45. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over the whole land till the ninth hour.46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 47. And some of those who were standing by, when they heard it, said, He calleth Elijah.48. And immediately one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and fastened it to a reed, and gave him to drink.49. But others said, Let him alone, let us see if Elijah will come to save him.50. And Jesus having again cried with a loud voice, gave up his spirit.51. And, lo, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth trembled, and the rocks were split, 52. And graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had slept arose, 53. And came out of their graves, after his resurrection, and came into the holy city and appeared to many.54. Now the centurion, and they who were with him guarding Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and those things which were done, were exceedingly terrified, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.55. And there were there many women looking on at a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him: 56. Among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.
33. But when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over all the land till the ninth hour.34. And the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, when interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 35. And some of those who were standing by, when they heard it, said, Lo, he calleth for Elijah.36. And some one ran, and filled a sponge with vinegar, and fastened it to a reed, and held it out to him to drink, saying, Let him alone, let us see if Elijah will come to take him down.37. And Jesus, having uttered a loud voice, expired.38. And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.39. And when the centurion, who was standing opposite to him, saw that he thus expired after crying aloud, he said, Certainly this man was the Son of God.40. And there were also women looking on from a distance, among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James the less and of Joses, and of Salome; 41. (Who also, when he was in Galilee, had followed him, and ministered to him,) and many others, who had also gone up with him to Jerusalem.
44. Now it was about the sixth hour; and there was darkness over all the land till the ninth hour.45. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.46. And Jesus having cried with a loud voice, said, Father into thy hands I commit my spirit. And having said this, he expired.47. And when the centurion saw what happened, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.48. And all the multitudes who were present at that spectacle, when they saw what was done, returned, smiting their breasts.49. And all his acquaintances, and the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, beholding these things.
Matthew 27:45. Now from the sixth hour. Although in the death of Christ the weakness of the flesh concealed for a short time the glory of the Godhead, and though the Son of God himself was disfigured by shame and contempt, and, as Paul says, was emptied, (Philippians 2:7) yet the heavenly Father did not cease to distinguish him by some marks, and during his lowest humiliation prepared some indications of his future glory, in order to fortify the minds of the godly against the offense of the cross. Thus the majesty of Christ was attested by the obscuration of the sun, by the earthquake, by the splitting of the rocks, and the rending of the veil, as if heaven and earth were rendering the homage which they owed to their Creator.
But we inquire, in the first place, what was the design of the eclipse of the sun? For the fiction of the ancient poets in their tragedies, that the light of the sun is withdrawn from the earth whenever any shocking crime is perpetrated, was intended to express the alarming effects of the anger of God; and this invention unquestionably had its origin in the ordinary feelings of mankind. In accordance with this view, some commentators think that, at the death of Christ, God sent darkness as a Mark of detestation, as if God, by bringing darkness over the sun, hid his face from beholding the blackest of all crimes. Others say that, when the visible sun was extinguished, it pointed out the death of the Sun of righteousness. Others choose to refer it to the blinding of the nation, which followed shortly afterwards. For the Jews, by rejecting Christ, as soon as he was removed from among them, were deprived of the light of heavenly doctrine, and nothing was left to them but the darkness of despair.
I rather think that, as stupidity had shut the eyes of that people against the light, the darkness was intended to arouse them to consider the astonishing design of God in the death of Christ. For if they were not altogether hardened, an unusual change of the order of nature must have made a deep impression on their senses, so as to look forward to an approaching renewal of the world. Yet it was a terrific spectacle which was exhibited to them, that they might tremble at the judgment of God. And, indeed, it was an astonishing display of the wrath of God that he did not spare even his only begotten Son, and was not appeased in any other way than by that price of expiation.
