Matthew 27:44
The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(44) The thieves also . . . cast the same in his teeth.—Literally, reviled Him. On the change which afterwards came over one of them, see Note on Luke 23:40.

Matthew

THE CRUCIFIXION

Matthew 27:33 - Matthew 27:50
.

The characteristic of Matthew’s account of the crucifixion is its representation of Jesus as perfectly passive and silent. His refusal of the drugged wine, His cry of desolation, and His other cry at death, are all His recorded acts. The impression of the whole is ‘as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.’ We are bid to look on the grim details of the infliction of the terrible death, and to listen to the mockeries of people and priests; but reverent awe forbids description of Him who hung there in His long, silent agony. Would that like reticence had checked the ill-timed eloquence of preachers and teachers of later days!

I. We have the ghastly details of the crucifixion.

Conder’s suggestion of the site of Calvary as a little knoll outside the city, seems possible. It is now a low, bare hillock, with a scanty skin of vegetation over the rock, and in its rounded shape and bony rockiness explains why it was called ‘skull.’ It stands close to the main Damascus road, so that there would be many ‘passers by’ on that feast day. Its top commands a view over the walls into the temple enclosure, where, at the very hour of the death of Jesus, the Passover lamb was perhaps being slain. Arrived at the place, the executioners go about their task with stolid precision. What was the crucifying of another Jew or two to them? Before they lift the cross or fasten their prisoner to it, a little touch of pity, or perhaps only the observance of the usual custom, leads them to offer a draught of wine, in which some anodyne had been mixed, to deaden agony. But the cup which He had to drink needed that He should be in full possession of all His sensibilities to pain, and of all His unclouded firmness of resolve; and so His patient lips closed against the offered mercy. He would not drink because He would suffer, and He would suffer because He would redeem. His last act before He was nailed to the cross was an act of voluntary refusal of an opened door of escape from some portion of His pains.

What a gap there is between Matthew 27:34 - Matthew 27:35! The unconcerned soldiers went on to the next step in their ordinary routine on such an occasion,-the fixing of the cross and fastening of the victim to it. To them it was only what they had often done before; to Matthew, it was too sacred to be narrated, He cannot bring his pen to write it. As it were, he bids us turn away our eyes for a moment; and when next we look, the deed is done, and there stands the cross, and the Lord hanging, dumb and unresisting, on it. We see not Him, but the soldiers, busy at their next task. So little were they touched by compassion or awe, that they paid no heed to Him, and suspended their work to make sure of their perquisites,-the poor robes which they stripped from His body. Thus gently Matthew hints at the ignominy of exposure attendant on crucifixion, and gives the measure of the hard stolidity of the guards. Gain had been their first thought, comfort was their second. They were a little tired with their march and their work, and they had to stop there on guard for an indefinite time, with nothing to do but two more prisoners to crucify: so they take a rest, and idly keep watch over Him till He shall die. How possible it is to look at Christ’s sufferings and see nothing! These rude legionaries gazed for hours on what has touched the world ever since, and what angels desired to look into, and saw nothing but a dying Jew. They thought about the worth of the clothes, or about how long they would have to stay there, and in the presence of the most stupendous fact in the world’s history were all unmoved. We too may gaze on the cross and see nothing. We too may look at it without emotion, because without faith, or any consciousness of what it may mean for us. Only they who see there the sacrifice for their sins and the world’s, see what is there. Others are as blind as, and less excusable than, these soldiers who watched all day by the Cross, seeing nothing, and tramped back at night to their barrack utterly ignorant of what they had been doing. But their work was not quite done. There was still a piece of grim mockery to be performed, which they would much enjoy. The ‘cause,’ as Matthew calls it, had to be nailed to the upper part of the cross. It was tri-lingual, as John tells us,-in Hebrew, the language of revelation; in Greek, the tongue of philosophy and art; in Latin, the speech of law and power. The three chief forces of the human spirit gave unconscious witness to the King; the three chief languages of the western world proclaimed His universal monarchy, even while they seemed to limit it to one nation. It was meant as a gibe at Him and at the nation, and as Pilate’s statement of the reason for his sentence; but it meant more than Pilate meant by it, and it was fitting that His royal title should hang above His head; for the cross is His throne, and He is the King of men because He has died for them all. One more piece of work the soldiers had still to do. The crucifixion of the two robbers {perhaps of Barabbas’ gang, though less fortunate than he} by Christ’s side was intended to associate Him in the public mind with them and their crimes, and was the last stroke of malice, as if saying, ‘Here is your King, and here are two of His subjects and ministers.’ Matthew says nothing of the triumph of Christ’s love, which won the poor robber for a disciple even at that hour of ignominy. His one purpose seems to be to accumulate the tokens of suffering and shame, and so to emphasise the silent endurance of the meek Lamb of God. Therefore, without a word about any of our Lord’s acts or utterances, he passes on to the next group of incidents.

