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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
The Trial, Death and Resurrection of Jesus (14.1-16.20).
That this is what the Gospel has been leading up to has been demonstrated by the three passages which have prepared the way (8.31; 9.30-31; 10.33-34 see also 2.20; 9.9, 12; 10.45). The emphasis from now on will be on the coming humiliation, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Coming King (11.10; 14.62; 15.2, 9, 12, 26, 32), as the mediator between God and men through His blood (14.24) and as the Servant of the Lord Who has come to give His life as a ransom for many (10.45). This is the essence of the Good News.
Analysis of 14.1-16.8. The Final Days of Jesus Leading Up to His Crucifixion and Resurrection
Note that in ‘a’ the enemies of Jesus seek to arrest Him by stealth but are apprehensive, while in the parallel the women who have received the news of Jesus’ resurrection act by stealth and are ‘afraid’. In ‘b’ the woman anoints Jesus in preparation for His burial, and in the parallel women come to anoint Jesus but now find it unnecessary. In ‘c’ Judas betrays Jesus to the leaders of the Council and is offered money, and in the parallel Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Council, seeks to bury Jesus in his own new tomb. In ‘d’ the Passover is celebrated with reference to the blood of the covenant, and in the parallel the Passover is fulfilled and the blood of the covenant is shed. In ‘e’ Peter says that he will not deny Jesus, and in the parallel he does so three time. In ‘f’ Jesus faces His trial alone in Gethsemane, and in the parallel faces His trial before the Chief Priests. Centrally in ‘g’ Jesus is arrested in fulfilment of the Scriptures.
From Betrayal To Arrest (14.1-52).
The section now splits up into subsections, the first of which is from 14.1-52. This subsection covers the period from the stated final intent of the Chief Priests and Scribes to put Him to death (14.1-2), to His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. It divides up as follows:
Note that in ‘a’ the Jewish leadership plot His downfall, the woman anoints out of love, and Judas betrays Him, and in the parallel the leadership arrange His arrest, Judas kisses Him out of malice, and the disciples desert Him. In ‘b’ He prepares for the Passover, and in the parallel He prepares for His own Passover. In ‘c’ he announces that one of His disciples will betray Him, and in the parallel that all His disciples will desert Him. Centrally in ‘d’ He institutes the Lord’s Supper which illustrates the purpose of His coming as God’s mediator to seal the covenant of redemption in His blood.
The Plot Against Jesus And God’s Preparation For It In The Anointing Of Jesus For His Burial (14.1-11).
In this passage the leaders of the Jews plot His downfall (verses 1-2), and in the event get the opportunity earlier than expected through the treachery of Judas (verses 10-11). Meanwhile, sandwiched in between these two events, Jesus’ head is anointed with oil, a token of His position as Prophet, Priest and especially King, and in recognition of His coming death, although the one who did it was unaware of what a great act that she was performing.
Note that in ‘a’ they were seeking how they might kill Him, and in the parallel they are glad that they have found a way, and Judas is seeking a way in which to hand Him over. In ‘b’ they were hesitating because they dared not do it in front of the people, and in the parallel the solution unexpectedly presents itself. In ‘c’ the woman’s action is described, and in the parallel it will be ever remembered as a memorial of her. In ‘d’ some mutter because the perfumed oil has been wasted, and in the parallel they learn that it has been in preparation for His burial. In ‘e’ they argue that it could have been used for the benefit of the poor, and in the parallel Jesus informs them that the poor are ever there, while He will not be. Centrally in ‘f’ she is to be left alone because she has wrought a good work on Jesus.
The Plotting Of The Chief Priests And Scribes (14.1-2).
14.1-2 ‘Now after two days was the feast of the Passover and the Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might take him discreetly and kill him. For they said, “Not during the feast (or ‘Not in the presence of the festival crowd’) in case there be a serious disturbance among the people.” ’
The emphasis here is on the fact that the Jewish religious leaders, who usually disagreed on so many things, were now finally determined to arrest Jesus and put Him to death. This is the background, unknown at present to anyone but Him, to His anointing by ‘the woman’ (Mary, sister of Lazarus - John 12.3).
The mention of the feast of Passover is significant. Paul would connect it directly with Jesus’ death when he wrote, ‘even Christ our Passover has been sacrificed’ (1 Corinthians 5.7). The offering of Jesus as the Passover lamb was forecast by John the Baptiser (John 1.29) and was the firm belief of the early church, so that to the Christians the feast of Passover had a special significance.
‘The feast of the Passover (to pascha).’ On the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan (March/April) the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem would sacrifice a Passover lamb for each arranged group (usually, but not necessarily, a family group) of around ten or twenty persons. These family or other groupings would share a lamb and one or more of their number would go to the Temple with an unblemished lamb for sacrifice. Each Passover lamb was slain in the Temple as a sacrifice by a member of the group, the blood being caught in bowls by the priests and offered at the altar. The representative would then return with the carcass, which would be eaten at the Passover meal in memory of the great deliverance from Egypt when God slew the firstborn of Egypt, and passed over the houses where the blood from a lamb was smeared on the doorposts and lintel (Exodus 12).
‘Passover and Unleavened Bread.’ This would appear to signify 1). The day of the Passover sacrifice (14th Nisan), including the Passover meal, eaten between sundown and midnight (thus in Jewish terms the beginning of 15th Nisan) and 2). The seven days following when only unleavened bread could be eaten, the first and last of which were holy days. The terms Passover and Unleavened Bread were not, however, rigidly applied. Among the Jews the phrase ‘the feast of the Passover’ could also include all eight days, as could ‘the feast of Unleavened Bread’ (see Luke 22.1). Mark is making things clear to his Gentile readers. (For the whole see Exodus 12.1-28).
‘The Chief Priests and Scribes.’ These represented the religious leadership of the Jews. Compare 10.33. The Chief Priests ran the Temple, but were in general despised by the people. The Scribes had little to do with running the Temple, except through their enormous influence, but were respected by the people. They were unusually working together in order to snuff out Jesus’ influence, although Mark may well intend us to see by this the whole Sanhedrin. ‘Were seeking’ suggests a set and continual purpose. But this was not the first time some of them had wanted to deal with Him in this way, see 3.6; 12.12.
However, they were afraid of the crowds. Jesus was popular and highly regarded and the people were in an excited state because of the feast, and many were fellow Galileans. Thus they wanted to take Him discreetly so that no trouble would be caused.
‘ En te heorte.’ This could well be translated ‘among the festival crowd’ (see Luke 22.6 compare John 2.23; 7.11 where the same translation could apply). If it is translated ‘not during the feast’ it would either signify ‘not during the period when the festival activities have begun after the night of the Passover’ (by which time it would be out of their hands) or that later there was a change of plan when Judas made his offer of betrayal. There is nothing unlikely in either of these, but the translation above may be seen as fitting the context better. Passover itself was in fact the right time for arresting and trying false prophets so that the whole of Israel might hear and fear (Deuteronomy 17.13).
‘In case there is a serious disturbance.’ The present tense is intended to stress the likelihood of such an occurrence due to the state of euphoria the crowds were in.
Note on the Feast of Passover.
The Passover was the first of the three annual feasts which all Jewish males were originally expected to attend. All male Jews within a fifteen mile radius of Jerusalem had to come to Jerusalem for the Passover. But far more actually came, some from a long distance. Jesus regularly attended Jerusalem for the Passover as did many Galileans. For a month before the feast Jewish synagogues would expound the meaning of the Passover and the lesson was taught daily in their schools. Roads were put in order and bridges repaired. Graves in the vicinity of Jerusalem would be whitewashed so that no one would tread on them by accident and thus be rendered ‘unclean’, excluding them from the feast. During the Passover all lodging was free and the city was so packed that outlying villages had to lodge visitors, while others would camp out in the vicinity.
On the 10th day of Nisan a lamb ‘without blemish’ had to be set aside for each participating group and on the afternoon of 14th Nisan the lambs had to be brought to the Temple and slain by one of the participants with the blood caught by the priests. Such were the numbers that there were three sessions. And at each session the inner court of the Temple was packed (the third session not so packed) with men with their lambs waiting in turn to perform the sacrificial act. Given the size of the courts it is possible that a total of between 16,000 and 20,000 lambs were sacrificed. Thus attendance at the Passover possibly numbered between 150,000 and 200,000 (Josephus exaggerates the numbers). The normal population of Jerusalem would be about 30-40,000.
At Passover time feelings ran high. Remembrance of the previous great deliverance raised in people’s minds the thought that God might act again through His chosen Messiah and patriotism burned passionately. Thus it was not a time for doing anything that might arouse the crowds. The Roman authorities themselves took precautions and would draft special detachments of troops to Jerusalem, which were housed in the Tower of Antonia which overlooked the Temple.
End of note.
A Woman Anoints Jesus With Perfumed Oil (14.3-9).
Mark deliberately places this incident between the plotting of the Sanhedrin and the offer of betrayal by Jesus, in order to lay emphasis on the fact that in it Jesus is being anointed as the Messiah in readiness for His burial, thus revealing that the Sanhedrin and Judas are only unknowingly carrying out God’s plan. It is an indication that in spite of all outward appearance all was taking place within God’s purposes. He knew precisely what was happening. John places it at Jesus’ first arrival in Jerusalem prior to His entry on the ass. (The story in Luke 7.36-50, which some try to suggest is a variant of the same story, is so different in every detail that such an idea must be dismissed. Given the commonplace fact of a woman coming to Jesus in order to demonstrate her love with perfumed oil the details could not in fact have been more different).
14.3 ‘And while he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper, as he sat at the meal, there came a woman having an alabaster vessel of perfumed oil of spikenard, which was very costly, and she broke the vessel and poured it over his head.’
While Jesus was enjoying a meal at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany, a woman came in and anointed His head. This was how priests, kings and prophets were anointed (Exodus 29.7; 1 Samuel 10.1; 2 Kings 9.3, 6; Psalm 133.2), although it was also a courtesy often extended to distinguished guests (Luke 7.46 compare Psalm 45.7; 141.5). Mark stresses her anointing of His head. He wants us to see in it the anointing of Jesus as the Messiah. Such an anointing set Him apart to God as ‘His anointed’ (Psalm 2.2; Daniel 9.25). That this idea was also in Jesus’ mind is suggested by His connecting it with the spreading of the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God (verse 9). The woman however was revealing her love for Jesus without thought of any such significance for she anointed Him all over.
John stresses that she also anointed Jesus’ feet. Her act of love covered both. Jesus would be lying at table on His left elbow with His feet extended backwards. Thus she would first reach His feet. So she first poured some on His feet and then broke the vessel above His head so that the remainder anointed His head. Jesus saw it as anointing for His burial (verse 8, compare 16.1). This would confirm the dual application. Anointing for burial would not be just on the head (John 19.40).
Note the breaking of the bottle. Because the perfumed oil was very expensive the bottle was designed only to release it slowly. But the woman wanted to pour it all out at once. So she broke the bottle.
This incident occurred chronologically earlier than might at first be thought from 14.1. But Mark is not saying that it happened after 14.1. He brought it in here in order to bring out its direct significance in relation to the plans that were being made against Him. He is piecing events together for a theological purpose. He merely says it happened ‘while He was in Bethany’ which could place it anywhere within the period after their arrival in the area. John placed it before ‘the entry into Jerusalem’ (John 12.1-8) which would have followed His arrival in Bethany. (It may well be that in one of Mark’s sources verses 10-11 originally followed immediately after verses 1-2).
‘A woman.’ It is possible that Mark does not name her because he sees her as typifying all the women who followed Jesus (Luke 8.2-3). Women were given an importance by Jesus not accorded to them elsewhere. In contrast the Pharisee could say, ‘sooner let the words of the Law be burned than delivered to a woman.’ But Jesus was happy to receive their ministrations on the spiritual level as well as the material.
‘Perfumed oil’ - (nardou pistikes). Pistikes is probably the oil of the Pistachio nut which was used as a base for perfumes. Others have, however, seen it as signifying ‘pure’ (based on pistis - ‘true, sure, reliable’) or as being derived from pino, thus indicating its liquid form. The breaking of the vessel (at the neck) indicated that all had been given to Jesus. It was total sacrifice. She may also have had the idea that the vessel should never again be used after its sacred task because Jesus was so special.
‘Nard.’ A very expensive and valuable perfume made from a rare plant from India. She had probably kept it for years for some special occasion. And now here was the occasion.
‘Simon the Leper.’ Otherwise unknown, presumably a former leper whom Jesus had healed and who became a Christian. (They would not have feasted in the house of a current leper, as that would have barred them from celebrating the feast of Passover). It does not necessarily mean that Jesus was staying there, only dining. Martha was helping out by serving at table and Lazarus was in the company (John 12.2). We do not know where Jesus stayed while He was in Bethany, or whether in fact Jesus and the disciples camped out on the Mount of Olives by Bethany.
14.4-5 ‘But there were some who were indignant among themselves, saying, “To what purpose has this waste of the ointment been made. For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they muttered against her.’
The principle of the complaint was sound enough. It indicated concern for the poor, which was considered very important by the Jews, and Jesus reply, having Deuteronomy 15.11 in mind, indicates His recognition of the fact. But what was missing was the spirit of mercy and compassion. Without realising it they were taking on the same hard spirit as the Pharisees. Instead of rejoicing at the woman’s love for Jesus, and joining in with it, they saw only the ‘waste’. This incident must not, however, be used to justify general extravagance. This was a one off action on a unique person in special circumstances by a particular kind of woman (Martha loved Jesus but she would have thought twice about this). But it is a reminder that motive is more important than deed.
We note that the detractors did not directly say anything to Jesus. They muttered between themselves. Possibly they realised that He might not agree with them. John suggests that the muttering was started by Judas who saw the money disappearing, as it were, from the common purse, into which he occasionally personally dipped (John 12.6). But others became equally involved in the muttering as well. They did not mind suffering hardship for Jesus, but this waste seemed too much
‘Three hundred denarii.’ Ten months wages for a working man. A considerable sum.
14.6 ‘But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you bother her? She has wrought a good work on me.” ’
Jesus stepped in and intervened, telling them to stop upsetting the woman (so the muttering had become apparent to all). He pointed out that what she had done had uplifted Him and helped Him to face the future. She had ‘wrought a good work on Him’. He saw her ministration as from His Father.
‘A good work.’ We might translate ‘a beautiful (kalon) work’. An act of tender generosity.
14.7-8 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will you may do them good. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body beforehand for burying.’
He indicated further that what the woman had done was a sign, a portent of His coming death. It was like an anointing for burial. This was another hint from Him of His approaching death.
‘She has done what she could.’ It may be that we are to see here the suggestion that this woman had an inkling of His coming death. Possibly she had overheard the disciples talking between themselves of His teaching by the way, and being inspired by God, had acted accordingly, wanting to show her love and gratitude to Him before it was too late. Perhaps too there is a hint that in contrast the disciples were a little lacking in their awareness of His situation. At least she was not thinking only of what position she would hold in the future. Often it is the woman who sees what the man fails to see because her approach is different.
‘For you have the poor always with you --- but you will not always have Me.’ Compare here Deuteronomy 15.11. Jesus was not decrying the needs of the poor. He was rather pointing out His uniqueness and that this woman has responded to His uniqueness while she could. She had recognised in Him One worthy of special honour at a time when such recognition was especially important. It was a special occasion justifying her action. Incidentally these words - ‘the poor always with you’ - indicated that Jesus was certainly anticipating a gap between His ascension and His return during which the poor would always be there to be helped.
‘And whenever you will you may do them good.’ This too stresses the unique nature of this moment. Whereas the poor could be helped at any time, this was a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity that she had seized. We should note that Jesus’ concern for the poor comes out again and again elsewhere. He would have been the first to speak out against waste. But there are some actions which rise above that criteria, and this was one of them, simply because of the identity of the One for Whom she was showing her love. On the one hand it does not justify extravagance that merely benefits ourselves or wins us praise, depicting us as ‘generous people’. On the other it does warn against rash judgments and unjustified criticism. Each has to answer for his or her own actions.
14.9 “And truly I say to you, wherever the Gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman has done will be spoken of for a memorial of her.”
Jesus’ consciousness of His own uniqueness comes out further. As a result of His presence and Who He is, and what He is going to do, the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God (1.14-15) will be preached throughout the whole world. And as a result what she had done would go down in history because it contributed to what He was doing. She would be remembered as one who at the time when He most needed encouragement had given Him what He sought. He knew that it was His Father Who had sent her. We also note here Jesus’ certainty that ‘the Gospel’ of the Kingly Rule of God would reach out widely and be successful (compare 13.10). That was a precondition of His promise here.
What then was Mark seeking to get over in this incident that he should place it immediately after the idea that Jesus’ death was now officially planned?
It is a reminder to us all that when God genuinely prompts us to an action, we should beware before we decide against it. We must of course judge the issues carefully, but if His prompting is strong enough we must obey. On the other hand we must beware of lauding too highly those who are not in the same exalted position as Jesus. Had this extravagant behaviour been more general Jesus would have put a stop to it. He would have been the first to speak out against general extravagance in less justifiable circumstances. It was the circumstance of the time and the unsolicited worship that lay behind it that justified it. It was because it was an act of pure love, from a genuine loving heart, offered to God.
Judas Moves to Betray Jesus (14.10-11).
14.10 ‘And Judas Iscariot, he who was one of the twelve, went away to the chief priests that he might deliver him to them.’
There is a deliberate contrast here between the sacrificial love that Mary showed, and the base betrayal by one of the chosen twelve. The one with a heart full of love and gratitude. The other only mercenary and out for what he could get.
‘One of the twelve.’ What an ominous sound that has. One of the most highly favoured of men. He had left all to follow Jesus. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity nor his dedication. He had been out on their preaching and healing missions and had cast out evil spirits, and there is nowhere any criticism of his effectiveness. What then had caused him to behave in this way? There is only one possible answer. Unknowingly he was following for the wrong reasons. His motive power was self-advancement and the propagation of a righteous, and even religious, cause. It was not true faith in Jesus. Thus when things seemed to be taking a wrong direction, a direction different from the one he was expecting, he decided to opt out in a way which brought the greatest advantage to himself. The definite article (literally ‘the one of the twelve’) may be seen as differentiating him from the eleven as the traitor.
Note. What Caused Judas to Betray Jesus?
The first indication of his motive given in the Gospels is that he had become dishonest. He had been unable to prevent his fingers straying into the common purse which he controlled (John 12.6). This demonstrates a specific weakness in his character, the love of money. And if John knew about it, it may suggest that suspicions had already been aroused, and if so it is likely that Judas may have known about those suspicions. This in itself may have produced a growing resentment. No one is more resentful than a guilty person who convinces himself that he has been ‘justified’ in what he has done and is fighting against being exposed.
On the other hand it may be that his false dealings only came to light once someone else took over the common purse and discovered that funds had gone missing. This is often the case in such matters. Possibly it was John himself who took it over and thus had cause to know the position.
It really does not seem likely that John would have said this about Judas if he had not had very good cause to know that it was true. He was a gracious and loving person, not at all the kind who would have been willing to say such a petty thing of someone without a certainty of its accuracy. And it is strange but true that someone who sacrifices for a cause can indeed then rob that cause because of some quirk in his nature that convinces him that he ‘deserves it’. This would not be the only time in history that it has happened. Thus it is a warning to all that the first temptation and the first ‘small’ sin leads on to bigger things. We must all learn to say ‘no’ immediately.
Secondly the petty theft in itself suggests that he had in fact begun to regret his commitment. It demonstrated that his commitment to discipleship had been weakened, that his first enthusiasm had dimmed. It is quite possible that he had come to see that Jesus was not quite the kind of Messiah he had expected, and that the future was not quite as rosy as he had hoped. Jesus’ talk about being ‘the servant of all’ might not have gone down very well with him either (10.44), and Jesus’ gentle chiding against seeking greatness may have added to his uncertainty. And Jesus’ talk of His future suffering may have disillusioned him further. He may have come to the conclusion that following Jesus was not going to make him rich and great in a good cause after all.
Thirdly it is very unlikely that agents of the Jewish authorities had refrained from questioning the disciples about their Master. They had done it before (2.16). They were likely to have done it again. And this may have brought home to Judas that his discipleship was putting him in disfavour with these powerful authorities. It was one thing to be at odds with the local Pharisees, but a very different thing to be at odds with these powerful religionists in Jerusalem. Indeed it is very possible that agents of the chief priests had even been threatening him with the consequences of following Jesus. They may well have discerned that he was vulnerable.
So if he was under deep conviction over his stealing, and his possibly being on the way to being discovered, was regretting his commitment to a cause which no longer looked quite so promising, and was becoming fearful of what might happen to him and his fellow disciples in the future, it could well be that the suggestion that he could be helpful to the authorities, and gain by it, would look a worthwhile option.
It may be therefore that he now decided to retrieve his position, gain the favour of the authorities and bankroll himself at the same time. Certainly he seems to have bargained for as much as he could get (Matthew 26.15). And it may be that his disgruntlement with Jesus’ reaction to ‘the waste’ of the precious ointment was one final spur that caused him to act, a sense that Jesus was somehow not consistent, when he himself had been willing to sacrifice so much.
Yet it is not just as simple as that for why then kill himself when he had achieved his purpose? It would appear in fact that there had been a great and conflicting battle raging in his mind, in which he eventually came down on the side of betrayal, which led to him becoming fixed on a course of action which he continued on with a set mind until it came to fruition. But that once his mind cleared his better nature exerted itself and he could not cope with what he had done, possibly even resulting in clinical depression.
That is the human side of things. But then another explanatory factor comes in. We are told that the Devil put it in his heart (John 13.2) and that ‘Satan entered into him’ (Luke 22.3; John 13.27). The resentment, the disillusionment, had opened up a way by which the Tempter could begin to work in him. Once faith begins to die, disillusionment can quickly take over. In this case the pressure must have been immense, for Satan probably thought that here was a way by which he could nullify what Jesus had come to do. Thus he would bring all his evil power to bear on Judas. But we must remember that Satan could only enter into him because he was already disposed that way beforehand. He had to be given access. The resentment and disillusionment came first. He had ceased to use the shield of faith (Ephesians 6.16).
Judas was not deliberately a Traitor from the beginning. He no doubt originally meant well. And we must give credit for the fact that ‘when he saw that Jesus was condemned’ he reacted in remorse (Matthew 27.3). This suggests either that he did not expect Jesus to be condemned, (he may have convinced himself that He would just get a synagogue beating and a warning), or that he had not thought through the consequences of his actions until he suddenly realised what he had done. It may even be that the chief priests given him an assurance that they meant Jesus no real harm or assured him that He would get a fair trial. There is no hint of it, but it is possible. Or had he assumed that his action would spur Jesus into fulfilling His Messiahship in the way that people expected? He knew something of Jesus’ powers and what He could do. But there is no hint of that either, and his careful plans to ensure that Jesus really was arrested militate against it.
So the position from his point of view seems to be that his betrayal was simply a controlled response to resentment he had been feeling, exacerbated by guilt over his own dishonesty, and combined with the sense that things were not turning out as he had expected and that the future did not look bright, a response which grew and grew until he did what he did, stoked by a willing Satan. And that once he had done it he then came to his senses, realised what he had done and regretted it bitterly.
But we must remember that he was given plenty of opportunity to change his mind, and that he was betraying someone Who had only sought to do him good. He must therefore have hardened himself considerably to be able to resist Jesus’ references to what he was doing (Matthew 26.25) and His offer of reconciliation (the giving of the sop of friendship - John 13.26-29). It was not just a spur of the moment thing that can be easily understood.
