Chapter Twenty-Seven The Condemnation And Death Of The King

Judas’s Remorse (Matthew 27:1-10)

The Levitical law condemned a blasphemer to death (Leviticus 24:15-16), but the Jews had no authority under the Roman regime to inflict the death penalty on anyone. Therefore they were unable to carry out their desire to execute Jesus unless they took things into their own hands, as they did later on in the case of Stephen who, like his Lord, was charged with blasphemy (Acts 7:54-60).

The chief priests and other leaders were anxious to shift the responsibility for Jesus’ death to the Romans, in order that the people who had gladly heard Jesus might not in indignation turn on them. Therefore, having declared Him worthy of death, their next move was to bring Him before Pilate, the procurator of Judea at that time.

As soon as circumstances permitted, Jesus, bound with chains, was brought into Pilate’s court. No doubt the governor had known something of Him and possibly thought of Him as a harmless zealot of some Jewish sect. Now he was called upon to pass judgment on Jesus as a seditionist who was endeavoring to arouse the populace to rebel against Rome and accept Him as their King instead of Caesar.

At this juncture Judas the traitor appeared before the chief priests and elders. He was filled with remorse as the full import of the deed he had done began to dawn on him. Many have tried to excuse Judas on the ground that he may have been overanxious to see the kingdom of Messiah established, and that he thought possibly by betraying his Master to the clique that sought to destroy Him, he would force Him to declare Himself at once as the King of the Jews. But of this there is no hint in Scripture; nothing except that Judas is described as a covetous man, who sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.

Now that he began to realize the probable fate awaiting Jesus, he was seized with fear. In his crushing anxiety Judas endeavored too late to undo the fearful wrong of which he had been guilty. The repentance of Judas was not true self-judgment for the sin he had committed. The word used here for repented is not the ordinary one, which implies a complete change of mind or attitude. It rather means “to be remorseful,” and there may be bitter remorse apart from genuine repentance.

Bringing the thirty pieces of silver back to those from whom he had received them, Judas exclaimed, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” He knew well the holiness and righteousness of Jesus. Judas had kept company with Him for three or more years, and he realized there had been no flaw in His character, no evil in His behavior.

Coldly the priests replied, “What is that to us? See thou to that.” These calloused hypocrites had their prey in their power, as they believed, and they were unconcerned as to the truth or untruth of the charges brought against Him. They were determined upon His condemnation.

In his horror and despair Judas threw down the money in the temple, and rushing out in an insane frenzy he sought a secluded spot where he committed suicide by hanging himself. Peter supplied details omitted here. He told us that “this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18). Putting the two accounts together we gather that the wretched man, who was probably somewhat corpulent, hung himself, possibly from some tree or beam that broke under his weight, so that his body was so ruptured in falling to the earth that the condition depicted by Peter resulted. It was a sad and terrible end indeed to a life that once promised so much!

The priests were too punctilious to put the blood-money into the temple treasury. After some consultation, they decided to buy with the money a potter’s field—that is, a piece of ground from which clay had been extracted for the making of pottery. In this way Judas himself really purchased the field with the reward of iniquity. This wasteland was set apart as a cemetery in which to bury strangers for whose interment no other arrangements could be made. Significantly it was called “the field of blood”—a constant reminder of the nefarious transaction in which the priests and Judas had participated.

There have been questions raised as to the proper understanding of Matthew 27:9. In Zechariah 11:13 we read, in reference to the thirty pieces of silver, “Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.” While this verse is very similar to that which is quoted in Matthew 27:9-10, it is not quite the same: “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value: and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.” There is the possibility a scribe may have inadvertently written Jeremy or Jeremiah in place of Zechariah because he was thinking of another manuscript telling of Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s house. Later copyists, finding this name in the text, may not have felt free to alter it. On the other hand, it may not be Zechariah’s prophecy that is definitely referred to at all, but rather something handed down by tradition that was spoken, not written, by Jeremiah.

