Mark 15

15:1 Then right at dawn the High Priests convoked a meeting of the whole Sanhedrin with the elders and scribes, after which they tied Jesus up and took him away and put him into Pilate’s hands.1 2 Then Pilate questioned him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” But Jesus answered him, “You are making that claim.” 3 Then the High Priests continued to make lots of accusations against him. 4 So Pilate questioned him again, “Aren’t you going to give any answer?” Look at all the things they are accusing you of!” 5 But Jesus offered no further response, and as a result Pilate was astounded.2

6 Now Pilate customarily would release any one prisoner to the populace whom they might request. 7 There was the man called Barabbas who had been imprisoned among the insurgents who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 When the throng came up and proceeded to put their request to him, 9 Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews to you?” 10 He knew, after all, that the High Priests had put Jesus into his hands out of spite.3 11 But the High Priests had stirred up the crowd to get him to release Barabbas to them instead of Jesus. 12 Then Pilate in response again said to them, “What do you want me to do with the King of the Jews?” 13 Again they cried out, “Crucify him!” 14 Then Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?” They cried out all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 Then Pilate, since he wanted to do what would satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and he turned Jesus over to his soldiers to be flogged and then crucified.4

16 The soldiers then took him off inside the courtyard, i.e. the Praetorium, and convoked the whole troop. 17 They dressed him in purple and wove a crown of thorns and put it on him. 18 Thereupon they started saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They kept beating his head with a stick and spitting on him and they got on their knees and offered him worship. 20 Then after mocking him, then took the purple robe off of him and put his own clothes back on him.5 They led him off next to crucify him. 21 Then they coerced  a certain man who was passing by on his way from the country, Simon from Cyrene (he was the father of Alexander and Rufus) into carrying Jesus’ cross.6

22 They brought him to the place called Golgotha, which in translation means, “Skull place.” 23 Then they gave him wine mixed with myrrh but he wouldn’t accept it.7 24 Then they crucified him and divided up his clothes, casting lots to see who would get what.8 26 There was an inscription too indicating the accusation against him, “The King of the Jews”9 27 Along with him also they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.10

29 And those who passed by him continually bad-mouthed him, shaking their heads and saying,11 “Hey, you’re the one that’s going to tear down the Temple and build it up in three days!12 30 Rescue yourself and come down from the cross! 31 So too the High Priests joking with each other along with the Scribes repeatedly said, “He has saved others but he can’t save himself.13 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so we can see him and trust him! Even those who had been crucified along with him were making fun of him.14

33 When noon had come there was darkness over all the land up to three o’clock.15 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachtani?” Translated that is, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”16 35 At this some of those standing near by heard him and said, “See, he’s calling Elijah!” 36 Then somebody ran up after soaking a sponge in vinegar spitted it on a stick and offered it to him to drink,17 as he said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to get him down!”18

37 Then Jesus let out a loud cry and expired. 38 Then the curtain of the Temple split in two parts from top to bottom.19 39 When the centurion who stood by in front of him saw that he had expired thus, he said, “This man really was Son of God.”20

40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among them not only Mary Magdalene but also Mary the wife of James the less and the mother of Joses, and Salome. 41 These had been following him and attending him while he was in Galilee and they and many otherwomen had come up with him to Jerusalem.21

42 When it had become quite late, since it was the eve of the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin who was himself also awaiting the Reign of God,22 came and had the audacity to go right in to Pilate and ask for the corpse of Jesus. 44 Pilate wondered whether Jesus was dead and asked the centurion himself if Jesus had been dead long; 45 when he learned from the centurion that this was so, he gave the corpse to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought linen cloth, took him down and wrapped him in the linen cloth23 and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of rock and rolled a stone over the entrance to the tomb. 47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Joses took note of where Jesus was buried24

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Mark 15 Notes

1We are not concerned at all here with the historical accuracy of this account of the sequence of events culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus but rather with the perspective on that sequence set forth in the Marcan narrative. Certainly the nocturnal session of the Sanhedrin at which Jesus was condemned to die was extraordinary; although the evangelist does not say so explicitly, this session of the Sanhedrin at dawn has been called in order to confirm a resolution to ask the Roman authority to carry out the execution, inasmuch as the Jewish authorities have no power over life and death issues.

