Matthew 27 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Signs at Jesus' Death
As Jesus dies broken, his Father vindicates him with signs in nature--signs that only Jesus' pagan executioners are shown to understand.Jesus Dies Wounded but Trusting His Father (27:45-46) That Jesus utters the complaint of the righteous sufferer (Ps 22:1) suggests that he participated in our ultimate alienation from God in experiencing the pain of death. Yet he would also know that the psalm goes on to declare the psalmist's triumph (Ps 22:22-24), and the phrase my God indicates continuing trust.To the End, His Opponents Do Not Understand His Identity (27:47-49) Jesus' own people did not recognize what was happening; they knew that rabbis in distress sometimes looked to Elijah for help (as in b. `Aboda Zara 17b; p. Ketubot 12:3, Section 6), and they assumed that Jesus was doing likewise. Clearly they expected no supernatural intervention--expectations seemingly confirmed because Elijah would not come.
The narrative again bristles with irony: far from being able to help Jesus, Elijah was his forerunner in martyrdom (17:10-13; Kingsbury 1983:130). The wine vinegar (27:48) was probably an attempt to revive him (Reicke 1974:187), perhaps to prolong the torment in mocking pretense that Elijah had come to relieve him. But Jesus had come to drink the cup of suffering (26:39), the cup of God's wrath (Jer 25:15-29). Our Lord is both our model, obedient and uncomplaining as he serves the Father no matter what the cost, and our Savior, who offers himself for the sins of the world.The Father Vindicates His Murdered Son (27:50-53) Elijah did not come to deliver Jesus, but signs that Jews regularly expected to accompany the death of the righteous did follow Jesus' death (vv. 51-53). To both pagan and Jewish audiences these signs would indicate divine approval of Jesus and disapproval of his executioners (see Kee 1983:189; Best 1965:98; R. Brown 1994:1113-14). The raising of dead persons at Jesus' death (vv. 52-53) reminds us that by refusing to save himself, Jesus did save others (v. 42). Yet by mentioning only many of the saints, Matthew clearly intends this sign merely to prefigure the final resurrection, proleptically signified in Jesus' death and resurrection (Cullmann 1956a:168). Popular folk religion venerated the tombs of saints (Meyers and Strange 1981:162), and the very people who sought Jesus' death built those tombs (23:29-32); but Jesus, the holiest saint of all, had power to raise them.
The rending of the veil (probably the inner veil--compare Heb 6:19-20; 9:3; 10:19-20) around the time of the evening sacrifice (Mt 27:45-46) could symbolize the departure of God's presence that preceded his judgment against the temple (Ezek 9:3; 10:4-18; compare Mt 23:35-38; 24:1-2).Gentile Oppressors Become Models of Faith in Christ (27:54) Whereas Jesus' own people had not believed, the supervising centurion and those with him recognized Jesus' identity the way Peter had some time before (16:16). In contrast to Peter, however (16:21-22), these Gentiles recognize Jesus' sonship in the cross rather than by ignoring the cross, all the more remarkable because this defied Gentile models of leadership (20:25).
The Gospel has come full circle: again the religious leaders of Israel have missed the significance of Jesus, whereas the pagans one would expect to be most hostile to Christ have understood and embraced his true identity (2:1-12). Matthew's message to his Jewish Christian audience is clear: regardless of the response of the Jewish religious leaders, you must evangelize the Gentiles. His message to us today is no less clear: although church people often live in disobedience to the gospel and take Christ for granted, we must take him beyond the walls of our churches to a waiting world.