J. N. Darby suggested that the book of Zechariah formed part of a scroll that began with the prophecy of Jeremiah, and therefore would bear his name. So this particular passage could be spoken of as an utterance found in “Jeremiah.” In any case we may be sure that there is nothing here to invalidate the authority of holy Scripture.

Leaving the sordid story of Judas, we turn our attention back to the prisoner.

Pilate’s Court (Matthew 27:11-18)

In response to the governor’s question, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” Jesus calmly replied, “Thou sayest.” That is, “You have said that which I am.” Thus, before Pontius Pilate, Christ witnessed a good confession (1 Timothy 6:13). While He made no answer to the false and vindictive charges brought against Him by His enemies, He unhesitatingly declared the truth when the procurator addressed Him.

Pilate was astonished at the quiet confidence that the Lord displayed. No accusation perturbed Him. He did not attempt to defend Himself. Assured in his own mind that Jesus was innocent of any crime, and yet knowing the implacable character of His accusers, Pilate sought for some way whereby he might release Jesus, and yet not displease these wily and unscrupulous religious leaders. It was Passover time, and for some years—as a favor to the Jews—it had been customary to release some notable prisoner of their own nation. If they were sincere in charging Jesus with sedition, might they not appreciate the dismissal of the charge and the freedom of the prisoner? Another seditionist was awaiting execution at the time— Barabbas, who had led an insurrection against the government. So Pilate put the two names before the crowd and asked, “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” Both were charged with the same offense. Why then might not Jesus be released and so the people be satisfied?

Pilate’s Weakness (Matthew 27:19-26)

While the matter of which prisoner was to be released was being debated excitedly by the accusers of Jesus and the rabble who had gathered about them, a message came to the governor from his wife. Church tradition has made a saint of Claudia Procula, the wife of Pilate. Legend says she was a Jewish proselyte who became a believer in Jesus. But Scripture tells us nothing more than what is recorded here. She sent a message to her bewildered and time-serving husband, bidding him have nothing to do with “that just man,” because of whom she had suffered much in a dream.

We are not told of Pilate’s reaction to this, except that we find him casting about still for some way whereby he might not have to face the issue before him. If he treated the case of Jesus in a thoroughly legal and judicial manner, the result could only be the acquittal of the prisoner. This would arouse the intense indignation of His accusers, who would then, in all probability, go to any length to destroy the governor by misrepresenting him to caesar as an untrustworthy servant of Rome. They would accuse him of failing to do his duty concerning One who should have been condemned as a seditionist.

He waited for the people to make their choice. Who should be released: Jesus or Barabbas? The answer was not long in coming. Moved by the chief priests and elders, the multitude vociferously gave their voices in favor of Barabbas.

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” Pilate asked weakly. It is a question every man has to ask himself sooner or later wherever this story of Jesus is known.

The throng cried as with one voice, “Let him be crucified.” Thus the King of Israel, the anointed of Jehovah, was definitely rejected; and so, for the time, the hopes of the Jews were destined to be obliterated. There could be no kingdom for them when their rightful ruler was spurned and slain.

Recognizing his impotence in dealing with this mob of excited religionists, Pilate called for water and dramatically washed his hands before the multitude, as he exclaimed, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.” Yet he was there as the representative of the imperial throne, and he was responsible to condemn the guilty and to acquit the innocent. How little he realized that for all time to come his name was destined to be linked with that of the patient sufferer whom he weakly surrendered to His prejudiced accusers. Untold millions yet unborn were to intone in all the centuries to come, “I believe in God…and in His Son Jesus Christ… crucified under Pontius Pilate.” No water could ever wash away the stain of the blood of the Son of God!