Indeed the action was so extreme that it demands that the explanation be complicated and deep rooted. Thus a number of the factors as described above, and possibly others, must all have conspired together to bring it about. But the warning is that a heart open to greed, resentment and disillusionment lay at the root of it all. How careful we should be that we do not let resentment harden our hearts when the opportunity of repentance comes, for if we do the sin may grow until it destroys us.
However, there is one more factor that we have not yet looked at, a totally different standpoint from all we have considered. And that is that Jesus knew from the beginning who would betray Him (John 6.64). He was the great discerner of hearts. So, not too far from the beginning He could say, “Have I not chosen you, and one of you is a devil?”, that is a tool open to the Devil’s manipulation (John 6.70-71). The Scriptures themselves made clear that betrayal would come through an intimate friend (John 13.18), something of which Jesus was always aware. And Jesus knew men’s hearts (John 2.25). So while the appointment of Judas to discipleship may have been made not knowing what would happen, it is clear that Jesus soon began to discern weaknesses in Judas that made Him regret what He had done. And yet in His graciousness He bore with him, possibly hoping that he might yet win through..
Here then we enter into that paradox that no man can fully comprehend. The working out of the sovereign purposes of God within the freely conducted affairs of men. Within those purposes God allows men to make decisions and gives even the worst an opportunity for good. So to this one whose character was lacking and whose motives were doubtful Jesus was willing to give every opportunity to make good, even though He knew all the time that it would not be so. But such men have to be given a chance, for how else could it be revealed that it was not so? Thus are we reminded that God allows the incomprehensible, He allows men rein to demonstrate the truth about themselves.
Judas is ever the reminder to us that it is possible to be highly thought of by men in spiritual things, and yet unacceptable in the sight of God, and that each of us must ‘examine ourselves’ to see whether we are ‘in the faith’, that is, whether our faith is truly in Jesus or whether it is just fixed on a good cause (2 Corinthians 13.5).
End of note.
‘Went to the chief priests.’ Judas went to those whom he knew were enemies of Jesus and had power to act. He had it all worked out. They were the ones who had the real money.
‘That he might deliver Him to them.’ His purpose was betrayal. But sinful man was in fact being made to fulfil the purposes of God (9.31), as he has through the ages, for in we know that in the first place it was God Who delivered Jesus into men’s hands (Isaiah 53.10). But we must not see Judas as just a tool. He knew what he was doing. He was handing Jesus over to those who hated Him and planned His death.
14.11 ‘And they, when they heard it, were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently hand him over.’
Mark gives a brief summary of what the situation was. Matthew provides more detail. Matthew points out that obtaining money was always part of his intention and that he negotiated a price, thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. The price was probably a deliberate indication of the contempt the chief priests had for Jesus for they may well have had Zechariah 11.13 in mind. But Mark’s connecting here of the giving of money with the handing over of Jesus is sufficient to show that he also equally considered that this was unquestionably one of the incentives that spurred Judas on.
‘They were glad.’ Judas offered them the opportunity to arrest Jesus when He was alone with His disciples. This ‘delighted their hearts’. It had seemingly solved their problem. They would have been less glad had they known what would result in the long run.
‘And promised to give him money.’ The whole purpose of Mark’s comment is that Judas was acting mercenarily. He was bribed. Even if Matthew had not said so we would have gathered that this was part of Judas’ purpose.
‘He sought how he might conveniently hand Him over.’ From then on Judas was plotting in his mind how he could deliver Jesus to them. Note the constant use of the verb ‘deliver, hand over’ just as Jesus had prophesied (9.31; 10.33). Judas was unintentionally fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy.
What did Judas provide that made the chief priests so pleased? Firstly information as to Jesus’ whereabouts at a time when He could be arrested safely at night away from the crowds (Luke 22.6). Secondly guidance to the spot (John 18.2). And thirdly the kiss that would identify Jesus at night to those who had come to arrest Him so that they did not mistakenly arrest the wrong person (14.45). It was all carefully planned. The detail is against the idea that Judas’ was simply seeking to spur Jesus into Messianic action. In his mood at that time he wanted to make absolutely sure that He was taken.
The Last Supper (14.12-26).
The offer of betrayal by Judas, together with the interpretation of the action of the woman has now brought home to the reader that we are into Jesus’ final hours. But it will now be brought home that this is not to be seen as a tragedy, but as preparation for the future. Just as at the first Passover Israel’s deliverance so as to establish the Kingly Rule of God in Canaan had occurred through the deaths of the firstborn, so now would His new people’s deliverance so as to establish the Kingly Rule of God ‘worldwide’ (verse 25; compare 13.10) occur through the death of God’s Firstborn. The mention of ‘My blood of the covenant’ in verse 24 makes the connection quite clear (compare Exodus 24.8). As ever God’s ways come to their completion through suffering.
So having depicted the plans being made against Jesus, and the betrayal by one of His own disciples, Mark now in contrast moves into the most intimate of scenes, the gathering together of Jesus and His disciples for the Passover supper in which their oneness together in the new covenant will be confirmed. Passover was a time of huge significance for all Jews, and a time of great joy as they were once again reminded that God had previously acted so graciously towards His people, and it was seen to contain within it the expectancy that one day God would ‘do it again’. The account is depicted in two stages, first the preparation for the supper (verse 12-16), and then the actual participation in it (verses 17-26).
The Preparation (14.12-16).
While some have seen in what happens here a kind of ‘miracle’ it is far more probable that it is an indication of how carefully Jesus has prepared for this Passover meal. Aware as He was of what Judas was doing, and of what the Sanhedrin were planning, He wanted to ensure secrecy, so that only His most trusted followers knew where the gathering would take place until it actually occurred, and yet to ensure a satisfactory Passover meal. Thus He had made careful arrangements beforehand with someone whom He knew He could trust (it was even possibly Mark’s parents’ house).
However, one question that may be asked is as to why Mark gives as much space to this preparation of the Passover as he does to the Passover meal itself. It suggests that we are to look within it for symbolic significance (which would be typical of Mark). Perhaps there is in the man carrying the pitcher of water the intention of pointing back to the water carrier of Isaiah 55.1-3, with the indication that in that room will be found the secret of eternal life and the sealing of the everlasting covenant.
Furthermore the detailed description of the large guest room may well have been seen as a reminder of the ample room and preparation that Jesus always makes for His own. Compare John 14.2, ‘in My Father’s house are many resting places -- I go to prepare a place for you’, and the new wine that they will drink with Him under the Kingly Rule of God (verse 25).
If these meanings were seen as inherent in the passage we can see why they are given in such detail.
Note that in ‘a’ they ask where they are to make ready the Passover, and in the parallel they make ready the Passover. In ‘b’ He sends them into the city and tells them what they will find, and in the parallel they come into the city and discover that it is as He described. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the description of where the Passover will be held.
14.12 ‘And on the first day of Unleavened Bread when they used to sacrifice (or ‘when it was customary to sacrifice’) the Passover, his disciples say to him, “Where do you want us to go and make ready so that you may eat the Passover?’
Strictly the first day of Unleavened Bread was the day after the slaying of the Passover but the whole eight days were often loosely called ‘Unleavened Bread’ (just as they were often called ‘the Passover’) so that this was the day before the seven days of Unleavened Bread. Thus it was the day one which the Passover would be sacrificed. Note the stress in these verses on the Passover (verse 12 twice, verse 14, verse 16). Mark may well have wanted his readers to have in mind the new Passover Lamb Who was to be offered, the offering of Whom would bring to men the water of life (verse 13, compare John 4.10-14), and ample provision for the future (verse 15, compare verse 25; John 14.2). All was to be prepared for in that guest room.
When they used to sacrifice the Passover.’ This was on the 14th day of Nisan (Abib). The Last Supper was the Passover meal. Some have suggested that John mistakenly made this a meal on the night before Passover, but that is probably to misread John.
Proof that this meal was the Passover meal is found in that:
Note on The Passover. Was the Last Supper the Passover Meal?
The Passover was the great Jewish festival which commemorated the slaying of the firstborn in Egypt, and the following exodus from Egypt of the Israelites (Exodus 12.24-27), together with those who joined themselves with them (the ‘mixed multitude’) and became Israelite by adoption (Exodus 12.38). The Passover lambs were slain on the afternoon of the 14th Nisan (roughly April), after the daily sacrifice, which, by the time of Jesus, was put back in order to leave time for the slaying of the Passover lambs, which had to be slain in great numbers.
The Passover meal was eaten in the evening (on the commencement of 15th Nisan, for the Jewish day began at sunset). There was a specific pattern followed at the meal, although variations within that pattern were allowed. The celebration of the Passover was connected with the seven day feast of Unleavened Bread which by this time was so closely linked with the Passover that the whole eight days of the feast could be called The Passover (Luke 22.1) or Unleavened Bread (Mark 14.12). This specific link with the Passover, which was there from earliest times, is confirmed by Josephus, the Jewish first century AD historian.
It was celebrated in Jerusalem in smallish groups (ten or more) in individual houses within the city bounds, each group having a lamb. The lambs were slain within the Temple area, which confirms that they were sacrificial offerings. Movement during the evening was restricted to a limited area, although Gethsemane came within that area (but Bethany did not).
Jews living within a reasonable distance were expected to gather in Jerusalem for the feast (for those within fifteen miles it was compulsory) and even those who lived far afield among the Gentiles (the Dispersion) made great efforts to attend. Thus Jerusalem might contain around 200,000 people at Passover time. Josephus’ estimate of 3,000,000 is almost certainly exaggerated. It would not have been possible to sacrifice sufficient lambs to meet his figures within the restricted Temple area in such a short time, indeed it would have taken the whole week (although had it not been possible no doubt some compromise solution would have been discovered, and some have suggested that in view of this the Passover spread over more than one day. But if so there is no hint of it anywhere in extant literature).
The Passover meal would begin with the ritual search by candlelight for any leavened bread which may have been overlooked (it was forbidden at the feast) and the Passover meal would then be eaten reclining, a sign of confidence in God. It included the symbolic elements of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, some other condiments and four cups of red wine mixed with water, drunk at specific points. The first cup was drunk with a blessing (Luke 22.17 probably refers to this cup, although some refer Luke’s reference to the second cup), followed by the washing of hands by dipping in water. Some of the herbs would then be dipped in salt water and given out After this the eating surface would be cleared, and the second cup would be filled.
Before the drinking of the second cup the story of the original Passover was recounted in a dialogue between father and eldest son (or if necessary suitable substitutes). At this stage the Passover meal would be brought back to the table and each of its constituents explained. It is quite possible that one question would be (as it was later) ‘what means this bread?’ The reply was ‘this is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate when they were delivered from the land of Egypt’.
After these explanations the second cup would be drunk, accompanied by the singing of part of the Hallel (Psalms 113-114), and then there would be a further dipping of the hands in water. After this came the breaking of one or two of the unleavened cakes, which was followed by the giving of thanks. Pieces of the broken bread with bitter herbs between them were dipped in a mixture and handed to each of the company (see John 13.26), and it would appear that then the company would themselves dip bread and herbs into the mixture (Matthew 26.23; Mark 14.20). This was the real beginning of the actual Passover meal. At this stage the Passover lamb itself would be eaten.
Nothing was to be eaten thereafter, although in later times the eating of a final piece of unleavened bread followed. After a third dipping of hands in water the third cup was drunk, again accompanied by a blessing. This cup was considered of special importance. The singing of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118) was completed with the fourth cup (see Matthew 26.30; Mark 14.26), and this was followed by prayer. It must be remembered that this was a joyous feast and not a service so that eating and general conversation would be taking place throughout, except at the most solemn moments.
It is quite clear that the first three Gospels (the Synoptic Gospels) show the Last Supper of Jesus to be the Passover meal. Jesus sent two of His disciples (Peter and John - Luke 22.8) to ‘prepare the Passover’ (the lamb, the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, the wine, etc), so that He could ‘eat the Passover with His disciples’ (Mark 14.12-15 and parallels). It was probably one or both of these who went to the Temple area with the lamb for slaying. The room was ‘furnished and ready’ which may mean that the owner had provided what was necessary. We are told that they ate the meal reclining (Matthew 26.20; John 13.23) as would be expected at the Passover meal.
It is possible that the breaking of bread by Jesus ‘after He had given thanks’ was the same as the breaking of bread at the feast but if so it is noticeable that Jesus gave thanks beforehand because He was enduing it with a new meaning . It could, however, have been that Jesus introduced a second breaking of bread, establishing a new pattern with a new significance. ‘This is my body’ parallels ‘this is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate’. In the latter case it was clearly a symbolic partaking with the fathers, as it were, in their affliction, but with a real sense of participation. Thus the former is also to be seen as symbolic, a partaking with Jesus, as it were, in His sufferings and their consequence, again with a real sense of participation. The wine, which Paul calls the ‘cup of blessing’ (1 Corinthians 10.16), was probably the third cup given a new significance.
Some have argued that it could not have been the Passover meal. They have argued:
These arguments are, however, not telling. Passover time, while the pilgrims were still in the city, might be considered precisely the time when a ‘false prophet’ should be executed in order that ‘all Israel might hear and fear’ (Deuteronomy 17.13). Furthermore the whole affair was carried out in haste probably because Judas’ information made it possible for it to be done secretly and Jesus was there available. They dared not miss such an opportunity, especially as they learned from Judas that his cover had been blown.
Mark 14.2 merely expresses the plan of the authorities, which was subject to change if circumstances demanded, while some suggest translating ‘feast’ as ‘festal crowd’ rather than ‘feast day’ which is quite possible.
There was no prohibition of arms being carried at the Passover.
‘Coming in from the country’ need not mean that Simon had been outside the prescribed limits, and indeed he may not have been a Jew at all. Besides it would always be possible that he had been delayed by some cause beyond his control so that he had arrived late for the Passover.
But this immediately faces us with a problem. John 18.28 seems at first sight to suggest that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover sacrifice. ‘They themselves did not enter into the palace that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover’. That would then mean that the scene in John 13 occurred on the night before the Passover feast. Yet as we have seen the other Gospels make clear that Jesus officiates at the Passover feast (Mark 14.12; Luke 22.7), and there can be little doubt that both are depicting the same feast.
However what must be borne in mind is that John 18.28 may be speaking of ‘the Passover’, not as meaning the Passover feast itself, but in a general sense as including the whole seven day feast that followed (compare John 2.23 where ‘the feast of the Passover’ is clearly the seven days of the feast and Luke’s use in 22.1), so that ‘eating the Passover’ may refer to the continual feasting during the week (unleavened bread had to be eaten throughout the week and there would be special offerings and thank-offerings as well) and not to the actual Passover celebration, in which case there is no contradiction. We can compare with this how in 2 Chronicles 30.22 the keeping of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (verse 13) which includes the Passover (verse 15) is described as ‘eating the food of the festival for seven days’.
Against this, however we should note that ‘to eat the Passover’ does at least include eating the Passover supper in the Synoptics (Matthew 26.17; Mark 14.12, 14; Luke 22.8, 11, 15). Although that does not necessarily tie the escorts of Jesus to using it in the same way after the Passover supper has passed.
Alternately it has been suggested that in fact the men involved had been so taken up with the pursuit of Jesus into the night as a result of Judas’ unexpected offer to lead them to Jesus in a place where he could be taken without fear of the people, that they had not yet had time to complete their Passover meal. We only have to consider the facts of that night to recognised how involved their night had been! They may well have been disturbed in the middle of their Passover meal and have convinced themselves that such a delay was justified in order to deal with Jesus as a false prophet at what was clearly a crucial moment. Once they had dealt with Him they could go home to finish eating their Passover, which had been suddenly delayed for reasons of state, with contented minds. They might have considered that ‘Circumstances alter cases’. This was to them an exceptional situation. Strictly, however, the Passover meal had to be completed by the morning.
In the same way his reference to ‘the preparation of the Passover’ or ‘the Friday of the Passover’ (paraskeue tou pascha) (19.14) can equally be seen as referring to the ‘preparation’ for the Sabbath occurring in Passover week, i.e. the Friday of Passover week, as it certainly does in verse 19.31, and therefore not the preparation of the Passover feast itself. Basically the word paraskeue does mean ‘Friday’ (even today) as well as ‘preparation’ and the term Passover (pascha) was used to describe the whole festival. In this case he gives no suggestion that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover lamb.
Another alternative answer suggests that not all Jews celebrated the Passover on the same day. We do know that the Essenes had their own calendar to which they rigidly adhered, and forbade their members to follow the orthodox calendar, and they would therefore celebrate the Passover on a different day from the priests, but without a lamb. And there are possibly some grounds for suggesting that Galileans, an independent lot who were looked on by Judaeans as somewhat unorthodox, may well have celebrated the Passover a day earlier than Judaeans. Thus it may be that Jesus and His disciples, who were Galileans, followed this Galilean tradition, if it existed, and celebrated the Passover a day earlier than the Judaeans. But the known evidence is slight.
A further possibility that has been suggested is that in that year the Pharisees observed the Passover on a different day from the Sadducees, due to a dispute as to when the new moon had appeared that introduced Nisan. Such a dispute is known to have happened around this time. If so pressure might have been put on to sacrifice Passover lambs on two days. Jesus would thus have been able to observe the feast of the Passover with His disciples and then die at the same time as the Passover sacrifices.
A final suggestion is that Jesus celebrated a special kind of Passover for His disciples which took place without a lamb (no lamb is mentioned), with a view to establishing His new Passover. But this does not tie in with the language used. The possible alternatives do, however, bring out how foolish dogmatism on the matter would be.
The suggestion that John was either mistaken or changed the day for theological purposes is the least likely explanation. The early church was far too well aware of the fact that the Last Supper was ‘the Passover feast’ for such a change to be accepted, and John would have had it firmly pointed out to him by his ‘witnesses’ (21.24-25). We must not assume that the leaders of the early church were all dimwits. Nor does John emphasise anywhere that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover lamb. Had this been his intention he would surely have drawn attention to it more specifically.
End of Note.
14.13-15 ‘And he sends two of his disciples and says to them, “Go into the city and there a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him. And wherever he will enter in say to the goodman of the house, ‘The Teacher says, where is my guest room where I will eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will himself show you a large upper room furnished and ready. And there make ready for us.” ’
In one way or another Jesus knew that Judas was planning to betray Him. It was quite possible that He, or John who knew people in the high priestly house, had been informed by people well disposed towards Him that there had been a visitor there who was planning to betray Him. Alternately it may have been His understanding of men that had convinced Him of the same, combined with insight from His Father. Either way He knew.
So He was determined to control events and that meant keeping the venue where they would eat the Passover a secret until the last moment. Here we learn that He had made careful arrangements to this end. The two who were to prepare the Passover would be shown where it was to be held by a secret sign known only to them. Luke 22.8 says that they were Peter and John. (It is unlikely that this is to be seen as a miracle, otherwise we would have expected Matthew to mention it as well).
‘A man carrying a pitcher of water.’ This would have been an unusual sight, for carrying water in pitchers was the province of women. Men would normally carry water skins. The man would clearly know the disciples and would meet them. It has been suggested that it may even have been John Mark himself (compare the young man who fled from the arrest of Jesus (14.51-52). See also Acts 12.12) . Whereas such a task would normally be the work of a servant or slave, secrecy may have demanded that only the son of the house should know.
It may be that there is an indication here that the new refreshing water of the Spirit, or the new salvation, was shortly to be made available to His disciples as a result of the covenant to be sealed in that room. Compare the water carrier in Isaiah 55.1-3, who offers the waters of life and the sealing of the everlasting covenant..
‘Follow him and wherever he will enter in --.’ This need not mean that they followed at a distance, although in the circumstances it may have been felt discreet. Nobody could be sure who was watching and if their destination was known the time when everyone was eating the Passover could be a time to ensure a secret and clean arrest. So they did not want to be noticed.
Entering the house they were to request to be shown the guest room which Jesus had booked. All accommodation in Jerusalem was free at Passover time. (‘Guest room’ is kataluma - literally ‘resting place’. It is the same word as that translated (possibly wrongly) ‘inn’ in Luke 2.7. There also it should probably be guest room).
‘My guest room.’ Just as a hotel visitor will speak of ‘my room’, so Jesus sees this temporarily as ‘His’ guest room.
‘And he will himself show you --.’ Again the secrecy. The master of the house would personally conduct them to the room to avoid servant gossip.
‘Furnished and ready.’ Strewn with carpets and cushions, with the necessary low tables and all the extras needed for the Passover meal. Payment for the room would traditionally be made by giving the owner the skin of the Paschal lamb and the vessels used at the meal. But in this case the latter probably belonged to him anyway.
‘There make ready for us.’ The two disciples would take the lamb to the Temple in the afternoon and offer it there as a sacrifice. Then they would return and the lamb would be roasted and later eaten after sunset. Nothing must be left of it by morning. It had to be pure and without blemish, not a bone should be broken. It was roasted on a spit and if any part of the lamb touched the side of the oven that part had to be cut off. The emphasis was thus on completeness, purity and sanctity, a symbol, although inadequate, of ‘Christ our Passover’ (1 Corinthians 5.7).
The detailed description of the guest room might well have been seen by Mark and the early church as a reminder of how well Jesus always prepares for His own, for we will learn shortly of the new wine that He prepares for them in the Kingly Rule of God (verse 25), while in John 14.2, in that guest room, He will declare, ‘in My Father’s house are many resting places, --- I go to prepare a place for you’. The word for the guest room means ‘resting place’.
14.16 ‘And the disciples went out and came into the city and found as he had said to them. And they made ready the Passover.’
All happened exactly as Jesus had described it and the two made the necessary preparations for the Passover meal. The emphasis on the fulfilment of what Jesus had said confirms that we are intended to read behind the descriptions the deeper truths that lay underneath (as with the parables).
We should note in all this how Mark deliberately intersperses the Chief Priests’ and Judas’ activity with everything else that was going on. Verses 1-2, 10-11, 17-21 are each followed by verses 3-9, 12-16, 22-25. Alongside the betrayal is the indication of blessing. Both advance together. Mark was concerned with the build up and the contrast, not the chronological order. Mark’s thoughts are complex and we make a mistake if we treat them too lightly.
It is true that the early church wanted men to recognise that Jesus was not taken by surprise. But that was because He was not. That is one reason why Mark gives as much space to Jesus’ warning to Judas as he does to Jesus’ words to the other disciples. But another reason was in order to bring out that Jesus made an appeal to both the unfaithful and the faithful. His concern was with both and He wanted to reach out to them both. And furthermore Mark was also building up an atmosphere. He wanted us to recognise that behind the Last Supper was the shadow of betrayal.
Now Jesus gave Judas his final warning. As mentioned this is not necessarily chronological. Mark’s deliberate purpose was to bring out the contrast and then to close with the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Contrast John 12.1-8; Luke 22.21-23 which probably have the incidents in the correct chronological order.
The Warning of Betrayal (14.17-21).
This warning must have come as an unpleasant shock to all present, although they probably did not think in terms of a deliberate betrayal. To Judas, who probably thought that he was undetected, it must have been like a body blow. Two things are, however, emphasised, firstly that what will happen will be in accordance with the Scriptures, and secondly the awful consequences for the betrayer. God’s sovereign will will be done, but that does not mean that the perpetrator can evade his responsibility. What he does, he does by choice.
Note that in ‘a’ the warning is given that one of them will betray Him, and in the parallel a woe is declared against that one. In ‘b’ it is ‘one who eats with Me’ who will betray Him, and in the parallel it is, ‘one of the twelve, he who dips with Me in the dish’. Central in ‘c’ is the fear of each one that it might be him.
