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Go to Bible: Matthew 27
Mat 27:1

“Now early in the morning.” This council is the trial of the Sanhedrin that occurred around dawn on Tuesday morning. Jesus was condemned and sent from this trial to Pilate. This trial is covered in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but left out of John (Matt. 27:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-23:1).

Mat 27:2

“Pilate.” This is the first mention of Pontus Pilate in the Bible. Pilate was Prefect from 26-36 AD, the second longest rulership of any Prefect of Judea. It helps to know that because there is a lot of misinformation among Christians that Pilate was a horrible governor, but not according to Roman standards.

In order to really understand Pilate’s actions at the trial of Jesus Christ, it is helpful to understand another incident that occurred less than a year earlier. About half a year before the trial of Jesus, Pilate had set up some golden shields in his Jerusalem headquarters that had a dedication to Tiberias on them. The Jews protested the presence of these shields, but Pilate refused to remove them. The Jews took their case straight to Tiberias, the emperor of Rome at the time. The letter got to Tiberias as quickly as it did because it was sent through Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, who forwarded it from the Jews to Rome. No wonder Scripture says Pilate and Herod were hostile toward each other before the trial of Jesus (Luke 23:12).

Tiberias wrote a terse letter to Pilate, ordered him to move the shields to Caesarea, and warned him to uphold all the religious and political customs of the Jews. This letter was no doubt on his mind at the trial of Jesus, and when Pilate was about to let Jesus go, the Jews played their trump card and said, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar” (John 19:12).

What is not known by the average reader is that “Caesar’s Friend” is more than just a phrase; it is a name, a designation, a “badge of belonging” to a very exclusive group of people who were especially close to Caesar. If a person who was designated to be “Caesar’s Friend” officially displeased Caesar to the point of being kicked out of the club, so to speak, the consequence was compulsory suicide or exile from Rome.

When we closely follow the events in the trial of Jesus, we can see that the Jews knew about the letter from Tiberias to Pilate and Pilate’s position as “Caesar’s Friend,” and used them to their advantage to pressure Pilate. When Jesus first came before Pilate, the Jews accused him of being an evildoer (John 18:30), and tried to say things that would convince Pilate to crucify him because of Roman law and sensibilities, such as that he had been corrupting the nation and forbidding paying taxes to Caesar (Luke 23:2). Had Pilate complied, that would have ended the matter as far as the Jews were concerned. But when Pilate refused to crucify Jesus, saying he had not committed a capital crime, the Jews moved their reason to their religious customs and the charge of blasphemy, saying that Jesus needed to die because he made himself the Son of God (John 19:7). Of course, when Pilate heard that Jesus had called himself the Son of God, he tried even harder to let Jesus go, but that was when the Jews, in a less than subtle way, made it clear it was going to be Pilate or Jesus. Besides, as Pilate continued to resist the Jews’ pressure to crucify Jesus, it got to the point a riot started to break out (Matt. 27:24). Preventing a riot was the reason the Roman governor came from Caesarea to Jerusalem during the feasts in the first place, and if there had been a riot, and if news of that got back to Tiberias, it would not go well for Pilate. Pilate realized that, in the face of the hatred and determination of the Jews, he was not accomplishing anything but stirring up a riot, something that would likely cost lives—including his own.

Pilate also realized that if he did not crucify Jesus, the Jews would write to Tiberias and say that Pilate had not obeyed Tiberias’ command that had come in the letter, because he had not been respectful of Jewish laws and customs about things such as blasphemy, and worse, he allowed a man to live who called himself a king and threatened the unity of the Jewish people and even the Roman Empire. At that point, most people would have done what Pilate did: save his own life. Pilate had Jesus crucified.

[For the order of the events of Jesus’ last days, see commentary on John 18:13.]

We know quite a bit about Pilate from Roman records. However, there was no physical evidence found in Israel for his governorship until 1961. An Italian team of archaeologists under the direction of Antonio Frova discovered a stone about two feet by three feet while excavating an ancient theater in Caesarea, the Roman capital of Israel. The stone tablet read in Latin: “Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Judea, has presented the Tiberieum to the Caesareans.” The record that Pilate was a “Prefect” is correct; he was not a “Procurator” (despite the many reference works that say he was). Calling Pilate a “Procurator” is a historic anachronism, because it was not until later, under the Emperor Claudius (ruled 41-54) that the Roman governors of Judea were referred to as Procurators. The Prefects had more military responsibilities than the Procurators. We can correctly call Pilate a Prefect or a governor.

Pilate’s name tells us much about him. The family name, Pontius, was the name of a prominent clan among the Samnites, a group of people who lived along the Apennine Mountains southeast of Rome, and early on in Rome’s history the Samnites had fought a series of wars with Rome and almost conquered them. A fighter that was often seen in the gladiator arena was a person dressed as, and trained to fight as, a Samnite warrior. The Samnites were conquered and absorbed by Rome, their leading class becoming the Roman equestrian class (the Roman middle class). Pilates’ first name is typically Samnite, and means, “armed with a pilum.” The pilum was a javelin about 6 feet long that was half wooden spear handle and half pointed iron shaft. It was a very effective weapon, and quickly copied by the Romans and used in the legions.

[For more information on Pilate likely being at the Hasmonean Palace just west of the Temple, see commentary on Luke 23:7].

Mat 27:3

“brought back the 30 pieces of silver.” Judas had gotten the money from the priests in payment for betraying Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16). Now he regretted it and returned it, but could not overcome his feelings of wrongdoing and self-condemnation, and so committed suicide.

Mat 27:4(top)
Mat 27:5

“he hanged himself.” The natural reading of Matthew 27:5 leads us to believe that Judas killed himself very soon after Jesus was arrested, and the rest of Scripture supports that conclusion. We have supporting evidence from Luke 24:9 that Judas killed himself before Jesus was raised from the dead, because when the women found the tomb empty on Sunday morning, they went to “the Eleven,” which is a title that the remaining apostles were given after Judas killed himself (see commentary on Luke 24:9). Although there seems to be a contradiction between Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18, that can be resolved (see commentary on Acts 1:18).

The verb for “hanged himself” is apagchomai (#519 ἀπάγχομαι) and it occurs here in the aorist tense, middle voice (apēgxato; ἀπήγξατο), and thus it refers to something that Judas did to himself, in this case, hanged himself. Apagchomai only occurs this one time in the New Testament, and Robert Gundry offers a reason that Matthew would have this unusual verb here. Apagchomai is the same verb and in the same verb form (aorist middle third person singular) that is used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) in the record of the death of David’s friend and counselor Ahithophel. Ahithophel had been David’s friend for years, but he turned against David and joined Absalom’s rebellion against David (2 Sam. 15-18). He began to advise Absalom, David’s son and enemy (2 Sam. 17:1-3), but when his advice was not heeded, he committed suicide by hanging himself. In explaining the occurrence of apagchomai in Matthew, Gundry writes that it “alludes to Ahithophel’s suicide by hanging (2 Sam. 17:23). The allusion not only exemplifies Matthew’s habit of borrowing OT [Old Testament] phraseology. It also agrees with his interest in Jesus as the son of David…for Ahithophel was a friend of David. As Ahithophel turned against David, Judas turned against Jesus.”a

Jesus Christ is called “the Son of David” many times in Scripture, and the comparisons and typology between David and Jesus Christ are numerous and strong. That seems to be the case here in Matthew 27:5 as well. Ahithophel, David’s friend, turned against David and then ended up hanging himself, and similarly, Judas, an apostle of Jesus Christ, turned against the Son of David and then later hanged himself. The typology between David and Christ in the context of Judas betraying Christ can also be seen at the Last Supper (John 13:18), when Jesus quoted Psalm 41, a psalm of David, and said “The one who eats my bread lifted up his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9). This betrayal happened to David, possibly by Ahithophel, and it happened to Jesus as well when Judas betrayed Jesus.

Unlike Peter who denied Christ but then repented and rebuilt his relationship with Jesus, Jesus indicated that Judas would kill himself rather than repent and continue as part of the believing community. Quite early on in his ministry Jesus knew Judas was “a devil” (John 6:70). Furthermore, at the Last Supper Satan entered Judas and influenced him to betray Christ and likely kill himself shortly afterward as well (Luke 22:3). Furthermore, people who sin, even who sin greatly, are forgiven if they repent and ask for forgiveness, but Jesus said of Judas, “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24). It does not seem that Jesus would have said this if he believed Judas would repent of betraying Jesus.

Also, the disciples knew that Judas had betrayed Jesus, so it is unlikely that they would have received him back into their company. Jesus had revealed at the Last Supper that one of the Apostles would betray him, and the Apostles discussed it at that time (Matt. 26:20-25; Mark 14:17-21). Then, in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked Judas directly if he was betraying him (Luke 22:48), and the Apostles were right there with Jesus to hear that. Since Judas came to the Garden with the Roman soldiers, and given what Jesus had said about being betrayed by one of the Twelve, the Apostles had to know that Judas was the one who had betrayed them. Given that, it would be very unlikely that the rest of the Apostles would have taken Judas back into their company. However, if they had, it would have only been with Judas’ heartfelt and humble apology and confession of sin, but there is no such confession recorded in the Bible.

Judas knew his betrayal was known to the Apostles, and thus to him, it would have been highly unlikely that the Apostles would take him back into their company, especially after Jesus said it would be better if Judas had not been born. All this is evidence that Judas killed himself very soon after returning the money to the religious leaders (Matt. 27:3-5).

R. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art.
Mat 27:6(top)
Mat 27:7(top)
Mat 27:8(top)
Mat 27:9

“spoken.” Not “written,” either by Jeremiah or Zechariah, but “spoken” by Jeremiah.a These words are found in Zechariah 11:12-13 with allusions to Jeremiah 18:1-4; 19:1-3. They are ascribed to Jeremiah since, in Jesus’ day, the books of the prophets were headed by Jeremiah, not Isaiah as now, and the quotation is identified by the name of the first book of the group, rather than by the name of the specific book within the group. Similarly in Luke 24:44, “Psalms” includes all the books known as the writings because it is the first book of the group.b

The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew has the abbreviation for Yahweh in this verse, but it is very different from the Greek text and is not included in the REV (see commentary on Matt. 3:3).