In recklessness the Jews invoked a fearful malediction on themselves as they cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” The awful anguish and suffering the unhappy nation has endured throughout the past two thousand years can be traced back to the choice made that day when they preferred a murderer to the One who came in grace to redeem them. For every individual among them, as for all others who will turn to God in repentance, the curse has been turned aside because of the Savior’s intercession, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Yielding to their demands Pilate delivered Jesus to their will, and He was turned over to the soldiers, who heaped added indignities upon Him. In accordance with the horrible custom of the times Pilate gave the order to scourge Jesus—a most cruel ordeal that involved the tearing of His flesh into ribbons as He was beaten on the bare back by a whip of several lashes, on which were fastened pieces of metal. His body must have been literally bathed in His own blood. Yet no word of reproach escaped His holy lips.

The Soldiers’ Cruelty (Matthew 27:27-32)

Knowing Jesus was condemned because He had claimed to be a King, the soldiers stripped Him of all His outer garments and put a discarded scarlet robe on Him. They crowned Him with thorns, then mockingly bowed before Him. They knew it not, but their action was most significant as they pressed the thorny circlet on His pallid brow. When God cursed the earth for man’s sin He caused thorns and thistles to grow (Genesis 3:18). The thorn is the fruit of the curse; and Jesus was made a curse for those who so basely treated Him and for all men, that all who would trust in Him might be redeemed from the curse of the law.

The ribald soldiers made obeisance before Jesus, in whose hand they placed a reed for a scepter, and cried in jeering tones, “Hail, King of the Jews!” To them it was all a huge joke that this meek, defenseless prisoner should ever have imagined Himself a king or permitted His followers to think of Him as a king. In their eyes there was nothing regal about Him. Yet to the eye of faith, He was never more royal than when He endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself with such holy patience and resignation to the will of the Father. The soldiers spat in His face, as the Jews had done in the house of Caiaphas. Jew and Gentile were one in their rejection of Him.

When the soldiers wearied of their coarse and vulgar treatment of Him, they took the robe off Him and put His own garments on Him, and so led Him away to crucify Him. Tradition, not Scripture, tells that He fell beneath the weight of His cross three times, but this rests on no authentic records. However, it seems evident His physical strength was so weakened by loss of blood and excessive suffering that even the callous soldiers saw He needed help in bearing His cross. So they laid hold on Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming that way, and compelled him to assist. What a privilege was Simon’s! We would like to know for certain that he appreciated it. The early Christians said that Alexander and Rufus, mentioned as his sons in Mark 15:21, both became ardent followers of Jesus along with their father. We may hope this is more than an unfounded tradition.

The Crucifixion (Matthew 27:33-44)

At last they reached the little hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, called Golgotha by the Jews; and by the Latins, Calvary, “the place of a skull.” There the tragedy of all ages was to be enacted. There the sacrifice of which all the offerings of the Old Testament were types was to be presented to God on our behalf.

It was customary to give one who was being put to death by crucifixion a stupefying draught to make it easier for him to endure the fearful ordeal. Such a drink, composed of sour wine (or vinegar) mingled with gall, or myrrh, was offered to Jesus, but He refused it. He would not take anything that might benumb His mind or alleviate the sufferings He was undergoing.

Below the cross the soldiers who were responsible for His execution divided His garments among themselves and cast lots, gambling for His seamless tunic, in accordance with David’s prophecy uttered a thousand years before (Psalm 22:18). During these six hours one prophecy after another was fulfilled.

Matthew 27:36 might well speak to all our hearts: “And sitting down they watched him there.” For watched we might better read “were keeping guard,” yet the sentence as it stands is most suggestive. These hardhearted, indifferent soldiers looked carelessly at Him as He hung on the tree. You and I, my reader, may well turn aside and see this great sight—the holy Son of God suffering unspeakably at the hands of men whose very lives depended on His mighty power. We may learn much as we sit down and behold Him there, bleeding and dying for sins not His own.

It was customary to indicate with a placard the crime for which one was being punished. So Pilate provided a sign that read: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews,” indicating that Christ was being crucified for setting Himself up as King in rebellion against Caesar.

Two thieves were crucified with Him, one on either side. Thus He was numbered with transgressors.

