Mocking Jesus on the Cross – Matthew 27:37-44

Matthew presents three groups as mocking Jesus while he hangs on the cross. He uses a slightly different word for each (blasphemy, mock, taunt) and in each case, their words reflect Psalm 22 and other psalms which describe someone suffering unjustly.

Mocking Jesus Mihály Munkácsy

The crowd (27:39-40). The first of the three sets of mockers are simply those in the general crowd that wanders by the site of the crucifixion. The word translated in the NRSV and ESV as “derided him” is literally to blaspheme (βλασφημέω); the NIV’s “hurled insults” catches the connotations of the word well.

The people passing by wagged their heads. The phrase is drawn from Psalm 22:7, “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.” The people also seem to know the false charges against Jesus since they mock him for claiming to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. This indicates that the charges against him had been made known to the general populace.

The chief priests and elders (27:41-43). These are the same people who looked for ways to condemn Jesus and who conspired to execute Jesus in secret (27:1-2). Now they publicly mock (ἐμπαίζω) Jesus (as Jesus predicted in 20:19). Rather than standing before the throne of a king and acclaiming him, they mock the enthroned king. Saving others refers to Jesus’s healings and exorcisms; they sarcastically claim if he can come down from the cross, they will believe him. In Matthew 1:21, Jesus will save his people, but now (according to the chief priests), he cannot even save himself.

Matthew intended us to remember Jesus’s temptations in the words of the chief priests. Satan told Jesus “If you are the son of God” throw yourself down from the highest point of the Temple and the angels will save you (Matt 4:6). Presumably the ones who would see Jesus in the Temple were the chief priests and elders. Now, if Jesus comes down from the cross (a high place) they will believe. Matthew puts Satan’s words into the mouths of the chief priests!

The words of the chief priest echo Psalm 22:8, “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

The Thieves (27:44). Matthew does not tell us how the thieves taunted Jesus. The ESV translates ὀνειδίζω as “reviled,” which can be a generic “heap insults on” (BDAG) or “hurl invectives.” Luke has more to say about the two thieves, for Matthew their insults once again fulfilled the words of Psalm 22:6-8.

Psalm 22:6–8 (ESV) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Psalm 25:2 (ESV) O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.

Psalm 109:25–26 (ESV) I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads. 26 Help me, O Lord my God! Save me according to your steadfast love!

Wisdom of Solomon 2:13 (NRSV) He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord.

Wisdom of Solomon 2:16–18 (NRSV) We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy and boasts that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.

In Matthew’s description of the crucifixion, Jesus is left to die alone. Only after his death does Matthew tell us several women who had followed him from Galilee were also present. Where are his disciples? The ones who had sworn to follow no matter what, even to die alongside him are nowhere to be found. In fact, they are not mentioned by name again in the Gospel. (The group of disciples are mentioned in 28:8-10 and the eleven are in Galilee for Jesus’s final commission in 28:16).

Where is Golgatha? Matthew 27:33

Soldiers led Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to crucify him just outside the city. Matthew 27:33 says, “And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).” Where is Golgotha? What does that word mean?

Gordon's Calvary

The traditional location for Golgotha (is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and is likely to be the correct location). The Greek (Γολγοθᾶ) is a transliteration of the Aramaic word for skull (גֻּלְגֻּלְתָּא, Hebrew גֻּלְגֹּלֶת). The name Calvary comes from the Latin calvarius, “skull.” Since Golgotha was near the city, outside the walls, on a main road, and near unused tombs. The Holy Sepulcher is the best candidate since it would have been outside the walls in the early first century and there is evidence of a quarry that was used for tombs near the church (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 133).

Although the tomb inside the church is covered and difficult to see, there are two tombs in the Syrian chapel that illustrate the kinds of tombs that were carved into the quarry.

The site of the crucifixion is now completely inside the church but was examined in 1988 when the Greek Orthodox Church removed a marble covering. There is a depression at the top of the rock which could be a socket for a cross (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 134).

There are several competing explanations for the name, “Place of the Skull,” although none are completely convincing. Since the place was used for executions and Romans did not normally allow crucified men to be properly buried, there may have been human bones among the garbage surrounding the cross. Perhaps the Romans marked the place of execution with a skull, like a street sign (Quaryles, Matthew, 723). The name may suggest uncleanliness, a warning to Jewish people to stay clear of the area to avoid corpse uncleanliness.

A common suggestion is the rocky area near the place of execution looked like a skull. First suggested in 1842 by Otto Thenius, the Garden Tomb has a view of the rocks on the escarpment that look vaguely like a skull. But the modern view of the cliff would look considerably different after 2000 years of erosion.  After the recent cold and snow in Jerusalem, the “nose” no longer looks quite right.

If Golgotha is at the Holy Sepulcher, then it would have been visible from Herod’s palace (just inside the modern Jaffa Gate).

