Mark 15:22-37


The Gospel reading for this Sunday, in Series B, is Mark 15:1-39. That is obviously too much for one text. For Series A we limited the text to Matthew 27:33-50 and for Series C to Luke 23:33-43, in both cases the Crucifixion of Jesus. In keeping with this practice, we have limited the reading for today to Mark 15:22-37. Thus the preacher has studied the account of the Crucifixion in three of the four Gospels.

The soldiers were introduced at verse 16. The subject of all third person plural verbs from verse 16 to verse 25 is the soldiers. Verses 16-20a tell us what they did in the judgment hall, verses 20b-21 what they did on the way to Calvary and verses 22-25 what they did to Jesus on Calvary.

Mark 15:22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull).

"Brought," Mark alone has this strong verb. Bengel remarks: "Bring, not lead." Sinful men are allowed to dominate Jesus completely. The name golgotha is basically Aramaic. It is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic. The name means "skull." In the (Latin) Vulgate the term is rendered "calvaria." Therefore, we refer to it as either "Golgotha" or "Calvary." It was surely named this because of the shape of the hill.

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

"Offered" is the imperfect of attempted and continued action. AAT and TEV rightly translate: "They tried to give him wine mixed with (a drug called) myrrh." LB, NIV, JB and NEB read "they offered him" which implies that they did not succeed. LB and JB rightly translate: "but he refused it." 

Throughout this study we shall try to examine motives. Why did Jesus refuse the drink? Not because He was not thirsty. He must have been. Not because the drink was bitter. He knew bitterness. But because:

  1. He wanted to keep a clear head for the important things which He would say; and,
  2. To suffer willingly that which the Lord laid upon Him.

Furthermore, what was the motive of the soldiers? Did they feel sorry for Him? Hardly. Reread verses 16-21. There was no mercy. Furthermore, Roman soldiers were not given to sentiment and mercy, as is clear from the remainder of the text. Note that both Matthew (27:34) and Mark inform us that this offer of a drink preceded the actual crucifixion. Their motive evidently was only to make their own work easier since a drugged drink would make the victim more docile. But, most important of all, no matter what their motive, it had been prophesied. Cf. Psalm 69:22.

By the way, Psalms 22 and 69 and Isaiah 53 should be read with reference to Jesus' crucifixion. Amazing fulfillment of prophecy! Nothing is said about offering the two malefactors a similar drink. Jesus is in the center of the stage, if we may speak thus.

Mark 15:24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

This verse is a compound-complex sentence. The first "and" is narrative and the second means "and then." Both verbs are in the present, graphic tense. The second verb is in the middle voice "divide among themselves." "They crucify Him" denotes their duty. "They divide among themselves" denotes their customary privilege. But this customary privilege, in this instance, is precise fulfillment of Psalm 22:19.

One can almost hear them say: "Who gets what?" How to decide? By throwing dice. The clothing of a crucified man was always the perquisite of the crucifiers. From John 19:23 we know that there were four soldiers.

Hendriksen: In all probability by means of throwing of dice the four pieces--headgear, sandals, belt, and outer garment were divided among the four soldiers. The seamless tunic, all of one piece, woven all the way from top to bottom, was also put into the lottery, all of this in accordance with the prophecy of Psalm 22:18.

We don't know for sure. But we do know that the tunic was not divided among them. In any case, note the callousness of these soldiers and also the fact that all they got that day, beside their pay, was Jesus' clothing. By the way, Jesus was very likely naked on the cross. For obvious reasons artists picture Him with a loincloth.

Mark 15:25 It was the third hour when they crucified him.

Here we have an instance of parataxis where English uses hypotaxis. "It was" obviously means "When it was." Thus AAT, NASB, LB, RSV, TEV, NIV, JB. KJV and NKJV preserve the "and." "The third hour" is Jewish reckoning of time for 9 a.m.

Arndt (in his commentary on Luke) suggests that they nailed Jesus to the cross while it was still lying on the ground. Lenski is quite convinced that first they set the cross up and then hoisted Jesus up and nailed Him to the cross. We don't know for sure. In either case, it was brutal.

Mark 15:26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Up to this point the soldiers are the subject of the various verbs. This verse contains an item which is recorded by all four Gospels. "The written notice" is objective genitive. John calls it a "title," Matthew "an accusation," Mark and Luke call it a  "superscription," but Mark alone adds a superscription containing the accusation. From John 19:19 we know that Pilate was the author of this superscription. What was his motive in doing this? Luke 23:2 tells us that the Jews made the charge that Jesus maintained that He was a King. All four Gospels record Pilate's question to Jesus: "Are you the King of the Jews?" Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that He said He was the King of the Jews. John gives Jesus' fuller answer in which He says "Thou sayest that I am a king," not in the sense in which the Jews meant it, of course. Pilate's reaction to all of this is: "I find no fault in this man," Luke 23:4. He had broken no laws. Therefore, no honest charge could be made. But Pilate had to record a charge. That was required of him. He did the best he could, under the circumstances.