The hearts of those passing by were untouched by the Lord’s affliction. They continued to mock Him, raising again the old accusations and saying, “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself.” They even challenged Him to descend from the cross if in very truth He was the Son of God.

The religious dignitaries also joined with the rest in belittling and ridiculing Him. Yet they uttered a great truth that they did not comprehend when they said, “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” Our Christian poet was right when he wrote:

Himself He could not save;
He on the cross must die,
Or mercy could not come
To ruined sinners nigh.

Oblivious to the real meaning of His death these priests and elders challenged Him, as the rabble had done, bidding Him come down from the cross if He was indeed the King of Israel. They declared they would believe Him in that case. They even quoted from Psalm 22 without seeming to realize it, saying, “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him.” He had said He was the Son of God. They called on Him to demonstrate His claim by descending from the cross.

The thieves also reviled Him. Matthew did not tell us of the subsequent repentance of one of these. It is recorded for us in Luke 23:39-43.

Jesus’ Death (Matthew 27:45-56)

Up to this point, which takes in a period of three hours, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Jesus had been suffering at the hands of men. It was not these sufferings that paid for sin. Matthew 27:45-49 summarizes the awesome events of the next three hours, when He endured the wrath of God as the great trespass offering—“Then I restored that which I took not away” (Psalm 69:4).

No finite mind can fathom the depths of woe and anguish into which the soul of Jesus sank when that dread darkness spread over all the land. It was a symbol of the spiritual darkness into which He went as the man Christ Jesus was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It was then that God laid on Him the iniquity of us all and His soul was made an offering for sin.

The tempest’s awful voice was heard;
O Christ, it broke on Thee.
Thine open bosom was my ward;
It bore the storm for me.

We get some faint understanding of-what this meant for Him when, just as the darkness was passing, we hear Him cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Each believer can reply, “It was that I might never be forsaken.” He took our place and endured the wrath of God our sins deserved. This was the cup from which He shrank in Gethsemane; now it was pressed to His lips, and He drained it to the dregs.

His the wormwood and the gall:
His the curse; He bore it all;
His, the bitter cry of pain,
When our sins He did sustain.

Some who heard His piercing cry in Aramaic did not know the meaning of the words, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” and thought He was calling on the prophet Elijah for help. One ran and filled a sponge with vinegar and put it to His parched lips, giving Him a drink. This He received. Others said indifferently, “Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.” But there was none who could deliver Him: He must endure the pains of death that we might never die.

When He had accomplished all that was given Him to do, Jesus cried with a loud voice, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Then He dismissed His spirit. He did not die of exhaustion, but He laid down His life voluntarily when His work was done.

The veil in the temple, separating the holy from the most holy place, was immediately torn in two from the top to the bottom. The unseen hand of God tore that curtain apart to signify that the way into the holiest was now revealed. No longer would God dwell in the thick darkness. He could come out to man, in the light; and man, redeemed by atoning blood, could enter with boldness into the very presence of God.

Matthew alone mentioned certain natural phenomena that occurred—a great earthquake, splitting rocks, and opening graves. Saints whose bodies had been sleeping in the tombs were raised and came out of the graves after His resurrection and appeared unto many.

The centurion in charge of the soldiers who were detailed to guard the crucified victims was so impressed by all he had seen and heard that he was filled with awe, and declared, “Truly this was a Son of God.” He did not use the definite article, as given in the kjv. Like Nebuchadnezzar of old when he saw the mysterious fourth One in the furnace (Daniel 3:25), the centurion was persuaded that the holy sufferer who had just died on that central cross was more than man.

Many devoted women stood afar off with hearts filled with conflicting emotions. They were true to Jesus to the last, though they could not understand why He was left to suffer and die unaided. Among these were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and also the wife of Zebedee, who was the mother of James and John.

