1. And straightway in the morning, the chief priests, having held a consultation with the elders and with the scribes and the whole council, bound Jesus, and led [Him] away, and delivered [Him] up to Pilate.
2. And Pilate asked Him, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” And He answering said to him, “Thou sayest.”
In one way or another, Jesus has been betrayed, denied, or abandoned by all of his disciples. Judas has delivered Him over to the chief priests; Peter has denied Him three times; and the rest of the disciples have fled. This pictures the various levels of betrayal that can take place in our own minds; it represents those times when we openly betray Jesus like Judas, deny Jesus like Peter, or turn aside from Jesus’ teachings and flee like the disciples.
Spiritually speaking, when these conditions prevail, things could not be worse. If unchecked, it leads on to the final, ultimate betrayal: crucifixion. As the next episode begins, it seems that there might be a glimmer of hope and an awakening from the darkness, for this episode begins with the words “in the morning.” This, however, is not the case. Instead, we read that “the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate” (Mark 15:1). Even in the light of day, the religious leaders are determined to destroy Jesus. In their case, the light could not penetrate the darkness.
As mentioned in the previous episode, the Sanhedrin had a great amount of power, but the final authority to convict and execute a criminal was in the hands of the Roman government, not the religious leaders. This is significant because Jesus’ alleged claim to be the Messiah or the Son of the Blessed One, was not necessarily a crime against the Roman state. Blasphemy was a religious issue, not a civil one. Therefore, if the Roman government were to sentence Jesus to death, it would have to be for an act that violated civil law not religious belief.
The primary concern of the religious leaders is to put an end to Jesus’ rising influence among the people. And the most expedient way is to have Jesus sentenced to death. Unable to execute Jesus for the religious crime of blasphemy, the religious leaders believe that they can arrange to have the Roman government execute Jesus for the civil crime of treason. Their case would be a simple one. After all, if it is true that Jesus is claiming to be the king of the Jews, it could be interpreted as a government takeover, an act of treason, and He could be indicted for leading an insurrection against Caesar. This is what the religious leaders are thinking when they hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.
Pilate wastes no time getting to the point. “Are you the king of the Jews?” He asks. Jesus replies in a way that neither confirms nor denies His kingship. He merely says, “You say” (Mark 15:2). The Greek is simply Σὺ (Sy) meaning “You” and λέγεις (legeis) meaning “say.” This could mean “It is as you say,” or “You have said so,” or even, “Those are your words, not Mine.” One thing is certain. Jesus does not say, “Spiritually speaking, I am the king of the Jews, but politically speaking, Caesar is still your king.” Instead, He simply says, “You say.” This could mean, “Whatever you think,” or “Whatever you say.”
As we consider the spiritual significance of Jesus’ words, we can appreciate the wisdom of His chosen response. It is the very nature of divinity to allow us to decide for ourselves whether or not we will accept Jesus as our king. It amounts to this: Will we be ruled by Jesus, who represents the heavenly kingdom of love, wisdom, and useful service? Or will we be ruled by Caesar, who represents the natural kingdom of worldly pursuits? While the pursuit of worldly goals can be valuable and exciting, it becomes a problem when we become so obsessed by those goals that we are ruled by them. This is when they become our “king.” Whenever we find ourselves doing the bidding of the worldly gods of pleasure and profit instead of being ruled by the true God of love and wisdom, we have made Caesar our king — not Jesus. 1
Jesus’ open-ended answer, “You say,” also suggests that each of us sees God differently, according to who we are and what we love. There is a great deal of truth in the expression, “What you see is what you get.” But it could also be said that “What you see is what you love.” In other words, we see reality through the lens of our individual character, and our character is based on what we truly love. For example, a person with a selfish character has difficulty seeing God as selfless, loving, and merciful. On the other hand, a good person who is focused on loving others has great difficulty seeing God as angry, cruel, and vengeful. Although we are all created “in the image of God,” our idea of God is fashioned according to our own character. In other words, we see spiritual reality according to the love that is in our heart. What we see is what we love. 2
Therefore, when Jesus says, “You say,” or “It is as you say,” He is telling Pilate that the determination about whether Jesus is the king of one’s life is for each person to decide. It is a decision based on the character and quality of each person’s life. 3
3. And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing.
4. And Pilate asked Him again, saying, “Answerest Thou nothing? Behold how many things they witness against Thee.”
5. But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marveled.
6. And at [the] festival he would release to them one prisoner, whomever they asked for.
7. And there was [one] called Barabbas, bound with fellow insurrectionists who had done murder in the insurrection.
8. And the crowd, crying out, began to ask for [him to do] as he had always done for them.
9. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you will that I release to you the King of the Jews?”
10. For he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him up for envy.
11. But the chief priests urged the crowd, that he should rather release Barabbas to them.
12. And Pilate answering again said to them, “What do you will then that I shall do [to Him] whom you call King of the Jews?”
13. And they cried out again, “Crucify Him!”
14. And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has He done?” And they cried out exceedingly, “Crucify Him!”
15. And Pilate, intending to do [something] considerable for the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and delivered up Jesus, when he had whipped [Him], to be crucified.
Jesus has already told His disciples, “You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony (Mark 13:9). In The previous episode at the palace of the chief priest and again in this next episode, Jesus Himself is brought before “rulers and kings.” Although the chief priests had “accused Him of many things,” Jesus did not answer. Therefore, Pilate asks Him again, “saying, “Do you answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You’” (Mark 15:4). Again, Jesus does not answer (Mark 15:5).
As the governor of the Roman province of Judaea, and the representative of Caesar, it is Pilate’s responsibility to decide whether Jesus is guilty of treason. But Jesus has given him no clear answer. The only thing Jesus has said is, “You say.” Otherwise, Jesus has remained silent. Though it is not apparent at the time, Jesus’ silence is the fulfillment of prophecy. As it written in the Hebrew scriptures, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).
Pilate is amazed at Jesus’ silence. There is no indication that Pilate is part of any plot to destroy Jesus, nor does he seem eager to defend Him. Instead, Pilate appears to be a person who simply wants to maintain his position as governor, without upsetting the people he governs, or displeasing the ruler he serves. He therefore represents that aspect of ourselves that is more interested in maintaining our comfortable circumstances, regardless of what is true. He is like a rudderless ship adrift at sea, and moved by whatever current seems most favorable at the time. 4
Pilate may not have wanted to see Jesus die. There is nothing in the text to indicate that he is a cruel or heartless person. He may have been touched by Jesus’ presence and sensed His innocence. As it is written, Pilate “marveled” at Jesus’ silence (Mark 15:5). If this is true, then Pilate would be in a quandary. On the one hand, he may not want to be held responsible for Jesus’ death. On the other hand, if he allows Jesus to live, he will most certainly incur the wrath of those who want to see Jesus crucified. To put it in modern terms, his job is on the line, but so is his conscience. 5
It is at this point in the divine narrative that Pilate comes up with a plan that might help him resolve his dilemma. According to some scholars, it was a religious custom to release one prisoner who was awaiting trial during Passover. As it is written, the crowd cried aloud to Pilate, demanding that he “do for them according to custom” (Mark 15:8). Although this act of clemency is not mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures, it could represent the way God released the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage during the original Passover. Giving the decision over to the crowd would release Pilate from the responsibility for either the conviction or the release of Jesus. Either way, Pilate could escape a difficult situation. The blame would be on the crowd, not on Pilate.
Pilate decides to place the names of Jesus and Barabbas before the crowd. Barabbas is described as an “insurrectionist” who murdered someone during a revolt against the Roman government (Mark 15:7). It’s interesting that Jesus is also accused of insurrection, but there is a difference. In Jesus’ case, His “insurrection” is the alleged claim that He called Himself “King of the Jews.” In Barabbas’ case, he was not only involved in an insurrection, but also had committed murder. It seems that the decision to release Jesus or Barabbas would not be difficult. Would it be Jesus, the people’s champion, or Barabbas, a man accused of murder? This should be an easy decision. Or so it seems.
When Pilate gives the crowd their opportunity to decide, he does not say, ‘Whom do you want me to release?” Instead, Pilate begs the question, asking, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” (Mark 15:9). Why did Pilate ask the question in this way? The reason is given in the next verse. As it is written, “For Pilate knew that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him out of envy” (Mark 15:10). Pilate understood that their envy was related to their fear of losing their power and authority. He also believed that the crowd was partial to Jesus, eager to have Him released.
Pilate, however, was unaware that the chief priests had distributed themselves strategically amidst the crowd, urging them to release Barabbas rather than Jesus. As it is written, “the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that Pilate should rather release Barabbas to them” (Mark 15:11). Again, Pilate repeats his question, saying, “What then do you want me to do with Him who you call the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:12).
This time Pilate adds the phrase “whom you call,” thus exonerating himself from any culpability. It would be the people who have acknowledged Jesus as their king, not Pilate. It would be the crowd who chose to save Jesus, not Pilate. But it does not turn out that way. Instead, the crowd cries out, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13). Pilate is not ready for this. Rather than immediately accept their decision, Pilate asks the crowd, “Why, what evil has He done?” But it is too late. The chief priests who had dispersed themselves amidst the crowd had done their work effectively. They had incited the crowd to something like a frenzy. As it written, “They cried out exceedingly, ‘Crucify Him!’” (Mark 15:14).
Unwilling to contradict the wishes of the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas, the one who was being held for taking life, and, instead, delivered up Jesus — the one who came to give life. Barabbas had been involved in a violent rebellion against the government; Jesus, out of His great love, was leading a rebellion against hell. To Pilate, however, the main thing was to please the crowd. 6
When love turns to hate
Just a week earlier, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, this same crowed hailed Him as their Messiah, their long-awaited Savior. (see 11:7). Even if it were not exactly the same crowd, many of the people in the crowd must have heard about Jesus’ miraculous healings and good works. How could it be that they changed their minds so quickly and so completely? How could love and admiration have turned to hatred and contempt?
The answer can be found by taking a careful look at the internal sense of this episode. In sacred scripture, the term “crowd” often symbolizes the way the human mind can be inundated with evil desires and false messages. When the conditions of our inner world feel tumultuous and chaotic, our thinking can be compared to a riotous mob, also know as a “mob mentality.” This takes place most often when we feel deprived of some material comfort or natural pleasure. At such times, an inner crowd of unholy desires take over and fill us with resentment and anger. In the language of scared scripture, the “chief priests” have been doing their work. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “Hide me from the plots of this evil mob, from this gang of wrongdoers.” (Psalms 64:2). These “wrongdoers” are within us; they are “crowds” of selfish desires and false thoughts that turn us against all that is good and true. Again, the warning about following this kind of a crowd is clearly stated in the Hebrew scriptures, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd” (Exodus 23:2). 7
The people hailed Jesus as their king when they believed He was about to give them what they wanted — material prosperity and freedom from Roman rule. But when He seems to be powerless over the material world, as He now appears to be in this episode, and is not giving them what they desire, they want nothing to do with Him. Stirred up by the chief priests who convince them that Jesus is therefore a fraud and a blasphemer, they cry out, “Crucify Him!” 8
Like the unruly crowd, when there is no truth to guide us, we will inevitably be inundated by waves of negative emotions and false thoughts that stir us up. As these angry emotions become louder and more insistent, especially when expectations are not fulfilled, they cry out more exceedingly, ‘Crucify Him.’” These emotions will not be quieted down unless they are gratified: “So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas.” And he “delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).
A practical application
Whenever we allow ourselves to be governed by an inner crowd of frustrated, resentful emotions, love can quickly turn to anger. This inner crowd is often referred to as “the ego,” the part of us that gets stirred up when its ambitions are threatened, thwarted, or frustrated. Maybe someone has kept us waiting, or said something that we interpreted as insulting, or disappointed us in some way. Whenever we notice this taking place, we can picture this as the chief priests stirring up the angry crowd within us. To counteract the influence of these thoughts and feelings, ask yourself, Where is my ego being self-centered, self-righteous, or fearful? See it as the chief priests who want to get you stirred up so that they can destroy all that is good and true in you and in others. Do not join the stirred-up crowd when it cries out, “Crucify Jesus.”
The Soldiers Mock Jesus
16. And the soldiers led Him away into the courtyard, which is [the] Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
17. And they put crimson on Him, and put around His [head] a crown of thorns which they braided.
18. And they began to greet Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
19. And they struck Him on the head with a reed, and spat on Him, and bowing the knees, worshiped Him.
20. And when they had mocked Him, they took off the crimson from Him, and put on Him His own garments, and led Him out to crucify Him.
21. And they compel one Simon, a Cyrenian, passing by, coming out of the field, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to take up His cross.
22. And they bring Him to the place Golgotha, which is, being translated, the Place of a Skull.
23. And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh; but He received [it] not.
24. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots upon them, what everyone should take.
25. And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him.
26. And the inscription of His crime was inscribed, The King of the Jews.
27. And with Him they crucify two robbers; one on His right hand, and one on His left.
28. And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was reckoned with the transgressors.”
29. And they that went by blasphemed Him, moving their heads and saying, “Ah, Thou that undoest the temple and buildest [it] in three days,
30. Save Thyself, and step down from the cross.”
31. And likewise also the chief priests, mocking, said to one another with the scribes, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.
32. Let Christ the King of Israel step down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” And they that were crucified with Him reproached Him.
33. And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
Human nature, without truth to guide it, rapidly descends to its lowest level. This is what is represented in the next episode when Pilate hands Jesus over to the soldiers. As it is written, “Then the soldiers led Him away into the courtyard, which is called the Praetorium, and they called together the whole company of soldiers. And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns on His head, and began to salute Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him” (Mark 15:16-19). As the mockery continues, the soldiers “bow down on their knees and worship Him” (Mark 15:19). 9
The soldiers, who seem to be having great fun tormenting Jesus, represent the hatred that the hells have towards all that is good and true in us. What the soldiers do to Jesus is only a glimpse at what the hells aspire to do to the goodness and truth that is within us from the Lord. As the horror of the crucifixion continues, it will be important to keep in mind that whatever they do to Jesus represents what the hells are constantly endeavoring to do within each of us. They not only mock our belief in God, but they also endeavor to undermine our faith in the Word and destroy our relationships with others. 10
Jesus on the cross
The mockery and torment continue throughout the early morning until “the third hour,” that is, until nine in the morning. The soldiers then take Jesus to the place where He will be crucified. As it is written, “They brought Him to the place called Golgotha the place of the skull … and they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh … and when they crucified Him they divided His garments” (Mark 15:22-25).
Every detail is significant. Golgotha, “the place of the skull” suggests the emptiness of a world without God’s life-giving presence. When they crucified Jesus in broad daylight, at “the third hour” (nine a.m.), it represents humanity’s utter blindness to the goodness and truth that Jesus offers. When they gave Him “wine mingled with myrrh” it represents how the sweet wine of divine truth had been soured by interpretations based on self-interest. As it written in the Hebrew scriptures, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). 11
It was also prophesied that the Lord’s garments would be divided. This represents how the literal truths of the Word would be torn apart and taken out of context. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “They divide My garments among them” (Psalms 22:18). The Greek which is translated as “divide” in this passage is διαμερίζω (diamerizó) which means to “break up,” “disperse,” and “divide up into parts.” The implication is that the true meaning and coherence of the Word would be fragmented beyond recognition, misunderstood, and misinterpreted by people who would take random passages out of context to confirm their own ideas and self-serving agendas. Like Jesus’ garments, which clothed the external of His body, the literal truths of the Word, which clothe the inner meaning, would be stripped away, divided up, and emptied of their original meaning. 12
Beaten, spat upon, and stripped of His clothing, Jesus now hangs on the cross with a sign placed over His head. The sign describes the charge against Jesus. It reads, “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). It was, of course, a further mockery. Kings were clothed in royal garments, sat on thrones, and had great power. But Jesus is naked, nailed to a cross, and powerless — or so it seems. To add to the mockery, two robbers are crucified along with Jesus, indicating that His social status is that of a common thief. Whether they knew it or not, those who crucified Jesus had fulfilled another prophecy. As it is written, “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
The mockery, ridicule, and blasphemy does not stop there. Even the common citizens who pass by use this as an opportunity to express their derision. “You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,” they say, “save Yourself. Come down from the cross” (Mark 15:29-30). The chief priests and scribes, happy to have their adversary out of the way, also ridicule Him: “He saved others,” they say, “but “He cannot save Himself” (Mark 15:31). And they add, “If He is truly the Christ, the King of Israel, let Him descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32). Even the two robbers who are crucified along with Him “reproach Him” (Mark 15:32).
As the crucifixion continues throughout the afternoon it becomes the darkest hour in humanity’s history. In place of light there is darkness; in place of wisdom there is ignorance. As it is written, “There was darkness over the whole land from the sixth hour to the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33).” In modern terms, the sixth hour is noon and the ninth hour is three in the afternoon — the sunniest part of the day. But everything is different during the crucifixion. It seems that nature itself is affected by the horror of this event. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “In that day I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight (Amos 8:9). 13
The Final Agony
34. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a great voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani?” Which is, being translated, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
The next episode begins with Jesus crying with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani,’ which is translated ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me’”(Mark 15:34).
These are the opening words of Psalms 22, a psalm which provides vivid details about Jesus’ agony on the cross. The opening words of the psalm describe the pain of abandonment. “My God, My God” says Jesus, “Why have you abandoned Me?” Jesus is here going through the same struggle that we all go through whenever we have reached the extremity of suffering. When we are weakest, the hells rush in to convince us that God has abandoned us. As the psalm continues, we will listen to it as though Jesus is speaking these very words as He hangs on the cross. “Why are you so far from helping me, so far from the words of my groaning?” The sense of abandonment intensifies as Jesus seems to receive no response to His prayer. “O My God,” He says, “I cry in the daytime, but you do not hear” (Psalms 22:2).
When Jesus quoted the opening words of this psalm, He described what it feels like to be absolutely forsaken, both by God and by God’s people. But Jesus does not give up. In the very next verse of the psalm, He says, “But You are holy … in You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried, and they were saved” (Psalms 22:3).
As the psalm continues, every detail speaks to Jesus’ agony on the cross. For the moment, Jesus sees Himself in the lowest possible condition, having been stripped of His humanity. “I am a worm,” He says, “and not a man” (Psalms 22:6). He speaks about how others see Him: “I am reproached by men and despised by the people. All those who see me, mock me to scorn. They hurl insults and shake their heads, saying, ‘He trusted in God, let God deliver him. Let God rescue him’” (Psalms 22:6-8).
As we have seen, all this takes place while Jesus hangs on the cross. Those who pass by taunted Him mercilessly, saying “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32). They utterly misunderstand Jesus’ purpose while in the world. He did not come to save Himself, but to save others. As He told His disciples in an earlier episode, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
This was why Jesus came into the world. It was the reason that God Himself took on a human birth. As Psalms 22 continues, Jesus reflects on His birth. “Yet it was you who took me from the womb. You taught me to trust while on my mother’s breast. From my mother’s womb You have been my God. Be not far from me for distress is near and there is none to help” (Psalms 22:9-11). As Jesus recalls these words from the psalm, He is returning to those pure states of innocent trust in God. It’s as if He is saying, “You have always been with Me, even from My mother’s womb, and I know that You are with Me now.”
This, however, is not to say that Jesus is immediately delivered from His dreadful situation. On the contrary, He sees even more clearly what is happening. It’s as if the external world has disappeared, and Jesus now sees the spiritual horror that is taking place in His inner world. This is where the combat against hell is raging. Psalms 22 uses the language of sacred scripture to describe the intensity of these horrors. As it is written, “Many bulls encircle Me … they open their mouth wide against Me, like a lion tearing and roaring … dogs have surrounded Me. The assembly of the wicked has encircled Me” (Psalms 22:12-13;16). These words capture the war that is raging within Jesus’ inner world. He is deeply immersed in a battle against the most diabolical forces ever known — those that are determined to tear apart and extinguish His faith. 14
As we listen to the words of the twenty-second psalm, we are given an interior picture of how Jesus suffered on the cross. His suffering involved unimaginable despair as He felt the hopelessness of the situation. No matter how agonizingly dreadful this pain must have been for Jesus, He had to go through it. He had to feel that all was lost, that His dreams were crushed, and that God had abandoned Him. He also had to experience the awful, agonizing despair that sets in when it seemed that His entire life had been a waste, that the people He came to save would never get the message, and that He had accomplished nothing. If, after all the work and effort He had poured into His mission, God had abandoned Him, it was time for Him to abandon God, to abandon His mission, even to abandon life itself.
Jesus had to go through it. He had to go through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalms 23:4). He had to go through these last and most grievous temptations so that He could not only confront the utter darkness of despair, but also conquer it. This final victory was foretold in the first prophecy ever given, describing how Jesus would conquer the hells. That prophecy was given in the garden of Eden, just after the serpent had deceived the woman. Speaking directly to the serpent, God said, “Because you have done this … I will put hatred between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). This first prophecy is a promise of what would happen when the Lord came into the world to crush the dominion of hell. These hellish influences, which are represented by “the seed of the serpent,” would hate Jesus and endeavor to destroy Him. They would “bruise His heel.” Jesus, however, would keep the head of the serpent underfoot, not allowing it to inflict harm on Him or others. It would not be an easy battle. During this cosmic battle, Jesus’ heel would be bruised, but the serpent’s power over people would be crushed. 15
Like Jesus, we too must confront the hellish drives that endeavor to assert their rule over us. While these battles can be agonizing, they are necessary. They help us to subdue the twin loves that are so destructive to our spiritual life. The first is the love of our own intelligence, the illusion that we know better than God; the other is the love of self, the ego-driven need to place our desires and ambitions ahead of everyone else’s. During the combats of temptation, when we come face to face with the powerful demons of self-interest, we are faced with a choice. We can give in and let these demons have their way with us. Or we can acknowledge our helplessness, call upon God for strength, and give up our self-righteousness and self-absorption. 12
Praying for deliverance
As the psalm continues, Jesus prays for deliverance. “Rescue My soul from the dog,” He says, “Save Me from the lion’s mouth” (Psalms 22:20-21). Then, as the psalm moves towards its climax, the psalmist realizes that God has never abandoned Him, even though it may have seemed that way. As it is written, “He has not despised nor detested the affliction of the afflicted. Neither has He hidden His face from him.” Finally, there is an answer to prayer. “When he cried out to Him,” says the psalmist, “He heard” (Psalms 22:24).
These beautiful words, hidden within the twenty-second psalm, reveal what is going on in Jesus’s mind during the crucifixion. Out of His great love, God had come into the world to save fallen humanity, but He could only do so through taking on the human condition, fighting the same battles that we must fight, and finally, conquering hell. During this final battle, Jesus experienced the utmost despair because He felt the utmost love, a love for the entire human race. It was this love that prevented Him from entirely giving up; it was out of this love that cried out in prayer. And God heard that prayer. 17
A practical application
When a crisis comes up in our lives, and our ego is threatened in some way, financially or socially, we tend to feel that God has abandoned us. We forget that God is leading us into a greater, deeper spirituality than we had ever known before. In fact, what looks like “abandonment” is just the opposite. God is there in fullness, with all the blessings of the kingdom. If we “hang in there,” trusting in God, calling His teachings to mind, and remembering to pray, our spirts will be strengthened, and we will experience an even closer relationship to God. 18
The Parting of the Veil
36. And one running and filling a sponge with vinegar, and putting [it] around a reed, gave Him to drink, saying, “Let [Him] be; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”
37. But Jesus letting [out] a great voice, [let] forth [the] spirit.
38. And the veil of the temple was ripped in two from the top to the bottom.
39. And when the centurion, who stood by over against Him, saw that thus crying out He let out the spirit, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”
Alone on the cross, ridiculed by those He came to save, and seemingly abandoned by God, it looks like Jesus has failed. As it is written, “And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last” (Mark 15:37). It looked that way, at least, when seen through physical eyes. All that can be seen is a man in great pain, who came to save others, but failed in His attempt to do so.
It appears to be a sad, tragic story that is now over. But when seen through spiritual eyes, it is a completely different story. It is the story of a great triumph. It is the story of a person who so loved others that He gave everything He had — His whole livelihood — His whole life. As Jesus takes His last breath and cries out in a loud voice, a great miracle takes place. As it is written, “The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). It was this veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the temple. No one was allowed to part that veil except the high priest. He was the only one who was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and this was done only once a year. It was in the Holy of Holies that God promised to meet with His people. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you” (Exodus 25:21-22).
And now, at the precise moment that Jesus breathes His last, the veil of the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom, revealing a great wonder. The Holy of Holies is empty! The ark which contained the Ten Commandments and was placed in the Holy of Holies had been missing for over five hundred years, dating back to 586 BC when the Babylonians destroyed the first temple. Since that time, despite the elaborate rituals that surrounded the entrance to the Holy of Holies, it was, actually, an empty space.
This miracle represents the emptiness of the religious establishment that Jesus had come to expose and replace. It had become corrupt beyond repair. Like the fig tree that bore no fruit, it would wither and die. Like the stones of the temple, it would come crashing down. In its place a new religion would be born with Jesus as its visible God and with commandments that would no longer be hidden away in a golden box. Instead, the commandments would be housed in the innermost sanctuary of the human heart. All of this was foreseen in the Hebrew scriptures where the Lord declares, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
This parting of the veil marks a dramatic change in human consciousness. In place of elaborate rituals, a new religion would spring up based on faith in a visible God, and a life according to the commandments. There would be nothing wrong with ritual, nothing wrong with ceremony, and nothing wrong with having religious leaders who devoted their lives to the study and teaching of scripture. But this would all be secondary. Of primary importance would be a life of loving service toward the neighbor. 19
The kind of people who would be drawn to this new religion are represented by the Roman soldier who stands at the foot of the cross witnessing this great event. He has watched Jesus as He underwent the long agony of crucifixion. He must have noticed that Jesus showed no bitterness, expressed no desire for revenge, and was without hatred. This soldier has seen and felt the thick darkness that fell upon the land. Like everyone else, he must have marveled when the veil of the temple was torn apart from top to bottom at the precise moment that Jesus took His last breath. It is no wonder that this soldier exclaimed, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
Jesus’ death on the cross, and the reaction of the Roman soldier, calls to mind the story of Samson. Captured by the Philistines, Samson called out, “O Lord God, please remember me. Strengthen me, O God, just this once, so that with one vengeful blow I may pay back the Philistines.” Samson then reached out, braced himself between the two main pillars that supported the temple, and pushed as hard as he could saying, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Exerting tremendous physical effort, the mighty Samson pushed the pillars apart, and brought the temple crashing down. As it is written, “Then he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the rulers and all the people in it. So, in his death he killed more than he had killed in his life” (Judges 27:0-30:0).
On the day that Samson died, he killed three thousand Philistines, more than he had killed in his life. On the day that Jesus died, at least one Roman soldier discovered the key to a new life. He exclaimed that Jesus was truly the Son of God. Samson acted from vengeance; but Jesus acted from love. The response of the Roman soldier represents the response of thousands, even millions, who would eventually be drawn, as this soldier was, to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose death opened the doorway to life.
Something is Stirring
40. And there were also women beholding afar off; among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Little and of Joses, and Salome;
41. Who also, when He was in Galilee, followed Him and ministered to Him; and many other women who came up with Him unto Jerusalem.
42. And when evening was already come, since it was the Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath,
43. Joseph of Arimathea, an honorable counselor who also himself waited for the kingdom of God, came and went in boldly to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.
44. But Pilate marveled whether He were already dead; and calling for the centurion, he asked him whether He had been dead for long.
45. And when he knew from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
46. And having brought cloth, and taken Him down, he wrapped Him in the cloth, and laid Him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone onto the door of the sepulcher.
47. And Mary Magdalene and Mary [the mother] of Joses beheld where He was put.
Although the chief priests had stirred the crowd into rejecting Jesus, something else was now stirring in Jerusalem. It was the stirring of people’s hearts by what they had seen take place on the cross. It may have started with the Roman soldier who stood at the foot of the cross, but the stirring was taking place in other hearts as well. This stirring of the heart was especially taking place among the women who were “looking on from afar” (Mark 15:40).
Because of their tender, affectionate nature, the feminine gender represents that aspect of our common humanity that is capable of feeling compassion; it is the place in everyone that can be deeply touched by suffering. During the entire time of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, we have heard little about women. Men were in charge of the decision to convict Jesus of blasphemy. Men were in charge of the decision to convict Jesus of treason. The soldiers who beat, scourged, and spat upon Him were men. But now, after His crucifixion, we read for the first time about several women “who followed Him and ministered to Him in Galilee; and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40-41).
Something has indeed been stirred in human hearts. In the verse which immediately follows, we read of Joseph of Arimathea “an honorable counselor: who “takes courage,” goes to Pilate, and asks for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43). This is an especially courageous request because Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin, the assembly of religious leaders who were determined to have Jesus killed. It would have been risky for him to show any partiality towards Jesus. It would not have been the politically correct thing to do. He therefore represents the goodness of heart that can be found everywhere and in everyone. Even among the religious leaders who, for the most part, hated and disposed Jesus, there was some goodness.
In Joseph of Arimathea we see not only spiritual boldness, but also tender love for Jesus. Though we may not always understand the spiritual sense of Jesus’ words, we trust that they contain precious depths of meaning and wells of inspiration. And so, we continue to treat His Word with utmost respect and reverence. This is represented by how Joseph treats the body of Jesus: “Then he brought fine linen, took Jesus down, and wrapped Him in the linen” (Mark 15:46). And after this, “He laid Jesus in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb” (Mark 15:46).
Nearby, the women watch. These are our tender affections unwilling to believe that it is over. This is the part of us that is still waiting — just as Jesus had said when He asked His disciples to “Watch.” At that time, He said, “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:33). Quietly obedient to His word, the women continue to watch: “And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid” (Mark 15:47).
There are times when the Word of God seems to lack relevance or vitality. We read but are not inspired. But if we continue to regard it with reverence, knowing that it contains divine life, if we continue to watch, patiently reading and meditating on the Word, and if we continue to pray, looking to the Lord for enlightenment, something will arise in us. We will feel a certain stirring.
And when we do, we will sense, somehow, that the story isn’t over.
1. True Christian Religion 403: “There are three universal loves. These are the love of heaven, the love of the world, and the love of self…. When the love of heaven is the head [primary love] it flows into the love of the world, which is chiefly a love of wealth, and makes use of that wealth in service.” See also True Christian Religion 404: “However, when love of wealth constitutes the head, meaning that it is the ruling love … people prefer the world to heaven.”
2. Arcana Coelestia 8819: “No one can see God otherwise than from such things as are in oneself. A person who is in hatred sees God from hatred, a person who is unmerciful sees God as unmerciful. On the other hand, they who are in charity and mercy see God as charitable and merciful.” See also Arcana Coelestia 6832: “When the Lord appears to a person, He appears according to the quality of the person. This is because a person receives the Divine according to one’s own quality.” See also Divine Love and Wisdom 1: “Love is a person’s very life.”
3. Divine Providence 101: “In the spiritual world, into which every person comes after death, the question that is asked is never, “What was your faith, or what was your doctrine?” but rather, “What was your life? Was it of this or that quality?” Therefore, the question is about the character and quality of one’s life. This is because the quality of one’s life determines one’s faith and also one’s belief. Life forms its own belief and constructs its own faith.”
4. True Christian Religion 620: “Regeneration, which is effected by means of faith and charity, without truths that teach and lead, would be like navigation on the great ocean without a rudder, or without a mariner's compass and charts.”
5. Arcana Coelestia 977: “With regenerate people there is a conscience concerning what is good and true. From conscience they do what is good and from conscience they think what is true…. However, with one who is not regenerate, there is no conscience. If there is any it is not a conscience about doing good stemming from charity or for thinking truth deriving from faith. Instead it derives from some love involving self or the world, and is therefore a conscience that is false, or not genuine.”
6. Arcana Coelestia 2077: “The Lord’s love was Divine, being toward the universal human race, which He willed to … save to eternity…. From this love the Lord continually fought against the hells.”
7. Arcana Coelestia 842: “In temptations, evil spirits cause an inundation, by inflowing in crowds with their delusional thinking and stir up the same kind of thinking in us…. During times of trial, a person is surrounded by a crowd of such spirits.”
8. True Christian Religion 498:2-3: “Wrongdoing is in both the spiritual and natural worlds curbed by laws, since no society anywhere could otherwise be stable…. Without those external constraints not only would society come to an end, but the whole human race would perish…. This becomes clear in riotous crowds, where the restraints of the law are ineffective … as also in cases of massacre and looting…. These examples show that if there were no fear of legal penalties to deter people, not only society but the whole human race would be destroyed…. The only way to be rid of all these evils is to use one’s free will in spiritual matters correctly.”
9. Arcana Coelestia 695: “For those in hell, the greatest delight of their life consists in being able to punish, torture, and torment one another… They take so great a pleasure in this that if they could increase and extend the pains and torments to infinity, they would not even then be satisfied.” See also Apocalypse Explained 1013:2-4: “Everyone in hell hates the Lord, and, consequently, heaven, because they are opposed to goods and truths…. This infernal hatred of everyone who is in good is deadly because it is hatred of the Lord. This is especially evident from their delight in doing evil, which is such as to exceed in degree every other delight.”
10. Apocalypse Explained 627:15: “When the Lord was in the world, He was the divine truth itself…. Therefore, He permitted them to treat Him altogether as they were treating the divine truth or the Word by falsifying and adulterating it. They did this by applying all things of the Word to their own loves, and they derided every truth that disagreed with their loves. They did the same to the Messiah Himself, because He did not … become king over the whole world and exalt them into glory above all peoples and nations.”
11. Apocalypse Explained 519:2 “The phrase, ‘wine mingled with myrrh,’ signifies the quality of the divine truth from the Word when it is mingled with the falsity of evil. When this happens, it is altogether falsified and adulterated. Therefore, He would not drink it.”
12. Arcana Coelestia 9942:13: “By ‘dividing His garments’ … is meant to pull these [literal] truths asunder and disperse them.” See also Apocalypse Explained 64: “The ‘garments’ that they divided were the literal truths of the Word…. To ‘divide them’ signifies to disperse and falsify.”
13. Apocalypse Explained 526:6 “There was darkness over all the land from the sixth hour to the ninth, when the Lord was crucified…. This represents that there was nothing but evil and falsity.”
14. Arcana Coelestia 9231: “The term ‘dogs’ denotes those who destroy the goods of faith, and who are therefore called ‘the assemblages of evil-doers.’” See also Arcana Coelestia 5828: “In the Word, ‘tearing’ does not mean the tearing that is done by wild beasts, but the tearing to pieces of good by evils and falsities. Moreover the wild beasts which tear, signify in the spiritual sense evil desires and the derivative falsities, which also are represented by wild beasts. The good which continually flows in from the Lord with a person, does not perish except by evils and the derivative falsities, and by falsities and the derivative evils. For as soon as this good is met by evil and falsity … it is torn in pieces and extinguished in various ways as though by wild beasts.”
15. Divine Providence 241: “Adam and his wife do not mean the first people created on earth but rather those people … who became the worst because of pride in their own intelligence. They were not misled by any serpent but by their own self-love. Therefore the ‘head of the serpent,’ which is self-love, would eventually be trampled underfoot by the ‘seed of the woman,’ that is, by the Lord [Jesus].” See also Arcana Coelestia 250: “Everyone is aware that this is the first prophecy of the Lord’s advent into the world…. By the ‘serpent’ is meant all evil in general, and specifically the love of self…. By the ‘seed of the woman’ is meant faith in the Lord, and by ‘He’ [who would trample the serpent] is meant the Lord Himself.”
Arcana Coelestia 2694: “Some people ascribe all things to their own prudence and little or nothing to Divine Providence, even if it is proved by thousands of reasons that the Divine Providence is universal, and even in the most minute particulars…. But when anxiety and grief are induced upon them by the fact of their own helplessness, and this even to despair, the persuasive [belief in their own prudence] is broken, and their state is changed. Only then can they be led into the belief that they can do nothing of themselves, but that all power, prudence, intelligence, and wisdom are from the Lord.”
17. Arcana Coelestia 1820: “He who is in temptation is in doubt concerning the end in view. The end in view is the love, against which the evil spirits and evil demons fight, and thereby put the end in doubt. The greater the love is, the more do they put it in doubt. If the end which is loved were not put in doubt, and indeed in despair, there would be no temptation…. In this regard, the Lord’s temptations were the most terrible of all, for such as is the greatness of the love, such is the fearful character of the temptation. The Lord’s love was the salvation of the whole human race and was most ardent. Consequently, it was the whole sum of the affection of good and affection of truth in the highest degree. Against these, with the most malignant wiles and venom, all the hells waged the combat.”
18. True Christian Religion 126: “In temptation it looks as if a person is left to oneself, but this is not the case, since God is then most closely present in a person’s inmost, and secretly gives support. When therefore anyone is victorious over temptation, that person is most inwardly linked with God.”
19. Arcana Coelestia 8254: “Worship of the Lord consists primarily in a charitable life, and not in a religious life without it…. Religious life alone is motivated by love directed towards self, but the pursuit of both a religious and a charitable life is motivated by love towards the neighbor.” See also Apocalypse Explained 325: “The essential of worship is the life of charity, and its instrumental is [religious] gestures and prayers…. Those who place all divine worship in oral piety, and not in practical piety, err greatly. Practical piety is to act in every work and in every duty from sincerity and right … because it is commanded by the Lord in the Word.”