II. The mockeries of people and priests.

There would be many coming and going on the adjoining road, most of them too busy about their own affairs to delay long; for crucifixion was a slow process, and, when once the cross has been lifted, there would be little to see. But they were not too busy to spit venom at Him as they passed. How many of these scoffers, to whom death cast no shield round the object of their poor taunts, had shouted themselves hoarse on the Monday, and waved palm branches that were not withered yet! What had made the change? There was no change. They were running with the stream in both their hosannas and their jeers, and the one were worth as much as the other. They had been tutored to cry, ‘Blessed is He that cometh!’ and now they were tutored to repeat what had been said at the trial about destroying the temple. The worshippers of success are true to themselves when they mock at failure. They who shout round Jesus, when other people are doing it, are only consistent when they join in the roar of execration. Let us take care that our worship of Him is rooted in our own personal experience, and independent of what rulers or influential minds today say of Him.

A common passion levels all distinctions of culture and rank. The reverend dignitaries echoed the ferocious ridicule of the mob, whom they despised so much. The poorest criminal would have been left to die in peace; but brutal laughter surged round the silent sufferer, and showers of barbed sarcasms were flung at Him. The throwers fancied them exquisite jests, and demonstrations of the absurdity of Christ’s claims; but they were really witnesses to His claims, and explanations of His sufferings. Look at them in turn, with this thought in our minds. ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save,’ was launched as a sarcasm which confuted His alleged miracles by His present helplessness. How much it admits, even while it denies! Then, He did work miracles; and they were all for others, never for His own ends; and they were all for saving, never for destroying. Then, too, by this very taunt His claim to be the ‘Saviour’ is presupposed. And so, ‘Physician, heal Thyself,’ seemed to them an unanswerable missile to fling. If they had only known what made the ‘cannot,’ and seen that it was a ‘will not,’ they would have stood full in front of the great miracle of love which was before them unsuspected, and would have learned that the not saving Himself, which they thought blew to atoms His pretensions to save others, was really the condition of His saving a world. If He is to save others He cannot save Himself. That is the law for all mutual help. The lamp burns out in giving light, but the necessity for the death of Him who is the life of the world is founded on a deeper ‘must.’ His only way of delivering us from the burden of sin is His taking it on Himself. He has to ‘bear our griefs and carry our sorrows,’ if He is to bear away the sin of the world. But the ‘cannot’ derives all its power from His own loving will. The rulers’ taunt was a venomous lie, as they meant it. If for ‘cannot’ we read ‘will not,’ it is the central truth of the Gospel.

Nor did they succeed better with their second gibe, which made mirth of such a throne, and promised allegiance if He would come down. O blind leaders of the blind! That death which seemed to them to shatter His royalty really established it. His Cross is His throne of saving power, by which He sways hearts and wills, and because of it He receives from the Father universal dominion, and every knee shall bow to Him. It is just because He did not come down from it that we believe on Him. On His head are many crowns; but, however many they be, they all grow out of the crown of thorns. The true kingship is absolute command over willingly submitted spirits; and it is His death which bows us before Him in raptures of glad love which counts submission, liberty, and sacrifice blessed. He has the right to command because He has given Himself for us, and His death wakes all-surrendering and all-expecting faith.

Nor was the third taunt more fortunate. These very religious men had read their Bibles so badly that they might never have heard of Job, nor of the latter half of Isaiah. They had been poring over the letter all their lives, and had never seen, with their microscopes, the great figure of the Innocent Sufferer, so plain there. So they thought that the Cross demonstrated the hollowness of Jesus’ trust in God, and the rejection of Him by God. Surely religious teachers should have been slow to scoff at religious trust, and surely they might have known that failure and disaster even to death were no signs of God’s displeasure. But, in one aspect, they were right. It is a mystery that such a life should end thus; and the mystery is none the less because many another less holy life has also ended in suffering. But the mystery is solved when we know that God did not deliver Him, just because He ‘would have Him,’ and that the Father’s delight in the Son reached its very highest point when He became obedient until death, and offered Himself ‘a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing unto God.’

III. We pass on to the darkness, desolation, and death.

Matthew represents these three long hours from noon till what answers to our 3 P.M. as passed in utter silence by Christ. What went on beneath that dread veil, we are not meant to know. Nor do we need to ask its physical cause or extent. It wrapped the agony from cruel eyes; it symbolised the blackness of desolation in His spirit, and by it God draped the heavens in mourning for man’s sin. What were the onlookers doing then? Did they cease their mocking, and feel some touch of awe creeping over them?

‘His brow was chill with dying,

And His soul was faint with loss.’

The cry that broke the awful silence, and came out of the darkness, was more awful still. The fewer our words the better; only we may mark how, even in His agony, Jesus has recourse to prophetic words, and finds in a lesser sufferer’s cry voice for His desolation. Further, we may reverently note the marvellous blending of trust and sense of desertion. He feels that God has left Him, and yet he holds on to God. His faith, as a man, reached its climax in that supreme hour when, loaded with the mysterious burden of God’s abandonment, He yet cried in His agony, ‘My God!’ and that with reduplicated appeal. Separation from God is the true death, the ‘wages of sin’; and in that dread hour He bore in His own consciousness the uttermost of its penalty. The physical fact of Christ’s death, if it could have taken place without this desolation from the consciousness of separation from God, would not have been the bearing of all the consequences of man’s sins. The two must never be parted in our grateful contemplations; and, while we reverently abjure the attempt to pierce into that which God hid from us by the darkness, we must reverently ponder what Christ revealed to us by the cry that cleft it, witnessing that He then was indeed bearing the whole weight of a world’s sin. By the side of such thoughts, and in the presence of such sorrow, the clumsy jest of the bystanders, which caught at the half-heard words, and pretended to think that Jesus was a crazy fanatic calling for Elijah with his fiery chariot to come and rescue Him, may well be passed by. One little touch of sympathy moistened His dying lips, not without opposition from the heartless crew who wanted to have their jest out. Then came the end. The loud cry of the dying Christ is worthy of record; for crucifixion ordinarily killed by exhaustion, and this cry was evidence of abundant remaining vitality. In accordance therewith, the fact of death is expressed by a phrase, which, though used for ordinary deaths, does yet naturally express the voluntariness of Christ. ‘He sent away His spirit,’ as if He had bid it depart, and it obeyed. Whether the expression may be fairly pressed so far or no, the fact is the same, that Jesus died, not because He was crucified, but because He chose. He was the Lord and Master of Death; and when He bid His armour-bearer strike, the slave struck, and the King died, not like Saul on the field of his defeat, but a victor in and by and over death.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.The thieves also - The robbers, or highwaymen. Luke says Luke 23:39 that one of them did it, and that the other reproved him and was penitent. The account in Luke may, however, easily be reconciled with that in Matthew by supposing that "at first both" of them reviled the Saviour, and that it is of this fact that Matthew speaks. Afterward one of them relented and became penitent perhaps from witnessing the patient sufferings of Christ. It is of this one particularly that Luke speaks. Or it may be that what is true of one of the criminals is by Matthew attributed to both. The evangelists, when for the sake of brevity they avoid particularizing, often attribute to many what is said or done by single persons, meaning no more than that it was done by some one or more of them, without specifying the one. Compare Mark 7:17 with Matthew 15:15; Mark 5:31 with Luke 8:45; Luke 9:13 with John 6:8-9.

