XIII. Suffering, Crucifixion, and Death (Matthew 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.

26:69-75 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).

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