Jesus is dead
Judas hangs himself1 Early in the morning all the top priests and elders worked out their plans for killing Jesus. 2 They tied Jesus and took him to Pilate. 3 When Judas, who betrayed Jesus, saw that the Jews had condemned Jesus to death, he became consumed with regret. He took back the reward that the top priests and elders gave him, 30 silver coins. 4 He told them, “I did something terrible. An innocent man is going to die because of me. I’m the one who betrayed him.” Jewish leaders answered, “What’s that to us? It’s your problem.” 5 Judas threw the silver coins into the Temple. Then he went and hanged himself. 6 The top priests picked up the coins and said, “We can’t put this blood money into the treasury.” 7 They talked about what they could do with the money and they decided to use it to buy some land that a potter owned. They would turn that plot of land into a cemetery for foreigners. 8 That’s why people still call it Blood Field. 9 This fulfilled the prophecy in Jeremiah.
They took 30 pieces of silver,
the price on his head,
set by some Jews.
just as the Lord instructed. 11 Jesus stood before the governor, Pilate, who asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You said it.” 12 But when the top Jewish priests and elders bombarded him with accusations, he didn’t answer. 13 Pilate turned to Jesus and said, “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” 14 Jesus didn’t answer. Not a word. This astonished Pilate.
Jesus sentenced to death15 During the religious festival of Passover, the governor had developed a custom of releasing one prisoner. He would release whichever prisoner the crowd of people wanted most. 16 One of the prisoners that the Romans held at that time was a notorious criminal named Barabbas. 17 So when a crowd gathered, Pilate asked the people, “Which one of the prisoners do you want me to release? Barabbas? Or Jesus, who’s called the Messiah?” 18 Pilate knew what was going on. He realized that the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus because they envied his popularity. 19 Pilate’s wife sent him a message while he was still presiding over the case. She told him, “Don’t do anything to this good man. I had a nightmare about him today.” 20 But the top Jewish priests and elders started working the crowd. They were persuading the people to ask Pilate to free Barabbas and execute Jesus. 21 Pilate asked the people, “Which one of these two men do you want me to release?” The people said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said, “Well then, what do you want me to do with Jesus, the man called Messiah?” In one loud voice they shouted, “Crucify him!” 23 Pilate asked, “Why? What crime has he committed?” The crowd yelled louder than ever, "Crucify him!" 24 Pilate realized he was getting nowhere. Worse than that, it was starting to look like a riot was in the works. So with the crowd watching, Pilate took some water, washed his hands, and told the crowd, “I’m washing my hands of this. His blood is on you.” 25 People in the crowd answered, “We take responsibility for this. So do our children. This man’s blood is on us!” 26 Pilate released Barabbas. He had Jesus beaten in public and then handed over to the executioners for crucifixion.
Soldiers abuse Jesus27 Pilate’s soldiers took Jesus into the military headquarters and assembled the rest of the soldiers stationed there. 28 They stripped Jesus. Then they draped a scarlet cloak on him. 29 They twisted some thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. They made him hold a staff in his right hand. And then they dropped to their knees and mocked him with a cheer, “Hoorah, king of the Jews!” 30 They spit on him. Then they grabbed the staff away from him and beat him over the head with it many times. 31 When the soldiers finished taunting Jesus, they took the cloak off of him and put his own clothes back on him. Then they took him out to crucify him.
Jesus hangs on a cross32 As they walked toward the crucifixion site, they came across a man named Simon, from the city of Cyrene. They drafted him for the temporary duty of carrying the cross. 33 They reached the place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place. 34 Someone gave Jesus wine mixed with something bitter. When he got a taste of it, he refused to drink it. 35 After they crucified him, they divvied up his clothes by throwing dice. 36 Then they set down to keep an eye on him. 37 Above his head they posted a sign so folks could see the charge against him: “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” 38 Two thieves were crucified with him. One to the right of him. And one to the left. 39 People passing by yelled insults at him. Some shook their heads. 40 They said, “Hey! You’re the guy who was going to tear down the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Save yourself. If you’re the Son of God, come on down from the cross.” 41 Top Jewish leaders all insulted him the same way—priests, elders, and scholars known as scribes. They said, 42 “He saved others, but for some reason he just can’t seem to save himself. If he could climb on down from that cross, we would believe in him. 43 He trusts God. And he said, ‘I’m the Son of God.’ So God will rescue him if he wants to.” 44 The robbers beside him got in on the act, too. They picked up some of the same lines they heard and spit them back out at him.
