1. Exposition

How is Mark 15:21-39 the culmination of events that began in Mark 14?

Mark 15:21–39 (ESV)

21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.

Mark 15:21–39 can be considered as the culmination of events that began already in Mark 14:1–72.

  • Mark 14:1–11: A woman’s act of supreme devotion to Jesus is sandwiched between the murderous conspiracy of the high priests and teachers of the law. To them, Jesus’ death is a means of advancing their own power, plans, and reputation (Mark 14:1–2, Mark 14:10–11) whereas for the woman, Jesus’ death is precious (Mark 14:3, Mark 14:8). She anoints him for his burial because she considers him of inestimable worth. Interestingly, the chief priests and scribes did not want Jesus to be arrested and killed during the Passover feast (Mark 14:1).

  • Mark 14:12–25: Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples is divided into three scenes; the preparations for the supper (Mark 14:12–16), Jesus’ words at the meal predicting his betrayal by one of the twelve (Mark 14:17–21) and Jesus’ interpretation of the meaning of his death using the bread and the cup of wine (Mark 14:22–25). In each of these scenes Jesus demonstrates his foreknowledge of what will happen to him. He knew that the disciples will find a man carrying a jar of water who will lead them to the place where they can prepare for the meal (Mark 14:13). He knew that one of his disciples planned on betraying him (Mark 14:18–20). John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus actually had a hand in exposing Judas and forcing him to act much sooner than what he had planned (John 13:26–27). Notice how the chief priests didn’t want to arrest and kill Jesus during the feast (Mark 14:1–2), but Jesus, by exposing Judas, forces them to do exactly that. In all these events, we see that Jesus’ death is not some tragic miscarriage of justice. His death is the fulfilment of God’s predetermined plan in Scripture (Mark 14:21). His death must also take place during the Passover Festival so that the disciples will realize that he is the true Passover lamb (Mark 14:22–25).

  • Mark 14:26–52: After the Supper, Jesus and his disciples return to the Mount of Olives. Once again, Jesus shows his foreknowledge of events. He predicts that the Shepherd will be struck and the sheep will scatter (Mark 14:27). The disciples are offended that Jesus thinks they will abandon him, but sadly, his words will come true (Mark 14:50). Yet, Jesus also once again promises that he will be resurrected (Mark 14:28). Knowing that he is about to face the burden of God’s wrath, Jesus spends his final few moments of peace and quiet in prayer (Mark 14:32–42). He realizes the immensity of what he will do on the cross, and it overwhelms his soul to the point of death (Mark 14:34). He expected his disciples to stay awake so that they might encourage him (Mark 14:32–34), but they fall asleep. They clearly do not think Jesus is in any great danger. After finishing with his prayer, Jesus announces that the time of his betrayal has come Mark 14:41). Judas arrives with a small army (Mark 14:43), but Jesus rebukes him, because Jesus is not leading a political rebellion (Mark 14:48–49).

  • Mark 14:53–72: Jesus is led to the high priest while Peter follows from a safe distance (Mark 14:53). Mark tells us about Jesus’ testimony before the Sanhedrin and Peter’s denial in the courtyard. We are meant to understand that just as Jesus boldly acknowledges that he is the Christ (Mark 14:61–62), Peter is busy denying Jesus (Mark 14:66–72). Jesus stays silent whilst he is being falsely accused (reminiscent of Isaiah 53:7) and he ensure that he is condemned only for the truth of who he is (Mark 14:62). Even though the Sanhedrin considers Jesus’ words to be blasphemous, it is true that he is the Christ. When asking him for a prophecy (Mark 14:65), it is ironic since Christ has already repeatedly prophesied regarding his death (Mark 10:33–34). In contrast to Jesus, Peter is unwilling to testify before a servant girl. Instead of denying himself, he denies Jesus (Mark 8:34–35 contrasted with Mark 14:1–72).

  • Mark 15:1–20: It appears as if the Jewish high priests, in an attempt to make sure Jesus is killed, substitute the charge of blasphemy for political insurrection. They tell Pilate that Jesus is claiming to be a king, causing Pilate to think he is guilty of a crime against the sovereign power of Rome. According to the historian Tacitus, the Romans considered any king not appointed by them to be a threat. Jesus does not directly admit to having claimed to be a king (Mark 15:2), his comment appears to rather have the meaning Whatever you say. That’s why Pilate is surprised that he is not defending himself (Mark 15:3–5). It’s clear that Pilate realizes that the Jewish leaders are trying to have Jesus killed on trumped up charges, and therefore he tries to have Jesus released (Mark 15:9–10). However, his plan backfires as the Jewish leaders inspire the crowds to ask for Barabbas (Mark 15:11). Pilate, in his desire to please the crowd and maintain peace, is then forced to have Jesus crucified (Mark 15:13–15). Jesus is then flogged by the Roman soldiers, who also mock him and spit on him (Mark 15:16–20, compare with Isaiah 50:6).

In a very short space of time (Mark 14:1–15:20), Jesus has gone from being anointed to being led out for crucifixion. None of these events have taken place outside of God’s foreknowledge and plan.