In Your Kingdom

Tom Nettles
| Matthew 27:41-52 | May 15, 2017

I. Setting the Scene – Verse 32-38

A. Making it to the top of the Hill – 32, 33: The physical trauma to which Jesus had been subjected left him virtually without strength. Perhaps his executioners realized he could not shoulder the cross-beam all the way up the hill, but they found a man who had come into town, Simon of Cyrene. Mark identifies him as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Is it possible that Rufus is the Christina mentioned in Romans 16:13, and that Simon and his family were converted as a result of this unexpected encounter?

B. An attempt to anesthetize – 34: One element of the crucifixion that constituted the totality of suffering that Jesus must endure would be the subjection to physical pain. That is most assuredly a part of the just wrath experienced by the sons of darkness in hell; so, Jesus must endure that for the people given to him by the Father. For their sake he set himself apart (John 17:17) and would not stop short without paying the last farthing. He could not take anything to anesthetize his physical pain until the price was paid.

C. Dividing the Spoil – 35, 36: According to John, each soldier was able to get one-fourth of the personal attire of which Jesus had been stripped. His tunic, however, woven in one piece from top to bottom they would not tear, so they cast lots to take possession of it. That which was a game of mere chance to them was the fulfillment of a verse of Psalm 22:18 to which Jesus himself will draw attention later. That which appears to be virtually an afterthought, and completely fortuitous among men was decreed by God to serve as evidence that, indeed, this one was the suffering servant.

D. Making the charge clear – 37: The full sign above his head said “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews. It was in three languages which, among other reasons commentators have suggested, could account for the slight verbal differences in the report, with John giving the exact Greek words, Matthew, pointing to the Hebrew, and Luke the Latin. Mark just summarizes the main accusation. The gospel of John gives the account of the objection the Jewish leaders made to Pilate’s wording (John 19:20-22).

E. Giving Him Company – 38: It seems that after Jesus was fastened by large nails to the cross, two robbers were placed on either side of him. The word used to describe them is the word John used to describe Barabbas (John 18:40). He also was guilty of rebellion and murder and, according to Mark, had been “chained with his fellow rebels” (Mark 15:7). These two robbers, therefore, probably were companions of Barabbas in robbery, rebellion and murder. Their leader had been released, and now, in his stead, Jesus was nailed to a cross beside them.

II. Continuity of Derision – Verse 39-44

A. Passers-by cannot resist their low-minded ridicule – 39, 40

  1. Their physical actions were like haughty adolescents, emphasizing their cynicism with wagging heads. It is hard to imagine the pure, holy, righteous, Son of God becoming an object of sport. “He was despised and we did not esteem him” Isaiah 53:3).
  2. They hurled against him one of the charges brought by false witnesses at his trial before the Sanhedrin, that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. If he could perform such an extraordinary task, why could he not save himself from this moment? All soon would know that he would restore a destroyed temple in three days.
  3. Under oath to the high priest, Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God. This immediately brought the charge of blasphemy. This taunt sounds much like the temptation from Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 3:3, 6). Certainly as Son of God he should flaunt the glory of his deity; he should do something extraordinary like suspend the natural laws that bind him by nails through his flesh to the cross. His saving grace, however, countered the sarcastic suggestions.
  • He had emptied himself of the display of the glory of his deity and had taken the form of a servant. He did not count his equality with God a thing to be constantly employed as a self-serving reservoir for rescue. He was on the cross as the Son of God in obedience to an eternal covenant and precisely his faithfulness to his Father kept him on the cross.
  • Had he come down from the cross the entire purpose of his incarnation would have been lost. To save himself, would be to lose his purpose.

B. Religious ridicule – verses 41-43: The chief priests, scribes, and elders join the rabble with their mocking. They have contrived this entire event, so they think, and from their standpoint they have won the long battle waged against Jesus of Nazareth. While the crowd seemed to address Jesus directly with their taunts, these religionists only speak about him not to him. They talk about him in front of him without addressing him directly.

  1. “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” They probably referred to the many acts of healing and other compassionate engagements with the crowds. They knew of his opening the ears of the deaf and the eyes of the blind and loosing the tongues of the mute. They knew of his giving life to the dead, most recently Lazarus. But he cannot save himself; that is true. For if he had saved himself, he would lose his ability to continue to save others.
  2. That morning he had claimed, in their company, to be the Messiah. Now they repeat the claim as a sarcastic assertion, and perhaps point to the inscription above his head. Since they could not have it changed, they will throw it in his teeth. How would they believe such a claim? His coming down from the cross would make them believe him, but would forever make belief ineffective for salvation. They could believe his claims were true if he proved his prerogatives as a king of power, but they would have no redeemer in which to believe, no atonement for the cleansing of sin.
  3. They now show their overflow of resentment that he had claimed God as his Father in a special sense. Surely, they reason, God will deliver him if, as he claims, he is the Son of God. Unconsciously, they fulfilled the very words of the messianic prophecy in Psalm 22:8, in arguing that if God is so delighted with this one who claims to be his Son, why does he not now deliver him? Because “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5).

