Matthew 27: The Cross

For the text of this chapter, click here.

In the last chapter, Jesus was arrested and essentially had his trial. This one has the actual sentencing which is to be done by Pilate, the popular choice among the people. I’m reminded of the Orville’s episode “Majority Rule” where sentencing is based on social media. Say what you will about social mdia, there is already a pretty heavy tradition of popular opinion sentencing people to death and the toxicity of the mob mentality (which the show also gets into, I love everything about it so far). The chief priests and elders may not have been familiar with the research we have today, but they certainly understood how it all works. They kept Jesus where they had detained Him until morning, talking up the idea of putting Him to death, and then took Him to see the governor. This poor guy, but we’ll get there later.

Before we hear about what happens with the governor, Judas has a change of heart. It is this change of heart that gives me pause. I just don’t understand the expectations here. Did he not realize until after it was done that Jesus was innocent? Did he agree to do it knowing that Jesus was innocent? Or did he just expect Jesus to have a different reaction? Did he expect Jesus to use the power of God and prove who He was rather than be taken away and accept such a brutal fate? Is that why he was confused when Jesus agree that he was the one that would betray Him?

These are all the questions that popped into my mind when I thought about it. I also got this mental image of the amazing actor who played Judas in the live Jesus Christ Superstar in 2018. He made my heart feel for Judas. Because there is so much forgiveness in Christianity, except for him. But then I read this and I think to myself, maybe he was just expecting to make Jesus do something truly radical and not at all expecting Him to just submit to it, as if this submission wasn’t radical enough. But we’ll never know.

What we do know is that he feels incredibly bad about it the next morning and tries to give the money back and tell the chief priests and elders that Jesus is innocent but to no avail. They had Him and they had gotten more than enough of what they needed to really condemn Him for good. They didn’t need Judas’s cooperation anymore and they didn’t want the money back either. What they did with the money is attributed to having fulfilled a prophecy of Jeremiah, but there’s no record of it in the book of Jeremiah. In my research, I did come across claims that it satisfies the prophecy in Zechariah 11, but that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Then we find out what happens with Pilate and Jesus. I do feel bad for Pilate too. He’s just a guy who didn’t want to kill this seemingly innocent person that everyone was condemning to death. He even put Jesus up against a guy who was a “notorious prisoner”, supposedly someone that would be a clear better choice to condemn but to no avail. They had their minds set on Jesus. Never underestimate the mob, especially with people actually pulling the strings behind them.  He actually washes his hands in front of them to symbolically wash his hands of responsibility for the death of Jesus but I’m not really sure that’s how that works. Most importantly, though, the people respond that they want the responsibility when they shout back at him:

25And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

And on our children? I don’t know if I’d ever want that sort of thing for my kid, but okay.

Then the soldiers take their turn to mock Jesus. They made fun of Him for being called the King of the Jews. Surely it seemed ridiculous at the time for them to think of Him as a king and I’m sure that it’s just my modern sensitivities that are so appalled. It seems that mocking people at this level is fairly normal, given that the chief priests and elders had just done it the night before.

From there the chapter gets into detail about the crucifixion itself. Details that are often revisited when talking about the crucifixition:

  • Someone else carrying the cross for at least a portion of the walk to Golgotha (Simon, to be specific)
  • Given bad wine and the sour wine later
  • Why have you forsaken me?
  • The charges put over His head
  • Dividing the garments
  • More mocking of a general nature

A detail that I don’t remember is the specific form of mocking that is encountered here. They are specifically making fun of Jesus for not just coming down off the cross to prove them wrong and for His seeming inability to destroy and rebuild the temple given His current state. This hits me in two ways. First, Jesus is following what God wants and not what’s in front of Him. Sometimes it’s super hard to do the thing the person with authority wants when everyone around you who doesn’t have authority is in your face. Second, it proves their entire lack of power that they couldn’t get Him to change what He was doing despite already being told in the garden with the sword incident that He absolutely had a legion of angels at His behest had He chosen to do so. It is the ultimate obedience and the ultimate will power and also kind of the ultimate, you have no power over me you puny humans kind of moment too. But of course, the people were feeling all powerful probably until the moment Jesus died and the world seemed to crack open.

Specifically, the temple was actually destroyed, cracked in half by the power of Jesus’ last breath. That said, when v. 52 talks about saints “who had fallen asleep” being “raised” and “coming out of the tombs” I was a little surprised. I don’t remember this part of the story at all. Like at all. Who are these people and are they rising from the dead like it sounds???? Rising from the dead and appearing to people. At the moment of Jesus’s death and the temple cracking open. I can’t even imagine. So of course it is at that moment when some people there realize that He was the Son of God the whole time. This is the point when the three women who were with Jesus are mentioned. These are three important women, also interesting that it’s three. People realize who Jesus will be when He is visited as an infant by three men. Three women are standing by in witness of His death and the destruction and the people coming from the dead.

Afterward, Joseph of Arimathea buries Him in his own tomb in front of the women, and then the very people who were against Jesus ensure the validity of His resurrection by securing the tomb and setting a guard on it. I never picked up on that part before, but I think it is an important part of the story. The tomb was guarded, there was someone around to see who went in and who left, and the guard would had to have seen nothing for chapter 28 to work. But we’ll see when we get there.

For downloadable study guides, click here.

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

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