Lesson 17: Mark -Chapter 15

First read Mark 15 all the way through.

The ‘Supernatural’ Acts and Events in  Mark 15:

Things you don’t see everyday:

Verse 33:

-There was darkness over the whole land while Jesus was being crucified.

Verse 38:

-Curtain of the Temple is Torn in two. (supernatural)

Verse 39:

– Centurion prophetically proclaims: Truly this man was the Son of God!

Now read it again in detail along with the Notes and Commentary below:

Notes and Commentary:

I.  Jesus On Trial: Before Pilate –Verses 1-15

Verses 1-5:  The Sanhedrin had made it’s decision. Now they send Jesus to Pilate hoping that he will agree to carry out their sentence. However, Pilate is not about to rubber stamp their ‘religious’ condemnation. He proceeds to judge for himself.

The Jewish leaders say that this Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah- an heir of King David. If so, then this could be treason and this Jesus might be leading a revote against Rome. The chief priests made all sorts of charges against this Jesus but the ‘King’ charge is the only one that really concerns him. Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus barely responds: “You have said so.” Then he declines to answer any further. This is totally shocking to Pilate. However, he sees no real basis for condemning this man to death.

At this point in the Gospel of Luke, Pilate finds out that Jesus was from Galilee so sends him off to be judged by Herod Antipas the Tetrarch ruler over that area. Herod sends Jesus back and honors Pilate with the responsibility for this man.

Verses 6-14:  Pilate then seeks to find a way to release Jesus since he finds no merit in the charges. He decides to offer him up as the prisoner who receives the traditional reprieve for Passover. However, the chief priests stir up the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas instead. The plans of Pilate are frustrated. Even worse, Barabbas really was an insurrectionist against Rome and a robber. He really did deserve his sentence.

Pilate then asks the crowd what he should do with Jesus: “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” The crowd responses: “Crucify him.” Pilate asks: “Why, what evil has he done?” But the crowd continues to shout all the more: “Crucify him.”

For years, I have wondered who the people were that made up this crowd. After all, a few days ago people were cheering Jesus as a King when he came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Also, the chief priests were afraid of the people and were careful to arrest Jesus in the middle of the night hoping to prevent a riot. Neither did they challenge Jesus and stop him from clearing and teaching in the Temple. The crowd must have been comprised of zealot supporters of Barabbas and stooges of the Sanhedrin.

Verse 15:  Pilate is left with few alternatives. He decides to make the best of a bad situation and gain the favor of the Jewish religious leaders and the crowd. He already said that Jesus really wasn’t guilty of anything and yet he sentences Jesus to be crucified. Note: The Gospel of Matthew records the famous scene of Pilate washing his hands of the situation. Nevertheless, the legal and moral responsibility remained all his. He could have released Jesus, he had the power, and he had already had him tortured but he sent him on to be crucified.

The Gospel of John (19:1-6) tells us that he had Jesus scourged first before he brought him back and asked: “…what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” Pilate was probably hoping that the punishment would be enough to satisfy them. Anyone who saw the movie: “The Passion“, observed how brutal that punishment really was. However as it turned out, Jesus ended up suffering through both.

II.  The Mocking of Jesus by the Roman Soldiers –Verses 16-21

Verses 16-20:  The Roman soldiers came and led Jesus away to the Army headquarters in the Palace. Notice it says that the whole battalion was called in. Obviously they were concerned about any possible backlash from the followers of Jesus.

Several soldiers were probably guarding Jesus when he was being judged by Pilate. They heard the claim that he was supposed to be some kind of ‘King of the Jews’ and told the rest of their company about Jesus.

The Roman soldiers stationed in Judea generally despised the Jews because they acted so uppity and usually treated them as untouchables. Here was their chance to have some fun with one of these royal pains. From a Jewish perspective, the Romans were occupiers and oppressors. Also, the more religious, like the Pharisees did not want to have anything to do with ‘Gentiles’ in general because they considered them to be ‘unclean’.

A purple robe was a sign of wealth and royalty. Purple cloth was difficult and expensive to produce in the ancient world. It could well have been one of Pilate’s old robes that he had thrown away. It is hard to imagine that they would have put a robe like that in good condition on Jesus. Notice the games that the real King of the universe had to endure: mock homage and salutes, mixed with spitting and striking-a real scene of revelry.  One day these soldiers and everyone else will genuinely bow down to Jesus:

“so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  –Philippians 2:10-11 (ESV)

Finally they take the robe away and put his own clothes back on him and then lead him away to be crucified.

