Matt. 27:1-14; Luke 23:1-4; John 18:28.
Next follows the consultation in the morning, after the Lord had been already condemned to “be guilty of death.” The result is that the chief priests, the elders, the scribes, the whole council, and, indeed, the whole people consenting, agreed to deliver Jesus to Pilate, the representative of the civil power. Jesus must be condemned by man in every capacity — the religious and civil — the Jews, under the name of religion, having the chief guilt, and being the instigators of the civil authorities, morally compelling them to yield contrary to conscience, as we find in the mock trial before Pilate. Thus we see He was “despised and rejected of men.” It was not only by one, but by every class of men. We shall find that as the priests, so the people, and as the governor, so the governed, down to the basest of them, all joined in vilifying the Son of God.
“And Pilate asked Him, Art Thou the King of the Jews? And He answering said to him, Thou sayest [it].” It was His good confession. (1 Tim. 6:11.) It was the truth; and He came to bear witness of the truth, which is particularly mentioned in the Gospel of John, where we have not merely what Christ was according to prophecy, nor even what He was as the Servant and great Prophet, doing the will of God and ministering to the need of man, but what He was in His own personal glory. Christ alone is the truth in the fullest sense, save that the Holy Ghost is also called “truth” (1 John 5:6), as being the inward power in him that believes for laying hold of the revelation of God and realising it. But God as such is never called the truth. Jesus is the truth. The truth is the expression of what God is and what man is. He who is the truth objectively must be both God and man to make known the truth about them. Neither is the Father ever said to be the truth, but Christ, the Son, the Word. He is not only God, but the special One who makes known God; and, being man, he could make known man — yea, being both, He could make known everything. Thus, we never know what life is fully save in Christ, and we never know what death is save in Christ. Again, who ever knows the meaning of judgment aright save in Christ? Who can estimate what the wrath of God is save in Christ? Who can tell what communion with God is save in Christ? It is Christ who shows us what the world is; it is Christ who shows us what heaven is, and by contrast what hell must be. He is the Deliverer from perdition, and He it is who casts away from His own presence into it. Thus He brings out everything as it is, even that which is most opposed to Himself — Satan’s power and character, even up to its last form, Antichrist. He is the measure of what Jews and Gentiles are in every respect. - This is what some ancient philosophers used to think of man. They said, though falsely, that man is the measure of all things. It is exactly true of Christ, the God-man. He is the measure of all things, though most immeasurably above them, as being supremely God, even as the Father and the Holy Ghost also.
Here, however, before Pilate, our Lord simply owns the truth of what He was according to Jewish expectation. “Art Thou the king of the Jews? And He answering said unto him, Thou sayest [it].” This was all; He had no more to say here. The chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. He was not there to defend Himself, but to confess who and what He was. “And Pilate asked Him again, saying, Answerest Thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against Thee.150 But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled.” His silence produced a far graver effect than anything that could be uttered. There is a time to be silent as there is to speak;159 and silence now was the more convincing to the conscience. He was manifestly superior, morally, to His judge. He was manifesting them all, whatever they might say or judge of Him. But in truth they judged nothing but what was utterly false, and they condemned Him for the truth. Whether it was before the high-priest or before Pontius Pilate, it was the truth He confessed, and for the truth He was condemned by man. All their lies availed nothing. Hence it was not on the ground of what they brought forth, but of what He said, that Jesus was condemned. Only in John’s Gospel the Lord states the terrible fact that it was not Pilate himself, but what he was put up to by the Jews. We learn, further, in John that what frightened Pilate specially was that the Jews told him that they had a law, and that by this law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God. His Sonship is affirmed, and Pilate feared it was true. His wife, too, had a dream which added to his alarm, so that God took care there should be a double testimony — the great moral testimony of Christ Himself, and also a sign and token, which suited the Gospel of Matthew, an outward mark given to Pilate’s wife in a dream. Our Gospel is much more succinct, and keeps to the order of facts without detail.
Matt. 27:15-26; Luke 23:16-25; John 18:29-40.
