Each gospel is different in that it is written by a different person, records the life of Jesus focusing on different events, or records the same event with more or less detail. Each gospel is similar however, in that it tells the same story, follows the same sequence of events and finishes with a description of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Mark leaves off telling his story from the three levels we have been tracking (ministry to the masses, to His disciples, confrontation with Jewish leaders) and now focuses entirely on the final hours of Jesus' life, what some writers called the "Passion."
All the events, prophecies, teachings and promises have been leading to this moment in time.
Jesus Before Pilate — 15:1-15
The problem for the Jewish leaders was that they wanted to execute Jesus but had neither a valid reason nor the authority to do so. Under Roman law only a Roman official could mete out the death penalty.
1Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate. 2Pilate questioned Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And He answered him, "It is as you say." 3The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. 4Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, "Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!" 5But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.
Pilate was the procurator (Rome's military representative) in Judea from 26 AD to 36 AD. His normal residence was in Cesarea by the coast, but he was in Jerusalem to keep order during Passover season.
That morning the council met again to confirm their decision and formulate their strategy in bringing Jesus before Pilate. Since Pilate would only consider political matters, the Jews framed their accusation of blasphemy in a political context: Jesus was claiming that He was the "King of the Jews." This represented a direct threat to Caesar's authority and would have to be dealt with.
Mark does not provide the remarkable dialogue between Pilate and Jesus that is included in John's gospel (John 18:28-40). He is content to give the briefest of descriptions. Pilate questions Jesus as to His defense or explanation of these charges but Jesus remains silent, simply acknowledging the charge. The other gospel writers explain Pilate's dilemma in realizing Jesus' innocence while being pressured by the Jewish leaders and the crowd. Mark simply records Pilate's overall reaction to Jesus, that of amazement.
6Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. 7The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8The crowd went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. 9Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 10For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. 12Answering again, Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?" 13They shouted back, "Crucify Him!" 14But Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify Him!" 15Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.
The custom at the time (to gain popularity with the Jews and to participate in their most important feast) was to release one prisoner of the people's choosing during the Passover. The crowd was shouting for Barabbas, a guerrilla fighter who was part of a Jewish faction that wanted their nation free from Roman domination. Barabbas was in prison because he had killed someone during one of their uprisings.
At this point Pilate makes three attempts to free Jesus:
- He tries to give the crowd a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. One, a killer and troublemaker; the other, a person who was very popular and had done much good for the people. Pilate probably thought this would circumvent the plot of the leaders by getting the crowd to select Jesus. The leaders responded by stirring up the mob so that they would choose Barabbas over Jesus.
- Pilate then defers to the crowd asking them what they wanted done to the "King of the Jews." Did they not realize what choosing Barabbas would mean? The crowd shouted back their desire in the plainest of language, "crucify Him!"
- Finally, Pilate appeals to their sense of justice asking them why should Jesus be condemned? He reminds them that Jesus had not been convicted of anything. The mob does not even answer his question, they just want Jesus dead.
Of course, Pilate could have simply released Jesus since there was really no case against Him, but because he wanted the favor of the people he condemned a man to death that he knew to be innocent. An innocent man is substituted for a guilty man, and Jesus is now turned over to the guards for torture (scourging is whipping) and execution.
The Crucifixion — 15:16-41
16The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. 17They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; 18and they began to acclaim Him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 19They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. 20After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him.
The Palace/Praetorium was the Antonia castle and the guards were located in a plaza that was part of this complex. A cohort is about a thousand soldiers. They played the "game of the king," a cruel psychological sport used to demoralize prisoners. The idea was to destroy the condemned psychologically and emotionally before destroying them physically. This scene, however, illustrated how close they were in actually declaring the true nature of Jesus.
21They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.
There were other references to Alexander and Rufus in the New Testament to suggest that they became Christians (Romans 16:3).
22Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. 23They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. 24And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. 25It was the third hour when they crucified Him. 26The inscription of the charge against Him read, "THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Myrrh was an opiate given to the condemned in order to dull their pain at the point of actual crucifixion. It made the prisoners easier to handle as they were nailed to the cross. Jesus refused it because He had accepted to drink the full cup of suffering for man and thus wanted to remain clear headed for the important things that were yet to take place.
The ancient writers never mention a loincloth and so the deduction is that Jesus was crucified naked, and His clothing divided up between His executioners. All prisoners had the charges against them posted on the cross beam above their heads. The one on Jesus' cross simply stated, "King of the Jews," a title that was meant to offend the Jews.
27They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. 28[And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And He was numbered with transgressors."] 29Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30save Yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!" Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.
The final insult that Jesus had to bear was seeing those who were supposed to welcome Him now ridiculing and tormenting Him. Note also that both thieves crucified next to Him were also hurling insults at this point.
That Jesus was crucified along with thieves became a stumbling block to the Jews who heard the gospel later on since they could not accept that their Messiah would die in this shameful way. Mark mentions, however, that all of this was according to their Scriptures.
The people who came to see the sad spectacle challenged Him to do another miracle by coming down from the cross, and the leaders felt smug because they thought that they had finally silenced Him. They even used the fact that Jesus remained on the cross as justification for their own disbelief.
33When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, "Behold, He is calling for Elijah." 36Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, "Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down." 37And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. 38And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"
40There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome. 41When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
Jesus was crucified at 9:00 AM (third hour) and from 12:00-3:00 PM there was a darkness that signaled His death and God's displeasure. By His crying out we know that this was the moment of His greatest suffering. He experienced the punishment for the sins of all mankind, separation from God. This painful separation from the Father and subsequent death was the price He had to pay for our sins.
Those who heard His words turned and mocked Him. In Hebrew, the name for God when spoken out loud sounded similar to the name of the prophet Elijah. The Jews believed that Elijah would come to announce and witness the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus, however, taught His Apostles that John the Baptist had fulfilled that role. These men heard only the first two words of His cry and made fun of Him by saying, "This man is dying but He is still calling on Elijah to come and witness that He is the Messiah." They tried to revive Him to see what would happen concerning His call to Elijah.
Jesus died after crying out, and several things happened at this point. Mark only mentions two that were significant to both Gentiles and Jews:
- The veil of the temple between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two. This signified that the separation between God and man had been removed. People no longer needed the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for sin on their behalf. Jesus removed that barrier by offering Himself for sin once for all. Everyone could now go directly to God for salvation at any time, not just once per year.
- Mark notes that a Roman centurion confessed the name of Jesus. This would be significant as a witness to future non-Jewish readers of this gospel.
Mark also mentions the names of the faithful women who supported His ministry and who silently watched His execution.
42When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. 44Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. 46Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.
The body was taken down and buried before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath day. This took boldness on the part of Joseph of Arimathea because the Romans' custom was to leave the bodies on the cross until they decayed. As a believer, Joseph wanted to bury Jesus' body out of respect for his Lord and, as a Jew, he wanted to complete the burial before nightfall in order to avoid the defilement of the land (Deuteronomy 21:23). The linen cloth was a shroud into which spices had been folded. Jesus was hastily wrapped in this and laid in a new tomb with a stone rolled over the entrance.
The Resurrection — 16:1-8
1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. 2Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" 4Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. 5Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. 6And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. 7But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'" 8They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James and Salome, have seen the death and the burial. They return to the tomb in order to finish the cleaning and anointing of the body. Mark describes the resurrection through the eyes of the women who are first to witness the empty tomb. They are met by an angel who has rolled away the stone. He instructs them to tell the Apostles, especially Peter (Jesus wants him to know that he is still included), to go to Galilee where He will meet them. Mark mentions that they are frightened, but we know from the other gospels that they did do what the angel instructed.
This first appearance to women was significant to Jews and Gentiles because in both cultures women were treated as inferior (less so in Jewish culture than in Gentile) and especially in religious matters where they were segregated (e.g. Court of the women). The false notion that somehow God preferred men was shattered here.
Jesus' Appearance and Instructions — 16:9-20
Most of the manuscripts used to translate this gospel into English either omit these verses, have them contained in some form of brackets or provide a brief explanation for them. The reason for this is that this section is not included in several of the oldest manuscripts of Mark's gospel, but appear in other, later documents.
- The original ending by Mark was lost and this is a summary of the endings found in Matthew, Luke and John.
- It was added by a scribe because Mark died before he could finish it.
- Various other endings appear on different manuscripts.
Why is it included?
- Several manuscripts do have it.
- It is completely accurate according to every other New Testament book and teaching.
- It was not rejected by the early church or Apostles.
- We do not have the exact identity of the writers of Hebrews, but because it was accepted by the early church and perfectly accurate according to all teaching, we accept its inspiration.
9[Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. 10She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.
12After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. 13They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.
Mark provides a quick summary of different appearances to Mary and the disciples on the road to Emaus.
14Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. 17These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
19So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.] [And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]
This is a description of an appearance (not necessarily His last one) where there is a summary of His final teaching to the Apostles:
- He rebukes them for their unbelief, even after His resurrection.
- He charges them with the responsibility to proclaim the gospel to the world.
- He also describes some of the miracles they will be able to do as a result of the Holy Spirit empowering them.
- On Pentecost we see the beginning of the manifestation of these powers in order to confirm that their message was legitimate.
There is a brief description of His ascension to heaven and the subsequent ministry carried out by the disciples in Jesus' name. Mark mentions that the Lord's promise of spiritual power was fulfilled as the Apostles began spreading the gospel.
Mark completes his gospel record in much the same way as he started it, brief declarative statements summarizing the final words of Jesus to His Apostles and their obedient response in carrying out their mission to the world.