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Mark 15

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Mark here unfolds the events that lead to the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Mark’s narrative of these events is briefer than the other accounts; but he describes Jesus before Pilate (1-15), Jesus’ being mocked by the soldiers (16-20), the road to Golgotha (21-32), the death on the cross (33-41), and the burial of Jesus (42-47).

Verse 1

And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.

And straightway in the morning: Jesus is probably being held in a retaining cell in the palace of the high priest from about 3:00 a.m. until daybreak (compare comments on 13:35; 14:72). Considering the time of the rooster-crowing and the fact that the crucifixion was to follow at the third hour (15:25), the expression "in the morning" must refer to the hour from 5:00 to 6:00 a.m.

the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council: All three groups composing the Sanhedrin council are mentioned again (compare 8:31; 14:43, 53). Caiaphas, the presiding high priest, continues to lead the Sanhedrin openly in its efforts to destroy Jesus, just as he has done since Jesus’ cleansing of the temple marketplace. There is some uncertainty as to the precise nature of this "consultation." Edersheim points out it is illegal to conduct a night session of the Sanhedrin council (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II 553), and it is also unlawful to condemn a man and pass sentence on him the same day. Therefore, it is necessary to reconvene the council in this morning session to give the appearance of legality to this action against Jesus. Further, it is at this meeting that members of the Sanhedrin probably formulate the next step in their plan to rid themselves of Jesus. They need to word their charges against Jesus carefully before presenting them to Pilate, the Roman prefect. Jerusalem, together with the province of Judea, is "subject territory" of Rome, which keeps occupational armies throughout Palestine and subjects all of these provinces to Roman law. There is evidence that the Jews are allowed a certain amount of self-government, especially in religious matters (Acts 18:15). Basing their judgments on the law of Moses and the traditions of the elders, the Sanhedrin is allowed to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction. But when the Jewish law calls for capital punishment (such as stoning to death for the sin of blasphemy), the execution cannot be carried out legitimately without the endorsement of the Roman magistrate (John 18:31). In order to execute Jesus, therefore, the Sanhedrin has to formulate its charges carefully to make it appear as though He has committed a capital offense against Rome.

and bound Jesus: Jesus is bound in the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:12; John 18:24), but the manacles are probably removed in the palace of the high priest. Even though Jesus resolves to go with them "as a lamb to the slaughter," the Sanhedrin, by binding Jesus, makes it clear to Pilate they regard Jesus as dangerous.

and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate: John says, "Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment" (18:28). The expression "hall of judgment" is from praitorion and is also translated "praetorium." The term does not suggest a definite building of that name; but according to Roman custom, a praetorium exists wherever a praetor holds court. It has long been disputed whether Pilate’s praetorium is located in the fortress Antonia, located northwest of the temple; in Herod’s palace; or in Herod Antipas’ Hasmonean Palace. Pilate’s official residence is in Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea. Normally a prisoner would have been sent there for trial--as is later done with Paul. But Pilate is in Jerusalem at this time because of the Passover when the influx of so many pilgrim Jews into the Holy City creates a situation that bears watching. When the Roman officials come to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals, they have their choice of three residences. Usually they take up residence in Herod’s palace, which is located in the northwest part of the city in the most exclusive part of Jerusalem near the rich homes of Caiaphas and Annas. The palace is big and lavish, and the courts are trimmed with alabaster. At one time the palace was the home of Herod the Great. Another possible abode for Pilate is the Hasmonean Palace, where the current tetrarch, Herod Antipas, resides when he comes to Jerusalem. It is located down the slope of the westerly hill, near the inner entrance of the temple. If Pilate had chosen, he could have requisitioned Herod’s Hasmonean Palace for his short stays in Jerusalem. A third option for Pilate is the fortress Antonia, but the fortress is a crowded place, as seat of the Roman garrison; and Pilate would have desired more luxurious quarters than it is able to furnish. Josephus gives us a clue as to which edifice is Pilate’s praetorium when he clearly points out that a later Roman governor, Gessius Florus, set up his court in front of the entrance to Herod’s palace (485-486). It thus seems to follow naturally that this is also the site of the trial of Jesus.

Philo and Josephus, both contemporaries of Jesus, give us much insight into the character of Pilate, the fifth procurator of Judea and Samaria. Philo says Pilate is "a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate" (784). He also reports the Roman Caesar might very well impeach Pilate: respect of his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity (784).

Pilate despises the Jews who, as he sees it, always seem to be causing him trouble. He infuriates them by using the temple treasure to pay for an aqueduct to carry water into Jerusalem (Josephus 379). Pilate again angers the Jews when he "dedicated some gilt shields (tablets inscribed with the names of Caesar Tiberias and Pilate) in the palace of Herod, in the Holy City" (Philo 784). These inscribed tablets are not erected so much to honor Tiberias as they are to vex the multitude of Jews. Pilate is ultimately removed from office when his Cavalry kills a number of Samaritans in an effort to prevent them from ascending Mount Gerizzim in search of the sacred vessels of Moses. A man, "who thought lying a thing of little consequence," deceives the Samaritans into believing Moses had hidden the sacred vessels on the mount. Pilate, in an effort to prevent them from ascending the mountain, cuts off the access roads with his armies and then orders his cavalry to attack the Samaritans, killing many of them. Afterwards, a Samaritan senate sends an embassy to Vitellius, president of Syria, and accuses Pilate of the murder of those killed. As a result, Pilate is removed from office and ordered to Rome to answer the accusation of the Jews before Caesar (Josephus 380-381).

From the gospels we learn that Pilate is proud, cruel (Luke 13:1), and self-serving and has a superstitious wife (Matthew 27:19). He hates the Jews, but he wants to be in good standing with the Caesar.

Verse 2

And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it.

And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews: Mark’s account of the trial before Pilate is brief, but the other gospel writers supply some of the preliminary details. John 18:28 points out that the Sanhedrin council members will not enter into the pagan procurator’s house because they do not want to be defiled during the Passover week: thus, the trial takes place outside. While a judicial verdict from the Sanhedrin is the result of a group or bench of judges, the chief Roman official--Pilate in this instance--is solely responsible for the verdicts rendered from his court. Those who sit on the bench with the Roman magistrate have no power to render verdicts but serve only in an advisory capacity. From what is known of Roman legal procedure, it is probable that representatives of the Sanhedrin present Pilate with the specific charges against Jesus, either verbal or written. According to Luke 23:1-5, the Sanhedrinists lodge three charges against Jesus: (1) that He perverts the nation; (2) that He forbids giving tribute to Caesar; and (3) that He says He is a king. It is the charge that Jesus wants to make Himself a king that is of particular interest to Pilate and one that Pilate could not ignore. If the charge is true, it would be tantamount to high treason against Caesar. It is at this point that Pilate takes Jesus inside the praetorium to examine Him.

