Summary: The death of Jesus Christ is at the same time the deepest darkest day in human history and the beginning of the most promising era in human history. Though the physical agony great, the spiritual agony was even greater for our Lord.
Mark chapter 15 contains three main elements—the time before Pilate, the crucifixion, and the burial. All of Jesus’ life and His entire three-year public ministry focused toward this point. It is mankind’s darkest hour but is the beginning of a turning point in the history of the universe.
The Sanhedrin had met the night before and condemned Jesus, but because decisions made at night were not binding, they needed to come together to legitimize their actions. And also because the Jews were not permitted under Roman law to put anyone to death, they had to turn Him over to the Roman authorities, which in this case was Pontius Pilate, who served as governor from A.D. 26 – 36. That they tied Him up is unusually cruel to me, but I suppose they wanted to make Him look like a criminal to Pilate.
2 – 5
This is a much abbreviated version of the times that Jesus spent before Pilate. Mark seems to emphasize Jesus’ kingship. Pilate’s question about being “King of the Jews” is the first time it is used in this gospel, but is repeated several times. The charge against Jesus to Pilate was treason. Mark records that Jesus answered Pilate’s direct question, but still refused to lower Himself to argue about the other accusations the religious leaders brought. Pilate was amazed because he held Jesus’ life in his hands (or at least he thought he did). Pilate did send Jesus to Herod Antipas in an effort to extricate himself from this tangle, but it didn’t work so he tried another trick.
6 – 11
The religious leaders were pretty good and moving the people because they held such power over them, so it should come as no surprise that they “stirred up” the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas, a known murderer, over Jesus. So the religious leaders wanted a murderer released – ironic as they were committing murder themselves!
Pilate was no political slouch and recognized the real motivation of the chief priests, but had difficulty when it came to overcoming the crowd. Pilate was known as a pretty cruel person, but was in a bit of a jam because if he didn’t go along with the crowd a riot might ensue which could get him in trouble with Rome. In fact, that’s exactly what happened later and Pilate was removed as governor.
12 – 15
So we see here that both the religious trial (Mark 14:53-59) and the civil trial (Mark 15:2-15) resulted in a no guilty verdict against Jesus. An innocent man was about to be crucified, but Pilate was not strong enough to withstand the shouts. I don’t think he really cared about Jesus or the crowd, or the religious leaders at all—he simply wanted to keep his job and his power so he lets it happen.
16 – 20
In Chapter 14 it was the temple police and the religious leaders who took turns striking Jesus. Now it is the Roman military’s turn. A large group of soldiers mock Jesus. My guess is that these soldiers had nothing personally against Jesus like the religious leaders, but hated the Jews and hated being posted in this backwater called Palestine. Here was a man claiming to be the Jews’ King so it made some perverse sense for them to transfer their frustration on to this man as a stand-in for all Jews. “If they weren’t so rebellious all of the time we wouldn’t need to be here!” they might have said. This doesn’t absolve them in any way. It actually fulfills Scripture:
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn't value Him.
Isaiah 52:14 As many were astonished at you; so his appearance was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. (NKJV).
Purple was a royal color but all of this was meant to mock, not honor. I’ll have to say on this next time.
21 – 22
Four soldiers, under the command of a centurion, would have left the headquarters, headed for Golgotha. Jesus was required to carry the cross beam on His shoulders, weighing in at a hundred pounds of rough-hewn timber. Already greatly weakened by the beatings, Jesus could not withstand the weight of the cross so the soldiers pressed Simon into service. This was legal for the soldiers to do, but imagine what was going through Simon’s mind—and the minds of his two sons. Simon was from North Africa and had no doubt come into Jerusalem for the Passover. Romans 16:13 suggests that at least Rufus came to faith in Christ. Jesus said “take up your cross and follow Me.” Simon was the only man who ever lived who could say he had literally done that. I’m sure it didn’t feel like an honor then, but it does now.