XIII. Suffering, Crucifixion, and Death (Matthew 26:1–27:66)


XIII. Suffering, Crucifixion, and Death (26:1–27:66)

26:1-5 Again Jesus predicted to his disciples that he would soon be handed over to be crucified (26:1-2; see 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). It would be a treacherous act by the Jewish chief priests and the elders of the people, led by Caiaphas the high priest (26:3-4). They were determined to kill Jesus, so they conspired to arrest him (26:4). But they wanted to avoid the Passover festival to avoid rioting among the people (26:5). They hatched their plot in secret, thinking they were in control. But clearly this was no surprise to Jesus. It was part of God the Father’s plan to save sinners.

26:6-9 Jesus was staying in Bethany, which was less than two miles southeast of Jerusalem on the road to Jericho, in the house of a man named Simon (26:6). While he was there, a woman, whom we know to be Mary the sister of Lazarus (see John 12:3), approached him. She took expensive perfume worth about a year’s wages (see John 12:5) and poured it on his head (26:7). This upset the disciples who thought it should have been sold and given to the poor (26:8-9). John tells us in his Gospel that it was primarily Judas who was angry. Actually, he cared nothing for the poor but used to steal from the money-bag (see John 12:4-6).

26:10-13 Jesus came to the woman’s defense and called her actions noble (26:10). Though believers are called to minister to and care for the poor, our allegiance to and worship of Jesus Christ has primacy (26:11). This act of devotion to Jesus symbolically prepared him for burial (26:12). The Messiah—“the Anointed One”—was being anointed in preparation for his death on the cross. Jesus predicted that Mary would be remembered for her actions wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world (26:13). Since this story is in our Bibles, clearly his words have been fulfilled.

26:14-16 Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve disciples, was so angered by this “waste” (26:8) that he went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. After that, he started looking for the right opportunity to hand him over (26:14-16).

26:17 Matthew next recounts the events of the first day of Unleavened Bread, the seven-day festival celebrated in connection with the Passover. The Passover commemorates God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (see Exod 12). The Lord’s final plague on the Egyptians claimed the life of every Egyptian firstborn, while the Israelites were spared by sacrificing a lamb and smearing its blood on their doorposts so that the Lord would “pass over” them. During the following seven days, they were to eat bread without leaven in memory of their hurried departure from Egypt (Exod 12:15-20; 13:6-8; 23:15). Jesus Christ is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7).

26:18-21 Jesus told his disciples to meet a certain man in the city at whose place they would celebrate the Passover and to make preparations there (26:18). In the days leading up to this, he had predicted that he would suffer and be killed in Jerusalem (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 26:1-2). During the Passover meal, he revealed that one of them would betray him (26:21).

26:22-25 All of them were deeply distressed at Jesus’s words (26:22). The divine judgment for betraying the Son of Man would be so great that it would be better for the betrayer if he had not been born (26:24). Judas had already agreed to hand over Jesus to the religious leaders (26:14-16); nevertheless, he deceptively played along with the others who were saying in shock, Surely not I (26:22, 25). Jesus not only knew he would be betrayed, but he knew his betrayer (26:25).

26:26-30 Then Jesus instituted what would become an ordinance of the church: Communion or the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor 11:23-26). The bread represents his body and the cup represents his blood, which was about to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (26:26-28).

Jesus’s blood would establish the new covenant (26:28), the special agreement that God made with the church through the sacrificial death and resurrection of his Son. Jesus vowed that he would not drink with his disciples again until his earthly millennial kingdom (26:29). Until then, the church is to commemorate the work and spiritual presence of the true Passover lamb by remembering him and proclaiming him through Communion (see 1 Cor 5:7; 11:26).

26:31-35 Not only would one of them betray him (26:21-25), but all of them would fall away just as Scripture foretold (26:31; see Zech 13:7). When Peter forcefully vowed to stick with Jesus until the end (26:33), Jesus zeroed in on Peter’s approaching fall. He would deny Jesus that night before the rooster crowed three times (26:34). Peter didn’t believe such a thing could happen (26:35), but he clearly didn’t know himself very well. The omniscience of Jesus saw where the dangerous pride of Peter would lead. “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18).

26:36-38 When they had arrived at Gethsemane, a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem, Jesus told Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) that he was deeply grieved (26:36-38). He was in anguish as he considered the wrath of God that would be poured out on him as he bore the sins of the world on the cross.

Since the first Adam’s fall occurred in a garden (see Gen 2–3), the last Adam entered into a garden to bring fallen man back into God’s garden of fellowship through his substitutionary atonement. Since the first Adam brought sin into the world by means of a tree, the last Adam would be crucified on a tree to bring salvation (see Rom 5:15-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22, 45)

26:39-46 In his distress, he prayed three times to his Father (26:39, 42, 44). Though in his humanity, he preferred that the cup of suffering might pass, he voluntarily submitted himself to his Father’s will (26:39, 42). “For the joy that lay before him” he was willing to endure the cross (Heb 12:2).

In spite of Jesus’s urging, the disciples were unable to stay awake with him (26:38, 40). Though he exhorted them to pray that they might not enter into temptation, their flesh was weak (26:41). When the betrayer arrived (26:45-46), they were unprepared for the spiritual danger and would flee (26:56).

