Matthew 27:1-26 Part 1


In a former sermon we learned that the judgment and sentencing of one who had committed a capital offense had to be reconsidered and confirmed by the Sanhedrin in another session on another day.

And here, right at the beginning of chapter twenty-seven, Matthew lets us in on one of the little hypocritical subtleties in the plot to destroy Jesus.

He says (verse one)… “As the morning watch approached….”  The “morning watch” was at six o’clock.  And, in a sense, a new “day” began at that point.  All of the proceedings so far had happened during the night; and, of course, the entire proceeding had been a  “sham”.

And you remember that Jesus had been apprehended and bound and taken before Annas and Caiaphas… all without first being “charged” with anything!  The trial was at night – in secret (which was against the law).  He had no advocate and no witnesses on His behalf.  While He was standing there before them they were searching for prosecution witnesses who would say something for which He could be charged (and none could be found).

Being absolutely blameless (having committed no wrong), He was accused of blasphemy after correctly quoting the prophecy of Daniel; and He was sentenced to death in a voice vote.  And then, completely outside the pale of the Law, He was treated far worse than most would even think of treating an animal!  And all this is done on the “Dome of the rock” – a figure of the heavenly Judgment-seat of Almighty God.

And now, as we begin chapter twenty-seven, the Sanhedrin pretends to adhere to the law by waiting until six o’clock to meet again and confirm the sentence on another day.

The priests and elders and temple attendants had been up all night (having been assembled at the call of Caiaphas), and these proceedings had taken up much of the night.  It was (maybe) three in the morning; or four in the morning; or five in the morning… when they were done “sporting” with Jesus with their rods and clubs – mocking Him and taunting Him and covering Him with their spit.

And now, having led Him away somewhere (covered with spittle and bruises and welts and cuts), their gross hypocrisy is seen in their “waiting around” – anticipating the “morning watch” (another day) when they could immediately meet again and confirm what they had just done!

As you already know, the critical factor here was the great crowd of people in and around Jerusalem who had followed Jesus from far and wide.  Their numbers were intimidating.  So this had to be done quickly before any of them missed Him or suspected what was happening to Him.  That was why the six o’clock hour was anticipated.

But, at the same time, some appearance of legality had to be maintained!  It didn’t matter what actually went on… as long as there was an “appearance” of propriety.  And that’s the essence of hypocrisy, isn’t it?

That’s why these pharisees wore identifying marks… so the public could see them; that’s why they prayed in busy places; that’s why they made their faces “long” during fasting; it’s why they made a “show” of giving gifts – they did certain things because it looked good.

And although many laws and customs were broken because it was “expedient” (they had to get this trial done and rid themselves of this man Jesus) they still “couched” the whole procedure within some “form” of legality.

We don’t have the time for me to get further into hypocrisy again this morning, considering all we have to do; but, as has been said before, God requires His people to be single-minded, sincere and open!  And when that’s the case then there’s no need for duplicity!  There’s no need for secrecy, and no need for “show”.

The double-minded man, or woman, or child carries around with him a terrible burden – covering up! … “Clothing” his actions or his intents or his agendas in an appearance of innocence.

But that was the “mark” of the pharisees – whom Jesus called whitewashed tombs.  (They looked good on the outside, but there was a rotting corpse on the inside.)  The duplicitous man puts a halo on his own head when he gets up in the morning in order to cover up the guile, and always “covering up guile” is a terrible burden.

In the events in the text this morning the priests and elders of the Sanhedrin provide for themselves the appearance of some sort of legal form (almost laughable as we consider it from Matthew’s text); and they do so by waiting around until the morning watch so they can meet again and confirm all the illegalities that were accomplished during the night.  And all this was to take place because the protection afforded to a condemned man required the death sentence to be confirmed by the Sanhedrin on another day!

But their agenda did not include a reconsideration of the death penalty… their agenda was to get rid of the man!  They adhered to the “form” of legalities, but they had no intention of reconsidering what they had done.  There’s no protection here for the condemned Jesus.  (Remember that former sermon in which we said that it was necessary that Jesus experience the hopelessness of being cast completely outside the pale of the Law.)

Luke chapter twenty-two, verses sixty-six through seventy-one says that Jesus was quickly reexamined (all for the purpose of the appearance of legality); He reaffirmed that He was the Son of God; and that was declared sufficient to confirm what they had done before six o’clock!  He was condemned to death and then sent over to Pilate (verse two).

