THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS WAS AN EARTH-SHAKING EVENT
Walter Wilson: In keeping with the magnitude of the event, Jesus’s final moments of life are depicted in a manner that is both solemn and dramatic. The scene opens with the supernatural onset of darkness over the land, the absence of light corresponding to the sense of abandonment conveyed by Jesus’s final words. Continuing their derision of Jesus, some of the bystanders misinterpret his prayer as a call for Elijah to rescue him. At the moment of his death, the sense of abandonment gives way to a sense of vindication, as the veil of the temple is split in two and many holy ones are raised from their tombs, signifying how Jesus’s death brings life to many. These extraordinary events prompt the soldiers to acclaim Jesus as God’s Son, while the scene concludes with a note about the witnessing presence of many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee.
Stanley Saunders: Matthew’s story of Jesus’ death is riddled with apocalyptic images and references. This moment marks the decisive turn of the ages. Jesus has been announcing and embodying the empire of God, but now, with his death, the good news is realized with definitive power and clarity. Matthew fuses the death of Jesus with the release of the Spirit and other apocalyptic signs. All that is solid now shakes. Even death itself, the primary power by which Rome and the Jerusalem elites have sought to suppress the power of God revealed in Jesus, is swept aside. The eschatological floodgates now open wide.
David Turner: The narrative can be analyzed as containing two similar cycles that bracket Jesus’s death:
Cosmic sign: Darkness at noon (27:45; cf. Amos 8:9)
Jesus’s cry of abandonment (27:46; cf. Ps. 22:1)
Jesus dies (27:50)
Cosmic signs (27:51–53; cf. Ezek. 37:12)
Soldiers’ cry of amazement (27:54)
Jesus’s death is bracketed by darkness (27:45) and an earthquake (27:51), showing that nature itself testifies to the epochal significance of the event.\
Donald Hagner: The death of Jesus is not only the climax of the passion narrative but also the climax of Jesus’ earthly work. The Gospels are books of “good news” primarily because of what is accomplished through the death of Jesus. Here we come to the gospel. At the heart of the story is Jesus’ death in fulfillment of God’s will and for the salvation of the world. But the death of God’s Son involves impenetrable mystery. It is attended by a supernatural darkness and followed by remarkable events. Matthew’s account of the death itself is nevertheless simple, sober, and restrained in character.
R. T. France: But alongside the human drama at the cross Matthew records a series of physical events, the darkness, the tearing of the temple curtain, the earthquake and the resurrection of dead people, which add a powerful sense of the far-reaching significance of the death of Jesus, and contribute to the climactic exclamation of the soldiers in v. 54. The last of these events, the raising of the dead, is described at some length; the problems which arise in understanding its status as literal history must not be allowed to distract attention from its clear symbolic significance for Matthew, who is the only evangelist to record this particular phenomenon. J. P. Meier summarizes the impact of these verses as follows: “Here, with the full panoply of apocalyptic imagery, Mt portrays the death of Christ as the end of the Old Testament cult, as the earth-shaking beginning of the new aeon (bringing about the resurrection of the dead), and as the moment when the Gentiles first come to full faith in the Son of God.”
(:45) PROLOGUE – DARKNESS ON THE LAND
“Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.”
Walter Wilson: As elsewhere in Scripture, the phenomenon of total darkness is presented as a form of divine intervention in human affairs. The intertextual connections suggest that in 27:45 it functions both as a portent of divine judgment and as an expression of the Father’s mourning for his “beloved” (cf. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5). Darkness reigns over the earth from the sixth hour (noon) until the ninth, the three hours of gloom corresponding to the three days Jesus remains in the grave (cf. 12:40; 26:61; 27:40, 63). Alternatively, perhaps we are supposed to see the event as an inversion of Exod 10:21–23, in which darkness covers the land of Egypt for three days while the Israelites have light. The sign of judgment that fell on the land of Israel’s enemies now falls on the land of Israel itself.
In Exod 10:23, divine darkness imposes a cessation of normal activities (“they did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place”), a scenario that may apply to our story as well, since nothing else is reported as taking place during the three-hour span. In any event, 27:45 creates a dramatic prelude to 27:46, the cry of dereliction.
