Matthew 27:37
And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(37) THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.—This was what was technically known as the titulus—the bill, or placard, showing who the condemned person was, and why he was punished. Each Gospel gives it in a slightly different form—Mark (Mark 15:26), “The King of the Jews;” Luke (Luke 23:38), “This is the King of the Jews;” John (John 19:19), “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The variations are, perhaps, in part, explicable on the assumption of corresponding differences in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin forms of the inscription, which reproduced themselves in the reports upon which the Gospel narratives were based. But in part also they may reasonably be ascribed to the natural variations sure to arise even among eye-witnesses, and à fortiori among those who were not eye witnesses, as to the circumstantial details of events which they record in common. On grounds of ordinary likelihood St. John’s record, as that of the only disciple whom we know to have been present at the crucifixion (John 19:25), may claim to be the most accurate.

There was, apparently, a kind of rough tenderness towards the Man whom he had condemned in the form which Pilate had ordered. He would at least recognise His claims to be in some sense a King. The priests obviously felt it to imply such a recognition, a declaration, as it were, to them and to the people that One who had a right to be their King, who was the only kind of King they were ever likely to have, had died the death of a malefactor, and therefore they clamoured for a change, which Pilate refused to make (John 19:20).

Matthew 27:37-38. And set over his head his accusation — That is, a superscription, containing the substance of his pretended crime, written in capital letters, and in these remarkable words, THIS IS JESUS, (John adds, OF NAZARETH,) THE KING OF THE JEWS. The two other evangelists do not express the title so fully. See the note on John 19:19, &c. Bishop Pearson, (On the Creed, p. 205,) and Dr. Lardner, (Credibil., vol. 1. p. 347,) have abundantly proved it to be usual, in cases of any extraordinary punishment, to put an inscription over the head of the sufferer, indicative of the crime for which he suffered. Then were there two thieves crucified with him — “They placed Jesus in the middle, by way of mock honour, because he had called himself a king, and was now crowned with thorns; or, if the priests had any hand in this, they might design hereby to impress the spectators more strongly with the thought of his being an impostor, and to make them look on him as the chief malefactor. Thus, however, as Mark observes, the Scripture, namely, Isaiah 53:12, was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. For, in giving the history of our Lord’s sufferings, the evangelists endeavour all along to make their readers sensible that all the circumstances of them had been foreseen and foretold by the prophets. Their design in which was, to prevent the offence which might otherwise have been taken at Christ’s sufferings.

27:35-44 It was usual to put shame upon malefactors, by a writing to notify the crime for which they suffered. So they set up one over Christ's head. This they designed for his reproach, but God so overruled it, that even his accusation was to his honour. There were crucified with him at the same time, two robbers. He was, at his death, numbered among the transgressors, that we, at our death, might be numbered among the saints. The taunts and jeers he received are here recorded. The enemies of Christ labour to make others believe that of religion and of the people of God, which they themselves know to be false. The chief priests and scribes, and the elders, upbraid Jesus with being the King of Israel. Many people could like the King of Israel well enough, if he would but come down from the cross; if they could but have his kingdom without the tribulation through which they must enter into it. But if no cross, then no Christ, no crown. Those that would reign with him, must be willing to suffer with him. Thus our Lord Jesus, having undertaken to satisfy the justice of God, did it, by submitting to the punishment of the worst of men. And in every minute particular recorded about the sufferings of Christ, we find some prediction in the Prophets or the Psalms fulfilled.And set up over his head - John says John 19:19 that Pilate wrote the title and put it upon the cross. Probably Pilate wrote it or caused it to be written, and directed the soldiers to set it up. A man is often said to do what he directs others to do. It was customary to set up over the heads of persons crucified the crime for which they suffered, and the name of the sufferer The accusation on which Jesus had been condemned by Pilate was his claiming to be the King of the Jews.

This is Jesus, the King of the Jews - The evangelists differ in the account of this title. Mark Mar 15:26 says it was, "The King of the Jews." Luke Luk 23:38, "This is the King of the Jews." John Joh 19:19, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." But the difficulty may be easily removed. John says that the title was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It is not at all improbable that the inscription "varied" in these languages. One evangelist may have translated it from the Hebrew, another from the Greek, a third from the Latin, and a fourth may have translated one of the inscriptions a little differently from another. Besides, the evangelists all agree in the main point of the inscription, namely, that he was the King of the Jews.

Mt 27:34-50. Crucifixion and Death of the Lord Jesus. ( = Mr 15:25-37; Lu 23:33-46; Joh 19:18-30).

For the exposition, see on [1375]Joh 19:18-30.

Ver. 35-37. Mark saith, Mark 15:24-28, When they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. And the superscription of his accusation was written over, The King of the Jews. And with him they crucified two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.

Luke saith, Luke 23:33,34, And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

John telleth us some further circumstances, John 19:18-24 Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. And they crucified him; that is, four soldiers, as we learn from John’s narration of this matter of fact; it seemeth this business was assigned to four more especially.

This crucifying was a bitter and shameful kind of death, not in use amongst the Jews, but amongst the Romans. The manner of it is not particularly known to us: but, as it is described by writers, a piece of wood was erected which was crossed with a bar upon the top. The body of the person being fastened to the main piece of wood, his arms were extended, and nailed to the cross bar, or piece of timber, and his hands and feet were nailed. Mark saith, it was the third hour, which with us was about nine of the clock: so hasty they were in destroying this just person, that between midnight and nine of the clock in the morning, they apprehended him, tried and condemned him in the sanhedrim, or at least in a court of high priests and elders, and then before Pilate the Roman governor, and led him to be crucified, and nailed him to his cross. The evangelists tell us, he was crucified in the middle between two thieves, of whom we shall read more afterward. Several scriptures of the Old Testament were fulfilled in this crucifixion of Christ. They pierced my hands and my feet, Psalm 22:16, was fulfilled in his nailing to the cross. In his being crucified betwixt two thieves was fulfilled that, Isaiah 53:12, He was numbered with the transgressors. That of the psalmist, Psalm 22:18, They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture, was fulfilled in the soldiers’ parting of our Saviour’s garments, as their fee. But how could they part them, and yet not rend them? Possibly they parted his other garments, and only did cast lots for his coat, or upper garment. Or, it may be, they valued it, and agreed each man’s share, and then cast lots for the whole. I see no ground for their assertion, who say, that in such cases they only stripped the condemned person of his upper garment. John’s relation seemeth to oppose it; he saith, and also his coat. Matthew, Mark, and John all agree in the inscription which Pilate drew to be put upon his cross, signifying the crime for which he died; only John puts in those words, of Nazareth. Thus Christ died in the attestation of his kingly office. This inscription angered the Jews; they solicit Pilate to alter it, and that it might be, Who said he was the King of the Jews. But Pilate refused, saying, What I have written I have written. There was nothing more pleasing to Pilate than this, (as he thought), to deride the Jews, as having such a despicable person (as he judged him) their King. In the mean time the counsels of God have their effect; Christ in his death is declared to be the King of the Jews. Luke saith, that Christ said, Father, forgive them; for they know what they do. Whether these words were spoken when our Lord was first nailed to the cross, or afterward, is not much material. Luke relates them before the soldiers’ parting his garments. Our Saviour by them declares himself a true Pastor and Shepherd of souls, teaching his disciples no more than he himself did practise. Matthew 5:44, he had taught his disciples to pray for them who despitefully used and persecuted them. Himself here practises it. The malice of men ought not to quench in Christians the grace of God. Let us now consider the passage that happened from the time he was nailed to the cross until the time of his expiration, which was more than three entire hours.

And set up over his head his accusation written,.... The Evangelist John calls it a "title", John 19:19, and Luke, a "superscription", Luke 23:38, and Mark, the "superscription of his accusation", Mark 15:26, it was what contained the sum and substance of what he was accused, and for which he was condemned, and suffered. The Syriac and Persic versions here render it, "the cause of his death". It was written by Pilate in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, that all might read it; and by his orders it was put upon the cross, and over the head of Jesus by the soldiers. This title, or inscription, setting forth the person's crime, used to be carried before him, or put upon him, as he was led to execution (x): but here it was set upon the cross, and perhaps nailed unto it; to which the apostle seems to allude in Colossians 2:14, the substance of it was,

this is Jesus the king of the Jews. This was what the chief priests accused him of to Pilate, and about which he questioned him, and for which they desired he might be crucified; urging, that should he let him go, he could not be Caesar's friend. Hence Pilate wrote his accusation in this form, not so much in derision of Jesus; for by conversation with him he understood what sort of a king he was, as to the reproach of the Jews for crucifying him who was their king; being the person that was prophesied of in their books, as king of Zion, and whom they expected as such, though now they denied and rejected him,

(x) Lipsius de Cruce, l. 2. c. 11.

{9} And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

(9) He is pronounced the true Messiah, even by those who reject him.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 27:37 Whether it was customary to have a tablet (σανίς) put over the cross containing a statement of the crime (τὴν αἰτίαν αὐτοῦ) for which the offender was being executed, we have no means of knowing. According to Dio Cass. liv. 8, it might be seen hanging round the neck of the criminal even when he was passing through the city to the place of execution. Comp. also Sueton. Domit. 10; Calig. 32; Euseb. v. 1. 19.

ἐπέθηκαν] It was undoubtedly affixed to the part of the cross that projected above the horizontal beam. But it is inadmissible, in deference to the hypothesis that the “title” (John 19:19) was affixed to the cross before it was set up, either to transpose the verses in the text (Matthew 27:33-34; Matthew 27:37-38; Matthew 27:35-36; Matthew 27:39, so Wassenbergh in Valckenaer, Schol. II. p. 31), or to take ἐπέθηκαν (Kuinoel) in the sense of the pluperfect, or to assume some inaccuracy in the narrative, by supposing, for example, that the various details are not given in chronological order, and that the mention of the watch being set is introduced too soon, from a desire to include at once all that was done (de Wette, Bleek) by the soldiers (who, however, are understood to have nailed up the “title” as well!). According to Matthew’s statement, it would appear that when the soldiers had finished the work of crucifixion, and had cast lots for the clothes, and had mounted guard over the body, they proceed, by way of supplementing what had been already done, to affix the “title” to the top of the cross. The terms of the inscription are given with diplomatic precision in John 19:20, though others, including Keim, prefer the shortest version, being that found in Mark.

Matthew 27:37 : this fact is mentioned out of its proper place. t is probable that the placard with the accusation was fixed up before the cross was erected. As it stands in Mt.’s narrative, it looks like an after-thought of the soldiers as they sat keeping watch, their final jest at the expense of their victim and the nation to which He belonged. What the custom was as to this is not known. Of the various versions of the inscription Mk.’s is the shortest: THE KING OF THE JEWS; to this Mt. prefixes: This is Jesus.

37. and set up over his head his accusation written] It was the Roman custom to place on the cross over the criminal’s head, a titulus, or placard, stating the crime for which he suffered. St John records Pilate’s refusal to alter the inscription, and mentions that the title was written in Hebrew and Greek and Latin.

King of the Jews. See ch. Matthew 2:2.

The inscription is given with slight variations by the four Evangelists. “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38). “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). This variation points to the independence of the different Gospels, and also indicates that a real though not a verbal accuracy should be looked for in the records of the Evangelists.

Matthew 27:37. Ἐστιν, is) Yes; He truly is so! The inscription, perhaps, remained longer on the cross than the body of Jesus.[1196]

[1196] δυο λῃσταὶ, two robbers) Matthew and Mark mention their crucifixion at a later point of time than the other two Evangelists; from which we may infer that the crucifixion of Jesus was regarded by Pilate and his subordinates as the principal and most important case.—Harm., p. 567.

Verse 37. - Set up over his head his accusation written. This was the titulus. A wooden tablet smeared with gypsum, had on it, written in black letters, the charge on which the prisoner was condemned. This, which had been hung round the criminal's neck or carried before him on the way to execution, was now affixed to the upper portion of the cross over his head. THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. The title had been prepared by Pilate (John 19:19, 22), and was conceived in terms studiously offensive to the Jews, with whom he was deeply indignant. It was written in three languages, so that all of whatever nationality might read it - in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek (for the order, see Westcott on John 19:20); i.e. the national Aramaic, familiar to all Jews; the official Latin,understood by the soldiers and Romans; the current Greek, the dialect of Hellenistic Jews, and largely used by all classes. "These three languages gathered up the results of the religious, the social, the intellectual preparation for Christ, and in each witness was given to his office" (Westcott). The title is given by the four evangelists with some verbal variations, which are owing in part to the actual differences existing in the three versions of the inscription. They run thus: "'This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (Matthew); "The King of the Jews" (Mark); "This is the King of the Jews" (Luke); "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" (John). Of these titles, those given by Mark and Luke probably represent the Latin; that of Matthew, the Greek; while that of John was intended for the national population, who alone would understand the veiled sneer contained in the addition, "of Nazareth." The legend of the finding of the cross and its inscription is given by Butler, 'Lives of the Saints,' on 'The Invention of the Holy Cross.' A supposed fragment of the title is preserved at Rome, in the Church of the Holy Cross, and declared by a papal bull to be authentic. In this case infallibility has rather overstepped its limits. Matthew 27:37Accusation (αἰτίαν)

Lit., cause, and so rendered by Wyc. Tynd., cause of his death. The word accusation is compounded with the Latin causa, a cause. It is the cause of his condemnation and suffering.

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