Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Notes on Chapter 27
Verse 1. When the morning was come— As soon as it was light-took counsel against Jesus. They had begun this counsel the preceding evening, see Matthew 26:59. But as it was contrary to all forms of law to proceed against a person’s life by night, they seem to have separated for a few hours, and then, at the break of day, came together again, pretending to conduct the business according to the forms of law.
To put him to death— They had already determined his death, and pronounced the sentence of death on him; Matthew 26:66. And now they assemble under the pretense of reconsidering the evidence, and deliberating on it, to give the greater appearance of justice to their conduct. They wished to make it appear that “they had taken ample time to consider of it, and, from the fullest conviction, by the most satisfactory and conclusive evidence, they had now delivered him into the hands of the Romans, to meet that death to which they had adjudged him.”
Verse 2. They-delivered him to Pontius Pilate— The Sanhedrin had the power of life and death in their own hands in every thing that concerned religion; but as they had not evidence to put Christ to death because of false doctrine, they wished to give countenance to their conduct by bringing in the civil power, and therefore they delivered him up to Pilate as one who aspired to regal dignities, and whom he must put to death, if he professed to be Caesar’s friend. Pontius Pilate governed Judea ten years under the Emperor Tiberius; but, having exercised great cruelties against the Samaritans, they complained of him to the emperor, in consequence of which he was deposed, and sent in exile to Vienna, in Dauphiny, where he killed himself two years after.
Verse 3. Judas-when he saw that he was condemned, repented— There is much of the wisdom and goodness of God to be seen in this part of Judas’s conduct. Had our Lord been condemned to death on the evidence of one of his own disciples, it would have furnished infidels with a strong argument against Christ and the Christian religion. “One of his own disciples, knowing the whole imposture, declared it to the Jewish rulers, in consequence of which he was put to death as an impostor and deceiver.” But the traitor, being stung with remorse, came and acknowledged his crime, and solemnly declared the innocence of his Master, threw back the money which they gave him to induce him to do this villainous act; and, to establish the evidence which he now gave against them and himself, in behalf of the innocence of Christ, hanged himself, or died through excessive grief and contrition. Thus the character of Christ was rescued from all reproach; infidelity deprived of the power to cry “imposture!” and the Jewish rulers overwhelmed with eternal infamy. If it should ever be said, “One who knew him best delivered him up as an impostor,”-to this it may be immediately answered, “The same person, struck with remorse, came and declared his own guilt, and Christ’s innocence; accused and convicted the Jewish rulers, in the open council, of having hired him to do this iniquitous action, threw them back the bribe they had given him, and then hanged himself through distress and despair, concluding his iniquity in this business was too great to be forgiven.” Let him who chooses, after this plenary evidence to the innocence of Christ, continue the objection, and cry out imposture! take heed that he go not and do LIKEWISE. Caiaphas, Pilate, and Judas have done so already, and I have known several, who have called Christ an impostor, who have cut their own throats, shot, drowned, or hanged themselves. God is a jealous God, and highly resents every thing that is done and said against that eternal truth that came to man through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, there is one class of Deists, viz. those who are vicious in their lives, and virulent in their opposition to Christianity, who generally bring themselves to an untimely end.
Verse 4. Innocent blood.— aima aqwon, a Hebraism, for an innocent man. But instead of aqwon, innocent, two ancient MSS., Syriac, Vulgate, Sahidic, Armenian, and all the Itala; Origen, Cyprian, Lucifer, Ambrose, Leo, read dikaion, righteous, or just.
What is that to us?— What is it?-A great deal. You should immediately go and reverse the sentence you have pronounced, and liberate the innocent person. But this would have been justice, and that would have been a stranger at their tribunal.
Verse 5. In the temple— naov signifies, properly, the temple itself, into which none but the priests were permitted to enter; therefore en tw naw must signify, near the temple, by the temple door, where the boxes stood to receive the free-will offerings of the people, for the support and repairs of the sacred edifice. See this amply proved by Kypke.
Hanged himself— Or was strangled-aphgxato. Some eminent critics believe that he was only suffocated by excessive grief, and thus they think the account here given will agree with that in Acts 1:18. Mr. Wakefield supports this meaning of the word with great learning and ingenuity. I have my doubts-the old method of reconciling the two accounts appears to me quite plausible-he went and strangled himself, and the rope breaking, he fell down, and by the violence of the fall his body was bursted, and his bowels gushed out. I have thought proper, on a matter of such difficulty, to use the word strangled, as possessing a middle meaning between choking or suffocation by excessive grief, and hanging, as an act of suicide. See the note on Matthew 10:4. Dr. Lightfoot is of opinion that the devil caught him up into the air, strangled him, and threw him down on the ground with violence, so that his body was burst, and his guts shed out! This was an ancient tradition.
Verse 6. The treasury— korbanan-the place whither the people brought their free-will offerings for the service of the temple, so called from the Hebrew brq korban, AN OFFERING, from brq karab, he drew nigh, because the person who brought the gift came nigh to that place where God manifested his glory between the cherubim, over the mercy-seat in the most holy place. It is from this idea that the phrase to draw nigh to God is taken, which is so frequently used in the sacred writings.
Because it is the price of blood.— “What hypocrites, as one justly exclaims, to adjudge an innocent man to death, and break the eternal laws of justice and mercy without scruple, and to be, at the same time, so very nice in their attention to a ceremonial direction of the law of Moses! Thus it is that the devil often deludes many, even among the priests, by a false and superstitious tenderness or conscience in things indifferent, while calumny, envy, oppression of the innocent, and a conformity to the world, give them no manner of trouble or disturbance.” See Quesnel.
Verse 7. To bury strangers in.— toiv xenoiv, the strangers, probably meaning, as some learned men conjecture, the Jewish strangers who might have come to Jerusalem, either to worship, or on some other business, and died there during their stay. See here, the very money for which the blessed Jesus was sold becomes subservient to the purpose of mercy and kindness! The bodies of strangers have a place of rest in the field purchased by the price at which his life was valued, and the souls of strangers and foreigners have a place of rest and refuge in his blood which was shed as a ransom price for the salvation of the whole world.
Verse 8. The field of blood— In vain do the wicked attempt to conceal themselves; God makes them instrumental in discovering their own wickedness. Judas, by returning the money, and the priests, by laying it out, raise to themselves an eternal monument-the one of his treachery, the others of their perfidiousness, and both of the innocence of Jesus Christ. As, long as the Jewish polity continued, it might be said, “This is the field that was bought from the potter with the money which Judas got from the high priests for betraying his Master; which he, in deep compunction of spirit, brought back to them, and they bought this ground for a burial-place for strangers: for as it was the price of the blood of an innocent man, they did not think proper to let it rest in the treasury of the temple where the traitor had thrown it, who afterwards, in despair, went and hanged himself.” What a standing proof must this have been of the innocence of Christ, and of their perfidy!
