Mark 15 – The Crucifixion of Jesus
A. The trial before Pilate.
1. (1-5) The first audience with Pilate.
Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. Then Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” He answered and said to him, “It is as you say.” And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, “Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!” But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled.
a. Held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole counsel: This was the official daylight trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin described in Luke 22:66-71.
i. This trial was held immediately, in the morning for good reason. “The detail that Jesus was delivered to Pilate’s forum early in the morning is a significant index of the historical accuracy of the tradition. It was necessary for the Sanhedrin to bring its business to Pilate as soon after dawn as possible because the working day of a Roman official began at the earliest hour of daylight. Legal trials in the Roman forum were customarily held shortly after sunrise.” (Lane)
b. Delivered Him to Pilate: The Jewish leaders took Jesus to Pilate because they did not have the legal right to execute their own criminals.
i. There were times when the Jews disregarded this prohibition of the Romans and executed those they considered criminals, such as at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:57-60). Yet they did not take things into their own hands regarding Jesus because they knew the multitudes had a favorable opinion of Jesus and if Pilate executed Him, they could distance themselves from the political fallout.
c. Delivered Him to Pilate: The Jewish leaders had reason to expect a favorable result when they sent Jesus to Pilate. Secular history shows us he was a cruel, ruthless man, and completely insensitive to the moral feelings of others – surely, they thought, Pilate will put this Jesus to death.
i. There was something working against this expectation. History tells us that Pilate simply didn’t like the Jews, and that he believed they were a stubborn and rebellious people. Since he was constantly suspicious of the Jews, when they brought him a prisoner for execution he immediately suspected there was a hidden agenda at work.
ii. Nevertheless, before Pilate could make a decision, he had to follow the normal procedures for a trial. Just like everything the Romans did, there was an established procedure for a criminal trial – trials that were public by principle.
· The plaintiff brought an indictment against the accused.
· The magistrate – the judge – examined both the accusation and the accused.
· The two main sources of evidence were the statements of the accused and evidence brought by witnesses, either for or against the accused.
· When all the evidence was received, a court official declared that all the evidence was in.
· The magistrate was then free to consult with advisors, and then announce his verdict from the judgment seat. The sentence was executed immediately.
iii. Mark picked up the trial of Jesus at the second step – the charges were brought to Pilate (“This man is guilty of treason because He claims to be the king of the Jews in opposition to Caesar”). Therefore, Pilate examined the accused: Are You the king of the Jews?
d. Are You the King of the Jews? The Jewish rulers knew that if they brought Jesus before Pilate on the charge of claiming to be God, Pilate would merely yawn. He would say, “We Romans have hundreds of gods. What is the harm with one more?” Yet, if they brought Jesus before Pilate as the King of the Jews, Pilate would have to take Jesus seriously as a potential political threat, because there could be no king except Caesar, and Pilate was Caesar’s representative.
i. Ironically, Jesus stood accused of doing exactly what He refused to do: taking a political stand against Rome.
ii. Jesus was indeed the king of the Jews, but not in a political or military sense. This is why He said “yes” to Pilate’s question, but “yes” with a reservation (It is as you say), and why He said nothing to the further accusations against Him (the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing). If Jesus answered a plain “yes” to Pilate’s question, Pilate would have immediately declared Jesus guilty of treason against Rome. Because Jesus gave a qualified “yes,” it merited further examination.
iii. Luke 23:2 tells us what these accusations were. They said Jesus incited the people to riot, that He told them not to pay their taxes, and that He fancied Himself a king in political opposition to Rome. Pilate was unconvinced, so the accusers repeated and strengthened their third charge: He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning in Galilee to this place (Luke 23:5).
e. The chief priests accused Him of many things: “The Sanhedrists must have seen from Pilate’s manner, a smile on his face perhaps, that he did not take the confession seriously.” (Bruce)
f. Pilate marveled: No doubt, Pilate had seen many men grovel for their lives before him. He also stood in judgment of many men as the governor of a Roman province. Yet there was something different about Jesus that Pilate marveled at.
i. “Such silence was wholly unusual in the forum, and demonstrated a presence and a dignity which puzzled the prefect.” (Lane)
ii. Without a defense from the accused, the law was on the side of the accusers. Roman magistrates didn’t like to find an undefended man guilty, but they often felt they had to.
