Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Mark/Chapter 15
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural quotations are taken from the New International Version © 1973,1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
- 1 Narrative Summary
- 2 Political Background Notes
- 3 Literary Background Notes
- 4 Paraphrase
- 5 Verse-by-Verse Analysis
- 6 Key Words and Phrases
- 7 Synoptic Gospel Parallels
- 8 Implications
- 9 Endnotes
The fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark chronicles Mark’s version of the stories of Jesus’ appearance before Pilate, scourging and humiliation, crucifixion, and entombment. The vast majority of this chapter is found, virtually verbatim, in Matthew’s account, thus contributing to the Two-Source hypothesis, which asserts that Mark was used as source material in the composition of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Verses one through fourteen narrate Jesus’ appearance before Pilate. In Mark’s account, the religious leaders lead Jesus bound to Pilate, who questions Him. The chief priests bring accusations against Jesus, but, to Pilate’s amazement, Jesus remains silent and offers no defense. Pilate attempts to resolve the situation by releasing Jesus via a festival custom of his, in which he releases a prisoner requested by the crowd. The religious leaders incite the crowd against Jesus and convince them to ask instead for the release of Barabbas, an insurrectionist and murderer. The crowd demands Jesus’ execution, and, after a failed attempt to dissuade the people, Pilate acquiesces.
Verses fifteen through twenty recount Jesus’ scourging and the soldiers’ mockery. After Jesus is scourged, the soldiers dress Him in a purple robe and place a crown made out of thorns on His head. The soldiers beat Him with a staff and ridicule him, spitting on Him falling to the ground in mock homage. When the soldiers have had their fun, they put Him back in His clothes and take Him away to be crucified.
Verses twenty-one through thirty-two tell of Jesus’ crucifixion. A man called Simon of Cyrene is passing by on the road and is forced to carry Jesus’ cross. Jesus is brought to the place of execution, fittingly named Golgotha, or “Place of the Skull”, and is offered an anesthetic of sorts, which He refuses to take. The soldiers then crucify Jesus in between two robbers. Above His head they place a sign that reads, “The King of the Jews”. Those who saw Jesus mocked Him, as did the thieves on either side of Him.
Verses thirty-three through forty-one detail Jesus’ death. After about three hours on the cross, Jesus cries out to God. The people wait to see if a miraculous salvation occurs. Jesus cries out again and dies. When He dies, the curtain of the temple is torn in two, a highly symbolic action. The centurion in charge of the executions remarks on Jesus’ dramatic death, professing that Jesus must have been the Son of God.
Verses forty-two through forty-seven communicate the story of Jesus’ entombment. A member of the Jewish council called Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and requests the body of Jesus. Pilate is surprised that Jesus is already dead, but after confirming the finality of the execution, Pilate grants Joseph the body. Joseph wraps the body in linen and places it in a tomb cut into a rock and rolls a stone across the entrance to seal the tomb.
Political Background Notes
Judea under Roman administration was divided up into eleven governing districts, or toparchies. Responsible for justice in each of these toparchies was a Jewish Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin handled all petty legal actions. Because local government was still handled by Jewish authorities, the laws of the Torah could still be enforced. Major cases were referred to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. However, the power of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was limited as well. Scholars are divided as to the amount of power that the Sanhedrin was able to exercise. Some scholars would argue that, judging by evidence from elsewhere in the empire, any case that might involve the death penalty had to go before the court of the Roman prefect. However, in the book of Acts, we find two separate instances (Stephen and James) in which an execution is not approved by the Roman authority. This leads other scholars to believe that the Sanhedrin indeed had the power of capital punishment, however, scholars have noted that Stephen’s death appears to be a lynching of sorts rather than a predetermined execution.
The Roman prefect at the time of Jesus’ execution in Mark 15 was Pontius Pilate. Pilate had earlier tried to build an aqueduct system in Jerusalem, prompting several riots, which Pilate mercilessly put down. Thus, his actions in taking care of Jesus, a potential agitator, make more sense. Jesus was seen as a potential problem that needed to be dealt with swiftly and decisively.