And the fact that he refused to change it indicates that Pilate was taunting the Jews with this charge, a charge motivated by hatred and envy. That they were ultimately ashamed of it, becomes clear in verse 32 where they use a different term. More on that later. But, well for us that it was recorded.

The letters I.N.R.I., often found on crucifixes means, in Latin: Jesus, Nazarenus, Rex Ioudaeorum. "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Jesus Himself had agreed to this title as recorded in all four Gospels. He meant it as Nathanael meant it at John 1:47, the Savior of Israel.

Nothing is said about superscriptions for the malefactors. They are not the central figure.

Mark 15:27 They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.

Here the malefactors are called "robbers." What motivated Pilate in having two robbers crucified with Jesus? In the final analysis we just don't know. But it had to be because it was prophesied at Isaiah 53:12. By the way, "with" means "along with" but the word found in the LXX at Isaiah 53:12, means "in close company with" which clearly indicates the importance of Isaiah 53:12, the degradation of being crucified with lawless people.

Some suggest that Pilate's motive was to show the Jews how wrong they were in asking for Jesus' crucifixion. In any case it reminds us of the words: "obedient unto death, yea, the death on the cross." Jesus was subjected to great shame. Now and again one hears of a prominent person who, justly condemned to imprisonment, fears the shame of living among criminals. In a small measure that pictures what Jesus suffered, but His judgment was unjust.

Mark 15:28

This verse, found at Luke 22:37, a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:21, is not found in what are called the best manuscripts The Koine text includes it. Therefore it is found in KJV and NKJV. Likewise in LB. TEV includes it in brackets. All others omit it.

Mark 15:29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying,  "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days," 

Mark speaks about three groups of people:
  1. The bypassers, verses 29-30;
  2. The members of the Sanhedrin, verses 31-32a;
  3. The two men crucified with Jesus, 32b.

Only Luke records that the soldiers joined in the jeering and mocking. Who were the bypassers? Lenski limits it to those who had been at the trial, Mark 14:55-59. Hendriksen includes them but feels that it includes more than that. We know not for sure.

Note that every verb form in this verse denotes continued action, be it present or imperfect tense. That indicates that very likely this went on for the first three hours, again and again.

"Hurled insults" denotes arrogant irreverence. "Shaking their heads" and "saying" are participles denoting manner, how they showed their arrogant irreverence in deed and word. Both denote their utter rejection of Him. These were evidently ordinary common people. Read Mark 14:55-59 at this point.

It is clear that the Jewish authorities, members of the Sanhedrin, engineered this false accusation. But, to their embarrassment, the coached witnesses did not agree. Therefore they could not use it as a charge. Despite that fact, these religious leaders had so stirred up the flesh of the common people that on Calvary they used the charge to taunt Jesus gleefully. (Note that in verses 31-32 the members of the Sanhedrin are clever enough not to use the charge themselves. But they do not object to what the common people must have said again and again during the first three hours.)

To be a religious leader involves one in great responsibility. To misuse this authority to mislead people to their own destruction is awful. Heretics are always of this sort. Jesus had spoken this sentence only once, John 2:19, the great sign involving His death and resurrection for their own good, their own salvation. The common people, who were mislead, say it again and again in derision.

"So!" occurs only here in New Testament. It's like the English "aha!" spoken in derision and contempt. Cf. the Greek of John 2:19 with Mark 15:29. He had said "this Temple." They changed that to "the Temple" meaning the building. He had said "I will raise it" but they changed that to "build." False teachers and their followers always mix just enough truth into falsehood to make it difficult to brand what they say as a lie. Anyone who exposes the falsehood of the heretic is accused of being loveless because, at least at the beginning, people cannot see the falsehood mixed into truth. Luther, in his battle with Rome, complained of this often. In his theological battle with Arius, Athanasius was accused of being loveless because Arius cleverly veiled his heresy in orthodox terms.

Mark 15:30  "come down from the cross and save yourself!" 

Jesus had not used a form of "save" at John 2:19. But the very fact that both common people and members of the Sanhedrin use it jeeringly here on Calvary is proof that they heard Him use the verb often. For example, at Luke 19:10. They could not forget this verb. Furthermore, the very fact that they used a form of "save" in connection with what He had said at John 2:19 shows that at least some of them perhaps suspected that He meant it for their good. But they rejected it.

Furthermore, from His frequent testimony to them they must have understood that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, not Himself. That's true love. But the flesh is always saying: "Save yourself. Look out for yourself." Therefore, when they say: "Save yourself" they are judging Jesus by their own sinful standards. They are saying: "If you can't save yourself, you can save no one else. Prove it by coming down from the cross." 

But He is silent. Read 1 Peter 2:21-24. He said nothing during His trial when they brought false accusation. Likewise here He says nothing. He could have come down from the cross. But His love for those who were jeering and His obedience to His Father kept Him there. True strength appears to the world as weakness and vice versa.

Just one more remark here: Jesus used "save" in the sense of eternal salvation. The bypassers used it in the sense of earthly gain.

Mark 15:31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself!" 

The chief priests stooped to the level of the common people. There were three meetings of the Sanhedrin:

  1. On Thursday evening;
  2. On Friday morning;
  3. On Calvary.

The third one was not a formal meeting. But they came to Calvary to make fun. What would people think if a judge and jury would follow a convicted man to the gallows and taunt him there? Unthinkable! But they did, even though He was not guilty.

"In the same way" means "in company with," meaning that they were of the same opinion. They engage in repeated mockery. It has been suggested that this continued during the first three hours. "Among themselves" or "to each other." The common people addressed Jesus directly. The members of the Sanhedrin would not do that. All four Gospels are unanimous on this point. To speak derisively in the third person, though in His presence, is more devastating than to speak to Him directly.

They are reiterating what Jesus plainly had told them again and again. But they in no way believed it.  "Himself He cannot save." Note the same fleshly attitude as in verse 30. Note again that the members of the Sanhedrin are clever enough not to use John 2:19 against Jesus. It had failed.

Mark 15:32  "Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

But they do something worse.

Bengel: The expression 'Christ' refers to the proceedings before Caiaphas; the expression 'King' refers to those before Pilate.

Exactly. Read Mark 14:60-15:2. When Jesus agreed, before Caiaphas, that He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, Caiaphas accused Him of blasphemy. When, in answer to Pilate, He said that He was the King of the Jews, the chief priests accused Him of many things. And so here on Calvary they make fun of two titles:  "the Christ" and "the King of Israel." 

But note again that the verb is in the third person: "Let the Christ, the King of Israel come down right now from the cross." But note that both here and at Matthew 27:42 they call Him "King of Israel" not "King of the Jews." The word "Israel" denotes the Covenant people. "Jews" denotes them as a national group. They taunt Him as a phony with reference to the Covenant and want nothing to do with Him nationally. That's why they objected in part to the superscription as it was worded.

Furthermore, Pilate had asked Jesus: "Are you the Christ, The Son of The Blessed?" Jesus said: "Yes, I am." Here they omit "The Son of The Blessed" because they objected so vehemently to His claim that He was true God. They add "right now," in derision.

The Sanhedrin had caused the common people to turn against Jesus. Therefore, the common people made fun of Jesus on Calvary. This, in turn, caused members of the Sanhedrin to make fun of Jesus, but even in a worse sense. They add: "In order that we may see and believe." Jesus had often accused them of not believing in Him. Cf. John 12:37-48. Here members of the Sanhedrin taunt saving faith.

The taunts of one group motivated the next group, etc. Luke records that the soldiers also joined in the jeering. Matthew and Mark record the reviling of both malefactors. Only Luke records the conversion of the one.

Mark 15:33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

For three hours, verses 22-32, there was much activity in the bright sunlight. The Gospels record no activity during what must have been pitch-black darkness from noon to 3 p.m. Commentators debate whether "the whole land" means "over the whole earth" or "over the whole land (of Israel)." Lenski is of the former opinion and is worth listening to. He bases his argument on several facts:
  1. It was the middle of the day;
  2. Luke says that the sun was eclipsed;
  3. An eclipse does not occur during the time of full-moon (as was the case here );
  4. The word "entire" is important. In other words, a miracle, a judgment of God on the sin and sinfulness of man.

Hendriksen, following the lead of all our translations, is of the opinion that it means "over the whole country" but agrees that it was a miracle and a judgment of God on man's sin. The fact that this lasted for three hours lends weight to Lenski's view. Who ever heard of an eclipse that lasted that long?

Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani --which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 

It is interesting to note where the title "Jesus" is used in the crucifixion account:

  1. John uses it eight times, among them twice with reference to last words and once with reference to the superscription;
  2. Matthew uses it thrice, twice with reference to last words and once in the superscription;
  3. Mark uses it twice, here in verse 34 and in verse 37, both with references to a saying, with a loud cry;
  4. Luke uses it four times, twice of last words (first and last) and once by the dying thief (according to the better reading).

In no case do people, members of the Sanhedrin, or soldiers, call Him "Jesus." In fact at John 19:19-21, where the superscription reads "Jesus" the chief priests refer to Him as "that fella." 

At the end of the darkness the Savior cries out in anguish over the fact that He has been abandoned by God. In Gethsemane He prays to His Father. Likewise at John 12:27. In both cases He was heard. At John 16:32 He said: "I am not alone because the Father is with Me." But here at Mark 15:34 He does not call Him Father, but God. God had abandoned His very own Son. Lutherans insist that God abandoned the God-man, both natures. Hendriksen, Reformed, says: "God the Father deserted his Son's human nature, and even this in a limited, though very real and agonizing, sense." In the person of Christ, God was abandoned, died, rose again. He did not cease to be God at this time. We cannot possibly comprehend this. Nor can we comprehend Galatians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Isaiah 53:6. And so hidden was God to Jesus at this point that He asks: "Why?" But, nonetheless, He says MY twice. He trusted in God nonetheless. A direct fulfillment of Psalm 22:1, applicable only to Him Who is called "Jesus." 

Mark 15:35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." 

Here "some" can hardly refer to soldiers. They were likely of those mentioned in verses 29-32, Jews. Elijah had no meaning for Roman soldiers.

Hendriksen: So loud and clear was the voice that there could be no mistake about what Jesus just now had said. At least, all those who knew Aramaic and Hebrew understood. . . Of course, they knew better. But the resemblance was probably close enough so that perverted minds and lips could turn that similarity into a coarse joke. Moreover, was it not a Jewish belief that Elijah would introduce the Messiah and live beside him for a while as his assistant and the rescuer of those who were about to perish?

Mark 15:36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said.

Here read John 19:28-29. The sun must have reappeared. Jesus' agony was over. But He was thirsty, and He said so. Some think that the centurion, mentioned at Mark 15:39, gave the order that Jesus be given a drink. The subject of verse 36 must be a soldier.

Hendriksen: Not all men standing near the cross that day were equally hardened. Whoever it was that gave the order that was here being carried out was showing genuine sympathy.

It is a note of relief in the whole account, but only after Jesus' agony was over. And now we have a  "problem" which is reflected in the translations:

  1. Some translations take 36b to mean that Jesus should not be given a drink until Elijah comes to help him. Thus KJV, NKJV, RSV, TEV, NIV. NKJV is typical of this: "Let Him alone; let us see etc." 
  2. Some translations take it to mean that a drink was not prohibited. Thus LB, NEB, AAT, NASB: "Let us see if Elijah etc." 

Furthermore, some commentators feel that Matthew and Mark are supplementing each other here.

Hendriksen: Matthew tells us what heartless bystanders are saying to the soldier, while Mark probably relates how the soldier reacted. Thus interpreted there is no conflict. . . In harmony with this fact and with the observation made previously, namely, that the two situations pictured respectively in Matthew 27:49 and in Mark 15:36 are probably different, A. B. Bruce calls attention to the following: In Matthew 27:49 some are saying to the friendly person who gives Jesus a drink 'Stop, don't give him the drink.' In Mark 15:36 the man who brought the drink is saying to the bystanders 'Allow me (to give him the drink)'.

In any case, when Matthew, Mark and John are read side by side, two facts stand out:

  1. Jesus did receive the drink;
  2. The bystanders continued to poke fun at Him.

What they are saying: "Maybe Elijah can do for Him what He cannot do for Himself, to come down from the cross." 

Mark 15:37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

Matthew and Mark both tell us that Jesus cried with a loud cry twice, the first time to God when He was forsaken, the second just before He died. Luke 23:46 records only one loud cry, the one just before death and tells us what Jesus cried out: "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." His abandonment was over. He says: "Father." 

"He breathed His last." He expired. They killed Him (Acts 3:15) and yet He laid down His life willingly (John 10:18). That is incomprehensible to us. We are speaking of the God-man. Lenski tries to distinguish "soul" and "spirit," basing it on the fact that "spirit" is indicated by the verb "breathed." But Hendricksen rightly says:

On the basis of "breathed" here in verse 37 to draw a sharp distinction between "soul" and "spirit" and to base on it a plea for trichotomy is unwarranted.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 81-86. Used with permission.

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