Jesus’ Burial (Matthew 27:57-66)

It is worthy of note that as long as our blessed Lord was taking the sinner’s place in His vicarious offering of Himself unto God, His enemies were permitted to heap on Him every kind of shameful indignity. But from the moment the blood and water flowed from His wounded side (John 19:33-34), God seemed to say, as it were, “Hands off.” In 1 John 5:6,8 we read that the water, the blood and the Holy Spirit are the witnesses to accomplished redemption. From the instant Christ’s body was pierced by the sword no unclean hand touched it. Loving friends took it down from the cross, wrapped it in the new fine linen clothes with the spices sent by Nicodemus (John 19:39-40), and laid it in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea. It was the burial of a King (see 2 Chronicles 16:13-14).

“A rich man…named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple.” He was one of the few of those who had riches who waited for the kingdom (Matthew 19:23-24; Mark 15:43), but hitherto he had not openly proclaimed himself a follower of Jesus (John 19:38). He had been a secret disciple, but he proved loyal and brave when the test came. He requested the body of Jesus and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Thus the body of Jesus was preserved from further indignity, and Isaiah 53:9 was fulfilled. He must be with the rich in His death.

As was customary in Jewish burials, the body was entirely swathed in long linen strips, not simply covered with a shroud. A great stone covered the entire entrance to the tomb and was probably like a great millstone, fitted into a groove cut in the face of the cliff.

Mary of Magdala, out of whom seven demons had been cast (Luke 8:2), and Mary, the mother of Joses (Mark 15:47), were looking on, taking note of everything that was done. They planned to come to the tomb after the sabbath was past and properly embalm the body of the One they had loved and on whom all their hopes were set, but who now was cold in death.

Christ died on the 14th Nisan, the first day of Passover, also called the day of preparation. For the Jews the new day began at sunset, so the words, “the next day,” refer to the evening of the day on which Christ died. As the evening that ushered in the 15th of the month began, the Pharisees and others hastened to Pilate to request that Jesus’ tomb be secured.

“We remember that that deceiver said… After three days I will rise again.” Strange that they, His enemies, should remember what His own disciples had forgotten! It is evident that His prediction had become well known.

“Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day.” They were taking no chances. They realized that if the least ground were given for starting a rumor that Jesus had fulfilled His promise, their efforts to destroy the effect of His teaching would be in vain. The disappearance of His body from Joseph’s new tomb would be, in their estimation, a tragedy and would be accepted by many as aproof of His resurrection. So they were afraid His disciples might arrange to rob the sepulcher and hide the body away; therefore, the importance of effectually thwarting any such attempt.

Pilate was probably not only incensed, but even amused by their fears and anxiety. He gave them a detachment of Roman soldiers and appointed them to guard the tomb. His grim words, “Make it as sure as ye can,” seem almost sardonic. They were soon to learn how helpless they were when God’s hour struck.

“So they… made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” The Jewish leaders felt that none of the disciples would dare to break the seal, which would be a crime of the first magnitude. The guard of soldiers would ensure that no one would be able to steal the body before the three days had elapsed.

It is evident that Jesus’ declaration that He was to rise again the third day (Matthew 20:19) had made a deeper impression on the minds of His enemies than on the hearts of His own disciples. Although He had mentioned it on several occasions, they never seemed to comprehend the meaning of His words. They wondered what the rising from the dead could mean (Mark 9:10, 31-32; Luke 18:33-34). So even after He was crucified they had no expectation of His resurrection (John 20:9). But the leaders of the people, who had so definitely opposed Him, remembered His words. While they did not expect His prediction to be fulfilled, they were fearful that by some kind of trickery His disciples might be able to persuade the credulous populace that He had actually triumphed over death; hence their errand to Pilate and their request that every precaution be taken to prevent the disappearance of His body from the tomb. But all their precautions were in vain, for in spite of the sealing of the stone that covered the entrance to the sepulcher and the watchfulness of the Roman guard, the stone was rolled away. The Savior rose from the dead and appeared to many reputable eyewitnesses, who testified to the reality of His resurrection.