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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, the Evangelist records the second meeting of the Sanhedrin, early next morning, when they decided on having our Lord sent before the Governor, in order to obtain his sanction for the ignominious death they desired to inflict on Him (1–2). The fruitless repentance and sad end of the traitor, Judas (3–5). The hypocritical affectation of religious scruples on the part of the High Priests, who would not have the price of blood devoted to any other than charitable purposes, viz., the purchase of a burying-place for strangers, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zacharias relating to this very subject (6–10). The questioning of our Lord by Pontius Pilate, the Governor, who himself seemed to attach no weight to the clamours and false charges on the part of the Jews—the great wonder which our Redeemer’s silence, under the circumstances, caused him (11–14). Pilate’s idea of rescuing our Lord out of their hands, by proposing Him or Barabbas, as equally the object of the people’s choice. The testimony borne in favour of our Lord by Pilate’s wife. The preference given to Barabbas, the robber and murderer—the loud call for our Lord’s crucifixion. The release of Barabbas, and the sentence of the death of the cross passed on our Lord by Pilate, though this weak, temporizing judge, who had recourse to the most humiliating, painful expedients to have Him released, was manifestly convinced of His innocence. The insulting treatment received by our Lord at the hands of the soldiers in Pilate’s hall, who afterwards lead Him out for crucifixion (15–31). His bitter crucifixion, rendered still more bitter by the circumstances that accompanied it. The bitter potion given Him to drink. His associates in suffering, two thieves, one placed each side of Him. The division of His garments. The sneers and taunts of His enemies, reproaching Him in the midst of His torments (32–44). The darkness that brooded over the earth from the sixth till the ninth hour. His death, which occurred in a preternatural manner (45–50). The wonderful events that occurred in connexion with it. The testimony of the centurion on witnessing them, in favour of His Divinity (51–54). The taking down of His sacred body from the cross, by Joseph of Arimathea, who also bestowed on it the rites of decent sepulture in his own now tomb, hewed out of a rock (55–61). The application to Pilate by the Chief Priest and Pharisees for a band of soldiers to guard the sepulchre, which, being granted, they also adopt the additional precaution of affixing the public seal to it (62–66).

1. “And when morning was come.” The time is more precisely determined by the other Evangelists: “And straightway in the morning” (Mark 15:1); “And as soon as it was day” (Luke 22:66). “All the chief priests and ancients of the people”—SS. Mark and Luke add, “and the Scribes.” These three orders constituted the Jewish Sanhedrin or Supreme Council of seventy-two Judges or Senators. “Held a council against Jesus.” St. Mark (15:1), speaks of “the whole council.” Most likely, the Council that condemned our Lord on the previous evening, having been dissolved, Caiphas took care to summon all the members of the Sanhedrin against the following morning, so that the increased number of assessors, and the day time alone suited for judicial proceedings, would add greater solemnity and weight to the judgment of the preceding night, which condemned Jesus to death, and thus Pilate could hardly resist their united authority, “to put Him to death.” St. Matthew, who omits giving a full account of the gross indignities to which our Redeemer was subjected on the preceding night in the hall of Caiphas, omits all account of what occurred at this second, or morning meeting, probably, because it might be only a repetition of what he before described as having occurred before the judges on the preceding occasion. We are, however, informed by St. Luke (22:66, &c.), that they questioned Him, “If thou be the Christ, tell us.” Although some expositors, with Maldonatus, are of opinion, that St. Matthew (26:63, &c.), anticipates what should be described here; the general opinion, however, is, that all that St. Matthew there describes occurred at night, and that the same was again repeated in the morning, as recorded. (St. Luke 22:66, &c.) The three Evangelists describe the mocking of our Lord as occurring at night, and alter He declared Himself to be the Christ (Matt. 26:67). “Then they spat in His face,” &c., when He was condemned to death for blasphemy. The same captious question, proposed the preceding night by the High Priest (26:63), was next morning repeated in presence of all the Council (Luke 22:66). So that whether He denied or asserted it—and He did mildly, but firmly, assert it (Luke 22:66)—it would prove equally a subject of accusation before Pilate.

2. Having then elicited from Him a confession, which they regarded as a grave charge, both on religious grounds, viz., blasphemy against God; and civil grounds, viz., affectation of supreme temporal power, and sedition against Rome, “they brought Him—St. John (18:28), says, ‘from Caiphas’—bound.” Most likely, they had removed the cords which bound Him, when questioned before the Sanhodrin, and then, again, they bind Him before leading Him forth. St. Mark (15:1), says, they “bound Jesus.” “And delivered Him to Pontius Pilate, the governor.” This they did, because, most likely, now that Judea was reduced to a Roman province, and ruled, like other provinces, by a Roman Governor, the power of life and death was vested in him alone (John 18:31), and the instances in which they put men to death, were only tumultuous, riotous proceedings, in which the multitude exceeded their legitimate power, as in the case of Stephen and others; but such proceedings were not legal. Or, if we suppose the Jews to have still the power of life and death in certain cases, they had not the power of inflicting death by crucifixion, on our Redeemer. Hence, they required Pilate’s sanction to inflict on Him this kind of death, introduced by the Romans. They also wished to make it appear, that parties no way concerned with our Redeemer, judicially put Him to death, and had Him crucified, as infamous, between two robbers. Stoning was the death marked out in the law for Him, as a blasphemer. But crucifixion could be inflicted by Pilate. They also wished to remove from themselves the stigma of having acted against Christ, from envy. The chief reason, however, is that assigned by St. John (18:31). They had no power themselves to put Him to death. But God permitted all this, to verify His predictions, that His Son should be tortured even by the Gentiles. So that as He redeemed all, Jew and Gentile, all should be accessory to His death. By a just judgment of God, as they delivered up the Son of God to the Romans, to be crucified; they were, in turn, delivered over to the iron legions of Vespasian and Titus, to be butchered and banished, and their city levelled to the dust.

3. Judas, now seeing that our Redeemer was condemned by the Jews, and declared worthy of death; and knowing, from their determined hostility towards Him, that they would insist on Pilate’s acceding to their wicked desires, “repenting himself,” was sorry for what he did. Most likely, he hoped that our Redeemer would either confute their silly charges; or, whether miraculously, or, in some other way, would extricate Himself out of their hands. Now, seeing that it was otherwise; as His death was most certainly determined on, he repented of what he did, not, however, with that repentance which involved hope in the Divine mercy, but, from a feeling of remorse and torturing pain. The devil, who entered into him, and instigated him, now opens his eyes to the magnitude of his guilt, in order to drive him to despair. Hoping to rescind the wicked contract which he made with them, and that by giving up the price of his Master, they might, in turn, set Him free, he “brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the Chief Priests,” &c.

4. “Saying: I have sinned in betraying innocent blood,” that is, an innocent man. He did not leave the Jews the extenuating excuse, that in crucifying our Redeemer, they had the testimony of one of His own bosom friends, who was best acquainted with His manner of life. His very traitor bears testimony in His favour, so that, besides the testimony of His doctrine, and good works, and miracles, even this last testimony borne Him by Judas and Pilate’s wife, renders them inexcusable.

But, they said: What is that to us? look thou to it.” This shows the obstinate malice of the Jews. They insinuate, that they cared not whether Jesus was innocent or guilty; having Him now in their power, they are determined, at all hazards, to wreak vengeance on Him. “What is that to us?” They make light of co-operating in the death of a man, declared by His very betrayer to be innocent.

5. “And casting down the pieces of silver in the temple.” Most likely, while some of the priests had proceeded to Pilate’s house to accuse Jesus, others proceeded to the temple for the discharge of their priestly functions, on this solemn festival; and when Judas had confessed his guilt, and brought back the money to the Chief Priests, &c., at either the house of Caiphas or Pilate, and they paying no heed to him, refused accepting the money, or rescinding the contract, he, at once proceeded to the temple, and threw the money there at the feet of the ministering priests, so as to rescind the contract, as far as he was concerned; so that the money—which, if thrown away in the house of Pilate or Caiphas, would be gathered up by the servants, and never restored—would be gathered up by the priests, and given back to those who gave it to him; and being flung into the temple, it would be sacred, the price of innocent blood unfit for profane use.

And went and hanged himself with a halter.” St. Peter (Acts 1:18), describes his death rather differently, and still more circumstantially, “and being hanged, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out,” the result of which was (v. 25), that he might go to his own place,” that is, to his destined place in hell’s torments. The Greek in Acts (1–18) for, “being hanged” (πρηνης γενομενος), should rather be translated, “being precipitated headlong.” Hence, some expositors find a difficulty in reconciling St. Peter’s account of Judas’ death, with that of St. Matthew, απελθων απηγξατο, which is commonly rendered, “going, he hanged himself.” Both accounts are perfectly consistent; and taken conjointly, both, most probably, give a full account of the manner of Judas’ death. Going, he hanged himself, as did Achitophel before him, who was a typo of him as to his crime and fate, (2 Kings 17:23); and while hanging for some time, the rope either breaking, or giving way, he was precipitated headlong, and falling on a hard protruding substance, he burst asunder, and his bowels gushed forth; or, it may be, that being suspended, his head downwards, owing to the exertion, he became swollen, and his bowels burst forth. Either supposition will reconcile the narrative of St. Matthew here, and of St. Peter (Acts 1–18). St. Matthew records the kind of death, whereby Judas sought to put an end to his miserable life; St. Peter, the mode in which he actually did die, the latter resulting directly from the former.

It is to be observed, that although Judas, apparently had the different ingredients of penance, he had it not, however, in reality. His sorrow did not contain the hope of pardon. It was rather dark despair. Neither was his confession, “I have sinned,” &c., made to those to whom alone was granted the power of absolving him: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven.” The Jewish priests had no such power.

6. These consummate hypocrites, who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:24), scruple to employ for sacred purposes the price of blood, and make no scruple to unjustly shed that blood. The word, “corbona,” is a Syriac term, signifying a gift, and most commonly, a gift presented to the sacred treasury. Again it denotes the treasury itself, or place set apart in the temple for pious offering, which was in the Court of the women. There was no prohibition in the law against receiving such money. There was a prohibition against receiving the wages of a strumpet, or the price of a dog (Deut. 23:18), and by analogy, they inferred that the price of blood should be equally objectionable and prohibited.

7. After due deliberation, these hypocrites, affecting a charitable disposition for the poor, their object in reality being to perpetuate the infamous end of our Redeemer, delivered over to death by one of His own disciples, of which the purchased burying ground would serve as a lasting monument, “bought with them (the thirty pieces of silver), the potter’s field,” so called, either because it belonged to some potter; or, because the soil was employed for pottery purposes, and being now exhausted, and consequently, of scarcely any value, was sold for the trifling sum of thirty pieces of silver, “To be a burying place for strangers,” whether foreign Jews who resorted to Jerusalem, and had no burial place of their own, as the inhabitants of Jerusalem had, who deemed it a great solace to be buried in the tombs of their fathers; or, more probably, to Gentile foreigners, who came in crowds to Jerusalem, and being regarded as impious, were not allowed to be buried with the faithful Jews. The application of the price of our Saviour’s blood to the purchase of a cemetery for strangers, signified, that true rest is in store for those who, being strangers to the people of God, have obtained the rights of citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem, “cives sanctorum,” &c. (Ephes. 2:19), by sharing in the merits of the Cross of Christ, and by being buried with Him in baptism unto death (Rom. 6:3, 4).

8. “Wherefore, that field was called haceldama,” &c. The providence of God so ordained it, that what the Chief Priests meant to be a lasting monument of reproach to our Redeemer, would serve as an eternal monument of their crime, and especially of the treason of Judas; and tend to the glory of Jesus, as is insinuated by St. Peter (Acts 1:19). “Haceldama” is a Chaldaic term, signifying, “the field of blood,” or, the field purchased for the blood money received for the betrayal of Jesus by His own apostate disciple, who, after declaring the innocence of his Master, in a lit of despair hanged himself with a halter.

9. The same was ordained by God for me verification and fulfilment of the ancient prophecies. “By Jeremias the prophet saying: And they took the thirty pieces of silver,” &c. These words are not found in any part of Jeremias; but, they are found substantially, and in sense, in the Prophet Zacharias, not according to the Septuagint; but, according to St. Jerome’s version (11:12, 13). Hence, different commentators have differently recourse to several ways for accounting for the introduction of the name of Jeremias here, instead of Zacharias. Some say, with Origen, that it arose from a mistake of copyists, who, owing to manuscript abbreviations, mistook, Ιριοδ, that is, Ιερεμιου for Ζριοδ, or, Ζαχαριου. Others, that the Evangelist only quoted the prophet in a general way; “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet, saying,” &c., without mentioning any particular prophet, a thing quite common in the Gospel of St. Matthew (1:22; 2:5, 15; 13:35, &c.); and that afterwards some one, wishing to particularize the prophet, wrote in the margin, “Jeremias,” because Jeremias “bought a yield” (32:9). This marginal addition, in course of time, made its way into the text of all the Latin and most of the Greek copies. “Jeremias” was not found in the Syriac, nor in some Latin MSS. in the time of St. Augustine. The error of those who wrote Jeremias instead of Zacharias in the margin, might be easily accounted for, inasmuch as the passage from Zacharias, according to the Septuagint, which alone was used by the Greek and Latin Churches before the time of St. Jerome, had hardly anything in common with the quotation here given by St. Matthew. Others say, that this prophecy might have been found in some of the prophecies of Jeremias now lost. For, he wrote more books than we have now extant (2 Mach. 2:1). Others, in some apocryphal writings of Jeremias. The sacred writers quote from such occasionally. St. Paul is supposed to have done so (2 Tim. 3:8), in reference to the names of the Egyptian magicians, Jannes and Mambres. St. Jerome assures us, he was shown by a Nazarene, a writing of Jeremias, in which this quotation was found. The writing, however, was not canonical. Others suppose, that this prophecy of Jeremias was not written; but handed down, by the tradition of the Jews. Similar in that quoted by our Redeemer in reference to the Tower of Siloe (Luke 13:4).