The iniquity of the Jews, however, appears everywhere. “But at that feast he used to release to them one prisoner, whomsoever they begged. And there was one named Barabbas, who lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude, crying aloud,151 began to beg him [to do] as he had ever done unto them.” So it was the multitude that wished to mark still more their complete subjection to the wicked priests by preferring Barabbas and sealing the death of Jesus. He might still have been delivered, but the infatuated multitude would not hear of it. “But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release to you the King of the Jews? For he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him up through envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd that he should rather release Barabbas to them,” or, as John’s Gospel puts it, “Not this man, but Barabbas. Now, Barabbas was a robber.” He was a robber and a murderer — yet such was man’s preference to Jesus. “And Pilate answered and said again to them, What will ye, then, that I shall do to Him whom160 ye call [the]152 King of the Jews? And they cried out again, “Crucify Him.” Pilate, cruel and hardened as he was, still remonstrates: “What evil, then, has He done? And they cried out exceedingly, Crucify Him.” They could find no evil, they only imagined it out of the murderous evil of their own hearts. Pilate, utterly without the fear of God, but “desirous of contenting the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and delivered up Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified.” So true it was that, even in this last scene, Jesus delivers others at His own cost and in every sense. He had just before delivered the disciples from being taken; He is now the means of delivering Barabbas himself, wicked as he was. He never saved Himself; He could have done it, of course, but it was the very perfection of the moral glory of Christ to deliver, bless, save, and in all at the expense of Himself.
Matt. 27:27-31; Luke 23:26-43; John 19:1-16.
But, further, every indignity upon the way was heaped upon Him. “The soldiers led Him away into the court [called] Praetorium, and they call together the whole band. And they clothed Him with purple, and bind round on Him a crown of thorns which they had plaited. And they began to salute Him, Hall, King of the Jews!” There was no contempt too gross for Him. “They struck His head with a reed, and spat on Him, and, bending the knee, worshipped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took off the purple from Him, and put His own garments on Him, and lead Him out to crucify Him.” And now, in the spirit of the wickedness of the whole scene, “they compel one Simon, a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming from the field, the father of Alexander and Rufus (cf. Rom. 16),161 to carry His cross.” It would appear that these two sons were afterwards well-known converts brought into the Church; hence the interest of the fact mentioned.161 God’s goodness, I suppose, used this very circumstance, wicked as it was on man’s part. He would not allow that even His Son’s indignity should not turn to the blessing of man. Simon, the father of these two, then, was compelled to bear His cross by those who held the truth, if at all, in unrighteousness.
Matt. 27:31-44; Luke 23:26-43; John 19:17-27.
“And they bring Him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, Place of a skull. And they offered Him [to drink]153 wine medicated with myrrh: but He did not take it.” The object of giving this was to deaden anguish, the excessive lingering pain of the cross, but He refused. “And having crucified Him, they part His garments, casting lots upon them, what each should take.” This, we know from elsewhere, was the distinct accomplishment of Divine prediction, as it was the human sign of one given up to capital punishment. “It was the third hour,162 and they crucified Him. And the superscription of what He was accused of was written over, The King of the Jews.” The terms are exceedingly brief in Mark’s Gospel. He only mentions the charge or accusation, not (as I conceive) all the formula. The other Gospels give different forms, and it is possible they were written in various languages — one in one language and one in another. If this be the case, Mark only gives the substance. Matthew would naturally give the Hebrew form, Luke the Greek (his Gospel being for Gentiles, as Matthew’s was for Jews), while John would give the Latin, the form of that empire under which he himself suffered later on. As that kingdom smote the servant, he records what it had done to the Master, and this in the language of the empire. There is a slight difference in each, which may thus arise from the different languages in which the accusation was written.154 At any rate, we know that we have the full Divine truth in the compared matter; and of all ways of accounting for their shades of distinction, none more unworthy of God, nor less reasonable for man, than the notion that they are to be imputed to ignorance or negligence. Each wrote, but under the power of the Spirit; and the result of all is the perfect truth of God.
Mark, like Matthew, mentions the robbers (indeed, all do) as a testimony to the complete humiliation of God’s Servant and Son on the cross. Men would not even give Him that place singularly. He was indeed alone in the grace and moral glory of the cross, but to increase the shame of it these two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right hand, and the other on His left.155 Such was its outward appearance; but next, also, His words were turned against Him, not merely on His trial, but in His dying moments. “And they that passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads, and saying, Aha, Thou that destroyest the Temple and buildest it in three days, save Thyself, and come down from the cross.” How little did they know that His very words were now on the point of being completely accomplished!