2. (6-15) The second audience with Pilate.
Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!” So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.
a. He was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them: Pilate knew Jesus was an innocent man (Luke 23:14 records him as saying, I have found no fault in this Man). Yet Pilate had a politically explosive situation on his hands. He had the choice between doing what was right (free an innocent man) or what was politically expedient (execute a man brought before him by the Jews for treason).
i. In addition, Pilate was no friend of the Jews. He could see through their manipulation, and he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. This made Pilate want to find a way to free Jesus even more.
b. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask: This Jewish multitude – mostly Jews from Jerusalem, because most of the visiting pilgrims stayed out in the country (Mark 15:21) and were not in the city this early – didn’t like or trust Pilate at all. When he suggested the release of one of two prisoners, they immediately chose the other one, as much as anything just to be “against” the Roman magistrate. As far as the crowd was concerned, it was simple. Their Sanhedrin said Jesus should die, but said nothing about Barabbas. Rome’s magistrate said Jesus should be set free and Barabbas executed. They would always side with their Sanhedrin against Rome’s magistrate.
i. “If one wonders why the crowd was fickle, he may recall that this was not yet the same people who followed him in triumphal entry and in the temple. That was the plan of Judas to get the thing over before those Galilean sympathizers waked up.” (Robertson)
c. Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews? In the midst of this, Pilate believed he found a way to do what was right, yet not pay a price for it. Pilate thought Jesus could escape death if He were released according to the custom of releasing a prisoner every Passover season.
i. Pilate figured, “If this man claimed to be king, and was even the slightest bit hostile to Rome, then the crowd will love him. These Jewish leaders don’t want Jesus to go free, but the crowd will sympathize with Him.”
ii. It was a strange scene: a cruel, ruthless Roman governor trying to win the life of a miracle-working Jew against the strenuous efforts of both the Jewish leaders and the crowd.
d. They cried out again, “Crucify Him”: Pilate was convinced the crowd would release Jesus, but instead they chose Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow insurrectionists. The word “insurrectionists” basically amounts to “terrorists.” Barabbas was a real political enemy of Rome, not a falsely accused political enemy, as Jesus was.
i. What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews? Pilate probably hoped that the crowd would be satisfied with a lesser punishment – that Jesus could be beaten and then let go. Pilate was probably surprised and horrified that they cried out more exceedingly, “Crucify Him!”
ii. As the crowd rejected Jesus, they embraced Barabbas – whose name means “son of the father,” and who was a terrorist and a murderer. They accepted a false son of the father.
iii. Yet if anyone was able to say, “Jesus died for me,” it was Barabbas. He knew what it was to have Jesus die on his behalf, the innocent in the place of the guilty.
e. They cried out more exceedingly, “Crucify Him”: Pilate was now in a dangerous place. The crowd was almost becoming a riot. If there was one thing that would get him in trouble with his Roman superiors, it was a riot. With both the people and the Jewish rulers demanding the death of Jesus, Pilate was unwilling to oppose them both, and he began the process of execution by having Jesus scourged.
i. Even before Jesus was to be scourged, His physical condition was weak. We can assume that Jesus was in good physical condition up until the night of His arrest. “The rigors of Jesus’ ministry (that is, traveling by foot throughout Palestine) would have precluded any major physical illness or a weak general constitution.” (Dr. William Edwards [with others] in the Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986)
ii. Add to Jesus’ condition the horror of being scourged. The goal of the scourging was to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse and death. “As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive the cross.” (Edwards)
iii. “The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.” (Edwards)
f. To be crucified: In pronouncing the sentence, “The mode of death had to be specified under Roman law, and it may be assumed that Pilate used the conventional form, ‘You shall mount the cross’ (ibis in crucem) or ‘I consign you to the cross’ (abi in crucem).” (Lane)
B. The humiliation and death of Jesus.
1. (16-20) Jesus is beaten and mocked.
Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison. And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.
a. Clothed Him with purple… twisted a crown of thorns: A king of that day often wore a purple robe and a gilded wreath of leaves. The rag of purple and crown of thorns mocked this common practice.
i. “It was probably a scarlet military cloak, ‘a cast-off and faded rag, but with color enough left in it to suggest the royal purple.” (Wessel)
b. And began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” It was common to greet the Roman emperor with the cry, “Hail, Caesar!” (Ave Caesar!) These mockers twisted this into Hail, King of the Jews!
c. Then they struck Him: From Matthew 27:29, it seems that the soldiers first gave Jesus the reed – a stick – to hold as if it were a royal scepter. Then they grabbed it from His hand and hit Him in the head with it, adding great insult to all their injury against Jesus.
i. We should expect that the Roman soldiers were tense during the Passover season, because it was a time of messianic expectation among the Jews and riots were likely. Mocking and beating a bruised, bleeding, exhausted man provided a few moments of stress-relieving entertainment.
ii. Bowing the knee was a standard act of respect to any king. Instead of giving the normal kiss of warm respect, they spat on Him. Spat on Him is better translated kept spitting on Him.
iii. “See that scarlet robe; it is a contemptuous imitation of the imperial purple that a king wears… See, above all, that crown upon his head. It has rubies in it, but the rubies are composed of his own blood, forced from his blessed temples by the cruel thorns. See, they pay him homage; but the homage is their own filthy spittle which runs down his cheeks. They bow the knee before him, but it is only in mockery. They salute him with the cry, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ but it is done in scorn. Was there ever grief like his?” (Spurgeon)
d. Led Him out to crucify Him: After a scourging, a man to be crucified was forced to march in a parade, led by a centurion on horseback and a herald who shouted the crime of the condemned. This was Rome’s way of advertising a crucifixion, and to make the people afraid of offending Rome.
i. This procession is the very thing Jesus was referring to when He asked people to take up your cross and follow Me (Mark 8:34).
2. (21-23) Jesus is led to Golgotha (in Latin, Calvary).
Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it.
a. To bear His cross: As Jesus was led away for crucifixion, He was – like every victim of crucifixion – forced to carry the beam of wood He would hang upon.
i. The weight of the entire cross was typically 300 pounds. Typically, the victim carried only the crossbar, which weighed anywhere from 75 to 125 pounds. When the victim carried the crossbar, he was usually stripped naked and his hands were often tied to the wood.
ii. The upright beams were often permanently fixed in a visible place outside the city walls, next to a major road. Many times, before this day Jesus probably passed by the very upright He would hang upon.
b. They compelled a certain man: It was the custom of the Romans to make the condemned criminal bear the cross, but in this case, Jesus was simply too weak to carry it. They preferred to keep the victim alive until he was crucified, because a public crucifixion was good advertisment for Rome. When Jesus fell under the weight of the cross, no Roman would help Him carry it. The centurion had the right to compel a local Jew to help carry it, but such an outrage might lead to uproar or riot. The best solution was to make a stranger carry the cross, so they found a foreigner (Simon from Cyrene in North Africa) to help Him.
i. Simon probably visited Jerusalem as a Passover pilgrim from his native land (some 800 miles away, on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea). He knew little if anything of Jesus and had no desire to be associated with this Man who was condemned to die as a criminal.
ii. Yet the Romans were the law and Simon did not have a choice – they compelled him to bear His cross. We are often blessed by the things we are compelled to do. Simon did not want to carry this cross and probably resented it terribly when he was asked. Nevertheless, it probably became the most special and memorable moment of his life.
iii. Father of Rufus: Apparently Rufus was known in the early church and was himself a Christian. If this Rufus is the same one mentioned in Romans 16:13, we can surmise that Simon came to know what it really meant to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus. Perhaps his sons became leaders among the early Christians.
iv. “His name was Simon: and where was that other Simon? What a silent, but strong rebuke this would he to him. Simon Peter, Simon son of Jonas, where wast thou? Another Simon has taken thy place. Sometimes the Lord’s servants are backward where they are expected to be forward, and he finds other servitors for the time. If this has ever happened to us it ought gently to rebuke us as long as we live. Brothers and sisters, keep your places, and let not another Simon occupy your room.” (Spurgeon)
c. They brought Him: Mark 15:20 says they led Him out to crucify Him. By Mark 15:22 the situation changed: they brought Him to the place Golgotha. Jesus could walk when He left His trial before Pilate, but before He reached Golgotha He could hardly walk – they had to bring Him.