It is ironic that Jesus has always refused the overtures of the Jews to become their political king, and now the Sanhedrin deftly misrepresents Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah as a claim of political kingship. Of course, the fact that Jesus claims to be the Messiah means nothing to Pilate; but when the expression is secularized into "king of the Jews," Pilate is forced to examine the claim to see if it is treasonous, hence the question, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Pilate’s emphasis is on the word "you." With a note of incredulity in his voice, Pilate is asking, "You are the king of the Jews?" In Pilate’s estimation, Jesus certainly does not have the appearance of royalty.

And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it: Jesus’ answer is given in much more detail by John, who records the entire conversation between Jesus and Pilate. Jesus answers Pilate in the affirmative--"It is as you say"--but there is a note of reservation in Jesus’ answer. Jesus explains to Pilate that as the Messiah, He is the king of the Jews; however, He is not the king of the Jews in a political sense (John 18:34-37). If Jesus answers clearly and emphatically, "Yes, I am the king of the Jews," then Pilate would end the trial immediately and pass judgment upon Him. But the vagueness of Jesus’ answer makes it necessary for Pilate to call other witnesses who are prepared to testify against Him.

Verse 3

And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.

And the chief priests accused him of many things: At this point, Pilate steps outside the praetorium, and from his balcony he reports to the Sanhedrinists and the multitude, "I find in him no fault at all" (John 18:38). Upon hearing Pilate’s words, the chief priests intensify their charges against Jesus.

but he answered nothing: Jesus remains resolutely silent, just as He has done when contradictory testimony is being given against Him before Caiaphas.

Verse 4

And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee.

Pilate returns to Jesus and asks, "Do you see how many charges they are bringing against you? Have you no answer to make?"

Verse 5

But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled.

But Jesus yet answered nothing: The fact that Jesus "opened not His mouth" fulfills the prophecies of Isaiah (42:1-4; 53:7; 57:15;) and Zechariah (9:9).

so that Pilate marvelled: Jesus has already answered Pilate once, and Pilate has concluded there is no legitimate reason for accusing Jesus. Now, though, Jesus’ lips are sealed. This self-restraint is stunning to Pilate. No doubt he has witnessed many other accused persons who have loudly and passionately defended themselves before the court. There is a great contrast between the vehement accusations of the multitude outside and the serene, calm, dignified person standing before him--Pilate is amazed at Jesus’ calm forbearance, a demeanor that surely does not seem consistent with the description given of Him by His accusers.

Luke 23:6-12 tells us it is at this point that Pilate sees an opportunity to rid himself of Jesus by sending Him to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. Pilate tells Jesus’ accusers, "Since this man is a Galilean, this is not properly a case for me. It should be under the jurisdiction of Herod." Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, who is in Jerusalem for the Passover, residing in the Hasmonean Palace. Herod is anxious to see Jesus, hopeful He will perform a miracle for his entertainment. But Jesus remains resolutely silent before Herod and the accusing chief priests. Frustrated by Jesus’ silent refusal to perform, Herod arrays Jesus in mock royal apparel, taunts and ridicules His claim of being a king, and then sends Him back to Pilate.

Verse 6

Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.

John’s account says, "But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?" (18:39). Pilate is convinced Jesus is innocent of any crimes; but he knows if he formally pronounces Jesus innocent, he will further infuriate the vehement Jewish mob. In an effort to find a politically expedient way to release Jesus, Pilate invokes a custom of releasing one prisoner during the Passover festival. Nothing is known about this custom except what is recorded in the gospels. Neither Philo nor Josephus mention it, but the custom is consistent with Roman policy. Lane says:

There is a parallel in Roman law which indicates that an imperial magistrate could pardon and acquit individual prisoners in response to the shouts of the populace (553).

Pilate no doubt believes this is a good way to get Jesus off his hands.

Verse 7

And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.

Very little is known about Barabbas except what is recorded in the gospels. He has apparently led an insurrection against the Romans in Jerusalem, during which some of the Roman forces are killed. Josephus reveals that bloody revolts against Roman occupation in Jerusalem were not uncommon during that period, especially during the great Jewish festivals when the people’s nationalistic fervor was excited (147, 151). The insurrection Mark mentions must have been well known, and it is at that time that Barabbas and some of his cohorts are arrested and charged with murder. It is ironic that Barabbas is guilty of the very crimes of which the Sanhedrin accuses Jesus.

Verse 8

And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.

Barabbas is considered a patriot in the minds of the Jews because of his noisy revolt against the Romans in Jerusalem. Consequently, there is a committee of Barabbas’ supporters who make their way to the headquarters of the procurator to take advantage of Pilate’s Passover custom and to ask for Barabbas’ release.

Verse 9

But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

Before the supporters of Barabbas could make their petition to Pilate, he proposes his own choice for release--"the King of the Jews." Pilate is convinced Jesus is just a harmless dreamer, and he is amazed at the fuss created over Jesus’ being called the "King of the Jews." Pilate takes pleasure in using that title to refer to Jesus because he knows it is a source of great irritation to the Sanhedrinists.

Verse 10

For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.

Pilate is shrewd enough to know that the chief priests are not acting out of loyalty to Rome and that they have an ulterior motive for wanting Jesus executed. The fact they petition for the release of Barabbas is proof the chief priests are not actually upset by someone’s being hostile or treasonous toward Rome. It becomes increasingly clear to Pilate that the real reason the chief priests resent Jesus is that He is successful as a rival teacher. Jesus’ only crime is His popularity with the people. The Jewish leaders are envious and resentful of Jesus’ popularity and are determined to manipulate the Roman governor into getting rid of Him. As the actual scheme of the Sanhedrinists becomes clear to Pilate, he seems to become all the more determined not to accede to their demands.

Verse 11

But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.

According to Matthew, it is at this point that the proceedings are interrupted by a messenger with a warning from Pilate’s wife, "...saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him" (27:19). The chief priests take advantage of the interruption to persuade the crowd to choose Barabbas instead of Jesus.

How could a crowd who shouted "Hosanas!" upon Jesus’ triumphal entry just a few days earlier, now, at the urging of the chief priests, demand that He be crucified? It is probable this is essentially a different crowd. The crowd that ushered Jesus into Jerusalem with songs of joy and thanksgiving on the previous Sunday morning consisted mostly of pilgrims from outside Jerusalem. This crowd, though, is most likely made up of the citizens of Jerusalem who know of Barabbas’ resistance to the Romans and, therefore, feel a hometown kinship to him. Also, because the Jews bitterly resent the presence of the Romans in their homeland, they are unlikely to prefer a recommendation made by the Roman governor to a recommendation made by the leaders of their own Sanhedrin. Matthew reports that Pilate questions the crowd again, "...Whether of the twain [Which of the two] will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas" (27:21).

Verse 12

And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?

Pilate seems to be surprised at the crowd’s rejection of his offer to release Jesus, but he still attempts to negotiate with them. He does not want the responsibility of sentencing Jesus to death and is probably confident the people would call for a milder form of punishment than the chief priests demand, so he asks the people, "Then what am I to do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?"

Verse 13

And they cried out again, Crucify him.

The crowd seems to act quickly and angrily to the suggestion by Pilate that they regard Jesus as their King. According to Luke, the mob shouts repeatedly, "Crucify him!" The chief priests have successfully prompted the crowd to call for the most extreme punishment for Jesus--crucifixion.