Others, among whom is St. Augustine, &c., quoted by Benedict XIV. (de Festis, &c.), are of opinion, that the quotation is made up of two different members, one from Jeremias (32:9), relating to a field Jeremias purchased from his uncle’s son, for “seven staters and ten pieces of silver,” a sum different from that mentioned here; the other from Zacharias (11:12, &c.), having reference to the thirty pieces offered by the High Priest to Zacharias. The quotations, according to these interpreters, are not verbally taken from either prophet, but only the sense of them; and these also maintain, that St. Matthew quotes only one prophet, Jeremias, passing over Zacharias—a thing not unusual with the Evangelists, when giving a quotation from different prophets, as may be seen (Mark 1:2, 3), where, quoting a text, the first part of which is from Malachias, the other from Isaias, the Evangelist only mentions Isaias, without at all mentioning Malachias—however, the more common opinion is, in whatever way the introduction of the name of Jeremias may be accounted for, that the quotation of St. Matthew is substantially the same as the words of Zacharias (11:12, 13). In that passage of Zacharias, the Lord seeks for His wages—“bring hither My wages” (v. 12)—from the Jewish people, through the prophet, in return for the several benefits conferred on them; and He complains, at finding it so insignificant, as not to exceed in value thirty pieces of silver, &c. (See Zach. 11:12, &c.) The command of God that the prophet would cast these thirty pieces to the statuary or potter, and its execution (Zach. 11:13), looking to prophetical usage, are but a prediction of what was to happen at a future day, when the Chief Priests, instead of a suitable reward for the benefits conferred on their nation by Christ, gave Judas thirty pieces of silver to betray Him. These pieces Judas cast into the temple, and they were afterwards given to a poor potter as the price of his field. The words then mean: “And they”—the Chief Priests—“took the thirty pieces of silver”—which were cast into the temple—“the price of Him that was prized,” viz., the Messiah, “whom they prized of the children of Israel,” that is, whom those who were of the children of Israel, to whom He was sent, prized at so low a sum, the price of a common slave, “and they gave them unto the potter’s field, as the Lord had appointed to me,” that is, had commanded the Prophet Zacharias to do.

They took.” In the Hebrew it is, “I took.” The prophet spoke in the first person to show, that he did what the Lord commanded him; the Evangelist, in the third person, to show that the priests had fulfilled, what the prophet practically prophesied in this matter. However, the Greek word, ελαβον, might be rendered in the first person, “I took,” &c. “The price of Him that was valued,” is ironically termed by the prophet (Zach. 11:13), “a handsome price.” “Of the children of Israel,” that is, those who were of the children of Israel. Some expositors join these latter words with, “the price of Him that was valued,” thus: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him that was valued of the children of Israel, whom they prized,” at so low a price, “pretium appretiati a filiis Israel quem appretiaverunt.”

10. “They gave them unto the potter’s field.” St. Matthew more clearly expresses the object of the prophet, who speaks in the first person: “I cast them into the house of the Lord to the statuary” (Zach. 11:13). “As the Lord appointed to me.” These words are not found expressly in the prophet; but, they are found virtually there, inasmuch as it was by the command of God the prophet threw the thirty pieces of silver in the temple to the statuary or potter; hence, he did as the Lord appointed. St. Matthew adds these words, to show, that all this did not happen by chance; but, by the express command and deliberate will of God, wishing beforehand to foreshadow and prophesy by act, what was to happen our Lord in the fulness of time.

11. “And Jesus stood before the Governor.” He “stood,” as one arraigned for trial, before Pilate, who governed Judea as President, in the name of the Emperor Tiberius. After having described the tragical end of the unhappy Judas, the Evangelist now returns to the subject of our Redeemer’s Passion. As each of the Evangelists has only recorded a part of the circumstances of the Life and Passion of our Lord, several, circumstances are described by St. John (19:28–32), which are here omitted by St. Matthew, and which should be prefixed to this verse (11), as having taken place before what is recorded here. Pilate being no way moved by their general charges against our Lord, and their clamorous demands for His punishment, they thon proceed to more specific charges, which are recorded by St. Luke (23:2). These are threefold, and all, so many gross calumnies. In Pilate’s letter to Tiberius, in this cause of Christ, still extant (Hegesippus, Lib. 5), he states, that the Jews brought a fourth charge against our Lord, viz., that He practised magic, in virtue of which, He performed some miraculous wonders: “In Beelzebub, the prince of devils,” &c. (Matt. 12:24.) The accusation relating to His having affected sovereign power, was most calculated to affect Pilate, who was charged with maintaining the cause and sovereignty of the Romans. It was only after hearing these specific charges from the Jews, whom Pilate addressed outside his house, as they would not enter, lest they might be defiled and prevented from partaking of the Pasch (John 19:28), he returns to the Governor’s hall, within the house, where our Lord had been left, and, passing over the other charges as perhaps frivolous, and no way concerning him, as Governor, asks Him, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?”—this being the only charge that concerned him as representative of Cæsar, whose authority it might prejudice, as it involved, in some sense, the grave and practical charge of preaching up the refusal to pay tribute to Cæsar. For, it followed, naturally, that whoever aimed at sovereign power, as here imputed to our Lord, would interdict the giving of tribute to any other claimant to the same supreme power. Origen remarks, that the way in which Pilate put this question, showed clearly he gave no credit to it, as if he said: Is it possible that you, who are so lowly and contemptible among your fellow-countrymen, could pretend to be the king so long and anxiously expected by them?

Jesus saith to him: Thou sayest it,” a modest form of asserting a thing; “thou sayest what is true.” Before these words should be placed, in the order of narration, those recorded by St. John (18:34–37), “sayest thou this thing of thyself, or have others told it to thee of Me?” Was it from his own knowledge, or the suggestion of others, he asked such a question? Our Redeemer thus insinuated, that Pilate was only reciting the charges of His enemies; and that Pilate himself, although bound in duty to see that no one should usurp the authority of Cæsar, had no reason, although so long Governor of Judea, to suspect Him of the offence imputed to Him. Pilate being somewhat irritated by this question, at once tells Him, that He, as a stranger, could know nothing about the king, or the characteristics of the king, whom the Jewish nation was so anxiously expecting; and that it was His own nation, and its chiefs, that delivered Him over for judgment. “Am I a Jew?” “Thy own nation, and the Chief Priests … what hast Thou done?” (John 18:35). Seeing that Pilate had questioned Him, not captiously, but with a view of eliciting the truth, our Redeemer replies, that His kingdom is not of such a nature as would cause Pilate any uneasiness; that His kingdom “was not of this world,” &c. (John 19:36.) Then Pilate asks Him, “Art Thou then a king?” (v. 37), be your kingdom of whatever description it may. Our Redeemer answers, as in this verse (11), “thou sayest that I am a king;” and He further states the object of His mission, which was “to give testimony to the truth” (John 18:37).

Pilate then asks, “what is truth?” and, as if he cared not for an answer, felt no way concerned or interested in the whole affair, he at once, abruptly, without awaiting a reply, goes out to the Jews and tells them, “I find no cause in Him” (John 18:38).

12. “When He was accused by the Chief Priests,” &c. St. Mark says (15:3), “they accused Him in many things,” confiding more in the multitude of their charges and in their violent clamour, than in the truth of what they advanced against Him.

He answered nothing” Our Redeemer was silent for several reasons—1st. Because the charges brought against Him were manifestly false and undeserving of a reply. 2nd. Because a reply would irritate the Jews still more. 3rd. Lest He might be discharged by Pilate, and thus the decree of God, wishing Him to make atonement for the sins of man by the death of the cross, would be frustrated; and, finally, to make atonement by His silence for all the sins of evil speech of which mankind were guilty; and to leave us an example of suffering patiently in similar circumstances. He also wished to fulfil the prophecies (Isaias 53:7), “like a sheep brought to the slaughter … and shall not open His mouth.”

13. The words of this verse evidently insinuate, that Pilate brought our Redeemer outside to hear the crimes laid to His charge by the Jews, and then asked, what He would reply to the accusations.

14. “And He answered not … so that the Governor wondered exceedingly.” He admired His meekness, contempt of death, and elevation of soul in such perilous circumstances, and became convinced of His innocence; so that he endeavoured, by all means, to set Him free, saying, “he could find no cause in Him” (Luke 23:4). He wondered greatly to see a man, who could so easily justify Himself, observe silence in such circumstances; for, it was evident His enemies were actuated by rage, and could prove nothing against Him.

But they, seeing this, became more earnest in their accusations, “saying: He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place” (Luke 23:5). By alluding to Galilee, they wished to inspire Pilate with terror, lest sedition might be excited by this man, Pilate himself being aware that Galilee had given birth to many seditious and rebellious characters, such as Judas, and those whose blood Pilate himself had mingled with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1), Theodas, &c. (Acts 5:36, 37.) The mention of Galilee suggested to Pilate a means of extricating himself from his embarrassment. He asked if He were a Galilean; and on being answered in the affirmative, he sends Him to Herod, to whose jurisdiction He belonged; and who, on the occasion of the solemn festival, came to Jerusalem.

St. Luke minutely details all that occurred in connexion with our Redeemer’s being sent to Herod, the contumelious treatment He was subjected to in Herod’s presence, and the ignominious manner in which He was again sent back to Pilate (23:7–13). When Pilate saw that He was sent back by Herod; he, in order to set our Redeemer free, said to the Chief Priests, whom he called together, “You have brought this man to me as one that perverteth the people”—this was the principal charge for Pilate and Herod to take cognizance of—“and behold … I find no cause in this man … No, nor yet Herod,” &c. (Luke 23:14.) Then, this weak, temporizing judge bethought himself of a means of satisfying the fury of the Jews, without involving himself in the crime of condemning an innocent man. He orders Him to be scourged. “I will chastise”—that is, scourge Him—“therefore, and release Him,” hoping that their fury would relent on beholding the pitiable condition to which the cruel flagellation would have reduced Him. Hence, after it, he brought Him forth, and exclaimed, “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). This expedient failing, he adopted another means of securing His release. It is recorded as follows, by St. Matthew:—

15, 16. “Now upon the solemn day” (St. John 18:39, expressly mentions the Pasch, as if by excellence, “the solemn day”) “the Governor was accustomed to release,” &c. This custom was, most likely, introduced originally among the Jews, in commemoration of their liberation from the Egyptian bondage. And the Romans on obtaining the sovereignty of Judea, continued it, as they did several other usages, as a privilege granted to the people, the Governor himself being the party to carry it into effect, at the instance of the people, on the anniversary recurrence of each Paschal solemnity. Pilate now hoped that, by proposing to them a notorious prisoner, named Barabbas, “a murderer” (Luke 23:19); “a robber” (John 19:4, &c.), and leaving them to choose between him and Jesus, they could not for an instant, hesitate in their choice of Him, who had done so many acts of mercy in their favour, before a notorious murderer and robber. What humiliation to the Son of God, the author of life, to be put in competition with a notorious robber and murderer, and made equally the object of the people’s choice.

17. It would seem from St. Mark (15:8), that it was the people who first called on Pilate to grant them the usual privilege of having a criminal pardoned at their request, and that Pilate seized on this opportunity thus presented to him, for extricating himself from his embarrassment. He then proposed to them, to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, not doubting but they would call for the release of Jesus. The usage would seem to be, that the Governor would propose a certain number of criminals, from among whom the people might make a choice; but, that the people had not the privilege of choosing indiscriminately any criminal, whom they pleased, for release. For, if this were the case, the people might have said: We do not choose either Jesus or Barabbas; but somebody else, perhaps, some less obnoxious member of the gang of seditious robbers, of whom Barabbas was the notorious leader.

18. Pilate well knew, that they were actuated in the whole case by feelings of jealousy and envy. Although many interpreters question Pilate’s sincerity in his expressed desire to release our Lord; still, it seems more probable, he sincerely desired to set Him free. St. Luke expressly says so (23:20), and so does St. Peter (Acts 3:13).