Now, as you may remember from previous comments about the history of these times, there had been great turbulence in this tiny (but important) Roman province.  There were active movements within the population ranging across the spectrum from outright sedition and insurrection all the way to complete acceptance of Roman authority.

And there had been awarded four Tetrarchies – ruled by members of the Herodian family – each one of which included a piece of what once was Israel/Judea (along with portions of other former countries).  We’ll get back to that later.

And, in addition to those Herodian kingships, Rome required that there also be a local, provincial governor on sight at all times in order to see to the interests of Rome (Roman law, Roman taxation, Roman allegiance, etc.).  And there was a contingent of Roman soldiers to ensure compliance.  Although there weren’t enough soldiers to quell an outright rebellion, there was great fear (ever-present fear in Israel) that any day an emperor would tire of the constant turbulence in this province and send in the mighty Roman armies to just “eradicate” the problem!  That was certainly the major controlling factor.

Now.  Having controlled the area for nearly a century at this point, Roman law was well established.  It allowed religions and religious customs to continue for the most part; but there was no king but Caesar – the Roman emperor and ruler of the world.

After Julius Caesar all the emperors of the Roman empire took on the name “Caesar” as a designation of absolute authority.  The designation continued to be used (even in other countries – as the empire broke apart during the middle ages… “Kaiser” in Germany; “czar” in Russia).

Now, the emperor couldn’t rule the empire personally.  He had to have local governors by whom he exercised his dominion of the world.  At the time of our text there was a governor over several provinces (he was situated in Damascus).  And then there was a local governor (called a procurator) in each province (a chain of command).

In the province of Judea (headquarters in Caesarea [named after Caesar, of course]), there had been six or seven governors in succession – all having their own difficulties ruling this tumultuous province.  But in the predestinating providence of God, in 26 AD a man was appointed governor of Judea by Tiberius Caesar by the name of Pilate (as the text at verse two says, “hegemon Pilatos”.  (“Hegemon” is the word for governor… we still have this Greek word in our English language.  “Hegemony” means dominion, or domination.)

Now, we don’t have much about this man, Pilate, in the history, but what there is to know we ought to know.  There’s been a lot written about him – much of which is very creative and imaginative (fanciful).

But since God put him in authority at the time of His Son’s suffering and crucifixion, he has become the most famous (or infamous) Roman in history!  And since he was the representative of the fourth great kingdom of Daniel’s prophecy and the fulfillment of many other Older Testament prophecies, therefore we must know him as best we can.

So I’m going to take the time here (the next few minutes) to introduce him to you.  And I’ll try to include some of the “creative”, revisionist history as well… so you can perhaps enjoy some of that.

Now, we have nothing of the former official career of this man, who’s full name was Pontius Pilate.  He just “appears” on the scene as the sixth appointed governor of Judea, succeeding Valerius Gratus in 26 AD, and he kept the post for ten years.  Jesus was crucified in about 30 AD; so, he was governor for five or six more years after that.

There seemed to be a certain magistracy, with special powers, associated with the Judean governor.  Considering all the agitation and disturbance and violence that continued to swirl around in this province, you can easily see why more power might be given to this post, than to other provincial governors.  And Pilate seemed to be the one who would exercise that power.

In Roman military-society, traditionally the procurators belonged to the equestrian order and were promoted from those ranks.  So Pilate was more than likely an accomplished horseman/soldier who had distinguished himself on the battlefield.  And he was in no way averse to the exercise of authority – or even brutality.

The headquarters for the Roman governor was, of course, in the city of Caesar… Caesarea, which was only a few miles to the west of Jerusalem on the coast.  But on festival occasions such as Passover, Pilate (as his predecessors had done) would set up temporary residence in Jerusalem – probably at the palace that had been built by Herod.

Now, before we get to the text and an examination of what he said and did at Jesus’ trial, there is a brief record of Pilate’s administration in the history written by Josephus.  Josephus writes of three events in which we can get a glimpse of this man’s character.

The first one occurred shortly after he was appointed; and it was a disaster.  He immediately introduced Roman standards (banners, flags, emblems) into the city of Jerusalem on which were effigies of the Roman emperor.  He was a “Caesar-man”!  His allegiance was to Rome and its absolute ruler.