See Bullinger, Companion Bible, note on Matt. 27:9, 1375.
See commentary in The Ryrie Study Bible.
Mat 27:10

“Lord.” The Greek is kurios, Lord, and the Hebrew text of Matthew reads adōnai, Lord. The Hebrew of Zechariah 11:13 reads “Yahweh” (see commentary on Matthew 3:3).

Mat 27:11

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate’s question, “Are you the King of the Jews,” and Jesus’ affirmative answer, “Yes,” is very important, both for Pilate and for us, and it is recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; and John 18:33 and 18:37). The question and answer also show us that this interaction was in the first of Jesus’ two trials before Pilate, something that is made clear in Luke (Luke 23:1-19). Neither Matthew, Mark, nor John mention Pilate sending Jesus to Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-12), but they blend Jesus’ two trials before Pilate as if they were one trial. However, by studying all four Gospels together we can see that this question was part of Jesus’ first trial before Pilate and when Matthew speaks of Barabbas (Matt. 27:15-22), that was part of Jesus’ second trial before Pilate.

Yes, it is as you say.” Jesus answered Pilate’s question in the affirmative, that, yes, he is a king. It is important to translate this verse in the affirmative. Jesus was not playing word games with Pilate, giving him an ambiguous answer. Pilate’s everlasting life was at stake, and Pilate, like everyone else, had to have a chance to believe and accept Jesus as Messiah. This should not be considered unusual. Jesus had told many others he was the Messiah (Matt. 16:16-20; Mark 14:62; John 4:26; 10:24-25); besides that, the conversation between Pilate and Jesus was not as short as Matthew 27:11-14, Mark 15:2-5, or Luke 23:3 record. The Gospel of John records the longer conversation (John 18:33-38; 19:9-11). In this longer conversation, Jesus tells Pilate that although he is a king, “My kingdom is not of this world” and “my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36), and “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Of course Pilate, being a Roman and believing in the Roman gods, if he believed anything at all, did not have a clear and accurate picture of God, the afterlife, the Messianic Age, or anything that would have given true meaning to what Jesus said. To Pilate, Jesus’ words were likely nonsense, and he responded with “What is truth?” (John 18:38). One thing Pilate did get from his conversation with Jesus was that he was not a threat to Rome in the sense that he was trying to foment rebellion and overthrow Roman rule. That is what the religious leaders were accusing Jesus of, so that Pilate would crucify him, but Pilate, after questioning Jesus, was satisfied that was not the case, and came to the religious leaders and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 19:6).

Many excellent Greek scholars attest to the fact that Jesus’ answer to Pilate, which in Greek is more literally, “You are saying,” was idiomatic and not an ambiguous statement. A. T. Robertson correctly states, “By his answer (‘thou sayest’) Jesus confesses that he is.”a W. R. Nicoll simply says that Jesus’ answer “= yes.”b R. C. H. Lenski says this about Jesus’ answer: “It is the regular way of affirming the contents of the question.”c Albert Barnes says, “Thou sayest.” [KJV] That is, thou sayest right, or thou sayest the truth. …Though he acknowledged that he was the king yet he stated fully that his kingdom was not of this world, and that therefore it could not be alleged against him as treason against the Roman emperor.”d Further evidence that this was an affirmative statement comes from Matthew 26:64 and Mark 14:62.e In these two parallel records the high priest asks Jesus if he was the Messiah. Matthew records that the Lord answered, “You have said it” (su eipas); but Mark reports the answer with the clear affirmative, “I am” (ego eimi). This interchangeability of the two statements demonstrates that the idiom was confirmatory. (Cp. Matt 26:64; 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 22:70; 23:3; John 18:37).

Translators are often in a bind when translating the Bible, and especially so when the original language uses an idiom, because there are times when a literal translation in one language means something else in another language, and that is the case here. Jesus was not being cute or playing games with Pilate. Pilate’s believing in Jesus as the Christ and Pilate’s everlasting life was in play, and so Jesus was not playing word games with him, any more than when Jesus answered the question of the High Priest, “Are you the Christ” and Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62). In English “You say so” is a way of deflecting giving an answer, but that is not what Jesus was doing here. Some scholars say Jesus was being unclear in his answer like he often was when answering questions about who he was during his ministry. But earlier in his ministry Jesus did not clearly reveal himself to the religious leaders because his time to suffer and die had not come. At his trial before them earlier that day he was very clear that he was the Christ, and he was that clear to Pilate as well, saying he was a king.

There is even more evidence that this phrase is not vague but is an affirmation. During the Last Supper, in Matthew 26:25, Judas asks Jesus if he is the one who will betray Jesus, and Jesus responds with this exact phrase “You have said it.” But we know that this did come to pass, and that Jesus knew Judas would betray him (John 13:2, 11). Thus this phrase in Matthew 27:11 is used as an affirmation.

Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1:225.
Nicoll, Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1:324.
Lenski, Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 1085.
Barnes, Barnes’ Notes.
Robertson, Word Pictures, 218, 388.
Mat 27:12(top)
Mat 27:13(top)
Mat 27:14(top)
Mat 27:15

“Now at the Passover Feast, it was the governor’s custom” Matthew blends Jesus’ two trials before Pilate as if they were one trial. However, by studying all four Gospels together we can see that this mention of Barabbas was part of Jesus’ second trial before Pilate (see commentary on Matt. 27:11).

Mat 27:16

“Barabbas.” It is ironic that the “notorious” (or “well known”) prisoner was called “Barabbas,” because in Aramaic it means “son of [the] father,” from the Aramaic bar, “son” and abba, “father.” In releasing a prisoner, the people had a choice between a “son of a father” (Barabbas), or the “Son of the Father” (Jesus Christ). The bad choice they made was Barabbas, the revolutionary. There is no explanation in the text for why Pilate would have put only those two men before the crowd for consideration. It seems clear that Pilate was hopeful that the crowd would ask to set Jesus free. For example, when presenting Jesus he said, “Jesus who is called Christ” (Matt. 27:17), perhaps he was making an attempt to try to remind the people that even they were aware of the healings and miracles that Jesus had done and the possibility that he was the Messiah. In any case, his efforts were in vain.

In Matthew 27:17, there are a number of manuscripts that read, “Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” Although there are more manuscripts that read “Barabbas” than read “Jesus Barabbas,” there is good reason to believe that “Jesus Barabbas” was original. For one thing, “Jesus,” which is the same name as “Joshua,” was a very common name at that time so there would be no problem with both men being named “Jesus.” Also, textually, there seems to be no good reason any scribe would add the word “Jesus” to a manuscript of Matthew, whereas it can be easily seen that religious scribes zealous to protect Jesus’ name, would omit the name “Jesus” before Barabbas.

Mat 27:17(top)
Mat 27:18(top)
Mat 27:19

“wife.” According to tradition, Pilate’s wife is named Procla, or Claudia Procla, but there is little actual support for the name.

“sent to him.” The dream so disturbed Pilate’s wife she actually interrupted Pilate’s work as governor to tell him not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.” We do not know any details as to how Pilate’s wife came to that conclusion about Jesus. She was almost surely well aware of the greedy, power-hungry religious leaders, even as Pilate was (Matt. 27:18), and may have heard of Jesus’ miracles and done some investigation on her own. It is also possible that the dream was so vivid, and Jesus’ innocence proclaimed so vividly in it, that she came to the conclusion that Jesus was a righteous man based on the dream alone. Given what we know about where Pilate was when he tried Jesus, most likely at the ancestral Hasmonean Palace near the Temple, it is clear why she “sent to him.” She would have been staying at Herod’s Western Palace.

“today.” The Greek is sēmeron (#4594 σήμερον), which means “today.” This is a very accurate chronological statement, although some English versions completely misinterpret and mistranslate it, and read “last night.” This was “today.” It was Jesus’ second trial before Pilate, which was around noon (John 19:14). The Jews had taken Jesus to Pilate early in the morning (John 18:28). But when Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee. But Herod Antipas could not get any satisfaction from Jesus and sent him back to Pilate who had to call the Jews back together (Luke 23:13), and put Jesus on trial again. The three Roman trials of Jesus are recorded in Luke 23. Pilate’s wife sent to him during this second trial before Pilate, a fact we know because Pilate was already trying to get the Jews to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, something that occurred during this second trial before Pilate. Typically, the Romans got up very early in the morning, and it is very likely Pilate’s wife did too. She did not have the dream during the night, or she would have interrupted Pilate’s first trial of Jesus. She would have had no way of knowing Pilate would send Jesus to Herod; Pilate did not even foresee that himself. During her morning snooze, which would have been in the day, thus, “today,” she had the dream that so disturbed her, and sent to Pilate to have nothing to do with Jesus.

[For more information on the chronology of the events from Jesus’ arrest to his death, see commentaries on John 18:13 and 19:14. For information on the events and chronology of Jesus’ death and resurrection and his being in the tomb from Wednesday night to Saturday night, see commentaries on Matthew 12:40 and Luke 23:50. For more information on Nicodemus and that he came after Joseph of Arimathea left the tomb, see commentary on John 19:40.]

One thing the dream does is it shows us God’s love for people and that He genuinely did try to warn Pilate not to have anything to do with Jesus. Furthermore, Pilate himself knew Jesus was innocent (Matt. 27:18). In spite of God’s warning and what Pilate himself knew, he condemned an innocent man to death so he could augment or save his political career. Godly people must learn that the Devil works hard behind the scenes to set people up so that they face potential ruin if they do not give in to evil. But we must not give in to evil. God will deliver us now and/or reward us in the future. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have been killed for not bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (Dan. 3). Daniel could have been killed just for praying (Dan. 6). Godly people must follow their example.

