Gospel of Mark

Mark 15 is the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It continues Jesus' Passion with his trial before Pontius Pilate and then his crucifixion, death and burial.

Trial before Pilate

It is early in the morning. The Sanhedrin reaches a decision and hands Jesus over to Pilate. Pilate was the Roman Prefect (governor) of Iudaea Province from 26 to 36, which was the Roman combination of Idumea, Judea and Samaria and did not include Galilee, which was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. According to Matthew the Sanhedrin had decided to execute him. Only the Romans were allowed to execute someone, not the local officials, according to John 18:31 yet Acts 6:12 records the sanhedrin ordering the stoning of Saint Stephen and also James the Just according to Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1. "Pilate asked him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' He answered him, 'You say so.'" (Mark 15:2) An interpretation is that Pilate is asking Jesus if he is the messiah, just as the high priest before in Mark 14:61, only with an explicit emphasis on the Messiah's political role, that of Jewish King.[1] According to John in response to Pilate's question Jesus has a short conversation with Pilate and then answers, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." Historically it is likely that perceived insurrection against Rome was for what Pilate executed Jesus.[2] According to Mark 12:17 however Jesus said one should pay the Roman tax and was thus not a revolutionary. The Jesus Seminar reached the conclusion that the temple incident was the cause of the crucifixion.

The chief priests accuse him of several unnamed things but Jesus gives no reply, and Pilate asks him for one but he still remains silent, which amazes Pilate. According to Luke Pilate at this point sent Jesus to Herod Antipas because Jesus, as a Galilean, was under his jurisdiction. Herod was excited to see Jesus at first but ended up mocking him and sending him back to Pilate.

According to Mark it was a custom to release a prisoner at Passover, which was a celebration of freedom. No other historical record of the time records Pilate doing this, and he is known to have been cruel, for which he was eventually expelled from his post.[3] (JA18.4.2) All the other Gospels however also agree with Mark on this tradition. Perhaps Pilate did this once or a few times[1] or the Gospels accurately record this tradition that other sources fail to mention. The Jesus Seminar argued doing this during a volatile situation like this would be unlikely.[4]

According to Matthew Pilate received a message from his wife that she believed Jesus was innocent because of a disturbing dream she had just had. He asks the crowd if they want the King of the Jews released to them, because according to Mark Pilate knew the priests were envious of Jesus and so presumably wanted to free him without a fight with them.


Ecce Homo (Behold, the Man!), Antonio Ciseri, 19th c.: Pontius Pilate presents a scourged Jesus of Nazareth to onlookers

The priests however convince the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas, a prisoner. Mark says he was in prison "with" insurrectionists, which could mean he was one. Both Luke and John say he was a revolutionary. Jesus seems to have already been declared guilty as this seems a choice between releasing two prisoners.[1]

Pilate then asks what should be done with Jesus. They say he should be crucified, but Pilate asks what he is guilty of. They still demand he be crucified so Pilate turns Barabbas over to the crowd and has Jesus flogged and then sent out to be crucified. Matthew has Pilate washing his hands and declaring the crowd responsible, which the crowd accepts.

For his flogging Jesus would have been tied to a pillar, and hit with bone or metal studded whips.[5] Crucifixion was a particularly shameful form of death, with a stigma put onto even the condemned's family.[6]

Roman magistrates has wide discretion in executing their tasks, and some question whether Pilate would have been so captive to the demands of the crowd. Summarily executing someone to calm the situation however would have been a tool a Roman governor would have used.[7]

The soldiers mock Jesus

Tizian 020

Thorn Coronation by Titian

Mark says the soldiers took Jesus to the Praetorium, either Herod's palace or the Fortress Antonia.[5] They gather together all the other soldiers. These were probably mostly recruits from the area of Palestine or Syria.[5]

The soldiers put a purple robe on Jesus and put a crown of thorns on his head and mockingly hail him as the King of the Jews. They hit him in the head with a staff and pay fake homage to him. According to Matthew they put the staff in his hand first before beating him with it. They dress him in his own clothes and take him out to be crucified. According to John they left his purple robe and crown on.

