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Matthew 27:27-56: Jesus' Death
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: What do you fear most about death and dying? Is there anything you look forward to? If so, what is it?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
What is the context for today’s passage?
It’s been long night for Jesus. It started with the Last Supper with his disciples. They then went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed for God to find another plan to save all of creation. Yet Jesus submitted to God’s plan, even if that meant a brutal death. In the Garden, Judas (one of Jesus’ disciples) approached Jesus and betrayed him with a kiss. A crowd sent by the religious leaders stepped up to arrest Jesus, and all of his disciples fled, just as Jesus had prophesied.
Jesus then went through an entire night of trials, going from Caiaphas the high priest to Pilate to Herod. The crowds and the religious leaders called for Jesus to be crucified, and Pilate agreed, even though he could find no wrong in Jesus. Pilate agreed to release Barabbas, who had been imprisoned for murder, instead of Jesus. Pilate washed his hands of responsibility and handed Jesus over to be flogged and crucified.
Read today’s passage: Matthew 27:27-56.
27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s 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 wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Matthew 27 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God fulfills prophecy. Although this passage doesn’t directly identify prophecies that were fulfilled, the story is full of fulfilled prophecies. For example, Psalm 69:21 states, “They...gave me vinegar for my thirst.” This is fulfilled in Matthew 27:48. Similarly, Psalm 22:16-18 prophesies:
Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
In this passage, Jesus is surrounded by people who are mocking him and beating him. They beat him so much that you could see his bones. They pierced his hands and feet by crucifying him. And in Matthew 27:35, they cast lots for his clothes. These are just a few examples of prophecies that were fulfilled through Jesus’ death.
God follows through with his plan. God never fails to follow through on a promise or a plan. Although the Bible does have a few instances of God changing his mind due to the pleas of a righteous person, God knew that this plan was the only plan that would satisfy the penalty for sin once for all people. And he followed through with it, even though we can only imagine how hard it was for him to see his only Son be crucified.
Jesus submits to God’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for God to take this cup from him (i.e., find another way to save all people). Jesus knew what the plan was, and he knew it was going to cause him immeasurable pain. In his humanness, he didn’t want to follow through. But in the end, he did. This story is proof that Jesus submitted to God’s will, even though it cost him his life.
Jesus chooses to feel the full agony of the cross. Jesus has fully committed to God’s plan, and he knows that this plan will cause him great pain. At the time of his crucifixion, the soldiers offered Jesus “wine to drink, mixed with gall” (verse 34). But then it adds an interesting note—Jesus refused to drink it. Why? There are multiple theories, but the most common is that wine mixed with gall is meant to dull the pain. Jesus refused this in order to feel the full brunt of the pain required to follow God’s plan.
Jesus bore the weight of all our sins on the cross. I was really surprised when I read through all four accounts of Jesus’ death that none of them actually talk about Jesus paying the penalty for our sins by his death on the cross. But this concept is so foundational to understanding Jesus’ death that I had to include it here. Many other Bible verses tell us that the result of Jesus’ death on the cross was that he paid the penalty for sin for all of humankind. Here are a couple examples:
1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and life for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
Hebrews 7:27: Unlike the other high priests, he [Jesus] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
God controls the light and motion of the earth. This passage tells us that from noon until three in the afternoon, darkness came over all the land. Upon Jesus’ death, the earth shook and the rocks split open. The timing of these events can only be orchestrated by God.
Jesus felt forsaken in the midst of his darkest moment. The Bible only records a few words that Jesus said on the cross. One of those is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was going through the worst moment in his life, and he felt forsaken by God. Yet we know that God was working out his greater plan in that moment. So when you are going through your darkest moments in life, those moments when you can’t feel God’s presence and you feel like he’s forsaken you, hold on to the promise that he is working out his plan for your life.
Jesus chose the moment of his death. I always find it interesting that compared to others who were crucified, Jesus died relatively quickly. He didn’t cling to every last breath and fight for life. Instead, he chose to die. Verse 50 says “He gave up his spirit.” That wording seems more like a choice to me than resignation. He chose to die for us. Even more so when you throw in the insults from verses 39-44. People were mocking him, telling him to come down off the cross and save himself if he was the Son of God. And you know what, he absolutely had the power to do that. But he chose death. He chose death so that he could pay the penalty for my sins and for yours.
God controls life and death. At the moment of Jesus’ death, tombs broke open and many holy people who had died were raised to life. This is evidence that God has power over life and death. This may also be a foreshadowing of the fact that Jesus is going to defeat death, and these people who had followed him get a taste of that victory.
2. What does the passage say about people?
It’s easy to be influenced by the crowd. Earlier during Jesus’ trial and in this passage as he is being crucified, the religious leaders incited the crowd to demand Jesus’ crucifixion. This then carried over to the soldiers who mocked him and beat him, and then further to the random people who passed by the cross. It makes me wonder: How many people actually knew what was going on, and how many people joined in with the crowd just because that’s what everyone was doing? It’s so easy to get caught up with the opinions of the crowd or the loudest voices.
Without a belief in Jesus, people can be very cruel. This entire scene is filled with cruelty. Pilate saw no fault in Jesus, yet he had him flogged and crucified. The soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head and beat him. In his broken state, they even made him carry his own cross. Not only did he experience this physical cruelty, he experienced emotional cruelty—people heaped insults at him and mocked him. The picture of people without Jesus is ugly.
A few people had compassion for Jesus. One of the first moments of compassion seems to come from an outsider; Simon from Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross. Maybe it wasn’t compassion. Maybe it was forced upon him. But either way, it relieved just a bit of Jesus’ burden. Others also had compassion on Jesus. Some offered him a drink. Some came to care for his needs. But even then, those who cared for him the most kept their distance.
For some people, it takes dramatic events for them to recognize God. Until the moment of Jesus’ death, the religious leaders, crowd, and soldiers seem to be hardened against Jesus. They thought he was a blasphemer, claiming to be God. But in the drama of Jesus’ death, when the sky grew dark and the earth shook, some of those with hardened hearts recognized that Jesus was the Son of God.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan was for Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus talks about this plan throughout his ministry and prays to be delivered from the plan the night before his death. But the penalty for sin is death, and the only way to satisfy that penalty is to provide a perfect sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus had to follow through with the plan in order to save all who call on his name. He became that perfect sacrifice.
God’s plan was that Jesus’ death would bridge the gap between God and humans. Up until the time of Jesus’ death, the temple had a section called the Holy of Holies where the priest would go to talk with God and intercede on behalf of the people. Only the high priest was allowed in the Holy of Holies. No one else had direct access to God. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain. This is the curtain of the temple that was torn in two at Jesus’ death. This symbolizes that now we don’t need a high priest to intercede for us. Instead we have THE High Priest, Jesus, to intercede for us. Even more amazing was that the curtain was torn from top to bottom, indicating that it was God, not man, who tore the curtain.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
The whole point of the Bible is for this moment. This is the moment where Jesus pays the penalty for the sins of all humanity. It is because of this moment that we can simply believe and receive eternal life rather than having to try to live up to the impossible standards of the law.
The entire Old Testament points to the coming of the Messiah, and the first four books of the New Testament tell the story of that Messiah, Jesus. The reason that Jesus, God’s Son, came to earth at all was to save all who call on his name. And the reason that he can save them is that he was the perfect sacrifice for sins once for all. The remainder of the New Testament then tells about the early followers of Jesus and the spread of the gospel. It also teaches all those who follow Jesus how to live. But it all hinges on this moment—Jesus’ death on the cross.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Matthew 27 Resources