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‘And immediately in the morning, a council having formed, the Chief Priests, with the Elders and Scribes and the whole Sanhedrin, having bound Jesus, carried Him away and delivered Him up to Pilate.’
This verse is transitional between the previous examinations and the one that would now take place before Pilate. It reminds us that the whole Sanhedrin of the Jews were responsible for delivering Jesus up to Pilate, bound like a violent criminal, having passed their official verdict against Him.
Roman Justice (15:1-20).
Mark’s concern in this narrative is to bring out that there was not really any serious political charge against Jesus, and that that was recognised by the Roman governor, with the result that when he allowed Him to be crucified it was only at the behest of the Jewish leaders and an enraged crowd in order to keep the peace. In essence, says Mark, His conviction was really on a charge of blasphemy, of claiming to be a unique heavenly figure Who would sit at God’s right hand and not for any political reason. In other words Jesus was condemned for being what Mark has all along shown Him to be.
Pilate did not like the Jews, nor did he like making concessions to them as he had proved rather cruelly in the past. But he was wary of them and their sometime influence in Rome and knew he had to tread carefully. The description of him as ‘inflexible, merciless and obstinate’ was a Jewish viewpoint but had some truth in it. He was quite ready to shed blood to have his way. He was a typical Roman procurator, a military man exalted above his rank as a demonstration of favour. But that he had some idea of justice comes out in his dealings with Jesus. That was his job, although it was not sufficient to make him stand firm for justice at cost to himself.
It will be noted that Mark tells us almost nothing about the trial itself. Possibly he did not have access to the details. He covers it briefly in Mark 15:2-5. And even there the emphasis is on the accusations of the Chief Priests. We can in fact be sure that there was a good deal more to it than we have here, or even in the other Gospels, for Pilate would know that he was accountable for what happened, and that a record would be kept. What Mark is more concerned with is the vindictiveness of the Chief Priests, the savagery of the Jerusalem crowd, and Pilate’s continued indication that, after having examined Jesus, he had come to the conclusion that He was completely innocent. He makes clear that Pilate only did what he did because he finally capitulated as a result of the pressure of the crowd.
The existence of Pontius Pilate is confirmed in an inscription discovered at Caesarea which says in Latin, ‘Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, has presented the Tiberieum to the Caesareans’.
a And immediately in the morning, a council having formed, the Chief Priests, with the Elders and Scribes and the whole Sanhedrin, having bound Jesus, carried Him away and delivered Him up to Pilate (Mark 15:1).
b And Pilate asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And He answering says to him, “You say it”. And the Chief Priests accused him of many things. And Pilate asked Him saying, “Do you answer nothing? See how many things they accuse you of.” But Jesus no longer made any reply insomuch that Pilate marvelled (Mark 15:2-5)
c Now at the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they asked of him. And there was one called Barabbas lying bound with those who had made insurrection, men who in the insurrection had killed (Mark 15:6-7).
d And the crowd went up and began to ask him to do as he was wont to do to them (Mark 15:8).
e And Pilate answered them saying, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” For he realised that the Chief Priests had delivered Him up out of envy.’
f But the Chief Priests stirred up the crowd that he should rather release Barabbas to them (Mark 15:11).
e And Pilate again answered and said to them, “What then shall I do to Him Whom you call the king of the Jews?” And they again cried out, “Crucify Him” (Mark 15:12-13).
d And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out even more forcefully, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:14).
c And Pilate, wishing to make the crowd content, released to them Barabbas and delivered Jesus, when He had scourged Him, to be crucified (Mark 15:15).
b And the soldiers led Him away within the court which is the Praetorium, and they call together the whole band, and they clothe Him with purple, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on Him, and they began to salute Him, “Hail, king of the Jews”. And they smote his head with a reed, and spat on Him, and bowing their knees paid Him homage (Mark 15:16-19).
a And when they had mocked Him, they took off from Him the purple, and put on Him His own clothes. And they lead Him out to crucify Him (Mark 15:20).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is delivered up to Pilate bound, and in the parallel He is led out to be crucified. In ‘b’ Pilate asks Him if He is the King of The Jews, and having confirmed it to Pilate Jesus makes no reply to His accusers, and in the parallel the soldiers demonstrate their opinion of the King of the Jews and He receives it all in silence. In ‘c’ we learn that it was the practise of Pilate at the Passover to release one prisoner to the crowds, and that there was one such, Barabbas, an insurrectionist accused of murder, and in the parallel Pilate delivers up Barabbas to the crowds and delivers Jesus to be crucified. In ‘d’ the crowd ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do, (with the purpose of having Barabbas the murderer delivered up to them), and in the parallel they call on Pilate to crucify Jesus even though He has done no evil. Note the contrast between their concern for a murderer and their callousness in regard to Jesus Who had done no evil. They were getting what they deserved. In ‘e’ Pilate asks them whether they want Him to free the King of the Jews, and in the parallel he asks them what he should then do with the King of the Jews. Centrally in ‘f’ the Chief Priests stir up the crowds to ask for Barabbas.
‘And Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And he answering says to him, “You say it.” ’
They informed Pilate that Jesus was making Himself out to be the King of the Jews. This title was a loaded one and implied that He was therefore planning rebellion, for many insurrectionists had taken the title ‘king’. There had recently been such an insurrection which had failed, probably at an early stage, and had been put down, and there were at the time prisoners there who had killed during that insurrection and were awaiting punishment, one of whom was called Barabbas. So they no doubt hoped to tie Jesus in with that insurrection or with something similar.
But when Pilate asked Jesus whether He really did claim to be the King of the Jews, instead of finding himself confronting a defiant terrorist he found that he was facing what appeared to be a calm philosopher and became decidedly uneasy about the case.
He was also brought to a halt by Jesus replying, ‘You say it.’ This was an answer acknowledging that it was in some way so, but not in the terms in which Pilate understood it. It calls for such a discussion as we find in John 18:33-38 which tells us that Pilate questioned Him further and discovered something of the nature of His kingship. Something like that must have happened for Pilate to behave as he next did, for he then went back to the accusers seeking to discover if they had any better case against Jesus. He was totally unsatisfied with the situation, and had been made to recognise that the charge had little foundation.
However, there is no doubt that Mark intends us to take the title seriously for it will occur a number of times in the narrative. He wants his readers to recognise the Kingship of Jesus.
‘And the chief priests accused him of many things.’