As to the scribes and priests, and a great part of the nation, who paid no attention to the eclipse of the sun, but passed it by with closed eyes, their amazing madness ought to strike us with horror; for they must have been more stupid than brute beasts, who when plainly warned of the severity of the judgment of heaven by such a miracle, did not cease to indulge in mockery. But this is the spirit of stupidity and of giddiness with which God intoxicates the reprobate, after having long contended with their malice. Meanwhile, let us learn that, when they were bewitched by the enchantments of Satan, the glory of God, however manifest, was afterwards hidden from them, or, at least, that their minds were darkened, so that, seeing they did not see, (Matthew 13:14.) But as it was a general admonition, it ought also to be of advantage to us, by informing us that the sacrifice by which we are redeemed was of as much importance as if the sun had fallen from heaven, or if the whole fabric of the world had fallen to pieces; for this will excite in us deeper horror at our sins.
As to the opinion entertained by some who make this eclipse of the sun extend to every quarter of the world, I do not consider it to be probable. For though it was related by one or two authors, still the history of those times attracted so much attention, that it was impossible for so remarkable a miracle to be passed over in silence by many other authors, who have described minutely events which were not so worthy of being recorded. Besides, if the eclipse had been universal throughout the world, it would have been regarded as natural, and would more easily have escaped the notice of men. But when the sun was shining elsewhere, it was a more striking miracle that Judea was covered with darkness.
46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried. Though in the cry which Christ uttered a power more than human was manifested, yet it was unquestionably drawn from him by intensity of sorrow. And certainly this was his chief conflict, and harder than all the other tortures, that in his anguish he was so far from being soothed by the assistance or favor of his Father, that he felt himself to be in some measure estranged from him. For not only did he offer his body as the price of our reconciliation with God, but. in his soul also he endured the punishments due to us; and thus he became, as Isaiah speaks, a man of sorrows, (53:3.) Those interpreters are widely mistaken who, laying aside this part of redemption, attended solely to the outward punishment of the flesh; for in order that Christ might satisfy for us, it was necessary that he should be placed as a guilty person at the judgment-seat of God. Now nothing is more dreadful than to feel that God, whose wrath is worse than all deaths, is the Judge. When this temptation was presented to Christ, as if, having God opposed to him, he were already devoted to destruction, he was seized with horror, which would have been sufficient to swallow up a hundred times all the men in the world; but by the amazing power of the Spirit he achieved the victory. Nor is it by hypocrisy, or by assuming a character, that he complains of having been forsaken by the Father. Some allege that he employed this language in compliance with the opinion of the people, but this is an absurd mode of evading the difficulty; for the inward sadness of his soul was so powerful and violent, that it forced him to break out into a cry. Nor did the redemption which he accomplished consist solely in what was exhibited to the eye, (as I stated a little ago,) but having undertaken to be our surety, he resolved actually to undergo in our room the judgment of God.
But it appear absurd to say that an expression of despair escaped Christ. The reply is easy. Though the perception of the flesh would have led him to dread destruction, still in his heart faith remained firm, by which he beheld the presence of God, of whose absence he complains. We have explained elsewhere how the Divine nature gave way to the weakness of the flesh, so far as was necessary for our salvation, that Christ might accomplish all that was required of the Redeemer. We have likewise pointed out the distinction between the sentiment of nature and the knowledge of faith; and, there ore, the perception of God's estrangement from him, which Christ had, as suggested by natural feeling, did not hinder him from continuing to be assured by faith that God was reconciled to him. This is sufficiently evident from the two clauses of the complaint; for, before stating the temptation, he begins by saying that he betakes himself to God as his God, and thus by the shield of faith he courageously expels that appearance of forsaking which presented itself on the other side. In short, during this fearful torture his faith remained uninjured, so that, while he complained of being forsaken, he still relied on the aid of God as at hand.
That this expression eminently deserves our attention is evident from the circumstance, that the Holy Spirit, in order to engrave it more deeply on the memory of men, has chosen to relate it in the Syriac language; for this has the same effect as if he made us hear Christ himself repeating the very words which then proceeded from his mouth. So much the more detestable is the indifference of those who lightly pass by, as a matter of jesting, the deep sadness and fearful trembling which Christ endured. No one who considers that Christ undertook the office of Mediator on the condition of suffering our condemnation, both in his body and in his soul, will think it strange that he maintained a struggle with the sorrows of death, as if an offended God had thrown him into a whirlpool of afflictions.