14.17-18 ‘And when it was evening he comes with the twelve, and as they reclined and were eating Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me, even one who eats with me.” ’
Having taken His precautions to keep the venue secret Jesus waited until evening and then brought the twelve to the house. He then waited until they were eating, and informed ‘the twelve’ that one of them would betray Him (deliver Him up, hand Him over). ‘Even one who eats with me.’ There may be a reference here to Psalm 41.9, ‘Yes, my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me’, and see John 13.18. The thought in the Psalm is of the one who considers the poor, whom God sustains, but who is thought the worst of by His enemies and is rejected by his bosom friend. In the Near East to eat with someone was to make a declaration of friendship and peace. To then act against that person was seen as unforgivable. Thus Judas act in reclining at the table with Him and eating from the same dish was doubly treacherous.
We can imagine the stunned horror, the unbelief that filled the disciples. How could Jesus say this? He had only to tell them who it was and Judas would have been restrained immediately. But Jesus was still trying to reach Judas. He wanted him to know that He knew all about what he was planning to do. He would try to the end to reach him. His words were intended to make Judas aware of the heinousness of what he was doing. This is why in the end Judas loses our sympathy. He was given every opportunity but hardened his heart.
‘Reclined.’ They lay on small carpets with their elbows on cushions.
14.19 ‘They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one by one, “Is it I?” ’
It is clear from this that they took His words as an overstatement. Each was conscious that he had failed Jesus in the past and would do so again. They probably felt that He was simply saying that in some way they would bring Him into disrepute, and it grieved them to think of it. Yet each asked it in a way (in the Greek) that expected Jesus to say ‘no’. Their words meant ‘surely it is not I?’ Apart from the one they were good hearted men, even if weak and failing.
14.20-21 ‘And he said to them, “It is one of the twelve, he who dips with me in the dish. For the Son of Man goes even as it is written of him, but woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be good for him if that man had not been born.” ’
This time Jesus’ warning to Judas was stark and plain. He wanted him to know that He knew exactly what was happening, and that what he was doing would destroy his whole future. Better not to have been born than what he was going to do with its consequences.
‘It is one of the twelve.’ One of these sat around. What an ominous warning. The disciples probably now realised that this was getting serious. ‘He who dips with me in the dish.’ Again a reminder to Judas that he was breaking the inviolable laws of hospitality. One among them was feigning friendship and they did not know who it was.
‘The Son of Man goes --.’ To His death. See 8.31; 9.31; 10.33-34; John 6.52-58; 8.14, 21-29; 13.3, 33, 36-38; 14.3-4, 19, 28.
‘Woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is betrayed.’ Compare 13.17; Matthew 18.7; Luke 17.1-2. Not a pronounced judgment but an expression of sadness, although it contains within it the fact that God will judge.
‘Even as it is written of Him.’ (E.g. Isaiah 53, and the descriptions in Daniel 7 of the sufferings from which the ‘son of man’ would emerge. They too would be given into the hand of the wild beast - Daniel 7.25. Also Psalm 41.9). What was to happen was in the plan and purpose of God. But that did not excuse the traitor. He was free to act or not to act as he chose. It was only when he had finally closed his mind that he lost the ability to choose.
‘He who dips with me in the dish.’ The dish was probably the Charoseth, a compound of dates, raisins and vinegar in which the bread and bitter herbs were dipped. Mark gives no idea of who the traitor was. In the other Gospels Jesus managed to get home to Judas quietly that He was not in any doubt as to who the traitor was (Matthew 26.25; John 13.26-27).
The Lord’s Supper (14.22-26).
The preliminaries having been completed (verse 20) the meal proper begins with the eating of the bread, at which point He gives the bread a new meaning. This is then followed by the third cup from which all drink, which He informs them represents the new covenant in His blood, which is then followed by a promise of the imminence of the Kingly Rule of God as a result of that new covenant. All is then completed by the singing of the Hallel, and they then depart for the Mount of Olives.
The point being made here is that Jesus has hijacked the symbols of the Passover and provided them with a new significance connected with Himself. We are left to recognise that He is the new Passover lamb. All this is a claim as immense as any that He has previously made. It is to declare that Israel’s hopes of deliverance now rest in Him, and that in the future they are to look to Him and His death for them as the guarantee of their salvation.
Note that in ‘a’ they commence the meal proper (the preliminaries have already been dealt with) with the eating of bread, and in the parallel they close it with a hymn. In ‘b’ they all drink of the cup, and in the parallel He will not again drink of it until the Kingly Rule of God has come. Central in ‘c’ is the significance of the cup.
14.22 ‘And as they were eating he took bread, and when he had blessed he broke it and gave to them and said, “You take of it. This is my body.” ’
Jesus now took over the Passover meal and gave it a new significance, in line with His teaching in John 6.52-58 where He had indicated that finally men could only benefit from Him through putting Him to death, that is, by ‘eating His flesh’. As He said in John 6.51 (expecting to be understood), ‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread he will live for ever. Yes, and the bread which I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.’ He was the living (life-giving) bread because He had come to have His ‘flesh eaten’ by men by dying for them and responding to their faith.
Eating bread or flesh, and drinking blood, was a regular Old Testament way of speaking of killing people. In the Old Testament the Psalmist spoke of those who ‘eat up my people like they eat bread’ (Psalm 14.4; 53.4), and Micah describes the unjust rulers of Israel as ‘those who hate the good and love the evil --- who eat the flesh of my people’ (Micah 3.3). Thus ‘eating flesh’ or ‘eating people’ signified killing them or doing them great harm.
But Jesus had added a new meaning, the idea of participating in the benefits of His death. Here Jesus was signifying, not that they themselves would kill Him, others would do that, but that they would be able to benefit through His death (see John 6.54) because others would kill Him. Compare also John 6.35 where Jesus said He was the ‘bread of life’ which they could partake of by ‘coming to Him and believing on Him’. That was how they would benefit through His death, by coming and believing. Thus it is not meant in any quasi-magical sense. It is a spiritual act.
The bread could not be His body, even by a miracle, for He was there in His body (so those who try to make it more have to call it a ‘mystery’, that is something which defies common sense and logic, and in this case is totally self-contradictory. Even the greatest of miracles could not make a piece of bread eaten at a table the same as a human body reclining there at the same table. By this means anything can be made into anything). In sensible interpretation it had to mean ‘this closely represents my body’ just as the bread at the Passover symbolised the bread of affliction. When eating it the Jews saw themselves as partaking in the sufferings of their ancestors. In a sense they actually saw themselves as one with them in corporate unity. So when Christians eat of this bread they see themselves as partaking in the death of Christ, as having been with Him on the cross (Galatians 2.20). So by recognising and acknowledging their close participation with Him in His death by faith they recognise that they have received eternal life. But no further lamb is slain. The Lamb was offered once for all. They thus recognise that His offering of Himself is once for all (Hebrews 9.28) and is something that they continually participate in.
‘As they were eating.’ Compare verse 18. It was ‘as they were eating’ that He had tried to appeal to Judas’ conscience. Now ‘as they were eating’ He took the bread and offered a blessing to His Father, and broke it and gave it to them. They would certainly cast their minds back to that day when He had done this at the miraculous feeding of the crowds (6.41). From now on through His death and rising again He was to be their spiritual food. It was also symbolic of the bread that they would eat at Messiah’s table, both in their future ministry and in the eternal Kingly Rule.
14.23-25 ‘And he took a cup and when he had given thanks he gave to them and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant which is shed for many. Truly I tell you I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new under the Kingly Rule of God.” ’
Again the wine was to be seen as representing His blood. It could not be His blood because that was still in His veins. But they would remember too His words in John 6 where He had spoken of ‘drinking His blood’, something which signified response to Him in His death. By drinking the wine they were indicating their oneness with Him in His death and binding themselves to the covenant of mercy.
In Zechariah 9.15 the LXX speaks of the fact that the victorious people of God ‘will drink their blood like wine’ (the blood of their enemies) signifying a triumphant victory and the slaughter of their enemies, and David used a similar picture when three of his followers had risked their lives to fetch him water. He poured it out on the ground as an offering to God and said, ‘shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?’.
Isaiah brought both metaphors together when he said of the enemies of Israel that God would ‘make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine’ (Isaiah 49.26), signifying that they would destroy themselves. Thus in Hebrew thought drinking a person’s blood meant killing someone or benefiting by their death.
This can be paralleled elsewhere in the New Testament for in Matthew’s Gospel the people said of their 'fathers' that they were 'partakers in the blood of the prophets’ (Matthew 23.30). Thus when Jesus spoke of ‘eating my flesh and drinking my blood’ in John 6 He was using easily recognised Jewish metaphors. He was indicating that they would either kill Him or would benefit from His death.
‘My blood of the covenant which is shed for many’ would take their minds back to the covenant sealed by the shedding of blood at Sinai. See Exodus 24.8, which also refers to ‘the blood of the covenant’. And that connects with many other similar covenants, sealed by sacrifice (see Genesis 15.9-18). But the blood of the covenant at Sinai incorporated a whole new people, and here now was a greater covenant for it was Jesus Himself Who was sealing a covenant with His own blood, which would be offered as the sacrifice (‘my blood’), and Whose blood would confirm and guarantee the new covenant and incorporate His whole new people. See Zechariah 9.11 in context with 9.9 which latter passage Jesus had deliberately identified with Himself. See also Jeremiah 31.31-34. It was a covenant of deliverance and of life-changing power. ‘This is the covenant I will make --- I will put my law in their inward parts and I will write it in their heart, and I will be their God and they will be my people’ (Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 8.8-13).
‘Which is poured out for many.’ This refers back to Isaiah 53.12 where the ‘many’ are described in the context of His life being poured out (in MT). ‘He poured out His soul to death --- He bore the sin of many’ (Isaiah 53.12). ‘By His humiliation (an extension of the meaning of yatha‘ found at Ugarit - ‘the humiliation He had known, experienced, undergone’) shall my righteous servant make many to be accounted righteous’ (Isaiah 53.11). The One bore the sin of the many. So the blood of the Servant was shed in order to establish a new covenant between men and God, and when men drank of that wine they were signifying their desire to have a part in that covenant. ‘Poured out’ is also the language of sacrifice (Exodus 24.6).
‘They all drank of it.’ This included Judas. He pretended a response to Jesus in the new covenant knowing all the time what he was about to do. This was treachery unlimited. By drinking he was binding himself to the new covenant while aiming to destroy it. He drank to his own condemnation (1 Corinthians 11.29).
Nothing illustrated more Jesus’ awareness of His own uniqueness than this taking of an old and revered ceremony and its transformation so that from now on it would point to Him. He had taken over the Passover, for He was the Passover lamb being offered for sin and being participated in by His people. As the Passover lamb was offered, so He was offered. As the Passover lamb was eaten so could they partake of Him through coming in faith and receiving Him. But in future the lamb would be replaced by the bread and the wine, symbolising the need of constantly coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6.35). That was necessary, for the Lamb had been offered once for all.
‘Truly I tell you I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new under the Kingly Rule of God.’ Jesus knew that the wine on that Passover night was His last drink of joyous wine on earth before He died (He would drink the sour wine on the cross - 15.36). Now He was either dedicating Himself to long abstinence, or was indicating how soon they would enjoy His presence in the Kingly Rule of God, something which is indicated in Matthew 28.20. Then they would partake of new wine with Him at the Lord’s Table. Either way the next time He ‘drank wine’ with them in this way would be in the day of triumph, when they would all ‘drank it new’ within the Kingly Rule of God. This was thus their guarantee that, in spite of the catastrophe that would soon seem to engulf them, they would finally emerge to enjoy the triumph of the Kingly Rule of God. One day soon they would again meet and celebrate His triumph in God’s presence, either in this world or the next. Thus the wine not only symbolised His death and the new covenant, it was a guarantee of the future blessings that would be theirs, and of their future inheritance in Christ.
There is a strong case for suggesting that the wine in verse 23 and the wine in verse 25 should in some way be connected. The wine in verse 23 was the old wine being converted into something new. It had now become a symbol of His death, and of the life that would result. This would suggest that the new wine in verse 25 is a continuation of this as they partake in it after the resurrection under His Father’s Kingly Rule. On this basis the new wine can be seen as symbolising the joyous future beyond the cross, when He would ‘eat and drink’ with them continually as the Kingly Rule of God advanced throughout all nations to the end of the world (verse 9; 13.10). It would begin when He ate (and drank) with them after His resurrection (Luke 24.43; Acts 10.41), and continue every time that His people engaged in the Lord’s Supper. But it will also occur daily for all who continually come and believe on Him (John 6.35). We are not intended to assume that we will drink wine in heaven. There we will have that which is much better than wine. See second note below.
14.26 ‘And when they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives.’
The hymn would be Psalm 115-118, regularly sung at the end of the Passover meal. The Passover meal now being over Jesus led His disciples to the Mount of Olives ‘as His custom was’ (Luke 22.39). Judas had by now slipped away (John 13.27-30) but he would know the place that they were heading for (John 18.2).
Mention of the Mount of Olives connects this incident with the entry into Jerusalem (11.1) and His words concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and His second coming (13.3). It was thus a fitting place for the working out of His destiny.
Note on the Different Versions of the Passover Meal.
Let us first consider the breaking of the bread passages, putting in capitals the words which are exactly the same.
Matthew 26.26 'And as they were eating, Jesus TOOK BREAD, and blessed, and BROKE IT, and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; THIS IS MY BODY.'
Mark 14.22 'And as they were eating, he TOOK BREAD, and when he had blessed, he BROKE IT, and gave to them, and said, Take you, THIS IS MY BODY.'
Luke 22.19 'And he TOOK BREAD, and when he had given thanks, he BROKE IT, and gave to them, saying, THIS IS MY BODY which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.'
1 Corinthians 11.23-24 'For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed TOOK BREAD, and when he had given thanks, he BROKE IT, and said, "THIS IS MY BODY, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." '
Common to all is that HE TOOK BREAD, BROKE IT AND SAID, 'THIS IS MY BODY', stressing the essential unity of the passages. Matthew adds to Jesus' words, 'Take you, eat', Mark adds 'Take you'. Luke and Paul omit this but it is clearly implied. Luke adds, 'Which is given for you, this do in remembrance of me,' and Paul adds, 'which is for you, Do this in remembrance of me'. Paul's 'which is for you' parallels Matthew's 'take, eat' and especially Mark's 'take you'. Luke's 'given for you' simply amplifies the idea. Thus the basic idea is the same in all, with small differences of presentation in order to bring out particular points (these are all translations of the Aramaic so that we should expect differences if they did not copy from each other). The additional words, 'Do this in remembrance of me' are really required to explain the perpetuation of the feast in the early church. Thus even if we had not been told about it we would have had to assume it. Indeed, while 'This is my body' would certainly be impressive standing alone, it requires extra words for it to make sense to the hearers. It is possibly the writers and ministers, not the original speaker, who wish it to stand in its starkness, knowing that the readers/recipients would know its deeper significance. What His exact words in Aramaic were can only be postulated. The Greek in each case gives the true meaning.
Slightly more complicated are the words about the cup.
Matthew 26.27-28 'And he took a CUP, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink you all of it, for THIS IS MY BLOOD of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many to remission of sins.'
Mark 14.23-24 'And he took a CUP, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them, and they all drank of it, and he said to them, THIS IS MY BLOOD of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many.'
Luke 22.20 And the CUP in like manner after supper, saying, THIS cup IS THE new COVENANT in MY BLOOD, even that which is poured out for you.'
1 Corinthians 11.25 'In the same way also the CUP, after supper, saying, "THIS cup IS THE new COVENANT in MY BLOOD. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'
In each Jesus takes a cup and says, 'This is the covenant in my blood', or the more stark equivalent in Hebrew form, 'This is my blood of the covenant'. The former is interpretive of the latter. Luke and Paul add that it is a 'new' covenant, for they would want their Gentile readers to know that it was not the old Jewish covenant renewed. But all were aware that it was a new covenant, partly in accordance with God's promise in Jeremiah 31.31, and partly because it was 'in His blood' and looked to the cross, and Jesus' very words and actions demanded it even if He did not say it. Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that He said, 'which is poured out for ---'. Mark simply adds, 'for many', Luke adds. 'for you' and Matthew adds 'for many to remission of sins'. Paul omits this but adds, 'Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me', which is actually required to be said by Jesus (or something like it) to establish the permanence of it as a symbol. As Mark's 'for many' probably has Isaiah 53,11, 12 in mind it has the same significance as Matthew's longer phrase 'for many to remission of sins'. 'Luke's 'you' simply personalises it, recognising that the 'you' is by then being spoken to the whole church who are the 'many' for whom Christ died. Thus the essential meaning is again the same. As with the bread the importance of doing it in remembrance must at some time have been said by Jesus for the Apostles to take up the feast and perpetuate it as they did. The slight overall differences emphasise the point each is seeking to bring out as they translate or paraphrase from the Aramaic, without altering the basic sense. But the basic idea is the same in all.
End of note.
Note on ‘I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine until I drink it new with you in My Father’s Kingly Rule (14.25).’
The main question here is as to whether Jesus is speaking of drinking with them in the Kingly Rule of God as they took its message out to the world after His resurrection, or whether it only refers to drinking it in the everlasting Kingly Rule of God in Heaven. The first would give expression to a positive hope, a hope that they will be able to hold on to in the dark days ahead, that the Kingly Rule of God already manifested by His presence (Matthew 12.28) will expand and be established in the coming days after His resurrection (9.1; Acts 28.31) as He once more goes forward with them (Matthew 28.20). The second would refer to a guarantee of heavenly glory in the more distant future while ignoring the days to come when they will be proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God and participating in it. Pertinent to this is the fact that if this does not refer to the advancement of the Kingly Rule of God after His resurrection, it would mean that, according to all three Synoptics, in this final time together He made no reference to their immediate future (while doing so in great detail in John).
Like many parabolic statements of Jesus each can take from this what he will. Of course, we do not necessarily have to see it as limited to one or the other. We may differentiate the Kingly Rule of God established on earth in the early church and continuing on through the centuries, from the Kingly Rule of God in Heaven, but it is questionable whether God does (see Hebrews 12.27). To Him they are both one, and we are a colony of Heaven (Philippians 3.20-21). Men are either under His Kingly Rule or they are not. So the question here is rather as to which aspect of His Kingly Rule is being the more emphasised. Is the emphasis on the fact that this is Jesus’ last cup of wine before the everlasting Kingly Rule arrives in the more distant future, thus indicating the certainty that He will soon die, but guaranteeing their hope eventually of an eternal future? Or is it a joyous assurance that they will soon be drinking ‘new wine’ together again on the other side of the cross, because His imminent death will be followed by resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power, so that the great day when the Kingly Rule of God begins its forward march is not far hence?
Certainly we must not play down the fact that the Kingly Rule of God commenced its marvellous advance from the resurrection onwards (and even before). In Mark it is advancing through the spreading of the word (4.26, 30), will come with power within the lifetime of the disciples (9.1), and must be received like a little child (Mark 10.15). In Acts it is continually made quite clear that the Kingly Rule of God is advancing through the Apostles (Acts 8.12; 14.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31), and in Acts 28.23, 31 it is emphasised that this was by proclaiming the things concerning Jesus. See also Romans 14.17; 1 Corinthians 4.20; in both of which the Kingly Rule of God is a present reality.
Central to how we interpret this verse is what Jesus intended by ‘not drinking of the fruit of the vine’. If it was intended to indicate a long abstention it would suggest divine self sacrifice. Was it then an indication of continuing dedication as with the Nazirites (Numbers 6.3), in say His intercession for His people (the priests also abstained from wine and strong drink - Leviticus 10.9)? But why should such a dedication be necessary, especially as He has just been advocating the drinking of wine as a means of participating in Him? On the other hand if we see it as simply indicating the closeness of His death, it could then be a promise that within a short time the triumph of the Kingly Rule of God would be made manifest, as in 9.1; compare 14.62. We can compare how an officer in preparing his men for battle and wanting to indicate how close it was, might indicate it by declaring, ‘this is my last drink. I will not have another drink until we have the victory is ours’.
For a more detailed examination of the idea behind this verse see our commentary on Luke 22.
End of note.
Jesus Warns His Disciples of Their Coming Failure (14.27-31).
With His heart full of tender love for them Jesus, aware of what the Scriptures have said, and knowing their inner weaknesses, warns the disciples of betrayal. But they all assure Him that He has nothing to worry about. They will not fail.
14.27-28 ‘And Jesus says to them, “You will all be caused to fail, for it is written, ‘I will smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered abroad.’ However, after I am raised up I will go before you into Galilee.” ’
Jesus’ mind was now concentrated on what lay ahead. But He knew the weakness of His disciples, as He knows the weakness of all men, and He knew that they would fail and that when they had failed they would begin to wonder whether Jesus could ever have time for them again. So He assured them in two ways. Firstly in that their failure had been prophesied, and secondly in that He would see them again in Galilee after He had been raised up. After their scattering they had an appointment with Him in Galilee. When they failed, they would remember, and it would give them hope.
‘Be caused to fail.’ In other words will lose courage and will fail to stand by Him. The quotation is from Zechariah 13.7 (compare John 16.32). The Shepherd was to be smitten, and the sheep would be scattered. But He assured them that He would not fail them.
‘I will go before you into Galilee.’ At present with their unawareness of what was to happen, their confusion about His betrayal, and the foreboding that hung over them, return to Galilee was the one thing they longed for most. There they would be safe. They were in fact probably beginning to wonder whether they would ever see Galilee again. So Jesus assured them that not only would they see it but that, having been raised up (8.31; 9.31; 10.34), He would see them there. It was psychologically just what they needed at this time, an assurance for the near future in terms of their deepest longings.
14.29-30 ‘But Peter said to him, “Although all will desert you in fear (‘be caused to stumble’) yet I will not.” And Jesus says to him, “Truly I say to you that you today, even this night, before the cock crows twice will three times deny me.” ’
There can be no doubt about Peter’s goodness of heart. Nor about his sincerity. Nor about his self-confidence. And when the opportunity came to fight for Jesus he would willingly have died for Him. But he had not allowed for the combined effects of the shock of seeing Judas, his friend, acting as betrayer, the eeriness of the night, the clang of Roman arms, being forbidden to defend Jesus when he wanted to fight, Jesus’ submission to His enemies, being left behind helpless and in hiding in the Garden, the nerve tingling journey to where Jesus was taken, and what it would be like with nerves stretched to the full to be challenged as to his relationship with Jesus in the very heart of the enemy’s territory. Peter did not realise that he was a bull not a fox.
“Truly I say to you that you today, even this night, before the cock crows twice will three times deny me.” Jesus knew Peter’s heart better than he knew it himself, and while he was no doubt hurt by Jesus’ words, later in a perverse way it might bring him some comfort to know that Jesus had known what he would do and had still loved him. ‘Before the cock crows twice.’ The early morning activity of cockerels did not occur only once. There could be a brief interlude between crowings (and it did not have to be the same cockerel). It may also be that ‘before the cock crows twice’ was a well known way of indicating a brief period.
Note the narrowing down of the time. First ‘today’, any time up to sunset. Then ‘this night’, before dawn. Then ‘before the cock crows twice’.
14.31 ‘But he spoke exceedingly vehemently, “If I must die with you I will not deny you.” And in a similar manner they all said the same thing.’
There was nothing wrong with their hearts, nor with their intentions. But they had never been in a situation like they were soon to be in. Able and willing to bear hardships they had never had to face the tenseness of uncertainty, the fear of the unknown and the threat of a cruel death when they were also very weary. And they had all heard stories of what happened to those arrested by the Romans. So they confidently and vehemently stated the opposite of what would be true, Peter leading the protests.
From this we can learn that when men fail Jesus they can be assured that there is always a way back, the way of repentance, for He knows our weakness and His love reaches out to us even through our failure.
In Gethsemane Jesus Faces Up To What Lies Ahead As He Prepares For The Cross (13.32-42).
