© Rosemary Bardsley 2013


A. BEFORE PILATE – Mark 15:1-20

A.1 The role of the chief priests

Task #1: Read Mark 15:1-20. What did the chief priests do in these verses?






Having concluded that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy on the basis of his own words, the chief priests, along with the elders and teachers of the law, after some time reached the decision to hand him over to Pilate. Again Mark appears to omit some details, but it is obvious from Pilate’s immediate question to Jesus that they have told Pilate that Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews. But, as verse 3 informs us, they actually ‘accused him of many things’.

When the chief priests saw the possibility of Pilate releasing Jesus (verse 9-10), they deliberately stirred up the crowd to ask Pilate release Barabbas, and demand the crucifixion of Jesus.

Let us consider the God-given role and responsibility of the priest:

His role was one of dignity and honour
Even the garments he wore were designed to express the sacredness of his position and responsibility [Exodus 28:2-5].

His role was representative and mediatorial:
When he entered the Holy Place he bore the names of the sons of Israel on his shoulders and his breastpiece [Exodus 28:12,29]. He brought before the Lord the daily offerings to make atonement for the sins of the people [Leviticus 9]. On the Day of Atonement he performed the mandatory rituals on behalf of the people [Leviticus 16].

He pronounced cleansing on behalf of the Lord:
He offered the necessary sacrifices brought at the end of periods of ritual uncleanness, and pronounced the offerer ‘clean’ before the Lord [Leviticus 12-15 – various references].

He was the decision-maker:
He always wore ‘the Urim and the Thummim’ over his heart when he entered the presence of the Lord to make decisions for the Israelites [Exodus 28:30].

He was to be a guilt-bearer:
The priest was to bear on his forehead the guilt involved in the gifts brought to God by the Israelites, so that they may be accepted [Exodus 28:36-38].

He was consecrated to the Lord:
Through detailed purification rituals the priest was consecrated to the Lord. On his forehead he bore a plate – ‘a sacred diadem’ - inscribed ‘holy to the Lord’ [Exodus 29; 39:30; Leviticus 8]. Because of this the priests were also to ‘be holy’ [Leviticus 21:1-8] avoiding both ritual and moral uncleanness so as not to profane the name of the Lord.

Task #2: Discussion.
Consider each of the above and discuss how the priests in Mark 15 failed at each of these points.






These priests had absolutely no idea of who they were here accusing and condemning. They did not realize, they did not even consider:

That here before them was their Lord, the Holy One.

That here before them was the one perfect, sinless, guiltless human being.

That here before them was the real ‘high priest’ – the one on whom their role and responsibilities were patterned; the one of whom they and their functions were prophetic symbols; the one from whom everything they did took its power.

Nor did they realize that they, by their decision, were unwitting tools by which God was now implementing his decision made in eternity before the creation of the world. They think that by their decision they are doing whatever is necessary to maintain the status quo of their religion. But God knows that what they are doing will, in his sovereign plan and purpose, render their role and responsibilities redundant. All of the sacrifices they had offered, all of the mediation they had provided – all of it pointed to this reality: that the Son of God, the Lamb of God, would die: the one real eternal and permanent sacrifice for sin, the one real eternal and permanent mediation.

By killing Jesus they believed they would preserve their religion; but his death effectively brings that religion to its intended end: here in the death of Jesus the purpose of the priestly role and responsibilities is fulfilled. Here the symbolic shadow is replaced with the real thing.

A.2 Pilate’s questions

Task #3: What questions did Pilate ask in these verses?







Pilate must now act as judge. He has the human authority to release Jesus or to execute him. The chief priests have come with many accusations against Jesus. Pilate rightly perceives that [1] the main accusation is that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews, and [2] the priests have an ulterior motive in handing Jesus over to him [verse 10]. Mark infers that Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of anything that warranted execution [verse 14]. Other gospel writers report Pilate stating this clearly [Luke 23:4; John 18:38].

Against his better judgement he gives in to the pressure of the crowd.

A.3 The crowd
The crowd was manipulated by the priests [verse11]. It is possible that this crowd had come to Pilate’s palace with the set purpose of asking for the release of Barabbas, knowing Pilate’s custom of releasing a prisoner during the Feast. It is also possible that at least part of the crowd was comprised of numbers of the high priest’s servants and members of the temple police. [Remember there had been a ‘crowd’ present at the arrest of Jesus – 14:43]. Whether the crowd was the same crowd that had a few days earlier joyously welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem is impossible to say. It is also irresponsible to assume that it was. Given that Jerusalem was at this time filled with pilgrims from all Judea, Galilee, the Decapolis and the surrounding countries, the whole city was crowded with many thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of people.

There seems to be no indication in any of the gospels that anyone in this crowd objected to the crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, Matthew reports that the crowd took upon themselves and their children the guilt of his blood [Matthew 27:25].

How little did they realize what was going on here!

A.4 The mockery of the soldiers – Mark 15:16-20
Even less did the soldiers understand what was going on. They see Jesus as object of ridicule, an opportunity for a bit of fun. They have, like Pilate, recognized the key accusation: that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews. They mock him on that basis.

Here, he who is really the King – the King of the whole world – stands in a palace [verse 16]. He is clothed in royal purple. A crown is placed on his head. He is hailed as king, and paid homage. But it is all in mockery, and accompanied by scorn and abuse.

These same soldiers will one day realize that Jesus really is the King – the King of kings, the Lord of lords. They will one day kneel before him [Philippians 2:10], overwhelmed by his splendour and majesty and authority. But at least one of them will realise who he is within the next few hours.

B. THE CRUCIFIXION – Mark 15:21-47

B. 1 The crucifixion – Mark 15:21-32

Task #4: Describe what each of these did or said:

Simon, the Cyrene:

The soldiers:

The passers-by:

The chief priests and teachers of the law:

The two robbers:

It would seem that those who showed most compassion to Jesus were the Roman soldiers: they forced Simon to carry the cross for him because of his obvious weakness, and they offered him a drink containing myrrh, which would have eased the pain.

On the other hand, those whose historic knowledge of God should have rendered them compassionate continued in their mockery and derision. This derision, both from the passers-by and the religious leaders focused on Jesus’ claims. On the basis of those claims he is exhorted to save himself. The passers-by have over-looked a central fact in the claim that they quote: they have overlooked the ‘in three days’. They, like the religious leaders, taunt him with the suggestion that he come down from the cross. It does not enter their heads that he will do something far greater than coming down from the cross: that he will actually die, be buried and then rise to life. It is not that he will exercise his power and so avoid this death, but that he will go right into the very hold of death, and lie in its clutches, and rise victorious on the third day.

The chief priests and teachers of the law are indicted by their own words. Here they say that if he comes down from the cross they will ‘see and believe’ [verse32]. But when he does the far greater thing, when he actually takes up his life again after being in the holds of death, they will refuse to believe it. Indeed they will fabricate a lie denying his resurrection.

Notes on verse 25,26:
[1] The ‘third hour’, if meant precisely, is 9am. However, John states that it was ‘about the sixth hour’ [John 19:14]. Some suggest that John was using a time system used by the Romans for legal matters, which started counting at midnight, but this explanation lacks verification. It would seem better to suggest that Mark, like John, is being inexact in his timing. Luke affirms Mark’s timing, but with the added qualifier ‘about’ [Luke 23:44, compare Mark 15:33].

[2] The written notice: It was customary that the crimes for which a criminal was executed were written on a notice nailed to their cross. The charge for which Jesus was crucified was his claim to be King of the Jews. When the chief priests requested Pilate to change the sign to ‘this man claimed to be king of the Jews’, Pilate refused. By this action Pilate unknowingly proclaims the truth: that Jesus is King of the Jews. That is what he is, and more.

But at the same time, something far bigger than this is happening. The notice that Pilate had nailed to the cross is nothing compared to what God was nailing to the cross of his Son. In Colossians 2:13,14 we read that God

‘forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its rules and regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross’.

This was the real list of sins for which Jesus died: my transgressions; your transgressions. Every point of God’s law that we have broken. Every point of God’s law that rightly accuses us. God nailed my list and your list to the cross. For that list Jesus died. That list, has forever been taken away from us. It will never again be held against those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

B.2 The death – Mark 15:33-41
A number of things happened at ‘the ninth hour’.

The period of darkness ended.
Jesus cried ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Jesus died.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
The centurion said ‘Surely this man was the Son of God’.

The darkness
Some explain the darkness as a sand-laden desert wind, but nothing in the gospel records supports this. Some suggest it was a total eclipse of the sun, but that is impossible with a full moon (which coincides with the Passover), and would not last for three hours. Luke states ‘the sun stopped shining’. But we are not told in the Scripture what it was that caused the sun to stop shining. Given the additional phenomena that Matthew reports occurring at the moment the darkness ended and Jesus died [Matthew 27:51-53], it is reasonable to conclude that this darkness was a supernatural, sovereign, divine act.

But why this darkness?

It seems that Matthew, Mark and Luke do not even try to explain what happened, so enormous, so terrible is the event hidden behind it. While we must honour their silence we can, from other Scriptures, mention two things about the darkness:

In the Scriptures darkness is a symbol of God’s judgement [Isaiah 5:30; Amos 5:18,20; 8:9; Zephaniah 1:14]. The judgement of God that was due to us, fell upon Jesus Christ. [This is evident in his cry of dereliction recorded in Mark 15:34.]

On the cross Jesus triumphed over Satan, the prince of darkness [read John 14:30 and Luke 22:53; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 5:5], liberating us from his dominion and authority [Colossians 1:13], rescuing us from the darkness. We are given no details of this encounter.

Throughout the Old Testament, and even in the New, there is a strange synergy between creation and man. When man sins creation suffers. When man sins creation is called upon to be horrified at such rebellion. When man is saved, creation is called upon to rejoice. Even now, as Paul states in Romans 8, creation is in agony, waiting for the final redemption of the sons of God. It is not surprising then, that here for these three hours, when the spotless Son of Man bore our sins, and God’s judgement on our sins, in his body on the cross, creation bears witness to this horrific event. The heavens darken. The earth shakes. What is surprising is that that is all that happened.

But there is still more to be said about the response of the created world to this unique and horrendous event: He in whose face the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shone [2Corinthians 4:6], he who is the out-shining of the Father’s glory [Hebrews 1:3], he who is the image of the invisible God [Colossians 1:15], he whom to see is to see God [John 12:45], is here made to be sin [2Corinthians 5:21]. Here life takes on death. Here good takes on evil. Here light takes on darkness. Here the holy God takes on human sin. Isaac Watts responded to this incredible fact with the words:

‘Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature's sin.’

The cry
These words that Jesus cried out from the cross are from Psalm 22:1. Some scholars suggest that Jesus was meditating on, or reciting, this Psalm while he suffered. This is entirely probable given the many links between that Psalm and the circumstances of the crucifixion. Here in this cry we are given a brief glimpse into the emotional, mental and spiritual suffering experienced by Jesus as he bore our sin.

Task #5: Check these Scriptures.
What insight do they give into the feeling of abandonment by God that Jesus felt when our sin was upon him?

Habakkuk 1:13a:

Isaiah 59:2:

2Corinthians 5:21:

1Peter 2:24a:

Isaiah 53:5:

Isaiah 53:10a:

This is the ‘cup’ that Jesus shrank from just a few hours earlier in Gethsemane. But it is also the cup to which he was committed: ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ [John 18:11]

The full weight of our sin was upon Jesus: its guilt, its accusations, its condemnation, its penalty, the wrath of God it attracts, its judgement, the alienation and separation from God it entails, the banishment from God’s presence it causes, the great unpassable chasm it creates, the separation from light that is unavoidable when God who is light has turned his back. And here we come to another level of the darkness – the deep, personal darkness felt by the Christ as he bore our sin, when God meted out to him all that our sin deserved.

The death
As we read the Gospel records we realise that Jesus deliberately died. Death did not overtake him, as it does us. His words in John 10:17,18 are instructive: ‘… I lay down my life … No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.’ John reports the moment of Jesus’ death with ‘… he bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ [John 19:30], Mark writes simply ‘he breathed his last’.

Mark tells us nothing of the reaction of the chief priests and teachers of the law. Maybe they have all by this time gone about their business. But Mark does tell us of one who observed and drew his own conclusion from what he observed. When the Roman centurion heard Jesus’ cry and saw how he died, he said: ‘Surely, this man was the Son of God’.

The temple curtain
This curtain separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place. The Most Holy Place represented the presence of God, from which we humans are banned by our sin. On this very thick, seventy feet tall curtain, there were embroidered golden cherubim [Exodus 26:31-33]. The first place we come upon cherubim in the Bible is in Genesis 3:24, where they are placed by God on the east side of the Garden of Eden, barring human access to the Tree of Life. On the temple curtain, they bar the way into the symbolic presence of God.

But now, at the very moment Jesus dies, that prohibitive curtain is ripped away. The separation that sin has caused between man and God has been removed. Now, through the blood of Jesus permanent, present access to God is restored.

Task #6: What do these Scriptures teach about this restored access to God?

Ephesians 2:18:

Hebrews 4:14-16:

Hebrews 10:19-22:

B.3 The burial – Mark 15:42-47

Task #7: Answer these questions

[1] What did each of these people do or say?

Joseph of Arimathea:


The two Marys:


[2] Suggest what motivated Joseph of Arimathea.




Yet again Mark is very brief, omitting much of the detail contained in the other gospels.

Task #8: Answer these questions:

[1] Why did the women go to the tomb?

[2] Were they expecting the resurrection?

[3] Describe their reaction when they saw the young man.

[4] Describe their reaction when he told them Jesus was risen.

[Note on 16:9-20:
It is commonly acknowledged that verse 8 is the last verse written by Mark. Some ancient manuscripts include a very short additional ending; other ancient manuscripts include the longer ending (9-20) that is included in most English translations. The earliest manuscripts end at verse 8. Some commentators believe that Mark originally wrote beyond verse 8, but what he wrote has for some reason been lost, and so various early Christians attempted to finish off the chapter – hence the short and long extra endings noted above, and various other endings. Other commentators believe that Mark, in his typical brief and abrupt manner, intended to finish with verse 8. The notes below are written with that assumption.]


C.1 Impact of the resurrection
Although Jesus had taught that he would rise on the third day it seems that no one had any idea what he meant. That they did not understand he literally meant he would come back to real physical life on the third day after his death and burial is obvious. Had they understood, the disciples would have been gathered around the grave waiting with joyful expectation. Had they understood, the women would not have come with their spices to anoint his body, nor would they have been wondering who would roll away the stone.

It was totally unexpected. The open tomb. The young man dressed in white. Even before he spoke ‘they were alarmed’.

The Greek word is ekthambeo – meaning to be utterly astonished, greatly amazed, rendered immoveable, and can include reference to terror. It is used only by Mark in the New Testament – in 9:15, 14:33, and 16:5,6.

When the young man gave them his message, assuring them there was no need to be alarmed. However, they were then even more overwhelmed. Mark uses the words ‘trembling’, ‘bewildered’ and ‘afraid’. The way it is written in the Greek text reads ‘trembling and ecstasy was holding/seizing/possessing them’

‘trembling’ – tromos – can refer to physical trembling or to agitation of the mind.

‘bewildered’ – the Greek is actually ekstasis – from existemi – to stand outside of oneself. Hence: to be beside one’s self. Our English words ‘ecstasy’ and ‘ecstatic’ are derived from it. The NIV ‘bewildered’ is an inadequate and potentially inaccurate translation.  They were so highly excited they were beside themselves.

‘afraid’ – phobeo – which can refer to fear or to reverential fear.

Mark commenced his gospel with a bald statement: ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Repeatedly throughout his gospel he mentions the amazement of various people in response to Jesus, and using a variety of Greek words to refer to that amazement. In many of these instances the amazement was generated by Jesus doing and saying things that only God can do and say. Once, immediately on Jesus’ descent from the Mount of Transfiguration, the crowd was ‘overwhelmed with wonder’ when they saw him. Now, as Mark reports the resurrection, the final proof that Jesus is God, he reports also the final amazement – an amazement that absolutely grips these women.

It is probably impossible to find words adequate to describe the state of these women. Matthew says ‘they hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy’ [28:8]. Their total grief has suddenly been overturned. Their disappointment and disillusionment has been undone. Their emotions are more than they can handle. They are shaking and silent as they run back into the city, back through the streets already filling with people. The news is so impossible, so big, so amazing.

But the tomb was empty.

Jesus had done it again: done what only God could do. This final act, this final proof evokes the final, awe-filled and reverential fear.

C.2 The young man’s message
Just as it was an angel who announced the conception of Jesus and the birth of Jesus, so it was an angel who announced his resurrection.

This young man dressed in white, the first messenger from the risen Jesus, is compassionate and understanding. He understood the hearts of the women – he understands their fears, he acknowledges their quest, he knows what has happened that has caused their grief, but he also knows that that is not the end of the story. He shows them the evidence of the resurrection – the place where he was laid is empty. With their own eyes they see the truth of his statement.

He also understood that the disciples also needed proof and hope. His words ‘just as he told you’ will call to their minds everything Jesus had previously said about his death and resurrection.

And he understands Peter, and the special need for reassurance that Peter had at this time. He does not say ‘go, tell his disciples’, which would leave Peter wondering if he was still included, if Jesus still loved him. Deliberately he mentions Peter, deliberately he includes Peter in the message from Jesus. Deliberately Peter is to be told that he will see Jesus, just as Jesus had promised.

As mentioned above, Mark commenced with the words ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Gospel – euangellion – good message, beautiful message. Death cannot be the end of this good, beautiful message. Death, as the final act, would kill all the hopes built upon him. Death, as the unconquered enemy, would undercut all the evidence of deity that had amassed around him. Death, as the last word, would invalidate his promises. There would be nothing good, in such an end, except the bitter-sweet memories. But death was not the end: the news about Jesus Christ is good news. Just as he said he would, he rose from the dead. Just as he said he would, he rebuilt ‘this temple’, his body, and rose to life, and by that resurrection sealed and secured everything he said, everything he did, and everything he promised.