Matthew 27

Matthew 27  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The closing scenes of the Lord’s life are told by Matthew in a way that emphasizes the excessive guilt of the leaders of Israel. This feature has been noticeable all through, and we specially see it in chapter 23. The opening verses of this chapter show us that though His official condemnation had to come from Pilate, yet the animus that hounded Him to His death was found with them.
The sequence of the story is broken by a parenthetical paragraph giving us the miserable end of Judas. It looks as if he had expected the Lord to evade His adversaries and pass from their midst as He had done aforetime, but now seeing Him condemned and submitting to their hands he was filled with remorse and horror at what he had done. His was not the genuine “repentance to salvation not to be repented of,” (2 Cor. 7:1010For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)) for that goes hand in hand with faith. Now faith was what he lacked, for had he possessed it he would have turned to his Master as did Peter, who also had grievously failed. His eyes were opened to his sin and he confessed it, while also confessing the innocence of Jesus, yet he flung himself out of life and into a suicide’s grave. The very man who was instrumental in handing the Savior over to His foes had to confess His innocence. God so ordained it; and this is very striking.
The very name, Judas, has become a byword for iniquity, but Annas and Caiaphas were worse than he. Verse 4 shows this. Judas betrayed innocent blood and they condemned it. He at least had some feeling of remorse for what he had done — sufficient to drive him to self-destruction. They had no feeling whatever. What was innocent blood to them They had no compunction in shedding it, nor had they any fear of the God who requites evil. They were prepared to “murder the innocent,” (Psa. 10:88He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor. (Psalm 10:8)) saying in their hearts, “Thou wilt not require it” (Psa. 10:1313Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it. (Psalm 10:13)). Had they the smallest fear of God they would never have said, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” (ch. 27:25) as recorded in our chapter.
Judas never profited by his thirty pieces of silver. Seduced and ultimately possessed by the devil, he threw away everything for nothing. That is always the end of the story when silly little men attempt to drive a bargain with the giant spirit of evil. The silver was now again in the hands of the priests and became the occasion of them to crown their other sins with supreme hypocrisy. With legal scrupulosity they could not put it in the treasury because it was the price of blood. But who made it such? Why, they themselves! So they fulfilled the scripture by buying the potter’s field. Their act became public, and thus the field acquired its name. The irony of Divine governmental judgment can be discerned in the name, for that land has been a field of blood and a burial place for strangers ever since that day; and will be yet in larger measure, and until the day when at last the Redeemer shall come to Zion.
The religious authorities had now handed Jesus over to the civil governor, and verses 11-26 relate what transpired before him. When examined by Pilate before the multitude Jesus only uttered two words, “Thou sayest,” the equivalent of one English word, “Yes,” He confessed that He indeed was the King of the Jews, which was the specific charge laid at His door in the presence of the Roman power. The three Synoptic Gospels agree on this point. John records other questions raised by Pilate and answered by the Lord in the comparative privacy of the judgment hall, and three times he records Pilate going out from thence to the people. As far as the public examination was concerned Jesus “answered nothing,” (ch. 27:12) for there was really nothing to answer; as Pilate very soon perceived, though he marveled greatly. He was well versed in the subtle ways of the Jews and his acute legal mind soon discerned that envy was at the bottom of the prosecution. On the other hand he feared the people and wished to stand well with them.
Hence Pilate had a strangely disturbed mind. To condemn Jesus he must violate his judicial sense as well as his wife’s dream and intuition. He was evidently agitated as the subterfuge failed, by which he hoped to extricate himself from the dilemma. The accusing multitude was agitated by the cunning priests and elders. The only serene figure in the terrible scene is that of the Prisoner Himself. We see Pilate virtually abdicating as to his judicial function in the case and throwing the responsibility on the people. He did not really absolve himself of course, but it did lead to the people putting themselves under full responsibility for the blood of their Messiah. In verse 25 we find the explanation of the sorrows that fell upon the people, and that have continued to dog the footsteps of their children to this day. They have yet to face the great tribulation before the account is settled according to the government of God.
Barabbas was released and Jesus condemned to be crucified, and next (verses 27-37) we see Jesus in the hands of the Roman soldiers. Here we see vulgar mockery, brutality, and at last the act of crucifixion. To complete His humiliation they numbered Him amongst the transgressors by placing a thief on either hand. There was no justice, no mercy, no ordinary compassion whether He was in the hands of the religious, the civil or the military authorities. Jew and Gentile alike condemned themselves in condemning Him.
