Mark 15. Thinking the Unthinkable. Pt. II. They Killed Him!
Key Notes: Jews give a Jew to the Romans to kill? Psalm 22 echoes. The dreadful separation. Glorious results.
This chapter is a series of snap-shots: envious leaders become vicious; a politician surrenders his conscience; a crowd goes mad; soldiers turn sadistic; women stand by in dismay; a murderer is set free while an innocent man dies. Mark’s account is terse and compact, as it is throughout the book. He uses few words to cover incredible events, with little spectacle or emotion.
The unthinkable really happened although most doubt it to this day. Most doubt His uniqueness; He was a great prophet and a fine moral teacher, they say, but they do not believe that He is the Son of God. Others are taught that He did not die, but another man replaced Him. The Jewish leaders in fact took the Singular Man, who had healed so many, fed so many, taught so many, and had Him killed. He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the King of Glory, the Creator of all Worlds. They can’t do that! It is impossible. Had the world gone insane?
No one did anything to stop the beating, the sadism, the verbal abuse, the torture-death. Could God make anything good out of such evil? Good things come out of good deeds. How can any good come from hating and killing anyone? Let us watch, for God will make the wrath of men to praise Him.
15:1–5 At day-break the whole Sanhedrin met and decided to deliver Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. They could not legally kill Him and must appeal to the Romans who had the power of execution. On what basis? They thought blasphemy, but their religious teachings meant nothing to the Romans. So they chose a political approach. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked. He must have got that title from the complaining Jewish leaders. In reply, Jesus gave him a simple, positive reply: “You said it.”
15:6–15 Pilate tried to understand the situation and get himself off the hook. He smelled something rotten. Why were Jews giving up one of their own people to their hated overlords to be executed? To be crucified? Especially a dignified leader-type who was supposed to be their king. They were always trying to get out from under Roman control. Why would they give up a potentially effective leader? Had not the Romans killed enough Jews already? And why did their King not defend Himself? Why was He silent?
He decided that the leaders should be ignored; their motive was envy. He would give Jesus a judicial pardon, a custom carried out for the Jews at every Passover. The crowd would be pleased. That should take care of it. But the chief priests told people to vote for Barabbas instead, a political rebel and murderer. And what of the King of the Jews? “Crucify Him!”
No rational person would ever suggest execution of another human being unless that person was so vile and contemptible—a child-rapist and multiple murderer, perhaps—that the punishment was justified. And crucifixion was the most awful death possible, to have arms and legs spiked to a piece of wood and left hanging, dying for days, to be eaten by the vultures! Jews would never voluntarily give up one of their own to such a fate! Roman citizens could not be executed that way and even the mention of the word was taboo in Roman society. Pilate could not believe it. “What evil has He done”?! There was something radically wrong, but the crowd was screaming louder and Pilate wanted peace, so he gave Jesus up to the Roman soldiers to be beaten and executed. He could have put Jesus into custody and given Him safe-passage to Egypt, perhaps. He could have had the crowd attacked and dispersed, as he did on another occasion. (Lk.13:1). But one less Jew, one less trouble. His cynicism and selfishness took over.
15:16–20 One notorious Jewish political prisoner in the hands of hundreds of young Roman soldiers is an occasion for creative sadism. (A battalion is 600 fighting men but many of them may have been out on duty.) They beat Him unmercifully, dressed Him as a king with robe, crown, and scepter, bowed low, then spit in His face. A crown of thorns seemed right for this occasion. A crown of myrtle leaves was reserved for their elite. They pulled the bloody coat off his back and dragged Him off to execution.
15:21–41 The soldiers commandeered a bystander just in from the country to carry the cross that the Prisoner was too weak to carry. Simon was the father of Alexander, and Rufus may be the one mentioned by Paul writing to the Romans. (Rom.16:13). The place was outside the city wall on a bald hill that looked like a skull-cap (Latin “calvarium”). It may still be there.
Events of the crucifixion are shown in prophetic detail from the Psalms, especially the 22nd.
They offered him myrrh, but that is a perfume, not a recognized narcotic. At best it was a refreshing mouth-wash. Later he was given vinegar to drink. (15:36)
“They gave me poison for food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psa.69:21)
They nailed Him to the wood, to hang by His pierced hands and feet.
