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judged important: but though it deserved the notice of all, it was more especially a warning to Pilate. It was a warning of an extraordinary kind, sent to him by his nearest relative, to deter and dissuade him from an action that could not but be criminal, and might be of fatal consequence. Solomon says, "A dream cometh through the multitude of business," Eccl. v. 3; which may be a good way of accounting for ordinary dreams. In the night season, when the body is at rest, those things about which the mind was much engaged in the day time, may disturb the thoughts and produce dreams. But it does not appear that Pilate's wife could at this time have any knowledge of the Jewish prosecution of our Lord in an ordinary way. Jesus was not a prisoner that had been long in custody. He was apprehended late in the night, and was hurried away to the house of Annas, and then of Caiaphas. Having been there examined, and detained some while by the Jewish council, he was carried by them early in the morning to Pilate: about which time his wife, still at rest, had a dream of an uncommon nature, in which she was admonished, and by which she was greatly affected. As soon as she awoke, she by the first opportunity sent this warning to Pilate, then upon his tribunal: "Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream, because of him.'
Elihu says excellently well: "God speaketh once, yea twice: yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed. Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction. That he may withdraw man from his purpose and hide pride from man," Job xxxiii. 14-17. Those observations may have been founded upon facts. There is an instance of a warning given to Abimelech, king of Gerar, in the time of Abraham, for preventing sin, and with effect, Gen. xxx. The warning, of which we are now speaking, was for the very same purpose. Nor was it altogether without effect. For this warning, now sent to Pilate, may be well supposed to have been one reason, together with his own clear discernment of the innocence of Jesus, upon examination, why he so long withstood the importunate and clamourous demands of the Jewish rulers and the multitude to pass sentence upon him.
II. In the next place we observe the darkness at this time, mentioned by three Evangelists. Matt. xxvii. 45. "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour." Mark xv. 33. “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour." Luke xxiii. 44, 45." And it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened.”
That is, there was darkness for the space of three hours, from the sixth to the ninth hour, according to the computation of the hours of the day in those times, reckoning the day from sunrising to sun-setting: according to our method of computation, from about twelve at noon till three afternoon.
How great this darkness was, is not distinctly said. It might resemble that of a total eclipse of the sun, though there were glimmerings of light, whereby business might be transacted. It was not in Jerusalem only, but in all the land of Judea.
That this general darkness was not natural, is apparent: for our Saviour suffered at the time of the Jewish passover, when the moon was at full. But natural eclipses of the sun, as all know, happen at the time of new moon.
This remarkable darkness must have been very awful and affecting, reaching all over the land of Israel where Christ had preached, and wrought many miracles. It continued three hours, and manifestly denoted the divine displeasure against the Jewish people for an action in which they and their rulers were guilty. Indeed, the main body of the nation was now assembled at Jerusalem, where Jesus suffered: and they could not but know for whose sake this darkness happened. However, that it might be the more observable, it was universal, over all the land of Judea, and for three hours; which was a remarkable testimony to the innocence and the dignity of the Lord Jesus.
III. The next extraordinary thing is the rending the veil of the temple.
At the fifty-first verse of this chapter: "And behold the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom." So likewise Mark xv. 38. "And the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom." And Luke xxiii. 45. “And the sun was darkened. And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst."
* See Mattt. xxvii. 1, 2. Mark xv. 1. John xviii. 27, 28.
There were two veils at the temple: one at the entrance into the holy place; the other between the holy place, or the sanctuary, and the most holy, or the holy of holies, called the inner veil, and the second veil, in the epistle to the Hebrews, ch. ix. 3. It is particularly described Exod. xxvi. 31-33; that is the veil here intended. It was of the strongest contexture, as well as of the richest materials, and the finest workmanship.
It has been thought by some, that the high priest might now, at this very time, be present in the temple, performing the solemn act of burning incense before the veil. There can be no doubt that many of the Jewish priests saw the veil after it was rent, and they must have been as fully convinced of the reality of this extraordinary event, as if they had been present when it happened.