Who is Simon of Cyrene? Matthew 27:32

After the priests charge Jesus with blasphemy, Jesus is led away to be crucified (Matthew 27:31-37). Jesus cannot carry his own cross, so Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry it to Golgotha (27:32). Four soldiers escort the condemned prisoner from Pilate’s residence to the execution site. If all three prisoners were sent together, there would be twelve soldiers escorting three condemned men. The prisoner was forced to carry the crossbeam to the execution site. This beam would be lashed to the person’s shoulders and arms by rope. Known as the patibulum, this heavy crossbeam was strapped to the condemned man’s shoulders with ropes.

Simon of Cyrene

Jesus was weak from several beatings in the last five hours and he is unable to carry the cross to the place of execution. The Roman soldiers, therefore, force Simon the Cyrene to carry it for him.  The verb ἀγγαρεύω means “requisition” or “forced into service” or “requisition” (BDAG), or “press into service” (BrillDAG). Matthew used it in 5:14, “if someone forces you to go one mile…”

Who was Simon of Cyrene?  All three synoptic Gospels mention Simon by name, although the name is a common Jewish name in the first century. Mark adds he is the father of Alexander and Rufus. Rufus is possibly mentioned in Romans 16, traditionally the sons of Simon go to Rome. Alexander is possibly to be identified in Acts 19:33. Both Alexander and Rufus are common names so some caution is required. The fact Mark does not mention many names with this kind of detail may imply he used Simon or his sons as a source for this detail of the crucifixion (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 100).

Undoubtedly Simon was a Jew. He has a Jewish name; Cyrene had a sizable Jewish colony (Jews from Cyrene were at Pentecost, Acts 2:10); he is in Jerusalem at Passover. Cyrene was a prosperous region in North Africa (modern Libya) with an excellent climate for agriculture (Gasque, “Cyrene (Place).” ABD, 1:1230). Josephus says Jews from Cyrene sent offerings to the temple (Antiquities, 16.6.5).

According to later traditions, Simon became a believer. This makes some sense since he probably would have stayed around the site of the crucifixion to see what happened, probably providing some witness to the believers in Rome.

How does Judas Fulfill Prophecy? Matthew 27:9-10

After Judas hangs himself, The priests use the money to purchase a potter’s field (Matthew 27:6-8). The priests realize the money is unclean and must not be included in the temple treasury. It is “blood money.” They decide to use the money for charity: they buy a plot of land to use as a graveyard for the poor. If someone who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem died in the city, they likely could not transport the body home for burial. There was a constant need for graves for visitors in Jerusalem. Matthew adds the comment that the place was called the “field of blood” to this day. The Greek ἀγρὸς αἵματος translates Akeldama (Acts 1:18-19), a Greek transliteration (Ἁκελδαμάχ) of the Aramaic phrase חֲקֵל דְּמָא)), “field of blood.”

Tombs in Valley of Himmon

Tombs in Valley of Himmon

The traditional location for this site is in the valley of Hinnom, an area that was the source of potter’s clay for Jerusalem. This explains the use of the prophecy of Jeremiah since the field is used by potters.

For Matthew, all this fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah (27:9-10). But did Jeremiah prophesy this? The problem is Matthew quotes Zechariah 11:13, not Jeremiah.

Zechariah 11:12–13 (ESV) Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. 13 Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter.

One way to solve the problem is to take “Jeremiah” as the title for the Prophets in general, the second section of the Hebrew Bible. In Luke 24:44 Jesus refers to the third section of the Hebrew Bible as the Psalms, the first book of the section. This is not satisfactory since Jeremiah is not the first book of the section and there is no other place I know where a writer used Jeremiah as shorthand for the “book of the prophets.”

It is better to see how Matthew has blended the Potter’s house prophecy from Jeremiah with the potter in Zechariah 11:13.  Matthew points out several passages in Zechariah fulfilled in events of Jesus’s final week. At triumphal entry Jesus went out of his way to ride a donkey into the city (Zech 9:9); the thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:12); “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” (Zech 11:17) and throwing the money in the house of the Lord (Zech 11:30) and the “potter” (Zech 11:30).

In Jeremiah 19:2 the Lord sends Jeremiah to a potter’s house to preach a sermon predicting the fall of Jerusalem and the scattering of Judah among the nations. He smashes a flask at the potter’s workshop as an illustration of what is about to happen to Jerusalem: it will be shattered, unable to be repaired. Although the word (יוֹצֵר) can refer to melting metal and recasting it, it is the same word used for the potter’s workshop in Jeremiah 19:11, strengthening the connection between these two passages.

In Jeremiah 32:9, Jeremiah weighs out 17 shekels of silver and buys a field from his cousin in the village of Anathoth. He makes sure the deed is legally written and witnessed by all, then he places an open and a sealed deed in an earthenware vessel and buried it “so that it would last a long time” (39:14). The point of these prophetic actions is that the exile will come to an end, “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Both Jeremiah 32 and Zechariah 11 refer to the weighing out of silver and the purchase of land.

There is one other possible connection between Jeremiah 19 and Zechariah 11. The location of the potter’s house in the Valley of Himmom, the traditional location of Judas’s suicide, and the “field of blood.” Jeremiah 19:6 states the place will no longer be called “Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.” Slaughter (הֲרֵגָה) is rare in the Hebrew Bible, found in Jeremiah 7:32 (a parallel passage to 19:6) and Zechariah 11:4, 7.

For Matthew, even Judas’s betrayal and arrest are therefore part of the plan of God. Both Peter and Judas betrayed the Lord, and both show some sort of remorse. Although he does not experience restoration in the Gospel of Matthew, we know Peter goes on to lead the disciples in the book of Acts, Judas dies a humiliating death at his own hand.

How did Judas Die? – Matthew 27:1-10

As Peter is betraying Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard, Judas sees the results of his own betrayal. When the priests hand Jesus over to be executed, Judas regrets his actions, is driven to despair, and will eventually kill himself. The answer to the question ”How did Judas die?” is not simple because there are two versions of Judas’s death, one in Matthew and another in Acts. Matthew is difficult to reconcile with Acts, although there are many attempts to show the two stories are complementary.

How did Judas Die?


The chief priest and the elders decide to put Jesus to death, but rather than order him to be stoned, they hand him over to Pilate, the Roman governor, to be executed as a rebel (Matthew 27:1-2). The chief priests and elders do not recommend Jesus be stoned for blasphemy but handed over to the Romans to be executed as a political criminal. This deflects blame to the Romans and gives them plausible deniability if Jesus’s followers want to start any kind of riot.

Since verse 3 says Judas sees Jesus led away to Pilate and is deeply shaken, regretting his actions. Does this mean Judas was with Jesus during the hearing before the Sanhedrin? It is likely he followed Jesus back to Caiaphas’s house and may have watched everything, including Jesus’s agreement that he is the Messiah and his prediction he will stand at the right hand of the Father in judgment. Maybe that was the exact moment Judas realized what he had done, that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and he had handed him over to the Gentiles for execution!

Judas was “seized with remorse (NIV) or “changed his mind” (ESV) or “repented” (NRSV; 27:3-4a). Matthew uses a verb (μεταμέλομαι) which refers to being sorry about something. It is rare in the New Testament and can have the sense of repentance like the much more common word for repentance (μετάνοια). For example, this word is used in LXX 1 Samuel 15:35, the Lord regretted he had made Saul king. The middle form (as in Matthew 27:3) refers to “experiencing second thoughts” (BrillDAG). In classic Hellenistic Greek, there is an overlap between remorse and repentance, but in the biblical literature “a change not so much in consciousness as in one’s feelings in relation to a thing or a deed” (EDNT 2:414).

So did Judas regret his actions but not genuinely repent?  His actions seem to lean toward repentance and certainly despair, which drove him to suicide.

Judas tries to return the money to the Temple and in despair, hangs himself (Matthew 27:4b-8). When he returns the money, he confesses, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:3-4a). In the Old Testament, shedding innocent blood is a source of pollution. In Genesis 4, Abel’s innocent blood demanded justice. Psalm 106:38, for example, the people shed innocent blood sacrificing to the gods of the Canaanites.

The priests say deny any responsibility and do offer him comfort or absolution (27:4b). Matthew’s focus is not on Judas’s remorse but on how his remorse contrasts with the Jewish authorities (Wilson, Matthew 13-28, 387). They do not express any regret they have caused the death of an innocent man, Jesus. Nor are they bothered by the fact they are going to cause the suicide of Judas.

Judas, in despair, hangs himself (Matthew 27:5b). By hanging himself, Judas is enacting a curse on himself. Deuteronomy 27:25 says, “Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.” Deuteronomy 21:23, “A hanged man is cursed by God.”  In the Dead Sea Scrolls, a traitor was executed by hanging (11Q19, LXIV, 7-9).

In Acts 1:18, Judas “and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” The usual strategy is to harmonize the two stories. Judas hung himself from a tree hanging off a cliff, the rope breaking, and his actual death coming when he “fell headlong.”

So how did Judas die? Matthew and Luke seem to remember a slightly different story. Even though the details can be reconciled, it is important to understand that Matthew is interested in showing that Judas’s betrayal fulfills prophecy (27:9-10). Luke also shows Judas fulfilled prophecy, but the focus is on selecting a replacement disciple. This explains the emphasis in his version of the story.

Traditional site of Akeldema, the field of Blood

Traditional site of Akeldema, the field of Blood