Tag Archives: Craig Evans

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.

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.

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 3

Michael Wilkins, in , offers a twofold interpretation. He writes:

The identity of ‘this generation’ has vexed interpreters. Perhaps it is easiest to see a twofold reference, as Jesus has done throughout the discourse. The disciples to whom Jesus is speaking on the Mount of Olives is most naturally ‘this generation’ who sees the events of the destruction of the temple, which shows the applicability of the discourse to A.D. 70. Yet within the context of Jesus’ statements about the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the age, there must be primary applicability to those at the end of the age who see the events surrounding the abomination of desolation occurring. When these signs of the end of the age appear, those waiting for his arrival are to recognize that their redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28). The generation that sees these things occurring will be the generation that sees the Lord appear.

Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible) , offers the following suggestions:

This saying is consistent with the similar prediction in [Mark] 9:1 (‘There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come in power’). It is apparent that Jesus’ generation expected to see the fulfillment of the things prophesied in the discourse. And indeed the predictions were partially fulfilled in the events of the first century. That generation saw the destruction of the temple and some of the signs, or at least events that paralleled the signs that will portend the second coming of the Son of Man. But Jesus’ generation did not see the second coming, nor did it see the consummation of the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of the generation of the last time, not his disciples’ generation. Since ‘this generation’ in Mark refers elsewhere to those who are rebellious and blind (8: 12, 38; cf. Matt 11: 16; 12: 41, 42, 45), it could be used in that sense here, yielding the sense that wickedness will continue until the coming of the Son of Man. Another view is that ‘this generation’ refers to the generation that sees the ‘abomination that causes desolation.’ One further view is that ‘all these things’ refers only to the ‘signs’ of the end rather than to the end itself (Bock 2005, 523).

And finally, John D. Grassmick, in Mark, The Bible Knowledge Commentary , writes:

’Generation’ (genea) can refer to one’s ‘contemporaries,’ all those living at a given time (cf. 8:12, 38; 9:19), or to a group of people descended from a common ancestor (cf. Matt. 23:36). Since the word ‘generation’ is capable of both a narrow and a broad sense, it is preferable in this context (cf. Mark 13:14) to understand in it a double reference incorporating both senses. Thus ‘this generation’ means: (a) the Jews living at Jesus’ time who later saw the destruction of Jerusalem, and (b) the Jews who will be living at the time of the Great Tribulation who will see the end-time events. This accounts best for the accomplishment of ‘all these things’ (cf. vv. 4b, 14–23).

After my study of all these different viewpoints, I find myself leaning toward Brooks, Keener, and Blomberg. However, this is certainly not an issue to be dogmatic about. I have great respect for all these scholars, and it’s quite possible that other interpretations are correct.

Was Mark the First Gospel Written?

Although we may never know for sure, the majority of biblical scholars think that Mark was the first Gospel written, and that the other Gospels, especially Matthew and Luke, used Mark as a source. Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), why this view is the dominant one.

Markan priority appears to be the most prudent position for several reasons: (1) Mark’s literary style sometimes lacks the sophistication and polish often seen in Matthew and Luke. This phenomenon is more easily explained in terms of Matthean and Lukan improvement upon Mark, rather than Markan degradation of Matthean and Lukan style.

(2) In the Markan Gospel Jesus and the disciples are sometimes portrayed in a manner that appears undignified. More often than not these potentially embarrassing passages are touched up or omitted altogether by Matthew and Luke. Again, it is easier to explain the phenomena in terms of Matthean and Lukan improvements upon Mark, rather than the reverse.

(3) The phenomena of agreements and disagreements among the Synoptic Gospels are more easily explained in reference to Markan priority. Among other things, we observe that where there is no Mark to follow (e.g., no infancy narrative, no ‘Q’ material) this is where Matthew and Luke diverge from one another. This observation is more easily explained in terms of Markan priority and Matthew’s and Luke’s independence from one another than in terms of Mark writing last and making use of Matthew and Luke. Markan priority also avoids the problem of trying to explain Luke’s inconsistent use of Matthew.

(4) The small amount of material that is unique to the Gospel of Mark also supports Markan priority. This material consists of 1: 1; 2: 27; 3: 20– 21; 4: 26– 29; 7: 2– 4, 32– 37; 8: 22– 26; 9: 29, 48– 49; 13: 33– 37; 14: 51– 52. In reviewing this material we should ask which explanation seems most probable, that Mark added it or that Matthew and Luke found it in Mark and chose to omit it. The nature of the material supports the latter alternative, for it seems more likely that Matthew and Luke chose to omit the flight of the naked youth (14: 51– 52); the odd saying about being ‘salted with fire’ (9: 48– 49); the strange miracle where Jesus effects healing in two stages (8: 22– 26); the even stranger miracle where Jesus puts his fingers in a man’s ears, spits, and touches his tongue (7: 32– 37); and the episode where Jesus is regarded as mad and his family attempts to restrain him (3: 20– 22). If we accept the Griesbach-Farmer Hypothesis [that Matthew was written first], we would then have to explain why Mark would choose to add these odd, potentially embarrassing materials, only to omit the Sermon on the Mount/ Plain, the Lord’s Prayer, and numerous other teachings and parables found in the larger Gospels.

(5) The final consideration that adds weight to the probability of Markan priority has to do with the results of the respective hypotheses. The true test of any hypothesis is its effectiveness. In biblical studies a theory should aid the exegetical task. The theory of Markan priority has provided just this kind of aid. Not only has Synoptic interpretation been materially advanced because of the conclusion, and now widespread assumption, of Markan priority, but the development of critical methods oriented to Gospel research, such as Form and Redaction Criticism, which have enjoyed success, has also presupposed Markan priority.

