running in a groove and settled down into a channel, so it could not be moved except by several strong men. This was done to ensure that no one would disturb the remains.
ii. John 19:42 specifically tells us that the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea that Jesus was laid in was close to the place of Jesus' crucifixion (and the each of the two suggested places for Jesus' death and resurrection bear this out). Joseph probably didn't like it that the value of his family tomb decreased because the Romans decided to crucify people nearby - yet it reminds us that the in God's plan, the cross and the power of the resurrection are always permanently and closely connected.
iii. Tombs like this were very expensive. It was quite a sacrifice for Joseph of Arimathea to give his up - but Jesus would only use it for a few days!
2. (62-66) The tomb is sealed and guarded.
On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, "Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead.' So the last deception will be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.
a. Sir: They give Pilate this title of honor and respect. But the day before they just rejected the King of Kings. They mocked and despised Him, putting Him to open shame, but they honored Pilate.
b. We remember . . . how that deceiver said, "After three days I will rise": Ironically, Jesus' enemies remembered His promise of resurrection better than His own disciples remembered.
c. While He was still alive: In this, the enemies of Jesus admit that Jesus is dead. They don't buy into the "Swoon Theory," the one that says Jesus never really died, but just "swooned" on the cross, and then somehow wonderfully revived in the tomb.
i. A humorous letter to the editor to a Christian magazine accurately evaluated the "Swoon Theory":
Dear Eutychus: Our preacher said, on Easter, that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered
Dear Bewildered: Beat your preacher with a cat-of-nine-tails with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his heart; embalm him; put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens. Sincerely, Eutychus
d. Lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away: What were they really afraid of? They couldn't have been afraid of the disciples. They knew they were terrified and in hiding. They knew they were gone from the crucifixion scene. Their intelligence sources and informants let them know the disciples were terrified. What were they really afraid of? The power of Jesus.
i. After all, look at their words: And say to the people, "He has risen from the dead." If that were to happen, why not just say to the disciples, "So where is Jesus? Produce the body of your risen Lord!" They knew that it would do nothing for the disciples to steal the body of Jesus. That would prove nothing. What they were really afraid of was the resurrection power of Jesus.
ii. It's sad that they were afraid of it, but at least they believed it. On Saturday morning, the chief priests and the Pharisees can preach a better resurrection sermon than the disciples could.
e. Command that the tomb be made secure . . . you have a guard . . . make it as secure as you know how: This shows that both the Jewish leaders and the Romans were well aware of the need to guard the tomb, and that they took all necessary measures to secure it. These security measures will simply provide greater testimony to the miracle of the resurrection. If Jesus' tomb was unguarded then we might not be certain that His body wasn't stolen.
f. Sealing the stone and setting the guard: This describes the measures taken to secure the tomb of Jesus.
i. The tomb was secured by a stone, which was a material obstacle. These stones were large, and set in a slanted channel. It was a real obstacle. For sure, the stone could not be rolled away from the inside. The disciples, if you had enough of them, could roll away the stone – but not quietly. Besides, they would have to work together to roll it away, and that didn't seem likely.
ii. The tomb was secured by a seal, which was an obstacle of human authority. The seal was a rope, overlapping the width of the stone covering the entrance to the tomb. On either side of the doorway, there was a glob of wax securing the rope over the stone. You could not move the rock without breaking the seal. It was important that the guards witness the sealing, because they were responsible for whatever was being sealed. These Roman guards would watch carefully as the stone was sealed, because they knew their careers, and perhaps their lives, were on the line. The Roman seal carried legal authority. It was more than yellow tape barricading a crime scene; to break a Roman seal was to defy Roman authority. That stone was secured by the authority of the Roman Empire.
iii. The tomb was secured by a guard, which was an obstacle of human strength. A typical Roman guard had four soldiers. Two watched while the others rested. This guard might have had more. The soldiers would be fully equipped – sword, shield, spear, dagger, armor. We should also remember that these were Roman soldiers. They didn't care about Jesus or Jewish laws or rituals. They were called to secure the tomb of a criminal. To them, the only sacred thing at this tomb was the Roman seal, because if that were broken their careers were ruined and they might be executed themselves. Soldiers cold-blooded enough to gamble over a dying man's clothes were not the kind of men to be tricked by trembling disciples, or would not jeopardize their necks by sleeping at their post.
iv. None of these obstacles mattered. Material obstacles don't stand before the resurrected Jesus. Human authority doesn't stand before the resurrected Jesus. Human strength doesn't stand before the resurrected Jesus. It all falls away before Him!