26:47-56 Judas arrived with a large mob armed with swords and clubs. They had come from the chief priests and elders to do their dirty work under the cover of night (26:47). When Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss and the mob arrested him (26:48-50), Peter jumped into action like a vigilante (26:48-51; see John 18:10). But Jesus corrected him for taking matters into his own hands. If it had been part of God’s plan, Jesus could have summoned twelve legions of angels to deliver him (26:53). But these awful events had to happen. Though the cowardly mob treated him like a criminal (26:55), everything in the writings of the prophets had to be fulfilled (26:54, 56).

26:57-64 Jesus was taken before Caiaphas the high priest and the Sanhedrin (26:57-59), the Jewish council of religious leaders that exercised authority under the Romans. Matthew forthrightly declares their evil intentions. They were looking for false testimony so they could condemn Jesus to death (26:59). Many false witnesses came forward (26:60), but their testimonies didn’t agree (see Mark 14:56). Jesus refused to answer them.

Finally, the high priest placed Jesus under a sacred oath and demanded that he tell them if he was the Messiah, the Son of God (26:63). Jesus’s response affirmed it. But he went even further and declared that they would see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven (26:64).

The “Son of Man” on the “clouds of heaven” is a reference to the glorious heavenly king of Daniel 7:13-14, whose kingdom would have no end. Being “seated at the right hand of Power” was a reference to the Messiah taken from Psalm 110:1. Jesus had earlier used the passage to argue that Messiah was a divine King (see 22:41-46).

26:65-68 Clearly, the high priest understood that Jesus was affirming both his messiahship and his deity, for he accused him of blasphemy. In outrage, the high priest even tore his robes, which he was forbidden to do (26:65; see Lev 21:10). Jesus’s accusers felt they had all the evidence they needed to drag him before the Roman authorities and charge him as deserving death (26:66).

Jesus didn’t object to their understanding about his identity; they had gotten it right. But instead of worshiping him as they should have, they wickedly mocked and abused him (26:67-68). The Son of God, who could have destroyed them with the mere breath of his mouth (see 2 Thess 2:8), submitted obediently to his Father’s will for an important reason: he was winning your salvation. “Consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up” (Heb 12:3).

26:69-75 Meanwhile, Peter had cautiously followed “at a distance” and sat in the high priest’s courtyard to await the outcome (26:58, 69). There he had three opportunities to affirm his commitment to the Lord. First, a servant accused him of being associated with Jesus (26:69). Then another woman claimed he was one of his followers (26:71). Lastly, several other people indicted him as being a disciple of Jesus. On each occasion, Peter’s courage collapsed as he vehemently denied it with curses and oaths (26:70, 72, 74).

Immediately a rooster crowed, and Peter remembered Jesus’s prediction (26:74-75; see 26:33-35). Knowing he had failed the Lord, he broke down and wept bitterly (26:75). Though Peter had boasted of his willingness to die for Jesus (26:35), God mercifully revealed to him the true condition of his heart. And Peter responded with tears of repentance.

27:1-2 At daybreak after their trial, the chief priests and the elders led Jesus to Pontius Pilate who was the Roman governor of Judea from AD 26–36 (27:1-2). He was a brutal man with no love for the Jews. His residence was in Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Sea. But given the Jewish crowds and potential for unrest, he was in Jerusalem during the Passover. Since Pilate had the power of execution, the Jewish leaders sought to convince him to put Jesus to death.

27:3-4 When Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned, he was full of remorse and returned the money he’d been paid to betray an innocent man (27:3-4). But though he felt the sting of guilt for his actions, he didn’t turn to God in repentance (like Peter; see John 21:17). Repentance includes sorrow, but it’s more than just sorrow. Repentance involves a change of mind—turning from sin and toward the God you have offended.

27:5-10 Instead, Judas resorted to suicide and hanged himself (27:5). Guilt is real, and the only true remedy for your guilt before God is the cross of Christ. Don’t miss that the chief priests took the silver Judas had returned and bought a field with the money as a burial place (7:6-8). Matthew highlights this as another fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (27:9-10).

27:11-14 When asked by Pilate if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus affirmed it (27:11-12). But he refused to answer the accusations leveled at him by the chief priests and elders (fulfilling Isa 53:7), so Pilate was amazed (27:13-14).

27:15-19 Pilate had a custom of releasing a prisoner to the people at the festival (27:15). He knew the Jewish leaders had handed over Jesus because of envy (27:18). The Galilean rabbi was getting all the attention of the people, and the leaders wanted him out of the way. Pilate therefore gave the people the option of having Barabbas (a rebel and a murderer; see Luke 23:19) or Jesus released, assuming they would ask for Jesus (27:16-17). Interestingly, Pilate’s wife warned him to have nothing to do with that righteous man because she’d had a nightmare about Jesus (27:19). Undoubtedly, Pilate was eager to be finished with the case of the Jewish Messiah.

27:20-24 The chief priests were determined to kill Jesus. They persuaded the crowds to demand the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus (27:20-23). To avoid a riot over the matter, Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd to symbolize that he had nothing to do with Jesus’s condemnation and was innocent of his blood (27:24). Some people today try to follow a similar course. They attempt to withhold judgment about Jesus, thinking they can take a middle road. But Jesus said, “Anyone who is not with me is against me” (12:30). There is no neutral choice regarding the Messiah. There are only two eternal destinies, and each is based on acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ.

27:25-26 In response to Pilate’s actions, the Jews in the crowd accepted the blame for Jesus’s execution (27:25). Therefore, Pilate released Barabbas, had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified (27:26). Flogging or scourging involved the use of a whip of leather strips with bits of bone or metal tied to their ends. A cruel beating with this weapon would rip the skin from the victim’s back, exposing tissue and bones. Flogging alone could result in death.

27:27-31 When the governor’s soldiers took Jesus, they made a mockery of him (27:27). They abused him as a pretend king, putting a scarlet robe around him, a crown of thorns on his head, and a staff in his hand to serve as a scepter (27:28-29). Then they knelt down before him and mocked him by shouting, Hail, King of the Jews! (27:29). Little did they know as they viciously beat and spit on him that every human being (including them!) will bow one day before this God-man and confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10-11). Through all of their brutality, the prophecy of Isaiah 50:6 was fulfilled.

27:32-33 The Romans typically made crucifixion victims carry their crosses to the execution site. But in this case, the soldiers forced a man named Simon to carry Jesus’s cross (probably its crossbeam), because he was so weakened by the flogging (27:32). Interestingly, as a Cyrenian, Simon was of African descent: Cyrene was in North Africa. He carried the cross to a location called Place of the Skull. In Aramaic the name is Golgotha. In Latin, it is Calvary (27:33).

27:34-37 They gave Jesus wine mixed with gall to help deaden the pain of crucifixion, but he refused to drink it (27:34). He was resolved to endure the suffering. Then they crucified him (27:35). Crucifixion was an extremely cruel form of execution. Victims were typically naked and either tied or nailed to their crosses. Their torture could last for days before death claimed them. While many people were crucified at the hands of the Romans, only Jesus was “pierced because of our rebellion” (Isa 53:5) so he might atone for the sins of the world.

In fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by casting lots, the ancient equivalent of rolling dice or flipping a coin (27:35). Above his head on the cross, they placed a sign with this accusation: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews (27:37). In an ironic sense, this is the full revelation of the theme that Matthew has pursued throughout his Gospel: on the cross Jesus was named “King.”

27:38-44 Two criminals were crucified on either side of him—perhaps they were companions of Barabbas (27:38).Those who passed by showed no pity, but mocked Jesus. The people, as well as the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, taunted him and told him to come down from the cross (27:39-42). Because of his deity, he could have done it, but his mission would have failed if he did. So while they ridiculed his trust in God and his claim that he was the Son of God (27:43), Jesus Christ steadfastly hung on that cross in obedience to his Father for your salvation.

27:45-49 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness covered the land (27:45). Then Jesus cried out loudly in despair: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (27:46), thus quoting and fulfilling Psalm 22:1. Though he had previously known only unbroken divine fellowship from all eternity, Jesus experienced the horrible abandonment of his Father as God poured out his wrath on his Son as he bore the sins of the world.

27:50-51 Finally, Jesus gave up his spirit and died (27:50). At that moment, the curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two (27:51). This refers to the veil separating the holy place from the most holy place (see Exod 26:33). Since the curtain was torn from top to bottom, clearly God did the tearing. In an instant, full access to God’s holy presence, through Jesus Christ, was granted. No further sacrifices were necessary. Truly, as Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

27:52-53 Matthew also provides an aside here, telling us some saints were raised from the dead and came out of the tombs after Christ’s resurrection. Why? Well, Jesus had defeated death. So this was a small picture of the future resurrection that will take place when Christ resurrects the bodies of all deceased believers to live forevermore (see 1 Thess 4:16; 1 Cor 15:20-23).

27:54-56 The centurion and those with him saw the things that happened and confessed, Truly this man was the Son of God! (27:54). So, though the Jewish religious leaders rejected him, these Gentiles believed Jesus was exactly who he’d claimed to be. Many women who were followers of Jesus were there too, watching from a distance (27:55). Though they wanted to be there for their Lord, they no doubt were horrified by his death.

27:57-61 That evening, a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph asked Pilate if he could bury Jesus’s body (27:57-58). Joseph was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who had objected to their denunciation of Jesus (see Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50-51). He had also become a disciple and wanted to honor his Lord with a proper burial (27:57). Though the Romans would typically leave the victims’ bodies to rot on the crosses, Pilate respected his request (27:58). Joseph then placed the body in his new tomb (thus fulfilling Isa 53:9) and rolled a great stone against the entrance (27:59-60).

27:62-66 The following day, the chief priests and the Pharisees met with Pilate (27:62). The Jewish leaders were aware of Jesus’s claims that he would rise again (27:63) and were fearful that Jesus’s disciples would steal the body, announce that he was raised from the dead, and deceive the people (27:64). So Pilate granted a guard of soldiers and the sealing of the tomb (27:65-66).