Crucifixion was an exceptionally painful way to die. The agonizing strain on the crucified person’s joints, the exposure to the harsh sun and other weather conditions, and the difficulty that the crucified had in taking a simple breath of air all contributed to a prolonged period of physical suffering. In the case of Jesus, however, His suffering included but went far beyond His physical pain. To be hanged on the cross was to die under the curse of God, for a man hanged on a tree “is cursed by God” (Deut. 21:22–23).
Jesus bore the curse of God as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and we will look at that aspect of our Lord’s death more in due time. Today, we will speak again of the emotional suffering that Christ endured, for the text we are studying refers to the pointed rejection from even His own people that Jesus faced on the cross. First, we note the mocking of the bystanders who passed by Golgotha. They taunted our Lord, exhorting Him to prove His power to destroy the temple by rescuing Himself from the cross (Mark 15:27–30). Such taunts reflect their misunderstanding of what Jesus meant when He said He would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (see John 2:13–22), but their ignorance did not make their words less hurtful. Ironically, the demand of the passersby for Jesus to save Himself was not a cry made in their ultimate self-interest. Only by Christ’s remaining on the cross would those men and women have any hope of salvation. As Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark: “Jesus was not about saving Himself. He was about saving His people, which required that He stay on the cross until the bitter end.”
Additionally, the chief priests and the scribes mocked our Lord, and their words reveal their hard-heartedness (Mark 15:31). “He saved others,” they said, reflecting their knowledge of His power. Instead of meditating on that and considering that there might be a good reason why Jesus would not come down from the cross even though His miracles plainly showed He could, the religious authorities chose to raise their voices against the Savior. How dangerous it is when people who know the power of God reject it (see 3:22–30).
Finally, Mark’s description of the crowd’s mocking of Jesus reveals the supreme irony of the situation. The word translated “derided” in Mark 15:29 is the same Greek word used for the act of blasphemy. Ironically, Jesus, who was condemned for blasphemy (14:64), was innocent of the charge. His accusers were the true blasphemers.