Mark 15


‘Jesus on Trial before Pilate ‘Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So, they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate. ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again, Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had murdered in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. ‘Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. ‘What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked them. ‘Crucify him!’ they shouted. ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.’ Mark 15:1-15

Please read Matthew 27:1-2 / Matthew 23:11-26 / Luke 22:66-71 / Luke 23:1-25.

Although the Jewish leaders had tried Jesus and convicted Him of blasphemy, they led Him to the Roman governor Pilate for yet another trial. The Jews didn’t have the authority to carry out sentences of capital punishment that were determined by their own courts; capital crimes had to be tried by Roman officials.

Thus, very early the next morning they brought Jesus to Pilate, hoping that he would concur with their decision. They accused Jesus of many things, but He remained silent. Pilate was amazed that He didn’t try to defend Himself. The governor perceived that this was not really a question of criminal action, but that the Jews were jealous of Jesus.

From this account, by Mark, we learn that Barabbas was a terrorist against the Roman government. He was possibly a member of the Zealot group of Jews whose ambition was to free Palestine from Roman occupation.

On this occasion and others, it seems that Pilate was trying to find some reason to release Jesus. It was a custom of the Roman governor to release someone during the Passover feast. This was done in order to appease the most radical Jews of the Roman Empire who were in Jerusalem at this time.

The nationalistic emotions of the multitudes, therefore, were running high. As governor of the region, Pilate had to make compromises with the intense Jewish multitudes in order to prevent riots in the city.

Therefore, he made several attempts to release Him. He was eager to appease the Jews, just like many politicians do today, however, he was unable to persuade them that Jesus should be released. Though he didn’t believe Jesus was guilty, he ended up sentencing Him to death because he feared the start of a riot. Roman soldiers scourged Jesus, mocked Him, and led Him out to be crucified.

Jesus suffered intensely in His last few hours. After being up all night, subjected to the stress of six different trials, if we compare the accounts in Matthew, Luke and John, also, He was scourged.

Scourging was accomplished by tying bits of bone, metal and glass to a whip and then striking the victim’s back. This procedure produced excruciating pain, much loss of blood and sometimes even death. The victim’s back became a bloody mass.

Remember the Jews practised scourging, which consisted of 39 lashes, but here the Romans had no restrictions on how many lashes they delivered on the victim, they would carry on until the one doing the lashing would tire.

‘The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ Again, and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.’ Mark 15:16-20

After scourging Him, they took thorns, wove them into a crown, put it on Jesus’ head, and began to beat on it, causing intense pain. They put a scarlet robe on Him, Matthew 27:28, Mark’s account calls it purple, only to later rip it off, undoubtedly tearing open the blood-dried wounds on His back in the process.

Then came the crucifixion. In an execution of this type, they would literally nail the criminal’s hands and feet onto a piece of wood and then set it upright into a hole.

To breathe, the victim had to continually raise himself so that his lung cavity could expand. Pain and fatigue would begin to diminish the effectiveness of this effort and the lungs would begin to fill with fluid. As exhaustion took hold, the victim would be slowly asphyxiated because of a lack of oxygen and finally die.

‘A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’ In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he’s calling Elijah.’ Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,’ he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’ Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.’ Mark 15:21-41

When we consider that the One who was struck and mocked in these few passages was the One who created all things, including those who were mocking and striking Him, Colossians 1:16, we realise that God is far greater than the imagination of our minds. He had the power to call on the angels of heaven for His own deliverance, but He didn’t issue the command. He allowed Himself to be humiliated in order to provide redemption for those who mocked and struck Him.

It was a standard act of mercy to give a narcotic to condemned criminals when they were crucified. The drug would dull the pain a bit and allow the victim to pass away more comfortably. Jesus refused this tranquilliser. He was determined to suffer in full consciousness.

Notice the numerous prophecies that were being fulfilled.

They divided His garments, Psalms 22:18.

With Him, they crucified two thieves, Isaiah 53:9 / Isaiah 53:12.

He was numbered with the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12.

They blasphemed Him, wagging their heads, Psalm 22:6-7 / Psalm 69:7.

The chief priests are also mocking Him, Psalm 69:19.

Jesus was certainly the prophesied Messiah. The ridicule grew and the soldiers who guarded the cross gambled for Jesus’ clothes, which was the fulfilment of Psalm 22:18.

Bystanders laughed at the idea that He could rebuild the temple when He couldn’t even save Himself.

‘Come down from the cross, they taunted, and we’ll believe in You!’ Some Jewish officials standing nearby smirked that He had been able to save others, but was powerless to save Himself. Even the two thieves who were executed on either side of the Lord ridiculed Him.