i. “It would appear that Jesus was so weak through the strain of the last few days, and the scourging, that he was unable to walk, not to speak of carrying His cross. He had to be borne and the sick were borne to Him (Mark 1:32).” (Bruce)
ii. “These two words are just a little window on the supreme physical exhaustion of the Saviour in this the greatest hour of His agony. You see, when He left the Praetorium they were leading Him; when they came to Golgotha they were bearing Him.” (Morrison)
d. To the place Golgotha: There was a specific place right outside the city walls of Jerusalem where people were crucified – and where Jesus died for our sins, where our salvation was accomplished. It was the Place of a Skull; it was the place where criminals were crucified.
i. There is some controversy about the exact historical location of Golgotha. We know that it was outside the city walls and that it was associated with a place of the skull. The present Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built upon the place believed to be Calvary in the fourth century, but some researchers favor the site known as Gordon’s Calvary, which sits atop a hill that looks remarkably like a skull, and is near ancient garden tombs. Most scholars consider the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as more accurate, but many people say that Gordon’s Calvary feels more like the real spot.
ii. Place of a Skull: Some people think it was called Golgotha because it was littered with the skulls of men previously executed. Some think it was called Golgotha because it was on a hill that looked like a skull, with the shadows of a skull’s face in the hillside. Some think it was called Golgotha because the hill was barren, smooth and round like the top of a skull.
e. He did not take it: Jesus refused any drug to numb His pain. He chose to face the agony of the cross with a clear mind and without medication.
i. “According to an old tradition, respected women of Jerusalem provided a narcotic drink to those condemned to death in order to decrease their sensitivity to the excruciating pain… This humane practice was begun in response to the biblical injunction of Proverbs 31:6-7: ‘Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.’” (Lane)
ii. “The local sour wine was ‘laced’ with myrrh; this would give it a bitter taste, but a soporific effect. Thus is explained the reference to ‘gall’… He would not take any anaesthetic; all His faculties must be unclouded for what lay before Him.” (Cole)
iii. “Was it out of any love to suffering that he thus refused the wine-cup? Ah, no; Christ had no love of suffering. He had a love of souls, but like us he turned away from suffering, he never loved it… Why, then, did he suffer? For two reasons: because this suffering to the utmost was necessary to the completion of the atonement, which saves to the utmost; and because this suffering to the utmost was necessary to perfect his character as ‘a merciful High Priest’ who has to compassionate souls that have gone to the utmost of miseries themselves; that he might know how to succor them that are tempted.” (Spurgeon)
3. (24-26) The crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS.
a. They divided His garments: This was in fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 22: They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots (Psalm 22:18).
i. “Men were ordinarily crucified naked (Artemidorus II. 61). Jewish sensitivities, however, dictated that men ought not to be publicly executed completely naked, and men condemned to stoning were permitted a loin-cloth (M. Sanhedrin VI. 3). Whether the Romans were considerate of Jewish feelings in this matter is unknown.” (Lane)
b. And they crucified Him: In the days the New Testament was first written, the practice of crucifixion needed no explanation. Centuries later, we do well to appreciate just what happened when someone was crucified.
i. “Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering.” (Edwards)
ii. The victim’s back was first torn open by the scourging, then the clotting blood was ripped open again when the clothes were torn off the victim. When he was thrown to the ground to fix his hands to the crossbeam, the wounds were torn open again and contaminated with dirt. Then, as he hung on the cross each breath made the painful wounds on the back scrape against the rough wood of the upright beam.
iii. When the nail was driven through the wrists, it severed the large median nerve going to the hand. This stimulated nerve produced excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms, and could result in a claw-like grip in the victim’s hands.
