Imagery and irony at The Crucifixion (Matthew 27:32-66)

In the lead up to Good Friday and Easter, here are a few observations and reflections on Mathew’s crucifixion account.

V34 Another Simon

Simon of Cyrene is conscripted in to carry Christ’s crossbeam. This suggests as most commentators have observed that Jesus has been severely weakened by his beating.  Simon is explicitly named suggesting that he is someone known to the early church and has become a prominent believer. This is just one of those little nuggets of evidence for the historicity of the crucifixion that pop up along the way.

RT France (NICNT) suggests that the appearance of this Simon serves to highlight the absence of the other Simon (Peter) who had sworn faithful loyalty to Christ.

V34 “This cup”

The imagery of wine offered is important. Jesus has shared a cup of wine with his disciples representing the new covenant. Jesus has prayed that he will be spared the cup of suffering. Here Jesus is offered wine, unlike the good wine offered to his disciples this is bitter wine. At the same time it is wine that may have a drugging effect and enabling him to be spared the worst of his suffering. He refuses it.

V37-38 The King of the Jews

The charge against Jesus was specifically that he was “The King of the Jews.”  The crucifixion between two revolutionaries/rebels (not merely thieves) reminds us that from Pilate’s point of view, this was a political act and a political punishment. A rebellion has been put down. The problem is not that Jesus claimed a kingship but that he was the king of the people. In that sense his punishment is for the whole people. From the Roman perspective, the people owned him as king even as they through their religious leaders tried to disown him.

Yet the wonder of it is first that Jesus was and is rightfully the King, not just of the Jews but over the whole creation. At the start of the Gospel, Matthew introduces Jesus as the Messiah or Christ (Matthew 1:18).

V62 Sabbath Observance

It’s the Sabbath, the day of rest and what are the religious leaders doing? Remember that the shops are not open and the women have to wait until Sunday before they can go to the tomb to honour Jesus and anoint the body. They are observing the Sabbath.

The religious leaders on the other hand are meeting with Pilate -causing the stranger in their midst to work.  They are about their political business because the job is not yet finished until Jesus is well and truly buried. One of the great ironies of the Gospels is that Jesus is condemned for doing good and healing in the Sabbath whilst the leaders use the day to plot his murder. He uses it to fulfil the spirit of the Law, they use it to break the letter of the Law.

V62-66 Eden Reversed.

Indulge me a little on this. It’s purely speculative and not central to our exegesis – I’m certainly not going to build a sermon on it but I am fascinated by the words here. Compare:

“63 They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ 64 So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

65 Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” 66 So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.”[1]

With:

22 Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings[e] have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” 23 So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. 24 After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.[2]

~In both passages there is the risk that some people will be able to gain a claim on life, Adam and Eve by gaining access to the Tree of Life, Jesus’s followers by being able to claim he is alive. In both passages, restrictions are put in place and a guard set. However, in Genesis, the guard is placed legitimately because Adam and Eve were sinners, here Christ was innocent. In Eden the guard was placed to keep people out, here although it is about keeping people out, it is as much about keeping Jesus in. In Eden the deterrent was effective, here it was useless.

This reminds me of the whole imagery here of Eden’s Fall reversed. Adam and Eve ate from one tree and brought a curse. Jesus, who was sinless died on a cursed tree so we could have life and the curse could be lifted. Adam and Eve were banished from the Tree of Life. A guard was placed to keep people from Jesus who is the true Tree of Life. However, death could not hold him nor a guard bar his way. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus brought about the reconciliation of God with man.  We have access to the eternal Tree of Life.

 

[1] Matthew 27:63-66

[2] Genesis 3:22-24.

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