Execution under Roman rule at the time often varied with the crime and ranged from distinguished and relatively painless, such as a quiet strangling in prison, to brutal and sadistic, such as crucifixion or burning at the stake. Crucifixion was typically reserved for ferocious prisoners of war or slaves, although it was from time to time inflicted on citizens. 
Literary Background Notes
Throughout Mark's Gospel, a common motif is the motif of secrecy about Jesus' true identity, often referred to as the Messianic Secret. Anytime in Mark that Jesus does something that could potentially reveal his identity, He cautions those with Him to not tell anyone who He is. The Messianic Secret finds its fulfillment and revelation in Mark 15:39, when the Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixion becomes the first person in Mark's account to verbally declare Jesus' identity as the Son of God.
Jesus is tried before Pilate
- 1 Early in the morning, the chief priests and elders, along with the legal experts and the governing council, came to a decision. Binding Jesus, they brought him to Pilate, the Roman governor of that area.
- 2 Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
- Jesus replied, “If that is who you say I am.”
- 3 The chief priests brought many charges against Jesus. 4 Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all of these charges they are bringing against you? 5 But to Pilate’s surprise, Jesus said nothing.
- 6 Now Pilate had a custom at the feast. Each year, during the Passover, he would release any one prisoner that the crowd asked for. 7 There was, at the time, a prisoner named Barrabas. He was a rebel who had committed murder in an uprising. 8 The crowd came to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner to them, as per his custom.
- 9 “Do you want me to release to you the one called the ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10 (For Pilate was aware that it was out of jealously that the priests had arrested Jesus.) 11 But the priests persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with the man that you call the king of the Jews?”
- 13 The crowd shouted back at him, “Crucify him!”
- 14 “Why?” asked Pilate. “What crime has he done that he is worthy of death?
- But the mob shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”
- 15 So in order to pacify the rising mob, Pilate released Barabbas. He then ordered Jesus to be flogged, and handed him over to his soldiers to crucify him.
The soldiers mock Jesus
- 16 So the soldiers took Jesus to the governer’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called together the entire regiment. 17 They put a purple robe on him and wove thorny branches into a crown and put on his head. 18 Then they saluted him and mocked him, saying, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 19 And they struck him on the head with a stick and spit on him and fell on the ground in fake worship to him. 20 And when they had finished mocking him, they took off the purple robe, put his own clothes back on him, and led him out to be crucified.
- 21 There was a passerby named Simon, from the city of Cyrene, who was coming into the city from the countryside. The soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (This Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) 22 And the soldiers brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, that is, “Place of the Skull”. 23 The soldiers offered Jesus wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused to drink it. 24 And the soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, and divided his clothes among themselves by casting dice.
- 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The soldiers hung a sign on the cross that had his charge written on it. It said, “The King of the Jews”. 27 They also crucified with him two criminals, one on either side of him. 28 Those who passed by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “So, you who were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 come down from there and save yourself!”
- 31 Likewise, the chief priests and teachers of the law mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t even save himself!” 32 “Let this ‘Messiah’, this ‘King of Israel’ come down from this cross, then we’ll see and believe him!” Even those who were crucified with Jesus mocked him.
The death of Jesus
- 33 At noon, the entire land became dark for three hours. 34 Then, at three o’clock, Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?” (“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”)
- 35 Those standing close to him heard this and said, “Listen, he’s calling for Elijah.”
- 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a stick, offering it to Jesus to drink. He said, “Wait, let’s see if Elijah comes to save him!”
- 37 Jesus cried out again, and breathed his last.
- 38 And the dividing curtain of the temple was torn into two from the top to the bottom. 39 When the officer standing in front of Jesus heard him and saw how he died, he exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
- 40 There were some women present, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. 41 These women had followed Jesus while he was in Galilee, and had provided for his needs. There were also many other women there who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem.
The burial of Jesus
- 42 It was Preparation Day (the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was a respected member of the Jewish council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God.) 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the officer in charge of the execution and asked if Jesus had died yet. 45 When Pilate learned that Jesus was indeed dead, he told Joseph that he could have the body. 46 So Joseph bought a sheet of linen cloth, took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the linen, and laid it in a tomb carved into the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance in order to seal the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
English Translations Consulted: NIV, NASB, NRSV, NLT, The Message, NKJ
Verses 1-5: Jesus Before Pilate
The use of the Greek phrase kai eythys proi is a very Markan phrase, following the pattern of rapidity we find in his Gospel. Taken very literally, it reads 'and immediately when it was early', and seems to indicate the fact that the Sanhedrin had their decision and were prepared to act on it without delay. 
