Scriptures

Matthew 27

Introduction

‘Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” Matthew 27:1-10

The chief priests and elders of the people apparently already had their minds made up that Jesus was to be executed. In their mind, they wanted to execute Jesus according to their law, despite Jesus being innocent. Caiaphas, the High Priest is the one that clearly exhibits their collective motives, Matthew 26:57-67.

He’s the one who orchestrated the worst miscarriage of justice in legal history. Lawyers who have studied the legal system of the Jewish people of that time are quite clear that, in his eagerness to get rid of Jesus, Caiaphas broke the law. And he broke it many times over.

1. He shouldn’t have allowed the trial to go ahead at night.

2. He shouldn’t have allowed it to be held out with the Hall of Hewn Stone in the Temple.

3. He shouldn’t have allowed a criminal case to proceed during the Passover season.

4. He could only allow the case to finish on the same day if it was a not guilty verdict.

5. He didn’t have two witnesses examined separately before the trial.

6. And he certainly didn’t have all the evidence for the court, prior to the start of the trial.

Because this time the verdict was decided before the evidence was even considered. What happened that would cause these men to conduct an unfair and crooked trial?

Scripture has the answer, the Chief Priests and Jewish leaders were trying to find a way to get the Romans to pass the death sentence on Jesus. So they pack Jesus off, in chains, to Pilate, Luke 3:1 / Luke 13:1 / Acts 3:13 / Acts 4:27, but as we’re about to read, Pilate wasn’t conned by their claims that they cared about the future of the Roman Empire.

Judas Hangs Himself

It’s at this point when Judas hears the news concerning Jesus, that he begins to be filled with remorse. He now knows that the thirty prices of silver, Matthew 26:15, he received to give Jesus into their hands, simply wasn’t worth it. He knows that he has sinned, he knows he has betrayed innocent blood, in reference to Jesus.

It’s clear that the religious leaders weren’t concerned about Judas, they didn’t want to know and more or less tell Judas to get on with it, this was his responsibility.

Judas throws the money into the temple and by doing so, fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, Zechariah 11:12. He then left and went on to hang himself, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 / Acts 1:18-19.

If only Judas had gone to Jesus for forgiveness rather than going to the chief priests and elders of the people. It’s here we see the great contrast between Peter and Judas, Peter’s sorrow, led him to godly repentance and life, but Judas’ worldly sorrow led him to his death, 2 Corinthians 7:10.

The hypocrisy of the chief priests and elders is incredible, they are very happy to have an innocent man killed, but when it came to the thirty pieces of silver, which they now call blood money, Zechariah 11:12 / Matthew 26:15, they wanted to stick to the law.

They used the money to buy a potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners, which is called the Field of Blood, Acts 1:19, that is, Akeldama on Aramaic.

This field was where potters apparently collected clay for their work. In doing this, they fulfilled the prophecies of both Jeremiah and Zechariah, Jeremiah 32:6-9 / Zechariah 11:12-13.

Alleged Contradiction

Some claim there is a contradiction here concerning the way Judas dies and the people who bought the field.

Matthew records that, ‘Judas left and went away and hanged himself, the chief priests took the silver and bought the potter’s field’. Luke records that, ‘Judas bought a field, he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out,’ Acts 1:19.

The answer to the alleged contradiction is fairly simply. Who bought the field? They both did, it just depends on how we understand the application of the word ‘bought’.

It was Judas’ money, and it was the priests who used the money he returned to them to buy the field. They bought the field because they could not accept blood money and returned it to the temple treasury. In essence, the priests bought the field on behalf of Judas.

And according to Luke, we can conclude that either the branch he used to hang himself on or the rope itself broke and Judas’ body fell and burst open.

In the heat of the day his gases built up within him and he fell or was cut down and when he landed he burst open. Everyone in Jerusalem knew about this event, Acts 1:18-19.

Jesus Before Pilate

‘Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.’ Matthew 27:11-26

Although the Jewish leaders had tried Jesus and convicted Him of blasphemy, they led Him to the Roman governor Pilate for yet another trial, Matthew 23:11-26 / Luke 22:66-71 / Luke 23:1-25.

The Jews didn’t have the authority to carry out sentences of capital punishment that were determined by their own courts, capital crimes had to be tried by Roman officials.

Thus, very early the next morning they brought Jesus to Pilate, hoping that he would concur with their decision. They accused Jesus of many things, but He remained silent.

Pilate was amazed that He didn’t try to defend Himself. The governor perceived that this was not really a question of criminal action, but that the Jews were jealous of Jesus.

It seems that Pilate was a man who valued justice and we reach that conclusion by the very fact that three different times, he publicly declared that Jesus was innocent, Luke 23:22. Pilate tried to avoid sentencing Jesus to death but Pilate’s downfall was that he was also a consummate politician.

He knew that releasing Jesus would not please the crowd. So he tried to please the mob with a series of four cowardly compromises. Giving them what they wanted, without this whole fiasco turning into a gross miscarriage of justice.

First, he packed Jesus off to Herod, claiming that Galilee was Herod’s responsibility, Luke 23:6.

However, Herod sent Jesus back, Luke 23:11-12. Pilate was honest enough to declare that he found no basis to charge Jesus, this was in accordance with Roman law, Matthew 27:11 / 1 Timothy 8:13.

