“Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate” (Mark 15:1).
Following His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus endured six separate trials in advance of His crucifixion and resurrection. A look at the first three of these proceedings reveals that Jesus received few of the legal protections that a defendant might reasonably expect to receive from a fair and impartial judicial review. For instance, one commentator has assembled the following list of legal violations that occurred during Jesus’ first three trials…
- All criminal cases must be tried in the daytime and must be completed in the daytime.
- Criminal cases could not be conducted during the Passover season.
- Only if the verdict was “not guilty” could a case be finished on the day it was begun; otherwise a night must elapse before the pronouncement of the verdict so that feelings of mercy might have time to arise.
- All evidence had to be guaranteed by two witnesses separately examined and having no contact with each other… false witness was punishable by death. (1)
Each of these legal tenets were violated in Jesus’ case.
Following His three appearances before these religious authorities, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was taken to be arraigned within the Roman judicial system. While it may be difficult to understand why Jesus was taken to stand before a Roman court following these proceedings, there is an explanation that makes sense when we stop to consider what these religious leaders sought to accomplish regarding Jesus.
You see, the religious authorities found that Jesus been guilty of blasphemy in claiming to be the Messiah, a capital offense that carried an automatic death sentence. However, the Roman government prevented the religious leadership from imposing such a penalty. (2) This meant that Jesus would have to appear before a representative of the Roman government before He could be executed for this “crime.” In this instance, the government’s representative was a man named Pontius Pilate.
One source provides us with a brief biographical sketch of this Roman leader: “Pilate was the Roman prefect, or governor, of Judea (usually referred to as procurator), to which position he was appointed by Tiberius in A.D. 26. He was in charge of the army of occupation, kept the taxes flowing to Rome, had power of life and death over his subjects, appointed the high priests, and decided cases involving capital punishment.” (3)
Although Pilate normally maintained a residence outside of Jerusalem, its likely that he was there at that time to ensure that order was maintained during the Passover season- and that led to his fateful meeting with Jesus and His accusers.
(1) William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew Vol. 2 page 354
(2) Presumably the Romans were concerned that these religious leaders might seek to arbitrarily execute anyone who was suspected of being sympathetic to the Roman occupation of Israel
(3) Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Notes (Mark 15:1) © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.
“And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole Council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate” (Mark 15:1 ESV).
Following three separate judicial hearings within a four to five hour period, Mark 15:1 tells us that the religious leadership held one final consultation regarding Jesus’ case. This conference was likely held to address two considerations, one practical and the other procedural. The first consideration was related to the fact that the business day of a Roman governor typically began at daybreak. Therefore, it was necessary for the religious leadership to arrange to bring their case against Jesus as early as possible.
The second issue involved the question of the charges against Jesus. This becomes apparent from Luke’s account of these proceedings…
“Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King'” (Luke 23:1-2).
Earlier, Mark’s Gospel provided us with a record of the verdict that was reached against Jesus at the time of His final trial before these religious leaders: “‘You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death” (Mark 14:64). However, notice that the charges against Jesus had now changed significantly in connection with His arraignment before Pontius Pilate. Although Jesus had previously been found guilty of blasphemy in the eyes of these men, He was now portrayed as someone who encouraged tax evasion and claimed to be a king, an indictment that would serve to identify Jesus as a competitor to Pilate and every other Roman leader.
So how did Jesus suddenly become an accused supporter of tax evasion and a rival king when the real issue was whether He had committed blasphemy in claiming to be the Messiah? Well, the answer is easy when we stop to consider the priorities of those who were involved in this matter.
Remember that Pontius Pilate was an agent of the Roman government and as such, he held little interest in questions such as Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Therefore, it became necessary for these religious authorities to present their charges against Jesus in a manner that would appeal to a Roman civil court. We’ll examine the particular legal strategy employed by these men next.
“They began to state their case (against Jesus): ‘This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king'” (Luke 23:2 NLT).
The fastest way for these religious authorities to successfully obtain a guilty verdict against Jesus involved framing the charges against Him in a manner that was sure to be a concern for a Roman political leader like Pontius Pilate. For instance…
- “We have found this man subverting (or trying to overthrow) our nation” (NIV). Pilate would certainly have an interest in taking action against anyone who might be responsible for such an act.
- “He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar…” (NIV), a charge that speaks for itself.
- “…(He) claims to be Christ, a king” (NIV), a person who would therefore be opposed to the Roman Emperor and Pilate himself.
But unlike those who had delivered Jesus to him, Pontius Pilate appears to have had some degree of interest in ascertaining the truth about Jesus for himself. After hearing the charges against Jesus, Pilate decided to interrogate the prisoner directly…
“Then Pilate asked Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ He answered and said to him, ‘It is as you say’ (Mark 15:2).
A paraphrase of Luke’s account of this passage renders this exchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in the following manner…
“So Pilate asked him, ‘Are you their Messiah– their King?’ ‘Yes,’ Jesus replied, ‘it is as you say.’ Then Pilate turned to the chief priests and to the mob and said, ‘So? That isn’t a crime!'” (Luke 23:3-4 TLB)
It seems that Pilate quickly ascertained that Jesus was not the seditionist that He had been made out to be. This can be attributed (at least in part) to Jesus’ masterful handling of the question put to Him by this Roman leader. You see, if Jesus had simply answered affirmatively to Pilate’s question, then Pilate would be free to attach whatever meaning he desired to the term “King of the Jews.”
From the government’s perspective, a person who claimed to be a king was someone who was potentially capable of starting a riot, a war, or anything else that a king might lead his subjects to do. With a little assistance from the religious leadership, its easy to see how Pilate might view this new king as a threat to Roman authority.
However, John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus went on to identify exactly what kind of King He claimed to be- and we’ll look at that portion of His conversation with Pilate next.
“So Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He replied, ‘You say so'” (Mark 15:2 NET).
The Gospel of John provides us with some additional detail regarding this portion of Jesus’ conversation with Pontius Pilate…
“Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?’
Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’
Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, ‘I find no fault in Him at all'” (John 18:33-38).
