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Ch. 15:1 15 . The Examination before Pilate
1. And straightway ] As the day dawned, a second and more formal meeting of the Sanhedrim was convened in one of the halls or courts near at hand. A legal Sanhedrim it could hardly be called, for there are scarcely any traces of such legal assemblies during the Roman period. In theory the action of this august court was humane, and the proceedings were conducted with the greatest care. A greater anxiety was manifested to clear the arraigned than to secure his condemnation, especially in matters of life and death. It was enacted (i) that a majority of at least two must be secured before condemnation; (ii) that while a verdict of acquittal could be given on the same day, one of guilty must be reserved for the following day; (iii) that no criminal trial could be carried through in the night; (iv) that the judges who condemned a criminal to death must fast all day; (v) that the sentence itself could be revised; and that (vi) if even on the way to execution the criminal reflected that he had something fresh to adduce in his favour, he might be led back and have the validity of his statement examined. See Ginsburg’s Article on The Sanhedrim in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopædia , iii. 767. But the influence of the Sadducees, who were now in the ascendancy, and were Draconian in their severity, had changed all this, and it was resolved to endorse the sentence already pronounced, and deliver over the Great Accused to the secular arm.
carried him away ] Either (i) to one of the two gorgeous palaces which the first Herod had erected, or (ii) to a palace near the Tower of Antonia, for hither the governor had come up from Cæsarea “on the sea” to keep order during the feast.
to Pilate ] The Roman governor roused thus early that eventful morning to preside in a case, which has handed down his name through the centuries in connection with the greatest crime committed since the world began, was Pontius Pilate. (i) His name Pontius is thought to indicate that he was connected, either by descent or adoption, with the gens of the Pontii , first conspicuous in Roman history in the person of C. Pontius Telesinus, the great Samnite general. His cognomen Pilatus has been interpreted as = ( a ) “armed with the pilum or javelin,” as = ( b ) an abbreviation of pileatus , from pileus , the cap or badge of manumitted slaves, indicating that he was either a libertus (“freedman”), or descended from one. He succeeded Valerius Gratus a. d. 26, and brought with him his wife Procla or Claudia Procula. (ii) His office was that of procurator under the governor ( proprætor ) of Syria, but within his own province he had the power of a legatus . His headquarters were at Cæsarea (Acts 23:23 ); he had assessors to assist him in council (25:12); wore the military dress; was attended by a cohort as a body-guard (Matthew 27:27 ); and at the great festivals came up to Jerusalem to keep order. When presiding as judge he would sit on a Bema or portable tribunal erected on a tesselated pavement, called in Hebrew Gabbatha (John 19:13 ), and was invested with the power of life and death (Matthew 27:26 ). (iii) In character he was not insensible to the claims of mercy and justice, but he was weak and vacillating, and incapable of compromising his own safety in obedience to the dictates of his conscience. As a governor he had shewn himself cruel and unscrupulous (Luke 13:1 , Luke 13:2 ), and cared little for the religious susceptibilities of a people, whom he despised and could not understand.
2. And Pilate asked him ] This was a private investigation within the prætorium , after the Jews, carefully suppressing the religious grounds on which they had condemned our Lord, had advanced against Him a triple accusation of (i) seditious agitation, (ii) prohibition of the payment of the tribute money, and (iii) the assumption of the suspicious title of “King of the Jews.” This was a political charge, and one which Pilate could not overlook. Having no quæstor to conduct the examination, he was obliged to hear the case in person.
Thou sayest it ] St Mark does not mention here what we know from St John, ( a ) the inquiry of our Lord of Pilate why he asked the question, and ( b ) His explanation of the real nature of His kingdom (John 18:37 , John 18:38 ). He brings out our Lord’s acknowledgment of His regal dignity, though Pilate could not understand His meaning.
3. And the chief priests accused him ] After the first examination Pilate came forth to the Jewish deputation, standing before the entrance of the palace, and declared his conviction of the innocence of the Accused (John 18:38 ; Luke 23:4 ). This was the signal for a furious clamour on the part of the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrim, and they accused our Lord of many things, of (1) “stirring up the people,” and (2) “teaching falsely throughout all Judæa, beginning from Galilee even to Jerusalem” (Luke 23:5 ).
