Jesus’ Crucifixion: Matthew 26:1-27:66
The kingdom that Jesus actually brought was very different from the kingdom that the Jews expected the Messiah to bring, and this brought them into direct conflict with Jesus and his kingdom. As we have seen, this conflict intensifies throughout Matthew’s gospel, but it culminates in the narrative conclusion. For example, we see it in the Jews’ plot against Jesus in 26:3-4; in their engineering of his arrest and trial in 26:14-16, verse 47, and verses 57-68; and in their crying out for his crucifixion in 27:20-25. And it comes to a head when the Jews themselves accept responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion. Consider Matthew’s report in Matthew 27:25:
All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”
Then while Jesus suffered on the cross, the Jews mocked him, ridiculing his claim to be the messianic King of Israel. As we read in Matthew 27:41-42:
The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel!”
Ironically, the Jews opposed Jesus on the grounds that he was an offense to God and an imposter to the throne, while in reality they were rejecting the only king that had the power to save them.
Besides the theme of conflict, the theme of discipleship also highlights the kingdom emphasis of Matthew’s conclusion.
In particular, Matthew emphasized how difficult it was to follow a suffering Messiah. He stressed this by reporting the failures of Jesus’ disciples at this crucial moment of Jesus’ ministry. Judas betrayed him in Matthew 26:14-16 and verses 47-50, and he committed suicide over this failure in 27:3-10. Peter, James, and John failed to keep watch with him in Gethsemane in 26:36-46. And Peter repeatedly denied that he even knew Jesus in 26:69-75. Finally, all of Jesus’ disciples deserted him in 26:56.
The fact is that following Jesus can be very difficult. We believe in a messianic King that suffered, and who has called us to suffer as well. If we are faithful to him, the likelihood is that we will experience hardship and suffering, too, and that we will be tempted to fall away. The kingdom of heaven has not yet come in all of its fullness. And because of this, there are many aspects of the Christian life that are not yet as they should be.