Verse 9. Jeremy the prophet— The words quoted here are not found in the Prophet Jeremiah, but in Zechariah 11:13. But St. Jerome says that a Hebrew of the sect of the Nazarenes showed him this prophecy in a Hebrew apocryphal copy of Jeremiah; but probably they were inserted there only to countenance the quotation here.
One of Colbert’s, a MS. of the eleventh century, has zaxariou, Zechariah; so has the later Syriac in the margin, and a copy of the Arabic quoted by Bengel. In a very elegant and correct MS. of the Vulgate, in my possession, written in the fourteenth century, Zachariam is in the margin, and Jeremiam in the text, but the former is written by a later hand. Jeremiah is wanting in two MSS., the Syriac, later Persic, two of the Itala, and in some other Latin copies. It is very likely that the original reading was dia toi profhtou, and the name of no prophet mentioned. This is the more likely, as Matthew often omits the name of the prophet in his quotations. See Matthew 1:22; 2:5, 15; 13:35; 21:4. Bengel approves of the omission.
It was an ancient custom among the Jews, says Dr. Lightfoot, to divide the Old Testament into three parts: the first beginning with the law was called THE LAW; the second beginning with the Psalms was called THE PSALMS; the third beginning with the prophet in question was called JEREMIAH: thus, then, the writings of Zechariah and the other prophets being included in that division that began with Jeremiah, all quotations from it would go under the name of this prophet. If this be admitted, it solves the difficulty at once. Dr. Lightfoot quotes Baba Bathra, and Rabbi David Kimchi’s preface to the prophet Jeremiah, as his authorities; and insists that the word Jeremiah is perfectly correct as standing at the head of that division from which the evangelist quoted, and which gave its denomination to all the rest. But Jeremiah is the reading in several MSS. of the Coptic. It is in one of the Coptic Dictionaries in the British Museum, and in a Coptic MS. of Jeremiah, in the library of St. Germain. So I am informed by the Rev. Henry Tattam, Rector of St Cuthbert’s, Bedford.
Verse 11. Before the governor— My old MS. English Bible translates hghmwn Meyr cheef justyse, Presedent.
Art thou the King of the Jews?— The Jews had undoubtedly delivered him to Pilate as one who was rising up against the imperial authority, and assuming the regal office. See on Matthew 27:2.
Verse 12. He answered nothing.— An answer to such accusations was not necessary: they sufficiently confuted themselves.
Verse 14. Marveled greatly.— Silence under calumny manifests the utmost magnanimity. The chief priests did not admire this because it confounded them; but Pilate, who had no interest to serve by it, was deeply affected. This very silence was predicted. Isaiah 53:7.
Verse 15. The governor was wont to release— Whence this custom originated among the Jews is not known,-probably it was introduced by the Romans themselves, or by Pilate, merely to oblige the Jews, by showing them this public token of respect; but if it originated with him, he must have had the authority of Augustus; for the Roman laws never gave such discretionary power to any governor.
Verse 16. A notable prisoner-Barabbas.— This person had, a short time before, raised an insurrection in Jerusalem, in which it appears, from Mark 15:7, some lives were lost. In some MSS., and in the Armenian and Syriac Hieros., this man has the surname of Jesus. Professor Birch has discovered this reading in a Vatican MS., written in 949, and numbered 354, in which is a marginal note which has been attributed to Anastasius, bishop of Antioch, and to Chrysostom, which asserts that in the most ancient MSS. the passage was as follows:-tina qelete apo twn duw apolusw umin, in ton barabban, h in ton legomenon xn: Which of the two do ye wish me to release unto you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? As Jesus, or Joshua, was a very common name among the Jews, and as the name of the father was often joined to that of the son, as Simon Barjonah, Simon, son of Jonah; so it is probable it was the case here, Jesus Barabba, Jesus, son of Abba, or Abbiah. If this name were originally written as above, which I am inclined to believe, the general omission of JESUS in the MSS. may be accounted for from the over zealous scrupulosity of Christian copyists, who were unwilling that a murderer should, in the same verse, be honored with the name of the Redeemer of the world. See Birch in New Test.
Verse 18. For envy— dia fqonon, through malice. Then it was his business, as an upright judge, to have dispersed this mob, and immediately released Jesus.
Seeing malice is capable of putting even Christ himself to death, how careful should we be not to let the least spark of it harbor in our breast. Let it be remembered that malice as often originates from envy as it does from anger.
Verse 19. I have suffered many things-in a dream— There is no doubt that God had appeared unto this woman, testifying the innocence of Christ, and showing the evils which should pursue Pilate if this innocent blood should be shed by his authority. See Matthew 27:2.
Verse 20. Ask Barabbas— Who had raised an insurrection and committed murder-and to destroy Jesus, whose voice was never heard in their streets, and who had, during the space of three years and a half, gone about unweariedly, from village to village, instructing the ignorant, healing the diseased, and raising the dead.
Verse 21. They said, Barabbas.— What a fickle crowd! A little before they all hailed him as the Son of David, and acknowledged him as a gift from God; now they prefer a murderer to him! But this it appears they did at the instigation of the chief priests. We see here how dangerous wicked priests are in the Church of Christ; when pastors are corrupt, they are capable of inducing their flock to prefer Barabbas to Jesus, the world to God, and the pleasures of sense to the salvation of their souls. The invidious epithet which a certain statesman gave to the people at large was, in its utmost latitude, applicable to these Jews,-they were a SWINISH MULTITUDE.
Verse 22. What shall I do then with Jesus?— Showing, hereby, that it was his wish to release him.
Verse 23. What evil hath he done?— Pilate plainly saw that there was nothing laid to his charge for which, consistently with the Roman laws, he could condemn him.
But they cried out the more— What strange fury and injustice! They could not answer Pilate’s question, What evil hath he done? He had done none, and they knew he had done none; but they are determined on his death.
Verse 24. Pilate-took water, and washed his hands— Thus signifying his innocence. It was a custom among the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins, to wash the hands in token of innocence, and to show that they were pure from any imputed guilt. In case of an undiscovered murder, the elders of that city which was nearest to the place where the dead body was found, were required by the law, Deuteronomy 21:1-10, to wash their hands over the victim which was offered to expiate the crime, and thus make public protestation of their own innocence. David says, I will wash my hands in innocence, so shall I compass thine altar, Psalm 26:6. As Pilate knew Christ was innocent, he should have prevented his death: he had the armed force at his command, and should have dispersed this infamous mob. Had he been charged with countenancing a seditious person, he could have easily cleared himself, had the matter been brought before the emperor. He, therefore, was inexcusable.
Verse 25. His blood be on us and on our children.— If this man be innocent, and we put him to death as a guilty person, may the punishment due to such a crime be visited upon us, and upon our children after us! What a dreadful imprecation! and how literally fulfilled! The Notes on Chapter 24, will show how they fell victims to their own imprecation, being visited with a series of calamities unexampled in the history of the world. They were visited with the same kind of punishment; for the Romans crucified them in such numbers when Jerusalem was taken, that there was found a deficiency of crosses for the condemned, and of places for the crosses. Their children or descendants have had the same curse entailed upon them, and continue to this day a proof of the innocence of Christ, the truth of his religion, and of the justice of God.
