IN MARK 15 PEOPLE SPEAK better than they know.
“What shall I do, then,” Pilate asks, “with the one you call the king of the Jews?” (15:12). Of course, he utters the expression “king of the Jews” with a certain sneering contempt. When the crowd replies, “Crucify him!” (15:13, 14), the politically motivated think this is the end of another messianic pretender. They do not know that this king has to die, that his reign turns on his death, that he is simultaneously King and Suffering Servant.
The soldiers twist together a crown of thorns and jam it on his head. The hit him and spit on him, and then fall on their knees in mock homage, crying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (15:18). In fact, he is more than the King of the Jews (though certainly not less). One day, each of those soldiers, and everyone else, will bow down before the resurrected man they mocked and crucified, and confess that he is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).
Those who passed by could not resist hurling insults: “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” (15:29-30). The dismissive mockery hid the truth they could not see: earlier Jesus had indeed taught that he himself was the real temple, and anti-type of the building in Jerusalem, the ultimate meeting-place between God and human beings (John 2: 19-22). Indeed, Jesus not only insisted that he is himself the temple, but that this is so by virtue of the fact that this temple must be destroyed and brought back to life in three days. If he had “come down from the cross” and saved himself, as his mockers put it, he could not have become the destroyed and rebuilt “temple” that reconciles men and women to God.
“He saved others but he can’t save himself” (15:31). Wrong again – and right again. This is the man who voluntarily goes to the cross (14:36; cf. John 10:18). To say “he can’t save himself” is ridiculously limiting. Yet he couldn’t save himself and save others. He saves others by not saving himself.
“Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (15:32). But what kind of Christ would they then have believed in? A powerful king, doubtless – but not the Redeemer, not the Sacrifice, not the Suffering Servant. They could not long have believed in him, for the basis of this transformation in them was the very cross-work they were taunting him to abandon.
“Surely this man was the Son of God” (15:39). Yes; more than they knew.