Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentMark 15
Final events leading up to the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ are unfolded in this chapter. Mark's record is far more brief than the other Gospels, and it is refreshing for a scholar like Cranfield to admit that this record is obviously later than the Gospel of Matthew. F1 With regard to some of the subjects treated at greater length in the other Gospels, reference is made to this writer's Commentary on Matthew for the following:
The Six Trials of Jesus (Matthew 26:57ff); Pilate's Efforts to Release Jesus (Matthew 27:14-23); The Mockery (Matthew 27:27-28); The Via Dolorosa (Matthew 27:32); Regarding the Inscriptions (Matthew 27:37); The Calvary Miracles (Matthew 27:53); Pilate's Order to Break Jesus' Legs (Matthew 27:56); Joseph of Arimathaea (Matthew 27:57); and The Seven Words from the Cross (Matthew 27:66).
And straightway 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 was the third trial of Jesus, evidently convened for the purpose of lending some aura of legality to the all-night circus of a trial conducted in the palace of the high priests. It did not last long; but it may be assumed that the same witnesses testified, the same questions were asked of Jesus, and the same replies (perhaps in different words) were given. This accounts for the fact that in one Gospel the key aspects of the trial are related as occurring in the all-night trial, and in another as occurring in the more legal trial in the morning. All thought of contradictions disappears in the light of the obvious truth that the trial was repeated in the session mentioned here, for the sake of appearances. Here too is the obvious reason that Jesus' reply to Caiaphas' question has a different form, but the same substance, in the Markan and Matthew accounts.
Despite the intentions of the hierarchy to dress up their kangaroo trials of the Lord with some semblance of respectability through the device of having a legal trial after daylight, they were not at all successful. As Sanner noted, regarding the all-night trial:
The Sanhedrin broke most of its own
laws ... fourteen such violations have
been totaled. The council was not
permitted to meet at night, nor on a
feast day. The death penalty could
not be carried out until a night had
passed ... each member of the court
had to be polled individually, etc. F2
Likewise, the trial in view in this verse was illegal. As Bickersteth said:
For form's sake, they tried afresh;
but another law was violated; it was
now the Preparation (making this
illegal) ... also, a condemnation
could not be announced on the day of
the trial; yet our Lord was condemned
and crucified in the same day. F3
And delivered him to Pilate ...
Mark's omission of any explanation whatever of who Pilate was is very significant. It has the effect of an admission on his part that Matthew had long ago been published, that it was well known throughout the Christian world, and that therefore it would have been superfluous for him to have wasted any space on explaining that Pilate, the fifth procurator of Judea, who was in power between 26 and 36 A.D., was at that time the governor with jurisdiction in the case of Jesus Christ our Lord. The Markan theory receives in this verse a mortal blow.
The reason why the Sanhedrin did not go ahead and stone Jesus to death lies in the fact that they did not have at that time the authority to execute the death penalty. This has been disputed; but John 18:31 is the only proof a Christian needs of the fact that they could not.
And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering saith unto him, Thou sayest.
There were many details Mark omitted, such as the other charges, which the Sanhedrin alleged against Jesus, these being: that he perverted the nation, stirred up the country all the way to Galilee, etc. Mark remembered that Pilate here focused on their charge that Jesus was making himself King. Mark omitted the event of Pilate's sending Jesus to Herod.
Art thou the King of the Jews ...
The deceit of the Sanhedrin was never more diabolical than here. The popular and erroneous conceit that the divine Messiah would be a literal King of Israel was their allegation, not that of Jesus. It was precisely because our Lord would not consent to be such a King that they so thoroughly hated him. If our Lord had accepted such a view of his Messiahship, the Sanhedrin would have supported him and aided him in every possible manner against the Romans.
Pilate's question centered upon the charge of greatest interest to the governor who was charged with protecting Caesar's interests. Jesus' reply has the effect of "Yes, I am the King of the Jews, but not in the sense meant by the accusers." Pilate accepted Jesus' answer as proof of his innocence.
And the chief priests accused him of many things.
See under above verse.
And Pilate again asked him, saying, Answerest thou nothing? Behold how many things they accuse thee of.
There was an extensive interview between Jesus and Pilate recorded by John, but omitted here, the extreme likelihood of just such an occurrence adding corroboration to John's account. In John's Gospel, it is clear why Jesus answered nothing. First of all, it was unnecessary in the light of all absence of any proof of the Sanhedrin's charges and the further fact that Herod too had agreed upon Jesus' innocence. In the second place, Pilate was of a strong mind to have released Jesus, and there is no doubt that Christ could easily have persuaded him to do so. Also, he could have performed one little miracle and have scared the wits out of the pagan governor. Here, more than anywhere else, the act of Jesus laying down his life of his own accord is in view.
But Jesus no more answered anything; insomuch that Pilate marvelled.
Pilate marvelled because both he and Jesus knew that our Lord could have enlisted the governor's aid, having in fact only to ask it; no wonder Pilate marvelled that he would not ask.
Now at the feast he used to release unto them one prisoner, whom they asked of him.
