And They Crucified Him | Mark 15:16-32

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

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. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

Mark 15:16-32 ESV

Given that the cross does not carry the same horrific weight that it did to those of the first century, it is typical for modern expositors to describe the brutal details of the crucifixion process in effort to help us understand what made that hanging tree so fearful. Let us, however, take another route toward that same goal by focusing upon how people of the first century felt about crucifixion.

Historian Tom Holland writes:

Yet in the exposure of the crucified to the public gaze there lurked a paradox. So foul was the carrion-reek of their disgrace that many felt tainted even by viewing a crucifixion. The Romans, for all that they had adopted the punishment as the ‘supreme penalty’, refused to countenance the possibility that it might have originated with them. Only a people famed for their barbarousness and cruelty could ever have devised such a torture: the Persians, perhaps, or the Assyrians, or the Gauls. Everything about the practice of nailing a man to a cross–a ‘crux’–was repellent. ‘Why, the very word is harsh on our ears.’ [This quote is from Varro.] It was this disgust that crucifixion uniquely inspired which explained why, when slaves were condemned to death, they were executed in the meanest, wretchedest stretch of land beyond the city walls; and why, when Rome burst its ancient limits, only the planting of the world’s most exotic and aromatic plants could serve to mask the taint. It was also why, despite the ubiquity of crucifixion across the Roman world, few cared to think much about it. Order, the order loved by the gods and upheld by magistrates vested with the full authority of the greatest power on earth, was what counted–not the elimination of such vermin as presumed to challenge it. Criminals broken on implements of torture: who were such filth to concern men of breeding and civility? Some deaths were so vile, so squalid, that it was best to draw a veil across them entirely.[1]

R. Kent Hughes likewise notes of the cross:

This was the lowest form of degradation. Cultured Gentiles refrained as much as possible from even mentioning the word “cross.” Once when an upper-class Roman actor did a mime depiction of the crucifixion of a robber chief, the writer Juvenal was so repulsed that a member of the patrician class would so debase himself, he said he hoped the actor would end up on a real cross! Jesus’ Jewish antagonists well remembered Deuteronomy 21:23 (“a hanged man is cursed by God”) and gleefully misapplied it to Jesus. This was the lowest rung in the Lord’s humiliation–“even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). He was indeed “a stumbling block to the Jews” (1 Corinthians 1:23). To the Jews and Romans alike, it was madness to suppose that anyone crucified would pretend to be God.[2]

Yet after Pilate’s sentence, Mark’s now records for us the crucifixion of the Son of God. Our text can be easily divided into three sections. Verses 16-20 describe the abuse and mocking that Jesus endured from the Roman soldiers. Verses 21-28 present give us the actual description of Jesus’ crucifixion. Finally, verses 29-32 recount the mockery that Jesus endured upon the cross.

HAIL, KING OF THE JEWS // VERSES 16-20

Now that both Jew and Gentile have conspired against God’s anointed one, Jesus was delivered over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

Every aspect of this scene is meant to be mockery and scorn of the highest caliber. A whole battalion, which would have been around six hundred soldiers, gathered about Jesus to treat His crucifixion as a faux coronation. They place a purple cloak upon Him since purple was the color of royalty. They placed a crown upon His head, yet it was one made of thorns. Rather than placing a royal scepter in His hands, they lashed Him with a reed. They then kneeled before Him, spitting on Him as they called Him sarcastically the King of the Jews.

Yet throughout this mockery, we ought to see the element of truth. The Roman soldiers were not merely displaying what kind of enthronement comes to all other kings but Caesar. In this moment, they were genuinely treating Jesus as if He were King of the Jews. This abuse and scorn is exactly how they would receive anyone that the Jews crowned as their king.

It is tragic, therefore, that in their blind rage to have Jesus killed, the Jewish leaders evidently could not see that the Roman soldiers were clearly pouring out their scorn against the entirety of the Jewish people upon Jesus. In their desperation to be rid of the shepherd, the sheep conspired with the wolves. Jesus was quite literally bearing the reproach of His people, even of the elders, chief priests, and scribes that were so adamant about destroying Him.

Of course, the great irony is that Jesus is King, not only of the Jews but the King over all kings. Unlike Caesar, He truly is the Son of God. Indeed, He is God become man rather a man who ascended to become a god, which is what Caesar thought of himself. Two of my daughter’s favorite songs are from Psallos’ Philippians album. The first is called “The Anthem of Rome,” and it has soldiers singing:

Praise be to Caesar, our proud and conquering king!
We give our lives for his. We dwell beneath his feet.
Every knee will bow down by threat of mighty sword,
And every tongue confess him: Caesar is Lord!

The second is called “The Anthem of Zion,” and it sings:

Praise be to Jesus, our humble Servant-King!
He gave His life for us. We dwell beneath His wings.
Every knee will bow down and praise the Living Word,
And every tongue confess Him: Jesus is Lord!