Verse 21:  It was customary for condemned man to carry his own cross through the streets of Jerusalem on out to the hill outside the city gates where the prisoners were executed-called Golgotha. Along the way Jesus was no longer able to carry his own cross, so the soldiers grabbed a passerby and forced him to carry it for Jesus.

Mark identifies the cross bearer as Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene was an important city in what is today Libya, and had a large Jewish community at the time. So Simon could have been a Jewish pilgrim visiting in Jerusalem for the Passover. It is also possible that he lived in Jerusalem but was known as Simon of Cyrene because he originally came from there. This could be the case, since Mark and his readers were acquainted with his two sons Alexander and Rufus who obviously were part of the Christian community when the gospel was written.

III.  Details of the Crucifixion Setup –Verses 22-28

Verse 22:  They took Jesus to Golgotha (place of the skull). It was probably so named because it was a rounded hill top that was devoid of vegetation. In Jerusalem today there is a hilltop thought to be the possible location with impressions beneath that remind one of eye sockets. The actual site of course is uncertain.

Verse 23:  They offer Jesus wine mixed with Myrrh, but he doesn’t take it. Tradition is that pious women in Jerusalem provided the wine as an anesthetic to all condemned criminals as an offering of mercy. Jesus chooses to face death with a clear mind. Besides, he had told his disciples at the Last Supper that it was the last time he would eat or drink with them in this life.

Verses 24-25:  “And they crucified him..” -Meaning that they nailed him to the cross and placed it upright in position. In the process, the soldiers stripped him of his clothes and gambled over his garments. A fulfillment of Psalm 22:18.

“And it was the third hour..” -That would place the time at around 9:00 am in the morning.

Verse 26:  The Roman charge against Jesus was treason- that Jesus was perceived to be a contender for the throne of Judea: “The King of the Jews”. In Roman executions it was traditional to have a sign naming the charge, called the ‘titulus’ in Latin, which was carried with the prisoner to the execution site and then nailed above his head for all to see.

The title: “King of the Jews” rankled the Jewish leaders as we can see in John’s account (John 19:19-22). Pilate was obviously pulling their chains. However, the title is accurate. Jesus was the heir of David and he is coming one day to literally reign in Jerusalem.

Verses 27:  Jesus was placed between two ‘robbers’. The Greek word here for robber can also mean “insurrectionist”. Since mere robbery was not a capitol offense, some scholars believe that the second word is the preferred meaning.

Many historians believe that the execution was previously arranged with Barabbas in mind (he was a ‘Zealot’ insurrectionist), Jesus was inserted into the plan as a substitute. The Romans many times would crucify criminals together that were guilty of similar crimes. Barabbas would have been at home with this group while Jesus stands out as unique. Which is fitting.

Verse 28And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “He was numbered with the transgressors” –This verse is missing in all of the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts. Most scholars believe that it was a notation made by a copyist that was inserted into the text in later copies. All of the modern editions of the Bible have either dropped the verse or footnoted it. Nevertheless, it does represent a truth, the placing of Jesus between the two robbers could be considered to be a fulfillment of Is. 53:12. Also, Luke 22:37 does record it.

IV.  The Crucifixion –Verses 29-32

Verses 29-32:  It is hard to imagine what Jesus was feeling while he was dying on the cross and all these people were standing around making fun of him. How barbaric! It is difficult for me to understand how people could be that way while a person is obviously suffering and dying. Some of the recent scenes of terror and videotaped beheading from the Middle East seem to be in the same category. How does one learn to hate in this way? I thank God for the Holy Spirit which leads all believers to love one another and even their enemies.

“Come down for the cross” -what a diabolical taunt. The fact is he did save others and it was in his own power to save himself. What a temptation! The chief priests and scribes are challenging him here to come down and demonstrate that he really is the Messiah. He could have done it and what a surprise that would have been. What would they have said then? Would they have finally believed? Probably not. Nevertheless, he followed the plan of his Father and died on the cross for everyone and for all time.

As a final insult, even those dying on the cross next to him were involved in the taunting. Luke tells us that later one of the criminals recanted and received a promise of life in Paradise from Jesus.

