The Gospel of Mark 6

A Study Course By Reverend Christopher Cooke

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The Passion Part 2

Chapter 14:1-2 and 14:10-11 – The Plot to Arrest Jesus.

This is another of Mark’s trademark sandwiches. In the middle is the Anointing at Bethany which we have already considered. The woman is the contrasting admirable figure compared to the Jewish religious leaders and Judas Iscariot. We have also considered why Judas may have done it but that does not excuse that he did do it.

Who wants to arrest Jesus?
When do they want to arrest Jesus?
What do they want to do with Jesus?
What role did Judas play in facilitating the arrest?

The Jewish religious leaders want to arrest Jesus and dispose of him. However, they want to avoid inflaming Jesus’ enthusiastic supporters. Indeed, they did not want to stir up all those Galileans who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover who seem to be in an excited stated about Jesus. Jesus was teaching in the Temple and, at other times of the day, there were always crowds around him. If an arrest was to take place, it would have to be after dark in a quiet place. Judas was essential for this because only one of the insiders would know where Jesus might be that night. For this service Judas will be well paid.

We have considered before why Judas did it. “Iscariot” might suggest he was a patriot. He may have joined the movement from motives of high-minded patriotism. He might have had hoped that Jesus’ arrest would force Jesus into action. The other possible root for “Iscariot” is that Judas’ family originated from the village of Keriot. Keriot is in Judah and that would make Judas the only non-Galilean amongst the Twelve we know of. Coming back to his homeland, and possibly into contact with his relatives, coupled with Jesus’ attack on the Temple, may have meant he was a ‘weak link’ who could be worked on by the Temple authorities. Similarly, his patriotism may well have encompassed a love for the Temple and Jerusalem. When Jesus attacked these, this may have deeply troubled Judas. However, there is no indication that Judas reported on Jesus’ teaching to the authorities. He does not appear before the Sanhedrin as a key prosecution witness. Judas’ reputation was of the blackest amongst the early Christians but no-one accused him of doing that.

Chapter 14:12-21 – The Passover Meal.

Dick France heads this “Old Passover and new”.

What does the Passover celebrate?

The Passover was itself a commemorative meal, celebrating Israel’s original liberation from slavery in Egypt. This was an act of God and accomplished under the leadership of Moses. Through it Israel became a nation. At the heart of the Passover meal is death, the death of the lamb, whose blood on the doorposts kept safe the houses of the Israelites when the firstborn of Egypt were killed.

The Passover meal was made up of several courses interspersed by four cups of wine. For each course and each cup there were appropriate words of blessing and explanation by the head of the family. It is a family celebration. So, that Jesus celebrated this with the Twelve means this was also a family celebration – a new family – with Jesus as the head of the family.

Who is, as Dick France puts it, the cuckoo in the nest?

Why does Jesus remark on this now?

Jesus was aware that Judas is about to betray him. He gives the other disciples warning that there is a traitor amongst them. Jesus does not want the others to be taken completely by surprise. However, Jesus does nothing to stop Judas carrying out his intention. Nor does Jesus identify who the traitor is. If he did, the others would surely have stopped him leaving the room. Again, we see Jesus being passive and allowing events to take their course.

Chapter 14:22-25 – The Institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Tom Wright points out that, frustratingly for our rationalistic age, it is remarkably difficult to explain to an outsider the significance of this event. You have to live and experience Holy Communion/Eucharist at first hand.

What was Jesus doing?

What is the significance of the Last Supper to us?

Now a new Passover meal, under a new leader, marks the foundation of a people of God which is no longer national but international, the people of the new covenant. Now blood will be shed, the blood not of a sacrificial lamb but of the Son of God, by whose death ‘many’ will be saved.

The events of this meal were remembered and cherished. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is the oldest account of the Lord’s Supper. There, Jesus says ‘do this in remembrance of me’ [11:23-26].

In fact, there are remarkably few instructions from Jesus about how we should worship. There is a reference, shortly to come, about singing Psalms (see below). The Lord’s Prayer is given in slightly different versions in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels but does not appear in Mark’s Gospel. We have seen the baptism of Jesus occurs in all four Gospels and this Last Supper appears in Mark’s, Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels and in a different form in John’s Gospel. Baptism and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper would seem to be the foundational acts of worship for Christians.

The Twelve were slow at understanding but even they must have been aware that what Jesus was enacting was his own death. His body is about to be broken and his blood spilled. However, he is also inviting them to participate in all this. The broken body and the shed blood are to be food and drink for his people. This will be a new covenant. There are many covenants in the Old Testament between God and people. There is one with Noah and one with King David. Because this is set in a Passover meal, however, the most obvious covenant is the one with Moses on Mount Sinai.

So the death that Jesus is about to undergo is not a mistake or a disaster, but the means to the salvation of his people, the people of the new covenant. Dick France

Death is not the end but a beginning. Jesus is already looking beyond the cross to the new life of the kingdom of God. Jesus may well be thinking of the promised messianic banquet. This meal is also a foretaste of what is to come.

