NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
The question now is, did Jesus use the unmentionable four Hebrew Tetragrammaton YHWH, which we know today as Yahweh, or was Caiaphas wrong in what he claimed Jesus did? Whatever the case, with his face flushed in anger and his clothing torn, the high priest turns to those in the room and screams, “Did you hear what He just said! Is there anything more you need to hear! What do all of you have to say to a man who just insulted God?” This so enraged those assembled that they screamed back, “Kill Him for what He just said! He needs to die! He is guilty as charged!” That is, except for one person. Luke tells us that Joseph of Arimathea did not join the mob in calling for Jesus to be executed. Not only because, we find out later, that he believed in Him as the Messiah,1 but also because he may have been against their not finishing the proper examination of evidence as required by their own laws.
In the Jewish Mishnah, we read, “Both civil and capital cases require inquiry and examination. As it is written: ‘One and the same law will be demanded for you.’2 Therefore, the Torah compares civil and capital cases. Regarding capital cases it is written: ‘Then you will inquire and investigate and ask thoroughly.’3”4 Furthermore, Rabbi Maimonides comments, “What are the differences between cases involving financial matters and cases involving capital punishment? Cases involving financial matters are adjudicated by three judges, while cases involving capital punishment are adjudicated by 23… For this reason, we do not adjudicate cases involving capital punishment on Fridays, nor on the days preceding festivals. The rationale is that the defendant may be convicted and it is impossible to execute him on the following day, but it is forbidden to postpone his execution until after the Sabbath. Hence, we imprison him and begin his trial on Sunday.”5
Not only that but the older Jerusalem Talmud has these restrictions: “…do they judge capital cases by night [as David was judging Nabal]! He said to her, ‘The trial concerning him was completed while it was still day.’”6 Furthermore: “In capital cases, they try the case by day and complete it the following day.”7 Also, we read: “In capital cases, they come to a final decision or acquittal on the same day, but on the following day for conviction.”8 That leads to this: “Therefore they do not judge capital cases on the eve of the Sabbath or on the eve of a festival.”9 We might ask, did any of the accusers of Jesus even care that they were breaking their own law?
Verse 67: Then some standing around Jesus spit in His face, and they punched Him with their fists. Others slapped Him. They teased Him by saying, “Show us that you are a prophet, Messiah! Tell us who just hit you!”
Now we see, that in Jesus’ case they began the trial late at night, examined a few false witnesses, stopped abruptly based on the high priest’s charge of blasphemy, and passed the sentence of condemnation, and all of it on the eve of a grand festival, their Passover. Then Matthew reveals that some became so infuriated that they began to physically abuse our Lord. Spitting was a sign of disrespect and demeaning.10 Remember, His hands were tied, and Luke tells us: “They blindfolded Him and said, ‘Prophesy to us! Who hit you that time?’”11 But Jesus already knew that this had been prophesied.12 The same way with His beating that almost made Him unrecognizable.13 But He was just doing what the prophet Jeremiah said.14
Early church writer Chrysostom gives us his impression of this account and the courage it took for the Gospel writers to record it. He says: “Note with admiration the self-restraint of the disciples. Observe how carefully they relate these things. This clearly shows their disposition to love the truth. They relate with all truthfulness the things that seem to be insulting. They disguise nothing. They are not ashamed of anything. Rather, they account it as a very great glory, as indeed it was, that the Lord of the universe should endure suffering such things for us. This shows both His unutterable tenderness and the inexcusable wickedness of those men who had the heart to do such things to Him that was so mild and meek. His words were such as to change a lion into a lamb.… All of these things the prophet Isaiah had foretold. He had proclaimed it beforehand: ‘Like as many were astonished at you, so shall your form be held inglorious of men, and your glory of the sons of men.’15”16
Early church scholar Origen also had impassioned words for what took place here. He writes: “It was necessary for Him to teach these things by example, ‘giving His back to whips and His cheeks to fists’ and not turning His face away ‘from insults and spitting.’17 Thus He would, by suffering these things in our place, deliver us (as I believe) who should have suffered all that disgrace. Truly He did not ‘die for us’18 that we might not die but that we need not die for ourselves. And He was spat upon and beaten for us, so that we who were liable for all these things because of our sins might not just suffer them, but gracefully accept and suffer them for the sake of justice. Paul makes it clear that the Savior ‘humbled Himself becoming obedient all the way to death, even to the death of the cross.”19 … ‘On account of all this, God exalted Him.’20 God not only exalted Him because of the death He underwent for our sake but also because of the buffeting and the spitting and all the rest.”21
Origen continues: “Christ did not turn His face away ‘from insult and spitting,’22 so His face might be glorified more than the face of Moses23 — with so much glory that compared to the glorification of Moses’ face was outshone, even as the light of a lamp is outshone by that of the sun and even as knowledge, which knows in part, is outshone ‘when that which is perfect has come.’24 But they also buffeted the holy head of the church.”25
Then Origen finishes: “Not content with spitting in His face and buffeting Him, they even struck His face with the palms of their hands, and, mocking Him, they said, ‘Prophesy to us, O Christ! who is it that struck you?’ On account of this … they have been struck and punished. Yet they were unwilling to accept any discipline, as Jeremiah had prophesied about them: ‘You admonished them and they did not grieve; they were unwilling to receive correction.’26 And now whoever harms anyone in the church and does these things to Him spits on the very face of Christ, and, buffeting Christ, they slap Him with the palms of their hands.”27 Some believe that Origen was not talking about the punishment that came to those who at Jesus’ trial did such horrible things to our Lord, but to Jews as a whole, over the centuries that followed. This no doubt reveals the disgust that Christians had during the Middle Ages for Jews that culminated in the concentration camps during WWII.
It is amazing to imagine that the One who could turn water into wine, calm the stormy winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee, curse a fig tree so that it withered in moments, and drive out demons by the thousands into a herd of swine, just stood there and took all this disgraceful punishment without striking back or saying a word. But the most remarkable factor is that He did it for all those He came to redeem and save. As the prophet Isaiah said: “He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet He never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.”28
1 John 19:38
2 Leviticus 24:22
3 Deuteronomy 13:15
4 Mishnah, Division Four: Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin, Ch. 4:1
5 Mishnah Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Tractate Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem, Ch. 11, Halacha1-2
6 Jerusalem Talmud, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin Ch. 2:3, [V:3 M-X], Neusner Edition
7 Ibid., Ch. 4:5, [A]
8 Ibid., Ch. 4:6, [A]
9 Ibid., Ch. 4:6, [II:1 C], Cf. Jewish Mishnah, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin, Ch. 4:6
10 See Numbers 12:14; Deuteronomy 25:9; Job 30:9-10
11 Luke 22:64
12 Cf. Isaiah 50:6
13 Ibid., 52:14
14 Lamentations 3:30
15 Isaiah 52:14
16 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 85.1
17 Isaiah 50:6
18 Romans 5:8
19 Philippians 2:8
20 Ibid. 2:9
21 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 113
22 Isaiah 50:6
23 Exodus 34:29
24 1 Corinthians 13:10
25 Origen: op. cit.
26 Jeremiah 5:3
27 Origen, op. cit.
28 Isaiah 53:7