25 It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 A sign was fastened to the cross, announcing the charge against him. It read, "The King of the Jews." 27 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
29 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. "Ha! Look at you now!" they yelled at him. "You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. 30 Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!"
31 The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. "He saved others," they scoffed, "but he can't save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!" Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.
It is 9:00 in the morning and Jesus is hanging on the cross. On either side of him are two criminals who have been crucified for their crimes against the state. Passersby stop long enough to mock Jesus, daring him to save himself by coming down from the cross. The religious leaders mock Jesus, declaring that they will believe in him if he comes down from the cross. And "even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him."
A sign ... King of the Jews (Mark 15:26)
"A written notice or sign stating the condemned man's crime was placed on his cross as a warning. Pilate wrote this notice in three languages (Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, see John 19:20) so that anyone going to and from the city would be able to read it. Because Jesus was never found guilty, the only accusation placed on his sign was the 'crime' of calling himself king of the Jews."1729 Most likely Pilate intended that the official charge against Jesus - "The King of the Jews" - serve "as an insult to Jewish aspirations for independence (cf. John 19:21-22)."1730 As one Bible commentator has it: "Why did the governor word it thus? ... Although we cannot be sure, perhaps the true answer is as follows: Pilate hated the Jews, especially their leaders. He was keenly aware that just now they had won a victory over him; for, as he probably saw it, they had forced him to sentence Jesus to be crucified. So, now he is mocking them. By means of the superscription he is saying, 'Here is Jesus, the King of the Jews, the only king they have been able to produce, a king crucified at their own urgent request!'"1731 We know, of course, that the "charge" was/is true: "Jesus, who turns the world's wisdom upside down, was just coming into his kingdom. His death and resurrection would strike the deathblow to Satan's rule and would establish Christ's eternal authority over the earth. Few people reading the sign that bleak day understood its real meaning, but the sign was absolutely true. All was not lost."1732 (We also know that Christ's kingdom encompasses the entire world - Jews and Gentiles alike.)
Two revolutionaries (Mark 15:27)
"When James and John had asked Jesus for the places of honor next to him in his kingdom, Jesus had told them that they didn't know what they were asking (10:35-39). Here, as Jesus was preparing to inaugurate his kingdom through his death, the places on his right and on his left were taken by dying men - robbers. ... Luke records that one of these robbers repented before his death, and Jesus promised this robber that he would be with him in paradise (Luke 23:39-43). ... The way to the kingdom is the way of the cross. If we want the glory of the kingdom, we must be willing to be united with the crucified Christ."1733
The two men crucified with Jesus were extremely violent criminals. The same Greek word (lestes) is used for both Barabbas and the two "robbers" crucified with Christ (cf. John 18:40 and Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27), which leads to the conclusion that "these two men were probably colleagues of Barabbas and were originally meant to be executed with him that day."1734 The Jewish historian "Josephus uses the term for the Zealots ... For many Jews the Zealots [were] patriots rather than bandits, even though they often [took] what they need[ed] from their own people."1735 (The Zealots were "a Jewish political group that sought to throw off the yoke of Rome by violence."1736) This association of lestes with the Zealots, as well as Mark's comment regarding "the insurrection"/"an uprising" (NASB/NLT) (Mark 15:7) leads to the possibility that Barabbas and the two "robbers"/"revolutionaries" (NASB/NLT) (Mark 15:27) were members of the Zealots.1737 It also explains why one source says "[t]he lestes, as in the case of the penitent one on a cross near Jesus, may have been a person who turned insurgent for some presumed righteous cause, thus seeking by the wrath of man to work out what he presumes to be God's righteousness."1738
We should be very careful to bear in mind, however, that in general this particular class of criminal possessed anything but noble motives. Drawn "primarily from among runaway slaves, bankrupt peasants, and military deserters," they lived in caves, banded together in armed groups, routinely (and violently) robbed travelers, and stole sheep.1739 Hence after clearing out the court of the Gentiles in the temple, Jesus declared that God's house had been made into "a robbers' [lestes] den" (Mark 11:17, NASB). To the mob that had come to arrest him at Gethsemane, Jesus complained that they were treating him like "a robber [lestes]" (Mark 14:48, NASB). And in crucifying Jesus between the two robbers, Pilate's intended message may have been that Jesus was "a king of bandits."1740
Shouted abuse (Mark 15:29)
The insults of the passersby reflect their "glee, scorn, and sense of victory."1741 ("Woe to us!" would have been a much more appropriate response.1742) They accused Jesus of uttering a false claim regarding destroying and rebuilding the temple in three days, and they dared him to save himself by coming down from the cross. In fact, Jesus had predicted that he would lay down his life (the temple of his body) and raise it up again three days later (see John 2:18-22). Thus while they had misinterpreted him, the mockers were nonetheless testifying to the fact Jesus had prophetically predicted his own resurrection. While the passersby implied that it was weakness that kept Jesus on the cross, in truth "it was strength, the strength of his love for sinners."1743
One Bible commentator explains, and applies, the amazing love that kept Jesus on the cross:
Jesus could have saved himself, but he endured this suffering because of his love for us. He could have chosen not to take the pain and humiliation; he could have killed those who mocked him. But he suffered through it all because he loved even his enemies. We had a significant part in the drama that afternoon because our sins were on the cross, too. Jesus died on that cross for us, and the penalty for our sins was paid by his death. The only adequate response we can make is to confess our sin and freely accept the fact that Jesus paid for it so we wouldn't have to. Don't insult God with indifference toward the greatest act of genuine love in history.1744
The leading priests and teachers of religious law (Mark 15:31).
Apparently the chief priests and scribes had followed the executioners out to Golgotha, eager to see their evil plot finally completed in Jesus' death. Not content to have brought him to an unjust death, they also mocked him as they talked among themselves."1745 The religious leaders added insult to injury by speaking about Jesus rather than to him:
[N]ot once in the narrative of Christ's crucifixion - whether in Matthew, Mark, or Luke - do the leaders address Jesus directly. Each time they talk about him, to each other. They never talk to him. So thoroughly do they hate him. Matthew and Mark relate that these Sanhedrists, in their conversation with each other about their enemy mocked him. And so they did indeed! Luke uses a different word, however. He shows that this mockery was of the worst possible kind. Their ridicule was mingled with hatred and envy. Says Luke, "They turned up their noses at him," that is, they sneered, they scoffed (Luke 23:35).1746
The religious leaders also testified to Jesus' mission to save the lost - even as they adamantly ignored the mountain of evidence that he was/is indeed the Son of God and Messiah. For the religious leaders "[t]he issue ... was not lack of evidence but unbelief."1747 As one Bible commentator has put it:
When to the words "Let the Christ, the king of Israel, now come down from the cross" the chief priests and scribes add these others: "that we may see and believe," they are uttering a gross untruth. If healing all kinds of diseases, restoring sight to those born blind, cleansing lepers, and even raising the dead, if these works of power and grace, all of them performed in fulfilment of prophecy!, did not cause them to believe in Jesus, but rather hardened their hearts so that they hated him for it, would a descent from the cross have caused them to accept him as their Lord and Savior? Of course not! We are reminded of the words found in the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31).1748
In the minds of the religious leaders Jesus could not be the true Messiah since he was dying a weak, powerless, disgraceful death of a common criminal. What's more, his inability to save himself from the cross meant that he had no real saving power and hence all his previous mighty miracles amounted to little more than an elaborate con job.1749
We know, of course, that while Jesus certainly could have chosen to come down from the cross, to do so would have been to abort his earthly mission of dying for the sins of the world.1750 As one source has it: "If Jesus were going to save humanity from sin, then he could not save himself from the penalty sin deserved."1751 His love for God and humanity kept Jesus on the cross, and his death was (and is) the greatest proof of God's incredible love for humankind.1752
While contending with the manifold problems of geography and climate in the building of the Panama Canal, [Col. George Washington Goethals] had to endure the carping criticism of countless busybodies back home who freely predicted he would never complete his task. But he pressed steadily forward in his work and said nothing.
"Aren't you going to answer your critics?" a subordinate inquired.
"In time," Goethals replied.
The great engineer smiled, "With the canal," he said.1753
Jesus answered his critics not with words but with his life. He gave his life so that others could live. Anyone willing to investigate rather than insult, to research rather than ridicule, will find that the crucified Christ remains the one and only way to eternal life.
??? What can Jesus' example teach us about the proper way to respond the next time we are criticized for our Christian beliefs?