There are a host of potential Bible studies in this chapter. Because Matthew is devoted to establishing that Jesus is nothing less than the Messiah, the King of the Jews, we are going to undertake a single slice of study by examining all the different types of personalities listed and how each one deals with Jesus. We are presented with a very wide variety of reactions of different people and groups when it comes to their position on who they believe Jesus to be and what they should do about it. Like the Parable of the Sower, the examples of those rejecting the Word are far greater than those in obedience. But this is invaluable insight for us to understand what to expect as we ourselves sow God’s Word in lives which react so differently across such a wide spectrum of emotions from the most passionate on one end to total indifference on the other.
Read verses 1-10: Jesus & Judas
Q: There are those who have proposed that Judas is some kind of hero for making sure prophecy would be fulfilled. How did Christ Himself describe Judas?
A: As “a devil” (Jn. 6:70) and “the son of perdition” (Jn. 17:12) – an allusion to someone determined to remain spiritually lost and associated with destruction. But of particular importance is Jesus’ statement that Judas never really believed in Christ.
Observation: There are only two people in Scripture who are both called “the son of perdition” (2. Th. 2:3) and who are both satanically (not merely demonically) possessed – Judas and the Antichrist. (Jn. 13:27; 2 Th. 2:9; Rev. 13:2)
“But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.
— John 6:64
Q: What might be telling by the fact that Judas returned the money?
A: We know that money was a huge motivating factor where Judas is concerned. (Mt. 26:15; Jn. 12:6) Judas’ remorse is expressed to his collaborators in sin, not to Christ in an act of true repentance.
Q: Who else in this chapter betrays Jesus and how is that contrasted with Judas?
A: Peter. Both offer a kind of repentance, but Judas proved his repentance to be false by committing another sin; Peter proved his repentance to be true by serving the Lord faithfully going forward.
Q: In Judas’ case, why might he have been robbed of the ability to actually repent and avoid suicide?
A: Judas rejected the truth and believed a lie so severe it allowed him to be possessed by Satan (Jn. 13:27), who is described in Scripture as “a murderer” (Jn. 8:44). He depicts the inevitable destination of living with unaddressed personal sin.
Q: In the previous chapter when Judas led those who arrested Jesus, what revealed Judas’ own view of who Jesus was?
A: Judas addressed Jesus not as “Lord”, but “Rabbi”. (Mt. 26:25) He did not see Jesus as anything more than a teacher, a mere man.
Point: So when Judas confessed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood”, he still may not have been acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah but merely as a man he wronged.
Q: How does the purchase of the Potter’s Field contrast Jesus and Judas?
A: Both fulfilled prophecy, one for good, the other for evil.
Q: What is the contrast of the results of their respective deaths?
A: Christ’s death purchased the redemption of the world; Judas’ death purchased a place for the dead.
Application: Judas is an example of someone who, because they never actually repented and believed to begin with, realize the truth of their spiritual condition too late to do anything about it.
Read verses 11-19: Jesus & Pilate
Q: What is the common behavior of Pilate as recorded in all the Gospel accounts?
A: Pilate exhibited great restlessness and indecision. He repeatedly questioned Jesus between going out to the crowd, someone who appears caught in the middle.
Q: What does this tell us about Pilate? What is his basic, spiritual problem?
A: He is trying to avoid making a decision about Christ. In fact, he appeared to want someone else, even the crowd, to make it for him.
Point: No one can avoid making a decision about Christ; eventually a choice is made by everyone in the end.
Q: In what respects are Pilate and Judas identical?
A: Both found Jesus to be innocent as a man, but neither accepted Him as their Savior.
Q: What served as a second witness corroborating what Pilate’s conscience was already telling him?
A: The warning from his wife. In spite of his own conscience and his wife’s supernatural dream, Pilate still chose to give Christ over to be crucified.
Application: Pilate is an example of someone who does not want to deal with the issue of Christ, someone not openly for or against. When it comes to Christ, there is no option to be neutral as sooner or later each individual is forced to decide.
Read verses 20-26: Jesus & Barabbas
Q: What does the name “Barabbas” actually mean?
A: It literally means “son of the father”.
Q: How is this obviously ironic in this situation?
A: The true Son of the Father is being rejected for an earthly substitute.
Q: How would you characterize Barabbas compared to Jesus?
A: Jesus was innocent, Barabbas was guilty.
Q: Why would this exchange of Jesus for Barabbas be particularly powerful in Old Testament terms?
A: It literally mirrors what took place on the Day of Atonement when two goats were selected, one sacrificed for sin and the other set free.
Q: What is the most obvious difference between Barabbas and Jesus?
A: Barabbas was guilty, Jesus was innocent.
Application: Barabbas symbolizes the fact that Christ died in the place of all sinners, even a murderer like Barabbas. If we were the only sinner in the history of the world, Christ would have gone to the cross just for us.
Read verses 27-31: Jesus & the Soldiers
Q: How did the Roman soldiers treat Jesus?
A: With both physical persecution and scorn and mocking. Their personal attacks were highly focused where the issue of His Messiahship was concerned. He was not taunted as a criminal.
Q: What is ironic about their actions?
A: They clothed and crowned Jesus the King as a king. It is the ultimate scorn and foolishness of man where the truth is concerned.
Application: The soldiers represent unbelievers who not only outwardly persecute Christ (and His followers) but take every public opportunity to mock and speak against Him (and His followers).
Read verse 32: Jesus & Simon
Q: What was the greater reason why a convict had to carry their cross in public to the site of the crucifixion?