iv. Beyond the excruciating pain, the posture of crucifixion made it painful to simply breathe. The weight of the body pulling down on the arms and shoulders made it feel like you could breathe in but not out. The lack of oxygen led to severe muscle cramps, which made it even harder to breathe. To get a good breath, one had to push against the feet and flex the elbows, pulling from the shoulders. Putting the weight of the body on the nail-pierced feet produced searing pain, and flexing the elbows twisted the hands hanging on the nails. Lifting the body for a breath also scraped the open wounds on the back against the rough wooden post. Each effort to get a proper breath was agonizing, exhausting, and led to a quicker death.
v. “Not uncommonly, insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim, and birds of prey would tear at these sites. Moreover, it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross to be devoured by predatory animals.” (Edwards)
vi. Death from crucifixion could come many different ways:
· Acute shock from blood loss.
· Suffocation from being too exhausted to breathe.
· Heart attack, induced by stress.
· Heart rupture from congestive heart failure.
However, if the victim did not die quickly enough, his legs were broken, and he was soon unable to breathe.
vii. How bad was crucifixion? We get our English word excruciating from the Roman word “out of the cross.” “Consider how heinous sin must be in the sight of God, when it requires such a sacrifice!” (Clarke)
c. They crucified Him: In Jesus’ own day, crucifixion was known to be a horrible practice, yet the Romans used to execute many criminals who were not Roman citizens. No Roman citizen could be crucified except by direct order of Caesar; it was reserved for the worst criminals and lowest classes.
i. The Roman statesman Cicero said: “It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is an act of wickedness; to execute him is almost murder: What shall I say of crucifying him? An act so abominable it is impossible to find any word adequately to express.” The Roman historian Tacitus described crucifixion as “a torture fit only for slaves.”
d. Now it was the third hour: This is a problem, because John 19:14 says that it was at the sixth hour (about noon) that Pilate pronounced his verdict. Some think John and Mark counted time differently; some think the difference is due to copyist error; others think it is a gloss (a well-intentioned addition by an early copyist).
e. And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS: “The wording was designed to convey a subtle insult to Jewish pretensions and to mock all attempts to assert the sovereignty of a subject territory.” (Lane)
i. “It may be that the message of this sign first aroused the hopes of the repentant thief. He may have reasoned: ‘If His name is Jesus, then He is a Saviour. If He is from Nazareth, then He would identify with rejected people. If He has a kingdom, then perhaps there is room for me!” (Wiersbe)
4. (27-32) Jesus is mocked on the cross.
With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.
a. Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him: Jesus was mocked by those crucified with Him, yet one of the mocking criminals came to a saving faith in Jesus (Luke 23:39-43).
b. Those who passed by blasphemed Him: Jesus not only endured mocking and humiliation at the hands of the pagan Roman soldiers, but also from the religious leaders. They blasphemed Him, wagging their heads… they mocked and said among themselves, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.”
i. Greek scholar A.T. Robinson says mocking in Mark 15:31 describes “Acting like silly children who love to mock one another.” It was bad enough that the Son of God came to earth and man murdered Him in the most tortured way possible. Worst of all, sinful men enjoyed doing it.
ii. Let the Christ… descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe: It is precisely because He would not come down that we believe in Him. Jesus did something greater than come down from the cross – He rose from the dead. Yet they did not believe even then. But many of the priests did eventually believe: A great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
c. He saved others: “That was a fact which even they could not deny. Everywhere, in Jerusalem, in all the towns and villages and hamlets through the countryside, were those whom He had saved.” (Morgan)
5. (33-37) The last words of Jesus from the cross.
Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.” And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.
a. There was darkness over the whole land: The remarkable darkness showed the agony of creation itself in the Creator’s suffering. “Origen (Contra Celsus, ii, 33) and Eusebius (Chron.) quote the writing of Phlegon (a Roman historian) in which he makes mention of an extraordinary solar eclipse as well as of an earthquake about the time of the crucifixion.” (Geldenhuys)
i. Luke tells us that the sun was darkened (Luke 23:45), but Mark makes it clear that it stayed dark for three hours (there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour).
ii. Phlegon, Roman historian: “In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was an extraordinary eclipse of the sun: at the sixth hour, the day turned into dark night, so that the stars in heaven were seen; and there was an earthquake.” (cited in Clarke)
iii. This is especially remarkable because during a full moon – which Passover was always held at – a natural eclipse of the sun is impossible. This was an extraordinary miracle in the heavens.
