New Testament Study:
To contact us:
Matthew 27:27-30 -
The Soldiers Mock Jesus,
27Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.
Even after Jesus was flogged (see vs. 26), he had to continue to endure beatings and misuse: “Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him” (vs. 27). The soldiers were gathered to beat and mock Jesus, in advance of the crucifixion. A Roman “company” of soldiers was made up of as many as 600 men [Carson], so most likely, Jesus endured the mockery and the blows of many, many men.
Jesus had told the Twelve Apostles that he would be mocked and flogged: “They will condemn [the Son of Man] to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified” (Matt. 20:18-19). Hundreds of years prior, Isaiah had alluded to the misuse the Messiah would endure: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isa. 50:6).
The charge for which Jesus was to be crucified was that he claimed to be King of the Jews (allegedly in defiance of Roman leadership), so the soldiers mocked him as king: “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said” (vss. 28-29). The soldiers, most likely, knew nothing about Jesus, except that they were told the charges against him. Certainly, Jesus did not personally harm any of the soldiers. They could have no personal reasons for harming Jesus, yet this is reflects the corrupt nature of men: to be able to so mercilessly beat and mock someone who has done them no harm. This is humanity at its worst, ironically perpetrated on the one who would save them from their sins.
And so it is in all generations: those who know nothing of the goodness and greatness of Jesus, mock him, and spit on him, and curse him.
For their mockery, they “stripped” Jesus and donned him with mock-raiment of a king: “a scarlet robe”, and “a crown of thorns”. All these things contained symbolism related to Christ’s mission of suffering for our sins. “The shame of nakedness came in with sin (see Gen. 3:7) – and therefore Christ, when he came to satisfy for sin, and take it away, was made naked, and submitted to that shame, that he might prepare for us white raiment to cover us (see Rev. 3:18)… Our sins were as scarlet and crimson (see Isa. 1:18), so Christ being clad in a scarlet robe, signified his bearing our sins, to his shame, in his own body upon the tree… Thorns came in with sin, and were part of the curse that was the product of sin (see Gen. 3:18). Therefore Christ being made a curse for us, and dying to remove the curse from us, felt the pain and smart of those thorns, nay, and binds them as a crown to him (cf. Job 31:36). For his sufferings for us were his glory” [Henry, 242].
They gave mock-obeisance to him: “They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said” (vs. 29). There is great irony in this, for Christ is actually the mocker’s Lord and King, and they will, at some point, bow to him. Paul tells us, concerning Jesus: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). “These here bowed the knee in scorn to him, who was soon after this exalted to the right hand of God, that in his name every knee might bow, or break before him; it is ill jesting with that which sooner or later will come in earnest” [Henry, 243]. “There is great irony as they hail the one person in the world who is truly their King” [Osbourne]. “And he who suffered all this bitter mockery was indeed a King—King of kings, and Lord of lords. At any moment throughout his long protracted agony he might, by one word, one look, have swept his torturers into utter death. He suffered in silence, patiently, calmly, setting us an example of meekness, of holy endurance. If the Lord most holy bore these outrageous insults, we sinful men may well take it patiently when we are called to suffer wrong when men speak ill of us” [Pulpit Comm., 606]. Peter tells us of the dignity and patience Jesus demonstrated in the midst of the suffering: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:23-24).
In the end, when all was done—after the flogging, beatings and mockery—Jesus was all but unrecognizable as a man, as Isaiah prophetically tells us of his appearance: “Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isa. 52:14).
Matthew 27:31-56 -
The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.
38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
Jesus’ suffering and shame did not end with the beatings and mockery of the soldiers: “After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him” (vs. 31). “Crucifixion was considered the ultimate in cruel, degrading punishments” [Osbourne]. D. A. Carson describes crucifixion, and what it meant to those who witnessed it: “Two thousand years of pious Christian tradition have largely domesticated the cross, making it hard for us to realize how it was viewed in Jesus’ time… Crucifixion was unspeakably painful and degrading. Whether tied or nailed to the cross, the victim endured countless paroxysms as he pulled with his arms and pushed with his legs to keep his chest cavity open for breathing and then collapsed in exhaustion until the demand for oxygen demanded renewed paroxysms. The scourging, the loss of blood, the shock from the pain, all produced agony that could go on for days, ending at last by suffocation, cardiac arrest, or loss of blood. When there was reason to hasten death, the execution squad would smash the victim’s legs. Death followed almost immediately, either from shock or from collapse that cut off breathing… Beyond the pain was the shame… Among Jews the horror of the cross was greater still because of Deuteronomy 21:23: ‘Anyone who is hanged on a tree is under God’s curse.’ In Israelite law this meant the corpse of a judicially executed criminal was hung up for public exposure that branded him as cursed by God. The words were also applied in Jesus’ day to anyone crucified; and therefore the Jews’ demand that Jesus be crucified rather than banished was aimed at arousing maximum public revulsion toward him” [Carson, 574].
