crown of thorns33. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull,

Since dead bodies or blood defiled a place ceremonially, any time a dead body was buried or blood was spilled (in the sense that a person was killed there) on a piece of land, that land became infamous for being an unclean place. Apparently someone had found a skull in this very place where Jesus was crucified, and thus the place came to be called “Place of a Skull” to warn all Israelites that that place was unclean. Since it was an unclean place already, it was an ideal place for the Romans to crucify prisoners without angering the Jews.

34. they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.

There are several times during the events surrounding His crucifixion when such drinks are offered to him. Some like to confuse them, as they do many other things in the gospels, but let us not do so. Let us examine them, so that we can determine the differences between them and work out an order and an idea of what happened.

1.) Matthew 27:34. Jesus and the soldiers have just arrived at Golgotha with Simon the Cyrenian carrying His cross. Christ is offered wine mixed with gall by the soldiers. We do not know whether He was given it in a cup or sponge. He tastes it, then refuses to drink it.

2.) Mark 15:23. Jesus and the soldiers have just arrived at Golgotha with Simon the Cyrenian carrying His cross. Christ is offered wine mixed with myrrh by the soldiers. We do not know whether He was given it in a cup or sponge. He refuses to even take it.

3.) Luke 23:36. Jesus has been put on the cross and the soldiers have divided His garments and cast lots for His coat. The soldiers, who are mocking Him, offer Christ sour wine. We do not know how it was offered to Him. We do not know if He accepted it.

4.) Matthew 27:48, Mark 15:36. Jesus has just cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Christ is offered sour wine by one of those who is standing by and has mistakenly supposed that He was calling upon Elijah, indicating that this person did not know Aramaic and therefore is likely not a Jew. He was offered it on a sponge that was lifted up to Him on a reed. We do not know if He drank it or refused it.

5.) John 19:29. Jesus has just realized that all things are accomplished which the Scriptures predicted would happen to Him on the cross. Christ requests drink, and is given sour wine. It was soaked into a sponge that was lifted up to Him upon hyssop. It is put to His mouth, and He receives it.

It will be seen from what is written above that there were five occurrences of drink being offered to Christ, which is the number of grace. Christ is only specifically said to have accepted the final offering, which was the only one He actually requested Himself. Christ is specifically said to have refused two, both of which were offered to Him by the soldiers, and both of which were drugged. Christ would have no drugs to deaden His mind and His senses as He was paying for our iniquities! These three occurrences teach two lessons…that Christ would not accept painkillers until He had finished suffering on behalf of our sins and that, no matter what our intentions, we cannot truly do anything for the Lord until He requests it. The emphasis of the remaining two passages is on the mocking of the soldiers and on the confusion of the bystanders who did not understand His outcry in Aramaic, and so that is the reason we are not told the details of whether He accepted the drinks or not.

35. Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:
“They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.”

Since they divided His garments among them, He was obviously no longer wearing them. One detail of crucifixion was that the victims of this sort of execution were always crucified naked. This was to assure maximum humiliation to those punished this way.

Another prophecy was fulfilled in the dividing of His garments, a prophecy given in Psalm 22:18. More details of this event are given in John.

36. Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.

This way they could be certain that none of His followers would attempt to take Him down. There was nothing about crucifixion that was instantly deadly. Anyone removed from a cross and ministered to could probably have made a full recovery.

37. And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:

The several titles written and the details concerning them is another study. I will go over this in detail when discussing the gospel of John. See if you can figure out the different titles for yourself. Remember, assuming two similar events to be the same is the cause of many of the “discrepancies” which critics of the Scripture use to mock those of us who claim the infallibility of the Holy Scriptures as originally written. If you take careful heed as to what is written, when it is written, and when (or even whether) it is actually placed on the cross, you will see what the truth of all these titles really is.

38. Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

These two “robbers” (Greek “lestai”) who are crucified AFTER He was crucified, the lots had been cast, and the soldiers had sat down, are not the same as the two “malefactors” (Greek “kakourgoi”) who were led to Golgotha WITH Christ and crucified at the same time as He was. Assuming that there was only one group of two men and thus mixing up the malefactors with the robbers has led to much confusion among those who claim to believe Scripture in all things, as BOTH of the robbers are said to have mocked Him, whereas only ONE of the malefactors is said to have mocked Him, while the other one defended Him and asked to be included in His Kingdom (Luke 23: 41-43.) Since the malefactors were crucified with Christ, they would have been crucified near Him and would have been able to have intimate conversations with Him, as this man did. The robbers, however, having been crucified later, would have been on the outside of the malefactors, and would have only been able to mock at Christ from afar, as they are said to have done in this passage (verse 44). If any further proof is needed that five and not three men were crucified at Golgotha that day, one need only note that the soldiers, upon coming to break the legs of the men on the crosses and put an end to their suffering, are said to have broken the legs of TWO MEN before they came to Christ. Now what reasonable person that you know, upon coming to three men lined up on a hill and needing to break their legs, would have broken the legs of the man on one side, bypassed the man in the middle, broken the legs of the man on the other side, and then come back to break the legs of the man in the middle? No, these soldiers went right down the line, first breaking the legs of one of the robbers, then the legs of one of the malefactors, and then they “came to Jesus” (John 19:33), being the One crucified in the middle. Thus, the great “problem” puzzled over by many a Bible scholar is solved by simply paying exacting attention to the order of events and the specific words used to describe these men. In our day of minute attention to detail in all things, how can it be that such facts are so widely unknown and ignored?

39. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads

Crucifixions were considered as sort of an advertisement by the Romans. Their point was to say, “This is what will happen to you if you rebel against Rome or break Rome’s laws!” Thus, crosses would be set up in prominent places, often by the main highways running into and out of major cities. The Lord’s cross was set up on a hillside along the main thoroughfare into and out of Jerusalem. Thus, it was visible to all who were traveling to and from the city. Of these, some who had rejected the Lord Jesus as Christ blasphemed Him in this way.

The fact that they were journeying on this day is not a difficulty. The Passover day itself was not a holiday Sabbath. Rather, the day after the Passover, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was a holiday Sabbath. Thus, travel was permissible on the day after the evening when the Passover meal was eaten, which, remember, was the same day according to the Hebrew time reckoning.

40. and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

The Lord had never claimed that He would do this. They were perverting His words in John 2:19. He never said that He would destroy the temple, but he told them that if THEY destroyed the temple, He would raise it up again in three days. Moreover, He was talking about the temple of His body, not the temple of God in Jerusalem, and those who were present there should have known it. Thus, the people who were mocking at Him thus were not doing so based on real evidence, but merely because of their personal dislike of Him. They were probably people who had rejected the Lord already during His earthly ministry.

41. Likewise the chief priests, also mocking with the scribes and elders, said,

Those who had conspired together to have Him murdered now can’t help but gloat in their handiwork.

42. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.

Of course, they would not have believed Him even then! These words were not sincere, but were sarcasm and mockery.

43. “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Having refused the many signs from God that pointed to the legitimacy of the Lord and His claims, they now call upon God to save Him from the cross if He is really the Son of God. Of course, God did not listen to their taunting. He had a plan for Christ upon that cross, and He wasn’t about to change His plan just to show up these wicked and hateful men.

44. Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

Making fun of someone else is a common way that people have of forgetting their own misery. That is what these robbers resorted to here, joining with the chief priests, scribes, and elders in their mockery. No doubt if we were in such a situation, we would have been tempted to be bitter against such men and wish them a similar fate to ours. But then, we are not yet like Christ. And He asked God that all these men be pardoned.

45. Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.

Remember, the Israelites counted their days as beginning as daylight began, which would be about six in the morning. So the sixth hour until the ninth hour would be somewhere from the 11:00 hour until the 2:00 hour, the very brightest time of the day when the sun is directly overhead. For darkness to be over the land at this time is unusual indeed, and was the most definite sign that something very significant was taking place.

