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The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 15

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus Crucified

Jesus Crucified

In the penultimate chapter of Mark, Jesus is brought before the Roman authorities, sentenced to die, and crucified. The narrative of Jesus’ final day is carefully structured according to Roman customs of keeping time in three-hour intervals.

Jesus Appears Before Pilate (Mark 15:1-5)
Jesus’ appearance before Pontius Pilate presents the reader with at least as many historical problems as did Jesus’ appearance before the Sanhedrin. Almost nothing here is historically plausible, but historical accuracy was probably not Mark’s goal: there were larger theological and political objectives to pursue.

Jesus or Barabbas? Jesus is Sentenced to Die (Mark 15:6-15)
The historically inaccurate image of an indecisive Pilate is continued when he offers to release either Jesus or Barabbas to the crowds of Jews. Pilate is depicted as almost desperate to find an excuse to let Jesus go, but the blood lust of the Jews forces him to execute an innocent man.

Mockery of Jesus (Mark 15:16-20)
It’s true that beating prisoners was a Roman practice, but the scourging and mocking of Jesus is likely presented by Mark because it fulfills certain Jewish prophecies. Micah 5:1, in particular, declares that “with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel on the cheek.”

Crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:21-32)
Crucifixion may be one of the most horrible methods of execution ever invented. A person is nailed to a cross or stake and hangs there until their own weight suffocates them. The horrors of crucifixion are, however, glossed over by Mark in favor of the deeper theological meanings behind these events.

Death of Jesus (Mark 15:33-41)
Jesus’ death was not only foretold, but depicted as a necessary step in God’s plan for humanity. There was never any choice in the matter — Jesus didn’t choose to take on this task and didn’t choose to die. It was God’s will, not his own, that all of this happen. This is the essence of the “good news” of Christianity: if God wants you to suffer horribly and die for the sake of some greater cause that you’ll never be able to understand, then that’s exactly what you are going to do.

Burial of Jesus (Mark 15:42-47)
Jesus’ burial is important because without it, there can be no tomb from which Jesus can arise in three days. It’s also historically implausible: crucifixion was intended as a shameful, horrible execution which included allowing the bodies to remain nailed up until they rotted off. It’s inconceivable that Pilate would have agreed to turn the body over to anyone for any reason.

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