THE CHOICE OF BARABBAS
This custom of the governor is nowhere mentioned in any secular history; but the sacred historians mention it in connection with its bearing upon the crucifixion of Jesus.
And there was one called Barabbas, tying bound with them that had made insurrection, men who in the insurrection had committed murder.
is a patronymic meaning "Son of father," possibly paraphrased as "Papa's Boy." He was a bad number, a murderer, and a robber, guilty also of sedition, and awaiting the execution which his conduct merited.
And the multitude went up and began to ask him to do as he was wont to do unto them.
Regarding the identity of this crowd, Turlington said:
They may have been friends of
Barabbas, who had come to ask for his
release. This would be, as Rawlinson
says, "a strangely dramatic historical
coincidence"; but it accords with what
If such was the case, the coincidence would have been one of Satan's "providences," such as Jonah's finding a ship ready to sail; but this interesting and speculative interpretation does not have the ring of truth. If that crowd had indeed been friends of Barabbas, they could not have known Jesus, nor would there have been any motivation for them to shout, "Crucify him!" As the Gospels attributed such a demand for Jesus' death to the fact of the priests "stirring up the miltitude," it is not unlikely that they were the ones who "got the crowd out" in the first place, having no doubt anticipated the governor's customary clemency at Passover and making sure that it should not be extended to Jesus. It was one of those pat demonstrations that rabble-rousers, through their followers, know how to produce.
And Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
The extreme brevity of Mark here leads to the conclusion, as supported by Matthew, that Pilate had seized upon this device of a Passover clemency in another of his seven efforts to release Jesus, and that he, not the multitude, had introduced this question of clemency. The notion that Pilate confronted a mob asking for the release of Barabbas and asked them to accept Jesus instead is wild and irresponsible. The priests knew that when Pilate proposed two names, those of our Lord and of Barabbas, the multitude would have chosen Jesus if left to themselves, which they would not have done if they were friends of Barabbas; hence, it was necessary for the priests to stir up the multitude to make the decision for Barabbas. See Mark 15:11.
For he perceived that for envy the chief priests had delivered him up.
One thing to keep in view throughout is that Pilate was never for a moment deceived into believing that Jesus was a seditionist. He knew the essential facts of the whole dramatic event thoroughly, being insufficient only in his failure to see Jesus as God in the flesh. The inscription he affixed to the cross did not deny Pilate's knowledge of Jesus' innocence, but it was a sadistic joke on the Sanhedrin, from his point of view.
But the chief priests stirred up the multitude, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
See under Mark 15:9. This choice of the chosen people through their highest authorities and representatives that they should receive Barabbas received the most signal fulfillment historically. They not only received that Barabbas whom they requested; but, before that generation expired, the Holy City and the Holy of Holies itself were infested with a vast multitude of the most vicious and bloody robbers ever known to history, who seized the government, filled the holy place with dead corpses, murdered the entire nobility, and with rapine and slaughter unparalleled historically, they accomplished the total ruin of Jerusalem, being in fact the "abomination of desolation." See under Mark 13:2, especially item (10) in the article, Why God Destroyed the Temple.
Nineteen centuries have not diminished the wonderment over the choice which evil men made that day.
And Pilate again answered and said unto them, What then shall I do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
Pilate was still trying to accomplish the release of Jesus, as his exasperated question a moment later proves. However, his form of the question here could only have infuriated the priests by its inference that "they" called Jesus the King of the Jews.
Verses 13, 14
And they cried out again, Crucify him. And Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out exceedingly, Crucify him.
What evil hath he done?
Mark leaves it out; but John gave the answer which the hierarchy finally spat out on that occasion. This demand of Pilate came late in the proceedings, at a point when it became painfully evident to the Sanhedrin that Pilate might not yield to their will at all; and this demand of the governor for the statement of a capital charge was proof enough that none of the prior allegations bore any weight at all, being nothing but false and unproved allegations inspired by envy and unworthy of the governor's further attention. In such an extremity, the Sanhedrin, under such duress that they could no longer conceal it, at last admitted the truth. As John has it: "The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" (John 19:7). It was upon their statement of what they alleged as a capital crime that Pilate then yielded to the popular clamor and ordered the crucifixion; but even then, not until the priests had injected the question of Pilate's loyalty to Caesar.
And Pilate wishing to content the multitude, released unto them Barabbas, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
Mark here passed over a great deal of material, in all probability out of respect to the fact of its prior publication in Matthew. See the introduction to this chapter.
Scourged him ...
From the manner of the sacred authors' mentioning it, some have supposed that Jesus was scourged twice, but this is not true. As Bickersteth said:
Pilate anticipated the time of the
scourging, in the vain hope that by
this means he might save our Lord from
capital punishment. A comparison of
Mark with Matthew and John makes this
clear; for they all three refer to one
and the same scourging. F5
Had scourged him ...
has the meaning of Pilate's having done so earlier in the trial.