Jesus’ teaching did stir up the people, but the people who were stirred up weren’t the common people, it was the religious leaders, Mark 7:1-9 and it was because of Jesus speaking out against their traditions and practices they wanted Him killed. Pilate sends Jesus off to Herod.

Notice that Procula, that is, Pilate’s wife, urged him to release Jesus because she had a dream about Jesus being a just man.

Secondly, he decided to compare Jesus with a gangster.

Believing that the mob wouldn’t want a violent thug released to them. It didn’t work. The mob chose Barabbas, Mark 15:11 / Luke 23:19. From the account of Mark, Mark 15:1-15, we learn that Barabbas was a terrorist against the Roman government.

He was possibly a member of the Zealot group of Jews whose ambition was to free Palestine from Roman occupation. On this occasion and others, it seems that Pilate was trying to find some reason to release Jesus. It was a custom of the Roman governor to release someone during the Passover feast.

This was done in order to appease the most radical Jews of the Roman Empire who were in Jerusalem at this time. The nationalistic emotions of the multitudes, therefore, were running high. As governor of the region, Pilate had to make compromises with the intense Jewish multitudes in order to prevent riots in the city.

Then thirdly, he decides he’ll have Jesus flogged within an inch of his death and that’ll come close to the real thing and satisfy the mob, Mark 15:15.

Pilate should have known better. You don’t satisfy a pack of wolves by giving them a taste of blood.

And finally, the fourth thing he did, with great pomp and ceremony. He had a bowl of water brought to him and washed his hands, Deuteronomy 21:6-9, he tells the mob ‘I am innocent of the blood of this good man. The responsibility is yours!’ And they said, that fine with us, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’ Acts 5:24.

Pilate made several attempts to release Him. He was eager to appease the Jews, just like many politicians do today, however, he was unable to persuade them that Jesus should be released.

Though he didn’t believe Jesus was guilty, he ended up sentencing Him to death because he feared the start of a riot. Roman soldiers scourged Jesus, mocked Him, and led Him out to be crucified.

Every attempt he was trying to make to avoid sentencing Jesus failed. And then the Jewish leaders said something that sealed it.  they said to Pilate, if he releases Jesus, then he isn’t a friend of Caesar’s, since Jesus claimed to be a king, John 19:12. From that point forward, Pilate drops all this business about Jesus being innocent.

Pilate decided that his ultimate fear was what every politician fears, falling out with the people, Mark 15:15. Pilate’s fear crucified Jesus, Pilate was afraid.

Afraid that word would get back to Caesar that he was not a loyal governor. Afraid that word would get to his peers that he was a weak governor.

Afraid, the people would become restless and revolt against him. Yes, Pilate wanted justice, but fear played a higher motivation in Pilate’s life than justice, Matthew 10:28.

Flogging

Jesus suffered intensely in His last few hours. After being up all night, subjected to the stress of six different trials, we read that Jesus was flogged.

Flogging was accomplished by tying bits of bone, metal and glass to a whip and then striking the victim’s back. This procedure produced excruciating pain, much loss of blood and sometimes even death.

The victim’s back became a bloody mass. Remember the Jews practised flogging, which consisted of 39 lashes, but here, the Romans had no restrictions on how many lashes they delivered on the victim, they would carry on until the one doing the lashing would tire.

Flogging was usually administered to one who was about to be crucified, Antiochus Epiphanies used it to force Jews to eat swine’s flesh, 2 Maccabees 6:30 / 2 Maccabees 7:1. The flagellum was similar to the ‘cat o’ nine tails’, a handle with leather thongs, tipped with bone or metal.

The prisoner was stripped to the waist, then bound in a stooping position to post. The blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, to the face and to the bowels. So, hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and not rarely died under it.

Eusebius describes the death of Christian martyrs at Smyrna about 155 A.D., ‘so torn with scourges that their veins were laid bare, and the inner muscles and sinews, and even the bowels, were exposed’. Josephus tells of a man who was ‘flogged to the bone’ before a Roman governor.

The Soldiers Mock Jesus

‘Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 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. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 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.’ Matthew 27:27-31

The Purple Robe

Jesus is then led to the Praetorium, which was the residence of the Roman governor and palace guard of the Roma army that was stationed in Judea, Mark 15:16. This was named after the Praetorium that was Caesar’s personal guard in Rome.

John records ‘a purple robe’ whilst Mathew records a ‘scarlet’ robe. Purple, with the ancients, was a vague term for bright, rich colour, and would be used of crimson as well as violet.

It was probably the cloak of a Roman soldier, i.e., an officer. The ‘robe’, ‘himatismos’, is used generally for costly or stately raiment, the apparel of kings, of officials etc., Luke 7:25 / Matthew 27:28+31.

Matthew tells that they ‘put a reed in his hand’, Matthew 27:29 and note the tense, ‘they kept coming up to Him, kept striking Him,’ John 19:3, it was repeated action, ‘the whole battalion’ was involved.

The picture is of a soldier after soldier coming up to Jesus, kneeling before Him, slapping Him, spitting on Him and shouting, ‘Hail king of the Jews!’