The use of the aorist participle poiesantes, rendered as ‘having had a decision/consultation’, points back to Jesus' appearance before the Sanhedrin in Mark 14:53-65, and not to a second priestly hearing. The author is simply connecting the trial with the Sanhedrin to the passage at hand, as we find interjected between the two the account of Peter’s denial of Christ.   
The chief priests, elders, and scribes, along with the entire Sanhedrin, bind Jesus and hand him over to Pilate, which begs the question: 'Why?'. Why did the Sanhedrin bind Jesus and bring him to the Romans, if they had already decided that he was guilty of blasphemy, a Jewish religious law, and deserved to die? John 18:31 asserts that the religious authorities did not have the authority to exact capital punishment, and this seems to be the scholarly consensus. While this would explain the Sanhedrin's actions in bringing Jesus to Pilate, it does not explain the actions of the same governing body in Acts 7, when they drag Stephen out and stone him, or the reference to Herod's execution of James in Acts chapter 12. Koester asserts that the Sanhedrin's execution of Stephen is more akin to an act of rage, a lynching, than to an execution. This correlates with the description of the Sanhedrin's actions found in Acts 7:57-58, 'At this [the members of the Sanhedrin] covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at [Stephen] dragged him out of the city and began to stone him'. Further, the execution of James the brother of Jesus does not seem to have been under normal circumstances. While the author of Acts blames King Herod for James' execution, the Jewish historian Josephus attributes his death to the high priest at the time, Ananus the Younger, and the Sanhedrin. However, this was not an authority that belonged to this group. This execution took place in between the death of the procurator Festus and the arrival of his replacement, Albinus. Ananus took this opportunity to execute James and some of his companions, an act that angered Albinus and provoked him to threaten the high priest, which eventually led to king Agrippa's removal of Ananus from the high priesthood.  
It is of paramount importance to note that the charge presented to Pilate against Jesus is very different from the charge for which the Sanhedrin condemned him. In verse 61 of chapter 14, the high priest asks Jesus if he is the christos (Christ or Messiah) the Son of the Blessed One (God). This is a purely religious question, and if Jesus answers positively, he can be doing nothing if not equating himself with the eternal God. Jesus' answer (ego eimi) is plain and simple, and leaves no room for question: I am. This question/answer combination is entirely different than the question/answer session with Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if he is the 'King of the Jews', a politically loaded title. If Jesus answers this question positively, he is claiming to have authority apart from, and autonomy from, Caesar, a treasonous statement punishable by death. However, Jesus' answer is not an affirmative declaration. The phrase Su legeis is ambiguous at best. Translated, it could mean 'you say so', or 'you say it', neither of which is an admission of the charge of claiming the title 'King of the Jews'. While the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus for a religious statement, his claim to divinity, before Pilate, they charged him with a political crime, treason. If the charge before Pilate had been a religious one, Pilate likely would have not heard the case. Therefore, the Sanhedrin turned Jesus' religious crime into a political one, thus putting him at the mercy (or lack thereof) of the Roman government. Pilate's question however, seems to be spoken in some degree of disbelief and perhaps scorn, 'Are you the King of the Jews?'
Pilate's disbelief and Jesus' noncommittal answer seem to prompt the chief priests to vigorously assault Jesus with further charges beyond the central charge of treason. The use of the accusative, polla, could either indicate that it is being used as the direct object of the verb, '(of) many things', but it seems more likely that it is functioning here as an adverb, 'much', similar to its usage in Mark 1:45.
The use of the Greek double negative ouk...ouden emphasizes the intensity with which Pilate questions Jesus. There are serious charges being leveled against Jesus, and yet he is not responding. It is reasonable to assume that Pilate would expect one whose life was at stake to make an attempt to save himself, yet Jesus does not try to do so.
