In a meeting of the Sanhedrin the previous night the high priest declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy, and the court decided he deserved the death penalty (26:57, 66). But only the Roman governor could have anyone executed. Time was short because this was already the Day of Preparation when the Passover lambs were killed for the Passover celebration that night (see note on 26:17). The religious leaders needed a way to get Pilate, the Roman Governor, to agree to have him crucified.
27:1-2 The religious leaders discussed how they could have Jesus taken to Pilate early that morning, and present the case for crucifixion.
27:3-5 Judas had been stealing (John 12:6), and he was taken over by Satan for the betrayal (Luke 22:3, 23). Now Matthew records that Judas repented of his action when he saw that Jesus was given the death penalty by the Sanhedrin. What are we to make of this repentance? He certainly brought back the money he had been paid, and also confessed to the priests that he had sinned by betraying an innocent person. He then committed suicide. We are nowhere told of his eternal destiny, but he certainly turned aside from his "ministry and apostleship" (Acts 1:25).
27:5-10 When the priests and elders rejected his repentance and the money he had brought, he threw the money in the temple, and went out to a potter's field where he hung himself. It seems as if the noose was badly tied or the rope broke, so he fell on a sharp rock and was disemboweled (Acts 1:18). The temple authorities used the money Judas had returned to buy the field as a burial place for Roman soldiers and other foreigners who died in the city.
The text quoted by Matthew is from Zechariah 11:12-13, but he connects it with Jeremiah's well known reference to the potter and the vessel of clay being spoiled (Jeremiah 18:1-4; see Romans 9:21). He also connects it in typical Rabbinic fashion with the elders and senior priests being taken to the valley of Hinnom (Gehenna, see comments on 5:22, 29, 30; 18:9; 23:15, 22) by the Potsherd Gate beyond the south wall of the city, where they are told of the impending wrath on the city (Jeremiah 19:1-3). This way of connecting the prophetic texts may be obscure to us but it would be powerfully evocative for Jewish readers who were steeped in the Old Testament.
27:11-14 Jesus was condemned for blasphemy by the Sanhedrin for implying that he was the Messianic Son of God (see 26:63). Pilate was not interested in the religious aspect of this accusation. The question was whether he claimed to be the King of the Jews in rebellion against the Roman emperor. Pilate questioned him about this, and Jesus explained that his Messianic kingdom was not of this world (John 18:33-37). Pilate seemed to grasp that being the Messiah was nothing to do with being an earthly king in opposition to Rome (see 27:17, 22). But the only way to condemn him by Roman law was for the claim that he was the Jewish earthly king (John 18:39, which in time comes after the declaration of innocence in Matthew 27:23). And this was the charge written over the cross (27:37).
27:15-18 Pilate was however in a dangerous bind. Roman law required impartial justice, but there was the obvious danger of a religious riot. The way out was that he had been accustomed to pardon a Jewish prisoner on the Day of Preparation for the Passover, and he assumed the crowd would want Jesus their Messiah (the Greek word is Christos meaning "anointed one") pardoned as opposed to the notorious bandit Jesus Barabbas (John 18:40).
27:19 As Pilate waited for their decision, his wife sent a message to remind him of Jesus' innocence, and told him of a nightmare she had that very night about killing the Jewish Messiah.
27:20-21 The religious authorities managed to persuade the assembled crowd that Jesus Barabbas should be pardoned, and the governor asked them to think again.
27:22-24 What would they want done to the Messiah? When they unanimously demanded his crucifixion, Pilate again declared that Jesus was guiltless (27:18) by Roman law. But the demand for crucifixion was too insistent, and a riot seemed imminent. So Pilate switched the charge to condemn him for being a Jewish king in opposition to Rome (John 18:38-39). And this charge would be written on the cross (27:37).
Pilate then washed his hands of blood guilt for an innocent man. The washing of one's hands to indicate one's innocence was a common practice (as in Deuteronomy 21:6-7; Psalm 26:6; 73:13).
27:25 By using the words "The people as a whole" Matthew suggests that they now accepted corporate responsibility for the crucifixion of their own Messiah (for the expression blood guilt see 23:35; Genesis 4:10; 42:22; Exodus 22:3; Numbers 35:27, 33; Deuteronomy 19:10; 21:8-9).
Even after they had demanded the blood of the Messiah, God graciously gave the Jewish people another forty years before wrath overtook them. During that time many of them repented and became believers (Acts 2:23, 40-41; 4:4, 5:14; 6:7). But eventually the temple was destroyed and the religious establishment decimated in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (see comments on 21:40-41, 43; 23:35-36; 24:2, 29-30, 50-51).