Jesus dies45 At noon, the sky went dark. It stayed that way for the next three hours. 46 That’s when, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus screamed in Aramaic, “My God, my God. Why have you left me?” 47 Some people standing nearby heard Jesus and said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 One of them ran and got a sponge and soaked it in old wine that had soured into vinegar. They attached it to a stick and lifted it so he could take a drink. 49 But some of the others said, “Don’t do that yet. Let’s wait and see if Elijah will come and save him.” 50 Jesus screamed his last breath and died.
Ground shakes and the dead come back to life51 At that moment, an earthquake shook the ground, rocks split, and the curtain in the Temple ripped in two, from top to bottom. 52 Tombs opened. Bodies of many believers were raised from the dead. 53 After the resurrection of Jesus, many came out of their tombs and walked right into the Holy City of Jerusalem. 54 The earthquake terrified the Roman centurion and the others who were pulling guard duty at the crucifixion. They said, “There’s no doubt now. This man was the Son of God!” 55 Watching from a distance were many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and who had helped take care of him during his ministry. 56 These women included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, along with the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
Jesus, dead and buried in a stone-cold tomb57 As evening approached, a rich follower of Jesus decided to take a stand. His name was Joseph, and he came from Arimathea. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for permission to take the body of Jesus. Pilate granted the request and ordered that the body be given to him. 59 Joseph wrapped the body in a linen sheet. 60 He put the body in his own personal tomb. It had only recently been cut out of solid rock. He rolled a large stone in front of the tomb’s entrance. Then he left. 61 Watching Joseph while he did all this were Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They had been sitting near the tomb, just across the way.
Guarding the dead62 The next day, on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, ruling priests along with some Pharisees went to see Pilate. 63 They told him, “Sir, when that fraud was still alive, we remember him saying, ‘Three days after I die, I’ll be raised from the dead.’ 64 We’re afraid that his disciples will steal the body and fake a miracle by telling everyone, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ And that would make things even worse than they were before. So, we’re asking you to secure the tomb for three days. 65 Pilate told them, “Go ahead and take some soldiers to serve guard duty. Secure the site as best you can. 66 So they went to the tomb, closed it, tagged it as sealed, and posted a guard.
Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of the province of Judea in what is now an area that includes Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He ruled the region for a decade, from AD 26-36.
See Jeremiah 32:6-9; Zechariah 11:12-13.
This is the same answer Jesus gave Judas (26:25) and the high priest, Caiaphas (26:64). It’s one variation on the more direct response that Mark reported: “I am” (Mark 14:62). Jesus was confirming to Pilate that he is King of the Jews. Yet Pilate somehow seemed to know that Jesus was not an insurrectionist and was not a threat to the Roman Empire.
The Greek word to describe Pilate’s reaction is sometimes translated “amazed,” or “surprised.” It can also mean “admired.” Some Bible scholars say Pilate looked kindly on Jesus because Jesus remained calm and dignified in the face of withering criticism.
Some ancient manuscripts report his name as Jesus Barabbas. Bar means “son of.” Abba means “father.” Jewish leaders chose to free one man named Jesus, Son of the Father. And they condemned to death another man known as Jesus, Son of the Father.
Praetorium. This may have been at the former palace of Herod the Great, on Jerusalem’s west side. But it could also have been the fortress Antonia, overlooking the Northwest corner of the Temple courtyard.
Matthew says a “cohort” gathered to make fun of Jesus. That’s usually about 600 soldiers. Romans brought extra soldiers to Jerusalem during Passover, to help discourage the crowds of pilgrims from starting a riot and launching a war of independence against Rome. Some Bible experts, however, say Matthew may have been using some exaggeration.
Cyrene was a city near the North African coast, in what is now Libya. Simon may have been a pilgrim visiting Jerusalem during the Passover. About 100,000 Jews settled there 300 years earlier. Or Simon may have been someone who moved to the Jewish homeland from Cyrene.
The Greek word describing the cross is stauros. It originally meant a stake or a pole, but later came to include various forms of crucifixion including a cross or anything else used to hang up people so they would die slowly, nailed or tied or both. Some were impaled on stakes, a technique especially common among Assyrians several centuries earlier, in what is now northern Iraq.
Bible experts resort to guessing about why the location was called Skull Place. Among the guesses, something about the area resembled a skull; as the place of crucifixion, there were some skulls in the area; the name came from a legend that the skull of Adam was buried there; there was a cemetery nearby, which is where the body of Jesus was placed.
The wine was mixed with something that some translations describe as “gall” (New American Standard Bible). The Greek word can refer to something that is bitter tasting or even poisonous. Some Bible experts say they wonder if Matthew was trying to make a connection to Psalm 69:21, “They give me poison for food; they offer me sour wine for my thirst” (New Living Translation). That’s written in Hebrew poetry, which often repeats ideas the way English poetry rhymes words. The poison food and the sour wine can refer to the same thing. This cocktail might not have been the same medicated wine reported in Mark 15:23 or the sour wine that soldiers drank, reported in 27:48 and Luke 23:36. The wine Matthew describes was probably not being offered kindly.
A more literal translation would be they “threw lots.” This may have been something as simple as stones with some kind of marks on them. Romans did play dice. It was a popular game. Some played dice with stones that looked very much like the dice that people use today. Other Romans used knuckle bones from animals, such as sheep. See also Psalm 22:19.
The Gospel of John says the Romans crucified Jesus at about noon (John 19:14). Mark says at 9 a.m. (Mark 15:25). In Greek, those times are referred to as the third hour and the sixth hour, because the day was considered to start at 6 in the morning, the first hour. Some Bible experts say the mixup may have taken place in copying early manuscripts because the Greek letter representing the number three, gamma ( Γ), may have been mistaken for the letter representing the number six, digamma (Ϝ). Other Bible experts say that the writer of the Gospel of John or a later editor may have bumped the time up to noon, to help Jewish readers recognize the symbolism behind the death of Jesus. Noon is when Jews typically sacrificed the Passover lamb. Christians teach that Jesus became the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (Hebrews 10:10).
Aramaic was a common language spoken among the Jews. It may have been the language Jesus spoke most often. It came from Aram, now Syria, but it spread throughout the Middle East, becoming an international language. Jews picked up the language when Babylonians from what is now Iraq conquered their Jewish homeland in 586 BC and exiled most of the survivors to Iraq.
Bible experts can only speculate about why Jesus said this. Some say Jesus felt abandoned because the darkness represented God’s judgment against the sins of humanity, and the statement of Jesus suggests that God’s judgment fell on him. Others say Jesus was quoting a song that seems to predict some of the suffering he experienced, but that ends with an upbeat message, Psalm 22. It begins, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (22:1 New Living Translation). It talks about the people ridiculing him and shaking their heads at him (22:8). It talks about throwing dice to divvy up his clothing (22:18). It ends with the promise of hope that the poor will be fed, and people throughout the world will honor him (22:26-27).
In the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke, “My God” is “Eloi,” (L-low) which sounds a little like “Elijah.”
Matthew is the only Gospel writer who says resurrected people were walking around after the crucifixion of Jesus, then again after his resurrection. Most commentators acknowledge that there is no evidence from history or from other Bible writers to support what Matthew says here. Some well-respected and well-known commentators such as A.B. Bruce suggest that what we’re reading is part of a Christian legend. Others say Matthew may have been reporting what others told him, though the others may have been mistaken. Still some commentators say we can’t rule out the possibility that Matthew got it right, and that we simply don’t have the evidence to back it up yet.
Zebedee’s boys were James and John, the two disciples of Jesus nicknamed Sons of Thunder. They were two of Jesus’s three best friends. Peter was the third. They alone went with Jesus on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration and the prayer on the night of his arrest.
Of the roughly 900 burial caves studied around Jerusalem, only three have been found with disk-shaped blocking stones. The others apparently used a square stone that worked more like a cork. The theory is that the disk-shaped stones were more expensive and were probably used by rich folks. Some tombs built for disk stones were built on an incline. Presumably, the stone was rolled uphill to open it, required two or more people, or just one Samson. To close it and roll it downhill might require just one last mourner.
Pilate isn’t someone history describes as a Jew-lover. He slaughtered plenty of them. Matthew doesn’t tell us why Pilate tried to free Jesus. Any guesses why Pilate tried three times (according to Luke 23) to convince the crowd to let Jesus go?