Again we see a double negative (ouketi...ouden) being used for emphasis. There has been much speculation about a possible parallel of this story to the passage of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:7, who 'did not open his mouth'. While this comparison is rather weak by itself, it seems somewhat more credible when noting the similarities between the reference to 'handed...over' in verse 1 and the LXX  of Isaiah 53:6, as well as the use of thaymazein, a possible allusion to LXX Isaiah 52:15's use of thaymasontai.
Interpretation Pilate's direct question makes clear the charge that the religious leaders have come to agreement to charge Jesus with. Admission of this title would be considered treasonous and warrant execution. Jesus, rather than denying the claim and defending himself, gives a noncommittal answer that probably condemns him. Pilate seems skeptical, so the chief priests redouble their efforts and venomously assault Jesus. Jesus does not respond to any of their charges, astounding Pilate. This passage has traditionally been understood in light of the description of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53,
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth. he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,so he did not open his mouth.
Verses 6-15: Jesus and Pilate Before the Crowd
Verse 6 makes reference to a custom of Pilate's to release any one prisoner to the crowd at the Passover festival. While this custom is referenced in each of the four Gospels, it is not specifically mentioned in any extrabiblical sources. However, as the prefect, Pilate would have had the authority to pardon or commute the sentence of any prisoner, and it was not uncommon for the Roman governors of that era to do. Releasing requested prisoners curried the favor of the population and could be used to pacify the populous at points that were particularly politically turbulent.
Here enters a character who does nothing more in the narrative than serve as a foil to Jesus. Pilate brings out a degenerate prisoner, an insurrectionist and implied murderer, and sets him next to the blameless Son of God, and asks the crowd which of the two prisoners should be released. The crowd chooses the criminal to be set free, and the innocent to be brutally executed. This is a terrible irony, and a literary high point of the Gospel, as the One who has been sent out of love to save the people, is rejected by them, and deemed not worthy of continuing to live. It is worthwhile to note that Pilate recognizes the personal agendas in play and makes a halfhearted attempt to free Jesus by presenting him to the crowd to be released. This however, does not remove any responsibility from Pilate's role in Christ's death, for as the governor, Pilate had the authority to pardon Jesus or commute his sentence.
Verses 12-15 Pilate seems to attempt to shift the responsibility for Jesus' death to the crowd, describing him as 'the one [the crowd] calls the king of the Jews', when in fact, Pilate has been the only one to use this designation that the crowd would find offensive. The crowd responds violently and with sinister intent. Pilate again tries to prevent Jesus' death, effectively declaring him innocent. However, the crowd will have none of this, and responds even more vigorously. It is here that we see the final presentation of Pilate's character: weak and pragmatic. He recognizes that Jesus is innocent, yet caves to popular pressure, taking the easy way out and condemning the blameless man. PIlate orders that Jesus be flogged and then crucified. The flogging was accomplished with leather whips studded with pieces of metal and bone that would rip the flesh to shreds. This would weaken the person to be executed, and is likely responsible for Jesus' relatively quick death on the cross.
Interpretation This section presents the ultimate image of humanity's reaction to God. The blameless Son of God, sent to earth out of love for humanity, is presented before the crowd next to a murderous rebel, and the crowd is asked to choose. As so many of us tend to do, the crowd rejected the One who loved them, demanding his death.
He was despised and rejected by men... (Isaiah 53:3)
Verses 16-20: The Soldiers Mock Jesus
The soldiers take Jesus into the palace (presumably Herod's palace), and gather the whole battalion (anywhere from two hundred to six hundred soldiers). The opportunity to mock and beat a 'king of the Jews' was not a common one, and the whole of the regiment took part. They dress Jesus up in what Mark describes as a purple robe, and crown him with a thorny vine twisted into a crown. Matthew describes the robe as a scarlet robe that a Roman soldier would wear. This seems more likely than a purple robe in terms of availability, but either way, the robe is a parody of royal garments and is meant as a mockery. There is also present a reed, which is used to beat him, and which Matthew references as being given to Jesus as a mock scepter. The soldiers fall to the ground in mock homage, calling to him in a manner similar to that in which they would honor the emperor. The whole scene seems to be mock reminiscent of the honor paid to an emperor during a celebration of triumph, when the emperor would wear a white robe with a purple mantle, and an ivy crown, and the soldiers would call out, 'Hail, Caesar!'
