Tag Archives: James Brooks

How Did Roman Crucifixion Kill Jesus?

James A. Brooks, in Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary, writes:

Crucifixion seems to have been invented by the Persians, who transmitted it to the Carthaginians, from whom the Romans learned it. It was the ultimate Roman punishment for slaves and provincials, but it was not used for Roman citizens. It was one of the most horrifying forms of execution ever devised. After having been stripped and flogged, the victim was lashed and/or nailed to a pole. John 20:25 certainly implies that Jesus’ hands at least were nailed (cf. Acts 2:23; Col 2:14). Evidently there were different styles of crosses including a single upright pole and two crossed poles in the form of an X, but the most common seems to have been a vertical pole and a horizontal one in the form of a T with the crossbar either at the top or near the top of the vertical piece. The usual practice was for the condemned to carry the crossbar to the place of execution where he was affixed to it and where it was hoisted upon the vertical stake that was permanently fixed. Death usually came slowly as a result of exposure and exhaustion. Inasmuch as no vital organ was damaged, it often took two or three days for the subject to die, although death could be hastened by breaking the legs (cf. John 19:31–33).

Norman Geisler writes in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics:

The nature of the crucifixion assures death. . . . Jesus hung on the cross from 9 in the morning until just before sunset (Mark 15:25, 33). He bled from gashes in his hands and feet and from the thorns that pierced his scalp. These wounds would have drained away much blood over more than six hours. Plus, crucifixion demands that one constantly pull up by the hands and push on the injured feet in order to breathe. This caused excruciating pain from the nails. . . .

Beyond these injuries, Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear. From this wound flowed a mixture of blood and water (John 19:34), a proof that physical death had occurred. This detail alone, and its confirmation by modern medical experts, strongly validates the claim that this narrative is an eyewitness account. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (21 March 1986) concluded:

‘Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right rib, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.’

Jesus said he was dying when he declared on the cross, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). And when ‘he had said this, he breathed his last’ (vs. 46). John renders this, ‘he gave up his spirit’ (John 19:30). His death cry was heard by those who stood nearby (Luke 23:47–49).

The Roman soldiers, accustomed to crucifixion and death, pronounced Jesus dead. Although it was a common practice to break the legs of the victim to speed death (so that the person could no longer breathe), they did not believe it necessary to break Jesus’ legs (John 19:33).

Pilate double-checked to make sure Jesus was dead before he gave the corpse to Joseph to be buried. ‘Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph’ (Mark 15:44–45).

Jesus was wrapped in about 100 pounds of cloth and spices and placed in a sealed tomb for three days (Matt. 27:60; John 19:39–40). If he was not dead by then, the lack of food, water, and medical treatment would have finished him.

There is simply no way that Jesus did not die on the cross. But let’s pretend that somehow he was only near death when he was put in the tomb. What would have happened next? Michael Licona, in The Resurrection of Jesus, describes the scene:

D. F. Strauss’s critique is every bit as pertinent today as it was on the day he offered it. He asked us to suppose that a man was removed from his cross half dead, buried in a tomb and somehow reenergized after a few days. Having awakened from his stupor and wanting out of the dark tomb, he places his nail-pierced hands on the very heavy stone blocking his entrance and pushes it out of the way. He then walks blocks on pierced and wounded feet in search of his disciples. Finally, he arrives at the place they are staying and knocks on the door, which Peter opens only to see a severely wounded and dehydrated Jesus who is hunched over and looks up at Peter and through his extreme pain grimaces and says, ‘I’m the firstfruits of the general resurrection!’ Such a Jesus would never have convinced his disciples that he was the risen prince of life. Alive? Barely. Resurrected? Never. Allison comments, ‘How a flagellated, half-dead victim of the hideous torture of crucifixion could impress others as triumphant over death is hard to envisage.’

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.

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.

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.

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 1

In Mark 13:30, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:34 and Luke 21:32 record the exact same words. To which generation does Jesus refer? Biblical scholars have offered several theories, but I will survey several a handful of well-respected conservative scholars to give the reader some ideas for further research.

James A. Brooks, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary, writes that “this generation” refers to Jesus’ disciples and their contemporaries. “Jesus meant that some of the people of his generation, and more particularly some of his disciples, would not die until the things of [Mark 13:5–23] had happened, including the very significant destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.”

Brooks argues that the cosmic signs and Jesus’ second coming (verses 24-27 in Mark 13) “constitute the end, not things that must precede the end. Furthermore, the various items in vv. 24–27 together constitute one climactic event that takes place at one point of time rather than a series of events spread over a long period of time.”

Craig S. Keener, in The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, agrees with Brooks’ interpretation. He writes,

Whereas the signs Luke mentions mean that the kingdom is near (Lk 21:31; cf. 1 Clem. 23), ‘these things’ in Matthew 24 (cf. 24:2) apply to the desolation of the temple to occur within that generation (24:34). Though some (mentioned in Cullmann 1956a: 151; Mattill 1979a: 97; cf. Bonsirven 1964: 58) wish to take ‘generation’ (genea) as ‘race’ (cf. the distinct genos in 2 Macc 8:9; Jdt 9:14; 11:10), 23:35–36 leave no doubt that Jesus uses the term as normally (e.g., Jer 7:29) and as elsewhere in Matthew refers to the climactic ‘generation.’

Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, also agrees that “generation” refers to Jesus’ contemporaries. He writes about Matthew 24:34:

Verse 34 does not imply that Christ will return within the lifetime of his hearers or within some later period of thirty to forty years during which all the signs occur. Nor is it necessary to follow the NIV margin and translate genea as ‘race,’ referring to Israel, a much less likely rendering of the Greek than ‘generation.’ Rather, ‘all these things’ in v. 34 must refer to ‘all these things’ of v. 33, which show that Christ’s return is near and which therefore cannot include Christ’s return itself. ‘All these things’ will then refer to everything described in 24:1–26 but will not include the Parousia itself (described in vv. 27–31).

We’ll look at more scholars’ views in part 2.

 

Commentary on Mark 6 (Jesus Feeds 5,000 and Walks on Water)

After Jesus has sent out his disciples to preach to the towns of Galilee (probably around the second year of his public ministry), they return to him and give him reports of what they accomplished. Jesus, seeing they need rest, takes them to a desolate place so that they can be alone.

Mark notes that this is a busy time, for “many were coming and going.” In the parallel account in the Gospel of John, we read that the Passover Festival was near, so this would explain why there were huge crowds of people “coming and going” during this time.

As Jesus and the disciples travel by boat on the Sea of Galilee to a remote place, a crowd of people spot them and follow along on land. Evidently, their boat was close to land and could easily be seen from the shore of the lake.

In verse 34, when their boat goes ashore, Jesus sees the great crowd that has followed them and he has compassion on them, first by teaching them and then by feeding them. James A. Brooks writes, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary,

’Sheep without a shepherd’ is an Old Testament picture of Israel without spiritual leadership (Num 27:17; 1 Kgs 22:17; Ezek 34:5). Jesus is pictured as the Good Shepherd who feeds the new Israel (cf. Ezek 34:23; Jer 23:4). First he ‘fed’ the crowd with his teaching. Mark frequently emphasized that Jesus taught.

The miracle that follows is recounted in all four Gospels, so the early church obviously considered the feeding of the five thousand to be an extremely important event in Jesus’ ministry. The only other miracle attested by all four Gospels is the resurrection of Jesus.

Because it was late in the evening and they are in a desolate region, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to buy food for themselves. Jesus responds by telling the disciples to feed the crowd. They complain that it would take 200 denarii to feed a crowd this size (between 15-25,000 people total).

One denarius was equivalent to an average worker’s daily wage. The average daily wage of an American today is about $210, so that would equate to about $42,000! Most of us don’t have $42,000 sitting around to feed a crowd of people who have come to hear us speak for free, so the disciples are understandably panicked.

Unperturbed, Jesus asks them to see how many loaves of bread they can find among the crowd, and they return with five loaves and two fish. Jesus instructs the crowd to divide themselves into groups of fifties and hundreds and sit down on the “green grass.” Note that the grass would have only been green in the spring around the time of Passover, so this little detail nicely harmonizes with the Gospel of John’s timing of this miracle.

Jesus then says a blessing over the food and sends the disciples into the crowd with bread and fish. When they return, everyone in the crowd has been fed and there are twelve baskets left over with bread and fish.

This miracle account refers in several ways to the Old Testament, as noted by James Brooks:

As already observed in the comments on 1:4, in the Old Testament the desert was the place where God met, tested, and blessed his people. Specially important was the experience of Israel in the wilderness following the Exodus. After the testing involved in that experience, ‘rest’ was promised. Note how Mark introduced that idea (v. 31). Also the ‘sheep without a shepherd’ (v. 34) recalls Moses’ description of Israel in Num 27:17; and the ‘hundreds and fifties’ of v. 40, the organization of Israel in Exod 18:21, not to mention the resemblance between the loaves and the manna. The literal rest in the desert and later in the promised land following the Exodus did not satisfy, and the prophets and psalmists began to look forward to a better rest in the messianic age. . . . Mark saw in Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand an eschatological Moses giving perfect rest to and supplying all the needs of his people. The feeding anticipates the messianic banquet at the end of the age. The kingdom is at hand. The miracle as such is not as important for Mark as what it reveals about Jesus. . . .

The prophet Elisha performed a similar miracle according to 2 Kgs 4:42–44. In fact, Mark’s wording owes something to this account and possibly 1 Kgs 17:9–16. Mark may also have seen in the event Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

Immediately following the miracle of the feeding of five thousand, Jesus sends the disciples back into their boat to travel across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee to meet him in a town called Bethsaida. Jesus goes by himself up on a mountain to pray alone.

Between 3 and 6 am, Jesus sees the disciples rowing their boat against the wind (they have gone way off course and are stuck out in the middle of the lake.) Jesus decides to go to them by walking on the lake. As he approaches the boat, they see him and think he is a ghost.

Jesus tells them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” John D. Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, remarks:

The words It is I (lit., ‘I am,’ egō eimi) may simply convey self-identification (‘It is I, Jesus’), but they are probably intended here to echo the Old Testament formula of God’s self-revelation: ‘I am who I am’ (cf. Ex. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 51:12; 52:6).

Jesus climbs into the boat and the winds calm down. Mark records that the disciples are amazed because they did not understand who Jesus really was, even after seeing Jesus feed five thousand people.

The miracle of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and John. Only Luke does not record it.