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Mark 15

Chapter fifteen begins “early in the morning” on Friday (Mark 15:1-5). The Jewish leaders had done all they could do. Rome allowed them to carry out any kind of punishment they wanted against their own people, except for the death penalty. Only the Roman governor could do that. Because of the Passover that day and the Sabbath the next, they had no time to lose. Right after daybreak, they took Jesus to Pilate to have him executed.

Pilate had made it a policy to release one prisoner at Passover (Mark 15:6-20), and he had in custody Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer. He thought the people would certainly rather have Jesus released than Barabbas, so that was the choice he gave them. Pilate also had personal issues with the Jewish leaders, so he thought he could use this to take a jab at them (Mark 15:10). He did not expect that they would be able to incite the whole crowd to push against Jesus. Even though Pilate could find nothing wrong with him, he capitulated to their demands, released Barabbas, and handed Jesus over to the crucifixion guard. After a torturous flogging, the soldiers took Jesus inside where they continued to beat and mock him, placing a robe on his shredded back that they would later rip off again.

On the route to the crucifixion site, they pressed into service a traveler named Simon to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21-32). Only Mark records the names of Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus, and Rufus is later addressed by name by Paul in Romans 16:13. Reaching Golgotha, they offered Jesus a numbing agent, which he refused, then nailed him to the cross and hoisted him up. In fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, they threw dice to divide his personal effects. Mark noted that “it was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him,” meaning that everything that happened with Pilate (and Herod; Luke 23:6-12) took place in a matter of only about three hours that morning. For three hours Jesus hung there, exposed and suffocating, while people walked by, shaking their heads and mocking, along with the mercenaries who were being crucified at the same time.

At noon, a supernatural darkness covered everything and lasted for three more hours (Mark 15:33-41). Mark recorded only one of Jesus’ famous last statements, the quote from Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Thinking he would hang there for a while longer yet, they offered him sour wine again, but it was time. He cried a final loud word and died. At that moment, the curtain in the temple hiding the Most Holy Place was torn from the top to the bottom, a feat humanly impossible. Having watched all the events of the day, the centurion in charge realized that Jesus was completely different from anyone he had crucified before. Mark noted that several women who followed Jesus were watching from a distance, but he did not mention any of the other disciples.

With the beginning of Sabbath only hours away (Mark 15:42-47), there was not much time to take care of the body. Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the council who had just condemned Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body in order to bury it. With permission, they took down the body, wrapped it quickly, and put it in Joseph’s own tomb, closing it with a large stone.

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