19. While waiting for the answer of the people, regarding the choice of a criminal to be released to them, a fresh testimony of our Redeemer’s innocence was furnished to Pilate. His wife had been troubled with some startling dreams relative to our Lord. She calls Him a “just man,” as did Pilate himself (v. 24), an epithet long before applied to Him by Isaias (53), “justificabit ipse Justus servus meus multos.” What the nature or subject of her dream was, cannot be known. All the Evangelist records of it is, that it had the effect of causing her much suffering. Most likely, it revealed to her the grievous evils in store for her husband, in case he condemned “this just man,” the innocent Jesus. Some say, this dream was caused by the devil, who now recognising Christ for the Son of God, saw the consequences of His death. But this is not likely. Most probably, the devil already knew Him to be the Son of God. But, we have the testimony of St. Paul (1 Cor. 2:8), that the devils, “the princes of this world,” did not know the economy involved in the death of Christ, otherwise, they would not have crucified Him. And if they wished to prevent His death, they would have acted rather on the Jews, whom they instigated to murder the Son of God. Hence, most likely, the dream came from God, in order that every sex would bear testimony to Christ, as well as the very elements that eloquently testified to His Divinity at His death. And the dream was sent to his wife rather than to Pilate himself, in order that her message would be publicly delivered, in the presence of His enemies. Besides, Pilate’s testimony might be liable to suspicion. For, many would say: he merely wished for some pretext for extricating himself out of the embarrassment, in which the condemnation of Christ, whom he knew to be innocent, would involve him.

20. The same is recorded by St. Mark (15:11). Pilate gave them time to deliberate about the answer, as to which of the two they would have released to them; and, in the meantime, the Chief Priests brought every influence to bear on them, to ask for Barabbas.

21. After due time for deliberation, he now again proposes the question, “Which of the two would they have released to them?” Their answer, calling for Barabbas, naturally disappointed and embarrassed Pilate. Hence, he cries out:

22. “What shall I do with Jesus, that is called Christ?” Their answer discloses their obstinate cruelty: “Let Him be crucified.” In St. Luke, the words are twice repeated, “Crucify Him, crucify Him” (23:21), which revealed their determination to put Him to a cruel death.

23. Pilate then said to them, “Why,” crucify Him? “What evil hath He done?” St. Luke (23:22), informs us that, for the third time, Pilate said, he “found no cause in Him,” that is, he could discover no crime committed by Him to warrant His death. Thus, Pilate, three times, bore testimony to His innocence. Pilate could, doubtless, find no cause in Him. But, not so with His Heavenly Father, who saw in Him the bail, the surety for sin, of which He took upon Himself the full imputability. For, “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Their only answer was, “Let Him be crucified.”

24, 25, 26. Here Pilate devises another and most cruel expedient for satisfying the fury of the people, without involving himself in the crime of condemning Him. He orders Him to be scourged, hoping, that the fury of the people would relent on beholding the pitiable condition to which the cruel flagellation would reduce Him. Hence, he afterwards presented Him to the multitude, “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). The washing of his hands by Pilate, &c. (vv. 24, 25), occurred after our Lord was scourged (Luke 23:22), and is given here by anticipation. The circumstances and order of this flagellation are recorded more fully by SS. Luke and John. St. Luke mentions (23:18–22), that Pilate, after our Lord’s return from Herod, calling together the Chief Priests, &c., said, “I shall chastise Him,” that is, scourge Him, “and release Him.” He does not, however, tell us afterwards, what this chastisement was, how or when it took place. He ends his narrative of Pilate’s conversation with the Jews, by simply informing us, that overcome by their clamorous importunity, after releasing Barabbas, “he delivered Jesus up to their will” (v. 25). But, St. John, who wrote after St. Luke, distinctly informs us (19:1, &c.), that this chastisement was scourging; and that its object was to cause the people to relent at the sight of the man presented to them in such a pitiable state after his flagellation. St. Matthew and St. Mark, however, refer to the scourging of our Lord in such a way, as if it would seem to have taken place, not so much for the purpose of appeasing the multitude, as preparatory for crucifixion. For, as we are informed by St. Jerome, the custom with the Romans was to scourge first, those who were doomed to the ignominious death of the cross. And as St. John insinuates, that the scourging had for object to appease the multitude; hence, some expositors hold, that our Redeemer was scourged twice, and mocked twice by the soldiers; once, before the sentence of death was pronounced upon Him, in order to appease the fury of the Jews;—to this, St. John refers (19:1, &c.)—and a second time after the sentence, in compliance with the law or custom of the Romans, in such cases. This latter scourging, they say, is referred to by Matthew and Mark. The more probable and more common opinion, however, is, that He was scourged, &c., but once; and that, before the sentence was pronounced, as in St. John. To the same scourging, St. Matthew refers, when he says (27:26), “having scourged Jesus,” already. This one flagellation answered the requirement of the Roman law quoted from St. Jerome, and the Greek word for, “having scourged” (φραγελλωσας), which refers to a past action, will fully bear out the meaning. Hence, in referring after the sentence of death was pronounced by Pilate, to the scourging and the insulting treatment of our Redeemer in Pilate’s hall by the soldiers, both St. Matthew and St. Mark repeat, out of the proper order of narration, what took place before the sentence of death was pronounced, as we are informed by St. John. (19:1, &c.)

How painful this cruel flagellation was, may be inferred from the character of the executioners—heartless Pagan soldiers, dead to every feeling of pity—and from the object Pilate had in view, viz., by the shocking appearance He would present, to satisfy the rage of His enemies. According to the Jewish law, no criminal could receive forty stripes; but, as our shameful and sinful excesses, which He was expiating, outraged every law of reason and religion, so, these barbarous executioners are regulated by no law in His regard. They discharged on Him a shower of blows. It is said, that it was revealed to St. Bridget, that the number of stripes He received was above 5000. Hence, the excessive cruelty of His executioners, and the number of stripes they inflicted, coupled with the exquisite sensibility of His sacred body (for by its perfect organization it was framed for punishment), place the tortures of our Blessed Lord beyond the power of conception. He was scourged at a pillar, which, or, at least a portion of it according to some, is to be seen in a little chapel of the Church of Saint Praxedes, at Rome. This pillar was formerly kept at Jerusalem in Mount Sion, as we are informed by St. Gregory Naz. (Orat. 1, in Julian); St. Paulinus (Epis. 34); Ven. Bede (de locis Sanctis), St. Jerome, &c. It was brought to Rome in the year 1223, by John Cardinal Columna, Apostolic Legate in the East, under Pope Honorius III., as we are informed by the inscription over the little chapel in the Church of St. Praxedes.

The scourges are said to be made of leather thongs or cords. Others say, He was scourged, after the Roman manner, with rods. The Roman fasces were composed of rods, with an axe, for the scourging and execution of criminals.

Delivered Him to them to be crucified.” Pilate did this by a judicial sentence, condemning Him to the death of the cross. But this occurred only after He was mocked by the soldiers, crowned with thorns, &c., as is very accurately and minutely described by St. John. (19) Hence, in St. Matthew’s description, the order of events is not observed.

27. “Then,” does not mean, that the following occurrences took place immediately after He was delivered by Pilate to be crucified, as in preceding verse. It only means, that they happened at the time of, or, during His Passion. We are informed by St. John (19:2, &c.), that this mocking of our Redeemer, &c., took place immediately in connexion with the cruel scourging. Hence, “then,” refers not to “delivered Him to be crucified,” but to the words, “having scourged Jesus.”

The soldiers of the Governor,” his body-guard. Most likely, they constituted the Prætorian cohort, who were always at the service of the Prætor or Governor in his province. This band was stationed in the Citadel Antonia, midway between the palace of Pilate and the temple.

Taking Jesus into the hall,” or, as St. Mark more clearly expresses it (15:16), “into the court of the palace,” where the Governor resided. It would seem, that this was done by four soldiers, who acted the part of Lictors (John 19:23). In this hall, very probably, was the Prætor’s tribunal, and they made our Redeemer ascend this, in derision of His Royal dignity.

Gathered together unto Him the entire band.” “The band,” or cohort, being the tenth part of a Roman legion, would vary in number according to the number in the legion, which was sometimes more, sometimes loss. The ordinary number constituting a legion, was 6000. Hence, “the band,” or cohort, probably contained 600. These were gathered together for the purpose of mocking and insolently deriding our Divine Redeemer.

28. “And stripping Him” of His clothes, which had been put on Him after He was scourged, or stripping Him for the purpose of scourging Him. Then, after this cruel deed, when He was yet naked, “they put a scarlet cloak about Him,” in derision of His Royal dignity, such being worn by kings and emperors. It is doubtful, whether our Lord, after being scourged, had been clothed again with His own garments, and then again stripped of them, when the soldiers mocked Him; or, whether the words, “stripping Him,” do not refer to the act preparatory to His flagellation. St. Mark (15:20), calls it “purple.” But as “purple” is sometimes taken to denote a bright red, hence the words, purple and scarlet, are interchanged; and the two Evangelists, as well as many other writers, make no distinction between both words.

29. “And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head,” in derision of His kingly dignity. “And a reed in His right hand,” to serve as a sceptre for this mock King of the Jews. There is some diversity of opinion regarding the nature and materials of this crown. The thorns from it, which are exhibited in the Holy Chapel, built by St. Louis, for the reception of this pious relic of the Crown of Thorns at Paris, are very large and sharp. The pain caused our Divine Redeemer, by the pressure of these sharp thorns into His sacred head and temples, must have been excessive. From it we can learn the excessive enormity of our wicked thoughts of consent, which it was intended to expiate.

And bowing down … Hail, King of the Jews.” This also was done in derision of His Royal dignity.

30. “And spitting on Him, they took the reed and struck His head,” thereby pressing the crown of thorns more deeply and more firmly on Him, which was to our Blessed Lord, a source of the deepest humiliation and torture. We see from the foregoing, how our Lord was derisively clothed with all the ensigns of Royalty, and insultingly treated by the soldiers as the mock King of the Jews—1st They gather around Him the entire cohort to wait on Him. They place Him on some lofty stone or bench, as on a sort of tribunal, as St. Clement, of Alexandria, informs us. They give Him for a Royal crown, that of thorns. For a Royal vestment, they throw a scarlet cloak around Him (probably, this was a cast-off cloak of some Roman officer). They gave Him a reed for a Royal sceptre, and the acclamations with which He was greeted were the derisive genuflexions of the soldiers, spittle, blows, and stripes, all of which our amiable Saviour bore with astonishing humility and meekness, and they merited for Him, that “every knee, whether in heaven, on earth, or in hell, should bend,” at a future day, before Him.

Here, in the order of narrative, should be inserted, what is recorded by St. John (19:4–16). Pilate had either instructed or permitted the soldiers to treat our Lord in the contumelious manner just now described by St. Matthew; and also to torture Him with the crown of thorns, in order that the pitiable appearance He would present, might cause the Jews to relent. Going forth, he said to the Jews (John 19:4), “I bring Him forth to you, that you may know, that I find no cause in Him.” And immediately after, Jesus came forth from the Governor’s hall, bearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment; and then, Pilate pointing to His miserable condition, with a view to exciting their commiseration, said, “Behold the Man;” see the wretched being, whom you have charged with aspiring to Royal dignity, and with meditating the overthrow of Cæsar’s power. Think you now is there anything to be dreaded from Him on this score? Instead of relenting, the people, instigated by the Chief Priests, cried out, “Crucify Him,” &c. Pilate, being irritated at this, replied, “Take Him you and crucify Him, for I find no cause in Him.” They replied: Although, He may not have transgressed against the majesty or laws of Rome, He has violated a law of ours, which entails death, by making Himself the Son of God; and, as Governor, you should punish the violation of our laws. Pilate was seized with religious awe on hearing this. Yielding to the absurd notions conveyed in the Pagan Fables, respecting the progeny of the gods, he feared that Jesus might be son of Jupiter, or of Hercules, &c., and that he would incur the anger of the gods, if he punished Him. The character of the wonders performed by our Lord, the fame of which must have reached Pilate, together with the magnanimity displayed by Him, were calculated to strengthen the belief in the mind of Pilate. Hence, entering the hall again, he asked our Lord, without receiving a reply, “Whence art Thou?” (John 19:10), as if he said, of what father or mother or stock art Thou descended? from heaven or earth? Our Redeemer saw, that the Pagan mind of Pilate was incapable of comprehending the truth of the answer respecting the eternal generation of the Son of God; He, moreover, knew that Pilate was ready to deliver Him up to the Jews; He was, therefore, silent, it being useless to give any reply. Pilate, thinking his authority was slighted, boasts at once of his authority, telling Him he had power to crucify Him, and power to release Him. Our Redeemer, hitherto silent, could not permit this arrogance of Pilate, which detracted from the glory of His Passion, that depended altogether on the dispositions of His Heavenly Father, to pass unreproved.

