Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 15
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. to go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third mediation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or diown.
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 313. Stage Two
Mk 15:1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
In his account of what takes place at the palace of the high priest, Mark is quite brief, but then so are each of the Synoptic Gospels and it is John who adds that when Jesus was first arrested he was first taken to Annas the father in law of Caiaphas, and joint high priest, before being handed over to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Jn 18:13). A little later it is only Luke who records the fact that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod before finally condemning him (Lk 23:6-12).
When pondering why these two bits are omitted from Mark's account it may be that in the confusion of all that was happening, Peter had not known what had taken place with Annas (because he only arrived at the palace later) and had not known about Jesus being sent to Herod because he had not been at Pilate's inquisition. Yet this argument is not very strong because he did manage to pull together various other pieces of information about what happened. It is more likely that to provide an accurate answer we have to get into the mind and culture of the people (and especially writers of history) at that time. Very simply they were not obsessed with detail as we tend to be and so simply sought to convey the bare bones of what happened. Where details are excluded it is not that they didn't happen but simply that that particular writer didn't think them of sufficient importance to be included. In Peter's case (and therefore, Mark's) the fact that Annas saw Jesus first was of little importance because it was actually Caiaphas and the whole Sanhedrin who had actually condemned Jesus. Similarly the visit to Herod was of little consequence because it was actually Pilate who passed the death sentence.
So we come to the next act in this terrible drama. It is probably daybreak because the day of a Roman official started at daybreak and there would be no point in approaching Pilate before this time. The whole Sanhedrin (but actually less Joseph and Nicodemus as we've noted before) make a decision. Now this is where it starts getting even more dubious. They have condemned Jesus for blasphemy. That much is clear, but now they are sending him to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, because only he has the power to actually pass the death sentence, and remember, they want Jesus dead. But here is the problem: Pilate will not be concerned with blasphemy and would not have Jesus executed on those grounds so, we will find, the decision the Sanhedrin makes is to send Jesus to Pilate accusing him of treason! Only that will give Pilate grounds to execute. What a mess!
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 314. Pilate Questions
Mk 15:2-5 "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate. "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of." But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
As we commented previously, the Gospels are at this point somewhat brief at times and it is up to John writing many years later to fill in the gaps. (Jn 18:28-40). We will not consider that longer conversation here. Luke fills in a little bit that explains Pilate's question here: “Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king." (Lk 23:1,2) Of the three parts to this claim only the last is true. Jesus had not been subverting the nation and had not opposed payment of taxes. This second one was no doubt as a result of the confused witnesses who only heard part of what Jesus said and misrepresented him. That he claimed to be the Christ was true.
So, says Pilate, are you the king of the Jews? Yes, that's right, replies Jesus. John gives a much fuller answer and it is clear to Pilate that Jesus is NOT a potential threat, a revolutionary come to overthrow Rome .
The chief priests and other from the Sanhedrin were all standing around listening to this and, unhappy at the lack of progress, continue to accuse him of many things, possibly reiterating the things Luke spoke of. All the while Jesus remains silent and this surprises Pilate. People being accused of crimes normally speak out in their own defense. Come on, implies Pilate, aren't you going to answer all these accusations.
Now I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that there is an element of sympathy in Pilate's voice when he says, “See how many things they accuse you of.” Jesus doesn't appear a major criminal to him and no doubt there was little sympathy from the Roman Governor for the high and mighty of Judaism, and it is clear they are ganging up on Jesus.
Now despite Pilate encouraging Jesus to refute these obviously trumped up charges, Jesus remains silent. Now we have described these accusations as obvious trumped up charges because there can be no other reason for Pilate to be so clearly amazed. There is something going on here that he doesn't understand. The mob of the religious and civic leaders is unnaturally antagonistic to Jesus and their charges really seem so over the top as to be unbelievable to anyone in their right mind, and yet Jesus remains silent. This is really strange!
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 315. An Escape Clause
Mk 15:6-11 Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
You would have a job to make this story more bizarre or the condemnation of the human race more complete, than now appears in this account. Pilate has briefly interrogated Jesus and it is clear to him that the whole case against Jesus is fabricated by the authorities. He does not, therefore, want to condemn him and looks for ways out of this situation that will allow him to appear reasonable.