Pilate's bumbling attempts to release Jesus and his obvious knowledge of Jesus' innocence resulted in the canonization of St. Pilate (!) by the Abyssinian church; F6 but the more accurate judgment of history has been preserved in the phrase from the Apostles' Creed, "Suffered under Pontius Pilate." There is no way that this weak and vacillating governor deserves anything except the infamy which fell upon his name. He knew Jesus was innocent; and, after announcing such a verdict, he should have had the guts to release Jesus and order the soldiers in the tower of Antonio to disperse the mob.
And the soldiers led him away within the court, which is the Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
The mockery about to begin was not the only mockery of Jesus, there being in fact no less than six, as pointed out by Major:
The Evangelists record six mockings of
Jesus by: (1) the High Priest's
servants; (2) Herod Antipas and his
soldiers; (3) the soldiers of the
Roman garrison; (4) the general
public; (5) priests and scribes; and
(6) the two crucified brigands. F7
The Praetorium ...
was the name of the area where soldiers were quartered at Caesar's official residence, or, as here, at the residence of any of Caesar's representatives. In this case, the reference is either to the tower of Antonio or to the old Hasmonean palace of Herod.
Called together the whole band ...
The type of sadistic sport engaged in by soldiers of the imperial army was as brutal and detestable as anything that can be imagined. Turlington thought the group here was the Second Italian Cohort, but their military identity is not important. The Roman war machine was constantly engaged in bloody conflict in one part of the empire or another; and the dehumanization of the soldiery was an inevitable result. Notwithstanding this, the army was the last stronghold of the virtues which had held together the sprawling empire, and this accounts for the repeated favorable mention of centurions. See under Mark 15:39.
And they clothe him with purple, and platting a crown of thorns, they put it on him.
Not only was this supposed to represent royalty in the soldiers' program of mockery, but it also had deeply religious significance imperceivable by the goon-squad that thus mocked him. There were probably three colors in the robe they cast upon Christ: blue, purple, and scarlet, these being the three colors of the sacred veil in the temple. See the introduction to this chapter.
Crown of thorns ...
"The thorns were, in all probability, the Zizyphus spina Christi which grows abundantly in Palestine, fringing the banks of the Jordan." F8 Only Satan could have inspired a soldier to prick his own hands gathering thorns to mock a man the governor had just declared to be innocent.
And they began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!
It was enough for the soldiers that Jesus was a Jew, belonging to a race despised by many Romans, especially those in the army charged with keeping order among them. Their insincere and mocking honor of him was shameful, but it is no more so than the insincerity of many in all ages who have bowed the knee and sung, "Hail to the King," without really meaning it.
And they smote his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.
We pass over this heart-breaking episode wherein the Christ endured such taunts at the hands of calloused and evil men.
And when they had mocked him, they took off from him the purple, and put on him his garments. And they led him out to crucify him.
The typical nature of the colored cloth upon Jesus was noted above; but there were also other prophecies to be fulfilled with regard to the Lord's own garments, and it was thus necessary that he should wear these to the cross. Providentially, the soldiers clothed him again in his own garments, little realizing that they were making possible the fulfillment of God's word.
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 the cross.
SIMON BEARS THE CROSS
It was evident to the soldiers in charge of the execution that the strength of our Lord was fading and that he would not be able to carry the cross, which was a large instrument 15 feet in the long beam and 8 feet in the cross-member. F9
The father of Alexander and Rufus ...
These names occur only in Mark, and concerning these persons Dummelow said:
They were clearly Christians of
eminence, well known in the Roman
church for which this gospel was
composed ... Rufus is probably the
same as the Rufus in Romans 16:13,
where he is called "chosen of the
And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.
From this, many have identified the actual place of the crucifixion as a skull-shaped hill northwest of the old city of Jerusalem. See my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:33-34.
And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he received it not.
Cranfield noted that:
It was a Jewish custom, based on
Prov. 31:6, to give wine drugged
with myrrh to those who were about to
be executed: in order to dull the
senses. His refusal to drink may be
explained as due to his vow in
Mark 14:25. F11
The view here is that Cranfield was certainly correct in linking Jesus' refusal to drink with the promise that he would not drink henceforth of the fruit of the vine until he should drink it new with his disciples in the kingdom of God. The offering of wine (and myrrh) here was not new, was not offered by a disciple, and was prior to the setting up of the kingdom on Pentecost. John 19:30 mentions "when he had received the vinegar"; but there is no mention that he drank it, the previous verse saying only that it was "brought to his mouth." The incident in John came at the end of the agony; this here was at the first; but it is safe to assume that Jesus regarded the vow in both instances.
And they crucify him, and part his garments among them, casting lots upon them, what each should take.
This was in fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Psa. 22:18, and for a fuller discussion of this intriguing episode, see the comments of this author on the parallel account in John. John gave the most careful description of the clothes, even telling how they were made, the robe being woven in a particular manner without a seam. Also, for the callous indifference of the gamblers, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:36.
And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
This was 9:00 o'clock in the morning, according to the Roman method of reckoning time, which was followed here by Mark.
And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
A composite of the four Gospels gives the entire superscription as: THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. It was written in three different languages; and from this some have accounted for the variations in the separate reports of the sacred gospels by supposing them to have found such variations in the three languages, some quoting from one language and some from others. No such device of reconciling the accounts is necessary or, for that matter, reasonable. Each author quoted from memory; all recorded the words given here by Mark; and not one of them recorded a single word that was not in the total inscription. See my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:37.