As the hour approached Jesus was becoming more and more aware of the appalling nature of the trial that lay before Him. It was not death He feared, but the awful cup from which He must drink, the cup of the wine of the wrath of God poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation (Revelation 14.10).
Note that in ‘a’ the disciples are to sit there while He goes to pray, and in the parallel they are to rise because the time has come. In ‘b’ He is filled with great awe and anguish even to death, and in the parallel He is betrayed into the hands of sinners. In ‘c’ He calls on the three to remain and watch, and in the parallel He informs them that they can now sleep on and rest. In ‘d’ He goes off and prays, and in the parallel He does the same. Centrally in ‘e’ He comes back and finds them sleeping and gently rebukes them.
14.32-34 ‘And they come to an enclosed place which was named Gethsemane, and he says to his disciples, “You sit here, while I pray.” And he takes with him Peter, and James and John and began to be filled with great awe and to be in anguish. And he says to them, “My soul is filled with deep sorrow even to death. You remain here and watch.” ’
Arriving at Gethsemane Jesus tells His disciples to remain where they were while He will go some way off in order to pray. ‘Gethsemane’ probably means ‘press of oils’. It was obviously a place frequented often by Jesus and therefore well known to Judas who would guess where He was, or might even have been told (John 18.2). The impression is clear that Jesus was in charge of events and moving them towards their inevitable conclusion. If He had to die, and He had known that that was inevitable almost from the beginning, it would be at a time of His own choosing. The name may have been seen by Mark as significant. Jesus was to be trodden under in the oil press of God.
‘You sit here while I pray.’ He left the group of disciples, possibly by the entrance of the enclosed place, while He went on with the Inner Three. In what He had to face He wanted to be alone with His Father, for none of them could appreciate what He was facing. But the three were privileged to be witnesses of His travail and He wanted their company. He did not want at this time to be totally alone.
‘He takes with Him Peter, James and John.’ They were closest to Him and He wanted them with Him. They were to be observers from a short distance of His travail and were to pray for strength in what lay ahead for them.
The words that follow, ‘filled with great awe -- in anguish -- sorrowful to the point of death’ stress the awfulness of the experience He was going through. This was something inexplicable. What Jesus was experiencing we can never know for He was drinking of the cup of the wrath of God against sin. He was facing His destiny as the Suffering Servant, enduring the pain and anguish deserved by our sin. And the three disciples, who the last time they had gone alone with Jesus had seen His glorious transfiguration, now saw the awful darkness and the battle of the soul that He was facing. There are deliberate indications in both passages in the tradition that the two experiences are at the same time two sides of the same coin. (For verse 40, ‘they did not know what to answer --- heavy with sleep’, compare 9.6, ‘he did not know what to answer, for they were sore afraid’, and Luke 9.32, ‘now Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep’).
‘You remain here and watch.’ It is interesting that Jesus has not urged prayer on His disciples, either at the entrance or here. Perhaps He could see that they were emotionally drained. Or perhaps He simply expected them to pray. But He never told anyone to pray simply for form’s sake. Prayer is too deep a thing for that. He always saw it as an awesome experience. In contrast how glibly we exhort to pray, perhaps because our prayers carry so little significance.
14.35-36 ‘And he went forward a small distance and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass away from him. And he said, “Abba, Father. All things are possible to you. Remove this cup from me. However not as I will, but as you will.” ’
We can only be filled with awe as we consider His words. It was for this that He had come and now His very soul drew back at the thought. What blackness, what darkness, did He see ahead that made Him seek to withdraw from His destiny? We cannot even begin to comprehend. But there was a cup. And the wine was red as blood (see Psalm 75.8). It would bring suffering beyond endurance until that terrible cry was rent from Him, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. And yet He chose to face it. That is the lesson here. He knew fully what was coming and He voluntarily chose to face it even though His very being shuddered at the thought and His heart recoiled from it. And remember the three only saw a small part of His anguish before they fell asleep. What followed we do not know.
‘A small distance.’ Near enough for the three to hear. Torn as He was by suffering His prayer would ring out loudly in the quiet of the night.
‘Fell on the ground.’ Compare Judges 13.20; Job 1.20. Here expressing awe and worship, and intensity of feeling (Jews usually stood to pray).
‘If it were possible the hour might pass way from Him.’ He had spoken much of this hour (Luke 22.14; John 7.30; 8.20; 12.23, 27; 17.1), but now it was here He shrank from what it involved. It was not death He shrank from but what would accompany it. He shrank from bearing the consequences of sin, of our sin. He had carried the thought of it for many a day and had feared it (John 12.27) but now it was on Him and He must face it. He could have stood up and walked away. There was still time and He was forewarned. But in His heart He knew that there was no turning back. He was now committed and must wait and let things take their course.
‘Abba, Father.’ The respectful, personal approach of a child, or of a loyal son, to his loving father. This was unique to Jesus until it also became the privilege of His followers (Romans 8.15). It was a step further from ‘our Father’ (Matthew 6.9). Not for one moment did Jesus doubt His Father or feel that He was being harsh. He knew that He was surrounded by His Father’s love. The repetition in two languages stresses the intimate relationship. How different from the ‘My God, My God’ of His desolation (15.34).
‘All things are possible to you.’ Even at this hour He knew that all was possible to God. That is important. If the cup was not removed it was not because it was not possible, but because it could not be if the world was to be redeemed. Jesus had a choice as to whether to drink it or not (compare Hebrews 10.5-10). And it was not only Jesus Who had a choice to make, the Father had to make the choice as well. And He made that choice. ‘God so loved --- that He gave’ (John 3.16).
We are reminded here of something else that was possible to God, the salvation of sinful men (10.27). But that was only possible if Jesus bowed to the will of His Father.
‘Remove this cup from me.’ See Psalm 75.8; Isaiah 51.17, 22; Jeremiah 25.15; Revelation 14.10. It was the cup of the Lord’s anger, the cup of the righteous wrath of God against sin which He had to drink to the full. But in the past the cup had been taken out of the hand of His people once God felt that they had drunk enough (Isaiah 51.22) and Jesus hoped that this might also be possible for Him. However, He immediately made His request as being conditional on the Father’s will. He shrank from the cup, but He would not shrink from the will of God.
‘However not as I will, but as you will.’ His final will was full submission to the will of His Father at whatever cost. If His Father willed it He would take the cup to His lips and drain it to the last drop. There is the indication here that in His manhood Jesus did still not have full understanding of the absolute necessity of what He was facing (just as He did not know the time of His coming - 13.32). It appears that He hoped, even at this late stage when its horror impressed itself upon Him, that it might be avoidable. Perhaps there was another way? But He made clear that in the end what His Father willed was what mattered. He longed to avoid what faced Him, but He would not do so if what He faced was the Father’s final will. This lack of knowledge stresses even more the constancy of His obedience. He went into the darkness, knowing how awful it would be, and yet not knowing quite how awful. He trusted His Father to the end.
In the words of Hebrew, He, ‘having offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and having been heard for His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, and having been made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to those who obey Him’ (Hebrews 5.7).
14.37-38 ‘And he comes and finds them sleeping and says to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour. Watch and pray that you enter not into testing. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.”
The battle within Him went on for an hour, and then He returned to the three who were with Him. We are not told why He did so. Perhaps He sought comfort from their presence and their prayers. Possibly He hoped for the sustaining strength of their vigil with Him. But instead He found them asleep. Even His closest friends were failing Him at the hour of His greatest need. They had not, of course, slept the whole hour. They had watched, and prayed, and waited, and then gradually been taken over by sleep, because they did not understand His sense of urgency. That the sleep was partially blameworthy comes out in the question. But it was the sleep of total exhaustion, possible to them because they were not awake to the urgency of the hour. The adrenalin was not flowing. The rebuke was therefore not strong. And His concern was for what it would mean for them rather than for Himself.
‘Simon.’ Jesus’ regular way of addressing Peter (Matthew 16.17; 17.25; Luke 22.31; John 21.15, 16, 17; contrast Luke 22.34). But although He addressed Peter He was speaking to them all.
‘Could you not watch one hour?’ Rebuke is unquestionably there. And also incredulity. He was so fully aware of the forces that they were facing that He found it difficult to comprehend the carelessness of His disciples in not being aware of them, for He had warned them of them beforehand (Luke 22.31). But He had not yet finished His praying or received His final answer from His Father. Thus His return at this point demonstrated either that He was checking whether the three were fulfilling their responsibility, for their own sake, or that in His humanness He felt the need for prayerful companionship. Or both. In the agony of His praying He had not forgotten them and their needs.
‘Watch and pray that you do not enter into testing.’ The plural indicates that He now specifically switched His attention to all three. This rebuke was so like Jesus. His concern was not because they had failed Him but because they were failing themselves. He had taught them to pray, “Do not lead us into testing” (Matthew 6.13). And never had there been a time more than this when such a prayer was needed. He had warned Simon that Satan had desired to have him in order to test him out (Luke 22.31). He had warned him that he would deny Him three times in a short space of time (14.30; Luke 22.34). How earnestly then he should have been praying. And yet neither he nor the others could stay awake and pray. Had Peter done so what followed for him might not have happened.
‘Testing (peirasmos).’ Testing so severe that it cannot be overcome. That is what the Christian should seek God’s help to avoid. That is what the disciples were to seek to avoid. But their failure meant that they were not ready when the test came. It is those who pray continually before the test comes who will be able to overcome. When it comes it is too late to start praying (compare 9.29).
‘The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.’ The idea of the ‘willing spirit’ is taken from Psalm 51.12, where it is linked with ‘the Holy Spirit’ (51.11) and a ‘steadfast spirit’ (51.10). But because they failed to pray the Holy Spirit could not strengthen them and their spirits would not prove steadfast. Thus the flesh, which spoke of human physical weakness and concern only with the material, triumphed.
But fortunately for them it would lead to a ‘broken spirit’ and a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51 17) and they would find a way back. He was reminding them that, as with David in his sin, there was a way back.
14.39-40 ‘And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words, and again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy. And they did not know what to answer him.’
For Jesus a continuation of the same battle. Luke puts it this way, ‘and being in an agony He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down on the ground’. For them a similar result. They slept. We can almost hear Peter saying to Mark, as he tried to explain how they could have failed so, ‘our eyes were very heavy’. No one would dare to ask about it, but Peter would feel that he had to give an explanation.
‘And they did not know what to answer Him.’ What could they say? They had failed again. But the poignant lesson that comes out of this failure was that the path that Jesus had to tread was one that He alone could tread. And none could tread it with Him. They could not battle with the forces that were arrayed against Him. That they were blameworthy Jesus made plain, and yet there were forces at work that night that they had never dreamed of. And these were surely finally responsible for their sleep. There is no other explanation. These were men who had known what it was to toil all night at fishing and never sleep, and yet here they could not keep awake even when they had been shamed and were aware of Jesus’ agony.
In a sense this strange sleep provided the answer to His prayer. It said that they could and would have battled with Him against the possible, but against what He was facing and must face they could not even begin to try. As Luke puts it they slept ‘for sorrow’. Grief stricken, heart broken, burdened down by what Jesus had told them, and what He was now experiencing, torn by the fear of the unknown, afflicted by Satan, their bodies could fight no longer, they could only sleep. It was all beyond them. He must go on to face it alone.
But it is greatly to their credit that although no one knew of this but them, they later admitted it openly. They could have hidden it. They could have given the impression of how fully they had supported Him. But they were honest enough to be willing to tell the truth without embellishment and without excuse.
14.41 ‘And he comes the third time and says to them, “Sleep on now and take your rest. It is received. The hour is come. Behold the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” ’
The assumption is usually made that they were asleep again, but it does not say so, and if that were intended to be understood surely it would have been said. Jesus’ words might equally have been addressed to three men desperately fighting sleep, three men who at last had demonstrated that although they had unwittingly failed Him they had not failed Him completely. But whatever the case they were intended to indicate that their struggle was over and they could now relax. For His words were not so much a permission to sleep as an indication that now the need to fight it was over. They could now cease their fight against sleep because the time for wakefulness and prayer had passed. All decisions had been reached. The first stage in His battle was over.
‘It is received (’apechei)’. The word is literally used on bills as ‘it is receipted, it has been received in full’. It is also used of having ‘received’ a revelation. Jesus was indicating that after three long heart-tearing hours He had received His answer and, having done so, would now move on to the next stage in God’s purpose.
(The translation ‘it is enough’ is not the usual meaning of the word, and takes away its deep significance. Contrast Luke 22.38 where a different Greek phrase is used).
‘The hour is come.’ His awareness that the hour was come, the hour of His betrayal and death, was the answer to His own prayer. It demonstrated that the cup had to be drunk in full.
‘Behold the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.’ The hour of His betrayal, of His deliverance into the hands of men, had come. Now there was no turning back. There is a poignancy to the word ‘sinners’. This was no mere technical use. The holy and pure was delivered into the hands of the unholy and impure. The clean into the hands of the unclean. The man of love into the hands of the men of hate. The Servant goes to His doom at the hands of oppression and judgment (Isaiah 53.8). The son of man faces the contradiction of sinners against Himself (Daniel 7.21, 25).
‘Sinners.’ The term was often used by Jews to refer to the Gentiles. We may therefore also see in this the indication that the Jewish leadership were now seen as the equivalent of Gentiles and no longer of the people of God. They had demonstrated whose side they were on. Compare how in Acts 4.25, 27 ‘the peoples’, which originally represented non-Israelites, are seen as referring to the peoples of Israel. But we must not lose the sense of the contrast with holiness.
14.42 “Arise, let us advance to meet them, look, he who betrays me is at hand.”
Through His long battle He had prepared Himself to meet them. He had sought to prepare His disciples too. Now they must not be caught at a disadvantage. They must advance to meet the enemy. The verb is regularly used of the advance of troops.
‘Look. He who betrays me is at hand.’ The moment of truth has now arrived. All will now know the identity of the traitor. Could they even believe what would be before their eyes. They must have asked, ‘Surely not Judas?’
The Arrest of Jesus (14.43-52).
Many hours have now passed since sunset. The Passover meal had been eaten, the discourses in John 14-16 had been given, the walk to the Garden had taken place followed by well over an hour of prayer, possibly even two to three hours. And on the other side, Judas had left after the Passover meal, and during those hours had gone to the conspirators who themselves probably had to leave their Passover meals in a hurry, had to alert their guards and call on the prearranged official party of Roman soldiers and then make their way to the Garden. And he had waited impatiently, wishing that everything was over. And now the two groups have converged together.
Note that in ‘a’ Judas, one of the twelve, came in his act of betrayal, and in the parallel the remainder of the twelve fled, in their act of betrayal. In ‘b’ they came with swords and staves, and in the parallel Jesus asks why they have come with swords and staves. In ‘c’ we have the firm reaction of Judas, and in the parallel the firm reaction of another of Jesus’ disciples. Centrally in ‘d’ the final sacrilege, they laid hands on Him and took Him.
14.43 ‘And immediately, while he yet spoke, comes Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a host with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.’
Now that He was ready they came to arrest Him, and along with them was Judas, almost unbelievably ‘one of the twelve’. The appellation is emphasised to bring out the horror of the idea. Those twelve privileged men, who had spent so much time with Jesus, who had preached and healed and cast out spirits in His name, whom He had loved and to whom He had revealed so much. For whom He had purposed privileges beyond compare. And the betrayer was one of them.
‘And with him a host.’ In the full moon and the flickering lights of the torches the disciples discerned those who came with Judas, men with swords and staves, temple guards and hastily conscripted helpers, including slaves of the High Priest, sent on the authority of the Jewish leadership, (the Jerusalem Sanhedrin had powers of arrest and restraint), and behind them a host of people who were but shadows in the darkness.
It is possible, though not certain, that it included a group of Roman soldiers, depending on how we interpret John. John’s account may be seen as indicating that they included a body (‘cohort’) of Roman soldiers under their Chiliarch, brought along to make the arrest completely official. If so they would play no major part in the actual arrest except by exercise of their authority. They were there as a final seal of official approval, arranged so that the Jewish leaders would later be able to divert attention from their own guilt. But the presence of such Roman soldiers is open to debate. The words ‘band’ or ‘cohort’ (John 18.3) and ‘Chiliarch’ (John 18.12) may have been loosely used among Temple soldiery of themselves and their leader. However it makes little difference in the event.
The whole story from now on is a strange admixture. The Jewish leaders determined on Jesus’ death and yet seeking to place the blame in the eyes of the people on Pilate, the Roman governor. And Pilate, lending grudging support to the affair in view of what he had probably been told was a dangerous revolutionary, but wanting to leave the Jews to sort it out under the terms of their own authority because he was not really convinced and suspected that they had their own motives for what they were doing. And because he did not like them.
14.44 ‘Now he who betrayed him had given them an agreed signal saying, “Whoever I will kiss, that is he. Take him and lead him away safely.” ’
What sympathy can we have for Judas when he planned it all so cynically? He did not want to be seen as denouncing Jesus and so he would do it by a kiss of friendship. So psychologically do treacherous people behave when they cannot face the reality of what they are doing. He was the betrayer and yet he wanted to feel as if he had had no real part in it.
The need for some sign possibly demonstrates that the arresting party were concerned lest in the confusion and the darkness they should arrest the wrong man and lose the opportunity. They would flinch at the thought of what would have happened if they did and the news got out to the Passover crowds from Galilee. It certainly demonstrated that Judas wanted to make sure there was no mistake. They had probably expected to find the disciples in a group in the moonlit darkness, with Jesus among them, in a place where there were other groups around. (There would be many groups around that night). The sign suggests that they were hoping to carry out the arrest before any outsider realised what was happening. Judas’ approach would not appear belligerent and there would hopefully be uncertainty and therefore no resistance until too late.
They were not to know that Jesus would actually come to meet them, rendering it unnecessary. Even Judas did not know or expect that.
14.45 ‘And when he was come immediately he came to him and says, “Rabbi!”. And firmly kissed him.’
There are always different ways of doing things. Attempts in some way to ameliorate Judas’ guilt often overlook the pure callousness of the way he did it. Consider what had gone before.
We can understand all this to some extent. Although it was treacherous it was because he had to preserve his position in the eyes of the disciples. But surely he must have been squirming and have felt some guilt at the compassion that Jesus showed him? But now to boldly approach and call Him “Rabbi”, an act of homage and respect, and to give Him an ‘in-depth’ kiss, rather than a token kiss on the cheek, a sign of deep affection, which would involve a ‘loving’ embrace (the word for ‘kiss’ here is strong compared with ‘kiss’ in verse 44 - kataphileso as against phileso), this was treachery indeed. His aim was to ensure that Jesus did not get away. Judas could not have lived with His escaping (and indeed could not live with His dying).
Whether Rabbinic disciples did kiss their teachers on the cheek is a disputed matter, but to do it warmly simply as a sign of betrayal and in order to hinder His escape, took callousness beyond belief. These were not the tokens of a man whose intentions were good even though he was self-deceived, they were the tokens of a man so callous and hardened that nothing was beyond him. No, more, they were vindictive. Only hate could have produced them and enabled him to carry them through. At that moment he hated Jesus.
Even Jesus, Who knew the wickedness of men’s hearts to the full, was taken aback, for He said. “Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? Friend, this is symptomatic of what you have come for” (Luke 22.48 with Matthew 26.50).
14.46 ‘And they laid hands on him and took him.’
It was done. He was taken. For the watching disciples devastation beyond bearing. Surely something must happen to stop it? For the Jewish leadership triumph. They had feared the worst but had discovered that nothing did happen. For the Temple police relief. Nothing had happened. For the Roman soldiers just another duty. They had not expected anything to happen. For the angels in heaven awaiting the word of command, frustration. They were itching to make it happen. For His Father sacrifice beyond all sacrifices. Nothing would be allowed to happen.
14.47 ‘And a certain one of those who stood by drew his sword and smote the high priest’s bondservant and struck off his ear.’
Mark’s account is deliberately brief and anonymous (compare verse 51). His concentration is on the Betrayer (verses 43-45) and on the unreasonableness of the method of arrest (verses 48-49). He wanted his readers to know that this was not genuine Roman justice in action. But he also wanted his readers to know that there were those there who did care, even though they were really helpless to do anything. And so he describes this token resistance and later the presence of the young man (verse 51).
There is, however, one aspect which is significant. ‘The bondservant of the High Priest’ was probably a high official acting on behalf of his master. This not only brings out the High Priest’s involvement in what has happened, but probably also in Mark’s eyes demonstrates God’s judgment on the High Priest by proxy. The cutting off of the ear symbolises the fact that the High Priest is no longer seen as fitted for office, for such a blemish in the High Priest would in fact have barred him from office. (Mark does not describe its healing). In God’s eyes the High Priest is disfigured for ever.
A further significance of this action is that it is one last final effort made on behalf of the disciples (perhaps that is why in Mark it is anonymous), and it is revealed to be as futile as it was ineffective. The disciples have no part in what is to happen from now on. Jesus must face it alone.
Note the carefully put together narrative.
Mark’s work demonstrates careful use of the material at his disposal. He wanted especially to stress the betrayal and the words of Jesus. But this simple pattern also hides a more complicated structure, for the ‘certain young man’ also both faces arrest and flees, while the ‘certain one of them’ put up a defence before joining the flight. Both were loyal but effectively irrelevant. It was now Jesus versus the Jewish establishment.
(We know that the swordsman was Peter (John 18.10), but it may be that when Mark wrote it was not good to mention names in Rome where Roman justice might be seen as involved, or even to link the incident with the disciples. Or it may be that Peter did not want to take any credit for what he had done (it was at least an attempt) when he had so dreadfully betrayed Jesus shortly afterwards. Or the anonymity might have been intended to bring out that this was the last effort on His behalf of the disciples as a whole (only two of them carried swords - Luke 22.38, and it was typical that Peter should be one of them). However it was an act typical of Peter, spontaneous and brave, yet out of order and as a result forbidden by Jesus. And inept as well, although it may be that the blow was diverted, or indeed that his aim might have been disfigurement of someone clearly important in the High Priest’s household. Peter’s aim might have been to divert attention to himself giving Jesus an opportunity to slip away. Certainly at least it proved that he was ready to die for Jesus as he had said. However, Jesus had to point out to him that if he had been aware of what He had prayed he would have realised that he must not interfere (John 18.11), and that had he only thought about it the whole of heaven was standing by to act to bring about His deliverance (Matthew 26.53). But it was not to be).
14.48-49 ‘And Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you come out as against a brigand, with swords and staves, to seize me? I was with you daily in the Temple teaching and you did not arrest me. But this is done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” ’
Jesus clearly recognised members of the Temple police. So He charged those who were there to arrest Him with their hypocrisy. They were pretending to act justly but were quite aware that they were acting against the wishes of the people, otherwise why were they there in the darkness on Passover night rather than arresting Him in the temple?
He had two charges against them. Firstly that they had not dared to arrest Him by day in front of the crowds because they knew that the crowds were on His side. And secondly that, although He had taught peacefully in the Temple with no show of force, they now came with a large force as though He was a brigand. (Indeed he knew that that was the impression they were dishonestly trying to give to Pilate). There may have been in Jesus’ mind His own description of those who controlled the Temple trade as brigands (11.17), with the thought, ‘do you really think that I am like them? They use force of arms but I do not’.
‘I was with you daily in the Temple.’ The same men who had not dared to deny John the Baptiser before the crowd (11.32) had also not dared to arrest Him during the day before the crowd, because they knew what the reaction of the crowd would be. But if they had been honest, and their case had been honest, it had given them ample opportunity for His arrest. It was not the Jews as a whole who were arresting Jesus, but their bigoted leaders and their supporters.