4. And Pilate asked ] These renewed accusations led to further questions from Pilate, but our Lord preserved a complete silence. This increased the procurator’s astonishment, but he thought he had found an escape from his dilemma, when he heard the word “ Galilee .” Galilee was within the province of Herod Antipas, and he sent the case to his tribunal (Luke 23:6-12 ). But Herod also affirmed that the Accused had done nothing worthy of punishment, and Pilate finding the case thrown back upon his hands, now resolved to try another experiment for escaping from the responsibility of a direct decision.
6. Now at that feast ] Rather, at festival time. There is no article in the Greek (or in Luke 23:17 ; Matthew 27:15 ), and the apparent limitation of the custom to the Feast of the Passover is not required by the original words, or by the parallel in John 18:39 . It seems to have been a custom, the origin of which is unknown, to release to the people on the occasion of the Passover and other great Feasts any prisoner whom they might select. The custom may have been of Jewish origin, and had been continued by the Roman governors from motives of policy. Even the Romans were accustomed at the Lectisternia and Bacchanalia to allow an amnesty for criminals.
7. one named Barabbas ] There lay in prison at this time, awaiting execution, a celebrated bandit or robber named Barabbas. This word is a patronymic, and means (i) according to some, Bar-Abbas= son of Abba = “son of the father,” or (ii) according to others, Bar-Rabbas = “ son of a Rabbi .” In three MSS. of Matthew 27:16 , his name is given as “ Jesus Bar-abbas ,” and this reading is supported by the Armenian and Syriac Versions and is cited by Origen.
them that had made insurrection ] Barabbas had headed one of the numerous insurrections against the Roman power, which were constantly harassing the procurators, and giving untold trouble to the legionary troops quartered at Cæsarea and other places. In this particular insurrection blood had been shed, and apparently some Roman soldiers had been killed.
9. But Pilate answered them ] The proposition of the people that he should act according to his usual custom concurred with Pilate’s own wishes and hopes, and he resolved deliberately to give the populace their choice.
10. for envy ] He could not doubt who were the ringleaders in the tumultuous scene now being enacted, or what was the motive that had prompted them to bring the Accused before his tribunal nothing more or less than envy of the influence He had gained and the favour He had won throughout the land. He hoped, therefore, by appealing directly to the people to procure our Lord’s release.
11. But the chief priests ] It was probably at this juncture that he received the message from his wife imploring him to have nothing to do with “ that just person ” (Matthew 27:19 ) standing before him. His feelings, therefore, of awe were intensified, and his resolve to effect the release increased. But the chief priests stirred up the people, and urged them to choose Barabbas, the patriot leader, the zealot for their country, the champion against oppression. The word translated “moved” only occurs here and in the parallel, Luke 23:5 . It denotes (i) to shake to and fro, to brandish; (ii) to make threatening gestures; (iii) to stir up , or instigate . Their efforts were successful, and when Pilate formally put the question, the cry went up, “ Not this Man ,” the Holy and Undefiled, Whom they had lately welcomed with Hosannas into their city, but the hero of the insurrection, Barabbas (John 18:39 , John 18:40 ).
12. What will ye ] This question seems to have been put in disdain and anger; disdain at their fickleness, anger at the failure of his efforts to stem the torrent.
whom ye call the King of the Jews ] He may have hoped that the sound of the title might have not been in vain on the ears of those who had lately cried, “Blessed is the king that cometh in the name of the Lord,” “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David” (Luke 19:38 ; Mark 11:10 ). But he was bitterly deceived.
13. Crucify him ] was the cry that now fell upon his ears, prompted by the chief priests, re-echoed by the crowd. Still the procurator did not yield, though already at Cæsarea he had had proof of the invincible tenacity of a Jewish mob, whom not even the prospect of instant death could deter (Jos. Antiq . xviii. 3. 1). He resolved to make another direct appeal to the excited crowd. “Why should he crucify Him?” “What evil had He done?”