Verse 26. Scourged Jesus— This is allowed to have been a very severe punishment of itself among the Romans, the flesh being generally cut by the whips used for this purpose: so the poet:
— Horribili SECTERE flagello.
“To be cut by the horrible whip.”-HOR. Sat. I. 3. 119. And sometimes it seems, they were whipped to death. See the same poet, Sat. I. 2. 41.
It has been thought that Pilate might have spared this additional cruelty of whipping; but it appears that it was a common custom to scourge those criminals which were to be crucified, (see Josephus Deuteronomy Bello, lib. ii. c. 25,) and lenity in Christ’s case is not to be allowed; he must take all the misery in full tale.
Delivered him to be crucified.— Tacitos, the Roman historian, mentions the death of Christ in very remarkable terms:-
Nero-quaesitissimis poenis is affecit, quos-vulgus CHRISTIANOS appellabat. Auctor nominis ejus CHRISTUS, qui Tiberio imperitante, per Procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio affectus erat.-“ Nero put those who commonly went by the name of Christians to the most exquisite tortures. The author of this name was CHRIST, who was capitally punished in the reign of TIBERIUS, by PONTIUS PILATE the PROCURATOR.”
Verse 27. The common hall— Or, praetorium. Called so from the praetor, a principal magistrate among the Romans, whose business it was to administer justice in the absence of the consul. This place night be termed in English the court house, or common hall.
Verse 28. Stripped him— Took off his mantle, or upper garment.
A scarlet robe— Or, according to Mark and John, a purple robe, such as emperors and kings wore.
Verse 29. A crown of thorns— stefanon ex akanqwn. It does not appear that this crown was intended to be an instrument of punishment or torture to his head, but rather to render him ridiculous; for which cause also they put a reed in his hand, by way of scepter, and bowed their knees, pretending to do him homage. The crown was not probably of thorns, in our sense of the word: there are eminently learned men who think that the crown was formed of the herb acanthus; and Bishop Pearce and Michaelis are of this opinion. Mark, Mark 15:17, and John, John 19:5, term it, stefanon akanqinon, which may very well be translated an acanthine crown or wreath, formed out of the branches of the herb acanthus, or bear’s foot. This, however, is a prickly plant, though nothing like thorns, in the common meaning of that word. Many Christians have gone astray in magnifying the sufferings of Christ from this circumstance; and painters, the worst of all commentators, frequently represent Christ with a crown of long thorns, which one standing by is striking into his head with a stick. These representations engender ideas both false and absurd.
There is a passage produced from Philo by Dr. Lardner, which casts much light on these indignities offered to our blessed Lord.
“Caligula, the successor of Tiberius, gave Agrippa the tetrarchy of his uncle Philip, with the right of wearing a diadem or crown. When he came to Alexandria, on his way to his tetrarchate, the inhabitants of that place, filled with envy at the thoughts of a Jew having the title of king, showed their indignation in the following way. They brought one Carabus (a sort of an idiot) into the theater; and, having placed him on a lofty seat, that he might be seen by all, they put a diadem upon his head, made of the herb byblos, (the ancient papyrus, or paper flag;) his body they covered with a mat or carpet, instead of a royal cloak. One seeing a piece of reed, papurou (the stem, probably, of the aforesaid herb) lying on the ground, picked it up, and put it in his hand in place of a scepter. Having thus given him a mock royal dress, several young fellows, with poles on their shoulders, came and stood on each side of him as his guards. Then there came people, some to pay their homage to him, some to ask justice, and some to consult him on affairs of state and the crowd that stood round about made a confused noise, crying, Mario, that being, as they say, the Syriac word for LORD; thereby showing that they intended to ridicule Agrippa, who was a Syrian.” See PHILO, Flace. p. 970, and Dr. Lardner, Works, vol. i. p. 159.
There is the most remarkable coincidence between this account and that given by the evangelists; and the conjecture concerning the acanthus will probably find no inconsiderable support from the bylos and papyrus of Philo. This plant, Pliny says, grows to ten cubits long in the stem and the flowers were used ad deos coronandos, for CROWNING THE GODS. See Hist. Nat. lib. xiii. c. 11.
The reflections of pious Quesnel on these insults offered to our blessed Lord merit serious attention.
Let the crown of thorns make those Christians blush who throw away so much time, pains, and money, in beautifying and adorning a sinful head. Let the world do what it will to render the royalty and mysteries of Christ contemptible, it is my glory to serve a King thus debased; my salvation, to adore that which the world despises; and my redemption, to go unto God through the merits of him who was crowned with thorns.”
Verse 30. And they spit upon him— “Let us pay our adoration,” says the same pious writer, “and humble ourselves in silence at the sight of a spectacle which faith alone renders credible, and which our senses would hardly endure. Jesus Christ, in this condition, preaches to the kings of the earth this truth-that their scepters are but reeds, with which themselves shall be smitten, bruised, and crushed at his tribunal, if they do not use them here to the advancement of his kingdom.”
Verse 32. A man of Cyrene-him they compelled to bear his cross.— In John, John 19:16, 17, we are told Christ himself bore the cross, and this, it is likely, he did for a part of the way; but, being exhausted with the scourging and other cruel usage which he had received, he was found incapable of bearing it alone; therefore they obliged Simon, not, I think, to bear it entirely, but to assist Christ, by bearing a part of it. It was a constant practice among the Romans, to oblige criminal to bear their cross to the place of execution: insomuch that Plutarch makes use of it as an illustration of the misery of vice. “Every kind of wickedness produces its own particular torment, just as every malefactor, when he is brought forth to execution, carries his own cross.” See Lardner’s Credib. vol. i. p. 160.
Verse 33. A place called Golgotha— From the Hebrew htglg or tlglg, golgoleth, a skull, probably so called from the many skulls of these who had suffered crucifixion and other capital punishments scattered up and down in the place. It is the same as Calvary, Calvaria, i.e. calvi capitis area, the place of bare skulls. Some think the place was thus called, because it was in the form of a human skull. It is likely that it was the place of public execution, similar to the Gemoniae Scalae at Rome.
Verse 34. They gave him vinegar-mingled with gall— Perhaps colh, commonly translated gall, signifies no more than bitters of any kind. It was a common custom to administer a stupefying potion compounded of sour wine, which is the same as vinegar, from the French vinaigre, frankincense, and myrrh, to condemned persons, to help to alleviate their sufferings, or so disturb their intellect that they might not be sensible of them. The rabbins say that they put a grain of frankincense into a cup of strong wine; and they ground this on Proverbs 31:6: Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, i.e. who is condemned to death. Some person, out of kindness, appears to have administered this to our blessed Lord; but he, as in all other cases, determining to endure the fullness of pain, refused to take what was thus offered to him, choosing to tread the winepress alone. Instead of oxov, vinegar, several excellent MSS. and versions have oinon, wine; but as sour wine is said to have been a general drink of the common people and Roman soldiers, it being the same as vinegar, it is of little consequence which reading is here adopted. This custom of giving stupefying potions to condemned malefactors is alluded to in Proverbs 31:6: Give strong drink, rqç shekar, inebriating drink, to him who is ready to PERISH, and wine to him who is BITTER of soul-because he is just going to suffer the punishment of death. And thus the rabbins, as we have seen above, understand it. See Lightfoot and Schoettgen.
Michaelis offers an ingenious exposition of this place: “Immediately after Christ was fastened to the cross, they gave him, according to Matthew 27:34, vinegar mingled with gall; but, according to Mark, they offered him wine mingled with myrrh. That St. Mark’s account is the right one is probable from this circumstance, that Christ refused to drink what was offered him, as appears from both evangelists. Wine mixed with myrrh was given to malefactors at the place of execution, to intoxicate them, and make them less sensible to pain. Christ, therefore, with great propriety, refused the aid of such remedies. But if vinegar was offered him, which was taken merely to assuage thirst, there could be no reason for his rejecting it. Besides, he tasted it before he rejected it; and therefore he must have found it different from that which, if offered to him, he was ready to receive. To solve this difficulty, we must suppose that the words used in the Hebrew Gospel of St. Matthew were such as agreed with the account given by St. Mark, and at the same time were capable of the construction which was put on them by St. Matthew’s Greek translator. Suppose St. Matthew wrote aryrmb aylj (chaleea bemireera) which signifies, sweet wine with bitters, or sweet wine and myrrh, as we find it in Mark; and Matthew’s translator overlooked the yod y in aylj (chaleea) he took it for alj (chala) which signifies vinegar; and bitter, he translated by colh, as it is often used in the Septuagint. Nay, St. Matthew may have written alj, and have still meant to express sweet wine; if so, the difference only consisted in the points; for the same word which, when pronounced chale, signifies sweet, denotes vinegar, as soon as it is pronounced chala.”
With this conjecture Dr. Marsh (Michaelis’s translator) is not satisfied; and therefore finds a Chaldee word for oinov wine, which may easily be mistaken for one that denotes oxov vinegar; and likewise a Chaldee word, which signifies smurna, (myrrh,) which may be easily mistaken for one that denotes colh, (gall.) “Now,” says he, “rmj (chamar) or armj (chamera) really denotes oinov (wine,) and ≈mj (chamets) or axmj (charnetsa) really denotes oxov (vinegar.) Again, arwm (mura) really signifies smurna (myrrh,) and arrm (murera) really signifies colh (gall.) If, then, we suppose that the original Chaldee text was arwmb fylh armj (chamera heleet bemura) wine mingled with myrrh, which is not at all improbable, as it is the reading of the Syriac version, at Mark 15:23, it might easily have been mistaken for arrmb fylh axmj (chametsa haleet bemurera) vinegar mingled with gall.” This is a more ingenious conjecture than that of Michaelis. See Marsh’s notes to Michaelis, vol. iii., part 2d. p. 127-28. But as that kind of sour wine, which was used by the Roman soldiers and common people, appears to have been termed oinov, and vin aigre is sour wine, it is not difficult to reconcile the two accounts, in what is most material to the facts here recorded.
Verse 35. And they crucified him— Crucifixion properly means the act of nailing or tying to a cross. The cross was made of two beams, either crossing at the top at right angles, like a T, or in the middle of their length, like an X. There was, besides, a piece on the center of the transverse beam, to which the accusation or statement of the crime of the culprit was attached, and a piece of wood which projected from the middle, on which the person sat, as on a sort of saddle; and by which the whole body was supported. Tertullian mentions this particularly: Nobis, says he, tota crux imputatur, cum antenna scilicet sua, et cum illo SEDILLS excessu. Advers. Nationes, lib. ii. Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, gives precisely the same description of the cross; and it is worthy of observation that both he and Tertullian flourished before the punishment of the cross had been abolished. The cross on which our Lord suffered was of the former kind; being thus represented in all old monuments, coins, and crosses. St. Jerome compares it to a bird flying, a man swimming, or praying with his arms extended. The punishment of the cross was inflicted among the ancient Hindoos from time immemorial for various species of theft; see Halhead’s Code of Gentoo Laws, p. 248, and was common among the Syrians, Egyptians, Persians, Africans, Greeks, and Romans: it is also still in use among the Chinese, who do not nail, but tie the criminal to it. It was probably the Romans who introduced it among the Jews. Before they became subject to the Romans, they used hanging or gibbeting, but not the cross. This punishment was the most dreadful of all others, both for the shame and pain of it: and so scandalous, that it was inflicted as the last mark of detestation upon the vilest of people. It was the punishment of robbers and murderers, provided they were slaves; but if they were free, it was thought too infamous a punishment for such, let their crimes be what they might.
The body of the criminal was fastened to the upright beam, by nailing or tying the feet to it, and on the transverse piece by nailing, and sometimes tying the hands to it. As the hands and feet are the grand instruments of motion, they are provided with a greater quantity of nerves; and the nerves in those places, especially the hands, are peculiarly sensible. Now, as the nerves are the instruments of all sensation or feeling, wounds in the parts where they abound must be peculiarly painful; especially when inflicted with such rude instruments as large nails, forced through the places by the violence of a hammer; thus tearing asunder the nervous fibrillae, delicate tendons, and small bones of those parts. This punishment will appear dreadful enough, when it is considered that the person was permitted to hang (the whole weight of his body being borne up by his nailed hands and the projecting piece which passed between the thighs) till he perished through agony and lack of food. Some, we are informed, have lived three whole days in this state. It is true that, in some cases, there was a kind of mercy shown to the sufferer, which will appear sufficiently horrid, when it is known that it consisted in breaking the bones of their legs and thighs to pieces with a large hammer, in order to put them the sooner out of pain! Such a coup de grace as this could only spring from those tender mercies of the wicked which God represents as cruelty itself. Some were permitted to hang on the cross till eaten up by birds of prey, which often began to tear them before life was extinct. Horace alludes to this punishment, and from what he says, it seems to have been inflicted on slaves, etc., not on trifling occasions, but for the most horrible crimes.
Si quis eum servum, patinam qui tollere jussus
Semesos pisces tepidumque ligurrierit jus,
In CRUCE suffigat. HOR. Satyr. l. i. s. 3. v. 80
If a poor slave who takes away your plate,
Lick the warm sauce, or half cold fragments eat,
Yet should you crucify the wretch! — FRANCIS
Non hominem occidi: non pasces in CRUCE corvos.
“I have not committed murder: Then thou shalt not be nailed to the cross, to feed the ravens.” HOR. Epist. l. i. s. 16. v. 48.