The Chief Priests, after at first prevaricating, listed their charges. Luke 23:2 gives examples. ‘Perverting the nation’, ‘forbidding the giving of tribute to Caesar’, ‘calling Himself the Messiah, a king’. All this had nothing to do with the main charge that they had against Him, that of blasphemy, but they were aware that that would not have impressed Pilate. However, these charges did not impress Pilate either. What did impress him was the silence of the prisoner in the face of His accusers. It was clear that Jesus wanted nothing to do with them or their accusations, and simply saw Himself as unaffected by all that they said. Pilate was used to the defiance or pleading of defendants, but not to such dignified silence.
We should not that ‘many things’ indicates quite a period of time. The charges had to be put, dressed up in revolutionary terms, and evidence sought. And then Jesus had to be questioned about them. This latter, however, did not take much time as He did not deign to even respond to their obviously unreasonable charges.
‘And Pilate asked him saying, “Do you answer nothing? See how many things they accuse you of.” But Jesus no longer made any reply insomuch that Pilate marvelled.’’
Jesus’ silence did more to convince Pilate of His innocence than any protest. He was experienced enough to recognise the special pleading of the accusers and to note that they had no real evidence. And he did not like them anyway. But neither could he understand this man who made no attempt to defend Himself. Roman justice very much depended on the defence of the accused. John also explains that he did at this stage challenge Jesus about this and that at Jesus’ reply he became even more convinced of His innocence (John 19:10-11).
But John also tells us why he gave way. He gave way because he was threatened that if he let Jesus go they would accuse him to Caesar of ignoring a rebel claimant to kingship and of not being ‘Caesar’s friend’, a title of honour. In other words they would stir up trouble for him. He had had trouble with them in the past and so he knew that this could become serious for him. Thus just letting Jesus go would not be worth the trouble it would cause, so he therefore tried another tack. In order to understand his ‘wriggling’ we have to remember that he had only recently had charges made against him to Caesar and had been reprimanded. he would not want it to happen again.
‘Pilate marvelled (thaumazein).’ Consider Isaiah 52:15 LXX, ‘Thus will many nations wonder (thaumasontai) at Him, and kings will keep their mouths shut, for they to whom no report was brought concerning Him, will see, and they who have not heard, will consider’. Pilate was clearly impressed by Jesus.
But we can be sure that Jesus was well aware that the outcome of His case would not depend on the truth being established. Why waste time arguing when He knew that the case was wholly political and would be decided by political pressure? He simply refused to get involved and become embroiled with people like the Chief Priests..
‘Now at the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they asked of him. And there was one called Barabbas lying bound with those who had made insurrection, men who in the insurrection had killed.’
The custom of releasing an as yet unconvicted prisoner at the Passover seems to have been Pilate’s own (‘he used to release’) and is not evidenced outside the Gospels. But there is nothing intrinsically unlikely in it and there is evidence elsewhere of examples where prisoners were released to please crowds, and of amnesties given. It was therefore not unusual. It was regularly seen as a way of gaining popularity. He would see it as a sop to the people, and as an aid to maintaining the public peace. And the ensuing events support the idea of such a custom for it explains the presence of a crowd who had probably come for this very purpose. They would not have known about Jesus’ arrest but they would certainly have known about the bound insurrectionists. The crowd would therefore appear to be of a type supportive of them, which helps to explain what follows.
‘There was one called Barabbas.’ This is an unusual Greek phrase as it stands, for we would have expected another name prior to it (compare Matthew 26:3; John 9:11 but note Luke 22:47, although there it is specific). In Matthew 27:16-17 some authorities add the name Jesus to Barabbas, and Origen (who rejected it on theological grounds) refers to very early manuscripts which contained it. The unlikelihood of this finding its way into a text, and the extreme likelihood that it would be excised by devout Christian copyists, is in its favour and it may well be that originally this read ‘Jesus who is called Barabbas’. But there is no evidence for it ever having been in Mark in the manuscript that we possess.
It is made clear that Barabbas and his fellow-insurrectionists were murderers, probably seen as patriots by certain of the Jews as they would be seen as having acted against the Romans in the name of God. It was from such as these that many expected the Messiah to come. They would thus have a certain amount of popular support among the more belligerent. And this crowd were mainly of that type.
‘And the crowd went up and began to ask him to do as he was wont to do to them.’
The crowd began to ask him to fulfil his custom and make the customary release. But from where did this crowd come? Not from among the pilgrims who had kept the Passover, and having eaten their meal would be resting and preparing for the day ahead, not knowing of the drama that was being carried out. Rather it would come from those in Jerusalem who had a particular purpose in being there because of the custom and because of the men who were being held. They had probably come specifically seeking the freedom of one of the insurrectionists. The placement of Mark 15:7 before this explanation confirms their connection with them. No doubt there would also be a goodly crowd of High Priestly supporters, brought along by the Chief Priests. A crowd was always useful for convincing judges of which way to make their decisions, for they suggested the way that popular opinion was focused. And even in those days popular opinion could not be ignored.
If Barabbas was called Jesus Barabbas, and Pilate overheard the name Jesus being called out, he may well have mistaken it for a popular demand for the release of Jesus and seen this as a way out of his dilemma. This might explain why the choice was finally between Jesus and Barabbas and why Barabbas was favoured.
‘And Pilate answered them saying, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” For he realised that the chief priests had delivered him up out of envy.’
In his desire to release Jesus Whom he recognised as innocent, and possibly overhearing the name ‘Jesus’ being mentioned by the crowds as a contender for release, Pilate made the effort to have Him set free. He probably thought that someone acknowledged by the Chief Priests to be a ‘king of the Jews’ must be popular with this turbulent population. But the problem with this attempt was, of course, that by it Pilate was acceding to the suggestion that He might be guilty. It made clear that his resolution was faltering.
‘Out of envy.’ Because they were jealous of His influence over the people and the following He had obtained. Pilate was not a fool and recognised their motives.
‘But the chief priests stirred up the crowd that he should rather release Barabbas to them.’
The crowd that had arrived seeking the release of Barabbas now gained the support of the Chief Priests, who had now realised that Pilate was making a concession to their demands and that they were winning. So the Chief Priests and their supporters allied themselves with those in the crowd who wanted the release of Barabbas, who were probably both delighted and surprised to get such powerful support, and pressed them to demand Barabbas. It was pure political manipulation.
‘And Pilate again answered and said to them, “What then shall I do to him whom you call the king of the Jews?” ’
Note the continual repetition of the title, ‘the king of the Jews’ by Pilate. In his experience people who had borne that title had been popular with the people. So Pilate possibly hoped by this question to obtain the request for a further release which would have nicely solved his problem. At a cry of ‘release Him’ he could be magnanimous and achieve his object at the same time. And in normal circumstance that might well have been what he would have got. The crowd, if they knew of Him, probably had nothing against Jesus, except that they might see Him as being too soft on the Romans (unless they had learned that he was a rumoured Temple destroyer). But the Chief Priests and their bullies would have nothing of it, and Barabbas’ supporters were only really interested in obtaining Barabbas’ release. From their point of view this man could easily be sacrificed if it meant getting their own way. He certainly must not be allowed to get in the way of Barabbas’ release. So let Him take Barabbas’ place. Let Him be crucified instead.
‘And they again cried out, “Crucify him”.
This cry could only first have arisen from the enemies of Jesus. To them it was the perfect solution. Pilate had played into their hands. And later they would be able to blame the patriotic crowd for what happened. By this they stained the Jews forever with their own evil desires. His being crucified would get rid of Him, would put the blame firmly on the Romans and would ensure He died under a curse, suspended in the open as a criminal (Galatians 3:13). But the others probably joined in because they wanted there to be no danger of Barabbas not being released, and even possibly because in their callousness they saw it as a grim joke that one of the ‘softies’ should take Barabbas’ place. They did not care what happened to this other, (‘not this man’ - John 18:40). He was not to their liking. Indeed rumour may even have got around that in some way He was threatening to destroy their Temple (Mark 14:58).
‘But they cried out even more forcefully, “Crucify him.” ’
What rouses a crowd to such a frenzy of hatred? Many of them might not have realised Who Jesus was, and simply have been carried along on a wave of emotion, assuming that he must be guilty of something serious in order for him to be on trial there on that first day of the feast. But those who wanted the release of Barabbas would fear lest their prize be snatched from them, and would have no truck with anyone else, and they were already worked up, and it is very probable that they saw Jesus as not on their side. He did not seem to support violent action. While those who wanted to be rid of Jesus completely would be doubly emphatic and determined. Together they again demanded His crucifixion and it was clear to Pilate that by now that they were not to be trifled with. Passions were running high. Pilate would have recognised the signs of a crowd approaching the point of getting out of control.
‘And Pilate, wishing to make the crowd content, released to them Barabbas and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.’
By now Pilate had given up on any idea of justice. His only desire was to pacify this crowd that had suddenly become so fired up, and if it meant the life of an innocent man it was out of his hands. So he released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be crucified, but only once he had had Him scourged according to custom. It had all become a matter of politics. That the situation was, however, more complicated than Mark depicts can be found by considering John 19:1-16.
This scourging would not be just a beating. The Roman scourge was a dreadful thing. It consisted of a short wooden handle to which a number of leather thongs were attached whose ends were equipped with pieces of lead, brass and sharp bone depending on choice. The victim’s back was bared and the scourge laid on more or less heavily. It could cause severe damage penetrating well below the outer flesh. There may be an allusion here to Isaiah 50:6, "I gave my back to those who scourge me…".
‘And the soldiers led him away within the court which is the Praetorium, and they call together the whole band, and they clothe him with purple, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him, and they began to salute him, “Hail, king of the Jews”. And they smote his head with a reed, and spat on him, and bowing their knees paid him homage.’
After the scourging, the humiliation. In Isaiah 50:6 the smiting is followed by the shame and spitting, as here. As far as these soldiers, rough, hardened and callous men, were concerned this was fun time. And they called their mates to join in the fun. Then they dressed Him up as a king and mocked Him.
Such horseplay with condemned prisoners was a recognised pastime, and here it was related to the charge brought against Him. There were many thorny plants in Palestine and one was used here. The idea of thorns was probably to mimic the rays of light coming from the ‘radiant crowns’ shown as worn by rulers on contemporary coins. The fact that they might be painful did not matter. The purple robes indicated royalty. The reed was first provided as a mock sceptre before being used to smite His head in mockery. Then they treated Him as a mock king.
They were on the whole brutal men and proved it by brutal behaviour. If they were auxiliaries, as they probably were, they would be drawn from non-Jewish inhabitants of the land and would have had no liking for Jewish kings. They were on duty. They were bored. And they egged each other on. And here was a diversion, a Jewish pretender. So they made the most of it.
‘The Praetorium.’ That is, the governor’s residence, probably in this case Herod’s palace. Jesus had been taken into the courtyard to be prepared for crucifixion. Meanwhile there was fun to be had. ‘The whole band’ (or cohort). That is, such as were present in the Praetorium. The cloak was probably a scarlet military cloak used to designate the purple robe worn by kings.
‘Paid Him homage.’ We who know how worthy He was of honour and worship can only watch in awed silence. Their homage feigned worship such as was offered to both the Emperor and Oriental kings.
‘And when they had mocked him, they took off from him the purple, and put on him his own clothes. And they lead him out to crucify him.’
Such was the justice and the treatment He received on earth. As had been prophesied long before, ‘By oppression and judgment He was taken away’ (Isaiah 53:8). They mocked Him. That was all He was to them. And once they had finished with Him they reclothed Him and led Him off to crucify Him. Men were crucified naked, but His being reclothed was a sop to Jewish prejudices against nakedness. They would not have wanted a naked man paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. With regard to the whole we should remember the words of Isaiah, ‘And as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off from the land of the living? For the transgression of my people was He stricken’ (Isaiah 53:8).
While Pilate must undoubtedly receive some of the blame for not standing firm, and for yielding to political pressure, there is no way in which we can avoid the fact that it was mainly the vindictive hatred of the Jewish leaders, acting contrary to what the people wanted, which was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, as Jesus had prophesied all along. All the evidence points that way and none points against it.
The Crucifixion (15:20-39).
It must have come as a huge anti-climax to those who heard this story for the first time when they learned that this One Who had done such good and had taught so well should now be in a position of being led off to be crucified. We know the story so well that we take it for granted. But we also still recognise the staggering nature of it. Here was God’s beloved Son, Whose one interest had been in the needs of His fellowmen, (even if that had meant that He sometimes made them feel uncomfortable), and He was now being borne off, bleeding and battered to be nailed to a cross.