Pilate boasted of having authority over our Redeemer, who shows him that any authority he may have had, must come from a higher power, and “begiven him from above,” and that it depended altogether on the adorable dispositions of that higher power, whether He was to be released or crucified, whether He would voluntarily undergo or escape death. But, that it did not depend on Pilate. Similar is the reproach conveyed to the Jews in the Garden of Gethsemani, “you are come out, as against a robber” (26:55); “but this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Our Redeemer adds (John 19:11), “Therefore, he that delivered Me to thee, hath the greater sin,” as if He said, because thou hast permissive power from God against Me, and art about to exercise it, however unjustly, and art about to condemn Me unjustly to death in virtue of that permissive power; hence, those who, from malignity and envy, have delivered Me to thee have sinned more than thou hast. For, although thou dost act unjustly, and out of regard for human respect, and thus dost sin grievously against justice and the duty of thy office; still, thou doest so, in a certain sense, unwillingly; and hence, those, who from envy and malice, have thus forced thee to this course of injustice, have committed a greater sin. Pilate, whose conscience was thus indirectly taxed with injustice, and whom the reply of our Redeemer left in still greater doubt, as to His Divine origin, sought with greater earnestness to release Him. He had done so already four different times (Luke 23:4–15, 20–22; John 19:4–12). He did it now with greater earnestness, for the reason already assigned, “from thenceforward.” But the Jews seeing that their charge of blasphemy had no effect on Pilate, revert to their original charge of seditious conduct; and knowing Pilate’s weakness, and the terror with which the jealous disposition of Tiberius had inspired all his Governors, when there was even an approach to the crime, læsæ majestatis, they, at once, threaten to accuse him to his imperial master of the charge of disaffection, and of protecting his enemies. This moved Pilate very much (John 19:13–16). Here, then, in the order of narrative, is inserted, what is recorded and supplemented by St. John (19:4–16), viz., how our Redeemer was shown to the Jews in a pitiable state by Pilate, with the view of exciting their compassion, and inducing them to relent; how the Jews being nowise appeased by this sad spectacle which Jesus presented, our Redeemer was again questioned by Pilate, on the charge of claiming to be the Son of God; and after various efforts on the part of Pilate to release Him, how the Jews clamorously calling for His death, and charging Pilate himself with disaffection to Cæsar, Pilate at length yielded to their desires, and mounting his tribunal, gave Jesus over to them to be crucified. After this, the soldiers taking off the purple cloak from Him, led Him forth to be crucified, as in following verse.

31. After the soldiers had mocked our Blessed Lord, and subjected Him to treatment the most ignominious and humiliating, “they took off the (purple) cloak from Him,” this cast-off worn garment which was quite worthless. (Here, St. Matthew reverts to the subject treated of, verse 26, “he delivered Him,” &c., after inserting some circumstances which occurred in connexion with the cruel flagellation.) “And put on His own garments.” This was done, very probably, to make Him more remarkable, and thus humble Him the more in presence of the crowded city. They might also have in view, to establish a claim to His clothes (of greater value than the worthless scarlet cloak), which, according to the usages of the time, belonged to His crucifiers. We find that they afterwards divided His garments among them. There is no mention made of their having taken the crown of thorns off Him. Most likely, this was left on Him to add to His ignominy. Moreover, it was, probably so deeply inserted into His head, that it could not conveniently be removed.

And led Him away (from the Prætorium) to crucify Him.” Most likely, a crier or trumpeter preceded them, summoning the people to witness the sad, ignominious spectacle, in accordance with the usage prevailing among the Romans on such occasions. It is not easy to conceive the insults and injurious treatment inflicted on our innocent Saviour on this His last journey to Calvary. Very probably, He was goaded on by the soldiers, a subject of diversion to the people, who from their houses and in the midst of their repast, beheld Him, advancing under the heavy weight of His cross. He thus verified the words of the Prophet, “in me psallebant, qui bibebant vinum” (Psa. 68:13).

We can form some idea of the fatigue our Redeemer must have endured in this last journey while bearing His cross, if we consider the several journeys He was obliged to undergo during the day and the preceding night. From the Supper Hall, He went on the preceding night to Mount Olivet and the Garden of Gethsemani, more that a mile from Jerusalem; thence, He was brought back to the house of Annas, an equal distance; thence, to the house of Caiphas; thence, to the house of Pilate; thence, to the palace of Herod; and thence again to the Hall of Pilate; and, finally, He was obliged to set out on this His last journey, “bearing His own cross” (John 19:17). It was customary for those condemned to the death of the cross to carry their cross to the place of execution. This cross, which was considerably longer than the body of the culprit to be nailed to it, our Redeemer was obliged partly to carry, and partly to drag after Him; which, owing to the roughness of the road, and the bruised and wounded state of His body, must have caused Him excessive pain.

32. “And going out” of the gate of the city, of the road leading to the place of execution, seeing our Redeemer exhausted, and fearing He might not survive, so as to he made die the ignominious death of the cross, meeting “a man of Cyrene, namea Simon, they forced him to take up His (our Redeemer’s) cross.” This Simon, supposed by some to have been a Jew, or at least a Jewish proselyte, was father of Alexander and Rufus, well-known disciples of our Lord. It may be that St. Mark (15:21) mentions this circumstance, because it was a great honour to them that their father had carried our Lord’s cross. Others say, he was a Gentile, and from this circumstance, they would have us infer, that the true, obedient disciples, who were to carry His cross after Him, were to be chiefly found among the Gentiles. It is disputed, which “Cyrene” is here referred to, whether that of Lybia, in Africa, where a Jewish colony had settled in the time of Ptolomeus Lagus, or that of Syria or Cyprus, founded by Cyrus, whence the name Cyrene.

They forced Him.” In the original, it means, impressed. The original term (αγγαρος), is derived from the Persian, and signifies, a courier, sent to carry public intelligence. The king’s couriers had a right to press horses and vehicles, either for the post, or the public service generally, and, when necessary, could compel the personal attendance of the owners. Hence, the word is generally employed to denote impressment, or forcing one to do a thing against his will (see c. 5:41). Some modern writers assert, that this Simon was a Jew, from Cyrene, in Lybia; and, being a well-known disciple of our Redeemer, was forced by the soldiers, at the instigation of the Jews, to carry our Redeemer’s cross. Some say, he helped our Redeemer to carry the cross, both carrying it at the same time. But, the most common and best founded opinion is, that after our Redeemer had been unable to carry His cross, it was laid on Simon, who carried it alone to the place of execution, Luke (23:26), says, “they laid the cross on him, to carry after Jesus.” Here, it is said, “they forced him to take up His cross.” Our Redeemer Himself, as was the custom with men condemned to be crucified, had carried the cross, that is, the transverse part of it, the oblong portion trailing after Him on the ground. This caused Him great pain, considering the ulcerations caused by the cruel scourging. It was only when He was fainting, they placed it on Simon, after they passed the gate of the city that led to Calvary.

Here should be inserted what is described by St. Luke (23:27–32), regarding the “multitude of people and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him.” Far from sharing in the feelings of His enemies, they rather shed tears of sympathy in His sorrows. Turning to them, He told them to weep not so much for His sufferings—although, this He did not prevent—as for the dreadful evils which were soon to come upon them, when they would bless “the barren,” &c., as happened at the taking of Jerusalem, soon after, when, not only were their children slain, and those under seventeen sold, as bond slaves, but even unhappy mothers, in some instances, from extreme pressure of famine, devoured their own children (Josephus, de Bel. Jud. Lib. vii. c. 8). “And they shall call upon the mountains,” &c., a proverbial form of expression, denoting utter despair, in presence of unavoidable calamities (Osee 10:8). Many of the Jews, at the taking of Jerusalem, hid themselves in the vaults and sepulchres, sooner than surrender to the Romans (Josephus). Very probably, among those pious followers, were the Galilean women, who ministered to His wants, Martha and Mary also included, whom the dread of His enemies did not prevent from giving full expression to their affection for our Lord, on this, his last road to Calvary.

St. Luke adds here (23:32), “And there were also two other malefactors led with Him to be put to death.”

33. “And they came to the place which is called Golgotha.” The Chaldaic, or Syriac form, is, Gol-Goltha, second I being omitted for euphony’ sake, as Babcl is used for Bal-bel. “Which is the place of Calvary,” or, the place of skulls. Calvary was a sort of knoll, called so, most likely, in consequence of the skulls of persons executed or buried there being scattered about, according to the opinion of St, Jerome, Bede, &c. Some ancient writers, Origen, Theophylact, &c., say, it was called so, from the skull of Adam, which, they conjecture, was buried there. But if this were the case, it is not likely, the Jews would have made it the place for the execution of malefactors, &c. The Evangelist, in interpreting Golgotha, which means, skulls, used the words, “place of Calvary,” to show that the word, Golgotha, that is, skulls, had reference to place. St. Paul (Heb. 13:11), assigns the fourfold reasons—literal, allegorical, anagogical, tropological—why our Lord was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem (see Commentary on). St. Jerome, St. Augustine, &c., say, it was on the same mountain Abraham was about to offer up Isaac—a distinguished typo of Christ—for, Mount Moria is in the vicinity of Calvary.

34. “And they gave Him wine,” &c. In some Greek copies, for wine we read ὄξος, vinegar. However, St. Jerome and St. Hilary read, wine, as in our Vulgate. St. Mark (15:23), has, “wine mixed with myrrh.” The most probable mode of reconciling this discrepancy is, that the Greek word, ὄξος, vinegar, sometimes denotes a poor sort of wine, and the Greek word for “gall,” χολῆ, sometimes means, a bitter drug. It is used by the LXX. to signify, absinthium, so that it denotes the same thing with the myrrh, referred to by St. Mark. It may be, that both ingredients, “myrrh” and “gall,” were added, to render it more bitter. It was customary, before crucifixion, to give persons, about to be executed, a potion, out of pity and humanity, in order to give them some consolation and refreshment, and also to strengthen them to bear their torments with greater fortitude. But, such was the malice of the Jews, that this potion was converted into a nauseous, bitter draught, not to be endured. The drink here given is different from that referred to (v. 48), and by St. Luke (23:36), St. John (19:29). In the former are verified the words of the Psalmist, “dederunt in escam meam fel;” in the latter, “et in siti mea potaverunt me aceto.” The former was given before His crucifixion, and it was wine; the latter, in the crucifixion, and it was vinegar.

And when He had tasted, He would not drink.” He “tasted” it, lest He might seem, from indignation, to despise it. “He would not drink,” that is, swallow it, being determined to submit to the painful death of the cross, without any mitigation or alleviation of His sufferings. He refused to partake of the draught usually presented to criminals on the point of crucifixion, out of feelings of humanity, to mitigate their sufferings. Others, who do not admit that the Jews would present this drink to our Lord, from such a benevolent motive, say, His object in refusing was, to show His horror of the inhuman malice of His enemies.

35. “After they had crucified Him.” It is observed by some commentators (A. Lapide, &c.), that St. Matthew, in referring to the crucifixion of his Divine Master, not only indulges in his usual brevity in narrative; but, that he also, from a feeling of horror, at the indignity and atrocity of this punishment being inflicted on the Son of God, represents it, not so much as present—it being a thing too much to bear—but as past, “after they had crucified Him.” It is a point of faith, that it was with nails, which pierced His hands and feet, our Redeemer was fastened to the cross (John 20:25, &c.; Psa. 21), “foderunt manus meas,” &c. It may be that cords were also used to fasten His body to the cross. Some say, that a sort of prop was fastened to the cross, on which His feet could rest. But, this is unlikely, as our Redeemer did not stand, but was suspended from the cross (Acts 5:30; Gal. 3:13). The number of nails employed is also disputed. Some say, there were four. Others, only three; one through each hand; and one through both His feet, placed one over the other. One of these nails may be at present seen at the Church S. Crucis, at Rome. I myself, had the happiness of reverently touching it with my beads and pectoral cross. Very likely, the two thieves were also hung on the cross with nails; as, otherwise, St. Helena could have no difficulty in recognising our Redeemer’s cross, from the track of the nails; whereas, it was only by a miracle it could be ascertained which was the true cross. It is most likely, that these rough nails were driven through the palms of the hands, where the sense of touch is most acute. This opinion derives great probability from the words of the Prophet Zacharias, “quid sunt plagæ istæ in medio manuum tuarum?” (13:6). Others say, the nails were driven through His wrists, where the touch is most acutely sensitive, and, obliquely passing through the wood, came out at the surface of His hand, thus rendering the wound larger, and the pain more intense.

The INTENSITY of our Redeemer’s tortures may be estimated from the nature of the wounds inflicted—the boring of His hands, &c.—from the weight of His body hanging from His perforated hands and feet—from their continuance for three hours—from the dislocation of His limbs, “foderunt … dinumeraverunt omnia ossa mea.” (Psa. 21)

Tertullian (Lib. contra Judeos, c. 13), asserts, that He wore the crown of thorns on the cross. This is rejected by others, who say, that after having mocked Him, the soldiers took away the mock ensigns of royalty, and led Him forth to Calvary in His own clothes.