“dream.” The Romans put a lot of weight into dreams, particularly when there was a lot going on politically. Calpurnia, the wife of Julius Caesar, had a dream that he was going to be killed, and her pleas were so insistent that he almost stayed home, but did not, and was killed by Brutus and his co-conspirators. That event gave dreams a lot of standing to the Romans, and was no doubt one of the reasons Pilate worked so hard to have Jesus released.

Mat 27:20

“persuaded.” The Greek word is peithō, to persuade, have confidence in. Zodhiates does a very good job defining this word.a It sometimes gets translated “trust” but we have stayed away from that translation and stayed with “persuaded.” It also gets translated “obey,” but that is not technically correct, and especially in Hebrews 13:17 (“obey your leaders”) it gets misused. We have left it “obey” in James 3:3, because although the horse’s bit does allow us to persuade it, “obey” is more understandable in the context.

Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament.
Mat 27:21(top)
Mat 27:22

“He should be crucified!” The Greek has an aorist imperative verb, which can be translated as “Let him be crucified,” or “He should be crucified,” or even as “He must be crucified.”

Mat 27:23

“He should be crucified.” This is not the same crowd that had said, “Hosanna,” and “Son of David” some days earlier. See commentary on Luke 23:21.

Mat 27:24

“but rather that a riot was starting.” Pilate did not want to put Jesus to death and tried to dissuade the Jews from pressing the issue. But the Jews used pressure tactics to get Pilate to order the crucifixion. They lied (Luke 23:2), threatened (John 19:12), and started a riot (Matt. 27:24). The riot would have been an important factor in Pilate giving in to the Jews and agreeing to crucify Jesus. As the Roman governor, Pilate was charged with two top responsibilities: keep tax money flowing into Rome, and keep the peace. Keeping the peace was important to the flow of tax money and the well-being of society. In Judea at that time there were the Jesus supporters, including his disciples and many who believed in him, but also many who sided with the religious leaders and thought Jesus was a fraud. As the day drew on and the crowd at the trial swelled, there was a growing danger that any riot would turn into a battle between the two sides with people being hurt and even killed, and Pilate would be held responsible. From his gubernatorial perspective, it was now expedient that Jesus be sentenced to be crucified. Pilate’s instincts were correct: as soon as the trial was over and the issue settled, the religious leaders stopped stirring up the people and the crowd dispersed.

Mat 27:25(top)
Mat 27:26(top)
Mat 27:27

“the governor’s headquarters.” The Greek text is “the praetorium,” and the praetorium was normally the headquarters of the residence of the Roman governor. The exact place that was called the praetorium is debated. Roman Catholics mostly say it was the Antonia Fortress north of the Temple. Protestant scholars mostly tend to say it was Herod’s western palace. However, it is likely that in this case, the praetorium was the ancient Hasmonean place in the middle of Jerusalem (see commentary on Luke 23:7 and John 18:28).

“the whole cohort of Roman soldiers.” The standard size of a cohort was 600 men. It was one-tenth of a “legion,” which was 6,000 men. However, just as the size of a “legion” was almost never exactly 6,000 men, and was often considerably smaller, that same was true of a cohort. It is unlikely that this cohort was fully 600 men. It was likely smaller, but it still would have been a lot of men.

Mat 27:28(top)
Mat 27:29

“mocked.” The Greek word translated “mocked” is empaizō (#1702 ἐμπαίζω), and means “mock,” “make fun of,” “ridicule.” In some contexts it has a second meaning, that of outwitting someone in a way that makes a fool of the person; to trick; to deceive; (Matt. 2:16). The “mocking” can be simply verbal, or it can be physical as well, and thus it can be categorized as physical abuse. It is used that way in the Septuagint (Judg. 16:25; 1 Sam. 31:4; Prov. 23:35). Empaizō is also used euphemistically for rape (Gen. 39:14, 17; Judg. 19:25; 20:5), which has caused some people to speculate that during his torture Jesus was raped by one or more of the Roman soldiers. Although homosexuality and bisexuality were common in the Roman world, the context of “mock” in the NT seems to exclude rape. For one thing, empaizō is used of Jesus being mocked when he was in public settings and even when he was on the cross (Luke 22:63; 23:36). He was also mocked in Herod’s presence but certainly not likely raped right there in the public of Herod’s court (Luke 23:11).

The times Jesus is recorded as being “mocked” when he was alone with the soldiers also seem to exclude him being raped. Both records, Matthew 27:29-31 and Mark 15:17-20, show that the soldiers put royal clothes on Jesus, then mocked him, then removed those clothes. That the clothes were removed after he was “mocked” certainly seems to exclude rape as part of the mocking. Jesus went through terrible and prolonged verbal and physical abuse between the time he was arrested and the time he died on the cross, and that included being mocked in many different settings by many different people. Sadly, Jesus still suffers physical abuse via his Body, the Church, which is persecuted for his name. Nevertheless, there will come a day when that will stop, and every knee will bow before him.

Mat 27:30(top)
Mat 27:31(top)
Mat 27:32

“Cyrene.” Cyrene was settled by Greeks in the seventh century BC and was the leading city of the district of Cyrenaica (also called Pentapolis) in North Africa. The city of Cyrene was about 17 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, built on a plateau. Cyrenaica was ruled by its own people but surrendered to Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Later, it was given to the Romans. At the time of Christ, the city of Cyrene was the capital of Libya in northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea, which in 27 BC was made, together with Crete, the Roman province of Cyrenaica. People from Cyrene were present in the Temple on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10).

Mat 27:33

“to a place called Golgotha (which means, Place of the Skull).” There is strong evidence that the crucifixion of Christ occurred on the Mount of Olives. While no one piece of evidence completely makes the case, the cumulative evidence is overwhelming that the Lord Jesus was crucified near the top of the Mount of Olives. Added to that is the fact that the other two sites proposed by most of Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb, do not fit with all the biblical evidence for the place of the crucifixion. Nine points of evidence are listed below:

1) A Mount of Olives crucifixion fits with the roads of Jerusalem, especially the road between the Temple and the Mount of Olives.

Many people and priests passed by and mocked Jesus, so he was crucified near a road, one that a lot of people and priests would travel on Passover day (Matt. 27:37, 41; Mark 15:29, 31; John 19:20-21. There is historical evidence that at the time of Christ there was a bridge or partial bridge over the Kidron Valley leading from the Mount of Olives to the Temple. Although archaeologists and historians argue about the bridge, at the very least there was a well-traveled road from the east gate of the Temple to the Mount of Olives. Also, there was a well-traveled north-south road on the top of the Mount of Olives. So a crucifixion site near the top of the Mount of Olives would have been close to major roads, and the people and priests would have been traveling on those roads to get to the Temple for Passover. Furthermore, the priests would have used the east-west road to get to the place where the unclean parts of the sacrifices were burned, which was on the east side of the city and most likely near the top of the Mount of Olives. It is unlikely that the chief priests and people would go much out of their way to mock a dying criminal. But if the crucifixion was near the top of the Mount of Olives, the road between the Temple and the eastern altar on the Mount of Olives would have made access to the crucifixion site easy and a large number of priests and people would pass there on their way to or from the Temple, especially on the eve of Passover. In contrast, it does not seem like there would be nearly the foot traffic at the traditional sites and especially not for the priests.

2) Jesus was our sin offering, and was crucified where the Temple sin offerings were burned, on the east side of the Temple.

Jesus Christ was the sin offering that paid for our sin (2 Cor. 5:21). The Bible says that the bodies of the sin offerings were burned outside the camp, and the evidence supports that place outside the camp and the city of Jerusalem was to the east. The Bible says that the bodies of sin offerings were to be burned at a place outside of the camp that was ceremonially clean (cp. Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:12, 21; 8:17; 9:11; 16:27; cp. Heb. 13:11). The ashes from the altar of sacrifice in the Tabernacle and Temple were taken to a clean place outside the camp and dumped there, and that dumping would have been at one specific place; the priests and Levites did not dump ashes from the altar in lots of different places. Then Leviticus specified that the bodies of sin offerings were burned at that same “clean place where the ashes are poured out” (Lev. 4:12). That clean place was outside the camp of Israel while they traveled, and outside the city of Jerusalem once that capital city was established.

There is historical evidence that the “clean place” was east of the camp. Also, the Tabernacle only had one gate and it was on the east side, and Hebrews 13:11-12 speak of the sin offerings being burned outside the camp, and for that reason, Jesus suffered “outside the gate,” which would have been to the east.

It would have taken a lot of effort to burn the bodies of the sin offerings. Burning the body of a bull to ashes takes a lot of wood and heat. Logically, to do that would have meant building some kind of altar or altar-like structure that would support the wood and the animal body and allow air to get to the fire and keep it hot and burning. Although the Old Testament does not call the place of burning an altar, the Book of Hebrews does, and Hebrews 13:10-12 refers to an “altar” outside of Jerusalem where the bodies of animals were burned. In fact, the Book of Hebrews goes so far as to say that “we [Christians] have an altar” where the sin offerings were burned, so the altar east of the Temple is for believers, which is exactly correct if Jesus was the sin offering and died near that eastern altar. After all, Jesus Christ was God’s sin offering for the sins of the people of the world, so it would be logical that he would be sacrificed near that altar where the bodies of sin offerings, including the Red Heifer, were burned, which would be on the Mount of Olives.