Because it was Passover, there was a custom that the Roman Governor could use his authority to release a condemned criminal, to grant him mercy. He sees this custom as his let-out. Note what the account says: “knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.” Pilate fully understood the underlying causes of what was going on and didn't like it. Thus he decides to use this ‘escape clause' and so he turns from the chief priest to the crowd and appeals to them: “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” This should have appealed to the Jews because they would look for any leader to stand against the Jews and so their natural response should have been to cry for Jesus to be freed. Pilate had already assessed in his mind that Jesus wasn't a political threat to him so this seemed a good way out and would spite the religious authorities, which the crowd would also enjoy doing!
But then we are told about this brigand, Barabbas, who is in prison with a group of rebels who had tried already to stir up ferment and a revolution and who, in the course of it, had committed murder. Without doubt this was a violent man and a man Rome would not be keen to release.
But the Jewish authorities have already planned for this eventuality and although the text merely says they ‘stirred up the crowd', it is clear that a number must have gone into the crowd and persuaded them to cry for Barabbas the revolutionary. Whether the crowd also included servants of the high priests and other associated with the Sanhedrin is unclear. What is clear is that somehow these religious leaders manipulated this fickle crowd and managed to get them to cry again and again for Barabbas, and only Barabbas, to be released.
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 316. Surrender
Mk 15:12-15 "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. "Crucify him!" they shouted. "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Expediency can be a nasty word. Until this point the greatest example of expediency are the words of Caiaphas, “ You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." (Jn 11:50) A dictionary definition of ‘expedient' is ‘politic rather than just', and that is exactly what is now going on.
From the outset it seems obvious that Pilate did not think that Jesus was guilty of a crime worth the death penalty. Although Mark is silent on it, John records Pilate as saying. “I find no basis for a charge against him.” (Jn 18:38) Luke goes further: “I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.” (Lk 23:14,15), i.e. neither Pilate not Herod could find anything!
Here Mark records Pilate asking, “What crime has he committed?” in the face of the baying crowd. However you look at it, the record is clear: there was NO case against Jesus to warrant him being crucified! But the crowd has been worked up by the authorities. Next time you see a crowd somewhere in the Middle East burning flags or effigies, all wildly screaming about something, observe the psyche that seems to be able to get so worked up so easily despite what is the truth and what is rational in the situation. In the midst of it they scream the truth: “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” (Jn 19:7) but the only thing is that that was not a ground for the death penalty in Roman law!
Pilate is responsible for keeping the peace and it is Passover when the city is bulging with Jewish pilgrims. He appears to have the potential of a riot on his hands and it is clear that the authorities are just using Jesus, perhaps to kick off this riot. Well, he's just another Jew, one of them, so if that's what they want, let's give it to them, so then they will have no further cause to riot. Thus we read in Matthew, “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" (Mt 27:24). Expediency kicks in and truth dies, and no one (except Jesus) looks good. What a terrible situation!
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 317. Further Abuse
Mk 15:16-20 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Possibly the gruesome film, The Passion of Christ , has portrayed more clearly than any other the terrible things that were done to Christ even before the Crucifixion itself. What takes place now is a demonstration of the violence and coarseness and harshness of the Roman soldiers. When you come to stop and think about what takes place here, there can be no other reason that they want to demean this Jew. They are the army of the mightiest nation in the world and Israel is just one very small country under their dominion. However, one commentary declares, ‘ The soldiers quartered in the Praetorium were recruited from non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine and assigned to the military governor,' which would suggest that again it may just be nationalistic rivalry that caused these particular soldiers to act in the manner that they did!
So the soldier or guards who were at Pilate's palace, now take Jesus back to their base and there, note, “called together the whole company of soldiers ” to make sport of Jesus. This was bullying of the worst sort that is used to break the spirit of a prisoner. If any rebel prisoner went to their death determined to hold their head held high and be an encouragement to their fellow countrymen to stand up to these invaders, then this bullying would ensure that by the time they came to the crucifixion itself there was nothing of that bravado left in them and it would be a mere wreck of a human being who tottered to his death on the cross.
They make it worse by dressing him up in an apparently fine cloak but then thrust a long-thorned crown harshly on his head so that blood would run down all round. In mockery they call him King of the Jews and in mockery they bow before him before beating him with staffs and spitting on him. It is as if they say, “Very well, you are a king and we will acknowledge that, but we are greater than any petty king and we can do just what we like with you – you are ours and we'll treat you however we feel like, king! It is, of course, an act of the weak who gather together to oppose the strong, to make up for all their own weaknesses and pettiness. It is a horrible example of humanity at its worst.