14. But they cried out the more ] “Why and wherefore?” There were no questions with them. They were resolved to have His life. Nothing else would satisfy. The cry was kept up unbroken, Away with this man, Crucify Him! Crucify Him! In vain Pilate expostulated. In vain he washed his hands openly before them all (Matthew 27:24 ) in token of his conviction of the perfect innocence of the Accused. His wavering in the early stage of the trial was bringing on its terrible consequences.
15. And so Pilate ] One hope, however, the procurator still seems to have retained. Irresolution indeed had gone too far, and he could not retrace his steps. He thought he must content the people, and therefore released Barabbas unto them. But he imagined there was room for a compromise. Clamorous as was the crowd, perhaps they would be satisfied with a punishment only less terrible than the Cross, and so he gave the order that He, Whom he had pronounced perfectly innocent, should be scourged.
willing to content the people ] “willinge for to do ynow to þe peple,” Wyclif. Here we have one of St Mark’s Latinisms. The Greek expression answers exactly to the Latin satisfacere=to satisfy appease, content .
when he had scourged him ] Generally the scourging before crucifixion was inflicted by lictors (Livy, xxxiii. 36; Jos. Bell. Jud . ii. 14. 9; v. 11. 1). But Pilate, as sub-governor, had no lictors at his disposal, and therefore the punishment was inflicted by soldiers. Lange, iv. 356 n. The Roman scourging was horribly severe. Drops of lead and small sharp-pointed bones were often plaited into the scourges, and the sufferers not unfrequently died under the infliction. Compare the horribile flagellum of Hor. Sat. i. iii. 119; and “flagrum pecuinis ossibus catenatum,” Apul. Met . viii. That the soldiers could not have performed their duty with forbearance on this occasion, is plain from the wanton malice, with which they added mockery to the scourging.
to be crucified ] But the compromise did not content the excited multitude. The spectacle of so much suffering so meekly borne did not suffice. “If thou let this man go,” they cried, “thou art not Cæsar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar” (John 19:12 ). This crafty well-chosen cry roused all Pilate’s fears. He could only too well divine the consequences if they accused him of sparing a prisoner who had been accused of treason before the gloomy suspicious Tiberius (“atrocissimè exercebat leges majestatis ,” Suet. Vit. Tib . c. 58; Tac. Ann . iii. 38). His fears for his own personal safety turned the scale. After one more effort therefore (John 19:13-15 ), he gave the word, the irrevocable word, “ Let Him be crucified ” (John 19:16 ), and the long struggle was over. St John, it is to be observed, mentions the scourging as one of Pilate’s final attempts to release Jesus. St Mark, like St Matthew, looks upon it as the first act in the awful tragedy of the Crucifixion. Both views are equally true. The scourging should have moved the people; it only led them to greater obduracy; it proved, as St Mark brings out, the opening scene in the Crucifixion.
16 24. The Mockery of the Soldiers. The Way to the Cross
16. the hall, called Prætorium ] “in to þe floor of þe moot hall ,” Wyclif. The building here alluded to is called by three of the Evangelists the Prætorium . In St Matthew (27:27) it is translated “ common hall ,” with a marginal alternative “ governor’s house .” In St John (18:28, 33, 19:9) it is translated “ hall of judgment ” and “ judgment hall ,” with a marginal alternative “ Pilate’s house ” in the first passage; while here it is reproduced in the English as “prætorium.” In Acts 23:35 it is rendered “ judgment hall ,” and in Philippians 1:13 , where it signifies “ the prætorian army ,” it is rendered “ palace .” This last rendering might very properly have been adopted in all the passages in the Gospels and Acts, as adequately expressing the meaning. See Professor Lightfoot on the Revision of the New Testament , p. 49.
the whole band ] In the palace-court, which formed a kind of barracks or guard-room, they gathered the whole cohort. The word translated “ band ” is applied to the detachment brought by Judas (John 18:3 ), and occurs again Acts 10:1 , Acts 21:31 , Acts 27:1 .