Verse 14

Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.

Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done?: Pilate knows Jesus has done nothing to warrant being crucified, but he wants to avoid an insurrection of the Jews during the Passover. If these Jews explode into a bitter revolt, Pilate will be forced to quell it with troops. Such an incident would inevitably result in bloodshed, and Pilate would have to answer to Rome for his actions. In frustration, Pilate remonstrates with the people by asking, "Why should I crucify him? What crime has he done?" Pilate is to be commended for repeatedly declaring to the people, "I find no fault in him." But the fact that he does not make a decisive move to free Jesus shows he is beginning to cave in to the incessant clamor of the crowd.

And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him: The crowd is now a frenzied mob to which logic has no appeal. Without offering any just cause for the crucifixion of Jesus, the people shout contemptuously and persistently their demand more loudly. Matthew adds:

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it (27:24).

Verse 15

And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.

And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them: Pilate concludes the only politically expedient way to ease the tension of this dangerous situation is to release Barabbas to the people and to have Jesus crucified.

and delivered Jesus: Judas delivers Jesus to the guards, the guards to Annas, Annas to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin to Pilate, Pilate to Herod, Herod back to Pilate, and Pilate to the executioners. And all these details are part of God’s delivering His Son for the redemption of mankind (Plummer 348).

when he had scourged him: The word "scourged" is phragellosas and refers to being beaten with the dreaded flagellum, a short wooden handle to which several leather thongs are attached. Pieces of sharply pointed bone and metal are attached to the ends of the leather thongs so as to leave the beaten prisoner’s flesh hanging in bleeding shreds, sometimes leaving even entrails and inner organs exposed (Josephus 500). The prisoner is usually stripped and bound to a post or a pillar. Generally, two men would administer the scourging, one lashing the prisoner from one side, one from the other side. Roman law places no limit on the maximum number of strokes that could be given to the condemned prisoner; consequently, it is not uncommon for the prisoner to die while being scourged. Josephus reports that scourging is a customary prelude to crucifixion (485), but it could also be used as an independent means of punishment. Pilate is hopeful the mob will be satisfied by the scourging, and he can avoid having Jesus crucified (John 19:4-6). The scourging would also fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (53:5).

to be crucified: Yielding to the mob’s incessant clamoring, Pilate eventually delivers Jesus to the soldiers to be crucified. According to Roman law, the mode of death has to be specified by the Roman prefect, thus Pilate specifies Jesus is to die by crucifixion. Lane says the conventional form of the sentence is, "You shall mount the cross" (ibis in crucem) or "I consign you to the cross" (abi in crucem) (558).

Verse 16

And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.

And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium: The soldiers are members of the Roman cohort who are at the disposal of Pilate and who accompany him from Caesarea to Jerusalem to maintain order during the Passover. They are not Jews since Jews are exempt from compulsory service in the Roman occupational military, but they are recruited from among the non-Jewish Palestinians. They probably speak Aramaic, which is spoken by Jesus and the disciples, and are acquainted with Jewish ways. They are hard-bitten mercenaries, hardly more than hired killers, but they are united in their loyalty to Caesar. They think Jesus is a pretender to a royal throne and is deserving of mocking contempt, so they lead Him inside the court to have some fun.

and they call together the whole band: An entire cohort consists of approximately six hundred men, but this expression means all the members of the cohort who are within hearing at the moment. The men on duty in connection with the trial and the execution--probably the centurion and a handful of men--call all of the cohort who are near at hand to come and make sport of the "King of the Jews."

Verse 17

And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,

And they clothed him with purple: This mockery is very similar to the one that Jesus endured at Caiaphas’ palace a few hours earlier (14:65). The soldiers strip Jesus of His outer garments, then throw a "purple" robe around Him. Matthew says the garment is "a scarlet robe" (27:28). There are various shades of purple and scarlet, and it is not easy to distinguish these colors or tints. Swete says the garment is of scarlet, but with color enough left in it to suggest the royal purple (375). It is probably a faded cloak belonging to one of the soldiers.

and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head: The word "crown" is from stephanon and is more like a victor’s garland or wreath, which is presented to royal personages as a tribute to military prowess. The soldiers seem to have in mind the laurel wreath of the Imperator. The wreath is composed of plaited branches of some nearby, thorny shrub, such as the Spina Christi or the Calycotome villosa. Swete quotes Tristram as saying that the thorns are "long, sharp and recurved, and often create a festering wound" (376). The branches are plaited into the shape of a wreath or crown and pressed down upon Jesus’ head. Like the faded robe, the primary purpose of the crown of thorns is to make a mockery of Jesus’ kingship by an "uproarious masquerade" (Lane 559). But the cruel soldiers also want to torture Jesus, and the crown of thorns will satisfy both goals perfectly. Jesus’ face has already been brutally beaten by the fists of the temple guards, His back shredded by the scourging, and now the thorny crown must have caused rivulets of blood to run down His face, neck, and other parts of His body. Matthew says the soldiers also place a reed in Jesus’ right hand (27:29). The reed is a stalk of common cane grass (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament 230), but it mockingly serves as the King’s scepter--a highly ornamented staff held by rulers on ceremonial occasions as a symbol of sovereignty.

Verse 18

And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!

The greeting, "Hail, King of the Jews," is an imitation of the well-known "Ave, Caesar" (Hail, or long live Caesar). The soldiers kneel before Jesus on one knee; and then with heads bowed, they shout in mockery, "Long live the King of the Jews!"

Verse 19

And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.

And they smote him on the head with a reed: What begins as mocking homage quickly deteriorates into savage brutality. The word "smote" is in the imperfect tense and indicates the act is done repeatedly. It appears that again and again soldiers take their turn kneeling before Jesus, saluting Him in mockery, and then, taking the cane stick from His hand, beat Him over the head with it. Each blow would obviously drive the thorny spikes deeper into the flesh.

and did spit upon him: Again, the imperfect tense of the verb is used to indicate the action is repeated. Before each soldier leaves his position in front of Jesus, he spits into Jesus’ face. It is customary in the East to greet one another with a kiss, and it is possible that the act of spitting on Jesus is intended as a parody of the kiss of homage.

and bowing their knees worshipped him: They do not mockingly worship Jesus as a god, but they pay mock homage to Him as a king.

Verse 20

And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.

And when they had mocked him: John tells us it is at this point that Pilate makes a last attempt to persuade the crowd to accept Jesus’ release. After the soldiers have completed their turn with Jesus, Pilate takes Him outside the court to show Him to the people. Jesus is still wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. His appearance is ghastly. His face is battered and blood-streaked. The purple cloak is soaked with blood from the gashes made by the scourging. Jesus is such a pitiful spectacle that Pilate is convinced the people will sympathize with Him when they see Him. When Pilate presents Jesus before the mob, he says, "Behold the man!" (John 19:5). Pilate is asking, "Take a look at this man! Is this not enough?" But the crowd, led by the chief priests, redouble their cries of "Crucify Him!" Even though Pilate is still insistent that Jesus has done no wrong, he succumbs to the pressure of the crowd and passes the final sentence on Jesus to be crucified.

they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him: The soldiers remove the "mock regalia" and give Jesus back His own clothes. Nothing is said of the crown of thorns, but it is probably taken off along with the other emblems of mock royalty. Plummer adds:

Pictures are misleading in this respect, as in various details of the crucifixion. In the most ancient representations of the crucifixion the Saviour does not wear a crown of thorns (350).

and led him out to crucify him: When He is clothed, Jesus is placed into the custody of a centurion and four soldiers (John 19:23) and is led out of the court toward the place of crucifixion.