His death, however, will actually facilitate the coming of the kingdom and the redemption of Israel. It is probably in this sense that we should understand Jesus’ statement that his death is “on behalf of many”.
Craig Evans.
God’s kingdom is now coming on earth as in heaven. In that sense, the meal is a surprise party for the disciples, though it turns out to be a very sad one. This meal, with all its new-passover associations, was Jesus’ primary means of enabling his followers not only to understand his death but to let it do its freedom-work in their lives and in the world.
Tom Wright.
As Christians today share the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper, they do so with due solemnity indeed, for it is their Lord’s death which they are remembering, but also with thanksgiving (which is what ‘eucharist’ means) for the life which that death has achieved.
Dick France.

Chapter 14:26-31 – Peter’s Denial Foretold.

The Mount of Olives is the hillside which faces Jerusalem across the narrow valley of the Kidron. Many Passover pilgrims would have been camping overnight here. Previously, Jesus had returned to Bethany for the night but this night, he intends to stay nearer the city. The hymn that they sing would have been one of the Hallel Psalms sung at this time (Psalms 113 to 118 in our Bibles).

What does Jesus predict about Peter and the disciples?

Jesus predicts that all the disciples, including Peter, will desert Jesus in the end. Jesus knows that all the preparation has not been enough. He knows that they will not be able to withstand the pressure that is to come. The disciples’ loyalty is not so much in question as their strength which has not yet been tested.

Jesus quotes the prophet Zechariah which was itself a judgement upon Israel. Similarly, Jerusalem will be judged by God. There are links too with Chapter 13.

Peter also makes a prediction: others may fall away but he will not. Jesus’ predictions come true and Peter’s does not.

What does Jesus predict in verse 28?

After their pilgrimage trip to Jerusalem, the disciples would have expected to return home to Galilee.

Despite, Jesus’ gloomy prediction, his mind is still on the future. He can see beyond the cross to the resurrection. Beyond the rejection in Jerusalem, he looks towards a reunion with the disciples in Galilee. He thinks about his familiar homeland and a new beginning.

In addition, Jesus is ‘going ahead’ of them. Shepherds in the Holy Land usually led their flocks, so Jesus may be saying he will be leading them in Galilee.

Chapter 14:32-42 – Jesus Prays in Gethsemane.

Gethsemane means ‘oil press’. So this suggests this plot of land is probably an olive orchard. It is in the area of the Mount of Olives.

Who does Jesus take with him?
What is Jesus doing?
What are the three disciples doing?
What is Jesus feeling?

Jesus posts the bulk of his disciples as a watch while he goes to pray. Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John just as he did at the Transfiguration (9:2-8). That was a momentous occasion for them and we might have expected that they would be similarly alert on this occasion.

The prayer itself “Abba, Father… remove this cup from me” reveals the human Jesus who recoils from the coming suffering. It is an impressive picture. Jesus is fully aware of the severity of the trial that lies ahead. There is a contrast between the suffering expressed now and the way Jesus deals with the unfolding events. No aspect of the Passion seems to take Jesus by surprise when it happens. He meets it all with dignity and serenity.

Jesus’ prayer acknowledges that God can do all things. So this prayer underscores the idea that this is God’s will. It is not Jesus’ wish but God’s and Jesus accepts it. The reference to the “cup” reminds us of the question that Jesus put to James and John when they, shockingly, asked to sit at his right and left in heaven. (10:38-39). Despite this, they are with Jesus now!

Meanwhile, the three disciples are far from being alert and they keep falling asleep. Perhaps, the three times Jesus finds Peter and the brothers asleep, is meant to parallel Peter’s three denials.

As Craig Evans comments, while Jesus gains strength through prayer, his disciples lose spiritual fortitude, thus becoming vulnerable to fear and faithlessness. They are still unready for the ordeal ahead. They are probably exhausted, physically and emotionally, at the pace of events since arriving in Jerusalem. This will be the pattern of the Passion account as it plays out.

Mark’s portrait is of one who is master of the situation, not that of a fanatic who in bewilderment sees his plans go awry.
Craig Evans

Ironically, it is Jesus who announces the arrival of the betrayer and not the disciples who are supposed to be keeping watch!

Chapter 14:43-52 – The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus.

How does Judas betray Jesus?
Who is with Judas?
What is Jesus’ reaction?
What is the reaction of the disciples?

We have seen that Judas’ role was to lead the arresting party to find Jesus when he was not surrounded by crowds. It was dark and so the kiss was to mark out which of these men in the gloom was indeed Jesus. Judas is accompanied by a rag band of men who worked for the ruling priests. Craig Evans calls them thugs. This is not a Roman action but the Sanhedrin (see below) using its delegated powers.

Seizure at night was intended to render Jesus’ following leaderless and powerless, so by avoiding any organized revolt. Someone draws a sword and strikes the servant of the high priest. Matthew’s Gospel tells us this was Peter and that Jesus then healed the man. It would seem that a disciple tried to come between Jesus and the arresting party which was a brave thing to do.

