Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.
(a) Early in the morning; Jesus was arrested late at night, possibly around midnight, and tried before the council during the small hours of the morning. This illustrates the lengths they went to, to keep their sham trial secret (see entry for Matt. 26:57).
(b) The whole Council was the 70-man Sanhedrin that governed Israel. This council was divided into two parties, the Sadducees and Pharisees (Acts 23:6), and was composed of the nation’s chief priests, elders and scribes. Instead of holding their sham trial in their usual chambers in the temple, they met in the court or hall of the palace of the high priest (Matt. 26:58).
(c) They led Him away to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The chief priests had good reasons for wanting Rome to be co-partners in the execution of Jesus (see entry for John 18:31).
(d) Pilate. Pontius Pilate was the governor or prefect responsible for the Roman province of Judea. Normally resident in the coastal town at Caesarea, he came to Jerusalem for the festivals to keep the peace and administer justice. See entry for Luke 3:1.
Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.”
Are You the King of the Jews? The religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because he claimed to be the Son of God (John 19:7), but such a claim would hardly trouble the Romans. To interest the governor, the Sanhedrin had to sell the case as one of sedition. They had to portray Jesus as a political threat, hence “This man claims to be a king” (John 19:21).
The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly.
Began to accuse Him; see entry for Matt. 27:12.
Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!”
Many charges, but no evidence. The chief priests had no witnesses testifying to a seditious plot, and Jesus’ followers had participated in no rebellion.
But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.
Jesus had no interest in either responding to baseless charges or avoiding his date with the cross. Pilate, who had probably seen criminals begging for their lives, was amazed by Jesus’ restraint.
Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested.
This custom seems to have been a Roman innovation. Although Pilate says it’s the Jews’ custom (John 18:39), the practice of releasing criminals is not recorded in the law and seems contrary to the demands of justice. More likely the Romans introduced the practice when they colonized Judea, perhaps as a conciliatory gesture towards those who felt they had been mistreated by harsh Roman law.
The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection.
Barabbas was “a notorious prisoner” and the sort of criminal Rome feared (Matt. 27:16). Pilate would not have wanted to release him.
Barabbas or Bar-Abbas means son of the father. This unusual name has leads to all sorts of speculations. Was Barabbas a nickname for an illegitimate or fatherless child? Was he the son of a Rabbi? Was his name an evil parody on the true Son of the Father?
Some Church Fathers noted that in early manuscripts Barabbas’s first name was identified as Jesus. If so, his name may have been removed by Christian copyists who were unwilling to honor a murderer with the same name as the Savior of the world (source: Adam Clarke).
Since there were two Jesuses on trial, Pilate identifies the rebel by referring to his last name. So one way to read his words in Matthew 27:17 would be; “Do you want me to release Jesus who is called Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”
The crowd went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them.
As he had been accustomed; see entry for Mark 15:6.
Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
(a) Pilate answered them. In movie portrayals, Pilate is often portrayed as aloof from the seething Jewish crowd. But Pilate was afraid of the angry mob (John 19:8). The chief priests said that if Pilate released Jesus, he was no friend of Caesar (John 19:12). This was Pilate’s weakness. As a career man, answerable to a bureaucracy that had little tolerance for chaos and disorder, Pilate could ill afford to be on the wrong side of Caesar.
(b) The King of the Jews. Pilate tried to diminish the threat Jesus by scourging him and presenting him as a broken torture victim. “Behold, the man” (John 19:5). When that scheme failed, he ironically embraced the charge brought by the Jews. “Behold, your king!” (John 19:14).
For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.
Envy seems too mild a word to describe the bitter jealousy of the Sanhedrin. The religious leaders felt threatened by Jesus. His message of love and the free favor of a Father who forgives prodigals challenged their system of fear-based control. Their power came from intimidation and the threat of punishment, but Jesus set people free. To maintain their tight rein over the people, Jesus had to be stopped.
Further reading: “10 Ways Religion is Bad for You.”
But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.