‘Are you come out as against a brigand --(by night)?’ But now, with the crowds absent, they made a bold show in the darkness, and had come with a huge show of force as though He were a fierce brigand. And this in spite of the fact that He had never once offered resistance against them, but instead had peacefully preached among them in the Temple. Their whole behaviour was inconsistent and self-contradictory and demonstrated that they loved darkness in order to disguise what they did. They wanted it hid from men’s eyes.
And why such a large contingent, and the swords and staves? It was because in their hearts they were admitting that they were afraid. That had to mean that they knew that He was someone Who had revealed the power of God and that they somehow thought that with their superior physical force they could prevent interference from whatever powers He could use. Thus inwardly they were subconsciously admitting that they knew that the power of God was on His side. He was thus challenging them to recognise their own inner thoughts, thoughts which would only have been fortified by their first experience on approaching Him (John 18.4-8). Jesus always gave men the opportunity to recognise that they were mistaken.
‘But this is done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.’ But He knew in the end that they would not listen to Him for the Scriptures had already revealed that this would be the situation. Was he thinking of the words of the Psalmist which he had cited earlier, “They hate me without a cause --- they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.”? (See Psalm 35.19 - a Psalm of David, and thus suitable for a son of David. Compare also Psalm 69.4 and see John 15.25). Or did He have in mind the betrayal of the Suffering Servant by the leaders of the people (Isaiah 53.7-9)?
14.50 ‘And they all left him and fled.’
This contrasts with verse 46, and leads on from verse 47. His enemies laid hands on Him and arrested Him. And once an initial blow had been struck His friends all left Him and fled. This too was in accordance with the Scriptures (Zechariah 13.7). It also contrasts with the words ‘comes Judas, one of the twelve’, helping to emphasise his betrayal. He alone could remain. for no one would seek to arrest him.
14.51-52 ‘And a certain young man followed with him, having a linen cloak thrown about him over his naked body, and they laid hold on him, but he left the linen cloak and fled naked.’
Compare the equally anonymous ‘certain one of them’ who used his sword in a brave but useless attempt to defend Jesus (until according to the other Gospels he was told off for his pains). Here was another anonymous one who was also brave, but futile.
This one did not flee at first. Not necessarily because he was braver, but possibly because he was not so directly involved and was not a recognised disciple. Who was this young man? A good case can be made out for John Mark himself, especially if the upper room was in John Mark’s father’s house (compare Acts 12.12) and he had been the carrier of the pitcher of water (14.13). Intrigued at events he may well have heard Jesus and the disciples leaving and hurriedly flung a linen cloak round his naked body and followed behind, seeing all that occurred.
He might equally have followed the arresting party after the arrest, not fearing arrest himself, until Judas, guilt-ridden, possibly indicated him as someone whom he had spotted at the house, at which point they sought to arrest him, or alternatively and more likely, he might have put in too strong a verbal protest resulting in him being mistaken for a belligerent disciple. Either way he fled leaving his cloak behind. Whether ‘naked’ means totally so or simply ‘not dressed’ i.e. in undergarments, is debatable and unanswerable. It does, however tend to suggest that comparison with Joseph (Genesis 39.12) was not in mind for it wrecks the comparison (and did not need to be mentioned). Others have suggested a connection with Amos 2.16, ‘and he who is courageous among the mighty will flee away naked in that day’. But it is not likely that he could be seen, or would see himself, as one of the mighty. More likely might be Genesis 3.7, 10, 11 where Adam realised he was naked before God. Perhaps there is the thought here that with Jesus now under arrest he was a symbol that all who fled were naked.
Led Like A Lamb To The Slaughter.
And so Jesus was marched off, alone with His captors. From this point on it is no longer Jesus Who determines events. He is being led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so He will not open His mouth (Isaiah 53.7), except at times when it was necessary to confirm His Kingship and authority (14.62; 15.2; John 18.33-38). His disciples are no longer with him, and one who does follow does so ‘afar off’ (verse 54), and it would have been better if even he had not been there. Events are now in God’s hands Who alone will determine what happens.
Jesus Is Put On Trial Before The Jewish Leaders In The High Priest’s House During Which Time Peter Denies Jesus Before Bystanders In The Courtyard (14.53-15.1).
The ‘trials’ of Jesus present a complicated problem because it is clear that, prior to His official trial by the Sanhedrin at break of day (15.1), Jesus was subjected to legal examination with the aim of building up a case against Him that would stand up before the whole Sanhedrin, and finally before Pilate.
Thus He appears first to have been brought to Annas, the ‘retired’ (by the Romans) High Priest, who was still called and thought of as High Priest by the Jews (John 18.13, 19-24), for private questioning. (Former High Priests retained their title until death). His apartments would probably be in the same palace as those of his son-in-law Caiaphas and at this stage time was possibly needed to get some of the Sanhedrin together. Then, because of the failure to achieve their purpose in that private meeting, He was brought before a larger group ‘in the house of Caiaphas’, the current High Priest (18-36 AD), probably consisting of a good number of the Sanhedrin hastily brought together, a considerable number of whom, but not necessarily all, were antagonistic to Him (Mark 14.53-64; Matthew 26.57-68). Then finally He was brought before the ‘full’ Sanhedrin (15.1; Matthew 27.1; Luke 22.66-71). The last would be the only official trial. But by then the issue had really been decided.
The presumed absence of Nicodemus (John 3.1), Joseph of Arimathea (15.43) and others (possibly men such as Gamaliel - Acts 5.34) at the final trial must even then raise the question as to whether even this gathering was all so arranged that they could not be ‘found’ until it was too late. For these at least would surely have raised a protest? Or did they sit there in silence, ensuring that the niceties were observed, but acknowledging that they could do little in the circumstances? If so Joseph and Nicodemus finally regretted it and later made some effort to make amends (John 19.38-39).
The aim of the chief priests appears to have been twofold. Firstly to build up a case so as eventually to get the Sanhedrin to find Him guilty of blasphemy and thus deserving of death (so covering themselves with the Jewish people). And then to use their influence to get Pilate to condemn Him for being a revolutionary (thus preventing themselves having to take the blame for His execution).
Mark concentrates on the appearance at the house of Caiaphas before Caiaphas, which was a judicial examination, although not the official meeting of the Sanhedrin which had to take place in daylight. While we know from the Mishnah the theoretical rules for a trial before the Sanhedrin according to the views of the Pharisees, these may not all have applied in Jesus’ time, especially as at this stage the Sadducees controlled the function. It is, however, clear from what follows that witnesses did have to be tested against each other and their witness had to agree, and that a trial before the Sanhedrin could not take place at night (which is not to say that a preliminary hearing could not).
It is probable that in the case of major crimes the Sanhedrin only had the right to act in religious cases where the charges were of blasphemy, and even then could only exercise the death penalty for blasphemy of a severe kind. Thus if a Gentile went beyond the court of the Gentiles in the Temple he could immediately be put to death, and when Stephen was charged with blasphemy he could be stoned (Acts 7.58). The same happened to James the Lord’s brother many years later, but in that case the perpetrators were called to account.
A partial exception was where they were given authority by the governor to act otherwise, an authority which in fact he was willing to grant in this case (John 18.31), but in such circumstances, under that authority, they did not have the right to exact the death penalty (John 18.31). And that was not what they wanted.
It is quite probable that the High Priest went beyond his powers in ‘adjuring’ the prisoner to speak the truth, as that was misusing divine authority in order to make a man incriminate himself. ‘Adjuring’ was intended to be for witnesses. But as what was achieved was not the final charge it was presumably considered not too important a matter and condoned, for they after all they did not in the end want to stone Jesus for blasphemy. Indeed such an attempt might have resulted in the crowds taking action against them. What they wanted was for the Roman authority to take the blame in the eyes of the people. The charge of blasphemy was to satisfy themselves and any doubters that He deserved to die.
In the narrative that follows there is a vivid contrast between Jesus facing questioning three times in the courtroom, and Peter facing questioning three times in the courtyard. The One, the captive, scorns the questioners and in the end triumphantly declares His Messiahship and coming authority, bringing a dramatic gesture from the High Priest, the other, the free man, sinks from one depth of denial to another until in the end he denies Jesus in a dramatic gesture with a curse. The contrast between the Saviour and the saved is clear.
Note that in ‘a’ He is led away to the High Priest, and the Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders gather, and in the parallel the Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders deliver Him to Pilate. In ‘b’ the presence of Peter is introduced, thus incorporating him into the narrative, and follows Jesus afar off into the court of the High Priest’s house, and is found sitting before a fire among Jesus’ enemies, and in the parallel he calls to mind that Jesus had said that he would deny Him three times, and he goes out and weeps bitterly. In ‘c’ many bear false witness against Jesus but fail to agree, while in the parallel a maid servant bears witness against Peter, and he denies it. In ‘d’ the charge becomes more specific, but again the witnesses fail to agree, while in the parallel the charge against Peter becomes more specific, ‘This is one of them.’ In ‘e’ Jesus answers nothing, and in the parallel Peter again denies the charge (These might be seen as incorporated with ‘d’). In ‘f’ the High Priest questions Jesus’ status and learns Who Jesus is, and in the parallel it is suggested to Peter that he is one of them because He is a Galilean. In ‘g’ the High Priest reacts violently to the situation, and in the parallel Peter does the same. In ‘h’ the result is that Jesus is defamed, and in the parallel the cock basically unawares does the same to Peter in the light of Jesus’ warning (certainly in Peter’s mind).
14.53 ‘And they led Jesus away to the high priest, and there come together with him all the chief priests, and the elders and the scribes.’
This was the pre-trial judicial examination before Caiaphas. ‘All’ is not to be taken literally. The point is that each group in the Sanhedrin was represented by those attending, the Chief Priests representing the Sadducees, the elders representing lay people, and the scribes representing the Pharisees. They were ‘all’ there. Whatever conclusions were then reached would be brought for ratification before the full Sanhedrin in the morning (15.1).
We must beware of describing the proceedings as illegal. There were sufficient distinguished people present here to ensure that the legal requirements were on the whole maintained. Stretched they may have been, but they were not broken. And it was not a trial. That would not have suited their purpose, for had the Sanhedrin intended to pass and carry out the death penalty they would by their laws have had to wait twenty four hours before doing the latter. This was to be circumvented by passing the case to Pilate who was under no such restriction.
14.54 ‘ And Peter had followed him afar off, even within into the courtyard of the high priest, and he was sitting with officials and warming himself before the fire.’
Again we have a typically Marcan interweaving of events. Inside the house were representatives of the Sanhedrin. Out in the courtyard, around which the palace was built, was Peter. Bravely he had followed the arresting party at a distance, and with the help of another disciple who was seemingly related to the high priestly family, had actually been able to enter the courtyard of the high priest’s residence (John 18.15). There he was sat before the open fire with officials from the residence, who clearly did not recognise him. There was no reason why they should. They would have had nothing to do with Jesus previously and were probably not of the arresting group. But the picture is of Peter at ease, compromising with Jesus’ enemies
14.55-59 ‘Now the chief priests and the whole council sought witness against Jesus to bring about his death, and did not find it. For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree together. And there stood up certain and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands’.” And not even so did their witness agree together.’
It is clear from this how tied they found their hands. They had to obtain external testimony from independent witnesses if they were to condemn Him. And try as they would the independent witness of two agreeing together was not forthcoming (Numbers 35.30; Deuteronomy 17.6; 19.15). As witness after witness was introduced independently one after the other, none agreed with the other with regard to any charge that mattered. That they were false witnesses does not mean that the Sanhedrin had put up false witnesses deliberately. They were false witnesses because what they testified about Jesus was, as Mark knew, not wholly true. This is clear evidence that reasonably correct procedures were being followed, and had to be, because it was demanded by many of those present. Not all would allow justice to be swept aside. Note how there is a division into two by the phrase ‘their witness did not agree together’ in verse 56 and its equivalent in verse 59. These parallel the first two approaches to Peter in verses 67-70.
Where the witnesses came from is an interesting question. The fact that they were available serves to demonstrate that the case had been at least partly prepared some time before. Or it may simply be that they had been hurriedly obtained from among those present and from among officials and servants of the High Priest.
We are only actually told one of the charges, seemingly one remembered by the person who provided the information about the examination (it could have been a member of the Sanhedrin, or an interested witness among others who attended the hearing such as disciples of the scribes). And that was that Jesus had said He would destroy the present Temple and in three days raise one up made without hands. Such a statement that He would destroy the temple would indeed probably have been looked on as blasphemy in itself, and the idea that He would destroy it and then rebuild it in three days could be seen as a Messianic claim made by someone claiming superhuman powers (compare 2 Samuel 7.13; Zechariah 6.12 which suggest that the Messiah will rebuild the Temple), something which if it could be demonstrated would interest Pilate greatly. But even here the witnesses could not agree on what exactly He said.
It is possible that Judas, having heard Jesus’ words in 13.2, may have contributed to this charge, causing them to ask around as to whether anyone had heard Him say anything like this.
A statement fairly like this is in fact described to us in John 2.19. It was probably this, or something like it, that was being ‘remembered’. But as is clear from an examination of that statement Jesus did not there say that He would destroy the temple. And the witnesses could not agree what He did say. The idea, however, became lodged in some of their minds for they produced it against Him at the cross (15.29 compare Acts 6.14).
By now the leading examiner, the High Priest, was getting increasingly impatient. Time was passing, morning was approaching, and they were getting nowhere. And he was especially furious because Jesus was standing there not defending Himself or admitting anything, and so not convicting Himself. It was unreasonable.
‘Sought witness.’ This would serve to confirm that this was preparation for a trial rather than the trial itself.
14.60-61a ‘And the high priest stood up among them and asked Jesus saying, “Do you answer nothing? What is it that these witness against you?” But he held his peace and answered nothing.’
Like the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53.7 Jesus did not defend Himself. ‘As a sheep that before her shearers is dumb, yes, He opened not his mouth.’ He was not there to defend Himself but to suffer for the sins of others. But it exasperated the High Priest who probably had much experience in tripping up accused persons by their admissions when rebutting witnesses. But by His not answering the examination was reaching stalemate.
14.61b ‘Again the high priest asks him and says to him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
‘The High Priest asks Him.’ Matthew adds, “I adjure you by the living God.” This was requiring testimony from the prisoner under an oath before God. But while the inquisitor had the right to adjure witnesses in this way, who were then bound to reply and tell the truth under threat of severe penalty, it is very questionable whether it was legal to do the same to make a man incriminate himself. There were probably a number there who raised their eyebrows at his behaviour. But as it was not an actual trial it was seemingly not protested against, and to Mark it is irrelevant.
‘The Messiah, the son of the Blessed.’ The question went beyond just asking whether He was the Messiah. Claiming to be the Messiah, while frowned on, would not necessarily have been looked on as blasphemy. But ‘Son of God’ was not a prominent Messianic title, although occurring in the Psalms of Solomon and in isolated references at Qumran. The idea may have been picked up from the parable of the wicked tenants (12.1-11), from Jesus’ statement in 11.35-37 that the Messiah would be not only David’s son but David’s Lord, and from Judas himself who may well have contributed information. It was a clever and leading question. A Messianic claimant could easily have said ‘yes’ thinking in terms of adoption by God as ‘His son’ as kings of Israel had been before him (Psalm 2.7), and then found himself unwittingly embroiled in a charge of blasphemy.
Mark does not mention the ‘adjuration’. As far as he was concerned the question was asked and Jesus gave a straight answer. To him that was the important point. He was concerned to bring out that Jesus clearly declared before the leaders of Judaism that He was the Messianic King. (Mark was not concerned about the legitimacy of the trial. He was concerned with its results).
‘The Blessed.’ An indirect reference to God.
14.62 ‘And Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
In Mark His ‘I am’ is a direct Messianic claim, and more. Matthew 26.64 and Luke 22.70 make the reply more indirect as do some important authorities here - ‘you say that I am’. But it is the expression that is different. The essence is the same. Jesus did not deny His Messiahship by either answer. Mark simply translates very positively. That he is justified comes out in the following words.
‘You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power (i.e. of God).’ This is a reference to Psalm 110.1. Here was a direct claim to be God’s ‘right hand man’ as sovereign over the world, based on a Psalm that was seen as Messianic. And He further declares that this would happen to Him as ‘the Son of Man’.
‘The son of man --- coming on the clouds of heaven.’ See Daniel 7.13 where it refers to the representative of Israel coming into the presence of God to receive an everlasting throne. There are no grounds for seeing this as referring to the second coming, an idea which would have been foreign to those present. They would rightly have seen it as signifying His approach to God to be enthroned and glorified. (Matthew’s ‘from now on ---’ (26.64) specifically excludes it from referring to the second coming). Here then is a further claim that He is to receive kingship, authority and glory from God
So Jesus’ claim was that as Son of Man He was about to share God’s authority and be exalted as ruler of the world and as God’s representative King. He was to be a heavenly Messiah. And in Matthew and Luke He further claimed that this would become apparent to them - ‘you shall see’ - as His Kingly Rule was exercised. This went beyond the idea of the earthly Messiah ruling over the world. It was a claim to divine exaltation.
14.63-64 ‘And the high priest tore his clothes and says, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” And they all condemned him to be worthy of death.’
It is significant that Jesus had replied by simply quoting Scripture. Strictly what had He said was not blasphemous. But the mood of the investigation and the High Priest’s histrionic behaviour put the worst interpretation on it, and to be fair it was an interpretation that we know to be true. Jesus was condemned because He made divine claims which they were not prepared to accept.
‘The high priest tore his clothes.’ This was basically a manipulation of the reply. The tearing of the clothes was evidence of great emotion and symbolic of guilt and should only have occurred once the verdict had been reached. In other words he preempted the verdict and made known his view before the verdict was decided. Not that that concerned him. In his eyes it had never been the verdict that had been in doubt but the means of obtaining it.
“What further need have we of witnesses?” The point was that the man had condemned Himself, something He should not have been made to do. But we can sense the relief in the High Priest’s voice. Now the need for witnesses could be ignored. And he had made clear that he expected all of them to agree with him.
‘You have heard the blasphemy.’ Strictly not blasphemy according to the Law where misuse of God’s name was the only grounds (Leviticus 24.15-16). But the idea had later been widened, as is evident here, to signify insult to His Person (compare 2.7).
‘And they all condemned him to be worthy of death.’ Note the phraseology, ‘to be worthy of death’. It was a recommendation not a sentence. This was an inquiry not a trial. Its view would have to be ratified by the official Sanhedrin meeting by daylight.
14.65 ‘And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say to him, “Prophesy.” And the officers received him with blows of their hands.’
The translation ‘some’ is general without being too specific, but it may serve to confirm the presence of others than the Sanhedrin members who, it may be thought, would not have stooped to this. Luke 22.63 said it was ‘the men who held Jesus’. However, spitting could be an official way of demonstrating disapproval (compare Deuteronomy 25.9; Isaiah 50.6; Numbers 12.14; Job 30.10), as could contemptuous blows. So there is a good likelihood that it was in fact their final visible official demonstration of the verdict, which was then carried on by their men. The spitting and buffeting was reminiscent of Isaiah 50.6 see also 53.7. He was now seen as guilty, and His guilt was being publicly demonstrated.
The covering of the face was so that He could not see who hit Him. Then they jeeringly suggested that as a prophet He should be able to tell. (Their view was probably that the Messiah would have been able to do so on the basis of Isaiah 11.3 which was seen as indicating Messiah’s supernatural ability ). The officers responsible for holding Him also mistreated Him. From now on He was anyone’s plaything.
14.66-67 ‘And as Peter was beneath in the court there comes one of the maids of the high priest, and seeing Peter warming himself she looked on him and says, “You also were with the Nazarene, with Jesus”.’
Mark’s interweaving continues. We must always remember that Peter was there. No one else was. His bravery was unquestioned. But it failed him at the last. We can imagine him standing there, shaking inside, apprehensive, hoping to avoid being noticed, but determined to see it through. He would stand by Jesus to the end and find out what happened. But he had not reckoned on himself and the constant effects of tension and of the danger of being recognised. As we have suggested above there appears to be a deliberate contrast of his experiences with the trial of Jesus. Peter too was ‘on trial’.
His luck had run out. One of the maids recognised him and came up and looked at him closely. She may have listened to Jesus preaching in the temple and noticed his disciples, especially big, bluff Peter. She may have followed the arresting party for excitement. But whatever the reason for her knowledge, from the glow of the fire on his face she had recognised him. Her comment need not have been accusatory, just and expression of interest, and even girlish excitement. But it was the final straw.
‘With the Nazarene, Jesus.’ Possibly contemptuous, but possibly a little excited. After all ‘the Nazarene’ merited the attention of the Sanhedrin and a large arresting party. So he must be dangerous.
14.68a ‘But he denied saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying”.’
His denial was firm. ‘I do not know what you are saying’. This was a legal form of denial in Rabbinical law. But it would get worse. He was getting in deeper and deeper.
14.68b ‘And he went out into the porch and the cock crew.’
He immediately moved away from the light of the fire into the shadows of the porch, possibly having in mind that he may have to flee. But it was too late. The maid’s interest had been aroused.
‘And the cock crew.’ It was cockcrowing (13.35). Cocks could begin to crow not long after midnight, and then at various times through the night. It seems that Peter distinctly remembered that first signal, as he explained it to Mark. It must have jolted him. But he still did not want to have to leave. Yet he was decidedly uneasy, which was why he made his move.
14.69-70a ‘And the maid saw him and began again to say to those who stood by, “This is one of them.” But he again denied it.’
As she moved around ‘the maid’ (or another maid. The definite article might be a Semitism) spotted him and her suspicions were again aroused. Possibly she had been prompted by the first maid. So she said to those who stood round, “This is one of them”. This was her moment and she was not going to lose it. It would seem that she deliberately spoke so that Peter would hear. And he again denied it. This time the denial was more specific and more general, ‘he went on denying it’. And his uneasiness was turning to fear. Yet he still would not leave. There is here a distinct contrast with the dignified way in which Jesus was dealing with His accusers.
‘The maid.’ In Mark this appears to refer to the same maid, but not necessarily so. The definite article may be a Semitism and therefore not to be seen as so emphatic. It may simply indicate ‘the maid, that is, the one who now saw him’. Matthew and Luke tell us it was ‘another’. ‘Again’ then simply means that there was a further accusation.
‘He again denied it.’ Slightly more emphatic.
14.70b ‘And after a little while those who stood by again said to Peter, “Truly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”
Once aroused the suspicions would not die down and his accent betrayed him. Why else should an unknown Galilean be here? So again they tackled him. Now he was being more directly identified. Galileans spoke in a totally different way to Judaeans.
14.71 ‘But he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak”.
Now the denial was specific and forceful, even sworn by an oath. His fears had reached fever pitch. He must convince them at all costs. He had lost control. We can compare this lack of control with the actions of the High Priest in verse 63. We do not see in this that he cursed Jesus as some do, he probably cursed himself and those who would not believe him.
14.72 ‘And immediately the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word, how Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” And when he thought on it he wept.’
Brave Peter, always ready to run into danger, courageous to the very end. But not capable of the cold, steel nerves of the spy. He knew he had failed his Master. And he wept. How deeply he must have felt it. It would take the Master’s forgiveness to enable him to forgive himself. It is a warning that in times of persecution it is folly to deliberately run into danger. By doing so we would make ourselves vulnerable. God’s grace is not given arbitrarily.
‘And immediately the second time the cock crew.’ Nobody else would have taken much notice of the cock, but to Peter it was an expression of condemnation and derision. It would have been as though the cock had spat on him.
‘Before the cock crows twice.’ Not necessarily the same cock, but the same sound.