That would have been something to see, would it not? Not a cloud in the sky, and yet darkness covers the land! I wonder what went through the minds of those men who had called for the Lord’s crucifixion? Do you suppose they had even an inkling of the true cause of that darkness? I suppose that they did not. But the truth was that, in the midst of that darkness, the Son of God was paying for the sins of the world!

46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

As this period of darkness draws to a close, the Lord cries out these words from Psalm 22:1. They are thought to be so significant that Matthew actually quotes them for us in the original language in which He spoke them, the Aramaic. Then, though, we have translated for us what they mean. It seems that, in that incredible darkness, the Son of God was forsaken by His Father. Perhaps this was necessary as He took the sin of the world upon Himself, for God cannot be stained with sin. Yet, forsaken or not, Christ never ceased to be God Himself. Though the rest of the trinity may have turned away from Him, His place in the divine Godhead even at this terrible moment cannot be denied.

47. Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”

Some of those who stood there, obviously Greek-speakers who did not know how to speak Aramaic, mistook His words, “Eli, Eli,” as a being a call for Elijah, “Elias” in Greek. They cannot have merely been unable to understand Him, for it is stated that He “cried out with a loud voice.” They tried to decipher His words, and made this assumption that He called for Elijah. They were wrong, of course, for the Lord was not calling upon Elijah, but rather was bemoaning His current position in the sight of the Father.

48. Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave it to Him to drink.

Here is another of the offerings of drink, as I listed above. This time what is given Him is vinegar. This was to help quench His thirst. Perhaps the one who brought this thought that He must be delirious to call on an old-time prophet for help, and that liquid might help Him recover His senses. Yet what a cruel offering this was, for although it was liquid that was offered Him, it was the bitter drink vinegar that He was given to quench His thirst. There was no mercy for those who were put on a cross. Even a “kindness” like this had to be ultimately a mockery.

49. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”

They were probably thinking of Malachi 4:5 and the promised return of Elijah. Remember, he is one of those whom the Old Testament tells us was taken up to heaven and never died. His return to earth was prophesied by Malachi, and these people thought that perhaps the Lord was calling for this to happen.

50. Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit.

From other gospels (Luke 23:46,) we know what He said. “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Notice that He is not killed, but He actually wills Himself dead. This was what He meant when He claimed that no man would take His life, but that He would lay it down of Himself.

51. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,

Since it was torn from top to bottom, and this was a huge curtain (some speculate a foot thick!) it is obvious that nothing other than a miracle of supernatural power could have torn it. The lesson is that now through the blood of the One Who had just laid down His life for the sins of many access is made available to the Most Holy Place to those who are justified by His sacrifice. Yet notice that this access did not extend to all. This curtain was that which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Those who were not even allowed into the Holy Place, like the Gentiles, still had no access into the Holy of Holies.

52. and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;

Just as the tearing of the curtain in the temple symbolized the fact that access to the temple was now opened up to those who would not have had access otherwise under the old Mosaic law, so this resurrection symbolizes the fact that death is now conquered and that release from the penalty of death and resurrection to new life was made possible through the death of this One Who had given His life for the sins of others.

53. and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

This resurrection is an amazing event, and yet it barely seems to be mentioned anywhere else! It may be that there are references to it in passages such as John 5:25 and Romans 1:4. The biggest question, of course, is whether those resurrected, after they had “appeared to many” as is stated here, went home and continued living their lives where they had left off, or whether they ascended to Heaven and live there now. I would tend to assume the former, but since we are not told either way, we can only speculate.

54. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

This Roman centurion and the other soldiers with him cannot help but be moved by the miraculous events associated with the death of this man. They realize that this must have been more than a mere man who had just died on the cross. Yet the Greek would indicate only a belief in A Son of God, not necessarily THE Son of God. I do not think we can ascribe to these superstitious Romans a knowledge of the true God, although it is, of course, not impossible, since they were living in the land of Israel.

