Mark 15-16 Commentary

Mark 15-16 Commentary

vv.1-5: “It is from Luke that we learn how deep and determined the bitter malice of the Jews was. As we have seen, the charge at which they had arrived was one of blasphemy, of insulting God. But that was not the charge on which they brought Jesus before Pilate. They knew well that Pilate would have had nothing to do with what he would have considered a Jewish religious argument. When they brought Jesus to him they charged him with perverting the people, forbidding them to give tribute to Caesar and calling himself a king (Luke 23:1, 2). They had to evolve a political charge or Pilate would not have listened.”[1]

v.6-15: “Barabbas and Jesus stood for two different ways.  Barabbas stood for the heart of hate, the stab of the dagger, the violence of bitterness.  Jesus stood for the way of love.  As so often has happened, hate reigned supreme in the hearts of men, and love was rejected.  Men insisted on taking their own way to conquests, and refused to see that the only true conquest was the conquest of love.”[2]

vv.16-20: “Jesus was first mocked by the members of the Sanhedrin and others at the Jewish trial (14:65), then by the Roman soldiers after Pilate passed sentence (here), and finally by the mob around the cross (15:29–32). Mark recorded these instances of mocking to show that Jesus’ prophecy in 10:34 was fulfilled and to fortify his own readers/hearers for the abuse they would soon endure. Irony continues to dominate the account. Jesus was mocked as a pretender, but he was in fact a real King. The mocking was his enthronement; the cross, his throne. Mark wanted to emphasize that Jesus’ kingship was characterized by humility and servanthood and was different from all the kingships of the world.”[3]

vv.21-28: “The routine of crucifixion did not alter. When the cross was prepared the criminal had himself to carry it to the place of execution. He was placed in the middle of a hollow square of four soldiers. In front marched a soldier carrying a board stating the crime of which the prisoner was guilty. The board was afterwards affixed to the cross. They took not the shortest but the longest way to the place of execution. They followed every possible street and lane so that as many as possible should see and take warning. When they reached the place of crucifixion, the cross was laid flat on the ground. The prisoner was stretched upon it and his hands nailed to it. The feet were not nailed but only loosely bound. Between the prisoner’s legs projected a ledge of wood called the saddle, to take his weight when the cross was raised upright—otherwise the nails would have torn through the flesh of the hands. The cross was then lifted upright and set in its socket—and the criminal was left to die. The cross was not tall. It was shaped like the letter T, and had no top piece at all. Sometimes prisoners hung for as long as a week, slowly dying of hunger and of thirst, suffering sometimes to the point of actual madness.

“This must have been a grim day for Simon of Cyrene. Palestine was an occupied country and any man might be impressed into the Roman service for any task. The sign of impressment was a tap on the shoulder with the flat of a Roman spear. Simon was from Cyrene in Africa. No doubt he had come from that far off land for the Passover. No doubt he had scraped and saved for many years in order to come. No doubt he was gratifying the ambition of a lifetime to eat one Passover in Jerusalem. Then this happened to him.

“At the moment Simon must have bitterly resented it. He must have hated the Romans, and hated this criminal whose cross he was being forced to carry. But we may legitimately speculate what happened to Simon.

He is described as the father of Alexander and Rufus. The people for whom the gospel was written must have been meant to recognize him by this description. It is most likely that Mark’s gospel was first written for the Church at Rome. Now let us turn to Paul’s letter to Rome and read 16:13. ‘Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine.’ Rufus was so choice a Christian that he was eminent in the Lord. The mother of Rufus was so dear to Paul that he could call her his own mother. Things must have happened to Simon on Golgotha.

“Now turn to Acts 13:1. There is a list of the men of Antioch who sent Paul and Barnabas out on that epoch-making first mission to the Gentiles. The name of one is Simeon that was called Niger. Simeon is another form of Simon. Niger was the regular name for a man of swarthy skin who came from Africa, and Cyrene is in Africa. Here it may well be that we are meeting Simon again. Maybe Simon’s experience on the way to Golgotha bound his heart forever to Jesus. Maybe it made him a Christian. Maybe in the after days he was a leader in Antioch and instrumental in the first mission to the Gentiles.”[4]

vv.29-32: “The Jewish leaders flung one last challenge at Jesus. ‘Come down from the Cross,’ they said, ‘and we will believe in you.’ It was precisely the wrong challenge. As General Booth said long ago, ‘It is because Jesus did not come down from the Cross that we believe in him.’ The death of Jesus was absolutely necessary and the reason was this. Jesus came to tell men of the love of God; more, he was himself the incarnate love of God. If he had refused the Cross or if in the end he had come down from the Cross, it would have meant that there was a limit to God’s love, that there was something which that love was not prepared to suffer for men, that there was a line beyond which it would not go. But, Jesus went the whole way and died on the Cross and this means that there is literally no limit to God’s love, that there is nothing in all the universe which that love is not prepared to suffer for men, that there is nothing, not even death on a cross, which it will refuse to bear for men.  When we look at the Cross, Jesus is saying to us, ‘God loves you like that, with a love that is limitless, a love that will bear every suffering earth has to offer.”[5]

v.38: “The holy of holies, which the priest could enter only once a year, was the ultimate symbol of God’s dwelling place. God’s rending the veil meant that he was now available apart from the temple system and that the old temple order stood judged and abolished.”[6]

vv.33-41: “The ‘sixth hour’ began before noon, the ‘ninth hour’ before 3 p.m. Jesus dies around the time of the evening offering in the temple.”[7]

“Two things Jesus said. (a) He uttered the terrible cry, ‘My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?’ There is a mystery behind that cry which we cannot penetrate. Maybe it was like this, Jesus had taken this life of ours upon him. He had done our work and faced our temptations and borne our trials. He had suffered all that life could bring. He had known the failure of friends, the hatred of foes, the malice of enemies. He had known the most searing pain that life could offer. Up to this moment Jesus had gone through every experience of life except one—he had never known the consequence of sin. Now if there is one thing sin does, it separates us from God. It puts between us and God a barrier like an unscalable wall. That was the one human experience through which Jesus had never passed, because he was without sin.

“It may be that at this moment that experience came upon him—not because he had sinned, but because in order to be identified completely with our humanity he had to go through it. In this terrible, grim, bleak moment Jesus really and truly identified himself with the sin of man. Here we have the divine paradox—Jesus knew what it was to be a sinner. And this experience must have been doubly agonizing for Jesus, because he had never known what it was to be separated by this barrier from God.

“That is why he can understand our situation so well. That is why we need never fear to go to him when sin cuts us off from God. Because he has gone through it, he can help others who are going through it. There is no depth of human experience which Christ has not plumbed.

“(b) There was the great shout. Both Matthew (27:50) and Luke (23:46) tell of it. John does not mention the shout but he tells us that Jesus died having said, ‘It is finished.’ (John 19:30.) In the original that would be one word; and that one word was the great shout. ‘Finished!’ Jesus died with the cry of triumph on his lips, his task accomplished, his work completed, his victory won. After the terrible dark there came the light again, and he went home to God a victor triumphant.

“There is one other thing to note. ‘The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.’ This was the curtain which shut off the Holy of Holies, into which no man might go. Symbolically that tells us two things.

“(a) The way to God was now wide open. Into the Holy of Holies only the High Priest could go, and he only once a year on the day of Atonement. But now, the curtain was torn and the way to God was wide open to every man.

“(b) Within the Holy of Holies dwelt the very essence of God. Now with the death of Jesus the curtain which hid God was torn and men could see him face to face. No longer was God hidden. No longer need men guess and grope. Men could look at Jesus and say, ‘That is what God is like. God loves me like that.’[8]

vv.42-47: “The historicity of the account is firm. The early church would not have invented a story about Jesus being buried by a Jewish leader, who at most was a secret disciple, rather than his family or close disciples. Nor would invention have made women the chief witnesses of the event.”[9]

Chapter 16 Commentary

vv.1-8: “There had not been time to render the last services to the body of Jesus. The Sabbath had intervened and the women who wished to anoint the body had not been able to do so. As early as possible after the Sabbath had passed, they set out to perform this sad task.

“They were worried about one thing. Tombs had no doors. When the word door is mentioned it really means opening. In front of the opening was a groove, and in the groove ran a circular stone as big as a cart-wheel; and the women knew that it was quite beyond their strength to move a stone like that. But when they reached the tomb, the stone was rolled away, and inside was a messenger who gave them the unbelievable news that Jesus had risen from the dead.

“One thing is certain—if Jesus had not risen from the dead, we would never have heard of him. The attitude of the women was that they had come to pay the last tribute to a dead body. The attitude of the disciples was that everything had finished in tragedy. By far the best proof of the Resurrection is the existence of the Christian church. Nothing else could have changed sad and despairing men and women into people radiant with joy and flaming with courage. The Resurrection is the central fact of the whole Christian faith. Because we believe in the Resurrection certain things follow.

“(i) Jesus is not a figure in a book but a living presence. It is not enough to study the story of Jesus like the life of any other great historical figure. We may begin that way but we must end by meeting him.

“(ii) Jesus is not a memory but a presence. The dearest memory fades. The Greeks had a word to describe time meaning time which wipes all things out. Long since, time would have wiped out the memory of Jesus unless he had been a living presence forever with us.

‘And warm, sweet, tender, even yet

A present help is he;

And faith has still its Olivet,

And love its Galilee.’

“Jesus is not someone to discuss so much as someone to meet.

“(iii) The Christian life is not the life of a man who knows about Jesus, but the life of a man who knows Jesus. There is all the difference in the world between knowing about a person and knowing a person. Most people know about Queen Elizabeth or the President of the United States but not so many know them. The greatest scholar in the world who knows everything about Jesus is less than the humblest Christian who knows him.

“(iv) There is an endless quality about the Christian faith. It should never stand still. Because our Lord is a living Lord there are new wonders and new truths waiting to be discovered all the time.

“But the most precious thing in this passage is in two words which are in no other gospel. ‘Go,’ said the messenger. ‘Tell his disciples and Peter.’ How that message must have cheered Peter’s heart when he received it! He must have been tortured with the memory of his disloyalty, and suddenly there came a special message for him. It was characteristic of Jesus that he thought, not of the wrong Peter had done him but of the remorse he was undergoing. Jesus was far more eager to comfort the penitent sinner than to punish the sin. Someone has said, ‘The most precious thing about Jesus is the way in which he trusts us on the field of our defeat.”[10]

Conclusion of the Gospel of Mark (vv.9-20)

vv. 9-20. This section is a later addition; the original ending of Mark appears to have been lost. The best and oldest manuscripts of Mark end with ch. 16:8. Two endings were added very early. The shorter reads: “But they reported briefly to those with Peter all that had been commanded them. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them from the East even to the West the sacred and incorruptible message of eternal salvation.” The longer addition appears in English Bibles; its origin is uncertain; a medieval source ascribes it to an elder Ariston (Aristion), perhaps the man whom Papias (c. A.D. 135) calls a disciple of the Lord. It is drawn for the most part from Luke, chapter 24, and from John, chapter 20; there is a possibility that verse 15 may come from Matthew 28:18-20. It is believed that the original ending must have contained an account of the risen Christ’s meeting with the disciples in Galilee (chs. 14:28; 16:7).[11]


[1]The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[2] Barclay, William.  The Daily Study Bible Series: the Gospel of Mark, p.358

[3]Brooks, J. A. (2001). Vol. 23: Mark (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (252–253). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4]The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[5]The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[6]Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Mk 15:38). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[7]Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Mk 15:33). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[9]Brooks, J. A. (2001). Vol. 23: Mark (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (265). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[10]The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[11] The Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1948).

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