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 318. Crucifixion
Mk 15:21-24 A certain man from Cyrene , Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
The measure of Jesus' brokenness already, as a result of the various beatings he has received, is revealed in some way by what now takes place. It was usual for the condemned man to carry his own cross to the place of execution but Jesus was in such a weak state that the soldiers had to press-gang a passer by to carry it for him. The man does not stay in anonymous obscurity in history but is known as Simon from Cyrene who was sufficiently well known that he is identified by his two sons. Whether the son Rufus is the same Rufus that Paul later mentions in Rom 16:13 is unknown, but if it was so then Simon's wife, also mentioned there, was clearly a believer or became one. Did Simon's recounting what had happened have something to do with ensuring they became a family of faith?
They bring Jesus and the Cross-carrying-Simon to the place of execution, a hillside outside Jerusalem where executions were carried out. Mark seems to indicate they offered him a drink to help the pain before they crucified him, but Jesus refused. He will take all that is coming without any aids.
“And they crucified him.” How simple those words but how terrible. Commentators vary on their suggestions of just what would have happened but the likeliest scenario is that nails were driven through his palms and through his feet, nailing him to the wood of the cross through the most painful parts of the body. The cross was then hoisted into the air and dropped into a hole in the ground, to hold it upright for however long it took the prisoner to die. Hanging in that way put incredible pressure on the points of the body where the nails were causing excruciating pain but the way the body hung there meant it was incredibly difficult to breath and so you either died of suffocation or you sought to press upwards to relieve the pressure on the lungs but to do that you increased the pain in the hands and the feet. Eventual exhaustion and possible blood loss meant the person succumbed and eventually died.
It was possibly one of the worst ways of executing a person while at the same time torturing them with incredible pain. A deterrent it might have been for some but as there were two others being crucified with him it clearly didn't deter crime.
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 319. Yet more abuse
Mk 15:25-30 It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!"
As the Jewish day began at 6.00am it was 9.00am when they hung Jesus on the Cross. Pilate had a sign made declaring Jesus to be King of the Jews. John recalls, “Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, "Do not write `The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews." Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written." (Jn 19:20-22) Pilate was rubbing it in. This is what they had said of Jesus. Very well, we'll proclaim it and show even more the superiority of Rome as this ‘king' dies in public.
Two men described as robbers are also being crucified but as robbery did not carry the death penalty, it is probable that they had been involved in rebellion, for treason was such a cause. Luke's account tells of the one cursing Jesus and the other finding salvation (Lk 23:39-43).
The place of crucifixion appears to be just off a highway for there are passers by who see Jesus, obviously those who had been involved in the trial – perhaps going out to see the outworking of their night's work. They hurl insults at him and mock him over his claim to rebuild the temple in three days and challenge him to come down and save himself if he is this great messiah.
Meanwhile the religious leaders, probably watching from a little distance, “mocked him among themselves."He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel , come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." (Mk 15:31,32) In a form of self-justification it is as if they say, “See, we were right, he's just an imposter, he has no power! If he had the power he'd have used it and we could have seen it and thus believed – but he didn't and we don't!” The Synoptic Gospels, in their anguish, have Jesus alone and insulted by all. Only John records that he, Mary and two other women were there, close by the Cross where Jesus gives John final instructions about caring for Mary.
Apart from them Jesus is alone and faces the utter rejection and hostility of mankind as he hangs their dying to take their sins and all of their punishment. How bizarre!
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 320. The Sin-Bearer
Mk 15:33-35 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? "--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah."
The sixth hour was midday and until three in the afternoon there came a darkness over the land. At three, it appears the peak of Jesus activity, in taking the sin of the world on himself, arrived as he cries out in Aramaic those famous words of a cry to God about being forsaken – or at least that is how it appears.
Many years ago, taking a youth service, I tried to graphically convey what happened on the Cross and had two pictures. This was in the days before computers and digital projectors so I did two drawings of Jesus hanging on the Cross, but in the second one I simply took a thick back marker pen and scrawled all over the Cross until you could hardly see the figure hanging there.
Now of course if you had been there you would have seen nothing except the body of Jesus hanging there, but in the spiritual world, if we are to accept what the Bible says, all of the sins of the world were being heaped upon Jesus at that time. Similarly a reading of the prophetic psalm 22 would suggest that all the hoards of hell we baying at him, accusing him and deriding him. Such was the impact of these two things taking place, that the human Jesus was not aware of anything else. I say the ‘human' Jesus but for the divine side of him this must have been equally awful. Imagine the pure, spotless Son of God who has existed in heaven throughout eternity with his Father in perfect harmony and in utter perfection. Now imagine him taking into himself every wrong thought, word or deed that has ever been conceived on earth. I suspect we need revelation to catch even a glimmer of the awfulness of that for him, the worst experience the Son of God had ever experienced or would ever experience.
