Mark 15:1-16:8

As with the other Synoptic Gospel narratives, the crucifixion of Jesus in Mark is recounted with singular objectivity.  Here there is little commentary, only shallow reflection on the gory specifics of the Roman practice.  Yet Mark’s account is not without some measure of the author’s personal view of things—this Gospel accentuates the shame and mockery that may have caused Jesus’ spiritual suffering to eclipse the physical.  Mark 15 continues the legal trial of Jesus begun in the previous, but this time at the hands of Rome, not the Sanhedrin.  Despite the fact that Jesus appeared to be a helpless peasant/criminal, the informed reader knows that the events of Jesus’ life would not culminate on the cross—He had said that the Son of Man “will rise three days later” (Mark 9.31; cf. 8.31; 10.34).

In a most economic fashion, Mark recorded Pilate’s place in the crucifixion.  Mark 15. 15.1-15 offers a brief glimpse into the Roman official:

  1. Pilate was impressed with Jesus (vv. 1-5).  When the chief priests began accusing him in front of Pilate, the Roman Governor was “amazed” that Jesus did not feel compelled to defend Himself (v. 5).  Rarely did the accused not seek a defense!
  2. Pilate was more afraid of a Jewish revolt than crucifying a man in whom he found no guilt (vv. 6-15).  Mark recorded that Pilate “knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed Him over” (v. 10), and so he sought to release Him according to the Passover custom.  But it was not to be; “the chief priests stirred up the crowd so that they would release Barabbas to them instead” (v. 11).  What then for Jesus?  “Crucify Him!” (v. 13), the crowd shouted

While Mark displayed a very judicious style throughout his Gospel, in Mark 15.16-32he liberally catalogued the shame Jesus experienced at the hands of the Roman soldiers, and on the cross:

  1. The soldiers “dressed Him in a purple robe, twisted together a crown of thorns, and put it on Him” (v. 17)
  2. “They began to salute Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (v. 18)
  3. “They kept hitting Him on the head with a reed and spitting on Him.  Getting down on their knees, they were paying Him homage” (v. 19)
  4. “When they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the purple robe, put His clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him” (v. 20)
  5. “They crucified two criminals with Him, one on His right and one on His left” (v. 27)
  6. “Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads, and saying, ‘Ha!  The One who would demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days, save Yourself by coming down from the cross!’” (vv. 29-30)
  7. “In the same way the chief priests with the scribes were mocking Him to one another” (v. 31)
  8. “Even those who were crucified with Him were taunting Him” (v. 32)!

One reads the above list and wonders if Jesus’ mission was worth it.  In Mark 15.33-39 the author notes two events that displayed the effectiveness of Jesus’ endurance:

  1. “Then the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom” (v. 38).  This is the symbolic act which verified Jesus’ earlier claims that the temple’s days were numbered (cf. Mark 11, 13).  Christ secured unrestrained access to God for all who approach through Him (cf. Heb 10.19ff)
  2. The centurion who was standing opposite Jesus observed “the way He breathed His last” and confessed, “This man really was God’s Son!” (v. 39).  Some believe this to be the theological thrust of Mark’s Gospel: a Roman soldier confessed what the demons had acknowledged all along, while Israel remained recalcitrant against Him

Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection has long puzzled students of the Scriptures; why not give more detail?  Why end so abruptly—and with fear dominating the scene—when the other Gospels tend toward a nearly ‘happily-ever-after’ tone?  Perhaps the answer comes in the form of another Markan “sandwich” (cf. Mark 3.13-25; 7.1-8.26; 11.12-25; 14.1-11, 17-31, 53-72).  In Mark 15.40-16.8 the author makes plain the reality that a tepid, fretting allegiance to Jesus will not do:

  1. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had, like the Roman centurion, witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross.  These women, among others, had been supporters of Jesus even in His early days of ministry in Galilee (vv. 40-41).  How would they react now that Jesus had been crucified?  Had they believed that He would rise again?  
  2. The “meat” of this sandwich is the boldness of Joseph of Arimathea.  While his past was not as outstanding as the women who had accompanied Jesus in Galilee (cf. Jn 19.38), when it was evening, he “boldly went in to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body” (v. 43).  As he diligently prepared Jesus’ body for burial—a very significant Jewish rite—“Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were watching where He was placed” (v. 47)
  3. The abrupt resurrection account returns to the female characters of the drama.  They had been so faithful in the past—how would they respond when confronted with The supernatural event of Jesus ministry?  Sadly, these ladies were more fearful than faithful: they worried about who would roll away the stone (16.3); they were “amazed and alarmed” by the angel in the empty tomb (16.5); when they were told to go and immediately tell the disciples to head north to meet Jesus in Galilee, instead “they went out and started running from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them.  And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid” (16.8)

The flow of Mark 14 pointedly sets forth the fact that Jesus had been either betrayed, or directly opposed, by the various players in His trial.  Jesus’ quote of Ps 22.1 in v. 34, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” advances the theme further still.  On Good Friday, Jesus had no one.  This was God’s plan though; the sheep were scattered in fulfillment of Zech 13.7 (cf. 14.27), and God had planned that the Son of Man would give His life as “a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45; cf. 8.31-32; 9.30-32; 10.32-34).  Originally Ps 22.1 was the opening of David’s song, which moves from deep lament of feeling forsaken by God at a time when enemies surrounded, to exalted praise for the sure-hope of deliverance.  It is not a stretch then to consider that Mark wished for his readers to see the storyline of Scripture in the links between Psalm 22 and his account of Jesus’ passion.  David initially lamented, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but soon boasted that the LORD had listened to his cry for help; the flow of Psalm 22 prompts the reader to recognize God’s resurrection power—the power Jesus experienced in Mark 16!

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