And let us remember, whenever we hear or read of Christ’s sufferings, that they were all carried out on our behalves, in order that we may not suffer for our sins. “We are intended to see this truth in every part of His passion. We may follow Him all through, from the bar of Pilate, to the minute of His death, and see him at every step as our mighty Substitute, our Representative, our Head, our Surety, our Proxy,—the Divine Friend who undertook to stand in our stead, and by the priceless merit of His sufferings, to purchase our redemption.—Was He scourged? It was that ‘through His stripes we might be healed.’—Was he condemned, though innocent? It was that we might be acquitted though guilty.—Did He wear a crown of thorns? It was that we might wear the crown of glory.—Was He stripped of His raiment? It was that we might be clothed in everlasting righteousness. —Was he mocked and reviled? It was that we might be honored and blessed.—Was He reckoned a malefactor, and numbered among transgressors? It was that we might be reckoned innocent, and justified from all sin. —Was he declared unable to save Himself? It was that He might be able to save others to the uttermost. — Did He die at last, and that the most painful and disgraceful of deaths? It was that we might live for evermore, and be exalted to the highest glory.—Let us ponder these things well. They are worth remembering… Our sins are many and great. But a great atonement has been made for them.” [Ryle, 391-392].
Normally, the prisoner carried the crosspiece on which he was to be crucified, to the place of crucifixion, and Jesus did carry it part way (see John 19:17). But the soldiers enlisted someone to carry it the rest of the way, presumably because Jesus was moving too slowly: “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross” (vs. 32). Tradition has it that Simon the Cyrene became a Christian. This may be supported in the Bible. Mark tells us that he was “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” Why would Mark include that information unless “Alexander and Rufus” were known in some way by Christian readers? Moreover, in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, as part of his greetings at the end of the book, he writes: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord” (Rom. 16:13). It’s possible that both Mark and Paul are referring to the same “Rufus”. Whatever the case, carrying the cross of Christ must certainly have made a deep spiritual impact on Simon the Cyrene. Also, whatever the case, Simon the Cyrene “has become the type, the figure of faithful Christians. They must bear the cross; the cross of suffering, in one form or another, is surely laid upon them all; they bear it after Jesus” [Pulpit Comm., 607].
The absence of Jesus’ disciples is conspicuous. Should not one of Jesus’ close followers have borne the cross? And yet they were nowhere to be seen. There is somewhat of an irony that the bearer of the cross is named “Simon”, the same name as Simon called Peter, who though he loudly boasted that he would go anywhere with Christ, denied him three times. Simon the Cyrene bore Christ’s cross, something Simon Peter should have willingly done, given his boasts.
“They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’)” (vs. 33). “Golgotha” was where Jesus was to be crucified. We get the term Calvary from the Latin word for “skull”. Presumably, “Golgotha” got its name because it was a rock, or clearing, that was shaped like a skull. There also may be a sly reference in the name of it as a place of execution, a generator of dead skulls.
“There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it” (vs. 34). The word translated here “gall”, seems to be a general term for a bitter or poisonous liquid [Broadus; Carson]. Mark specifically tells us that the wine was mixed with “myrrh” (see Mark 15:23). Reference to “myrrh” reminds the reader of the Magi, who worshiped Christ when he was an infant, and brought “myrrh” as one of their gifts. How greatly different the circumstances are on “Golgotha”.
“When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there” (vss. 35-36). The dividing of Jesus’ clothes was a partial fulfillment of the prophetic Psalm about the crucifixion, Psalm 22, as noted in John’s Gospel (see John 19:24). In fact, that prophetic Psalm gives us more specifics about the physical agony that Jesus experienced on the cross than the Gospel narratives give: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (Ps. 22:14-18).
