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King of the Jews

So much irony.

Written by Mike Biolsi on .


I want us to pick up where we left off, with the death sentence handed down by Pilate. Let’s just jump right in...

Matthew 27:26


26 Then he released Barabbas to them and, after having Jesus flogged, handed him over to be crucified.

If you have watched the movie, The Passion of the Christ, you understand just how understated Matthew’s account is. Matthew simply states that Pilate had Jesus “flogged”.

CSB Study Bible: Notes Chapter 27

Roman flogging utilized an instrument of torture called the (Gk) flagellum, a leather whip that had thongs laced with sharp pieces of iron or bone. Although beatings in the Jewish synagogue were limited to thirty-nine blows, no limit was imposed on Roman flogging. Ancient writers described victims being disemboweled or having their bones laid bare by the flagellum.

Matthew simply states Jesus was flogged by the Romans. Perhaps because it was so punishing of an event it was not something he could put words to? Perhaps because anyone who lived at the time of the writing of his gospel would have witnessed the event to know what it entailed? Or, perhaps because the goal of Matthew is not to emphasize the physical torment of Jesus but rather to focus on what it fulfilled.

Between the flogging and the crucifixion, there is another event that is described in more detail:

Matthew 27:27–31


27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the governor’s residence and gathered the whole company around him. 28 They stripped him and dressed him in a scarlet robe. 29 They twisted together a crown of thorns, put it on his head, and placed a staff in his right hand. And they knelt down before him and mocked him: “Hail, king of the Jews!” 30 Then they spat on him, took the staff, and kept hitting him on the head. 31 After they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.

They move from the courtyard to a private place in Pilate’s house. The soldiers mock Jesus by:

putting him in a “royal” robe

making a crown for him

giving him a staff

They knelt down before him in fake homage - mocking him even more. We are reminded, however, that one day every knee will bow before Jesus:

Philippians 2:9–11


9 For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

But at the moment, it is all mockery and arrogance. They disgraced him by spitting on him. They took back the staff and beat the crown of thorns further into his head. And when they were done having their “fun”, they put his own clothes back on him and took him away to be crucified.

And the next thing you know, he is heading out of the city with the cross and Simon from Cyrene is forced to carry the cross for Jesus, and immediately he is at the place of the skull.

Matthew 27:32–33


32 As they were going out, they found a Cyrenian man named Simon. They forced him to carry his cross. 33 When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull),

Again, Matthew does not focus on the gory details of the crucifixion, nor the journey through the streets and out the gates to the place of the skull.


Why does Matthew NOT get into the physical details of anything EXCEPT the way that one group of soldiers treated him behind closed doors?

Matthew 27:33–38


33 When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull), 34 they gave him wine mixed with gall to drink. But when he tasted it, he refused to drink it. 35 After crucifying him, they divided his clothes by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and were guarding him there. 37 Above his head they put up the charge against him in writing: This Is Jesus, the King of the Jews. 38 Then two criminals were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.

There a MANY details Matthew could have focused on: who was in the crowd, for instance. However, he keys in on some details that you and I might think a bit eccentric or even insignificant. Remember, Matthew is a man of details, and the ones he mentioned are important and are often hyperlinks to other scriptures he wants to connect with.

For instance, why would anyone bother to mention that they offered Jesus wine with gall to drink?

Psalm 69:16–21


16 Answer me, Lord, for your faithful love is good. In keeping with your abundant compassion, turn to me. 17 Don’t hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress. Answer me quickly! 18 Come near to me and redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies. 19 You know the insults I endure— my shame and disgrace. You are aware of all my adversaries. 20 Insults have broken my heart, and I am in despair. I waited for sympathy, but there was none; for comforters, but found no one. 21 Instead, they gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

Psalm 69

is esteemed as a Messianic Psalm. Matthew mention of the wine and gall connects Jesus with this Psalm and his claim to be the Messiah. The Psalm also mentions the insults, disgrace, enemies and God hiding his face from the servant. All of these are themes you will connect to our passage in Matthew.