V.  The Death of Jesus –Verses 33-41

Verse 33:  Darkness fell upon the whole land from noon to 3 PM as Jesus was dying on the cross.

Verses 34-36:  At 3 PM Jesus cried out in Aramaic: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” -this is a direct quote of Psalm 22:1. Some of the bystanders misunderstood what Jesus said and thought that maybe he was calling for Elijah to come and save him.

Most Bible teachers believe that it was at that very moment that God the Father placed upon his Son Jesus, all the sins of the world of every generation from the beginning to the end. For the first time in his life, Jesus was feeling the agony of separation from his Father. The scriptural penalty of sin is eternal separation from God. At that moment, Jesus paid the penalty for us all.

Sour wine was part of the daily allotment of the Roman soldiers, so it would have been readily available. John 19:28 tells us that Jesus said: “I thirst” -so the wine was probably given in response.

Jesus cries out and then dies. John records the last cry as: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Mathew tells us that immediately there was an earthquake (Matt. 27:51).

Verse 38:  At the death of Jesus, the great curtain that separated the holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two. The curtain was huge and exceedingly thick. The tearing of the curtain would have caused a major problem for the temple priests.

Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the holiest place once a year, the presence of God was said to be there. The rendering of the door that separated one from the presence of God symbolized the beginning of a new covenant. A covenant where regular people could have access to the Father through faith and commitment to the Son. A human intermediary or priest is no longer needed. Jesus himself being both our High Priest and the sacrificial lamb bringing atonement for our sins, for now and forever.

Verse 39:  A Roman centurion testifies: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Whether the Roman meant it in the way that we Christians read it today is uncertain. Nevertheless, it was a prophetic statement of truth. One wonders how all the chief priests and scribes were responding to the darkened sky and to the earthquake that shook their precious temple and really changed the perception of their religion forever. After all, there is no longer any temple and the temple sacrifices have ceased long ago in 69/70 AD.

Verses 40-41:  It is interesting that a number of women are mention here that followed Jesus from Galilee and did not shrink from being present at his execution. There is no doubt that they may have been hoping for a different ending. Nevertheless, they were faithful to Jesus to the very end. Mary Magdalene we are familiar with, and Salome is the mother of the Apostles James and John. However, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses we know of only here at the crucifixion.

This does leave us with some questions. Where were all the Apostles? John was there supporting Mary the mother of Jesus. We also know that Peter was hanging on in the back some where. What about the rest? I wonder if Judas showed up? We can only speculate.

VI.  The Burial of Jesus –Verses 42-47

Verse 42:  Preparation Day- Friday before sunset was called the day of preparation since food and provisions were prepared ahead of time for the Sabbath (Saturday).

Verse 43:  Joseph of Arimathea was a respected member of the Sanhedrin and a closet follower of Jesus. He was looking for the Kingdom of God and probably hoped that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He boldly goes to Pilate and asks for the body of Jesus. What an act of incredible courage. He has nothing to gain and everything to lose. His associates on the council would have condemned his actions for sure. Being closely identified with one who was crucified as a ‘traitor’ would not commend him to the Romans either.

Verses 44-45:  Pilate is surprised and checks to see if Jesus was already dead. The centurion confirms that Jesus is dead. This is major a testimony! The Roman soldiers knew how to kill people, they were experts. They also knew when someone was dead or maybe just unconscious. Jesus was dead. There go all the modern theories about Jesus coming too later and living a life as a regular person. According to the Roman centurion, Jesus was dead. So Pilate gave permission to Joseph to take the body.

One wonders where all of the disciples of Jesus were? Why didn’t any of them come for the body? It was fortunate that Joseph of Arimathea came for Jesus because the Romans rarely surrendered the bodies of executed criminals to their friends or family. It is remarkable that Pilate surrendered the body of Jesus to Joseph.

Verse 46:  Joseph had Jesus taken down and he wrapped his body in a new linen shroud. Then he took him and laid him in a new tomb carved in rock and had the rock rolled in front of the entrance and closed up. According to the Gospel of John (19:39-42), Nicodemus helped Joseph. Matthew (27:60) tells us that the tomb was made for Joseph.

Verse 47:  As an interesting side note, apparently Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed the removal and burial of Jesus and made plans to complete the preparation of the body on Sunday morning after the Sabbath was complete. But that was Friday, the whole world changed once and for all Sunday morning.

-Read: Mark 16: 1-8 for the next lesson.

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