Mark Study #34
Mark 15:21-41 is one episode with four connected scenes surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion. The first scene (15:21-23) describes the journey to Golgotha, the place of Jesus’ execution. The second scene (15:24-32) depicts what Jesus experienced during the first three hours on the cross. The third scene (15:33-39) portrays the second three hours of Jesus’ experience on the cross. The fourth scene (15:40-41) mentions several women, who had faithfully followed Jesus during His life and even now at His death.
Crucifixion was one of the cruelest forms of capital punishment ever devised. Today the cross has become a symbol of adornment. In Christ’s time, the cross was simply shocking, abhorrent, and grotesque. Crucifixion was utterly scandalous, reserved only for those deemed as the worst and lowliest. Yet, Mark’s account of the physical torture of Christ’s crucifixion is vivid but restrained. The physical torture was not sensationalized, but greater emphasis was placed on the overwhelming spiritual anguish that Jesus experienced. Crucifixion as a method of execution fit well with the imagery of experiencing God’s curse as described by Moses hundreds of years earlier, “for a hanged man is cursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
The first scene is the route to Golgotha. It was customary for those who were condemned by crucifixion to carry their own crossbeam. Probably too exhausted from the intense beating that He had just taken, Jesus was unable to continue carrying His cross. With His disciples nowhere to be found, the soldiers randomly select a passerby named Simon to finish carrying Jesus’ crossbeam. Other than the fact that Simon was from Cyrene, a coastal city in North Africa, not much is known about him. While it is symbolic, Simon became the first person to literally fulfill the command to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus (8:34). Perhaps the mention of Simon’s two sons, Alexander and Rufus, suggest that they were known disciples in the church at Rome (Romans 16:13).
Once at Golgotha, the offering of wine mixed with myrrh, was probably not a gesture of kindness. Most likely, the drink was offered because, in having a numbing effect, it would have oddly served to prolong the time of suffering thus extending the torturous process. Jesus’ refusal to drink the wine might have simply been an aspect of His promise to the disciples to not drink wine again until He would drink it with them anew in the kingdom (14:25). Jesus was destined to drink the cup of God (14:36), not of men. Jesus would not sleep through the cross as His disciples slept in Gethsemane.
The second scene begins with the straightforward description, “and they crucified him.” Displaying another aspect of humiliation, Jesus’ garments were divided up among the soldiers, who where placed in charge of the execution. Lots were cast in order to see who got what articles. Unwittingly, the soldiers fulfilled Psalms 22:18, “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Using the Jewish method of counting hours, Jesus’ crucifixion began at the third hour, which was 9:00 A.M. The name of the condemned man along with a description of his crime was routinely written on a board and attached to the cross. The official charge against Jesus: “The King of the Jews.” Jesus, being crucified between two thieves, fulfilled another prophecy: “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
Subjected to verbal abuse throughout the trials, Jesus was further insulted by onlookers who taunted, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” Even the men crucified along side of Jesus joined in the reviling. The religious leaders chimed in, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Jesus clearly did save others. Ironically, the religious leaders are admitting as such: He spared the disciples from being lost at sea; He healed a woman of a hemorrhage; He delivered many from demons. However, the religious leaders showed how significantly they missed the point of Jesus’ death. Were He to save Himself at that moment, He would have been unable to save others from God’s justice. The religious leaders did not grasp that Jesus would die as a ransom for many (10:45).
The third scene focuses on the undeniable phenomena that accompanied Jesus’ crucifixion. The first recorded phenomenon surrounding Jesus’ death was darkness. For three hours, Jesus hanged on the cross in the daylight, but at the sixth hour (noon), total darkness covered the land. The darkness, which lasted for three hours, most likely symbolized God’s judgment. In the Old Testament, darkness was a picture of God’s judgment (Isaiah 5:25-30; Zephaniah 1:14-15). God’s judgment on human sin was being placed on Jesus in those moments. The darkness visualized what Jesus’ cry expressed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As a part of God’s judgment, Jesus experienced the horror of separation from God, who cannot look on sin (Habakkuk 1:13). Jesus died forsaken by God (Isaiah 53:4-6) so that His ransomed people might experience God as their God who would never forsake them (Hebrews 13:5).
With that cry, Jesus died. But as He died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” This phenomenon too was highly symbolic. Jesus’ death ended, not only the need for repeated sacrifices at the Temple, it also opened a new and ongoing way to directly approach God (Hebrews 6:19-20; 10:19-22). No longer was such intimate access to God possible only once a year and only by the High Priest; now all people everywhere could come into God’s presence through faith in Jesus. This new reality was immediately demonstrated as a Roman soldier—a Gentile—acknowledged, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” While the soldier may have said more than He really knew, Mark begins to bring his Gospel account to its completion with the climatic assertion that Jesus showed who He was most clearly through His death on the Cross.
The fourth scene of this episode mentions the women who were still following Jesus as evidenced by their presence at His crucifixion. While the male disciples had fled, these women are portrayed as disciples whose presence testifies of their love and support. Their devotion was vital to the preservation of Christianity’s historical truths. These women would serve as eyewitnesses to the central events of the Gospel’s message.