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27. Conviction and Crucifixion
1Now when morning was come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: 2and they bound him, and led him away, and delivered him up to Pilate the governor.
3Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4saying, I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood. But they said, What is that to us? see thou to it. 5And he cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary, and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. 6And the chief priests took the pieces of silver, and said, It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood. 7And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. 8Wherefore that field was called, the field of blood, unto this day. 9Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was priced, whom certain of the children of Israel did price; 10and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me.
11Now Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. 12And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. 13Then saith Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? 14And he gave him no answer, not even to one word: insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. 15Now at the feast the governor was wont to release unto the multitude one prisoner, whom they would. 16And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. 17When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? 18For he knew that for envy they had delivered him up. 19And while he was sitting on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. 21But the governor answered and said unto them, Which of the two will ye that I release unto you? And they said, Barabbas. 22Pilate saith unto them, What then shall I do unto Jesus who is called Christ? They all say, Let him be crucified. 23And he said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out exceedingly, saying, Let him be crucified. 24So when Pilate saw that he prevailed nothing, but rather that a tumult was arising, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man; see ye to it. 25And all the people answered and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. 26Then released he unto them Barabbas; but Jesus he scourged and delivered to be crucified.
27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium, and gathered unto him the whole band. 28And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. 29And they platted a crown of thorns and put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand; and they kneeled down before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! 30And they spat upon him, and took the reed and smote him on the head. 31And when they had mocked him, they took off from him the robe, and put on him his garments, and led him away to crucify him.
32And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to go with them, that he might bear his cross.
33And they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, The place of a skull, 34they gave him wine to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted it, he would not drink. 35And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments among them, casting lots; 36and they sat and watched him there. 37And they set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 38Then are there crucified with him two robbers, one on the right hand and one on the left. 39And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, 40and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself: if thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross. 41In like manner also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, 42He saved others; himself he cannot save. He is the King of Israel; let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe on him. 43He trusteth on God; let him deliver him now, if he desireth him: for he said, I am the Son of God. 44And the robbers also that were crucified with him cast upon him the same reproach.
45Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 47And some of them stood there, when they heard it, said, This man calleth Elijah. 48And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. 49And the rest said, Let be; let us see whether Elijah cometh to save him. 50And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. 51And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; 52and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised; 53and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many. 54Now the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things that were done, feared exceedingly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. 55And many women were there beholding from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: 56among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
57And when even was come, there came a rich man from Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: 58this man went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded it to be given up. 59And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. 61And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
62Now on the morrow, which is the day after the Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together unto Pilate, 63saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while he was yet alive, After three days I rise again. 64Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest haply his disciples come and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: and the last error will be worse than the first. 65Pilate said unto them, Ye have a guard: go, make it as sure as ye can. 66So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, the guard being with them.
Matthew 27:11. Now Jesus stood before the governor. Though it was a shocking exhibition, and highly incompatible with the majesty of the Son of God, to be dragged before the judgment-seat of a profane man, to be tried on the charge of a capital offense, as a malefactor in chains; yet we ought to remember that; our salvation consists in the doctrine of the cross, which is
folly to the Greeks, and an offense to the Jews,
(1 Corinthians 1:23.)
For the Son of God chose to stand bound before an earthly judge, and there to receive sentence of death, 253253 “Et là estre traitté comme un criminel digne de mort;” — “and there to be reated as a criminal worthy of death.” in order that we, delivered from condemnation, may not fear to approach freely to the heavenly throne of God. If, therefore, we consider what advantage we reap from Christ having been tried before Pilate, the disgrace of so unworthy a subjection will be immediately washed away. And certainly none are offended at the condemnation of Christ, 254254 “De la condamnation à laquelle Christ s’est soumis;” — “at the condemnation to which Christ submitted.” but those who are either proud hypocrites, or stupid and gross despisers of God, who are not ashamed of their own iniquity.
So then, the Son of God stood, as a criminal, before a mortal man, and there permitted himself to be accused and condemned, that we may stand boldly before God. His enemies, indeed, endeavored to fasten upon him everlasting infamy; but we ought rather to look at the end to which the providence of God directs us. For if we recollect how dreadful is the judgment-seat of God, and that we could never have been acquitted there, unless Christ had been pronounced to be guilty on earth, we shall never be ashamed of glorying in his chains. Again, whenever we hear that Christ stood before Pilate with a sad and dejected countenance, let us draw from it grounds of confidence, that, relying on him as our intercessor, we may come into the presence of God with joy and alacrity. To the same purpose is what immediately follows: he did not answer him a single word. Christ was silent, while the priests were pressing upon him on every hand; and it was, in order that he might open our mouth by his silence. For hence arises that distinguished privilege of which Paul speaks in such magnificent terms, (Romans 8:15,) that we can boldly cry, Abba, Father; to which I shall immediately refer again.
Art thou the King of the Jews? Although they attempted to overwhelm Christ by many and various accusations, still it is probable that they maliciously seized on the title of King, in order to excite greater odium against him on the part of Pilate. For this reason Luke expressly represents them as saying, we have found him subverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to caesar, saying that he is the Christ, A King Nothing could have been more odious than this crime to Pilate, whose greatest anxiety was to preserve the kingdom in a state of quietness. From the Evangelist John we learn that he was accused on various grounds; but it is evident from the whole of the narrative that this was the chief ground of accusation. In like manner, even at the present day, Satan labors to expose the Gospel to hatred or suspicion on this plea, as if Christ, by erecting his kingdom, were overturning all the governments of the world, and destroying the authority of kings and magistrates. Kings too are, for the most part, so fiercely haughty, that they reckon it impossible for Christ to reign without some diminution of their own power; and, therefore, they always listen favorably to such an accusation as that which was once brought unjustly against Christ.
On this account Pilate, laying aside all the other points, attends chiefly to the sedition; because, if he had ascertained that Christ had in any way disturbed the public peace, he would gladly have condemned him without delay. This is the reason why he asks him about the kingdom. According to the three Evangelists, the answer of Christ is ambiguous; but we learn from John (18:36) that Christ made an open acknowledgment of the fact which was alleged against him; but, at the same time, that he vindicated himself from all criminality by denying that he was an earthly king. But as he did not intend to take pains to vindicate himself, as is usually the case with criminals, the Evangelists put down a doubtful reply; as if they had said, that he did not deny that he was a king, but that he indirectly pointed out the calumny which his enemies unjustly brought against him.
12 He answered nothing. If it be asked why the Evangelists say that Christ was silent, while we have just now heard his answer from their mouth, the reason is, that he had a defense at hand, but voluntarily abstained from producing it. And, indeed, what he formerly replied about the kingdom did not arise from a desire to be acquitted, but was only intended to maintain that he was the Redeemer anciently promised,
before whom every knee ought to bow, (Isaiah 45:23.)
Pilate wondered at this patience; for Christ, by his silence, allowed his innocence to be suspected, when he might easily have refuted frivolous and unfounded calumnies. The integrity of Christ was such that the judge saw it plainly without any defense. But Pilate wished that Christ might not neglect his own cause, and might thus be acquitted without giving offense to many people. And up to this point, the integrity of Pilate is worthy of commendation, because, from a favorable regard to the innocence of Christ, he urges him to defend himself.
But that we may not, like Pilate, wonder at the silence of Christ, as if it had been unreasonable, we must attend to the purpose of God, who determined that his Son—whom he had appointed to be a sacrifice to atone for our sins—should be condemned as guilty in our room, though in himself he was pure. Christ therefore was at that time silent, that he may now be our advocate, and by his intercession may deliver us from condemnation. He was silent, that we may boast that by his grace we are righteous. And thus was fulfilled the prediction of Isaiah, (53:7,) that he was led as a sheep to the slaughter.
And yet he gave, at the same time, that good confession, which Paul mentions, (1 Timothy 6:12,) a confession not by words, but by deeds; not that by which he consulted his own advantage, but that by which he obtained deliverance for the whole human race.
Matthew 27:15. Now the governor was wont at the festival Here is described to us, on the one hand, the insatiable cruelty of the priests, and, on the other, the furious obstinacy of the people; for both must have been seized with astonishing madness, when they were not satisfied with conspiring to put to death an innocent man, if they did not also, through hatred of him, release a robber. Thus wicked men after having once begun to fall, are driven headlong by Satan, so that they shrink from no crime, however detestable, but, blinded and stupefied, add sin to sin. There can be no doubt that Pilate, in order to prevail upon them through shame, selected a very wicked man, by contrast with whom Christ might be set free; and the very atrocity of the crime of which Barabbas was guilty ought justly to have made the resentment of the people to fall on him, that by comparison with him, at least, Christ might be released. But no disgrace makes either the priests, or the whole nation, afraid to ask that a seditious man and a murderer should be granted to them.
Meanwhile, we ought to consider the purpose of God, by which Christ was appointed to be crucified, as if he had been the basest of men. The Jews, indeed, rage against him with blinded fury; but as God had appointed him to be a sacrifice (κάθαρμα) to atone for the sins of the world, 259259 “D’autant que Dieu l’avoit ordonné pour estre celuy sur lequel seroyent mis tousles pechez du monde,, à fin que l’expiation et purgation en fust faite;” — “because God had appointed him to be the person on whom should be laid the sins of the world, in order that the expiation and cleansing of them might be accomplished.” he permitted him to be placed even below a robber and murderer. That the Son of God was reduced so low none can properly remember without the deepest horror, and displeasure with themselves, and detestation of their own crimes. But hence also arises no ordinary ground of confidence; for Christ was sunk into the depths of ignominy, that he might obtain for us, by his humiliation, an ascent to the heavenly glory: he was reckoned worse than a robber, that he might admit us to the society of the angels of God. If this advantage be justly estimated, it will be more than sufficient to remove the offense of the cross.
The custom of having one of the prisoners released by the governor on the festival, to gratify the people, was a foolish and improper practice, and, indeed, was an open abuse of the worship of God; for nothing could be more unreasonable than that festivals should be honored by allowing crimes to go unpunished. God has armed magistrates with the sword, that they may punish with severity those crimes which cannot be tolerated without public injury; and hence it is evident that lie does not wish to be worshipped by a violation of laws and punishments. But since nothing ought to be attempted but by the rule of his word, all that men gain by methods of worshipping God which have been rashly contrived by themselves is, that under the pretense of honoring, they often throw dishonor upon Him. We ought therefore to preserve such moderation, as not to offer to God any thing but what he requires; for he is so far from taking pleasure in profane gift that they provoke his anger the more.
19. While he was sitting on the judgment-seat. Although the thoughts which had passed through the mind of Pilate’s wife during the day might be the cause of her dream, yet there can be no doubt that she suffered these torments, not in a natural way, (such as happens to us every day,) but by an extraordinary inspiration of God. It has been commonly supposed that the devil stirred up this woman, in order to retard the redemption of mankind; which is in the highest degree improbable, since it was he who excited and inflamed, to such a degree, the priests and scribes to put Christ to death. We ought to conclude, on the contrary, that God the Father took many methods of attesting the innocence of Christ, that it might evidently appear that he suffered death in the room of others, — that is, in our room. God intended that Pilate should so frequently acquit him with his own mouth before condemning him, that in his undeserved condemnation the true satisfaction for our sins might be the more brightly displayed. Matthew expressly mentions this, that none may wonder at the extreme solicitude of Pilate, when he debates with the people, in the midst of a tumult, for the purpose of saving the life of a man whom he despised. And, indeed, by the terrors which his wife, had suffered during the night, God compelled him to defend the innocence of his own Son; not to rescue him from death, but only to make it manifest, that in the room of others he endured that punishment which he had not deserved. As to dreams, which serve the purpose of visions, we have spoken elsewhere.
20. But the chief priests and elder’s persuaded the multitude. The Evangelist points out the chief instigators of the wicked proceedings; not that the foolish credulity of the people, who were influenced by others, admits of any excuse; but for the purpose of informing us that they were not, of their own accord, hostile to Christ, but that, having sold themselves to gratify the priests, they forget all justice and modesty, 260260 “Toute equité mosiste, et honnesteté:” — “all justice, modesty, and propriety.” as well as their own salvation. Hence we learn how pernicious is the influence of wicked men, who can easily turn in every direction, to all kind of wickedness, the giddy and changeful multitude. Yet we must attend to the design of the Evangelist, which was to show, that the death of Christ was so eagerly demanded by the voice of the people, not because he was universally hated, but because the greater part of them, ambitiously desirous to follow the inclination of their rulers, threw aside all regard to justice, and might be said to have sold and enslaved their tongue to the wicked conspiracy of a few.
22. What then shall I do with Jesus? Perceiving that they are so blinded by madness, that they do not hesitate, to their own great dishonor, to rescue a robber from death, Pilate resorts to another expedient for touching them to the quick, and bringing them to a sound mind. He argues that the death of Christ would bring disgrace on themselves, because it had been commonly reported of Jesus, that he was the King and the Christ. As if he had said, “If you have no compassion for the man, pay some regard, at least, to your own honor; for it will be generally thought by foreigners, that he was put to death for a chastisement to you all.” 261261 “Pour vous chastier, et vous faire despit à tous;” — “to chastise you, and pour contempt on you all.” Yet even this did not abate the fierceness of their cruelty, or hinder them from proceeding to manifest a greater degree of opposition to the public interests than of private hostility to Christ. Thus, according to Mark, Pilate, in order to wound them still more deeply, says that even themselves call Jesus the King; meaning, that this title was constantly used, as if it had been his ordinary surname. Yet, throwing aside all shame, they obstinately insist on the murder of Christ, which brought along with it the disgrace of the whole nation. The Evangelist John (14:15) states a reply, which the other three Evangelists do not mention; namely, that they had no king but Caesar. Thus they choose rather to be deprived of the hope of the promised redemption, and to be devoted to perpetual slavery, than to receive the Redeemer, whom God had offered to them.
Matthew 27:24. But Pilate, perceiving that he gained nothing by it. As sailors, who have experienced a violent tempest, at last give way, and permit themselves to be carried out of the proper course; so Pilate, finding himself unable to restrain the commotion of the people, lays aside his authority as a judge, and yields to their furious outcry. And though he had long attempted to hold out, still the necessity does not excuse him; for he ought rather to have submitted to any amount of suffering than to have swerved from his duty. Nor is his guilt alleviated by the childish ceremony which he uses; for how could a few drops of water wash away the stain of a crime which no satisfaction of any kind could obliterate? His principal object in doing so was not to wash out his stains before God, but to exhibit to the people a Mark of abhorrence, to try if perhaps he might lead them to repent of their fury; as if he had employed such a preface as this, “Lo, you compel me to an unrighteous murder, to which I cannot come but with trembling and horror. What then shall become of you, and what dreadful vengeance of God awaits you, who are the chief actors in the deed?” But whatever might be the design of Pilate, God intended to testify, in this manner, the innocence of his Son, that it might be more manifest that in him our sins were condemned. The supreme and sole Judge of the world is placed at the bar of an earthly judge, is condemned to crucifixion as a malefactor, and — what is more — is placed between two robbers, as if he had been the prince of robbers. A spectacle so revolting might, at first sight, greatly disturb the senses of men, were it not met by this argument, that the punishment which had been due to us was laid on Christ, so that, our guilt having now been removed, we do not hesitate to come into the presence of the Heavenly Judge. Accordingly, the water, which was of no avail for washing away the filth of Pilate, ought to be efficacious, in the present day, for a different purpose, to cleanse our eyes from every obstruction, that, in the midst of condemnation, they may clearly perceive the righteousness of Christ.
25. His blood be on us. There can be no doubt that the Jews pronounced this curse on themselves without any concern, as if they had been fully convinced that they had a righteous cause before God; but their inconsiderate zeal carries them headlong, so that, while they commit an irreparable crime, they add to it a solemn imprecation, by which they cut themselves off from the hope of pardon. Hence we infer how carefully we ought to guard against headlong rashness in all our judgments. For when men refuse to make inquiry, and venture to decide in this or the other matter according to their own fancy, blind impulse must at length carry them to rage. And this is the righteous vengeance of God with which he visits the pride of those who do not deign to take the trouble of distinguishing between right and wrong. The Jews thought that, in slaying Christ, they were performing a service acceptable to God; but whence arose this wicked error, unless from wicked obstinacy, and from despising God himself? Justly, therefore, were they abandoned to this rashness of drawing upon themselves final ruin. But when the question relates to the worship of God and his holy mysteries, let us learn to open our eyes, and to inquire into the matter with reverence and sobriety, lest through hypocrisy and presumption we become stupefied and enraged.
Now as God would never have permitted this execrable word to proceed from the mouth of the people, if their impiety had not been already desperate, so afterwards he justly revenged it by dreadful and unusual methods; and yet by an incredible miracle he reserved for himself some remnant, that his covenant might not be abolished by the destruction of the whole nation. He had adopted for himself the seed of Abraham, that it might be
a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, his peculiar people and inheritance,
(1 Peter 2:9.)
The Jews now conspire, as with one voice, to renounce a favor so distinguished. Who would not say that the whole nation was utterly rooted out from the kingdom of God? But God, through their treachery, renders more illustrious the fidelity of his promise, and, to show that he did not in vain make a covenant with Abraham, he rescues from the general destruction those whom he has elected by free grace. Thus the truth of God always rises superior to all the obstacles raised by human unbelief.
26 Then he released to them Barabbas. Our three Evangelists do not mention what is related by John, (15:13,) that Pilate ascended the judgment-seat to pronounce sentence from it; for they only state that the clamor of the people and the confused tumult prevailed on him basely to deliver up Christ to death. But both of these things must be observed, that a compliance was forced from him contrary to his will, and yet that he exercised the office of a judge in condemning him whom he pronounces to be innocent. For if the Son of God had not been free from all sin, we would have had no right to look for satisfaction from his death; and, on the other hand, if he had not become our surety, to endure the punishment which we had deserved, we would now have been involved in the condemnation of our sins. So then God determined that his Son should be condemned in a solemn manner, that he might acquit us for his sake.
But even the severity of the punishment serves to confirm our faith, not less than to impress our minds with dread of the wrath of God, and to humble us by a conviction of our miseries. For if we are desirous to profit aright by meditating on the death of Christ, we ought to begin with cherishing abhorrence of our sins, in proportion to the severity of the punishment which he endured. This will cause us not only to feel displeasure and shame of ourselves, but to be penetrated with deep grief, and therefore to seek the medicine with becoming ardor, and at the same time to experience confusion and trembling. For we must have hearts harder than stones, if we are not cut to the quick by the wounds of the Son of God, if we do not hate and detest our sins, for expiating which the Son of God endured so many torments. But as this is a display of the dreadful vengeance of God, so, on the other hand, it holds out to us the most abundant grounds of confidence; for we have no reason to fear that our sins, from which the Son of God acquits us by so valuable a ransom, will ever again be brought into judgment before God. For not only did he endure an ordinary kind of death, in order to obtain life for us, but along with the cross he took upon him our curse, that no uncleanness might any longer remain in us.