In countless studies, whether dealing with this or that pericope, or treating one of the Synoptic Gospels in its entirety, it has been recognized over and over again that Matthew and Luke make the greatest sense as interpretations of Mark; but Mark makes little sense as a conflation and interpretation of Matthew and Luke. The evidence is compelling that Mark represents the oldest surviving account of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. What sources the evangelist Mark made use of, if any, will in all probability remain a mystery. That he made use of some written material seems likely. That he made use of some eyewitness testimony is also probable; it cannot be ruled out.

Commentary on Mark 6 (Death of John the Baptist)

The traditional view of the Gospel of Mark is that it was written by John Mark, a follower of the apostle Peter, during his missionary travels, between AD 50-70. Most biblical scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written, and that Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from it when writing their accounts. Early church fathers wrote that Mark collected his stories about Jesus’ life from Peter.

Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), explains the purposes of Mark in writing his Gospel:

Mark’s opening verse makes the Gospel’s purpose clear: ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1: 1). Mark very carefully chose his language, deliberately echoing the language of the imperial ruler cult, as seen in an inscription in honor of Caesar Augustus: ‘the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of the good news.’ Mark challenges this imperial myth, asserting that the good news for the world began with Jesus Christ, the true Son of God (see Mark 15: 39, where the Roman centurion admits upon seeing the impressive death of Jesus: ‘This man really was God’s Son!’).

From this extraordinary claim at the beginning of his narrative, to the sudden and dramatic discovery of the empty tomb, Mark takes pains to show that Jesus is truly God’s Son, despite rejection by the religious authorities of his time and his execution at the hands of the Roman governor. The Julian emperors, whose latest and most unfortunate manifestation at the time of the publication of Mark is the demented Nero, can provide no compelling candidates for recognition as the Son of God, whose life and death are truly of benefit to humankind. To the Roman world Mark proffers Jesus and his message of the kingdom of God and by doing so encourages the faithful to remain steadfast, and enjoins the critics and opponents of the Christian faith to reconsider.

As Jesus’ ministry continues, his forerunner, the man who baptized him in the Jordan River, is executed. Mark tells the story of John the Baptist’s execution in chapter six, starting in verse 14.

In verses 14-16, Mark tells his readers that King Herod hears about Jesus and becomes concerned that he is John the Baptist raised from the dead. Herod assumes that a raised John the Baptist would have supernatural powers and be able to perform the kinds of miracles being attributed to Jesus.

There are other rumors about Jesus, however. Some say he is the second coming of Elijah (as prophesied in Malachi 4:5) and others say he is a new prophet sent by God to the Israelite nation. Herod, though, is convinced Jesus is the John the Baptist, back from the dead.

Before we continue, who exactly is Herod? The Herod of Mark 6 is more precisely named Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great (the Herod whom the magi visited when Jesus was born) and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (4 BC – AD 39). When Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, died in 4 BC, his kingdom was split into three parts by the Roman emperor. Antipas was given the portion of the kingdom that encompassed the regions of Galilee and Perea (see map below from Nelson’s 3-D Bible Mapbook).

map

Antipas married Aretas, the daughter of king of the Nabateans (region in yellow above). But while visiting Rome, Antipas became infatuated with the wife of his half-brother; her name was Herodias. He promptly divorced Aretas and married Herodias (who divorced her husband as well).

Stealing his half-brother’s wife was truly scandalous and the Jews in his kingdom were horrified. John the Baptist loudly criticized the marriage as an offense against God, citing passages such as Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21.

Antipas arrests John the Baptist and places him in prison at the fortress of Machaerus (in the southern portion of Perea). According to Mark, Antipas does this because of pressure from his wife, Herodias. She despises John and wants him executed, but Antipas is hesitant to do so because he sees John as a holy man.

That would change when Antipas throws a birthday party for himself at one of his fortresses, possibly Machaerus. During the festivities, Antipas invites his teenage step-daughter to dance for a room full of drunken men. The young girl is named Salome, and she is the daughter of Herodias and her former husband.

Antipas is so pleased with her performance that he rashly offers her whatever she wants, up to half his kingdom. Only the Romans could divide his kingdom, so he is making a drunken promise that he can’t even keep.

Salome goes to ask her mother what she should request, and Herodias tells her to ask for John the Baptist’s head. At this point, Antipas will be publicly embarrassed in front of the Galilean nobility and military commanders if he refuses her request, so he gives the order and John the Baptist is executed.

David Garland comments, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary):

The account reeks of gross impiety. Birthdays were pagan celebrations. Drunken revelry, a princess dancing at a stag party (she must leave to consult her mother), and execution without a trial all smack of rank paganism. The grisly detail of John’s head brought to them on a platter caps off a banquet already polluted by excess.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms that John the Baptist was executed by Antipas at Machaerus. Josephus, however, stresses that John was killed for political reasons. Antipas saw John as a growing threat to his rule. Craig Evans writes:

Josephus confirms that Herod imprisoned and executed John the Baptist, but his details differ as to why exactly John was killed (Antiquities 18.116– 119). At most points the two accounts can be reconciled, and where they cannot be reconciled there is no good reason to give Josephus preference. Although Josephus chooses to emphasize the political dangers that John posed to Herod, and Mark chose to emphasize the moral dimension, the two accounts are in essential agreement. Herod’s disgraceful dismissal of his wife, the daughter of the king of the Nabateans, and his unlawful marriage to Herodias his sister-in-law prompted John’s condemnation. John’s condemnation focused on the immoral and unlawful aspects (which Mark mentions), while Herod’s fears focused on the political dangers (which Josephus narrates). Later, Josephus himself mentions the inappropriateness of Herod’s divorce and remarriage (Antiquities 18.136).

After John is executed, his disciples retrieve his body and give him a proper burial, a preview of Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus. John the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus both in life and death.