It has been supposed by some, that this rending of the veil denoted and foresignified the sudden destruction of the temple, and the speedy abolition of the rites of the Mosaic law. But without relying too much upon any conjectural speculations, it may be reckoned certain, that it must have greatly surprised the Jewish priests, who entered into the holy place: and it gave ground to believe that the Divine Being was displeased with the Jewish nation. And upon a little reflection and consideration they might know the reason of the divine displeasure.
IV. At the same time there was an earthquake at Jerusalem, but especially at mount Calvary, where our Lord was crucified.
So this is expressed by St. Matthew very briefly, yet fully, ver. 51: "and the earth did quake and the rocks were rent." How this extraordinary event was then understood, and how it ought to be still understood by us, appears from what is added at ver. 54. "Now when the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God."
V. The fifth and last particular, is that in the text which may be reckoned a difficult portion of scripture, and the more so for being singular, without any parallel place. The words in connection are these, ver. 50-53: "Jesus, when he had cried with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom: and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; and the graves," or tombs, "were opened; and many bodies of saints, which slept, arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city(meaning Jerusalem, so called Matt. iv. 5, comp. Luke iv. 9) and appeared unto many.' Here it will be proper to consider several queries. 1. The place where this resurrection happened. 2. Who were raised. 3. The time when they were raised. 4. To whom they appeared. 5. Whether they soon after ascended up to heaven, or died again. 6. The truth of this history. 7. The use of this extraordinary event.
First, The place of this resurrection. Some have thought it might be done in several parts of Judea. But, upon due consideration, I believe it will be reckoned more probable, that the tombs here spoken of were near to Jerusalem, the holy city, into which these saints went soon after their resurrection. There was an earthquake at mount Calvary, where our Lord was crucified. There the rocks were rent. And by that concussion the doors of many tombs upon
that mount and near it were thrown open.
It is well known to have been the custom of the ancients to bury without the walls of their cities. Here, upon mount Calvary, and near it, were many tombs: it being a rock it was a suitable place. We perceive as much from the evangelists: Matt xxvii. 58-60. "Joseph, a rich man of Arimathea, begged of Pilate the body of Jesus-and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock." John xix. 41. "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man laid. There laid they Jesus." Compare Mark xv. 43-46; and Luke xxiii. 50-53. So eminent a person as Joseph of Arimathea had a sepulchre in this place. It may be inferred, that there were other tombs there, and some of persons of distinction. Out of those tombs, now opened, came the bodies of the saints here mentioned.
Secondly, Who were now raised? Some have imagined that the persons here intended were the most eminent patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament; but that opinion is without foundation. The tombs now opened, and out of which these saints came, as has been already argued, were near Jerusalem. But the patriarchs and ancient prophets could not be all interred in this place, or near it: nor could they at this time have any known tombs remaining. And there is an argument insisted on by St. Peter, after our Lord's ascension, which may be reckoned
to overthrow this supposition. Having largely cited the sixteenth psalm, he says to the company then present at Jerusalem: "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you concerning the patriarch David: that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day,' Acts iii. 25-31. But if any of the ancient patriarchs had been now raised, in order to be assumed up to heaven, it might be reasonable to think that David would have been one of them. Without offering any more arguments against that opinion, we may reckon it to be more probable, that the saints now raised up were good men, who had died lately, a few years, or rather perhaps not may weeks or days before, who upon going into Jerusalem would be well known to their friends still living. The miracle is more evident in the resurrection of such than of any others who had been dead and buried long ago, so as to be known by face to none then living on this earth.
The evangelist calls them saints: which word in the New Testament often denotes disciples of Jesus, who believed in him as the Christ. Acts ix. 12. "Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem." Compare xxvi, 10. and ch. ix. 32. "And it came to pass, as Peter passed through all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lidda.' And see there ver. 41, and Rom. xv. 25, 26, and 2 Cor. i. 1; and other places. It is very likely therefore that the persons here intended by St. Matthew are disciples, or believers in Jesus, who had died not long ago.
Thirdly, We are to consider the time when these saints were raised. Were they raised when our Saviour expired? or, were they not restored to life until after his resurrection?