Verse 21

And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.

One special indignity connected with the punishment by crucifixion is that the condemned man has to carry on his back through the streets, the cross upon which he is about to suffer. This is a kind of savage irony and humiliation. Following this custom, Jesus begins to carry His own cross, or at any rate the cross-beam (John 19:17), as the execution party begins to make its way toward Calvary. Sheer physical exhaustion makes it impossible for Jesus to carry His cross very far, so the legionaries immediately compel a passerby named Simon to assist Jesus with the cross. Simon is from Cyrene, which is located ten miles from the Mediterranean Sea, in what is now Libya, Africa. He is probably a Jew, who has come to Jerusalem for the Passover. Simon carries Jesus’ cross, arrives at Calvary, and witnesses what happens there. The ordeal makes such an impact on Simon that he subsequently becomes a Christian. It is probable that Simon and his family eventually move to Rome. Mark mentions that Simon is the father of Alexander and Rufus, as though they are well known to his Roman readers. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes, "Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine" (16:13). Evidently, Rufus’ mother (Simon’s wife) has rendered some motherly service to Paul.

Verse 22

And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.

The name "Golgotha" is a modified transliteration of the Aramaic golgoltha and is defined by Matthew, Mark, and John as "The place of a skull." Luke says the word means "Skull." Kranion is the Greek word for "skull" and is the source of our English word "cranium." The name "Calvary" comes from the Latin Vulgate (Jerome’s translation of the Bible), where Kranion is translated Calvaria (Calvary). The name "Skull," or "the place of the Skull," is given to this hill probably because its rounded shape gives it the appearance of a skull. It is customary for Jews and Romans to conduct executions outside the walls and beyond the inhabited areas of the city (Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35 f.; 1 Kings 21:13; Acts 7:58). Golgotha fulfills that requirement because, as John points out, it lies outside but near the wall of Jerusalem (19:20). There are numerous traditions about Golgotha, including the belief that Adam’s skull lay there, thus connecting the death of the first Adam with the lifegiving death of the second Adam (Jerome; Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II 937).

Verse 23

And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.

And they gave him to drink: This expression is in the conative imperfect and means, "They tried to give; offered" (Wuest 282).

wine mingled with myrrh: Matthew’s account says the wine offered Jesus is "wine mingled with gall" (27:34). Cyril points out there is no contradiction here, however, because myrrh and gall have a common property: "Now myrrh is in taste like gall, and very bitter" (Vol. VII 90). It is also known in the first century that myrrh possesses narcotic properties (Lane 564). According to tradition, there was a women’s guild in Jerusalem that supplied condemned criminals with a narcotic drink to deaden the sense of the pain of the execution (Luke 23:27). This humane practice seems to have originated with Solomon’s words:

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more (Proverbs 31:6-7).

It is probable the respected women of Jerusalem offer this drink to Jesus as a narcotic to dull the excruciating pain of the crucifixion.

but he received it not: According to Matthew, Jesus tastes the mixture but refuses to drink it (27:34), probably because He wants His mind at full consciousness in order to be able to speak coherently while on the cross and to be able to endure the full pain that is in store for Him as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world (10:38; 14:36).

Verse 24

And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.

And when they had crucified him: Mark uses remarkable restraint in stating the fact of the crucifixion, but his Roman readers would be all too familiar with the details of such an execution (Kittel, Vol. VII 572-584). It is probable that crucifixion was invented by the Persians as a mode of execution and that originally it took place on a vertical stake or post. But the Roman mode of crucifixion in the days of Jesus consisted of the use of a cross-beam, which, when attached to the upright post, formed a T. Many scholars believe the condemned person (including Jesus) carried only the cross-beam (patibulum) to the place of execution and that the upright beam was already erected in its place, always left standing to be used many times over. Once at the execution site, the condemned person’s outstretched arms are fixed to the cross-beam by ropes or nails (John 20:25 clearly points out that Jesus’ hands are nailed). The cross-beam is then lifted up with the body on it and fastened to the upright post.

In the bottom of the crosspiece, at the center, was an oblong mortise so that the crosspiece would fit over the upright piece. The sign would be nailed here and the spikes would lock both pieces of the cross together (Bishop 269).

About the middle of the post, just below a man’s pelvis, is a wooden block that supports the suspended body; there is no footrest in ancient accounts (Kittel, Vol. VII 573). The gospels do not say whether Jesus’ feet are nailed or tied; but based on Psalms 22:16, we can assume they are nailed. Lane tells of a discovery made by Israeli scholars at Giv’at ha-Mivtar in northeastern Jerusalem, in June of 1968, which produces the remains of a crucifixion that dates from the first century. Detailed study of the find shows the victim’s feet had been nailed together with a single 17-18 centimeter iron nail. Lane quotes N. Haas, who sheds new light on the position of the body on the cross:

...the feet were joined almost parallel, both transfixed by the same nail at the heels, with the legs adjacent; the knees were doubled, the right one overlapping the left; the trunk was contorted; the upper limbs were stretched out, each stabbed by a nail in the forearm (565).

Because this archaeological evidence dates from the first century in Jerusalem, it provides invaluable insight into the manner in which Jesus is crucified.

The height of the cross is usually not much higher than the stature of a man so that the feet of the victim almost touch the ground. On occasions when a victim is to be held up for special public display, however, he is placed on a higher cross. An indication that Jesus is crucified on a high cross is found in the fact that the soldier who offers Him a drink with a vinegar-filled sponge has to place the sponge on the end of a reed to reach Jesus (15:36). A higher cross is also possibly indicated in verse 32, when the chief priests contemptuously challenge Jesus to "descend now from the cross."

Crucifixion is one of the most horrible forms of execution ever conceived by men. "Cicero calls it the supreme capital penalty, the most painful, dreadful and ugly" (Kittel, Vol. I 573). It is essentially a death of suffocation and exposure. When Jesus hangs by the nails in His wrists (the nails are probably driven through the hollow point at the base of the hand where the "lifeline" in the palm of the hand ends), with His arms in a V position, the pain in His wrists is unbearable. His forearms, upper arms, and the pads of His shoulders knot in muscle cramps. As He sags, in fatigue, He finds it difficult to draw air into His lungs and then exhale. In order to breathe and to relieve the excruciating pain in His upper body, Jesus forces His weight down upon the nail driven through His feet and raises Himself higher until His shoulders are on an even level with His hands. Now He could breathe more easily. But, unable to bear the pain in His feet, Jesus slowly allows His body to sag again until He feels Himself to be hanging by the wrists. He repeats this process over and over again. When the executioners want to hasten the death of the victim, they break his legs by beating them with an iron club (John 19:31-33).

they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take: While it is the Roman custom for men to be stripped of their clothes and crucified naked, the Jews insist that a man be permitted to wear a loincloth. Consequently, it is probable that Jesus is allowed to wear a loincloth while the soldiers seize His sandals, belt, outer garment, and headgear (Kittel, Vol. IV 246). Roman legal texts reveal it is considered lawfully proper for the executioners to claim the possessions of an executed person. As is their custom, the soldiers divide Jesus’ property and then cast lots for the woven, seamless tunic (John 19:23-24), oblivious to the fact that they are fulfilling the prophecy of Psalms 22:18: "They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture."

