Mark 15:1-15: The Prince of Life They Slay
May 21, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The evil of the religious leaders’ treatment of Jesus is made apparent not only in the hideous, vicious, spiritually malevolent act itself, but also in all the little details. “As soon as it was morning” (15:1): that is, the so-called “trial” had been held at night. A jumped up kangaroo court not following any proper procedures with only one purpose: to provide spurious pseudo-legal covering for screaming consciences. They hand him over to Pilate, after they debate with the whole council. They want the death penalty. Under the power of Rome, they no longer had that power and so need to find him guilty, not only of violation of their own religious laws, spuriously so, but also to make sure that before the eyes of Rome he was viewed as a dangerous insurrectionist and rebel.
Evidently, then, they claim that Jesus is manipulating and maneuvering to challenge the very power of Caesar himself. Such things did happen; there were many unhappy people under the mainly relatively benevolent—or at least ordered—rule of Ancient Rome; and there were schemes to kick the Romans out of Israel and out of Jerusalem. The Jews had managed to do this with a foreign invader relatively recently with the leadership of the Maccabees. Disastrously, they were to attempt to do so again fairly soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection, leading to the calamitous sacking of Jerusalem itself in AD 70.
So when Pilate asks Jesus whether he is the King of the Jews (15:2), a question presumably prompted by the whispers of the religious leaders in his ear, what he is really being set up to inquire is whether Jesus is forming a political plot to militarily oust the governing authority of Rome. It would be like someone in America claiming to be President of the United States when he has not been so-elected; or someone claiming to be king when he is not the rightful heir. This was a potential real threat to the state, and therefore was treason and could be met with the death penalty if the charge were proven.
Jesus simply replies, “You have said so,” a somewhat laconic reply that affirms the substance of what Pilate asks (of course Jesus is the king of the Jews; he is the king of the whole universe!), but also makes Pilate realize that he has met his match. All through these proceedings it is made clear by Jesus over and over again that really he is in charge. As he will say to Pilate, you would have no authority were it not given to you from above. How extraordinarily unnerving it must have been to look into those eyes of Jesus, so full of love and sovereign power, and attempt to try him at the bar of any human court!
They accuse him of all sorts of other things. Pilate attempts to get Jesus to mount a spirited defense. But Jesus remains quiet. And Pilate is “amazed,” he is astonished, he looks on with wonder and amazement. In other contexts, the word can have a tinge of religious devotion: “honor, admire, worship.” Here Pilate is not, of course, worshipping Jesus, but the word is perhaps chosen by Mark to indicate the mixed emotions that were starting to come over Pilate. He is thunderstruck by the Master of Grace and Love before him. He may not realize that he has the Mona Lisa before him, but to be about to consign the painting to the flames still began to fill him with wonder.
Then, from verses 6 to 15, we have the famous substitution. “A murderer they save; the Prince of life they slay.”*
Those who think that the idea of “penal substitutionary atonement” is an invention of men not endemic to the text of the Bible—as is astonishingly common to think—need to come to grips with stories like this one. Barabbas, a murderer or terrorist, is set free. Jesus is slain. Even at this moment, Jesus’ substitutionary work is being made clear.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way (Barabbases all); and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
*“My Song Is Love Unknown,” Samuel Crossman
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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