Cast the same in his teeth - This is a most unhappy translation. It means in the original simply, they upbraided him or reproached him in the same manner.

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. 39-44. Mark relates this part of the history with no material circumstance differing from Matthew, Matthew 15:29-32. Luke saith, Luke 23:39-43, And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? and we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

John saith, John 19:25-30. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished. Matthew and Mark relate more particularly what abuses our Saviour suffered while he hung dying upon the cross:

1. From passengers.

2. From the chief priests, scribes, and elders.

Nothing is more inhuman than to mock such as are in the most extreme and utmost misery, and it is what we seldom hear from the worst of men; but for the chief priests and elders, the magistrates and rulers of the Jews, to be guilty of such a barbarous behaviour, is amazing. That not the ordinary priests only, but the chief priests, that is, either such as had been in the office of high priest, or else some of the most ancient and grave men of the priests; that, not the hot headed young men amongst the Jews, but the elders of Israel, should be so rude, as not only to behave themselves indecently to a man in the most extreme misery, whom they ought to have pitied, and for whom they ought at this time to have been praying, but also forgetting all reverence to God, to say,

He trusted in God, let him deliver him now, if he will have him; jeering all faith and trusting in God, and as it were defying God’s power, and saying with Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 3:15, Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? This is justly surprising, and lets us see to what a height of wickedness the Jews were come, and confirms us in this, that if those who serve the Lord in public places, especially in holy things, be not the best of men, they are the worst. Having more knowledge of the will of God than others, if they have once mastered their consciences, they become the vilest of men, and the most prodigious patterns of atheism and all wickedness. It lets us also see to what a degree malice and covetousness will debauch souls, and teach us to fear sinning against our light and convictions. All this was foretold by the prophet David, Psalm 22:8, and so must be. But the necessity of the event by no means excused the sinfulness of the act, nor made God the author of these men’s sins. Matthew saith,

The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

Luke saith, only one of them did so. Some think that at the first they both reviled him, but the heart of one of them was changed while he hung upon the cross; but it is no unusual thing in Scripture to use the plural number for the singular; and the number may be understood not so much to refer to the persons as their qualities, they were both thieves, though but one of them reviled our Saviour. Or what hinders, but that they both might desire Christ to put forth his power to deliver them, though one of them further reviled him, by words which the evangelists have not set down. Luke tells us, that one of these thieves rebuked his fellow, and cleared Christ’s innocency. Thus God had that honour from a thief which was denied him by the chief priests and elders. He can of stones raise up children to Abraham. He begs of Christ to remember him when he came into his kingdom; discovering an eminent faith in Christ, he is rewarded, by Christ telling him, Today thou shalt be with me in paradise: a plain text to prove that souls neither sleep nor die with the body, but immediately pass into their eternal mansions. John addeth, that there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and her sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene, and mentions our Saviour’s recommending his mother to the care of his beloved disciple, and tells us of John’s care of her; the other three evangelists mention their being there, but standing afar off; which might both be true, they being nearer the cross at first, then removing themselves further from it. John further mentions their giving our Saviour (upon his saying, I thirst) vinegar to drink. It is very probable this was but a kindness they did usually show to malefactors, dying that kind of death, when they were so long a time dying; but the evangelist tells us that in our Saviour’s case there was a scripture to be fulfilled, Psalm 69:21, In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink: whether David there spake in the person of Christ, or what was at that time primarily fulfilled in David, was at that time fulfilled in Christ as his antitype, is not much material for us to know; that the text related to Christ, and was fulfilled in him, we are assured by the evangelist. This giving of Christ to drink was distinct from that we meet with before, as may appear by the many different circumstances. That he refused; this he received, and said, It is finished: my passion is finished, or upon the finishing. The thieves also,.... One or other of them, not both; an Hebrew way of speaking, as Drusius (b) observed: so it is said of Jonah, Jonah 1:5, that he was "gone down into the sides of the ship"; not into both sides, but into one or other of them: so here the thieves, one or other of them, not naming which, railed at Jesus, for it was but one of them; see Luke 23:39, unless it can be thought, as it is by some, that they both at first reviled him; but one being quickly convinced of his evil, ceased, and rebuked his fellow sufferer, confessed his, sin, bore a testimony to the innocence of Christ, and desired to be remembered by him in his kingdom. This was an aggravation of the sufferings of Christ, that he should be vilified by those,