But the chief priests carried it out farther, as usual. Mocking, they “said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” A great truth, though not in the sense in which they meant it. Both its parts, rightly applied, are most true; of course, not that He could not, but that He did not, save Himself - yea, could not, if grace were to triumph in redemption. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.”156 It is the history of Christ upon earth; it is the history, above all, of His cross, where the whole truth of Christ comes out more fully, though under the absolute infliction of Divine wrath for our sins, as well as the greatest strain of outward circumstances, but all borne in perfection. The holiness of Christ that at all cost would put away sin to the glory of God, the love of Christ that at all cost to Himself would bring eternal deliverance to others, the grace of God, was fully seen in Him: the righteous judgment, the truth, and the majesty of God. There was nothing that did not stand vindicated on the cross as nowhere else. It was the resurrection, however, that displayed all, publishing what God felt. He was raised from the dead, as it is said, by the glory of the Father. What was done upon the cross was for others; but what was towards Himself, as well as towards others, appeared in the resurrection and setting of Jesus at God’s right hand. But in the mouth of unbelief, the very same expressions bear a totally different character from what they have in the lips of faith. So it is that a worldly man may show that appearance of calm in the presence of death which faith really gives him whose eye is on Jesus: in this one it is peace, in that no better than insensibility. But with ordinary believers, who do not understand the fulness of grace, there are mental anxieties beyond what the unbeliever knows, because the latter does not feel what sin is, and what becomes the glory of God. When a soul believes and yet is not established in grace, it is in trial and trepidation of spirit as to the result, and it ought to be so till the heart is at rest through Christ Jesus.
How little these chief priests knew the secret of grace! He saved others, said they, and they could not but know it. Himself He would not — did not — save. Nay, in the sense of love and Divine counsel, Himself He could not save. He laid down His life for us — no otherwise could we be saved; and, more than this, obedient to the Father at all cost, determined to carry out His will, even our sanctification. In that sense only He could not save Himself. There was no necessity of death in the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. All other men had the necessity of death through Adam; Christ had not, though He, the last Adam, Christ, sprang from him through His mother; He did not in Himself underlie the consequences of the first Adam at all, though He in grace bore all the consequences on the cross, but not as one under them: He only bore them for others by God’s will and in His own sovereign love. Therefore, very expressly, as to His death, He says I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again” (John. 10:18). He alone of all men could say so since the world began. Adam in paradise could not speak thus; Christ alone had the title according to the rights of His person. His becoming man did not compromise His Divine glory. His being God did not enfeeble His suffering as man. There was no lowering of deity, but, in result, a very real exalting of humanity. Nevertheless, the Scriptures must be fulfilled: the Anointed One must die; God’s glory must be vindicated; death must be encountered by dying, and its power broken, not by victory, but by righteousness. For this is the wonderful fruit of the death of Christ: the power of death is exhausted by righteousness, He having taken upon Himself the curse, the judgment of sin, so that God might be glorified even herein. Hence the fullness of blessing and peace to the believer. This gives the Atonement its wonderful place in all the truth of God. Nothing can be substituted for it. He in atonement is the substitute for all others, and everything else as claiming to do with offering for sin is vanished away.
But as to these chief priests, they mockingly cried: “Let the Christ the King of Israel come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Yea, so complete was the spirit of unbelief that they who were crucified, even in the midst of their dying agonies, had time to turn round and add to His sufferings. Mark does not mention the conversion of one of these robbers. Luke does, and we know that afterwards the one who was converted, instead of asking Him to come down from the cross, owned Him to be the King before the kingdom comes, believing thus without seeing. The poor soul, therefore, shone through the grace of God, the more because of his own previous darkness; and the darkness of the chief priests who mocked formed the sombre background which made this robber so conspicuous. In the very circumstances, over which the chief priests gloried as the defeat of Jesus, the thief gloried as deliverance for his own soul. But this falls to the province of Luke, who shows us the mercy of God that visits a sinner in his lowest estate — the Son of man coming to seek and to save that which was lost. This runs through Luke more than through any other Gospel. Consequently, also, he shows us the blessedness of the soul in its separate state. This dying thief, when his soul left the cross, would be at once with Jesus in paradise.
