Matthew 26:57–27:66 the Passion. Part II.
The Death of Christ.

Key Notes: Jesus' confession. Peter's denial. Judas' collapse. The meaningful taunts. Four rapid events.

The death of Christ has been intensively studied for two thousand years. Although it is tempting to bring all four Gospel accounts together, we should let Matthew tell his story. The best way to learn this passage is to read it aloud. I have read it aloud with little comment to international students getting their first exposure to Christianity. It is a powerful narrative. We note with some surprise that Matthew has only one or two quotes from OT on this most important subject—the crucifixion and the atonement. No doubt the references would be so numerous as to interfere with the telling of the story. In contrast, there are at least six references cited in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth.

26:57–68 Jesus was alone with the mob. They took Him to the high priest’s (Caiaphas’) house where the chief priests (pastors),  scribes (writers, Bible teachers) and elders (lay-leaders) were already assembled for an informal and illegal night trial. (Pharisees and Sadducees are not mentioned.)  Peter was seen following at a distance, and ended up in the courtyard. All the other disciples were gone. The witnesses could not agree on anything except that Jesus said He was able to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.

Jesus would not discuss it. What He had really said was “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.”(Jn.2:19). That referred to His body, His death and resurrection.

Then the High Priest demanded that Jesus incriminate Himself by answering the crucial question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” How could He deny it? Jesus not only affirmed His Name but amplified it with a breath-taking declaration.
“…I tell you, hereafter, you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.”

He gave them three big concepts in one sentence.
“…hereafter you will see”….We think only the righteous will see Christ return in glory, but John says “every eye will see Him, everyone who pierced Him." (Rev.1:7). And Jesus said “…all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.” (Matt.24:30)

 “…the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power”…. David quoted God as saying,
“Sit at My right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psa.110:1)
“When He had made purification for sins He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…." (Heb.1:3)

“…and coming with the clouds of heaven", " and to Him was given dominion and glory and kingdom….” comes from Dan.7:13. This is our basic OT reference on the meaning of the name “Son of Man” and prophesies His ultimate power.

The high priest exploded with rage (and probably delight). “Caught”! “Gotcha”! “Blasphemy”! Now they vented their contempt and hatred, and we can see the once-powerful figure of Jesus, tied and blinded (Mk.14:65), collapsing under a rain of slaps and fists from these supposedly godly men. The sadistic impulse to spit and humiliate was aroused.

26:69–74  Meanwhile Peter….We do not know what Peter may have seen going on with Jesus inside the house, but he did not want any fingers pointed at him. He was clearly an outsider to the waiting guards and servants. They were sure he was an associate of Jesus; he had an “up-country” accent. Why did he not just leave? The more vehemently he denied knowing Jesus the more guilty he made himself appear. First he pretended not to understand the question. Then he denied the allegation, and finally declared himself damned if he knew Jesus. Peter hit rock bottom, and went out weeping inconsolably. That is the last mention of Peter in Matthew.

27:1–2 Since the Jewish authorities could not carry out their death sentence, they delivered Him to the Roman governor who had the official power of life and death.

27:3–10 Meanwhile Judas….when he saw Jesus condemned, was also overcome with remorse. Had he assumed that Jesus, when challenged, would assert his power and overcome the Roman army? Judas threw the money down in the temple, went out and hung himself. The priests took the money—blood money—and bought the Potter’s Field to bury aliens.

“Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying ‘and they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.’”
Zechariah reads ”Then the Lord said to me, ‘Cast it into the treasury ….So I took the thirty shekels of silver and cast them into the treasury in the House of the Lord.’” (Zech.11:13)
That seems closer to the quotation in Matthew than anything in Jeremiah and many commentators shrug off the reference to Jeremiah as a mistake. (Do they think Matthew was writing in a cave?) Certainly Matthew has made this reference difficult for us, but his focus is on the potter's field rather than the money.

Other commentators see Matthew referring to Jeremiah’.
“Thus said the Lord, ‘Go, buy a potter’s earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people…and go out to the valley of the son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate….’” (Jer.19:1–2)
“…this place…shall be called… the valley of slaughter. “ (Jer.19:6)
“Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you….” (Jer.19:10) as a sign of how Jerusalem will be broken.
“Men shall bury in Topheth (valley of Hinnom / Gehenna) because there will be no place else to bury. “ (Jer.19:11)
This site, south of the wall of Jerusalem, where tradition says Judas was buried, was called the Potter’s Field. Referring to Jeremiah would focus attention on  Israel’s guilt and prophesy her soon judgment.

The references from Zechariah and Jeremiah are combined in a way we would think unusual.

27:11–26 The trial before Pilate started quietly and ended in a riot. Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews and Jesus affirmed that, but Pilate was not particularly interested. He heard various charges from the chief priests and elders but Jesus did not respond. Pilate was baffled. He knew Jesus was innocent and that envy was the priests’ motive. His wife warned him not to get involved. Pilate tried to get them to release Jesus rather than Barabbas, a notorious prisoner. That made no sense and further inflamed the mob. Finally Pilate took the path of least resistance and gave Jesus up to the soldiers. Washing his hands of the case was a vain gesture. He may have taken it from Jewish law. (Deut. 21:6–7). He could have dispersed the mob easily, but his reputation had been sullied by previous violence against the Jews (Lk.13:1) and his job was in jeopardy. He lost it soon after anyway.

The crowd was willing to bear responsibility for His death. This may be the reason why Jesus said the righteous blood of all the prophets would be required of this generation. 23:34–36

Both the beating and the crucifixion were extreme tortures, deplored by thoughtful Romans. A Roman lashing could kill a man, shredding flesh, breaking bones. It was intended at least to shorten life on the cross. Then hundreds of Roman soldiers (a battalion is 600 men!), were gathered in front of Him, seated, apparently still upright. They knelt down in mock adoration before their King, dressed in a borrowed red robe with a crown of thorns and a reed for a scepter. Then they expressed their malignant feelings with spittle and blows. This was the third time He had been beaten. Driving the thorns into his scalp would create multiple head wounds that would likely leave Him covered with blood.

27:32–50  A man from Cyrene in North Africa was compelled to carry the cross, probably the cross-bar. The site of execution was outside of the city. (Jn.19:20 with Heb.13:12). “Calvary” comes from the Latin word for a skull. He was offered a drink which may have contained a narcotic, and refused it. He was vilified not only by the chief priests, scribes and elders but also by the two robbers. Psa.22 is a stunning prophecy of the crucifixion.

The taunts carry large measures of truth.
“Jesus the King of the Jews” is a Messianic title Pilate wrote over His head.
“He is the King of Israel. Let Him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him. “  He will but they will not believe.
“You who would destroy the Temple and build it in three days, save yourself.”  He will rebuild His temple.
“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” He will, in His time.
“He saved others; He cannot save Himself.” He is sacrificing Himself to save others.
“He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now if He desires Him.” He will deliver Him and soon.
He said “ I am the Son of God.” He is.

Some women stood back and watched. They had followed Him all the way from Galilee. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” will stay by and be the first to see Him on the Third Day.

From noon to three PM the sky was dark. We sit in silence before the word
            “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Undoubtedly, it was the moment of His greatest agony. He did not die weakly, but cried out with a loud voice, and gave up His spirit.

27:51–56 Four things happened quickly.
*The Temple curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies tore from the top down. The way into the presence of God was now open. (Heb.10:20)
*There was an earth-quake. God shook the earth.
*Tombs broke open and bodies were released. Saints long dead were seen in Jerusalem after the Resurrection. Death had released its grip.
*The Centurion (The Gentile) confessed that Jesus was the Son of God.

What happened to Jesus then?

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There are numerous theories of the atonement. Only one is acceptable:

  1. Accident theory. A conspicuous person made the mistake of getting in the way of established powers and was caught and killed.
  2. Martyr theory. He died for what He believed in. He was true to His beliefs, a model of faithfulness and duty.
  3. Ransom theory. Christ’s death was a ransom paid to Satan to free the captives from his kingdom (taught by the early Church).
  4. Moral theory. Jesus was a moral example. He took on human nature and suffered in and with the sins of His creatures. The sufferings and death of Christ show us God’s love for mankind and this moves us to love Him. We are turned away from selfishness to repentance and faith. Abelard developed this in the 12th century.
    “So great a pledge of love having been given us, we are both moved and kindled to love God, who did such great things for us; and by this we are justified, that is, being loosed from our sins, we are made just. The death of Christ therefore justifies us, inasmuch as through it charity is stirred up in our hearts.” (Peter Lombard (1159AD) quoted in “The Cross of Christ”. J.R.W. Stott; IVP,’86; p.218)

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” carries this incorrect theme.

V. Satisfaction theory. Anselm wrote the great “Why God Man?” in the 11th century. He taught that sin is a crime against the Infinite God, and can only be satisfied by an infinite penalty. But there is no one who can pay an infinite penalty except God Himself. Yet no one ought to pay it except the humans that committed sin. Therefore one who is both truly God and truly Man is the only one who would make the payment. Jesus, who was true Man and true God gave Himself up to restore God’s offended honor. Human beings should surrender themselves to God as He did.
This theory is good as far as it goes.

VI. Penal substitution theory. Substitution of Christ  for sinners’ penalty is the key.

    1. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Rom.3:23 KJV)
    2. "The wages of sin is death...." (Rom.6:23) "The soul that sins shall die." (Ezek.18:4)
    3. "...without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin." (Heb.9:22)
    4. "...the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isa.53:6)
      "...whom God put forth to be propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith." (Rom.3:25)
    5. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written ‘cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree.’” (Gal.3:13)
    6. “He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (IICor.5:21)
    7. "Since we are justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom.5:1)

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    John Stott's "The Cross of Christ" cited above is highly recommended.