which were crucified with him; who ought to have been, considering the condemnation they were in, and the future state they were just entering into, lamenting and confessing the sins they had been guilty of, instead of adding sin to sin, and so aggravating their condemnation. These, at least one of them,

cast the same into his teeth; as the populace, the chief priests, Scribes, elders, and Pharisees had done; twitted him with his pretensions of being the Son of God, the Messiah, and king of Israel; and urged, that if he was, why did not he save himself, and them also?

(b) Quaest. Heb. l. 1. qu. 5.

The {n} thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

(n) This is spoken using the figure of speech called synecdoche, for only one of the thieves reviled him.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 27:44 Τὸ δʼ αὐτό] not: after the same manner (as generally interpreted), but expressing the object itself (comp. Soph. Oed. Col. 1006: τοσαῦτʼ ὀνειδίζεις με; Plat. Phaedr. p. 241: ὅσα τὸν ἕτερον λελοιδορήκαμεν), for, as is well known, such verbs as denote a particular mode of speaking or acting are often construed like λέγειν τινά τι or ποιεῖν τινά τι. Krüger, § xlvi. 12; Kühner, II. 1, p. 276. Comp. on Php 2:18.

οἱ λῃσταί] different from Luke 23:39; the generic interpretation of the plural (Augustine, de cons, ev. iii. 16; Ebrard, Krafft) is precluded by the necessary reference to Matthew 27:38. The harmonists (Origen, Cyrill, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius Zigabenus, Zeger, Lange) resorted to the expedient of supposing that at first both of them may have reviled Him, but that subsequently only one was found to do so, because the other had in the meantime been converted. Luke does not base his account upon a later tradition (Ewald, Schenkel, Keim), but upon materials of a more accurate and copious character drawn from a different circle of traditions.Matthew 27:44 : the co-crucified brigands join with the mob and the priests in ribaldry.—τὸ αὐτὸ: Fritzsche supplies ἐποίουν after this phrase and renders: the same thing did the robbers, or they too reproached Him (“idem vero etiam latrones fecerunt, nempe ei conviciati sunt”). It seems simpler to take αὐτὸ as one of two accusatives, depending on ὠνείδιζον, αὐτόν following (the true reading) being the other. Vide Winer, § 32, 4.44. The thieves also … cast the same in his teeth] They would naturally catch at the thought that the deliverer failed to give deliverance. St Luke alone relates that “one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him … the other answering rebuked him.” It is by no means impossible that the penitent robber may have seen and heard Jesus in Galilee.Matthew 27:44. Οἱ λῃσταὶ, the robbers) Some conceive that the plural is put here synecdochically for the singular, and thus except the converted robber: in such a horrible matter, however, there seems to be no place for Synecdoche; nor are there wanting instances of men who, in the course of dreadful and lingering punishment, have at first blasphemed, and afterwards been converted.Verse 44. - The thieves also... cast the same in his teeth (ὠνείδιζον αὐτῷ, were reviling him). The mention of the penitent robber is found only in Luke (Luke 23:39-42). It does not seem to have occurred in the traditional account followed by Matthew and Mark. Augustine thought that these synoptists used the plural for the singular, referring, in fact, to the impenitent malefactor. It is more likely that both the thieves at first joined the mob in their abuse and ribaldry, but that one, after a time, persuaded by the Divine patience and meekness of the Saviour, and awed by the gathering darkness, repented, confessed, and was forgiven.
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