C. The Robbers ridicule: The companions of Barabbas, having heard all of this join the chorus of ridicule.

  1. We learn in Luke 23:39-43 that one of these stopped his taunting and made an appeal to Jesus. With only the faint hope of “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” we find that this malefactor received Jesus’ true kingship, realized that this death was the path to that kingship, and that its inhabitants were the recipients of undeserved mercy. The work of salvation, so maligned and ridiculed, took place in the life of a murdering, rebellious, robber during the hours of Jesus’ suffering. He was literally at that moment taking away the sins of the world. So determined is the Father to save his elect, that he saw to it that one of them was nailed within ten feet of the Savior a few hours before he was to enter into eternity.
  2. Even beyond the hope of the penitent, Jesus said, “Today” (Luke 23:43). When you pass from this cross in death, you will be among the spirits of just men made perfect, and more than that, with me in the presence of the Father. You will not wait for a further cleansing but my work for you even in this moment is perfect and will usher all the children of grace before the throne and into the glorious beauty, harmony, fellowship, and love of the holy residence of God himself.

III. Well Might the Sun in darkness Hide – Verse 45-50

A. For three hours, from noon until 3:00 in the afternoon darkness covered the Land.

  1. This was definitely a supernatural darkness. This was the time of the full moon at Passover, so the moon is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun and could not cause an eclipse. Christ, the great creator, dies for man, the creature’s, sin.
  2. Jesus had felt the increasing encroachment of divine wrath for some time, at least since immediately following the triumphal entry (John 12:27). During these hours was probably the time of the most intense, unrelenting, outpouring of propitiatory vengeance, giving his life as a ransom for many. These were the hours in which God demonstrated his righteousness that he might be just and yet justify those who have faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-26).

B. Near the end Jesus Cried Out – The words that Matthew records are those of Jesus’ quote of Psalm 22:1- “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

  1. The Aramaic expression employed the word “why” that asks for a demonstration of the end or final purpose of the abandonment.
  2. As eternal Son of God, Jesus could not be separated from the love of his Father and would continually have his existence from the eternal generation arising from the Father. As Son of Man, however, in his true humanity, his serving as a substitute, bearing our sins, making reconciliation, paying our ransom, being set forth as a propitiation, Jesus did not have any of the slightest mercies even of common grace in this time. The experience of divine wrath was the experience of hell. Those blessings indicated in the Aaronic blessing by the Lord’s lifting up his countenance upon us and giving us peace (Number 6:24-26), was not a favor enjoyed by our substitute in these hours. Truly the Father turned his face away, so that he would not turn his face away from those that the Son redeemed during this time of forsakenness (Psalm 22:22-24).
  3. Misunderstanding the Aramaic, some bystanders thought he called for Elijah. If this were the Christ, then Elijah would come, so they thought, for his presence was to precede the Messiah’s acknowledgement. Elijah already had come, figuratively in the ministry of John the Baptist, and literally on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:10-13).

C. Jesus received the sour wine – John records that Jesus, “knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28). Before it was accomplished, he would not soothe his pain in any way. But now he received even the slightest act of kindness. Note that this unnamed person “ran and took a sponge.” He did it with haste, and Jesus responded.

D. Jesus died – This is an active surrender of life on the part of Jesus. He “yielded up his spirit.” As is the case in any human death, his body remained now lifeless, for the spirit was gone. Having already made his descent into hell during the hours on the cross, now he went, in his human spirit, into the presence of the Father to await the resurrection of his body given new and glorious life when rejoined by his spirit no longer subjected to condescension and humiliation. Prior to his giving up the spirit, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

IV. To What End Indeed! – Verses 51-56

A. Three immediate answers concerning the purpose of his death

  1. The veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. No longer was access to the holy place barred. The writer of Hebrews probably has this even in mind when he noted, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22).
  2. There was an immediate resurrection. “Many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” This was not, of course, the final resurrection but an evidence given by God of the full power of the substitutionary death of Christ. The exact order and nature of these events does not seem clear in the connections of the various phrases.
  • Who were they? Either these were Old Testament saints such as Abel, Job, Sarah, Habakkuk, Malachi , or others. Perhaps they were a set-apart remnant of Jews who had believed during the life time of Jesus such as Simeon, Anna, Joseph, Elizabeth, or John the Baptist, or many unnamed persons that had believed during the lifetime of Jesus and were now dead.
  • When were they raised? The tombs opened at the time of the earthquake making way for the exit of a person. Did their resurrection occur immediately and their appearance in Jerusalem only follow the resurrection of Christ? Or did the tombs open immediately, and then only after the resurrection of Christ they also were raised?
  • Was this a resurrection in a glorified body, or only a resuscitation like that of Lazarus (John 11) or the daughter of the ruler (Matthew 9:23-26).
  1. These events would lead to confession that Jesus is the Son of God. Having affixed the sign placarding the charge, having heard, the ridicule and observing the demeanor of Jesus, having hear the conversation with John and Mary, and having observed the transformation of the robber and Jesus’ reception of him, the soldiers came to affirm that his claim was true. Luke 23:47 includes the words, “Surely this was a righteous man.” His integrity, his compassion, his patience, his turmoil of soul combined with the claim made them draw the conclusion that Jesus told the truth and that his entire demeanor, combined with the convulsions of nature, proved his claim.

B. Watchful Women – Among the “many women” who followed Jesus to the cross and kept watch all during these events (while the disciples forsook him and fled, except for the brief appearance of John with Jesus’ mother – John 19:26f), were Mary Magdalene (“out of whom had come seven demons” Luke 8:2), another Mary who was the mother of one of the disciples—James the less–, and the mother of John and James, sons of Zebedee. These women had ministered to all the disciples, had provided support for their itinerant ministry, were convinced of the truth of Jesus’ claims and would not leave him during this horrific end. One may wonder what the mother of John and James was thinking now about her request for her sons to be on the left and right hands of Jesus “in his kingdom.” This apparent loss of all things constituted the most powerful moment of triumph for the establishing the redemptive kingdom of the Savior/King.