NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
On the topic of the soldiers gambling on Jesus’ garments, Origen gives us his commentary: “There are those who to this day do not have the Lord with them but do have his ‘garments’—namely, the words contained in Scripture. They do not have them in full but only in part. Nonetheless, the prophet had spoken that prediction which was now fulfilled.1 Now, as to whether any of His clothes were torn apart when they divided His garments or whether any of them remained intact and just what those items were, nothing is said by the first three Evangelists. But in John, we read that ‘when the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took His garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also His tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it but cast lots for it.’2 Therefore, not all but only one of the soldiers who had cast lots received it. Now anyone debating the differences between those who have the Lord’s ‘garments’ will doubtless find some people who, although they do not have the Lord in their teachings, do have the ‘tunic’ that was ‘woven from top to bottom.’3”4
Here Origen is speaking about those who claimed to be believers in Jesus as the Christ but did not have the holy grail of being the church Christ built upon the rock, which was the Catholic Church. Like this one soldier, they only had the seamless tunic as an object but did not have the parts of Christ’s other garments which were His teachings. Paul said it this way: Having a form of godliness but denying its power.5 Using this same formula today, the Catholic Church would say that Protestants have only the seamless tunic to present as their claim to be of Christ while the Roman Catholic Church has the teachings. I would say, in fact, that the opposite is true. Not only do they have only the tunic, but it has become an object of worship.
Scholars also point out, that the sign placed above Jesus’ head on the cross is given three different translations by the Gospel writers. John calls it a “title;”6 Luke says it was the “superscription;”7 and Mark note’s it being “superscription of His accusation.”8 Here Matthew gives us what he recalled seeing. The title “King of the Jews” was just part of the sign. Also included were the charges against Him. Today the sign might look like this: JESUS OF NAZARETH. FALSELY CLAIMED TO BE KING OF THE JEWS.
Some may think that crucifixions were uncommon and that the one involving Jesus was rare. But from all historical data of that period such thinking is inaccurate. For example, we are told: “Upon this, Varus9 sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were most guilty, and some he dismissed: now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand.”10 Furthermore, the scene described here in Matthew involving the two criminals, also tells us that it was an ongoing form of execution there in Jerusalem.
So from a social and political point of view, putting to death a man being accused of sedition against the occupying power of Rome had been done before. But in a religious and spiritual context, it was “one-of-a-kind.” Secretly, the Jews wanted Him crucified because He blasphemed by openly accepting His title as the Messiah, the Son of God, so they were willing to use whatever means and charges necessary to get that done. But near the same spot where God substituted a ram as a sacrifice for Abraham’s son Isaac, He now allowed His own Son to be sacrificed for all mankind. In so doing, it put an end to the daily sacrifices of animals for the sins of man and replaced it with the one-time sacrifice of the Lamb of God for all time for all sin.
This had never been done before, and it will never be done again. So as in the case of Joseph, what was done that was meant for wrong had turned out to be done for what was right. Also, by the soldiers gambling to see who would win our Lord’s discarded clothes, this signals what would come shortly, since it is found in a Psalm, the text of which has always been applied to the Messiah: “They divide my clothes among themselves, and they throw lots for what I am wearing.”11
Verses 38-40: Two criminals were nailed to crosses beside Jesus—one on the right and the other on the left. People walked by and shouted insults at Jesus. They shook their heads and said, “You said you could destroy the Temple and build it again in three days. So save yourself! Come down from that cross if you really are the Son of God!”
Earlier, James and John, along with their mother, had requested of Jesus that one be on His right and to other on His left when He came into His kingdom,12 But now we see that it would be two thieves that would be given such privilege because this was the fulfillment of a prophecy: “He was considered a criminal, but the truth is, He carried away the sins of many. Now He will stand before me and speak for those who have sinned.”13 In other words, having two of His disciples beside Him on Calvary’s hill might indicate that He was only dying for the righteous. But by having two sinners, it signified that He was dying for those who were hopelessly and helplessly condemned to death. As both sinners looked at the Savior dying between them, only one believed while the other decided to die in his sins. That choice is still with sinners today. How sad, however, that anyone would choose eternal punishment over eternal life.
Here again, we find that the Jews were participants in an event forbidden by their own teachings. We read: “Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: The Holy One, blessed be He, said unto Moses: Divide them into many courts…because two men may not be tried and sentenced on the same day?”14 Later on, in the same writings, we find: “Rabbi Adda ben Ahabah…‘Two capital cases may not be tried in one day; not even that of an adulterer and his paramour’.”15 On this occasion, three people were being crucified on the same day at the same hour. But then again, since the Romans were doing the killing, the Jewish leaders took no responsibility for going against their judicial customs and rules.
Emboldened by the attitude of the Jewish leaders and the complicity of the Roman soldiers, many in the crowd were emboldened to join in the mockery of Jesus. Some may have been sincere, while others did it to ingratiate themselves to the authorities. Also, as we see in our own day, some may have been hired hecklers to get the ridiculing started until it could catch on. How accurately the Messianic Psalm describes this scene: “People insult me and look down on me. Everyone who sees me makes fun of me. They shake their heads and stick out their tongues at me. They say, “Call to the Lord for help. Maybe He will save you. If He likes you so much, surely He will rescue you!”16
1 Psalm 22:18
2 John 18:23-24
3 The tradition is that the garment was seamless. “Have some part of the garments of Jesus” signifies allegorically participating in his doctrine in different ways, depending on the various pieces of clothing. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
4 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 128
5 2 Timothy 3:5
6 John 19:19-20
7 Luke 23:38
8 Mark 15:26
9 Varus is mentioned in Josephus as: “The President of Syria,” Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 17, Ch. 10:1
10 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 17, Ch. 10:10
11 Psalm 22:18
12 Matthew 20:21-23
13 Isaiah 53:12
14 Babylonian Talmud Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 35a
15 Ibid. folio 46a
16 Psalms 22:6-8