Tag Archives: Mark Strauss

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.

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.