Verse 25

And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.

Based on the Jewish method of reckoning time, the third hour would be 9:00 a.m. Mark’s clear and precise statement that Jesus is crucified at 9:00 a.m. seems to be contradicted by John, who says that Pilate gives his verdict to have Jesus crucified at the sixth hour (noon according to Jewish time) (19:14). The apparent conflict between Mark and John has been a problem among commentators for years. Of the many solutions offered for the problem, the best seems to be that Mark, along with Matthew and Luke, is following the Jewish mode of keeping time, while John is using the Roman method of keeping time. If the above is true, then according to Roman time, Pilate makes the announcement of his verdict at 6:00 a.m. (the sixth hour), and Jesus is crucified three hours later at 9:00 a.m.

Verse 26

And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

And the superscription of his accusation was written over: As the condemned victim is carrying his cross toward the crucifixion site, he is forced to carry, or wear around his neck, a piece of wood that has written on it the charges for which he is being executed. Then after the victim is crucified, the wooden sign is nailed to the cross, above the head of the victim.

THE KING OF THE JEWS: All of the gospel writers mention the inscription, but no two evangelists agree as to the exact words used. But, regardless of the slight variation in the precise words used, all four of the writers agree that Pilate calls Jesus "the King of the Jews." John says the title is written in three languages: Hebrew (Aramaic), Latin, and Greek (19:20-21) so that all Jews--including Hellenists from the provinces as well as any Palestinians who are not bilingual--can read it. It is impossible to know with certainty why Pilate chooses to word the title as he does. The charge the chief priests bring against Jesus is that He claims to be a king, which is treasonous against Caesar. Pilate declares again and again that he does not believe Jesus is guilty of that crime. It could be that Pilate intends the inscription to convey a subtle insult to the Jews who have constrained him to execute an innocent man. It is as though he is saying, "Here is Jesus, the King of the Jews, the only king they have been able to produce, a king crucified at their own urgent request!" (Hendriksen 653).

Verse 27

And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.

The term "thieves" can also be translated "robbers," but neither of these crimes is considered a capital offense under Roman law. It is entirely possible that these men are guilty of insurrection. Josephus repeatedly uses the term "robbers" to refer to the zealots who led the insurrection against Roman occupation in Judea. Josephus portrays the zealots as being comprised of criminal elements engaged in an illegal movement. He reports the zealots are crucified, in accordance with the law, for high treason. The robbers crucified with Jesus may very well have been a part of the Barabbas-led insurrection mentioned in verse 7 (Kittel, Vol. IV 262).

Verse 28

And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.

The scripture fulfilled is Isaiah 53:12. Earlier, Luke quotes Jesus as saying:

For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end (22:37).

Verse 29

And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,

And they that passed by: The site of the crucifixion must have been in a public place near the road. People on their way to the city and those going from the city to the country would pass by the crucifixion. Large crowds gather for such public executions.

railed on him: The word "railed" is blasphemeo and means to "calumniate, revile" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 70). The people passing by would have little knowledge of Jesus except for hearsay, and they no doubt have heard the report that He is a dangerous fanatic. Thus, they begin to hurl abusive insults at Jesus.

wagging their heads: They shake their heads in mock pity or derision (2 Kings 19:21; Psalms 22:7; Psalms 109:25; Job 16:4; Isaiah 37:22).

and saying, Ah: The word "Ah" (Oua) is an expression of admiration, but here it is used sarcastically.

thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days: Since it is when Jesus is on trial before the Sanhedrin at Caiphas’ palace that the charge of destroying the temple is first mentioned, the group now making this sarcastic charge must be members of the Sanhedrin or must have been witnesses of the trial.

Verse 30

Save thyself, and come down from the cross.

There is a familiar saying among the Jews at that time, recorded in the Midrash Tannaim (Vol. III 23), a commentary on the Jewish Scriptures: "Before a man puts his trust in flesh and blood, (i.e. another man) and asks him to save him, let him (i.e. the other) save himself from death first" (Lane 569). Therefore, it is not surprising that Jesus is contemptuously asked to save Himself and come down from the cross. The question sounds logical to the antagonists. Swete comments, "...the jest was the harder to endure since it appealed to a consciousness of power held back only by the self-restraint of a sacrificed will" (383). Nevertheless, other skeptics in subsequent years have made the same challenge. Celsus, a second century Greek philosopher, argues Jesus could not have been the Son of God if He could not flee from His captors (Origen, Vol. IV 443).

Verse 31

Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes: By delivering Jesus to Pilate and successfully orchestrating His crucifixion, the chief priests and scribes have finally fulfilled their obsessive dream of destroying Him. They are now at the scene of the crucifixion to congratulate themselves. They do not direct their remarks at Jesus, as do the others, but they talk about Jesus to each other--loudly enough for all others to hear. They are so ecstatic that their hated archrival is hanging on a cross, writhing in agony, that they cast aside any dignity associated with their respective offices and join the passersby in verbally castigating Jesus.

He saved others; himself he cannot save: Amazingly, the chief priests and scribes openly admit that Jesus has saved others, referring to His healing of all kinds of diseases and even raising the dead. They earlier made the same admission, but they ascribed His power to Beelzebub (3:22). They conclude now that Beelzebub is either unable or unwilling to help Him and that Jesus is completely powerless.

Verse 32

Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe: The chief priests resent that Pilate has put "King of the Jews" on Jesus’ inscription on the cross, and they attempt to get him to change it (John 19:19-22). Pilate refuses to remove or alter the title, so the chief priests begin to make a mockery of it. They substitute "King of Israel" for Pilate’s "King of the Jews." They also add "Christ," which points back to the claim that Jesus made before the Sanhedrin (14:62). The cruel, sarcastic use of these titles is intended to emphasize the stark contrast between Jesus’ claims and His situation. Surely, if His claims are true, He would now save Himself. With a note of false piety, the chief priests and scribes add that if Jesus would save Himself by coming down from the cross, they would believe in Him as the Messiah. But, if the healing of all kinds of illnesses, casting out demons, and even raising the dead did not cause the chief priests to believe in Jesus, neither would they have believed in Him if He had come down from the cross (Luke 16:13).