Interpretation This scene continues Jesus' rejection and shows the mockery that he was subjected to. How ironic it must have been to those who first read this! The soldiers dressed Jesus up in royal garb and fell in homage to him, but those who first read this knew there would be a day when Jesus would return and such a scene would again take place, but with Christ glorified as king and every knee bowing before him.
Verses 21-32: The Crucifixion of Jesus
Verse 21 contains an insertion that is strikingly out of place in Mark's terse Gospel. The author references the names of the sons of the man who is forced to carry Jesus' cross. The presence of these names has prompted some scholars to speculate that they are mentioned because the same Rufus who is found at the crucifixion is also the Rufus who is referred to in Romans 16:13. If it is the same Rufus, it would make sense that Christians in Rome, where Mark's Gospel may have been written and first read, would know Rufus. 
Simon's being forced to carry Jesus' cross follows a custom of the time which allowed the soldiers of an occupying power to commandeer the services of the locals for the transport of their baggage.  Normally the convicted man would have carried the cross himself, but it is reasonable to assume that Jesus' weakened state from the flogging did not permit him to do so.
As Mark informs his readers, Golgotha (Aramaic gulgulta' and Hebrew gulgolet) means, "Place of the Skull". While typically the name of a geographical location would not need translation, Mark does not want the sinister nuances of the name to escape his readers.
It was not uncommon for those condemned to be executed to be given a cup of wine with frankincense in it. This numbed the pain and clouded the mind. However, Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, not frankincense. There is no evidence that wine mixed with myrrh had any analgesic properties. Rather, it was considered a luxury item, a spiced wine. Given that the grammatical structure of the passage does not present another subject, it would seem that the ones presenting the spiced wine to Jesus are the soldiers who have mocked and beaten Jesus, and are about to crucify him. This makes it even more unlikely that the offering of wine is an act of compassion. Rather, it would appear that this offer is a continuation of the mockery that took place in the palace. The soldiers are offering a fine wine to the 'king of the Jews'. This mockery would explain Jesus' refusal to drink the wine. As he did not answer the charges against him, nor respond to the mockery of the soldiers, neither will he participate in their further attempts to shame him. 
Mark is not articulate in his description of the crucifixion. Methods of crucifixion and manner of instruments varied from an upright T-shape to a simple upright pole, but Mark provides us with no details as to the specifics of the process. Mark is not concerned with providing the details of the process, but rather with providing the basic details of the scene, and demonstrating the fulfillment of Scripture in the disposal of Jesus' garments. The description of 'dividing up his clothes' and '[casting] lots to see what each would get' echoes Psalm 22:18, 'they divide my garments among them, and cast lots for my clothing.'
Mark's chronology, placing the crucifixion at the third hour (nine o'clock in the morning) fits with his description of Jesus being brought before Pilate 'very early in the morning'. The Gospel of John recalls the crucifixion as taking place at the sixth hour (noon), but this seems likely to be an adaptation meant to align the time of Jesus' sacrifice with the time that people began to slaughter the passover lambs, strengthening the image of Christ as a sacrifice for humanity. 
The inscription of the charge refers to the titulus, which was a placard that stated the reason for punishment. These were not uncommon in Roman punishments of the time, but scholars are divided on the historicity of this titilus. Some scholars feel that it was a Christian addition to the story, stating the confession of the Jewish church. However, other scholars feel that the record of the "titilus" is historically accurate. The epithet 'king of the Jews is unlikely to have been added by the author, as his concern is to present Jesus as the 'Christ' or the 'Son of God', not the 'king of the Jews'. That designation was Roman, and was the same charge addressed by Pilate.  
This verse adds to the irony that is so common in the Gospel. Jesus, the innocent sovereign of the universe, is crucified amongst the common lowlifes of the day. How vivid of an image must this have been for the Sons of Zebedee, who asked to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus! 
Verse 28 (Textual Addition)
Verse 28, which is not contained in the better manuscripts of Mark, is likely a later addition, and attempts to further connect Jesus' death to Scripture by quoting Isaiah 53:12, saying, 'and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'He was counted with the lawless ones.
The description of 'those passing by' is in accordance with the custom of crucifying criminals in public places or along major roads.  The image of these passerbys shaking their heads and insulting Jesus alludes to the LXX language in Psalm 22:7, yet another instance of the author's use of Scripture in telling the story of Christ. The challenges of the crowd and the religious leaders seem legitimate--If the supposed Messiah is being crucified and cannot save himself, then he obviously cannot destroy the temple, and his prophecies are proven false, and he cannot claim to save others if he does not have the power to save himself. The scorn of those who are being crucified with Jesus is the climax of his shame. He is brought even lower than those who are being torturously executed: he is being torturously executed, and he is absolutely despised.
Interpretation In this scene, Jesus is totally despised and utterly rejected by those around him, being mocked even by those in similar circumstances to his own. As he hung dying on the cross, all of his teachings and prophecies had to be fading in the minds of his disciples and his accusers, who were realizing that none of them could possibly come true anymore. For one group, this brought horrible fear and grief, for the other, elation and relief.
Verses 33-41: The Death of Jesus
Verse 33 does not describe any action, but merely describes the passage of time. Darkness, which was understood as symbolic of God's displeasure and judgment, fell across the land, much as it did in Egypt as the penultimate plague. 
After the land has been dark for three hours, Jesus cries out in abandonment, quoting the first phrase of Psalm 22. His cry of 'My God, My God', pronounced in Aramaic as Elahi, Elahi, is misunderstood by those watching as Eliyah, Eliyah, that is, "Elijah, Elijah". Elijah was considered an eschatological figure who would save the righteous. Further, traditional stories told of Elijah coming from time to time to aid the afflicted  Upon understanding Jesus' cry in this way, one of the bystanders gets him a drink, presumably to keep him conscious to see if Elijah would indeed come. It is interesting to note that this is the only instance in any of the Gospels in which Jesus prays to God and addresses Him not as 'Father', but as 'My God'. While it is true that Christ is quoting at this point, that does not decrease the emphasis upon the separation and abandonment that Christ feels.
Even in his death, we see Jesus' strength and power. Christ does not expire with a sigh or a gasp. He dies with a shout that must have rattled the bystanders, and prompted the centurion to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Mark does not specify whether this shout is in words, as in Luke and John, or whether it was merely an inarticulate cry.  Miraculously, one of the two curtains in the temple is rent in twain from top to bottom, an act that had to be supernatural, especially if the curtain referenced is the larger outer one, some twenty-five meters tall  It is interesting to note that the Greek word schizesthai, rendered here as 'was rent', only appears one other time in Mark: at Jesus' baptism, when the heavens split open and the Holy Spirit descends. This recognition and the subsequent comparison of the two is made all the more fascinating by 'Josephus' description of the outer veil as 'a panorama of the entire heavens. It is finally in Jesus' death that the Markan motif of the Messianic secret is finally shattered. Upon seeing the manner in which Jesus dies, the Roman centurion recognizes, 'Surely this man was the Son of God!' How ironic that the first to confess the divinity of Jesus is one of those who put him to death!
Interpretation It is in this scene that the passion narrative takes on some of its greatest theological and supernatural significance. God dies. God in Jesus has come to earth out of love in order to reach out to a broken humanity, and that same humanity has nailed him to a piece of wood. When Christ cries out for the second time and dies, the curtain of the temple is torn in two, a visual and theological image that is absolutely stunning. Following the curtain theology of the book of Hebrews, when Christ died, he opened the way for all men to come to God. Prior to this, mankind was separated from God, a fact represented both physically and metaphorically by the temple curtain that blocked off the Holy of Holies, where God's presence resided. When Christ died, the curtain was torn, destroying the barrier that prevented man from coming freely to God. The tearing of the curtain also presents an image of absolute grief. In the ancient world, extreme grief was represented by the tearing of one's clothes. According to Josephus, the curtain was embroidered with a panorama of the heavens. This presents a vivid and powerful visual when one considers that when God was at God's moment of ultimate grief, God rent the very heavens as a sign of God's grief.
Verses 42-47: The Burial of Jesus
Mark explains that the crucifixion takes place on the day before the Sabbath. Since the Sabbath would start at about 6:00 PM, and Jesus died at about 3:00 PM, there was not much time to properly prepare Jesus for burial as per Deuteronomy 21:23, which mandated that the burial take place before night.   Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and requests the body of Jesus. This is an odd request, and reveals much about Joseph of Arimathea. To even be allowed to approach Pilate shows that Joseph is a man of considerable social standing, and his ownership of a rock-cut tomb close to the city, a luxury commodity, indicates that he is well-off financially. Further, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that a rich man of such standing would go to the governor and request the body of a condemned prophet sheds light on the phrase 'he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God'. It seems likely that he was at least a supporter of Jesus, if not a disciple, as John 19:38 asserts. 
Pilate's surprise in verse 44 stems from the fact that Jesus died over a matter of a few hours. Typically, crucifixion victims died over the course of two or three days, sometimes longer. It is highly likely that the flogging that Jesus endured shortened the amount of time that it took him to die. Pilate wants to confirm that Jesus is in fact dead, rather than accidentally granting that a live person might be taken down and possibly restored to health. Once the centurion responsible for the burial confirms the report that Jesus is dead, Pilate releases the body to Joseph.
The description of Joseph wrapping Jesus in linen and placing him in a tomb is descriptive of a normal burial accomplished in a hurry. Usually spices or perfumes would be included in the burial wrappings, but it would seem that time does not allow for this, as the women return on Sunday with spices to anoint the body.  The women who witnessed the crucifixion watch to see where Jesus is buried so they might return with spices and properly finish Jesus' burial.
Interpretation This somber scene appears to bring to a close the story of Jesus. He is crucified and died, and is hurriedly buried, bringing an end to his life and to his work. But thankfully, the story doesn't end with Mark 15. There is a chapter 16...
Key Words and Phrases
- Verse 2: βασιλεύς των Ίουδαίων (King of the Jews)
- Basileus ton Ioudaion was a Roman designation, an office given to one that the emperor would put over the territory. Never does any Jewish person apply this title to Jesus. Jewish terms for their king included Χριστός (Messiah), υίός Δανίδ (son of David), or βασιλεύς Ίσραήλ (king of Israel). This inaccurate designation could have prompted Jesus' noncommittal answer. He did not view himself in that light, and would not accept that title.
- Verse 15: "flogged"
- Verse 22: "Golgotha"
- Verse 23: "wine mixed with myrrh"
- Verse 34: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani
- Verse 38: "curtain of the temple"
Synoptic Gospel Parallels
Mark chapter 15, in combination with the parallel crucifixion accounts found in the other Gospels, forms one of the pinnacle beliefs of Christianity. The Apostle's Creed, a defining creed of Christianity, when explaining Christian beliefs about Jesus, includes the statement, '...[he] suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried.' All four of these descriptions are found in Mark 15. The concept of Jesus as the sacrifice for the sins of humanity means nothing without Mark chapter 15. Christ was innocent and blameless, yet he allowed sinful men to capture him, abuse him, mock him, and kill him. He willingly laid down his life so that he might be the sacrifice through which humanity could come to God freely, as is represented in the rending of the temple curtain. As it says in 1 Peter 3, 'Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. It is through the suffering and death of Christ at the hands of sinful men, as seen in Mark 15, that we are enabled to come into a relationship with the loving God who cares for us so much that God would send God's only Son to suffer and die so that we might truly live.
- Koester, Helmut. Introduction to the New Testament. Vol. 1. (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1982,) #.
- Stambaugh, John E., and Balch, David L. The New Testament in its Social Evironment. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1986,) #.
- Evans, Craig A. Mark8:27-16:20. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 34b. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001,) 475.
- Evans, 475.
- France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Vol. 2. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002,) 627.
- Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Vol. 2. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002,) 457.
- Koester, #.
- Whinston, William. The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus. (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1957,) #.
- that is, the Septuagint
- Donahue & Harringon, 435.
- Evans, 500.
- France, 640-641.
- Evans, 501.
- Evans, 503.
- Evans, 503-504.
- France, 645-646.
- Donahue, John R., and Harrington, Daniel J. The Gospel of Mark. Sacra Pagina. Vol. 2. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002,) 443.
- Evans, 504.
- France, 651.
- Evans, 507-508.
- Donahue & Harrington, 449
- France, 657.
- Evans, 509.
- Evans, 518.
- France, 665.
- France, 666
- France, 668