Furthermore, the wording of Hebrews 13:10-13 supports the connection between the sin offerings and Jesus Christ. Thus, Hebrews 13:11 says that the bodies of the sin offerings are burned outside the camp, and then Hebrews 13:12 says, “for this reason Jesus also suffered outside the gate.” It is important to note that the comparison that Hebrews is making is drawing upon the Tabernacle of Moses. For example, Hebrews 13:10 speaks of people serving in the “tent” (i.e., the Tabernacle), not the “Temple.” Also, Hebrews 13:11 speaks of the sin offerings being burned outside “the camp,” that is, the camp of Israel in the wilderness. If the text was referring to a later time, i.e., after the city of Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple set up, the text would have said “outside the city.” The reason that Hebrews refers back to the Tabernacle is that the Tabernacle was portable and it moved around, and Hebrews is contrasting that with a permanent city that is coming in the future. Hebrews says that believers “do not have a permanent city here” but are looking forward to there being one (Heb. 13:14). It would not do for Hebrews to speak of Jerusalem but then indicate it was not permanent, because Old Testament prophecy shows that Jerusalem is permanent; it will be rebuilt and renewed, but it is permanent, it will be Jesus’ capital city when he rules the earth. The Tabernacle imagery in Hebrews is important for the study of where Jesus was crucified because Hebrews says that Jesus suffered “outside the gate” and the only gate of the Tabernacle was on the east side. So Jesus suffering where the bodies of the sin offerings were burned and that being “outside the gate” is supporting evidence that Jesus was crucified east of the Temple, and east of the Temple was the Mount of Olives.

[For more on the altar east of the Temple where the bodies of sin offerings were burned, see commentary on Heb. 13:10.]

3) The Red Heifer sin offering was a type of Christ and it was both sacrificed and burned on the Mount of Olives.

The Red Heifer was a sin offering that typified Christ in many ways. She (a heifer is a female cow) was a sin offering (Num. 19:9, 17), but unlike the regular sin offerings that were slaughtered in the Temple and then the body was carried out east of the Temple and burned, the Red Heifer was both slaughtered and completely burned to ashes outside the Temple and east of it. Numbers 19:1-9 describes the burning of the Red Heifer outside of the camp of Israel and according to the Mishnah, a Jewish commentary on the OT, a bridge across the Kidron led to an altar where this burning occurred. “After the establishment of the Temple in Jerusalem, the ritual of the Red Heifer was celebrated on the Mount of Olives; leaving the Temple by the East Gate, the procession led by the High Priest crossed the Kidron Valley on a special causeway [bridge] and climbed to the summit where the animal was sacrificed” (Mishnah, tractate ‘Parah’).

The Book of Numbers also gives good evidence the Red Heifer was slaughtered and burned east of the Temple. Numbers 19:4 says, “and Eleazar the priest is to take some of her blood with his finger and sprinkle her blood toward the front of the Tent of Meeting seven times.” The fact that the priest sprinkles the blood “toward the front of the Tent of Meeting” shows that the Red Heifer was sacrificed on the east side of the Tabernacle/Temple because the “front” of the Tabernacle/Temple was to the east. Blood could not be sprinkled toward the front of the Tabernacle from any direction but the east. Any blood sprinkled from the north, south, or west of the Tabernacle or Temple would be sprinkled toward the side or back, not the front. Jacob Milgrom writes about the phrase “toward the front of the Tent of Meeting” in the JPS Torah Commentary: “According to the rabbis, the front, that is, the entrance of the Tent [the Tabernacle], must be seen. Hence if the wind blows the Tent flap shut, the sprinkling is invalid. During Second Temple times, the High Priest performed the ceremony atop the Mount of Olives, which afforded a view of the entrance to the temple building.”a Also, the Oxford Archaeological Guide to the Holy Land, notes that the Red Heifer was burned on the Mount of Olives.b

4) The Bible says Jesus was crucified near “the Place of the city,” which was the Temple, and the Mount of Olives was very near the Temple.

John 19:20 says that Jesus was crucified near the Temple, “the Place of the city,” and the Mount of Olives was very close to the Temple, right across the Kidron Valley. The NIV translates John 19:20 as “the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city,” and almost all English versions read in a similar way. But a more accurate translation of the Greek text is “where Jesus was crucified was near the Place of the city” (cp. Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible). The Jews referred to the Temple as “the Place,” and the word “Place” is used for the Temple in a number of verses in the New Testament (cp. Matt. 24:15; John 4:20, 11:48, 19:20; Acts 6:13-14, 21:28). If Jesus was crucified near the “the Place of the city,” i.e., the Temple, then the most likely place would have been on the Mount of Olives, right across the bridge and a few hundred yards from the Temple.

In the Greek text the word “city” is in the genitive case (thus, “of the city”), and the governing noun of the genitive phrase is topos, “place,” so the correct translation of the Greek text is “near the Place of the city.” To translate the Greek text as “the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city,” is to separate the genitive from its governing noun and treat the genitive as an accusative, which it is not.

There are several reasons why most English Bibles read “the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city,” instead of “where Jesus was crucified was near the Place of the city.” One reason is the lack of understanding among western scholars that the Temple was called “the Place,” especially in light of where Jesus was crucified. Another reason is that the traditional English translation of John 19:20 goes back to the 1500s (cp. William Tyndale’s New Testament of 1534 and the Geneva Bible of 1599; etc.), and many translators like to stay close to a traditional reading if they can. Also, the traditional translation supports the traditional sites for the crucifixion because they are “close to the city” of Jerusalem but would not likely have been considered to be close to the “Place” (the Temple) by people in Jesus’ time.

The tradition of referring to the Temple as “the Place” is very old. For example, in the Old Testament the temple is referred to as ‘the place.’ Geoffrey Bromiley writes, “In a rich formula which is constantly repeated, the Jerusalem Temple is called ‘the holy place which Yahweh your God shall choose…to cause his name to dwell there’”c “…the LXX [Septuagint] developed the term [topos, “place”] into a technical one for the holy place.d “Historically, then, the land is no longer Israel’s place even before the final expulsion from Palestine [at the Babylonian Captivity], the theological understanding of ‘place’ is fully oriented to the temple as the holy place.”e “The OT-Jewish use of topos for the Jerusalem Temple is continued in the New Testament…”f (Punctuation added for clarity and Greek words were put in English letters).

5) People near the cross could see the tearing of the Temple veil, which would only be possible from near the top of the Mount of Olives.

The Bible indicates that the soldiers and people at the crucifixion could see the Temple veil tear, and the only place outside the walls of Jerusalem where that curtain could be seen was near the top of the Mount of Olives. Matthew shows that the veil of the Temple tore right when Jesus died. Matthew 27:50, 51; and 27:54 say, “50And Jesus, having cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up the spirit. 51And Look!, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth was shaken, and the rocks were split. 54Now the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, were greatly afraid, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

All three of the synoptic Gospels point out that people “saw” things that were happening, and the tearing of the Temple veil is specifically mentioned in all three synoptic Gospels, and seeing it tear would have made a powerful impact on anyone at the crucifixion site. Also, the fact that the Temple veil tore from top to bottom showed that God was the one who tore the veil because if people did it, they would have had to have torn it from bottom to top. This act of God was almost certainly part of the reason the centurion said that Jesus was the Son of God (Matt. 27:54).

When Matthew says when the centurion and soldiers “saw the earthquake and the things that were happening,” there is no good reason to exclude the ripping of the Temple veil from the things the people saw, and the only place in Jerusalem outside of the Temple where a person could see the Temple veil was the Mount of Olives. The Temple was clearly visible from the Mount of Olives, and so was the veil that covered the front of the Temple. The veil in front of the doors of the Holy Place was a massive curtain that Josephus describes as being 55 cubits high and 16 cubits wide, which would be over 80 feet high and 24 feet wide.g The Temple faced east toward the Mount of Olives, and so anyone standing near the top of the Mt. of Olives would have been able to physically see the Temple veil being torn. Note that Matthew 27:50-51, Mark 15:37-38, and Luke 23:45-46 all record the events of Jesus dying and the Temple veil being torn in the same two-verse context. Upon seeing what happened the soldiers and the people proclaimed that Jesus was righteous or even the “Son of God” (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47-48), and the people in the crowd beat their breasts (Luke 23:48). So the fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all indicate that the people at the crucifixion site could see the Temple veil torn open is good evidence that the crucifixion was on top of the Mount of Olives.

The Bible says that the “veil of the Temple” was torn, but scholars are divided as to whether the veil that was torn was the inner veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, or whether it was the outer veil that could be seen by worshipers and was in front of the doors of the Temple. But logically, if only the inner veil was torn the common people would still not have access to God. In fact, if only the inner veil was torn the people would not have known it. Only the priests and Levites could go into the Holy Place, so if only the inner veil was torn the priests and Levites would be able to enter the presence of God, but the people would not be able to enter, and would have had no sign that they could enter. The point of the Temple veil tearing was not so that Levites and priests would have access to God, but that every believer had access to God, and that would demand that it was the outer veil that was torn open, and many scholars agree with that.