The anguish occasioned by crucifixion was so intense, that crucio, (a cruce,) among the Romans, was the common word by which they expressed suffering and torment in general.
And parted his garments, casting lots— These were the Roman soldiers, who had crucified him: and it appears from this circumstance, that in those ancient times the spoils of the criminal were claimed by the executioners, as they are to the present day. It appears that they divided a part, and cast lots for the rest: viz. for his seamless coat, John 19:23, 24.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.— The whole of this quotation should be omitted, as making no part originally of the genuine text of this evangelist. It is omitted by almost every MS. of worth and importance, by almost all the versions, and the most reputable of the primitive fathers, who have written or commented on the place. The words are plainly an interpolation, borrowed from John 19:24, in which place they will be properly noticed.
Verse 36. They watched him— To prevent his disciples or relatives from taking away the body or affording any relief to the sufferer.
Verse 37. His accusation— It was a common custom to affix a label to the cross, giving a statement of the crime for which the person suffered. This is still the case in China, when a person is crucified. Sometimes a person was employed to carry this before the criminal, while going to the place of punishment.
It is with much propriety that Matthew calls this aitia, accusation; for it was false that ever Christ pretended to be KING OF THE JEWS, in the sense the inscription held forth: he was accused of this, but there was no proof of the accusation; however it was affixed to the cross. From John 19:21, we find that the Jews wished this to be a little altered: Write, said they, that HE said, l am king of the Jews; thus endeavoring, by the addition of a vile lie, to countenance their own conduct in putting him to death. But this Pilate refused to do. Both Luke, Luke 23:38, and John, John 19:20, say that this accusation was written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. In those three languages, we may conceive the label to stand thus, according to the account given by St. John; the Hebrew being the mixed dialect then spoken. In Hebrew-ebraisti: aydwhyd aklm ayrxn [wsy
In Greek-ellhnista: ihsouv o nazwraiov o basileuv twn ioudaiwn
In Latin-rwmaisti: IESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM It is only necessary to observe, that all the letters, both of the Greek and Roman alphabets, were those now called square or uncial, similar to these above.
Verse 38. Two thieves— lhstai, robbers, or cutthroats: men who had committed robbery and murder; for it does not appear that persons were crucified for robbery only. Thus was our Lord numbered (his name enrolled, placed as it were in the death warrant) with transgressors, according to the prophetic declaration, Isaiah 53:12; and the Jews placed him between these two, perhaps to intimate that he was the worst felon of the three.
Verse 39. Wagging their heads— In token of contempt.
Verse 40. Thou that destroyest— Who didst pretend that thou couldst have destroyed the temple, and built it up again in three days. This malicious torturing of our Lord’s words has been noticed before. Cruelty is obliged to take refuge in lies, in order to vindicate its infamous proceedings.
If thou be the Son of God— Or rather, uiov tou qeou A son of God, i.e. a peculiar favorite of the Most-High; not o uiov tou qeou, THE Son of God. “It is not to be conceived,” says a learned man, “that every passenger who was going to the city had a competent knowledge of Christ’s supernatural conception by the Holy Spirit, or an adequate comprehension of his character as the Messiah, and (kat/ exochn) THE SON OF GOD. There is not a single passage where Jesus is designed to be pointed out as the MESSIAH, THE SON OF GOD, where the article is omitted: nor, on the other hand, is this designation ever specified without the article, thus, ‘o uiov tou qeou. See Matthew 16:16; 26:63; 28:19.”
Verse 41. Chief priests-scribes and elders— To these, several ancient MSS. and versions add, kai farisaiwn, and Pharisees. But though the authority for this reading is respectable, yet it does not appear that the Pharisees joined in with the others in the condemnation of our Lord. Probably his discourses and parables, related in some of the preceding chapters, which were spoken directly to them, had so far convinced them that they would at least have no hand in putting him to death. All the infamy of this seems to fall upon the PRIESTS, scribes, and elders.
Verse 42. He saved others; himself he cannot save.— Or, Cannot he save himself? Several MSS. read this with the mark of interrogation as above; and this makes the sarcasm still more keen.
A high priest who designs to destroy the temple of God: a Savior who saves not himself; and the Son of God crucified: these are the contradictions which give offense to Jews and libertines. But a high priest who dispels the types and shadows, only that he may disclose the substance of religion, and become the minister of a heavenly sanctuary; a Savior who dies only to be the victim of salvation; and the Son of God who confines his power within the bounds of the cross to establish the righteousness of faith: this is what a Christian adores; this is the foundation of his hope, and the fountain of his present comfort and final blessedness. See Quesnel.
We will believe him.— Instead of autw, him, many excellent MSS. have ep/ autw, IN him: this is a reading which Griesbach and other eminent critics have adopted.
Verse 43. If he will have him— Or, if he delight in him-ei qelei auton. The verbs qelw and eqelw, are used by the Septuagint in more than forty places for the Hebrew ≈pj chaphets, which signifies, earnestly to desire, or delight in. Now as this is a quotation from Psalm 22:8, He trusted in the Lord, that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, (wb ≈pj yk ki chaphets bo,) for he HATH DELIGHTED IN HIM:-oti qelei auton, Sept. This will sufficiently vindicate the above translation; as the evangelist quotes the words from that version, with the simple change of ei, if, for oti, because.
Verse 44. The thieves also-cast the same in his teeth.— That is, one of the robbers; for one, we find, was a penitent, Luke 23:39, 40. See this form of expression accounted for, on Matthew 26:8.
Verse 45. There was darkness over all the land— I am of opinion that pasan thn ghn does not mean all the world, but only the land of Judea. So the word is used Matthew 24:30; Luke 4:25, and in other places. Several eminent critics are of this opinion: Beza defends this meaning of the word, and translates the Greek, super universam REGIONEM over the whole COUNTRY. Besides, it is evident that the evangelists speak of things that happened in Judea, the place of their residence. It is plain enough there was a darkness in Jerusalem, and over all Judea; and probably over all the people among whom Christ had for more than three years preached the everlasting Gospel; and that this darkness was supernatural is evident from this, that it happened during the passover, which was celebrated only at the full moon, a time in which it was impossible for the sun to be eclipsed. But many suppose the darkness was over the whole world, and think there is sufficient evidence of this in ancient authors. PHLEGON and THALLUS, who flourished in the beginning of the second century, are supposed to speak of this. The former says: “In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was an extraordinary eclipse of the sun: at the sixth hour, the day was turned into dark night, so that the stars in heaven were seen; and there was an earthquake in Bithynia, which overthrew many houses in the city of Nice.” This is the substance of what Phlegon is reputed to have said on this subject:-but 1. All the authors who quote him differ, and often very materially, in what they say was found in him. 2. Phlegon says nothing of Judea: what he says is, that in such an Olympiad, (some say the 102nd, others the 202nd,) there was an eclipse in Bithynia, and an earthquake at Nice. 3. Phlegon does not say that the earthquake happened at the time of the eclipse. 4. Phlegon does not intimate that this darkness was extraordinary, or that the eclipse happened at the full of the moon, or that it lasted three hours. These circumstances could not have been omitted by him, if he had known them. 5. Phlegon speaks merely of an ordinary, though perhaps total, eclipse of the sun, and cannot mean the darkness mentioned by the evangelists. 6. Phlegon speaks of an eclipse that happened in some year of the 102nd, or 202nd Olympiad; and therefore little stress can be laid on what he says as applying to this event.