So terrible was all this, and I repeat it, that he could not be aware of anything else. For that unique moment in history, the Son was not aware of the Father and the cry was the human cry, the expression of utter desolation for it seemed to him as if he was utterly alone in this awful experience and it seemed as if the Father was not longer there.
Had the Father left him, as some would suggest? No, I don't believe that was possible. There can never be a division of the godhead. There may be a changing in awareness for a moment of one another but the reality is that the Father is still there. The cry is the indication of the awfulness of what is happening to Jesus – the meaning of the Cross!
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 321. End or Beginning?
Mk 15:36-39 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son E of God!"
The end is rapidly approaching and the signs are that Jesus is ailing. One compassionate man offers him something to sip on a sponge on a stick (see Jn 19:28-30). The man's words are unclear: is it compassion or something else? “Now leave him alone”, i.e. stop taunting him, leave him, let's see what happens. The reference to Elijah indicates the man is Jewish and not one of the Roman guards. The belief was that Elijah would return one day and this would be a sign possibly of it. But that isn't what was going to happen!
Mark simply says Jesus gave a loud cry. Luke records it as, “ Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." John records it as “It is finished” (Jn 19:30) It was probably a combination of the two. Luke observes the relationship with the Father right up to the end. John remembers the significance of Jesus' achievement which has now finished. And then Jesus dies.
At this point something terribly dramatic and significant happens – the massive curtain in the Temple that divided the inner holy place where God was said to reside, separated from the main part of the inner temple, was torn in two. Now this was so thick that it would have been impossible for a man to have cut it – apart from the fact that it was very tall and would need steps. It would have been impossible for a vandal to get into the Temple and do this.
We are left with an act of God. What has just happened? The dividing wall between God and His people has been torn in two and the way into His presence clearly opened. The way is now open for those who would seek Him to come into His presence without fear. The work of Jesus on the Cross, taking all our sins, taking anything that would keep us from the Father, has been completed. The way is now open.
The other sign of the incredible work of Jesus on the Cross being worked out, occurs on the Day of Pentecost when holy fire descends on all the apostles in the upper room – and not one hair of their head was burnt. Throughout the Old Testament, when holy fire came on human beings they were destroyed, as sin was burnt up. Now, after the work of the Cross, the fire came and, incredibly, the new believers were not destroyed. The work of the Cross is incredible!
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 322. The Women
Mk 15:40,41 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
It is very easy when reading the Gospels to get the initial impression that Jesus followers were mostly men – for so all the apostles were – but these two verses bring us the balance and remind us of things that do occur, albeit rarely, in the Gospels.
Luke brings the balance earlier in his Gospel: “After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (Lk 8:1-3) i.e. while travelling around ministering with the twelve men apostles, he was also accompanied by a number of women, some of whom helped support him financially or possibly with food and other provisions.
Of course the women would have a big part in the narrative after the resurrection and after Jesus' ascension, while waiting for Pentecost, we read, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14)
Now we have some named women but the naming isn't clear. In John's account we find, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (Jn 19:25) Now we don't know if that is a description of three or four women – the second Mary possibly being Jesus' aunt? Also people often are known by different names so was Salome also known as Mary, and in the Mark account is the Mary Jesus' mother, for the two sons' names certainly correspond to the brothers' names found in Mt 13:55, and in which case, is Salome one of Jesus' sisters? All unknown!
But the startling thing is the description, “Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.” Note the word ‘many'. While the men fled, the large number of women who had been followers and had come up to the Feast with Jesus, now blatantly stand out near the Cross. As it so often is, it was the women who stood out fearlessly against the wrong that was being perpetrated here, and are not ashamed and not afraid! Bless them!
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 323. Joseph
Mk 15:42,43 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God , went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.
Time was running out. The day ended at 6.00pm and the next day would be the Sabbath when no work could be done – including burying bodies presumably. Up until now there had been no mention of any plan to bury the body and if it is to be cared for, someone needs to step up and claim it, but when the body is someone who has been condemned by all the authorities, whoever does that will not be popular. But it is at times like this that big men step forward and Joseph from Arimathea, who is described as “a prominent member of the Council” (that is the Sanhedrin), steps up.