Verses 39-44 show us how all classes united in reviling Him as He was dying on the cross. Deep-dyed criminals have had to listen to stern words when they have been condemned to death, but we have not heard of even the most atrocious and depraved being mocked in their death agonies. Yet this is what happened when He who was the embodiment of all perfection, Divine as well as human, was on the cross. There was no difference, save in the type of language used. “They that passed by” (ch. 20:30) were the ordinary folk on business bent. “The chief priests... with the scribes and elders” (ch. 27:41) were the upper classes. “The thieves also... cast the same in His teeth” (ch. 27:44). They represented the lowest, the criminal class; but they only followed the fashion in their crude and vulgar way. He was the Son of God and the King of Israel: He could have displayed His might then as easily as He will display it in judgment very shortly. Then He was displaying Divine love by remaining where men had put Him with wicked hands, and bearing the judgment of sin Himself.
Matthew does not develop this in a doctrinal way, but he does pass on to record the solemn three hours of darkness, about the end of which time the holy Sufferer uttered with a loud voice the cry that had been written by the Spirit of prophecy in the opening words of Psa. 22, a thousand years before. The answer to the cry is supplied in the third verse of the Psalm, “Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Psa. 22:33But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. (Psalm 22:3)). A holy God can only dwell in the praises of sinful people if atonement be wrought by the bearing of sin’s judgment. The forsaking was the inevitable result of the One who knew no sin being made sin for us. The onlookers knew nothing of this: indeed they did not seem able to distinguish between God and Elijah.
After this there was, as verse 50 records, a last loud cry, and then the yielding up of His spirit. The actual words of that last cry are given us partly in John and partly in Luke. It was loud, showing that His strength was not impaired, and so the yielding up of His spirit was His own deliberate act. His death was supernatural and it was at once followed by supernatural signs, indicating its significance and power.
The first of these acts of God touched the veil of the temple, which typified His flesh, as Heb. 10 tells us. Under the law “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest” (Heb. 9:88The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: (Hebrews 9:8)); but now it is made manifest, for the death of Christ is the basis of our approach to God. The second act touched the material creation, for the earth quaked, the rocks were rent, and graves opened. The third touched the bodies of sleeping saints, and after His arising they arose and appeared to many in Jerusalem. A threefold witness was thus rendered in most striking manner. The first concerned the presence of God, but it took place in the type of the veil, which was seen by the eyes of the priests alone. The second in the realm of nature must have been felt by everybody. The third, doubtless, was for the eyes of true saints alone. In addition to these signs the sun had previously been darkened. There was ample witness to the wonder of that hour, yet we do not read of any being impressed save the centurion on duty and those with him. In his heart was wrought the conviction that here was the Son of God-the very thing that His own people denied, and still deny.
As is often the case, when the men fail in courage and devotion the women supply the lack. The disciples had disappeared but many women lingered round the scene though standing afar off. One man, however, came forward and had the courage to identify himself with the dead Christ, begging His body from Pilate, and he an unexpected one. He was a disciple of Jesus but hitherto a secret one, as we are told in John’s Gospel. Here was the rich man with the new tomb, who so acted that Isa. 53:99And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:9) was fulfilled. We know of nothing that Joseph of Arimathea did save this one thing. God never fails to have a servant of His will who shall fulfill His Word. Joseph was born into the world to fulfill that one brief prophetic statement and so, though men would have appointed His grave with the wicked, He was with the rich in His death.
The women who were witnesses of His death and His burial were marked by devotion but not by intelligence. It was His bitter enemies who remembered that He had predicted that He would rise from the dead. Their hatred sharpened their memories and their wits, and led to their deputation to Pilate with a request for special precautions to be taken. His achievements in life they repudiated, regarding them as the first error. They dreaded lest His resurrection should be established, realizing that it would have far more potent effects. It would to their minds be the last error and worse than the first. It would inevitably vindicate Him and condemn them, as they saw very well.
As with Joseph so with these men Pilate was in an acquiescent mood. Their request was granted: the watch of soldiers was set, but it does seem as if there was a touch of irony in his words, “Make it as sure as ye can” (ch. 27:65). They did all they could, and in result accomplished nothing save putting the fact of His resurrection beyond all reasonable doubt when once He was risen, and their elaborate arrangements were all brushed aside. God turned their wisdom into folly and made their scheme serve His own purpose and overthrow their own.
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