27:26-31 Before carrying out the crucifixion Pilate had Jesus flogged, and the soldiers mocked Jesus for claiming to be the King of the Jews (see 27:37). By this time on the Day of Preparation every Jewish household was busy having a lamb sacrificed and making other preparations for their Passover meal after sundown that evening. This explains why none of the apostles were at the crucifixion except John, the beloved disciple (John 19:26-27, 34-35).
27:32-33 A prisoner taken out for crucifixion usually had to carry his own cross. It is usually assumed that Jesus fainted from exhaustion, and this foreigner was forced to carry it for him. By recording Simon's name Matthew is perhaps telling us that he became a Christian.
27:34 Before his crucifixion Jesus was offered wine (perhaps spiked with a drug as a pain killer) but he had said he would not drink wine till after the resurrection (26:29; Acts 10:41; see Luke 24:30, 41-42. See also note on 27:48).
27:35 A criminal was crucified naked, and the soldiers divided the Messiah's clothes among them. Matthew tells us that a centurion, or army captain, was in charge (27:54), and John the beloved disciple, who was present, adds the fact that there were four soldiers, and they cast lots for his seamless tunic rather than cut it up (John 19:23-24).
27:36-37 The soldiers obeyed Pilate's command (John 19:19) to put up the title "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." And John, the only apostolic eyewitness at the scene, remembered it was in Hebrew the language of the Jews, Latin the language of Rome, and Greek the language of Greek civilization (John 19:20).
27:38 Symbolically by God's planning, Jesus was crucified between two bandits. This suggests a world divided between sinners who curse to the end and sinners who look in faith.
27:39-40 The crowd echoed the half-truth which had been alleged by the two false witnesses and the high priest's question (26:60-63).
27:41-43 The representatives of the Sanhedrin taunted him for being both a Messiah who could not save himself and a Son of God whom his Father did not want to help (based on 26:63). Jesus was almost certainly finding comfort from Psalm 22, so their jeers would come as no surprise (Psalm 22:6-8, 12-18).
27:44 Luke took pains to find out, perhaps from John the apostle or Mary herself, what the two bandits actually said to Jesus as he hung between them (Luke 23:39-42; see John 19:26-27).
27:45 When unexpected awesome darkness suddenly descended on the land the religious leaders stopped their mocking (27:41-43). They must have groped their way through the darkened city to the temple to obtain their own family Passover lamb to be prepared for the evening celebration (see notes on the timing of the Day of Preparation and Passover, 26:5, 17; 27:62).
The Passover is always at the full moon, when an eclipse of the sun is impossible. So the darkness that descended on the land was not an ordinary eclipse of the sun (as suggested in the NRSV note on Luke 23:44-45). This noonday darkness was a "Day of the Lord" intervention as in the original Exodus (Exodus 10:21-23; Psalm 105:28; a darkness which preceded the Passover night, Exodus 12:1-14). "On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight" (Amos 8:9; see Amos 5:18-20; Joel 2:10). The opposite kind of intervention when the night became day occurred in Joshua's decisive battle against the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-14).
It is good to remember that the laws of science can only tabulate and predict from what has been observed to occur regularly in the past. Science can say nothing about God's unprecedented interventions in a Day of the Lord such as the original creation of light (Genesis 1:3), the creation of humans in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), the events of the Exodus, the incarnation of the Son of God (1:20), the interventions of the Holy Spirit, the Messiah's resurrection (28:2-7), or the other miracles of healing recorded in this Gospel.
27:46 The explanation is often given that when Jesus bore the judicial penalty for our sins at this moment of time the Father had to abandon Him, and Jesus sensed this separation. But John's Gospel tells us that the Messiah is "The Lamb of God who continually takes away the sin of the world" (literal translation of John 1:29, where the verb is a present tense, and John the Baptist knew this long before the crucifixion). The Messiah had begun absorbing in himself the sin and rejection of the first humans, and has been doing this ever since.
What happened "once for all" on the cross (Hebrews 9:26; 10:10, 14) was that the Messiah offered himself in a sacrifice that would make the previous animal sacrifices unnecessary (Hebrews 10:1-10). There was always a way of acceptance and forgiveness in the Old Testament. What was impossible before, and what this cosmic Messianic sacrifice now achieved, was a way through death into resurrection (see comments on the preaching of the resurrection in 28:1-15). And somehow that sacrifice, resurrection, and ascension opened the way for the reign of the Messiah and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit among the nations (Hebrews 10:14-16, based on the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-33; see Acts 1:8; 2:32-33).
Theologians have often assumed that this verse indicates a judicial condemnation of the Son as he bore our sins on the cross. It is also possible that Jesus' sense of being abandoned in the final agony of unbearable thirst (from hours of bloodletting and dehydration) is what would be expected of any human in that situation and the Son of Man was not spared this experience (see Hebrews 2:17; 4:15).