It would occupy, and perhaps, needlessly, too much space to enumerate the causes, literal and moral, which made our Redeemer submit to the ignominious death of the cross, in preference to any other, both on the part of the Jews, and of His eternal Father. The Jews had chosen it for the ignominy it entailed, and thus to abolish the name of Christ for ever. The Heavenly Father had chosen it, as most suitable to confound the folly of human pride; as the most suitable means of reparation, viz., by means of wood, our ruin having been brought about by means of the wood of the tree in Paradise; as most suitable, to show forth the excessive charity of God for us, in submitting to so ignominious and painful a death, and the severity of His justice, which demanded such reparation for sin, &c. Some commentators say that our Redeemer was crucified with His face towards the west, with His back to Jerusalem, to show the election of the Gentiles and reprobation of the Jews. Thus were also verified the words of Jeremias (18:17), “I shall show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their destruction.” “Oculi ejus super Gentes respiciunt” (Psa. 65:7).

The day of our Redeemer’s crucifixion was the 25th of March; the hour, about midday. St. John says, it was “the sixth hour” (19:14), from sunrise, which was midday. “It was the third hour,” according to St. Mark (15:25). But, he means “the third hour,” now closing, which was the commencement of the sixth hour. For, each hour in the computation of their four watches contained three hours among the Jews and Romans. Tertullian (Lib. contra Marcion), and others, say, that our Lord was crucified on the same day, in the vernal equinox, on which Adam was created, and was crucified at the same hour, at which he ate the forbidden fruit.

They divided His garments,” &c. The four Evangelists describe the division of the garments, the inscription of the title, and the crucifixion of the two robbers, not in the same order. St. Mark (15:24, &c.), follows the same order of narrative with St. Matthew. St. Luke (23:33, &c.), describes the crucifixion of the robbers first; then, the division of the garments, and finally, the inscription of the title. St. John, whose order of narrative is deemed the most accurate, as he wrote after the others (19:18, &c.), places the crucifixion of the robbers first, the title next, and the division of the garments in the last place.

The words of our Redeemer on the cross, described by St. Luke (23:34), “Father, forgive them,” &c., should be inserted before these words, in the order of narrative. Then, “they divided His garments, casting lots.” This is more circumstantially and more distinctly narrated by St. John. (19:23, &c.) He informs us, that the soldiers divided His garments into four parts, so that the soldiers, who were four in number, received a part, each. From the words of the soldiers, in reference to the seamless (inner) garment, “Let us not cut IT, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” it is clearly inferred, that they cut up into four parts our Lord’s outer garment, according to the form after which the Jewish outer garments should be made (Deut. 22:12). These outer garments had four seams, and four corners, to which strings or fringes should be attached. Some imagine that our Lord wore four outside garments, besides the seamless coat, which was an inside garment, and that the soldiers took one each. But this is improbable. They divided the one outer garment into four parts. In the account of St. John, the words of Scripture are clearly fulfilled, “They divided My garments,” which is implied in the words, “Let us not cut IT,” as had been done to the other. “And upon My vesture they cast lots,” which is clearly expressed in the words, “Let us cast lots for it.” From St. Mark, however (15:24), it would seem, that they cast lots for the four parts into which the vestment was divided. “The coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.” The weaving of it began at the top, or upper part, and it was woven without any seam to the bottom. This “coat,” most probably, worn next His person, Euthymius tells us, was, according to the opinion of the ancients, woven by the hands of His Immaculate Mother. It is now preserved at Treves, and an object of religious worship to the faithful. The same author, after rejecting, as improbable, the opinion of those who assert that our Redeemer had five garments, one for each of the four soldiers, besides the seamless coat, regards it as a probable conjecture, that our Lord had three garments; that, besides the seamless coat, He had a flowing robe, and outside that, one corresponding to a cloak, covering all. For, St. John speaks of our Lord’s garments in the plural: “They took His garments” (19:23). Nor is this opposed to the mandate He gave His Apostles on the eve of going on their mission. For, there He speaks of two coats of the same kind.

The division of our Lord’s garments into four parts, denoted the extension of the Church to the four corners of the world; while the seamless coat denoted the indivisible unity which heretics alone attempt to rend and cut asunder. As the division of the garments of the two robbers did not contain any mystery, and did not directly belong to the history of our Redeemer’s Passion, the Evangelist says nothing of it, although, it is very probable a like division and distribution took place in their case also, in accordance with the prevailing usage of the time, regarding the destination of the garments of criminals subjected to execution.

What a source of humiliation to our Redeemer to hang naked on a cross, subjected to the derisive gaze of a scoffing multitude, “operuit confusio faciem meam.” (Psa. 58) It must have added to His painful humiliation to see His garments thus divided, as if He were given over to death, and no hopes entertained regarding Him. Probably, in this division of His garments, the soldiers added insulting, jeering taunts, injuriously, and wantonly mocking Him, as if they were dividing among themselves the precious robes of Royalty. This however, added to our Redeemer’s glory, as thus the Scripture of the prophet was fulfilled (Psa. 21:19).

That the word might he fulfilled,” &c. These words are wanting in many of the ancient Fathers and versions, including many Greek and Latin codices. Hence, many learned critics supposed they were inserted here from St. John (19:24) by transcribers. However, the authority of the Vulgate outweighs all these, the more so, in this instance, if it be borne in mind, that of all the Evangelists, St. Matthew is most careful and desirous to show everywhere, that the ancient prophecies were accomplished in our Divine Redeemer.

36. “Watched Him.” The Greek adds, ἐκεῖ, there, on Mount Calvary. The soldiers who acted as Lictors, and the Jews also kept watch, lest any of His disciples should come and take Him down, or He Himself might miraculously descend from the cross. But, contrary to their designs, this only tended to the glory of Christ, in removing any grounds for doubting the truth of His resurrection. Had they themselves not watched Him, they might have charged His disciples with having taken Him down alive from the cross. It also shows their fears, arising from remorse of conscience.

37. “And they,” that is, the soldiers, His executioners, by the command of Pilate (John 19:19), “put over His head,” that is, on the portion of the cross, which was above His head, “His cause written,” that is, the alleged crime for which He was condemned to death. Mark (15:26) calls it, “the inscription of His cause;” Luke (23:38), “a superscription;” John (19:19), “a title.” They all mean the same thing, viz., the words written, or, rather, legibly cut on a board or tablet placed over His head, and indicating to all the charge on which He was condemned to death. It is not likely, that the words were inscribed on the arm of the cross, placed above His head, as it would hardly contain space enough to have the words inscribed in large, legible characters, in three languages. It is a very ancient Oriental custom to have these titles either attached to every malefactor condemned to death, or borne before him. This title of our Redeemer was written in three languages, which were consecrated on the cross of Christ; the Hebrew, the vernacular of the country; the Greek, then most extensively diffused; and the Latin, on account of the majesty of the Roman Empire. It is given differently by the four Evangelists, who agree, however, in substance. That given by St. John, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” is generally considered to be the most exact title, because St. John saw it at the crucifixion, and wrote after the other Evangelists; and also, this corresponds with the title, which, as a most precious relic, is preserved at Rome, in the Church of the Holy Cross. In this relic, the only word perfectly legible is “Nazarenus.” As the Hebrew form, like all Hebrew writings, was written from right to left; so, in the Greek and Latin inscriptions, the same order, contrary to the usual custom, was observed. The writing of the title in three languages, the language of the Jews, and the principal languages among the Gentiles, showed that Christ had suffered for all mankind, and broke down the middle wall of partition between the Jewish and Gentile peoples.

The title showed forth the name of the culprit—“Jesus;” His country, “of Nazareth;” His crime, “King of the Jews.” Although Pilate meant these words to signify (WHO AFFECTED TO BE) “King of the Jews,” still, by a Divine instinct guiding his hand, he was directed to write, in a still more exalted sense, the real cause of Christ’s crucifixion, viz., that He was crucified because He was really the “King of the Jews,” the long expected Messiah, the eternal Son of God, whom it was meet, according to the ancient prophecies and the decrees of His Heavenly Father, that the Jews would put to death, in order to redeem the human race, and rescue it from the slavery of sin, by the effusion of His most precious blood.

And although the Jews eagerly desired that Pilate would change this “title” (John 19:21)—it may be, they returned from Calvary to Pilate’s house; or Pilate himself might have been at Mount Calvary—still, Pilate obstinately resisted all their solicitations, the providence of God so guiding him, and, very probably, Pilate had in view, now that his fears of being accused before Cæsar were removed by the crucifixion of Christ, to restore to Jesus the honour of which he unjustly deprived Him, by sanctioning the high titles with which He was greeted by His followers. Moreover, he may have wished to take vengeance on the Jews for forcing him to condemn an innocent man, by branding the whole nation with the indelible stigma and the infamy of having crucified their own King. But, whatever might have been Pilate’s intention, God, who had suggested to Pilate the very words of the title, did not allow him to alter it for the reason already referred to, viz., to show that, as according to the prophecies, the King of the Jews was to suffer on a cross; therefore, the true cause on the part of God, why Jesus was crucified, was, that He was really King of the Jews.

38. “Two thieves”—highway robbers and brigands, with whom, owing to the shameful corruption of successive Roman Governors, Judea was then infested—“were crucified with Him.” This was, probably, done by Pilate, as a cloak for his iniquity, lest he should seem to be so influenced by others, as to punish the innocent and spare the guilty. It was also done at the suggestion of the Jews, for the greater humiliation of our Lord, to render Him more infamous, as associated with such wicked characters, well known to be such by all the people. “On the right,” &c. He was suspended in the midst, as the most infamous of the three. But this only tended to the glory of Christ, by verifying the prophecies regarding Him. “Et cum iniquis reputatus fuit” (Isa. 53:12; Mark 15:28).

It also denoted, that all mankind were called to a participation in the fruits of His Passion, who came in the midst of guilty, sinful men, to sanctify all by His innocence; that He would, however, make a distinction between the faithful, represented by the penitent thief, who implored the Divine mercy, and the unbelievers, represented by the impenitent thief, who blasphemed Him, and that the day would come when He would place the former on His right hand, and the latter on His left.

39. “They that passed by,” including those who were accidentally passing, as also those who went out expressly, “and stood beholding Him” (Luke 23:35), “blasphemed Him,” by their jeers and scornful scoffs, reproaching Him with His imputed crimes, so ignominiously punished, and by moving their heads in an insulting, scornful manner. This was predicted (Psa. 108:25). These jeers and reproachful scoffs, addressed to the Son of God—the Holy of Holies—were so many “blasphemies.” Such conduct showed the heartless cruelty and barbarous inhumanity of the Jews. For, the greatest criminals, while enduring torments, claim our commiseration. Hence, they added considerably to the sufferings of our Divine Redeemer. “Whom thou hast smitten, they have persecuted” (Psa. 68:27).

40. “And saying: Vah,” &c. “Vah,” an interjection, denoting derision and scorn, similar to “fie” with us; as much as to say, Thou impious, shameless braggart. It is not found now in the Greek versions. The Greek of it in other places of SS. Scripture is, ναὶ, corresponding with the Hebrew, Heah. It has reference to Psalm 34:21, the same as Euge, Euge, for which the Hebrew is Heah.

Thou, that destroyest,” &c. The Greek means, Thou destroyer of the temple, &c., and builder of it … save Thyself, &c., that is, show now that Thou canst carry out Thy foolish boasting by saving Thyself from an ignominious death. “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Similar was the suggestion of the devil, “si filius Dei es, mitte te deorsum” (4:6), equally foolish and perverse. For, it is because He is Son of God, He should remain and die the death of the cross, to vanquish death itself, ero mors tua, O mors;” and it is rather by His rising from the tomb, than by His descent from the cross, He should prove Himself to be the Son of God.

41. “In like manner also, the Chief Priests,” &c. Another class, who insulted our Lord on the cross.

42. “He saved others,” &c. The reproaches of the Chief Priests, &c., against our Lord, speaking to one another, were still more malignant than those of the people. They scoff at His miracles, whereby He saved others from death, and insinuate that they came not from God, but from Beelzebub. If His miracles were performed by the power of God, God would now save Him from an ignominious death; and hence, they insinuate, that He was an impostor and false prophet. They next reproach Him with the assumption of Royal dignity: “If He be the King of Israel”—in allusion to the “title” placed on His cross by Pilate—“let Him descend from the cross.” In this they show themselves deserving of censure, inasmuch as they had no reason for thinking that His descending from the cross would prove Him to be “the King of Israel,” and the promised Messiah. On the contrary, it was because He was the King of Israel and the promised Messiah, He would remain on the cross to redeem the world. They also state an untruth, that in the event of His descending from the cross, they would believe in Him, as is proved by their not believing in Him after a still greater miracle of His power displayed, in His resurrection. They would have rather ascribed His coming down from the cross to magic and diabolical agency, to which they often before attributed His other miracles.

43. They add a third subject of reproach, viz., His vain and presumptuous confidence in God. But this confidence in God on the part of a man in great straits, should be rather a subject of praise than of reproach; and these men falsely judge, that a release from suffering should result from confidence in God; whereas, the contrary frequently happens in the case of the greatest saints; God, for their greater good, thus testing their virtue. In these jeering scoffs of the High Priests, &c., are literally fulfilled the prophecy regarding Christ, in whose Person the Royal Psalmist speaks (Psa. 21:8). The Passion of our Lord is the subject of that Psalm. To the same, reference is made (Wisdom 2:16, 17), where, in the person of the Jews, the Wise man says, “He glorieth that He hath God for His Father. Let us see then if His words are true,” &c.; (v. 21), “These things they thought and were deceived, for their own malice blinded them.”