47. He calleth Elijah. Those who consider this as spoken by the soldiers, ignorant and unskilled in the Syriac language, and unacquainted with the Jewish religion, and who imagine that the soldiers blundered through a resemblance of the words, are, in my opinion, mistaken. I do not think it at all probable that they erred through ignorance, but rather that they deliberately intended to mock Christ, and to turn his prayer into an occasion of slander. For Satan has no method more effectual for ruining the salvation of the godly, than by dissuading them from calling on God. For this reason, he employs his agents to drive off from us, as far as he can, the desire to pray. Thus he impelled the wicked enemies of Christ basely to turn his prayer into derision, intending by this stratagem to strip him of his chief armor. And certainly it is a very grievous temptation, when prayer appears to be so far from yielding any advantage to us, that God exposes his name to reproaches, instead of lending a gracious car to our prayers. This ironical language, therefore -- or rather this barking of dogs -- amounts to saying that Christ has no access to God, because, by imploring Elijah, he seeks relief in another quarter. Thus we see that he was tortured on every hand, in order that, overwhelmed with despair, he might abstain from calling on God, which was, to abandon salvation. But if the hired brawlers of Antichrist, as well as wicked men existing in the Church, are now found to pervert basely by their calumnies what has been properly said by us, let us not wonder that the same thing should happen to our Head. Yet though they may change God into Elijah, when they have ridiculed us to their heart's content, God will at length listen to our groanings, and will show that he vindicates his glory, and punishes base falsehood.
48. And immediately one ran. As Christ had once refused to drink, it may be conjectured with probability, that it was repeatedly offered to him for the sake of annoyance; though it is also not improbable that the vinegar was held out to him in a cup before he was raised aloft, and that a sponge was afterwards applied to his mouth, while he was hanging on the cross.
Mark 15:36. Saying, Let him alone, let us see if Elijah will come to save him. Mark relates these words as having been spoken by the soldier, while holding out the vinegar; but Matthew tells us that others used the same language. There is no inconsistency here, however; for it is probable that the jeering was begun by one person, but was eagerly seized by others, and loudly uttered by the multitude. The phrase, let him alone, appears to have implied not restraint, but ridicule; accordingly, the person who first mocked Christ, ironically addressing his companions, says, Let us see if Elijah will come. Others quickly followed, and every one sung the same song to his next neighbor, as usually happens with men who are agreed about any course. Nor is it of any importance to inquire if it was in the singular or plural number; for in either case the meaning is the same, the word being used in place of an interjection, as if they had said, Hush! Hush!
Matthew 27:50. Jesus having again cried with a loud voice. Luke, who makes no mention of the former complaint, repeats the words of this second cry, which Matthew and Mark leave out. He says that Jesus cried, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit; by which he declared that, though he was fiercely attacked by violent temptations, still his faith was unshaken, and always kept its ground unvanquished. For there could not have been a more splendid triumph than when Christ boldly expresses his assurance that God is the faithful guardian of his soul, which all imagined to be lost. But instead of speaking to the deaf, he betook himself directly to God, and committed to his bosom the assurance of his confidence. He wished, indeed, that men should hear what he said; but though it might be of no avail to men, he was satisfied with having God alone as his witness. And certainly there is not a stronger or more decided testimony of faith than when a pious man -- perceiving himself attacked on every hand:, so that he finds no consolation on the part of men -- despises the madness of the whole world, discharges his sorrows and cares into the bosom of God, and rests in the hope of his promises.
