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Mark’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion deliberately alludes to book of Lamentations, which is a collection of poems (dirges, really) to “lament” and mourn the destruction of Jerusalem. Particularly, Mark draws from Lamentations 2:15-16 to influence Mark 15:29-32*:

“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying,” (Mk. 15:29a) All who pass by along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Lam. 2:15a)
“Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross.” (Mk. 15:29b-30) “’Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?’” (Lam. 2:15b)
“So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying,” (Mk. 15:31a) All your enemies rail against you; they hiss, they gnash their teeth, they cry:” (Lam. 2:16a)
“He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” (Mk. 15:31b-32a) We have swallowed her! Ah, this is the day we longed for; now we have it; we see it!” (Lam. 2:16b)

Why Lamentations?

Lamentations is written to reflect on the immediate aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction, before many hints of hope emerge. Israel had become thoroughly wicked, and God had sent the Assyrians to destroy the northern 10 tribes; now it was Judah who had gone too far, and God now sent the Babylonians to destroy (1) the people of the southern kingdom Judah, (2) the capital city Jerusalem, and even (3) God’s holy temple on Mount Zion.

Mark knew all this, and precisely for these reasons he portrays Jesus’ crucifixion in the words of Lamentations. In doing this, he represents Jesus as the (1) true Man of God, (2) true Jerusalem, and even (3) true Temple of God.

First, Jesus was the true Man of God, representing not only the people of Judah (for he himself is a member of the tribe of Judah), but all the people of God near and far off whom God will call to himself. Yet while the writer of Lamentations can say, “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven” (Lam. 3:42), Christ had no sin. For no fault of his own, Christ says, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath” (Lam. 3:1) as he stands in our place.

Though we have transgressed and rebelled, we are forgiven because the Father did not forgive his Son on the cross.

Second, Jesus is the true City of God, the New Jerusalem. Jesus is the gathering place for a new humanity that he himself established through his death and resurrection. Because of Christ, the New Jerusalem, we hear this cry from heaven: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3-4). The cross was the ground-breaking ceremony for this New Jerusalem, where the sin and death of the old Jerusalem were completely swallowed up once and for all.

And so the prophet writes, “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away” (Lam. 1:8). This is written of Him who bore our sin, and so became filthy, despised, and naked for us, in order that he might make us his pure, spotless, and radiant bride, clothed with the fine linen of righteous deeds (Rev. 19:8).

Third, Jesus is the true Temple of God, against whom “the enemy has stretched out his hands over all her precious things; for she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary, those whom you forbade to enter your congregation” (Lam. 1:10). In one sense, this refers to the fact that Roman soldiers (the nations) were the ones to stretch out their hands to nail Jesus to the cross. The crucifixion was such a desecration of God’s true Temple that even the curtain in the temple of the old covenant was torn in two, from top to bottom, in horror.

Yet in another sense, we see here the gospel itself: because men stretched out their hands over the precious Son of God at the cross, we members of nations that were far off, forbidden to enter the sanctuary and congregation of God’s people, now have “confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20).

Fallen, fallen is Jerusalem the Great, for Jesus Christ has suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried–he descended into hell.

*Kenneth E. Bailey, “The Fall of Jerusalem and Mark’s Account of the Cross,” Expository Times 102.4 (1991): 102-05.

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