The words of the evangelist are: "And the graves were opened, and many bodies of saints which slept arose and came out of the graves after his resurrection." They did not come out of their graves till after Christ's resurrection: consequently I think they were not restored to life before he had risen. When our Lord expired, the rocks were rent by the earthquake, and the doors of the tombs were shaken and loosed and flew open. Nevertheless the bodies of these persons still rested there. We are therefore led to think, that when Christ arose from the dead, or soon after, these saints were restored to life: and then they came out of their tombs and went to Jerusalem early in the morning of the first day of the week.
Fourthly, To whom did they appear?
The text says, to many. We have already argued, that the saints, now raised, were persons who had not been long dead. It is likely, that they first went to their friends and acquaintance. To them they appeared: to them they were manifested to be the same persons, whom they knew to have lately died. They were known to them by their shape, their features, their discourse, their action. Thus they were known to their friends and relatives at their return to them. They therefore, who had been before acquainted with them, and knew, that they had been dead and buried, were now fully persuaded, that they had been raised from the dead. When these had been satisfied about their resurrection, they might be seen also by others, who, upon serious. inquiries, were likewise persuaded of the wonderful work which God had wrought upon them.
Fifthly, What became of the persons, who were now raised? Were they soon after this assumed up to heaven? or did they die after their resurrection?
I answer, that there is no account of their ascending, or being assumed up to heaven. Which is so important a thing, that I think, it could not have been omitted, if it had been done. It is more probable therefore, that they died afterwards, as Lazarus did: whom our Lord, in a very signal manner, called forth out of his grave, after he had been dead four days. They behaved here among their friends and acquaintance with great modesty and humility: shewing little relish of the delights and entertainments of this life. Having been for a while examples of undissembled piety in this world, God gave them a comfortable and placid exit out of it.
In the sixth place, let us observe the truth of this history.
There can be no reason to doubt of it. Its being related by one evangelist only, is no objection. Each one of the evangelists has some things peculiar to himself, not mentioned by any of the rest. Nor is that at all strange, considering the copiousness of the subject. St. John, who had seen and read the first three evangelists, before he wrote, has confirmed their histories, and has also added divers things omitted by them. And yet he assures us, that there were still "many other signs" done by Jesus, John xx. 30, and that they were too numerous to be all written, and that those recorded are sufficient.
However, some judicious commentators have been of opinion, that this very resurrection is intended, and foretold by our Lord, in those words, recorded in John v. 25. "Verily I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." And indeed our Lord does afterwards speak of the general resurrection, as a distinct thing from what is there mentioned. For he says, at ver. 28, 29: "Marvel
not at this. For the hour is coming, when all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and come forth.”
Seventhly, and lastly, we are to observe the uses of this miracle.
Doubtless, it was of advantage to some: though the resurrection of these persons, like that of Lazarus, might be without effect to others. But to their pious relatives, and divers others, who were serious and attentive, their return to life was matter of great joy, and an additional confirmation of their faith now, and all their days. They were hereby confirmed in the persuasion, that Jesus was the Christ, and in the belief of all the truths of his religion. And they were strengthened and animated for the trials and difficulties, which they might meet with in the profession of his name. Of such use was the resurrection of these persons to those who attended to it, as well as other miracles of Jesus, and the extraordinary appearances in his favour. We will now make some reflections, suited to this argument.
1. We may perceive a great agreement between the life and the death of Jesus.
How great and excellent he was in his death, was lately shewn. He does also in all appear to be the beloved of the Father. There were testimonials to his dignity at his birth, and afterwards at his baptism, and in the course of his ministry, and when he was gloriously transformed on the mount. Nor were there wanting extraordinary testimonials of the divine favour and approbation during the dark and gloomy scene of his last sufferings. Even then "he was not alone. But the Father was with him," John xvi. 32. Soon after which he was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven. And many wonderful works were done in his name by his apostles. Such was the regard shewn to him, who was the Messiah, the well-beloved Son of God, and the desire of all nations.
2. It cannot but be pleasing to observe the mildness of all the wonderful works performed by Christ, and done in his favour.