And they that were crucified with him reviled him: It is probable the contempt shown for Jesus by the other spectators gathered at the cross encourages the two robbers to attack Him also. The insults are being hurled at Jesus from every direction: Roman soldiers, temple guards, passersby, chief priests, scribes, elders, and now the robbers crucified with Him. It is incredible to the robbers that Jesus might possess the power to save Himself and others and would not use it. In the midst of it all, Jesus offers not one word in rebuke. Later, Peter gives this graphic report:

Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:23-24).

Verse 33

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.

A supernaturally caused darkness covers the land from noon until three o’clock in the afternoon. Some critics argue the darkness is the result of a natural eclipse. Origen rightly points out, however, that a natural eclipse could not have occurred at the time of the Paschal full moon nor could a natural eclipse have lasted for three hours. Consequently, the darkening of the sun is a miraculous event with definite spiritual significance. Philo believes eclipses of the sun or moon were prophecies of the "impending death of some king, or of the destruction of some city" (753). Irenaeus believes this event fulfilled the prophecy of Amos 8:9 that darkness at noon expresses "mourning of an only son." Origen believes that nature is expressing sympathy with the sufferings of the Redeemer. Jerome believes the darkness is the result of the "Light of the World" refusing to look upon a crucified Lord and aid, by its light, those who blasphemed Him. There is, however, a more ominous spiritual significance to the darkening than any of those mentioned above. In the plague of darkness that precedes the first Passover, darkness over the land is the token that the curse of God rests upon it (Exodus 10:21 f). The darkness that now envelops Jesus in His death is an indication that the curse of God rests upon Him as the bearer of our sins (Galatians 3:13).

Verse 34

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

"Crucifixions were marked by screams of rage and pain, wild curses and the shouts of indescribable despair by the unfortunate victim" (Lane 572). Mark does not describe Jesus’ demeanor while He is suffering on the cross; but he does say that at three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This is the only saying of Jesus from the cross that Mark records--which he preserves in its original Aramaic form--and it is one of the most difficult to understand. In an effort to soften the offense of the question of Jesus, it is frequently explained that He is meditating on Psalms 22, which begins with the very words that He uses, and that He is trying to say these words audibly and is not expressing a complaint. This Psalm goes on to express exaltation and victory and to say at last: "They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this" (verse 31) . Hence, some commentators conclude Jesus’ words are actually words of triumph that look beyond the tragedy of the cross. It is a mistake, though, to try to minimize the desperation in Jesus’ words. Jesus’ words must be understood in light of the holy wrath of God and the character of sin, which cuts the sinner off from God (Isaiah 59:2). Jesus offers Himself to bear the punishment of God for the rebellion of man. Sin results in being separated from God; and now on the cross, Jesus experiences the profound horror of that separation. The sinless Son of God is dying the sinner’s death and experiencing the bitterness of being forsaken. "The cry has a ruthless authenticity which provides the assurance that the price of sin has been paid in full" (Lane 573).

Verse 35

And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.

Jesus cries out in a loud voice, so there would be no misunderstanding of His words. There is a common Jewish belief that Elijah is the helper of the helpless (Kittel, Vol. II 930-935); hence these bystanders willfully misinterpret Jesus’ words as a cry for help to Elijah. Bent on ridiculing Jesus, they are saying, "Look the Messiah wants His forerunner to come and help Him out of trouble!"

Verse 36

And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.

And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink: As these mockers are having their fun, Jesus utters His fifth statement from the cross: "I thirst" (John 19:28). Immediately, one of the soldiers takes a sponge, fills it with vinegar, puts the sponge on a reed, and lifts it to the mouth of Jesus. The vinegar (oxos) is a mixture of sour wine or vinegar with water that the Roman soldiers are accustomed to drink and that is good for quenching thirst. A sour wine vinegar is mentioned in the Old Testament as a refreshing drink (Numbers 6:13; Ruth 2:14). Hence, the offer of this drink to Jesus is a merciful, compassionate gesture--probably commanded by the centurion--and not a hostile act of offering a bitter, corrosive drink.

saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down: Matthew attributes these words to the bystanders (27:49). The mockers begin shouting at the soldier, "Stop! Let Him alone! Let us see if Elijah is coming to rescue Him." In Mark’s abbreviated account, the soldier replies, "Don’t focus on me; keep your eyes on Him. I’ll give Him this drink to keep Him alive as long as possible, and then we shall see if Elijah will rescue Him."

Verse 37

And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.

And Jesus cried with a loud voice: The fact that Jesus emits a loud cry just prior to His death shows He does not die merely from utter exhaustion as is typical of crucified victims, nor does He slip into death after a prolonged period of unconsciousness. The strength of His cry is an indication that Jesus dies voluntarily. None of the authors of the gospels say Jesus "died" but that He gave up His life by an act of His own will (Isaiah 53:12; John 10:11; John 10:15).

and gave up the ghost: The words "gave up" are literally "breathed out." The word "ghost" is the usual translation in the King James Version for the Greek word pneuma. The word pneuma is not found in this text; however, the literal translation of this phrase is "He breathed out" or "He breathed out His life." Matthew says, He "yielded up the ghost" (27:50), and John says, "gave up the ghost" (paredoken to pneuma, 19:30). Augustine comments, "He gave up his life because he willed it, when he willed it, and as he willed it." The last two statements Jesus makes prior to His death are evidence He knows exactly what He is doing when He offers Himself as a voluntary sacrifice. His sixth statement is "It is finished" (John 19:30), meaning He has accomplished the work the Father has given Him to do. The seventh statement is, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46), proving He is voluntarily entrusting His spirit to the Father’s loving care.

Verse 38

And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.

There are actually two veils or curtains in the temple. The outer curtain hangs before the entrance to the Holy Place and is visible from the forecourt when the doors are open during the day. The curtain referred to here, though, is probably the inner curtain that separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. This inner curtain is described in Exodus 26:31-33; Exodus 36:35; and 2 Chronicles 3:14. Josephus also gives a vivid description of this curtain (555). The Holy of Holies is the home of the Ark of the Covenant and the place where God manifests Himself. The High Priest is allowed access to the Holy of Holies only once a year. At the moment of Jesus’ death, the magnificent curtain that conceals the Holy of Holies is suddenly split from top to bottom. The miraculous splitting of the veil symbolizes that Jesus, through His death, has removed the barrier that separates man from God and has opened up a "new and living way" for all mankind to have access to Heaven (the Holy of Holies) (Hebrews 10:12-22).

Verse 39

And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

And when the centurion, which stood over against him: The centurion is standing, facing Jesus. He is responsible for the actual crucifixions and, therefore, keeps a close watch on the proceedings, especially during the darkness.

saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost: The centurion carefully observes how Jesus conducts Himself while He is hanging on the cross. Jesus has been cruelly mocked and ridiculed, but He refuses to retaliate verbally. Now, there is the loud cry--the cry by which Jesus voluntarily surrenders Himself to the Father. Even though Jesus’ crucifixion has been accompanied by the darkness that covers the earth and an earthquake that splits rocks and opens tombs (Matthew 27:51-52; Matthew 27:54), Mark emphasizes the centurion is most impressed by how Jesus dies.

he said, Truly this man was the Son of God: In the Greek text, there is no definite article before the expression "Son of God." What this soldier says is "Truly, this man was a son of God." It is probable the centurion means far less than the complete truth when he calls Jesus a "son of God." His is probably a heathen’s conception of a divine man or deified hero. At the very least, he is saying, "I have never seen a better man die a more noble death." Luke says the centurion "...glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man" (23:47). Legend has it that the centurion eventually becomes a Christian. Plummer makes the interesting observation that the New Testament often mentions the good character of Roman centurions (Matthew 8:5-13; Acts 10:22; Acts 22:26; Acts 23:17; Acts 23:23-24; Acts 24:23; Acts 27:43). The Roman organization produced and promoted men of fine character (361).

