NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
We began this chapter reading about the terrible end to one of Jesus’ disciples. He was the one who orchestrated the betrayal of his Lord with a greeting kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Master had spent a long time in prayer. Perhaps hoping that this might pressure Jesus into taking action as the Messiah would take under such conditions. But he watched instead as his Teacher was sentenced to death, had His hands tied, and was being lead away to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
Sadly, Matthew reports that Judas Iscariot was so grieved that his plan did not work out, he rushed to the Temple, threw the 30 pieces of silver he had accepted for identifying his Lord on the floor, and then went out and hanged himself. In what may be seen as a sympathetic gesture, the chief priests decided to use the money Judas returned and buy a field where foreigners who died in Jerusalem, and the unclaimed bodies of poor people could be buried.
The trial that took place before Pilate was a mockery of justice. The chief priests who brought the charges of blasphemy against Jesus knew they were making this claim based on scant evidence. Pilate heard all the charges and saw immediately that this Teacher from Galilee was being set up by His opponents. Yet the whole affair became politicized when the chief priests claimed that Jesus had political ambitions because He did not dispute their claim that He was being proclaimed King of the Jews. Pilate knew that his superiors in Rome would not take it lightly if such a rebel rouser was not neutralized. So in the case of the most sinister act of irony, Pilate offered to free a seditionist he already had in jail, one who was accused of theft and murder, for this man who was better known for His healing powers and raising the dead. The chief priests urged the crowd to take the offer to free Barabbas and send Jesus to the place of execution, which they did.
But before Jesus was taken out to be hung on a cross, the Roman soldiers decided to play a game of mockery. First He was whipped, spit on, and beaten with a stick so severely that it left Him weak, bloodied, and disfigured. Then they dressed Him in borrowed clothes to look like a king, then pressed a crown made of thorns on His head so that the thorns pierced his scalp causing blood to run down over His face. Then they took off the pretend outfit of a king and forced Jesus to carry the cross, upon which He would be hung, out of the city to the place of execution. But Jesus was too weak to pull the cross on His shoulder, so the Roman soldiers drafted a man out of the crowd from Africa who was visiting Jerusalem to do the job for them because they didn’t want to carry this instrument of torture and shame.
Once they arrived at a place called Golgotha, meaning, “place of skulls,” because so many who were hung there still had their skulls laying around on the ground, they offered Jesus a drink that would lessen His pain, before they continued their acts of disdain and mockery. But Jesus refused to die without feeling all the agony He came suffer for the sinners of the world. So they stripped Him of His outer garments, nailed Him to the cross, then raised it up so that the King of the Jews would die between two thieves as further insult to His dignity.
As Jesus hung there in pain, the crowd below, along with the thieves, began to mock Him because above His head the soldiers had nailed a plaque that read: “The Man Claims to be the King of the Jews.” Others who came out to see this crucifixion yelled insults at Him that included such things as, “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and build it again in three days, so let’s see you save yourself by coming down from that cross if you are the Son of God as you claimed to be.” The crowd of mockers standing around laughed at such a suggestion. They said jokingly, “He claimed to save others but now He can’t even save Himself.” Others joined saying laughingly, “He’s supposed to be the King of the Jews, so let’s see Him free Himself from this cross and we will become His followers. He boldly said He trusted in God as His Father, so why isn’t God rescuing Him if He is His Son?
But Jesus just gripped the nails even harder as His body racked with pain and agony. Finally, as He began to breathe His last breath, He cried out to His Father, “Why have you left me here like this?” When some of those in crowd heard this desperate cry for help, one of them ran and got a sponge, dipped it in pain-killing vinegar so they could offer it to Jesus, but others said, “Leave Him alone, He’s crying out to Elijah so let’s see if Elijah comes and saves Him.” Then our Lord took His last breath, cried out one last time by saying, “Father, receive my spirit,” then slumped and died.
It was then that those standing around the cross realized how dark the skies had become in the middle of the day. Suddenly the ground began to shake and tremble. Sealed tombs nearby began to open, and over at the Temple, the curtain that divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was ripped from top to bottom. The head Roman guard standing near the cross looked up and exclaimed, “He is the Son of God after all.” Matthew tells us that the mother of Jesus, along with some other women who had helped in His ministry, were watching, no doubt sobbing for the man they believed to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world, now hanging dead on the cross.
The Jews had a custom that said people who die during the day must be entombed before sunset, but the Romans had no such traditions. They were willing to let Him hang there until someone claimed His body. Matthew tells us that a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph went to Pilate and asked permission to remove Jesus’ body from the cross and place it in one of the tombs he owned. Permission was granted. So Joseph made sure that the body was washed, wrapped in clean linen, then put a cloth over Jesus badly beaten face, and placed in a tomb he had recently purchased, and then had a large stone placed in front of the entrance. The women who had witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross, were there watching as Jesus was entombed, not doubt thinking how sad that this kind and gentle man from Galilee had to die this way.
But the chief priests were not through yet because they remembered well that Jesus claimed His heavenly Father would raise Him from the dead in three days. They believed that His disciples would try to make that happen by stealing the body and then go around claiming that their Messiah was alive. So they asked Pilate to put guards at this tomb so that if any of Jesus’ disciples tried such an act of deception they would be prevented from doing so. Pilate agreed. So a guard detail went to Joseph’s tomb, sealed the rock that blocked the entrance, and established their posts to guard the tomb against it being vandalized. What they didn’t know was that they were about to be joined by a heavenly visitor who would roll that stone away so the world could see that Jesus was no longer there, He was not dead, He was alive, alive forevermore!
To all of my precious readers, we will begin Chapter Twenty-Six next year. I admire and appreciate your dedication to God’s Word and pray that your desire to know more about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit will motive you to gain this knowledge by studying His Word. God bless you, and let’s start this New Year of 2017 by continuing our journey through the Holy Scriptures.