Indeed, here again Jesus embodies His words in Himself. Back in 10:42-43, Jesus told His disciples: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” And in 9:35, He said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And again, in 8:35, He said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s sake will save it.”

Through receiving the mocking homage of the Roman soldiers, Jesus was displaying the reality of those words. Far away in Rome, Tiberius Caesar was receiving the same sort of treatment only in earnest. Soldiers were kneeling before him, clothing him in purple, and setting the royal crown upon his head. Caesar was king of the world, the “first citizen” as the Romans called him. Jesus, however, was becoming, as Paul would later describe the ministry of the apostles, “the refuse of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:13).

Yet that is not the end. Tiberius’ glory is now faded. Indeed, the most notable fact of his reign is that he was emperor at the time of Christ’s crucifixion! Jesus, on the other hand, is presently sitting at the Father’s right hand as all His enemies are being placed beneath His feet.

AND THEY CRUCIFIED HIM // VERSES 21-28

In verses 21-28, we read Mark’s description of the actual crucifixion:

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. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.

Many wonder whether Simon’s son Rufus was the same Rufus that Paul greeted in his epistle to the Romans (see Romans 16:13). That is certainly possible, and it would make even more sense if Mark’s original readers were Christians in Rome who would have known Rufus, for that would have certainly been a testimony to the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion.

It is significant that they took Him to Golgotha because it was a place outside the city. Again, crucifixion was a public spectacle, done within sight of main roads; however, it was far too abominable to perform within the walls of a city. John Calvin writes:

We are reminded here of what the apostle says in the letter to the Hebrews, that our Lord Jesus Christ was taken outside of the city (Heb. 13:12). This commonly happened when sacrifices were made; they were burned and their blood was brought into the sanctuary to wipe away the people’s sins. Such sacrifices were likened to a curse; they thus had to be cast well away.

The Son of God was, therefore, willing to take this responsibility upon himself, so that we might know that we have been truly delivered and absolved by God. When we think of what we were really like, we deserved to be rejected by God and to see his terrible vengeance displayed. We can obtain grace only by coming to our Lord Jesus Christ and by seeking refuge in him, since our burden was lifted when he became hated and accursed for our sake, that we might find favour with God and be pleasing to him.[3]

He likely refused the wine mixed with myrrh because it was intended as small act of mercy toward the damned, a little pain-relieving mixture. Yet Jesus was resolved to drink the Father’s cup to the last drop without dulling any of the pain.

When stripped of His garments to be crucified, the soldiers took them for themselves, thus fulfilling Psalm 22:18, “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

As for the inscription above His head, it was common practice to write the crime above the criminal, for crucifixion was meant to be a deterrent more than anything else. Jesus’ crime, therefore, was being King of the Jews. Interestingly, John shows that the chief priests were uncomfortable with this inscription and asked Pilate to write, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” But Pilate simply said, “What I have written I have written” (John 19:21-22). Again, Pilate likely intended to use Jesus, though He was admittedly innocent, as a warning to the Jews about what would become of anyone they called king other than Caesar.

Mark also tells us that Jesus was crucified alongside two robbers (though they were likely insurrectionists like Barabbas). Verse 28 is footnoted in the ESV because it was likely inserted later into the book.

Notice through these verses how little actual description is given to the crucifixion process. Mark gives us no account of the nails nor of the agony of being raised upon them. We should, of course, expect such terseness from Mark, yet the other Gospels are the same. The events surrounding the crucifixion are described certainly, but the act of crucifixion itself is simply described as “and they crucified him.” Like all of Scripture, this is not accidental.

As we noted at the beginning, there was certainly a social stigma against even saying the word “cross” let alone describing the whole process, yet crucifixions were also common enough that the first century readers did not need to have the particulars described to them. That is all true. Yet I think there is something deeper happening here. G. Campbell Morgan puts his thumb on it:

We are not dwelling in these meditations upon details. I am growingly impressed, that the only way to come to these stories of Christ is with the self-same reticent reverence which characterized the men who wrote the story. We have no detailed description of the actual crucifixion in either Gospel. When these writers came to the actuality, they ever dismissed it, as it seems to me, in an almost half-whisper: “They crucified him.”[4]

I am certain that we have all heard the kind of half-whispered voice that Morgan describes. Doctors very often use it whenever they are delivering bad news. I heard it from my mother in 2016 when she said over the phone, “Dad’s been in a wreck.” I also heard it from my mother-in-law in 2018 when she called to tell us that my father-in-law was dying. They were moments of gravity and almost unreality, as if the world was turned upside down. Writing decades after the event, the Gospel writers still clearly felt the same heaviness when speaking about the crucifixion. Indeed, Mark’s ten-time mention of cross or crucified from verses 12-32 would have had his original readers squirming uncomfortably with each pronunciation.