‘Deny me three times.’ A threefold denial would be seen as a complete denial. But only Peter knew. Yet he told the world. He wanted them to know how good Jesus had been to him, and how He had forgiven him when he could not forgive himself.
‘When he thought on it.’ This translates ‘epibalon’, to ‘throw over, throw oneself, think of, set to’. It is problematic. Thus some have translated, ‘threw his cloak over his head’, ‘threw himself to the ground’, ‘set to and wept’. Perhaps it indicates that he ‘threw himself into the thought’, indicating the violent nature of the realisation.
15.1 ‘And immediately in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole council, held a consultation and bound Jesus and carried him away and delivered him up to Pilate.’
This parallels Jesus original bringing before the High Priest in verse 53. Once daybreak came the whole Sanhedrin was called together officially, and after discussion and confirmation of what had happened during the night, followed by a guilty verdict, Jesus was handed over to Roman justice. Detail of the discussion is given in Luke 22.66-71. It reached the same conclusion, on a similar basis, as the examination above. But they did not want to deal with Him themselves as they wanted Him convicted on a criminal charge not a charge of blasphemy, and they were aware that the latter charge, and an attempt to carry out a stoning, might fail because of public feeling and the required twenty four hour delay.
‘The whole council.’ There were seventy one members in the Sanhedrin consisting of chief priests, lay elders and scribes. Word would have gone out to those who were not already present to gather for an official council to deal with the matter of Jesus Who had been arrested. Whether they were all there we do not know. Possibly those who would favour Jesus had been ‘unable to be found’.
The impression is given of a quick, cursory meeting. As it was the morning after Passover night no one would want to be detained too long. And all would be assured that the prisoner had been given a fair hearing during the night, and would hear witnesses to His blasphemous statements which ‘they themselves had heard’ which would agree together. Then Luke tells us that they put the same questions themselves. Was He the Son of God? And when He confirmed it they clearly felt that they need look into it no further. Furthermore as the man was to be passed on to Pilate and not sentenced by them a thorough examination might not have been felt so necessary. They could leave that to Pilate. All they were called on to consent to was that the man deserved to be tried by Pilate.
‘Bound Jesus.’ He was treated like a criminal. That was how they wanted Pilate to see Him, a desperate man whose freedom needed to be curtailed.
‘Delivered Him up to Pilate.’ There must have been discussion between the parties earlier for this to be able to happen. The main charge they made against Him was apparent from Pilate’s subsequent question to Jesus. The charge was that He was claiming to be the expected, troublesome, King of the Jews, the Messiah. Compare Luke 23.2. Pilate was the Procurator of Judea from 26-36 AD. He would normally reside at Caesarea but would be in Jerusalem over the feast to keep an eye on the situation for he was aware that at such a time serious trouble could arise.
Roman Justice (15.1-20).
Mark’s concern in this narrative is to bring out that there was not really any serious political charge against Jesus, and that that was recognised by the Roman governor, with the result that when he allowed Him to be crucified it was only at the behest of the Jewish leaders and an enraged crowd in order to keep the peace. In essence, says Mark, His conviction was really on a charge of blasphemy, of claiming to be a unique heavenly figure Who would sit at God’s right hand and not for any political reason. In other words Jesus was condemned for being what Mark has all along shown Him to be.
Pilate did not like the Jews, nor did he like making concessions to them as he had proved rather cruelly in the past. But he was wary of them and their sometime influence in Rome and knew he had to tread carefully. The description of him as ‘inflexible, merciless and obstinate’ was a Jewish viewpoint but had some truth in it. He was quite ready to shed blood to have his way. He was a typical Roman procurator, a military man exalted above his rank as a demonstration of favour. But that he had some idea of justice comes out in his dealings with Jesus. That was his job, although it was not sufficient to make him stand firm for justice at cost to himself.
It will be noted that Mark tells us almost nothing about the trial itself. Possibly he did not have access to the details. He covers it briefly in verses 2-5. And even there the emphasis is on the accusations of the Chief Priests. We can in fact be sure that there was a good deal more to it than we have here, or even in the other Gospels, for Pilate would know that he was accountable for what happened, and that a record would be kept. What Mark is more concerned with is the vindictiveness of the Chief Priests, the savagery of the Jerusalem crowd, and Pilate’s continued indication that, after having examined Jesus, he had come to the conclusion that He was completely innocent. He makes clear that Pilate only did what he did because he finally capitulated as a result of the pressure of the crowd.
The existence of Pontius Pilate is confirmed in an inscription discovered at Caesarea which says in Latin, ‘Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, has presented the Tiberieum to the Caesareans’.
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is delivered up to Pilate bound, and in the parallel He is led out to be crucified. In ‘b’ Pilate asks Him if He is the King of The Jews, and having confirmed it to Pilate Jesus makes no reply to His accusers, and in the parallel the soldiers demonstrate their opinion of the King of the Jews and He receives it all in silence. In ‘c’ we learn that it was the practise of Pilate at the Passover to release one prisoner to the crowds, and that there was one such, Barabbas, an insurrectionist accused of murder, and in the parallel Pilate delivers up Barabbas to the crowds and delivers Jesus to be crucified. In ‘d’ the crowd ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do, (with the purpose of having Barabbas the murderer delivered up to them), and in the parallel they call on Pilate to crucify Jesus even though He has done no evil. Note the contrast between their concern for a murderer and their callousness in regard to Jesus Who had done no evil. They were getting what they deserved. In ‘e’ Pilate asks them whether they want Him to free the King of the Jews, and in the parallel he asks them what he should then do with the King of the Jews. Centrally in ‘f’ the Chief Priests stir up the crowds to ask for Barabbas.
15.1 ‘And immediately in the morning, a council having formed, the Chief Priests, with the Elders and Scribes and the whole Sanhedrin, having bound Jesus, carried Him away and delivered Him up to Pilate.’
This verse is transitional between the previous examinations and the one that would now take place before Pilate. It reminds us that the whole Sanhedrin of the Jews were responsible for delivering Jesus up to Pilate, bound like a violent criminal, having passed their official verdict against Him.
15.2 ‘And Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And he answering says to him, “You say it.” ’
They informed Pilate that Jesus was making Himself out to be the King of the Jews. This title was a loaded one and implied that He was therefore planning rebellion, for many insurrectionists had taken the title ‘king’. There had recently been such an insurrection which had failed, probably at an early stage, and had been put down, and there were at the time prisoners there who had killed during that insurrection and were awaiting punishment, one of whom was called Barabbas. So they no doubt hoped to tie Jesus in with that insurrection or with something similar.
But when Pilate asked Jesus whether He really did claim to be the King of the Jews, instead of finding himself confronting a defiant terrorist he found that he was facing what appeared to be a calm philosopher and became decidedly uneasy about the case.
He was also brought to a halt by Jesus replying, ‘You say it.’ This was an answer acknowledging that it was in some way so, but not in the terms in which Pilate understood it. It calls for such a discussion as we find in John 18.33-38 which tells us that Pilate questioned Him further and discovered something of the nature of His kingship. Something like that must have happened for Pilate to behave as he next did, for he then went back to the accusers seeking to discover if they had any better case against Jesus. He was totally unsatisfied with the situation, and had been made to recognise that the charge had little foundation.
However, there is no doubt that Mark intends us to take the title seriously for it will occur a number of times in the narrative. He wants his readers to recognise the Kingship of Jesus.
15.3 ‘And the chief priests accused him of many things.’
The Chief Priests, after at first prevaricating, listed their charges. Luke 23.2 gives examples. ‘Perverting the nation’, ‘forbidding the giving of tribute to Caesar’, ‘calling Himself the Messiah, a king’. All this had nothing to do with the main charge that they had against Him, that of blasphemy, but they were aware that that would not have impressed Pilate. However, these charges did not impress Pilate either. What did impress him was the silence of the prisoner in the face of His accusers. It was clear that Jesus wanted nothing to do with them or their accusations, and simply saw Himself as unaffected by all that they said. Pilate was used to the defiance or pleading of defendants, but not to such dignified silence.
We should not that ‘many things’ indicates quite a period of time. The charges had to be put, dressed up in revolutionary terms, and evidence sought. And then Jesus had to be questioned about them. This latter, however, did not take much time as He did not deign to even respond to their obviously unreasonable charges.
15.4-5 ‘And Pilate asked him saying, “Do you answer nothing? See how many things they accuse you of.” But Jesus no longer made any reply insomuch that Pilate marvelled.’’
Jesus’ silence did more to convince Pilate of His innocence than any protest. He was experienced enough to recognise the special pleading of the accusers and to note that they had no real evidence. And he did not like them anyway. But neither could he understand this man who made no attempt to defend Himself. Roman justice very much depended on the defence of the accused. John also explains that he did at this stage challenge Jesus about this and that at Jesus’ reply he became even more convinced of His innocence (John 19.10-11).
But John also tells us why he gave way. He gave way because he was threatened that if he let Jesus go they would accuse him to Caesar of ignoring a rebel claimant to kingship and of not being ‘Caesar’s friend’, a title of honour. In other words they would stir up trouble for him. He had had trouble with them in the past and so he knew that this could become serious for him. Thus just letting Jesus go would not be worth the trouble it would cause, so he therefore tried another tack. In order to understand his ‘wriggling’ we have to remember that he had only recently had charges made against him to Caesar and had been reprimanded. he would not want it to happen again.
‘Pilate marvelled (thaumazein).’ Consider Isaiah 52.15 LXX, ‘Thus will many nations wonder (thaumasontai) at Him, and kings will keep their mouths shut, for they to whom no report was brought concerning Him, will see, and they who have not heard, will consider’. Pilate was clearly impressed by Jesus.
But we can be sure that Jesus was well aware that the outcome of His case would not depend on the truth being established. Why waste time arguing when He knew that the case was wholly political and would be decided by political pressure? He simply refused to get involved and become embroiled with people like the Chief Priests..
15.6-7 ‘Now at the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they asked of him. And there was one called Barabbas lying bound with those who had made insurrection, men who in the insurrection had killed.’
The custom of releasing an as yet unconvicted prisoner at the Passover seems to have been Pilate’s own (‘he used to release’) and is not evidenced outside the Gospels. But there is nothing intrinsically unlikely in it and there is evidence elsewhere of examples where prisoners were released to please crowds, and of amnesties given. It was therefore not unusual. It was regularly seen as a way of gaining popularity. He would see it as a sop to the people, and as an aid to maintaining the public peace. And the ensuing events support the idea of such a custom for it explains the presence of a crowd who had probably come for this very purpose. They would not have known about Jesus’ arrest but they would certainly have known about the bound insurrectionists. The crowd would therefore appear to be of a type supportive of them, which helps to explain what follows.
‘There was one called Barabbas.’ This is an unusual Greek phrase as it stands, for we would have expected another name prior to it (compare Matthew 26.3; John 9.11 but note Luke 22.47, although there it is specific). In Matthew 27.16-17 some authorities add the name Jesus to Barabbas, and Origen (who rejected it on theological grounds) refers to very early manuscripts which contained it. The unlikelihood of this finding its way into a text, and the extreme likelihood that it would be excised by devout Christian copyists, is in its favour and it may well be that originally this read ‘Jesus who is called Barabbas’. But there is no evidence for it ever having been in Mark in the manuscript that we possess.
It is made clear that Barabbas and his fellow-insurrectionists were murderers, probably seen as patriots by certain of the Jews as they would be seen as having acted against the Romans in the name of God. It was from such as these that many expected the Messiah to come. They would thus have a certain amount of popular support among the more belligerent. And this crowd were mainly of that type.
15.8 ‘And the crowd went up and began to ask him to do as he was wont to do to them.’
The crowd began to ask him to fulfil his custom and make the customary release. But from where did this crowd come? Not from among the pilgrims who had kept the Passover, and having eaten their meal would be resting and preparing for the day ahead, not knowing of the drama that was being carried out. Rather it would come from those in Jerusalem who had a particular purpose in being there because of the custom and because of the men who were being held. They had probably come specifically seeking the freedom of one of the insurrectionists. The placement of verse 7 before this explanation confirms their connection with them. No doubt there would also be a goodly crowd of High Priestly supporters, brought along by the Chief Priests. A crowd was always useful for convincing judges of which way to make their decisions, for they suggested the way that popular opinion was focused. And even in those days popular opinion could not be ignored.
If Barabbas was called Jesus Barabbas, and Pilate overheard the name Jesus being called out, he may well have mistaken it for a popular demand for the release of Jesus and seen this as a way out of his dilemma. This might explain why the choice was finally between Jesus and Barabbas and why Barabbas was favoured.
15.9-10 ‘And Pilate answered them saying, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” For he realised that the chief priests had delivered him up out of envy.’
In his desire to release Jesus Whom he recognised as innocent, and possibly overhearing the name ‘Jesus’ being mentioned by the crowds as a contender for release, Pilate made the effort to have Him set free. He probably thought that someone acknowledged by the Chief Priests to be a ‘king of the Jews’ must be popular with this turbulent population. But the problem with this attempt was, of course, that by it Pilate was acceding to the suggestion that He might be guilty. It made clear that his resolution was faltering.
‘Out of envy.’ Because they were jealous of His influence over the people and the following He had obtained. Pilate was not a fool and recognised their motives.
15.11 ‘But the chief priests stirred up the crowd that he should rather release Barabbas to them.’
The crowd that had arrived seeking the release of Barabbas now gained the support of the Chief Priests, who had now realised that Pilate was making a concession to their demands and that they were winning. So the Chief Priests and their supporters allied themselves with those in the crowd who wanted the release of Barabbas, who were probably both delighted and surprised to get such powerful support, and pressed them to demand Barabbas. It was pure political manipulation.
15.12 ‘And Pilate again answered and said to them, “What then shall I do to him whom you call the king of the Jews?” ’
Note the continual repetition of the title, ‘the king of the Jews’ by Pilate. In his experience people who had borne that title had been popular with the people. So Pilate possibly hoped by this question to obtain the request for a further release which would have nicely solved his problem. At a cry of ‘release Him’ he could be magnanimous and achieve his object at the same time. And in normal circumstance that might well have been what he would have got. The crowd, if they knew of Him, probably had nothing against Jesus, except that they might see Him as being too soft on the Romans (unless they had learned that he was a rumoured Temple destroyer). But the Chief Priests and their bullies would have nothing of it, and Barabbas’ supporters were only really interested in obtaining Barabbas’ release. From their point of view this man could easily be sacrificed if it meant getting their own way. He certainly must not be allowed to get in the way of Barabbas’ release. So let Him take Barabbas’ place. Let Him be crucified instead.
15.13 ‘And they again cried out, “Crucify him”.
This cry could only first have arisen from the enemies of Jesus. To them it was the perfect solution. Pilate had played into their hands. And later they would be able to blame the patriotic crowd for what happened. By this they stained the Jews forever with their own evil desires. His being crucified would get rid of Him, would put the blame firmly on the Romans and would ensure He died under a curse, suspended in the open as a criminal (Galatians 3.13). But the others probably joined in because they wanted there to be no danger of Barabbas not being released, and even possibly because in their callousness they saw it as a grim joke that one of the ‘softies’ should take Barabbas’ place. They did not care what happened to this other, (‘not this man’ - John 18.40). He was not to their liking. Indeed rumour may even have got around that in some way He was threatening to destroy their Temple (14.58).
15.14a ‘And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” ’
Pilate’s reply suggests that he was taken by surprise. Knowing the Jews and their obstinacy and patriotic fervour he had expected a demand for a further release. He could not understand their vindictiveness against this man whom he clearly saw as innocent. But he had not counted on the hatred of the Chief Priests and their allies. However, having once consulted the crowd he was now in a dilemma. He foresaw his ‘popular’ measure turning into a disaster. For while he could not understand their vitriolic hatred against this obviously innocent man, he did recognise that they were becoming too enflamed and excited.
15.14b ‘But they cried out even more forcefully, “Crucify him.” ’
What rouses a crowd to such a frenzy of hatred? Many of them might not have realised Who Jesus was, and simply have been carried along on a wave of emotion, assuming that he must be guilty of something serious in order for him to be on trial there on that first day of the feast. But those who wanted the release of Barabbas would fear lest their prize be snatched from them, and would have no truck with anyone else, and they were already worked up, and it is very probable that they saw Jesus as not on their side. He did not seem to support violent action. While those who wanted to be rid of Jesus completely would be doubly emphatic and determined. Together they again demanded His crucifixion and it was clear to Pilate that by now that they were not to be trifled with. Passions were running high. Pilate would have recognised the signs of a crowd approaching the point of getting out of control.
15.15 ‘And Pilate, wishing to make the crowd content, released to them Barabbas and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.’
By now Pilate had given up on any idea of justice. His only desire was to pacify this crowd that had suddenly become so fired up, and if it meant the life of an innocent man it was out of his hands. So he released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be crucified, but only once he had had Him scourged according to custom. It had all become a matter of politics. That the situation was, however, more complicated than Mark depicts can be found by considering John 19.1-16.
This scourging would not be just a beating. The Roman scourge was a dreadful thing. It consisted of a short wooden handle to which a number of leather thongs were attached whose ends were equipped with pieces of lead, brass and sharp bone depending on choice. The victim’s back was bared and the scourge laid on more or less heavily. It could cause severe damage penetrating well below the outer flesh. There may be an allusion here to Isaiah 50.6, "I gave my back to those who scourge me…".
15.16-19 ‘And the soldiers led him away within the court which is the Praetorium, and they call together the whole band, and they clothe him with purple, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him, and they began to salute him, “Hail, king of the Jews”. And they smote his head with a reed, and spat on him, and bowing their knees paid him homage.’
After the scourging, the humiliation. In Isaiah 50.6 the smiting is followed by the shame and spitting, as here. As far as these soldiers, rough, hardened and callous men, were concerned this was fun time. And they called their mates to join in the fun. Then they dressed Him up as a king and mocked Him.
Such horseplay with condemned prisoners was a recognised pastime, and here it was related to the charge brought against Him. There were many thorny plants in Palestine and one was used here. The idea of thorns was probably to mimic the rays of light coming from the ‘radiant crowns’ shown as worn by rulers on contemporary coins. The fact that they might be painful did not matter. The purple robes indicated royalty. The reed was first provided as a mock sceptre before being used to smite His head in mockery. Then they treated Him as a mock king.
They were on the whole brutal men and proved it by brutal behaviour. If they were auxiliaries, as they probably were, they would be drawn from non-Jewish inhabitants of the land and would have had no liking for Jewish kings. They were on duty. They were bored. And they egged each other on. And here was a diversion, a Jewish pretender. So they made the most of it.
‘The Praetorium.’ That is, the governor’s residence, probably in this case Herod’s palace. Jesus had been taken into the courtyard to be prepared for crucifixion. Meanwhile there was fun to be had. ‘The whole band’ (or cohort). That is, such as were present in the Praetorium. The cloak was probably a scarlet military cloak used to designate the purple robe worn by kings.
‘Paid Him homage.’ We who know how worthy He was of honour and worship can only watch in awed silence. Their homage feigned worship such as was offered to both the Emperor and Oriental kings.
15.20 ‘And when they had mocked him, they took off from him the purple, and put on him his own clothes. And they lead him out to crucify him.’
Such was the justice and the treatment He received on earth. As had been prophesied long before, ‘By oppression and judgment He was taken away’ (Isaiah 53.8). They mocked Him. That was all He was to them. And once they had finished with Him they reclothed Him and led Him off to crucify Him. Men were crucified naked, but His being reclothed was a sop to Jewish prejudices against nakedness. They would not have wanted a naked man paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. With regard to the whole we should remember the words of Isaiah, ‘And as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off from the land of the living? For the transgression of my people was He stricken’ (Isaiah 53.8).
While Pilate must undoubtedly receive some of the blame for not standing firm, and for yielding to political pressure, there is no way in which we can avoid the fact that it was mainly the vindictive hatred of the Jewish leaders, acting contrary to what the people wanted, which was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, as Jesus had prophesied all along. All the evidence points that way and none points against it.
The Crucifixion (15.20-39).
It must have come as a huge anti-climax to those who heard this story for the first time when they learned that this One Who had done such good and had taught so well should now be in a position of being led off to be crucified. We know the story so well that we take it for granted. But we also still recognise the staggering nature of it. Here was God’s beloved Son, Whose one interest had been in the needs of His fellowmen, (even if that had meant that He sometimes made them feel uncomfortable), and He was now being borne off, bleeding and battered to be nailed to a cross.
Mark tells the whole story succintly and without obvious emotion. He is concerned for the plain facts of what happened, put plainly and simply, and the only detail that he goes into is that of the words spoken by Jesus’ enemies, which he clearly wanted to highlight, for they paradoxically brought out why Jesus was there. For every reader and hearer would soon know that He did not remain dead, but ‘arose’. While He did not come down from the cross, He did something more. He defeated death once and for all and rose again from the dead. Thus did He save both Himself and others.
Note that in ‘a’ the soldiers, having mocked Him, removed the purple robe, and reclothed Him in His own now disreputable clothes, while in the parallel the Roman centurion in contrast exalted Him to the skies, clothing Him in glory by declaring Him to be the Son of God. In ‘b’ His journey to death is vividly portrayed, led out to be crucified, the crosspiece borne by another, the symbolic arrival at the place of a skull, and in the parallel we have God’s verdict on it as Jesus breathes His last and the inner curtain of the Temple is torn in two. In ‘c’ He is offered wine to drink and would not partake of it, being then stripped naked and crucified while the soldiers gambled for His clothes, a picture of total humiliation, and in the parallel He is again offered wine to drink and this time He drinks, and they desire to see whether Elijah, who was often called on by the religiously destitute, would come to save Him. In ‘d’ it was the third hour and they crucified Him and placarded Him as the King of the Jews, (God’s chosen), and in the parallel it was the ninth hour, and He cried out ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me’. (He was the rejected One). In ‘e’ two brigands were crucified on either side of Him, and in the parallel the two brigands reproach Him. In ‘f’ the bystanders wag their heads at Him and describe Him as the supposed miraculous Temple destroyer and restorer, and in the parallel the Chief Priests tell Him that if He is the Christ He should come down from the cross so that they might see and believe. Centrally in ‘g’ the Chief Priests declare that ‘He saved others, Himself He cannot save’, something soon to be totally disproved.
15.21 ‘And they compel one passing by, Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to go with them that he might bear his cross.’
It was normal that the condemned man, in the middle of a square of four soldiers, should carry the crosspiece on which he was to be crucified to the place of execution. The accusation against him was written on a board carried ahead by a soldier, and the longest route to the execution site was taken so as to act as a warning to as many people as possible. The fact that help was sought demonstrated that Jesus had, at this stage in the process, having struggled on for some time, collapsed in exhaustion and was unable to carry it further. The extreme burden of the night followed by the treatment He had received had proved too much for His weakened body. Having got so far He could not physically go on without assistance.
But not a word of this is spoken by Mark. The fact is conveyed by the describing of someone who was compelled to assist. His name was Simon of Cyrene, and the fact that his son’s names are given indicates that they became well known Christians. The work that he was called on to do that night brought great blessing to his family, but he had no hint of that on that terrible night.
‘Coming from the country.’ This probably means from outside the city walls rather than from the fields. We do not know whether he was a Jew, a proselyte or a Gentile, but he was presumably from North Africa and probably in Jerusalem as a pilgrim. It may suggest that he was a late arrival, for those in Jerusalem for the Passover were not supposed to leave the city bounds on the day of the Passover feast. Alternately he might have been living in Jerusalem and have been a member of the Cyrenian synagogue. But there is probably intended to be a hint here that there was no help for Jesus from Jerusalem. It required an outsider.
‘Compel.’ The Roman soldiers had a right to impress someone to give assistance. They would simply tap his shoulder with a spear and he had no choice in the matter. This was a regular right of foreign conquerors.
15.22 ‘And they bring him to the place Golgotha, which is being interpreted ‘the place of a skull’.’
There is no mention in the Gospels of a hill, but the site would be outside the city walls (Hebrews 13.12) and on a road leading in so that passers by might see and take warning. There may have been a skull shaped hill there or it may simply have been a place seen as ‘unclean’ because skulls had been found there. This might explain why it was a regular place for executions, because it was an unclean place. Or it may have been called this because it was a place of regular executions. But here it is seen as symbolic of the fact that Jesus has been brought to the place of death. The fact that Mark translate (there is no need to translate place names) confirms that the name is to be seen as significant.
15.23 ‘And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh and he did not receive it.’
Theophrastus and Pliny both mention the custom of mixing wine with myrrh, but here the purpose was probably to dull the senses so that the extreme pain might be somewhat relieved. The Talmud later mentions this custom (based on Proverbs 31.6-7), a ministry carried out by pious women of Jerusalem. If so the offer was sympathetic and friendly. But Jesus did not receive it. He knew that He needed to be fully aware for He had to drink to the full another cup, the cup He had voluntarily taken to His mouth in Gethsemane.
On the other hand ‘they’ in context means the Roman soldiers. That would not necessarily exclude the women as a kind hearted Roman soldier might quite easily have assisted the women in getting the drink to Jesus. (Not all Roman soldiers were brutes). It is not likely that the soldiers themselves would have had wine mingled with myrrh.
15.24 ‘And they crucify him and part his clothes among them, casting lots on them what each should take.’
‘They crucify Him.’ When they had reached the site they took the crosspiece and nailed Jesus hands to it. The crosspiece was then attached to the upright post and the feet loosely bound, and sometimes nailed. A young crucified man whose body was discovered near Jerusalem at Ras el-Masaref was found to have been nailed by his arms and had a nail driven through his feet. A ledge of wood called the saddle projected beneath the body which helped to partly support the weight so that the nails did not tear the hands free. The legs would be bent double. The cross was next raised and lowered into a hole prepared for it, and the crucified man was then left hanging there, totally naked, until He died.
John only mentions the nailing of the hands (arms?) but in the light of Luke 24.39-40 it may be that Jesus’ feet were also nailed, although Luke does not actually mention nail prints. It may be that He points to His hands and feet, the exposed parts, to prove that He is flesh and blood, not necessarily in order to indicate nail prints. However Psalm 22.16 does speak of hands and feet being pierced.
It is noteworthy that apart from saying that he was crucified Mark draws no attention to His suffering. The emphasis is on Who Jesus is and men’s reaction to Him. But all who read his words would have witnessed a crucifixion and would understand precisely what He was suffering.
‘And part His clothes among them.’ These would probably consist of the sandals, the girdle, the turban, the inner robe and the outer robe. These were perquisites for the soldiers and they would cast lots to decide who received what. Each having received one item the large outer robe would be left, and again they decided who received this by casting lots (John 19.23-24). John drew attention in this context to the Scripture, ‘they parted my clothes among them, and on my vesture did they cast lots’ (Psalm 22.18), found in the same Psalm as Jesus quotes on the cross later (verse 34). Jesus saw Himself, and was seen by others, as fulfilling the destiny described by the Psalmist.
15.25 ‘And it was the third hour and they crucified him.’
The third hour would be roughly nine o’clock in the morning, reckoning twelve hours in the day from dawn, but time was not accurately calculated and he probably meant ‘about three hours had passed since dawn and it was mid-morning’. More important to him was probably the significance of the number three. It was the ‘third’ hour, the set and complete period determined by God. The sixth hour and the ninth hour, also prominent, further stress the same idea rising in multiples of three, while the three sets of three confirm the completeness of what was accomplished here.
(John 19.14 indicated that the verdict against Jesus was passed at ‘about the sixth hour’, Roman time. This was the comment of someone who vaguely and roughly remembered the time of day, for there had been a meeting of the Sanhedrin as well as the time taken in passing judgment by Pilate and Herod. There were no watches or public clocks and time was not as important then as it is now. Assuming ‘about the sixth hour’ was measured from midnight it would indicate roughly around six in the morning, but it probably meant nothing more than a vague ‘early in the day’ before the ninth hour (Mark’s ‘third hour’)).
15.26 ‘And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’
This superscription, written in black letters on a board smeared with white gypsum, named the criminal and what he was accused of, and would have been carried in front of Him on the way to the cross, and in accordance with Roman custom was now displayed for all to see. It said that here was the Jew’s King Messiah and that He was now suffering for it.
But Mark intends the statement to stand in all its glory. As Pilate had unconsciously prophetically declared, this was the Messiah, the Deliverer, Who would deliver in a way that no one had expected, through suffering. It was because of this that He was condemned by man and died.
Pilate probably intended his bald statement as revenge against those who had forced his hand, and when requested refused to change it (John 19.21-22). He had known that they would not like it. But after all this is what they had said about Him, so let it stand. The fact that the superscription was placed above Him suggests that the cross was as traditionally understood rather than a T.
15.27 ‘And with him they crucify two brigands, one on his right hand and one on his left.’
All the Gospels, including John, stress that Jesus was in the middle between two brigands. It identified Him as one of them. Mark sees this as symbolic, probably having in mind ‘He was numbered with the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53.12), as a copyist would appositely later point out (verse 28 is an insertion). There is an irony in that these brigands had the places that James and John had so eagerly sought (10.37). Those who would share His glory, must share His sufferings.
The brigands may well have been two insurrectionists who had committed murder along with Barabbas (15.7). In this action Jesus was identified with them, as just another Jewish troublemaker. But His superscription declared differently. That may be why He was put in the middle as being the most important.
15.29-30 ‘And those who passed by railed on him, wagging their heads and saying, “Ha, you who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.” ’
The crosses would be in a public place by the roadside so that passers by would see them clearly and take warning. Derision of such men was not unusual and many would be the insults thrown.
The railing and the wagging of the head have in mind Lamentations 2.15. There it was by-passers at Jerusalem as they saw its humiliation. They did it because Jerusalem, then destroyed, had been called ‘the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth’. Now Jerusalem was doing the same to its king. He too, Mark insinuates, is the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth, and is equally unrecognised.
Mark especially draws attention to those who made the same accusations as those presented at His trial. He was very much aware of the hidden meaning of which they were unaware, that the temple which would be ‘rebuilt’ by resurrection was the temple they were mocking, the temple of His body (John 2.21). They thought that He could not do what they said, but Mark and his readers knew that He had. There is an indication here that the rumour that He would destroy the Temple had bitten deep. And now for all His boasts He was on the cross and unable to do anything about it.
‘Save yourself and come down from the cross.’ This is reminiscent of Psalm 22.7-8 where those who derided and shook their heads also challenged the possibility of deliverance for the one of whom the Psalmist spoke. There is irony here in that as Jesus had Himself declared, the Temple would be destroyed, and the new Temple of His body would be raised within three days.
15.31-32a ‘In the same way also the chief priests, mocking him among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others, himself he cannot save. Let the Messiah the king of Israel now come down from the cross that we may see and believe.” ’
This was the second charge mentioned at His examination, that He was the Messiah, the king of Israel. They would remember too His claim that from then on they would see His power and triumph. Well, they felt that they had scotched that. He was powerless to do anything now. Instead of seeing His power revealed they were satisfied that they were seeing His demise.
‘The Chief Priests --- with the scribes.’ His enemies had come to gloat over His death in spite of it being a festival day. They were too sophisticated to mock directly and openly, a touch of authenticity, and so they did it between themselves. The lay elders are not mentioned. It was the religious leaders whose jealousy and enmity had sought to destroy Him.
‘He saved others, Himself he cannot save.’ They had been jealous at His power to heal, but now they gloated because He could not heal Himself. Now His powers would do Him no good. Or perhaps they meant ‘in His mind’s eye He saved others’ signifying His claim to be the Messiah. To Mark however there was a deeper significance. He Whom they derided was dying precisely so that He may save others. And when He ‘saved Himself’, as the One Who had power to raise Himself from the dead, it would be after having accomplished what was necessary to be the Saviour of the world (John 5.21, 26; 10.18). Had He saved Himself earlier He could not have been a Saviour.
‘Let the Messiah the king of Israel now come down from the cross that we may see and believe.’ The ‘now’ reflects their cruel sense of triumph at His helplessness. The statement indicates their old problem of sign-seeking. But He did ‘come down’, and when He did they still did not believe. Mark is aware of the irony of it. In three days time His power would be demonstrated, and they would still not believe.
Note the contrast between ‘the king of the Jews’, Pilate’s incorrect description by an outsider (compare Matthew 2.2), and ‘the king of Israel’ which was strictly correct in Jewish eyes.
15.32b ‘And those who were crucified with him reproached him.’
If they knew of Him, and they probably did, they possibly now felt bitter that He had chosen His own way and not theirs. If only He had added His popularity to theirs they might have made a better job of the insurrection. Their failure was thus, to them, partly His fault. It was only later that one of them, observing Jesus’ behaviour in the face of what was done and said to Him, was made to reflect and change his mind (Luke 23.40-43).
So He was reproached by the people, by the religious leaders and by those who were suffering with Him. All were united against Him for different reasons. The verbs are in the imperfect tense. The mockery continued for some time. He had no respite.
15.33 ‘And when the sixth hour was come there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.’
Jesus had now suffered on the cross for three hours when a great darkness came over the land. This may have been caused by a black sirocco, a violent desert wind sweeping in the sands of the desert, blacking everything out, something not uncommon in Jerusalem in early April, but here of special intensity. Others see it in terms of extremely heavy, black clouds blotting out the sun. Luke 23.45 speaks of ‘the sun’s light eclipsed’ but he was probably not intending it technically for there could not be an eclipse at the time of the full moon. The idea of darkness is linked with dying in Psalm 23.4. Jesus was going through ‘the valley of deep darkness’, and so, if it only knew it, would the land that had crucified Him.
We are probably justified in seeing in this period a time when Jesus was guarded from the eyes of men as He faced alone the drinking of the cup of the wrath of God. And such was the dreadful experience that He underwent as He was made sin for us, that He felt forsaken by God and in the end cried out unforgettable words.
15.34 ‘And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani” which is, being interpreted, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The words, here almost certainly cited in Aramaic, were quoted from Psalm 22.1. But while that may be, something extra was required to draw them from the lips of Jesus. He truly shared with the Psalmist that sense of total desolation, that awareness of being devastatingly alone. But for Jesus, Who had never known what it was to be separated from the Father by sin, it signalled that most dreadful of experiences as undergone by One Who knew no sin, by One Whose very being was torn apart as He experienced in His humanity the blackness of darkness in the sensing of total separation from He Who is the light.
That He was not actually separated from the Father comes out in the sequel. Even as He suffered His Father watched over Him, and He ended by calling on His Father. And it even comes out in the prayer, for ‘My God’ is personal, and the whole idea of prayer is that the person who prays is not forsaken. But the sense of separation went to the very depths of His being, and the citation put His feelings into words.
Matthew puts the first two words, ‘Eli, Eli’, in Hebrew (although the same word is used in the Targums and could thus be Aramaic), and Jesus may well have spoken in Hebrew as He cited the Psalm. The Hebrew was more likely to be mistaken for a call to Elijah.
15.35 ‘And some of those who stood by, when they heard it, said, “See, he calls Elijah.” ’
We know that Elijah was later looked on as the one who could be called on in time of religious need. It would appear from this that the idea may already have been prevalent. Or perhaps they saw the cry as a call for Elijah now to make his appearance as the forerunner for the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord, a cry for God to act in this time of His extremity (Malachi 4.5).
We do not know who these ‘some’ were. They may have been sympathetic Jewish onlookers, for word may well now have got around of what had happened to Jesus, or they may have been the Roman soldiers, auxiliaries who had a syncretistic religion which combined Jewish and foreign features and who thus knew of Elijah.
15.36 ‘And one ran, and filling a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed and gave him it to drink, saying, “Let be. Let us see whether Elijah comes to take him down.” ’
Previously the soldiers present had offered Him sour wine in mockery (Luke 23.36). This may thus be the continuation of the mockery. But more probably it was a sympathiser who genuinely believed that Elijah might come to save Him. The sour wine was a poor man’s drink but if these had come to sympathise with One Whom they had previously admired they may well have brought wine with them, as the soldiers certainly would have (they knew that they had a long vigil, and wine dulled the sense of what they were doing. They were human too).
In view of the loud cry and the accompanying comments the soldiers may have been as interested in seeing whether something extraordinary might happen as the crowd, and thus not have interfered. The uncanny darkness had already brought home to them that this was not a run-of-the-mill execution.
‘Let be.’ This may have been said to a Roman soldier who half-heartedly sought to interfere, meaning either ‘don’t stop us’ or ‘allow us to do this’. Or it may just be a general comment.
‘Gave Him it to drink.’ It would seem He received it, which in itself suggested that His work was now complete and He could satisfy His thirst (see John 19.28).
15.37 ‘And Jesus, having uttered a loud cry, breathed his last.’
The loud cry was ‘it is finished’, followed by the quieter, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” (John 19.30; Luke 23.46). The loud cry was remembered by all, contributing as it did to the eeriness of the occasion. It is possible that ‘it is finished’ represented the final words of Psalm 22 ‘He has done it’. Certainly it was a cry of triumph that God’s purposes had been accomplished.
‘Breathed His last.’ From beginning to end He was in control, even to the timing of His death. A work had had to be done, a sacrifice offered, a battle fought, a price paid, but once it was done He did not linger. He committed His life into the hands of His Father.
15.38 ‘And the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom.’
Matthew links this event with an earthquake, ‘the earth quaked and the rocks were torn’ (Matthew 27.51). There were two veils in the Temple. The one which covered the entry to the Holy Place and the other which separated the Holy Place from the Holiest of All. It was probably the latter which is described here, the veil regularly referred to in Hebrews (6.19; 9.3; 10.20). Either way its tearing apart on the death of Jesus had huge significance as it symbolised that a new way into the presence of God had been opened to all. It may also be seen as a portent of the destruction of the temple, with the idea that its function would cease. With the veil torn its mystery had gone. The glory had departed, a divine riposte to the words spoken against Jesus about the Temple. It was naturally not something that the chief priests would want publicised, but many priests who would know about it became believers (Acts 6.7) so that it could not be hidden.
The Jewish Talmud (the Gemara - Rabbinic comments on the Mishnah which was the written record of the oral Law) states that forty years before the destruction of temple, thus around this time, something happened which made the massive doors of the temple open of their own accord (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 39b). That may well have torn the curtain that hung over them or in front of them.
And that strange things happened in the temple some time prior to its destruction at the fall of Jerusalem is recorded also by Josephus (Jewish Wars 6.5.2 - although not this particular event). Among other things Josephus describes how the eastern gate of the inner court, which was of brass and very heavy, which took twenty men to shut and rested on a base strengthened with iron, and had bolts fastened very deeply into the firm floor which was made of one solid stone, opened of its own accord. It would seem from this that the temple mount was subject to earth movements which caused strange things to happen.
It is interesting that this occurrence connects with the testimony made against Jesus both at His hearing in the High Priest’s house and with the mockery on the cross. Both referred to His claim to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Both spoke of Him as the Messiah. And now they had received the first intimation that He was possibly right after all. His death had already affected the Temple and its furniture. It was as though its uniqueness had been torn up.
15.39 ‘And when the centurion who stood opposite him saw that he so (cried out and) breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God”.’
The awesome events on that day had produced their own effects in the centurion in charge of the guard. And when he saw the way that Jesus died he cried out ‘truly this man was the Son of God’. He would mean by that that he was impressed by the fact that Jesus was in some way divine.
What he meant by ‘Son of God’ is open to question for we know nothing about him. He may have meant the son of whichever God or gods he believed in. Or he may have overheard talk around him in which Jesus’ recognition as ‘the Son of God’ was mentioned (Matthew 27.40, 43) and be concurring in that idea, while also inevitably linking it in his thoughts with his own ideas. It is unlikely that he was a Jew, but he may well have been connected with a syncretistic religion which included the God of the Jews and of the Samaritans. However, we must not take his faith too far. Note the ‘was’. As far as he was concerned Jesus was now in the past. What he thought beyond that we can hardly hope to surmise.
But to Mark the importance of his statement was that it amounted to a testimony by ‘a Roman’ to Who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, a favourite title of his (1.1,11; 3.11; 5.7; 9.7; 12.6; 14.61 see also Matthew 4.3, 6; 14.33; 16.16; 26.63; Luke 22.70).
Note that Mark deliberately refers the word ‘breathed His last’ to both the tearing of the veil and the words of the centurion. He is drawing attention to the fact that on His death both God and Rome testified to Who Jesus is.
‘He so (cried out and) breathed his last.’ There is good support for the inclusion of ‘cried out’ in one form or another although it is omitted in Aleph and B. But the cry would certainly have made its own impression on those who were there.
Laying Jesus To Rest (15.40-47).
The women who had ministered to Jesus and His disciples were gathered at the cross. It is impossible to imagine the feelings in their hearts as they saw the figure of their beloved Master hanging on the cross. But they were determined to wait it out to the end, and do what they could to see that His beloved body was given proper burial. Although they probably had no idea how they would do it.
And then to theirs and everyone’s surprise a member of the Sanhedrin, accompanied by His servants, arrived at the cross and took down the body of Jesus. Following them the women saw them lay Jesus in a new tomb that was nearby, and not knowing what final treatment had been given to His body they determined that as soon as the Sabbath was over they would anoint His body for burial.
Note that in ‘a’ the two Marys and others were watching Him as He died on the cross, and in the parallel the two Marys watched where He was laid. In ‘b’ Joseph asked for the body of Jesus, and in the parallel he takes it down from the cross and lays it in a tomb. Centrally in ‘c’ Pilate grants the corpse to Joseph.
15.40-41 ‘And there were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome, who when he was in Galilee ministered to him, and many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.’
The mention of the women is in preparation for what lies ahead (15.47-16.1). Here we learn that they were at the cross but keeping their distance, although at some stage, along with John, some were close enough for Jesus to speak to (John 19.25-27). This latter privilege might have been limited to relatives. However, their vigil was not easy, torn with grief as they were, and they may well have found being too close both difficult and unbearable. Difficult because there was a crowd of them and it was by the public road, especially when the darkness descended, and unbearable because they were so griefstricken. But they had wanted Him to know that they were there to say their farewells. Luke 8.3 describes some of them as having previously ‘ministered to them (or Him) of their substance’.
It is easy to be critical of the disciples for their absence but they were marked men, while the women would in general be ignored, and Jesus’ women relatives would be expected to be there. It is noteworthy that even his brothers are not mentioned as being there. For males to be directly connected with the crucifixion of a supposed insurrectionist, especially those related to the king of the Jews, may well not have been advisable. It is probable that when a group of insurrectionists were crucified, as here, those who were present at the scene were vetted for further suspects. John probably had some immunity if he was the disciple ‘known to the high priest’ (John 18.15), and he was there protecting Mary and his own mother Salome (Matthew 27.56).
‘Mary of Magdalene.’ She was probably from Magdala in Galilee and was a healed demoniac (Luke 8.2). Nothing else is known about her except for the full part she played in the resurrection narratives, her prominence there partly possibly arising because she was a younger and more sprightly woman. (Later tradition is unkind to her but there are no real grounds for thinking that she was ‘a sinful woman’. That was good sermon material. She may in fact have been fairly wealthy and have dabbled in the occult, which would explain her possession).
‘Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses.’ Possibly the same woman as ‘Mary of Joses’ (15.47) and ‘Mary of James’ (16.1). The differing descriptions may indicate different sources for his material or just deliberate variation. She may also be ‘the other Mary’ (Matthew 27.61; 28.1 compare 27.56). But Mary the mother of Jesus could also have been called the mother of James and Joses (6.3), and it is interesting that John alone otherwise mentions her presence at the cross (and does not mention Mary the mother of James and Joses). Perhaps Mark did not like to call her the mother of the risen Jesus.
However the names were very common and this Mary may have been Mary (the wife) of Clopas (John 19.25) who was distinguished by him from Mary, the mother of Jesus (when John wrote all would possibly be dead so that if she was the wife of Clopas she would then be associated with her husband rather than her sons).
Identification of a woman by a son’s name was commonplace among the Arabs and was probably Semitic custom if the husband was dead. James may have been called ‘James the less’ because he was small or simply because he was the younger brother. We do not know whether he can be connected with James the son of Alphaeus (3.18).
The truth is that we do not know for certain who she was, but we can be sure that all this was clear to the early church. They knew these people.
‘Salome.’ Probably the wife of Zebedee, and mother of James and John (Matthew 27.56).
‘And many other women.’ Jesus had many disciples besides the twelve, and that included many women to whom He showed the respect not often accorded by a Rabbi.
15.42 ‘And when evening was now come, because it was the preparation, that is the day before the Sabbath.’
Note the use of ‘paraskeue’ which can mean Friday specifically or the day of preparation before a special Sabbath. Here it means Friday the day before the normal Sabbath (compare John 19.14 where it probably also means ‘the Friday of Passover week’), for if the Last Supper had been a Passover meal it would already be a special Sabbath, 15th of Nisan.
‘Evening was now come.’ That is it was approaching the new day which would commence around 6.00 pm and would be the Sabbath.
It appears that Rome conceded to the Jews their demand that bodies of criminals should not be left dying or dead in the open over the Sabbath to defile the land. That is why the breaking of the legs of the two insurrectionists took place so as to hasten their deaths (John 19.32), in order that the bodies could be removed before the commencement of the Sabbath at around 6.00 p.m. This followed the requirements of Deuteronomy 21.22-23 and Joshua 8.29 that the bodies of executed criminals who have been hanged on a tree should not remain there overnight lest they defile the land. According to Josephus this law was interpreted in the first century in such a way as to cover the bodies of those who had been crucified. The normal Roman practise would have been to leave the bodies on the crosses, to serve as a warning to other would-be offenders.
15.43-45 ‘There came Joseph of Arimathea, a councillor of honourable standing, who also himself was looking for the Kingly Rule of God, and he boldly went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate was amazed that he was already dead, and calling to him the centurion he asked him whether he had been dead very long, and when he learned it of the centurion he granted the corpse to Joseph.’
Philo of Alexandria mentions that on occasion, especially at festivals, the bodies of crucified men were taken down and given to relatives to bury (Flaccus 10 (83). Others have argued that this privilege was more general and was open to any friends or relatives who chose to practise it. Here, however, there was special reason for permission to be granted, for Joseph of Arimathea was a highly respected member of the Sanhedrin, and very rich.
‘A councillor of honourable standing.’ ‘Councillor’ indicated a member of the Sanhedrin. ‘Honourable standing’ revealed that he was highly thought of both by his fellows and by the people. Matthew 27.57 tells us that he was rich. He may have been the source of some of the material in the earlier narratives, having been unable to stem the tide of hatred against Jesus.
‘Who was himself looking for the Kingly Rule of God.’ He was a pious man and clearly thought well of Jesus. Possibly he had previously consulted with Him, as Nicodemus another councillor, had (John 3). Matthew described him as ‘a disciple’ which must probably be taken to mean a positive attitude towards Jesus rather than the full discipleship that presumably came later. John 19.38 said he was ‘a disciple, but secretly for fear of the Judaisers’, which more indicated his position. But he had left support too late and now (or so he thought) he could only do the best he could for the dead prophet.
‘He boldly went in to Pilate.’ The action is depicted as ‘brave’. It must be remembered that Jesus had only been sentenced about seven hours before. Pilate might well have felt the action premature, and Joseph was taking the risk of offending him. It would have been another thing to make the request once the bodies had been taken down. He was also braving the wrath of his fellow members of the Sanhedrin as his action could hardly be seen as anything other than disapproval of their sentence.
Pilate was in fact taken aback because he could not believe that Jesus had died so quickly. But when he consulted with his centurion and discovered that it was so he granted Joseph’s request. As consulting meant calling the centurion to come from his place of duty it was quite a favour. He was probably still feeling angry at the treatment he had received from the Chief Priests and was delighted to do something he might well think would annoy them.
‘Granted the corpse.’ A rare use in the New Testament of the term ‘corpse’, a body that had suffered a violent death (compare 6.29). It may reflect official language, ‘the granting of the corpse’. In some authorities it was later softened to ‘body’ (soma).
‘Arimathea.’ Possibly Ramathaim-zophim (1 Samuel 1.10) or the Ramathaim mentioned in 1 Maccabees 11.34. As a member of the Sanhedrin Joseph would live in Jerusalem, which explains why he had arranged for a tomb there. Arimathea was his ‘home town’ and possibly where he had lands.
15.46 ‘And he bought a linen cloth, and taking him down, wound him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of a rock. And he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.’
Joseph was aided in his efforts by Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin who brought myrrh and aloes for the burying (John 19.41). So there were at least two prominent Jewish leaders who were now prepared to show their hand in support of Jesus, even if it was too late. They were no doubt assisted in their efforts by servants for whoever touched the body would be ‘unclean’ for the remainder of the feast.
‘And he bought a linen cloth.’ The purchasing of necessary foods was allowed on 15th Nisan and burial cloths as well, as long as the price and quantity were not mentioned. They could not necessarily be bought in advance, death does not always give warning, and with the Sabbath approaching (when they could not be bought) they would be needed.
‘Laid Him in a tomb.’ The tomb was unused (John 19.41), suitable to receive the pure, unblemished sacrifice of the Son of God. Tombs often contained a number of bodies, but this was one that Joseph had prepared for himself (Matthew 27.60). It was a typical tomb of the time, cut in the rocks. Many such rock tombs can be found near Jerusalem.
‘And he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.’ A normal way of sealing tombs (compare John 11.38-39). The stone must have been quite large as the women did not feel that they would be able to move it, even in numbers (16.3), but his servants would do the actual work. It would probably have been a circular stone looking like a wheel which would roll across the entrance in a rut, intended to keep out wild animals and casual thieves. And then they left, content that they had done what they could, possibly regretting that they had not done more earlier. They would never forget what impact Jesus had made on them, but now it was all too late, and they were no doubt filled with regret.
15.47 ‘And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.’
The women had not ceased their vigil. When Jesus died they waited still by the cross, and when the two great men of the Sanhedrin arrived with their servants they must have watched, wondering what would now happen. They would not dare to approach them. It was not the kind of thing that respectable women would do, and could have been seen as an affront. And then to their astonishment they saw those two great men arrange for His body to be laid reverently in a nearby tomb, and they watched as the great stone was rolled across, and determined that they would return that His body might be anointed, for they did not know that those great men had already seen to the anointing with great care. How could they have known? And even if they had known they may well have felt that they wanted to make their own loving contribution to the One Whom they had loved so well. Such loyalty has its own logic.
Mark mentions only two who saw because he knew the names of only two. Perhaps he knew that Salome had had to go off to see to Mary the mother of Jesus, who was prostrate (why else was she not there?), and under the care of Salome’s son, wanting to release her son in case he could do anything. Luke tells us that at this stage they went back to their lodgings to prepare spices and ointments, and presumably in the light of what happened recognised that they would need more than they had (which suggests they saw it as more than a token anointing).
Jesus Is Risen (16.1-8).
The Sabbath went slowly by, and then the grieving women went to buy spices in order to anoint Jesus’ body. Approaching the tomb with heavy hearts, they wondered how they would be able to move the stone that barred the entrance. But they never dreamed of what they were going to find. For when they arrived at the tomb they discovered that the stone had been rolled aside, and on entering the tomb found there a young man dressed in pure white who informed them that Jesus was no longer there. ‘He is not here,’ he declared, ‘He is risen’.
Note that in ‘a’ they come to the tomb, chatting away about their problem, and in the parallel they flee from the tomb and say nothing to anyone because they are filled with awe. Their whole lives have been turned upside down. In ‘b they see a young man in white sitting on the right side, (who is there as His representative), and in the parallel he says, ‘see the place where they laid Him’ and tells them to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus Himself. He is no longer in the tomb. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the announcement that ‘He is not here, He is risen’.
16.1 ‘And when the Sabbath day was past Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices that they might come and anoint him.’
Mark telescopes the account. He is not concerned about the detail but the basic facts. He tells us first that these three had to buy more spices once the Sabbath was over. They had discovered that they did not have sufficient, but the arrival of the Sabbath had cut short their plans and nothing could be done on the Sabbath. The purchase of spices and their application to the body were forbidden on the Sabbath. So they waited until after sunset on that day and then went out and purchased what they needed.
We should perhaps note the love revealed by their actions. The body had now been dead for over a day, and by the time they reached it a day and a half, yet they were determined that He should be anointed, come what may.
He says nothing about Mary Magdalene, the youngest and most agile, leaving the others in their preparation, going on ahead to discover what was happening at the tomb, and her subsequent experiences and her meeting up with Jesus Himself (John 20.1-18). For what he was concerned about was the experience of the whole band of women who had shared the vigil at the cross. (Whether Mary rejoined them again at any stage we do not know).
16.2-3 ‘And very early on the first day of the week they come to the tomb when the sun was risen. And they were saying among themselves, “who will roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?”’
We can not tell it from the narrative but the ‘they’ now excludes Mary Magdalene, and includes other women who have joined in the venture (Luke 24.10). Mark is not interested in the detail. They waited for the rising of the sun. They could do nothing in darkness and they were women. But then they set off for the tomb determined to pay their last respects to the Master. Yet they had one concern. How were they going to remove the large stone blocking the entrance to the tomb? Their fear was not for themselves, but how they could succeed in their task. That was why they had sent Mary Magdalene ahead with the other Mary (Matthew 28.1).
16.4 ‘And looking up they see that the stone is rolled back, for it was very large.’
On reaching the tomb what a surprise they received. The stone had been rolled back. Possibly their first thought was that Mary had found help and had arranged for it to be moved.
16.5 ‘And entering into the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were amazed.’
The entrance to the tomb would probably be low so that they had to stoop to enter, and the interior in semi-darkness, while the tomb itself would probably be just over two metres square and the same in height with a bench, or inset into the wall, to receive the body.
They entered expecting to find a body, and possibly Mary, and instead they found a young man dressed in white, probably sitting on the bench where the body should be, and no sign of a body. No wonder they were surprised. Instead of a dead body there was a living person. But it was not Jesus.
This was the memory and description of the one who told it to Mark as she remembered it. Others would describe two angels who at some stage ‘stood by them’ with an unearthly glow on them (Luke 24.4).
‘Sitting on the right side.’ There is no reason for this except reminiscence. The sobriety of the account and the incidental detail demonstrates its authenticity. And no one would have invented the idea that women should be first to the tomb. They were not regarded as reliable (Paul did not mention them in 1 Corinthians 15).
We note here the regular feature that when an angel comes as a messenger he gives the appearance of being an ordinary human being.
16.6 ‘And he says to them, “Do not be amazed. You seek Jesus the Nazarene who has been crucified. He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” ’
The angel’s message is simple. Jesus the Nazarene is no longer there for He is no longer dead. He is risen. The place where His body had been laid was empty, for He was gone. He was indeed risen, bodily. The simplicity of the message, and its significance takes the breath away. Death had been conquered. He who had been crucified has triumphed. Everything must now be rethought. Everything must begin anew.
16.7 “But go and tell his disciples, and Peter, ‘He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see him, as he said to you.’ ”
These words reflect Mark 14.28 where Jesus, to encourage them, had said, “After I am risen I will go before you into Galilee.” The words would act as an assurance that the one who had spoken of them knew words of Jesus that could only have been known by an angel or a disciple. When first spoken they were an assurance that they would soon return home where He would meet with them. Now they would know He was fulfilling His promise. We must remember that they still needed encouragement.
‘And Peter.’ Here was confirmation that Peter was to be restored and take a full part in the future. (Had it been meant to indicate his superiority he would have been mentioned first). He too was to go to Galilee and be sure of Jesus’ welcome.
The emphasis on Jesus’ appearing in Galilee stresses the importance of Galilee in Jesus’ plans. It was there that He had carried out His main ministry and there where the largest number of disciples could be found. It was natural for Jews to think in terms of Jerusalem as the centre of God’s purposes, and to think of men flowing to Jerusalem in order to receive the truth, but the new way was to be totally unlike that. Jerusalem was no longer to be the centre of God’s purposes. God’s purpose here was to woo their minds away from Jerusalem as the centre of things.
That He did appear to His inner group of disciples in Jerusalem we know, probably because in their unbelief they would have been immovable (Mark 16.14). Promises were not enough. Once again their faith failed. But that His appearance to the wider circle (the five hundred at one time - 1 Corinthians 15.6) took place in Galilee as He had promised we must accept on the basis of these words, even though we would not appreciate from Luke’s Gospel that there were any such appearances. Both Matthew 28 and John 21 testify of appearances in Galilee, and Matthew gives the impression of a specific place previously appointed where His great appearance would take place. The ‘they’ of Matthew 28.17 clearly indicates more than the eleven of verse 16 as, after the earlier appearances, it is doubtful if any of the eleven would have ‘doubted’.
It is not a simple matter to reconcile the differences between accounts of the Resurrection and the resurrection appearances. And that is what we would expect of honest accounts. They were written by different people using information provided by many who would remember what had struck them, and the events had been quite complicated with a lot of toing and froing. Each only had a part, a relatively small part, of what was a very complicated and intricate time and situation. They did not try to piece it all together. They presented the facts simply in order to concentrate on the main events and on what was confirmed to them by a number of witnesses. But facts are usually more complicated than they at first appear, for we are dealing with human beings and they do not just wander around thoughtlessly in groups like sheep. In such circumstances they make arrangements, they send one here and another there, they act individually as well as in groups, they make the facts very complicated. It would have been impossible, and unnecessary, to catalogue their every movement. What mattered was the basic happenings. And that is what Mark has given us here. (To do otherwise would have been to lose the main impact of the story).
16.8 ‘And they went out and fled from the tomb. For trembling and astonishment had come on them. And they said nothing to anyone for they were awestruck.’
The effect on the women was predictable. They had been living with nerves stretched for some time. They were in a state of fear and uncertainty. And now this remarkable news from a stranger whom they did not know had taken them totally aback. It would only be afterwards that they would realise who and what he was.
So they panicked and fled, overwhelmed by what they had witnessed. And they were so awestruck that they did not even talk to each other, or anyone they met, as they hurried on their way. And as they hurried on, their minds would be in a whirl. He was not there. He was risen. Whatever could it mean? They must reach the disciples and tell them.
This idea of ‘fear’ or ‘awe’ at seeing what has happened has been a feature of the Gospel. See 4.40-41 with regard to the stilling of the storm; 6.50 with regard to His walking on the water; 10.32 with regard to His determination to get to Jerusalem; and compare 5.15, 33; where others were afraid at what they saw. It is a sign of the unexpected, and of the truly awesome which they cannot understand.
It is Matthew who tells us the sequel, (his account follows a similar pattern to that of Mark), that as they hurried to tell the disciples Jesus Himself met with them, and as they worshipped Him, He told them to do what the angel had said and inform His disciples that they were to go to Galilee where they would see Him (Matthew 28.8-10).
And it is Luke 24.11 which tells us that their words were to the disciples as idle tales so that they would not move from Jerusalem, with the result that the resurrection appearances had to begin in Jerusalem. This was Jesus’ gracious response to His disciples who did not believe right to the end until they were left with no choice. A gap between Luke 24.25 and 26 may be the period when they went to Galilee (Matthew 28.16-20; John 21).
And with verse 8 the Gospel suddenly ends. Perhaps Mark ended here and intended a sequel similar in intent to Acts but never had time to present it. Perhaps he was suddenly arrested and taken away to prison and to death. Perhaps he was struck down with illness and was never able to write another word. Perhaps he simply had a fatal accident. No one knows. But most accept that he did not intend it finally to end here without even one resurrection appearance, and this is confirmed by a comparison with Matthew’s Gospel where the similar account continues.
Whatever happened must have been outside his control. For the words ‘they said nothing to anyone’ could be true in the short term, but where else did the information about what had happened to them come from? And even speaking naturally no one can believe that a group of women would keep such a secret to themselves all their lives, even if we did not have the other Gospels to tell us otherwise. It would be against nature. And Mark knew from the traditions preserved in the churches that it was not so. Thus those words required a follow up. And this Mark did not give us. It was left to another to pen the final summary.
The Final Summary (16.9-20).
This final summary was not included at all in the important ancient manuscripts Aleph and B, and in various widespread versions. It was not accepted by either Eusebius or Jerome because it was not in the ancient Greek manuscripts they had available. But Irenaeus (late second century AD) quotes it as by Mark, and it was known to Tatian and probably to Justin Martyr (both mid second century AD). It was included in A, D, W, Theta, (also f1 and f13), as an attachment so that it is supported by strong and varied manuscript evidence. Another shorter ending was attached to some manuscripts together with the longer ending, and stood by itself in a few lesser manuscripts and in some versions. It probably once circulated widely.
No attempt was made to ensure continuity of the longer ending with Mark 16.8 although the shorter ending was clearly written for that purpose. The longer ending no doubt once stood by itself. It would seem mainly to be based on the tradition behind the other Gospels and Acts but with a further ancient piece of tradition also included. It presented what Mark lacked, descriptions of resurrection appearances. However the emphasis on the unbelief of the disciples suggests that it was based on very early tradition. And this is backed up by the fact that it is so like the Gospel material in contrast to later writings. It bears the mark of being primitive.
16.9-11 ‘Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene from whom he had cast out seven devils. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that he was alive and had been seen of her disbelieved.’
Note the abrupt connection and the introduction of Mary Magdalene as though she had not been mentioned earlier.
The appearance first to Mary Magdalene agrees with John 20.11-18. Jesus seems deliberately to have appeared to the women first in order to test the faith of His disciples in view of what He had previously told them. But they refused to believe them. It was the reception of the Holy Spirit that would change their whole understanding and perspective (John 20.22; Luke 24.45). They needed such humiliation so that later they would not become over-exalted.
‘They mourned and wept.’ There was no expectancy in their hearts. They were just broken men.
For this appearance compare John 20.11-18. For ‘cast out seven devils’ see Luke 8.2.
16.12-13 ‘And after these things he was revealed in another form to two of them as they walked in the country, and they went away and told it to the rest. Nor did they believe them.’
Having appeared to one, Jesus now appeared to two. This confirms His desire to test His disciples. They now receive testimony at the mouth of two further witnesses that Jesus was indeed risen.
This incident is described in full in Luke 24.13-35, but here alone the continued attitude of unbelief is stressed. It is merely assumed in Luke. This continued stress on the unbelief of the disciples points to a very early date for the narrative.
‘In another form.’ To Mary He had appeared like a gardener, to the two He appeared as a traveller. There was a deliberate attempt at slow recognition. There was to be no danger of it being seen as an hallucination. Whether He deliberately altered His appearance, or whether His resurrection body presented Him in a way that was different from His earthly appearance so that recognition was not immediate, cannot be established. We know only that Mary first recognised Him by His voice, and that the two recognised Him when He engaged in a familiar action. They may well have thought He reminded them of Jesus but were quite well aware that He could not be. And He had shown no sin of recognition. They only appreciated the truth when He broke bread in the familiar way.
16.14 ‘And afterwards he was revealed to the eleven themselves as they sat at their meal, and he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen him after he was risen.’
The constant stress on their unbelief, even heightened here, suggests an Apostolic hand behind the basic tradition. No other would have been quite so blatant. It stresses that the Jerusalem appearance to them as described here was not what He had intended and agrees with the testimony that He had expected them to respond by going to Galilee to the place which He had previously told them about (Matthew 28.16). Galilee, not Jerusalem, had been intended as the springboard for the furtherance of the Gospel. Had He been obeyed it might well have prevented many of the problems that arose in the future. But as through history God was willing to fit in with the weakness of those whom He called.
For this incident compare Luke 24.36-43. The immediacy in Luke 24.36 reflects the speed of God’s change of purpose. We can compare the incident where Moses required a spokesman when God had intended him to be the spokesman (Exodus 4) and Aaron was immediately appointed. God’s messengers are never fully satisfactory, nor do they always respond rightly, for they are but men.
‘Upbraided -- unbelief -- hardness of heart.’ The language is strong. It is stressed that they were blameworthy. Had their hearts not been hard they would have believed. ‘Hardness of heart’. The word is rare but appears elsewhere in Mark (10.5 compare 3.5). It results in a situation which is second best.
16.15-16 ‘And he said to them, “You go into all the world and preach the Good News to every creature (or ‘the whole creation’). He who believes and is baptised will be saved, But he who disbelieves will be condemned.” ’
The risen Jesus repeatedly told the disciples that they had a ‘worldwide’ mission (Matthew 28.19; Luke 24.47). They would think mainly in terms of the Roman world. This was confirmation of His words in 13.10. At this stage they would still be thinking in terms of winning Jews worldwide and making proselytes to Christian Judaism, and of baptism as it had been practised by John and themselves. It was only as things unfolded that their direct message to the Gentiles would be appreciated.
‘Preach the Good News to every creature.’ This was the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God established through their risen Messiah (1.1, 15). It was to be proclaimed to everyone and included repentance and remission of sins in His name (1.4; Luke 24.47). Note the continuity with the message of John the Baptiser in Luke 24.24.47 but given greater significance by connection with Jesus’ name. Again the idea would be expanded as the Holy Spirit made clear the truth of the Gospel in fuller measure.
‘Every creature.’ This means either ‘every person’ or ‘the whole world’. Compare Colossians 1.23. They were to become new creatures as part of a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5.17; Galatians 6.15; Romans 6.4).
‘He who believes and is baptised will be saved.’ As men believe unto salvation they are to be baptised as a sign that they are partaking in the blessings of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring, the fulfilment of the prophetic promises in the Old Testament (Isaiah 32.15-17; 44.3-5; Joel 2.28-29). Baptism is assumed for every believer. But it is not the lack of baptism that condemns but the lack of belief. This baptism is to be ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28.19). The result of belief and baptism is to be discipleship and obedience (Matthew 28.19-20).
The command to baptise, following belief, would remind the Apostles of how they had baptised in their early days with Jesus. It was the promise that the blessings promised by John the Baptiser would now become apparent on those who believed. The Holy Spirit would be poured out, the wheat would be gathered into the barn, fruitfulness would abound. But note that the belief comes first. Paul would stress that his concern was to proclaim the cross which was the power of God unto salvation to all who, believed, and was content to leave the baptising to others (1 Corinthian 1.14-18). To him baptism was secondary to the saving experience. It was the preaching of the word of power that saved.
As the word spread among the Gentiles baptism would become even more significant for it would be seen by outsiders, and by the man himself, as cutting a man off from his old life and environment and religion and proclaiming to all that he was now Jesus’ disciple, serving the living God, dead to his old life and living in newness of life (Romans 6.4).
The mention of baptism in this way may suggest that the baptising ministry had been continued by the disciples throughout the ministry of Jesus (John 3.22; 4.1-2) although there is no hint of it in any of the Gospels. In support of this possibility is the fact that there is never a suggestion that pre-resurrection disciples be baptised.
‘He who believes not will be condemned.’ There is an echo here of the ideas in John 3.18. They will be condemned because they refuse to come to the light. The assumption is that the true light has shone on them but they have rejected it.
16.17-18 ‘And these signs will follow those who believe. In my name they will cast out devils, they will speak with new tongues, they will take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them in any way. They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.’
‘Signs.’ That is signs that the Kingly Rule of God has now come and that Jesus has taken His place of authority at the right hand of God. Note that the casting out of devils come first. It is always in Mark a sign of the Kingly Rule of God and demonstrates Jesus’ power over Satan (3.23-27; 1.27; 3.14-15; 6.7).
‘Those who believe.’ Believers are seen here as one whole. These are special gifts given to some, but because of the unity of all believers, and the ministry of these specially gifted ones to believers and in their name, they are seen as gifts to the whole church.
‘Speak with new tongues.’ The other examples are miraculous and not everyday problems. Thus we must see this as the same. There may be here the idea of special help at crucial times in their ministry when faced with a crisis with people whose language they did not know and who did not speak Greek. Compare Acts 2.4, 6, 8, 11. But there they are ‘other tongues’ with a special, unique purpose, and intended to be recognised by hearers who spoke those languages as a symbol of the universality of the message. It does however demonstrate the possibility. Tongues are not elsewhere called ‘new’. The glossolalia of 1 Corinthians 12-14 may be in mind but they were a supernatural phenomenon not intended to be understood, only interpreted, and were more for personal use. And if such tongues were mentioned we would also expect mention of prophecy, the greater gift. Thus they do not fit the pattern here.
‘They will take up serpents.’ Jesus had already promised this special protection for His disciples (Luke 10.19). Paul experienced it in Melita (Acts 28.3)
‘If they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them in any way.’ This was protection against poisoners. Eusebius cites an example from Papias of how this happened to Justus surnamed Barsabbas. It has been experienced by missionaries of my acquaintance in the present day resulting in the conversion of the poisoner who confessed to his attempt, and to his astonishment that they had survived.
‘They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.’ The disciples had already experienced healing in their ministry through anointing with oil (6.13), and would now also through raising them up (Acts 3.7) and laying on of hands (Acts 9.17-18; 28.8). See also Acts 5.16; 7.8; 8.7. Others too would experience this power. Notice the certainty. We do not read of those who had this gift failing to heal, unlike modern day ‘faith healers’.
16.19 ‘So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.’
‘The Lord Jesus.’ A fitting final declaration that Jesus was now ‘the Lord’. He was made both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2.36), given the name that is above every name (Philippians 2.9). It is a fitting end to the Gospel. It was what Mark has been pointing to all the way through. Jesus is now ‘the Lord’.
‘Received up into heaven.’ This would seem to be an indication that Jesus’ final appearance to His disciples had taken place (Luke 24.51; Acts 1.9). He Whom earth has rejected and would not receive is welcomed in heaven and given His rightful place.
‘Sat down at the right hand of God.’ Just as He had declared would be the case at His trial (14.62; Psalm 110.1). He receives the Kingship as the Son of Man, and is declared both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2.36). All authority had been given to Him in heave and on earth (Matthew 28.19).
16.20 ‘And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen.’
This final summary indicates the obedience of the Apostles to the Lord’s command, and the fulfilment of His promise about the signs that would follow. They preached ‘everywhere’ and ‘the Lord’ worked with them, confirming the word by signs. He is no longer Jesus but ‘the Lord’. These signs may have included the evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the conversion of men and women to Christ, but also included the signs that would ‘follow’ as stated in verses 17-18. Both Jerusalem and the world were made to witness His Kingly Power at work visibly on earth (9.1; 14.62).
‘Amen.’ So be it.
The shorter ending reads, ‘and all that had been commanded them they briefly reported to Peter and those who were with him. And after this Jesus himself appeared to them, and from the East as far as the West sent forth through them the sacred and incorruptible proclamation of eternal salvation.’ It may have been known in the late first century AD to Clement of Rome, for when he spoke of Paul he said, ‘After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west’ (Letter To The Corinthians 5.6). But the last phrase in the shorter ending does not have the simplicity of the Gospels. It sounds like second generation Christianity (in contrast with the longer ending).
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