Mark, however, mentions the indignity heaped upon Jesus by the robbers, along with their companions, the chief priests, and others.
Matt. 27:45-56; Luke 23:44-49; John 19:28-37.
“And when [the] sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until [the] ninth hour.” lit was more than human: God caused a witness of that hour that stood out from all before and after. There was darkness; the very world felt it. As the Lord told the Jews, the stones would cry out unless there were a voice from babes and sucklings. As John the Baptist told them, of these stones God could raise up children to Abraham. So here the insensibility of men, the revilings and scoffings from chief priests down to thieves, against the Son of God, were answered on God’s part by the veiling of all nature in presence of the death of Him who created all; there was darkness over the whole land. Above, below, what a scene!
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice [saying],157 Eloi, Eloi,164 lama sabachthani? which is being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Ps. 22:1) It was no exhaustion of nature. Jesus did not die because He could not live, as all others do. He had still the full energy of life. He died not only in atonement, but to take His life again. How else could He have proved the superiority of His life to death, if He had not died? Still less could He have delivered us. “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10).
But more than that. His living again, His raising Himself from the grave, His taking life again, proved that He had conquered death, to which He had so entirely submitted for God’s glory. He was put to death. By wicked hands He was crucified and slain; yet it was also entirely voluntary. In every other person death is involuntary. So absolutely is Jesus above mere nature, whether in birth or in death, or all through. Besides, the cry was most peculiar, such as had never been heard from a blessed, holy Man as He was. That which drew it forth was God’s forsaking Him there. It was not a mere manifestation of love, though there never was a time when the Father saw more to love in His Son than at that moment; yea, never did He see before then such moral beauty, even in Him. But if He was bearing sin, He must really endure its judgment. The consequence was to be forsaken of God. God must abandon Him who had taken sin upon Him. And He did take our sins, and endured that forsaking which is the inevitable consequence of sin imputed. He who knew no sin knew the cost to the uttermost when made sin for us.
“And some of those that stood by, when they heard [it], said, Behold, he calls for Elias.” This seems to be mere scoffing again. There is no reason to suppose they did not know that He said, “My God, My God,” not Elias.164 “And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and fixed it on a reed, and gave Him to drink, saying, Let alone, let us see whether Elias comes to take Him down. And Jesus, having uttered a loud cry, expired.”165 Now that death was consummated, the only righteous ground of life and redemption, the “veil of the Temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.” The Jewish system was doomed, and sentence executed upon its characteristic and central feature. The veil was that which separated the holy place from the holy of holies; there was no single point in the Jewish system more emphatic than the veil. For what the veil indicated as a figure was God present, but man standing outside; God dealing with the people, but the people unable to draw near to God, having Him with them in the world, but nevertheless not brought to Himself, not able to look upon His glory, kept at a distance from Him under the law. (Cf. Heb. 9:8, Heb. 10:19, 20.) The rending of the veil, on the contrary, at once pronounced that all was over with Judaism. As the darkness supernatural was one testimony before His death, so this at His death declared the power of Christ’s blood. It was not only God come down to man, but man now, by the blood of Christ, entitled to draw near to God — yea, all who know the value of that blood into the holiest of all. But as far as the Jewish economy was concerned, here was the abolition of it come in principle. The tearing down this chief sign and token was the virtual profaning of the sanctuary, so that now anyone could look into the holiest. It was no longer the high-priest alone venturing within once a year, and that not without blood; but now, because of His blood which they had spilt, little knowing its infinite value, the veil was rent from top to bottom. This was in the first month of the year. The feast in which the high-priest entered was in the seventh month. Thus the destruction of the veil was the more marked now. The truth is that the real application of the day of atonement and the following feast of tabernacles will be when God begins to take up the Jewish people. We are said to have Christ as our Passover; but the day of atonement, viewed as a prophetic type, awaits Israel by-and-by.