Ulrich Luz writes: “The narrator speaks of ‘the curtain.’ It does not appear to bother him that there is more than one. The [two] possibilities are the curtain that separates the holy of holies…from the rest of the Temple, and the curtain at the main gate between the Court of the Israelites and the actual Temple building...the outer curtain is more suitable for an interpretation as a sign of disaster. It was the only curtain that was visible and publicly accessible so that people could see at all what had happened. Furthermore, there are texts that associate this main entrance to the temple with signs of disaster that announce its impending destruction. …For the readers of the gospel of Matthew who are aware of Jesus’s prediction of the coming destruction of the temple (Matt. 23:38-24:2)…an interpretation in terms of the destruction of the temple was more likely.”h

The theologian and translator Saint Jerome (c. 345-420 AD) wrote that in his estimation it was the outer veil of the Temple that tore.i Grant Osborne admits that there is no way to know for sure which of the two veils is meant, but writes: “The outer veil...fits the imagery of a public sign, and Josephus (J. W. 5:3) and several Jewish sources speak of the tearing of Herod’s magnificent veil at the entrance (so [William] Lane, [Craig L.] Blomberg, [Herman] Ridderbos, [W. D.] Davies and [Dale C.] Allison).”j Robert Gundry writes that the “veil” of the Temple “refers either to the inner curtain dividing the holy place from the holy of holies in the Temple or to the outer curtain at the front of the holy place (see BAG, s. v., whose certainty in favoring the inner curtain is not justified). If the outer curtain is meant, we might think of a sign of judgment visible to the general public….”k Alan McNeile makes a case for the outer veil and wrote that the Gospel “almost certainly pictures a portent visible to all, not only the priests who happened to be in the Holy Place at the moment.”l

Davies and Allison write, “Some expositors hold that the veil is the outer veil and its rending foreshadows or symbolizes the destruction of the temple in AD 70. …This interpretation is especially attractive as similar portents announcing the doom of the temple are recorded by both Josephus (Bell. 6:288-309) and the Talmud (b. Yoma 39b; y. Yoma 6.43c). One may also observe that Liv. Proph. Hab. 12 attributes the prophecy to Habakkuk: Concerning the end of the Temple…the veil of the sanctuary will be torn to pieces….’ If our Gospel’s rending of the veil anticipates or inaugurates the end of the temple, it thereby vindicates Jesus’s prophecy against the place (Matt. 24:2). Further, it is most appropriate that, immediately after people mock Jesus for his prophecy about the temple (Matt. 27:40), his word should be vindicated. …In addition to the two common lines of interpretation several others may be noted. (i) T. Levi 10:3 foretells that ‘the curtain of the temple will be torn, so that it will no longer conceal your [priests] shameful behaviour.’ (ii) those who view the darkness of Matt. 27:45 as mourning can find the same theme here: the temple mourns by tearing its garment. (iii) several early Christian sources refer to the temple Angel mourning and then leaving. …In addition, if there is any connection between the rending of the veil and the similar signs remembered in the Jewish sources…it is worth observing that these last mention signs near the outer entrance, not the Holy of Holies.”m

6) The Bible says Jesus was crucified at the place of the skull, and the word “skull” was used of counting people, and the top of the Mount of Olives was a place people were counted for the Temple tax.

John 19:17 says that Jesus was crucified at “the place of the skull (which in Aramaic is called golgotha and in Hebrew is called gulgoleth).” It was common to use the word “skull” to mean “counting” or “numbering.” We do a similar thing today when we “take a head count.” The word gulgoleth is used 12 times in the Old Testament, and although three times it refers literally to a skull, the other nine times it refers to a poll or counting of people (cp. Exod. 16:16 “each”; Exod. 38:26 “person”; Num. 1:2, 18, 20, 22 “one by one”; Num. 3:47 “each one”; Judg. 9:53 “skull”; 2 Kings 9:35 “skull”; 1 Chron. 10:10 “head”; 1 Chron. 23:3 “total”; 1 Chron. 23:24 “individually”).

So, when Jesus went “to the place of the skull” it could easily have meant “to the place of the counting” which is what gulgoleth meant most of the time in the Old Testament. The top of the Mount of Olives was a place where the Jews registered for the Temple Tax prior to the feast.n Thus, the top of the Mount of Olives would have been known as “Golgotha,” the place of the counting.

While Gordon’s Calvary, the traditional protestant spot of the crucifixion, looks somewhat like a skull today, there is no evidence that it did at the time of Jesus. The hollow eyes and nose of the “skull” at Gordon’s Calvary are cisterns that were broken and exposed through erosion, and it is quite possible that the erosion occurred after the time of Christ and that the area did not resemble a skull at the time of Jesus, 2,000 years ago. But in any case, it is most likely that “the place of the skull” referred to counting, not to a literal skull.

7) The Hebrew text of Matthew does not say Jesus was crucified at the “place” of a skull, but the “mountain” of a skull, and the most prominent mountain in the area was the Mount of Olives.

There is historical evidence that Matthew penned the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, not Greek, and the Gospel of Matthew that exists in Hebrew is called Even Bohan. In Even Bohan the site of Christ’s crucifixion in Matthew 27:33 is referred to as a “mountain.”o The word in the Hebrew text is har, mountain or hill, not just “place.” So, whereas the Greek text of Matthew calls the site of the crucifixion a “place” (“the place of skull” or “the place of numbering”), the Hebrew says the “mountain of a skull” or “the mountain of numbering.” Jerusalem is hilly. Jerusalem has a valley to the east and one to the south, and a third valley running up through the core of the city just west of the Temple. Also, the Temple is on a mountain, Mount Zion, and the Mount of Olives is directly east of Jerusalem. However, there is no mountain to the north, northwest or west of the Temple Mount. Given the hilly nature of Jerusalem, there is no good reason that the traditional sites of the crucifixion would be called a “mountain” or even thought of as a separate prominent hill, whereas the Mount of Olives clearly would be. In fact, it is called the “Mount” of Olives because it is a mountain, in fact, it is the most prominent mountain in the vicinity of Jerusalem, even higher than the Temple Mount itself. Furthermore, it is directly across the Kidron Valley from the Temple and thus only a few hundred yards east of the Temple. There is no good reason that the Hebrew text of Matthew would have “mountain” to describe the traditional sites of the crucifixion, but it would have used “mountain” to describe the Mount of Olives. Thus, the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew gives us supporting evidence that the site of the crucifixion was on the Mount of Olives.

[For more on the Gospel of Matthew being penned in Hebrew before being translated into Greek, see commentary on Matt. 3:3. For a version of Even Bohan with commentary, see George Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.]

8) Roman custom was such that the Romans tried to crucify people close to the crime they committed or the place of their arrest, and for Jesus both of those were on the Mount of Olives.

According to Roman custom, enemies of the state were regularly crucified at the scene of the crime or the place of arrest. Dr. Ernest Martin gives evidence to the fact in his book Secrets of Golgotha.p The Romans correctly assumed that most criminals against the state had local support, so crucifying a criminal in the general area of their crime or arrest made sense in that it discouraged people from becoming involved with criminal activities. In fact, much of the reason for crucifying a criminal instead of executing them in some other way was the public terror caused by crucifixion, which was gruesome and excruciatingly painful, and especially so since the crucified person usually did not die until the third day on the cross.

Pilate crucified Jesus for the “crime” of declaring himself a king, and he was publicly declared to be the king by the people as he rode on the donkey from the top of the Mount of Olives. The people shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38; John 12:13). Pilate confirmed that by asking Jesus if he were a king, to which Jesus replied that he was (John 18:37). Also, it is well known that Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, which is on the west slope of the Mount of Olives. So both the “crime” and the arrest of Jesus were associated with the Mount of Olives, and given the traffic that would have passed by the top of the Mount of Olives on Passover, and given Roman custom, a crucifixion site near the top of the Mount of Olives makes perfect sense.

9) The Bible says that in the place Jesus was crucified was a garden and a new tomb, and the Mount of Olives is known for having both those things.

John 19:41 says that at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden with a new tomb in it, and both tombs and evidence of ancient olive trees have been found on the Mount of Olives. In fact, the Hebrew words transliterated as “gethsemane” are gat sehmanim, or “oil press,” and a grove of olive trees large enough to have an oil press would rightly be called a “garden.” The Mount of Olives was a customary place in Jerusalem for a tomb to be cut out of the rock, and many tombs have been found there. Since the west slope of the Mount of Olives was close to the Temple it was expensive land, so it makes sense that if a tomb was cut out on the Mount of Olives, it would have had to have been paid for by a wealthy man, and the Scripture points out that Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy (Matt. 27:57). Thus, the Mount of Olives perfectly fits the description in the Gospels that the crucifixion was close to a garden and Joseph’s tomb.

Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, 159.
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Oxford Archaeological Guide to the Holy Land, 139.
Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 197.
Kittel [TDNT], 198.
Kittel [TDNT], 199.
Kittel [TDNT], 204.
Josephus, Jewish Wars, book 5, chap. 5, para. 4; 210-214.
Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21-28, Hermeneia.
Jerome, Epistle 120, his letter to the woman Hedibia, question #8.
Grant Osborne, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, 1043.
Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art.
McNeile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, note on Matt. 27:52, 423.
Davies and Allison, Matthew 19-28 [ICC], (full biblical references added).
Ernest Martin, Secrets of Golgotha, chap. 8.
George Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, 144-45.
E. Martin, Secrets of Golgotha, 6.72-79.
Mat 27:34

“they gave him wine mixed with gall to drink.” The “gall” is more specifically said to be myrrh in Mark 15:23. “Gall” is a more general term for a bitter drink, and in this case the myrrh was bitter, so Matthew refers to it as “gall.” Wine mixed with myrrh was sometimes offered to people being crucified because the myrrh deadened the senses, stupefied the person, and thus helped to lessen the pain. Jesus refused it because he needed full control of his senses and the suffering was part of the redemption of humankind. In this case, the “wine” was almost certainly wine vinegar because this was the spring of the year and the last grape harvest was the previous summer, many months before. For the most part, the ancients had no way to keep wine fresh such that it did not turn into wine vinegar.

Mat 27:35

“casting lots for them.” The better manuscripts end with this phrase. Some manuscripts also have the words that are translated in the KJV, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.” But those words seem to be a harmonization with John 19:24 and also to make the verse fit better with Psalm 22:18; the evidence is that the longer phrase is not original.

Mat 27:36(top)
Mat 27:37(top)
Mat 27:38(top)
Mat 27:39

“insults.” The Greek verb blasphēmeō (#987 βλασφημέω) is transliterated (not translated) from the Greek into English as “blasphemy.” However, in Greek, blasphēmeō and blasphēmia (the noun) did not have to refer to God or a god, although they could, but were common words that were used of someone speaking against another. The primary meanings were showing disrespect to a person or deity, and/or harming his, her, or its reputation. In this case, the people were hurling insults at Jesus.

[For more on blasphēmeō, see commentary on Matt. 9:3.]

Mat 27:40

“rebuild.” The Greek text is just “build,” not “rebuild,” but in both Hebrew and Greek the word “build” is used for rebuilding and for building up a building, city, etc.

Mat 27:41(top)
Mat 27:42(top)
Mat 27:43

“let God rescue him.” The Greek is literally, “let him rescue him,” but that could be unclear in English.

