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language of the evangelist gives some countenance to this supposition, in saying that he yielded up the ghost; as if it had been a voluntary act, and he had dismissed his spirit. But the words in the original signify no more than that he gave up the breath, which was a common phrase ainong the Greeks for dying: the loud сту
which Jesus is said to have uttered, was probably of a convulsive nature, and might proceed from the agonies of death: it is not uncommon, I believe, in other instances. That Jesus should die before the others that were crucified with him, has nothing in it surprising, if we consider how much he had suffered from his agony in the garden, and the outrages of the Jews and of the Roman soldiers, in conjunction with his peculiar sensibility of mind. Besides, to suppose that Christ voluntarily put an end to his sufferings, would detract much from his merit in suffering, and from the utility of his example: for the conduct of one who bore all the pains of a violent death, is much more encouraging to a disciple who is called to the like trial, than that of a master who put an end to his sufferings as soon as they became very painful. This, if it were true, would do much towards justifying suicide.
51. And, behold! the vail of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom.
This is generally understood to be the curtain which separated the holy place from the most holy; although there was another curtain placed before the porch for entering into the temple. This effect might be produced by the shaking of the temple with the earth. quake.
And the earth did quake, and the rocks rent, i. e. were split.
These violent convulsions were intended to mark the displeasure of Heaven at what had taken place: some traces of this earthquake are said to he visible at Jerusalem, at the present day.
52. And the graves were opened, and many bodies of saints which slept, , arose,
53. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Michaelis, a learned German divine, explains this account in the following manner: on the day in which Jesus died, many graves, or rather sepulchres, (for such were the burying places used by the Jews) of persons lately dead, were opened by the violent earthquake which happened immediately upon that event. Their bodies were seen, for several days afterwards, in the opened sepulchres, but were soon afterwards missing: About this time, however, several of their friends and acquaintance, who had been lately dead, appeared to some pious persons in Jerusalem, in a dream, telling them that they were returned to life; and as their bodies were no where to be found, they concluded that they were actually risen from the dead: and Matthew therefore relates in this story only what he heard,
Others have supposed that as one resurrection from the dead might give rise to reports of many others, this was the case in regard to the resurrection of Christ; and Matthew relates only what was commonly reported and credited at Jerusalem.
1. We have in these verses an affecting view of the sufferings of our master, of what he endured from bodily pain and from the cruel insults of his enemies. Whatever outrages they might have been disposed to offer him before, we might have imagined that when they saw him upon the cross, unable to move, tortured with pain, and a spectacle of public infamy, some sentiments
of tenderness and compassion would have entered their hearts. This was certainly enough to satisfy the most insatiable malice! Surely they will now suffer him to enjoy the reflections of his own mind, and allow him to call to his assistance every consideration which can afford him consolation in his present dreadful circumstances; but not so thought his enemies: they are resolved to pursue him to the last, and to aggravate, by derision and insult, those sufferings which are already too great for human nature to support. We find the common people passing to and fro before his cross, wagging their heads in token of scorn and contempt, and calling upon him to help himself, if he can. “What is become of your miraculous powers and lofty pretensions now? They have fled from you, when you most needed their aid. You proclaimed yourself the Son of God and the favourite of Heaven: give some proof of your interest in that favour, by coming down from the cross. Surely God would not suffer a favourite servant to endure such sufferings!" Such was the malicious language and unfeeling behaviour of the common people, who could, assuredly, be only some of the servants or dependants of the scribes and priests, and who were set on by their masters. But, although they were guilty of such baseness and cruelty as to insult over a dying man, we expect that men of rank and education will take no part in the business : they will undoubtedly abstain from language which disgraces the lowest of the vulgar, and is only worthy of the untutored savage: yet we find that the teachers of the law, the ministers of religion, and the members of the highest court of justice, mix with the populace on this occasion, adopt their language, and countenance and foment their outrages. That Jesus was not affected by such language, cannot be supposed: their words entered his soul, as the iron did his body: yet he made no reply to their abuse, but bore it all with that dignified composure which he had manifested throughout his sufferings: he left to time and to his heavenly Father to put to shame the triumphs of his enemies, and to convince them that he was as much the favourite of Heaven, while hanging upon the cross, as when he was performing the most illustrious miracles, and followed by the Hosannas of the multitude. Divine testimonials for this purpose were not long wanting: already are the heavens veiled with darkness, as if ashamed to behold the unrighteous deed; soon does the earth tremble, as if unwilling to sustain the feet of such daring offenders. Christ, in the midst of his sufferings, still calls God, his God; and these events show that he is still worthy of the appellation of his son.Although deserted by most of his earthly friends, he is. not alone--for the Father is with him.
From these extraordinary appearances at the crucifixion of Jesus, let us learn to reverence him. God does not suffer him to be injured and insulted, without testifying his displeasure by sensible and visible appearances: let us take care how we slight the message of one who has so many testimonials that he is patronized and supported by God.
Matthew xxvii. 54. to the end.
54. Now when the centurion and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was a son of God!
The centurion having observed the miracles which took place at the death of Jesus, concluded not only that he was innocent of the crimes for which he suffered, but that he was some extraordinary person; and, being a Roman, and having heard much about the intercourse between gods and men, imagined that he inust have been the Son of a God, after this manner* In this sense, must we understand Son of God in the mouth of a Roman, who could know nothing of the claim of Jesus to this peculiar appellation as the Messiah. What alarmed him, and the soldiers under his command, was
See Dan. iii. 25. and Virgil's Æneid, iv. 12.
the apprehension that Heaven, by these miracles, testified its displeasure at the deed which had just been committed. He might possibly have heard also that Jesus acknowledged himself to be the Son of God before the Jewish council.
55. And many women were there, beholding, looking on, afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him;
Luke, viii. 3, explains to us what we are to understand by ministering to him: for he mentions certain women who followed Jesus and ministered to him of their substance. This they did, partly out of gratitude to Jesus, who had cured them of different diseases, and stood in need of their assistance, having nothing of his own, and partly from motives of benevolence, to enable him to perform the same services for others: it was their custom to accompany him while travelling throughout the country, to preach the gospel; and they had now followed him, with the same view, in his last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The same affection to their benefactor induced them to be the sorrowful spectators of his sufferings and death. They were not allowed to come near the cross, because it was surrounded with soldiers, to guard against any attempt to rescue the body of the criminal.
56. Among which was Mary Magdalene, or of Magdala, a town of Judæa, whom Jesus had cured of outrageous and inveterate madness, expressed in the gospel by being possessed by seven dæmons, and Mary, the mother of James and Joses, the former of whom was one of the apostles, Mark xv. 40, and the mother of Zebedee's children,