O brothers and sisters, especially within our age of frivolity, let us strive to look reverently upon the cross. Whenever we look to the cross, let us like Isaiah before the throne of God say, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)! Likewise, in the shame of the cross, we ought to see a reflection of the shame of our sin. As the hymn says,

Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.[5]

DESPISED BY THE PEOPLE // VERSES 29-32

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

Here Mark shows us three groups of revilers: those who passed by, the chief priests and scribes, and the robbers beside Him. This is in fulfillment of Psalm 22:6-8:

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Calvin thinks that only one of the crucified robbers mocked Jesus, since Luke tells us that the other believed on Christ and was saved. It seems more likely to me that both mocked Jesus in the beginning, yet one repented toward the end as he gradually came to see Jesus as truly being the Christ.

Those who passed by Jesus slandered Him with His claim about rebuilding the temple. They called for Jesus to display His power by saving Himself from the cross. They tempted Jesus with the same temptation that Satan made whenever he told Jesus to throw Himself from the top of the temple. Angels would rescue Him, and the people would believe Him to be the Son of God. Yet Jesus did not come to be believed by the masses; rather, He came to be rejected and scorned by the masses.

The further irony is that Jesus did not come down from the cross precisely because the temple was being destroyed and He would rebuild it in three days. The temple was his body, where the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19). Remember too that Jesus never said that He would destroy the temple, that was part of their misunderstanding. Jesus said to the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Here upon the cross, they were, in fact, destroying the true and living temple, but Jesus would display His authority and power by raising to life in three days.

Lastly, consider the mocking of the chief priests and scribes. They gloated in victory of Christ, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”

Looking upon the crucified Christ, they thought they had achieved complete victory. Being put to death would silence His influence upon the people, and being crucified would permanently mar all the influence that He once held. Remember that anyone hung upon a tree was considered cursed by God (Galatians 3:13). Thus, they believed that they had not only destroyed Jesus physically but also spiritually, hanging from the cross was sign that Jesus was damned.

Even writing those words makes me squirm. Indeed, I considered titling this sermon “The Damnation of Christ” but could not bring myself to do it. But regardless of how blasphemous those words feel, I believe that they are accurate. As Christians, we are a people who worship the incarnate Word through reading the written Word of God, so we ought to take words very seriously. We are the people of the Book, after all. Thus, whenever I use the word “damn,” I am not uttering a profanity (that is, taking a word of gravity and treating it with vanity). Instead, I am here using it to mean exactly what the word means: to be eternally accursed by God. And that is precisely what was happening here with Jesus. He was being damned. And we are right to feel blasphemous saying that because this whole crucifixion passage is describing the blasphemy of all blasphemies. This is the true abomination of desolation, the Author of life being put to death.

Of course, they did not realize that was the plan all along. In fact, this was the eternal plan, conceived by the Father, Son, and Spirit an eternity before creation was first brought forth into being. It was always the plan for Jesus, the eternal Word of God, to give His life as a ransom for many by taking the damnation that we so rightly deserve. Indeed, in Galatians 3:13, Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'”

Thus, these religious leaders spoke a truth without fully realizing it, but a slight rewording would make it clearer. In order to save others, He could not save Himself. The two were mutually exclusive. If Jesus were to come down from the cross (which was entirely within His power to do), He would have damned all of humanity. Each one of us would have gone straight to hell alongside the rebellious angels. Atonement would not have been made, and we would all be eternally condemned of treason against the Eternal One.

But Christ even here did not succumb to temptation. For this purpose, He came into the world, and He accomplished it in full. As the eternal and uncreated Son, Jesus’ substitution was perfectly able to satisfy our eternal debt against God. Thus, by His blood, Christ transformed the accursed tree into the tree of life for all who are not ashamed to confess the lordship of this crucified King. And because Jesus descended to the very lowest humiliation, He is able to ransom from death even the most condemned. For example, some priests standing there mocking Jesus may have later come to place their faith in Him, for Acts 6:7 reports that “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”

In fact, it is as if our Lord wants his grace to be magnified when he extends his salvation to the gates of hell and pulls those who are thought to be totally lost from the pit of the abyss and places them in his kingdom. It is a great sign of his goodness that he gives us, and we have good reason for glorifying him for it.[6]

It is glorious news that Christ receives with forgiveness those who once reviled and mocked Him because had we been witnesses to the crucifixion, we very well would have done the same. Or do we not rightly sing:

Behold the man upon a cross,
my sin upon his shoulders;
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
call out among the scoffers.[7]

Brothers and sisters, as we come our King’s Table, let us look the cross of Christ, though it is foolishness to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews, to we who are being saved it is the very power of God. Let us take the cup of blessing given to us in Christ who drank the cup of wrath in our place. Let us eat this bread of fellowship in thankfulness given to us by Christ whose bodies was broken outside the city and under the curse of God on our behalf.


[1] Tom Holland, Dominion, 2-3.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, 383.

[3] John Calvin, Crucified and Risen, 93.

[4] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 316-317.

[5] “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” by Thomas Kelly

[6] John Calvin, Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles: Chapters 1-7, 338-339.

[7] “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stuart Townend

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