The soldiers performed the most humiliating and defiant act that man can perform against man, Matthew 26:67 / Isaiah 50:6. They showed no mercy to one who was condemned to death.

Crown Of Thorns

It was often a prelude to crucifixion, but in this case, it wasn’t as Pilate later tries to have Jesus released and this flogging was an attempt to satisfy the Jews without killing Jesus.

The soldiers went further than just flogging and placed a crown of thorns upon His head. This was a mock Coronation for the one claiming to be the king of the Jews and it was followed by mock worshipping of Him.

There are two thoughts concerning, ‘a crown of thorns.’

1. That it was an instrument of torture, long sharp spikes turned inward, or

2. That it was a radiant crown, with the spikes turned outward, similar in appearance to a crown worn by an emperor.

There is a shrub in Palestine called ‘spina Christi’ or ‘palimus shrub’ which has long, sharp spikes, and leaves similar to the ivy used for emperors or general’s crowns, this is the traditional source of the crown of thorns.

In John 19:4 we see Pilate for the second time telling the people that he can find no charge with which to charge Jesus. He ought to have released Jesus at this point, if the prisoner’s guilt or innocence had been the sole consideration, Jesus would have been set free before this, but he is afraid of possible political repercussions.

When Jesus comes out, Pilate shows Him to the crowd, ‘here is your man!’, John 19:6, this was an attempt to gain sympathy for Jesus, as if to say, ‘look at this poor fellow!’

How could they accuse such a pitiable object of treason? It’s a weak attempt to free Jesus. The governor is almost begging the Jews to show pity for the prisoner.

No doubt he shows them the wounds that have been inflicted in the hope that they would now be satisfied, but alas the appearance of Jesus only makes the mob rowdier and bloodthirsty. You never get rid of a pack of wolves by showing them blood!

It ought to be noted that the call ‘crucify, crucify’, John 19:6, came not from the mob, but specifically from the religious authorities. The response of the chief priests and officers is simply, ‘crucify! Crucify!’

The word ‘him’ isn’t in the text. This has been called ‘an ominous chant, a monotonous refrain, ‘Crucify! Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!’ manipulated by their rulers, the mob shouted the same demand, Matthew 27:20-23.

The soldiers then led Jesus out to be crucified outside of the city, Numbers 15:35 / 1 Kings 21:13 / Acts 7:58 / Hebrews 13:11-12, while a mournful multitude of faithful disciples followed, Luke 23:27-31.

The Crucifixion Of Jesus

‘As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ Matthew 27:32-37

After Jesus was flogged, we know that He carried His own crossbar, weighing in at 75 to 125 pounds and He carried it outside the main city walls. The upright part of the cross was probably permanently mounted in the crucifixion area.

The crossbar would be balanced on the shoulders, and His arms were tied to the crossbar. We can only imagine what this would have been like, if He tripped or fell, He couldn’t use His arms to break their fall, He would likely fall face-first into the ground.

As they went out of the city gates, Simon from Cyrene, which is in north Africa, Acts 2:10 / Acts 6:9 / Acts 11:20 / Acts 13:1, was forced to carry the cross of Jesus. There were also two thieves who were carrying their crosses with Jesus, Luke 23:32.

Jesus was crucified at about 9:00 a.m. Friday, some say Thursday, at a place outside Jerusalem called Golgotha or Calvary. In English, it means ‘skull,’ John 19:17.

Once Jesus reached the place for crucifixion, Golgotha, He was offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh to act as a mild pain killer. Although this was a kind gesture, usually done by the women, Jesus refused to drink, Psalm 69:21 / Mark 15:23.

History Of Crucifixion

Crucifixion is an ancient method of execution, in which the victim was tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang there until death. It was never performed for ritual or symbolic reasons, usually, its purpose was only to provide a particularly painful, gruesome, and public death, using whatever means were most expedient for that goal.

The history of crucifixion can be traced back to the ancient Persians and there’s evidence to support the Greeks practising this form of torture. As always, the Romans adopted the custom from Carthage and used it for slaves, rebels, and anyone who were their enemies, along with criminals.

While most Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, if you were a Roman and found guilty of treason, then you could face crucifixion. Crucifixion was considered a humiliating way to die.

The prisoner usually had to carry the horizontal beam, patibulum, to the place of execution, not necessarily the whole cross. Crucifixion was an art form for the Romans who had specially trained men to carry out the sentence, there would usually be a commanding centurion and four soldiers.

When it was done in an established place of execution, the vertical beam, stipes. was sometimes permanently embedded in the ground.

The Cross

The horizontal beam of the cross, transom, could be fixed at the very top of the vertical piece, the upright, to form a ‘T’ called a tau cross. The horizontal beam could also be affixed at some distance below the top, often in a mortise, to form a ‘t-shape’ called a Latin cross.

Alternatively, the cross could consist of two diagonal beams to form an ‘X’. A single, vertical wooden stake with no transom at all has also been cited by some.

The Nails

The ‘nails’ were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7-inch-long with a square shaft 3/8 inch across. The victim was probably affixed to the cross by ropes, nails, or some combination of the two.

In popular depictions of the crucifixion, possibly derived from a literal reading of the description in the Gospel of John, of Jesus’ wounds being ‘in the hands’, the victim is shown supported only by nails driven straight through the feet and the palms of the hands.