His own miracles were healing and beneficent. His power was shewn in restoring health, or limbs, or senses, or life. Scarce any miracle detrimental, except that one emblematical miracle of withering a barren fig tree.
It is the same at his death. This most excellent person, to whom so many then living were indebted for the most valuable benefits, is betrayed, apprehended, condemned, insulted, derided, crucified. How aggravated, how commplicated was the iniquity of those proceedings! How grievous must those indignities have been to the innocent sufferer! and how offensive in the sight of the supreme Lord of all! And the divine displeasure was manifested. There was universal darkness over the land of Israel for three hours: the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom: the earth too was shaken, and rocks were rent. Awful and affecting events! And yet no dwellings were overturned, nor men swallowed up. The earthquake was preternatural, and reached so far as God appointed, and no farther, without doing any damage. And moreover, when Jesus dies, or when he riseth again, the tombs are not only opened by the shaking of the earth, but many saints also are awakened and restored to life.
The divine wisdom, power and goodness are here very conspicuous. And every sincere Christian has reason to triumph, and glory in the evidences of the truth of his religion. The doctrine is reasonable, the promises are most gracious and comprehensive, and the evidences of its truth are affecting, forcible and convincing, yet mild and beneficent.
3. The testimonials given from heaven to the authority and dignity of the Lord Jesus, during his painful and ignominious sufferings, should induce us to shew him all honour and reverence. Let us be cautious of despising or slighting him, or any of his sayings. Let us not dare to speak a word, or admit a hard thought against the Son of man, who was also the Son of God: who suffered so meekly and so greatly: and who whilst he was despised and abused by mistaken and prejudiced men, had honourable testimonials from him, who is Lord of heaven and earth.
Nor let any of us, who bear the character of his disciples and followers, by an unworthy behaviour, or by leaving and forsaking him, expose him again to shame and reproach. Finally, Let these meditations on the greatness as well as meekness of Jesus under sufferings,
and the testimonials of divine favour and approbation then given him, inspire us with courage and resolution in the profession of his name, and the performance of the duties he has enjoined upon us, whatever reproaches or other disadvantages our fidelity to him may bring upon us: not doubting of a happy issue, and that if we suffer with him, or for him, we shall reign with him hereafter and that, if we now honour him, (though not altogether as he deserves, and we sometimes could wish, when our hearts are affected with the greatness of his love) he will honour and glorify us with himself in the kingdom of his Father.
THE ROMAN SOLDIERS AND THE JEWISH RULERS.
And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money to the soldiers. Saying: Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away whilst we slept. Matt. xxviii. 12, 13.
Ar the end of the preceding chapter, we are informed by the evangelist, that at the request of Joseph of Arimathea, Pilate granted him the body of Jesus after he had been crucified. "And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalen, and the other Mary sitting over against the sepulchre. Now the next day that followed the day of the preparation" (by which must be understood the sabbath, the seventh day of the week) "the chief priests and pharisees," or some of them, a deputation from the council, "came together to Pilate, saying: Sir, we remember, that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead. So the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them: Ye have a watch. Go your way, make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, scaling the stone, and setting a watch." The guard would prevent violence. And the seal would be a security against any fraud of the soldiers, in confederacy with the disciples, if that could have been suspected.
Then at the beginning of the twenty-eighth chapter. "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn, toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre. And behold," a short time before their arrival, there was, or had been, "a great earthquake. For the angel of the Lord decended from heaven, and came, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the keepers, "the guards," did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered, and said unto the women: Fear not ye. For I know, that ye seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. For he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples, that he is risen from the deadAnd as they went to tell his disciples, behold Jesus met them, saying: All hail. And they came, and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them: Be not afraid. Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee. And there shall they see me. Now when they were going, behold some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all things that were done."
By this account it appears that our Saviour's resurrection, and the preparations for it, were gradual. "There was a great earthquake: an angel descended from heaven, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. For fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.' Now, at this instant, or soon after, the blessed Jesus arose, and came out of the tomb. Whether the guards saw the Lord come out of the sepulchre, and pass by them, is not altogether certain.