Jesus Brought Before Pilate, 1-5
15:1 Early in the morning, after forming a plan, the chief priests with the elders and the experts in the law and the whole Sanhedrin tied Jesus up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 15:2 So Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He replied, “You say so.” 15:3 Then the chief priests began to accuse him repeatedly. 15:4 So Pilate asked him again, “Have you nothing to say? See how many charges they are bringing against you!” 15:5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
Still Jesus made no reply – cf. Isa 53:7; Mt 27:12. This would have been something of an embarrassment to Pilate, as ‘Roman judges disliked sentencing an undefended man’ (Holtzmann).
Jesus and Barabbas, 6-15
15:6 During the feast it was customary to release one prisoner to the people, whomever they requested. 15:7 A man named Barabbas was imprisoned with rebels who had committed murder during an insurrection. 15:8 Then the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to release a prisoner for them, as was his custom. 15:9 So Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?” 15:10 (For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy.)
This custom is not attested outside the NT.
Barabbas was ‘a bandit, (Jn 18:40) arrested for homicidal political terrorism. (Mk 15:7 Lk 23:18f) Mark’s language could indicate a well-known incident, and the epithet ‘notable’ (Mt 27:16, AV) some reputation as a species of hero. The priests, possibly taking up an initial demand from his supporters, (cf. Mk 15:8) engineered a movement for his release to counter Pilate’s intended offer of that of Jesus (Mt 27:20 Mk 15:11) and Barabbas became an exemplification of the effects of substitutionary atonement.’ (NBD)
Nothing further is known of the insurrection of which he was a part.
‘“Barabbas” means son of a father in a simple”], human sense. Jesus, on the other hand, was the Heavenly Son of his Heavenly Father, though not yet generally so recognized.’ (Blomberg)
Some ancient manuscripts record his name (in Mt 27:16, 27) as ‘Jesus Barabbas’. Modern textual critics think it likely that this was his real name, and ‘Jesus’ was suppressed (even though ‘Jesus’ was a common name in those days). As for the reasons for the suppression of his name, Green comments, ‘You couldn’t have a criminal with the same name as Jesus! But you could! That is the point of Jesus’ coming and identifying with sinners…On that Good Friday, the one ended up on the cross intended for the other, and the guilty man walked away free. An amazing picture of what the cross of Christ really means! Jesus took Barabbas’ place. He took ours, too.’
‘It may be that the two who were crucified with Jesus were co-rebels with Barabbas, for Mt 27:38 uses the same word for their offense as for Barabbas. The fact that three crosses had been prepared strongly suggests that Pilate had already ordered that preparations be made for the execution of the three rebels. If so, Jesus the Messiah actually took the place of the rebel Barabbas because the people preferred the political rebel and nationalist hero to the Son of God.’ (Carson, EBC)
15:11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas instead. 15:12 So Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?” 15:13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 15:14 Pilate asked them, “Why? What has he done wrong?” But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!” 15:15 Because he wanted to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them. Then, after he had Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.
What crime has he committed? – ‘Note, It is much for the honour of the Lord Jesus, that, though he suffered as an evil-doer, yet neither his judge nor his prosecutors could find that he had done any evil. Had he done any evil against God? No, he always did those things that pleased him. Had he done any evil against the civil government? No, as he did himself, so he taught others, to render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s. Had he done any evil against the public peace? No, he did not strive or cry, nor did his kingdom come with observation. Had he done any evil to particular persons? Whose ox had he taken, or whom had he defrauded? No, so far from that, that he went about doing good. This repeated assertion of his unspotted innocency, plainly intimates that he died to satisfy for the sins of others; for if it had not been for our transgressions that he was thus wounded, and for our offences that he was delivered up, and that upon his own voluntary undertaking to atone for them, I see not how these extraordinary sufferings of a person that had never thought, said, or done, any thing amiss, could be reconciled with the justice and equity of that providence that governs the world, and at least permitted this to be done in it.’ (MHC)
They shouted all the louder – ‘They do not go about to show any evil he had done, but, right or wrong, he must be crucified. Quitting all pretensions to the proof of the premises, they resolve to hold the conclusion, and what was wanting in evidence to make up in clamour; this unjust judge was wearied by importunity into an unjust sentence, as he in the parable into a just one (Lk 18:4, 5), and the cause carried purely by noise.’ (MHC)
How many of those in this crowd had so enthusiastically greeted Jesus just a few days earlier is impossible to say. But there is clearly a sea change in attitude towards him. Such is the fickle nature of public opinion.
‘It is often asked how these masses could so quickly and dramatically turn against someone they acclaimed as Messiah only five days earlier (Mt 21:9–11). But on Palm Sunday primarily Galilean crowds accompanied Jesus. Here native Jerusalemites are more evident. And, to the extent that the crowds did overlap, one must recall their quite different messianic expectations, now almost certainly destroyed by seeing Jesus imprisoned.’ (Blomberg)
‘Multitudes who choose the world, rather than God, for their ruler and portion, thus choose their own delusions.’ (MHC)
‘Though they that cried thus, perhaps, were not the same persons that the other day cried Hosanna, yet see what a change was made upon the mind of the populace in a little time: when he rode in triumph into Jerusalem, so general were the acclamations of praise, that one would have thought he had no enemies; but now when he was led in triumph to Pilate’s judgment-seat, so general were the outcries of enmity, that one would think he had no friends.’ (MHC)
Jesus is Mocked, 16-20
15:16 So the soldiers led him into the palace (that is, the governor’s residence) and called together the whole cohort. 15:17 They put a purple cloak on him and after braiding a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 15:18 They began to salute him: “Hail, king of the Jews!” 15:19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Then they knelt down and paid homage to him. 15:20 When they had finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
The soldiers – These would not have been Romans, but Gentiles (Phoenicians, Syrians, and possibly Samaritans) recruited from the surrounding area. They would have harboured little affection for the Jews or their new ‘king’.
