Mark 15The foregoing chapter gave us an account of Judas's treason, in delivering our Saviour into the hands of the chief priests. In this chapter we find our Lord brought by the chief priests unto Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, in order to his condemnation.
Whence observe, That it has been the old policy of corrupt church-governors to abuse the power of the civil magistrate, in executing their cruel and unjust censures and sentences upon holy and innocent persons. The chief priests and elders do not kill our Saviour themselves, for it was not lawful for them to put any man to death, being themselves under the power of the Roman government; accordingly they deliver Christ over to the secular power, and desire Pilate, the civil magistrate, to sentence and condemn him.
It is very observable, how readily our Saviour answers before Pilate; Pilate said, Art thou the king of the Jews? Jesus answered, Thou sayest it; or, it is as thou sayest. But to all the accusations of the chief priests, and to all that they falsely laid to his charge before Pilate, our Saviour answered never a word. He answered Pilate, but would not answer the chief priests a word before Pilate, probably for these reasons, because his innocency was such as needed no apology; because their calumnies and accusations were so notoriously false, that they needed no confutation: to shew his contempt of death, and teach us, by his example, to despise the false accusations of malicious men, and to learn us patience and submission, when for his sake we are slandered and traduced; for these reasons our Saviour was a deaf man, not answering the calumnies of the chief priests; but when Pilate asks him a question, which our Saviour knew that a direct answer to would cost him his life, Art thou the king of the Jews? He replies, I am.
Hence, says the apostle, that Jesus Christ before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession 1Tim 6:13. Teaching us, That although we may, and sometimes ought to hold our peace, when our own reputation is concerned, yet must we never be silent when the honour of God and his truth may effectually be promoted by a full confession: For, says Christ, whosoever denies me before man, him will I deny in the presence of my Father, and before all his holy angels.
Now at that feast, that is, at the feast of the passover, which by way of eminency is called the feast, the governor used to release a prisoner; possibly by way of memorial of their deliverance out of Egypt; accordingly Pilate makes a motion that Christ may be the prisoner set at liberty in honour of their feast; for he was sensible that what they did was out of envy and malice.
Observe here, 1. What were the sins which immediately occasion the death of Christ; they were covetousness and envy. Covetousness caused Judas to sell him to the chief priests, and envy caused the chief priests to deliver him up to Pilate to crucify him. Envy is a killing and murdering passion; Envy slayeth the silly one Job 5:2, That is, it slayeth the silly person who harbours this petilent lust in his breast and bosom; being like a fire in his bones, continually preying upon his spirits; and it is also the occasion of slaying many an holy and innocent person; for who can stand before envy? The person envying wishes the envied out of his way, yea, out of the world; and if need be, will not only wish it, but lend a lift upon occasion towards it also. Witness the chief priests here, whose envy was so conspicuous and barefaced, that Pilate himself takes notice of it; he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
Observe, 2. How unwilling, how very unwilling, Pilate was to be the instrument of our Saviour's death. One while he expostulates with the chief priests, saying, What evil hath he done? Another while he bids him while he bids them, Take him, and judge him according to their law. Nay St. Luke says, that Pilate came forth three several times, professing, That he found no fault in him, Luke 23:1-56.
From whence note, That hypocrites within the visible church may be guilty of such tremendous acts of wickedness, as the consciences of infidels and pagans without the church may boggle at, and protest against. Pilate a pagan, absolves Christ, whilst the hypocritical Jews, that heard his doctrine, and saw his miracles, do condemn him.
Observe, lastly, How Pilate suffers himself to be overcome with the Jews importunity, and, contrary to the light of his own reason and judgment, delivers the holy and innocent Jesus, first to be scourged, and then crucified, It is a vain apology for sin, when persons pretend that it was not committed with their own consent, but at the instigation and importunity of others; such is the frame and constitution of man's soul, that none can make him either wicked or miserable without his own consent. Pilate, willing to content the people, When he had scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Here observe, That as the death of the cross was a Roman punishment, so it was the manner of the Romans first to whip their malefactors and then crucify them. Now the manner of the Romans scourging is said to be thus: "They stripped the condemned person, and bound him to a post; two strong men first scourged him with rods of thorns, then two others scourged him with whips of cords full of knots, and last of all two more with whips of wire, and therewith tore off the very flesh and skin from the malefactor's back and sides."
That our blessed Saviour was thus cruely scourged by Pilate's command, seems to some not improbable, from that of the psalmist, The ploughers ploughed upon my back, and made long furrows Ps 129:3: which if spoken prophetically of Christ, was literally fulfilled in the day of his scourging. But why was the precious and tender body of our holy Lord thus galled, rent, and torn with scourging? Doubtless to fulfil that prophecy, I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that pluck off the hair; that by his stripes we might be healed Isa 50:6;
and from his example, learn, Not to think it strange, if we find ourselves scourged with the tongue, with the hand, or with both, when we see our dear Redeemer bleeding by stripes and scourges before our eyes.
The next part of our Saviour's sufferings, consisted of cruel mockings; he had owned himself to be the King of the Jews; that is, a spiritual King in and over his church; but the Jews expecting that the Messiah should have appeared in the pomp of an earthly prince, and finding themselves disappointed of their expectation in our Saviour, they look upon him as a deceiver and imposter; and accordingly treat him as a mock-king,with all the marks of derision and scorn; for first they put a crown upon his head, but a very ignominious and cruel one, a crown of thorns; they place a sceptre in his hand, but that of a reed; a robe of scarlet or purple upon his body, and then bowed their knees before him as they were wont to do before their princes, crying, Hail, King.
Thus were all the marks of scorn imaginable put upon our dear Redeemer; yet what they did in jest, God permitted to be in earnest. For all these things were signs and marks of sovereignty; and Almighty God caused the regal dignity of his Son to shine forth, even in the midst of his greatest abasement; whence was all this jeering and sport, but to flout majesty? And why did Christ undergo all this ignominy, disgrace, and shame, but to shew what was due unto us for our sins? as also to give us an example to bear all the scorn, reproach, and shame imaginable for his sake; who for the joy that was set before him, despised the shame, as well as endured the cross.
The sentence of death being passed by Pilate, who can, with dry eyes, behold the sad pomp of our Saviour's bloody execution? Forth comes the blessed Jesus out of Pilate's gate, bearing that cross which soon after was to bear him; with his cross on his shoulder, he marches towards Golgotha; and when they see he can go no faster, they force Simon the Cyrenian, not out of compassion but indignation, to be the porter of his cross. This Cyrenian being a Gentile, not a Jew, that bare our Saviour's cross, thereby might be signified that the Gentiles should have a part in Christ, as well as the Jews, and be sharers with them in the benefits of the cross. At length our holy Lord comes to Golgotha, the place of his bitter and bloody execution; here, in a public place, with infamous company, betwixt two thieves, is he crucified; that is, fastened to a great cross of wood, his hands stretched forth abroad, and his feet closed together, and both hands and feet fastened with nails; his naked body lifted up in the air, hanging betwixt heaven and earth; signifying thereby, that the crucified person deserved to live in neither. This shameful, painful, and accursed death, did the holy and innocent Jesus suffer and undergo, for shameless sinners.
Some observe all the dimensions of length, breadth, depth, and height, in our Saviour's sufferings;
for length, his passion was several hours long, from twelve to three, exposed all that time both to hungerand cold. The thieves that were crucified with him, endured only personal pains, but he underwent the miseries of all mankind.
As to its breadth, his passion extended over all the powers and parts of his soul and body; no part free but his powers and parts of his soul and body; no part free but his tongue, which was at liberty to pray for his enemies.
His sight was tormented with the scornful gestures of those who passed by, wagging their heads;
his hearing grieved with taunts and jeers of the priests and people;
his smelling offended with noisome savours in the place of skulls;
his taste with the gall and vinegar given him to drink;
his feeling was wonderfully affected by the nails which pierced his tender nerves with a multiplicity of wounds;
and for the depth of his passion, it was as deep as hell itself; enduring tortures in his soul, as well as torments in his body; groaning under the burthen of desertion, and crying out, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Lastly, For the height of his passion, his sufferings were as high as heaven, his person being infinite as well as innocent, no less than the Son of God, which adds infinite worth and value to his sufferings, Lord, Let us be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth and length, depth and height, of our Saviour's love, in suffering for us, and let us know that love of his which passeth knowledge.
Observe next, The inscription wrote by Pilate over our suffering Saviour, This is Jesus the King of the Jews; it was the manner of the Romans, when they crucified a malefactor to publish the cause of his death in capital letters, placed over the head of the person.
Now it is observable, How wonderfully the wisdom of God over-rules the heart and pen of Pilate to draw this title, which was truly honourable, and fix it to his cross; Pilate is Christ's herald, and proclaims him King of the Jews.
Learn hence, That the regal dignity of Christ was proclaimed by an enemy, and that in a time of his greatest sufferings and reproaches; Pilate, without his own knowledge, did our Saviour an eminent piece of service; he did that for Christ which none of his own disciples durst do; not that he did it designedly, but from the special over-ruling providence of God; no thanks to Pilate for all this, because the highest services performed to Christ undesignedly, shall neither be accepted nor rewarded by God.
Observe farther, The several aggravations of our Lord's sufferings upon the cross.
1. From the company, he suffered with two thieves; it had been a sufficient disparagement to our blessed Saviour to have been sorted with the best of men; but to be numbered with the scum of mankind, is such an indignity, as confounds our thoughts. This was designed by the Jews to dishonour and disgrace our Saviour the more, and persuade the world that he was the greatest of offenders; but God over-ruled this also, for fulfilling an ancient prophecy concerning the Messiah, And he was numbered with the transgressors Isa 53:12.
2. Another aggravation of our Lord's sufferings upon the cross, was the scorn and mocking derision which he met with in his dying moments, both from the common people, from their chief priests, and from the thieves that suffered with him. The common people reviled him, wagging their heads; the chief priests, though men of age and gravity, yet barbarously mocked him in his misery; and not only so, but they atheistically scoff and jeer at his faith and affiance in God, saying, He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, if he would have him.
Where note, That persecutors are generally atheistical scoffers; the chief priests and elders, though knowing men, yet they blaspheme God; they mock at his power, and deride his providence, which is as bad as to deny his being; so that from hence we may gather, That those who administer to God in holy things, by way of office, if they be not the best, they are the worst, of men. No such bitter enemies to the power of godliness, as the ministers of religion, who were never acquainted with the efficacy and power of it upon their own hearts and lives. Nothing on this side hell is worse than a wicked priest, a minister of God devoted to the service of the devil.
A third aggravation of our Lord's sufferings upon the cross, was this, that the thieves that suffered with him, reviled him with the rest; that is, one of them, as St. Luke has it, or perhaps both of them might do it at first; which, if so, increases the wonder of the penitent thief's conversion.
From the impenitent thief's reviling Christ, we learn, That neither shame nor pain will change the mind of a resolute sinner, but even then, when he is in the suburbs of hell, will he blaspheme: They that were crucified with him, reviled him.
But the most aggravating circumstance of all the rest in our Lord's sufferings, was this, That he was forsaken of his Father; My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Thence learn, That the Lord Jesus Christ, when suffering for our sins, was really deserted and forsaken by his Father, and left destitute, of all sensible consolation! Why hast thou forsaken me?
Learn farther, That under this desertion, Christ despaired not, but still retained a firm persuasion of God's love unto him, and experienced necessary supports from him: My God, My God, these are words of affiance and faith.
Christ was thus forsaken for us, that we might never be forsaken by God; yet by God's forsaking of Christ, we are not to understand any abatement of divine love, but only a witdrawing from the human nature the sense of his love, and a letting out upon his soul, a deep, afflicting sense of his displeasure against sin.
There is a twofold desertion; the one total, final, and eternal, by which God utterly forsakes a person, both as to grace and glory, being for sin wholly cast out of God's presence, and adjudged to eternal torments. This Christ was not capable of, nor could the dignity of this person admit it.
The other is a partial, temporary desertion; when God for a little moment hides his face from his children. Now this was most agreeable to Christ's nature, and also suitable to his office, who was to satisfy the justice of God for our forsaking of him, and to bring us back again to God, that we might be received forever.
Observe lastly, What a miraculous evidence Christ gave of his Godhead; instantly before he gave up the ghost, he cried with a loud voice. This shews he did not die according to the ordinary course of nature, gradually drawing on, as we express it; but his life was whole in him to the last, and nature as strong as ti was at first.
Other men die by degrees, and towards their end their sense of pain is much blunted: but Christ stood under the pains of death in his full strength, and his life was whole and entire in him to the very last momnent. This was evident by the mighty outcry he made when he gave up the ghost that could cry with such a loud voice as he did (in articulo mortis) could have kept himself from dying if he would.
Hence we learn, That when Christ died, he rather conquered death, than was conquered by it, he must voluntarily and freely lay down his life, before death could come at him. Thus died Christ, the captain of our salvation; and, like Sampson, became more victorious by his death, than he was in his life.
Three circumstances are here observable; 1. A stupendous prodigy happening upon the death of our Saviour, The veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom: The veil was a hanging which parted the most holy place from the holy sanctuary. By the rending of which, God testified that he was now about to forsake his temple; that the ceremonial law, was now abolished by the death of Christ, and that by the blood of Jesus we have access unto God, and may enter into the holy of holies. See the note on Matt 27:51.
Observe, 2. What influence the manner and circumstances of our Saviour's death had upon the mind of the centurion, and the soldiers with him; they cry, Verily this was the Son of God.
Where observe, That the heathen soldiers were sooner convinced of the divinity of our Saviour than the unbelieving Jewish doctors. Obstinacy and unbelief filled their minds with an invincible prejudice against Christ, so that neither the miracles wrought by him in his life, or at his death, could convince them that Christ's friends were witnesses of his death; they are the women that followed him, and ministered unto him; not one of his dear disciples came near him, except John, who stood by the virgin Mary.
O! what a shame was this, for the apostles to be absent from a spectacle upon which the salvation of the world did depend!
And what an honour was this to the female sex in general, and to these holy-women in particular, that they had the courage to follow Christ to his cross, when all his disciples forsook him and fled! God can make timorous and fearful women bold and courageous confessors of his truth, and fortify them against the fears of suffering, contrary to the natural timorousness of their temper; these women wait upon Christ's cross when his apostles fly, and durst not come nigh it.
The circumstances of our Lord's funeral, and honourable interment in the grave, are here recorded by the evangelist; such a funeral as never was since graves were first digged.
Where observe, 1. Our Lord's body must be begged before it could be buried; the dead bodies of malefactors being in the power, and at the disposal of the judge. Pilate grants it, and accordingly the dead body is taken down, wrapped in fine linen, and prepared for the sepulchre.
Observe, 2. The person that bestows this honourable burial upon our Saviour, Joseph of Arimathea; a disciple no doubt, though he did not make a public and open profession; a worthy, though a close disciple.
Grace doth not always make a public and open shew where it is; as there is much secret riches in the bowels of the earth, which no eye ever saw, so there is much grace in the hearts of some Christians, that the eye of the world takes little notice of. Some gracious persons cannot put forward, and discover themselves, in discourse as others; and yet such weak Christians, as the world counts them, perhaps shall stand their ground when stronger run away.
We read of none of the apostles at Christ's funeral; fear had chased them away; but Joseph of Arimathea appears boldly: if God strengthens the weak, and leaves the strong to the prevalency of their own fears, The weak shall be as David, the strong as tow.
Observe, 3. The mourners that followed our Saviour's hearse, namely, the women which came out of Galilee, particularly the two Marys; a very poor train of mourners; the apostles were all scattered, and afraid to own their Lord and Master, either dying or dead. And as our Lord affected no pomp or gallantry in his life, so funeral pomp had been no ways suitable, either to the end or manner of his death. Humiliation was designed in his death, and his burial was the lowest degree of humiliation, therefore might not be pompous.
Observe, 4. The grave or sepulchre where our Lord was buried: it was in a sepulchre hewn out of a rock; in a new sepulchre; in a new sepulchre in a garden.
1. Our Lord was buried in a garden: as by the sin of the first Adam we were driven out of the garden of pleasure, the earthly paradise; so by the sufferings of the second Adam, who lay buried in a garden, we may hope for entrance into the heavenly paradise.
2. It was in a sepulchre hewn out of a rock; that so his enemies might have no occasion to cavil, and say, that his disciples stole him away by secret holes, or unseen passages underground.
3. It was in a new sepulchre, in which never man was laid: lest his adversaries should say, it was some other that was risen, who was buried there before him; or that he arose from the dead by touching some other corpse.
Observe, 5. The manner of our Lord's funeral; it was hasty, open, and decent; it was performed in haste, by reason of the straits of time; the sabbath was approaching, and they lay all business aside to prepare for that.
Learn hence, How much it is our duty to dispatch our worldly business, as early as we can, towards the end of the week, that we may be the better prepared to sanctify the Lord's day, if we live to enjoy it. Hence it is that we are called upon to remember that day before it comes, and to sanctify it when it is come.
Again, Thae Lord was buried openly, as well as hastily; all persons had liberty to be spectators, lest any should object the there was deceit and fraud used in or about our Saviour's burial; yet was he also interred decently, his holy body being wrapped in fine linen and perfumed with spices, according to the Jewish custom.
Observe, 6. The reasons why our Lord was buried, seeing he was to rise again in as short a time as other men lie by the walls; and had his body remained a thousand years unburied, it would have seen no corruption, having never been tainted with sin. Sin is the cause of the body's corruption; it is sin that makes our bodies stink worse than carrion when they are dead. A funeral then was not necessary for they Christ's body upon the same account as it was necessary for ours.
But, 1. Our Lord was buried to declare the certainty of his death, and the reality of his resurrection; and for this reason did God's providence order it, that he should be embalmed, to cut off all pretensions; for in this kind of embalming, his mouth, his ears, and his nostrils were all filled with odours and spices, that there could be no latent principle of life in him: his being thus buried then, did demonstrate him to be certainly dead.
2. Christ was buried to fulfil the types and prophecies that went before concerning him. Jonas's being three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, was a type of Christ's being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth; yea, the prophet Isaiah, Isa 53:9. declared our Lord's funeral, and the manner of it, long before he was born; He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; pointing that by that expression at this tomb of Joseph's, who was a rich man, and laid him in a tomb designed for himself.
3. He was buried to complete his humiliation; They have brought me to the dust of death, says David, a type of Christ. This was the lowest step he could possibly descend in his abased state; lower he could not be laid, and so low his blessed head must be laid, else he had not been humble to the lowest degree of humiliation.
4. Christ went into the grave that he might conquer death in its own territories and dominions. His victory over the grave causes his saints to triumph and sing, O grave where is thy destruction! Our dear Redeemer has perfumed the bed of the grave by his own lying in it, so that a pillow of down is not so soft to a believer's head as a pillow of dust.
Observe, lastly, Of what use the doctrine of our Lord's burial may be unto us his disciples and followers;
1. For instruction. Here were seen the amazing depths of our Lord's humiliation; from what, and to what, his love brought him; even from the bosom of his Father, to the bosom of the grave. O how doth the depth of his humiliation shew us the sufficiency of his satisfaction, and therein the heinousness of our transgression!
2. For consolation against the fears of death and the grave: the grave received Christ, but could not retain him; death swallowed him up, as the fish did Jonas, but quickly vomited him up again: and so shall it fare with Christ mystical, as it did with Christ personal.
As it was done to the head, so it shall be done to the members: the grave could not long keep him, it shall not always keep us; as his body rested in hope, so shall ours also; and although we see corruption, yet shall we not always lie under the power of corruption. In short, Christ's lying in the grave has changed and altered the nature of the grave; it was a prison before, a bed of rest now; a loathsome grave before, a perfumed bed now; he whose head is in heaven, need not fear to put his feet into the grave; Awake, and sing, thou that dwellest in the dust, for the enmity of the grave is slain by Christ.
3. For our imitation: let us study and endeavour to be buried with with Christ; in respect of our sins, I mean, Buried with him unto death Rom 6:4.
Our sins should be as a dead body in several respects.
Are dead bodies removed out of the society of men? So should our sins be removed from us.
Do dead bodies in the grave spend and consume by degrees? So should our sins daily.
Will dead bodies grow everyday more and more loathsome to others? So should our sins be to ourselves.
Do dead bodies wax out of memory, and are quite forgotten? So should our sins also, in respect of any delight that we take in remembering of them; we should always remember our sins to our humiliation, but never speak of them with the least delight or satisfaction; for this, in God's account, is a new commission of them, and lays us under an aggravated guilt and condemnation.
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