However, the flesh of the hands can’t support a person’s body weight, so some other means must have been used to support most of the weight, such as tying the wrists to the cross beam.

Another possibility, that doesn’t require tying, is that the nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm. the radius and the ulna.

The nails could also be driven through the wrist, in a space between four carpal bones which is the location shown in the Shroud of Turin.

As some historians have suggested, the Gospel words that are translated as ‘hands,’ may have in fact included everything below the mid-forearm.

Another possibility is that the nails may have been driven in on an angle, entering in the palm in the crease that delineates the bulky region at the base of the thumb, and exiting in the wrist, passing through the carpal tunnel.

The Romans would often display the victims, still on the cross, in rows, there would be row after row of condemned criminals lining the streets of the main entrance to the city, so that everyone entering a new city would know what would happen to them if they didn’t adhere to Roman laws and regulations. It also sent a powerful message to any oncoming enemies of the fate which awaits them.

Publicly Naked

Crucifixion was a very public affair, criminals, rebels etc needed to be reminded of the terrible consequences of breaking Roman law, fear ruled the day. Unlike what we see in many artists’ impressions of the crucifixion, the victim was usually stripped naked and hung naked.

Historian art has most people who were crucified covered in a loincloth, but this simply isn’t true. Nakedness was often a symbol of spiritual shame and ignominy.

Cause of Death

Death could come in hours or days, depending on exact methods, the health of those crucified, and environmental circumstances. It’s widely accepted that the typical cause of death was asphyxiation.

When the whole-body weight was supported by the stretched arms, the victim would have severe difficulty exhaling, due to hyper-expansion of the lungs. The victim would therefore have to draw himself up by his arms or have his feet supported by tying or by a woodblock.

Indeed, Roman executioners were said to break the victim’s legs, after he had hung for some time, in order to hasten his death. Once deprived of support and unable to lift himself, the victim would die within a few minutes.

The Romans often broke the prisoner’s legs to rush the death process, please note the Roman soldiers responsible for carrying out the sentence, were responsible for the victim until they died, in other words,

The Romans weren’t being kind by breaking the victim’s legs, they broke the victim’s legs so that they could get on with their other duties. Burial afterwards wasn’t usually permitted. According to history, Emperor Constantine abolished crucifixion in the Roman Empire, when Christianity became the state religion.

Jesus’ clothes were then divided up, which was also a fulfilment of prophecy, Psalm 22:17-18 / Luke 23:34, and the soldiers kept watch at the foot of the cross, Psalm 22:17.

Over His head on the cross was the inscription, ‘THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS’. It was the custom of those days that the accusation under which men were condemned should, in every case, be posted above their heads and under the circumstances, the inscription posted by Pilate amounted to a sadistic jest.

Notice the four different accounts of what was written above Jesus’ head.

‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS’ Matthew 27:32-37

‘THE KING OF THE JEWS’ Mark 15:26

‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS’ Luke 23:38

 ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS’ John 19:19

When we put the words together, we see that it would read as follows.

‘THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.’

‘Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 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! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “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. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.’ Matthew 27:38-44

On each side they crucified a common thief to show their contempt for Him, Isaiah 53:9 / Isaiah 53:12. This was the darkest hour in the world’s history, yet out of the darkness would soon come light as Jesus conquered death and the grave.

With Him, they crucified two thieves, Isaiah 53:9-12. He was numbered with the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12. They blasphemed Him, wagging their heads, Psalm 22:6-7 / Psalm 69:7 / Mark 15:29. The chief priests are also mocking Him, Psalm 69:19. Jesus was certainly the prophesied Messiah.

Bystanders laughed at the idea that He could rebuild the temple when He couldn’t even save Himself. Come down from the cross, they taunted, and we’ll believe in You!

Some Jewish officials standing nearby smirked that He had been able to save others, but was powerless to save Himself. Even the two thieves who were executed on either side of the Lord ridiculed Him, Luke 23:39-43.

The Conversations On The Cross

In Luke 23:39-43, we find the full conversation which went on between the two thieves and Jesus, which is worth having a look at.

The Cross On The Right

On this right-handed cross, we see the figure of a dying thief. He is in pain and suffering. Yet more significant than his physical anguish is his scorn and hatred for Jesus. He said, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” Has there ever been any ‘if’ about it? That little ‘if’ has enough venom in it to destroy a soul.

What had Jesus done that so aroused this thief? Nothing that we know of. He challenged Christ to save “Yourself and us.” What impudence! What had this thief ever done that entitled him to make such a demand? Here is a thief, within the shadow of death. Obviously, his sins did not bother him even as he is about to die.

How much this reminds us of those who live in sin all their lives and then when faced with death they rail at God, accusing Him of dealing harshly with them, demanding that He do something to relieve them of their situation.

His Was A Cross Of Rebellion

This cross depicts the enmity that many have toward Jesus. It typifies clearly the unbelief of the world at large toward Jesus. Thousands have perished on this right-handed cross of rebellion ever since. Despite all that we know about Him men still reject him.

There is enough information in John’s Gospel to produce faith in Christ, which can lead to salvation, John 20:30-31. Yet men reject Him despite the evidence, John 14:6.

