What does Mark chapter 15 mean?After three years of public ministry and a week of successful debates with the Jewish civil and religious leadership (Mark 11:27—12:37), Jesus has allowed Himself to be captured. The Jewish council is triumphant; soon they will see Jesus dead. The disciples are in hiding, convinced their plans to reign in Jesus' kingdom are shattered (Matthew 19:28) and their lives are in danger (John 11:16). Jesus is resolved. This is what He came to earth to do (Matthew 20:17–19).
The Sanhedrin is the Jewish council that presides over Jewish law and minor civil offenses. They have held Jesus' trial for most of the night (Mark 14:53–65) and find Him guilty of blasphemy against God according to the Mosaic law, but they do not have authority to execute anyone (John 18:31; 19:6–7). They need to convince Pilate He has as committed a capital offense against the Roman law (Mark 15:1). They settle on twisting Jesus' claim that He is the Jewish Messiah, saying Jesus claims He is king over the Jews, to the exclusion of Caesar. Considering the long tradition of Jews rebelling against the Romans, it's a good idea. The only problem is that Pilate doesn't believe them (Luke 23:22; Mark 15:10).
Pilate is not afraid that a teacher from Nazareth in Galilee is going to incite a rebellion against the Romans. He sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch over Galilee, who happens to be in town for the Passover (Luke 23:6–12). At the beginning of Jesus' ministry, Antipas had killed John the Baptist, and the self-styled king is anxious to talk to this Jesus whom he had heard so much about. When Jesus refuses to make a defense, Antipas agrees with Pilate that He is not a threat (Luke 23:14–15).
Pilate knows the real issue is the Jewish leaders' jealousy of Jesus' following (Mark 15:10). But the Sanhedrin has sway over the thousands of Jews who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover and can easily incite them to riot. If Pilate loses control, Caesar could fire him and exile him to the edges of the Roman Empire. Still, even Pilate's wife warns him against killing an innocent man (Matthew 27:19).
So Pilate tries to mitigate the situation (Mark 15:2–15). First, he horribly beats Jesus in hopes the Sanhedrin will be satisfied (John 19:1–4). Then he makes the Sanhedrin choose who will be released: Jesus or the murderer Barabbas. The Sanhedrin do what they claim Jesus will do: they incite a crowd to do their will, and the crowd chooses Barabbas to be released. Fearing a riot, Pilate refuses legal responsibility and hands Jesus over to be crucified (Matthew 27:24). The Jews take responsibility for Jesus' death (Matthew 27:25) and declare their allegiance to Caesar alone (John 19:15).
The rest of the story is straightforward (Mark 15:16–32). The Roman soldiers march Jesus through Jerusalem, although He is apparently so weak He can't carry the cross bar. Once they arrive at Golgotha, the soldiers crucify Jesus between two robbers. The soldiers and robbers join the chief priests, scribes, and the mob in mocking Jesus. Jesus refuses the mild sedative they offer Him and the guards divide His clothes among them by casting lots. Jesus' death is filled with drama and symbolism (Mark 15:33–41). From noon to three in the afternoon, the sky goes dark. He cries out, citing Psalm 22's lament as God abandons Him to the sins of the world. As He dies, the temple veil tears from top to bottom, symbolically declaring that Jesus has destroyed the barrier sin erects between us and God. The women who have supported His ministry and remain faithful look on from a distance and the Roman centurion finally realizes Jesus is no ordinary man.
Jesus' closest disciples are in hiding, but other followers rush to bury His body before the Sabbath begins (Mark 15:42–47). While Mary Magdalene and another Mary watch, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, and Nicodemus (John 19:39) hastily wrap Jesus' body in cloth and herbs and place Him in a new tomb (John 19:40–41). The next day, the chief priests and Pharisees remember that Jesus had claimed He will rise again. They ask Pilate to seal the tomb and send soldiers to guard it lest the disciples steal His body and claim He has resurrected (Matthew 27:62–66).
In the interim, the women prepare burial spices (Luke 23:56), the disciples hide (John 20:19), and Jesus welcomes the one repentant thief in paradise (Luke 23:42–43).