Michael Wilkins: This was not an eclipse, for the Passover was at the full moon, but was some unknown act of God indicating his judgment on the sins of the world.
Grant Osborne: This darkness is a harbinger of the coming final judgment (as in Amos, Joel, Zephaniah), and the judgment is vicariously on Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for sin. This will be reflected next in his cry of agony on the cross.
Robert Gundry: The phraseology concerning the onset of darkness echoes Exodus 10:22 and Amos 8:9–10. In both of those passages supernatural darkness expresses God’s displeasure, so that here too the darkness expresses God’s displeasure at the killing of his Son. (Astronomically, a natural eclipse of the sun wouldn’t have occurred during the Passover, a time of full moon, or lasted for three hours.) Emphasizing this displeasure are the onset of darkness at noon, when the sun is at its zenith, its covering “all the land,” and its lasting till midafternoon. Since the passion of Jesus previews the persecution of his disciples, God’s displeasure at Jesus’ crucifixion carries over to their persecution and thus provides them encouragement.
I. (:46-50) CRY OF THE LAMB OF GOD
A. (:46) Cry of Dereliction
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying,
‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’”
Walter Wilson: It is significant that Jesus’s first and only words from the cross are addressed not to any human characters in the story but to God, thus taking the form of a prayer. It is probably also significant that the time at which he “cried with a loud voice” is given as the ninth hour, that is, the ritual time of Jews for the afternoon prayer (Acts 3:1; cf. 10:3). Even in his final moments, abandoned and rejected by all, Jesus joins his people in prayer. . . The darkness that can be heard in Jesus’s words corresponds to the darkness that can be seen encompassing the land. As Brown observes, the portrayal of Jesus “resorting to his mother tongue” at this point adds further to the pathos of the scene.
Michael Wilkins: Once again the crucifixion scene is reminiscent of Psalm 22. Jesus is experiencing the separation from the Father that must accompany bearing the sin of his people (1:21; 20:28; 26:28). He now bears the divine retribution and punishment for sin, as the Father’s cup of wrath is poured out on him in divine judgment of sin. In the apostle Paul’s words, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21), and, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’ ” (Gal. 3:13).
Grant Osborne: most theological reflections center on Jesus’ realization of his vicarious sacrifice. He has become the sin offering, and at this dark moment God must turn away from sin. As in Gethsemane Jesus is experiencing the depths of pain in his very soul, but this in no way mitigates his victory there, and Ps 22 is a perfect source for his expression of agony. Beneath his real pain there is still a trust in God, and he knows his deliverance is coming.
D. A. Carson: Many suggest that Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 in Hebrew, reverting to the ancient language of Scripture in his hour of utmost agony. Only this, it is argued, accounts for the confusion with “Elijah” in v.47 and provides a plausible explanation for the rendering “my power” (hē dynamis mou, presupposing Semitic ḥêlî) in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. In this view Mark, or an early copyist of Mark, has turned Jesus’ words into Aramaic, recognizing that Jesus more commonly spoke Aramaic than Hebrew.
However, though Jesus was probably at least trilingual (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek—with perhaps some Latin), the overwhelming textual evidence for the rest of the cry supports an Aramaic original. Even Matthew’s Hebraic-sounding Eli may in fact support an Aramaic original, because the Targum (written in Aramaic) to Psalm 22:1 has ʾēlî. Apparently some Aramaic speakers preserved the Hebrew name for God in the same way some English speakers sometimes refer to him as Yahweh.
Leon Morris: Abandonment is not the whole story. We must bear in mind that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God.” The human Jesus felt and gave expression to the abandonment, but he also retained his trust. “My” points to a continuing relationship; according to Bengel, he “adds ‘My’ with confidence, patience, and self-resignation.” E. Stauffer has further pointed out that there can be a crying out after God as well as a crying to God for help. In the anguish of godforsakenness Jesus still cries out in trust. The human Jesus might still be puzzled (“Why…?”). But he trusts, and we should not miss this aspect of the cry of dereliction.
B. (:47-49) Cry Misinterpreted as Directed to Elijah
- (:47) Misunderstanding of Jesus’ Cry
“And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’”
Grant Osborne: Many bystanders standing some distance away heard his cry of “Eli” and thought he was calling for “Elijah,” who was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and a chariot of fire in 2 Kgs 2:1–12 and became a messianic figure (Mal 4:5–6). Here this reflects the belief by many Jews that Elijah was ready to appear from heaven in time of need.
