Jesus Is Offered One Final Satanic Temptation (27:39-44)
When we realize that the robbers are probably revolutionaries who sought to facilitate the establishment of God's earthly kingdom (as in Jos. War 4.138), the irony and pathos of their ridicule become all the clearer. Both lay and aristocratic mockers pass by, perhaps along a road, shaking their heads (Ps 22:7; Lam 2:15), repeating the slanderous charge of Matthew 26:61, seeking a sign (compare 16:1) and serving as mouthpieces for Satan's desire for a kingdom without the cross (compare 4:3, 7). Perhaps they are trying to get Jesus to admit the justice of the court's sentence (compare m. Sanhedrin 6:2-3; Ps-Philo 25:6-7; 27:15).
Amid the derisive comments one might expect at an execution of a misled pietist, the mockers from the Sanhedrin (Mt 27:41-43) unwittingly cite Psalm 22:8 (Matthew presumably conforms the wording of their mockery to that text)—showing themselves enemies of God's anointed servant, hence of God himself. Their language probably also echoes Wisdom 2:18 in the Septuagint: "For if the righteous man is a son of God, God will help him, and deliver him from the hand of those who resist him." In the Wisdom of Solomon, those words are uttered by the wicked who want to condemn a righteous person to death unjustly because he claims to be a child of God and to have a good future (Wisdom 2:16-20). Meanwhile, they echo the devil's earlier temptation of Jesus (Mt 4:3, 6). In other words, by their own words Jesus' enemies are condemned (12:37; compare Lk 19:22). The King of Judeans refuses to respond (5:39; compare Is 53:7).
Again irony saturates the narrative: they are right that he cannot save himself if he would save others (Mt 27:42). That they offer to believe if he will come down, just as Satan offered him the kingdom if he would bow down, tests Jesus: he can have people's allegiance if he will just forsake the Father's way of getting it (26:39, 42). God's mission for us will not always be pleasant, but the more pleasant alternatives actually forfeit our right to fulfill that mission. (For example, ministers who win great numbers only by sidestepping the demands of the kingdom have won statistics but not transformed hearts, and have failed a very costly test that Jesus here resists.)
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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