55. And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar,
56. among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Here we are told of these faithful women standing by. We learn in Luke 8:2-3 that it was actually the women who were the ones who financially supported Him in His ministry. These faithful female followers of His had not abandoned Him, but were there to watch the final moments of His death on the cross. Contrast this with the men, who had long since run off fearing for their lives.

57. Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.

This faithful man, although he had not been present previously to witness for Christ in the open, was willing to stand up for Him when everyone else had abandoned Him. It would be wise for those who are acting out and up front and loud about their faith to consider this, and not to look down upon the more cautious and less vocal believers in our Lord.

58. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him.

Pilate, it seems, was willing to grant whatever request the followers of the Lord wanted to ask of him. Remember, he had felt that he had been backed into a corner and forced to condemn the Lord by the religious leaders. Thus, he was probably willing to do favors for the Lord’s disciples just to get back at the men who had coerced him into a course of action that he hadn’t wanted to follow.

59. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth.

Those who were crucified were usually taken down from the cross and their bodies were tossed unto the refuse piles of Gehenna in the Valley of Hinnom as a final sign of their disgrace and humiliation. Our Lord, however, was not so treated in death, but rather was given a burial with every symbol of respect that would have been accorded to royalty.

60. and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.

This was no doubt his own tomb, freshly made in preparation for himself and his family whenever the time of death for them might come. Now he makes a gift of his own tomb to the One Whom he had placed his faith in while He yet lived.

61. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

We see that these women followed Him even to the tomb itself. Thus, they knew where it was that He was laid, and thus was set up the subsequent journey of the women to the sepulcher the first day of the week.

62. On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate,

This “day of preparation” was the day of preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when no leaven could be found in any house in Israel. This preparation day was also the same day as the Passover. The day following the preparation was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and was a Sabbath day of rest to the Lord. Even this holiday was not enough to distract the chief priests and Pharisees from their wicked designs concerning the Lord and their enmity against Him. Thus, they gather together to Pilate even on this holiday of the Lord’s.

63. saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’

The word “remember” here in Greek means to be reminded. It seems that someone had brought this prediction of His up, and it had made them worried. Not that they were actually worried that He would rise from the dead, mind you, but rather that someone would fake such a resurrection, and that all their carefully laid plans to discredit and destroy the Lord would come to naught when an even greater error about Him was propagated.

64. “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

This was what they feared, not an actual resurrection. Of course, the disciples were not tricksters and deceivers, and so such a plot probably never entered their minds. However, the chief priests and Pharisees were convinced that Christ was a deceiver, and thus they feared that even in death His deceptions might come back to haunt them. Consider, however, who the real deceivers were, who had laid such a clever plan to eliminate a man who had never done anything but help the sick and outcast and teach the words of God!

65. Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.”

Pilate was no doubt not anxious for anyone to believe that he had had a part in killing anyone who could rise from the dead. Thus, although his relations with the Pharisees weren’t exactly the best at this point, he went along with their plan and granted their request.

66. So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

When guards were placed over a seal, their lives were dependent upon the fact that no one but the one authorized to do so could break that seal. For anyone else to break it meant that their lives were forfeit. They would have to dedicate the rest of their lives to seeking out and destroying those who had broken the seal, and if they failed to catch them, both they and their entire families would be killed in punishment and disgrace. Thus no one would get past these guards if they could possibly help it.

These Pharisees thought that they were very smart. They had done away with Jesus, and now they were making sure that the nails were placed in His coffin for good. Even after His death they would not let Him alone, but wanted to be sure that none disturbed Him. But their carefully laid plans meant nothing in the sight of God! Such it is with the plans of men today. I cannot help but smile when I read about those who have piled rocks before the east gate of Jerusalem, the gate that Christ is to enter when He returns. As if mere rocks could do anything to stop the plans of God! He had a plan in mind for Christ, and nothing the religious leaders could do could possibly put a stop to it.