Bible: What Does Matthew 27 Teach Us About the Death of Judas, the "Freedom" of Barabbas, and The Suffering of Jesus?
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The Name of Judas' Burial Site
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Matthew 27: Judas' Remorse and Suicide; Barabbas' Release; Jesus' Crucifixion and Burial
Jesus on Trial Before Sanhedrin
On Friday morning, the Sanhedrin convenes a final meeting to arrange Jesus’ death (v. 1).
Having confined Him for a few hours, they now order soldiers to bind Him and take Him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea (v. 2).
[See Ryrie’s excellent commentary on Pilate in Mark 15.]
Meanwhile, they dispose of Judas’ case.
His plans having backfired, the remorseful traitor approaches the Jews, confessing his guilt; the Sanhedrin, however, having absolved themselves of any wrongdoing, tell him, in essence, “The sin matter is not our problem; deal with it yourself.”
That is, make a sin offering (vv. 3-4).
[If Judas sought out the Sanhedrin thinking that they would help him, then their “washing their hands” of the issue pushed him farther over the edge.]
Judas casts down his “sin offering” (the bribe money) in the temple—a bitter response to harsh disillusionment—, and then hangs himself. (Luke intimates that he botched his suicide, Acts1:18) [v. 5].
[Did Judas have any hope of forgiveness, or did Jesus’ earlier assertion seal the betrayer’s destiny? (cf. 26:24).
If the latter case is true, then the Lord knew that the traitor would never come to God for forgiveness, and He told him as much.
On the other hand, He told Peter, “When you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (cf. Lk. 22:32), indicating not only His prior knowledge of the apostle’s repentance, but also His predetermined will that he do so.]
Retrieving the money pouch, the chief priests decide not to defile the temple by putting the silver (“blood money”) into the treasury, but to use it to buy The Potter’s Field—the place to “bury people who had no family tombs” (Ryrie 60) [v. 7].
Matthew records that the Jews renamed this burial site haqueldama: “Field of Blood” (v. 8).
Although Zechariah 11:12-13 contains this “thirty pieces of silver” prophecy, the apostle attributes these words to Jeremiah because this latter prophet’s writing headed the books of the prophets in Jesus’ day (vv. 9-10).
[See Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 60 for a fuller discussion of this point.]
Pontius Pilate Sits as Judge
Jesus Before Pontius Pilate
Standing now before the Roman governor, Jesus fields the only relevant question in Pilate’s mind: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (v. 11a).
In their rebuttal to His affirmative response, the Lord’s opponents accuse Him of charges that Matthew does not record, charges to which He remains silent (vv. 11b-12).
Pilate marvels when Christ says nothing to his inquiry about His opponents' complaints (vv. 13-14).
The Choice: Barabbas or Jesus
To pacify the Jews somewhat, the Romans customarily released a prisoner of their subjects’ choice (v. 15).
[Either this act of emancipation represents a clever strategy—perhaps the authorities felt that the prisoner might lead a surveillance team to a nest of other insurrectionists—or it manifests the height of arrogance, as if they were saying, “Here’s more firepower, Jews; give it your best shot. We’ll still defeat you.”
Still again, it may have genuinely served as an olive branch to a recalcitrant rabble.]
Standing between Jesus “the Christ” and Barabbas, a “notorious prisoner,” Pilate offers the Jews their yearly Passover selection, digging them a little by adding Jesus’ Messianic claim into the mix (vv. 16-18).
Then a curious event occurs at the bematos (judgment seat): the governor receives an ominous message from his wife, admonishing him to “have nothing to do with that just Man” (meaning Jesus).
For she had had a dream about Him that has tormented her all day (v. 19).
[Matthew records several divinely-sent dreams that either guided people in their decision-making or warned them to flee (See 1:20;2:12, 13, 19, 22).
Questions arise: If the dream originated with God, why would He tell her to influence her husband to spare Jesus’ life?
Was He giving him an opportunity to avoid culpability in His murder?]
Meanwhile, the Jewish leaders busy themselves among the multitudes, building up a super-majority vote against Christ (v. 20).
Verse 21a merely repeats Pilate’s offer; the rest of the verse, the expected one-word answer.
Having anticipated their choice (that is, Barabbas), Pilate then inquires about Jesus’ fate (v. 22a).
He vigorously objects to the irrationality of the rabble’s vehement hatred for the Prisoner, a hatred they exemplify by repeatedly calling for His crucifixion (vv. 22b-23).
Unable to change their mind, the governor pursues the case no longer in order to avoid further political and social instability.
Taking his wife’s warning to heart, he shows the Jews that he will have nothing to do with this just Person’s execution, symbolically absolving himself of any guilt associated with this wrongful death by washing his hands (v. 24).
Those Jews present—not the whole nation—willingly take upon themselves and their children any evil consequences resulting from Jesus’ crucifixion (v. 25).
Pilate then frees Barabbas, has Jesus flogged with cruel Roman scourges, and delivers Him over to the executioners (v. 26).
A Roman Scourging
The Scourging at the Post
From the place of His scourging, the soldiers prod Christ to Pilate’s residence, the Praetorium, where they gather the whole cohort around Him for a little “fun” (v. 27).
After stripping Him (undoubtedly reopening His stripes), they dress Him up like a king, throwing a scarlet robe around Him and putting a woven crown of thorns on His head and a reed in His hand.
To complete the show, the soldiers genuflect before Him and proclaim Him “King of the Jews” (vv. 28-29).
Beholding such a ridiculous get-up may have generated feelings of disgust in them and caused them to abuse Him physically even more (v. 30).
Their lust for fun surfeited, they rip the robe off Jesus’ back, put His own bloody garments back on Him, and lead Him toward Golgotha (the Place of a Skull) [vv. 31, 33].
Observing that Jesus had become too weak to carry His crossbeam, they conscript Simon of Cyrene to bear it for Him (v. 32).
Jesus' Death on the Cross
The Crucifixion of Jesus
At the site of crucifixion, the commander offers Jesus some sour wine laced with gall—a common sedative—but He refuses it, “preferring to meet His death with all His faculties unimpaired” (v. 34; Ryrie 61).
After crucifying Him, those who did the deed gamble over the spoils (Jesus’ clothes), thus fulfilling Scripture (v. 35; cf. Ps. 22:18), and then watch over Him (v. 36).
[Ryrie provides an excellent summary of the details of crucifixion (New Testament Study Bible, 61).]
While He hangs there, someone affixes a sign over Jesus’ head, reading, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews,” signifying His "crime" of calling Himself a king (according to the Romans) and His blasphemy of claming Messiahship (according to the Jews) [v. 37].
With Him hang two robbers, “one on His right and another on His left” (v. 38).
[Matthew records that both criminals reviled Him (v. 44), but he does not record their later conversation when one of them genuinely repents (cf. Lk.23:40-42).
Instead, he emphasizes the mockery of “passersby” and of the Jewish leaders present, vv. 39-40 and vv. 41-43, respectively.]
The content of their blasphemy indicates that the passersby (v. 39)—the identities of which Matthew leaves undisclosed—had perhaps attended the trial where they heard false witnesses repeat Jesus’ claim to have resurrection power (the three-day “temple” rebuilding), though they probably understood it as a reference to a literal rebuilding of the Jewish temple.
There they also heard Him claim Deity for Himself. Showing contempt for Him by wagging their heads, they demand that He prove His claim by coming down from the cross (v. 40; cf. 26:61-64; Ps. 109:25).
The Jewish leaders do not mention the temple comment, but mock Him for His seeming inability to deliver Himself after having saved so many others, implying with these words that He had not saved the others (vv. 41-42a).
They also boisterously converse among themselves—they do not address Him directly—daring Him to support His claim as “the King of Israel” by performing a sign miracle—“Come down from the cross”—before they would believe in Him (vv. 42b).
Jesus, of course, had told them that they would see only the sign of Jonah (cf. 12:38).
They even have the temerity to quote part of a verse from Psalm 22, a statement prophesying what they would say.
However, they twist the saying to indicate their denial that God delights in Him and “will have Him,” this One who claims to be His Son (v. 43).
For the last three hours that Jesus suffered on the cross—namely,noon to three p.m.—a preternatural darkness envelops the land (v. 45).
At the end, He cries out Psalm 22:1 in Aramaic, announcing God’s abandonment of Him (v. 46).
[Ryrie makes the point that “this cry may reflect the desertion Jesus felt as He was bearing the sins of the world (2 Cor. 5:21).”]
Probably not recognizing that He is quoting a specific Scripture verse, they mistake Him even at this point, thinking that He is calling upon Elijah to save Him (vv. 47, 49).
Why does one person offer Him a drink of sour wine upon a sponge? (v. 48)
Out of mercy, undoubtedly, but perhaps he wanted to hear Jesus’ last words better; the Lord’s mouth might have been so dry that He could not speak clearly (cf. Ps. 22:15).
Matthew records none of the other “seven sayings” from the cross, but simply states that Jesus yielded up His spirit (indicating, of course, that no one took His life from Him) [v. 50; cf. John 10:18].
Two supernatural events occur simultaneously with His death:
(1) God’s Spirit (implied, but obvious) tears from top to bottom the veil (curtain) that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple; and
(2) Using an earthquake to open the graves of saints, God either resurrects their inhabitants or raises these people to die again (vv. 51-52).
Matthew reports that many of these believers leave their tombs, and make appearances in Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection (v. 53).
Standing on guard at Christ’s death while the earth rolls beneath their feet and they see “the things that had happened,” Roman soldiers confess the truth of Jesus’ claim that He is the Son of God (v. 54).
[What things did they see happen? Graves opening?
The saints did not leave their tombs until after Jesus arose, so they did not see this event occur.
They probably did not see anything else. What did they understand of Jesus’ title?]
Besides naysayers and soldiers, many women witness Jesus’ crucifixion; the two Marys—Magdalene and His mother, the mother of James and Joses—and the mother of John and James, Zebedee’s sons are prominent among them (vv. 55-56).
[Other accounts record that Salome and Jesus’ aunt Mary, the wife of Clopas, also look on (Mk.15:40; John19:25). Note Matthew’s list:
(1) Magdalene gets first billing over Jesus’ mother;
(2) The names of Jesus’ first two brothers appear with His mother’s; and
(3) The apostle pens the name of Zebedee, but neither includes the fisherman’s wife’s name nor the names his sons, the Apostles John and James.
The other accounts have Salome, who may have been Herod’s daughter, but probably not, and the wife of Clopas. Clopas is one of the men with whom the resurrected Jesus walks on the road to Emmaus (See Lk. 24:18).]
Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and a disciple of Jesus, asks Pilate to release to him the Lord’s body for burial (vv. 57-58; cf. Is. 53:9).
Having received permission, he wraps it in a clean linen cloth, lays it in his newly hewn-out sepulcher, rolls a large gola against the door, and leaves the scene (vv. 59-60).
The two Marys watch where he laid Him (v. 61).
The next day being the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders gather en masse to Pilate in order to request that he keep a guard by Jesus’ sepulcher for three days to prevent His disciples from stealing His body and then claiming His resurrection—a deception they claim “will be worse than the first” (vv. 62-64). Pilate grants permission (v. 65), and the Jews seal the tomb (v. 66).
[They attach the boulder to the tomb with a cord and wax, enabling them to detect tampering if anything becomes out of place.]
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