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D. A. Carson: Crucifixion was unspeakably painful and degrading. Whether tied or nailed to the cross, the victim endured countless paroxysms as he pulled with his arms and pushed with his legs to keep his chest cavity open for breathing and then collapsed in exhaustion until the demand for oxygen demanded renewed paroxysms. The scourging, the loss of blood, the shock from the pain all produced agony that could go on for days, ending at last by suffocation, cardiac arrest, or loss of blood. When there was reason to hasten death, the execution squad would smash the victim’s legs. Death followed almost immediately, either from shock or from collapse that cut off breathing.

R. T. France: the narrative focus in these verses is rather on the surrounding events and the people involved (Simon, the soldiers, the bandits), together with the ironical placard over Jesus’ head which sums up the Roman dismissal of his claims.

John MacArthur: The Bible is not preoccupied with the physical events of the cross. It is preoccupied with the wickedness of men. It never describes the agony of Jesus. Do you know that? It never does. It only describes what men did to Him. It doesn’t describe His own feeling. Outside the garden, we know nothing of the agony, and outside the sayings on the cross, which themselves do not express His agony, except in separation from God. The physical agony of Jesus is not the issue.


Allen Browne: The Meaning of the Cross

Matthew focuses on four groups who all scorn Jesus for his kingship claims:

  1. Soldiers:  King of the Jews (v. 37)
  2. Compatriots passing by:  Temple demolisher/builder. Son of God (v. 40).
  3. Jerusalem authorities:  King of Israel, son of God (vv. 42-43)
  4. Crucified criminals:  same ridicule (v.44).

Two phrases are repeated: king of Jews/Israelson of God. As we’ve explained, these two phrases meant the same thing to the Jewish people. Neither the passers-by nor the Jerusalem authorities understood the doctrine of the trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit): that is not what son of God meant on their lips.

Son of God was a kingship term. The Davidic king was the prince (son of the heavenly sovereign) reigning on earth with the authority of his Father in heaven. That’s how God established David’s kingship: I will be his father, and he will be my son (2 Samuel 7:14). As each Davidic king was crowned, God made this decree: You are my son; today I have become your father (Psalm 2:7).

So, all four groups Matthew describes are focused on Jesus’ kingship:

  1. The soldiers have already been mocking Jesus’ kingship (27:27-31). Now they commit it to writing (v. 37).
  2. One week earlier, his compatriots lauded the Davidic king who would save them (21:9). Now they mock the king who cannot even save himself (v. 40).
  3. The Jerusalem authorities condemned him for his claim to be God’s anointed king (the Christ, the son), a claim they considered blasphemous (26:59-66). Now they deride him for his belief that God would raise him up as king (vv. 42-43).
  4. The criminals were positioned beside him, possibly as mock attendants of the king (v. 38). They find his royal status as ludicrous as everyone else (v. 44).

Jesus’ kingship is the single motif in Matthew’s description of the cross. That’s the meaning of the cross: the world disposing of its king. United in their rejection of God’s anointed ruler are: the Empire’s military forces (soldiers), the people of God’s nation (his compatriots), the leaders called to represent God (high priests), and the condemned criminals. The cross is the rejection of divine kingship in his anointed.

There are many ways to talk about the cross, many theories of the atonement. The New Testament uses a range of these. We can view the cross through the framework of Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies (as Hebrews does). We can view it as a place of judgement (justification). We can view it as a penalty Jesus bore on our behalf (penal substitution). We can view it as God making peace between heaven and earth (reconciliation). We can view it as the ultimate expression of sin and rebellion against God (assassinating his Son).

But perhaps we miss the main point if we don’t see it as an expression of divine kingship.

The kingdom of God was at the heart of everything for Jesus, the core of his theology. Heaven’s reign over the earth was his message, his gospel (Matthew 4:17; 9:35; 24:14). It was when the disciples recognized him as God’s anointed ruler that Jesus began to explain that those in power would put him to death (16:21; 17:22; 20:18).

According to Matthew, the cross is the rejection of God’s kingship in God’s anointed. The entire Gospel is the story of how the anointed son of David (1:1) receives all authority (28:18-20).

So, is this crucial perspective for understanding the cross? Is it primarily the human rejection of the divinely appointed king? Is that what Matthew is telling us?

If so, the cross is the most astounding revelation of the character of God, of how he exercises his sovereign kingship. It might be enough to make us rethink our theology of God and his sovereignty.


And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon,

whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.

Grant Osborne: Normally a prisoner carried his own crosspiece (at times being scourged on the way) to the execution site, where it was fixed to the vertical beam kept there for crucifixions (Keener). But Christ’s loss of blood made it obvious that he could not bear his cross far, so they requisitioned a civilian (a legal prerogative of the Romans); Simon likely bore it himself rather than helped Jesus, as many old inscriptions hint (Simon with the cross and Jesus holding the bottom end).

Leon Morris: In all three Synoptic accounts it appears that this was a chance meeting; Simon just happened to be there at the time. Mark tells us that this man was “the father of Alexander and Rufus,” evidently people known in the church of his day, and probably Christians (would the Evangelists bother naming people like this unless they were Christians? Did what he heard and saw that day lead Simon to become a follower of Jesus?). He and Luke add the information that Simon was coming from the country (or possibly from the field). That he was a man of Cyrene may mean that he was a Gentile, but more probably that he was a Jew of the diaspora, now in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. He may, of course, have been resident in Jerusalem at this time; we have no way of knowing.

Charles Swindoll: The traditional route from the Antonia Fortress to Golgotha is known today as the Via Dolorosa.  It winds through a noisy, bustling public marketplace along narrow stone streets sometimes barely wide enough for a donkey pulling a cart.  If men and women lined the path two or three deep on both sides, it would be just possible for a person to slip through the center.  It’s quite likely that in the first century this road was similarly congested and chaotic, especially during the busy time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.


A.  (:33) Delivering Him to Golgotha for Crucifixion

And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull,

Jeffrey Crabtree: Golgotha is the Aramaic word for “skull.” If the name describes the appearance of the hill then what is today known as Gordon’s Calvary may be the place where Jesus was crucified. The “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” built by the Roman Emperor Constantine marks the traditional spot and is believed by many scholars to be the more probable spot (Wilkins 897-898; Hagner 33B:834; Carson, Matthew 574).

Donald Hagner: It refers obviously to a place where executions were carried out, perhaps a skull-shaped knoll, although its exact location just outside the city wall has long been debated. It is much more probable, however, that it was located where the present Church of the Holy Sepulcher is located (see Riesner) than in the area where the so-called Garden (Gordon’s) Tomb is located. Although inside the city wall (the so-called third wall) since the time of Herod Agrippa I, the former location was outside the wall at the time of the crucifixion.

R. T. France: The traditional identification of Golgotha as a rocky mound just outside the then city wall and now enclosed within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is unlikely to be provable, but matches adequately with the biblical data for the place of Jesus’ death and burial. If the Roman trial took place at Herod’s palace, the route to this site would be a short one, less than half a mile out through the city gate beside the palace and north along the western wall, rather than the longer Via Dolorosa which tradition has based on the assumption that the trial took place at the Antonia fortress.

Stu Weber: This was beside a well-traveled road where the passersby in and out of Jerusalem could see the execution of criminals.

David Lose: And after the gruesome parade through the city to the execution grounds comes the crucifixion proper. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. The victim, first impaled upon the wood and then hung up as a spectacle, most often died not of the wounds themselves but from asphyxiation or dehydration, possibly several days later. Horrible…by design. This was Rome’s way, you see, of making a statement, of warning all who might journey near the condemned of the fate of those who oppose the Empire.

B.  (:34) Mocking Him with Deceptive Drink

they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall;

and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.

Leon Morris: When they reached the place of execution, they offered Jesus wine mixed with gall.  This appears to be a reference to a custom mentioned in the Talmud: “When one is led out to execution, he is given a goblet of wine containing a grain of frankincense, in order to benumb his senses, for it is written, Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul. And it has also been taught: The noble women in Jerusalem used to donate and bring it” (Sanh. 43a; the passage quoted is in Prov. 31:6). The alternative is a reference to the ordinary sour wine used by the soldiers, and Carson suggests that this wine had been made so bitter that Jesus refused to drink it; it would then have been part of the soldiers’ mockery of their prisoner (so also Gundry, “the offer of the bitter drink is not an act of mercy, but an act of mockery” (Use of the OT, p. 202).  That Jesus tasted it but then refused to drink it seems to mean that he preferred to keep his senses undulled as he came to the supreme moment when he would give his life as a ransom for the many (cf. 20:28).

Albert Mohler: Feigning that they are offering Jesus a cup of refreshment, the soldiers offer Jesus wine mixed with a bitter herb, a drink that could intensify his parched thirst.  After tasting it, Jesus refuses to drink the rest.

R. T. France: Jesus’ refusal of the laced wine might be simply because it was, as in the psalm, an unpleasant drink offered in spite. But if, as is more likely, it was intended to dull the pain, Matthew may have mentioned Jesus’ refusal in order to show his determination to go through the ordeal in full consciousness. He has chosen to drink the cup which his Father has given him (26:39–42), and not be deflected by any human potion, however well-meaning.

Robert Gundry: they gave him wine to drink mixed with gall [a bitter, yellow-brown or greenish fluid, also called bile and secreted by the liver of an animal and stored in the gall bladder]. The mixture adds insult to injury. And on tasting [it], he didn’t want to drink [it]. Nor did he, not just because it tasted bitter, but because he’d said he would no more “drink from this produce of the vine [that is, wine]” till he drank it “anew” with his disciples “in [his] Father’s kingdom” (26:29). Saying that Jesus “didn’t want to drink” rather than saying that he didn’t drink stresses his determination to keep the vow of abstinence. “Wine . . . mixed with gall” alludes to Psalm 69:21a, fulfilled here, and adds to the indignities already done to Jesus.

John Schultz: Matthew reports that the potion Jesus was offered to drink consisted of wine mixed with gall. Mark mentions myrrh, which would work as an anesthetic, somewhat dulling the pain of the crucifixion. The drug was probably not meant to ease the suffering of hanging on the cross but more to help the soldiers drive in the nails without the victim struggling too much. Jesus refused the drug and submitted to being nailed to the cross without struggle.


A.  (:35) Possessing His Garments

And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots;

William Hendriksen: Having crucified him, the legionaries divided his garments by casting lots.  In all probability by means of the throwing of dice the four pieces – headgear, sandals, belt, and outer garment – are divided among the four (John 19:23) soldiers.  The seamless tunic, all of one piece, woven all the way from top to bottom, is also put into the lottery, all of this in accordance with the prophecy of Ps. 22:18 (LXX Ps. 21:19), though this reference to fulfilment is not found in Matthew but in John 19:23, 24.

Scott Harris: The clothing of the condemned would become the property of the soldiers assigned to perform the crucifixion. It was extra pay for them, but it also fulfilled another prophecy. Psalm 22:18 said that they would “divide My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” John tells us that Jesus’ outer garments were divided into four parts, but that they did not want to destroy Jesus’ tunic since it was seamless, so they cast lots for it. After this the soldiers sat down to watch and wait.

Crucifixion was designed to be a cruel method of death. It would bring its victims to the edge of maximum endurance of physical pain, but short of the point that would bring unconsciousness, and it was extended over a long period of time. It usually took a day or two for the condemned to die, but on occasion there would be those who might last three days, and there would be much physical agony the whole time.

There would be the pain from where the spikes had been driven through the feet and hands, actually the wrist area where the bone structure would support the weight. There would be pain from the scourging and the raw flesh from the scraping against the rough wood as well as the splinters that would work their way deeper into the flesh. But there was also pain from thirst, hunger, cramping, dizziness, fever, and sleeplessness.

Crucifixion brings death through suffocation. Breathing is difficult and accomplished by raising oneself up. Soon, the muscles begin to cramp, but as the carbon dioxide builds up the cramps partially subside. A few breaths are taken and the cramping returns. Cycles of partial suffocation and cramping continues until exhaustion takes over and the person can no longer lift himself to breathe. Such is a brief description of the agony of the cross. But Matthew does not dwell on the physical suffering. He concentrates on how the people responded to Jesus.

B.  (:36) Preventing Any Rescue of His Body

and sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there.

Grant Osborne: Some say Matthew added this to counter the later charge that Jesus was taken from the cross before he was actually dead (Hill, Carson), but this could also mean they already sensed something unusual and were enthralled, preparing for the centurion’s cry in v. 54 (France, Hagner).


And they put up above His head the charge against Him which read,


D. A. Carson: The statement of the crime was often written on a white tablet in red or black letters and displayed on the cross. The charge against Jesus, written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Jn 19:20), is highly ironic. Pilate, though desiring to offend the Jews (Jn 19:19–22), wrote more of the truth than he knew. Pilate rubs the noses of the Jews in their vassal status. To a Jew, “king of the Jews” meant “Messiah”; so the charge on which Jesus was executed was, according to Pilate, that he was a messianic pretender. Matthew’s Christian reader will remember the intertwining strands of royal Son and Suffering Servant and see their climax here.

Charles Swindoll: In crucifixion, a sign called a titulus indicating the name of the criminal and the crime was hung above the victim’s head so everybody passing by on the road below could see the price that was paid for serious infractions of Roman law.  Signs such as MURDER, PIRACY, INSURRECTION, TREASON, and ROBBERY would have been common.  But when passersby saw the sign hanging above Jesus’ head, written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, it undoubtedly would have caught their attention.  Combining the information from all four Gospel accounts, Jesus’ sign read: THIS IS JESUS THE NAZAREWNE, THE KING OF THE JEWS (27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19).  The chief priests were so troubled by this public statement labeling Jesus as King of the Jews that the asked Pilate to clarify that Jesus had claimed that He was King of the Jews.  To this request, Pilate simply responded, “What I have written I have written” (John 19:21-22).