Jesus rebukes those who have come to arrest him secretly when he has been openly teaching in the Temple. However, Jesus does not resist and he is taken away to the Sanhedrin. As Dick France notes Jesus is not a desperado but a peaceful religious teacher. After all, he knew that Judas was going to betray him and he could have taken avoiding action and just been somewhere else. Jesus sees these events as fulfilling scripture.

The disciples flee away for their lives through the trees, including that “certain young man” (which we have looked at before).

Chapter 14:53-65 – Jesus Before the Council.

This is the Council of Jewish leaders – the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had been set up by the Romans in the form of a liaison committee following the Roman occupation of Palestine under Pompey. As this was Jerusalem, this is probably the Great Sanhedrin with its seventy one judges. They met in the Hall of the Hewn Stones. It was made up of Jewish elites to deal with censuses and taxes as well as administrative and military matters. Because of this, and particularly because of the taxes, it was often viewed as a tainted institution involved in collaboration with the occupying Romans.

What do you make of the witnesses?

What is very interesting is that although Judas Iscariot has betrayed Jesus, he is not, as one might have expected called to be the star prosecution witness. Did he refuse? Were they not sure what he might actually say? Was he already regretting what he had done?

In the end, it seems they have to scrape the bottom of the barrel and end up with some far from convincing witnesses. The Law of Moses as found in Deuteronomy (17:6 and 19:15) requires that the testimony of witnesses must be in agreement. The accusation does not quite match the words we heard Jesus speak earlier in the Gospel. However, they are close enough so that we might expect this biased Sanhedrin would have convicted him. Craig Evans thinks they may not have agreed about the circumstances in which these words were said. Anyway, the witnesses are not convincing under cross examination. But who offered this cross examination we are not sure. Perhaps, Joseph of Arimathea was a possible person in light of what he does later (see below). If we take John’s Gospel into consideration, this may also include Nicodemus.

How does Jesus respond to the questions of the High Priest?

What is the High Priest’s reaction?

With the effect of the witnesses failing to convince, the High Priest goes on to the offensive himself. Jesus is, at first, silent. Then the High Priest asks whether Jesus is the Messiah. To this Jesus says “I am” and then alludes to the Book of Daniel and Psalm 110. While Jesus may have been mistaken for a political liberator, he remains silent. The High Priest is fully aware of what the Messiah will be and Jesus therefore affirms that he is. The High Priest is so enraged that he tears his clothes and accuses him of the crime of blasphemy. The Sanhedrin condemns Jesus to death.

Some of the members spit on and strike Jesus. They blindfold him and mock him. It looks as if things are getting out of hand and moving towards a lynching. Jews were allowed to stone people to death as they did Stephen (and that was the intention with the woman caught in adultery).

Why did they not stone Jesus to death?

They decide not to proceed to stone Jesus, no doubt, because of the volatile situation. If Jerusalem Jews stone a prominent Galilean preacher, this could have led to disturbances between Jerusalemites and Galileans. It would be far better if the Romans would do their dirty work for them.

Chapter 14:66-72 – Peter Denies Jesus.

How reprehensible was Peter?
Do you have sympathy for him?

If we can give Judas some credit that he did not turn prosecution witness, we can give some credit to Peter that he was as close as he could get to Jesus thereby placing himself in some jeopardy. There is a dogged loyalty about Peter but this undermined by his responses to the questions asked of him. Peter denies knowing Jesus twice and then as it all becomes uglier and Peter “began to curse, and he swore an oath…” Dick France wonders who he was cursing! It is all a great contrast from the promises Peter made to Jesus.

Mark’s portrait contrasting Jesus and Peter is masterful…
Craig Evans

Chapter 15:1-5 – Jesus Before Pilate.

This is a very short section compared to what is found in the other Gospel accounts.

Modern historians have differing assessments of Pilate as an effective ruler. While some believe he was a particularly brutal and ineffective governor, others argue that his long time in office (ten years) means he must have been reasonably competent.

How does Jesus reply to Pilate?
How does Pilate respond?

We notice that whereas the High Priest was interested in whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, Pontius Pilate wants to know whether Jesus is “the King of the Jews”. Jesus has always been trying to portray himself as the Messiah in a nuanced way. He would only be a king in a spiritual sense. He had no intention of being another Judas Maccabaeus. To Pilate Jesus replies “You say so”. Perhaps, this is because Pilate is partly right but not in the way he thinks. Jesus’ next words will be from the cross.

Pilate was not interested in issues of blasphemy. When Pilate points out all the charges brought against Jesus by the Sanhedrin, Jesus remains silent. The Roman Senate made kings (such as Herod the Great) but self-proclaimed kings were seen as treasonous. In the decades before and after Jesus there had been several would-be kings. Pilate was amazed that Jesus did not defend himself. Mark shows Jesus in a favourable light standing calmly before his accusers with great dignity.

Chapter 15:6-15 – Pilate Hands Jesus Over to be Crucified.