This was hardly the kind of response that Pilate was expecting but Jesus’ opponents were not prepared to give up so easily. While Mark’s Gospel provides us with a concise report concerning Jesus’ appearance before Pontius Pilate, Luke’s Gospel gives us some additional information concerning Pilate’s reaction to these allegations…
“But they were the more fierce, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.’ When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time” (Luke 23:5-7).
It seems clear that Pilate wanted to avoid becoming entangled in this situation and Jesus’ place of residence provided him with a perfect exit strategy: “If this prisoner is from the Galilee region then it means that I can send him to Herod for judgment. Galilee is Herod’s area of jurisdiction- let him handle it.” So Jesus was dispatched to stand before Herod, an arraignment that represented His fifth trial in about seven hours.
“‘…He agitates the people with his teaching throughout Judea—starting from Galilee all the way here.’ Hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was from Herod’s district, Pilate sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time” (Luke 23:5-7 CEB).
The “Herod” mentioned within this passage is known to history as Herod Antipas. Herod served as the Tetrarch (or governor) over the Galilee region from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39. He was the very same man who had earlier arranged to have John the Baptist decapitated as recorded in Mark chapter six. His father, Herod the Great, was the person who killed all the male children in Bethlehem aged two and under in an attempt to eliminate Jesus as a potential rival while Jesus was still an infant (see Matthew 2:1-16). Herod the Great also went on to murder so many members of his family that it was said of him, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than to be Herod’s son.”
“Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him.
Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other” (Luke 23:8-12).
Since Herod seemed to believe that Jesus was some sort of reincarnated version of John the Baptist (see Mark 6:14-16), this may explain why he questioned Jesus at length. And while Herod may have been interested in seeing Jesus perform a miracle, it appears that he held little real interest in Jesus’ teachings. Given the fact that Herod had earlier disregarded John the Baptist’s counsel from the Word of God, this lack of interest in Jesus’ message is hardly surprising and probably explains why “…Jesus gave him no answer” (NET).
So it appears that Herod regarded Jesus as little more than a magician or a performer; a man who was worthy only for His entertainment value. When Jesus subsequently refused to perform a miracle for his amusement, Herod and his soldiers responded with mockery and contempt and sent Him back to Pilate.
Despite his best efforts, Pilate’s attempt to escape responsibility for deciding Jesus’ case had been unsuccessful to this point. On one hand, it seems that Pilate was reluctant to convict a man that he knew to be innocent. On the other hand, he was still unwilling to dismiss the case against Jesus and risk the animosity of the chief priests and other religious leaders. So in an effort to reach a compromise solution, Luke’s Gospel tells us that Pilate put his political skills to work and attempted to reason with Jesus’ accusers…
“Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, ‘You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him'” (Luke 23:13-16).
Its been said that “politics is the art of the possible” and from a political standpoint, its clear that Pilate tried to negotiate a solution that offered something for everyone: “I will therefore have him scourged with leaded thongs and release him” (TLB). In this scenario, the religious leaders would receive the satisfaction of seeing Jesus flogged repeatedly. This punishment would also presumably serve to discourage Him from causing any future trouble- not only for these same religious leaders but for Pilate as well. Jesus would benefit by escaping the horror of crucifixion. Pilate would gain by avoiding the responsibility to decide Jesus’ case and deflecting this thinly veiled attempt to manipulate him.
While this was a compromise that seemed to work for the benefit of everyone involved, the response to this proposed solution was less than enthusiastic…
“Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Then he said to them the third time, ‘Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.’ But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified…” (Luke 23:20-23).
This was quickly becoming an explosive situation- much more so than Pilate may have anticipated. The unexpected response of these assembled multitudes had placed this Roman leader in a very difficult position- but still, there might yet be one final way out…
“Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them.
But Pilate answered them, saying, ‘Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy” (Mark 15:6-10).
These verses mention that Pilate was accustomed to granting an annual pardon to a convicted criminal during this time and it appears that Barabbas was among those who were eligible for such clemency.
In addition to being a murderer, Barabbas is variously described in John 18:40 as a robber (ASV), a terrorist (CEV), an outlaw (BBE), and/or a political revolutionary (GW). Matthew 27:16 refers to him as a “notorious criminal” (TLB). In fact, we should note that Mark identifies Barabbas as someone who participated in “the rebellion” (as opposed to “a rebellion”), a distinction that probably indicates that this particular incident was well-known among the members of his original audience.
So while we don’t know the details of Barabbas’ criminal history (except to say that he was probably guilty of committing more than one), its likely that he was particularly infamous for it seems as if Pilate was attempting to draw a contrast. In effect, Pilate asked the following question: “Which of these prisoners would you like me to release? Barabbas, the murderer, robber, insurrectionist, and notorious criminal or Jesus whose only ‘crime’ is His claim to be your King?”
You see, a man like Pontius Pilate did not attain his position through foolishness or stupidity. Pilate was well aware that Jesus had been brought to him for no reason other than the fact that the religious leaders were envious of His popularity and influence. Pilate also knew that if Jesus had not gotten on the wrong side of these men, he wouldn’t have had to waste his own time adjudicating what seemed to be nothing more than a petty religious squabble.
So Pilate’s solution involved bypassing these religious authorities and going straight to the people. The idea was simple: if Pilate could convince the people to let him release Jesus instead of Barabbas, he could then return to these religious leaders and say, “I’m sorry but my subjects have spoken. The people want me to release Jesus instead of Barabbas and I must follow the will of the people.”
It was a perfect plan- or so it seemed.
“But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, ‘What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?’ So they cried out again, ‘Crucify Him!’ Then Pilate said to them, ‘Why, what evil has He done?’ But they cried out all the more, ‘Crucify Him!'” (Mark 15:11-14).
Inexplicably to Pilate, the assembled multitudes began to call for Barabbas’ release and Jesus’ crucifixion at the instigation of the religious authorities. While this may seem to be a strange turn of events in a city that welcomed Jesus during His triumphal entry just a short time earlier, there were some political dynamics that may help to explain this crowd’s response.