Mat 27:44(top)
Mat 27:45

“sixth hour…ninth hour.” The sixth hour is our noon, and the ninth hour is about our 3 p.m. Both the Jews and Romans divided the day into 12 hours, starting at daylight, roughly 6 a.m.

[For the hours of the day and the watches of the night, see commentary on Mark 6:48.]

Mat 27:46

“Eli, Eli.” This is Hebrew, while the Eloi, Eloi, of Mark 15:34 is Aramaic. Matthew wrote in Hebrew, but beyond that, it seems most likely that Jesus originally spoke these words in Hebrew (see commentary on Mark 15:34).

[For more about Matthew originally writing his Gospel in Hebrew, see commentary on Matthew 3:3.]

“My God, my God.” For this being evidence that Jesus Christ is not God, see commentary on Mark 15:34. Also see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.”

“why have you forsaken me?” It is sometimes taught that God forsook Jesus, and that He did so because Jesus became sin. That is simply not true. First, God did not forsake Jesus, the Scripture clearly states that Jesus was doing God’s will and could have even had 72,000 angels to help him if he wanted (Matt. 26:53). At the time of the crucifixion, “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19). Furthermore, God does not leave us when we sin. If there is any truth that is central to Christianity, it is that God loves sinners and stays with us even when we do sin. Even if Jesus did “become sin,” God would have stayed with him just like He stays with us when we sin. Also, Jesus did not “become sin,” as if he could somehow embody sin. He became a “sin offering,” and was the completion and fulfillment of all the sin offerings that had gone before him that could not actually take away sin.

[For more on Jesus becoming a sin offering, see commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:21.]

In one of the greatest examples of love the world has ever seen, Jesus continued to try to demonstrate to people that he was the promised Messiah even from the cross. One notable way he did that was by quoting at least the first and last verse of Psalm 22, a Psalm of David and one that his audience would have known well. Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm, and one that clearly portrays the crucifixion and what was going on in those circumstances.

For one thing, it certainly looked like Jesus had been forsaken by God, even though he certainly knew he had not been (cp. Ps. 22:1).

  • Ps. 22:6 says, “I am a worm,” and the Hebrew word for “worm” also refers to the scarlet color of the dye produced by the worm, and Jesus, covered with blood from head to toe, fit the description of that red worm.
  • Ps. 22:7 says, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.” That was certainly true as anyone at the location could see.
  • Ps. 22:8 tells us what the mockers said: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” We know from the Gospel records that is what the mockers were saying.
  • Ps. 22:11 says, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help,” and that was certainly true. Trouble was all around him in the form of his enemies, and his disciples had fled the scene.
  • Ps. 22:12 says, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.” The bull represented a powerful, irresistible force, and in this case, the Roman soldiers who guarded Christ were certainly like bulls surrounding him.
  • Ps. 22:14 says, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” Jesus’ strength was almost gone, he was dehydrated, and his bones had been pulled and stretched by Roman torture and by the act of crucifixion itself, but miraculously, not a bone was broken.
  • Ps. 22:15 says, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” After losing all that blood and being beaten for so long Jesus has almost no strength left. As he became dehydrated, his tongue would swell and become sticky in his mouth. This also explains why, even though he quoted Psalm 22:1, some people misunderstood and thought he was calling out for Elijah.
  • Ps. 22:16 says, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.” The Gentiles were known as dogs, and the Roman soldiers surrounded Jesus and had pierced his hands and feet. This is an amazing prophecy since crucifixion did not exist in the time of David, so David wrote this prophecy purely by revelation, there is no cultural way David could have known about crucifixion.
  • Ps. 22:17 says, “I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” Jesus hurt so badly that it was like he could count all his bones. Besides that, the Roman flagellum whip was tipped with pieces of metal or bone and ripped the flesh off the body, often exposing some of the bones. It may well have been possible that some of Jesus’ bones were actually exposed. Also, people were staring at him and gloating.
  • Ps. 22:18 says, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” The Roman soldiers did exactly what the prophecy said.
  • Ps. 22:24 says, “For he [God] has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” This shows that although we can feel like we are abandoned when we are suffering, godly people know in their heart that God is still with them, and Jesus certainly knew that.
  • Ps. 22:31 closes with, “for he has done it,” which can be “It is finished.”

Jesus knew that godly people standing within hearing distance would be able to mentally recite much or all of Psalm 22 and then see how it was being fulfilled right before their very eyes, and then would also be able to describe that to others and spread the news about him. Thus, with his dying words Jesus was trying very hard to reach a lost world and reconcile them to God.

As Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, there is every reason to believe that his audience recognized what he was quoting, even if he only quoted the first and last verse. (It is noteworthy that Charles Spurgeon thinks that Psalm 22, “may have been actually repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree.”)a

By the time of Jesus, the Jews read from the Old Testament in the synagogue every week (Acts 13:15; Acts 15:21; see also Luke 4 when Jesus read from Isaiah). After Nebuchadnezzar burned the Temple to the ground and thus brought the sacrifices and rituals associated with the Temple to an end, the reading and study of the Old Testament became much more central to Judaism. Even after the Temple was rebuilt in the Persian period, the attention to reading and study of the Old Testament that had become part of the synagogue service never stopped. Since the average Jew did not have a copy of much if any of the Old Testament, it was important to them to go to the synagogue to hear it read and discussed. Furthermore, the Jews encouraged each other to memorize the Scriptures even starting from the time they were children (Deut. 6:1-5). This meant that every devoted Jew had more than a passing familiarity with the Psalms.

Another way we can see that the Jews were very familiar with the Psalms is from how many times Psalms are quoted in the New Testament, and quoted as if the audience was familiar with them (Matt. 4:6 [Luke 4:10, 11]; Matt. 5:5; 13:35; 21:9; 23:39 [Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; 19:38; John 12:13]; Matt. 21:16, 42 [Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7]; Matt. 22:44 [Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Cor. 15:27; Heb. 1:13]; Matt. 27:46 [Mark 15:34]; Luke 23:46; John 2:17; 6:31; 10:34; 13:18; 15:25; 19:24; Acts 1:20; 2:25-28; 2:30-31; 4:25-26; 13:22, 35; Rom. 2:6; 3:4, 10-14, 18; 4:7-8; 8:36; 10:18; 11:9-10; 15:3, 11; 1 Cor. 3:20; 10:26; 15:27; 2 Cor. 4:13; 9:9; Eph. 4:8, 26; Heb. 1:5-13; 2:6-8, 12; 3:7-11, 15; 4:3, 5, 7; 5:5-6; 7:17, 21; 10:5-9; 13:6; 1 Pet. 2:7; 3:10-12; and Rev. 2:26-27).

This large number of quotations shows that, as well as comforting and encouraging verses, the Psalms contained verses that gave important information about the Messiah and the Kingdom, something that would not have been lost on the Jewish audience, nor on the converts who came to Judaism.

The words that Jesus spoke from the cross were not the words of a man who had been forsaken by God. They were Jesus’ last possible attempt to reach the world with the Word of Truth.

“ninth hour.” About our 3 p.m. Both the Jews and Romans divided the day into 12 hours, starting at daylight, roughly 6 a.m.

[For the hours of the day and the watches of the night, see commentary on Mark 6:48.]

Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, introductory notes on Psalm 22, 365.

Additional resource:

play mediaMy God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (52:33) (Pub: 2007-05-01)


Jesus' words from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” have confused Bible students for years. Many think that Jesus either was, or thought he was, forsaken by God. In this teaching we learn that Jesus Christ was reciting part of Psalm 22, trying to jar people into understanding that prophecy was being fulfilled before their eyes.

Verses: Matt. 26:1-5, 50-54; 27:41-43, 45-50; Mark 10:32-34; John 13:25-27; 16:32; 19:28-30, 36; Isa. 52:14, 53:3-5; Ps. 22:1-31; Exod. 25:4; Heb. 2:11

Teacher: John Schoenheit

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Mat 27:47(top)
Mat 27:48(top)
Mat 27:49(top)
Mat 27:50

“gave up his spirit.” When Jesus “gave up his spirit,” he died, and the fact that Jesus died shows he was a human. God cannot die. The death of Jesus has been a topic of discussion among theologians for many centuries. Most of the discussion centers around various theories of atonement, but some of the discussion has centered around the belief held by some Trinitarians that Jesus had to be God because the death of a human could not pay for all the sins of mankind. The common Trinitarian assertion is that only the death of God could pay for the sins of all mankind. While at first glance that belief may seem logical to some people, it falls apart under deeper scrutiny. Let’s examine why.

Trinitarian doctrine is that Jesus is 100% man and 100% God. Moreover, when Jesus died on the cross, Trinitarian theologians do not say that “God died,” because everyone knows that God cannot die, He is eternal and immortal. Instead, theologians teach that the human part of Jesus died, while the God part lived on. But that creates a problem, because if the Trinitarian assertion is that “God” had to die to pay for the sins of all mankind, but only the human part of Jesus died, then “God” did not die on the cross, and so then the sins of mankind were not paid for.

So although some Trinitarians say that “God had to die for the sins of mankind,” they have to admit that only the human part of Jesus died, and thus it was the death of a human being, a man, that paid for the sins of mankind. But that means that Jesus did not need to be God to pay for the sins of mankind, he could have just been fully human, and that is what the Bible says about Jesus; that he was fully human. This accords with what Romans teaches, that death came to mankind as a result of a man, Adam, and so everlasting life came by a man also (Rom. 5:15). Thus, as Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus was a “man approved by God” (Acts 2:22 KJV).

[For more on dead people being totally dead and not alive in any way, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on why Jesus had to be fully dead, not just have his body die, see commentary on 1 Cor. 15:20. For more on Jesus being fully human and not “God in the flesh,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son,” and Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?” and also see Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith.]

“spirit.” The Greek word is pneuma (#4151 πνεῦμα). Here it refers to the natural life of the body. See commentary on Luke 23:46.

Mat 27:51

“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.