b. My God, My God: By quoting Psalm 22, Jesus declared that He fulfilled that passage, in both its agony and its victory.
c. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Jesus knew great pain and suffering (both physical and emotional) in His life but never knew separation from His Father. Now He knew it. There was a significant sense in which Jesus rightly felt forsaken by God the Father at this moment.
i. This happened in the sense that God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus not only endured the withdrawal of the Father’s fellowship, but also the actual outpouring of the Father’s wrath upon Him as a substitute for sinful humanity.
ii. Horrible as this was, it fulfilled God’s good and loving plan of redemption. Therefore, Isaiah could say Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him (Isaiah 53:10).
iii. At the same time, we cannot say that the separation between the Father and the Son at the cross was complete, because as 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself at the cross.
iv. From Throned Upon the Awful Tree (John Ellerton, 1875)
Throned upon the awful tree,
King of grief, I watch with Thee.
Darkness veils Thine anguished face:
None its lines of woe can trace:
None can tell what pangs unknown
Hold Thee silent and alone
Silent through those three dread hours,
Wrestling with the evil powers,
Left alone with human sin,
Gloom around Thee and within,
Till the appointed time is nigh,
Till the Lamb of God may die.
d. A sponge full of sour wine: “The vinegar was the sour wine not only of the soldier’s ration, but of everyday use… This is apparently quite a different occasion from the official offering of the drugged wine in verse 23.” (Cole)
i. “A sour wine vinegar is mentioned in the OT as a refreshing drink (Numbers 6:3; Ruth 2:14), and in Greek and Roman literature as well it is a common beverage appreciated by laborers and soldiers because it relieved thirst more effectively than water and was inexpensive.” (Lane)
e. Let us see if Elijah will come: Sadly, Jesus was misunderstood and mocked until the bitter end. These spectators at the cross knew just enough of the Bible to get it really wrong, and they speculated wildly, thinking that Elijah might come and rescue Jesus.
i. As Jesus hung on the cross, His listeners misunderstood Him by taking the part for the whole. He said, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Not only did they get wrong what they heard (Jesus said, “Eloi” not “Elijah”), but they also only heard one word of what He said. This will not do for the true follower of Jesus; we hear not only one word from Jesus, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
ii. One of the first things we know about Jesus was that He was misunderstood. When Joseph and Mary left Him behind at Jerusalem, they didn’t understand that He had to be about His Father’s business. Now at the end of His earthly ministry, He was also misunderstood on the cross.
f. Jesus cried with a loud voice and breathed His last: Most victims of crucifixion spent their last hours in complete exhaustion or unconsciousness before death. Jesus was not like this; though tremendously tortured and weakened, He was conscious and able to speak right up to the moment of His death.
i. John 19:30 tells us what He said when He cried with a loud voice: it is finished, which is one word in the ancient Greek language, the word tetelestai. This ancient word tetelestai means, “Paid in Full.” This is the cry of a winner because Jesus paid in full the debt of sin we owed and had finished the eternal purpose of the cross.
ii. At some point before He died, before the veil was torn in two, before He cried out it is finished, an awesome spiritual transaction took place. God the Father set upon Jesus all the guilt and wrath our sin deserved, and Jesus bore it in Himself perfectly, totally satisfying the wrath of God toward us.
iii. As horrible as the physical suffering of Jesus was, this spiritual suffering, this act of being judged for sin in our place, was what Jesus really dreaded about the cross. This was the cup – the cup of God’s righteous wrath – that Jesus trembled at drinking (Luke 22:39-46, Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:17, and Jeremiah 25:15). On the cross Jesus became, as it were, an enemy of God who was judged and forced to drink the cup of the Father’s fury. He did it so that we would not have to drink that cup.
iv. “Reader! one drop of this cup would bear down thy soul to endless ruin; and these agonies would annihilate the universe. He suffered alone: for the people there was none with him; because his sufferings were to make an atonement for the sins of the world: and in the work of redemption he had no helper.” (Clarke)
v. The death of Jesus on the cross was and is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love towards all mankind (Romans 5:8). It is the power of God unto salvation, though it seems foolish to those who reject it (1 Corinthians 1:18). At the cross, Jesus wiped out our record of sin and rebellion against God, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). If Jesus had not endured the cross, it might be said that there is a limit to God’s love, that there was something God could have done but was unwilling to do in order to demonstrate His love for man.
