Matthew 27:36 (Keeping Watch Over Jesus)

On Thursday morning of Passion week, during “the third hour” that marked the second half of the morning (Mar 15:25, cf. Mat 20:3,5), not long before noon that marked the beginning of the sixth hour (Joh 19:14), Jesus was led to Golgotha, “The Skull”, stripped naked of His clothes that were divided as booty between the four soldiers assigned to carry out His sentence, and crucified along with two robbers with whom He too was accounted a “criminal”.  Luke alone records His prayer for the Father to forgive those crucifying Him, which has both textual and interpretive questions about its authenticity.  It is not found in some of the oldest manuscripts, though still found in others.  And since judgment overtook the Jewish nation with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple it would seem such a prayer went unanswered—so how could the perfect Son of God have prayed it?  But Luke himself may easily have omitted it from early copies of his gospel and added it to later ones after establishing its authenticity.  The context also makes clear that the prayer is primarily in regard to the soldiers charged with crucifying Him, who, although stretching out their hand against the Lord’s anointed, sinned ignorantly but had no moral culpability in His death as did the Jewish nation and its leaders.  In light of the many quotes of the saying by the early Church Fathers, and especially considering the remarkable ways God through His Spirit superintended the process of preserving for us everything pertaining to life and godliness through His word in the New Testament Scriptures, there is good reason to accept its authenticity.  We especially shouldn’t doubt its spirit of unconditional forgiveness as also demonstrated by Stephen towards those who from ignorance may hurt us.  But neither should we suppose that such forgiveness extends universally even to those who are willfully ignorant or who sin defiantly against the clear truth; Mar 3:29-30.

In continuing the Passion narrative, what does Matthew say happened immediately after they had crucified Jesus?  See Mat 27:36.  In what sense were the soldiers keeping watch over Him?  Note that the word used can also be translated as to guard; in other words, their job was to attend to His death and see that the sentence was carried out so that the prisoner didn’t somehow escape with perhaps the aid of others who might try to rescue him.  What was it that made their job easy so that they were able to just sit down?  See Joh 10:17-18; cf. 1Ki 19:11-13, Isa 53:7, Mat 11:29, 12:19, 21:5.  Had He not freely laid down His life, would the whole cohort or even an entire legion of soldiers have been able to put Him to death?  Cf. Mat 26:53.  As much as Peter and the other disciples had boasted that they would stand by Jesus so as to not fall away even if they had to die with Him—albeit safely behind His coattails in how they imagined He would manifest His strength—in reality, as the real strength of Jesus was manifested in the laying down of His life, in what way was the real strength that He first saw in His apostles that caused Him to choose them also manifested?  I.e., was it ever really in their nature to mount the sort of rescue mission their flesh would have dreamed about?  Or rather, as sheep of the good shepherd, were they too weak and foolish in themselves to even consider such a venture, so that they were forced to entrust the situation entirely to God’s able care and simply obey God’s commandments to rest on the three consecutive sabbaths[1] He had sovereignly ordained for His flock at that time?  See 1Co 1:26-29; cf. Exo 14:10-14, Zec 4:6.  How does this contrast with the spirit of the world expressed in the Humanist Manifesto that says, “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves”?  Cf. Joh 12:24-26.  As lambs ourselves who in following Jesus may also find ourselves being led to slaughter, what does this remind us about the importance of faith to our salvation?  Cf. Eph 2:8, Heb 11:39-40.

Just as we might imagine what it was like for the soldiers attending Jesus’ death to put on His garments unstained by human sin, we might also wonder what it was like for them to see the most righteous man who ever lived suffer and die upon the cross, Who from the very start refused the intoxicant to ease His suffering and then prayed God to forgive them.  For although they had no doubt witnessed the deaths of many a malefactor or enemy so that they had become hardened against the torturous misery and pain they inflicted on those whom they deemed to be suffering justly, could they remain unmoved by the afflictions of this One, that from what they observed led them to conclude that He was in fact suffering unjustly?  See Mat 27:54; Mar 15:39; cf. Luk 23:39-41,47.  As the Christian church grew and spread to the Gentiles throughout the Roman empire, is it possible in light of the experience the soldiers had keeping watch over Jesus at the cross that some eventually became believers?  Cf. Act 10:1-6.  Considering that the crowd would have been kept a safe distance from the cross and the soldiers would have been nearest in proximity to Jesus as He died, who should we consider a likely source regarding most of Jesus’ sayings on the cross, and why are most found in Luke and John that were written after the gospel had spread to the Gentiles?  See Luk 23:34,43,46, Joh 19:28,30; cf. Joh 19:26-27.  See also Mat 27:46 and Mar 15:34 for Jesus’ only saying on the cross recorded in these earlier gospels; what does the text make clear about how those farther away were able to hear it?  What else is recorded that also indicates the distance any bystanders must have been from the cross?  See Mat 27:47-49.

[1] Recall that Jesus and His disciples had eaten their Passover on Wednesday evening a day earlier than the official celebration by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem due to an earlier sighting of the new moon, which happens occasionally.  Hence, Thursday was for them the first day of Unleavened Bread and a required sabbath, while Friday would have been the same for the Jewish leaders and enforced by them as such since Thursday was the Passover for them.  The seventh day Sabbath on Saturday would therefore have been a third consecutive sabbath day of rest for Jesus’ followers.

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  • What is the relationship between Jesus’ sacrifice and our redemption, forgiveness and receiving an inheritance per the terms of the covenant / will that was effected by His death?
  • From what, and to what, are we saved? Is it Jesus’ death alone that saves us? What part does His resurrection have in our salvation?
  • Does the justice of God demand the satisfaction of blood before He will forgive, similar to what pagans throughout history have believed?
  • What was the purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices?
  • Does blood alone atone for sin?
  • How does Christ’s death render powerless the devil?
  • To whom was Christ’s life given as a ransom? From what are we ransomed?
  • Why did Jesus not only die, but suffer and die? If all that was necessary was His shed blood, why didn’t God sovereignly ordain a more merciful death for His own dear Son?
  • What is the relationship between a will or testament, and a covenant? What was willed to Jesus as an inheritance from His Father, and what was willed to us through the new testament in His blood?