As mentioned earlier, the population of Jerusalem generally increased by a factor of ten or more during the time of the Passover celebration. Its entirely possible that many among the crowd that stood before Pilate were “out-of-towners” who were unfamiliar with Jesus or His ministry. Since such people were likely to be reliant on the counsel of their spiritual leaders in responding to Pilate’s offer, it may have seemed appropriate to join with the chief priests in calling for Jesus’ death. This does not serve to excuse such an uninformed response but it does help to explain it.
Then there was the issue of Pilate himself. Since the native inhabitants of Israel generally despised the Romans and their leaders, any course of action that appeared to be favored by Pilate was one that was likely to be vehemently opposed by the general public. There is a reasonable possibility that there were many within this crowd who simply decided, “If Pilate is for this then I’m against it.”
We should also consider the role that Barabbas played in this process. For instance, its easy to assume that a thieving, murderous, revolutionary like Barabbas was someone who carried a poor reputation among the people of that day. But that may not necessarily be the case- in fact, Barabbas may have been looked upon as a hero by some segments of the population for his efforts to help free the people of Israel from the yoke of Roman oppression.
If these spectators had come to the conclusion that Jesus was not going to be the kind of leader who would work to rescue them from the control of the Roman government, then they may have preferred to ask for the release of someone else (like Barabbas) who would.
Following the crowd’s rejection of Pilate’s offer to release Jesus, John’s Gospel tells us that Pilate made the decision to scourge Him even though he realized that Jesus was not guilty of the crimes He had been accused of. He then permitted his soldiers to disgrace Jesus by beating Him, giving Him a “crown” made of thorns, and dressing Him up in a robe of purple, the color of royalty…
“So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands. Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him'” (John 19:1-3).
Pilate then presented Jesus -now beaten and bloodied- to the people…
“Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’ Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’
The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’ Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid” (John 19:4-8).
This entire situation was beginning to spin dangerously out of control for Pilate. When Jesus was first brought before him, Pilate may have considered His case to be little more than a tedious dispute. But this affair was quickly turning into something much bigger than a routine judicial case- and that was when Pilate decided to have another interview with the prisoner…
“(Pilate) went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’
Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin'” (John 19:9-11).
That was not the kind of answer that Pilate could use to quietly resolve this issue- and his further attempts to release Jesus were about to be met with a response that informed him that his entire political career was at stake in this decision.
“From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar'” (John 19:12).
This was quite possibly the last thing Pilate wanted to hear from this mob. In 21st century terms, we would characterize this response as an example of political hardball- and those who sought Jesus’ death were now about to exploit one of Pilate’s key vulnerabilities.
You see, any allegation of disloyalty to the cause of Caesar and the Roman Empire was certain to be met with an official inquiry. While Pilate might initially survive such scrutiny, he could never remove the stain of accusation- and there were no guarantees that other, similar charges would not brought against him as part of a future attempt to remove him from office.
In addition, a quiet, manageable population and an ability to keep the peace were political assets that helped enable a bureaucratic leader to maintain his place in office. Therefore, it was not in Pilate’s best interest for his superiors (or even the Emperor himself) to begin to suspect that he was unable to keep things under control within his area of responsibility.
In light of this, the cries of “If you set him free, that means that you are not the Emperor’s friend! Anyone who claims to be a king is a rebel against the Emperor!” (GNB) carried an ominous implication for Pontius Pilate. This not-so-subtle threat represented a clear and unmistakable message: “Give us Jesus to be crucified or we’ll make sure that it costs you your job.”
“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!'” (John 19:13-15).
Pilate had made a strong effort to avoid taking responsibility for deciding Jesus’ fate up to this point. But as we’re about to see, he has now arrived at the place where he will no longer be able to escape this responsibility. Pontius Pilate is now about to answer a question that everyone must eventually answer: “What is your response to Jesus, the Man who claims to be the Savior?”
A story is told of a man alone in eternity, a man with deeply stained hands. The man stands before a wash basin with soap that never diminishes and water that never ceases to flow. The man lathers his hands vigorously as the suds quickly begin to obscure everything below his forearms. He works with a single minded determination, diligently scrubbing and scouring for hours- or was it days? He forcefully works the lather into his skin of his hands leaving no portion untouched. “Perhaps this time…” he thinks to himself.
Eventually the man completes his work and moves with some trepidation to rinse his lather covered hands beneath the running water. The suds run clear and sparkling down into the drain of the wash basin while the man examines the results of his work. To his dismay, he finds that the stain has not been removed from his hands nor has its deep red color been diminished in the slightest degree. The man returns to wash his hands once again as he seeks to deny the truth he can never escape: “I am free of the blood of this just man… I am free of the blood of this just man.”
“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children'” (Matthew 27:24-25).
Pilate’s final decision regarding Jesus -and his motivation for making that decision- is summed up in a single sentence from the Gospel of Mark:
“So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).
This verdict marked the end of Jesus’ sixth and final trial. Although Pontius Pilate made a theatrical display in seeking to wash his hands of this whole affair, he is still responsible for the choice he made. Unfortunately, Pilate’s reaction is not unlike the response of those who make similar choices on a smaller scale today.
You see, Pilate had an opportunity to do what was right and courageous but chose not to. Like so many today, Pilate knew what was right but did what was wrong because he was more concerned with what was socially and politically expedient than he was with doing what he knew was right.
“Pilate wanted to please the crowd, so he freed Barabbas for them. After having Jesus beaten with whips, he handed Jesus over to the soldiers to be crucified” (Mark 15:15 NCV).
Upon receiving Pilate’s authorization, we’re told that Jesus was beaten by the Roman soldiers before going to the cross. This beating (variously referred to as a scourging or a flogging depending on the translation) was generally performed in advance of the actual act of crucifixion.
A “scourge” was a type of whip that consisted of a wooden handle with multiple lashes or strips of leather. Sharp-edged pieces of bone, metal, and/or lead were commonly attached to these lashes. The act of scourging a convicted criminal was primarily designed to eliminate the prisoner’s ability to resist the act of crucifixion.
The condemned prisoner was first stripped of his clothing while his hands were tied above his head to a support column. Two soldiers (called lichtors) were then positioned on either side of the prisoner. When ready, each soldier would take alternate turns whipping the victim. In doing so, the embedded metal within the scourge would slowly begin to tear into the prisoner’s body, removing small bits of flesh with every strike.
A scourging generally continued until it was determined that the prisoner was close to death. While the Jewish people were limited to thirty-nine lashes in whipping a prisoner, (1) the only general condition placed upon a Roman lichtor was that the prisoner had to be kept alive to carry his cross to the place of execution.
“Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison. And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him” (Mark 15:16-19).
The Praetorium served as the place of residence for the Roman troops of that area. It was there that the soldiers in charge of Jesus began to mock His claim to be a king by spitting upon Him and dressing Him up in purple, the color of royalty. These men created a crown made from thorns in a caricature of kingly authority and put it on His head. They gave Him a cane to serve as a kind of “royal scepter” and then beat Him with it as the entire battalion of soldiers witnessed this humiliation.
(1) See the historical reference in 2 Corinthians 11:24
“They put a purple cloak on him and after braiding a crown of thorns, they put it on him. They began to salute him: ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ 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” (Mark 15:17-19 NET).
In a grotesque parody of the golden crown typically worn by a king, some among this garrison of soldiers placed a crown woven from the branches of a sharp thorny plant upon Jesus’ head prior to His crucifixion. While its natural to focus on the humiliation associated with this crown of thorns, this action also gives us an idea regarding the length of time that Jesus had to endure these indignities.
You see, its unlikely that these soldiers had such a crown ready and waiting for Jesus upon His release for crucifixion. Its more likely that one of the soldiers watching this mockery suddenly got the idea that this so-called “king” ought to have a crown. That person then had to go out to find an appropriate plant, remove the branches from that plant, weave those branches into a crown-like shape, and then return to place it upon Jesus’ head. That process surely took some time to complete- and all while Jesus continued to be mocked and humiliated by the rest of these solders.
The crown of thorns worn by Jesus featured thorns that extended to a maximum length of two inches (5 cm). We’re also told that the Roman soldiers repeatedly beat Jesus on the head (one of the most vascular areas of the body) during this time, an act that was was certain to produce severe bleeding as these thorns began to be driven deeply into His scalp.
Luke 22:64 provides us with some additional detail in reporting that Jesus was blindfolded for at least part of this time. Without the ability to see during this beating (and thus unable to reflexively protect Himself), it’s likely that Jesus was also injured severely around the head and face area during this time.
Although the Gospels do not provide us with an extensive physical description of this attack, this may be due to the fact that this information had already been prophetically detailed in advance…
“I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).
“…His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14).
“And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him” (Mark 15:20).
The Gospel of John tells us, “They took Jesus therefore, and He went out bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha” (John 19:17 RSV). The crossbar (or horizontal portion of the cross) was called a patibulum. The patibulum was a long piece of wood that could also be utilized to bar large doors. These pieces were generally six feet (2 m) long and weighed 100-125 lbs (45-57 kg). Those condemned to crucifixion would generally be made to carry this crossbar to the site of execution by balancing it along both shoulders.
The road to Jesus’ crucifixion (known today as the Via Dolorosa or the “way of suffering”) represented about a half mile (0.8 km) journey. In Jesus’ case, the beating He sustained had weakened Him to the point that He was unable to carry His cross all the way to the place of crucifixion. That led to what happened next…
“Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross” (Mark 15: 21).
Since Jesus was unable to bear the weight of His cross, it became necessary for someone else to do so. Since Roman military personnel would never assist in such a manner and those among crowd calling for Jesus’ death would resist doing so, a foreigner provided the best option for taking on this responsibility.
According to the law of that day, a Roman soldier had the right to compel a citizen to carry his gear for a maximum distance of one mile. All a service member had to do was lay the blade of his sword upon the soldier of a bystander in order to obligate that person to carry his burden. In this instance, a man who happened to be among the crowd that day -Simon of Cyrene, who had just arrived- was made to carry Jesus’ cross to the site of His execution.
Cyrene was a city located in northern Africa in an area that is known as Libya today. Acts 2:10 implies that a number of Jewish people lived in that area and Simon was probably in Jerusalem to take part in the Passover celebration. Finally, the fact that his sons Alexander and Rufus are mentioned implies that these men were known to Mark’s original audience and were members of the Christian community there.
“Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it” (Mark 15:23).
This “wine mixed with myrrh” that was given to Jesus prior to His crucifixion was probably intended to act as a sort of pain-relieving aid. While this may be appear to be a compassionate gesture at first glance, its possible that this was actually intended to help enable a prisoner to endure the act of crucifixion for an extended period. Whatever the motivation, it is significant that Jesus refused this attempt to offer relief for His pain for it tells us that He chose to endure the full effect of His crucifixion without any external aid.
“And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take” (Mark 15:24).
Upon arrival to the site of crucifixion, the prisoner would be stripped of his clothing and bound with ropes or nailed to the crossbar that he had carried. Those who were nailed to their crosses, as Jesus was, were secured with large spikes- 7 inches (18 cm) long, and 1/3 inch (.75 cm) wide at the head -driven into the upper wrist area at the base of the hand. After this, the crossbar was fastened onto a vertical pole (or “stipe”) into which the victim’s feet would be nailed.
Regarding the act of crucifixion, one source makes the following observation:
“Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution and usually was reserved only for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest of criminals.” (1)
Having little or nothing to dispose of upon His death (see Matthew 8:20), the soldiers attending to Jesus’ crucifixion then proceeded to gamble for the only thing of value that He apparently had left- a seamless garment…
“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. So they said, ‘Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, ‘They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.’ So that is what they did” (John 19:23-24 NLT).
So it appears that Jesus was a man who was literally left with nothing -not even the clothes He was wearing- upon His death.
(1) “Christ Died Quickly On The Cross” William D. Edwards, quoted in “The Book Of Jesus” edited by Calvin Miller pg 388
“Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Mark 15:25-26).
For those who were crucified by the Romans, a statement of charges was generally hung around the neck of the victim or nailed to the pole above his head. This statement of charges was known as a “titulus” and it’s interesting to note that Jesus was not identified with the allegations that had been brought against Him by the religious leaders. (1) In Jesus’ case, the description of His alleged crime simply read: “The King of the Jews.”
While Pontius Pilate had surely been responsible for crucifying a large number of prisoners without second thought, it seems that he took a particular interest in Jesus’ case. For instance, we learn from John’s Gospel that Pilate personally inscribed the statement of charges against Jesus, thus confirming His identity and the reason for His crucifixion: “Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19 emphasis added).
In fact, Pilate not only confirmed the actual charge against Jesus, he took steps to ensure that everyone could identify the reason for His crucifixion by stating the indictment against Him in multiple languages: “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin” (John 19:20). Because of this, everyone had the ability to validate Jesus’ identity and the reason for His crucifixion in each of the common languages of the day.
Not surprisingly, Pilate’s decision to erect this signage led to some resistance from the religious leaders…
“Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.” Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written'” (John 19:21-22).
Although Pilate’s placement of this signage effectively confirmed Jesus’ identity and the reason for His crucifixion, this was something that may have had less to do with Jesus and more to do with his relationship to the Jewish governing authorities.
Since Pontius Pilate was probably not inclined to acquiesce to the demands of those who had forced him into the execution of a clearly innocent man, he made certain to publicize Jesus’ identity for everyone to see as well as those reading this account today.
(1) Such as the attempt to identify Jesus as a political revolutionary and the leader of a tax rebellion (see Luke 23:2)
“It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The king of the Jews.'” (Mark 15:25-26 NET).
There are two questions associated with this short passage, one that concerns the timing of Jesus’ crucifixion and another that relates to the statement of charges against Jesus that was placed by Pontius Pilate. One scholar helpfully addresses both questions and we’ll consider his response to the statement of charges against Jesus first…
PROBLEM: The wording of the accusation above Christ’s head on the cross is rendered differently in each Gospel account.
Matthew: “This is Jesus the king of the Jews” (27:37).
Mark: “The king of the Jews” (15:26).
Luke: “This is the king of the Jews” (23:38).
John: “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (19:19).
SOLUTION: While there is a difference in what is omitted, the important phrase, “the king of the Jews,” is identical in all four Gospels. The differences can be accounted for in different ways. First, John 19:20 says, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” So then, there are at least three different languages in which the sign above Christ’s head was written. Some of the differences may come from it being rendered in different languages.
Further, it is possible that each Gospel only gives part of the complete statement as follows:
Matthew: “This is Jesus [of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”
Mark: “[This is Jesus of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”
Luke: “This is [Jesus of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”
John: “[This is] Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews.”
Thus, the whole statement may have read “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” In this case, each Gospel is giving the essential part (“the king of the Jews”), but no Gospel is giving the whole inscription. But neither is any Gospel contradicting what the other Gospels say. The accounts are divergent and mutually complementary, not contradictory. (1)
So whether the answer is related to the challenges associated with translating the language found on an ancient sign into another (and equally) ancient language or the possibility that each Gospel provides a complimentary account, the basic message was clear to anyone present at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and to anyone reading the Gospel accounts of His execution today: Jesus was publicly identified and crucified as The King Of The Jews.
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : A popular handbook on Bible difficulties (361). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Mark 15:25-26 ASV).
A second question surrounding this passage concerns the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. You see, Mark’s account of this event tells us that “…it was the third hour” when Jesus was crucified, or nine o’clock in the morning. However, the Gospel of John’s record of Jesus’ crucifixion states the following: “Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!'” (John 19:14). The “sixth hour” would be equivalent to 12:00 noon.
So how can we account for these seeming discrepancies. Well, author and apologist Norman Geisler again assists with the following observation…
PROBLEM: Mark’s Gospel account says that it was the third hour (9 a.m. Jewish time) when Christ was crucified (15:25). John’s Gospel says that it was about the sixth hour (12 noon Jewish time) when Jesus was still on trial (19:14). This would make His crucifixion much later than specified by Mark. Which Gospel is correct?
SOLUTION: Both Gospel writers are correct in their assertions. The difficulty is answered when we realize that each Gospel writer used a different time system. John follows the Roman time system while Mark follows the Jewish time system.
According to Roman time, the day ran from midnight to midnight. The Jewish 24 hour period began in the evening at 6 p.m. and the morning of that day began at 6 a.m. Therefore, when Mark asserts that at the third hour Christ was crucified, this was about 9 a.m. John stated that Christ’s trial was about the sixth hour. This would place the trial before the crucifixion and this would not negate any testimony of the Gospel writers.
This fits with John’s other references to time. For example, he speaks about Jesus being weary from His journey from His trip from Judea to Samaria at the “sixth hour” and asking for water from the woman at the well. Considering the length of His trip, His weariness, and the normal evening time when people come to the well to drink and to water their animals, this fits better with 6 p.m., which is “the sixth hour” of the night by Roman time reckoning. The same is true of John’s reference to the tenth hour in John 1:39, which would be 10 a.m., a more likely time to be out preaching than 4 a.m. (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : A popular handbook on Bible difficulties (361). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors'” (Mark 15:27-28).
As is the case today, robbery was seen as a criminal violation that could lead to arrest and incarceration in the days of the first century. But as is also the case today, the crime of robbery was usually not considered serious enough to warrant capital punishment. Therefore, its likely that the men who were crucified with Jesus were men who were responsible for other criminal acts as well. Since Pilate had originally intended to substitute Jesus for Barabbas (a man who had committed offenses worthy of crucifixion), its possible that these men had been associated with Barabbas in his crimes as well.
A little later in his Gospel, Mark tells us, “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him…” (Mark 15:32). So even though Jesus had been abandoned by those who followed Him, rejected by the religious leadership, and humiliated by representatives of the government, He was now faced with the additional indignity of criticism from those who had been condemned to death along with Him.
However, it seems that one of these criminals subsequently had a change of heart…
“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:39-43).
Its significant to note that Jesus spoke less than fifty words while he was hanging upon the cross. (1) Yet His response to this simple expression of faith represented more than a quarter of those final words. This gracious act of compassion and acceptance should comfort anyone who may feel as if he or she is beyond God’s mercy, for in the words of the Apostle Paul…
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
“And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe…'” (Mark 15:29-32).
Its likely that the place where Jesus was crucified was located in a heavily traveled portion of that area, a location that allowed ample opportunity for pedestrians, travelers, and morbid curiosity-seekers to stare at or mock those being crucified if they were inclined to do so. In this instance, Jesus’ adversaries continued to hurl abuse at Him despite His seeming defeat on the cross. Yet in doing so, those who challenged Jesus on this manner took His own words out of context and assigned them with a meaning that He never intended.
You see, the Gospel of John records the following exchange between Jesus and these religious leaders…
“So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:18-21).
Although John provides the context of Jesus’ statement for the benefit of his readers (a group that would not have had the opportunity to question Jesus directly), it does not appear that these religious authorities ever sought Jesus for a clarification as to what He actually meant in making such a seemingly outrageous statement.
Unlike Jesus’ disciples who sought Him for an explanation regarding His teachings on more than one occasion, it appears the these men were simply content to be outraged by Jesus’ response without seeking to truly understand His meaning. It also appears that none of these men ever approached Jesus to ask, “Did you really say that you were going to destroy the Temple and raise it up in three days?”
Because of this, Jesus can identify with anyone who has ever been misquoted, misrepresented, or had a statement taken out of context by others. As the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us…
“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT).
“Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33).
Although crosses can often be found printed on clothing, inked as tattoos, hung on necklaces, or worn as other forms of jewelry, many of those who display crosses in this manner may not be familiar with what the actual act of crucifixion represents.
After being flogged repeatedly with a lead-tipped leather whip, a prisoner condemned to crucifixion would be nailed or tied with ropes to the crossbar he had carried to the site of his execution. As the prisoner hung on his cross, his respiratory muscles would slowly lose their ability to function. While air could be drawn into the lungs, it could not be exhaled properly. To breathe, the victim would have to push himself up against the nail that held his feet. If he failed to do so, death by suffocation would result.
A crucified prisoner was completely exposed to the natural elements and typically experienced severe thirst and muscular cramping as he hung upon his cross. Blood loss was extensive and the nails used in securing the victim’s hands generated excruciating pain from severed or irritated nerve endings. One medical commentator also makes the following observation regarding the act of crucifixion…
“When the cross was erected upright, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints… The arms, being held up and outward, held the rib cage in a fixed end inspiratory position which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath.
The victim would only be able to take very shallow breaths (This may explain why Jesus made very short statements while on the cross). As time passed, the muscles, from the loss of blood, last of oxygen and the fixed position of the body, would undergo severe cramps and spasmodic contractions.” (1)
This is how the crucified would spend their final hours of life and as one commentator bluntly observed, “Romans were grimly efficient about executions. Victims did not escape with their lives.”(2)
After death, the body of a crucified prisoner would often be left to rot on his cross to serve as a reminder to those who would seek to defy the authority of Rome. While this may sound highly offensive in our modern-day society, the message of the Roman government was clear and unmistakable to all who were there to observe…
- Do you want to oppose the authority?
- Are you considering a rebellion against the Roman government?
- Do you want to break the law? That could happen to you!
(1) Terasaka, David M.D.. Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ .http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/terasaka_david/misc/crucify.cfm
(2) In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church Paul L. Maier pg. 195
“At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Mark 15:33 GW).
Earlier in Mark 8:11 we read, “…the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him.” Here now in Mark chapter 15, these religious leaders receive the sign they had previously asked for: “At the sixth hour (or noon) darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour” (or 3:00 pm). This clearly did not bode well and likely symbolized God’s displeasure over what had transpired during this time.
The Old Testament book of Psalms provides us with a prophetic description of the pain and suffering endured by Jesus during His time on the cross, a graphic account that was authored approximately ten centuries prior to His crucifixion…
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:14-18 NIV).
Mark 15:34 then goes on to say, “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'”
The New Testament book of 2 Corinthians helps clarify the reason behind this statement when it tells us, “…God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…” in speaking of Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). Armed with the knowledge that a holy, righteous, and morally perfect God cannot tolerate sin, and knowing that His Father had withdrawn from Him because of this, Jesus cried out in the words of Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In doing so, Jesus spoke these words so that we would never have to.
This passage also carries an overwhelming sense of desertion, loneliness, and sorrow as Jesus bore the sins of the entire world- the sins of those who had lived, those who were living, and those who had yet to live. His friends had deserted Him, society had rejected Him, and His Father had now turned away from Him. Jesus was now a Man who was totally, completely, and utterly alone.
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, ‘Look, He is calling for Elijah!’
Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, ‘Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down'” (Mark 15:34-36).
Mark 15:36 tells us that Jesus was given “sour wine” for His thirst, a drink that we might associate with something like vinegar today. This reference likely alluded to an inexpensive drink made from a mixture of water and vinegar that was largely consumed by soldiers, slaves, and the poor. Yet even after receiving what amounted to little more than a taste of this drink, Jesus continued to serve as an object of mockery and ridicule from those who were there to observe His crucifixion: “Wait! Let us see if Elijah is coming to bring him down from the cross!” (GNB).
Its easy to sense the disdain, contempt, and utter lack of compassion that these bystanders held for Jesus. Even the seemingly benevolent act of offering Him something to drink is suspect, for as commentator observes…
“At first glance, it looks like this man is moved with compassion for Jesus. He runs to get vinegar, this anesthetic that will deaden the pain of suffering, and fills a sponge with it and puts it up to the lips of Jesus. It looks like he is trying to relieve his suffering and offering him some relief from his pain.
But, if you look at Mark’s account carefully, that is not his motive at all. This man at the cross is saying, ‘Let’s delay this death.’ He gave Jesus the sponge so he would not die too quickly. ‘Wait,’ he said, ‘let’s see whether Elijah will come and deliver him'” (1)
If those who were there to hear Jesus speak these words had been more familiar with the Scriptures, they may have identified His statement with the opening words of Psalm 22 instead of associating it with a call for the prophet Elijah.
Their mistaken response serves to provide us with an object lesson today, for a familiarity with God’s Word is essential in leading to the proper interpretation of God’s Word. Those who are unfamiliar with the teachings of the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments are those who are most at risk for misinterpreting Jesus’ message.
(1) The Awful Penalty Ray C. Stedman http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/mark/the-awful-penalty
“And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last” (Mark 15:37).
In recording the account of Jesus’ final moments, Mark 15:37 simply tells us, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last” (NIV). So there are no expressions of drama, angst, or emotional outburst to be found within Mark’s account of Jesus’ death. In fact, its amazing to note the incredible restraint that all four Gospels use in reporting the end of Jesus’ life.
For example, Matthew 27:50 says, “…Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” Luke 23:46 tells us that “…when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” Finally, John 19:30 reports, “…when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” So the Gospel authors refrained from presenting Jesus’ death in a manner associated with a Hollywood blockbuster movie. Instead, the account of Jesus’ death is presented in a simple, factual manner.
These reports also tell us that Jesus willingly “gave up” His spirit at the time of His death. In other words, no single group or individual took Jesus’ life; instead, we’re told that He voluntarily laid aside His physical existence. Jesus prophetically explained this idea in the Gospel of John when He said, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).
In fact, we can say that no one made Jesus do anything regarding His crucifixion and the events that surrounded it. For instance, Jesus made the following statement at the time of His arrest: “…do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26:53-54).
We also have this exchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate as mentioned earlier in the Gospel of John: “‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…'” (John 19:10-11 NIV).
No one took Jesus’ life from Him, Instead, He voluntarily gave it up on our behalf.
“And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38).
Mark 15:38 tells us that upon Jesus’ death, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Before we consider the significance of this event, let’s take a look at a description of this veil as found within the Old Testament Book of Exodus…
“And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy” (Exodus 26:31-33 ESV).
The Temple contained an interior room known as the Most Holy Place, also known as the Holy of Holies. This was the area where the Ark of the Covenant was located, the golden chest that contained the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff that had budded (see Exodus 25:10-22 for a description). It was also the place where the High Priest entered once a year on the Day of Atonement to cover the sins of the people as described in Leviticus chapter sixteen.
This area was recognized as the dwelling place of God and it was separated from the rest of the Temple by a veil that was said to be 90 feet (27.5m) high. Regarding this veil, one commentator writes, “The Veils before the Most Holy Place were 40 cubits (60 feet) [or about 18 meters] long, and 20 [cubits] (30 feet) [or about 6 meters] wide, of the thickness of the palm of the hand… these Veils were so heavy, that, in the exaggerated language of the time, it needed 300 priests to manipulate each” (1)
This enormous curtain-like veil was torn from from top to bottom (indicating a work initiated by God Himself) upon Jesus’ death. This act helped authenticate the fact that access to God was now freely available through Jesus’ death; anyone could now enter God’s dwelling place through His sacrificial work on the cross. It also meant that the old system of sacrificial offerings was no longer in effect, for in the words of Hebrews 9:26, “…He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
(1) Alfred Edersheim The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 5, chapter 15
“So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this Man was the Son of God!'” (Mark 15:39).
While the Apostle Peter had been the first to identify Jesus as “…the Christ, the Son of the living God” in Matthew 16:16, this Roman centurion is the first recorded non-Jewish person to do so as well. Although this soldier presumably witnessed many such crucifixions, it seems that Jesus’ death made a profound impact upon him and moved him to exclaim, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54) and, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” (Luke 23:47).
In seeking to understand the differences in this centurion’s response as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we can turn once again to some helpful observations from the pen of author and apologist Dr. Norman Geisler…
“Christian scholars do not claim to have the exact words of the speakers in every case, but only an accurate rendering of what they really said. First of all, it is generally agreed that they spoke in Aramaic, but the Gospels were written in Greek. So the words we have in the Greek text on which the English is based are already a translation.
Second, the Gospel writers, like writers today, sometimes summarized or paraphrased what was said. In this way, it is understandable that the renderings will be slightly different. But in this case, as in all other cases, the essence of what was originally said is faithfully produced in the original text. While we do not have the exact words, we do have the same meaning.
Finally, when the sentences are totally different (but not contradictory), then we may reasonably assume that both things were said on that occasion and that one writer uses one and another writer the other. This is a common literary practice even today.” (1)
In addition to this centurion, the Scriptures also record the response of the multitudes who witnessed this event: “The crowds of common people who had gathered and watched the whole ordeal through to its conclusion left for their homes, pounding on their own chests in profound grief” (Luke 23:48 Voice).
Although many among the crowd had a profound emotional response to Jesus’ death, it is unfortunate to note that there is no record of a change in attitude to accompany those feelings. Unlike the centurion who witnessed Jesus’ death, it does not appear that these others subsequently came to an acknowledgment of Jesus as the righteous Son of God, nor can we definitively say that their sorrow over His death led to a change in their conduct or lifestyle as a result.
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : A popular handbook on Bible difficulties (364). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40-41).
While it may be tempting to gloss over the final seven verses of Mark chapter fifteen in light of the report of Jesus’ death, these final verses establish some important lines of evidence that will become important later on. But first, lets take a closer look at the group of women mentioned here, an assembly that represented some of Jesus’ most faithful followers…
- Mary Magdalene. Mary’s name indicates that she and/or her family originally came from the town of Magdala, a village that was located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had earlier rescued her from possession by seven demonic beings according to Luke 8:2.
- Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses (ESV). This woman, also named Mary, was distinguished from Mary Magdalene by the names of her sons who were apparently well-known among the members of the early church. Unfortunately, nothing else is known about her.
- Salome. In Matthew 27:56 we learn that “…the mother of Zebedee’s sons” was present with the two Marys during this time. This indicates that Salome was the mother of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, and the same person who once asked Jesus if her sons could have the honor of being seated alongside Him in His heavenly glory (see Matthew 20:20-21).
- and many other women. We can identify at least two other individuals from among this group by examining some information contained within John’s Gospel. For example, John 19:25-27 tells us that Jesus’ mother Mary was among those who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. This passage also mentions a fourth woman named Mary (identified as the wife of Clopas) who was there at this time as well.
We can surmise from the information given to us in John 19:25-27 that this group of women was close enough to Jesus’ cross to communicate with Him at one point but subsequently relocated to an area that was some distance away.
While it’s possible that the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion was too much for these women to experience at close visual range, we should credit their decision to remain with Jesus (even at a distance) for it seems that His disciples (1) were nowhere to be found during this period.
(1) With the exception of John (John 19:25-27)
“Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:42-43).
A previously unknown individual, Joseph of Arimathea, now steps forward to play a key role in the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. Although Joseph’s hometown of Arimathea was located about twenty miles (32 km) away from the Jewish capital city, it is thought that he had relocated to Jerusalem in light of his prominent position among the 70-member council of the Sanhedrin.
The Scriptures identify Joseph as a rich man (Matthew 27:57), a good and just man (Luke 23:50), and a person who had become a disciple of Jesus, albeit secretly in fear of the other religious leaders (John 19:38). The reason for his fearfulness might be explained by the fact that while Joseph was a “…highly respected member of the Jewish council” (CEV) he “…had not been in agreement with either the Sanhedrin’s motivation or their action” (Luke 23:51 CJB).
So even though the members of the council had previously gathered to examine Jesus and subsequently condemned Him to death (Mark 14:64), its possible that Joseph was not invited to participate in those proceedings, especially if the other members of the Sanhedrin were under the suspicion that he might move to support Jesus.
Its also worth noting that Joseph “took a risk” (NLT) and “act(ed) courageously” (LEB) as he “…boldly went to Pilate’s quarters to ask for the body of Jesus” (GW). Such a request was certain to infuriate the other members of the Sanhedrin, a group that certainly wished to deny Jesus the honor of a decent burial. It also took courage to approach Pilate, for it is highly unlikely that Pontius Pilate wanted anything further to do with anyone associated with the Jewish High Council on the subject of Jesus of Nazareth.
In addition, we should consider the Roman government’s interest in this matter. You see, the act of crucifixion still served a political purpose following the death of a crucified criminal. As mentioned earlier, the body of a crucified prisoner would often be left to rot on a cross to serve as a object reminder to those who might seek to defy Roman authority. Therefore, it was not in Joseph’s best interest to ask for Jesus’ body since such a request was certain to make enemies among his associates and work against Roman political purposes as well.
“It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body” (Mark 15:42-43 NIV).
“Preparation Day” represented the period when all labor had to be completed since no work was permitted to take place on the Sabbath itself. This surely led to a sense of urgency on Joseph’s part since it was already late in the afternoon and the task of removing Jesus’ body from the cross, preparing it for burial, and securing it within a tomb had to be completed before sundown.
However, these actions effectively disqualified Joseph from participating in the upcoming Passover celebration for two reasons:
- First, he would first have to enter the residence of Pontius Pilate, a non-Jewish person, in order to request permission to recover Jesus’ body.
- Next, he would come into contact with a corpse in the act of removing Jesus’ body from the cross and preparing it for burial.
Each of these acts would serve to make Joseph ceremonially unclean and unfit to participate in the observance of Passover with the rest of the Jewish community. With this in mind (and given the fact that his association with Jesus was likely to be viewed negatively by religious and secular leaders alike), its hardly surprising to read that Joseph “…gathered his courage” (TLB) in seeking permission to provide Jesus with an honorable burial.
“Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph” (Mark 15:44-45).
Roman soldiers routinely broke the legs of crucified prisoners in order to hasten the death process, as seen in the case of the men who were crucified along with Jesus (John 19:31-33). This effectively prevented a prisoner from raising himself up to breathe and quickly led to death by asphyxiation. Since the act of crucifixion usually resulted in a slow, painful death that sometimes took place over several days, Pilate was naturally surprised to find that Jesus had already passed away.
Since the denial of a proper burial represented the final act of disgrace that could be inflicted upon a convicted prisoner, the fact that Pilate permitted Joseph to provide Jesus with an honorable burial was probably intended as an expression of contempt for those religious leaders who surely desired to see the maximum level of humiliation for Jesus in death.
“Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid” (Mark 15:46-47).
While it certainly took a considerable amount of courage for Joseph to approach Pilate and ask for permission to bury Jesus’ body, a look at the Gospel of John tells us that Joseph was not the only one to display such fortitude…
“After this Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could take away the body of Jesus… Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took the body away. Nicodemus, the one who at first had come to Jesus at night, was there too. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe, nearly seventy-five pounds in all” (John 19:38-39 CEB).
So Nicodemus, the man who once questioned Jesus by night (John 3:1-21) assisted Joseph in the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial. In doing so, Nicodemus willingly chose to share whatever repercussions might result from a decision to honor Jesus following His death.
Unlike the below ground cemeteries or above ground mausoleums that often serve as final resting places today, the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ body was placed within a rock-hewn tomb that was probably cut from within a hillside. Matthew 27:60 informs us that Joseph’s tomb was newly purchased and Mark specifically mentions that at least two other eyewitnesses saw Jesus’ body sealed within this tomb, a detail that will become more significant later on.
Equally significant is the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus participated in the fulfillment of an important Old Testament prophecy as a result of these actions…
“…For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:8-9).
So Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in linen, placed it in a tomb hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone across the entrance. These final actions seemingly represented the end for Jesus of Nazareth and as one commentator observes,
“For Joseph, as for the women who witness the burial (v. 47), it is a pathetic closure on their messianic expectations. Jesus is dead and buried. Hostile Jerusalem has conquered Christ; the strong man Satan has reclaimed his space. Or so it seems.” (1)
(1) Elwell, W. A. (1996, c1989). Evangelical Commentary on the Bible . (electronic ed.) (Mk 15:42). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.