6. (38-41) The visible, immediate results of the death of Jesus.
Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
a. The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom: The tearing of the temple veil signified that now man had free access to the throne of grace by the cross and that no one should ever think again that God dwells in temples made with hands.
i. Significantly, as the wall of separation between God and man was removed, the veil was torn from top to bottom. God tore it from heaven instead of man tearing it from earth.
b. Truly this man was the Son of God! The centurion saw Jesus for who He was and is a picture of all who come to Jesus through the cross. At the cross, people saw that Jesus was the Son of God and this fulfilled Jesus’ promise if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all peoples to Myself (John 12:32).
i. This centurion saw many people crucified before, yet there was something so remarkable about Jesus that he said something he could not say about anyone else.
c. There were also women looking on from afar: Finally, the most faithful disciples of Jesus are revealed. They were His female followers: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and many other women.
7. (42-47) The burial of Jesus.
Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.
a. Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent council member: This Joseph was apparently silent when the council sentenced Jesus to death (Mark 15:1). He shrunk back then but was not ashamed to identify with Jesus in His death.
i. “In the hours of crisis it is often the Peters who have sworn loyalty to Jesus with big gestures and fullness of self-confidence, that disappoint, and it is the secret and quiet followers of the Master (like Joseph, Nicodemus and the women) that do not hesitate to serve Him in love – at whatever the cost.” (Geldenhuys)
ii. Joseph did not serve Jesus in many ways, but he did serve Him in ways no one else did or could. It was not possible for Peter, James, John, or even the many women who served Jesus to provide a tomb, but Joseph could and did. We must serve God in whatever way we can.
b. Went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus: Customarily, the bodies of crucified criminals were left on their crosses to rot or be eaten by wild animals. However, the Jews wanted no such horror displayed at the Passover season, and Romans were known to grant friends or relatives a corpse for proper burial.
i. “In antiquity the execution of a condemned man did not mark the final moment of his humiliation. Roman law dictated the loss of all honors in death, and even the right of burial was determined by magisterial decree… It was not at all uncommon for a body to be left upon a cross either to rot or to be eaten by predatory birds or animals.” (Lane) It wasn’t unusual to grant the body to a friend or relative for burial, but the point is that they had to request this of the Roman magistrate. The fate of even the executed corpse was in his hands.
ii. Of course, Joseph took a risk with this request. He risked Pilate’s animosity or scorn, but it mattered little to Joseph. “Is there no holy chivalry in you? Can it be so, that, because God has dealt so well with you, and trusted you so generously, you will repay him by denying his Son, violating your conscience, and turning your back on truth; and all for the sake of being in the fashion? I know it may seem hard to receive the cold shoulder in society, or to have the finger of scorn pointed at you; but to bow before this selfish dread is scarcely worthy of a man, and utterly disgraceful to a Christian man.” (Spurgeon)
c. Pilate marveled that He was already dead: Typically, crucifixion was a long, agonizing death – yet Jesus died in a matter of hours. However, we can be sure that He was dead because the death was confirmed by careful examination of eyewitnesses (John 19:31-36).
i. When he found out from the centurion: Pilate personally investigated the matter of Jesus’ death and found reliable eyewitness testimony from the centurion, who had witnessed perhaps hundreds of crucifixions and knew if a man was dead or not. “A Roman sergeant had seen too many deaths to be in any uncertainty about such a fact.” (Cole)
d. Wrapped Him in the linen: Because of the coming Sabbath, they were unable to properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial. So, with hurried preparation, Jesus’ body was placed in a borrowed tomb.
e. Laid Him in a tomb: Tombs such as this were very expensive, and it was quite a sacrifice for Joseph of Arimathea to give his up. But Jesus needed the tomb for only a few days.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission