As a young Christian I instinctively looked to the gospels to provide the facts about the crucifixion of Jesus, and to the letters to supply the meaning of those facts. Of course there were exceptional verses (Mark 10:45), but on the whole I did not really think that the gospels gave the same kind of theological explanation of the cross that I found in Romans, Galatians, or 1 John. This was a mistake.
The factual details of the crucifixion of Jesus speak to us about the nature of his death. They are much more than a bare description of the events, merely "bare" facts that are open to different interpretations. Once we look below the surface, and in terms of the Old Testament background, we will see that the details of the narrative in Mark 15 testify that Jesus is dying under the wrath of God, and that he is doing so as a substitute for sinners.
Mark shows us six signs that Jesus dies under God's judgement.
1. He is handed over to the Gentiles
Six times in Mark 15 we are told that Jesus is the King of the Jews (2, 9, 12, 18, 26, and King of Israel in 32). This King of the Jews has been handed over to the Gentiles. At one level this is the fulfillment of what Jesus said would happen. Consider his words in Mark 10:33-34:
"See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise."
Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people,The same idea is expressed by Ezra as he acknowledges the guilt of the people of God that led to the exile (the ultimate OT expression of judgement). Ezra 9:7b reads:
and he abhorred his heritage;
he gave them into the hand of the nations,
so that those who hated them ruled over them.
And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today.In the OT being handed over to the nations was a sign of God's anger. This is happening to Jesus in Mark 15.
2. He is silent before his accusers
We know that the charges brought against Jesus by the Jewish leaders were both unjust and incoherent (Mark 14:55-61). Before Pilate, as again Jesus is falsely accused, he remains silent. Why does Jesus not speak up in his own defense? Why does he not silence the lies of his enemies? Pilate is amazed at this (Mark 15:3-4). But the silence of Jesus is spoken of in the words of Isaiah 53:7:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,The silence of Jesus before his accusers is a confirmatory sign that he is the suffering servant who will bear the penal consequences of the sins of others by substitutionary atonement (Isa. 53:4-6, 10).
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
3. He is hung on a tree
The very instrument of execution, the cross, spoke of the nature of Christ's death. In the words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23:
If a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.Jesus was not personally guilty of any crime that could issue in his death. His death therefore was as a substitute for clearly it was a death that showed him to have been "cursed by God" (this point is drawn out in Gal. 3:10-13).
4. He is mocked by his enemies
When Hollywood wants to draw attention to the death of Jesus it does so by focussing our attention on the physical details of his sufferings. The graphic nature of his beating and execution is brought to the forefront. Mark, however, places that in the background. Mark's directorship places minimal attention on the act of crucifixion; he simply says "and they crucified him" (15:24).
Mark draws our attention not to the wounds of Jesus but to the words of his enemies. He goes into great detail to record the taunts and verbal abuse that Jesus suffered (15:29-32, 35). Why does he do this? Why do we need to know about this mockery of Christ? Because this too is a sign that Jesus is dying under God's judgement. Consider Psalm 89:38-42 (in context this is about God's king from David's line):
You have cast off and rejected;In Psalm 89 being scorned by his enemies was a sign that God's king was under God's judgement for his sins. And here in Mark 15? King Jesus is scorned by his enemies. The King of the Jews is bearing God's judgement as a substitute for sinners.
you are full of wrath against your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
you have defiled his crown in the dust.
You have breached all his walls;
you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
All who pass by plunder him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
you have made all his enemies rejoice.
5. He dies in the darkness
We are surely meant to recall the darkness that fell upon Egypt during the plagues as we see Jesus plunged into the darkness in Mark 15:33. This too was what God threatened Israel with in Deut. 28:29 "and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness." Amos also warned of this sign of judgement (Amos 8:9):
And on that day," declares the Lord GOD,As Jesus dies even the very elements speak of the presence of God's judgement at the cross.
"I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight."
6. He says that he has been forsaken
Here we come to the words that Jesus speaks in Mark 15:34:
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice,
"Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?"which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
What is happening to Jesus on the cross? He is bearing sin, its full penalty, in the place of his people. Here is penal substitution. Here is hope for sinners, for here is a refuge from condemnation and free acceptance with God in Christ.