Jesus Brought Before Pilate

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.
Mk 15:2–15 = Mt 27:11–26; Lk 23:2,3,18–25; Jn 18:29–19:16

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

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.

Fickleness, or misunderstanding?

When preachers compare the response of the crowd on Palm Sunday (“Hosanna!”, Mk 11.9; Mt 21:9) to that of the crowd just a few days’ later (“Crucify him!”, Mk 15:13; Lk 23:21; Jn 19:15) they often explain this in terms of fickleness (“How quickly they changes their minds about Jesus!”).  I’ve done it myself.

But it’s not at all clear that the crowd who acclaimed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was the same group of people who called for his execution.  The former were probably mainly pilgrims from Galilee, along with Jesus’ followers.  The latter were mostly from Jerusalem itself.

In any case, the responses of both crowds was based on misunderstandings of Jesus’ mission.  The crowd shouting “Hosanna!” were motivated by nationalistic fervour, whereas the people calling for Jesus’ death had been incited by those who were falsely accusing him of blasphemy.

Their common bond was not fickleness, but misunderstanding.

Based on this article by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor.

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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

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.
Mk 15:16–20 = Mt 27:27–31

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.

The Crucifixion

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 – Why are these sons named, even though they do not play any part in the story itself? Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) observes that by 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.

‘The ossuary of Simon’s son Alexander may have been recovered. Found in Jerusalem in 1941, inscriptions on the ossuary read “Alexander (son) of Simon” (in Greek) and “Alexander (the) Cyreanite” (in Hebrew). The combination of father’s Aramaic name Simon, his son’s Greek name Alexander, the connection with Cyrene, and the burial in Jerusalem match all of the details and inferences we find in Mark 15:21.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)

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 Moos, Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome.  Rom 16:13 records a man named Rufus as a prominent member of the church in Rome.

‘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)

A stranger performs a role that the disciples should have performed.

Mk 15:22–32 = Mt 27:33–44; Lk 23:33–43; Jn 19:17–24

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).

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’.  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 three hours.  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.

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)

Diving 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.

Mk 15:28

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

15:33 Now when it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
Mk 15:33–41 = Mt 27:45–56; Lk 23:44–49; Jn 19:29–30

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!”

Jesus' cry of dereliction

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34; see also Matthew 27:46)

Six hours after he was nailed to his cross, the dying Jesus shouted out these awesome words.  They are quoted from Psalm 22, showing that what Jesus suffered is not without some kind of parallel in the lives of others.

‘This is the hardest of all the hard sayings. It is the last articulate utterance of the crucified Jesus reported by Mark and Matthew; soon afterward, they say, with a loud cry (the content of which is not specified) he breathed his last.’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible)

‘The difficulty of accounting for this saying is the strongest argument for its authenticity. Inadequate explanations are that it reflects the intensity of the Lord’s human feeling, that it reveals the disappointment of his hope that in his extremity the Father would usher in the new age, or that he was merely reciting the Psalm as an act of devotion. It can be understood only in the light of the NT doctrine of the atonement, according to which Christ identified himself with sinful man and endured separation from God. (cf. Php 2:8; 2 Cor 5:21) It is a mystery we cannot fathom.’ (NBD)

‘A strange complaint to come from the mouth of our Lord Jesus, who, we are sure, was God’s elect, in whom his soul delighted, (Isa 42:1) and one in whom he was always well pleased. The Father now loved him, nay, he knew that therefore he loved him, because he laid down his life for the sheep; what, and yet forsaken of him, and in the midst of his sufferings too! Surely never sorrow was like unto that sorrow which extorted such a complaint as this from one who, being perfectly free from sin, could never be a terror to himself; but the heart knows its own bitterness. No wonder that such a complaint as this made the earth to quake, and rent the rocks; for it is enough to make both the ears of every one that hears it to tingle, and ought to be spoken of with great reverence.’ (MHC)

Is this a cry of self-pity (“Why me?  What have I done to deserve this?”)?  Or a cry of protest: the innocent crying out against the unjustness of it all, even though he has lived his entire life knowing that he would thus bear the sin of the world (cf. Mk 10:45)?  Or is it the why of incomprehension, as though for a moment he had forgotten the eternal covenant?  Or is it, perhaps, the cry of amazement, as, knowing all along that he would face a violent death (Mk 2:2), he now confronts a horror that he cannot fully have anticipated.

There are several possible ways of understanding this ‘cry of dereliction’ theologically:-

1. As an expression of a crisis of faith: he thought that God’s plan had failed, and his expectation that his Father would uphold him (see Jn 16:32) had been dashed.  Stott responds: ‘Those who thus explain the cry of dereliction can scarcely realise what they are doing.  They are denying the moral perfection of the character of Jesus.  They are saying that he was guilty of unbelief on the cross, as of cowardice in the garden.  They are accusing him of failure, and failure at the moment of his greatest and supremest self-sacrifice.  Christian faith protests against this explanation.

2. As an urgent enquiry.  In this case, the “Why?” may be taken literally.  Alternatively, Grudem (Systematic Theology) understands this cry to mean: “Why have you abandoned me for so long?”  He believes that this is the sense in Psalm 22.  Grudem reasons that Jesus knew that he must suffer, but he didn’t know how long he would suffer for.  This view appears to assume more than the text itself warrants.

2. As an expression of feeling, not of fact.  He experienced ‘the dark night of the soul’.  He has not lost his faith, but he has lost all comfortable feeling.  He cannot, for the moment address God as ‘Father’, but can still call out, ‘My God’.  ‘I have sometimes thought there never was an utterance that reveals more amazingly the distance between feeling and fact’ (Glover).

In any case, it would be wise not to speculate on our Lord’s psychological state at this time.  Hurtado counsels against using this cry of Jesus as a clue to his innermost feelings: ‘Mark’s purpose in giving this statement is to make the allusion to Ps 22:1, so as to portray Jesus as the righteous sufferer who is beset unjustly by his enemies and appeals to God.’

‘It would be wise not to make the utterance a basis for reconstructing the inner feelings which Jesus experienced on the cross. The question “Why?” was asked, but remained unanswered…If it is a hard saying for the reader of the Gospels, it was hardest of all for our Lord himself. The assurances on which men and women of God in Old Testament times rested in faith were not for him. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all,” said a psalmist (Ps 34:19 RSV), but for Jesus no deliverance appeared.’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible)

3. As an expression of robust faith: possibly, he recited the whole psalm from the cross, ending with the words, “It is finished (accomplished)!”  So Garland (on Mark).

Or, even if our Lord did not quote the whole of Psa 22 from the cross, 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)

‘Though commentators often speak of Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross, Psalm 22 as a whole moves from apparent despair of God’s presence to a hope of vindication. Since Mark when quoting the OT normally refers to the larger context of a particular verse, readers of the Gospel are to hear Jesus’ words as those of the suffering just one who dies with the hope of vindication.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

‘It is not probable (as some have thought) that he repeated the whole psalm; yet hereby he intimated that the whole was to be applied to him, and that David, in spirit, there spoke of his humiliation and exaltation. This, and that other word, Into thy hands I commit my spirit, he fetched from David’s psalms (though he could have expressed himself in his own words), to teach us of what use the word of God is to us, to direct us in prayer, and to recommend to us the use of scripture-expressions in prayer, which will help our infirmities.’ (MHC)

This view would be supported by the several occasions when Jesus did express utmost confidence in his ultimate vindication – Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Jn 2:19.  Also in support of this view is the fact that entire psalms were identified simply from their opening sentences; but there is no indication that this ever happens in Matthew’s Gospel or in Jesus’ teaching.  The fact is that we do not know that Jesus uttered any more than the first verse of the psalm at this time.  As Morris points out, ‘the evangelists do not give the impression that they are recording a pious meditation.’  And Stott asks that if Jesus had quoted from the Psalm’s first verse while actually alluding to its last verse, ‘would anybody have understood his purpose?’

4. As an expression of real abandonment: sin separates us from God, and he experiences that separation as he bears our sins in his person.  Vincent Taylor (cited by Morris) declares that ‘it appears to be an inescapable inference that Jesus so closely identified himself with sinners, and experienced the horror of sin to such a degree, that for a time the closeness of his communion with the Father was broken, so that his face was obscured.’  Cranfield: ‘The burden of the world’s sin, his complete self-identification with sinners, involved not merely a felt, but a real, abandonment by his Father.’

‘Did he merely feel abandoned? No, it was a reality attested by the companion darkness that settled on the scene. The great teacher on prayer now finds prayer unavailing. God cannot look upon sin, and now his Son is bearing the sin of the world in his own person, taking the sinner’s judgment. What a terrifying loneliness! Yet his cry appeals to relationship – not “God” but “my God.”‘ (ISBE)

Stott: ‘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 only recorded prayer of Jesus which does not address God as “Father” is Mk 15:34 (par. Mt 27:46) -“My God, my God, why have you for forsaken me?” But here the words are those of Ps 22:1, and the very sense of forsakenness which they express may well be sufficient explanation of why the more familiar Abba did not come so naturally to Jesus’ lips on that occasion.’ (DJG)

Some have objected that this would introduce a novel element into the accounts of Matthew and Mark: they have Jesus predicting his sufferings at the hands of cruel men, but not any anticipation of abandonment by God.  But this objection is not conclusive.  Neither is the objection that this interpretation is ‘inconsistent with the love of God and the oneness of purpose with the Father manifest in the atoning ministry of Jesus’ (Taylor, cited by Garland).  To be sure, we must give full weight to those scriptures that teach that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.’  But we must also recognise those that teach that in a very real sense the suffering of Christ (spiritual as well as physical) was caused by his heavenly Father.

We have a number of indications in the Gospels that Jesus’ experience was something that was ‘no ordinary perturbation’ (Morris): his extreme distress in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:33), his reference to drinking the ‘cup’, Mt 20:22f; 26:39; Mk 10:38f; 14:36 (suggestive of God’s wrath), the supernatural darkness that fell over the land.  Many have pointed out how cheerfully Jesus’ followers so often face martyrdom.  Jesus was no coward, and cannot have been afraid of leaving this life (Morris).  It was not death, but this particular death, that he feared so much.

There was, then, an element of uniqueness to his agony, for no-one else could occupy the place that he occupied as the world’s sin-bearer.  His was an unspeakable torment; he could find no words within himself to express it, and he had to appropriate the words of the psalmist in order to do so.

If we accept Isa 53 as predictive of the cross, then we note the solemn statement that ‘it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief’.  And if we take seriously the apostolic witness to Jesus death, then we must accept that God did not simply ‘give’ Jesus, but ‘gave him up for us all’, that Jesus ‘bore our sins’ (1 Pet 2:24), that ‘God made him sin’ (2 Cor 5:21), and he became a ‘curse’ for us (Gal 3:13).  Perhaps this experience forms the essence of his ‘descent into hell’ (so Cranfield, cited by Morris).

MacLeod notes that for once, his address was not to ‘Abba’ (as it was even in Gethsemane, Mk 14:36), but ‘my God’.  He stood in the relation not of a son, but of a sinner.  He was numbered with the transgressors.  He was sin (1 Cor 5:21).  He was condemned to bear sin’s curse.  No-one could deliver him; God would not spare him.  God was forsaken by God.

His sense of divine sonship was restored later, as he prayed, “Father, forgive them.”  But, for a moment, he experiences utter abandonment.  His beloved Father, with whom he has enjoyed unbroken fellowship since before time began, is out of reach.  He is acknowledged as ‘God’, but not known as ‘Abba’.  There is no sense of divine love, and no sense of divine approval.  He cries out, but there is no answer.  He is in trouble, but no help is at hand.  No comforting scriptures are brought to mind, no reassuring voice from heaven is heard (as at other times of crisis – see Mk 1:11; 9:7), no strengthening angel, no promise of ultimate victory, no vision of a future redeemed multitude.

MacLoed: ‘He hears only the derision of the spectators, the curses of the soldiers and the whispers of the Prince of Darkness.  He is on his own.’

And again: ‘Never before had anything come between him and his Father, but now the sin of the whole world has come between them, and he is caught in this dreadful vortex of the curse. It is not that Abba is not there, but that he is there, as the Judge of all the earth who could condone nothing and could not spare even his own Son (Romans 8:32).’

‘The sense of being abandoned by God must have caused unfathomable pain to him whose whole life had been supported by the experience of the presence of God.’ (Goguel, cited by Morris)

Morris connects this with the incarnation.  Although we may not speculate on some kind of intra-Trinitarian disruption, nevertheless ‘the incarnation means something. It means among other things that it became possible for Christ to die.  And if it became possible for him to die it became possible for him to die the most bitter of deaths, the death of God-forsakenness.’

What does this forsakenness mean?  Negatively, it cannot mean that the eternal communion between Father, Son and Holy Spirit was broken.  God did not cease to be triune.  Nor could it mean that the Father ceased to love his Son – especially now that Jesus was demonstrating the ultimate sacrificial obedience.  Nor yet could it mean that the Holy Spirit had ceased to minister to Jesus: it was by that very Spirit that Jesus offered himself to God (Heb 9:14).  Again: it does not mean that Jesus was in despair: from the depths of his loneliness and pain, he still calls out to “My God”; he still retains a sense that God is holding him.

Calvin says: ‘Now some would have it that he was expressing the opinion of others rather than his own feeling. This is not at all probable, for his words clearly were drawn forth from anguish deep within his heart. b(a)Yet we do not suggest that God was ever inimical or angry toward him. How could he be angry toward his beloved Son, “in whom his heart reposed” [cf. Matt. 3:17]? How could Christ by his intercession appease the Father toward others, if he were himself hateful to God? This is what we are saying: he bore the weight of divine severity, since he was “stricken and afflicted” [cf. Isa. 53:5] by God’s hand, and experienced all the signs of a wrathful and avenging God.’ (Institutes, 2.16.11)

Matthew Henry notes:-

1. That our Lord Jesus was, in his sufferings, for a time, forsaken by his Father. So he saith himself, who we are sure was under no mistake concerning his own case. Not that the union between the divine and human nature was in the least weakened or shocked; no, he was now by the eternal Spirit offering himself: nor as if there were any abatement of his Father’s love to him, or his to his Father; we are sure that there was upon his mind no horror of God, or despair of his favour, nor any thing of the torments of hell; but his Father forsook him; that is, First, he delivered him up into the hands of his enemies, and did not appear to deliver him out of their hands. He let loose the powers of darkness against him, and suffered them to do their worst, worse than against Job. Now was that scripture fulfilled, (Job 16:11) God hath turned me over into the hands of the wicked; and no angel is sent from heaven to deliver him, no friend on earth raised up to appear for him. Secondly, he withdrew from him the present comfortable sense of his complacency in him. When his soul was first troubled, he had a voice from heaven to comfort him; (Jn 12:27,28) when he was in his agony in the garden, there appeared an angel from heaven strengthening him; but now he had neither the one nor the other. God hid his face from him, and for awhile withdrew his rod and staff in the darksome valley. God forsook him, not as he forsook Saul, leaving him to an endless despair, but as sometimes he forsook David, leaving him to a present despondency. Thirdly, he let out upon his soul an afflicting sense of his wrath against man for sin. Christ was made Sin for us, a Curse for us; and therefore, though God loved him as a Son, he frowned upon him as a Surety. These impressions he was pleased to admit, and to waive that resistance of them which he could have made; because he would accommodate himself to this part of his undertaking, as he had done to all the rest, when it was in his power to have avoided it.

2. That Christ’s being forsaken of his Father was the most grievous of his sufferings, and that which he complained most of. Here he laid the most doleful accents; he did not say, “Why am I scourged? And why spit upon? And why nailed to the cross?” Nor did he say to his disciples, when they turned their back upon him, Why have ye forsaken me? But when his Father stood at a distance, he cried out thus; for this as it that put wormwood and gall into the affliction and misery. This brought the waters into the soul, Ps 69:1-3.

3. That our Lord Jesus, even when he was thus forsaken of his Father, kept hold of him as his God, notwithstanding; my God, my God; though forsaking me, yet mine. Christ was God’s servant in carrying on the work of redemption, to him he was to make satisfaction, and by him to be carried through and crowned, and upon that account he calls him his God; for he was now doing his will. See Isa 49:5-9. This supported him, and bore him up, that even in the depth of his sufferings God was his God, and this he resolves to keep fast hold of.’