17. clothed him with purple ] Instead of the white robe, with which Herod had mocked Him, they threw around Him a scarlet sagum , or soldier’s cloak. St Matthew, 27:38, calls it “ a scarlet robe; ” St John, 19:2, “ a purple robe .” It was a war-cloak, such as princes, generals, and soldiers wore, dyed with purple; “probably a cast-off robe of state out of the prætorian wardrobe,” a burlesque of the long and fine purple robe worn only by the Emperor. Lange, iv. 357.
a crown of thorns ] Formed probably of the thorny nâbk , which yet “grows on dwarf bushes outside the walls of Jerusalem.” Tristram’s Land of Israel , p. 429.
and put it about his head ] In mimicry of the laurel wreath worn at times by the Cæsars.
19. smote him ] Rather, began to smite or kept smiting Him.
with a reed ] The same which they had already put into His hands as a sceptre.
did spit upon him ] See note above, ch. 14:65.
20. and led him out ] The place of execution was without the gates of the city.
21. they compel ] The condemned were usually obliged to carry either the entire cross, or the cross-beams fastened together like the letter V, with their arms bound to the projecting ends. Hence the term furcifers = “ cross-bearer .” “Patibulum ferat per urbem, deinde affigatur cruci.” This had a reference to our Lord being typified by Isaac bearing the wood of the burnt offering, Genesis 22:6 . But exhausted by all He had undergone, our Lord sank under the weight laid upon Him, and the soldiers had not proceeded far from the city gate, when they met a man whom they could “ compel ” or “ impress ” into their service. The original word translated “ compel ” is a Persian word. At regular stages throughout Persia (Hdt. viii. 98; Xen. Cyrop . viii. 6, 17) mounted couriers were kept ready to carry the royal despatches. Hence the verb ( angariare Vulg.) denotes (1) to despatch as a mounted courier; (2) to impress, force to do some service . It occurs also in Matthew 5:41 , “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
Simon a Cyrenian ] The man thus impressed was passing by, and coming from the country (Luke 23:26 ). His name was Simon, a Hellenistic Jew, of Cyrene, in northern Africa, the inhabitants of which district had a synagogue at Jerusalem (Acts 2:10 , Acts 6:9 ).
the father of Alexander and Rufus ] St Mark alone adds this. Like “Bartimæus, the son of Timæus,” these words testify to his originality. From the way they are mentioned it is clear that these two persons must have been well known to the early Christians. Rufus has been identified with one of the same name saluted by St Paul, Romans 16:13 .
to bear his cross ] The cause of execution was generally inscribed on a white tablet, called in Latin titulus (“ qui causam pœnæ indicaret ,” Sueton. Calig . 32). It was borne either suspended from the neck, or carried before the sufferer. The latter was probably the mode adopted in our Lord’s case. And Simon may have borne both title and Cross. St Mark does not mention our Lord’s words on the way to the women (Luke 23:28-31 ).
22. the place Golgotha ] St Mark gives the explanation of the Hebrew word “Golgotha.” St Luke omits it altogether. It was a bare hill or rising ground on the north or north-west of the city, having the form on its rounded summit of a skull , whence its name. It was ( a ) apparently a well-known spot; ( b ) outside the gate (comp. Hebrews 13:12 ); but ( c ) near the city (John 19:20 ); ( d ) on a thoroughfare leading into the country (Luke 23:26 ); and ( e ) contained a “garden” or “orchard” (John 19:41 ). From the Vulgate rendering of Luke 23:33 , “Et postquam venerunt in locum, qui vocatur Calvariæ ” (= a bare skull , “the place of Caluarie ,” Wyclif), the word Calvary has been introduced into the English Version, obscuring the meaning of the Evangelist. There is nothing in the name to suggest the idea that the remains of malefactors who had been executed were strewn about, for the Jews always buried them.