Mark tells the whole story succintly and without obvious emotion. He is concerned for the plain facts of what happened, put plainly and simply, and the only detail that he goes into is that of the words spoken by Jesus’ enemies, which he clearly wanted to highlight, for they paradoxically brought out why Jesus was there. For every reader and hearer would soon know that He did not remain dead, but ‘arose’. While He did not come down from the cross, He did something more. He defeated death once and for all and rose again from the dead. Thus did He save both Himself and others.
a And when they had mocked Him, they took off from Him the purple, and put on Him His own clothes (Mark 15:20 a).
b And they lead Him out to crucify him. And they compel one passing by, Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to go with them that he might bear His cross. And they bring him to the place Golgotha, which is being interpreted ‘the place of a skull (Mark 15:20-22).
c And they offered Him wine mingled with myrrh and He did not receive it. And they crucify him and part his clothes among them, casting lots on them what each should take (Mark 15:23-24).
d And it was the third hour and they crucified Him, and the superscription of His accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS (Mark 15:25-26).
e And with Him they crucify two brigands, one on His right hand and one on His left (Mark 15:27).
f And those who passed by railed on Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Ha, you who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross” (Mark 15:29-30).
g In the same way also the Chief Priests, mocking Him among themselves with the Scribes, said, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save” (Mark 15:31)
f “Let the Messiah the king of Israel now come down from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32 a).
e And those who were crucified with Him reproached Him. And when the sixth hour was come there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (Mark 15:32-33).
d And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani” which is, being interpreted, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
c And some of those who stood by, when they heard it, said, “See, he calls Elijah.” And one ran, and filling a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed and gave Him it to drink, saying, “Let be. Let us see whether Elijah comes to take him down” (Mark 15:35-36).
b And Jesus, having uttered a loud cry, breathed His last, and the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom (Mark 15:37-38).
a And when the centurion who stood opposite Him saw that He breathed his last in such a way, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
Note that in ‘a’ the soldiers, having mocked Him, removed the purple robe, and reclothed Him in His own now disreputable clothes, while in the parallel the Roman centurion in contrast exalted Him to the skies, clothing Him in glory by declaring Him to be the Son of God. In ‘b’ His journey to death is vividly portrayed, led out to be crucified, the crosspiece borne by another, the symbolic arrival at the place of a skull, and in the parallel we have God’s verdict on it as Jesus breathes His last and the inner curtain of the Temple is torn in two. In ‘c’ He is offered wine to drink and would not partake of it, being then stripped naked and crucified while the soldiers gambled for His clothes, a picture of total humiliation, and in the parallel He is again offered wine to drink and this time He drinks, and they desire to see whether Elijah, who was often called on by the religiously destitute, would come to save Him. In ‘d’ it was the third hour and they crucified Him and placarded Him as the King of the Jews, (God’s chosen), and in the parallel it was the ninth hour, and He cried out ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me’. (He was the rejected One). In ‘e’ two brigands were crucified on either side of Him, and in the parallel the two brigands reproach Him. In ‘f’ the bystanders wag their heads at Him and describe Him as the supposed miraculous Temple destroyer and restorer, and in the parallel the Chief Priests tell Him that if He is the Christ He should come down from the cross so that they might see and believe. Centrally in ‘g’ the Chief Priests declare that ‘He saved others, Himself He cannot save’, something soon to be totally disproved.
‘And they compel one passing by, Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to go with them that he might bear his cross.’
It was normal that the condemned man, in the middle of a square of four soldiers, should carry the crosspiece on which he was to be crucified to the place of execution. The accusation against him was written on a board carried ahead by a soldier, and the longest route to the execution site was taken so as to act as a warning to as many people as possible. The fact that help was sought demonstrated that Jesus had, at this stage in the process, having struggled on for some time, collapsed in exhaustion and was unable to carry it further. The extreme burden of the night followed by the treatment He had received had proved too much for His weakened body. Having got so far He could not physically go on without assistance.
But not a word of this is spoken by Mark. The fact is conveyed by the describing of someone who was compelled to assist. His name was Simon of Cyrene, and the fact that his son’s names are given indicates that they became well known Christians. The work that he was called on to do that night brought great blessing to his family, but he had no hint of that on that terrible night.
‘Coming from the country.’ This probably means from outside the city walls rather than from the fields. We do not know whether he was a Jew, a proselyte or a Gentile, but he was presumably from North Africa and probably in Jerusalem as a pilgrim. It may suggest that he was a late arrival, for those in Jerusalem for the Passover were not supposed to leave the city bounds on the day of the Passover feast. Alternately he might have been living in Jerusalem and have been a member of the Cyrenian synagogue. But there is probably intended to be a hint here that there was no help for Jesus from Jerusalem. It required an outsider.
‘Compel.’ The Roman soldiers had a right to impress someone to give assistance. They would simply tap his shoulder with a spear and he had no choice in the matter. This was a regular right of foreign conquerors.
‘And they bring him to the place Golgotha, which is being interpreted ‘the place of a skull’.’
There is no mention in the Gospels of a hill, but the site would be outside the city walls (Hebrews 13:12) and on a road leading in so that passers by might see and take warning. There may have been a skull shaped hill there or it may simply have been a place seen as ‘unclean’ because skulls had been found there. This might explain why it was a regular place for executions, because it was an unclean place. Or it may have been called this because it was a place of regular executions. But here it is seen as symbolic of the fact that Jesus has been brought to the place of death. The fact that Mark translate (there is no need to translate place names) confirms that the name is to be seen as significant.
‘And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh and he did not receive it.’
Theophrastus and Pliny both mention the custom of mixing wine with myrrh, but here the purpose was probably to dull the senses so that the extreme pain might be somewhat relieved. The Talmud later mentions this custom (based on Proverbs 31:6-7), a ministry carried out by pious women of Jerusalem. If so the offer was sympathetic and friendly. But Jesus did not receive it. He knew that He needed to be fully aware for He had to drink to the full another cup, the cup He had voluntarily taken to His mouth in Gethsemane.
On the other hand ‘they’ in context means the Roman soldiers. That would not necessarily exclude the women as a kind hearted Roman soldier might quite easily have assisted the women in getting the drink to Jesus. (Not all Roman soldiers were brutes). It is not likely that the soldiers themselves would have had wine mingled with myrrh.
‘And they crucify him and part his clothes among them, casting lots on them what each should take.’
‘They crucify Him.’ When they had reached the site they took the crosspiece and nailed Jesus hands to it. The crosspiece was then attached to the upright post and the feet loosely bound, and sometimes nailed. A young crucified man whose body was discovered near Jerusalem at Ras el-Masaref was found to have been nailed by his arms and had a nail driven through his feet. A ledge of wood called the saddle projected beneath the body which helped to partly support the weight so that the nails did not tear the hands free. The legs would be bent double. The cross was next raised and lowered into a hole prepared for it, and the crucified man was then left hanging there, totally naked, until He died.
John only mentions the nailing of the hands (arms?) but in the light of Luke 24:39-40 it may be that Jesus’ feet were also nailed, although Luke does not actually mention nail prints. It may be that He points to His hands and feet, the exposed parts, to prove that He is flesh and blood, not necessarily in order to indicate nail prints. However Psalms 22:16 does speak of hands and feet being pierced.
It is noteworthy that apart from saying that he was crucified Mark draws no attention to His suffering. The emphasis is on Who Jesus is and men’s reaction to Him. But all who read his words would have witnessed a crucifixion and would understand precisely what He was suffering.
‘And part His clothes among them.’ These would probably consist of the sandals, the girdle, the turban, the inner robe and the outer robe. These were perquisites for the soldiers and they would cast lots to decide who received what. Each having received one item the large outer robe would be left, and again they decided who received this by casting lots (John 19:23-24). John drew attention in this context to the Scripture, ‘they parted my clothes among them, and on my vesture did they cast lots’ (Psalms 22:18), found in the same Psalm as Jesus quotes on the cross later (Mark 15:34). Jesus saw Himself, and was seen by others, as fulfilling the destiny described by the Psalmist.
‘And it was the third hour and they crucified him.’
The third hour would be roughly nine o’clock in the morning, reckoning twelve hours in the day from dawn, but time was not accurately calculated and he probably meant ‘about three hours had passed since dawn and it was mid-morning’. More important to him was probably the significance of the number three. It was the ‘third’ hour, the set and complete period determined by God. The sixth hour and the ninth hour, also prominent, further stress the same idea rising in multiples of three, while the three sets of three confirm the completeness of what was accomplished here.
(John 19:14 indicated that the verdict against Jesus was passed at ‘about the sixth hour’, Roman time. This was the comment of someone who vaguely and roughly remembered the time of day, for there had been a meeting of the Sanhedrin as well as the time taken in passing judgment by Pilate and Herod. There were no watches or public clocks and time was not as important then as it is now. Assuming ‘about the sixth hour’ was measured from midnight it would indicate roughly around six in the morning, but it probably meant nothing more than a vague ‘early in the day’ before the ninth hour (Mark’s ‘third hour’)).
‘And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’
This superscription, written in black letters on a board smeared with white gypsum, named the criminal and what he was accused of, and would have been carried in front of Him on the way to the cross, and in accordance with Roman custom was now displayed for all to see. It said that here was the Jew’s King Messiah and that He was now suffering for it.
But Mark intends the statement to stand in all its glory. As Pilate had unconsciously prophetically declared, this was the Messiah, the Deliverer, Who would deliver in a way that no one had expected, through suffering. It was because of this that He was condemned by man and died.
Pilate probably intended his bald statement as revenge against those who had forced his hand, and when requested refused to change it (John 19:21-22). He had known that they would not like it. But after all this is what they had said about Him, so let it stand. The fact that the superscription was placed above Him suggests that the cross was as traditionally understood rather than a T.
‘And with him they crucify two brigands, one on his right hand and one on his left.’
All the Gospels, including John, stress that Jesus was in the middle between two brigands. It identified Him as one of them. Mark sees this as symbolic, probably having in mind ‘He was numbered with the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53:12), as a copyist would appositely later point out (Mark 15:28 is an insertion). There is an irony in that these brigands had the places that James and John had so eagerly sought (Mark 10:37). Those who would share His glory, must share His sufferings.
The brigands may well have been two insurrectionists who had committed murder along with Barabbas (Mark 15:7). In this action Jesus was identified with them, as just another Jewish troublemaker. But His superscription declared differently. That may be why He was put in the middle as being the most important.
‘And those who passed by railed on him, wagging their heads and saying, “Ha, you who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.” ’
The crosses would be in a public place by the roadside so that passers by would see them clearly and take warning. Derision of such men was not unusual and many would be the insults thrown.
The railing and the wagging of the head have in mind Lamentations 2:15. There it was by-passers at Jerusalem as they saw its humiliation. They did it because Jerusalem, then destroyed, had been called ‘the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth’. Now Jerusalem was doing the same to its king. He too, Mark insinuates, is the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth, and is equally unrecognised.
Mark especially draws attention to those who made the same accusations as those presented at His trial. He was very much aware of the hidden meaning of which they were unaware, that the temple which would be ‘rebuilt’ by resurrection was the temple they were mocking, the temple of His body (John 2:21). They thought that He could not do what they said, but Mark and his readers knew that He had. There is an indication here that the rumour that He would destroy the Temple had bitten deep. And now for all His boasts He was on the cross and unable to do anything about it.
‘Save yourself and come down from the cross.’ This is reminiscent of Psalms 22:7-8 where those who derided and shook their heads also challenged the possibility of deliverance for the one of whom the Psalmist spoke. There is irony here in that as Jesus had Himself declared, the Temple would be destroyed, and the new Temple of His body would be raised within three days.
‘In the same way also the chief priests, mocking him among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others, himself he cannot save. Let the Messiah the king of Israel now come down from the cross that we may see and believe.” ’
This was the second charge mentioned at His examination, that He was the Messiah, the king of Israel. They would remember too His claim that from then on they would see His power and triumph. Well, they felt that they had scotched that. He was powerless to do anything now. Instead of seeing His power revealed they were satisfied that they were seeing His demise.
‘The Chief Priests --- with the scribes.’ His enemies had come to gloat over His death in spite of it being a festival day. They were too sophisticated to mock directly and openly, a touch of authenticity, and so they did it between themselves. The lay elders are not mentioned. It was the religious leaders whose jealousy and enmity had sought to destroy Him.
‘He saved others, Himself he cannot save.’ They had been jealous at His power to heal, but now they gloated because He could not heal Himself. Now His powers would do Him no good. Or perhaps they meant ‘in His mind’s eye He saved others’ signifying His claim to be the Messiah. To Mark however there was a deeper significance. He Whom they derided was dying precisely so that He may save others. And when He ‘saved Himself’, as the One Who had power to raise Himself from the dead, it would be after having accomplished what was necessary to be the Saviour of the world (John 5:21; John 5:26; John 10:18). Had He saved Himself earlier He could not have been a Saviour.
‘Let the Messiah the king of Israel now come down from the cross that we may see and believe.’ The ‘now’ reflects their cruel sense of triumph at His helplessness. The statement indicates their old problem of sign-seeking. But He did ‘come down’, and when He did they still did not believe. Mark is aware of the irony of it. In three days time His power would be demonstrated, and they would still not believe.
Note the contrast between ‘the king of the Jews’, Pilate’s incorrect description by an outsider (compare Matthew 2:2), and ‘the king of Israel’ which was strictly correct in Jewish eyes.