And with him they crucify, two robbers, one on his right hand, and one on his left.
Someone has observed that upon the crosses there appeared both the best of men and the worst of men, society always having that paradoxical quality of crucifying both its saints and its sinners. This association of Jesus with the vilest of criminals was an added stigma of his crucifixion; but God overruled it in making it the fulfillment of this prophecy:
And they made his grave with the
wicked (plural) and with a rich man
(singular) in his death (Isaiah 53:9).
The fulfillment of this is usually allowed to be the actual crucifixion between two thieves (or robbers) and the provision of the tomb by Joseph of Aramathaea. However, it is quite clear that two graves are actually required for the complete fulfillment of this prophecy. It may be assumed that the soldiers dug shallow graves on Golgotha for all three condemned men, long before they knew that anyone would claim the body of Christ. See article, The Two Graves of Jesus in my Commentary on John, parallel account.
Verses 28, 29
And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ha! thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days.
This is one of the six instances of the mockery of Jesus, as noted under Mark 15:16. The priests had done a good job of spreading their infamous lies regarding Jesus, so good in fact, that passers-by were able to repeat it exactly. The truth was far different from their insinuations, as seen from John 2:19.
Save thyself, and come down from the cross.
Implicit in this element of the mockery was the fundamental nature of Jesus' mission to mankind, that being to save men from sin. It was that basic premise of all that Jesus did and taught that outraged unregenerated men who adamantly refused to believe that they needed any such thing as salvation. Their hatred of such a premise was evident here.
In like manner also the chief priests mocking him among themselves with the scribes said, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
As Cranfield said:
In the sense in which they meant it,
these words were untrue - he who
raised the dead could also have come
down from the cross. On the other
hand, he could not save himself if he
was to remain true to his mission, if
he was to save the world. F12
Let the Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reproached him.
That we may see and believe ...
Well, why did not Christ do it? Simply because it was impossible; not for Christ, of course, for he could have descended from the cross at the expense of his message of salvation; but it was impossible that such a thing, even if Jesus had done it, would have had the slightest effect on the priests. There was no miracle which God might have performed which could have changed a hypocritical Pharisee into a loving follower of Jesus. The Lord did a far more wonderful thing than merely coming down from the cross, when, three days later, he rose from the dead. Even then, however, he did not appear to them. It would have done them no good at all.
They that were crucified with him reproached him ...
This is a reference to the early part of the crucifixion scene, at which time both the robbers reproached Jesus. In a little while, however, the nobler robber lovingly invoked Jesus' blessing and received it.
And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
The supernatural darkness that enveloped the whole earth at that time was foretold by the prophet Amos (Amos 8:9); since it was the full moon, no eclipse of the sun was possible, the darkness here having been caused by "the sun's light failing" (Luke 23:45). It signified, among many things, the summary end of the sabbath day, the presence of God himself in the events of that day, and the mantle of loving privacy that God cast over the shameful business of that awful day. For more extensive comments on the nature and meaning of this darkness, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:1.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
The traditional interpretation of this place views it as a quotation from Psa. 22, where no less than twenty specific prophecies of the crucifixion are detailed, and to which it must be supposed Jesus here made reference by quoting the first line of that well known Psalm. That is the view accepted by this interpreter, and extensive comment in support of this view is in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:66ff. However, it must be confessed that something deeper and far more imponderable could be indicated. As Cranfield expressed it:
The burden of the world's sin, his
complete self-identification with
sinners, involved not merely a felt,
but a real, abandonment by his Father.
It is in the cry of dereliction that
the full horror of man's sin stands
revealed ... While this
God-forsakeness was utterly real, the
unity of the Blessed Trinity was even
then unbroken. F13
The full mystery of the awesome events of Calvary cannot ever be fully known by mortal and finite men. Nevertheless, "In the cross of Christ I glory!"
And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold he calleth Elijah.
Their misunderstanding came about by Jesus' use of the Hebrew language in the words [Eloi, Eloi], which in Hebrew could be mistaken for the name of the prophet. Here again surfaces the undeniable priority of Matthew. Cranfield said. "We should regard the Matthew form as the original." F14
Here again the evil campaign of the Pharisees so long directed against the Lord, and particularly their slander that Elijah would have to rise from the dead before the Messiah came, is evident. The refutation of their error is in Mark 9:1,12, which see.
And one ran, and filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let be, let us see whether Elijah cometh to take him down.
was the sour wine comprising a part of the daily rations of the soldiers, and this incident may be viewed as the only act of true mercy extended to the Lord on the cross.
Put it on a reed ...
This is the same incident as in John 19:30, apparently; and, if so, the reed was "hyssop," the stalk of the caper plant.
Gave him to drink ...
It is not necessary to suppose that Jesus drank it. He had requested drink by his exclamation, "I thirst"; but, after tasting it, he rejected it. See under Matt. 15:23.
Let us see whether Elijah cometh ...
If our assumption is correct that this was one of the soldiers, his remarks were prompted by the mocking mention of Elijah by the priests.
And Jesus uttered a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
It is heartening to read Cranfield refuting Bultmann's slander to the effect that Jesus never said anything on the cross, only making this loud cry, into which the early church retrospectively read the saying attributed in the Gospels! As Cranfield affirmed, "We are on firm historical ground here." F15
Bickersteth's interesting words on this cry are:
Usually the voice fails the dying man
... but Christ cried out just before
he expired, by that supernatural power
which his Godhead supplied to him ...
he did not die of necessity, but
voluntarily ... Victor Antiochanus
said, "By this action the Lord Jesus
proved that he had his whole life, and
his death, in his own free power." F16
And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.
This is numbered among the Calvary miracles, and a full treatment of the extensive symbolism of this event is found in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:53. Briefly, the veil symbolized the flesh of Christ himself, through which a new and living way has been opened for Christians (Hebrews 10:19). It means that the Old Testament must be understood in the light of the New Testament (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). It signifies the abolition of the old covenant, the victory over death, the rending of Christ's flesh in his death, and the granting of access of Christians to the presence of God himself.
And when the centurion, who stood by over against him, saw that he so gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.
The centurion ...
This was the officer in charge of the crucifixion. An early legend, or tradition, supported by Chrysostom, has it that this centurion was Longthus, "who was led by the miracles which accompanied the death of Christ" to become a Christian, later suffering martyrdom. F17 Whether the tradition is true or not, it is clear that the exclamation of this centurion supports all that Matthew recorded, concerning the earthquake, the supernatural darkness, the opening of the graves, etc.
Truly this man was the Son of God ...
It is ridiculous to tone this down by rendering it "a son of God"; for, as Cranfield noted, "The Greek text does not at all necessitate the rendering `a son.'" F18
And there were also women beholding from afar: among whom were both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome.
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Christ cast seven devils, another Mary, the mother of James the less and Joses, and Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, are the three women.
Beholding from afar ...
The relative distance of the women from the cross itself, appearing quite near in some accounts, and far away, as here, refers to different times of the day when the women were first in one place, then in another. The stereotyped view of the women standing stock still in a single spot all day is impossible of being true.
Who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him; and many other women that came up with him unto Jerusalem.
The Gospels present women as the spiritual leaders of the race. They were last with Jesus at the cross, first to behold his resurrection, and everywhere more perceptive than men. It was a woman that won the city of Sychar for Jesus, a woman that anointed him for burial; and here Mark recounts a multitude that followed him from Galilee. Thank God for women, without whose spiritual perception and fidelity the race of man would indeed be almost helpless. Blessed are their names which are written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3).
And when even was now come, because it was the Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath.
THE BURIAL OF JESUS
The day before the sabbath ...
This is generally understood to mean that it was Friday, but the scriptures do not teach any such thing. See in my Commentary on Luke under Luke 22:7.
WHAT DAY WAS JESUS CRUCIFIED?
This question, admittedly difficult, actually relates to the promise Jesus made in Matthew 12:40 that he would be "in the heart of the earth three days and three nights"; and the importance of it is such that a careful study of the problem is here presented.
For generations, the view that Christ was crucified on Friday has prevailed and, since he rose very early on the first day of the week, even while it was yet dark (John 20:1), and if he was buried shortly before sunset on Friday, such would limit his stay in the tomb to one day and two nights, contradicting the Scripture which says:
For as Jonah was three days and three
nights in the belly of the great fish;
so shall the Son of man be three days
and three nights in the heart of the
earth (Matthew 12:40).
Many devout students, in all ages, have found Friday crucifixion difficult of acceptance. R. A. Torrey, in 1907, wrote a book rejecting Friday as the day our Lord was crucified. F19 J. W. McGarvey gave a list of scholars who solved the problem by making Matthew 12:40 an interpolation. F20 And this writer must confess that the "explanations" which allegedly justify the Friday date have never been satisfactory.
THE ALLEGED EXPLANATION
The "three days and three nights" are held by many scholars to be a Jewish idiom meaning "any part of three days and three nights," as indicated by certain Old Testament passages: (a) Joseph put his brothers into ward "three days," yet he released them "the third day" (Genesis 41:17,18). (b) Rehoboam asked the people's delegation to "depart yet for three days, then come again to me ... All the people came to Rehoboam the third day as the king had appointed" (1 Kings 12:5,12). Queen Esther requested of her maidens that they "neither eat nor drink three days, night or day" ... "on the third day" she went to the king (Esther 4:16; 5:1). McGarvey was impressed with such examples, but he apparently did not notice the omission in every one of them of the key words "three nights." The Hebrew method of reckoning time was somewhat indefinite; but the proposition maintained here is that there are no known examples of "three days and three nights" being used idiomatically for part of three days and two nights!
McGarvey also made reference to Hebrew usage in the New Testament, in which Stephen said that Moses was "full forty years old," alleging, from this and other examples of the use of "whole" or "full" in connection with time periods, that if Jesus had meant three days and nights in their entirety, he would have used the term "full" three days and three nights. The view here is that the expression "three days and three nights" means exactly the same as if he had used "full," the use of such a word being made unnecessary by his mention of the three nights. The utter absence of the key words "three nights" from all of the Scriptures cited as proof of the alleged idiom disproves its existence: In fact, as far as has been determined by this student, there is no other example in the entire Bible except Jonah 1:17 and Jesus' quotations from that passage.
For these reasons, the idiom theory is not satisfactory. Torrey spoke thus:
There are many persons whom this
solution does not satisfy; and this
writer is free to confess that it does
not satisfy him at all. It seems to
me to be makeshift, and a very weak
It is refreshing to find that the distinguished Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Tennessee, in Christianity Today, March 29, 1974, questioned this idiom theory by pointing out that from Friday evening to early Sunday morning would be only a little more than 24 hours. "Can this be called three days and three nights? Really? Is not this just another supposition made to support a theory?" F22
WHEN WAS THE CRUCIFIXION?
I. It was on the Preparation of the feast of Passover, meaning the day before the Passover began; and, since the Passover always began on the 15th day of Nisan, that means Christ was crucified on the 14th of Nisan. All four of the gospels confirm this categorically: (a) Matthew related how, on the day after Jesus was buried, "Now on the morrow, which is the day after the Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together unto Pilate" requesting a guard at the grave (Matthew 27:62). (b) Mark recounted how Joseph begged the dead body of Jesus from Pilate on "the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath" (Mark 15:42). (c) Likewise Luke stated that the burial took place on "the day of Preparation, and the sabbath drew on" (Luke 23:53). (d) The apostle John records that the trial of Jesus before Pilate took place "on the Preparation of the Passover: it was about the sixth hour" (John 19:14). This makes it absolutely certain that Christ was crucified on the 14th of Nisan.
But, like any given day of the month, the 14th of Nisan could occur on any day of the week. Mark and John both mentioned that the Preparation was the day before the sabbath; and, if that had been all the information we have, it could be safely declared that Christ was crucified on Friday, which is the day before the ordinary sabbath, that is, Saturday. However, "that sabbath" was not an ordinary sabbath. John's gospel declares:
The Jews therefore, because it was the
Preparation, that the bodies should
not remain on the cross upon the
sabbath (for the day of that sabbath
was a high day), asked of Pilate that
their legs might be broken, and that
they might be taken away (John 19:31).
John's identification of the sabbath immediately after the Preparation mentioned by all the gospels makes it certain that it was not Saturday the ordinary sabbath at all, but another kind of sabbath. Exodus 12:16 instructed Israel to observe both the first and seventh days of the Passover week as days of rest and holy convocation upon which occasions no work at all could be done. Thus the 15th of Nisan was a sabbath regardless of what day of the week it was. These special sabbaths were called "high days," and John identified the sabbath following the Preparation as that kind of sabbath, "a high day."
The argument from John 19:31 against Friday crucifixion is reinforced by other considerations: (a) Harmonies of the gospel accepting Friday as the day of the crucifixion do not assign any event to Wednesday, skipping from Tuesday night to Thursday afternoon. F23 As Rusk said:
About one third of the Gospels is
taken up with the record of the events
of the last week of the life of
Christ. We might infer that such a
detailed account is intentional and is
designed to relate all the events of
this short time with the utmost
detail. Yet, in order to preserve the
hypothesis of the Friday crucifixion,
all harmonies of the gospels call for
an entire day on which there is no
account of any activity on the part of
Jesus, a day of silence in the midst
of this very busy week, a day usually
designated as Wednesday. The Gospels
say nothing about any such day of
silence. It is an invention designed
to support the Friday thesis. F24
(b) Jesus' fulfillment of the type seen in the passover lambs does not fit Friday crucifixion at all. If it is assumed that Christ was crucified on Friday, then the Passover began on Saturday, and "six days before the passover" (John 12:1) was Sunday when the supper was made for Jesus with Lazarus present, and the triumphal entry would then have been on Monday the day after that. That is clearly incorrect. However, if he was crucified on Thursday, then the supper was on Saturday "six days before the Friday Passover" and the triumphal entry was on Sunday, as generally acknowledged. All of this ties in with the Lord's being the antitype of the passover lamb. To have fulfilled, the type, Jesus had to be selected on the tenth day of Nisan, kept "shut up" until the fourteenth day, and slain in the afternoon of the fourteenth day. No event in the whole period can be viewed as the "selection" of Jesus except the triumphal entry. That event occurred on the tenth of Nisan, and the fourteenth would therefore be Thursday, and not Friday. In the intervening three days between the tenth and the fourteenth, Jesus appeared in Jerusalem many times, always within a sabbath day's journey, spending each night in Bethany. This would be the lamb "kept up," according to the type.
(a) A third source of corroboration for this view comes from Matthew's use of the plural "sabbaths" (Matthew 28:1). The Greek text in this place is specific, "end of the sabbaths," F25 showing that there were back-to-back sabbath days when our Lord slept in the tomb, these being Friday, the first day of the Nisan Passover, and Saturday immediately following, which was the ordinary sabbath. The theory of Friday crucifixion contradicts Matthew's revelation that there were plural sabbaths involved.
The above considerations have been considered by many students of the Bible for many years as sufficient grounds for believing in a Thursday crucifixion; but the matter could not be proved, really without a definite knowledge of exactly what year Jesus was crucified. This author wrote in his Commentary on Matthew in 1968 that "It can never be known what day of the week was the 15th of Nisan until the overriding question of what year is fixed" (my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 12:40).
The significance of this review of the question lies in the fact that Roger Rusk, Physics Professor Emeritus of the University of Tennessee, has recently related the scientific work of Herman H. Goldstine to the problem in hand. In Goldstine's book, New and Full Moons, an exciting new tool has been added for use in determining ancient dates. As Rusk said:
The principal equations describing the
positions and motions of the moon,
which require enormous quantities of
time for computation by hand, were fed
into a very sophisticated computer
that completed the calculations,
giving the exact times for some 66,000
new moons and full moons. These
calculations should now be taken into
account by all students of history who
seek a chronological scale for these
early centuries. F26
From these scientific calculations, Rusk calculated the following table for the years A.D. 25-36:
|THE NEW MOONS NEAR EQUINOX|
|25||March 7||9:39 PM||Thu||Fri||Sat||Fri||March 22|
|26||April 6||6:50 AM||Sat||Sat||Sun||Sat||April 20|
|27||March 26||8:24 PM||Wed||Thu||Fri||Thu||April 10|
|28||March 15||3:01 AM||Mon||Mon||Tue||Mon||March 29|
|29||April 2||8:06 PM||Sat||Sun||Mon||Sun||April 17|
|30||March 22||8:22 PM||Wed||Thu||Fri||Thu||April 6 |
|31||March 12||12:52 AM||Mon||Mon||Tue||Mon||March 26|
|32||March 29||10:31 PM||Sat||Sun||Mon||Sun||April 13|
|33||March 19||1:04 PM||Thu||Fri||Sat||Fri||April 3 |
|34||March 9||5:48 AM||Tue||Tue||Wed||Tue||March 23|
|35||April 7||2:03 PM||Wed||Thu||Fri||Thu||April 22|
|36||March 28||6:26 AM||Mon||Mon||Tue||Mon||April 11|
Only twice in this twelve-year period did the fourteenth of Nisan (the day our Lord suffered) fall on a Friday, namely, in 25 A.D. and in 33 A.D. This means that if the Lord suffered on Friday, he died in either 25 or 33 A.D., one of these days being too early and the other too late. But what about Thursday? The fourteenth of Nisan began on Thursday in 27 A.D. and in 30 A.D., the latter being the date usually agreed upon by scholars as the year of our Lord's death. Thus, scientific evidence harmonizes with Thursday crucifixion, but not Friday crucifixion.
Dogmatism is not in order when considering a question so long pondered with diverse conclusions; but we may safely say with Rusk:
The rules governing the observance of
Passover and the astronomical
limitations governing the application
of these rules combine to make
Thursday, April 6, A.D. 30, the most
plausible of the dates suggested for
the crucifixion of Christ. F27
Therefore, with regard to Mark 15:42, "the Preparation" means the day before Passover, thus the 14th of Nisan, which was the day our Lord suffered; and Mark's word here that it was the day before the sabbath cannot mean that it was Friday, but that it was the day before the high day (Nisan 15), also called a sabbath. In the light of this, there is no way to make the Last Supper coincide with the paschal meal; the Saviour was in the tomb when Israel ate the passover after sundown the night Jesus was crucified. Since all four Gospels concur in this fact, it is unaffected by any question of what day Jesus suffered, whether Thursday or Friday. See note under Luke 22:7 in my Commentary on Luke.
There came Joseph of Arimathaea, a councillor of honorable estate, who also himself was looking for the kingdom of God; and he boldly went in unto Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.
Again in the history of God's people, the Lord raised up a Joseph to meet some crisis. When the nation of the chosen people were threatened with famine, God sent Joseph ahead of them to sit next to the throne of Egypt and prepare the way before them. When the Christ child was an infant, it was the strong arm of Joseph that protected him from the hatred of Herod. Again, in this situation, when Peter and others had forsaken the Lord and fled, when it might have appeared that the Son of God would lie in the makeshift grave like the ones prepared for the robbers, God again raised up Joseph the honorable councillor. Nor was he alone. Nicodemus, another great and honorable man, joined in the project of arranging suitable burial for the Lord Jesus Christ. For a more extended discussion of the worthy Joseph of Arimathaea, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:57.
And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.
If the place of the crucifixion was the skull-shaped hill mentioned earlier, even an ordinary messenger in the employ of the governor could have covered the distance in less than five minutes; so the time factor here is of no great importance. Pilate's surprise was due to the fact that crucifixion was designed as a slow death; and for Jesus to have been dead so early, evidently at a time after Pilate's order to break his legs, and before such an order could have been carried out, was certainly phenomenal. A couple of important deductions hinge on the revelation here. The request of Joseph, coming after Pilate's order to break Jesus' legs and before the order was executed, resulted in Pilate's demanding a conference with the centurion in charge. This key fact accounts for the independent action of the soldiers in changing their orders by not breaking Jesus' legs and, instead, thrusting a spear into his side, conduct which would have been impossible had the centurion been present. Therefore, the absence of the centurion was providential.
The second deduction from the event here is that the death of Christ so quickly was almost unbelievable to the governor, even to the extent of his rejecting the report as false until he checked it with his centurion. The conclusion is reached that Christ did not die of crucifixion at all, there having been insufficient time for it, but that, as he said he would do, he laid down his life of his own accord. This also harmonizes with Mark 15:37, which see.
And when he learned it of the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph.
Here appears corroboration at the highest official level of the fact of Jesus' actual death. The swoon theory of the resurrection cannot stand against the evidence here. Pilate made sure that it was a corpse that he released to Joseph; and as the Scriptures foretold, Jesus died.
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.
Sanner noted five aspects of Joseph's ministry to the Lord thus:
He purchased fine linen (Mark 15:46),
removed the body from the cross and
wrapped it in the linen shroud (see
John 19:40), laid him in his own new
rock-hewn sepulchre (which was in a
garden on a nearby hillside), and
rolled a heavy stone against the door
of the tomb as a protection against
Note, however, the difference in what Mark here said and the significant variation from it in Sanner's comment. It is perfectly natural to suppose that Mark actually meant that they "wrapped" Jesus in a "shroud." Countless faithful students of God's word have made the same erroneous deduction. Nevertheless, it was a far different thing that took place. From Luke and John, it is clear that the linen cloth was first cut into small medical-type bandages, and that these were "wound" around Jesus' body, a far different thing from wrapping. Mark is exactly correct in the use of the word "wound." See the article in my Commentary on John, i.e. the parallel section concerning the grave-clothes of Jesus.
He rolled a stone against the door of the tomb ...
It is exactly here that Satan would have delighted to close the sacred Gospel. With the Christ dead and buried, Satan would no longer have suffered any restraint in the execution of his ancient purpose to destroy the Adamic creation. God, however, was not at all hindered by stones deployed by the hands of men. For discussion of Thomas Jefferson's New Testament and his ending of the Gospel at this verse, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:59-60. In addition to the stone that Joseph quite properly placed against the door of the sepulchre, the governor, acting on suggestions from the priests, provided an armed guard at the tomb and sealed it with the official seal of the Roman government. Very neat; but the Son of God rose anyway! No grave could contain the Prince of Life!
And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus beheld where he was laid.
The granting of precedence in this verse to Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Lord had cast seven devils, and the mention of her name ahead of that of Mary the mother of Jesus, defies any human explanation of it. Such unexpected and utterly amazing elements in the gospel of Christ afford incidental but overwhelmingly persuasive evidence of the divine nature of the sacred records. No forger could ever have thought of anything like this; nor can it be supposed that any mistake has been made. It was not to Mary his mother, but to Mary Magdalene, that Jesus first appeared after he was risen from the dead. Surely God's ways are not like the ways of men.
Footnotes for Mark 15
1: C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to St. Mark (Cambridge: The University Press, 1966), p. 458.
2: A. Elwood Sanner, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964) p. 400.
3: E. Bickersteth, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16, p. 303.
4: Henry E. Turlington, Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1946), p. 394.
5: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 305.
6: A. Elwood Sanner, op. cit., p. 404.
7: H. D. A. Major, The Gospel according to St. Mark (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1939), p. 189.
8: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 305.
9: Ibid., p. 306.
10: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Whole Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 732.
11: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 455.
12: bid., p. 457.
13: Ibid., p. 458.
16: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 309.
17: Ibid., p. 310.
18: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 460.
19: R. A. Torrey, Difficulties in the Bible (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907).
20: J. W. McGarvey, Jesus and Jonah (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Standard Publishing Company, 1896), p. 6.
21: R. A. Torrey, op. cit., p. 104.
22: Roger Rusk. "The Day He Died" (Christianity Today, Vol. 18, No. 19), p. 4 (720).
23: A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), pp. 188-189.
24: Roger Rusk, op. cit., p. 4 (720).
25: Nestle Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972).
26: Roger Rusk, op. cit., p. 6 (722).
28: A. Elwood Sanner, op. cit., p. 410.
29: Earle McMillan, op. cit., p. 157.
30: Tom U. Fauntleroy, a private manuscript (Paducah, Kentucky, 1974).
31: J. E. H. Thompson, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 276.
32: Ibid., p. 269.
33: Josephus, op. cit., p. 758.
34: Ibid., p. 746.
35: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 199.
36: Josephus, op. cit., p. 702.
37: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 402.
38: A. Elwood Sanner. op. cit., v. 383.
39: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 402.
40: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 704.
41: C. E. B. Cranfield, op cit., p. 404.
42: A. Elwood Sanner, op. cit., p. 384.
43: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 201.
44: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 408.
45: Ibid., p. 409.
46: John Wesley, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), en loco.
47: Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel according to Mark (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), p. 197.
48: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 202.
49: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 411.
50: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1955), p. 379.