The quotation from THALLUS, made by AFRICANUS, found in the Chronicle of SYNCELLUS, of the eighth century, is allowed by eminent critics to be of little importance. This speaks “of a darkness over all the world, and an earthquake which threw down many houses in Judea and in other parts of the earth.” It may be necessary to observe, that THALLUS is quoted by several of the ancient ecclesiastical writers for other matters, but never for this; and that the time in which he lived is so very uncertain, that Dr. Lardner supposes there is room to think he lived rather before than after Christ.
DIONYSIUS the Areopagite is supposed to have mentioned this event in the most decided manner: for being at Heliopolis in Egypt, with his friend Apollophanes, when our Savior suffered, they there saw a wonderful eclipse of the sun, whereupon Dionysius said to his friend, “Either God himself suffers, or sympathizes with the sufferer.” It is enough to say of this man, that all the writings attributed to him are known to be spurious, and are proved to be forgeries of the fifth or sixth century. Whoever desires to see more on this subject, may consult Dr. Lardner, (vol. vii. p. 371, ed. 1788,) a man whose name should never be mentioned but with respect, notwithstanding the peculiarities of his religious creed; who has done more in the service of Divine revelation than most divines in Christendom; and who has raised a monument to the perpetuity of the Christian religion, which all the infidels in creation shall never be able to pull down or deface.
This miraculous darkness should have caused the enemies of Christ to understand that he was the light of the world, and that because they did not walk in it it was now taken away from them.
Verse 46. My God! My God! why hast thou forsaken me!— These words are quoted by our Lord from Psalm 22:1; they are of very great importance, and should be carefully considered.
Some suppose “that the divinity had now departed from Christ, and that his human nature was left unsupported to bear the punishment due to men for their sins.” But this is by no means to be admitted, as it would deprive his sacrifice of its infinite merit, and consequently leave the sin of the world without an atonement. Take deity away from any redeeming act of Christ, and redemption is ruined. Others imagine that our Lord spoke these words to the Jews only, to prove to them that he was the Messiah. “The Jews,” say they, “believed this psalm to speak of the Messiah: they quoted the eighth verse of it against Christ-He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. (See Matthew 27:43.) To which our Lord immediately answers, My God! my God! etc , thus showing that he was the person of whom the psalmist prophesied.” I have doubts concerning the propriety of this interpretation.
It has been asked, What language is it that our Lord spoke? Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. Some say it is Hebrew-others Syriac. I say, as the evangelists quote it, it is neither. St. Matthew comes nearest the Hebrew, yntbz[ hml yla yla Eli, Eli, lamah azabthani, in the words, hli, hli, lama sabactani, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.
And St. Mark comes nearest the Syriac, Mark 15:34, [S] Alohi, Alohi, l’mono shebachtheni, in the words elwi, elwi, lamma sabacqani, Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani. It is worthy of note, that a Hebrew MS. of the twelfth century, instead of yntbz[ azabthani, forsaken me, reads yntjkç shechachthani, FORGOTTEN me. This word makes a very good sense, and comes nearer to the sabachthani of the evangelists. It may be observed also, that the words, Why hast thou FORGOTTEN me? are often used by David and others, in times of oppression and distress. See Psalm 42:9.
Some have taken occasion from these words to depreciate the character of our blessed Lord. “They are unworthy,” say they, “of a man who suffers, conscious of his innocence, and argue imbecility, impatience, and despair.” This is by no means fairly deducible from the passage. However, some think that the words, as they stand in the Hebrew and Syriac, are capable of a translation which destroys all objections, and obviates every difficulty. The particle hml lamah, may be translated, to what-to whom-to what kind or sort-to what purpose or profit: Genesis 25:32; Genesis 32:29; 33:15; Job 9:29; Jeremiah 6:20; 20:18; Am 5:18; and the verb bz[ azab signifies to leave-to deposit-to commit to the care of. See
Genesis 39:6; Job 39:11; Psalm 10:14, and Jeremiah 49:11. The words, taken in this way, might be thus translated: My God! my God! to what sort of persons hast thou left me? The words thus understood are rather to be referred to the wicked Jews than to our Lord, and are an exclamation indicative of the obstinate wickedness of his crucifiers, who steeled their hearts against every operation of the Spirit and power of God. See Ling. Brit. Reform. by B. Martin, p. 36.
Through the whole of the Sacred Writings, God is represented as doing those things which, in the course of his providence, he only permits to be done; therefore, the words, to whom hast thou left or given me up, are only a form of expression for, “How astonishing is the wickedness of those persons into whose hands I am fallen!” If this interpretation be admitted, it will free this celebrated passage from much embarrassment, and make it speak a sense consistent with itself, and with the dignity of the Son of God.
The words of St. Mark, Mark 15:34, agree pretty nearly with this translation of the Hebrew: eiv ti me egkatilepev; To what [sort of persons, understood] hast thou left me? A literal translation of the passage in the Syriac Testament gives a similar sense: Ad quid dereliquisti me? “To what hast thou abandoned me?” And an ancient copy of the old Itala version, a Latin translation before the time of St. Jerome, renders the words thus: Quare me in opprobrium dedisti? “Why hast thou abandoned me to reproach?”
It may he objected, that this can never agree with the inati, why, of Matthew. To this it is answered, that inati must have here the same meaning as eiv ti-as the translation of hml lama; and that, if the meaning be at all different, we must follow that evangelist who expresses most literally the meaning of the original: and let it be observed, that the Septuagint often translate hml by inati instead of eiv ti, which evidently proves that it often had the same meaning. Of this criticism I say, Valet quod valet, Let it pass for no more than it is worth: the subject is difficult. But whatever may be thought of the above mode of interpretation, one thing is certain, viz. That the words could not be used by our Lord in the sense in which they are generally understood. This is sufficiently evident; for he well knew why he was come unto that hour; nor could he be forsaken of God, in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. The Deity, however, might restrain so much of its consolatory support as to leave the human nature fully sensible of all its sufferings, so that the consolations might not take off any part of the keen edge of his passion; and this was necessary to make his sufferings meritorious. And it is probable that this is all that is intended by our Lord’s quotation from the twenty-second Psalm. Taken in this view, the words convey an unexceptionable sense, even in the common translation.