The whole company – About 600 men, if meant in its technical sense.
Not for a moment did these soldiers consider that Jesus might actually be a king. How many today are so confirmed in their unbelief that they do not even consider that they might be wrong?
Put his own clothes on him – Criminals were usually led out to crucifixion naked. This is probably a concession to Jewish sensibility.
Undesigned coincidence. ‘Jesus was mocked primarily at the beginning of the crucifixion (Mk 15:29,31,32; Lk 23:36), which might be explained by the darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour (Matt 27:45; Mk 15:33), which might have caused the change in attitude towards Jesus.’ (Source)
The Crucifixion, 21-32
15:21 The soldiers forced a passerby to carry his cross, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country (he was the father of Alexander and Rufus).
Garland, following Marcus, shows how closely Mark 15-16 mirrors Psalm 22:-
Simon of Cyrene…the father of Alexander and Rufus – ‘Whether Simon was from an ethnically African family converted to Judaism or one of the many Jewish families settled in Cyrene is unclear.’ (IVP Commentary)
Why are these sons named, even though they do not play any part in the story itself? Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) observes that from Mk 14:72 the Twelve (and, more especially, Peter) disappear from the narrative, and are therefore not available as eyewitnesses. The women enter as eyewitnesses at Mk 15:40. Who witnessed the events recorded in Mk 15:1-39? Simon of Cyrene. His sons Alexander and Rufus do not need to be named in order to distinguish this Simon from others, because he was sufficiently distinguished by mention of his place of origin. Bauckham suggests that the best explanation is that Mark is recording Simon’s eyewitness testimony via his sons, who were probably well known amongst Mark’s readers. By the time that Matthew and Luke composed their Gospels, they were no longer well known by the community and therefore did not need to be named.
Undesigned coincidence. We might add that according to a tradition dating back to Clement of Alexandria and Jerome, and which is supported by modern commentators such as Moo, Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome. Rom 16:13 records a man named Rufus as a prominent member of the church in Rome. (Source)
A stranger performs a role that the disciples should have performed.
15:22 They brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which is translated, “Place of the Skull”). 15:23 They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 15:24 Then they crucified him and divided his clothes, throwing dice for them, to decide what each would take.
Wine…mixed with myrrh – Having a narcotic effect, and presumably refused by Jesus because he wished to remain fully conscious during his ordeal. Mentioned by Matthew in recollection of Psa 69:21, and thus presenting Jesus as the righteous sufferer of that psalm (and of Psa 22).
‘The refusal of Jesus to drink the wine offered to him in accordance with Jewish custom at his crucifixion (Mk. 15:23) was not based upon an objection to wine as such, but was due to a determination to die with an unclouded mind.’ (F.S. Fitzsimmonds, NBD)
Carson thinks that the drink would have been too bitter to be drinkable, and was offered to Jesus in malicious jest.
15:25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 15:26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The king of the Jews.” 15:27 And they crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left.
Nine o’clock in the morning – ‘the third hour’. Time measurement was imprecise in those times, and it is probably best to regard this as referring to mid-morning (9 o’clock, give or take at least an hour on either side.). John 19:14 has Jesus appearing before Pilate at the sixth hour. Some have suggested that John moved the timing of the crucifixion back by several hours so that it would coincide with the slaughter of the Passover lambs across the city. But, again, given the approximate nature of time measurement, it is possible that Mark was rounding up, and that John was rounding down. See this article by Justin Taylor.
According to Lk 23:43f Jesus was on the cross at the sixth hour (12md), but he may already have been on the cross for a few hours.
Like the other Evangelists (but unlike some streams of Christian piety), Mark does not dwell on the physical horrors of the crucifixion.
‘Crucifixion was unspeakably painful and degrading. Whether tied or nailed to the cross, the victim endured countless paroxysms as he pulled with his arms and pushed with his legs to keep his chest cavity open for breathing and then collapsed in exhaustion until the demand for oxygen demanded renewed paroxysms. The scourging, the loss of blood, and the shock from the pain all produced agony that could go on for days, ending at last by suffocation, cardiac arrest, or loss of blood. When there was reason to hasten death, the execution squad would smash the victim’s legs. Death followed almost immediately, either from shock or from collapse that cut off breath. Beyond the pain was the shame. In ancient sources crucifixion was universally viewed with horror. In Roman law it was reserved only for the worst criminals and lowest classes. No Roman citizen could be crucified without a direct edict from Caesar.
‘Among Jews the horror of the cross was greater still because of Dt 21:23: “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” In Israelite law this meant the corpse of a judicially executed criminal was hung up for public exposure that branded him as cursed by God. These words were also applied in Jesus’ day to anyone crucified, and therefore the Jews’ demand that Jesus be crucified rather than banished was aimed at arousing maximum public revulsion toward him. But in Christian perspective the curse on Jesus at the cross fulfills all OT sacrifices: it is a curse that removes the curse from believers—the fusion of divine, royal prerogative and Suffering Servant, the heart of the Gospel, the inauguration of a new humanity, the supreme model for Christian ethics, the ratification of the new covenant, and the power of God (1 Cor 1:23–24; Gal 3:13; Col 2:14; 1 Pet 2:18–25). The dominant note of this section is the continuing mockery, but mockery that by an awful irony reveals more than the mocker thinks—for Jesus is indeed King of the Jews (v.37), the new meeting place with God (v.40), the Savior of humanity (v.42), the King of Israel (v.42), and the Son of God (v.43).’ (Carson, EBC on Matthew)
Dividing up his clothes – Cf. Psa 22:18. ‘Jesus’ cry from the cross in Mt 27:46 no doubt first drew attention to this psalm, and several echoes of it occur in the story.’ (France)
‘Every Jew wore five articles of clothing–his shoes, his turban, his girdle, his inner garment, and his outer cloak. There were thus five articles of clothing and four soldiers. The first four articles were all of equal value; but the outer cloak was more valuable than all the others. It was for Jesus’ outer cloak that the soldiers drew lots, as John tells us (Jn 19:23-24).’ (DSB)
Commentators seem divided over whether the victim would be crucified completely naked, or wearing just a loin-cloth. If the former, then this would have added to the shame and indignity, especially for Jews.
‘The wording of the charge drips with irony, making it appear as if the Romans believed that Jesus was the King of the Jews. The irony increases when we recognize that, rightly interpreted, the sign proclaimed the truth. John 19:20–22 elaborates on this irony even further.’ (Blomberg, NAC on Matthew)
They crucified two robbers with him – Blomberg says that a better translation would be ‘rebels’ or ‘insurrectionists’.
‘Suffering is the heritage of the bad, of the penitent, and of the Son of God. Each one ends in the cross. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. By these signs we know the widespread heritage of suffering.’ – Oswald Chambers
Isa 53:12 is recalled here.
15:29 Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 15:30 save yourself and come down from the cross!” 15:31 In the same way even the chief priests—together with the experts in the law—were mocking him among themselves: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! 15:32 Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him.
Psa 22:7 is echoed here.
“You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days” – ‘What Jesus had actually said was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 nkjv). Ironically, Jesus was in the very process of fulfilling his own prophecy. His body was being destroyed, but in three days he would rise again.’ (Barton)
Save yourself! – Here the crowds act ‘as Satan’s final mouthpieces to turn Jesus from his divine mission (Mt 4:3-10; 16:21-23).’ (IVP Commentary)
‘Here truly is Jesus’ last great temptation, to come down off the cross, and he could have chosen to give in to it. But he would thereby have forfeited his divinely ordained role as the innocent sufferer for the sins of all humanity (cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:21–26; Heb 9:26–28). For the sake of our eternal salvation, we praise God that he chose to remain faithful despite this unspeakable and excruciating agony…That God should send his Son to die for us was the scandal of the Christian message in the first century (1 Cor 1:23) and remains so for many today. But all attempts to remove the doctrine of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement from Christianity leave us dead in sin with a religion impotent to save us from eternal damnation.’ (Blomberg)
Although Jesus could have stepped down from the cross, this would have do follow the temptation of Satan, rather than the will of his Father. Although God can and does grant miracles, faith cannot depend on visible demonstrations of power.
“He saved others” – A reference to his healing ministry. Those who recognise Jesus as the saviour of the world recognise the deep irony here.
“Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe” – ‘The taunt piously promises faith if Jesus will but step down from the cross; but the reader knows that, in the mystery of providence, if Jesus were to step down, there would be no “blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:26–29), no ransom (Mt 20:28), no salvation from sin (Mt 1:21), no Gospel of the kingdom to be proclaimed to nations everywhere (Mt 28:18–20), and no fulfillment of Scripture.’ (Carson)
Those who demand that God work a miracle in front of their eyes in order to convince them of his own existence share in the cynical unbelief of these mockers.
Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him – Jesus is rejected by the Jewish leaders, the Jewish crowd, and even the Jewish criminals. The rejection is complete. (France)
‘The religious authorities (at the top of the Jewish social order) and the dying robbers (at the bottom) join the crowds in functioning as Satan’s mouthpieces. Neither outward piety nor being oppressed necessarily guarantees a heart obedient to God.’ (IVP Commentary)
Jesus’ Death, 33-41
15:33 Now when it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
Witherington (following Myers) shows how Mark anchors his narrative in three apocalyptic moments in which the identity of Jesus is revealed:-
Note that in this third instance, there is no answering voice from heaven.
This darkness is ‘a sign of judgment and/or tragedy (cf. Am 8:9–10). The judgment is therefore a judgment on the land and its people. But it is also a judgment on Jesus; for out of this darkness comes his cry of desolation. The cosmic blackness hints at the deep judgment that was taking place (Mt 20:28; 26:26–29; Gal 3:13).’ (Carson)
This darkness could not have been due to a solar eclipse, for the Passover was held at full moon. A ‘natural’ phenomenon such as a dust cloud, or thick cloud cover, is possible. But Matthew clearly wants us to think of it as more than natural. See Ex 10:22; Amos 8:9.