“curtain of the sanctuary.” At the time of Christ, the Temple had two veils, or curtains. The inner veil separated the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant was from the Holy Place, where the menorah and table of the Bread of the Presence were, and this inner veil is mentioned in Hebrews 6:19. The second veil, the outer veil, was in front of two huge doors and together the doors and veil separated the Holy Place from the court of the Priests, where the great altar was and sacrifices were made.

The second veil, the one in front of the doors of the Holy Place, was a massive curtain that Josephus describes as being 55 cubits high and 16 cubits wide, which would be over 80 feet high and 24 feet wide.a It was a most beautiful curtain that is described as being woven from blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen, all made with mystic significance and having a panorama of the heavens portrayed on it.

“from top to bottom.” This showed that God tore the Temple veil. If people had torn it, they would have had to start at the bottom and torn it to the top.

“the earth was shaken.” Earthquakes were viewed symbolically as denoting the presence and intervention of God (cp. Exod. 19:18; 1 Kings 19:11). The sign of an earthquake upon Jesus’ death is indicative of God’s power being displayed through the death of Jesus on the cross. Large earthquakes were known to have occurred in Judea. Josephus mentions one during the reign of Herod the Great, “such as had not happened at any other time, which was very destructive to men and cattle.”b

Neither the Gospel of Mark (Mark 15:38) nor the Gospel of Luke (Luke 23:45) record any geological events coinciding with Jesus’ death. All three Synoptics record the tearing of the temple curtain, but only Matthew provides details surrounding the additional signs that accompanied Jesus’ death.

“the rocks were split.” This is not referring to rocks on the ground that would have simply moved around. This is referring to the huge “rocks” that were the rock faces of cliffs and slopes, or huge rocks that were partially buried in the ground and would split rather than move. Zechariah 14:4 mentions an earthquake that will occur when Christ returns to earth and fights the Battle of Armageddon that will split the Mount of Olives itself, and create a valley running from east to west where the mountain used to be. This earthquake at the time of Christ likely caused great fissures in the ground in some places and landslides in other places. It is also possible, even likely, that the huge lentil rock that supported the Temple curtain was split, and as it fell it tore the Temple curtain.

Josephus, Jewish Wars, book 5, chap. 5, para. 4, 210-214.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 15, chapter 5, section 2.
Mat 27:52

“many bodies of the holy ones who had fallen asleep were raised.” For information on this event, see commentary on Matthew 27:53.

“fallen asleep.” The Greek verb is koimaō (#2837 κοιμάω), to fall asleep, to be asleep. Sleep is used as a euphemism and metaphor for death. See commentary on Acts 7:60.

Mat 27:53

“they entered the holy city and appeared to many. Matthew 27:52-53 has caught the attention of readers for centuries because of the notable miracle that those verses describe. These verses occur immediately after the death of Jesus recorded earlier in the chapter.

In this third sign that Matthew records in association with Jesus’ death-resurrection event, it seems that a point is being made about the effectual power of the cross for not just opening up the way to God but also to the conquering of the power of death itself (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-57). Just as Jesus had died and been raised back to life, the record of people being raised from the dead testifies to the victory over death that Jesus has brought about as Messiah.

It is most likely that the significance of this death-resurrection sign is that it is a prophetic foreshadowing that points to the resurrection of everyone who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead (some see an echo here of Ezek. 37:12-14). As Leon Morris remarks concerning this sign, “Matthew is making the point that the resurrection of Jesus brought about the resurrection of his people.”a Thus, in a dramatic way, the death and resurrection of Jesus will end the power of death itself.

Despite the testimony that this last sign of Jesus’ death-resurrection seems to provide, it raises a number of questions about details surrounding this sign.

One question that is hotly debated is whether or not these “many saints” were raised in glorified bodies or their natural bodies. The traditional answer to that question is that when the saints got up from the dead they were in their glorified bodies and then, at some point, perhaps very shortly after going into Jerusalem, they ascended into heaven. However, the biblical evidence is against the saints being raised in glorified bodies. Jesus Christ had not yet been raised from the dead, and Jesus was the “firstborn out from among the dead” (Col. 1:18; cp. Rev. 1:5), and the “firstfruits” from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). Some Bible teachers try to get around this objection by asserting that the phrase, “after his resurrection,” in verse 53 refers to the entire event, and that the dead were not raised until after Jesus’ resurrection. However, that is not the reading of the Greek text. According to the text of Matthew, the saints were raised from the dead when Jesus died. R. C. H. Lenski gets around the firstfruits argument by saying that Jesus is still the firstfruits from the dead even though these many saints were raised before him, because the saints stayed around their graves for the three days before appearing to people and thus gave time for Jesus to get up.b But that is an unjustified sidestep of the problem: if many people were resurrected in glorified bodies before Jesus was, then Jesus was not the firstfruits from the dead.

Another reason the saints could not have been raised from the dead in glorified bodies and shortly after that ascended into heaven is that when the Gospel of John was written (perhaps 80-90 AD), no one was in heaven but Jesus. The textual evidence is that the way John 3:13 is written in the KJV represents the original reading of the Greek text, and it says, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” Thus, when John wrote, no human was in heaven but Jesus. That would mean that the many saints were still on earth in glorified bodies at least until the Gospel of John was written, perhaps 50 years later, which stretches the limits of credulity.

[For more on the correct translation of John 3:13, see commentary on John 3:13 and 3:16.]

There is another piece of supporting evidence that the “many saints” had not been raised in glorified bodies and quickly ascended to heaven. On the day of Pentecost, only 50 days after Jesus died, Peter taught the crowds that part of the proof that Jesus was indeed “Lord” and “Christ” was that Jesus’ had been raised from the dead and had ascended to the right hand of God, and that this was in contrast to great men like David who were still buried in the ground (Acts 2:24-33). But if “many saints” had also been raised from the dead in glorified bodies, and also ascended into heaven, then a large group of saints, including Jesus, had been raised and ascended to heaven, and that would have considerably weakened Peter’s argument because then Jesus would have not been special, he would have been part of a group. Opponents could have simply said that lots of people were raised and ascended, so why was Jesus different from the others (even though we know he was)?

The evidence from Acts and the early Church leads us to conclude, but the Bible never specifically says, that the many saints got up in their natural bodies and died again quite quickly. But even if that was the case, there are still many unanswered questions about the event. For example, who were these many saints, and how would people know they had been raised from the dead? Also, what was the reason they stayed near (or perhaps even “in”) the tombs for three days before going into Jerusalem? Also, why is there no other mention of them in the Bible? The chief priests apparently knew nothing about them, and were concerned only that Jesus’ tomb be sealed (Matt. 27:62-66), and why did none of those “many saints” get word of their resurrection to the apostles who were living in fear during those same three days (John 20:19)?

Also, after the three days were over and they went into Jerusalem, why does the biblical evidence lead us to believe they never appeared to the Apostles? After all, evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was coming to those confused believers from many sources; Mary Magdalene, the other women, Peter himself, and the men who were on the road to Emmaus, so why not from a few of those “many saints” as well? Another concern is how these many saints would rejoin society. Theories differ, and perhaps a possible one is that these people had not been long dead, as many assume, but had just recently died and simply returned to their families.c

Most conservative commentators recognize there are difficulties with the record in Matthew but just take what Matthew says at face value without commenting too much about it or offering potential solutions to those problems. Many other scholars recognize problems with Matthew 27:52-53 and offer different solutions to them. A common one is that Matthew is speaking in an apocalyptic fashion and using a word-picture that draws on Old Testament motifs and connects Jesus’ death and resurrection to the future resurrection of believers. Another explanation is that by the time Matthew wrote, there was a tradition that the event had happened, and Matthew pulled that tradition into the text.d A. B. Bruce writes: “We seem here to be in the region of Christian legend.”e However, it seems very unlikely that Matthew would put apocalyptic typology, legend, or tradition into the Gospel of Matthew as if it were literal history. A few Bible teachers have suggested that the record was added to the early texts of Matthew, but there is no textual evidence for that. So as obscure as it is, it seems that to show that the death of Jesus conquered death for everyone, when Jesus died some dead believers got up from the dead for a few days then rather quickly died again, awaiting the first resurrection.

As a side note, Matthew 27:53 uses the Greek word egersis (#1454 ἔγερσις), “resurrection,” and this is the only time it is used in the New Testament. In fact, it is also used only once in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, and that usage was not about getting up from the dead, but arising from sleep. “You know when I sit and when I rise” (Ps. 139:2). The word means “a waking up as from sleep, a rousing or rising up.” As far as all other extant Greek literature is concerned, egersis was not used of rising from the dead until the Church Father, Irenaeus.f Several scenarios are possible: by the time Matthew wrote, Christians were using “egersis” to refer to the resurrection because it can mean a waking from sleep, and Matthew used it that way. Or Matthew may have been the first to use it that way and the concept spread in Christianity.

Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew [PNTC].
Lenski, Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 1131.
Cp. Spence-Jones and Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, 596.
Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of S. Matthew, 402.
A. B. Bruce, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 332.
Gerhard Kittel [TDNT], 2:337.
Mat 27:54(top)
Mat 27:55(top)
Mat 27:56

“Mary Magdalene.” Mary is called “Magdalene” because her hometown was Magdala, on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee.

[For more information on Mary Magdalene see commentary on Luke 8:2.]

Mat 27:57

“when it was evening.” In the biblical culture, “evening” was used two different ways. It was “either from our three to six o’clock p. m., …or from our six o’clock p. m. to the beginning of night,”a That the people in the biblical culture thought of evening in terms of an early evening and a later evening explains verses such as Exodus 12:6; 16:12, and 29:39 where the Hebrew text reads, “between the evenings” (cp. Young’s Literal Translation; Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible). The cultural use of “evening” beginning at 3 p.m. also explains why the daily afternoon sacrifice, which was killed around 3 p.m., was called “the evening sacrifice.” Jesus had died at 3 p.m., so according to biblical culture, “evening” had come.

After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and got permission to take the body of Jesus (Matt. 27:58; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:52; John 19:38). He then went and bought the linen to wrap Jesus in. He did not do that earlier, perhaps in expectation that Jesus would somehow not die at the hands of the Romans (Mark 15:46). He wrapped the body in a clean linen cloth and put it in the tomb without using any spices, which was not the traditional Jewish burial custom (Matt. 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 22:53). Why would Joseph do that? The most likely reason is that Nicodemus, who brought the spices, was supposed to meet Joseph at the tomb but was delayed. Then Joseph, not knowing what had happened to Nicodemus, closed the tomb and left (Matt. 27:60; Mark 15:46). At that point, the women from Galilee who were watching Joseph, and had seen that he had laid Jesus’ body in the tomb without preparing it with spices according to the common custom, left also (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). The Sabbath would have been about to start or just starting by that time.

It has sometimes been taught that the reason that Joseph only wrapped Jesus in a linen cloth without spices was that he believed Jesus would be raised from the dead, and thus he did not bother to bury Jesus with all the spices and formal wrappings. However, that explanation is not likely. It leaves us with some unanswered questions, such as how did Nicodemus know Joseph was going to get Jesus’ body and how did he know where Joseph buried him? Also, if Joseph did not properly bury Jesus because he believed Jesus would be raised from the dead in three days, it would have been inappropriate and presumptuous for Nicodemus to go to Joseph’s personal tomb, open it, and wrap Jesus’ body without Joseph’s permission.

The women from Galilee had watched Joseph put Jesus’ body in the tomb without preparing with spices as was not only the common custom but certainly would have been the respectful thing to do to Jesus. That is why they went and bought and prepared spices, and went to properly bury Jesus on Sunday morning—they weren’t expecting Jesus to get up either. It was Wednesday just before sunset when the women saw Joseph bury Jesus without spices, but they could not buy the spices at that time. Luke 23:54 says the Sabbath was beginning, however, this “Sabbath” is not the weekly Sabbath, but the Sabbath that was the day of Nisan 15, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was always a Sabbath (Exod. 12:16-17; Lev. 23:6-8). The year Jesus was crucified, Nisan 15 was a Thursday. So the woman bought and prepared the spices on Friday, and rested Saturday (the weekly Sabbath), and then brought the spices to the tomb early Sunday morning (see commentary on John 20:1).

That the women had to wait until after the Special Sabbath on Thursday to buy spices explains why Mark 16:1 says they bought the spices after the Sabbath, but Luke 23:56 says they bought and prepared them before the Sabbath. They bought and prepared the spices on Friday, which was after the Special Sabbath on Thursday, which was the first day of Unleavened Bread, and before Saturday, which was the regular weekly Sabbath.

Although the women would have had time to bring the spices to the tomb on Friday, they did not do that. The most logical explanation for that is that they knew there was a guard at the tomb. The guard had been set for three days (Matt. 27:62-66). However, they would have thought that by Sunday, the fourth day, the guard would be gone and they could successfully anoint Jesus’ body, which is why they came on Sunday morning.

After Joseph of Arimathea and the women left the tomb, Nicodemus came with his servants and gave Jesus a burial that was according to Jewish custom. He brought spices with him, and re-wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices. However, the women had already left and did not see what Nicodemus had done. It would have been natural for a rich man like Nicodemus to have servants with him, who are the “they” of John 19:40. After all, Nicodemus was a wealthy man and member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1), and he was bringing 75 pounds of spices, which would have required help and were very valuable. Also, as an older man, 75 pounds of spices would have been a lot to carry. Furthermore, because Joseph and his servants had already sealed the tomb with the huge rolling stone, Nicodemus would have needed his servants to open it back up (Matt. 27:60; Mark 15:46). It is possible that Nicodemus’ work was completed after dark, and thus on the Sabbath, or he may have gotten Jesus buried just before the Sabbath started. In either case, he would not have been able to eat the Passover meal because he had touched Jesus’ dead body.

[For more on the three days and nights between Jesus’ death and resurrection, see commentary on Matthew 12:40. For more on the chronology of the last week of Jesus’ life beginning with his arrest, see commentary on John 18:13, “first.” For more on Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus burying Jesus, see commentary on John 19:40.]

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon.
Mat 27:58

“Then Pilate commanded it to be given to him.” From a Roman perspective, Jesus was a criminal, and after his death his dead body would have been simply thrown into a pit with the other criminals who were crucified that day and all of them would have been buried together and forgotten. Of course, if a family member or friend wanted a body, he could have it. Thus, when Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, it was given to him. The whole arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus seems to have caught Mary and the apostles completely off guard, and they were not prepared for his death, nor were the apostles prepared to publicly step forward and get the body. From a Roman legal perspective, after Pilate gave Joseph the body, it belonged to him and he could do with it as he pleased.

Mat 27:59(top)
Mat 27:60

“laid it in his own new tomb.” This was just before sunset Wednesday evening. Joseph was supposed to work in tandem with Nicodemus, but for some reason, Nicodemus was late and showed up after Joseph had closed the tomb and left. The fact that Jesus was buried without a proper kingly burial was part of the fulfillment of Daniel 9:26, that after the Anointed One was “cut off,” dead, he would have nothing.

As it turned out, Jesus was dead on the cross and taken down from the cross before sunset and buried, just as the Mosaic Law required (see commentary on Deut. 21:23).

[For more on Joseph and Nicodemus planning to work together but Nicodemus being late, see commentary on John 19:40. For more information on a Wednesday crucifixion and burial, see commentary on Matthew 12:40.]

Mat 27:61

“And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary…” The Bible tells us how the women knew about where Jesus was buried. It seems that they did not want to leave Jesus just hanging on the cross, so they stayed in the area. In any case, the women were still there when Joseph took Jesus down from the cross and carried his body away, and they followed Joseph, and sat down where they could see what he was doing (Luke 23:55). That is why Matthew 27:61 says they were “sitting opposite the tomb,” i.e., they were sitting in a way they could see the tomb. Nicodemus may have noticed them, or he may have been trying so hard to get finished burying Jesus before the darkness set in that he did not pay attention to them. After all, it was Passover, and Jerusalem was packed with people. The women noticed that Joseph did not properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial, but simply wrapped him in a cloth, closed the tomb, and left, which is why they went to prepare spices themselves. (see commentary on Matt. 27:60 and John 19:40).

[For more information on Mary Magdalene, see commentary on Luke 8:2.]

Mat 27:62

“now on the next day.” This is the morning of Nisan 15 (Nisan 15 had started at sunset the night before). The Passover sacrifice is killed in the late afternoon on Nisan 14 but eaten after sunset. Since sunset starts the next day, the Passover meal actually ends up being eaten on the next day, Nisan 15, which is the first day of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod. 12:6-19). In spite of the fact it was a Sabbath day, the Pharisees and chief priests were so filled with trepidation about Jesus that they went to Pilate and requested a guard to keep the tomb secure.

Pilate’s answer, “You have a watch,” or as it is in some versions, “You have a guard,” has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that the Priests already had the Temple police, so they should use them. That is not correct. Pilate gave permission to the priests to requisition a detachment of Roman guards, which is why the guards would have been in trouble if the governor heard that the body of Jesus had been stolen while they were guarding it (cp. Matt. 28:12-15).

“gathered together.” This gathering would not have involved every member of the Sanhedrin, but only a select group. Also, they would not have met together somewhere and then marched as a group to Pilate because that would have attracted too much attention, and it was a Sabbath day. Instead, they would have communicated their purpose quietly, and then gone as individuals to Pilate, gathering together as a group once they were in his presence.

Mat 27:63

“will be raised.” Passive voice. The religious leaders remembered, but did not believe, what the disciples never grasped—that Jesus taught he would be raised after three days.

Mat 27:64(top)
Mat 27:65

“You can have.” The Greek word is echō (#2192 ἔχω), which is usually “you have,” but in this case it can be “you can have.”a

“a guard of soldiers.” The Greek word is koustōdia (#2892 κουστωδία), a guard of Roman soldiers. The Pharisees and chief priests were so filled with trepidation about Jesus that they went to Pilate and requested a guard to keep the tomb secure (Matt. 27:62-66). Pilate’s answer as it appears in many English versions, “You have a watch,” or “You have a guard,” has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that Pilate told the priests that since they already had the Temple police, they should use them. That is not correct. Pilate gave permission to the priests to requisition a detachment of Roman guards, which is why those soldiers would have been in trouble if the governor heard that the guard and fallen asleep and the body of Jesus had been stolen (Matt. 28:12-15). Pilate would not care if the Temple police had fallen asleep and Jesus’ body had been stolen.

See BDAG, s.v. “ἔχω,” def. 9.
Mat 27:66

“sealing the stone.” They did not “seal” the stone in the sense of somehow gluing it closed. That is not the meaning of “seal” in this case. If they could have glued the stone closed, they would not have needed the guard. They put a seal on the stone, which would have been wax or clay that connected the stone to the wall and which would have had a “seal” (an insignia of some kind), pressed into the wax. If the stone were moved, the wax or clay would have been broken and the insignia destroyed. This seal let everyone know the grave had not been tampered with. It is even possible that, in this case, the seal was clay attached to the wall of the tomb and wax on the rolling-stone, with a cord between them.

“setting the guard.” The Greek text simply has the phrase “with the guard” at the end of the sentence, which has led to various interpretations and translations. For example, the NASB says that the Jews sealed the tomb “along with the guards.” Some interpreters have even suggested that the Jews “sealed” the tomb “with the guards,” meaning that the guards were the effective seal, but this interpretation seems very unlikely. It seems most likely that the phrase is not meant to communicate that the guards helped seal the tomb, but rather that the tomb was left “with the guard,” as the Jews requested, so the body would not be stolen. It is likely that the “guard” is not referring to an individual soldier but is a collective reference to those soldiers who were left to guard the tomb. Therefore, perhaps a more conflated translation would be: “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and leaving it with soldiers of the guard.”


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