Though this form of prayer appears to be borrowed from Psalm 31:5, yet I have no doubt that he applied it to his immediate object, according to present circumstances; as if he had said, |I see, indeed, O Father, that by the universal voice I am destined to destruction, and that my soul is, so to speak, hurried to and fro; but though, according to the flesh, I perceive no assistance in thee, yet this will not hinder me from committing my spirit into thy hands, and calmly relying on the hidden safeguard of thy goodness.| Yet it ought to be observed, that David, in the passage which I have quoted, not only prayed that his soul, received by the hand of God, might continue to be safe and happy after death, but committed his life to the Lord, that, guarded by his protection, he might prosper both in life and in death. He saw himself continually besieged by many deaths; nothing, therefore, remained but to commit himself to the invincible protection of God. Having made God the guardian of his soul, he rejoices that it is safe from all danger; and, at the same time, prepares to meet death with confidence, whenever it shall please God, because the Lord guards the souls of his people even in death. No as the former was taken away from Christ, to commit his soul to be protected by the Father during the frail condition of the earthly life, he hastens cheerfully to death, and desires to be preserved beyond the world; for the chief reason why God receives our souls into his keeping is, that our faith may rise beyond this transitory life.
Let us now remember that it was not in reference to himself alone that Christ committed his soul to the Father, but that he included, as it were, in one bundle all the souls of those who believe in him, that they may be preserved along with his own; and not only so, but by this prayer he obtained authority to save all souls, so that not only does the heavenly Father, for his sake, deign to take them into his custody, but, giving up the authority into his hands, commits them to him to be protected. And therefore Stephen also, when dying, resigns his soul into his hands, saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, (Acts 7:59.) Every one who, when he comes to die, following this example, shall believe in Christ, will not breathe his soul at random into the air, but will resort to a faithful guardian, who keeps in safety whatever has been delivered to him by the Father.
The cry shows also the intensity of the feeling; for there can be no doubt that Christ, out of the sharpness of the temptations by which he was beset, not without a painful and strenuous effort, broke out into this cry. And yet he likewise intended, by this loud and piercing exclamation, to assure us that his soul would be safe and uninjured by death, in order that we, supported by the same confidence, may cheerfully depart from the frail hovel of our flesh.
51. And, lo, the veil of the temple was rent. When Luke blends the rending of the veil with the eclipse of the sun, he inverts the order; for the Evangelists, as we have frequently seen, are not careful to mark every hour with exactness. Nor was it proper that the veil should be rent, until the sacrifice of expiation had been completed; for then Christ, the true and everlasting Priest, having abolished the figures of the law, opened up for us by his blood the way to the heavenly sanctuary, that we may no longer stand at a distance within the porch, but may freely advance into the presence of God. For so long as the shadowy worship lasted, a veil was hung up before the earthly sanctuary, in order to keep the people not only from entering but from seeing it, (Exodus 26:33; 2 Chronicles 3:14.) Now Christ, by
blotting out the handwriting which was opposed to us, (Colossians 2:14,)
removed every obstruction, that, relying on him as Mediator, we may all be a royal priesthood, (1 Peter 2:9.) Thus the rending of the veil was not only an abrogation of the ceremonies which existed under the law, but was, in some respects, an opening of heaven, that God may now invite the members of his Son to approach him with familiarity.
Meanwhile, the Jews were informed that the period of abolishing outward sacrifices had arrived, and that the ancient priesthood would be of no farther use; that though the building of the temple was left standing, it would not be necessary to worship God there after the ancient custom; but that since the substance and truth of the shadows had been fulfilled, the figures of the law were changed into spirit. For though Christ offered a visible sacrifice, yet, as the Apostle tells us (Hebrews 9:14) it must be viewed spiritually, that we may enjoy its value and its fruit. But it was of no advantage to those wretched men that the outward sanctuary was laid bare by the rending of the veil, because the inward veil of unbelief, which was in their hearts, hindered them from beholding the saving light.
And the earth trembled, and the rocks were split. What Matthew adds about the earthquake and the splitting oft he rocks, I think it probable, took place at the same time. In this way not only did the earth bear the testimony to its Creator, but it was even called as a witness against the hard-heartedness of a perverse nation; for it showed how monstrous that obstinacy must have been on which neither the earthquake nor the splitting of the rocks made any impression.