Former governors had recognized the “religious scruples” of the Jews concerning images; and they had used standards which bore other ornamentation.  But Pilate barged right into the city and posted standards of the Roman emperor everywhere!

But the Jews considered it an outrage; and they went in large numbers to Caesarea to protest.  Pilate tried to frighten them with a demonstration of force, but the Jews resisted it.  And after about three days Pilate backed down.  Josephus didn’t comment on the reason, but I assume Pilate feared a general uprising in which he might be reprimanded and demoted.

But that gives us a little insight into the man.

On another occasion he sought to construct an aqueduct for the city of Jerusalem.  And his plan called for the use of the sacred treasury (the temple treasury called “korban”, which we’ll see later in verse six).

But the Jews again assembled in Caesarea in great numbers, calling for him to desist in this sacrilege.  But this time he secretly dressed a large number of his soldiers in common clothing and sent them among the crowd with knives.  And when the soldiers received a signal they all fell on the unsuspecting and unarmed crowd and went far beyond what Pilate had anticipated… killing and wounding large numbers of them.

That deception and brutality gives us some insight into the man.

The third occasion that Josephus records had to do with a group of Samaritans (Samaria was in Pilate’s province too) who had been beguiled by one of those false prophets.  The group had armed themselves and were going to ascend to the top of the mountain to see signs and wonders promised by their pseudo-prophet, charismatic leader.

But Pilate anticipated their ascent; and he fell on them with an armed force… killing many and capturing their leader, who he then put to death for insurrection and insubordination.

Those three events are augmented by an account at the beginning of Luke thirteen in which Jesus was informed that some Galileans had been slaughtered at Pilate’s hand, and their blood had been mingled with the blood of their sacrifices!

Now, with this information we can’t make a judgment as to whether Pilate was more unscrupulous than any other Roman procurator; but we can certainly say that he was loyal to the Roman emperor; he was, at times, brutal in his dealings with the people in his province; he was quick to shed blood at the instigation of any rebellion – if it was to his benefit; he was, by no means, above deception – if it accomplished his purpose; and he would back down and blame others – if that accomplished his purpose.

And we’ll have to remember all these things as we consider the text in which he encounters God’s Messiah… Who had been condemned for blasphemy – a religious issue!

We will also have to remember that the Roman government reserved unto itself the execution of capital punishment.  The Jews could not execute a man for any reason – they first had to take the case to the governor.  And we will learn that as soon as the priests came before Pilate, the charges were changed!  Jesus, as I said before, had been condemned for blasphemy.  But the governor wouldn’t rule on religious matters… he was concerned with civil matters!  So the Sanhedrin changed the charges, or added to the charges!

Now, this man Pilate has been vilified by many; and he has been elevated to sainthood by others.  We’ll have more to say about his character as we proceed through the text.  But some writers have even called him “Christian at heart”.  The Ethiopian Church made him a saint; and his faults have been denied by many because he “seemed” compassionate to the Savior during the trial.  We shall see.

There is fairly substantial record of the fact that Pilate filed a formal report to the emperor concerning the trial and execution of Christ.  But we don’t have that report.  All we have is a lot of speculation about that report.

But we do know that Pilate got into deep trouble by his attack on those Samaritans who were following the false prophet.  There were a lot of complaints to Vitellius (who was the governor of the whole region from Syria) about this savagery; and Vitellius put him on report and sent him to Rome to answer charges.

But before Pilate arrived in Rome, Tiberius Caesar died; and we don’t have a reliable account of what happened to Pilate after that.  One account says that he was in such trouble that he committed suicide under emperor Caligula.  Another says that he was beheaded during the reign of Nero.

But we do know this.  That Jesus Christ came bound before Pilate – the representative of the world-wide Roman Government.  And the peoples of the world raged against God and against His Christ. (verse two)  And they all sought to cut the cords and bonds that connected them to God their Creator and the Messiah and His Kingdom.  And they all (we all) murdered Him even though He was blameless.

But God laughed at them and mocked them, for, all the time they were raging against Him, they were unknowingly doing His will – providing His Own sacrifice for the sin of the world.

And our Lord Jesus Christ, although cut off from all hope and all benefits of His Father, willingly laid down His life for His people who were lost.  And He took it up again that we might have hope in His resurrection.

Next Lord’s Day we’ll continue to look at the text to see what it says.  Next is an eight verse “parenthesis” inserted here by Matthew concerning Judas and the silver… and what was done with it.