King of the Jews: can we take a moment to think about that?

The title “King of the Jews” could not be more ironic than as portrayed in Matthew’s gospel. It was the demons who called Jesus the Son of God. It was a Gentile soldier and also a Gentile woman who accepted him as God. After the resurrection, it is first the Roman guard that will acknowledge his deity. In contrast, it was the Jews and their religious leaders who falsely accused, condemned, betrayed, mocked and sentenced Jesus to death. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was more a king of the Gentiles than of the Jews.

Which brings us to the subjects of our passage. We have the word “they” being used repeatedly. It is NOT the disciples - they are scattered. It is not the religious leaders - they are on the sidelines now. It is not the crowds.

The “they” are the soldiers. We never lose sight of them. THE SOLDIERS arrived (with Jesus and Simon) at the place of the skull. THE SOLDIERS offered Jesus some form of drugged wine, which he refused. THE SOLDIERS crucified him. THE SOLDIERS divided his clothes by casting lots. THE SOLDERS sat down and guarded him. THE SOLDIERS put up the sign that declared Jesus as “King of the Jews”.

It was THE SOLDIERS who flogged Jesus. It was THE SOLDIERS who mocked him, made the crown of thorns, spit on him and beat him over the head. And now it is the SOLDIERS who have done these other things as well.

The Taunting

Matthew 27:39–44


39 Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him and said, 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue him now—if he takes pleasure in him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him taunted him.

Jesus is then taunted by three groups: the crowds, the religious leaders (chief priests, scribes and elders) and the criminals. I want you to catch a certain phrase:

If you are the Son of God” - where have we heard this before? When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, right after his baptism, we read the temptation:

Matthew 4:3–4


3 Then the tempter approached him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 He answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Then Jesus was tempted a second time:

Matthew 4:5–7


5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will give his angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” 7 Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God.”

And the final temptation:

Matthew 4:8–10


8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

That was the beginning of his earthly ministry. Now that we approach the end of his earthly ministry we have a similar temptation:

If you are the Son of God (as you claim) prove it and we will follow you! Call on those angels, save yourself and we will believe.

Just as Jesus was tempted by the “accuser” in order to cause him to sin, he is now tempted by his accusers once again - in an effort to undo the plan of God. IF Jesus gave in to their taunting it would have undone the work of the Father, which is what the accuser has been trying to do since the garden!

THIS TIME, Jesus did NOT quote scripture, however. He simply remained silent.

Matthew 27:45–50


45 From noon until three in the afternoon, darkness came over the whole land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” 47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and offered him a drink. 49 But the rest said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” 50 But Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit.

The darkness coming over the land was most certainly a supernatural event. Can you think of another time darkness fell over a whole land? The Exodus! It was the ninth plague:

Exodus 10:21–23


21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness throughout the land of Egypt for three days. 23 One person could not see another, and for three days they did not move from where they were. Yet all the Israelites had light where they lived.

This was the event that took place just prior to the passover - which is the celebration that the Jews were having in Jerusalem during the events we are reading about.

The plague of darkness for Egypt took place for 3 days. Darkness over the land while Jesus hung on the cross took place for 3 hours. Just as the Exodus events demonstrated God’s power over evil, so will these events in the death of Jesus. Just as the Exodus led the people of God to freedom and life with God, so too will the events of the cross provide freedom and life to all who will trust and obey.

However, there was another darkness that took place. Jesus cried out - “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”. This passage has been very controversial, but only when probing into the areas we cannot fully know. The cry of Jesus is mentioned in both Matthew and Mark - and I believe it accomplishes two things:

It shows the utter aloneness that Jesus felt. His people (the Jews) had abandoned him and condemned him. His disciples betrayed him, denied knowing him, and abandoned him. The only relationship left was that of Jesus wit the Father, and it appears as though even that relationship was cut off.