52 And graves were opened. This was also a striking miracle, by which God declared that his Son entered into the prison of death, not to continue to be shut up there, but to bring out all who were held captive. For at the very time when the despicable weakness of the flesh was beheld in the person of Christ, the magnificent and divine energy of his death penetrated even to hell. This is the reason why, when he was about to be shut up in a sepulcher, other sepulchers were opened by him. Yet it is doubtful if this opening of the graves took place before his resurrection; for, in my opinion, the resurrection of the saints, which is mentioned immediately afterwards, was subsequent to the resurrection of Christ. There is no probability in the conjecture of some commentators that, after having received life and breath, they remained three days concealed in their graves. I think it more probable that, when Christ died, the graves were immediately opened: and that, when he rose, some of the godly, having received life, went out of their graves, and were seen in the city. For Christ is called the first-born from the dead, (Colossians 1:18,) and the first-fruits of those who rise, (1 Corinthians 15:20,) because by his death he commenced, and by his resurrection he completed, a new life; not that, when he died, the dead were immediately raised, but because his death was the source and commencement of life. This reason, therefore, is fully applicable, since the opening of the graves was the presage of a new life, that the fruit or result appeared three days afterwards, because Christ, in rising from the dead, brought others along with him out of their graves as his companions. Now by this sign it was made evident, that he neither died nor rose again in a private capacity, but in order to shed the odor of life on all believers.
But here a question arises. Why did God determine that only some should arise, since a participation in the resurrection of Christ belongs equally to all believers? I reply: As the time was not fully come when the whole body of the Church should be gathered to its Head, he exhibited in a few persons an instance of the new life which all ought to expect. For we know that Christ was received into heaven on the condition that the life of his members should still be hid, (Colossians 3:3,) until it should be manifested by his coming. But in order that the minds of believers might be more quickly raised to hope, it was advantageous that the resurrection, which was to be common to all of them, should be tasted by a few.
Another and more difficult question is, What became of those saints afterwards? For it would appear to be absurd to suppose that, after having been once admitted by Christ to the participation of a new life, they again returned to dust. But as this question cannot be easily or quickly answered, so it is not necessary to give ourselves much uneasiness about a matter which is not necessary to be known. That they continued long to converse with men is not probable; for it was only necessary that they should be seen for a short time, that in them, as in a mirror or resemblance, the power of Christ might plainly appear. As God intended, by their persons, to confirm the hope of the heavenly life among those who were then alive, there would be no absurdity in saying that, after having performed this office, they again rested in their graves. But it is more probable that the life which they received was not afterwards taken from them; for if it had been a mortal life, it would not have been a proof of a perfect resurrection. Now, though the whole world will rise again, and though Christ will raise up the wicked to judgment, as well as believers to salvation, yet as it was especially for the benefit of his Church that he rose again, so it was proper that he should bestow on none but saints the distinguished honor of rising along with him.
53. And went into the holy city. When Matthew bestows on Jerusalem the honorable designation of the holy city, he does not intend to applaud the character of its inhabitants, for we know that it was at that time full of all pollution and wickedness, so that it was rather a den of robbers, (Jeremiah 7:11.) But as it had been chosen by God, its holiness, which was founded on God's adoption, could not be effaced by any corruptions of men, till its rejection was openly declared. Or, to express it more briefly, on the part of man it was profane, and on the part of God it was holy, till the destruction or pollution of the temple, which happened not long after the crucifixion of Christ.
54. Now the centurion. As Luke mentions the lamentation of the people, the centurion and his soldiers were not the only persons who acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God; but the Evangelists mention this circumstance respecting him for the purpose of heightening their description: for it is wonderful that an irreligious man, who had not been instructed in the Law, and was ignorant of true religion, should form so correct a judgment from the signs which he beheld. This comparison tends powerfully to condemn the stupidity of the city; for it was an evidence of shocking madness, that when the fabric of the world shook and trembled, none of the Jews were affected by it except the despised rabble. And yet, amidst such gross blindness, God did not permit the testimonies which he gave respecting his Son to be buried in silence. Not only, therefore, did true religion open the eyes of devout worshippers of God to perceive that from heaven God was magnifying the glory of Christ, but natural understanding compelled foreigners, and even soldiers, to confess what they had not learned either from the law or from any instructor.
When Mark says that the centurion spoke thus, because Christ, when he had uttered a loud voice, expired, some commentators think that he intends to point out the unwonted strength which remained unimpaired till death; and certainly, as the body of Christ was almost exhausted of blood, it could not happen, in the ordinary course of things, that the sides and the lungs should retain sufficient rigor for uttering so loud a cry. Yet I rather think that the centurion intended to applaud the unshaken perseverance of Christ in calling on the name of God. Nor was it merely the cry of Christ that led the centurion to think so highly of him, but this confession was extorted from him by perceiving that his extraordinary strength harmonized with heavenly miracles.
The words, he feared God, must not be so explained as if he had fully repented. It was only a sudden and transitory impulse, as it frequently happens, that men who are thoughtless and devoted to the world are struck with the fear of God, when he makes an alarming display of his power; but as they have no living root, indifference quickly follows, and puts an end to that feeling. The centurion had not undergone such a change as to dedicate himself to God for the remainder of his life, but was only for a moment the herald of the divinity of Christ.
When Luke represents him as saying no more than certainly this was a righteous man, the meaning is the same as if he had plainly said that he was the Son of God, as it is expressed by the other two Evangelists. For it had been universally reported that Christ was put to death, because he declared himself to be the Son of God. Now when the centurion bestows on him the praise of righteousness, and pronounces him to be innocent, he likewise acknowledges him to be the Son of God; not that he understood distinctly how Christ was begotten by God the Father, but because he entertains no doubt that there is some divinity in him, and, convinced by proofs, holds it to be certain that Christ was not an ordinary man, but had been raised up by God.
As to the multitudes, by striving their breasts, they expressed the dread of punishment for a public crime, because they felt that public guilt had been contracted by an unjust and shocking murder. But as they went no farther, their lamentation was of no avail, unless, perhaps, in some persons it was the commencement or preparation of true repentance. And since nothing more is described to us than the lamentation which God drew from them to the glory of his Son, let us learn by this example, that it is of little importance, or of no importance at all, if a man is struck with terror, when he sees before his eyes the power of God, until, after the astonishment has been abated, the fear of God remains calmly in his heart.
55. And there were also many women there. I consider this to have been added in order to inform us that, while the disciples had fled and were scattered in every direction, still some of their company were retained by the Lord as witnesses. Now though the Apostle John did not depart from the cross, yet no mention is made of him; but praise is bestowed on the women alone, who accompanied Christ till death, because their extraordinary attachment to their Master was the more strikingly displayed, when the men fled trembling. For they must have been endued with extraordinary strength of attachment, since, though they could render him no service, they did not cease to treat him with reverence, even when exposed to the lowest disgrace. And yet we learn fromLuke that all the men had not fled; for he says that all his acquaintances stood at a distance. But not without reason do the Evangelists bestow the chief praise on the women, for they deserved the preference above the men. In my opinion, the implied contrast suggests a severe reproof of the apostles. I speak of the great body of them; for since only one remained, the three Evangelists, as I mentioned a little ago, take no notice of him. It was in the highest degree disgraceful to chosen witnesses to withdraw from that spectacle on which depended the salvation of the world. Accordingly, when they afterwards proclaimed the gospel, they must have borrowed from women the chief portion of the history. But if a remedy had not been miraculously prepared by Providence against a great evil, they would have deprived themselves, and us along with them, of the knowledge of redemption.
At first sight, we might think that the testimony of the women does not possess equal authority; but if we duly consider by what power of the Spirit they were supported against that temptation, we shall find that there is no reason why our faith should waver, since it rests on God, who is the real Author of their testimony. Yet let us observe, that it proceeded from the inconceivable goodness of God, that even to us should come that gospel which speaks of the expiation by which God has been reconciled to us. For during the general desertion of those who ought to have run before others, God encouraged some, out of the midst of the flock, who, recovering from the alarm, should be witnesses to us of that history, without the belief of which we cannot be saved. Of the women themselves, we shall presently have another opportunity of saying something. At present, it may be sufficient to take a passing notice of one point, that their eagerness for instruction led them to withdraw from their country, and constantly to learn from the lips of Christ, and that they spared neither toil nor money, provided that they might enjoy his saving doctrine.