Those crucified typically had a sign, either around their necks or above them, telling passers-by what crime they committed. So too Jesus: “Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews” (vs. 37). This is the only crime that they could charge Jesus with: being “KING OF THE JEWS.” The sign was objected to by the chief priests, who had trumped up the charge, and they asked Pilate to change the sign to say that Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews (see John 19:21). Pilate rejected their request, and did not change it. Pilate meant it to mock the Jews, as if to say, “Look at your king; bleeding and hung on a cross.” And yet, Jesus is king and Lord of all, so the sign was true, whether or not the chief priests ever acknowledged its truth. Pilate inadvertently wrote more truth than he realized.
By the way, there were four types of crosses/structures typically used for crucifixion: a stake in the ground; St. Andrew’s cross, shaped like an “X”; St. Anthony’s cross, shaped like a “T”, and the shape we normally call cross-shaped (“†”) [Osbourne]. That the sign was hung “above his head” (vs. 37) indicates that Jesus was crucified on a cross that we normally call cross-shaped (“†”), rather than the other types [Turner, 661].
Jesus was not the only one being crucified that day: “Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left” (vs. 38). The placement of the rebels on the right and left of Jesus evokes the request to Jesus by the mother of James and John (the two apostles): “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. ‘What is it you want?’ he asked. She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom’” (Matt. 20:20-21).
Next Matthew lists some of the mocking directed at Jesus by those witnessing the crucifixion. “When malice hath done what it can to Christ’s body, Satan and his instruments make assault on his mind, by mocking his holiness and fellowship with God” [Dickson, 337]. Matthew begins by relating the mocking of some passers-by: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!’” (vss. 39-40). Apparently, these mockers heard the false testimony against Jesus at the trial (see Matt. 26:61), and mistakenly thought that Jesus threatened to destroy the Temple.
The mockers continued: “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (vs. 40). The mockers take up the temptation of Satan. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, Satan said: “If you are the Son of God… If you are the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:3,6). “They upbraid him with his saying that he was the Son of God; if thou be so, say they, ‘Come down from the cross.’ Now they take the devil's words out of his mouth, with which he tempted him in the wilderness (see Matt. 4:3, 6), and renew the same assault, ‘If thou he the Son of God.’ They think now, or never, he must prove himself to be the Son of God; forgetting that he had proved it by the miracles he wrought, particularly his raising the dead; nor willing to wait for the complete proof of it by his own resurrection, to which he had so often referred himself and them; which, if they had observed it, would have anticipated the offence of the cross. This comes of judging things by the present aspect of them, without a due remembrance of what is past, and a patient expectation of what may further be produced” [Henry, 245]. It is not surprising that Satan joins the mockery with the temptation “Come down from the cross”, for Jesus’ death destroys Satan’s power over death, as we are told by the writer of Hebrews: “Since the children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The members of the Sanhedrin join in the mockery of Jesus: “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him” (vs. 41). “It is surprising that people of this eminence should be present at a crucifixion, and the fact that they were is an indication of the depth of their hostility and vindictiveness toward Jesus” [Morris]. “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself!’” (vss. 42). The mocking by the chief priests, etc., is inexcusable because they knew of Jesus’ miracles, the grand and merciful healings he performed for others (they said, “he saved others”). Rather than glorifying Jesus for these great works, they use them to reproach and mock Jesus. “They acknowledged the truth of his miracles, his works of love; and in their blind wickedness they upbraided him with those very works, with that very love” [Pulpit Comm., 610].
In mocking Jesus, they demonstrate that they have no understanding of Jesus’ mission. They say, “he can’t save himself.” Yet, it was never Jesus’ mission to “save himself”; his mission was to save others. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “It is true that he was unable to come down from the cross and save himself, for then he would have been unable to save others. It was the power of love, not nails, that kept him there” [Mounce].