This is the most debatable event in the Passion account. There are no records of such a custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover festival and it seems an unlikely thing for the Romans to do. However, it is attested not only here in Mark’s Gospel (and followed by Matthew and Luke), it is also attested in the independent source that is John’s Gospel. It would have been risky to make it up if it could be easily refuted. So, it may have been a one-off event in which Pilate wanted to let some of the steam out of a very tense situation. However, it is likely that the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd to ensure that Pilate carried out the wishes of the Sanhedrin.

Who is calling for Jesus’ execution?
Who is encouraging them to do so?

Dick France has pointed out that those who hailed Jesus with “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” on his entry into Jerusalem, were probably fellow Galilean pilgrims. So, here the crowd calling out for his death may have been mainly Jerusalemites stirred up by members of the Sanhedrin and their supporters. After all, the Temple was central to their worship. How would we react to someone who is said to advocate the destruction of our Cathedrals and Parish Churches?

Anyway, the crowds choose to save Barabbas rather than to save Jesus. In doing so, they do not have Rome’s interests at heart because Barabbas seems to have been a revolutionary. Nor are they over-concerned with the peace of the city because with Barabbas free, there is more volatility. But then rebels, like Robin Hood, can be attractive and are often popular with ordinary people.

Is Mark trying to lay the blame on the Jews here?

We know Luke, in his Gospel and Acts, often portrays the Roman authorities in a better light and puts more of the blame upon the Jews. After all, Luke was writing for Christians who resided outside the Holy Land. Mark, who we think was also writing for Christians outside the Holy Land, seems to be doing something similar. By the time the Gospels were written it would be clear that the Jews had turned their backs on Jesus and his message. Matthew, who was writing in the Holy Land and who was in debate with the Jews, gives a more nuanced and informed picture about the variety of Jewish views. However, the only change here is that Mark and Luke have “Crucify him!” whereas Matthew has “Let him be crucified!”

Pilate is not a man of principle and gives way to the pressure of the crowds. He orders Jesus to be flogged. Flogging seems to have been standard pre-crucifixion procedure.

What is surprising and chilling, however, is to hear a Jewish crowd calling for the barbaric Roman punishment of crucifixion to be imposed on any Jew, however unwelcome his political stance.
Dick France

Chapter 15:16-20 – The Soldiers Mock Jesus.

Is this unexpected?
In the light of what they accuse Jesus, is there irony here?

Members of the Sanhedrin have already mocked Jesus and now it is the turn of the Roman soldiers. They are acting out a mock salute of a Roman emperor. During a time of celebration, the emperor would wear an ivy crown and a robe with a purple mantle. The crowd would then proclaim “Hail Caesar!” This mock homage descends into horseplay. This also fulfils Jesus’ predictions before entering Jerusalem. For the soldiers it was a simple case of someone who was foolhardy enough to challenge the Roman occupying force. However, there is a further irony here because Christians believe that Jesus was indeed a king. The Roman emperors claimed to be sons of God, but Jesus was the Son of God.

Chapter 15:21-32 – The Crucifixion of Jesus.

Again, it is unusual for the condemned not to carry their cross-beam all the way to the execution site. Then again, crucifixion was usually reserved for the most hardened of criminals, slaves and insurrectionists. It was a particularly gruesome form of execution. Jesus may have been seen as an insurrectionist but he was not a hardened criminal. Nor was he a slave in their eyes although he might see himself as a slave of God.

There are some wonderful Good Friday hymns including “When I survey the wondrous cross”, “There is a green hill” and “O sacred head, surrounded”.

How does Mark’s account compare with these hymns?

The Roman Catholic Church developed “Stations of the Cross” for Christians who could not travel to Jerusalem to walk in the steps of Jesus along the Via Doloroso. I have led my more ecumenical version of this for many years. You walk round the Church and identify with Jesus’ last journey to the cross. You are invited to share in Jesus’ suffering. There are Stations of the Cross on the walls of St George’s. Similarly, the great Passion hymns ask us to identify with Jesus’ suffering for us on the cross.

It strikes me that Mark’s Gospel, in contrast with Luke’s Gospel, does not dwell on the suffering of Jesus. The suffering is in the Garden of Gethsemane and the one word Jesus speaks from the cross. These could be seen as much as spiritual torment as physical suffering. Yet, we know, from Chapter 13, that Mark can describe physical suffering vividly. Mark’s portrayal of the crucifixion seems to me to be very restrained. He portrays a dignified Jesus who goes to his death, saying very little and he does not resist. Yet there is the conviction that this is God’s work. As Christopher Evans writes, Mark’s Passion is full of both mystery and realism.

Was Simon of Cyrene just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Or was he at the right place at the right time?
Should Simon Peter have helped carry the cross for Jesus?

Simon of Cyrene was compelled to help Jesus with the cross-beam. Perhaps, as Dick France suggests, he was a stranger who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as his sons are named by Mark, this suggests that this may have put Simon and his family on a new path. They had, perhaps, become Christians. Cyrene is in, what is now, eastern Libya. We do not know if he was also a pilgrim or whether he had relocated to the Holy Land or he was in the Holy Land on business. We do know that there were pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean fifty days later at Pentecost. Perhaps, if this was a life-changing experience, he may have been in the right place at the right time. We might have expected from his words, that Simon Peter would perform this task.

The narcotic drink was designed to alleviate the pain a little.

What does Jesus do?

Jesus refuses the narcotic drink, determined to undergo the ordeal in full consciousness. We notice that Mark gives no details about the actual fastening to the cross.

Why does Mark mention the dividing of Jesus’ clothes?

Mark does not record the central horrific act but rather the narcotic drink and the Jewish soldiers gambling for Jesus’ remaining meagre possessions. This was seen to fulfil Psalm 22:18 (a Psalm shortly on Jesus’ lips) and Psalm 69:21.

Josephus (the Jewish writer who records the Jewish Uprising against Rome) uses the term ‘bandits’ for insurrectionists and revolutionaries.

Does this suggest that Jesus was crucified between two of Barabbas’ associates?

This is almost certainly the case in Mark’s Gospel.

What about the superscription?
What did the Romans mean by it?
What does it mean to us?

There is a great irony that Jesus was condemned to death because he was accused of being an insurrectionist and he dies between two of the violent rebels.

So Jesus, who has refused the temptation to lead a political movement, dies in the company of revolutionaries. This underlines the depth of popular, and indeed official, misunderstanding of what Jesus’ mission had been all about.
Dick France

The Romans meant to be sarcastic with the superscription but for Mark, and all Christians since, it is, as Morna Hooker suggests, profoundly true.

But for Mark it is on the cross that Jesus is proclaimed to be the King of Israel, and by his death that he is affirmed as Messiah.
Morna Hooker

Who is mocking Jesus and what taunt are they using?

Morna Hooker thinks it is highly unlikely that members of the august Sanhedrin would be seen themselves at a site of execution. However, Mark probably gets the spirit of the occasion correct. We have seen Roman soldiers mocking Jesus and that is understandable but now Jews form a mocking chorus. The mockers are people encouraged to do this by members of the Sanhedrin who had previously encouraged Jerusalemites to call for Jesus’ crucifixion. We notice that again they initially taunt him about threatening the future of their beloved Temple. Of course, in AD70 it was destroyed by the Romans. The later taunt is not dissimilar to the demands of the Pharisees earlier in the Gospel that Jesus perform a miracle on demand.

To save himself would in fact be to deny that he was the Messiah, not establish it. It would also be to deny the principle set out by Jesus in 8:35 that it is by losing one’s life that one gains it.
Morna Hooker

Chapter 15:33-41 – The Death of Jesus.

We heard Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane. There were just the words “You say so” before Pilate. Here, is the only word from the Cross recorded in Mark’s Gospel.

The words recorded here are from Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is a lament but it ends, like many laments, on a more upbeat note. This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel, that Jesus does not address God as ‘Father’.

Is that significant?
Why does Jesus quote Psalm 22 now?
What is the darkness about?

Craig Evans argues that the darkness is God’s judgement of what is happening and Jesus’ words suggests that the divine judgement has, in part, fallen upon him. This is consistent with 14:27 (his words in the Garden of Gethsemane). In rejecting God’s Son (as in the Parable of the Vineyard 12:1-12), God strikes his own people, beginning with Israel’s shepherd.

How are the words understood by those nearby?

The bystanders mishear what Jesus is saying and think that he may be calling on Elijah. Would Elijah come and rescue this righteous man?

Why was the curtain of the temple torn in two?

This, for Mark, foreshadows the coming doom of the Temple in AD70.

What do you make of the centurion’s words?

This is in many ways the climax of Mark’s Gospel. This is Mark’s comment on all that has happened. The centurion is switching his allegiance from Caesar, the official ‘Son of God’ to Jesus, the real Son of God. Here too we see Mark looking towards a better relationship between Romans and Christians.

Mary Magdalene and the other Marys are looking on faithfully witnessing the crucifixion. They stand in stark contrast to the male disciples who have fled. Christians ever since must be grateful for their witness and the Church’s testimony rests upon their witness.

Most victims of crucifixion lingered on in pain for many hours, and gradually lost consciousness. Jesus’ death is very different… His work is done, and his death comes suddenly and with a loud cry. It is as if he is deliberately letting go.
Dick France

Chapter 15:42-47 – The Burial of Jesus.

The bodies of the crucified were usually left on the cross to decay and were then simply thrown on the ground unburied. Pilate would have been surprised to be asked to allow the burial of a victim and especially to be asked by a prominent Jewish member of the Sanhedrin.

Was Joseph of Arimathea a brave man?
Was he a generous man?
Did Joseph believe that Jesus did not deserve to die in this way?
Was he a follower of Jesus?
Where were the male disciples?
Where were the female disciples?

Jewish custom was opposed to leaving bodies unburied. Of course, for many proven miscreants, there was no alternative. Perhaps, there is a feeling amongst some Jewish circles that Jesus did not do anything to warrant such a death. Craig Evans suggests that Pilate was probably only too happy to have the corpse of Jesus removed from public view and thereby putting an end to the whole sorry affair. He ascertains that Jesus is indeed dead and then releases the body. Normally, the bodies of the crucified were not returned to their families and after days on the cross were thrown into a common pit. So, this is exceptional treatment granted by Pilate. Does he also have doubts about Jesus’ guilt? Did he do it because he knew it would not please the Sanhedrin who had put him in such an awkward situation?

Yet, Joseph was an exceedingly brave man because he could have enraged Pilate and he certainly went against the wishes of the Sanhedrin, as a whole, who had condemned Jesus as a blasphemer. Mark says that Joseph was “waiting patiently for the kingdom of God”. He was probably not a follower of Jesus at this time. But perhaps we can apply some words Jesus used 12:34: Joseph was “not far from the kingdom of God”. To have such a tomb available meant that Joseph was a wealthy man. (A mediaeval legend has Joseph coming to Glastonbury as a Christian missionary).

However, there is little time left before the Sabbath begins and it is a rather rushed burial. Perhaps this is why Joseph omitted to provide the customary spices for burial.

The women witness the placing of Jesus in the tomb and the tomb being sealed by the stone. There is no mention of the male disciples or Jesus’ family.

Morna Hooker remarks that the story of Jesus’ burial was important because it confirmed the reality of Jesus’ death. There were some who argued that Jesus did not die on the cross.

Chapter 16:1-8 – The Resurrection of Jesus.

We can tell from the vocabulary and general writing, that Mark’s Gospel ends at verse 8.

The question is whether this is the intentional end or whether Mark was interrupted and could not finish his Gospel or whether the ending is lost.

The women return after the Sabbath to anoint the body of Jesus.

What has happened to the stone sealing the tomb?
Where is the body of Jesus?

Because Jesus had been buried in haste and probably because his criminal status had placed restrictions on the burial rites, three brave women risk going to the tomb early on Sunday morning to complete the burial process and to weep at the tomb. They wonder who will roll the stone away. As Craig Evans remarks, it is ironic that not one of Jesus’ male disciples was available to offer this assistance. Anyway, the stone has been rolled away.

Who is the young man dressed in white?
What is his message?
How does 14:28 fit in with this?

Mark does not call the young man an angel (although Matthew does do so in his version). Craig Evans and Dick France think that Mark intends him to be an angel. If so, this is the only time that an angel appears in Mark’s Gospel. Angels do not appear in John’s Gospel either. Angels appear in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels in their birth narratives and in their accounts of the empty tomb.

The young man’s message is that Jesus “is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him” and this is a very similar message to 14:28. Craig Evans writes that the male disciples who deserted Jesus are probably already on their way back to Galilee. Ironically, Jesus will be there before them to greet them.

Galilee, as we have seen, is also a more mixed area with Jews and Gentiles sharing the shores of the Galilean Lake. ‘Galilee’ was used as a way into the Gentile world. Mark may also be saying that the Gospel will spread in the Gentile world rather than in the Jewish nation.

What is their response?

Ernest Best (amongst others) argues this is how the Gospel was intended to end.

What do you think about the ending?

We know the Gospel spread exponentially.

Could the women have remained silent?

Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly with the notation that the women were so astonished that they were left frightened and speechless.
It also ends with a dramatic finish emphasizing once again the awesome power of Jesus, who not only astounded people during his ministry but also astounded people in his death and resurrection.
Craig Evans
We can well understand the women’s ‘terror and amazement’. To go to a tomb looking for a body would unnerve the strongest of us. What is not so easy to grasp is their fear and their silence.
Dick France
Up to this point, the women in Mark’s story have done well: they alone witnessed his death and burial. But at this point, even they fail.
Morna Hooker

Mark’s Gospel ends in awe. The Gospel began abruptly and it ends abruptly as well.

However, the women are commissioned to pass on to the disciples a message of hope and joy. Dick France asks whether their fear and their silence were only temporary, and that in due course they delivered their message. Perhaps, this was when they got back to Galilee if the male disciples were already on the way back.

Ernest Best believes the ending is appropriate because it is ended by our response.

Is that convincing?

I have always been convinced that Mark’s Gospel ends at 16:8 but whether this was an intentional ending is so very debatable. As I have written this course, I have been undecided with arguments for both points of view. It is one of the great imponderables.

Mark’s ending is missing. I am convinced of it.
Tom Wright

Dick France tends to go in the same direction but Morna Hooker, like Ernest Best, could not disagree more. Perhaps because the other Gospels have resurrection appearances, we assume that the first Gospel must have them as well. A resurrection appearance is definitely foreshadowed in the words of the young man/angel.

I have found Ernest Best’s suggestion that the Gospel is only completed by our response as a useful tool when preaching the resurrection. However, I have to agree with Dick France that it is a modern or even post-modern way of thinking and probably does not represent Mark’s way of thinking.

On the questions paper, I quote Craig Evans pointing out that the transition from verse 8 to verse 9 (the beginning of the later Long Ending) is very clumsy. What has been exercising me is in what way Mark could have continued onwards from verse 8 which would not be as clumsy.