We have a clear choice. The only way to eternal life is through Jesus. If men rebel and reject Him then there is no hope. They are lost eternally having never been cleansed by His blood.

The Cross On The Left

Again we see the figure of a dying thief. Yet instead of dying in his sin, he was dying to sin. His was a cross of repentance. This thief twists himself upon the nails to look at the centre cross, but not to scoff in unbelief, but in recognition of who Jesus was. He like the other thief would like to get his hands free, but more important to free himself from his guilt and sins.

Earlier this thief had joined with the other thief in reproaches against Christ at the beginning of the crucifixion, Matthew 27:44. But now we see in this man unfailing evidence of a great change.

As the day progresses he becomes more and more aware that this was God Himself in the person of Jesus. Notice his faith and reverence in the presence of Deity. To the other thief, he said, “Do you not even fear God?”

There follows an immediate admission of his own guilt when he said, “We receive the due reward of our deeds.” He expresses his belief that Jesus was suffering ‘wrongfully’. But “this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then there is his open confession of the Deity of Jesus. He calls him “Lord.”

Finally, we see genuine repentance and humility on the part of this dying thief. He says to Jesus, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” He wanted to change and be in the Lord’s kingdom.

Repentance simply explained, is a change of heart, 2 Corinthians 7:10. Everything about this thief indicates his regret over his sins and a desire to be with the Lord.

What a difference between these two thieves! The first saw Jesus as only a man, the second saw Him as Lord. The first saw Jesus as a mock king, but the second saw Him as the “King of kings.”

The first saw him as an impostor, the second saw Him as Saviour. We can understand better now why Jesus answered him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43.

Paradise is another term for heaven, both Jesus and the thief would be in heaven when they died, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 / Revelation 2:7.

One Word Of Caution

The salvation of this thief occurred while the Law of Moses was still in effect. About 50 days later Christ would set in force His new covenant, law. Today, we live under this new law, found in the New Testament, not under the Law of Moses.

The terms of salvation under this new covenant require that one believe, Hebrews 11:6, repent of his sins, Acts 17:30, confess the name of Jesus, Acts 8:37, and then be baptized for the remission of one’s sins, Acts 2:38.

Some have used this man to prove that one can be saved today without ever being baptized for the remission of sins. This is simply not the Lord’s plan for us today.

The Middle Cross

Here we have the cross of redemption. Jesus our Redeemer dying for the sins of the world. By his blood, we can be brought back to God, Ephesians 1:7. It was also a suffering cross.

We cannot begin to imagine the torture of those nails driven through His hands and feet. The victim of a Roman crucifixion literally suffered a thousand deaths. There was also the shame and reproach associated with death on a cross. It was reserved for the vilest of criminals. Added to this were all the mocking and verbal abuse from the mob.

It Was A Vicarious Cross

The thieves were suffering for their own crimes, but Jesus suffered for you and me, for our sins. He had no sin, 1 Peter 2:24. Our Lord was under no obligation to pay the debt for our sins. Someone had to suffer for sin, so he was willing, 1 Peter 3:18.

Why would Christ give up the glories of heaven and come down to this sinful earth to die for our sins? Because of our utter helplessness to provide a remedy for sins, Jeremiah 10:23. Also, He came to show us the redemptive love of God for sinful man, 1 John 4:9-10.

Why was it that He alone was the only one who could die for our sins? First, because he was spotless and able to provide the perfect sacrifice, 1 Peter 1:19. Second, it was because God, the Eternal Father, appointed Him for this work, Philippians. 2:6-8 / 1 Peter 1:20.

To this middle cross each sinner today must look for salvation. There is no other way. Only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us of our sins.

The Death Of Jesus

‘From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 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?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 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. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.’ Matthew 27:45-50

Jesus’ final hours on the cross lasted from approximately 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., a period of about six hours. Matthew 27:41-43. Answering the question of how long Jesus was on the cross is complicated by the fact that two systems of marking time are used in the Gospels.

Matthew, Mark and Luke use the Jewish system of marking time. John uses the Roman System. Using the Jewish system, Christ’s crucifixion began at 9:00 a.m.

Also, using the Jewish system of marking time, Matthew says that ‘from the sixth hour there was darkness over the land until the ninth hour.’ Matthew 27:45. That is, the darkness lasted from 12 noon to 3 p.m. the darkness was a sign of God’s personal presence in the crucifixion, Psalms 18:9. These were Jesus’ final hours on the cross.

The darkness wasn’t a natural phenomenon like an eclipse of the sun. According to the calculations of astronomers today, the moon would have been on the other side of the earth at this time. It was obviously God who caused the darkness to demonstrate the eternal implication of this moment in Christ’s life.

The Seven Saying Of Jesus On The Cross

‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Luke 23:34

‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ Luke 23:43

‘Woman, behold your son.’ John 19:26

‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ Matthew 27:46

‘I thirst!’ John 19:28

‘It is finished!’ John 19:30

‘Into Your hands, I commit My spirit.’ Luke 23:46

Matthew only records one of the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Did God Turn His Back On Jesus?

Many today believe that these words of Jesus clearly demonstrate that God actually turned His back on Jesus whilst He was on the cross, that God somehow, couldn’t bring Himself to look at Jesus and so abandoned Him because of the sin He was carrying.

Although this idea seems plausible to some, to understand what Jesus meant we have to look to other Scriptures to see if this claim could actually be plausible.

God Has Always Looked At Our Sin

To claim that God can’t look at sin is foreign to the Scriptures, God has been looking at the sin of mankind since the fall of mankind in the garden and has been ever since.

Even in the days of Noah, the Bible tells us that God SAW their sin which implies He was looking at mankind’s sin, Genesis 6:5-7 / Hebrews 4:13.

If God can’t look at sin, then surely that would imply that He can’t bring Himself to look at mankind today, because we’re all sinners, Romans 3:23. There’s a huge difference between God hating sin and not being able to look at it, in order to deal with it.

Whose Sin Was He carrying?

We also need to ask the question, whose sin was Jesus carrying? He was carrying OUR sin because He Himself was sinless. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and there’s a huge difference between being a sinner and bearing the consequences of someone else’s sin.

Jesus became sin for us, but He was still the perfect Son of God, 1 Peter 2:22 / Hebrew 4:15. ‘Truly, this was a righteous man,’ Matthew 23:47.

Ask yourself this question, if you were a judge, and your own innocent son heroically stepped forward at a trial to take a criminal’s punishment upon himself, would you be angry with him and reject him? Of course not.

Jesus Was Doing The Father’s Will

Why would the Father turn His back on His Son, if the Son pleased the Father in every way? When we think about the cross, it was God’s plan to deal with sin once and for all, it was Jesus’ ultimate act of obedience to the Father, Philippians 2:8 / Hebrews 5:7.

And surely if there was ever a time in the life of Christ when the Father would have said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I’m well pleased’, it would have been at the cross.

We know that the Old Testament sacrifices to God were ‘a sweet-smelling aroma’, how much more would God be pleased with Christ’s selfless sacrifice? Ephesians 5:1-2.

We have to remember that everything Jesus did was in accordance with the will of the Father, this included Jesus’ death on the cross, Isaiah 53:9 / Luke 22:42 / Acts 2:23.

The whole point of God coming in the flesh was to deal with our sin problem and fulfil Scripture, the whole point of Jesus having a body was for the purpose of the cross.

Notice that phrase in, Hebrews 10:5-10, ‘a body you prepared for me’, the cross was God’s plan, even before Christ came into the world.

And so, when we look at the cross and Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will, we clearly see that Jesus was doing everything which pleased the Father with the body He provided for Jesus.

So, why on earth would God turn His back on His Son, if His Son was pleasing the Father and doing the Father’s will with the body He provided for Him?

Jesus Stopped Being God At The Cross!

We know that Jesus was God in the flesh as Philippians tells us, Philippians 2:5-8. Some people though suggest that Jesus stopped being God when He was on the cross, just for that one moment.

And so, they ask, when Jesus was on the cross suffering for our sins, did Jesus stop being God? The answer is No. Was God the Father unable to look upon the judgment that fell upon God the Son? Of course not.

Clearly, Jesus never stopped being God, even when He died for the sins of mankind. Jesus didn’t in any sense, to any degree, at any time, or for any season surrender any bit of His deity, Colossians 2:9. Likewise, Jesus can’t be separated from God the Father because He said, ‘I and the Father are One.’ John 10:30.

Psalm 22

The biggest reason for this misunderstanding of Jesus’ words on the cross is because people don’t understand Psalm 22. When Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He was quoting from Psalm 22 and therefore fulfilling Scripture prophesies concerning Himself.

The idea of God turning His back on Jesus on the cross would never have been on the mind of anyone present on that day. The problem today is that many people just take one verse and make it mean something which it was never meant to mean.

Now remember the Jews knew these Scriptures really well, and when anyone read out the first line of any Psalm, the Jews would recognise it and be able to recite the whole Psalm in their minds. This was the Jewish practice at the time of Jesus and this is exactly what Jesus did here on the cross.

Psalms 22 has many references or circumstances about the atoning death of Jesus Christ. To us today, the prophecies are profound and obvious.

Likewise, those Jews watching Jesus on the cross being crucified saw the many parallels between the crucifixion or the fulfilment of prophecy. As Jesus was suffering, He was quoting the Jewish Scriptures from the cross.

Can you imagine the expression on the Jews’ faces as they remembered the whole of the messianic prophecy as we find in Psalm 22 being fulfilled in front of their eyes?

And the climax would be Jesus’ final words, ‘It is finished.’ Look at the last line of Psalms 22. Psalm 22:31 ‘He has done it!’ Jesus isn’t saying that His father ‘has forsaken Him’ or His Father has ‘turned away from Him’, He’s saying that He is the Messiah. John 19:30.

Read Psalm 22:1 again, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?’ This doesn’t say the Father rejected the Son. First of all, look at the context, look at the parallel verse, ‘Why are you so far from saving me?’ This is the issue, ‘no help’, the sufferer is asking why God doesn’t save Him from His oppressors.

In other words, ‘Why do you let my oppressors torment me?’ The Father gives the Son over to suffering. Psalm 22:1 is the equivalent of Isaiah’s statement, ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise Him’, Isaiah 53:10. In fact, the Psalm later says, ‘you lay me in the dust of death’ Psalm 22:15.

Secondly, it’s a rhetorical question, the sufferer knows full well why God does this. Now you may well think, well, what’s the point of asking it, then?

He’s simply expressing His distress because this is real suffering, He really doesn’t want to go through it, He would rather God save Him instantly out of it. ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Matthew 26:39.

Maybe the idea is that ‘it feels like you have abandoned me’ or ‘it’s really hard in my present circumstances to feel your closeness,’ which is a very real human reaction, isn’t it?

And again, if God turned His back on His Son, why does the Psalm say otherwise? ‘For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.’ Psalm 22:24. Does ‘the Father turn His face away’ according to this verse? Not at all.

There were some who stood near the cross but clearly didn’t understand what Jesus meant, hence, why they thought He was calling on Elijah. One of them compassionately John 19:29, went and got some wine vinegar and offered it to Jesus to drink.

This was cheap wine, a very bitter wine called posca or sour wine commonly drunk by the Roman soldiers. This wasn’t the drugged wine usually offered to the condemned man just before the crucifixion, He had refused that, Matthew 27:33-34 / Mark 15:23.

Victims often lived for many hours on the cross and so, giving Jesus a drink was an act of kindness. However, as one man showed compassion toward Jesus, the others tell him to leave Jesus alone, to see if Elijah would come and save Him.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘All this talk of Elijah sprang from Pharisaical prejudice and the propaganda they had waged, alleging that Jesus could not be the Christ ‘because Elijah had not yet come’. Theirs was a misinterpretation of the prophecy that ‘Elijah must first come’. Christ had already identified John the Baptist as that Elijah which was to come, the Elijah foretold by the prophecies. Doubtless, the Pharisees were still harping on their old argument to the effect that Christ could not be the Messiah, Matthew 17:10-13.’

After crying out in a loud voice, Jesus gave up His spirit, Ecclesiastes 12:7 / Psalm 31:5. Notice He gave up His spirit, in other words, He voluntary went to the cross and He died when He was ready to die, John 10:17-18.

The Majesty Of Jesus’ Death

There were multiplied ironies in the events of those final hours. As they ridiculed Jesus saying that He had saved others, but now couldn’t save himself, they were unaware that He was fully capable of saving Himself, but that if He had, He would not have saved others. He died voluntarily.

He had at His disposition thousands of angels that could have rescued Him, but He deliberately chose to lay down His life because He loved us.

Jesus had the power to do anything He wanted against His tormentors, but he subdued all desire for revenge and actually prayed for God to forgive those who were treating Him so cruelly, Luke 23:34.

By dying as He did, Christ provided the sacrifice that would forgive men’s sins. Therefore, the temple veil was torn in two from top to bottom. The veil had blocked access to God’s presence, it was a symbol of man’s sin.

Since Jesus’ death atoned for sin, the veil was severed, demonstrating that with sin removed men could once again enter into fellowship with God. Truly, this man was the Son of God!

Satan had waged war against the Seed of the woman from the time God promised that the Seed would crush his head in Genesis 3:15 up to this time when he certainly believed that he had been victorious over the work of God.

But what he didn’t understand was that God had used his evil work all along in order to put on the cross the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, John 1:29.

The plan of God’s redemption that had been predestined before the creation of the world was accomplished, Ephesians 3:8-12. The Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world had now in reality been slain, Revelation 13:8.

‘At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. 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.’ Matthew 27:51-53

As soon as Jesus died, the curtain of the temple tore from top to bottom, signifying that God was behind this. The curtain of the temple divided the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place, Exodus 26:31-33.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The meaning of the veil and its tearing is extensive.’

1. Its three colours, blue, purple, and scarlet, Exodus 26:81, symbolize the nature of Christ, blue standing for his heavenly nature, the scarlet for his earthly nature, and the comingled blue and scarlet, purple, standing for the perfect two natures in one, Immanuel.

2. The ancient worshiper, in the person of the high priest, went through the veil to the Holy of Holies, the present-day worship has access through Christ into heaven, Hebrews 10:19.

3. It symbolizes his death on Calvary. As the veil was rent, Christ’s body was torn for the sins of the whole world.

4. The tearing also means the removal of obstructions between the worshiper and his God.

No longer is there a veil. When some ecclesiastic would seek to put it upon again and hide himself behind it to hear confession or grant absolution, tear it down and trample upon it. God himself removed it. Christ’s followers have boldness, freedom, and ‘access’, Ephesians 2:18 / Ephesians 3:12.

5. The torn veil means that the Old Testament can now be understood in the light of the New.

Out of Christ, the Old Testament is a mystery, in him, it is gloriously understood, 2 Corinthians 3:14-16. Christ is thus the true ‘key to the Scriptures.’ Accept no other.

6. The rending meant that Christ has conquered death, the fear of it now, the fact of it ultimately, Isaiah 25:7-8.

This figure also makes the veil a symbol of death, which of course it is, The ‘place’ it occupied makes that certain. Squarely between the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies, it corresponds to death which lies between the church and heaven; and all who enter heaven shall pass through the veil of death, or be ‘changed’ which is equivalent to it. Christ vents the veil of death in two ways, a. by passing through it unharmed, and b. by destroying it for his children.

7. The torn veil abolished the office of the earthly high priest.

The line of demarcation between lesser priests and the high priest was removed by God’s hand. The office of the high priest on earth was no longer needed, nor is it now. All functions held and performed by earthly high priests, for a season, have now been taken over by the true high priest, Christ, Hebrews 9:11. He is the ONLY mediator, 1 Timothy 2:5-6. There can be no use, then, for daily sacrifice, whether of the mass or anything else. True sacrifice has already been offered once and for all in heaven. Christ offered himself ONCE, the Greek term ‘hapax’ means ‘once’ without repetition, Hebrews 9:23-28 / Hebrews 7:27.

All Christians are ‘priests’, 1 Peter 2:9 / Revelation 5:10. Since the only true high priest is in heaven, and all God’s children are now priests, every human being who moves into a position between one of the Lord’s children, priests, and tries to be something of a higher priest to grant absolution or perform other mediatorial functions is merely trying to patch up that old veil. But God has torn it down.’

Not only was the curtain torn, but there was an earthquake, the earth shook and rocks split.

Nicholson, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Now we say that this earthquake was not only supernatural but non-natural as well that is, miraculous. It was supernatural in that it was an interference of God, and non-natural, in that it was not the result of any of the natural causes of earthquakes or any combination of them.’

Not only was the curtain torn, and an earthquake but the tombs broke open. Please note that the tombs opening and the bodies of the holy people being raised to life happened at different times.

These holy people were raised back to life after the resurrection of Jesus as Matthew tells us, John 5:28-29. This event gives us hope for the future, we too will be resurrected because Jesus was resurrected first, 1 Corinthians 15:20-22.

Can you imagine these formally dead people walking back into Jerusalem? Can you imagine their relatives seeing them again? I wonder what they would have spoken about?

‘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!” 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.’ Matthew 27:54-56

A centurion and those with him were responsible for guarding Jesus, they had witnessed everything which just happened and became terrified.

They said, surely he was the Son of God! Luke 23:47. Here are more Gentiles confessing who Christ is, something which the religious leaders refused to accept.

Once again we see the faith of the women who faithfully followed Jesus and took care of His needs. Some of these women were relatives of the disciples who lingered at the cross with John, Luke 8:2-3 / Luke 23:49 / John 19:25.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons were all present. Mark records the name of the mother of Zebedee’s sons as Salome, Mark 15:41. The women were the last to wait upon Jesus at the cross and the first to whom He revealed Himself after the resurrection.

The Burial Of Jesus

‘As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.’ Matthew 27:57-61

Joseph, Mark 15:43 / Luke 23:50-51 / John 19:38, a prominent Jewish official and a secret disciple of Christ, John 19:38, asked Pilate for permission to bury Jesus’ body, He must have been a very important person because not anyone could go and speak to Pilate.

He had to act quickly since according to Jewish law He couldn’t bury the body on the Sabbath day, which officially began at sundown, Mark 15:42.

It’s also worth noting that the Romans didn’t take the criminals down from the cross, they left them there to rot, to act as a warning to anyone who walked by if they broke the Roman laws and the soldiers at the cross couldn’t leave to go home until the criminals were officially dead, hence why they drove a spear in Jesus’ side and didn’t need to break any of His bones, John 19:31-37.

Pilate was surprised that Jesus died so quickly, Mark 15:44-45. Not one bone in His body was broken, Exodus 12:46 / Numbers 9:12 / Deuteronomy 21:22-23 / Psalm 34:20 / Zechariah 12:10. Nicodemus, John 3:1, joined Joseph in preparing the customary burial of the body of Jesus, John 19:39.

Being able to remove Jesus from the cross was a huge privilege for Joseph. He gathered the corpse up in a sheet and put it in a hole chiselled into the wall of a cave, which served as a typical grave in that era.

He closed off the cave by rolling a large rock over the entrance. This was Joseph’s own tomb, in his own garden which tells us he must have been wealthy too.

Significantly, Matthew and Mark include the statement that the two Marys saw where Jesus was laid, Mark 15:42-47. These two women knew where the tomb was located, the women knew the exact location of the tomb and so, because of that we can be sure that they were valid witnesses that when they returned three days later, the tomb was empty.

The Guard At The Tomb

‘The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.’ Matthew 27:62-66

The Preparation Day was the Friday before the Sabbath of the Passover, Exodus 16:22 / Matthew 26:17 / John 19:31, and it appears that the chief priests and Pharisees were becoming a little nervous.

They go to Pilate and tell Him that Jesus said, ‘after three days, He will rise again’, Matthew 16:21 / Matthew 17:23 / Matthew 20:19 / Matthew 26:61 / Mark 8:31 / Mark 10:34.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following, concerning the deception.

‘That is, the last ‘deception’, or the taking him from the tomb, pretending that he rose, will have a wider influence among the people than the first, or his pretending to be the Messiah.’

They are determined to stop any rumours that Jesus would rise and so they ask that His tomb be guarded, just in case one of Jesus’ disciples stole His body.

And so, to stop anyone from stealing the body of Christ, a security guard was granted, along with a Roman seal, Daniel 6:17.

Go To Matthew 28

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