“forsaken” or “abandon” is a word we have to wrestle with - in every other instance in the NT it means to desert or to leave. While we are uncomfortable with how that works out with Jesus being God and man, we cannot ignore the truest sense of the phrase - Jesus declared he was cut off from the Father.

“my God” - this is the only time in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus referred to Yahweh not as Father, but as Elohim (God). This is another indication that something else in the relationship was different.

While there are many ways commentators have attempted to explain these words, the most commonly accepted is this -> that Jesus never ceased to be God, but his fellowship with the Father was cut off. This is awkward for sure!

After meditating on the passage, Martin Luther exclaimed, “God forsaken of God! Who can understand it?” ~ Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Eli. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 686). Baker Book House.

NOTE: where the theological struggles continue is when you attempt to understand how an eternal being that was with God in the beginning (

John 1:1

) who has no beginning nor end (

Rev 22:13

) can be killed or die?

2. The second reason I believe Matthew is recording this quote is because he wants to tie it in to other Old Testament passages that spoke of the Messiah (we will look at a few in just a few minutes). This may also be why Matthew records the sour wine / vinegar and even the reference to Elijah.

I want us to read another Psalm that was considered a Messianic Psalm, or a Psalm that spoke about the Messiah. See how many hyperlinks you can find with the events of the crucifixion:

turn in your Bibles

Psalm 22


For the choir director: according to “The Deer of the Dawn.” A psalm of David. 1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? 2 My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest. 3 But you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 Our ancestors trusted in you; they trusted, and you rescued them. 5 They cried to you and were set free; they trusted in you and were not disgraced. 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by people. 7 Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: 8 “He relies on the Lord; let him save him; let the Lord rescue him, since he takes pleasure in him.” 9 It was you who brought me out of the womb, making me secure at my mother’s breast. 10 I was given over to you at birth; you have been my God from my mother’s womb. 11 Don’t be far from me, because distress is near and there’s no one to help. 12 Many bulls surround me; strong ones of Bashan encircle me. 13 They open their mouths against me— lions, mauling and roaring. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me. 15 My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death. 16 For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. 18 They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing. 19 But you, Lord, don’t be far away. My strength, come quickly to help me. 20 Rescue my life from the sword, my only life from the power of these dogs. 21 Save me from the lion’s mouth, from the horns of wild oxen. You answered me! 22 I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will praise you in the assembly. 23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! All you descendants of Israel, revere him! 24 For he has not despised or abhorred the torment of the oppressed. He did not hide his face from him but listened when he cried to him for help. 25 I will give praise in the great assembly because of you; I will fulfill my vows before those who fear you. 26 The humble will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him. May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord. All the families of the nations will bow down before you, 28 for kingship belongs to the Lord; he rules the nations. 29 All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down; all those who go down to the dust will kneel before him— even the one who cannot preserve his life. 30 Their descendants will serve him; the next generation will be told about the Lord. 31 They will come and declare his righteousness; to a people yet to be born they will declare what he has done.

Obviously, the opening line is a direct quote meant to take us to this Psalm. Did you notice the connections?

those that mock me me say, “Let God rescue him”! (7-8)

all my bones are disjointed (14)

they pierced my hands and feet (16)

I can count all my bones (17)

they cast lots for my garments (18)

there will be victory and all the nations will bow down to him (27-31)

While it is a very grueling Psalm, it is ultimately a Psalm of victory. Death and the enemies will not win the war. They will be defeated and God’s anointed one will rule.

Matthew’s very specific details of these events are meant to continue a theme he developed in chapter 1 - to show us how Jesus is the fulfillment of the scriptures and the Messiah.

Then, Jesus gave up his spirit.

That is another interesting phrase. Two of the gospel authors phrase it this way and two others read, “breathed his last”. It simply could be a way to word that he died. It could also be a literal fulfilment of

John 10:18


18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Matthew then goes on to tell us a few things that happen:

Matthew 27:51


51 Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.

The word “suddenly” is the word “look” that Matthew likes to use so much. However, you could not see the curtain of the sanctuary from Golgotha. It was on the other side of the city, behind walls. However:

CSB Study Bible: Notes Chapter 27

Jesus’s death at 3:00 p.m. coincided with the afternoon sacrifice. Thus the priests were present in the temple to observe the rending of the curtain. The curtain of the sanctuary separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. According to the Mishnah, it was sixty feet long, thirty feet wide, and as thick as a man’s palm. It was so heavy that it took three hundred men to lift it when it was wet (m. Shek. 8:5). That it was torn in two from top to bottom shows that it was torn by God. This signified that Jesus’s death granted sinners new access to God (Heb 6:19–20; 10:19–20).

This was a significant event that demonstrated to the JEWS that there was now open access to the Father.

After the garden in Genesis, mankind was separated from Yahweh because of sin. God provided a tabernacle and sacrifices to allow one man, the high priest, to gain access to Him - once a year. Later, it was the temple. The curtain veiled God from people as an act of mercy lest they be judged and die for their sins on the spot.

However, God made a new and permanent way to have access to him through the sacrifice of his son, his only son. It is the fulfillment of the Tabernacle - because something greater than that is here! It is what the Exodus, the Law and Abraham offering up Isaac all pointed to.

With all of these signs: darkness, veil being torn in front of them, earthquake - you would think that the chief priests would be convinced that they did something wrong and missed what God was trying to tell them. However, they did not come to that conclusion - which is evident a little later on when they try to make sure no one steals the body.

After all these things, Matthew concludes this section with this:

Matthew 27:54


54 When the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

OK, we are now BACK to the soldiers. The ones who scourged, mocked and crucified Jesus. The ones who gambled for his clothes. The ones who crowned him king and made a sign for him. What was their response?

THEY acknowledged Jesus as the “Son of God”. The religious leaders did not. The crowds did not. The Roman soldiers (Gentiles) DID. I believe that is part of the point Matthew is trying to get across!

Jesus wanted to be the king of the Jews, but they would not accept him. However, the Gentiles were willing to accept him. Though they were far from God, they were able to recognize Jesus as God. Jesus was more king of the Gentiles than king of the Jews.

Let’s revisit a passage we reference a few moments ago and look at a little more context because I believe it will demonstrate how even this was the plan of God and not a surprise:

John 10:14–18


14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 But I have other sheep that are not from this sheep pen; I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life so that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Did you notice the “other sheep” and the reference to “one flock”? If you were a part of the Ephesians study you should see some serious connections here! Jesus came to die for more than just the Jews, but for all mankind:

John 3:16


16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Matthew is obviously telling us the story of what Jesus endured for mankind and he chose to do it through the lens of the Roman soldiers.

I think the story of the soldiers is VERY significant. Even after all they did to Jesus, they were given the ability to see Jesus as the Son of God. You can resist, ridicule and run from God all you want, but you are only ever one prayer away from reconciliation. No matter how much you have mocked God, he loves you more and he is willing to forgive you if you will bow to him.

“They” did all of these things to Jesus, but look what Jesus said about “them” while he hung on the cross:

Luke 23:33–34


33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided his clothes and cast lots.

“Father, forgive them”. Jesus knew what they did and what they were going to do, and he chose to give up his life for them so they could be a part of his flock. Jesus knows what you and I have done as well - and nobody’s sin is so great that the sacrifice of Jesus cannot overcome it.

1 Peter 3:18


18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,

Matthew has consistently demonstrated to us how Jesus fulfilled scripture. Matthew has consistently revealed to us how some groups like the religious leaders have rejected Jesus and others like the “outsiders” have accept him.

We are back to the same spot where we have found ourselves many times before in Matthew’s gospel -> After seeing what Jesus has done, what will YOU do with Jesus?

King of the Jews