Verse 40

There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;

There were also women looking on afar off: The centurion is not the only one who views the crucifixion and death of Jesus with reverence and awe. Matthew says, "And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him" (27:55). The Galilean women distance themselves from the coarse, vulgar mockery of the crowd, but they are near enough to witness Jesus’ crucifixion.

among whom was Mary Magdalene: This woman is distinguished from the other women named Mary by the surname "Magdalene," which denotes her hometown. Magdala was a fishing village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. She becomes a devoted disciple of Jesus after He casts seven demons out of her (16:9; Luke 8:2).

and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses: This woman is probably the wife of Cleopas, or Alphaeus (John 19:25). Later, she and Mary Magdalene witness the burial of Jesus (verse 47). See comments on Mark 3:18 for "James the less."

and Salome: Matthew says Salome is the "mother of Zebedee’s children" (27:56). In all probability, she is also the sister of Jesus’ mother (John 19:25).

Mark does not mention Mary, Jesus’ mother. Earlier, Jesus had committed the care of His mother to "the disciple whom He loved" (John 19:25-27); and John, overwhelmed with sorrow, probably escorts Mary away from the scene. The fact that John mentions four women, while Matthew and Mark mention only three, is explained by the fact that John’s description of the scene is made before he escorts Jesus’ mother away.

Verse 41

(Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.

These women are pilgrims from Galilee and not the "Daughters of Jerusalem" who had wept and mourned over Jesus on the way to Golgotha (Luke 23:27-28).

Verse 42

And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,

And now when the even was come: According to the ancient Hebrew way of reckoning time, there are two evenings (Exodus 12:6 in the text). The first evening begins at three o’clock in the afternoon, and the second evening begins at six o’clock. The above expression refers to sometime during the first evening.

because it was the preparation, that is the day before the sabbath: Mark gives the reason Joseph of Arimathea takes steps to secure Jesus’ body for burial at this time. It is the "preparation" (paraskeue), which Mark explains is the day before the sabbath. "Paraskeue, ’preparation,’ had become a technical name for Friday, which is still so called in the Greek East" (Swete 391). Josephus says this preparation for the sabbath begins on the ninth hour of the sixth day (344). John’s parallel account causes a little difficulty when he says, that "it was the preparation of the passover" (19:14). Later, though, he says the preparation is the day that immediately precedes the sabbath (19:31). It is not the preparation of the Passover, which has already been celebrated the evening before, but it is the preparation for the sabbath that occurs during Passover week, making that particular sabbath an especially "high day" (John 19:31).

There has been much debate through the years as to the actual day of the crucifixion of Jesus. Some believe Jesus is crucified on Wednesday, spends three full days in the grave, and is resurrected on the sabbath. The Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong, makes the above argument to bolster the practice of Sabbatarianism. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says, "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Ostensibly, it is impossible to harmonize this verse with the other accounts of the time-interval between the death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel records clearly show that Jesus was crucified on Friday, dying between 3:00 p.m. and sundown, and is raised from the dead very early in the morning on the following Sunday. Many readers of the Bible are puzzled to know how the interval between late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning can be figured out to be three days and three nights. It seems rather to be two nights, one day, and a very small portion of another day. An understanding of Jewish idiomatic language easily explains the apparent contradiction. Jesus’ language in Matthew 12:40 is an example of a figure of speech called "synecdoche," in which the whole of this time is idiomatically placed for the part. Such is often done by the Jews. For example, Joseph places his brothers in ward "three days," but on the "third day" (thus not an entire seventy-two hours), they are released (Genesis 42:17-18). Rehoboam tells his people to return to his presence "after three days," and they return "on the third day, as the king bade" (2 Chronicles 10:5; 2 Chronicles 10:12). Esther sends word to Mordecai that she will approach the King after fasting for three days and nights, but she approaches him "on the third day" (Esther 4:16; Esther 5:1). Similarly, Jesus idiomatically predicts His resurrection in the time frame of "after three days" (8:31), knowing He is to rise "on the third day" itself (9:31; 10:34; 1 Corinthians 15:4).

Based on the above, Luke 24:1-21 makes indisputably clear the day on which Jesus is crucified. In verse 1, Luke tells of some happenings "on the first day of the week," which is Sunday, at early dawn--not our Saturday evening. In verse 13, Luke says "two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus." Jesus joins them and asks them why they are sad. They tell Him that Jesus the Nazarene in whom they had placed their hopes has been crucified, and "today is the third day since these things were done" (verse 21). Based on the way the Jews counted time, Sunday is "the third day since these things were done," Saturday is the second day, and Friday is the day He is crucified. If He were crucified on Thursday, as some claim, those two men would have said it is now the fourth day since these things were done. If He were crucified on Wednesday, as others claim, they would have said it is now the fifth day since these things came to pass.

J.W. McGarvey says in his book Jesus and Jonah that the Jewish writers used the qualifying term "full" or "whole" before the substantive when they wished to be exact in the use of cardinal numbers for years, months, and days. A law in Leviticus provides that if a house in a walled city were sold, the owner might redeem it "within a whole year after it is sold; for a full year shall he have the right of redemption" (25:29). It is after "two full years" that Absalom takes revenge on Amnon; and when he returns from banishment on account of slaying Amnon, he dwells "two full years" in Jerusalem before he sees the King’s face (2 Samuel 14:28). Zedekiah, the false prophet, says the vessels of the house of the Lord, which had been carried to Babylon, would be brought back within "two full years" (Jeremiah 27:3). Stephen says Moses is "full forty years old" when he slays the Egyptian and flees (Acts 7:23). Luke says Barnabas and Saul remain with the church in Antioch "a whole year" (Acts 11:26) and that Paul dwells in his own hired house in Rome "two whole years" (Acts 28:30). Consequently, if Jesus means in Matthew 12:40 that He is going to be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights as we now understand the words, He would have said, "three full days and nights" or "three whole days and nights" (McGarvey 70-71).

From the time of Jesus’ crucifixion until the time of His resurrection, the gospel writers name only three days: the preparation, the sabbath, and the first day of the week. Hence, Jesus is crucified on the Jews’ day of preparation, the day before the sabbath, and is on the cross from the third hour of the day until the ninth hour (15:25; Matthew 27:46 ff); He is buried on the same day, "as the Sabbath drew on" ("was approaching," Luke 23:54; Mark 15:42), and was resurrected upon the first day of the week.

