The passion of Christ. 27:27-56


In the passage before us Matthew records the crucifixion of Jesus. The narrative has three parts to it: The mockery of Jesus by the Roman soldiers, v27-31; The hostility of the churchmen and the silent suffering of the servant of the Lord, v32-44; The significance of that suffering and the climactic choice facing those who witness it, v45-56.

The passage

v27-31. Luke tells us that the mocking of Jesus takes place during his trial, whereas Mark and Matthew simplify the sequence of events. The soldiers denigrate Jesus as a mock king. An officer's purple cape serves as a robe, and a palm frond as a crown. The spikes are most likely pointing outward, or upward. With the fun over, Jesus is given back his outer cloak and taken away for crucifixion.

v32-38. Matthew does not dwell on the violence of the crucifixion, but rather the mockery of Jesus and how it illustrates his true person - King of the Jews, Son of God, King of Israel. The site of the crucifixion is possibly that of the church of the Holy Sepulchre just outside the Herodian city wall. The wine and gall (myrrh) was served as a sedative, but Jesus refused it so he could keep his wits about him. Note how the language of these verses follows Psalm 22. The presence of the guards serves to stop any rescue attempt and as was their right, they got to keep the remaining possessions of the executed prisoners. The charge against Jesus serves to deter any others with liberation on their mind. Placing it "above his head" indicates the crucifixion is on a cross rather than a T (the usual arrangement). As for the "robbers", they are probably political revolutionaries, cf. Jn.18:40. So, Jesus was truly "numbered with the transgressors."

v39-44. The psalmist cries out to God in the face of mocking. Here, Israel mocks the true "Son of God". The full weight of religious Judaism joins in the ridiculing of Jesus. "If the just man is God's son, God will stretch out a hand to him and save him from the clutches of his enemies", Wis.2:10-20. Of course, the Father will care for his Son, but the eyes of unbelief will not see it. Even the criminals join in, although Luke tells us that one didn't.

v45-50. Mark tells us that the crucifixion began at the third hour, 9am. Matthew now tells us that at the sixth hour, noon, darkness covered the land. This event continues the Exodus imagery - the darkness over Egypt as a sign of judgement. This event is probably a dust storm, certainly not an eclipse. The darkness continues until Jesus' death at the ninth hour, 3pm. Jesus' cry to the Father in the words of Psalm 22:1, expresses the alienation experienced by him. He is now the rejected one, the cursed one. His death as a "ransom for many", 20:28, may well explain the depth of his experience. The crowd wonders - will Elijah come and inaugurate the kingdom? One individual even acts in kindness and gives Jesus a drink, while the crowd tells him not to interfere. Finally, Jesus breaths his last with a loud cry. John tells us he cried "it is finished."



v51-53. In a symbol of God's judgement, an earthquake (e.g. Joel 3:16), accompanies Jesus' death. The ripping of the curtain before the Holy of Holies carries both the symbol of judgement upon Israel and an opened access into the presence of God. Even the graves of the dead are shaken with apparitions imaging the resurrection in the last day, and looking on, a soldier affirms that "this man was God's Son!"

v54-56. A believing band, countering the mocking crowd, proclaims the proper theological interpretation of the events: The Messiah has come; the kingdom is now.

Christ forsaken

Mel Gibson's "Passion of Christ" will remain a standard for years to come in portraying the events of the crucifixion of Jesus. It's a beautiful film that strives for historical accuracy. Yet it has one major flaw.

A friend of mine, who saw the film, was not impressed. He's not a churchie, but definitely a seeker. Anyway, he didn't like the film. He was quite put off by the violence. In fact, he felt it was an attempt at self-flagellation, a return to the dark ages, a return to monastic ritual floggings. I guess I wouldn't have noted his criticism if it weren't for the fact that I have heard others make the same point.

The truth is, Matthew actually down-plays the violence. If we want to wind it up we are forced to make much of the soldier's "fun" with Jesus, but there is no evidence that it was excessively violent. How is it that Matthew down-plays the violence of the cross while we accentuate its blood and the gore?

There can be no suggestion that crucifixion is a humane form of execution. Yet, the focus for Matthew is on Christ forsaken, not Christ persecuted. For the small group of disciples who witnessed the crucifixion that day, well they could say with Martin Luther, "Christ forsaken for me."


1. If the church, the fellowship of believers, is the "servant of the Lord", what lesson, in the face of mockery and false accusation, can we learn from Jesus' crucifixion? Should we be silent in the face of injustice.

2. The crucifixion, with its Old Testament allusions, serves as the fulfillment of the age - "the time is fulfilled." Identify the consequences that Matthew sees flowing from this event.

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