23. they gave him ] More literally, they offered Him.
wine mingled with myrrh ] It was a merciful custom of the Jews to give those condemned to crucifixion, with a view to producing stupefaction, a strong aromatic wine. Lightfoot tells us ( Hor. Heb . ii. 366) it was the special task of wealthy ladies at Jerusalem to provide this potion. The custom was founded on Rabbinic gloss on Proverbs 31:6 , “Give strong drink to him that is perishing, and wine to those whose soul is in bitterness.”
but he received it not ] The two malefactors, who were led forth with Him, probably partook of it, but He would take nothing to cloud His faculties.
24. when they had crucified him ] The present tense appears to be here the preferable reading, they crucify Him and part His garments among them. There were four kinds of crosses, (i) the crux simplex , a single stake driven through the chest or longitudinally through the body; (ii) the crux decussata (x); (iii) the crux immissa (†); and (iv) the crux commissa (T). From the mention of the title placed over the Saviour’s Head, it is probable that His cross was of the third kind, and that He was laid upon it either while it was on the ground, or lifted and fastened to it as it stood upright, His arms stretched out along the two cross-beams, and His body resting on a little projection, sedile , a foot or two above the earth. That His feet were nailed as well as His hands is apparent from Luke 24:39 , Luke 24:40 .
they parted ] i. e. the soldiers, a party of four with a centurion (Acts 12:4 ), for each sufferer, detailed, according to the Roman custom, ad excubias , to mount guard, and see that the bodies were not taken away.
casting lots ] The dice doubtless were ready at hand, and one of their helmets would serve to throw them.
what every man should take ] The clothes of the crucified fell to the soldiers who guarded them, as part of their perquisites. The outer garment, or tallîth , they divided into fourth parts, probably loosening the seams. The inner garment, like the robes of the priests, was without seam, woven from the top throughout (John 19:23 ), of linen or perhaps of wool. It would have been destroyed by rending, so for it they cast lots, unconsciously fulfilling the words spoken long ago by the Psalmist, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots (Psalms 22:18 ).
25 38. The Death
25. it was the third hour ] or nine o’clock. St John’s words (19:14) clearly point to a different mode of reckoning.
26. And the superscription ] “and the title of his cause was written,” Wyclif. The cause of execution was generally, as we have seen, inscribed on a white tablet, titulus , smeared with gypsum . It had been borne before Him on His way to the Cross, or suspended round His neck. It was now nailed on the projecting top of the cross over His head.
The King of the Jews ] Pilate had caused it to be written in three languages, that all classes might be able to read it. The ordinary Hebrew or Aramaic of the people, the official Latin of the Romans, and the Greek of the foreign population (John 19:20 ). For the endeavour of the Jewish high-priest to get the title altered see St John 19:21 , John 19:22 .
27. two thieves ] Rather, two robbers , or malefactors as St Luke calls them (23:33). See note above, 11:17. It is more than probable that they belonged to the band of Barabbas and “had been engaged in one of those fierce and fanatical outbreaks against the Roman domination which on a large scale or a small so fast succeeded one another in the latter days of the Jewish commonwealth.” This explains the fact that we read of no mockery of them , of no gibes levelled against them . They were the popular heroes. They realized the popular idea of the Messiah. See Trench’s Studies , p. 294.
28. And the scripture was fulfilled ] The reference here is to Isaiah 53:12 , but the verse is omitted in some MSS.
29. railed on him ] The instincts of ordinary pity were quenched in the fierceness of malignant hatred and religious bigotry.
Ah ] “Fyz,” Wyclif. It is an exclamation of exultant derision = the Latin Vah .
that destroyest the temple ] This saying of our Lord at His first cleansing of the Temple was never forgotten. Perhaps some of the false witnesses of the previous night were now present.
31. the chief priests ] whose high dignity and sacred office should have taught them better than to descend to the low passions of the mob.
mocking said ] “scornynge him, ech to other, with; scribis, seiden,” Wyclif. The ordinary bystanders blaspheme ( v . 29), the members of the Sanhedrim mock , for they think they have achieved a complete victory.
32. they that were crucified with him ] At first both the robbers joined in reproaching Him. The word rendered here “they reviled him” is rendered “cast the same in his teeth” in Matthew 27:44 . One of them, however, went further than this, and was guilty of blaspheming Him (Luke 23:39 ), but, as the weary hours passed away, the other, separating himself from the sympathies of all who stood around the Cross, turned in unexampled penitence and faith to Him that hung so close to him, and whose only “token of royalty was the crown of thorns that still clung to His bleeding brows,” and in reply to his humble request to be remembered when He should come in His kingdom, heard the gracious words, “ To day shalt thou be with me in paradise ” (Luke 23:43 ). Thus even from “the Tree” the Lord began to reign, and when “lifted up,” to “draw” men, even as He had said, unto Himself (John 12:32 ).
33. And when the sixth hour was come ] i. e. 12 o’clock. The most mysterious period of the Passion was rapidly drawing near, when the Lord of life was about to yield up His spirit and taste of death. At this hour nature herself began to evince her sympathy with Him Whom man rejected. The clearness of the Syrian noontide was obscured, and darkness deepened over the guilty city. It is impossible to explain the origin of this darkness. The Passover moon was then at the full, so that it could not have been an eclipse. Probably it was some supernatural derangement of the terrestrial atmosphere. The Pharisees had often asked for a “sign from heaven.” Now one was granted them.
until the ninth hour ] i. e. till 3 o’clock. A veil hides from us the incidents of these three hours, and all the details of what our Lord, shrouded in the supernatural gloom, underwent “for us men and for our salvation.”
34. And at the ninth hour ] the hour of the offering of the evening sacrifice,
Jesus cried with a loud voice ] He now gives utterance to the words of the first verse of the xxii nd Psalm, in which, in the bitterness of his soul, David had complained of the desertion of his God, and said,
“Eloï! Eloï! lama sabachthani?”
This is the only one of the “Seven Sayings from the Cross,” which has been recorded by St Mark, and he gives the original Aramaic and its explanation. Observe that of these sayings (i) the first three all referred to others, to ( a ) His murderers, ( b ) the penitent malefactor, ( c ) His earthly mother; (ii) the next three referred to His own mysterious and awful conflict, ( a ) His loneliness, ( b ) His sense of thirst, ( c ) His work now all but ended; (iii) with the seventh He commends His soul into His Father’s hands.
35. Behold, he calieth Elias ] They either only caught the first syllable, or misapprehended words, or, as some think, spoke in wilful mockery, and declared He called not on Eli, God, but on Elias, whose appearance was universally expected. See note above, 9:11.
36. full of vinegar ] Burning thirst is the most painful aggravation of death by crucifixion, and it was as He uttered the words, “ I thirst ,” that the soldier ran and filled a sponge with vinegar, or the sour wine-and-water called posca , the ordinary drink of the Roman soldiers.
and put it on a reed ] i. e. on the short stem of a hyssop-plant (John 19:29 ).
Let alone ] According to St Mark, the man himself cries “Let be;” according to St Matthew, the others cry out thus to him as he offers the drink; according to St John, several filled the sponge with the sour wine. Combining the statements, together we have a natural and accurate picture of the excitement caused by the loud cry.
37. And Jesus cried with a loud voice ] saying, “It is finished.” The three Evangelists all dwell upon the loudness of the cry, as it had been the triumphant note of a conqueror.
and gave up the ghost ] saying, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and then all was over. The Lord of life hung lifeless upon the Cross. “There may be something intentional in the fact that in describing the death of Christ the Evangelists do not use the neuter verb, ‘He died,’ but the phrases, ‘ He gave up the ghost ’ (Mark 15:37 ; Luke 23:46 ; John 19:30 ); ‘ He yielded up the ghost ’ (Matthew 27:50 ); as though they would imply with St Augustine that He gave up His life, ‘ quia voluit, quando voluit, quomodo voluit. ’ Comp. John 10:18 .” Farrar, life , ii p. 418 n.
the ghost ] Ghost , from A. S. gâst , G. geist , = spirit, breath, opposed to body. “The word has now acquired a kind of hallowed use, and is applied to one Spirit only, but was once common.” Bible Word-Book , p. 224. Compare ( a ) Wyclif’s translation here, “deiede or sente out the breth ;” ( b ) “ghostly dangers” (= spiritual dangers), “our ghostly enemy” (sour spiritual enemy), in the Catechism; ( c ) Bishop Andrewes’ Sermons, ii. 340, “Ye see then that it is worth the while to confess this [that Jesus is the Lord], as it should be confessed. In this sense none can do it but by the Holy Ghost. Otherwise, for an ore tenus only, our own ghost will serve well enough.” Bible English , p. 265.
38. And the veil of the temple ] the beautiful thick, costly veil of purple and gold, inwrought with figures of Cherubim, 20 feet long and 30 broad, which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy,
was rent in twain ] For the full symbolism of this see Hebrews 9:3 , Hebrews 10:19 . For the earthquake which now shook the city, see Matthew 27:51 . Such an event must have made a profound impression, and perhaps was the first step towards the change of feeling which afterwards led a great number of “ the priests to become obedient to the faith ” (Acts 6:7 ).
39 41. The Confession of the Centurion
39. when the centurion ] in charge of the quaternion of soldiers. See above, v . 24.
that he so cried out ] The whole demeanour of the Divine Sufferer, the loudness of the cry, and the words He uttered, thrilled the officer through and through. Death he must have often witnessed, on the battle-field, in the amphitheatre at Cæsarea, in tumultuous insurrections in Palestine, but never before had he been confronted with the majesty of a Voluntary Death undergone for the salvation of the world. The expression of a wondrous power of life and spirit in the last sign of life, the triumphant shout in death, was to him a new revelation.
the Son of God ] In an ecstacy of awe and wonder “ he glorified God ,” he exclaimed, “ In truth this man was righteous ” (Luke 23:47 ); nay, he went further, and declared, “ This Man was a (or the ) Son of God .” It is possible that on bringing the Lord back after the scourging, which he superintended, the centurion may have heard the mysterious declaration of the Jews, that by their Law the Holy One ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God (John 19:7 ). The words made a great impression on Pilate then (John 19:8 ). But now the centurion had seen the end . And what an end! All that he had dimly believed of heroes and demigods is transfigured. This man was more. He was the Son of God . Together with the centurion at Capernaum (Matthew 8:0 ) and Cornelius at Cæsarea (Acts 10:0 ) he forms in the Gospel and Apostolic histories a triumvirate of believing Gentile soldiers. The words, I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me , had been already fulfilled in the instance of the penitent malefactor. They are now true of this Roman officer. The “Lion of the tribe of Judah” was “reigning from the Tree.”
40. There were also women ] forerunners of the noble army of Holy Women, who were, in the ages to come, throughout the length and breadth of Christendom, to minister at many a death-bed out of love for Him Who died “ the Death .”
Mary Magdalene ] Mary of Magdala, out of whom had gone forth seven demons (Luke 8:2 ). This is the first time she is mentioned by St Mark.
Mary the mother of James the less ] The “Mary of Clopas” (John 19:25 ) who stood by the cross, and “Mary of James the Less” (comp. Matthew 27:56 ), are the same person; she was the sister of the Blessed Virgin, and had married Clopas or Alphæus.
James the less ] James the Little , so called to distinguish him from the Apostle St James, the son of Zebedee. Some think he was so called ( a ) because he was younger than the other James; or ( b ) on account of his low stature; or ( c ) because, when elevated to the bishopric of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:12 ), he took the name in humility, to distinguish him from his namesake, now famous in consequence of his martyrdom (Acts 12:2 ).
Joses ] See note above, 3:31.
Salome ] See note above, 10:35.
42 47 The Burial
42. the preparation ] i. e. for the Sabbath, which St Mark, writing for other readers than Jews, explains as “ the day before the Sabbath .”
43. Joseph of Arimathæa ] i. e. either of Rama in Benjamin (Matthew 2:18 ) or Ramathaim in Ephraim (1 Samuel 1:1 ). Probably the latter. The place is called in the LXX. “Armathaim,” and by Josephus “Armathia.” Joseph was a man of wealth (Matthew 27:57 ), a member of the Sanhedrim (Luke 23:50 ), and a secret disciple of Jesus (John 19:38 ), who had not consented to the resolution of the rest to put Him to death (Luke 23:51 ).
waited for the kingdom ] like Simeon (Luke 2:25 ) and Anna (Luke 2:38 ).
went in boldly ] He is no longer a secret disciple. He casts away all fear. The Cross transfigures cowards into heroes. “It was no light matter Joseph had undertaken: for to take part in a burial, at any time, would defile him for seven days, and make everything unclean which he touched (Numbers 19:11 ; Haggai 2:13 ); and to do so now involved his seclusion through the whole Passover week with all its holy observances and rejoicings.” Geikie, ii. 576.
craved the body of Jesus ] It was not the Roman custom to remove the bodies of the crucified from the cross. Instead of shortening their agonies the Roman law left them to die a lingering death, and suffered their bodies to moulder under the action of sun and rain (comp. Cic. Tusc. Quæst . i. 43, “Theodori nihil interest humine an sublime putrescat”), or be devoured by wild beasts (comp. Hor. Epist . xvi. 48, “Non hominem occidi: non pasces in cruce corvos ”). The more merciful Jewish Law, however, did not allow such barbarities, and the Roman rulers had made an express exception in their favour. In accordance, therefore, with the request of the Jewish authorities, the legs of the malefactors had been broken to put them out of their misery (John 19:31 ), but our Lord was found to be dead already (John 19:33 ), and the soldier had pierced His side with a spear, the point of which was a handbreadth in width, thus causing a wound which would of itself have been sufficient to cause death, whereupon there had issued forth blood and water (John 19:34 ). Thus the Holy Body was now ready for its entombment.
44. And Pilate marvelled ] Death by crucifixion did not generally supervene even for three days, and thirty-six hours is said to be the earliest period when it would be thus brought about. Pilate, therefore, marveled at the request of Joseph, and required the evidence of the centurion to assure himself of the fact.
45. he gave the body to Joseph ] The word translated “gave” only occurs in the New Testament here and in 2 Peter 1:3 , 2 Peter 1:4 ; “according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness;” “whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises.” It means more than simply to give, and= “ to give freely ” “largiri.” The word appears to be used designedly by St Mark, implying that Pilate, who from his character might have been expected to extort money from the wealthy “counsellor,” freely gave up the Body at his request, placing it at his disposal by a written order, or a verbal command to the centurion.
46. And he bought fine linen ] Thus successful, Joseph purchased fine (probably white ) linen, the original word for which has been already explained in the note on ch. 14:51, and then he repaired to Golgotha, where he was joined by Nicodemus, formerly a secret disciple like himself, but whom the Cross had emboldened to come forward and bring a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight (John 19:39 ), to do honour to the Lord of life.
wrapped him in the linen ] Thus assisted, Joseph took down the Holy Body, laid it in the fine linen, sprinkled the myrrh and aloes amongst the folds, and wound them round the wounded Limbs.
a sepulchre ] He then conveyed the Body to a new Tomb, wherein as yet no man had ever been laid, and which he had hewn out of the limestone rock in a garden he possessed hard by Golgotha (John 19:41 ). He was anxious probably himself to be buried there in the near precincts of the Holy City. Here now they laid the Holy Body in a niche in the rock, and
rolled a stone ] of large size (Matthew 27:60 ) to the horizontal entrance, while
47. Mary Magdalene ] and Mary the mother of Joses (see note above, v . 40) and the other women (Luke 23:55 ), “beheld,” i. e. observed carefully , the place where He was laid, and where, surrounded by all the mystery of death,
“Still He slept, from Head to Feet
Shrouded in the winding-sheet,
Lying in the rock alone,
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"Commentary on Mark 15". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension