Liturgy of the Palms

Matthew 21:1-11


1 When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ origins and identity. Written around 85 CE by an anonymous author, the Gospel began Jesus’s genealogy with Abraham and depicted Jesus as a teacher of the Law like Moses. More than any other Gospel, Matthew quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (using the Greek Septuagint Translation) to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.

Having been written after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Gospel reflected the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of Judaism going forward. Accordingly, the Gospel contains many harsh sayings about the Pharisees. The Gospel is aimed primarily at the late First Century Jewish Jesus Follower community.

The Gospel relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark and included all but 60 verses from Mark. Like Luke, Matthew also used a “Sayings Source” (called “Q” by scholars) which are found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark and John. There are also a substantial number of stories that are unique to Matthew: the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception was revealed to Joseph in a dream (rather than by an angel to Mary as in Luke); the Visit of the Magi; the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Flight to Egypt; the Laborers in the Vineyard; and the earthquake on Easter Morning, among others.

According to The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the exact location of Bethpage is not known, but is thought to be near the Mount of Olives just east of Jerusalem. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, there was a tradition in Second Temple Judaism that a great battle would take place at the Mount of Olives at the end of the age and that YHWH would intervene in this battle. It was also anticipated that when the Messiah entered Jerusalem, he would come from the east.

Relying on (and conflating) Isaiah 62:11 and Zech. 9:9, the author of Matthew’s Gospel “quoted” scripture as saying the king would enter Jerusalem on a donkey (v.5). Unfortunately, the author of Matthew’s Gospel misunderstood the parallelism in the text in Zechariah (“on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’) and presented Jesus as riding two animals simultaneously. The entry on a donkey was, according to The NAOB, juxtaposed to the “typical” kingly triumphal entry on a war-stallion.

The spreading of cloaks and branches were signs of honor and connected Jesus to the kingship of Israel, as recounted in 2 Kings 9:13 for the coronation of Jehu (842-814 BCE). The JANT points out that only John 12:13 mentions palms and that palms were normally connected with the feast of Sukkot – celebrating the flimsy huts in which the Israelites lived in the Wilderness. The word “Hosanna” means “O save” or “Save now” and was a general cry of acclamation. The JANT also observes that the crowds referred to Jesus as “prophet” (v.11) and not as “Messiah.”

Palm Sunday Readings

Isaiah 50:4-9a


4 The LORD God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.
5 The LORD God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
7 The LORD God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.
9a It is the LORD God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?


The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.

Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.

Today’s reading is from “Second Isaiah” and is sometimes called the third of the four “Servant Songs” that are in Isaiah from Chapters 42 to 53.

Just before today’s reading, the prophet told the Judeans that YHWH had not broken the promises made to them, but their sin was the cause of their suffering and the Exile. The prophet asserted that he was YHWH’s agent to teach (v.4) the Judeans to pursue righteousness. The Jewish Study Bible states that “the prophet sets a model that the nation as a whole should follow, since the whole nation has a prophetic role to the world at large.”

The Suffering Servant (sometimes understood as Judea) described his suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, but because YHWH helped him and because the punishment of the exiles was just, he has accepted it, not been disgraced, and will be vindicated (v.7). In the verse immediately following today’s reading (v.10), the speaker is identified as a “servant.”

The author of the Gospel According to Mark adopted many of the motifs of Psalm 22 and of the Suffering Servant Songs (particularly the 4th Servant Song in Chapters 52 and 53) to describe the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth in the Crucifixion.

Philippians 2:5-11


5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul), and most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. Paul wrote this letter from prison. For this reason, some think the letter was written from Rome around 62 CE. Other scholars note that Paul was also imprisoned earlier in Ephesus and made trips to Philippi from Ephesus. Paul had a deep affection for the believers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18).

Today’s reading is the best-known part of this Epistle and is derived from a hymn that was already in use in Jesus Follower communities, perhaps in a Baptism liturgy. It emphasized the divinity of Jesus the Christ (“in the form [essence] of God” v.6), the self-emptying love of Jesus (“kenosis” v.7), his servant ministry (“form [essence] of a slave” v.7), and that (like all human beings – “in human form [essence]”) he was subject to death, even a degrading death on a cross (v.8).