More than one commentator suggests that along with the earthquake, this phenomenon was a natural event with a supernatural timing.
‘The third-century writer Julius Africanus cites a first-century Greek historian, Thallus, who referred to the darkness that occurred at the time of the crucifixion ‘ (Blomberg, in DJG)
‘The darkness may recall the three-day plague immediately preceding the sacrifice of the first paschal lamb (Ex 10:21-23), as well as end-time judgment imagery (4 Ezra 7:38-42; Ps-Philo 3:10). By expiring at 3:00 p.m., Jesus died about the official time of the evening lamb offering in the temple.’ (IVP Commentary)
‘An extraordinary light gave intelligence of the birth of Christ (Mt 2:2), and therefore it was proper that an extraordinary darkness should notify his death, for he is the Light of the world.’ (MHC)
‘That which was principally intended in this darkness, was, (1.) Christ’s present conflict with the powers of darkness. Now the prince of this world, and his forces, the rulers of the darkness of this world, were to be cast out, to be spoiled and vanquished; and to make his victory the more illustrious, he fights them on their own ground; gives them all the advantage they could have against him by this darkness, lets them take the wind and sun, and yet baffles them, and so becomes more than a conqueror. (2.) His present want of heavenly comforts. This darkness signified that dark cloud which the human soul of our Lord Jesus was now under. God makes his sun to shine upon the just and upon the unjust; but even the light of the sun was withheld from our Saviour, when he was made sin for us…During the three hours that this darkness continued, we do not find that he said one word, but passed this time in a silent retirement into his own soul, which was now in agony, wrestling with the powers of darkness, and taking in the impressions of his Father’s displeasure, not against himself, but the sin of man, which he was now making his soul an offering for. Never were there three such hours since the day that God created man upon the earth, never such a dark and awful scene; the crisis of that great affair of man’s redemption and salvation.’ (MHC)
15:34 Around three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 15:35 When some of the bystanders heard it they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah!” 15:36 Then someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down!”
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – This cry is in Aramaic, and is a quotation from Psalm 22:1.
The saying occurs in a slightly different form in Mt 27:46.
‘He did not complain of his disciples’ forsaking him, but of his Father’s,
1. Because this wounded his spirit; and that is a thing hard to bear; (Pr 18:14) brought the waters into his soul, Ps 69:1-3.
2. Because in this especially he was made sin for us; our iniquities had deserved indignation and wrath upon the soul, (Rom 2:8) and therefore, Christ, being made a sacrifice, underwent as much of it as he was capable of; and it could not but bear hard indeed upon him who had lain in the bosom of the Father from eternity, and was always his light. These symptoms of divine wrath, which Christ was under in his sufferings, were like that fire from heaven which had been sent sometimes, in extraordinary cases, to consume the sacrifices; (as Lev 9:24; 2 Chron 7:1; 1 Kings 18:38) and it was always a token of God’s acceptance. The fire that should have fallen upon the sinner, if God had not been pacified, fell upon the sacrifice, as a token that he was so; therefore it now fell upon Christ, and extorted him from this loud and bitter cry. When Paul was to be offered as a sacrifice for the service of saints, he could joy and rejoice; (Php 2:17) but it is another thing to be offered as a sacrifice for the sin of sinners. Now, at the sixth hour, and so to the ninth, the sun was darkened by an extraordinary eclipse; and if it be true, as some astronomers compute, that in the evening of this day on which Christ died there was an eclipse of the moon, that was natural and expected, in which seven digits of the moon were darkened, and it continued from five o’clock till seven, it is remarkable, and yet further significant of the darkness of the time that then was. When the sun shall be darkened, the moon also shall not give her light.’ (MHC)
‘The Socinians are here puzzled to give any tolerable account how the infinitely good God could find in his heart to exercise his only-begotten Son, that never sinned, with all these horrors in his soul. For, certainly, it stood not with his goodness, had not Christ, as the Second Adam, been a public person, a representative, on whom p 310 “the Lord laid the iniquities of us all.” (Isa. 53:6.) But if we consider (which they deny) that Christ was then satisfying his Father’s justice, we need not wonder at those horrors and consternations of the manhood: for he knew the vastness of his undertaking, the numberless numbers and aggravations of sins, the dreadful weight of his Father’s wrath, the sharpness of that sword which he was going now to feel. (Zech. 13:7.) (Not that God was angry with Christ upon the cross quoad affectum [“as to the affection”]; no, he never more dearly loved him: but quoad effectum [“with regard to the effect”].) Add Christ’s infinite abhorrence of the sins he bore, and that infinite zeal wherewith he was inflamed to vindicate the honour of divine justice. Now, his infinite love to his church, struggling with all these, produced those agonies; and overcame them all, when he said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30.) We meet him next triumphing in his resurrection.’ (Gibbon, Puritan Sermons, Vol 5)