“Yea, dogs are around about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—“ (Psa.22:16–17)
The soldiers drew straws for His clothes.
“…they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.” (Psa.22:18)
Passersby, priests, even the crucified criminals on either side jeered and mocked Him.
“But I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people. All who see mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads. ‘He committed His cause to the Lord; let Him deliver Him, Let Him rescue Him, for He delights in Him!’” (Psa.22:6–8)
The mocking words they spoke were remarkable for their perceptive irony:
"The King of the Jews"
"You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself,"
"Come down from the cross".
"He saved others; Himself He cannot save".
"Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross, that we may see and believe."
He was crucified at nine. Darkness fell at noon. He died at 3PM.
“Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from he mouth of the lion, my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen.” (Psa.22:20–21)
Dying, He cried out in Aramaic the words of Psa.22:1
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
The meaning of Jesus' cry to the Father is beyond us. He did not say “Abbatitle Father” but “My God”, shifting the relationship. In Gethsemane He prayed to Abba for release and was denied. Here He prayed for fellowship and it was broken.
“So then an actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntarily accepted by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which He had perfectly fulfilled, namely, ‘My God my God, why have You forsaken me'.”
(The Cross of Christ. J.R.W.Stott. IVP;’86, p.81)
The only way to make sense of the whole ghastly scene is to see it as the plan of God, prophesied by David a thousand years before in detail at a time when crucifixion was unknown. Four phrases of the psalm match the scene exactly. He was indeed the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev.13:8)
When He died, the Temple came apart. The Holy of Holies was desecrated with its veil torn from top to bottom by an unseen hand. It is like the hand-writing on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace. (Dan.5:5). The centurion who officiated at the execution confessed that this was the Son of God.
Women who had accompanied Him from Galilee or from Jerusalem and supported the work stood at a distance. Mary Magdalene was a woman saved from demon-possession. The other two women are not otherwise known. They were the last to see Him die and the first to see Him alive again.
15:42–47 That evening Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, and devoted to the kingdom of God went to Pilate. “Taking courage” implies that it was dangerous to approach Pilate to acquire the body of a prisoner that was expected to rot on the cross. Pilate was surprised that the prisoner was already dead. Most suffered for days and he had to check with the centurion for confirmation. Joseph wrapped the body in a linen shroud and laid it in a cave-tomb. He rolled a large stone over the opening. Two of the women witnessed the burial.
Mark uses the phrase “King of the Jews” six times in this chapter. (15:2,9,12,18,26,32). It is ironic because that title is what the Jews finally refused. It is all the more ironic because He had ridden into Jerusalem less than a week ago with the crowd celebrating “ the coming of the kingdom of our father David”. (11:10). That Kingdom grows to this day.
How can we account for the crowd? “Fickle” is a trivial word for its behavior. Some view mob psychology as a mass of humans using power in an irrational sub-human fashion. Others think mobs gather with a purpose in mind that they are helpless to carry out individually, but massed, they acquire great power and released inhibitions to do acts of violence that they would not think of doing alone. Neither view of mob psychology fits this situation. A mindless crowd demanding the torture-death of an innocent man is satanic evil let loose—and in this case, self-destructive evil. His blood was on their heads.
How has God made the wrath of men to praise Him?
•He has confirmed His word in the prophecies of the Messiah’s sufferings (Isa.53), carrying out His purposes, defying the screams of those who hated Him. The promise has been fulfilled:
“He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised and we esteemed Him not.
Surely He has born our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
Upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole,
And with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way;
And Lord has laid on Him
The iniquity of us all” (Isa.53:3–6)
•The Temple was fractured and The Holy of Holies was exposed to human view. The True Temple has taken its place. The way into the presence of God is now open through the veil of His flesh. (Heb.10:20; 9:8). We can come "boldly to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb.4:16).
•God is glorified in the salvation of His people.
“He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us. ” (Eph.1:5–8)
What a debacle! What a triumph! Such a world-cleansing fountain from an unbelievable horror! The rock was struck and life-giving water flowed for the healing of the nations.