Let Him deliver Him, if He will have Him,” that is, if He loves Him. But the very reverse would be the result. It is because God loved Him, as His well-beloved Son, He subjected Him to the death of the cross.

44. St. Luke (23:36) mentions a third class, who mocked and scoffed at our Lord on the cross, viz., the soldiers, who acted as His executioners. He was finally mocked by the robbers who were crucified along with Him, as SS. Matthew and Mark testify. The Evangelists use the word, “thieves,” in the plural number, by a figure quite common in Scripture, by which the plural is employed for the singular. Thus it is said (Luke 23:36), “the soldiers offered Him vinegar,” whereas only one soldier did so. Only one of the thieves reviled our Lord (Luke 23:40). Whether the penitent thief, in the first instance, joined his associate in reviling our Lord, and became afterwards converted, is disputed; but the most common opinion among the Latin Fathers is, that he did not, from first to last, revile our Blessed Lord. St. Luke circumstantially relates what is only expressed here in general words by St. Matthew. He also describes the conversion of the penitent thief, and the promise of salvation made to him by our Redeemer. (23:39, &c.)

45. Before this, should be inserted in historical order the words addressed by our Blessed Lord to St. John and His own Blessed Virgin Mother (John 19:25–27).

From the sixth hour there was darkness,” &c. As the crucifixion of our Lord occurred at the vernal equinoxes, when the days and nights are equal, “the sixth hour” corresponded with our twelve o’clock, the sun having risen at six in the morning, and set at six in the evening. The darkness occurred at the time the sun occupies the highest place in the heavens, and his light is brightest, which sets forth in the clearest manner, the preternatural quality of the darkness referred to.

Eusebius, in his Chronicle, and other ecclesiastical writers, quote a passage from Phlegon, in his History of the Olympiads, in which he says that “in the fourth year of the 202 Olympiad, there occurred the greatest eclipse ever known. It was night at the sixth hour, that is, twelve o’clock at mid-day, and the stars were visible.” He also speaks of an earthquake, at the same time, at Bithynia. These authors entertain no doubt whatever of the identity of this eclipse and the earthquake with those which occurred at the death of Christ. Their date is the same. The fourth year of the 202 Olympiad commenced in the summer of the 32nd year of our era, and closed at the summer solstice of the 33rd year—the year in which it is almost universally agreed our Redeemer was crucified—the hour of the day the same, mid-day—the earthquake and darkness simultaneous in both cases. The eclipse must have been preternatural, as it could not take place, in the natural course, at full moon. Moreover, according to the Astronomical Tables, there had not been an eclipse of the sun in the 33rd year of our era—the year referred to by Phlegon. But there had been one in the 29th year of our era, on the 24th of November, at nine o’clock in the morning, which could have no connexion with that mentioned by Phlegon (Bergier, Dict. Theol. Eclipse).

Owing to the mention of “the sixth hour,” by St. Matthew, a question is here raised about reconciling St. Mark and St. John, regarding the precise hour of the crucifixion. There is no even apparent discrepancy between the other Evangelists. St. Mark (15:25) says, “It was the third hour, and they crucified Him.” St. John (19:14–16) says, “It was about the sixth hour,” when Pilate condemned Him to the death of the cross. To reconcile these apparently conflicting statements—for, it is quite certain from the Evangelists, that our Lord was crucified after He was condemned—has caused interpreters no small perplexity. Some would have it, that there was an error of copyists, who transcribed third for sixth, or sixth for third, in either of the Evangelists, the Greek letter which designates three (γ) being mistaken for (ς) which designates the number six. In which—Mark or John—the mistake occurred, is also a matter of dispute. The greater extrinsic authority is in favour of the correctness of the reading of St. Mark, in regard to which there is no variety of codices; whereas, in some codices, there is a variety, as regards St. John. For instance, the Codex of Cambridge, and one of the Royal codices, dated the eighth century, have the third hour instead of the sixth in St. John. Some of the ancient writers quoted by Griesbach (Novum. Testam. Græce in Joan 19:14), are in favour of the reading of these codices. Among those writers is the author of the Paschal Chronicle, who says, “that in the copy of the Gospel written by St. John’s own hand, and preserved in the Church of the Ephesians,” the third hour is found instead of the sixth. Patrizzi (Annot. c. xcv.) seems to lean to this opinion. The mode of reconcoiling both Evangelists, commonly adopted by those who maintain the accuracy of the reading in both is as follows: By hour, they understand, not common hours of sixty minutes each, but great hours, containing each, three common hours. According to the division of time, introduced by the Romans, and adopted by the Jews (see c. 20:1), the day was divided into four equal parts, each part containing three common hours, and the night, into four equal parts, or watches, of three hours each. Following this computation of time, these interpreters say, both accounts are perfectly consistent, as our Lord was crucified towards the close of the great hour, termed the third, which commenced at nine o’clock, and terminated at twelve. And “about the sixth hour,” viz., some time before twelve o’clock, when the great hour termed the sixth, commenced. For, the four great hours were termed—first, commencing at six, and terminating at nine o’clock; third, commencing at nine, and terminating at twelve; sixth, commencing at twelve, and ending at three P.M.; and ninth, commencing at three, and ending with six, or sunset. Mauduit undertakes to refute this opinion in a Dissertation (xxxvi), in which the reasoning is more specious than solid.

For, the first great hour commenced at sunrise, corresponding at the equinoxes with our six o’clock, and ending at nine. The next great hour, termed “third,” from the common hour immediately preceding, commenced at nine, and ended at twelve o’clock, or mid-day. The next, termed sixth, commenced at twelve o’clock, and ended at three P.M., and the next, or last great hour, termed ninth, commenced at three o’clock, and terminated at six, or sunset.

As regards the darkness which took place at the crucifixion of our Lord, there is a great diversity of opinion as to its nature and extent. That the darkness was preternatural, can hardly be questioned by any Christian. If produced by a total eclipse of the sun, it must be preternatural; for, it occurred when it was full moon, and the sun in the opposite side of the heavens, it being Jewish Paschal time, which always took place on the fourteenth of the moon. Moreover, a total eclipse can naturally last only a quarter of an hour at most; whereas, this lasted three hours. Some interpreters suppose the darkness to be caused by the preternatural accumulation of the densest clouds, similar to that preternaturally brought on the land of Egypt, by the stretching forth of the hand of Moses. At all events, from whatever cause proceeding, it would seem, from what is recorded as happening near the cross, that the darkness was not so dense as that the bystanders could not see one another, or see what was passing.

As to the extent of this darkness, those who have recourse to the hypothesis of a thick mist, arising from sulphureous vapours, such as precede and accompany earthquakes, limit it, as a matter of course, to the vicinity of Jerusalem. Origen and some others confine it to the land of Judea, a signification which the words, the “entire earth,” sometimes bear in SS. Scripture. These say, if we confine it to the land of Judea, it would more forcibly point out the heavy anger of God, forcibly shadowed forth, as about to fall on the Jewish nation in particular, in punishment of the horrible crime of Deicide, the guilt and consequences of which they invoked “on themselves, and on their children.” Most of the ancient Fathers and writers, and many eminent modern interpreters, understand it to extend to the entire earth. In proof of this universal extension of the darkness, they quote the positive declaration of three Evangelists; also, the authority of Thallus, in his Syriac Histories, from which, though now lost, passages are quoted by Tertullian, Eusebius, &c., with whom Phlegon, already quoted, is perfectly in accord. We are told by Suidas, that Dionysius, the Areopagite, who was at Hieropolis, in Egypt, at this time, on observing this eclipse of the sun, said to his friend, Apollophanus, “aut Deus naturæ patitur, aut mundi machina dissolvitur.” These events were recorded in the annals of the Roman Empire. Tertullian, in his apology, refers the unbelievers of his day to these archives, in proof of the phenomena which occurred at the death of Christ, “Eum mundi casum”—referring to the eclipse—“relatum in Archivis vestris habetis.” Some writers, however, attach no great weight to these latter testimonies. They question whether Thallus lived before Christ, and they endeavour to show that the writings, ascribed to Dionysius, are spurious. In their objections to the universal extension of the darkness, they go too far, judging of what was clearly preternatural, as they would of the occurrence of merely natural phenomena.

The Fathers, all of whom (except Origen, who is followed by Maldonatus), hold the universal extension of the darkness, say, the sun withheld his light, out of sympathy with his Lord, so as not to witness such a horrid act of parricide as the Jews committed, in crucifying the Author of life, the great Creator of the universe. “It appears to me,” says St. Jerome, “that the great luminary of the world hid his rays, not to witness the Lord hanging on the cross, and not to afford light to the impious blasphemers.” Most likely, the Almighty had in view, in the phenomena which occurred at the crucifixion, to prove the Divinity of His Son, and confute those who challenged Him, “si filius Dei est, descendat de cruce,” &c.

46. “And about the ninth hour,” &c., corresponding with our three o’clock in the afternoon. St. Mark says, “At the ninth hour.” But, there is no contradiction, as men usually say a thing happened at the ninth, which happened about that hour, whether shortly before or shortly after it. It would seem that nothing occurred, and that silence prevailed from the sixth till the ninth hour; that, during the darkness, the Jews were seized with awe. Similar silence prevailed during the Egyptian darkness, which was a type of that occurring at the death of our Lord.

Jesus cried with a loud voice.” This loud cry was manifestly preternatural, as always, when men are either dying or in dread of death, the voice first fails, and becomes weak. “Eli, Eli, lamma Sabacthani.” These words commence the twenty-first Psalm, and our Redeemer, by using them, wishes to convey to the Jews, that He was the subject of this Psalm; that David spoke in His person, and that the entire Psalm, which minutely describes, beforehand, His Passion, was literally fulfilled in Him. In this Psalm, according to the Septuagint rendering, the pronoun, “My,” is expressed but once, “O God, My God,” and the words, “look upon Me,” are inserted. But, the Hebrew has it, as spoken here by our Lord, according to the narrative of the Evangelists. Instead of “Sabacthani,” the Hebrew in the Psalm is Azabtani; but, it is to be borne in mind, that after their return from the Babylonish captivity, the Jews spoke not the pure Hebrew, but the Syro-Chaldaic, in which language our Redeemer on the cross said, “Sabacthani,” the Chaldaic, for “Azabtani.” St. Mark (15:34), has, “Eloi, Eloi.” This signifies the same as “Eli, Eli.” But, most likely, it was the latter form our Redeemer used, as this would give clearer grounds for the mistake on the part of those who overheard Him, that He called for Elias.

Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Our Redeemer made use of this vehement appeal not as a question having for object to ascertain what He did not know; for, He knew all things. It is merely a complaint, uttered for the purpose of awakening our attention to the cause of His mysterious abandonment by His Father, for the purpose of conveying to us, that He was abandoned, because He became a vicarious offering in our place, to atone for the sins of the world, and to cause us to inquire, why He was abandoned, and thus to increase our love and gratitude. These words are said by some of the holy Fathers, to have been uttered in the person of sinners, for whom He suffered. This, they say, the following words would show: “Longe a salute mea verba delictorum mcorum” (Psa. 21). They may be also a prayer, entreating His Heavenly Father to put an end to His sufferings, and to allow them to continue no longer, “exauditus est pro sua reverentia” (Heb. 10:7). The word, “forsaken,” merely signifies, that He was left to suffer fearful torments without being rescued from them; or, it may mean, that His Divinity withdrew from His human nature every, even the slightest, consolation.

Our Lord thus conveys to us, that, although He bore all this meekly and uncomplainingly, in the course of His Passion; that, while His great patience, His praying for His persecutors, His tender solicitude for His Blessed Mother, &c., might lead men to suppose He suffered but little; still, He suffered most intensely on the cross, as He did in the garden, when He prayed that, “this bitter chalice might pass away,” &c. From the words our Lord uttered after this, it would seem He had been alive on the cross after “the ninth hour,” as He had been affixed to the same cross before the sixth. Hence, He hung on the cross more than three hours, which shows us the extent of His suffering, and is calculated to challenge our deepest gratitude and love. It is to the loud cry, “My God,” &c., St. Paul refers, when he says, “qui, cum clamore magno,” &c. (Heb. 5:7).

The shocking blasphemy of Calvin, who says, this loud cry proceeded from despair, on the part of our Lord, is sufficiently refuted by His dying words, so full of sweetness and calm resignation, “in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.”

The seven last words of our Redeemer on the cross are—1. “Father, forgive them,” &c. (Luke 23:34). 2. “Amen, I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). 3. “Woman, behold thy son; son, behold thy mother” (John 19:26, 27). 4. “Eli, Eli,” &c., here. 5. “I thirst” (John 19:28). 6. “It is consummated.” 7. “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46).

47. St. Jerome understands this of the Roman soldiers, who, having heard from the Jews that Elias was to return at the coming of the Messiah, ignorant of the Syro-Chaldaic idiom, imagined our Redeemer was calling on Elias, when He exclaimed, “Eli, Eli,” &c.; and this derives probability from the fact, that it was the Roman soldiers that gave Him the vinegar (Luke 23:36). Should it refer to the Jews, St. Jerome is of opinion, that they, intentionally perverting our Lord’s words, in derision of His claims to be the Messiah, affected to think He called on Elias, for the purpose of attributing weakness to Him, in calling on Elias to come to His aid.

48. St. John (19:28) gives the connexion between this and the foregoing. He says, that our Redeemer, in order “that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” viz., the words of the Psalmist, “in siti mea aceto me potaverunt” (Psa. 68:22), said, “I thirst.” Such thirst was the natural effect of the exquisite tortures He had been enduring—of the almost entire effusion of His sacred blood. He had, morever, tasted nothing from the preceding evening, and He was parched from continual journeyings, watching, and afflictions. The words convey to us His ardent thirst for the salvation of souls. A vessel of vinegar was usually at hand on occasion of crucifixion, according to some, for the purpose, in case of fainting, of reviving the exhausted vital spirits of the sufferers. In the present instance, it is maintained that the vinegar was given by the Roman soldiers, not only for the purpose of deriding Him (Luke 23:36), as mock King of the Jews, but also, for the purpose of torturing Him with the bitter draught which caused still greater thirst, and of prolonging His tortures. Others maintain, that it was rather for the purpose of accelerating His death the vinegar was given, as vinegar has the effect of penetrating and instilling its virulence into all the wounds and members of the body, and thus accelerating death. The Roman soldiers were anxious for this, as the day was far gone, and the hour for dinner long past.

One of them,” the soldiers (Luke 23:36), “took a sponge, and filed it with vinegar.” There was a vessel of vinegar placed there (John 19:29). The “sponge,” which absorbed the fluid, was more convenient for ministering a drink than a vessel would be, to one raised aloft. He could suck out of the sponge the fluid it absorbed. “And put it on a reed.” St. John (19:29) tells us, the “reed” was a stalk of hyssop, around which they fastened the sponge. A certain kind of “hyssop” grows longer in the East than with us. This was sufficiently long to reach, with the outstretched hand of a man, the mouth of our Redeemer, suspended on the cross.

49. “And the others said: Let be, let us see,” &c. The meaning of “let be” is, hold, be easy, disregarding everything else, “let us see,” &c. The words, “let be,” is read in the singular here, “sine,” as if addressed by the bystanders and soldiers to the man who gave him the bitter potion, as if to say, cease from giving Him vinegar, which may accelerate His death before Elias comes, who may find Him dead on his arrival; or, in the opinion of those who hold, that the vinegar had rather the effect of prolonging life, stay, do not prevent Him from being refreshed with vinegar, in order that, by prolonging His life, we may “see whether Elias will come,” &c. In consequence of the phenomena which accompanied our Redeemer’s death, they doubt whether He was not the Messias, whose precursor, both Jews and Christians believed Elias to be; and this the Roman soldiers, most likely, heard from the Jews. St. Mark (15:36) employs the words, “stay ye,” in the plural, sinite, as if addressed to the bystanders by the soldier who administered the vinegar. Likely, both versions are true. The soldier addressed the bystanders, and they, in turn, addressed him, according to the meaning already assigned. Some even understand the words to mean, “stay,” that is, keep aloof, leave Him alone, as it is only when alone, Elias who would not come in a crowd, will approach Him. This potion was different from that in verse 34; both were given in different circumstances.

50. “With a loud voice,” which was preternatural; since, a man’s voice on the point of expiring, fails and becomes weak. But, in the case of our Lord, His voice was preternaturally and miraculously restored. And He cried out “with a loud voice,” to show the perfect voluntariness of His death; and that it took place, not through any failure of the powers of nature. “He had power to lay down His life, and power to take it up again” (John 10:18); and also to show, that He was God, which the centurion inferred from this fact (Mark 15:39). St. Luke (23:46) tells us, He uttered, with a loud voice, the words, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” as if to say, He deposited His soul with Him, because He was to resume it again. St. John (19:30) tells us, “And bowing down His head, He gave up the ghost.” He bowed down His head before giving up the ghost, which is done by all other men after expiring, to show He did so voluntarily, and not from any infirmity. “He commends His spirit,” as a deposit, into the hands of His Heavenly Father, from whom He is shortly to receive it back, to be united to His body at the Resurrection.

51. “And behold.” St. Augustine observes, that “behold” shows these things to have happened, in consequence of and after the death of Christ; hence, what St. Luke states (23:45) is mentioned by anticipation. “The veil of the temple.” Josephus tells us (Lib. 5 de Bel. Jud., c. 5), that there were two veils in the temple—the one, before the Holy place or Sanctum; the other, before the Sanctum Sanctorum. It is not agreed among the ancients which of these two veils was rent in two. The words of St. Paul to the Hebrews (10), would add weight to the opinion which understand it of the inner veil; and this was properly, “THE veil.” Various reasons are assigned for this. Besides the general reason affecting all these prodigies that occurred at the death of Christ, viz., that they had for object to show His power and Divinity, and to show forth the detestation of Jewish barbarity towards the Son of God, there are special reasons assigned also, and among these, as regards the rending of the veil, is, that it was meant to show, by a very bold figure of speech, that the temple could not stand the shocking impiety practised towards its Lord and Master, and that it manifested its horror by rending its garments, in imitation of the Jewish people on occasions of impiety, and especially of blasphemy. It was also mystically meant, to teach us that the mysteries of the law, hitherto concealed before the coming of Christ, were now clearly made known to us, by the faith secured to us through the death of Christ; and also to show us, that the road to heaven, the true sanctuary, typified by the Sanctum Sanctorum, was now opened to mankind, by His death (Heb. 9:8).

And the earth quaked.” This was meant to show the Divinity of our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven and earth. He it was that caused this quaking of the earth, in virtue of His Divine power, of which the earthquake is a striking indication. It also meant, as did the splitting of the rocks, to mark the natural horror which all creatures felt at the shocking crime of the Jews, and their sympathy with the Lord of creation in His barbarous sufferings. The quaking of the earth is sometimes employed in Scripture, to denote the anger of the Almighty. (Psa. 17, &c.) It is the opinion of some, that this was the same as the earthquake which happened in the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, the greatest on record. It is mentioned by Pliny and Macrobius. The latter tells us, it destroyed no less than twelve cities in Asia. Origen and others, however, maintain, that the present earthquake went no farther than the Temple of Jerusalem, and the portions mentioned in SS. Scriptures, viz., the veil, the rocks, the tombs, &c.; and they seem to think the confining of the earthquake to Jerusalem and the temple, &c., would more clearly indicate, beforehand, the destruction of the Jewish temple and worship, in punishment of Jewish impiety, in crucifying the Lord of glory.

And the rods were rent.” St. Cyril (Catechesi 13) tells us, traces of this are visible in Calvary to the present day. Shaw, the Oriental traveller, tells us, after minutely examining everything on Calvary, that the aperture in the rock on Calvary is a miracle, which must inspire one with feelings of religious awe and wonder. Millar, in his history of the Propagation of Christianity, states, that a Deist was converted on seeing that the fissures in the rock were contrary to what takes place in ordinary earthquakes, as these immense fissures were not according to the veins and weakest parts of the rock. These extraordinary events, which could not be considered fortuitous, indicate the atrocity of Jewish impiety, the anger of God, the Divinity of our Lord, the hard, stony hearts of His crucifiers, who stood unmoved, while the very rocks were melted unto pity.

52. “And the graves were opened,” in virtue of the efficacy of the death of Christ, who, though crucified, was the Lord of life and death, who conquered death, and restored life to man. Whether the graves were opened immediately on the death of Christ, or only after His resurrection, is disputed. Some maintain, that the graves were now opened, in order to show that it was done, in virtue of Christ’s Passion; but, that it was only after our Lord’s resurrection, the dead arose; because it was meet, that He who was the first-born among the dead, “the first-fruits of them that sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), should be the first to rise, and then others after Him. Others, who cannot see the meaning of graves opening, without the dead arising, maintain, that it was only after the resurrection the graves were opened. So that the entire of these two verses (52–53), are affected by the words (v. 53), “after His resurrection.” But, that St. Matthew records the events mentioned in this verse by anticipation, in connexion with the death of Christ; because, it was in virtue of the merits of His death, they occurred.

Many bodies of the saints”—reanimated and reunited to their souls—“arose,” from the slumbers of the tomb, to enter on an immortal life. It is most likely, that these never again returned to the tomb; but, that they were brought by our Lord into heaven, as so many trophies to grace the triumph of His ascension. This is the common opinion of modern commentators. Nor are the words of St. Paul (Heb. 11:40) opposed to this, as there reference is made to the laws affecting the General Resurrection of all; here, to a special and exceptional privilege.

53. The Evangelist mentions, by anticipation, the events of this verse and the preceding; because, they belong to the prodigies having immediate connexion with the death of Christ.

The Holy City,” Jerusalem, so long consecrated to the true worship of God, where stood His holy Temple; and although now polluted by the crimes of the Jews, still, it was, hitherto, the seat of His religion, consecrated by the presence and miracles of the Son of God, and the mysteries of His life, death, and resurrection. In it, was accomplished the work of Redemption; and from it, the Gospel of Salvation was sent forth into the entire earth.

They came into the Holy City”—the graves being outside the walls—“and appeared to many,” to those witnesses alone pre-ordained by God; to those whose faith it was important to have confirmed, as our Lord Himself appeared not to all the people, but to His Apostles, &c. Who these “saints,” thus raised to life, were, cannot be known for certain. It is most likely, they belonged to that class who had some peculiar relation to Christ, either of descent, or promise, or type, or hope, or faith, or chastity, or sanctity, such as Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Melchisedech, David, Job, Jonas, Moses, Josue, Samuel, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechial, and the other prophets; and, most likely, some of them belonged to those, who lately died in sanctity and in the faith, such as Simeon, &c. The fact of their having been recognized by their contemporaries, would prove that they were not long dead. However, the ancient Fathers and Prophets might, from certain peculiar qualities, be recognized by the Jews existing at this time, and especially, by the favoured persons, those “many” to whom they appeared. The object of their resurrection was, doubtless, to show that the power of the grave was destroyed by the life and immortality purchased for us by Christ; and thus to serve as a pledge of the General Resurrection; and also to be the associates, witnesses, and heralds of His resurrection.

54. “The centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus.” St. Mark (15:39) says, “The centurion who stood over against Him, having seen the earthquake and the things that were done,” viz., the darkness, splitting of the rocks, &c.; but especially seeing that He gave up the ghost, loudly crying out in this manner (Mark, ibidem), “were greatly afraid,” lest the vengeance which they felt assured, God would inflict for the murder of His Son, would, in the first instance, fall on themselves, as His executioners. St. Luke says (23:47), “The centurion … glorified God,” by his faith and confession of the truth, “saying: Indeed this was a just man.” St. Mark (15:39), “Indeed this man was the Son of God.” It is very likely, the centurion and the soldiers said both, viz., that He was a “just man,” unjustly punished; nay, what He proclaimed Himself to be, “truly the Son of God,” whose Divinity these wonderful events proclaimed.

They heard the Jews say, our Lord was crucified for proclaiming Himself the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Hence, seeing the wonders wrought in attestation of it, they at once proclaim Him to be what He said He was, viz., the natural Son of God. These may be regarded as the earliest among the Gentiles, whom the merits of Christ’s Passion and His grace reached, and also the first-fruits of Christ’s prayer on the cross for His persecutors. St. Luke (23:48) assures us, that not only the Roman centurion and his associates, but also that “all the multitude who came together to that sight and saw the things that were done, returned striking their breasts,” partly from feelings of sorrow and detestation of the horrid deed now perpetrated, in which they had concurred; and partly, from fear of the vengeance it would entail. These might be regarded, as shadowing forth the conversion of the Jews, which took place especially at the following Pentecost. There is no mention made of the Chief Priests becoming converted, or being any way affected by the death of Christ.

55. “And there were many women afar off,” that is, viewing our Redeemer’s sufferings from a distance, as the Greek words (ἀπὸ μακρόθεν) signify. That the Blessed Virgin was among those present and near the cross, we learn from St. John (19:25); so near that our Redeemer could address her. Very likely, the women referred to here, may have been sometimes near the cross, and at other times, farther away from it, owing to the soldiers and crowds who came to see the spectacle. These women are here commended for their constancy and love, for having followed Him, and having after the Apostles deserted Him, stood by His cross, witnesses of His patience and meekness, and death—for having followed Him far away from their own country, and for having administered to Him and His, by their personal services and kind offices, and for having out of their own means supplied His wants.

56. “Among whom was Mary Magdalen,” commonly supposed to be the same, of whom mention is made as the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Out of her, our Lord had cast seven devils, and, now, from gratitude for the recovery of health of mind and body, she follows Him unto death. “And Mary, the mother of James and Joseph.” She is called, “Mary of Cleophas,” from her husband, Cleophas. She was the sister of the Blessed Virgin (John 19:25).

And the mother of the sons of Zebedee,” called Salome (Mark 15:40). There were others besides. But these are specially mentioned as being the most remarkable in their pious offices to our Blessed Lord. Moreover, these remained for His sepulture, when the others went away. It is very probable, that St. John took the Blessed Virgin away from the scene of sorrow immediately after the death of her beloved Son. St. Luke says (23:49), “And all His acquaintance, and the women … stood afar off.” From this it appears, that some men also were there, as contradistinguished from the “women.” Thus were verified the words of the Psalmist, “amici mei et proximi mei … et qui juxta me erant, de lunge steterunt.”

The words, “all His acquaintance,” are not meant to convey, that all His acquaintance were there even at a distance, but only that such as were recognizable there—and St. John is the only one of whom express mention is made in the Gospel—were at a distance, and this latter is to be understood in a comparative sense. They were at a distance, compared with the soldiers and the crowd that were insulting Him; but, still near enough to witness His sufferings and hear His voice whenever He spoke. Here in due order of narrative should be inserted some occurrences mentioned by St. John only, in the history of our Lord’s Passion (John 19:31–37).

57. “When it was evening,” when evening approached, shortly before sunset; for, as the Sabbath commenced at sunset, they could, then, take no active steps towards taking down from the cross, or burying the body of Jesus.

There came a certain rich man,” &c. This is mentioned, because, no poor or humble man could approach the Roman Governor on such a business. “Of Arimathea.” He was a native of this place, or sprung from it, although it is thought he resided at Jerusalem, as appears from his having hewed “his own monument out of rock,” &c. (v. 60.) Arimathea was a town of Judea which St. Jerome tells us was the same as “Ramathaim Sophim” (1 Kings 1), eighteen or twenty miles north-west of Jerusalem. “Named Joseph.” This minute description gains greater credit for the narrative. It was a name celebrated in the history of the people of God, rendered specially illustrious by the Patriarch, Joseph, the son of Jacob; and another Joseph, still more illustrious, the foster-father of the Son of God. “Who also himself was a disciple of Jesus.” This accounts for the pious solicitude manifested by him to have the honour of sepulture paid our Redeemer, and to have Him rescued from the ignominy of having His sacred remains cast into the common receptacle of malefactors and criminals. St. John (19:38) tells us, “he was a disciple, but in private for fear of the Jews;” he was “a noble counsellor” (St. Mark 15:43); “a senator, a just and good man” (Luke 23:50, 51), “who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.” Being a “counsellor,” βουλευτης, or, decurio, which in the Provinces of Rome, designated a municipal honour equal to that of Senator at Rome. He belonged to the Sanhedrin, and, most likely, attended the Council that sat in judgment on our Blessed Lord, but he “did not consent to their counsel and doings” (Luke 23:51). To him may be applied, in a special manner, the words of the Psalmist, “beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum”—“he had been expecting the kingdom of God,” which means, that he firmly believed Jesus to be the Messiah, whose coming he had ardently longed for.

58. “He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus.” St. Mark (15:43) observes, that he did this courageously, or “boldly,” to convey to us the spirit of fortitude with which God, on this occasion, endowed him who hitherto was only “in private a disciple of Jesus,” from feelings of fear. He begged our Redeemer’s body, for the purpose of honourable interment, and to have it removed from the bodies of the common herd of malefactors, thus fulfilling the words of Scripture, “erit sepulchrum ejus gloriosum.” St. Mark informs us, that Pilate wondered that He should be dead so soon (for sometimes persons crucified lived for some time, nay, for two days, on the cross); and that he sent for the centurion, to know if it were so, and having been assured of it by the centurion, who guarded Him, he gave the body to Joseph, or, as it is here, “he commanded the body to be delivered.” All this was brought about by God’s overruling providence, in order that there would be no room for questioning or cavilling about the truth of our Redeemer’s death, or the reality of His resurrection from the dead. Pilate wished, by this, to make some atonement for the crime of condemning to death an innocent person; and, most likely, Joseph pleaded his well-known innocence as a reason for obtaining His body, in order to secure for it the rights of decent sepulture. “To be delivered,” that is, given back. For, Pilate himself gave Him to His executioners, and now he demands Him back.

59, 60. “Taking His body” (“down,” from the cross, Mark, Luke), “wrapt it up in a clean linen cloth,” which he bought for the purpose (Mark 15:46), which was, therefore, not only clean, but quite new.

And laid it in his own new monument, which he had hewed out in a rock.” St. John adds, “wherein no man had been yet laid” (John 19:41). The piety of Joseph towards our Blessed Lord, is manifested—1st. By his having taken Him down from the cross; thus, regardless of the censure of his countrymen, who regarded the touch of such a body as a pollution. 2ndly. By his having wrapped it up in fine linen, which he bought for the purpose, and, aided by Nicodemus (John 19:39), perfuming it with spices, composed of “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound,” thus sparing no expense to bestow on Him the honours of a costly burial, bestowed on the rich and noble alone among the Jews. 3rdly. By placing Him, who had not whereon to lay His head during life, and no burial-place at death, in His own new sepulchre, hewn in a rock, in his garden, which was nigh at hand. All this, although intended by Joseph solely to honour his Lord, was, still, arranged by God’s providence, to ensure the faith in His resurrection. For, as no other was laid in the tomb, so, no other could be said to have risen; and, as it was hewed in a solid rock, it could not be said, the disciples took away the body, through any opening in the walls, or by undermining the foundation, or raising the roof of the monument. If such was the piety of these holy men towards the dead body of our Redeemer, how great should not be our respect, reverence, and devotion towards His living, immortal body, which we daily receive in the Blessed and Adorable Eucharist?

And he rolled a great stone to the mouth of the monument, and went his way,” to prevent any violation of the place, or of His body, and to secure the linen and the spices. This was intended by Providence, to insure more firmly the faith of the Resurrection.

61. “The other Mary,” refers to Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (Mark 15:47). “Sitting over against the sepulchre.” That there were more than these two present, is clear from St. Luke (23:55); but these two are specified, because, they were more remarkable, and showed the most sedulous anxiety. These pious women could not be torn from the cross while our Redeemer hung upon it, and, without mingling with the men, who were engaged in depositing His sacred body in the tomb, they remained close enough to the sepulchre to see “how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55), in order, that, after the Sabbath was over, on which no work could be done, they might come back and embalm His body with spices and ointment, which they purchased for the purpose, immediately after He was committed to the tomb (Luke 23:56). From the next chapter, it will be seen that they came back for the purpose of executing their pious intention.

62. “The next day, which followed the day of preparation,” viz., the Sabbath-day. However, the Evangelist does not call it by that name, since, as regarded the Jews, it was anything but a Sabbath, or a day of religious rest. Here, the Chief Priests are silently taxed with inconsistence. Those who heretofore had so often calumniously charged our Lord with a violation of the Sabbath, while performing works of charity and benevolence, make no scruple whatever in going to a Pagan judge, and demanding an armed guard to place them at the tomb, or, in sealing up the tomb and closing it—all operations involving much labour, and not permitted, either by law or tradition. Friday is called “preparation,” or Parasceve, because, on that day, the Jews prepared all things appertaining to food, &c., required on the following day—the Sabbath—on which day, they were not allowed to dress food, kindle a fire, &c. (Exod. 16:23–29).

The Chief Priests,” &c., maddened with rage against Jesus, are not content with persecuting Him even unto death; but, they must follow Him, beyond the grave, destroy His fame, and blot out His name for ever. How admirably these wicked men illustrate the description given of the impious (Isa. 57:20, 21; Job 15:21). The very attempt at guarding against imposture in the case of our Redeemer, not only argues their disregard for the Sabbath, and convicts them of trying, deliberately and knowingly, to stifle the truth of His resurrection, while it deprives them of all pretext for saying, His body was stolen; but, it furnishes the strongest confirmation of the resurrection, “iniquity has lied to itself,” and the words of Scripture illustrated. “There is no wisdom against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30); “He destroys the wisdom of the wise,” &c. In other cases, they might plead innocence; here, they sin inexcusably, against the known truth, and against the Holy Ghost.

63. “We have remembered, that this seducer said,” &c. Lest Pilate should wonder they did not ask for an armed guard before this, they affect forgetfulness of what they had before been aware of; now, affecting to remember it, they wish to adopt precautionary measures. Although our Redeemer referred to His resurrection, on some occasions, in addressing the Jews (Matt. 12:39; John 2:19), still, they did not clearly understand Him; since, He spoke clearly to His Apostles alone on this subject. Hence, it must be from Judas, who betrayed his Master’s secrets, as well as His person, they heard it, or from the general rumour regarding it, which prevailed among the people. Their chief object in this proceeding was to foil, as far as possible, the prediction of Christ, which they feared would be verified on this subject, and the prodigies which occurred at His death served to awaken their apprehensions still more.

That seducer,” the opprobrious epithet they bestowed on the Author of life, and God of all truth.

After three days I will rise again,” that is, three days commenced, or partially accomplished, or, within three days, or, after the third day shall have arrived.

64. The Chief Priests, therefore, ask Pilate to have “the sepulchre guarded until the third day,” that is, the close of the third day. Our Redeemer did not say at what hour He would arise. This explains what they understood by the words, “after three days. For, if the words meant that He would not rise till after three days, there would be no meaning in placing a guard till the term of three days had passed, as His disciples would not think of removing Him till the term specified by Himself had expired. Moreover, the guard should be continued, not until the third day, but after the third day; since, it was only then, in the supposed interpretation, He was to arise.

Lest His disciples come,” &c. This was sheer hypocrisy and pretence. Their object in asking for a guard was, that they would prevent His rising, and, if necessary, to apprehend, or kill Him. For, in reality, they had no fears of His frightened, scattered, timorous disciples, who, if themselves imposed upon, could have no motive in perpetuating the deception, but, rather, every motive in exposing it, and confessing their own error, nor any hopes of succeeding in such an attempt, considering their position among their countrymen. They lacked all the human means of successfully propagating the deception. They had neither eloquence, nor wealth, nor family influence, nor numbers. This the High Priests well knew. Their fear about the disciples was a mere frivolous pretence. Their real motive in asking for a guard, was to prevent our Redeemer’s prediction being verified.

So”—in case they succeeded in persuading the people of the fact of His having risen in accordance with His own prediction on the subject—“the last error shall be worse than the first.” The first error, or imposture, was the teaching of Christ, and particularly His claiming to be the Son of God. This error would be included in that regarding His resurrection; and, moreover, would derive further confirmation from it. Since, His raising Himself from the dead by His own power, in accordance with His prediction, would surely prove His Divinity.

The truth of this would involve Jews and Romans in the odium of having put to death the Author of life, and might serve as an incentive to wars and rebellions; and hence, the “last error” would be worse, in itself, because, it not only contained the former error, but also the most demonstrative proof of it, worse and more pernicious in its consequences, both in regard to Jews and Romans, and in regard to the numbers it would infect, and the difficulty of eradicating it; “worse,” in its extent, as it would extend, not alone to Judea, but to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Thus, these wicked men became prophets of their own disgrace, and of the glory of our Blessed Lord.

65. “You have a guard,” a company of soldiers, already placed at your service, for the crucifixion of this man. You are hereby allowed to use it, for the purpose of watching the sepulchre. The Greek, εχετε, may be rendered in the indicative or imperative, but the Vulgate version—habetis—in the indicative, is the most common, and the best sustained rendering of it. Some expositors (Calmet, &c.), by “guard,” understand a company of soldiers, appointed to guard the temple. But there is no evidence that these could be used for any other purpose. Others understand it, of the band stationed in the Castle of Antonia, for the purpose of quelling any tumult in the city.

Go, guard it as you know,” adopt whatever means you may think prudent and effectual. Pilate thus insinuates, he had no wish to mix himself up any longer in their local and religious concerns.

66. “And they departing,” going to the sepulchre, and bringing with them the appointed guard of soldiers, “made sure the sepulchre with guards,” by placing the necessary guard of soldiers around it. They probably communicated to these soldiers their real or pretended fears, regarding the resurrection of our Blessed Lord. Most likely, they threatened them with the consequences, on the part of the Governor, in case of unfaithfulness; and promised great rewards, in case they proved faithful, until after the allotted time had passed. They, probably, had also instructed them, in case our Redeemer were really to arise, to put Him to death, as they may have formed the same notions of His renewed and immortal life, that they entertained regarding Lazarus, whom they thought to kill, after he was resuscitated from the grave (John 12:10).

Sealing the stone” (σφραγισαντες) with the public seal—“the stone” referred to (v. 60). They thus secured the sepulchre, in two ways, with the public seal, and with a guard of soldiers. Whether this was Pilate’s seal, or that of the High Priests, is disputed. The latter is the more common opinion. St. Chrysostom, however, holds the former. They took these extraordinary precautions against the guard, in case they should be tampered with, and against the disciples also. Darius acted similarly, in regard to Daniel (Dan. 6:17). All these extraordinary precautions, to guard against imposition, only served to render the truth of our Lord’s glorious resurrection more certain and indisputable. Thus, the Almighty turned the devices of His enemies against themselves, “destroying the wisdom of the wise, and rejecting the prudence of the prudent,” and He thus demonstrated that, “there is no wisdom, no prudence, no counsel, against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30).








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