‘No further entry of the Supreme God into the tangle and bewilderment of finitude can be conceived.  All that we can suffer of physical or mental anguish is within the divine experience; he has know it all himself.  He does not leave this world to suffer while he remains at ease apart; all the suffering of the world is him’ (Temple, cited by Morris).

‘But then, suddenly, it is over. The sacrifice is complete, the curtain torn, and the way into the Holiest opened once and for all; and now Jesus’s joy finds expression in the words of another psalm, Psalm 31:5. In the original, it had not contained the word Abba, but Jesus inserts it: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  We have no means of knowing what intervened between the two cries. We know only that the Cup is drained and the curse exhausted, and that the Father now proudly holds out his hands to the spirit of his Beloved Son.’ (MacLeod)

Donald MacLeod, Christ Crucified (pp47-49), and also this article.

Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament

John Stott, The Cross of Christ

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“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.” (Isai. 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 recompence 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)

Christ’s desertion as a pattern for us

(Flavel again):-

1. Though God deserted Christ, yet at the same time he powerfully supported him: his Father’s omnipotent arms were under him, though his smiling face was hid from him. So shall it be with us.

2. Though God deserted Christ, yet Christ did not desert God. God goes from our soul, yet our soul seeks after God, complaining of his absence as the greatest evil in this world.

3. Though God deserted Christ, yet he returned to him again. So we may know that this cloud will pass away; this night shall have a bright morning.

4. Though God forsook Christ, yet at that time he could justify God. Christ did not dispute that his Father was a holy, faithful, and good God. So I may know that there is not one drop of injustice in all the sea of my sorrows. Though he condemn me, I must and will pronounce him just.

5. Though God took from Christ all visible and sensible comfort, inward as well as outward, yet Christ subsisted by faith, in the absence of them all. He still owns God to be his God.

6. Christ was deserted a little before the glorious morning of light and joy dawned upon him.

‘Did God forsake his own Son upon the cross; Then the dearest of God’s people may, for a time, be forsaken of their God.’ Then, ‘exercise the faith of adherence, when you have lost the faith of evidence. When God takes away that, he leaves this:that is necessary to the comfort, this to the life of his people. It is sweet to live in views of your interest, but if they be gone, believe and rely on God, for an interest. Stay yourselves on your God when you have no light, Isa 50:10. Drop this anchor in the dark, and do not reckon all gone when evidence is gone:never reckon yourselves undone whilst you can adhere to your God.’ Again, ‘Take the right method to recover the sweet light which you have sinned away from your souls…Search diligently after the cause of God’s withdrawment: urge him hard, by prayer, to tell thee wherefore he contends with thee, Job 10:2. Say, Lord, what have I done that so offends thy Spirit? What evil is it which thou so rebukest? I beseech thee shew me the cause of thine anger:have I grieved thy Spirit in this thing, or in that? Was it my neglect of duty, or my formality in duties? Was I not thankful for the sense of thy love, when it was shed abroad in my heart? O Lord, why is it thus with me?’ And again, ‘Humble your souls before the Lord for every evil you shall be convinced of:tell him, it pierces your heart, that you have so displeased him, and that it shall be a caution to you, whilst you live, never to return again to folly:invite him again to your souls, and mourn after the Lord till you have found him:If you seek him, he will be found of you, 2Ch 15:2.’ (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)

Mk 15:35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

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.

The significance of the tearing of the curtain

‘In this, as in others of Christ’s miracles, there was a mystery.

(1.) It was in correspondence with the temple of Christ’s body, which was now in the dissolving. This was the true temple, in which dwelt the fulness of the Godhead; when Christ cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost, and so dissolved that temple, the literal temple did, as it were, echo to that cry, and answer the stroke, by rending its veil. Note, Death is the rending of the veil of flesh which interposes between us and the holy of holies; the death of Christ was so, the death of true Christians is so.
(2.) It signified the revealing and unfolding of the mysteries of the Old Testament. The veil of the temple was for concealment, as was that on the face of Moses, therefore it was called the veil of the covering; for it was highly penal for any person to see the furniture of the most holy place, except the High-Priest, and he but once a year, with great ceremony and through a cloud of smoke; all which signified the darkness of that dispensation; 2 Co. 3:13. But now, at the death of Christ, all was laid open, the mysteries were unveiled, so that now he that runs may read the meaning of them. Now we see that the mercy-seat signified Christ the great Propitiation; the pot of manna signified Christ the Break of life. Thus we all with open face behold, as in a glass (which helps the sight, as the veil hindered it), the glory of the Lord. Our eyes see the salvation.
(3.) It signified the uniting of Jew and Gentile, by the removing of the partition wall between them, which was the ceremonial law, by which the Jews were distinguished from all other people (as a garden enclosed), were brought near to God, while others were made to keep their distance. Christ, in his death, repealed the ceremonial law, cancelled that hand-writing of ordinances, took it out of the way, nailed it to his cross, and so broke down the middle wall of partition; and by abolishing those institutions abolished the enmity, and made in himself of twain one new man (as two rooms are made one, and that large and lightsome, by taking down the partition), so making peace, Eph. 2:14-16. Christ died, to rend all dividing veils, and to make all his one, Jn. 17:21.
(4.) It signified the consecrating and laying open of a new and living way to God. The veil kept people off from drawing near to the most holy place, where the Shechinah was. But the rending of it signified that Christ by his death opened a way to God,

[1.] For himself. This was the great day of atonement, when our Lord Jesus, as the great High-Priest, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, entered once for all into the holy place; in token of which the veil was rent, Heb. 9:7, etc. Having offered his sacrifice in the outer court, the blood of it was now to be sprinkled upon the mercy-seat within the veil; wherefore lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; for the King of glory, the Priest of glory, shall come in. Now was he caused to draw near, and made to approach, Jer. 30:21. Though he did not personally ascend into the holy place not made with hands till above forty days after, yet he immediately acquired a right to enter, and had a virtual admission.

[2.] For us in him: so the apostle applies it, Heb. 10:19, 20. We have boldness to enter into the holiest, by that new and living way which he has consecrated for us through the veil. He died, to bring us to God, and, in order thereunto, to rend that veil of guilt and wrath which interposed between us and him, to take away the cherubim and flaming sword, and to open the way to the tree of life. We have free access through Christ to the throne of grace, or mercy-seat, now, and to the throne of glory hereafter, Heb. 4:16; 6:20. The rending of the veil signified (as that ancient hymn excellently expresses it), that, when Christ had overcome the sharpness of death, he opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Nothing can obstruct or discourage our access to heaven, for the veil is rent; a door is opened in heaven, Rev. 4:1.’ (MHC)

‘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 impeding destruction of the temple.

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 Centurian 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)

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

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.
Mk 15:42–47 = Mt 27:57–61; Lk 23:50–56; Jn 19:38–42

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.’

The bodyto 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.’

Jesus' burial
Helen K. Bond notes that ‘scholars commonly note the increasingly dignified burial given to Jesus in the gospels. In Mark he is laid in a rock-hewn tomb (Mk 15.46), in Luke and John it becomes a new rock-hewn tomb (Lk 23.53, Jn 19.41), and in Matthew he is put to rest in Joseph’s own unused tomb (Mt 27.60). Joseph of Arimathaea, too, is gradually Christianised by the tradition, moving from Mark’s pious member of the council (Mk 15.43) to a fully-fledged Christian (Mt 27.57, Jn 19.38-42).’

Bond wonders what kind of account of the burial lay behind the ’embellishments’.  She thinks it ‘unlikely’ that a crucified criminal would end up in a rock-hewn tomb, and regards it as more probably that Jesus was buried ‘not in the rich man’s tomb piously envisaged by the evangelists, but in a shallow (though likely individual) pit reserved for criminals.’  She asks: ‘is Mark’s stress that the women noted the precise location of the tomb simply an over-elaborate attempt to dispel the story that the women simply didn’t know exactly where Jesus had been buried?’

It hardly needs to be said that we regard Bond’s conjectures as precisely that – conjectures that lack convincing evidence or argument and which fly in the face of the evidence that we have before us, in the form of the eyewitness testimony.

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