(This post was published in our church bulletin on 6.6.18)
The reading for this week is Mark 15 & 16. This passage covers Mark describing the crucifixion to a Roman audience (who were well acquainted with crucifixion) and he does so with a very Roman theme…the theme of the Emperor’s Triumph.
When an emperor was coronated, there was a procession called a Triumph that evolved from a practice by the ancient Greeks. The entire procession was to show that Caesar was lord, savior, and a son of the gods. In many ways it was a deification ceremony for the new emperor.
In his retelling of the crucifixion, the Spirit inspired Mark to record the events in a way that mirrored the Emperor’s Triumph, ultimately declaring that Jesus is Lord, Savior, and the Son of God…not Caesar. Nero’s Triumph took place only a few years before Mark’s Gospel was written. (By the way, “gospel” was a Roman political term that conveyed a message from Caesar as a diety. The very idea that one would have a “gospel” that wasn’t from Caesar might incur a death sentence.)
Here I will list the events in a Roman Emperor’s Triumph, and the scriptures that mirror these events in Mark’s narrative. Try reading Mark 15 in light of this.
- The entire Praetorian Guard would assemble and stand in formation. (15:16)
- Caesar would appear and a robe and wreath were placed on Caesar. (This act came from ancient Greece and declared Caesar is a god) (15:17)
- The soldiers would cheer “Hail Caesar, lord and god!” (15:18-19)
- A parade would happen, leaving the Praetorium and follow the Via Sacra through the center of the city of Rome. An animal for sacrifice was led through the streets, and someone would carry the instrument of death for the sacrifice. (15:20-21)
- The procession arrives to Capitoline Hill (commonly called Head Hill by Romans in that time because supposedly Romulus’ head was discovered there). (15:22)
- The new emperor would be offered wine mixed with myrrh, which would always be refused. (This can be found in history, but nobody knows why it was done.) (15:23)
- The instrument of death is brought, the sacrifice is made and placed on the altar as a way of inviting the gods to pay attention to this event. (15:24)
- The emperor would climb the steps of the temple with two people who represent the administration’s mission on his right and his left. The crowd would shout “Hail Caesar, lord and god.” (15:26-32)
- Prisoners were brought to the steps below. Caesar would choose who lived and who died. Soldiers would step up and kill those who were sentenced. This would show that Caesar holds the power of life and death. (Luke 23:40-43)
- A gospel is sent far and wide declaring the new Caesar is lord and savior, the son of the gods. (1:1; 16:6-7)
Mark’s entire Gospel message is that Jesus is above all. Caesar is not lord, savior, or the son of the gods. Jesus is. It would have been very difficult to live in Rome as a Christian during this time because so much of the society focused on deifying someone or something other than Jesus. Today in the U.S. it isn’t much different. So who are you going to choose as Lord and Savior? Jesus, or whomever your nation promotes?
(By the way, the second half of Mark 16 is not in the oldest and best Greek manuscripts. It probably wasn’t part of Mark’s Gospel originally, but there is nothing in that passage that the other Gospels, or even Mark’s Gospel, doesn’t cover elsewhere. Everything there is covered in Scripture elsewhere.)