Jesus is given the trappings of a King. Purple is a royal color. He wears a crown and is hit with a staff, also a royal symbol. This whole scene is colored with divine irony, as everything the soldiers do to mock Jesus' claim of being a King is used by Mark to show this, at the height of the Passion, as Jesus' crowning as messiah according to God's plan.[8]

According to John after the flogging Pilate brought Jesus back a second time and tried to convince the crowd that he was innocent but the crowd still demanded Jesus' death and so then Pilate had him crucified. Luke has no account of the soldiers beating Jesus.

Jesus' crucifixion

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 075

<center>The Way of the Cross of Christ, Ascent to Calvary by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Israel 5 010 Via Dolorosa- Walk in Jerusalem, with Jesus Christ-Actor and Press

Reenacting the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa from the Lions' Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Golgotha cross-section

A diagram of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre based on a German documentary, claimed to be the site of Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus.

Albrecht Altdorfer 016

<center>Crucifixion of Christ by Albrecht Altdorfer

On the way to their final destination the soldiers force a man passing by, Simon of Cyrene, to carry Jesus' cross for him, though Mark does not say why. Cyrene was in North Africa and Simon would have moved from there or would have been visiting. Mark lists his children, Alexander and Rufus. That Mark takes the time to list only their names suggests they might have been Early Christians known to Mark's intended audience.[5] Paul also lists a Rufus in Romans 16:13. Luke has Jesus talking to some of his women followers along the way.

They arrive at Golgotha, which Mark says means the place of the skull. This was probably an exhausted rock quarry whose remaining rock had been damaged in an earthquake.[9]

They offer Jesus wine laced with myrrh to lessen the pain, but he refuses. Mark then simply says they crucified him. They then take his cloths and divide lots to distribute them. People have seen a relationship with this and Psalm 22:18, which John actually quotes as a fulfillment of prophecy.

According to Mark is was the "third hour" when Jesus was crucified. This would be the third hour of daylight, or about 9:00 AM. John however says Jesus was condemned to death around the sixth hour, or noon. The charge listed on Jesus' cross is "THE KING OF THE JEWS" (INRI) According to John the chief priests complained to Pilate about this but he refused to change the charge.

Two robbers were also crucified on each side of him. Luke has the robbers' conversation with Jesus. People come by and insult Jesus and mock him for claiming he would destroy and then rebuild Herod's Temple in three days, which Jesus has not said so far in Mark but was falsely accused of claiming to destroy the "man-made" Temple and rebuilt it in three days in Mark 14:57–58. The chief priests are also there and say that if he is really the Christ they he should be able to come down from the cross and save himself as he had saved others, a reference to his many miracles earlier in Mark.

Mark relates these two mockings to perhaps highlight the question of why, if Jesus is indeed the messiah, can he not save himself from being put to death. Mark refutes these two charges later when Jesus rebuilds the Temple of his body and not only overcomes the cross but death itself in Mark 16.[10] Mark might be stressing that if one follows Jesus, who Mark believes is the messiah, then one can expect help from God, such as Jesus' miracles, but one will not be saved from the pains of this world, and indeed in some way they are necessary to achieve a greater goal as Jesus' death is necessary for his role as the messiah.

The death of Jesus

According to Mark:

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias. And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

The soldier might be recognizing something that no one else could and thus vindicating Jesus,[11] or he might be saying this sarcastically.[12] This statement may bring the Gospel full circle to Mark 1:1 where Jesus is identified by the writer as "the Son of God" (only in some versions, see Mark 1 for details). Luke records that he said that Jesus was a righteous man. Matthew adds that at the moment of Jesus' death tombs in Jerusalem were opened and many bodies of "the saints" were raised from the dead. They were seen subsequently in the "holy city," Jerusalem, by many (Matthew 27:53–54).

Jesus' cry to God is the prayer of Psalm 22 about abandonment but eventual salvation. According to Luke he also/or said "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." John has the statement "It is finished." They mistake Eloi for Elijah and put the vinegar up to him to wake him up. People have seen a link between the vinegar and Psalm 69:21. According to Matthew it was wine vinegar. Luke says the soldiers gave it to him and mocked him while they did it. According to John Jesus asked for it and drank it right before his death. This raises the idea that Jesus' words in Mark 14 at the last supper, "I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until I drink it anew in the Kingdom of God," being fulfilled here. Jesus' suffering on the cross has redeemed the fallen creation from the curse, and the kingdom of God has in some sense been initiated here at the cross. Elijah appeared in Mark 9.

Some have interpreted the "darkness" as an eclipse, see also Crucifixion eclipse, but a solar eclipse is impossible during the full moon such as at Passover. It could simply mean an overcast day, although Mark certainly uses it for dramatic effect here. Each stated time, three, six, and nine, grown increasingly worse, as Jesus is first mocked, then the darkness, then his death.

The veil of the Temple was the barrier between the inner Temple, thought to be God's place on Earth, and the rest. Its' destruction is a vindication of Jesus. This might be a metaphor for God now no longer being separated but free for all the world.[13] Given the imagery of the temple veil (there were cherubim woven into it, like the cherub set as guard over the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve were cast out) as a symbol of the barrier between the Holy God and sinful men, the rending of the veil indicates a propitiation of God's wrath.

According to John Jesus' mother Mary and her sister Mary were there with the Disciple whom Jesus loved and Jesus told the disciple to take Mary into his home.

Jesus' entombment

For the subject in art, see Entombment of Christ

Pieter Lastman - Graflegging

<center>Entombment of Christ by Pieter Lastman

It is notable that according to Mark that it is only Jesus' women followers who are now still with him:

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (40–41)

Mary Magdalene has not been mentioned so far in Mark, and the other Mary is perhaps Jesus' mother Mary as she is also mentioned as James' mother in Mark 6:3. She could also be another Mary, perhaps another relative.[14] Salome was James' and John's mother. The fact the Mark has not explicitly related any of Jesus' interaction with them shows that Mark has left out many of the events of the life of the "Historical Jesus" and only related events he deems necessary to make his points about Jesus.[15]

John says the soldiers were told to take down the bodies for the Sabbath and broke the other two men's legs but stabbed Jesus with a spear to make sure he was dead. John claims this is eye witness testimony.

Evening is approaching and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the sanhedrin, who was also waiting for the "Kingdom of God," goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus' body. The Scholars Version[16] notes this as "unexpected .. Is Joseph in effect bringing Jesus into his family?" As the next day was the Sabbath Jesus would have to have been buried before sundown or then not until the next night. According to Mosaic law if someone was hanged on a tree they were not to remain there at night.[11] (Deuteronomy 21:22–23) Pilate is surprised Jesus had died so soon and asks for confirmation and then gives Joseph Jesus' body.

Joseph wraps it in linen and puts it in a sepulchre, rolls a stone over the entrance, and leaves. According to John he was assisted by the Pharisee Nicodemus. The Marys see this and serve as Mark's witnesses to the events of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. Bodies were normally anointed, but there seems to be no time here. John however says Nicodemus wrapped up Jesus' body with spices, which seems to be anointing. The tomb, one of many around Jerusalem, was a limestone cave and Jesus' body would have been laid on a pre-cut shelf, and then most bodies would have been left for a year.[5]

Jesus largely passively underwent all this, only speaking twice. Many have seen this as fulfillment of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:7

Jesus' trial before Pilate and his crucifixion, death, and burial are also found in Matthew 27, Luke 23, and John 18:28–19:42.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Brown et al. 627
  2. Brown et al. 628
  3. Kilgallen 281
  4. Miller 49
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Brown et al. 628
  6. Kilgallen 284
  7. Miller 49–50
  8. Miller 50
  9. Kilgallen 286
  10. Kilgallen 288
  11. 11.0 11.1 Brown 147
  12. Miller 51
  13. Kilgallen 291
  14. Kilgallen 293
  15. Kilgallen 294
  16. Miller, p. 51


  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0–385–24767–2
  • Brown, Raymond E. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice Hall 1990 ISBN 0–13–614934–0
  • Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press 1989 ISBN 0–8091–3059–9
  • Mark 15 NIV Accessed 13 April 2006
  • Miller, Robert J. Editor The Complete Gospels Polebridge Press 1994 ISBN 0–06–065587–9


<Center>Chapters of the Bible
<Center>Preceded by:
<Center>Mark 14
Gospel of Mark <Center>Followed by:
<Center>Mark 16

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