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that the Greek word morphē (translated as “form”) is that which “denotes the mode of being or appearance from which the essential character or status of something can be known.”

The Jewish Annotated New Testament observes that God’s exaltation of Jesus in giving him a “name” (v.9) that is “above every name” is to be understood in the “biblical sense of that which truly expresses character, power, and status.”

The phrases “every knee should bend” (v.10) and “every tongue confess” (v.11) were echoes of Isaiah 45:23 in which the prophet (speaking for YHWH) asserted YHWH had power to free the Judeans from Babylon and “to me [YHWH] every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”

The Letter to the Philippians contains some of Paul’s strongest assertions that Jesus the Christ is “Lord” and therefore equivalent to YHWH. The NRSV translates the Greek word Kyrios in the Christian Scriptures (which were written in Greek) as “Lord” with a capital “L.” When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the Septuagint in the period from 300 to 200 BCE, the name for God, YHWH, was also translated as “Kyrios.” The NRSV translates the letters “YHWH” from the Hebrew Scriptures (which were written in Hebrew) as “LORD” with all capital letters.

The statement that Jesus took the form of a slave/servant and emptied himself (poured himself out) for others were themes taken from Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant Song. For this, the servant has been highly exalted (resurrected) (v.9).

The JANT says that Paul challenged the Philippians by saying that if one “in the form of God” (v.6) could humbly abdicate the dignity of his original status and not exploit his connectedness to God, should not the Philippians do likewise?

Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 (The Passion According to Matthew)


14 One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the
elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’” 62 The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 63 But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?”

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment, the cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

27:1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.


The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that in all of the gospel accounts, the death of Jesus is linked with the festival of Passover (v.17), a festival associated with sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb and liberation of the Israelites.

The Chief Priest at the time of Jesus’ Crucifixion was Caiaphas, who held that office from 18 to 36 CE. The 30 pieces of silver (v.15) paid to Judas was a reference to the price of redeeming a person from a religious obligation as described in Lev. 27 and was also a reference to Zechariah’s indictment of temple authorities for corruption by depositing tainted money in the treasury (Zech.11:12-13). The Jewish Annotated New Testament says that the silver coin most likely in circulation was the Athenian tetradrachma, the equivalent of four denarii, so that the value of the 30 coins was about 120 days’ wages.

Although the first day of Unleavened Bread (v.17) was technically the day after Passover according to Lev. 23, the NAOB notes that the two feasts were equated and combined in the Gospels. The JANT notes that the seder ritual as we know it is largely a rabbinic, postbiblical rite.

Although The NAOB opines that the phrase “as it is written” (v.24) “emphasizes that Jesus’ death is part of God’s plan,” the phrase can also be understood as simply saying that there are some portions of the Hebrew Scriptures that were interpreted as anticipating a Messiah who would suffer and die. For example, the Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah 53:12b says: “he poured himself out to death and was numbered with the transgressors, yet he bore the sin of many.”

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes that v.25, the conversation between Jesus and Judas, is unique to Matthew. The NAOB states that only Judas referred to Jesus as “Rabbi” (v.25) in Matthew’s Gospel. This honorific (meaning “teacher”) did not become a technical term for an office within Judaism until the second century. The JANT notes that Judas was the only apostle from Judea.

In some ancient manuscripts, the phrase in verse 28 is “blood of the new covenant.” This may be an attempt to make this verse harmonize with 1 Cor.11:25. The reference to a “new covenant” is an echo of Jer.31:31-33 in which YHWH told the prophet that he (YHWH) would make a new covenant that would be in the hearts of the Jewish people.

The NJBC interprets v.29 (“until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom”) is Matthew’s signal that these events are a “significant turning point in salvation history” and an anticipation of the messianic banquet described in Isaiah 25:6.

In v. 31, Matthew has Jesus cite Zech.13:7 as “proof” of the disciples’ anticipated desertion (which occurred in Matt. 28).

The word “Gethsemane” (v.36) means “oil press” and can be understood symbolically in light of the way Jesus was described as “agitated” (v.37).

Other examples of a deceitful kiss (v.49) are in Gen. 27:27 when Jacob deceived his father Isaac to receive the blessing that should have been given to Esau and when Joab (David’s general) killed an enemy in 2 Sam.20:9-10.