Nor was this all. There was a testimony, not only in nature as opposed to the scorn of men and the revilings of the crucified ones that were with Him — not only was there this darkness of nature and rending of the veil for Judaism, but a Gentile was brought forward compelled of God to acknowledge the wonder that was there and then being enacted. “Truly this Man was Son of God.” In all likelihood he was a heathen, and did not mean more than to own that Christ was not a mere man, that He was somehow or other what the Chaldean monarch heard and spoke of in Dan. 2, 4. Now, the centurion went farther than they of Babylon. He felt that, though His dwelling was in flesh, yet He was a Divine being, and not the Son of man merely. I do not think that when Nebuchadnezzar says that he saw one like the Son of God, he meant the full truth that we know; for the doctrine of the eternal Sonship was not then revealed, and it could not be supposed that Nebuchadnezzar entered into it, for he was an idolater at that very time. But it was a testimony of his full confidence that it was a supernatural being of some kind,” the Son of God.” At the same time, the Spirit of God could well give the centurion’s or the king’s words a shape beyond what either knew. “Truly this Man was Son of God.”
Matt. 27:57-61; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42.
The disciples were not there. They, alas! forsook Him and fled; at any rate, they are not mentioned. They were so out of their true place that God could say nothing about them. Yet one who up to this time had shrunk back from the due confession of Jesus was now brought forward. “And when it was already evening, as it was [the] preparation, that is, [the day] before a sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, an honourable counsellor, who himself was awaiting the kingdom of God, came, and took courage,166 and went in to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.” The very circumstances that might have been supposed naturally to have filled him with fear of and shrinking from the consequences were, on the contrary, used of God to bring out a boldness that never had visited Joseph’s heart before. He identified himself with Jesus. He had not the precious place of following Him while He was alive, but the death of Jesus brought him to a point, commanded his affections, and made him, therefore, to enter courageously and demand the body of his Master. Pilate, astonished, asks if Jesus was already dead. Naturally, crucifixion is a slow death; people linger sometimes even for days when a person is in ordinary health. But in the case of Jesus it was but for a few hours. There was nothing farther to do. It was not, therefore, a question of mere lingering. Besides, it was the accomplishment of prophecy that not a bone should be broken, which John tells us, who is always occupied with the person of the Lord. It was according to the Scriptures that He should be pierced, but not a bone should be broken; and this most remarkable circumstance John witnessed, and tells us of. Mark does not notice it. Pilate “wondered if He were already dead; and calling to [him] the centurion, he asked him if He had been long dead.” It was the rapid death of Jesus, accompanied by the loud voice, that filled the centurion with amazement. This showed that It was not the death of a mere man. He had power to lay down His life. So when he was certified by the centurion Pilate gives leave.
And Joseph “bought fine linen [and] took Him down, and swathed Him in the fine linen, and laid Him in a sepulchre which was cut out of a rock, and rolled a stone to the door of the sepulchre.” And two of the Marys beheld where He was laid. Here at least, then, we have genuine affection. If there was not the intelligence of faith, there was the love that lingered over the Lord they adored with true feeling — the fruit of faith which thus honoured Jesus even in His death.
150 “Witness against thee”: so A, etc., 33, 69 Syr. Arm., etc. Edd.: “accuse thee of,” as BCD, 1, Ital. Memph. AEth.
151 “Crying aloud”: so corrACN, later uncials, Syr. Arm. Edd. adopt “coming up,” with pmBD, Amiat. Memph. Goth.
152 “Whom ye call [the]”: so Edd., after AB (without “whom”) C
Δ, 1, 33, 69. AD, 1, 69, Ital. Vulg., omit “whom ye call,” whilst some of the later uncials do not show “the.”
153 [“To drink”] is in ACcorrD, etc., all cursives, Jerome’s Vulg., Syr. Goth AEth, but is omitted by Edd., with BCpmL
154 See “Lectures on Matthew,” p. 551; also note 163.
155 B.T.: As the best uncials (Alexandrian, Vatican, Sinai, Rescript of Paris, Beza’s Cambridge, and one now in Munich), with more than forty cursive manuscripts Syrsin), etc., omit verse 28, I do not think any cautious mind can urge its genuineness here. it was probably borrowed from the citation of Isa. 53:12 in Luke 22:37 (Revv. as Edd. have rejected the verse which is found in the later uncials, 69, Syrpesch hcl hier Arm. Goth. AEth., and was retained by Lachmann). Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” p. 162.
156 See B.T., vol. xxi., p. 307.
157 [“Saying”]: so AC, etc., 1, 33, 69, Syrpesch hcl Arm. Goth. Edd. omit, after BDL, Syrsin Memph.