2 Pilate immediately puts the only question that is really relevant to Roman authority: does Jesus claim political authority over this nation so pesky and difficult to govern? If he really does, then he’s a threat that must be answered. Jesus’ response–or rather, his failure

3 The irony of Pilate’s choice whether he should release Barabbas or Jesus as a gesture of good will to the populace is that Barabbas had demonstrated by killing that he was a serious threat to Roman authority, an authentic rebel against Rome, while no evidence implicated Jesus in any insurgency against Caesar and there was every reason to suspect ulterior motives underlying the action by the Sanhedrin in bringing Jesus to Pilate. Pilate’s impression was that Jesus was the much more popular figure, that he represented no real threat to Roman rule, and that the customary release of a prisoner at the Passover festival would be a convenient means of resolving the crisis.

4 Pilate has been bested by the Jewish leadership in a political game, the stakes of which he certainly did not understand. I believe that Mark has formulated this account of Pilate’s decision to execute Jesus against Pilate’s own will and better judgment so that it closely parallels his earlier account of the decision of Herod Antipas to execute John the Baptist against Herod’s own will and better judgment because he has been outmaneuvered by shrewd minds cognizant of the ruler’s weakness and readiness to yield to social pressures. Pilate, as verse 15 tells us, “wanted to do what would satisfy the crowd.” In like fashion Herod, as we are told in Mk 6:26, “the king was quite distressed, but he had sworn and right in front of his dinner guests he felt he couldn’t say no to her.” See note 8 on that verse.

5 The Roman soldiers mock the supposed pretensions of the would-be King of the Jews. While there is no way of proving it, I have often wondered whether this account is not partly modeled upon the facts relating to the elevation of Claudius to the imperial throne in 41 A.D. following upon the assassination of Caligula; according to Suetonius, Div. Claud. 10, Claudius had fled in terror and was discovered by two praetorian prefects hiding behind a curtain in the palace; they dragged him out and proposed, perhaps only half-seriously, that he be made emperor to replace Caligula. If it was a merry gesture of the Praetorian Guard in Rome, it resulted in the installation and acceptance of Claudius. In Mark 15, of course, there is nothing but coarse mockery directed at the supposed claim of Jesus to royal status.

6 This detail about his children seems to imply that either Simon or the children, or perhaps all of them, later became believers and so were known by name to the tradition upon which the evangelist relies.

7 The mixture was to function as an anesthetic against the pain of the process of nailing the prisoner to the cross; in his sovereign freedom Jesus rejects any palliative to relieve the suffering which he has accepted as his own. Some see in this verse an allusion to Psalm 69:21, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Psalm 69 is on of several Psalms of the innocent sufferer cited within this account of the crucifixion. It is not unlikely that all such citations are the fruit of endeavors by the early believing community to see the crucifixion as a fulfillment of OT prophecy or of OT texts understood as prophecy.

8This is a citation from Psalm 22:18, the song of the innocent sufferer, whose opening words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” are cited below in 15:34.

9This is mockery, of course. From the perspective of the Sanhedrin this is mockery of Jesus’ pretensions; from the perspective of Pilate it is ridicule of all who might claim to threaten Roman sovereignty.

10The oldest MSS omit the verse numbered as 28, “Then the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And he was considered one of the lawless.'” (καὶ ἐπληρώθη ἡ γραφὴ ἡ λέγουσα, “καὶ μετὰ ἀνόμων ἐλογίσθη”).  Luke’s gospel (22:37) indicates that Jesus cited this scripture with reference to the disciples who henceforth would be regarded as lawbreakers. As the text stands without the addition of verse 28, the narrative simply indicates that there were men crucified at the same time and place with Jesus who were really brigands. Any implication that this fact constitutes a fulfillment of scripture is left to the reader to discern.

11[11]This may be another allusion to Psalm 22, verse 7 of which is, ” All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head …”

12Cf. Mk 14:58 and note 29.

13It is worth noting in this mocking comment of the High Priests that “save” is used of Jesus’ many acts of healing;  the verb sw/zw in Mark ranges in meaning  from “rescue from danger” to “restore to a former state of safety and well being” to eschatological rescue from destruction at the end-time: Mark 3:4; 5:23,28,34; 6:56; 8:35; 10:26,52; 13:13,20; 15:30-31.

14Thus is the humiliation of Jesus made complete in that even those who are being executed exactly as he himself mock him. There is no amelioration of the bitterness of Jesus’ doom in this account: his followers have abandoned him and openly disclaimed him, he refuses anodynes, and as long as he remains alive, he is subject to mockery.

15This may be intended as an allusion to Amos 8:9 “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.”

16The opening verse of Psalm 22, delivered in Aramaic in Mark’s account. Cf. above, note 7 on citations of texts describing the innocent sufferer employed or alluded to in this account of the crucifixion. Some have supposed that Jesus cites this text with the intention of calling to hearers’ attention the whole of the Psalm including the ultimate vindication of the suffering. While that may be so, the evangelist does not make any such meaning explicit but leaves it to the reader/listener to discern any undisclosed intention of the evangelist.

17Perhaps an allusion to Psalm 69:21; cf. note 7 above on verse 23.

18Elijah according to some traditions was the prototypical prophet who would appear in some capacity at the end-time to function in God’s deliverance. In Mark’s gospel John the Baptist is clearly identified as Elijah redivivus (Cf. 1:6, note 6 and 9:11 with note 19; in 6:15 the suspicion that John the Baptist is Elijah is noted; in 8:28 the same suspicion regarding Jesus is noted.

19A portent that the evangelist does not interpret. One possibility is that the evangelist intends some correspondence between this occurrence and the tearing open of the heavens as the spirit descends upon Jesus in 1:10; cf. note 15 on σχίζω there. There may also be an echo of the High Priest’s tearing of his robes in response to Jesus’ affirmation regarding his Messianic identity, although the same verb is noted used there.

20 As at so many points in Mark’s narrative, the reader/listener is left to discern the evangelist’s intent without any clear and unmistakable indicators. The centurion has noted how  Jesus has died rather than simply the fact that he has died. What has the centurion actually observed and understood of the manner of Jesus’ death that would evoke such a comment? Is it the sovereign attitude of a Jesus who accepts the humiliation and death even as the title, “King of the Jews” is appended to his cross and shouted at him in derision? Perhaps there is the same profound discrepancy between the kingship of Jesus and the acceptance of powerless humiliation that Jesus himself voiced earlier in his response to the anointment by the nameless woman in 14:3-9; cf. note 1 to chapter 14. Puzzling too is that the epithet uttered by the centurion lacks an article: it is not “This man was the Son of God” and it could as readily be understood as “This man was  Son of God”–meaning one of many. At any rate, it cannot be affirmed that the centurion’s utterance identifies Jesus with the Messiah as the authentic heir of David’s dynasty, yet nevertheless it is an awesome affirmation.

21Particularly curious is this mention of the women who have been following Jesus since the time he was in Galilee; there has been no mention of them at all hitherto, although their identities would seem to be known to the evangelist and/or to the tradition that he draws upon.  If they are indeed long-term followers of Jesus from Galilee, are they exceptions to Mark’s assertion that all of Jesus’ followers deserted him when he was arrested? Or were the women not present at Gethsemane, and if not, where were they? It is clear that within the economy of Mark’s narrative these women appear only as witnesses to the death of Jesus and the disposition of his body, thereafter as witnesses to whom Jesus’ resurrection is reported–although Mark says that they did not report to others what was told them. They appear nowhere else in Mark’s narrative but in 15:40-41, 47, and 16:1-8. It appears that Mark knows or chooses to tell nothing more about these women than what he says in these few verses, and that for his narrative purposes they function only as figures linking the death of Jesus to his burial and resurrection.

22Presumably Joseph too was a follower of Jesus known specifically to the evangelist or to the source upon which he draws, like Simon of Cyrene and his sons referred to earlier in 15:21. Mark tells us nothing more about him, and we are left to wonder in vain about his role in the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of Jesus in 14:53ff. Like the women, Joseph plays only one role in the Jesus narrative, to attest the finality of the death and burial of Jesus and so to set the stage for the revelation of Jesus’ resurrection.

23The linen cloth (σίνδων) of the shroud in which Jesus is buried is remarkable in that the same word is used in 14:51-52 of the clothing left behind by the unidentified young man who escaped when the arresting officers seized Jesus and attempted to seize this young man as well. See note 26 on chapter 14 (14:52) and note 4 on 16:5

24The details serve, as noted above (note 22) solely to set the stage for chapter 16. to respond–should probably be understood in terms of a shrewd understanding of the political realities: his quarrel is fundamentally with the claimants to legitimate leadership of Israel, the Sanhedrin, not with Rome or Rome’s representative. Pilate has authority and power to act as the Sanhedrin wants him to act, but Jesus insists that Pilate must decide for himself whether or not he considers Jesus a genuine political threat like other Messianic pretenders who have endeavored to overthrow Roman authority in Palestine.