The JANT points out that no pre-Christian sources predict the arrest, suffering and crucifixion of the Messiah. Although this is correct, it is clear that writers of the Christian Scriptures interpreted portions of the Hebrew Bible as anticipating a Messiah who would suffer and die.

The NJBC observes that the cutting off of the earlobe of the high priest’s servant “is not an accident in a scuffle but a deliberately intended symbolic gesture. The servant was not a minor domestic but vice president of the Temple administration. He thus represents the high priest. A mutilated ear according to Leviticus disqualifies one from serving as a high priest. Thus, the gesture says that the priest who would arrest God’s emissary is unfit for office and spiritually bankrupt.” The incident also appears in Mark 14:47 and Luke 22:50, but in Luke, Jesus healed the ear (22:51).

The Council (v.59) was the Sanhedrin. It consisted of 70 scribes, priests, and elders. The High Priest presided over this court. Matthew did not include Pharisees or the scribes as part of the trial of Jesus. The JANT and The NJBC doubt the historicity of the Sanhedrin trial. The JANT notes that the trial is not attested in the Fourth Gospel, and that such a trial would have been illegal since hearings were forbidden on festivals.

In vv. 67 and 68, Matthew forgot to include the blindfolding of Jesus (Mark 14:65) which made the taunt (“prophesy who struck you” v.68) less intelligible.

Pontius Pilate (v. 27:2) was the governor of Judea from 26-37 CE. His residence was in Caesarea Maritima. He was known for extreme cruelty and this was the basis for his removal by Rome in 37 CE.

The account of Judas’ death (vv.3-10) is found only in Matthew. Another legend about Judas’ death is in Acts 1:18-20. The JANT points out that only in Matthew’s Gospel does Judas repent (v. 3). The NJBC surmises that this account in Matthew began as an etiological legend to explain how the potter’s field came to be called the “field of blood.”

The NAOB observes that the questions to Jesus from Caiaphas were religious questions about the Temple and messianic claims, but that Pilate asked a political question — are you King of the Jews – and therefore guilty of sedition against the Empire?

There is no independent evidence of a custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover. The name, “Jesus Barabbas” (v.16) was changed in later manuscripts to omit “Jesus” – presumably to avoid confusion and because the name Jesus had become sacred. The name “Barabbas” means “son of the father,” so the prisoner’s name is particularly ironic because the innocent Jesus of Nazareth was the true Son of the Father.

The account of “the crowd” (v.24) and “the people as a whole” (v.25) is problematic given that the appearance before Pilate (if it is historical) would have been in Pilate’s headquarters. The NAOB says that the phrase “his blood be on us and our children” (v.25) is found only in Matthew and did not mean all subsequent Jews but referred only to the generation after Jesus’ death who had to suffer through the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Nevertheless, this verse has been used as a “basis” for anti-Jewish violence for centuries.

Cyrene (v.32) was the capital of a large Roman province in North Africa on the southern Mediterranean coast, west of Egypt. It had a large Jewish community which explained why a member of that community would be in Jerusalem for Passover. In John 19:17, Jesus carried his own cross.

Unlike the account of “the Good Thief” in Luke 23:39-42, both of the bandits taunted Jesus (v.44) in Matthew’s account.

In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1, which these two gospel writers quoted in Hebrew (the first two words) and Aramaic for the other words (v.46). The division of Jesus’ clothes by casting lots (v.35) is also taken from Psalm 22:18.

The tearing of the Temple curtain (v.50) is in the Synoptic Gospels. This was a tapestry that was in front of the Holy of Holies. The tearing of the Temple curtain has been interpreted as the dissolution of the divide between the sacred and the profane, an event in anticipation of the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and as the beginning of a new era of salvation in which the Temple would not be the center.

The report of an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death (v.54) is found only in Matthew. The JANT notes that no non-Christian sources recorded this event.

Joseph of Arimathea (v.57) is mentioned in all four canonical gospels as the person who took Jesus’ body and prepared it for burial. Only Matthew included the account in verses 62 to 66 about having a guard of soldiers set a stone to make the tomb secure. The NOAB suggests that these verses were intended to counter a post-resurrection accusation that the disciples (or someone else) stole Jesus’ body.