‘And those who were crucified with him reproached him.’
If they knew of Him, and they probably did, they possibly now felt bitter that He had chosen His own way and not theirs. If only He had added His popularity to theirs they might have made a better job of the insurrection. Their failure was thus, to them, partly His fault. It was only later that one of them, observing Jesus’ behaviour in the face of what was done and said to Him, was made to reflect and change his mind (Luke 23:40-43).
So He was reproached by the people, by the religious leaders and by those who were suffering with Him. All were united against Him for different reasons. The verbs are in the imperfect tense. The mockery continued for some time. He had no respite.
‘And when the sixth hour was come there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.’
Jesus had now suffered on the cross for three hours when a great darkness came over the land. This may have been caused by a black sirocco, a violent desert wind sweeping in the sands of the desert, blacking everything out, something not uncommon in Jerusalem in early April, but here of special intensity. Others see it in terms of extremely heavy, black clouds blotting out the sun. Luke 23:45 speaks of ‘the sun’s light eclipsed’ but he was probably not intending it technically for there could not be an eclipse at the time of the full moon. The idea of darkness is linked with dying in Psalms 23:4. Jesus was going through ‘the valley of deep darkness’, and so, if it only knew it, would the land that had crucified Him.
We are probably justified in seeing in this period a time when Jesus was guarded from the eyes of men as He faced alone the drinking of the cup of the wrath of God. And such was the dreadful experience that He underwent as He was made sin for us, that He felt forsaken by God and in the end cried out unforgettable words.
‘And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani” which is, being interpreted, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The words, here almost certainly cited in Aramaic, were quoted from Psalms 22:1. But while that may be, something extra was required to draw them from the lips of Jesus. He truly shared with the Psalmist that sense of total desolation, that awareness of being devastatingly alone. But for Jesus, Who had never known what it was to be separated from the Father by sin, it signalled that most dreadful of experiences as undergone by One Who knew no sin, by One Whose very being was torn apart as He experienced in His humanity the blackness of darkness in the sensing of total separation from He Who is the light.
That He was not actually separated from the Father comes out in the sequel. Even as He suffered His Father watched over Him, and He ended by calling on His Father. And it even comes out in the prayer, for ‘My God’ is personal, and the whole idea of prayer is that the person who prays is not forsaken. But the sense of separation went to the very depths of His being, and the citation put His feelings into words.
Matthew puts the first two words, ‘Eli, Eli’, in Hebrew (although the same word is used in the Targums and could thus be Aramaic), and Jesus may well have spoken in Hebrew as He cited the Psalm. The Hebrew was more likely to be mistaken for a call to Elijah.
‘And some of those who stood by, when they heard it, said, “See, he calls Elijah.” ’
We know that Elijah was later looked on as the one who could be called on in time of religious need. It would appear from this that the idea may already have been prevalent. Or perhaps they saw the cry as a call for Elijah now to make his appearance as the forerunner for the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord, a cry for God to act in this time of His extremity (Malachi 4:5).
We do not know who these ‘some’ were. They may have been sympathetic Jewish onlookers, for word may well now have got around of what had happened to Jesus, or they may have been the Roman soldiers, auxiliaries who had a syncretistic religion which combined Jewish and foreign features and who thus knew of Elijah.
‘And one ran, and filling a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed and gave him it to drink, saying, “Let be. Let us see whether Elijah comes to take him down.” ’
Previously the soldiers present had offered Him sour wine in mockery (Luke 23:36). This may thus be the continuation of the mockery. But more probably it was a sympathiser who genuinely believed that Elijah might come to save Him. The sour wine was a poor man’s drink but if these had come to sympathise with One Whom they had previously admired they may well have brought wine with them, as the soldiers certainly would have (they knew that they had a long vigil, and wine dulled the sense of what they were doing. They were human too).
In view of the loud cry and the accompanying comments the soldiers may have been as interested in seeing whether something extraordinary might happen as the crowd, and thus not have interfered. The uncanny darkness had already brought home to them that this was not a run-of-the-mill execution.
‘Let be.’ This may have been said to a Roman soldier who half-heartedly sought to interfere, meaning either ‘don’t stop us’ or ‘allow us to do this’. Or it may just be a general comment.
‘Gave Him it to drink.’ It would seem He received it, which in itself suggested that His work was now complete and He could satisfy His thirst (see John 19:28).
‘And Jesus, having uttered a loud cry, breathed his last.’
The loud cry was ‘it is finished’, followed by the quieter, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” (John 19:30; Luke 23:46). The loud cry was remembered by all, contributing as it did to the eeriness of the occasion. It is possible that ‘it is finished’ represented the final words of Psalms 22:0 ‘He has done it’. Certainly it was a cry of triumph that God’s purposes had been accomplished.
‘Breathed His last.’ From beginning to end He was in control, even to the timing of His death. A work had had to be done, a sacrifice offered, a battle fought, a price paid, but once it was done He did not linger. He committed His life into the hands of His Father.
‘And the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom.’
Matthew links this event with an earthquake, ‘the earth quaked and the rocks were torn’ (Matthew 27:51). There were two veils in the Temple. The one which covered the entry to the Holy Place and the other which separated the Holy Place from the Holiest of All. It was probably the latter which is described here, the veil regularly referred to in Hebrews (Mark 6:19; Mark 9:3; Mark 10:20). Either way its tearing apart on the death of Jesus had huge significance as it symbolised that a new way into the presence of God had been opened to all. It may also be seen as a portent of the destruction of the temple, with the idea that its function would cease. With the veil torn its mystery had gone. The glory had departed, a divine riposte to the words spoken against Jesus about the Temple. It was naturally not something that the chief priests would want publicised, but many priests who would know about it became believers (Acts 6:7) so that it could not be hidden.
The Jewish Talmud (the Gemara - Rabbinic comments on the Mishnah which was the written record of the oral Law) states that forty years before the destruction of temple, thus around this time, something happened which made the massive doors of the temple open of their own accord (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 39b). That may well have torn the curtain that hung over them or in front of them.
And that strange things happened in the temple some time prior to its destruction at the fall of Jerusalem is recorded also by Josephus (Jewish Wars 6:5.2 - although not this particular event). Among other things Josephus describes how the eastern gate of the inner court, which was of brass and very heavy, which took twenty men to shut and rested on a base strengthened with iron, and had bolts fastened very deeply into the firm floor which was made of one solid stone, opened of its own accord. It would seem from this that the temple mount was subject to earth movements which caused strange things to happen.
It is interesting that this occurrence connects with the testimony made against Jesus both at His hearing in the High Priest’s house and with the mockery on the cross. Both referred to His claim to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Both spoke of Him as the Messiah. And now they had received the first intimation that He was possibly right after all. His death had already affected the Temple and its furniture. It was as though its uniqueness had been torn up.
‘And when the centurion who stood opposite him saw that he so (cried out and) breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God”.’
The awesome events on that day had produced their own effects in the centurion in charge of the guard. And when he saw the way that Jesus died he cried out ‘truly this man was the Son of God’. He would mean by that that he was impressed by the fact that Jesus was in some way divine.
What he meant by ‘Son of God’ is open to question for we know nothing about him. He may have meant the son of whichever God or gods he believed in. Or he may have overheard talk around him in which Jesus’ recognition as ‘the Son of God’ was mentioned (Matthew 27:40; Matthew 27:43) and be concurring in that idea, while also inevitably linking it in his thoughts with his own ideas. It is unlikely that he was a Jew, but he may well have been connected with a syncretistic religion which included the God of the Jews and of the Samaritans. However, we must not take his faith too far. Note the ‘was’. As far as he was concerned Jesus was now in the past. What he thought beyond that we can hardly hope to surmise.
But to Mark the importance of his statement was that it amounted to a testimony by ‘a Roman’ to Who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, a favourite title of his (Mark 1:1; Mark 1:11; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:7; Mark 9:7; Mark 12:6; Mark 14:61 see also Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6; Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16; Matthew 26:63; Luke 22:70).
Note that Mark deliberately refers the word ‘breathed His last’ to both the tearing of the veil and the words of the centurion. He is drawing attention to the fact that on His death both God and Rome testified to Who Jesus is.
‘He so (cried out and) breathed his last.’ There is good support for the inclusion of ‘cried out’ in one form or another although it is omitted in Aleph and B. But the cry would certainly have made its own impression on those who were there.
‘And there were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome, who when he was in Galilee ministered to him, and many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.’
The mention of the women is in preparation for what lies ahead (Mark 15:47 to Mark 16:1). Here we learn that they were at the cross but keeping their distance, although at some stage, along with John, some were close enough for Jesus to speak to (John 19:25-27). This latter privilege might have been limited to relatives. However, their vigil was not easy, torn with grief as they were, and they may well have found being too close both difficult and unbearable. Difficult because there was a crowd of them and it was by the public road, especially when the darkness descended, and unbearable because they were so griefstricken. But they had wanted Him to know that they were there to say their farewells. Luke 8:3 describes some of them as having previously ‘ministered to them (or Him) of their substance’.
It is easy to be critical of the disciples for their absence but they were marked men, while the women would in general be ignored, and Jesus’ women relatives would be expected to be there. It is noteworthy that even his brothers are not mentioned as being there. For males to be directly connected with the crucifixion of a supposed insurrectionist, especially those related to the king of the Jews, may well not have been advisable. It is probable that when a group of insurrectionists were crucified, as here, those who were present at the scene were vetted for further suspects. John probably had some immunity if he was the disciple ‘known to the high priest’ (John 18:15), and he was there protecting Mary and his own mother Salome (Matthew 27:56).
‘Mary of Magdalene.’ She was probably from Magdala in Galilee and was a healed demoniac (Luke 8:2). Nothing else is known about her except for the full part she played in the resurrection narratives, her prominence there partly possibly arising because she was a younger and more sprightly woman. (Later tradition is unkind to her but there are no real grounds for thinking that she was ‘a sinful woman’. That was good sermon material. She may in fact have been fairly wealthy and have dabbled in the occult, which would explain her possession).
‘Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses.’ Possibly the same woman as ‘Mary of Joses’ (Mark 15:47) and ‘Mary of James’ (Mark 16:1). The differing descriptions may indicate different sources for his material or just deliberate variation. She may also be ‘the other Mary’ (Matthew 27:61; Matthew 28:1 compare Matthew 27:56). But Mary the mother of Jesus could also have been called the mother of James and Joses (Mark 6:3), and it is interesting that John alone otherwise mentions her presence at the cross (and does not mention Mary the mother of James and Joses). Perhaps Mark did not like to call her the mother of the risen Jesus.
However the names were very common and this Mary may have been Mary (the wife) of Clopas (John 19:25) who was distinguished by him from Mary, the mother of Jesus (when John wrote all would possibly be dead so that if she was the wife of Clopas she would then be associated with her husband rather than her sons).
Identification of a woman by a son’s name was commonplace among the Arabs and was probably Semitic custom if the husband was dead. James may have been called ‘James the less’ because he was small or simply because he was the younger brother. We do not know whether he can be connected with James the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18).
The truth is that we do not know for certain who she was, but we can be sure that all this was clear to the early church. They knew these people.
‘Salome.’ Probably the wife of Zebedee, and mother of James and John (Matthew 27:56).
‘And many other women.’ Jesus had many disciples besides the twelve, and that included many women to whom He showed the respect not often accorded by a Rabbi.
Laying Jesus To Rest (15:40-47).
The women who had ministered to Jesus and His disciples were gathered at the cross. It is impossible to imagine the feelings in their hearts as they saw the figure of their beloved Master hanging on the cross. But they were determined to wait it out to the end, and do what they could to see that His beloved body was given proper burial. Although they probably had no idea how they would do it.
And then to theirs and everyone’s surprise a member of the Sanhedrin, accompanied by His servants, arrived at the cross and took down the body of Jesus. Following them the women saw them lay Jesus in a new tomb that was nearby, and not knowing what final treatment had been given to His body they determined that as soon as the Sabbath was over they would anoint His body for burial.
a And there were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome, who when He was in Galilee ministered to Him, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem (Mark 15:40-42).
b And when evening was now come, because it was the preparation, that is the day before the Sabbath, there came Joseph of Arimathea, a councillor of honourable standing, who also himself was looking for the Kingly Rule of God, and he boldly went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43).
c And Pilate was amazed that He was already dead, and calling to him the centurion he asked him whether He had been dead very long, and when he learned it of the centurion he granted the corpse to Joseph (Mark 15:44-45).
b And he bought a linen cloth, and taking Him down, wound Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of a rock. And He rolled a stone against the door of the tomb (Mark 15:46).
a And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where He was laid (Mark 15:47).
Note that in ‘a’ the two Marys and others were watching Him as He died on the cross, and in the parallel the two Marys watched where He was laid. In ‘b’ Joseph asked for the body of Jesus, and in the parallel he takes it down from the cross and lays it in a tomb. Centrally in ‘c’ Pilate grants the corpse to Joseph.
‘And when evening was now come, because it was the preparation, that is the day before the Sabbath.’
Note the use of ‘paraskeue’ which can mean Friday specifically or the day of preparation before a special Sabbath. Here it means Friday the day before the normal Sabbath (compare John 19:14 where it probably also means ‘the Friday of Passover week’), for if the Last Supper had been a Passover meal it would already be a special Sabbath, 15th of Nisan.
‘Evening was now come.’ That is it was approaching the new day which would commence around 6:00 pm and would be the Sabbath.
It appears that Rome conceded to the Jews their demand that bodies of criminals should not be left dying or dead in the open over the Sabbath to defile the land. That is why the breaking of the legs of the two insurrectionists took place so as to hasten their deaths (John 19:32), in order that the bodies could be removed before the commencement of the Sabbath at around 6:00 p.m. This followed the requirements of Deuteronomy 21:22-23 and Joshua 8:29 that the bodies of executed criminals who have been hanged on a tree should not remain there overnight lest they defile the land. According to Josephus this law was interpreted in the first century in such a way as to cover the bodies of those who had been crucified. The normal Roman practise would have been to leave the bodies on the crosses, to serve as a warning to other would-be offenders.
‘There came Joseph of Arimathea, a councillor of honourable standing, who also himself was looking for the Kingly Rule of God, and he boldly went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate was amazed that he was already dead, and calling to him the centurion he asked him whether he had been dead very long, and when he learned it of the centurion he granted the corpse to Joseph.’
Philo of Alexandria mentions that on occasion, especially at festivals, the bodies of crucified men were taken down and given to relatives to bury (Flaccus 10 83). Others have argued that this privilege was more general and was open to any friends or relatives who chose to practise it. Here, however, there was special reason for permission to be granted, for Joseph of Arimathea was a highly respected member of the Sanhedrin, and very rich.
‘A councillor of honourable standing.’ ‘Councillor’ indicated a member of the Sanhedrin. ‘Honourable standing’ revealed that he was highly thought of both by his fellows and by the people. Matthew 27:57 tells us that he was rich. He may have been the source of some of the material in the earlier narratives, having been unable to stem the tide of hatred against Jesus.
‘Who was himself looking for the Kingly Rule of God.’ He was a pious man and clearly thought well of Jesus. Possibly he had previously consulted with Him, as Nicodemus another councillor, had (John 3:0). Matthew described him as ‘a disciple’ which must probably be taken to mean a positive attitude towards Jesus rather than the full discipleship that presumably came later. John 19:38 said he was ‘a disciple, but secretly for fear of the Judaisers’, which more indicated his position. But he had left support too late and now (or so he thought) he could only do the best he could for the dead prophet.
‘He boldly went in to Pilate.’ The action is depicted as ‘brave’. It must be remembered that Jesus had only been sentenced about seven hours before. Pilate might well have felt the action premature, and Joseph was taking the risk of offending him. It would have been another thing to make the request once the bodies had been taken down. He was also braving the wrath of his fellow members of the Sanhedrin as his action could hardly be seen as anything other than disapproval of their sentence.
Pilate was in fact taken aback because he could not believe that Jesus had died so quickly. But when he consulted with his centurion and discovered that it was so he granted Joseph’s request. As consulting meant calling the centurion to come from his place of duty it was quite a favour. He was probably still feeling angry at the treatment he had received from the Chief Priests and was delighted to do something he might well think would annoy them.
‘Granted the corpse.’ A rare use in the New Testament of the term ‘corpse’, a body that had suffered a violent death (compare Mark 6:29). It may reflect official language, ‘the granting of the corpse’. In some authorities it was later softened to ‘body’ (soma).
‘Arimathea.’ Possibly Ramathaim-zophim (1 Samuel 1:10) or the Ramathaim mentioned in 1Ma 11:34 . As a member of the Sanhedrin Joseph would live in Jerusalem, which explains why he had arranged for a tomb there. Arimathea was his ‘home town’ and possibly where he had lands.
‘And he bought a linen cloth, and taking him down, wound him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of a rock. And he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.’
Joseph was aided in his efforts by Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin who brought myrrh and aloes for the burying (John 19:41). So there were at least two prominent Jewish leaders who were now prepared to show their hand in support of Jesus, even if it was too late. They were no doubt assisted in their efforts by servants for whoever touched the body would be ‘unclean’ for the remainder of the feast.
‘And he bought a linen cloth.’ The purchasing of necessary foods was allowed on 15th Nisan and burial cloths as well, as long as the price and quantity were not mentioned. They could not necessarily be bought in advance, death does not always give warning, and with the Sabbath approaching (when they could not be bought) they would be needed.
‘Laid Him in a tomb.’ The tomb was unused (John 19:41), suitable to receive the pure, unblemished sacrifice of the Son of God. Tombs often contained a number of bodies, but this was one that Joseph had prepared for himself (Matthew 27:60). It was a typical tomb of the time, cut in the rocks. Many such rock tombs can be found near Jerusalem.
‘And he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.’ A normal way of sealing tombs (compare John 11:38-39). The stone must have been quite large as the women did not feel that they would be able to move it, even in numbers (Mark 16:3), but his servants would do the actual work. It would probably have been a circular stone looking like a wheel which would roll across the entrance in a rut, intended to keep out wild animals and casual thieves. And then they left, content that they had done what they could, possibly regretting that they had not done more earlier. They would never forget what impact Jesus had made on them, but now it was all too late, and they were no doubt filled with regret.
‘And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.’
The women had not ceased their vigil. When Jesus died they waited still by the cross, and when the two great men of the Sanhedrin arrived with their servants they must have watched, wondering what would now happen. They would not dare to approach them. It was not the kind of thing that respectable women would do, and could have been seen as an affront. And then to their astonishment they saw those two great men arrange for His body to be laid reverently in a nearby tomb, and they watched as the great stone was rolled across, and determined that they would return that His body might be anointed, for they did not know that those great men had already seen to the anointing with great care. How could they have known? And even if they had known they may well have felt that they wanted to make their own loving contribution to the One Whom they had loved so well. Such loyalty has its own logic.
Mark mentions only two who saw because he knew the names of only two. Perhaps he knew that Salome had had to go off to see to Mary the mother of Jesus, who was prostrate (why else was she not there?), and under the care of Salome’s son, wanting to release her son in case he could do anything. Luke tells us that at this stage they went back to their lodgings to prepare spices and ointments, and presumably in the light of what happened recognised that they would need more than they had (which suggests they saw it as more than a token anointing).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 15". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany