Matthew 27

Matthew 27:1

Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death;

(a) When morning came. The chief priests and elders held their trial in the small hours of the morning (Mark 15:1). Sometime after the rooster crowed, and probably as soon as it was light enough to see, they led Jesus to Pilate. Further reading: “Good Friday Timeline.”

(b) All the chief priests and the elders of the people. The ruling council or Sanhedrin, in other words; see entry for Matt. 26:59.

Matthew 27:2

And they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor.

(a) Led Him away. The chief priests and the elders took Jesus to Pilate because they wanted Rome to be complicit in the execution of Jesus (see entry for John 18:31).

(b) Pilate the governor. Pontius Pilate was the governor (technically a prefect) of the Roman province of Judea. Normally resident in the coastal town of Caesarea, he came to Jerusalem for the festivals to keep the peace and administer justice. See entry for Luke 3:1.

Matthew 27:3

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

(a) Judas; see entry for Matt. 26:14.

(b) Saw that He had been condemned. Judas saw the outcome of the trial. This suggests that he, like Peter, had been in the vicinity of the high priest’s house. Judas may have been the unnamed disciple of John 18:15.

(c) Felt remorse. In his sorrow, Judas could have turned to Jesus to receive forgiveness. Instead he tried to undo his sin by returning the money. It was a futile act of self-justification, but an oft-repeated one. Since the time of Adam, sinners have tried to cover their shame by reaching for the fig-leaves of self-righteousness.

(d) Thirty pieces of silver; see entry for Matt. 26:15.

Matthew 27:4

Saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!”

I have sinned. Like the prodigal son, Judas had a revelation of his utter lostness (Luke 15:21). Unlike the prodigal son, Judas spoke to the wrong person. Instead of turning to the Father for forgiveness and life, he turned to the elder brother of DIY religion and received condemnation and death.

See to that yourself! DIY religion preaches two evil messages: (1) you are a sinner; (2) fix it yourself.

Matthew 27:11

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”

(a) The governor of Judea was Pontius Pilate; see entry for Matt. 27:2.

(b) King of the Jews. The religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because he made the apparently blasphemous claim that he was the Son of God (John 19:7). Such a claim would be of no concern to the Roman governor, so the chief priests changed the charge to something that smelled of sedition (Luke 23:14). If Jesus could be portrayed as a political player and a threat to stability, Rome would regard him as a threat. Hence they said Jesus claimed to be a king. Jesus acknowledged his kingship to Pilate, but added that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

Matthew 27:12

And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer.

(a) He was being accused. The chief priests accused Jesus of many things (Matt. 27:13) including: misleading the nation, forbidding the payment of Roman taxes, and claiming to be a king (Luke 23:2). Of these, only the latter would be of interest to a governor (Matt. 27:11).

There several examples in the New Testament of religious types and law-lovers bringing accusations against those who preach grace (see entry for Matt. 12:10).

(b) The chief priests; see entry for Matt. 2:4.

(c) Elders; see entry for Matt. 16:21.

Matthew 27:13-14

Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was quite amazed.

(a) Pilate; see entry for Luke 3:1.

(b) Do You not hear. The restraint of Jesus amazed Pilate, who had probably seen criminals begging for their lives. But Jesus had no interest in either responding to baseless charges or avoiding his date with the cross.

Matthew 27:15

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted.

This custom seems to have been a Roman innovation. Although Pilate says it’s the Jews’ custom (John 18:39), the practice of releasing criminals is not recorded in the law and seems contrary to the demands of justice. More likely the Romans introduced the practice when they colonized Judea, perhaps as a conciliatory gesture towards those who felt they had been mistreated by harsh Roman law.

Matthew 27:16

At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.

(a) A notorious prisoner. Barabbas was the sort of criminal Rome feared for he had led an insurrection where people were killed (Mark 15:7).

(b) Barabbas or Bar-Abbas means son of the father. This unusual name leads to all sorts of speculations. Was Barabbas a nickname for an illegitimate or fatherless child? Was he the son of a Rabbi? Was his name an evil parody on the true Son of the Father? Compounding the mystery surrounding this man is the popular belief that his full name was Jesus Barabbas (see next verse).

Matthew 27:17

So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

Barabbas. Some Church Fathers noted that in early manuscripts Barabbas’s first name was identified as Jesus. If so, his name may have been removed by Christian copyists who were unwilling to honor a murderer with the same name as the Savior of the world (source: Adam Clarke).

Since there were two Jesuses on trial, Pilate identifies the rebel by referring to his last name. So one way to read his words would be; “Do you want me to release Jesus who is called Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

Pilate probably thought that presenting the two men in this fashion was a stroke of genius. Jesus had been portrayed as an insurrectionist, but was clearly innocent. Barabbas, on the other hand, was a convicted rebel whose crimes included murder (Luke 23:19). Only a mad man would ask for Barabbas to be released, or so he thought.

Matthew 27:18

For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.

Envy seems too mild a word to describe the bitter jealousy of the Sanhedrin. The religious leaders felt threatened by Jesus. His message of love and the free favor of a Father who forgives prodigals challenged their system of fear-based control. Their power came from intimidation and the threat of punishment, but Jesus set people free. To maintain their tight rein over the people, Jesus had to be stopped.

Further reading: “10 Ways Religion is Bad for You.”

Matthew 27:19

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.”

(a) The judgment seat or bema seat was the place the Roman governors sat when pronouncing judgments. The apostle Paul found himself standing before Gallio’s judgment seat (Acts 18:12) and said we would all one day stand before God’s judgment seat (Rom. 14:10) or the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).

(b) His wife. This spiritually-sensitive woman seems to have had a better grasp of Jesus’ true identity than her husband. When Pilate heard his wife’s message, perhaps he felt like he, not Jesus, was the one being judged. Would Pilate be cowed by the corrupt chief priests? Or would he release the innocent man?

(c) That righteous Man. The “righteous” Pharisees did not recognize Jesus as a righteous man, but this woman did. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a coming Righteous One or Righteous Branch (Is. 24:16, 53:11, Jer. 23:5, 33:15). But Pilate’s wife was the first person in the New Testament to recognize Jesus as righteous.

Matthew 27:20

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death.

(a) The chief priests; see entry for Matt. 2:4.

(b) Elders; see entry for Matt. 16:21.

(c) Persuaded the crowds. How did the chief priests convince a mob of religious Jews to shout for the release of a notorious criminal? They did it by portraying Jesus as a blasphemer (see entry for John 19:7).

Matthew 27:21

But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”

They said, “Barabbas.” Such is the power of religious control, that ordinary people can be convinced that good is bad and bad is good.

Matthew 27:22

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!”

Crucify Him! The same city that shouted “Hosanna” on Sunday, shouted “Crucify him!” on Friday. We can’t blame the people for being fickle. It was their leaders who persuaded them to change their tune (Matt. 27:20).

Matthew 27:23

And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Crucify Him!”

(a) What evil has He done? Again and again Pilate asked for evidence of some crime and again and again he judged Jesus to be innocent of all charges (Luke 23:22). By all the rules of evidence and due process, Jesus must be released.

(b) But they kept shouting. Religious fanatics are not easily deterred. Their ploy of portraying Jesus as a threat to Rome had come to nothing, but Caiaphas and the chief priests were not about to give up. “If we can’t convince Pilate that Jesus is a threat to stability, we must show him. Inflame the mob!”

Matthew 27:24

When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.”

(a) A riot was starting. The chief priests whipped the crowd into a religious frenzy by saying Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (John 19:7). The ugly mood of the crowd alarmed Pilate (John 19:8). Every time Pilate spoke to Jesus, he resolved to set him free. But when he returned to the cauldron of the courtyard, his resolve wilted under the demonic intimidation emanating from the mob.

(b) I am innocent. Pilate was ambushed by the forces of darkness (see entry for John 19:11), but it’s a stretch to say he was innocent. Only Pilate had the power to order a crucifixion.

In movie portrayals, Pilate is usually portrayed as aloof from the seething crowd. But Pilate was intimidated. The chief priests said that if Pilate released Jesus, he was no friend of Caesar (John 19:12). This was Pilate’s weakness. As a career man, answerable to a bureaucracy that had little tolerance for chaos and disorder, Pilate could ill afford to be on the wrong side of Caesar.

Matthew 27:25

And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!”

And in a manner of speaking, it was. Jesus’ blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins, and the Jews and their children were forgiven.

Matthew 27:26

Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

(a) He released Barabbas. The sinner was freed and the righteous man bore his punishment.

(b) Scourged. Jesus experienced three severe beatings on this day: (1) he was beaten while in custody and awaiting trial before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:63), (2) he was beaten after his trial (Matt. 26:67, Mark 14:65), and (3) he was scourged and beaten by the Roman soldiers in the Praetorium (Matt. 27:30). The third beating was arguably the worst for not everyone survived the brutal Roman scourge.

Matthew 27:27

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him.

(a) The Praetorium was the hall or residence of the governor when he was visiting Jerusalem. Sometimes called Pilate’s palace (Mark 15:16), this residence could have been part of Herod the Great’s massive palace or it may have been part of the fort or Tower of Antonia where the Roman soldiers were barracked.

(b) The whole Roman cohort. A Roman cohort is one-tenth of a legion, or about 500 soldiers.

Matthew 27:28

They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.

A scarlet robe. The robe may have come from Pilate’s wardrobe or it could have been the elegant robe with which Herod dressed Jesus (Luke 23:11). Jesus had been mocked by Herod and his soldiers, and the Roman soldiers continued this mockery.

Matthew 27:29

And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

A wreath or crown of thorns was put on his head and a reed-like sceptre put in his hand to ridicule the one who claimed to be king.

Matthew 27:31

After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.

Led Him away to crucify Him. Finally we come to the closing act of what has been a violent morning. Jesus has been paraded back and forth between four authority figures (Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod), and he has been severely beaten three times (see entry for Matt. 27:26). Much has taken place, yet it is not even midday. Further reading: “Good Friday Timeline.”

Matthew 27:32

As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.

Simon of Cyrene was one of nine men named Simon in the New Testament; see entry for Matt. 4:18.

Matthew 27:37

And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

The charge for which Jesus was crucified was written in three languages (John 19:20) and affixed to the cross for all to see. The chief priests were unhappy with the way the charge was written and wanted to change it (John 19:21).

Matthew 27:38

At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.

Robbers. The original word (lestes) means armed brigands of the kind who robbed and beat the traveler on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:30), and who also menaced Paul in his travels (2 Cor. 11:26). Barabbas was also a brigand (John. 18:40).

Matthew 27:40

And saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

(a) Destroy the temple. In their futile attempts to manufacture crimes against him, the Sanhedrin had perpetuated the falsehood that Jesus had threatened to destroy the temple (see entry for Matt. 26:61).

(b) The Son of God. The Roman charge nailed to the cross said Jesus had been crucified because he claimed to be a king (Matt.27:37), but the Jews knew the Sanhedrin had condemned him for the charge of blasphemy, and for claiming to be the Son of God (John 19:7).

Matthew 27:41

In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying,

(a) The chief priests, with the scribes and the elders. The council or Sanhedrin, in other words; see entry for Matt. 26:59.

Matthew 27:42

“He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.

(a) The King of Israel. The word king meant different things to different people. To the religious leaders, it was synonymous with Christ or Messiah (Mark 15:32). To Pilate and the political authorities, it meant he was a potential rival to Rome.

(b) We will believe in Him. The chief priests said that if Jesus came down from the cross they would believe in him. It was a jest but a prophetic one. After Jesus rose from the dead a great many priests put their faith in him (Acts 6:7). Jesus always has the last word.

Matthew 27:45

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.

(a) The sixth hour means the sixth hour after sunrise or midday.

(b) Darkness covered the land like a shroud from midday to mid-afternoon. The timing of this dark period, coinciding as it did with the passing of Christ, leaves no doubt as to its supernatural cause. This was not an eclipse or a mere meteorological phenomena (cf. Luke 23:45). As the Light of the world (John 9:5) was extinguished, darkness reigned.

(c) All the land; see entry for Mark 15:33.

Matthew 27:51

And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

(a) The veil of the temple was a four-inch thick curtain that divided the Holy Place from the innermost Holy of Holies in the temple (Ex. 26:33). The veil was parted once a year on the Day of Atonement to allow the high priest to enter (Heb. 9:7). The supernatural tearing of the veil that coincided with the death of Jesus signified that the way to God had been permanently opened.

Further reading: “When did the old covenant end?

(b) Torn in two. The supernatural tearing of the veil that coincided with the death of Jesus signified that the way to God had been permanently opened. The old covenant was done. The law was a shadow, but Christ is the reality. Jesus is the old covenant fulfilled.

(c) The earth shook or convulsed in response to the death of Jesus. This was the first of two earthquakes that happened at Easter (see Matt. 28:2).

Matthew 27:52

The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;

Some of these saints had been dead for centuries so we might conclude that they were resurrected with their spiritual bodies (unlike Lazarus). They didn’t die a second time (Heb. 9:27) but probably ascended into heaven with Jesus (Acts 1:11).

Matthew 27:54

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The earthquake; see entry for Matt. 27:51.

(b) The Son of God. The centurion was among a select group of people who recognized that Jesus is the Son of God. Others who had this revelation include John the Baptist (John 1:34), Nathanael (John 1:49), and Martha (John 11:27). The angel Gabriel (Luke 1:35) and various demons also recognized that Jesus was the Son of God (Matt. 8:29, Mark 3:11, Luke 4:41). Jesus is the Christ (the anointed one), and the Lord (supreme above all), but ultimately Jesus is the Son of God. See entry for John 20:31.

Matthew 27:55

Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him.

Many women. The disciples abandoned Jesus in the garden (Matt. 26:56), but many women were present at the cross because they were less likely to be arrested. Prior to Pentecost, Christ’s women disciples were largely invisible to the authorities. But after Pentecost, they became equal ministers and equal targets of persecution (see Acts 8:3, 9:2).

Matthew 27:56

Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

(a) Mary Magdalene; see entry for Luke 8:2.

(b) Mary. Of the “many women” disciples present at the crucifixion (Matt. 27:55), at least four are identified in the Gospels, and three of them were named Mary. In addition to the two Marys listed here, John records the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus (John 19:25). Altogether, the New Testament identifies six women named Mary; see entry for Matt. 1:18.

(c) Mary the mother of James and Joseph was probably Mary the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). According to Catholic and Orthodox traditions, Clopas was the young brother of Jesus’ father Joseph. If so, this Mary was Jesus’ aunt on his father’s side.

(d) James and Joseph; see entry for Mark 15:40.

(e) The mother of the sons of Zebedee could be the same woman identified as Mary’s sister and named Salome (Mark 15:40, John 19:25). If so, she was Jesus’ aunt on his mother’s side and James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Matt. 4:21) were Jesus’ cousins. On one occasion she asked Jesus to grant a special favor for her sons (Matt. 20:20–21).

Matthew 27:57

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.

(a) When it was evening. It would have been late afternoon since Jesus was laid in the tomb before the Sabbath began at sunset (Luke 23:56, John 19:42). Further reading: “Good Friday Timeline.”

(b) Joseph was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:43) and a secret disciple of Jesus (John 19:38). He had not consented to their plan to kill Jesus (Luke 23:50-51) and was probably excluded from the trial (see entry for Mark 14:64).

Matthew 27:58

This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

Pilate; see entry for Luke 3:1.

Matthew 27:59-60

And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.

The burial of Jesus was done in haste. Jesus’ body was still on the cross at around 3pm (Matt. 27:46), but wrapped and in the tomb before sunset at 7pm.

Matthew 27:61

And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.

(a) Mary Magdalene; see entry for Luke 8:2.

(b) The other Mary was Mary the mother of James and Joseph (see Matt. 27:56).

The women saw where Jesus was buried, but as it was late in the day and close to the Sabbath, they did not have time to anoint the body. Their plan was to return immediately after the Sabbath (Matt. 28:1).

Matthew 27:62

Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate,

(a) The next day was a Sabbath, which began at sundown. The chief priests and the Pharisees may have visited Pilate on Friday evening or during the daylight hours of Saturday. In either case, they showed themselves ready to break the Sabbath law in contrast with the disciples of Christ who rested (Luke 23:56).

(b) After the preparation; see entry for John 19:31.

(c) The chief priests; see entry for Matt. 2:4.

(d) The Pharisees have gone strangely unmentioned in the story of Christ’s trial and crucifixion. This is not to suggest they weren’t involved, for their party was represented in the ruling Council. The Pharisees were complicit in every wicked deed. That they are mentioned here indicates that the Sadducees were not represented in this meeting with Pilate. And this is understandable since the one thing the two parties disagreed on was the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees believed in it; the Sadducees did not (Acts 23:6-9). When Jesus spoke about his resurrection, the Sadducees tuned him out, but the Pharisees listened. When Jesus died, the Pharisees recalled his promise to rise from the dead and took steps to ensure it didn’t happen. See also the entry for Matt. 3:7.

Matthew 27:63

And said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’

After three days. Jesus prophesied several times that he would rise from the dead on the third day, but most of these prophecies were delivered to the disciples privately (see Matt. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, Luke 9:22, 18:33). When did the Pharisees hear this prophecy? Jesus spoke publicly about his resurrection when he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). This was the same line the Sanhedrin misquoted in their trial against him (Matt. 26:61). This shows the duplicity of the Pharisees. At the trial, they pretended not to understand what Jesus had meant; the next day, they showed they had understood him perfectly.

The Pharisees were the legalists of the Sanhedrin. While the rival party of the Sadducees consisted of rich landowners, the Pharisees were ordinary Jews, devoted to the law. But these Pharisees broke the law again and again. They broke the Sabbath by meeting with Pilate, and they bore false witness in a trial that was riddled with illegalities (see entry for Matt. 26:57).

Matthew 27:64

“Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”

(a) Made secure. Just as Elijah poured water on the sacrifice, the Jewish and Roman authorities tried to make it harder for God to raise Jesus from the dead.

(b) The third day; see entry for Matt. 27:63.

Matthew 27:65

Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.”

(a) The guard or watch that was assigned consisted of Roman soldiers (see Matt. 28:14).

(b) As secure as you know how. Once again, Pilate and the chief priests found their devilish interests aligned. The last thing either group wanted was a conspiracy to excite the masses. As far as they were concerned, the “Jesus problem” was dead and buried.

Matthew 27:66

And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.

The seal on the stone deterred not only the disciples from tampering with the tomb but also the soldiers. Men who had done everything in their power to kill Jesus, now did everything they could to prevent him from being raised to life.

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