Historians and the church leaders who lived during the first few centuries after the death of Jesus unanimously believed Jesus was crucified on Friday. Josephus says, "He appeared to them alive again on the third day" (379). Justin Martyr says:

He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday): and on the day after that of Saturn (Saturday), which is the day of the sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things which we have submitted for your consideration.

Irenaeus, born 130 A.D., and Tertullian, born 150 A.D., both make statements to the effect that Jesus was crucified on Friday.

Dr. James Orr, general editor of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, gives this example of the consensus of modern scholarship:

On the hypothesis now accepted, the crucifixion of Jesus took place at the Passover of 30 A.D....On both sides it is agreed that it occurred on the Friday of that week of the Passover, but it is disputed whether this Friday was the 14th or the 15th day of the month...There seems reason to believe that the 15th of Nisan fell on a Friday in the year named, 783 AUC, or 30 A.D. We accept this provisionally as the date of the crucifixion (Vol. III 1629).

Verse 43

Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.

Joseph of Arimathaea: Arimathaea (Ramah in Hebrew) is probably the birthplace and home of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Samuel 1:19) and is located a few miles north of Jerusalem.

an honourable counsellor: Joseph is a distinguished member of the Sanhedrin Council, the Jewish Supreme Court. The word "honourable" implies Joseph is highly respected by his peers and is one whose word carries weight. The fact that Joseph is a member of the Sanhedrin Court and he is the owner of a tomb in Jerusalem is an indication he had moved from Arimathaea and is now a resident of Jerusalem.

which also waited for the kingdom of God: Joseph is also waiting for the kingdom of God, just as Jesus has taught (Matthew 11:4-6; Matthew 11:12). John says Joseph is a disciple of Jesus: "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews..." (19:38). John adds, "Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (12:42).

came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus: Joseph’s act indeed takes courage. Such a gesture of compassion toward Jesus would surely infuriate the other members of the Sanhedrin. Also, Pilate could have resented the request to give a decent burial to one executed for high treason. In the age of Tiberius, Tacitus reports that one condemned to death forfeits all properties and rights, including the right to be buried, unless it is approved by the Roman magistrate. It is not uncommon for some of the executed victims to be left on the cross until they rot or until they are eaten by the predatory birds or animals (Kittel, Vol. III 411). The Roman magistrate has the sole authority for releasing a corpse for burial but would usually do so upon the request of the family. Philo reports that before great Roman festivals, such as the emperor’s birthday, the bodies of crucified victims are released to their families for proper burial (732). Under Jewish law, though, the burial of the dead is a mandatory act of piety. Josephus says the Jews consider it a duty to bury even enemies (515). According to Jewish law, those who have been hanged are to be taken down and buried before sundown (Deuteronomy 21:23). As mentioned earlier, usually the request for the victim’s body is made to the Roman magistrate by the victim’s family. But Mary is probably in no condition emotionally to ask for Jesus’ body, and there is no evidence that any of Jesus’ brothers or sisters are in Jerusalem. The disciples have fled. In the absence of all of these, Joseph musters his courage and asks Pilate for permission to bury the body of Jesus. Swete comments, "The circumstances of the Passion, which wrecked the brave resolutions of the Apostles, made this secret disciple bold" (392).

Verse 44

And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.

Death by crucifixion is generally a very slow process, sometimes lasting two or three days. In fact, in some cases, the victims actually die of starvation rather than from their wounds. Thus, when Joseph approaches Pilate with the request for Jesus’ body, Pilate is startled. Before answering Joseph’s request, Pilate calls the centurion who has been in charge of Jesus’ execution, and asks him if Jesus is already dead.

Verse 45

And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.

When Pilate learns from the centurion that Jesus is indeed dead, he gives the body to Joseph. The word "body" is not the general word for body (soma), but rather the word here is ptoma, which means "a corpse" (Wuest 287). The word "gave" is aoreo and means "to freely give" (Wuest 287). It may have been irregular to release for burial the corpse of one who has been executed for high treason and especially to release the corpse to someone other than family, but Pilate’s action seems consistent with his sympathies toward Jesus throughout the entire ordeal.

Verse 46

And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.

And he bought fine linen: The word "linen" (sindon) does not refer to a garment but to linen in the piece--in other words, a "winding sheet" for wrapping dead bodies. Matthew says the cloth is still fresh and unused (27:59).

and took him down: Joseph’s next task is to remove the body from the cross. Even though these tasks are attributed to Joseph alone, the language does not rule out the possibility of Joseph’s having some assistance ("Then took they the body of Jesus..." John 19:40). Joseph is a wealthy man (Matthew 27:57) and undoubtedly has servants who assist him with the details of Jesus’ burial. John says Joseph is joined by his fellow Sanhedrinist, Nicodemus, who helps with the embalming (19:39). Nicodemus, Joseph, and his servants would have to hurry because the sabbath is drawing near (John 19:41-42).

and wrapped him in the linen: After taking Jesus’ body down from the cross, Joseph hastily prepares it for interment. Mark mentions only the fact that the body is wrapped tightly in the fine linen, but John adds, "Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (19:40). Nicodemus brings one hundred pounds of spices used for embalming the dead (John 19:39). Swete says the spices are "a hundred pounds of aromatics made up in a compact roll" (393). Jesus’ body is probably bathed and then wrapped in the linen, with the spices freely sprinkled between the folds of the linen, and finally bound with strips of cloth. John’s description of Lazarus in his graveclothes gives some insight into the Jewish custom of burial: "And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin" (11:44). Even though the time before the sabbath is short, Jesus is given an honorable burial, in accordance with the Jewish tradition (John 19:40).

and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock: The tomb in which the body of Jesus is laid is a new one and has been prepared by Joseph for his own burial. It is in a garden adjacent to the place of crucifixion, presumably the property of Joseph. Tombs hewn out of rock are common in the Jerusalem area and are usually used for wealthy persons. Burial itself takes place within an inner chamber (Lane 581). The tomb would usually have a stone shelf cut in the wall of one side, and it is there the body is laid.

and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre: The opening of a tomb is sealed by rolling a stone or boulder to show the tomb is not empty and available and to keep wild animals out of the tomb. Lane observes:

...if the tomb was an exceptionally fine one, it may have had an elaborate disc-shaped stone, about a yard in diameter, like a millstone, which was placed in a wide slot cut into the rock. Since the groove into which the stone fitted sloped toward the doorway, it could be easily rolled into place; but to roll the stone aside would require the strength of several men. Only a few tombs with such rolling stones are known in Palestine, but all of them date from the period of Jesus (581).

Verse 47

And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.

The second "Mary" is mentioned in verse 40 as having two sons: James the Less and Joses. In this verse, she is mentioned in connection with Joses; but in Mark 16:1, she is mentioned in connection with James the Less. These two women are present when Jesus dies, and now they are carefully watching His burial. As the preaching of the gospel includes the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:4), it is significant that God makes sure there are eyewitnesses to each step. The presence of the two women on this occasion would subsequently allow them to identify the empty tomb as the one in which Jesus had been laid.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 15". "Contending for the Faith". 1993-2022.