Leon Morris: This does not mean that any of the bystanders held that Elijah would come to help Jesus, but only that they thought that Jesus might have hoped for help from the prophet. They were convinced that Jesus was in a situation from which he could not have escaped and could not escape; therefore it was only logical that he should appeal to some heavenly being to help him. So far were they still from understanding what was happening before their very eyes.
- (:48) Ministry of Drink
“And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge,
he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.”
- (:49) Mystery Regarding Role of Elijah
“But the rest of them said, ‘Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.’”
C. (:50) Cry of Yielding Up His Life
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.”
D. A. Carson: This loud cry reminds us once more of Jesus’ hideous agony. Matthew’s “he gave up his spirit” (“spirit” here is equivalent to “life”) suggests Jesus’ sovereignty over the exact time of his own death. It was at this moment, when he was experiencing the abyss of his alienation from the Father and was being cruelly mocked by those he came to serve, that he chose to yield his life as a “ransom for many”.
R. T. France: The verb used here for “cry” is not the same as the “shout” of v. 46; it is used three times in the LXX of Ps 22 (vv. 2, 5, 24) for the sufferer’s appeals to God, and its use here might be a further echo of that psalm. Matthew does not tell us the nature of this second loud cry. It is tempting to identify it as the triumphant “It is finished” which Jesus utters at this point in John 19:30, or with Luke’s “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit,” and thus to find here the reversal of the sense of desolation in v. 46; the conviction of the watching soldiers that Jesus really was God’s son (v. 54) would also follow more naturally from a noble or peaceful death than from one of despair. But Matthew does not tell us its content, and he links this cry with that of v. 46 by using the same phrase, “with a loud voice.” The loudness of the cry at the time of death again indicates that Jesus is not just fading away, but dying while in full possession of his senses.
“He let go his spirit/breath” (aphēken to pneuma) is an unusual way to describe death. The ambiguity of the Greek pneuma, “breath” or “spirit,” leaves some uncertainty as to why Matthew chose this phrase. At least it means, like the verb exepneusen used by Mark and Luke, that he “stopped breathing” (so Hagner here), and perhaps that is all it means, but the unexpected phrase with its active verb may suggest a sense of Jesus voluntarily relinquishing his life (for the idea cf. John 10:17–18). Cf. John’s phrase paredōken to pneuma, which perhaps means he handed his spirit over to God (and cf. Acts 7:59); this would agree with the last words of Jesus in Luke, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit,” quoting Ps 31:6. “Spirit” here means “that which animates or gives life to the body;” there is no reason to see any reference to the Holy Spirit.
II. (:51-53) COSMIC IMPACT OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST – 3 DRAMATIC EVENTS
David Thompson: JESUS CHRIST WAS THE DIVINE KING IN HIS DEATH ON THE CROSS AND THE SPECIFIC EVENTS THAT OCCURRED AT HIS DEATH PROVE IT.
A. (:51a) Temple Veil Event – New Access to God
“And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,”
Walter Wilson: The fact that the curtain is rent “in two” suggests an act of violence, while the fact that it is split from the “top” suggests an act of heavenly origin. In light of Jesus’s prediction in 24:2 (“not one stone will be left upon another”) as well as the temple logion in 26:61 (“I am able to destroy the temple”), of which we have just had a reminder (27:40), the act is best understood as a portent of the temple’s destruction.
Michael Wilkins: The word for curtain (katapetasma) is used in the LXX sometimes of the curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, and sometimes of the curtain over the entrance to the Holy Place. The former is more likely meant here. The curtain was an elaborately woven fabric of seventy-two twisted plaits of twenty-four threads each and the veil was sixty feet long and thirty wide (cf. m. Ṣeqal. 8:5). Being split from top to bottom is a sign that God has done this, signifying that the new and living way is now open into the presence of God through the sacrifice of Christ.
Stanley Saunders: The torn veil marks the effective end of the sacrificial system and the temple, as well as the movement of God’s presence and power into the world. The turn of the ages has begun.
Grant Osborne: There are two interpretations (both are probably in Matthew—so Carson, France, Hagner, Nolland):
(1) a new access to God, signifying the end of the sacrificial system and a direct relationship with God—connected with the Isaianic Servant imagery;
(2) a portent of the coming destruction of the temple (so interpreted by the early church fathers)—connected with the Olivet Discourse.
The imagery of the “splitting” of the veil suggests violence and fits the developing theme of divine judgment on temple and people. At the same time, it brings about the results of Jesus’ death, namely, a new openness of relationship with God, signifying direct access as a result of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. As France says, “access to God will no longer be through the old, discredited cultic system but through Jesus himself, and more specifically through his death as a ransom for many.”
D. A. Carson: If the death of Jesus opened up a fresh access to God that made the OT sacrificial system and the Levitical high priesthood obsolete, then an entire change in the Mosaic covenant must follow. It is impossible to grapple with Matthew’s fulfillment themes and see how even the law points prophetically to Messiah and hear Jesus’ promise of a new covenant grounded in his death (26:26–29) without seeing that the tearing of the veil signifies the obsolescence of the temple ritual and the law governing it. Jesus himself is the New Temple, the meeting place of God and man; the old is obsolete. The rent veil does indeed serve as a sign of the temple’s impending destruction—a destruction conceived not as a brute fact but as a theological necessity.
B. (:51b) Earthquake Event – Fierce Judgment
“and the earth shook; and the rocks were split,”
Stanley Saunders: The shaking of the earth and the splitting of rocks (27:51b; cf. 24:7, 29; again, the passive voice suggests divine agency) are classic images associated with judgment (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:11–12; Isa. 2:19; 29:6; Ezek. 38:19; Pss. 68:8; 104:32; 114:7) and, in apocalyptic literature, with the end of one age and the beginning of another (cf. 4 Ezra 6:13–16; 9:2–3; 2 Bar. 27:7; 70:8; Zech. 14:4–5; Ezek. 37:1–14, esp. 37:12). Again the transformation is spatial: what was solid is no longer so. God is shaking the whole creation (cf. Heb. 12:26; Hag. 2:6, 21–22, where the shaking of earth and heaven accompanies the overthrow of earthly empires).
Van Parunak: Usually the opening of the veil is understood as enabling us to come into the presence of God. This is a valid image, developed extensively in Hebrews (e.g., 4:16), but the association with an earthquake suggests another twist to the imagery. The veil was torn, not only to let us in, but to show that God was coming out.
and the earth did quake,–This association calls to mind a passage in the Psalms that envisions God being aroused in wrath by the sufferings of his saint David. Note the reference to God in his temple, and his exit from it.
Ps 18:4 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. 5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. 6 In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. 7 Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. 8 There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. 9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.
Note the conjunction of God coming out of his temple with the earthquake (Matt 27:51) and darkness (27:45). Not only did the torn veil let us come into the presence of God, but perhaps more importantly, it marks God’s coming forth in wrath against his enemies. The first effect of the death of Christ is to set loose the wrath of God against those who slew him.
and the rocks rent;–Only one other passage talks about rocks πετραι being torn σχιζω, and it refers to the rock that the Lord opened in the wilderness to give water to the people of God.
Isa 48:21 And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.
Paul later identifies the rock with Christ
1Co 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
So the second effect of the death of Christ is to make provision for his people.
C. (:52-53) Resurrection Event – Eschatological Hope
“and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.”
D. A. Carson: The resurrection of the hagioi (“saints,” i.e., “holy people,” v.52) remains extraordinarily difficult for two reasons. First, its extreme brevity and lack of parallels raise many unanswered questions: What kind of bodies do these “holy people” have? Do they die again? How many people saw them? How public were these appearances? Second, a quick reading of the text gives the impression that though the holy people were raised when Jesus died, they did not leave the tombs and appear to the citizens of the “holy city” until after Jesus’ resurrection (v.53). What were they doing in between?
Stanley Saunders: The resurrection of the dead, the restoration of Israel, the pouring out of the Spirit, and the expectation of divine judgment were pillars in popular Jewish eschatological expectation. By recording the resurrection of the saints here, Matthew links the resurrection integrally with the death of Jesus. He also effectively democratizes the resurrection: not only will Jesus be raised, but the more general resurrection has begun. But Matthew also creates a problem, which must be resolved by literary/temporal sleight of hand. Jesus himself has not yet been raised, so the resurrection of the saints is out of sequence. Matthew addresses the problem with the clarification in 27:53 that the saints really didn’t appear until after Jesus was raised, even though the account suggests that their resurrection coincides with his death. Neither God nor the evangelist is bound to our modern, linear conceptions of time. Matthew’s literary tactic serves to indicate the true nature and significance of Jesus’ death.
Grant Osborne: There are many questions about this; for example, how many were raised (probably just a few)? And was this a resuscitation like Lazarus, so that they lived out a life on earth and died, or a resurrection into their glorified bodies, so that they were taken up with Christ to heaven (most prefer the latter)?
Charles Swindoll: One plausible interpretation pertaining to who was raised suggests that it was not all the dead saints who were raised, but just some who had died recently. The text implies that these “saints” were recognizable to many in Jerusalem, which suggests that they were not ancient ancestors whose identities were long forgotten. In line with this understanding, they may have been followers of Jesus who had died during His earthly ministry. Presumably, they would have been raised in restored mortal bodies, like Lazarus (John 11:43-44). As such, they would have eventually died again, with hopes of their future, glorious resurrection.
Another possible view is that with Jesus’ resurrection, some (or all) of the Old Testament saints (perhaps along with those people who had recently died during Jesus’ ministry) were raised in glorious resurrection bodies just like Jesus’. Jesus was, indeed, the “first fruits” (1 Cor. 15:23), meaning that He was the first to be raised in such a glorified body – immortal, incorruptible, and fit for eternal, heavenly existence. If this is the case, then Christ brought with Him to heaven a select group of saints in their glorious bodies to be the first to participate in the resurrection harvest that will occur for others at the Second Coming. A few of these were permitted to appear to people in Jerusalem as a sign of Jesus’ resurrection power.
R. T. France: His word order allows us to understand either that they did not come out of the opened tombs until after Jesus’ resurrection, or (rather less naturally) that they emerged immediately but remained outside the city until then. Either way there is some narrative awkwardness, but this makes it the more likely that we are meant to notice the sequence, “after Jesus’ resurrection.” His resurrection is the first, theirs the consequence (cf. 1 Cor 15:20–23; 1 Thes 4:14). In order to make this point, however, Matthew might more appropriately have linked this occurrence with the second earthquake which will reveal Jesus’ empty tomb in 28:2. That he nonetheless records it here, despite the difficulty of postponing their resurrection and/or appearance for two days after the earthquake, suggests that he sees Jesus’ death, not just his resurrection, as the key to the new life which is now made available to God’s people.
III. (:54-56) CRUCIFIXION WITNESSES
John MacArthur: As we examine these three verses, I want you to see in them and in corollary verses to them, four responses to the death of Christ that are here given to us. They demonstrate for us the kind of responses we can see even today. There is the response, first of all, of saving faith; the response of shallow conviction; the response of sympathetic loyalty; and the response of selfish fear. And each of those four responses, two of them responses of unbelievers, two of them responses of believers, are parallel to responses today that men and women have to the cross of Christ. So it is not just an historical narrative. It is an historical narrative with strong and practical application to our own time. And I believe that becomes manifest as we examine the text.
First of all, let’s look at the best response that an unbeliever could ever have and that’s the response of saving faith. We find that illustrated to us by the centurion and certain of the soldiers mentioned in verse 54. . .
There’s a second response. That’s the response I like to think of as shallow conviction – the response of shallow conviction. And would you indulge me for a moment to draw you over to the twenty-third chapter of Luke? We have to look there to see this. Matthew doesn’t comment on it. Luke does. Luke, looking at the very same scene, reporting the very same attitude of the centurion, in verse 47 the centurion saw what was done, glorified God, said certainly this was a righteous man – just after he heard, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”
And then verse 48 – and the shallow conviction is illustrated by the crowd – “And all the people that came together to that sight,” in other words, all the mob and the crowd that were there, “beholding the things which were done,” they saw the same things, the darkness, the earthquake, the rocks splitting, the graves opening, the veil of the temple ripped. I mean, they knew things were happening there that couldn’t be explained humanly. They knew something very wrong was going on and they knew it was them. Believe me. I mean, they would see that phenomena and they would hear the words of Christ and see the marvel of His personhood as He’s on the cross, and they would begin to remember that He raised Lazarus from the dead, and they would remember that He banished disease from Palestine during His ministry, and they would remember His powerful cleansing of the temple and His profound teaching while He was there. They would remember all there was about Jesus that led them on Monday to hail Him as Messiah. It would all come back and they would see all of this going around, and their understanding of the Old Testament would tell them that God was judging, and they would feel guilt and they would feel sin, and they know something is wrong. We know that because it says, “Beholding the things which were done, they beat on their chests.”
Now what is this? This is a sign combining terror, remorse, and guilt. They begin to pound on their chests uncontrollably. “Oh, woe is us.” I mean, they are overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and responsibility. The conduct of Jesus, His obvious innocence, the fact that they could never pin anything on Him, that He did claim to be the Son of God; but after all, He raised the dead and healed the sick, His cries on the cross, all of it along with the phenomena drew them to a place of absolutely overwhelming guilt. And they pounded on their breasts. That was a sign of their grief, a sign of their guilt and remorse and self‑accusation and despair. And it still goes on today. There are people who see the cross and they understand that Jesus is there because of their sins, He’s bearing their sins. They feel bad about that. They feel sad about that. The cross can be overwhelmingly penetrating, even to an unbelieving heart. . .
Now the first of the second two, or the third response, is called sympathetic loyalty. We’ll just call that sympathetic loyalty because it’s really a good descriptive phrase of what we see. And it is characteristic of these women. They are the illustration. Verse 55, “Many women were there” . . .
Now here are these women, loving, sympathetic, though their hopes are crushed and their dreams are dead, and they can’t see beyond tomorrow and Jesus is gone. And they have been watching their Master die. Their loyalties are so deep. Their hearts are so filled with love and sympathy that they are not all led to leave, to flee, to run. They have no fear of the Jews. They have no fear of the Romans. Nothing can overpower their love and their sympathy for Christ. May I be so bold as to suggest to you that this is one of the most beautiful characteristics of a godly women, sympathetic loyalty? You show me a virtuous godly woman and I’ll show you in that woman’s life a sympathy and a loyalty that extends beyond that which can be produced in the life of a man, in most cases. Women have a capacity for incredible loyalty and sympathy that men don’t have. And we see this in the beauty of these women. They’re fearless. They don’t even mind the identification with the crucified Christ who has been mocked and scorned and ridiculed. And this by their own people in the society in which they must exist. They are lovely. Their sympathy is magnificent. Their courage is beautiful. . .
There is, though, and that’s the final point – selfish fear. You say, well you’ve exhausted all the verses, what verse is this in?” It isn’t in any verse. But you want to know something? It speaks so loudly I have to include it.
You say, but it doesn’t say anything about selfish fear. Who’s the illustration? The disciples. But it doesn’t say anything about them. I know, that’s what’s so amazing. It doesn’t say anything about them there because they weren’t there. But that says a lot. So somewhere between verse 56 and verse 57 in the white spaces you can put this point. Selfish fear – you can’t ignore it – where were these guys?
A. (:54) Confession of the Centurion
“Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus,
when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening,
became very frightened and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”
Walter Wilson: The content of the confession prompted by these sights, in which the soldiers refer to Jesus as God’s Son, effectively reverses the taunts of 27:40 and 27:43, even as it provides an affirmative answer to the question of the high priest at Jesus’s trial in 26:63. Jesus had responded in part to that question by predicting how the Sanhedrists would “see” his vindication. Now, instead, it is the centurion and the guards who “see” the truth, the group of gentiles accepting the title for Jesus that the Jewish authorities had rejected.
Donald Hagner: From the centurion’s perspective, on the other hand, Jesus was probably perceived as possessing divine power, and thus the centurion’s confession amounts to an admission of both Jesus’ innocence and Roman guilt (thus Pobee). There is both irony and tragedy in the fact that the statement is made by Roman soldiers (cf. 8:10–11) and not the Jews to whom Jesus had come—just as in 2:2, 11 it is Gentiles who acknowledge the truth and not the Jews, anticipating the salvation-historical shift that will be articulated in 28:19. The soldiers in their fear mouth words whose real significance they could hardly have known. What they had seen was enough to make them receptive to Jesus’ claim (which they would have heard from the Jewish authorities [see 27:43]), and ultimately their confession does not differ greatly from that of Matthew’s church. On the other hand, the very claim made here was largely responsible for the Jewish rejection of Jesus (cf. 26:63; 27:40, 43).
R. T. France: This declaration thus represents a sharp volte-face: they recognize now that their own earlier mocking of the “king of the Jews” (vv. 27–31) was out of place.
Whatever the soldiers themselves meant by it, for Matthew’s readers this declaration is a climactic theological moment. God has twice declared that Jesus is his son (3:17; 17:5); demons have recognized him as such (4:3, 6; 8:29); Jesus has said so himself (11:25–27; cf. 24:36), has frequently referred to God as his “Father,” and has even on two occasions hinted publicly that he is God’s “Son” (21:37–39; 22:42–45); the disciples have hailed him as “God’s son” in a moment of crisis (14:33 a declaration very similar to this one), and Peter has included this title in his considered estimate of Jesus (16:16). But right up to the time of Jesus’ trial no human observer outside the disciple group has used such language of Jesus, and at the Sanhedrin hearing it has formed part of the basis of his condemnation (26:63), subsequently providing the ammunition for Jewish mockery of this preposterous claim (27:40, 43). Now, however, people right outside the community of faith have recognized and declared the truth, and so reversed that mockery, and the fact that they are not even Jews reinforces Matthew’s message that the new ekklēsia is not to be restricted to the children of Abraham. Like the other centurion we met earlier in the gospel, this officer and his men have displayed faith beyond that of “anyone in Israel” (8:10), and so they too represent the many who will come from east and west to join the Jewish patriarchs in the kingdom of heaven (8:11–12).
B. (:55-56) Faithfulness of Female Disciples
“And many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, 56 among whom was Mary Magdalene, along with Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”
Grant Osborne: The language of discipleship (“follow” [ἀκολουθέω], “serve” [διακονέω]) emphasizes them as faithful disciples. This is unusual, for women were marginalized in the ancient world and were not allowed to be disciples of rabbis (remember the Barbara Streisand movie on that theme, called Yentl). Yet the fact that they were patrons of the group shows that Jesus went beyond custom here. . .
Mary of Magdala, a Galilean town south of Capernaum on the shore of the lake, is always first in the lists of women and was likely a leader of the group. Luke 8:2 tells us that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her, and she then became a devoted disciple. She is most important as a witness of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Jesus appeared to her and made her the first official witness of the resurrection (John 20:11–18, probably as one of the group of women named in Matt 28:9–10). . .
So there were at least four women present at the cross: the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas and mother of one of the Twelve, and Salome, probably Mary’s sister and mother of James and John.
Van Parunak: as late as Acts 1:14, that Mary is still called “the mother of Jesus.” More likely this woman is to be identified with the wife of Cleophas, who is probably the brother of Joseph, foster-father of our Lord.
It may seem strange that Matthew omits the Lord’s mother. But John 19:25 apparently describes a moment earlier in the crucifixion, when Mary and John approached the cross and the Lord committed Mary into John’s care. As the women moved away from the cross to the location where they are mentioned in Matthew, John has probably led Mary away, so that she and he are no longer at Golgotha.
Donald Hagner: At the very end it is the women, and not the disciples, who are there at the cross. They thus reflect a greater loyalty to their master. As they had faithfully supported him during his ministry, so now it is they who remain with him, even if at a distance, to the bitter end. They therefore deserve this special note of recognition as witnesses of his crucifixion and death. And it is they who will soon convey the message concerning the resurrection of Jesus to the disciples, for it is to the women that he first appeared.
D. A. Carson: Along with the soldiers, certain women, generally not highly regarded in Jewish society, watched to the bitter end. They kept their distance, whether through timidity or modesty. Though last at the cross, they were first at the tomb (28:1). Not only do they provide continuity to the narrative, but they prove that God has chosen the lowly and despised things of the world to shame the wise and strong (cf. 1Co 1:27–31). These women were Galileans who often traveled with the disciples to care for Jesus’ needs out of their own resources (cf. Lk 8:2–3).