Stirred up the crowd. How did the chief priests convince a mob of religious Jews to shout for the release of a notorious criminal? They did it by portraying Jesus as a blasphemer (see entry for John 19:7).
Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify Him!”
Crucify Him! The same city that shouted “Hosanna” on Sunday, shouted “Crucify him!” on Friday. But we can’t blame the people for being fickle. It was their leaders who persuaded them to change their tune.
But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!”
(a) What evil has He done? Again and again Pilate asked for evidence of some crime and again and again he judged Jesus to be innocent of all charges (Luke 23:22). By all the rules of evidence and due process, Jesus must be released.
(b) But they shouted all the more. Religious fanatics are not easily deterred. Their ploy of portraying Jesus as a threat to Rome had come to nothing, but Caiaphas and the chief priests were not about to give up. “If we can’t convince Pilate that Jesus is a threat to stability, we must show him. Inflame the mob!”
Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.
(a) Wishing to satisfy the crowd. The mood of the crowd turned ugly and Pilate became alarmed (John 19:8). Every time Pilate spoke to Jesus, he resolved to set him free. But when he returned to the cauldron of the courtyard, his resolve wilted under the demonic intimidation emanating from the mob. Eventually, he caved.
(b) Barabbas; see entry for Matt. 27:16.
(c) Scourged. Jesus experienced three severe beatings on this day: (1) he was beaten while in custody and awaiting trial before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:63), (2) he was beaten after his trial (Matt. 26:67, Mark 14:65), and (3) he was scourged and beaten by the Roman soldiers in the Praetorium (Mark 15:19). The third beating was arguably the worst for not everyone survived the brutal Roman scourge.
The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort.
(a) The Praetorium was the hall or residence of the governor when he was visiting Jerusalem. Sometimes translated as palace, this residence could have been part of Herod the Great’s massive palace or it may have been part of the fort or Tower of Antonia where the Roman soldiers were barracked. Given the nearby presence of the Roman cohort (Matt. 27:27), it was likely the latter.
(b) The whole Roman cohort. A Roman cohort is one-tenth of a legion, or about 500 soldiers.
They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him;
(a) Purple was the color of royalty. The robe may have come from Pilate’s wardrobe or it could have been the elegant robe with which Herod dressed Jesus (Luke 23:11). Jesus had been mocked by Herod and his soldiers, and the Roman soldiers continued this mockery.
(b) A wreath or crown of thorns was put on his head and a reed-like sceptre put in his hand to ridicule the one who claimed to be king.
They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.
Simon of Cyrene was one of nine men named Simon in the New Testament; see entry for Matt. 4:18.
It was the third hour when they crucified Him.
The third hour. In Jewish reckoning this means the third hour after sunrise. So Jesus was crucified mid-morning. However, John records that Jesus was sentenced in the sixth hour or mid-day (John 19:14). For those of us used to measuring time in hours and minutes, this apparent discrepancy can lead to all sorts of chronological gymnastics. However, the most plausible conclusion is that Jesus was crucified sometime between mid- and late-morning. Further reading: “Good Friday Timeline.”
The inscription of the charge against Him read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
It was the custom to put a written notice of the charge on the crosses of condemned criminals. This notice, which appeared in three languages (John 19:20), irritated members of the Sanhedrin (John 19:21).
They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left.
Robbers. The original word (lestes) means armed brigands of the kind who robbed and beat the traveler on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:30), and who also menaced Paul in his travels (2 Cor. 11:26). Barabbas was also a brigand (John. 18:40).
In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself.
The chief priests. Some members of the ruling council, having condemned Jesus to death in the early hours, followed him to the cross to mock him in his suffering.
“Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.
(a) The King of Israel. The word king meant different things to different people. To the religious leaders, it was synonymous with Christ or Messiah. To Pilate and the political authorities, it meant he was a potential threat to Rome.
(b) We may see and believe. The chief priests said that if Jesus came down from the cross they would believe in him. It was a jest but a prophetic one. After Jesus rose from the dead a great many priests put their faith in him (Acts 6:7). Jesus always has the last word.
When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.
(a) The sixth hour. As measured from dawn, the sixth hour is noon. Darkness covered the land from mid-day to mid-afternoon, when Jesus died. Darkness fell because the sun was obscured (Luke 23:45).
(b) Darkness fell; see entry for Matt. 27:45.
(c) The whole land. Scholars debate whether this means Judea or the whole earth. It could be the latter. The God who blanketed Egypt with darkness for three days (Ex. 10:22), would have no trouble shading the earth for three hours.
And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
The veil of the temple was a four-inch thick curtain that divided the Holy Place from the innermost Holy of Holies in the temple (Ex. 26:33). The veil was parted once a year on the Day of Atonement to allow the high priest to enter (Heb. 9:7). The supernatural tearing of the veil that coincided with the death of Jesus signified that the way to God had been permanently opened.
When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
The Son of God. The centurion was among a select group of people who recognized that Jesus is the Son of God. Others who had this revelation include John the Baptist (John 1:34), Nathanael (John 1:49), and Martha (John 11:27). The angel Gabriel (Luke 1:35) and various demons also recognized that Jesus was the Son of God (Matt. 8:29, Mark 3:11, Luke 4:41). Jesus is the Christ (the anointed one), and the Lord (supreme above all), but ultimately Jesus is the Son of God. See entry for John 20:31.
There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome.
(a) Some women. Matthew records that “many women” were present at the crucifixion (Matt. 27:55). At least four of these women witnesses are identified in the Gospels and three of them were named Mary. (In addition to the two Marys listed here, John records the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus (John 19:25).)
(b) Mary Magdalene; see entry for Luke 8:2.
(c) Mary the mother of James and Joseph was likely also the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). According to Catholic and Orthodox traditions, Clopas was the young brother of Jesus’ father Joseph. If so, Mary was Jesus’ aunt on his father’s side.
(d) James the Less. There are five men named James in the New Testament and two of them had brothers called Joses (or Joseph) and mothers called Mary. Jesus had brothers called James and Joses (Mark 6:3), but this James was probably his cousin. “The Less” was probably a nickname, as in Little James.
(e) Joses or Joseph. There were at least two men called Joses in the New Testament. This one was probably a cousin of Jesus; the other was a brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3).
(f) Salome was possibly the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary. If so, she was Jesus’ aunt on his mother’s side (see entry for Matt. 27:56).
When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath,
(a) Preparation day is Friday, the day before the Sabbath. Good Friday was doubly special as it coincided with the Passover and preceded the Feast of Unleavened Bread that began on the Sabbath (see entry for John 19:31).
(b) Since the Sabbath began at sunset, the Jews were eager to have the bodies removed from the crosses (John 19:31).
Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.
(a) Joseph of Arimathea was a dissenting member of the Sanhedrin who had not consented to their plan to kill Jesus (Luke 23:50-51).
(b) Gathered up courage. It took incredible courage for a secret disciple of Jesus to face Pilate (John 19:38). A governor who ordered the execution of innocent men might not hesitate to crucify his followers.
Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead.
Pilate wondered if He was dead. Pilate’s surprise is understandable. A crucifixion was meant to provide a prolonged and agonizing death. Those who hung on crosses could live for more than a day, but Jesus died within hours. His death was not the direct result of the crucifixion, but his yielding up his spirit (Matt. 27:50). No one took Jesus’ life from him (John 10:18).
And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.
The centurion was certain that Jesus was dead because the soldiers had pierced his side with a spear (John 19:34).
Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
The burial of Jesus was done in haste. Jesus’ body was still on the cross at around 3pm (Matt. 27:46), but wrapped and in the tomb before sunset at 7pm.
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.
(a) Mary Magdalene; see entry for Luke 8:2.
(b) Mary the mother of Joses was also the mother of James (see entry for Mark 15:40).
(c) To see. The women saw where Jesus was buried, but as it was late in the day and close to the Sabbath, they did not have time to anoint the body. Their plan was to return immediately after the Sabbath.
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