History scholars have a theory about why Pilate gave in and agreed to execute Jesus. The theory is that Pilate was already on shaky ground with Rome because the man who had recommended him for the job, Sejanus, was executed by Emperor Tiberius in AD 31, for plotting a coup. Pilate didn’t want the Jews causing a ruckus or, worse, going to Rome with a complaint about him. What do you think about that theory?
“During the religious festival of Passover, the governor had developed a custom of releasing one prisoner. He would release whichever prisoner the crowd of people wanted most” (27:15). This was apparently a goodwill gesture to keep the Jews happy in spite of being occupied by the Roman Empire. Doesn’t that seem odd? Why would anyone think that releasing a prisoner would improve political relationships—especially a prisoner who happens to be a murderer?
Imagine Jesus during the taunting and beating that he got from the Roman soldiers (27:20-31). He gets dressed up like a king. He gets a crown of thorns jammed onto his head. Soldiers mock-cheer him for the fake king they seem to believe he is. They hit him on the head with a stick. They spit on him. What would you guess was going on inside the head of Jesus at the time? Was he numb? Was he terrified? Was he wanting to get it over with?
It’s anyone’s guess why people in Jerusalem called the execution site “Skull Place” (23:33). If you have heard any of the theories, what have you heard?
Twice in this chapter, Matthew talks about Jesus being offered some kind of drink. As you read the story, do you think those drinks (27:34, 48) were offered as acts of compassion or as taunting?
Mark said Roman soldiers crucified Jesus at “9 o’clock in the morning” (15:25). John says they crucified Jesus at about noon (John 19:14). Matthew seems to agree, since that’s when “the sky went dark” (27:45). Scholars tackle this apparent discrepancy in a variety of ways. Which of the following approaches sounds most reasonable to you?
- Time rounded to nearest changing of the guard. Romans marked time by four change-of-the guard events every 12 hours: noon/midnight, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock. If Jesus was crucified sometime between 9 o’clock in the morning and noon, some witnesses may have said it was closer to the 9 o’clock event, while other witnesses may have said it was closer to noon.
- Typo. As explained in the footnote associated with Mattjew 27:45, someone recopying worn out early manuscripts confused the Greek letter representing third hour of the day (9 AM) gamma (Γ), with the Greek letter representing the number six, for the six hour of the day (noon) digamma (Ϝ).
- Poetic license for symbolism sake. John and Matthew wanted to help Jewish readers see the symbolism behind the death of Jesus. Noon is when Jews sacrificed the Passover lamb. Jesus was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (Hebrews 10:10).
Matthew and Mark say that at noon “the sky went dark. It stayed that way for the next three hours” (27:45; Mark 15:33). They both say that when Jesus died, “The curtain in the Temple ripped in two, from top to bottom” (27:51; 15:38). Matthew said the ripped curtain took place during an earthquake. The International Geology Review confirms that there were two major earthquakes that hit the area between 26 BC and AD 36. Jesus died sometime between AD 30 and AD 33, scholars say. The curtain separated the Temple sanctuary from the holiest room in the building—the room where Jews had once kept their most sacred object: the chest that held the 10 Commandments, the Ark of the Covenant. Only the high priest could go in there, and only one day a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). That’s the day when the entire nation repented of their sins. Some Bible experts speculate that God was sending the signal that because Jesus died, we all have access to God and to his forgiveness. What do you think about that theory?
It seems to be unclear what the Roman centurion said after Jesus died. “There’s no doubt now. This man was the Son of God!” (27:54). “Given the setting, what do you think the centurion said or meant? Jesus was:
- the divine Son of God.
- a spiritual child of God who was devoted to God.
- a follower of God who is affectionately spoken of as a son of God.
- divine, like Caesar, often described as the “son of god.”
- “a good man devoted to God” (Luke 23:47).
When Joseph of Arimathea publicly asked for the body of Jesus so he could bury it, what do you think his buddies on the Jewish Council would have done to him when they found out?
LIFE APPLICATION. Joseph of Arimathea took a huge risk by taking a stand for Jesus. When have you seen someone do something like that—risking their reputation and perhaps even their livelihood for the sake of Jesus or out of respect for Christian principles?