Verse 47. This man calleth for Elias.— Probably these were Hellenistic Jews, who did not fully understand the meaning of our Lord’s words. Elijah was daily expected to appear as the forerunner of the Messiah, whose arrival, under the character of a mighty prince, was generally supposed to be at hand throughout the east. See Malachi 4:5; Matthew 2:2-4; 17:10-12.
Verse 48. Took a sponge— This being the most convenient way to reach a liquid to his mouth; tied it on a reed, that they might be able to reach his lips with it. This reed, as we learn from St. John, was a stalk of hyssop, which, in that country, must have grown to a considerable magnitude. This appears also to have been done in mercy, to alleviate his sufferings. See Matthew 27:34.
Verse 49. After this verse, BCL and five others add, Another, taking a spear, pierced his side, and there came out blood and water. Several of the fathers add the same words here: they appear, however, to be an interpolation from John 19:34.
Verse 50. Yielded up the ghost.— afhke to pneuma, He dismissed the spirit. He himself willingly gave up that life which it was impossible for man to take away. It is not said that he hung on the cross till he died through pain and agony; nor is it said that his bones were broken, the sooner to put him out of pain, and to hasten his death; but that himself dismissed the soul, that he might thus become, not a forced sacrifice, but a free-will offering for sin.
Now, as our English word ghost, from the Anglo-Saxon [AS] gast, an inmate, inhabitant, guest, (a casual visitant,) also a spirit, is now restricted among us to the latter meaning, always signifying the immortal spirit or soul of man, the guest of the body and as giving up the spirit, ghost, or soul, is an act not proper to man, though commending it to God, in our last moments, is both an act of faith and piety; and as giving up the ghost, i.e. dismissing his spirit from his body, is attributed to Jesus Christ, to whom alone it is proper; I therefore object against its use in every other case.
Every man, since the fall, has not only been liable to death, but has deserved it; as all have forfeited their lives because of sin. Jesus Christ, as born immaculate, and having never sinned, had not forfeited his life, and therefore may be considered as naturally and properly immortal. No man, says he, taketh it, my life, from me, but I lay it down of myself: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again, John 10:17, 18. Hence we rightly translate Matthew 27:50, afhke to pneuma, he gave up the ghost; i.e. he dismissed his spirit, that he might die for the sin of the world. The Evangelist St. John (John 19:30) makes use of an expression to the same import, which we translate in the same way: paredwke to pneuma, he delivered up his spirit. We translate Mark 15:37, and Luke 23:46, he gave up the ghost, but not correctly, because the word in both these places is very different-exepneuse, he breathed his last, or expired; though in the latter place, Luke 23:46, there is an equivalent expression-O Father, into thy hands, paratiqemai to pneuma mou, I commit my spirit; i.e. I place my soul in thy hand: proving that the act was his own; that no man could take his life away from him; that he did not die by the perfidy of his disciple, or the malice of the Jews, but by his own free act. Thus HE LAID DOWN his life for the sheep. Of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:5,10, and of Herod, Acts 12:23, our translation says, they gave up the ghost; but the word in both places is exeyuxe, which simply means to breathe out, to expire, or die: but in no case, either by the Septuagint in the Old, or any of the sacred writers in the New Testament, is afhke to pneuma, or paredwke to pneuma, he dismissed his spirit, or delivered up his spirit, spoken of any person but Christ. Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, etc., breathed their last; Ananias, Sapphira, and Herod, expired; but none, Jesus Christ excepted, gave up the ghost, dismissed, or delivered up his own spirit, and was, consequently, free among the dead. Of the patriarchs, etc., the Septuagint use the word ekleipwn, failing; or katepausen, he ceased, or rested.
Verse 51. The veil of the temple was rent— That is, the veil which separated the holy place, where the priests ministered, from the holy of holies, into which the high priest only entered, and that once a year, to make a general expiation for the sins of the people. This rending of the veil was emblematical, and pointed out that the separation between Jews and Gentiles was now abolished, and that the privilege of the high priest was now communicated to all mankind: ALL might henceforth have access to the throne of grace, through the one great atonement and mediator, the Lord Jesus. See this beautifully illustrated in Hebrews 10:19-22.
Verse 52. And the graves were opened— By the earthquake; and many bodies of saints which slept, i.e. were dead, sleep being a common expression for death in the Scriptures.
Verse 53. And came out of the graves after his resurrection— Not BEFORE, as some have thought, for Christ was himself the FIRST FRUITS of them who slept, 1 Corinthians 15:20. The graves were opened at his death, by the earthquake, and the bodies came out at his resurrection.
And appeared unto many.— Thus establishing the truth of our Lord’s resurrection in particular, and of the resurrection of the body in general, by many witnesses. Quesnel’s reflections on these passages may be very useful. “1. The veil being rent shows that his death is to put an end to the figurative worship, and to establish the true religion. 2. The earthquake, that this dispensation of the Gospel is to make known through the earth the judgments of God against sin and sinners. 3. The rocks being rent declare that the sacrifice of Christ is to make way for the grace of repentance. 4. The graves being opened, that it is to destroy the death of sin, and confer the life grace on sinners. 5. The rising of the bodies of the saints shows that this death of Christ is to merit, and his Gospel publish, the eternal happiness of body and soul for all that believe in his name.”
It is difficult to account for the transaction mentioned Matthew 27:52, 53. Some have thought that these two verses have been introduced into the text of Matthew from the gospel of the Nazarenes; others think that the simple meaning is this:-by the earthquake several bodies that had been buried were thrown up and exposed to view, and continued above ground till after Christ’s resurrection, and were seen by many persons in the city. Why the graves should be opened on Friday, and the bodies not be raised to life till the following Sunday, is difficult to be conceived. The place is extremely obscure.
Verse 54. The centurion— The Roman officer who superintended the execution, called centurio, from centum, a hundred, because he had the command of one hundred men.
Truly this was the Son of God.— An innocent, holy, and Divine person; and God thus shows his disapprobation of this bloody tragedy. It is not likely that this centurion had any knowledge of the expectation of the Jews relative to the Messiah, and did not use the words in this sense. A son of God, as the Romans used the term, would signify no more than a very eminent or Divine person; a hero.
Verse 55. Many women— To their everlasting honor, these women evidenced more courage, and affectionate attachment to their Lord and Master, than the disciples did, who had promised to die with him rather than forsake him.
Beholding afar off— At a distance-apo makroqen. Though this expression may be understood to refer, rather to the distance from which they came, (viz. from Galilee,) than the distance they stood from the cross; yet, as all malefactors were crucified naked, perhaps this may account for the distance at which these modest women stood.
Verse 56. Mary Magdalene— She probably had her name from Magdala, a village or district in Lower Galilee. See Matthew 15:39. Some think she was called Magdalene from aldgm magdala, which signifies a plaiter of hair. See Lightfoot.
Mary the mother of James— She was mother of him called James the lesser, or junior, who was son of Alpheus or Cleopas-see Matthew 10:3; Mark 15:40; John 19:25; and she was sister to the holy virgin. Thus it appears that there were four remarkable Marys mentioned in the Gospels.
1. MARY the Virgin, wife of JOSEPH. 2. MARY SALOME, her sister, wife of Cleopas, John 19:25. 3. MARY MAGDALENE, or MARY of Magdala; and, 4. MARY, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, John 11:1. Though Baronius asserts, and Lightfoot is of the same opinion, that Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was one and the same person. It is difficult to ascertain and distinguish these women where their names occur in the Gospels, so many being called by the name of Mary.
Joses— Several MSS. and versions read Joseph.
Verse 57. When the even— This must have been about three o’clock, or a little after; for our Lord having expired about three o’clock, Matthew 27:46, and the Jewish passover beginning about four, it was necessary that Joseph, who would not fail to eat the passover at the usual time, should have obtained and buried the body of Christ some time before four o’clock. But such was the general consternation, occasioned by the prodigies that took place on this most awful occasion, that we may safely conjecture that nothing was done in order, and perhaps the passover itself was not eaten at the usual hour, if at all, that day. See at the end of the preceding chapter.
A rich man— He was a counsellor of the great Sanhedrin, Luke 23:50; and, from the accounts given of him by the evangelists we learn that he was a man of the greatest respectability. He now acted a more honorable part than all the disciples of our Lord. He was of Arimathea, or Rama, in the tribe of Benjamin, Matthew 2:18, but lived ordinarily in Jerusalem, as being a member of the great council.
Verse 58. Begged the body— That he might bury it honorably otherwise, by the Jewish customs, he would have either been burned, or buried in the common place appointed for executed criminals.
Verse 59. Wrapped it in a clean linen cloth— The Jews, as well as the Egyptians, added spices to keep the body from putrefaction, and the linen was wrapped about every part to keep the aromatics in contact with the flesh. From John 19:39, 40, we learn that a mixture of myrrh and aloes of one hundred pounds’ weight had been applied to the body of Jesus when he was buried. And that a second embalmment was intended, we learn from Luke 23:56; 24:1, as the hurry to get the body interred before the Sabbath did not permit them to complete, the embalming in the first instance. See an account of the mode of embalming among the Egyptians, in the note on Genesis 50:2, 26.
Verse 60. Laid it in his own new tomb— To all human appearance the body of Christ must have had the same burial-place with those of the two robbers, as he was numbered with the transgressors, and suffered with them; for then he was a sacrifice, bearing the sin of the world in his own body on the tree; but now the sacrifice is offered, the atonement made and accepted, he is no longer to be enrolled with the transgressors, and, according to a prophecy delivered nearly seven hundred years before that time, he is to have the burying-place of a rich man. See Isaiah 53:9, 10. Had our Lord been buried in the common burial-ground of the malefactors, his resurrection could not have been so distinctly remarked, as the chief priests would never have thought of sealing the stone there, or setting a watch; but now that the body is got into the hands of a friend, they judge it necessary to make use of these precautions, in order, as they said, to prevent imposture; and from this very circumstance the resurrection of Christ had its fullest evidence, and was put beyond the power of successful contradiction. What a number of objections would not human prudence have made to Joseph’s conduct, had he consulted it on this occasion! It would have represented to him that, “this was to expose himself, to bring himself into trouble, to render himself suspected, to put himself out of all capacity of doing good, to ruin himself irrecoverably; and now it could do no good to his teacher-he is now dead, and needs no longer any office of kindness from men.” There is, sometimes in our whole life, but one opportunity in which God designs signally to employ us; and, through our general backwardness to every good work, we are for reserving ourselves to other opportunities, in which God neither requires nor will accept our services.
Rolled a great stone to the door— Some are of opinion that this tomb was cut down into the rock, perpendicularly from the surface; and that the great stone spoken of here covered over the entrance to it. The stone, no doubt, was intended to secure the place as much as possible.
Verse 61. Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary— The mother of James and Joses, Matthew 27:56. The mother of our Lord had probably, by this time, been taken home to the house of John. See John 19:26, 27.
Sitting over against the sepulchre.— These holy women, filled with that love to their Lord which death cannot destroy, cleaved to him in life, and in death were not divided. They came to the grave to see the end, and overwhelmed with sorrow and anguish, sat down to mourn.
Verse 62. The next day— This was the seventh, or Saturday, and might be what we should term the evening of the sixth, or Friday, because the Jews always ended their day when the sun set, and then began the next.
That followed the day of the preparation— That is, of the Sabbath. The victuals, etc., which were to be used on the Sabbath by the Jews, were always prepared the preceding evening before the sun set. It is of this preparation that the evangelist speaks here; and it is the same which is mentioned by Mark, Mark 15:42; by Luke, Luke 23:54; and by John, John 19:31. But there was another preparation which happened in the same day: viz. The preparation of the passover; this began about twelve o’clock, and continued till four, the time in which they ate the paschal lamb. See John 19:14.
Verse 63. Sir, we remember, etc.— While these wicked men are fulfilling their own vicious counsels, they are subserving the great cause of Christianity. Every thing depended on the resurrection of Christ; if it did not appear that he rose from the dead, then the whole system was false, and no atonement was made. It was necessary therefore that the chief priests, etc., should make use of every precaution to prevent an imposture, that the resurrection of Christ might have the fullest evidence to support it. See on Matthew 27:60.
The word kurie is here very properly translated sir, which, in many other places, is as improperly translated Lord. When a Roman is the speaker, or the person addressed, kurie should always be translated sir; when strangers address our Lord, the word is a title of civil respect, and should, in general, be translated in the same way.
After three days I will rise again.— This they probably took from his saying, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up. If so, they destroyed, by their own words, the false accusation they brought against him to put him to death; then they perverted the meaning, now they declare it. Thus the wise are taken in their own craftiness. Neither the devil nor his servants ever speak truth, but when they expect to accomplish some bad purpose by it.
Verse 64. Lest his disciples come by night— nuktov, by night, is wanting in ten of the uncial MSS., and in several others, and in most of the versions. Erasmus, Aldus, Bengel, and Boghard, with Griesbach, leave it out of the text.
Verse 65. Ye have a watch— The Jews had a corps of Roman troops, consisting of several companies, as a guard for the temple, Acts 4:1. These companies mounted guard by turns, see Luke 22:4. Some of these companies, which were not then on duty, Pilate gave them leave to employ to watch the tomb.
Verse 66. Made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.— Or rather, made the tomb secure by the guard, and by sealing the stone. I follow Kypke, in construing meta thv koustwdiav, with hsfalisanto. The guard was to take care that the disciples should not steal him away; and the seal, which was probably the seal of the governor, was to prevent the guards from being corrupted so as to permit the theft. So every thing was done which human policy and prudence could, to prevent a resurrection, which these very precautions had the most direct tendency to authenticate and establish. How wonderful are the wisdom and goodness of God!-and how true is it, that there is neither might nor counsel against him!