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Chapter 15

 

The Secular Trial of Christ

15:1 Early in the morning, after forming a plan, the chief priests with the elders and the experts in the law and the whole Sanhedrin tied Jesus up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.

 

The religious leaders had tried and condemned the Lord Jesus Christ to death but had no power to carry out the sentence. So they brought him before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea. If Pilate were to symbolize the rulers of the world (Ps. 2:2) then we might suggest that at Jesus’ trial it was the world which was on trial before God. What would the world (symbolized by Pilate) choose to do with the only begotten Son of God? Notice that they tied Jesus up which shows that they still feared him.

 

15:2 So Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He replied, ‘You say so.’

 

Luke tells us (Luke 23:2) that the false charges made against Jesus were that he was perverting the nation and forbidding the payment of taxes. However, the correct charges were that he claimed to be the Christ, a king. It is in response to the latter charges that Pilate questioned Jesus, for it was a crime for anyone to set themselves up as a king apart from Caesar. It is significant that Pilate did not ask Jesus if he claimed to be king of the Jews, but if he was king. Perhaps the majestic bearing of Christ had already introduced some uncertainty in Pilate’s mind. At this point, Jesus freely acknowledged himself as king of the Jews. He is in fact the king of the whole earth (Jer. 23:5; Dan. 7:14); the ‘King of Kings’ (Rev. 17:14).

 

15:3 Then the chief priests began to accuse him repeatedly.

 

There were many other accusations that the chief priests made against him, but Jesus did not answer them.

 

15:4-5 So Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you nothing to say? See how many charges they are bringing against you!’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

 

Christ’s silence amazed Pilate, as it did Caiaphas in Mark 14:60; for he did not say another word. At this point, John informs us (John 18:39) that Pilate declared Jesus to be not guilty, for he could find no fault in him.

 

15:6-8 During the feast it was customary to release one prisoner to the people, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was imprisoned with rebels who had committed murder during an insurrection. Then the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to release a prisoner for them, as was his custom.

 

More willing to please the people than to see justice done, Pilate puts the decision about Jesus’ fate into the hands of a crowd which had already been made hostile against Jesus by the chief priests. Wishing to avoid responsibility for Jesus’ case, Pilate is conveniently reminded of the custom of releasing a prisoner at important festive occasions. Barabbas was a convicted criminal waiting to pay the death penalty for his crimes, just as all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and must pay the penalty of sin which is death (Rom. 6:23).

 

15:9-10 So Pilate asked them, ‘Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?’ (For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy.)

 

By using this custom Pilate made a weak effort to obtain the release of Jesus; for he knew that the chief priests had only accused him because they were jealous of him.

 

15:11-12 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas instead. So Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?’

 

Through the agitation of the priests, the crowd called out for the release of Barabbas. In reply, Pilate did what no good judge would ever do: he asked the crowd to decide Jesus’ sentence. This is an example of mob rule at its worst.

 

15:13-14 They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why? What has he done wrong?’ But they shouted more insistently, ‘Crucify him!’

 

“Crucify him!” they cry. “Why?” Pilate asks, “What has he done wrong?” But to the crowd, it didn't matter what he had done. He may have done no wrong, but “crucify him anyway!” is effectively the crowd’s reply.

Through all these events, Jesus knew that he was  neither at the mercy of Pilate, nor of the crowds, for he was in the hands of God, and all that was happening was his Father’s will in fulfilment of Scripture: “it pleased the Lord to bruise him” (Isa. 53:10).

 

15:15 Because he wanted to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them. Then, after he had Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.

 

Like Barabbas, sinners today can be released and escape death through the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus who has paid sin’s penalty for all sinners (Gal. 3:13). Before the crucifixion, Pilate ordered that Jesus be flogged; that is, beaten with a whip made of leather thongs which is said to have had pieces of bone or metal on the ends. This was often given to people who had committed serious crimes and sometimes led to their death before being crucified. Peter refers to this the scourging as in some way being the source of our healing (Isa. 50:6; 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24).

 

15:16-19 So the soldiers led him into the palace (that is, the governor's residence) and called together the whole cohort. 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.

 

Jesus was next handed over to the Roman soldiers for them to do with as they wanted. Taking him into the 'Praetorium’, a judgement hall attached to Pilate's house, they called the whole garrison together to mock him, as he had predicted (Mark 10:34). Purple was the royal colour, so they gave Jesus a purple robe. Kings wore crowns, so they made him a crown of thorns and gave him a reed as a sceptre of authority (Matt. 27:29). They paid mocking homage to him and bowed their knees to him. Not one of these soldiers could have known that Jesus was the beloved Son and that all power and authority was his, and that he would come again in glory as their almighty judge (2 Tim. 4:1).

 

15:20 When they had finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

 

When they had finished they took it all from him and led him out to be crucified.

 

The Lamb of God Sacrificed for the Sins of the World

15:21 The soldiers forced a passer-by to carry his cross, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country (he was the father of Alexander and Rufus).

 

Simon would have been a Jew from the city of Cyrene (in North Africa) visiting Jerusalem for the Passover with his sons, Alexander and Rufus. A Rufus is mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13, though it is not certainly the same one.

 

15:22 They brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which is translated, ‘Place of the Skull’).

 

Simon was compelled by the Romans to carry the cross of Christ to a place called in Aramaic “Golgotha”, or in Latin “Calvary”, both names meaning “the place of the skull”.

 

15:23 They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.

 

Before nailing him to the cross they offered him a mixture of wine and myrrh (myrrh would have dulled the pain) but he refused it for he had to experience complete suffering (Ps. 69:21).

 

15:24 Then they crucified him and divided his clothes, throwing dice for them, to decide what each would take.

 

When they had nailed him to the cross, having stripped him of his clothing, they cast lost (a type of dice) to determine who should get what (Ps. 22:18).

 

15:25 It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him.

 

At nine o’clock in the morning they lifted him up and the crucifixion began (John 3:14).

 

15:26 The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The king of the Jews.’

 

It was the practice of the Romans to write the crime which had been committed above the head of the criminal; thus it was with Jesus. Although the priests objected to this, Pilate insisted that it should remain (John 19:21).

 

15:27-28 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.” (NKJVTM)

 

In fulfilment of the scripture, on either side of him two robbers were crucified (Isaiah 53:12).

 

15:29-30 Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You, who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross!’

 

How evil the hearts of wicked men must be; for they did not cease to mock Christ even as he hung on the cross. They mocked him, saying that although he had claimed that he would destroy and rebuild the temple in three days he was unable to help himself.

 

15:31-32 In the same way even the chief priests — together with the experts in the law — were mocking him among themselves: ‘He saved others, but he cannot save himself! Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, that we may see and believe!’ Those who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him.

 

The chief priests joined in the ridicule, tempting Christ to save himself from death, just as he had saved others. The claim that they would believe what they saw is in fact a contradiction, for faith does not involve seeing (Heb. 11:1). The reality was that if Christ had wanted to, he could have come down from the cross by calling more than 12,000 angels to come to his aid (Matt. 26:53).

 

15:33 Now when it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

 

From noon to three o’clock in the afternoon darkness covered the whole land as the Son of Man became sin for us and bore the penalty of sin on the cross.

 

15:34 Around three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

 

At three o’clock in the afternoon Jesus cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1); for at this point he experienced the wrath of God falling upon him for sinners. Some commentators say that Jesus suffered all the pangs of hell during the three hours of darkness. Those who reject Jesus Christ as their Saviour will experience being forsaken by God when they are in hell.

 

15:35-36 When some of the bystanders heard it they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah!’ Then someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Leave him alone! Let's see if Elijah will come to take him down!’

 

Some bystanders mistook Jesus’ cry as a call for help from Elijah and waited to see if Elijah would set him free. In response to his cry “I thirst” (John 19:28) they gave him sour wine (Ps. 69:21).

 

15:37 But Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last.

 

This drink enabled Jesus to make his final cry from the cross. Only John records the words of that cry: “it is finished” (John 19:30). Christ had completed the work of salvation according to his Father's plan; giving up his life so that sinners might be redeemed. Ultimately it was neither the religious leaders, nor the people who cried “crucify him”, nor Pilate nor the Roman soldiers that took his life – for he gave it (John 10:18).

 

15:38 And the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.

 

The moment Jesus died the veil that barred the way into the Holy of Holies, the presence of God, was torn in two as God accepted the once and for all sacrifice of his Son for the sins of the world (Heb. 10:10; Eph. 2:13-16).

 

15:39 Now when the centurion, who stood in front of him, saw how he died, he said, ‘Truly this man was God's Son!’

 

It was the centurion, a Gentile, who after the crucifixion was the first to acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God.

 

15:40-41 There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they had followed him and given him support. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were there too.

 

Mark closes this section by telling us the names of the women who had followed Jesus and who were with him at the end; being eye-witnesses of his sufferings. Among them was Mary, his mother, to whom Simeon prophesied (when she presented Jesus in the temple) that her heart would be pierced through with a sword of grief as she beheld him being crucified (Luke 2:35).

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