The mocking of the members of the Sanhedrin continues: “He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (vs. 42). The chief priests, etc., already had plenty of reasons to believe in Jesus, yet they did not. There is absolutely no reason to think that they would believe in Jesus if he came down from the cross. “They would have done no such thing. He had wrought miracles even more wonderful, and upon learning it they were only the more determined to kill him (see John 11:47-53)” [Broadus, 572]. “The words ‘Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him’ have several levels of meaning. They constitute a malicious barb directed at Jesus' helplessness, while having the effrontery to suggest that the leaders’ failure to believe was his fault” [Carson, 577]. “The most vile and wicked reprobates will offer to believe, upon such conditions as they themselves shall prescribe to God, as here these men do; but they who will not believe upon the grounds of faith offered to them, shall [never be satisfied]… It is the nature of misbelief to esteem little of whatsoever God has said or done, except he satisfy present demands, and take orders and directions from the misbeliever” [Dickson, 338]. “And yet Christ did a greater thing than come down alive from the cross; he rose from the dead; but they believed not in him” [Pulpit Comm., 591].
The mocking of the Temple leaders continued: “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (vs. 43). “They did not know what to reproach Him with, except His piety, His benevolence, His trust in God” [Lavater, in Lange, 533]. “Both the devil (in Matt. 4:1-11) and the mockers focus on his identity and mission as God’s Son. Both present Jesus with the alternative of ruling without suffering. And both times Jesus will have none of it. The mockery of the passage is palpably ironic, since Jesus really is the Son of God. The temple will indeed be destroyed within a generation. Jesus does in fact save others. He is the King of Israel who trusts in God, and God is well pleased with him. He does not come down from the cross, but he does overcome death by pouring out his own blood of the new covenant. Since every detail of the ridicule is eventually shown to be true, the mockers are unwitting evangelists… The irony of the mockery is not just that things are not always as they seem but that sometimes they are exactly the opposite of what they seem” [Turner, 663-664].
The extent of the range of mockers is made complete when even the rebels crucified with Jesus mock him: “In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him” (vs. 44).
As Jesus’ death neared, the creation responded: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land” (vs. 45). This darkness was most likely a supernatural darkness, just as the darkness during the plagues of Egypt, which preceded the first Passover, was a supernatural darkness. Now, preceding the death of our Passover Lamb, and “the light of the world”, darkness comes at noon. “Never were there three such hours since the day that God created man upon the earth, never such a dark and awful scene; the crisis of that great affair of man’s redemption and salvation” [Henry, 246]. “The noonday sun should have been pouring its full light upon Jerusalem. But there was a horror of great darkness—a darkness that could be felt. It might well be so. He was hanging on the cross by whom all things were made. He was dying who upholdeth all things by the word of his power. So stupendous an event, the death of him who is the Life of the world, must be attended by wonders, by strange and awful signs. That fearful darkness was a stern rebuke to the cruel brutal mockers. Nature was mourning for the Lord of nature, whom man, his noblest creature, was thus maltreating” [Pulpit Comm., 610-611]. “When Christ was born, night became bright by the shining of the miraculous star, as though it would pass into a heavenly day; when He died, the day darkened at the hour when the sun shone in fullest glory, as though it would sink into the awful night of Sheol” [Lange, 526]. Darkness is prophesied to accompany the judgment at the end times (see Amos 8:9; Joel 2:2,10,31; Zeph. 1:15); so appropriately here darkness accompanies the judgment borne by Christ, due all human-kind.
“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (vs. 46). As we pointed out above, Psalm 22 gives us more detail about Jesus’ suffering on the cross than even the Gospel accounts. The words spoken here by Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, open Psalm 22, as if confirming that the psalm was prophetic of Christ’s sufferings on the cross. Jesus, as he spoke these words, was at the depth of his suffering. “This cry is one of agony... It culminates a major theme of the Passion Narrative, in which Jesus is abandoned by his disciples (26:56) and Peter (26:69-75), then condemned by the high court of his own people (26:57-68) and taunted by his enemies — first the Roman soldiers (27:27-31) and then the Jewish people (27:39-40), the leaders (27:41-43), and the criminals crucified with him (27:44). Jesus stands alone, forsaken by all, and now he feels forsaken even by his Father… He has become the sin offering, and at this dark moment God must turn away from sin. As in Gethsemane Jesus is experiencing the depths of pain in his very soul” [Osbourne]. “He was bearing the sins of the whole world; the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all; there was no one to comfort him in his heaviness; and the light of God’s countenance was for the time withdrawn from him” [Pulpit Comm., 593]. “Christ, our surety, beside all the sufferings which he suffered in his body, did suffer also sorrow, grief, anguish, torment, and desertion, in regard of comfort in his soul… Our sins deserved that we should have been utterly forsaken of God, and it behoved our Redeemer to taste a little of the hell of being forsaken, ere we could be redeemed” [Dickson, 341].
The bystanders misheard Jesus’ words, and thought he was “calling Elijah” (vs. 47). They misheard his words, just as they misunderstood his mission, and misinterpreted everything that happened on that day.
And then death came: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit” (vs. 50). We are told in the Gospel of John, that Jesus had cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The wording is significant – “gave up his spirit.” Jesus voluntarily gave himself for us, gave his body to suffering that we might not suffer, gave up his life that we might live, and finally “gave up his spirit” to bring us to God. “[The wording] ‘he gave up his spirit’ suggests Jesus’ sovereignty over the exact time of his own death. It was at this moment, when he was experiencing the abyss of his alienation from the Father and was being cruelly mocked by those he came to serve, that he chose to yield up his life a ‘ransom for man’” [Carson, 580]. “It is to be noted that the death of Christ occurred at 3 p.m., the very time when the Paschal lambs began to be slain in the temple courts. Thus the long-prepared type was at last fulfilled, when ‘Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us’ (I Cor. 5:7)” [Pulpit Comm., 594].
The creation again responded, with a series of miraculous events at the time of Jesus’ death. “So many miracles being wrought by him in his life, we might well expect some to be wrought concerning him at his death” [Henry, 247]. First, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (vs. 51). This event is highly symbolic. “The sudden rending of this veil from the top to the bottom (showing that it was not done by human agency) symbolized the complete opening for all of a way of access through Christ to the throne of divine mercy. Christ, our high priest, has entered the true Holy of Holies in heaven, offering once for all the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice of his own blood (see Heb. 9:11-28); and now in his name we may look without dread upon the very throne of God, and come with boldness to the throne of grace (see Heb. 4:16; 10:9)” [Broadus, 576]. The rending of the curtain symbolized “a new access to God, signifying the end of the sacrificial system and a direct relationship with God” [Osbourne]. “If the death of Jesus opened up a fresh access to God that made the OT sacrificial system and the Levitical high priesthood obsolete, then an entire change in the Mosaic covenant must follow. It is impossible to grapple with Matthew's fulfillment themes (cf. esp. on 5:17-20; ll:ll-13) and see how even the law points prophetically to Messiah and hear Jesus' promise of a new covenant grounded in his death (26:26-29) without seeing that the tearing of the veil signifies the obsolescence of the temple ritual and the law governing it. Jesus himself is the New Temple, the meeting place of God and man (see on 26:61); the old is obsolete. The rent veil does indeed serve as a sign of the temple's impending destruction – a destruction conceived not as a brute fact but as a theological necessity” [Carson, 580]. “The rending of the veil proclaimed the termination and passing away of the ceremonial law. It was a sign that the old dispensation of sacrifices and ordinances was no longer needed. Its work was done. Its occupation was gone, from the moment that Christ died. There was no more need of an earthly high priest, and a mercy seat, and a sprinkling of blood, and an offering up of incense, and a day of atonement. The true High Priest had at length appeared. The true Lamb of God had been slain. The true mercy seat was at length revealed. The figures and shadows were no longer wanted” [Ryle, 396-397]. The rending of the curtain was also an ominous portent that the entire Temple was to be destroyed, as Jesus predicted (see Matt. 24:1-2).
More miracles occurred: “The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open” (vss. 51-52). “Christ had said, that if the children would cease to cry hosanna, the stones would immediately cry out; and now in effect they did so, proclaiming the glory of the suffering Jesus, and themselves more sensible of the wrong done him, than the hard hearted Jews were” [Henry, 248].
To show that Jesus conquered death by his death and resurrection, and to demonstrate that we who die in Christ will live again, a sign was given: “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (vss. 52-53). “The statement that they did not appear till after our Lord’s resurrection, is from this point of view significant. The disciples were thus taught to look on that resurrection, not as an isolated phenomenon; but as the first fruits of the victory over death (see I Cor. 15:20), in which not they themselves only, but those also whom they had loved and lost were to be sharers” [Broadus, 576].
The Roman soldiers reacted to the unusual events surrounding Jesus’ death: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’” (vs. 54). “They saw the darkness, the earthquake, the rending of the rocks, the Divine meekness of the Sufferer; they heard his last words, his loud cry, and marked his patient death. All these things contributed to their awe and fear” [Pulpit Comm., 596]. “Profane soldiers are more easily gained unto Christ than misbelieving Rabbis, for we hear thus much of the one, but nothing of the other, that they were any whit moved” [Dickson, 344]. “(1.) They were soldiers, whose profession is commonly hardening, and whose breasts are commonly not so susceptible as some others of the impressions either of fear or pity. But there is no spirit too big, too bold, for the power of Christ to break and humble. (2.) They were Romans, Gentiles, who knew not the scriptures that were now fulfilled, yet they only were convinced. A sad presage of the blindness that should happen to Israel, when the gospel should be sent to the Gentiles to open their eyes. Here were the Gentiles softened, and the Jews hardened. (3.) They were the persecutors of Christ, and those that but just before had reviled him, as appears in Luke 23:36. How soon can God by the power he has over men’s consciences, alter their language, and fetch confessions of his truths to his own glory, out of the mouths of those that have breathed nothing but threatenings, and slaughter, and blasphemies?” [Henry, 248].
“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (vss. 55-56). Of the followers and disciples of Jesus, it was predominantly women who witnessed His sufferings on the cross (though it seems that the Apostle John was also among them, see John 19:25-27). “Against the background of the failure of the male disciples the devotion and the courage of the women shine out” [Morris]. “The fact that the women are mentioned in all four gospels and also are official witnesses of the empty tomb and resurrection (28:1, 5-10) shows their importance as remaining with Jesus to the end” [Osbourne]. “These pious women, who, with the courage of heroes, witnessed the dying moments of their Lord and Master, and sat over against the lonely sepulcher (see Matt. 26:61), are the shining examples of female constancy and devotion to Christ which we now can witness every day in all the churches, and which will never cease. Woman’s love truly is faithful unto death. Women and children form the majority of the Church militant on earth, and, we may infer, also of the Church triumphant in heaven” [Schaff, in Lange, 529].
And so, as Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The redemptive work of Christ, suffering for our sins, is complete. Through him, and only through him, we can live, and bypass the suffering for our sins that we deserve. “The cross, which to the old world was the symbol of deepest abhorrence, shame, infamy, and perdition, has now become for the new world the symbol of honor, blessing, and redemption. Even the superstition and vanity of the world have adopted this sign. It has risen to be the object of veneration. It is the original form of most of our orders of honor. But the glorification of the cross is the symbol and type of the transformation of death from a curse into salvation.” [Lange, 531].
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Alexander, Joseph Addison. The Gospel According to Matthew. New York: Charles Scribner Publishers, 1861.
Broadus, John. Commentary on Matthew. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1886.
Calvin, John. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke. 3 Vols. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846. (Originally published in Latin in 1555).
Carson, D. A. “Matthew” from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII, ed. by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
Clarke, Adam. The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Vol. I. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1846. (Originally published in 1831).
Dickson, David. A Brief Exposition of the Evangel of Jesus Christ According to Matthew. Cornhill, U.K.: Ralph Smith, 1651.
Exell, Joseph S. and Henry Donald Spence-Jones, eds. The Pulpit Commentary. Vols. 33 & 34. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1884.
Henry, Matthew. An Exposition of All the Books of the Old and New Testament. Vol. IV. London: W. Baynes, 1806. (Originally published in 1710).
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. Glasgow: William Collins, Queen’s Printer, 1863.
Keener, Craig S. Matthew (IVP New Testament Commentary). Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.
Lange, John Peter, ed. and Philip Schaff, trans. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical. New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1865.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1992.
Osbourne, Grant. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Matthew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
Ryle, J. C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1857.
Spurgeon, Charles. The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Popular Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1893.
Thomas, David. The Genius of the Gospel: A Homiletical Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew. London: Dickinson & Higham, 1873.
Trapp, John. A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. Vol. V (Matthew to Revelation). Edmonton, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books (www.PuritanDownloads.com). (Originally published c. 1660).
Turner, David L. Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
Wilkins, Michael J. “Matthew” from Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
All of these books, except Carson, Keener, Morris, Osbourne, Turner and Wilkins can be downloaded free of charge from: