Commentary on Mark 15b (Jesus’ Crucifixion)

Crucifixion victims are often required to carry the horizontal crossbar of the cross, but Jesus is so weakened after his flogging that, sometime during the procession, the soldiers randomly choose a man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the crossbar for Jesus the rest of the way to Golgotha. Simon, and later his sons, Alexander and Rufus, would evidently become Christians, since Mark assumes his readers are familiar with them.

Mark’s account of the actual crucifixion is succinct. During the first three hours after Jesus is crucified, Mark reports the following: 1) Jesus is offered wine to deaden his pain, but he refuses to drink it, 2) Jesus’ garments are divided up among the four soldiers, 3) Jesus is crucified at roughly 9 am with two other men on either side of him, 4) a sign reading “King of the Jews” is affixed to the cross, indicating Jesus’ crime, 5) Jesus is mocked by spectators, Jewish religious leaders, and the two criminals crucified beside him.

After three hours on the cross, darkness comes over the land for the last three hours of Jesus’ life. Mark Strauss, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary) , offers five possible meanings for the darkness:

  • “It was a sign of mourning (Jer. 4:27–28).”

  • “Darkness was associated in the ancient world with the death of great men.”

  • “In the Scriptures, darkness is an apocalyptic sign of judgment and could be construed as signaling the advent of divine judgment.”

  • “The darkness also announces the great Day of the Lord in prophets such as Amos, and the darkness that settles on the land signifies that the day has dawned with a new beginning.”

  • “The darkness may veil the shame of the crucifixion: ‘God hides the Son from the blasphemer’s leering.’”

At roughly 3 pm, Jesus cries out, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What could Jesus mean by this statement? Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), writes:

The important thing to recognize here is that he was quoting Psalm 22:1, a Davidic psalm expressing David’s feelings of estrangement. Jesus was revealing that he was the fulfillment of the typology of the psalm, that he was experiencing forsakenness because of our sins. What exactly that forsakenness entailed is uncertain, but it likely stemmed from Jesus’ taking on our sins so that sin would be judged. As the apostle Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5: 21, God the Father ‘made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’

Mark Strauss adds:

One could not expect a crucifixion victim to recite an entire psalm, but it is possible that citing the first verse of the psalm refers to the entire psalm. Without chapters and verses to identify specific passages, initial words or key phrases were cited (see Mark 12:26). If this is the case here, Jesus prays the opening words of this lament psalm that, when read through to the end, expresses not only bitter despair but also supreme confidence. This interpretation does not deny the real anguish that Jesus experiences but understands his cry as an expression of trust that God will intervene and ultimately vindicate him.

Some bystanders misunderstand Jesus to be calling for the prophet Elijah to rescue him. According to Craig Keener in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament , “Members of some circles of Jewish tradition believed that Elijah was sent like an angel to rescue famous teachers, in addition to his role in the time of the end.”

Finally, Mark reports, Jesus utters a loud cry and dies after six hours hanging on the cross. The way Jesus dies is unusual because crucifixion victims tended to last more than a day before succumbing to asphyxiation. Keener explains, “Crucifixion generally killed by asphyxiation: one became too weary to keep pulling one’s frame up on the crossbeam, the diaphragm was increasingly strained, and eventually one became unable to breathe. But death usually took a few days—much longer than the few hours Jesus suffered.”

James Brooks adds:

Most people who were crucified grew weaker and weaker and gradually and quietly expired. Mark’s account suggests that Jesus’ death was sudden and violent, that he was still quite strong at the moment of his death, that he voluntarily and deliberately died with the shout of a victor (cf. John 19:30). Therefore ‘breathed his last,’ although literal, is not an adequate translation in context. Mark’s concept of the death of Jesus is not unlike that of John 10:17–18.

When Jesus dies, one of the two giant curtains in the temple tears from top to bottom (we’re not told which). The outer curtain separated the sanctuary from the outer porch and the inner curtain separated the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Regarding the inner curtain, the Mishnah reports it being a handbreadth thick, sixty feet long, and thirty feet wide. This second apocalyptic sign (darkness being the first) that Mark reports has both positive and negative significance. Strauss writes:

Being torn from top to bottom points to its irremediable destruction and to God as the agent. It may signify the end of the Jewish cult and the destruction of the temple. . . . The rending of the veil may also be interpreted as a decisive opening. All barriers between God and the people have now been removed (Heb. 10:19–20).

The centurion in charge of Jesus’ execution, after taking in everything he’s seen, pronounces, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark also carefully notes that several women disciples of Jesus witness his death from a distance.

The profession of the centurion would have been important to Mark’s original audience. After all, earlier in the Gospel, a divine voice and demons have called Jesus the Son of God. Here, at the end of Gospel, we have the first human to do so, but he is a Gentile Roman soldier, not a Jew. James Brooks aptly comments, “At last [Jesus] is confessed as such by a human being who is a type of thousands and even millions of Gentiles who later will stand by faith before the cross and confess that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the unique Son of God.”

Did the centurion have a full understanding of who Jesus was? Doubtful, but he clearly knew that Jesus had a unique relationship to God. Mark Strauss writes:

After Julius Caesar was deified, his adopted son, Augustus, became widely known as ‘son of god’ (divi filius). It was not a title applied to emperors in general. This soldier transfers the title from the most revered figure in the Roman imperial cult to a Jew who has just been executed. The opening words of the Gospel (1:1) and this confession directly challenge the claims of the imperial cult. Jesus, not Augustus nor any other emperor, is Savior and Lord.

Jewish law (see Deut 21:22-23) demanded that a body be buried the day of death. In addition, since the Sabbath would begin at sunset on Friday (no work could be done on the Sabbath), there was little time for Jesus to be buried. Instead of his disciples stepping forward to bury him, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and secret admirer of Jesus, goes to Pilate and requests that Jesus’ body be given to him. None of Jesus’ friends or family had approached Pilate, likely out of fear, so Pilate acquiesces to Joseph’s request. But first, Pilate asks his centurion to confirm that Jesus is indeed dead because he is surprised at how quickly Jesus died.

Joseph takes Jesus’ body down from the cross, wraps a linen shroud around him, and then places him in a tomb cut out of rock. He then rolls a stone over the entrance to seal the tomb. The women disciples are watching the burial from a distance so that they know exactly where Jesus is buried. Thus Jesus is buried in a tomb before sunset Friday evening.

Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross? Part 2

 

And the fourth line of evidence is

the very low probability of surviving crucifixion. As noted earlier, crucifixion and the torture that many times preceded it was a very brutal process. In fact, only one account exists in antiquity of a person surviving crucifixion. Josephus reported seeing three of his friends crucified. He quickly pleaded with his friend the Roman commander Titus, who ordered that all three be removed immediately and provided the best medical care Rome had to offer. In spite of these actions, two of the three still died. Thus, even if Jesus had been removed from his cross prematurely and medically assisted, his chances of survival were quite bleak. In addition, no evidence exists that Jesus was removed while alive or that he was provided any medical care whatsoever, much less Rome’s best.

Licona summarizes the views of historians with quotes from across the ideological spectrum:

Given the strong evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion, without good evidence to the contrary the historian must conclude that the process killed him. This is the conclusion shared by virtually all scholars who have studied the subject. John McIntyre comments, ‘Even those scholars and critics who have been moved to depart from almost everything else within the historical content of Christ’s presence on earth have found it impossible to think away the factuality of the death of Christ.’ McIntyre is quite correct.  Atheist Gerd Ludemann writes, ‘Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.’ Crossan, who denies the authenticity of a large majority of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the canonical Gospels, comments that there is not the ‘slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate’ and, ‘That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.’ For the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, ‘The passion of Jesus is part of history.’ The rather skeptical scholar Paula Fredriksen writes, ‘The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for political insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion.’

Licona wraps up his analysis:

In summary, the historical evidence is very strong that Jesus died by crucifixion. The event is multiply attested by a number of ancient sources, some of which are non-Christian and thus not biased toward a Christian interpretation of events. They appear in multiple literary forms, being found in annals, historiography, biography, letters, and tradition in the form of creeds, oral formulas, and hymns. Some of the reports are very early and can reasonably be traced to the Jerusalem apostles. The Passion Narratives appear credible, since they fulfill the criterion of embarrassment and contain numerous plausible details. Finally, the probability of surviving crucifixion was very low.

Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross? Part 1

Many Muslims, and other skeptics of Christianity, deny that Jesus actually died on the cross. They promote theories that Jesus had a twin that died, or that someone took Jesus’ place on the cross, or that a drug put Jesus into a coma-like state until he revived in the tomb. What evidence is there that Jesus actually died from crucifixion?

Virtually all historical scholars agree that Jesus died from crucifixion. Historian Michael Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach , argues that there are at least four reasons that scholars come to this position.

The first evidence is that Jesus’ death by crucifixion is multiply attested by a fair number of ancient sources, Christian and non-Christian alike. It is very probable that [the Jewish historian] Josephus reported the event in his original version of Antiquities of the Jews 18.3. [The ancient Roman historian] Tacitus, [ancient pagan writers] Lucian and Mara bar Serapion are all certainly aware of the event. Lucian adds that Jesus’ crucifixion took place in Palestine.

In Christian sources, Jesus’ execution is widely reported, with and without specifying the mode of crucifixion. All four canonical Gospels report Jesus’ death by crucifixion as do numerous other books and letters of the New Testament that refer to it regularly. Jesus’ death and/or crucifixion are also abundantly mentioned in noncanonical literature. Moreover, there is no ancient evidence to the contrary.

A second evidence for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is that the reports are early. Paul mentions Jesus’ death by crucifixion no later than A.D. 55 (1 Corinthians, Galatians) and said he preached the same to those in Corinth in A.D. 51, or within twenty-one years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ death may be alluded to in Q [a hypothetical source for Matthew and Luke], which may be contemporary to Paul. It appears numerous times in the kerygma of the oral formulas. The earliest report of Jesus’ death is found in the tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3. Virtually all scholars who have written on the subject hold that Paul here provides tradition about Jesus that he received from others. There is likewise widespread agreement that it was composed very early, reflected what was being taught by the Jerusalem apostles, and is the oldest extant tradition pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus. It is really quite amazing to think that we are probably reading what was taught by the original disciples of Jesus.

A third evidence for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is that the Passion Narratives appear largely credible given their satisfying of the criterion of embarrassment and the plausibility of certain peripheral details. Earlier we observed that a number of accounts existed of Jewish martyrs who acted bravely under circumstances of extreme torture and execution. In light of these, reports of a weaker Jesus at his arrest and crucifixion could cause embarrassment in contrast. . . .

For this reason, we get a sense that in the canonical Gospels we are reading authentic reports of Jesus’ arrest and death, even if Luke may have cleaned up or omitted some of those embarrassing details, and John all of them, and even if some embellishments are present. Accordingly, the embarrassing elements in the Passion Narratives weigh in favor of the presence of historical kernels. These include, most importantly in our investigation, Jesus’ death by crucifixion.

What are some of the other peripheral details in the Passion Narratives that lend credence to the death of Jesus by crucifixion?

Lucian reports of crowds following those on their way to being crucified and renders plausible Luke’s statement that a crowd of people followed Jesus on his way to being crucified. John reports that because it was the day of preparation for the Passover, the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to remove from their crosses the bodies of Jesus and of the two thieves crucified with him so that they would not remain there on the Sabbath. Pilate granted their request and ordered that their legs be broken in order to expedite death. When they came to break the legs of Jesus, the soldiers noticed that he was already dead and instead pierced his side with a spear, upon which blood and water came out. . . . Breaking the legs of crucified victims is also reported by [ancient Roman orator] Cicero and the [third century apocryphal] Gospel of Peter. In the latter, breaking the legs is forbidden so that the crucified victim would actually suffer longer. The skeletal remains of a crucified victim named Yehohanan ben Hagakol were discovered in Jerusalem in 1968. Of interest is that one of his shins had been smashed, although it has also been theorized that this occurred when removing his corpse from the cross.

Licona continues:

The Romans often left crucified victims on their crosses for some time after they had died in order to become food for birds and dogs. However, Josephus provides an interesting report that indicates Jerusalem was an exception. Two or three years prior to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, mercenaries for Rome killed some Jewish high priests and did not permit their burial. Josephus adds that until then the Jews had taken great care in their burial of the dead, burying the crucified prior to sunset. . . .

John reports that when the soldiers saw that Jesus was already dead, rather than break his legs, they pierced him in order to provide some ‘death insurance.’ This too has plausibility, given Quintilian’s statement: Cruces succiduntur, percussos sepeliri carnifex non vetat. (As for those who die on the cross, the executioner does not forbid the burying of those who have been pierced.)

 

Commentary on Mark 15a (Jesus on Trial)

As soon as dawn breaks Friday morning, the entire Sanhedrin is convened to ratify the sentence recommended during the previous pre-dawn trial. Since the Jews, under Roman law, are not allowed to execute anyone, they take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, who is likely staying at Herod the Great’s old palace in Jerusalem. John Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary,  gives some background on Pontius Pilate:

Pontius Pilate, the fifth Roman prefect (a title later changed [in AD 44] to ‘procurator,’ i.e., imperial magistrate) of Judea held office a.d. 26–36. He was a harsh governor who despised the Jews (cf. Luke 13:1–2). Normally he resided in Caesarea by the Mediterranean Sea, but he came to Jerusalem on special occasions such as the Passover festival to help maintain order.

As the Roman-appointed governor of Judea, he presided over all judicial matters. The Jewish leadership who delivered Jesus to Pilate accused Jesus, among other things, of claiming to be King of the Jews. Anyone claiming to be a king (within Roman territories) without the consent of Roman authorities was guilty of treason, which is punishable by death. When Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews, Jesus merely says, “You have said so,” which is an indirect way of agreeing with Pilate. Regarding the other charges brought against him, Jesus refuses to speak in his defense, which amazes Pilate.

Pilate suspects that the charges against Jesus are being manufactured by the Jewish leadership out of jealousy for his popularity. Every year at Passover it is Pilate’s custom to release one Jewish prisoner, so Pilate assumes that the assembled crowd in front of his palace will choose Jesus to be released. Instead, the chief priests incite the crowd to ask for the release of the insurrectionist Barabbas. Barabbas has been arrested for his role in plotting to overthrow Roman rule in Judea. Even though Pilate attempts to convince the crowd to release a man whom he thinks is innocent, Jesus, the crowd instead demands the release of Barabbas and the death penalty for Jesus.

Pilate releases Barabbas and sentences Jesus to be scourged and then crucified. James Brooks, in Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary , writes that scourging, or flogging,

was both a preliminary to crucifixion (perhaps to hasten death) and an independent punishment. It was a Roman punishment and must be distinguished from the much milder synagogue beatings of forty lashes less one. Bits of metal, bone, or glass were imbedded in leather thongs; and the flesh of the victim was shredded, sometimes until bones or entrails appeared. Flogging was sometimes fatal. The flogging fulfilled Jesus’ own prophecy in Mark 10:34 and perhaps also Isa 53:5.

After Jesus is flogged, he is taken to the interior of Herod’s Palace (also called the Praetorium) where he is mocked by a company of Roman soldiers. The soldiers are ridiculing Jesus for his claim that he is King of the Jews. Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), explains:

What the Roman soldiers are acting out (and they are Roman, as indicated by their leading Jesus into the praetorium) is a mock salute of the Roman emperor, as is done during the celebration of a triumph. It is at such a time that the emperor would wear an ivy crown and a robe with a purple mantle. His soldiers would shout, ‘Hail, Caesar!’

The soldiers put Jesus’ garments back on him and four of them lead him in a procession to Golgotha (place of the skull), the location outside the walls of Jerusalem where he will be crucified.

Is Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Trial a Fictional Invention? Part 2

 

James A. Brooks, in Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary , provides additional thoughts:

[T]he trial may have involved illegalities. Illegal trials and perversions of justice have occurred throughout human history in all societies (including ‘Christian’), and this trial may well have been such an instance. No injustice should be excused, but first-century Jews should not be condemned beyond all others for their error.

Brooks also offers the possibility that

what Mark described in chap. 14 was not a formal trial but an informal hearing. Some have compared it to a police interrogation following an arrest or to a grand jury inquiry. Therefore none of the prescriptions of the Mishna [Sanhedrin] would be applicable. According to one explanation of [Mark] 15:1, a formal trial was held the next morning. Therefore this explanation could have some validity, but confidence about it is elusive.

John Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , explains the actions of the Jewish authorities in the following way:

The 71-member Sanhedrin (cf. comments on Mark 8:31), including the presiding high priest, was hastily assembled in an upstairs room (cf. 14:66) for a plenary night session. This was an ‘informal’ trial that required a ‘formal’ ratification after dawn (cf. 15:1) to satisfy strict Jewish legal procedure allowing trials only in the daytime. A quorum consisted of 23 members (Mishnah Sanhedrin 1. 6) but on this occasion the majority were probably there even though it was around 3 a.m. on Nisan 15 (Friday), a feast day.

This hasty night meeting was deemed necessary because: (1) In Jewish criminal law it was customary to hold a trial immediately after arrest. (2) Roman legal trials were usually held shortly after sunrise (cf. 15:1) so the Sanhedrin needed a binding verdict by daybreak in order to get the case to Pilate early. (3) With Jesus finally in custody they did not want to delay proceedings, thereby arousing opposition to His arrest. Actually they had already determined to kill Him (cf. 14:1–2); their only problem was getting evidence that would justify it (cf. v. 55). Perhaps also they wished to have the Romans crucify Jesus to avoid the people’s blaming the Sanhedrin for His death.

Some have questioned the legality of a capital trial on a feast day in light of certain Rabbinic legal ordinances. However, the Rabbis justified the trial and execution of serious offenders on a major feast day. That way, they argued, ‘all the people will hear and be afraid’ (Deut. 17:13; cf. Deut. 21:21; cf. tdnt, s.v. ‘pascha,’ 5:899–900).

In summary, there are serious questions about the applicability of the Mishnah Sanhedrin to the time of Jesus’ trial. Even if the rules from this document did apply, there were numerous extenuating circumstances that could have caused the Jewish Supreme Council to break the rules. Therefore, the fact that some of the procedures called for in this third-century document were not followed does not, in and of itself, cast serious doubt on the historicity of Mark’s account.

Is Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Trial a Fictional Invention? Part 1

Many critics of the Bible have noted that Mark’s account of Jesus’ trial, in chapter fourteen of his Gospel, must be an invention. They reason that the Jewish authorities would never have conducted themselves in such a manner. Mark Strauss, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Book) , explains why:

The trial described by Mark is highly irregular according to rules listed in the Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin concerning the procedure for courts conducting capital trials.

(1) Capital cases were to be tried during the daytime, and the verdict must be reached during the daytime (m. Sanh. 4:1).

(2) Trials were not to be conducted on a Sabbath eve or on the eve of a festival day (m. Sanh. 4:1; see Acts 12:4, which reports that Herod intended to bring Peter to the people after the Passover).

(3) Capital cases were supposed to begin with reasons for acquittal and not with reasons for conviction (m. Sanh. 4:1). Attempts were to be made to find witnesses and arguments for the defense. If on the way to stoning someone should say, ‘I have somewhat to argue in favor of his acquittal,’ or even if the accused does so, they bring him back four or five times. The herald was to cry: ‘Such a one, the son of such a one is going to be stoned for he committed such or such an offense. Such and such are witnesses against him. If any man knoweth aught in favor of his acquittal let him come and plead it’ (m. Sanh. 5:4). A later rabbinic tradition imagines that this was indeed done in Jesus’ case: On the Eve of Passover Yeshu [one text adds the Nazarean] was hanged. Forty days before his execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of Passover!

(4) Verdicts of acquittal could be reached on the same day, but verdicts of conviction must be confirmed on the following day after a night’s sleep (m. Sanh. 4:1).

(5) Condemnation required the evidence of two witnesses. When witnesses disagreed, their evidence was null and void (m. Sanh. 5:2). If they were found to be false witnesses, they were required to suffer the ‘same death-penalty to which the accused had been made liable.’

(6) The Mishnah assumes that the Sanhedrin met in the inner courts of temple, the Chamber of Hewn Stone, not in the high priest’s home.”

Mark’s account of the proceedings against Jesus portray a hastily gathered group of religious leaders holding a blatantly biased “trial” in the middle of the night. How do we square this account with the rules recorded in Sanhedrin? Strauss argues that the rules written in Sanhedrin may have never been in force at the time of Jesus’ trial.

[T]his Mishnaic tractate, compiled around A.D. 220, reflects the circumstances and scruples of a later era. The laws regarding capital cases in Mishnah Sanhedrin may not be representative of the historical procedure for the Sanhedrin in the first century or, for that matter, any period. They are idealized and theoretical, assuming, for example, that the king rules, not a high priest under the thumb of a Roman governor. The laws for the Sanhedrin are perceived through the lens of the wishful thinking of the post-war rabbis who compiled the oral law—this is the way it should be when the temple is restored, and it is assumed that this is the way it must have always been.

Even if these rules were in effect, Strauss argues that the Jewish Supreme Council was dealing with special circumstances.

A Sanhedrin controlled by the high priest was also unlikely to follow Pharisaic procedures. If it were an informal hearing gathering evidence to bring to the governor, it would not need to observe legal formalities. According to Deuteronomy 18:20, a false prophet is to be killed immediately—even on a feast day. The chief priests considered Jesus such a serious threat that they made every effort to eliminate him by getting the Roman governor to put him to death and discredit him forever with death by crucifixion.

 

Commentary on Mark 14 (Jesus Arrested)

Late Thursday evening (around 10 or 11 pm), Jesus and the disciples travel back to the Mount of Olives to stay for the night. They choose a secluded place called Gethsemane where Jesus can pray. Mark Strauss, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Book), writes:

The word Gethsemane comes from a Hebrew/Aramaic word (Gatz), meaning ‘oil press.’ Mark does not identify it as a garden (John 18:1) but simply as a ‘place’; four different locations on the Mount of Olives claim the honor of being the authentic site. Taylor contends that Gethsemane does not refer to an olive grove but to a spacious cave (about 55 feet long and 29-1/2 feet wide) within a cultivated enclosure, adjacent to the Church of All Nations, where olives were pressed for oil. The press would have been in operation in the fall and winter after the olive harvest but would have been idle and used only for storage in the spring. Such a locale, close to the city, would have made an excellent place to spend a chilly night that had others kindling fires for warmth (14:54). It would have been ‘warm, dry, and roomy, with a cistern inside for water.’

The full force of what is about to happen hits Jesus and he is overwhelmed with anguish. He asks Peter, James, and John to keep watch for him while he prays on his knees a short distance away. Three times Jesus returns to find his three closest friends asleep instead of keeping watch. The threefold sleeping corresponds to Peter’s threefold denial that will soon occur. Jesus’ repeated prayer to his Father is that God would take away the cup of suffering that is soon to occur, but only if that is what the Father wills. To the end, Jesus only wants what his Father wants.

Jesus uses the term Abba to refer to God the Father during his prayers. John Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , explains the significance of this term:

’Abba’ was a common way young Jewish children addressed their fathers. It conveyed a sense of familial intimacy and familiarity. The Jews, however, did not use it as a personal address to God since such a familiar term was considered inappropriate in prayer. Thus Jesus’ use of Abba in addressing God was new and unique. He probably used it often in His prayers to express His intimate relationship with God as His Father. Abba here suggests that Jesus’ primary concern in drinking the cup of God’s judgment on sin necessarily disrupted this relationship (cf. Jesus’ words of address, Mark 15:34).

After Jesus finds his disciples asleep for the third time (approximately three hours have passed while he prayed), he realizes that the hour of suffering is finally at hand. Judas, the betrayer, arrives with a large crowd of Roman soldiers and temple guards to arrest Jesus (the temple guards and Roman soldiers are mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and John). In order to identify Jesus in the dark, Judas greets Jesus with a kiss and calls him “Rabbi.”

The soldiers immediately seize Jesus, but Peter swings his sword at a servant of the high priest, Malchus, and cuts off part of his ear (we know about Peter and Malchus from John 18). Jesus comments that he has been teaching in the temple courts for days, and they could have easily arrested him, but instead they’ve come with swords and clubs, as if he is a violent criminal. However, these actions by the Jewish authorities are fulfilling prophecy. Although Mark doesn’t indicate to which prophecies Jesus refers, scholars speculate that he could be referring to Isaiah 53:12 and Zechariah 13:7. When Jesus indicates that he will willingly go with the soldiers, all his disciples flee, exactly as Jesus predicted they would.

The soldiers take Jesus back into Jerusalem to the house of the high priest. Mark Strauss gives us more details about the high priest:

We learn from Acts 4:6 that the high priest was Joseph Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas (who held the office from A.D. 6 until he was deposed in A.D.15). Annas remained a kind of godfather controlling the reins of power with five sons holding the office of high priest. The clan of Annas is remembered in the Babylonian Talmud for its knavery: ‘Woe unto me because of the house of Hanin [Annas], woe unto me because of their whisperings.’ Josephus refers to the son of Annas, Ananas II (high priest in A.D. 62), as following the school of the Sadducees, who were ‘more heartless than any of the other Jews … when they sit in judgment.’

Pilate’s predecessor, Valerius Gratus, removed four high priests during his eleven-year tenure as governor. Caiaphas had to be an artful politician to have held office as high priest for eighteen years from A.D. 18 to 36, serving throughout Pilate’s tenure. The family tomb of Caiaphas has been discovered. The name of Joseph bar Caiaphas is inscribed in Aramaic (Yhwsp br Qp‘) on an elaborately decorated bone box containing the bones of a sixty-year-old man.

Jesus is taken to an upper room in the house where the high priest has hastily gathered several members of the Sanhedrin. The Jewish leaders listen to the testimony of several witnesses to prove that Jesus said or did something deserving of the death penalty, but the testimony is contradictory and inconclusive.

Exasperated, Caiaphas finally asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Caiaphas is asking Jesus if he claims to be the Messiah. Jesus replies, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” After hearing his answer, the assembled council determines that Jesus deserves the death penalty.

Why does Jesus’ answer make him deserving of the death penalty, under Jewish law? James Brooks, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary , analyzes Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas:

’The Mighty One’ [or Power] is another substitute for Yahweh. The ‘right hand’ is the place of honor and reward in Oriental society. Jesus’ affirmation in the last part of the verse combines Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13. ‘You will see’ does not necessarily refer to physical sight. It could refer to realization. Jesus probably meant that his opponents would realize that he was the Son of Man in the apocalyptic sense, that he was God’s Son and would sit by his side, and that he would return for judgment.

Having thus made this claim, Brooks explains Caiaphas’ response to Jesus:

Some do not think that claiming to be the Messiah would have been considered blasphemy. This may well be so, but claiming to be the Son of God (in the most intimate sense), claiming to be the Son of Man (in the supernatural sense), claiming to sit at God’s right hand, predicting a return from heaven, and using the divine name ‘I am’ could and probably would have been considered blasphemy.

In addition, Jesus presents a clear and present threat to the Sanhedrin and the temple establishment. The Sanhedrin, no doubt, fear that Jesus will provoke resistance against the Roman occupiers and thus upset the stability that the Jewish aristocracy has achieved.

Meanwhile, Peter has followed Jesus to the house of Caiaphas to evidently listen to the proceedings surreptitiously. While standing in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house, a servant girl accuses him of being one of Jesus’ followers, and he denies it. Again, the same girl accuses him and he denies it a second time. Other bystanders who are warming themselves outside of the house then join the servant girl in accusing Peter of being a follower of Jesus, and this time Peter swears oaths that he does not know who Jesus is. Suddenly the rooster crows and Peter realizes that he has denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted. His response is to weep in sorrow for what he has done. We know that Peter repents of his apostasy because he becomes a great leader of the early Christian church.

What Are the Roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Verses like John 14:28, where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I,” have led to confusion in the church. The Bible seems to clearly teach that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally divine. They all possess the same attributes of deity. Then how can Jesus say the Father is greater than him?

The early church developed the doctrine of functional subordination to clarify the roles of the three members of the Trinity. Theologian Norman Geisler explains this doctrine in Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation :

All members of the Trinity are equal in essence, but they do not have the same roles. It is a heresy (called subordinationism) to affirm that there is an ontological subordination of one member of the Trinity to another, since they are identical in essence . . . ; nonetheless, it is clear that there is a functional subordination; that is, not only does each member have a different function or role, but some functions are also subordinate to others.

The Function of the Father

By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.

The Function of the Son

The Son, on the other hand, is the Means, Sent One, and Achiever of salvation. The Father sent, and the Son came to save us; the Father planned it, but the Son accomplished it on the cross. This is why it is a heresy (called patripassianism) to claim that the Father suffered on the cross—only the Son suffered and died.

Further, the Son is eternally ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from the Father, but the Father is never said to be ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from anyone.

The Function of the Holy Spirit

According to orthodox theology, both East and West, the Holy Spirit is said to ‘proceed’ from the Father, but the Father never proceeds from the Holy Spirit—that is, the Father sends the Spirit, but the Spirit never sends the Father. . . . Many Eastern Orthodox theologians are willing to say that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father indirectly through the Son, but they deny that the Son has authority to send the Holy Spirit on His own. Be that as it may, all agree that there is a functional subordination of the Holy Spirit to the Father.

In brief, the Father is the Planner, the Son is the Accomplisher, and the Holy Spirit is the Applier of salvation to believers. The Father is the Source, the Son is the Means, and the Holy Spirit is the Effector of salvation—it is He who convicts, convinces, and converts.

One final word about the nature and duration of this functional subordination in the Godhead. It is not just temporal and economical; it is essential and eternal. For example, the Son is an eternal Son (see Prov. 30:4; Heb. 1:3). He did not become God’s Son; He always was related to God the Father as a Son and always will be. His submission to the Father was not just for time but will be for all eternity. Paul wrote:

‘Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom of God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power … When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24, 28)’

Commentary on John 14 (Last Supper Discourse)

During the Last Supper, after Jesus tells the disciples that they will abandon him, he then gives hope to this scared and confused group. The first thing Jesus does is to reassure them that they must trust him just as they trust God. In heaven, Jesus will have rooms, or dwelling places, prepared for all his disciples. Jesus’ death and resurrection are what actually prepares heaven for his disciples. When Jesus returns to the earth at the end of the age, he will bring all of his disciples to their places in heaven.

Some of us have seen the verse translated as “In my Father’s house are many mansions” instead of “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Gerald L. Borchert, in , argues that this is a bad translation.

The Greek word monai was rendered in the Vulgate by the Latin mansiones, which came down through the Tyndale version to the KJV as ‘mansions.’ The use of the word ‘mansions’ here is unfortunate because it has become infused into popular Christian culture so that one can hear some Christians speaking about the fact that they have ‘a mansion just over the hilltop.’ Such a concept, unfortunately, supports the Western economic notion that following Jesus will lead to economic prosperity either in this life or in the life to come, especially if one must suffer in this life. But such a concept fails for several reasons. First, God does not promise economic prosperity. Second, the idea is a typical Semitic word picture describing a relationship of God with the people of God like the picture of heaven in Revelation 21–22. Third, and most importantly, monai does not mean a castle-like home anymore than mansiones in the Vulgate is to be interpreted in that manner. The word is derived from the Greek verb menein, ‘to remain,’ and monai means ‘dwelling’ or ‘abiding’ places. So if the monai are in God’s house, the NIV’s ‘rooms,’ or perhaps ‘apartments’ or ‘flats,’ would be much closer to the meaning of the text here.

Jesus tells the disciples that they know the way to where he is going, but Thomas disagrees with Jesus and asks where it is that Jesus is going. The disciples are still struggling to understand Jesus’ mission. Jesus answers Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” D. A. Carson, in The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary , explains what Jesus means:

Jesus is the way to God, precisely because he is the truth of God and the life of God. Jesus is the truth, because he embodies the supreme revelation of God—he himself ‘narrates’ God (1:18), says and does exclusively what the Father gives him to say and do (5:19ff; 8:29), indeed he is properly called ‘God’ (1:1, 18; 20:28). He is God’s gracious self-disclosure, his ‘Word’, made flesh (1:14). Jesus is the life (1:4), the one who has ‘life in himself’ (5:26), ‘the resurrection and the life’ (11:25), ‘the true God and eternal life’ (1 Jn. 5:20). Only because he is the truth and the life can Jesus be the way for others to come to God, the way for his disciples to attain the many dwelling-places in the Father’s house (vv. 2–3), and therefore the answer to Thomas’ question (v. 5).

Jesus is here making a very exclusive claim about himself. Carson unpacks the implications for us:

In the framework of this Gospel, this exclusivism is directed in at least two directions. First, it is constrained by the salvation-historical consciousness of the Evangelist: i.e. now that Jesus has come as the culminating revelation of the Father, it is totally inadequate to claim that one knows God, on the basis of the antecedent revelation of bygone epochs, while disowning Jesus Christ. Indeed, the test of whether or not Jews in Jesus’ day, and in John’s day, really knew God through the revelation that had already been disclosed, lay in their response to the supreme revelation from the Father, Jesus Christ himself, to which the Scriptures, properly understood, invariably point (cf. notes on 5:39–46). Second, even if John’s language utilizes metaphors and images common amongst the religions of the Roman world and well attested in diaspora Judaism, he does not mean for a moment to suggest that Christianity is merely one more religion amongst many. They are ineffective in bringing people to the true God. No-one, Jesus insists, comes to the Father except through me. That is the necessary stance behind all fervent evangelism.

In verse 7, Jesus then adds that if his disciples have seen him, then they have seen God himself. Philip, still not understanding Jesus, asks Jesus to only show them God the Father, and that will be enough. In verses 9-11, Jesus reminds them that while he has been with them, he has only spoken and acted exactly as the Father has willed. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” There is a unity of Jesus and the Father which the disciples should have seen.

In verse 12, Jesus curiously asserts that whoever believes in him will do greater works than he has done, and the reason for this is because Jesus is going back to the Father. What does Jesus going to the Father have to do with his followers doing greater works than him? Carson explains:

In short, the works that the disciples perform after the resurrection are greater than those done by Jesus before his death insofar as the former belong to an age of clarity and power introduced by Jesus’ sacrifice and exaltation. Both Jesus’ words and his deeds were somewhat veiled during the days of his flesh; even his closest followers, as the foregoing verses make clear, grasped only part of what he was saying. But Jesus is about to return to his Father, he is about to be glorified, and in the wake of his glorification his followers will know and make known all that Jesus is and does, and their every deed and word will belong to the new eschatological age that will then have dawned. The ‘signs’ and ‘works’ Jesus performed during his ministry could not fully accomplish their true end until after Jesus had risen from the dead and been exalted. Only at that point could they be seen for what they were. By contrast, the works believers are given to do through the power of the eschatological Spirit, after Jesus’ glorification, will be set in the framework of Jesus’ death and triumph, and will therefore more immediately and truly reveal the Son. Thus greater things is constrained by salvation-historical realities. In consequence many more converts will be gathered into the messianic community, the nascent church, than were drawn in during Jesus’ ministry (cf. 15:26–27; 17:20; 20:21, 29). The contrast itself, however, turns not on raw numbers but on the power and clarity that mushroom after the eschatological hinge has swung and the new day has dawned.

In verses 13-14, Jesus instructs his followers to ask for things in his name. This is how they will perform their “greater” works. It is not that they will perform works that are more extraordinary than those performed by Jesus (i.e., walking on water, turning water into wine, raising Lazarus from the dead). Instead, according to Gerald Borchert, the

meaning of the statement must therefore arise out of the context of the discussion involving the fact that Jesus is speaking of his departure to the Father, namely, his death and resurrection. If that is the case, then, the basis for the ‘greater’ is rooted in the expansive implications of Jesus’ mission in light of his ‘glorification’ (cf. 17:1–2). Jesus’ departure is in effect the work of the ‘Lamb of God’ in taking away the ‘sin of the world’ (1:29) or the fact that he is the ‘Savior of the World’ (4:42). Accordingly, his death and subsequent resurrection are to be seen as drawing all people to himself (12:32). But strategically this work would also require the work of those who believe because their task would be to communicate to the world the forgiveness of sins (20:23).

The Book of Acts is, indeed, a historical record of the incredible works performed by the early church during the first thirty or so years after Jesus ascended to heaven.

In verse 14, Jesus tells his disciples, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Does this literally mean that we can ask for anything and Jesus will do it? No, obviously not. Jesus only prayed for the will of his Father, so we are expected to only ask for what is in the will of Jesus (which is also in the will of the Father). Borchert writes,

Jesus lived in the will of the Father, and the Christian is duty bound to live in the will of Jesus. Appropriate praying/asking here, therefore, must follow the same model Jesus exemplified. Mere reciting of the name of Jesus must not be understood as a mantra of magical power that provides the petitioner with his heart’s desire. A ‘name’ in the Semitic context carries a special sense of the nature of the name bearer. Accordingly, from Adam and Eve through Abram/Abraham to Jacob/Israel and Joshua/Jesus, names are purposive designations of important realities. So to pray in the name of Jesus implies that in the praying one recognizes the nature of the name the praying person is using.

As we move to verses 25-26, Jesus promises the disciples that after he leaves, God the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. The role of the Holy Spirit is to bring to remembrance everything that Jesus said to his disciples. Some Christians today mistakenly think that this verse promises that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything they need to know about Christianity without them having to carefully study the Scriptures, or that the Holy Spirit will bring them new revelation from God. Given the context of these verses, however, this promise was directed toward the disciples who had spent three years with Jesus, and no one else. Carson writes,

One of the Spirit’s principal tasks, after Jesus is glorified, is to remind the disciples of Jesus’ teaching and thus, in the new situation after the resurrection, to help them grasp its significance and thus to teach them what it meant. Indeed, the Evangelist himself draws attention to some things that were remembered and understood only after the resurrection (2:19–22; 12:16; cf. 20:9). Granted the prominence of this theme, the promise of v. 26 has in view the Spirit’s role to the first generation of disciples, not to all subsequent Christians. John’s purpose in including this theme and this verse is not to explain how readers at the end of the first century may be taught by the Spirit, but to explain to readers at the end of the first century how the first witnesses, the first disciples, came to an accurate and full understanding of the truth of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s ministry in this respect was not to bring qualitatively new revelation, but to complete, to fill out, the revelation brought by Jesus himself.

Jesus then promises his disciples peace and again tells them not be troubled or afraid. In verse 28, Jesus says, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” The disciples should be rejoicing that Jesus is returning to the Father because the father is greater. Jesus claiming that the Father is greater than him raises interesting questions. Andreas Köstenberger address these questions in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible) :

Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults often cite this passage to support their claim that Jesus was not divine. Of course, this is no new controversy. The early church had to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against Arians who claimed Jesus was less than God. The root issue is how to hold together the twin truths of Jesus’ equality with the Father and his subordination to the Father, which are taught not only in John’s Gospel but throughout the NT.

On the one hand, Jesus is identified as equal with God (1: 1, 18; 5: 16– 18; 10: 30; 20: 28). On the other hand, Jesus obeys and depends on the Father (4: 34; 5: 19– 30; 8: 29; 12: 48– 49). Error is introduced when one truth is accepted while the other is neglected. Arians (and their modern-day theological counterparts) accept that Jesus submits to the Father and thus reason (incorrectly!) that Jesus must not be God. Gnostics, another early heretical group, recognized the deity of Jesus while reasoning (again incorrectly) that Jesus could not be fully human.

In the present passage, Jesus’ statement, ‘the Father is greater than I,’ is not meant to indicate ontological inferiority on his part. Jesus stated earlier in John’s Gospel that he and the Father are one (that is, one entity, part of one Godhead; 10: 30). Rather than indicating that he is not God or a lesser god, Jesus stresses his subordination to the Father, which, as the NT makes clear, is not merely part of his incarnate ministry but rooted in his eternal sonship (cf. esp. 1 Cor 15: 28; see Beasley-Murray 1999, 262; contra Morris 1995, 584).

Jesus ends chapter fourteen with his assurance that he is voluntarily submitting to crucifixion because he loves God the Father. Even though the “ruler of this world” (Satan) is responsible for what is about to happen, Satan has no legal claim over Jesus. In other words, Jesus is not fulfilling some obligation to Satan. Jesus is simply following the wishes of his Father.

Does the Chronology of the Passion Week in John Contradict the Synoptic Gospels? Part 3

 

The fifth verse to consider is John 19:31. “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.”

Again we come to the meaning of the phrase “day of Preparation.” Carson writes:

If paraskeuē (‘Preparation’) here refers to the same day as does its use in v. 14, and the reasoning in the notes on that verse are correct, then this sentence tells us that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the day before (i.e. the (‘Preparation’ of) the Sabbath. The next day, Sabbath (=Saturday), would by Jewish reckoning begin at sundown Friday evening. It was a special Sabbath, not only because it fell during the Passover Feast, but because the second paschal day, in this case falling on the Sabbath, was devoted to the very important sheaf offering (Lv. 23:11; cf. SB 2. 582).

The sixth verse to consider is John 19:36. “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’”

Many Bible scholars tie the phrase “Not one of his bones will be broken” to Old Testament references to the Passover lamb in Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12. The argument is that if Jesus is crucified on Passover, then this OT allusion makes more sense. Carson agrees that Jesus is portrayed as the Passover lamb throughout the New Testament, but that hardly means that his crucifixion had to be on Passover for the portrayal to make sense.

“Certainly these chapters in John are laced with the Passover motif—indeed, the same could be said for much of the Fourth Gospel, even if we dissent from those who argue that in John Jesus dies at the time the Passover lambs are being killed in the temple complex. Elsewhere in the New Testament Jesus is portrayed as the Passover lamb slain for his people (1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19).”

Finally, the seventh verse to consider is John 19:42. “So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

Carson again notes that the day of Preparation should be understood as Friday, the day before the Sabbath. If that is the meaning of the phrase, then John’s Gospel exactly matches the chronology of the Synoptics.

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