A: It was done as a public testimony of guilt. This is why someone other than Jesus had to carry His cross – He was not guilty, and provides a deeper understanding of what Jesus means when He commands followers to “deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me”. (Mt. 16:24)
Q: What might be important about the fact that Simon is identified as “a man of Cyrene”?
A: Involved with Jesus’ crucifixion are not just Jews and Romans but a Cyrene, which means that representatives from all the nations of the earth are present in that these are descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japheth, the sons of Noah from who the biblical table of nations comes from. (Gen. 10) From God’s point of view in how He sees and catalogs history, everyone from the whole earth was represented in these events.
Application: While most of the figures in this chapter represent different aspects of rejection, Simon represents the indisputable example of accepting the defining work of the Messiah by taking up the cross of Christ.
Read verses 33-49: Jesus & the Spectators
Q: For the different groups present at the crucifixion, what are the three basic reactions to Christ?
The soldiers gamble for Christ’s earthly possessions.
The Jews revile Christ.
The others sit and stare at Him.
Point: These basically represent the full range of responses for unbelievers: those who try to usurp the things of Christ, those who outright revile and deny Him, and those who think they can remain neutral or unattached. It is the same range of actions taken by Judas, the authorities, and Pilate leading up to the crucifixion.
Q: What are the two basic offices of the Messiah which they directly ridicule?
Jesus the Messiah as Prophet, offering that His prophecy concerning the temple was going unfulfilled (v.40); and
Jesus the Messiah as King, repeatedly laughing at the notion of His Kingship (v.37, 42).
Point: Jesus is never put on trial for any sign or wonder performed in the course of His ministry; it comes down to the question of whether or not He is the Messiah as it always does. What is always on trial where Christ is concerned is His Word.
Q: What is probably the ultimate combination of insult and rejection offered among all those rendered?
A: When the chief priests, scribes, and elders state, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself…let Him come down from the cross”. (v.41-42)
Point: This is the problem with signs and wonders: they are never believed by those who refuse to accept the greater message accompanying them. These authorities actually acknowledge all the signs and miracles Jesus did in the course of His earthly ministry, but because they reject His Word in the end they cannot accept the signs as authenticating His message. They would not believe Him even if He did miraculously come down from the cross before their very eyes.
Q: What Scripture is obviously being fulfilled before their very eyes?
A: Psalm 22, identified even by Hebrew scholars of that era (and all subsequent ones), was recognized as a Messianic Psalm speaking about the Messiah.
Point: The fact that they could not connect the events they were witnessing to the very Scripture being fulfilled is a powerful testimony to their spiritual blindness. People who are disobedient to God’s Word in general are incapable of realizing the fulfillment of God’s Word when it happens.
Application: Here we are presented with the most basic root of unbelief, the inability to accept Christ on His terms while claiming to need “something else” before they will believe. Because God’s Word is not enough for them, not even the most obvious, visible signs of the fulfillment of His Word are not enough to change their heart, whether it is inclined like the soldiers to take something away from Christ, or like the Jews to openly despise and revile Christ, or like the others who choose to sit idly by.
Read verses 50-54: Jesus & the Signs
Q: What is striking about the signs which occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death?
The veil was torn to testify that Christ as High Priest opened “a new and living way” to God (Heb. 10:19-25), a very strong proof to His religious persecutors.
The earthquakes and accompanying commotion testify to His Lordship over the natural realm, a very strong proof to those who thought they could just sit idly by.
The resurrection of the dead testify to the fact He is King both of the living and the dead, a very strong proof to everyone regardless of their previous position on Christ.
Q: How does the testimony of the centurion actually serve as an additional sign?
A: He seems to be the only one who in the course of witnessing signs and wonders actually accepts the greater message behind them, that Jesus “was the Son of God!” (v.54)
Application: The centurion represents those who are capable of understanding signs because they accept the greater message represented.
Read verses 55-61: Jesus & His Friends
Q: Jesus has been repeatedly handled physically by many people to this point. What is different in this respect from here on out?
A: Once He had finished the work of redemption, Christ was never again touched by enemy hands. All those who touch Him both in death and resurrection are only those who love and believe in Him.
Q: We know from the parallel account in John that it was both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who prepared Jesus’ body and laid Him in the tomb. How was this actually a fulfillment of Scripture?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
— Isaiah 53:9
Application: Only those who love and believe in Christ are allowed to enter into a personal relationship with Him. How Believers handle the work of Christ’s death on the cross is directly reflected in their participation in the power of His resurrection.
Read verses 62-66: Jesus & His Enemies
Q: What might be alarming at this point if we compare the knowledge and actions of Jesus’ enemies with those of His disciples?
A: Jesus’ enemies seem to remember what His followers forgot, that He promised to rise from the dead in three days.
Q: How is their perception of Christ made clear?
A: They refer to Him as “that deceiver” (v.63).
Q: Why is this particularly ironic where these Jewish authorities are concerned?
A: One day they will make a covenant with the ultimate deceiver, the Antichrist, the ultimate legacy of having been blind to the true Christ.
Application: These represent the many enemies Christ who are fully aware of God’s Word and are consciously and willfully working against Him in the same way that Satan has shown himself to be versed in God’s Word but still actively at work against Him.
The Gospel of Matthew is devoted to establishing Jesus as the Messiah, the King of the Jews. Herein we are provided with one of the widest spectrums of response to that question. Every single person must come to terms with the Person of Christ, and every Christian rightly embracing Him is charged with bringing it before everyone else regardless of how the message is received.