27:47 There was an expectation among Jewish people of the return of Elijah the greatest of the prophets (see 16:14, based on Malachi 4:5).
27:48-50 Jesus had said he would not drink again of the fruit of the vine till after his resurrection (26:29; Acts 10:41; see Luke 24:30, 41-42). He had refused spiked wine as a painkiller before the nails were driven in (27:34). And Matthew does not suggest that he actually drank the vinegar to quench his extreme thirst as he died (John records that the vinegar was put on a sponge at the end of a stick, and he died immediately it touched his lips, John 19:29-30).
27:51 The whole scene for the crucifixion of the Son of God had been appointed with immense symbolic meaning (see 27:38, 45). Now the moment of death is marked by the tearing of the huge veil of the temple from the top downwards.
This dramatic act of God would only have been known to the priests on duty inside the holy sanctuary (the event may have resulted in the conversion of some of them, Acts 6:7). The symbolism is explained by Paul (Ephesians 2:14-18), and in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:19-20).
God also uses earthquakes to draw attention to a Day of the Lord (24:7-8; 28:2; see 1 Kings 19:11; Isaiah 6:1; compared with Zechariah 14:5; Isaiah 13:13; 29:6; Joel 2:10; Amos 1:1).
27:52-53 Various strands of explanation for these two mysterious verses seem to be woven together in the New Testament. When the Messiah died as Son of Man, like all other humans before him he descended into Hades (the Hebrew Sheol was the place where the dead awaited the resurrection). The difference was that he now "descended into the lower part of the earth" (Ephesians 4:9) to bring the dead his good news of their redemption. Peter called this "a proclamation to the spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19). With the Messiah's resurrection those who were released "appeared to many" with their resurrection bodies. And it seems they ascended with the Messiah at the end of the forty days (Ephesians 4:7-9).
27:54 The Roman captain and his soldiers had to stay on watch to the end. The behavior of this prisoner, and the awesome events that occurred, convinced them that this was no ordinary criminal. He was indeed the Son of God, as the priests had taunted him (27:43). It is tempting to imagine this was the same centurion who a few years later "was a devout man who feared God with all his household" (Acts 10:1-2).
27:55-56 None of the apostles were present except for John the beloved disciple, who had perhaps taken Jesus' mother Mary to his own family (John 19:26-27) and came back in time to see the final spear thrust (19:34-35). These women either had no families with whom they could celebrate the Passover that evening, or they decided that a vigil by the cross was more important to them.
This is the first time Matthew refers to Mary of Magdala (see note on 15:39), but she will be mentioned with "the other Mary" at the tomb (27:61) and on the morning of the resurrection (28:1). Luke tells us Mary Magdalene had been freed from seven devils (Luke 8:2). Mary the mother of James and Joseph was perhaps "Mary the wife of Clopas" (John 19:25). Salome was the one who asked for special places in the kingdom for her sons (20:20; Mark 15:40; 16:1).
Earlier on, perhaps before the darkness descended, John tells us that Mary the mother of Jesus and her sister were also present at the cross. But John the beloved disciple was told to take Jesus' mother to his home at that time (John 19:25-27).
27:57-59 John also explains that the religious authorities wanted the crucified men removed before the Day of Preparation ended and the Passover began (John 19:31). At this point Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus, and Pilate ordered the soldiers to give it to him.
27:59-60 Joseph of Arimathea was joined at "his own new tomb" by Nicodemus the prominent rabbi who came to Jesus by night (John 3:10; 7:50; 19:38-42). As they took the body down from the cross and prepared it for burial both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would have been ritually defiled by contact with a dead body. According to the law (Numbers 9:9-13) their own family Passover would have to be canceled, and they would have gathered with their families for a Passover meal a month later.
27:61 The two women who stayed to watch the entombment were the same two who were the first back at the tomb on the Easter morning (28:1). Either they did not have a family Passover meal in Jerusalem to share in, or possibly they were so upset they refused to go and join their own families.
27:62-66 The Day of Preparation ended at sundown on Good Friday. And the feast of the Passover was from that evening to the next day (see note on 26:17). It was meant to be a very solemn day of rest from any kind of work (John 19:31), but the religious leaders were seriously concerned about Jesus' prediction that he would rise from the dead (16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 26:64). This made them decide to break the Passover Sabbath, and they organized a joint delegation of priests and Pharisees, and presented themselves before the heathen governor to demand a special sealing and watch over the tomb. All they achieved was to give incontrovertible evidence for the resurrection (see 28:12-15).