‘There are moments in our experience, too, when we wonder whether we can cope. But in the goodness of God’s grace the experiences we dread are seldom as awful in the moment of experience as they are in expectation and contemplation. For Christ the opposite was the case. In the Garden his perception of the agony was limited. No human imagination was really able to grasp what it was going to mean to be the Sin of the world in the presence of God. And Gethsemane, awesome though it was, was only a pale shadow of Calvary. On Calvary, Christ moved into unmitigated physical pain and into total social isolation. He experienced all that Hell could do by way of darkness and onslaught and temptation. Above all, he experienced the agony of being forsaken by God his Father and becoming, as the Bearer of the world’s sin, the Great Outsider. There is a sense in which no being was less prepared and less apt for the dereliction than God’s own Son. The very closeness and perfection of the bond between him and his Father made the desolation more excruciating. He had never known in the remotest degree what the loss of God was. In the story of Abraham and Isaac there is a striking emphasis on the fact that father and son went up to Mount Moriah ‘both of them together’. (Ge 22:6) That was the way it was with God the Son and God the Father. As they went up to Calvary they went ‘both of them together’. This is why Jesus could say, ‘I am not alone, because the Father is with me’. (Jn 16:32) Yet in the moment of the Son’s greatest need and greatest pain, God is not there. The Son cries and is not heard. The familiar resource, the ultimate resource, the only resource, is not there. The God who was always there, the God who was needed now as he had never been needed before, was nowhere to be seen. There was no answer to the Son’s cry. There was no comfort. Jesus was left God-less, with no perception of his own Sonship, unable for the one and only time in his life to say, ‘Abba, Father.’ He was left with no sense of God’s love and no sense of the operation of God’s purpose. There was nothing but that ‘Why?’, trying vainly to bridge the Darkness. fie was sin. He was lawlessness, and as such he was banished to the Black Hole where lawlessness belongs and from which no sound can escape but, ‘Why?’ That was the Son’s only word in his final agony as he reached out to the God whom he needed so desperately but whom as Sin he couldn’t discern and from whose presence he was outcast. There could be no accord. ‘God his Son not sparing’! He had to be dealt with not as Son but as Sin.
This was not only a moment in the experience of the Son. It was a moment, too, in the experience of God the Father. There was a loss in the Father corresponding to the loss in the Son. We are on the outer parameters of revelation here, but we have to accept the New Testament’s constant emphasis that the cost of our redemption was borne not only by God the Son but by God the Father (see, for example, Jn 3:16 and Rom 8:32); and that carries with it the fact that the divine compassion is never simply the compassion of the Son but equally the compassion of the Father.
The impression is often given that the evangelical understanding of the cross, our doctrine of the atonement, somehow increases the pain of the Saviour. But it is not a theory that constitutes the pain of Christ. The pain was in the facts: that on the cross he suffered in body, suffered in soul, suffered from Heaven and from earth and from Hell. The fact is, Christ died. The fact is, he paid the wages of sin. The fact is, he was dealt with as sin deserved.’ (McLeod, A Faith To Live By)
“My God, my God” – This is the only time in the Synoptics where Jesus is recorded as having addressed God without calling him ‘Father’.
‘What does this psalm quotation signify? It is best to take the words at face value: Jesus is conscious of being abandoned by his Father. For one who knew the intimacy of Mk 11:27, such abandonment must have been agony. If we ask in what ontological sense the Father and the Son are here divided, the answer must be that we do not know because we are not told.’ (Carson)
‘The fact that Jesus can still appeal to “my God” places his sense of abandonment poles apart from a nihilistic despair; this is the “cup” which he has willingly accepted from his Father’s hand (Mt 26:36-46).’ (France)
‘Here Jesus quotes Ps 22:1, which may have been part of the Scripture recitation at this time of day. His opponents do not pause to consider that the psalm ends with the sufferer’s vindication and triumph. (Ps 22:25-31) Whereas Mark’s quotation is in Aramaic, Matthew’s is mainly in Hebrew.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
‘That Jesus utters the complaint of the righteous sufferer (Ps 22:1) suggests that he participated in our ultimate alienation from God in experiencing the pain of death. Yet he would also know that the psalm goes on to declare the psalmist’s triumph, (Ps 22:22-24) and the phrase my God indicates continuing trust.’ (IVP Commentary)
‘Certainly this was his chief conflict, and harder than all the other tortures, that in his anguish he was so far from being soothed by the assistance or favor of his Father, that he felt himself to be in some measure estranged from him. For not only did he offer his body as the price of our reconciliation with God, but. in his soul also he endured the punishments due to us; and thus he became, as Isaiah speaks, a man of sorrows, (53:3.)’ (Calvin)
Some have thought that our Lord may have quoted the whole of Psa 22 from the cross. Although this is unlikely, it is reasonable to see Jesus as identifying himself with the message of the psalm as a whole, with ‘the righteous sufferer who endures insult and injury but anticipates divine vindication.’ (DJG)
Perhaps surprisingly, it is William Barclay (DSB) who gives one of the most forthright theological accounts of this cry. Barclay says that Jesus had endured everything – ‘the failure of friends, the hatred of foes, the malice of enemies’. The one thing he had not experienced was the consequence of sin; the effect of that impenetrable barrier that sin places between ourselves and God. Now, at this moment, Jesus does experiences this, not because he is himself a sinner, but because he totally identifies with us as sinners. In his pure and holy soul, which had hitherto known unbroken communion with God, he now feels the horror and desolation of separation.
‘He himself said that this was “the power of darkness,” Lk 22:53. The time when his enemies, including the Jews and Satan, were suffered to do their utmost. It was said of the serpent, that he should bruise the heel of the seed of the woman, Gen 3:15. By that has been commonly understood to be meant, that though the Messiah should finally crush and destroy the power of Satan, yet he should himself suffer through the power of the devil. When he was tempted, Lk 4:1 it was said that the tempter “departed from him for a season.” There is no improbability in supposing that he might be permitted to return at the time of his death, and exercise his power in increasing the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. In what way this might be done, can be only conjectured. It might be by horrid thoughts; by temptation to despair, or to distrust God, who thus permitted his innocent Son to suffer; or by an increased horror of the pains of dying.’ (Barnes)
Note what our Lord complains of. ‘It is not of the cruel tortures he felt in his body, nor of the scoffs and reproaches of his name; he mentions not a word of these, they were all swallowed up in the sufferings within, as the river is swallowed up in the sea, or the lesser flame in the greater.’ (Flavel)
‘Divine desertion generally considered, is God’s withdrawing himself from any, not as to his essence, that fills heaven and earth, and constantly remains the same; but it is the withdrawment of his favour, grace, and love: when these are gone, God is said to be gone. And this is done two ways, either absolutely, and wholly, or respectively, and only as to manifestation. In the first sense, devils are forsaken of God. They once were in his favour and love, but they have utterly and finally lost it. God is so withdrawn from them, as that he will never take them into favour any more. In the other sense he sometimes forsakes his dearest children, i.e. he removes all sweet manifestations of his favour and love for a time.’ (Flavel)
Flavel notes how extreme this desertion was. No one else ever has, or ever will, experience anything quite like it. Christ’s other sufferings caused pain to his body, but this brought agony to his soul; they came from the hands of men, this from the hands of his Father. Under all his other sufferings he opened not his mouth, but this caused him to cry out in distress. Moreover, it took place at Christ’s time of greatest need.
The purpose of Christ’s desertion were, (a) ‘satisfaction for those sins of ours which deserved that we should be totally and everlastingly forsaken of God. This is the desert of every sin, and the damned do feel it, and shall to all eternity: God is gone from them for ever, not essentially; the just God is with them still, the God of power is still with them, the avenging God is ever with them; but the merciful God is gone, and gone for ever;’ and (b) sanctification, ‘For he having been forsaken before us, and for us, whenever God forsakes us, that very forsaking of his is sanctified, and thereby turned into a mercy to believers. Hence are all the precious fruits and effects of our desertions:such are the earnest excitations of the soul to prayer, Ps 78:2; 88:1,9. The antidoting the tempted soul against sin. The reviving of ancient experiences, Ps 77:5. Enchanting the value of the divine presence with the soul, and teaching it to hold Christ faster than ever before.’ (Flavel)
‘Did God forsake Christ upon the cross as a punishment to him for our sins? Then it follows, That as often as we have sinned, so oft have we deserved to be forsaken of God. This is the just recompense and demerit of sin. And, indeed, here lies the principal evil of sin, that it separates betwixt God and the soul. This separation is both the moral evil that is in it, and the penal evil inflicted by the righteous God for it. By sin we depart from God, and, as a due punishment of it, God departs from us. This will be the dismal sentence in the last day, Mt 25″Depart from me, ye cursed.” Thenceforth there will be a gulf fixed betwixt God and them, Lk 19:20. No more friendly intercourses with the blessed God for ever…Beware, sinners, how you say to God now, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways, lest he say, Depart from me, you shall never see my face.’ (Flavel)
‘Did Christ never make such a sad complaint and outcry, till God hid his face from him? Then the hiding of God’s face is certainly the greatest misery that can possibly befall a gracious soul in this world. When they scourged, buffeted, and smote Christ, yea, when they nailed him to the tree, he opened not his mouth; but when his father hid his face from him, then he cried out; yea, his voice was the voice of roaring:this was more to him than a thousand crucifyings.’ (Flavel)
‘Did God really forsake Jesus Christ upon the cross? Then Christ’s desertion is preventive of your final desertion and a comfortable pattern to you in your present sad desertions. Because he was forsaken for a time, you shall not be forsaken for ever.’ (Flavel)
‘It would have been a terrible thing if Jesus had died with a cry like that upon his lips—but he did not. The narrative goes on to tell us that, when he shouted with a great shout, he gave up his spirit. That great shout left its mark upon men’s minds. It is in every one of the gospels (Matt 27:50; Mk 15:37; Lk 23:46). But there is one gospel which goes further. John tells us that Jesus died with a shout: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). It is finished is in English three words; but in Greek it is one –Tetelestai – as it would also be in Aramaic. And tetelestai is the victor’s shout; it is the cry of the man who has completed his task; it is the cry of the man who has won through the struggle; it is the cry of the man who has come out of the dark into the glory of the light, and who has grasped the crown. So, then, Jesus died a victor with a shout of triumph on his lips.’ (DSB)
v35 According to 2 Kings 2:1-12, Elijah did not die, but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Jewish tradition said that he come and help the righteous in their distress. (Carson)
‘They that stood by the Cross, misinterpreting the meaning, and mistaking the opening words for the name Elias, imagined that the Sufferer had called for Elias. We can scarcely doubt, that these were the soldiers who stood by the Cross. They were not necessarily Romans; on the contrary, as we have seen, these Legions were generally recruited from Provincials On the other hand, no Jew would have mistaken for the name of Elijah, not yet misinterpreted a quotation of Ps 22:1 as a call for that prophet. And it must be remembered, that the words were not whispered, but cried with a loud voice. But all entirely accords with the misunderstanding of non-Jewish soldiers, who, as the whole history shows, had learned from His accusers and the infuriated mob snatches of a distorted story of the Christ.’ (Edersheim)
‘Jesus’ prayer on the cross with the opening words of Psalm 22:1, “Eli, Eli” (My God, My God) was either misunderstood or willfully misinterpreted as a petition for help to Elijah (Matt 27:46-49; Mark 15:34-36). Jewish lore identified Elijah as a helper in time of need, and since Elijah did not come, Jesus’ petition was considered a failure.’ (EDBT)
15:37 But Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last. 15:38 And the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last – ‘Both Matthew (Matt 27:50) and Luke (Lk 23:46) tell of it. John does not mention the shout but he tells us that Jesus died having said, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30.) In the original that would be one word; and that one word was the great shout. “Finished!” Jesus died with the cry of triumph on his lips, his task accomplished, his work completed, his victory won. After the terrible dark there came the light again, and he went home to God a victor triumphant.’ (DSB)
Muslims, following the Koran (Sura 4:156-158) do not believe that Jesus died on the cross. Most believe that another took his place (possibly Joseph of Arimathea). But the NT witness is absolutely clear that he was crucified, died, and was buried.
Although there were two curtains in the temple – one at the doorway of the Holy Place, and the other separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The latter was much more important, and it is probably this curtain to which this verse refers. The tearing of the curtain of the temple is usually thought to symbolise a new access to God, a way opened into the Holy of Holies. An alternative interpretation would regard it as symbolising God’s abandoning of the temple (as also prefigured in Jesus’ cleansing of the temple): so Hooker citing Mk 13:2, 14:58 and 15:29 in support.
‘Christ’s death was accompanied by at least four miraculous events: early darkness (27:45), the tearing in two of the curtain in the temple, a timely earthquake (the earth shook and the rocks split), and dead people rising from their tombs (27:52). Jesus’ death, therefore, could not have gone unnoticed. Everyone knew that something significant had happened. The curtain splitting in two must have devastated the priests who were undoubtedly working in the temple during this busy Passover week.’ (Life Application)
The curtain of the temple was torn in two – Symbolic of the new access to God which has been opened up by the death of Jesus. The temple ritual is now obsolete, Heb 9:1-14. The tearing of the curtain may also be predictive of the impending destruction of the temple.
Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted) thinks he has spotted a discrepancy between Mark and Luke at this point. ‘According to Mark’s Gospel, after Jesus breathes his last, the curtain of the Temple is torn in half.’ According to Lk 23:45f, however, ‘it does not rip after Jesus dies but is explicitly said to rip while Jesus is still alive and hanging on the cross.’ The simplest way of responding is to say that (a) the Evangelists are not so definite about the order of events as Ehrman imagines (note that the connecting word kai can mean ‘and’ as well as ‘then’), and, (b) the order in which events are recorded is not necessarily determined by the order in which they occured.
From top to bottom – perhaps indicating that God was acting from heaven.
15:39 Now when the centurion, who stood in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
The fact that this confession comes from the lips of a Gentile points to the worldwide spread of the gospel (cf Mt 28:19) as is in contrast with the unbelief of the Jews (Mt 8:11f; 21:43). See also the case of the Centurion in Mt 8:5-12.
“Surely he was the Son of God!” – We cannot tell whether how deep-seated this response was, or whether it was permanent. The soldiers may well have used the term ‘Son of God’ in its Greco-Roman sense of ‘divine man’. But there can be no doubt that for Matthew this is the true interpretation of the events. ‘The title Son of God, which had been used in mockery in vv40, 43, is thus restored to its proper place. (France)
‘The man may well view Jesus as a typical Greco-Roman “divine man” (a great human hero deified upon his death). Luke 23:47 (“surely this was a righteous man”) makes the centurion’s original words all the more uncertain. Perhaps the best explanation is that which interprets the confession as meaning, “He was a good man, and quite right in calling God his Father.” But Matthew will see further support here for Jesus as the unique Son of God, in some way on a par with deity.’ (Blomberg)
‘Now at last, not the high priest, not a leading rabbi, not even a loyal disciple, but a battle-hardened thug in Roman uniform, used to killing humans the way one might kill flies, stands before this dying young Jew and says something which, in Mark’s mind, sends a signal to the whole world that the kingdom has indeed come, that a new age is being born, that God has done something the news of which will spread around the globe. The Roman centurion becomes the first sane human being in Mark’s gospel to call Jesus God’s son, and mean it. Yes, says Mark to his possibly Roman audience; and if him, why not more?’ (Wright)
‘The Gospel has come full circle: again the religious leaders of Israel have missed the significance of Jesus, whereas the pagans one would expect to be most hostile to Christ have understood and embraced his true identity (Mt 2:1-12). Matthew’s message to his Jewish Christian audience is clear: regardless of the response of the Jewish religious leaders, you must evangelize the Gentiles. His message to us today is no less clear: although church people often live in disobedience to the gospel and take Christ for granted, we must take him beyond the walls of our churches to a waiting world.’ (IVP Commentary)
‘Whether they understood what they were saying, we cannot know. They may simply have admired Jesus’ courage and inner strength, perhaps thinking that he was divine, like one of Rome’s many gods. They were terrified because of the other events (darkness and earthquake) that had surrounded this particular crucifixion, which they attributed to the wrath of God (or a god). They certainly recognized Jesus’ innocence. While the Jewish religious leaders were celebrating Jesus’ death, a small group of Gentiles were the first to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God after his death. This points forward to the coming days of the evangelism and missionary effort in the church, when God would draw people from all nations.’ (Life Application)
Bart Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted) imagines that there is a discrepancy between this verse and Lk 23:47 (‘Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent!”’). But Ehrman is too confident in his skepticism. Matthew’s version (conveniently ignored by Ehrman) points us towards a solution:
Mt 27:54 – ‘Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!”’
No-one would suppose that ‘the centurion and those with him’ would all have said the same thing, or even each of them would have said only one thing. The three Evangelists, accordingly, were free to select and emphasise what to them was particularly salient.
15:40 There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 15:41 When he was in Galilee, they had followed him and given him support. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were there too.
Bauckham notes that it is precisely at the point where Peter, having denied Jesus, drops out of the narrative, that these women appear rather prominently. There is considerable emphasis on their ‘watching’ (observing; witnessing) the events as they unfold. It seems that the author of this Gospel, having relied upon Peter as a source for much of his earlier material, is now drawing on the recollections of these women for key information about what happened before, during, and after the crucifixion.
Commenting on the language used, Bauckham says: ‘the most important statements with regard to the qualification of the women to be eyewitnesses are that they observed the events surrounding the death of Jesus from a distance, that the two Marys observed where the body of Jesus was laid, and that the three women observed that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb.’
These three women were witnesses of the crucifixion and the resurrection; the two Marys also of the burial. In the three passages in question (Mk 15:40f; 47; Mk 16:1,4-7) there is repeated emphasis on what they saw.
Mary Magdalene – Mary Magdalene (from the Galilean town of Magdala) was a prominent disciple of Jesus who followed him in Galilee and to Jerusalem. She is always listed first in groups of named female disciples and was the first person to whom the resurrected Jesus made an appearance (Mt 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mk 15:40, 47; 16:1; 16:9; Lk 8:2; 24:10; Jn 19:25; 20:1, 11, 16, 18). The Lord had cast seven demons out of her, Mk 16:9; Lk 8:2.
Jesus’ Burial, 42-47
15:42 Now when evening had already come, since it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath), 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea, a highly regarded member of the council, who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 15:44 Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him if he had been dead for some time. 15:45 When Pilate was informed by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
Preparation Day…the day before the Sabbath…as evening approached – The original says, ‘When evening was already come’. But this then gives rise to a problem: did Mark not know that the Jewish day began at sunset? And how could Joseph then buy some linen cloth (v46), or, indeed, do the work of transporting and burying the body? Critics think that Mark has ‘blundered’ here, and that Matthew has corrected him (Matthew 27:57-62). According to the Holman Apologetics Commentary, Mark’s rather ‘convoluted’ syntax means that ‘what he is actually saying is that it is the day of preparation and that the evening is quickly approaching. Jesus died about 3:00 p.m. It must be between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. when Joseph approached Pilate, so there is very little time to prepare for Jesus’ burial.’ Alternatively, there may not be any ‘problem’ here at all: ‘evening’ and ‘sunset’ occur, of course, over a period of time, and ‘evening’ can be as extended a period as, for example, ‘morning’. We might add that Mark shows in Mk 16:1 that he is perfectly well aware of Sabbath stipulations, for there he has the women buying spices ‘when the Sabbath was over’ – that is, after sunset on the Saturday evening.
Waiting for the kingdom of God – ‘This surely means more than that he was a pious Jew awaiting fulfillment of the messianic hope. Matthew 27:57 and John 19:38 describe Joseph as a covert disciple.’ (Edwards)
Joseph…asked for Jesus’ body – ‘This is an important reminder that not all Jewish religious authorities opposed Jesus. Like the friendly scribe of Mk 12:34, Joseph of Arimathea does not share the antagonism to Jesus characteristic of his colleagues. Rather, he performs a duty of devotion to Jesus that parallels, in courage if not in cost, the woman’s anointing of Jesus’ body in Mk 14:8, for she prepares his body for burial and Joseph procures his body for burial.’
We read that Joseph went boldly to Pilate. Why does Mark make a point of saying this? Jn 19:38 explains that Joseph had earlier been timid. This has the character of an undesigned coincidence.
The body – to ptōma, ‘the corpse’.
15:46 After Joseph bought a linen cloth and took down the body, he wrapped it in the linen and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone across the entrance of the tomb. 15:47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed.
‘It was very necessary that they should witness where Jesus had been buried, lest they be later accused of mistakenly coming to the wrong tomb on the morning of the resurrection, a charge made in ancient as in modern days by opponents. The witness of women might not be accepted in Jewish law, but it was essential to the plan of God: the disciples themselves could not act as witnesses, for they had all fled.’ (Cole)
These details about Jesus’ burial ‘confirm that Jesus really died (in opposition to any docetic misunderstanding) and prepare for the resurrection. After the noise and tumult of the previous hours, the day wanes with the quiet presence of the faithful women who keep watch at the tomb of Jesus.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)
On the factuality of Jesus’ death (as opposed to a ‘swoon’ theory that is propounded from time to time) Edwards notes that ‘the Romans crucified hundreds of thousands of individuals during their centuries in power, not one of whom is recorded as surviving the cross.’