Matthew describes him as “ a rich man … who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.” (Mt 27:57) Luke describes him as, “ a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action.” (Lk 23:50). John adds, “Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.” (Jn 19:38) which makes his coming out into the open about Jesus even more amazing. Mark says Joseph went ‘boldly' to Pilate. So, yes, he was a rich and no doubt influential man and, yes, he was a prominent member of the Council, but nevertheless he risked blemishing his reputation by stepping up like this and claiming the body.
Why did he do this? Well John tells us that “He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.” (Jn 19:39). Possibly the two men knew each other, being on the Council, and each recognized that the other was unhappy about what had been going on and so the two together, encouraging one another, decided to take this action.
There are times in life when it seems we can no longer flow with the tide, but we need to stand up and be counted and go against the flow. It is never easy, especially when we know that other people will not be happy about our actions and that we may incur their displeasure.
Particularly in this situation, the enemy may whisper the excuse, “Why bother; it's only a body. What does it matter? It's too late now so why not leave it to the authorities or someone else to do something. Stay out of it, keep out of trouble!” Yes, those are the words, but is it right, especially when your conscience or the Spirit is speaking?
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 324. Certainty
Mk 15:44,45 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
There is within some belief systems in the world, the belief that Jesus never actually died and therefore there was no miraculous resurrection, and therefore Jesus was merely a prophet. Before there can be a resurrection, there must be a death, and so assurance of his death is important! Now before we get into this we must remember that the Roman army was one of the most powerful and most disciplined in history. If you were told to do something, you did it. In Mark's somewhat brief account two people testify to Jesus' actual death – Pilate and the centurion in charge of the executions.
First, we find that Pilate was surprised that the deaths had occurred already, because it was usually a long and protracted torture as well as an execution, and so he sent for the centurion in charge to verify this. When the centurion arrives he confirms that this is so. It is more than his life is worth to lie or be negligent or casual about this thing, especially as the Governor himself is questioning him. Likewise Pilate would not have released the body to Joseph if he has not been absolutely sure about his subordinate's answer. Both men were thus completely sure that Jesus was dead. To see more on this we have to refer to the other Gospels.
The Synoptics add little more and it is up to John, reflecting back on it years later, and perhaps aware of this claim that Jesus hadn't actually died, who gives more detail: “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” (Jn 19:31-34) The reference to breaking of legs meant that the condemned man could no longer hold himself up and would die quickly of suffocation with the tension on the body. These soldiers knew death when they saw it and were sure Jesus was dead. The make sure though, they stuck a spear in his side and the liquid of the sac that surrounds the heart was pierced and blood and liquid poured out. One way and another, there is no question: Jesus is dead!
Short Meditations in Mark's Gospel: 325. Buried
Mk 15:46,47 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid
The final stage of this drama is about to be played out. Put aside any idea of digging a trench in which to place a coffin as we might do. This is more like a small room that has been cut out of the rock. Whereas Mark is characteristically brief, Matthew adds, “his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.” (Mt 27:60). We have learned previously that Joseph was both wealthy and a prominent member of the community and so the tomb that Jesus is going to be buried in, is a new tomb that Joseph has had cut for himself. He is perhaps getting on in years and has made provision for when he dies. Now he gives up that tomb for Jesus.
They wrap Jesus in a linen cloth but because of the lateness of the day they do nothing more but lay it in the tomb. There is a large stone, presumably purpose made, for covering the entrance of the tomb and so they roll it back over the entrance to seal the tomb until they can come back after Sabbath to properly embalm with body with spices. John, however, picks up where the Synoptics finished and added, “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.” (Jn 19:39,40) There would appear to be a slight question mark over whether the body was properly prepared for burial, because the women obviously planned to come back after Sabbath to do it properly.
The only reason such a question is important, is to do with the dealing of the tomb. If Joseph and Nicodemus considered the job completed, they would have well and truly sealed the entrance, but if it had been a hasty and temporary job, then although the stone was used to close the entrance, it might not have been sealed in the same way.
However, whatever the situation, this possibility is overcome because Matthew tells us that the Pharisees foresaw the possibility of the body being stolen and false claims being made, so they went to Pilate with a request for action to be taken to prevent this happening, with the result that “they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” (Mt 27:66)
So there we have it. A dead body in a sealed tomb and the tomb has guards keeping anyone from tampering with it. When they arrived the tomb was clearly as it had been left. Any grounds for claims that the body has been stolen have been well and truly removed!