The other important insight is Morna Hooker’s view that the women failed. We looked at Mark’s treatment of characters in an earlier session.

According to Mark:

  • Jesus’ family failed.
    • But we know from other sources that Jesus’ brother was to head up the Jerusalem church.
    • The other Gospels give a much more prominent and faithful role for his mother Mary (and, indeed, Joseph).
  • The male disciples failed.
    • But we know that Simon Peter was to become the leader of the church.
    • Other apostles were prominent in spreading the Gospel and James was the first to lose his life.
  • Now even the female disciples fail.
    • But the other Gospels say they did pass the message on.
    • And they must have done so because the Gospel spread so quickly.

As we have seen those who appear only once in the Gospel are the models. And in this week’s study we have Simon of Cyrene, the centurion and Joseph of Arimathea.

But the only figure who has not failed at all is Jesus himself and the God who works his purposes through him.

I have been groping towards an answer while writing this course. I have been struck by the number of occasions there appears to be a similar outlook between Mark and Paul as expressed in his Letters.

Paul argues that we cannot help and save ourselves. It is purely through God’s grace that we are saved and given new life. This is based only on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The words of the boy’s father in Mark 9:21-24 are important here: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Is Mark saying that all humans fail and

  • Despite our failings God achieves everything through the death and resurrection of Jesus?
  • And despite our failings the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world?
  • Nothing is the same because of Jesus Christ and nothing else really matters.

This was too much for the Gospel writers who followed Mark. They wanted to rebuild the reputation of Jesus’ family and Jesus’ disciples. But for Mark, like Paul, that was not really the point. All that matters to Mark is Jesus Christ and God.

Questions

The Passion Part 2

Chapter 14:1-2 and 14:10-11 – The Plot to Arrest Jesus.

This is another of Mark’s trademark sandwiches. In the middle is the Anointing at Bethany which we have already considered. The woman is the contrasting admirable figure compared to the Jewish religious leaders and Judas Iscariot. We have also considered why Judas may have done it but that does not excuse that he did do it.

Who wants to arrest Jesus?
When do they want to arrest Jesus?
What do they want to do with Jesus?
What role did Judas play in facilitating the arrest?

Chapter 14:12-21 – The Passover Meal.

Dick France heads this “Old Passover and new”.

What does the Passover celebrate?
Who is, as Dick France puts it, the cuckoo in the nest?
Why does Jesus remark on this now?

Chapter 14:22-25 – The Institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Tom Wright points out that, frustratingly for our rationalistic age, it is remarkably difficult to explain to an outsider the significance of this event. You have to live and experience Holy Communion/Eucharist at first hand.

What was Jesus doing?
What is the significance of the Last Supper to us?

Chapter 14:26-31 – Peter’s Denial Foretold.

The Mount of Olives is the hillside which faces Jerusalem across the narrow valley of the Kidron. Many Passover pilgrims would have been camping overnight here. Previously, Jesus had returned to Bethany for the night but this night, he intends to stay nearer the city. The hymn that they sing would have been one of the Hallel Psalms sung at this time (Psalms 113 to 118 in our Bibles).

What does Jesus predict about Peter and the disciples?
What does Jesus predict in verse 28?

Chapter 14:32-42 – Jesus Prays in Gethsemane.

Gethsemane means ‘oil press’. So this suggests this plot of land is probably an olive orchard. It is in the area of the Mount of Olives.

Who does Jesus take with him?
What is Jesus doing?
What are the three disciples doing?
What is Jesus feeling?

Chapter 14:43-52 – The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus.

How does Judas betray Jesus?
Who is with Judas?
What is Jesus’ reaction?
What is the reaction of the disciples?

Chapter 14:53-65 – Jesus Before the Council.

This is the Council of Jewish leaders – the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had been set up by the Romans in the form of a liaison committee following the Roman occupation of Palestine under Pompey. As this was Jerusalem, this is probably the Great Sanhedrin with its seventy one judges. They met in the Hall of the Hewn Stones. It was made up of Jewish elites to deal with censuses and taxes as well as administrative and military matters. Because of this, and particularly because of the taxes, it was often viewed as a tainted institution involved in collaboration with the occupying Romans.

What do you make of the witnesses?
How does Jesus respond to the questions of the High Priest?
What is the High Priest’s reaction?

Mark’s ending is missing. I am convinced of it.
Tom Wright

Jews were allowed to stone people to death as they did Stephen (and that was the intention with the woman caught in adultery).

Why did they not stone Jesus to death?

Chapter 14:66-72 – Peter Denies Jesus.

How reprehensible was Peter?
Do you have sympathy for him?

Chapter 15:1-5 – Jesus Before Pilate.

This is a very short section compared to what is found in the other Gospel accounts.

Modern historians have differing assessments of Pilate as an effective ruler. While some believe he was a particularly brutal and ineffective governor, others argue that his long time in office (ten years) means he must have been reasonably competent.

How does Jesus reply to Pilate?
How does Pilate respond?

Chapter 15:6-15 – Pilate Hands Jesus Over to be Crucified.

This is the most debatable event in the Passion account. There are no records of such a custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover festival and it seems an unlikely thing for the Romans to do. However, it is attested not only here in Mark’s Gospel (and followed by Matthew and Luke), it is also attested in the independent source that is John’s Gospel. It would have been risky to make it up if it could be easily refuted. So, it may have been a one-off event in which Pilate wanted to let some of the steam out of a very tense situation. However, it is likely that the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd to ensure that Pilate carried out the wishes of the Sanhedrin.

Who is calling for Jesus’ execution?
Who is encouraging them to do so?
Is Mark trying to lay the blame on the Jews here?

Chapter 15:16-20 – The Soldiers Mock Jesus.

Is this unexpected?
In the light of what they accuse Jesus, is there irony here?

Chapter 15:21-32 – The Crucifixion of Jesus.

Again, it is unusual for the condemned not to carry their cross-beam all the way to the execution site. Then again, crucifixion was usually reserved for the most hardened of criminals, slaves and insurrectionists. It was a particularly gruesome form of execution. Jesus may have been seen as an insurrectionist but he was not a hardened criminal. Nor was he a slave in their eyes although he might see himself as a slave of God.

There are some wonderful Good Friday hymns including “When I survey the wondrous cross”, “There is a green hill” and “O sacred head, surrounded”.

How does Mark’s account compare with these hymns?
Was Simon of Cyrene just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Or was he at the right place at the right time?
Should Simon Peter have helped carry the cross for Jesus?

The narcotic drink was designed to alleviate the pain a little.

What does Jesus do?
Why does Mark mention the dividing of Jesus’ clothes?

Josephus (the Jewish writer who records the Jewish Uprising against Rome) uses the term ‘bandits’ for insurrectionists and revolutionaries.

Does this suggest that Jesus was crucified between two of Barabbas’ associates?
What about the superscription?
What did the Romans mean by it?
What does it mean to us?
Who is mocking Jesus and what taunt are they using?

Chapter 15:33-41 – The Death of Jesus.

We heard Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane. There were just the words “You say so” before Pilate. Here, is the only word from the Cross recorded in Mark’s Gospel.

The words recorded here are from Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is a lament but it ends, like many laments, on a more upbeat note. This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel, that Jesus does not address God as ‘Father’.

Is that significant?
Why does Jesus quote Psalm 22 now?
What is the darkness about?
How are the words understood by those nearby?
Why was the curtain of the temple torn in two?
What do you make of the centurion’s words?

Chapter 15:42-47 – The Burial of Jesus.

The bodies of the crucified were usually left on the cross to decay and were then simply thrown on the ground unburied. Pilate would have been surprised to be asked to allow the burial of a victim and especially to be asked by a prominent Jewish member of the Sanhedrin.

Was Joseph of Arimathea a brave man?
Was he a generous man?
Did Joseph believe that Jesus did not deserve to die in this way?
Was he a follower of Jesus?
Where were the male disciples?
Where were the female disciples?

Chapter 16:1-8 – The Resurrection of Jesus.

We can tell from the vocabulary and general writing, that Mark’s Gospel ends at verse 8.

The question is whether this is the intentional end or whether Mark was interrupted and could not finish his Gospel or whether the ending is lost.

The first performances of Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” ended where Puccini had laid down his pen and died. However, these days we usually hear the opera as it was completed (using previous themes) by Alfano. Similarly, Mozart’s Requiem is often heard in the completion by Sussmayr.

It is therefore not surprising that others provided, at least, two endings for Mark’s Gospel.

At least two of Mark’s readers in antiquity shared the feeling of many modern readers that his Gospel was unfinished. To some extent, this feeling results from our knowledge of the other gospels:
we expect more because they include more. Yet clearly the other evangelists considered more was necessary and by their own endings demonstrated for them, too, Mark stopped short.
Morna Hooker

Of the Long Ending (16:9-20).

The entire passage appears to have been composed from the resurrection accounts of Matthew, Luke and John, and even has alluded to events described in the book of Acts. The parallels with Acts and the other Gospels, the high concentration of vocabulary found nowhere else in Mark, the absence of these verses in the oldest copies of Mark… and the awkward connection between 16:8 and 9 led most scholars to conclude the Long Ending of Mark was not part of the original Gospel.
Craig Evans

Of the Short Ending:

Some manuscripts preserve the so-called Short Ending to Mark. Almost all those that do also contain the Long Ending… This ending, too, has no compelling claim to authenticity, for it contains a higher percentage of non-Markan vocabulary and exhibits a rhetorical tone found nowhere else in Mark.
Craig Evans

16:1-8.

The women return after the Sabbath to anoint the body of Jesus.

What has happened to the stone sealing the tomb?
Where is the body of Jesus?
Who is the young man dressed in white?
What is his message?
How does 14:28 fit in with this?
What is their response?

Ernest Best (amongst others) argues this is how the Gospel was intended to end.

What do you think about the ending?

We know the Gospel spread exponentially.

Could the women have remained silent?

Ernest Best believes the ending is appropriate because it is ended by our response.

Is that convincing?

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