From noon until 3 p.m. the sky was dark. Shortly thereafter, Jesus cried out in anguish, using the very words of Psalm 22:1 ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?’

Then after a few more minutes, He cried out again and died. At that moment the temple veil split in two, and a centurion who was observing exclaimed, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’ The seven saying of Jesus on the cross,

‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Luke 23:34. ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ Luke 23:43. ‘Woman, behold your son.’ John 19:26. ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ Matthew 27:46. ‘I thirst!’ John 19:28. ‘It is finished!’ John 19:30. ‘Into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Luke 23:46

Did God turn His back on Jesus at the cross?

Many today believe that these words of Jesus clearly demonstrate that God actually turned His back on Jesus whilst He was on the cross, that God somehow, couldn’t bring Himself to look at Jesus and so abandoned Him because of the sin He was carrying.

Although this idea seems plausible to some, to understand what Jesus meant we have to look to other Scriptures to see if this claim could actually be plausible.

God has always looked at our sin

To claim that God can’t look at sin is foreign to the Scriptures, God has been looking at the sin of mankind since the fall of mankind in the garden and has been ever since. Even in the days of Noah, the Bible tells us that God SAW their sin which implies He was looking at mankind’s sin, Genesis 6:5-7 / Hebrews 4:13.

If God can’t look at sin, then surely that would imply that He can’t bring Himself to look at mankind today, because we’re all sinners, Romans 3:23.

There’s a huge difference between God hating sin and not being able to look at it, in order to deal with it.

Whose sin was He carrying?

We also need to ask the question; whose sin was Jesus carrying? He was carrying OUR sin because He Himself was sinless. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and there’s a huge difference between being a sinner and bearing the consequences of someone else’s sin, 1 Peter 2:22 / Hebrew 4:15.

Jesus became sin for us, but He was still the perfect Son of God, ‘Truly, this was a righteous man’ Matthew 23:47.

Ask yourself this question, if you were a judge, and your own innocent son heroically stepped forward at a trial to take a criminal’s punishment upon himself, would you be angry with him and reject him? Of course not.

Jesus was doing the Father’s will

Why would the Father turn His back on His Son, if the Son pleased the Father in every way?

When we think about the cross, it was God’s plan to deal with sin once and for all, it was Jesus’ ultimate act of obedience to the Father, Philippians 2:8 / Hebrews 5:7.

And surely if there was ever a time in the life of Christ when the Father would have said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I’m well pleased’, it would have been at the cross. We know that the Old Testament sacrifices to God were ‘a sweet-smelling aroma’, how much more would God be pleased with Christ’s selfless sacrifice? Ephesians 5:1-2

We have to remember that everything Jesus did was in accordance with the will of the Father, this included Jesus’ death on the cross, Luke 22:42 / Isaiah 53:9 / Acts 2:23.

The whole point of God coming in the flesh was to deal with our sin problem and fulfil Scripture, the whole point of Jesus having a body was for the purpose of the cross, Hebrews 10:5-10. Notice the phrase, ‘a body you prepared for me’, Hebrews 10:5, the cross was God’s plan, even before Christ came into the world. And so, when we look at the cross and Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will, we clearly see that Jesus was doing everything which pleased the Father with the body He provided for Jesus.

So, why on earth would God turn His back on His Son, if His Son was pleasing the Father and doing the Father’s will with the body He provided for Him?

Jesus stopped being God at the cross!

Now we know that Jesus was God in the flesh as Philippians clearly tells us, Philippians 2:5-8. Some people though suggest that Jesus stopped being God when He was on the cross, just for that one moment. And so, they ask, when Jesus was on the cross suffering for our sins, did Jesus stop being God? The answer is No.

Was God the Father unable to look upon the judgment that fell upon God the Son? Of course not.

Clearly, Jesus never stopped being God, even when He died for the sins of mankind. Jesus didn’t in any sense, to any degree, at any time, or for any season surrender any bit of His deity, Colossians 2:9.

Likewise, Jesus can’t be separated from God the Father because He said, ‘I and the Father are One.’ John 10:30

Psalm 22

The biggest reason for this misunderstanding of Jesus’ words on the cross is because people don’t understand Psalm 22. When Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

He was quoting from Psalm 22 and therefore fulfilling Scripture prophecies concerning Himself. The idea of God turning His back on Jesus on the cross would never have been on the mind of anyone present on that day. The problem today is that many people just take one verse and make it mean something which it was never meant to mean.

Now remember the Jews knew these Scriptures really well, and when anyone read out the first line of any Psalm, the Jews would recognise it and be able to recite the whole Psalm in their minds.

This was the Jewish practice at the time of Jesus and this is exactly what Jesus did here on the cross. Psalms 22 has many references or circumstances about the atoning death of Jesus Christ. To us today, the prophecies are profound and obvious. Likewise, those Jews watching Jesus on the cross being crucified saw the many parallels between the crucifixion and the fulfilment of prophecy.

As Jesus was suffering, He was quoting the Jewish Scriptures from the cross. Can you imagine the expression on the Jews’ faces as they remembered the whole of the messianic prophecy as we find in Psalm 22 being fulfilled in front of their eyes?

And the climax would be Jesus’ final words, ‘It is finished.’

Look at the last line of Psalms 22. ‘He has done it!’ Psalm 22:31. Jesus isn’t saying that His father ‘has forsaken Him’ or His Father has ‘turned away from Him’, He’s saying that He is the Messiah. John 19:30.

Read Psalm 22:1 again, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?’ This doesn’t say the Father rejected the Son. First of all, look at the context, look at the parallel verse, ‘Why are you so far from saving me?’

This is the issue, ‘no help’, the sufferer is asking why God doesn’t save Him from His oppressors. In other words, ‘Why do you let my oppressors torment me?’

The Father gives the Son over to suffering. Psalm 22:1 is the equivalent of Isaiah’s statement, ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise Him’ Isaiah 53:10. The Psalm later says, ‘you lay me in the dust of death’ Psalm 22:15.

Secondly, it’s a rhetorical question, the sufferer knows full well why  God does this. Now you may well think, well, what’s the point of asking it, then?

He’s simply expressing His distress because this is real suffering, He really doesn’t want to go through it, He would rather God save Him instantly out of it.

‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Matthew 26:39. Maybe the idea is that ‘it feels like you have abandoned me’ or ‘it’s really hard in my present circumstances to feel your closeness,’ which is a very real human reaction, isn’t it?

And again, if God turned His back on His Son, why does the Psalm say otherwise? ‘For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.’ Psalm 22:24.

Does ‘the Father turn His face away’ according to this verse? Not at all.

The majesty of Jesus’ death

There were multiplied ironies in the events of those final hours. As they ridiculed Jesus saying that He had saved others, but now couldn’t save himself, they were unaware that He was fully capable of saving Himself, but that if He had, He would not have saved others. He died voluntarily.

He had at His disposition thousands of angels that could have rescued Him, but He deliberately chose to lay down His life because He loved us. Jesus had the power to do anything He wanted against His tormentors, but he subdued all desire for revenge and actually prayed for God to forgive those who were treating Him so cruelly, Luke 23:34.

By dying as He did, Christ provided the sacrifice that would forgive men’s sins. Therefore, the temple veil was torn in two from top to bottom. The veil had blocked access to God’s presence, it was a symbol of man’s sin. Since Jesus’ death atoned for sin, the veil was severed, demonstrating that with sin removed men could once again enter into fellowship with God.

Truly, this man was the Son of God! Satan had waged war against the Seed of the woman from the time God promised that the Seed would crush his head in Genesis 3:15 up to this time when he certainly believed that he had been victorious over the work of God. But what he didn’t understand was that God had used his evil work all along in order to put on the cross the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, John 1:29.

The plan of God’s redemption that had been predestined before the creation of the world was accomplished, Ephesians 3:8-12. The Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world had now in reality been slain, Revelation 13:8.

‘It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So, Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.’ Mark 15:42-47

Joseph, a prominent Jewish official and a secret disciple of Christ, John 19:38, asked Pilate for permission to bury Jesus’ body, He must have been a very important person because not anyone could go and speak to Pilate. He had to act quickly since according to Jewish law He couldn’t bury the body on the Sabbath day, which officially began at sundown.

It’s also worth noting that the Romans didn’t take the criminals down from the cross, they left them there to rot, to act as a warning to anyone who walked by if they broke the Romans’ laws and the soldiers at the cross couldn’t leave to go home until the criminals were officially dead, hence why they drove a spear in Jesus’ side.

Being able to remove Jesus from the cross was a huge privilege for Joseph. He gathered the corpse up in a sheet and put it in a hole chiselled into the wall of a cave, which served as a typical grave in that era. He closed off the cave by rolling a large rock over the entrance. This was Joseph’s own tomb, in his own garden which tells us he must have been wealthy too.

Significantly, Mark includes the statement that the two Marys saw where Jesus was laid. These two women knew where the tomb was located, the women knew the exact location of the tomb and so, because of that we can be sure that they were valid witnesses that when they returned three days later, the tomb was empty.

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