Jesus—His Life and Message: The Death of Jesus (Part 2)
April 19, 2022
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Death of Jesus (Part 2)
After Jesus had been interrogated by Pilate, mocked, treated with contempt by Herod and his men, and scourged, it was time for His death sentence to be carried out. Each of the four Gospels addresses the events of Jesus’ death, and each Gospel writer includes details which others don’t mention. The Gospel of Matthew is used here as the main text describing Jesus’ death, and additional points from the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John are included.
As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.1
Once the Roman soldiers were finished mocking, spitting on, and striking Jesus, they put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.2 Usually the person condemned to death carried their crossbeam to the place of crucifixion. The crossbeam would then be attached to an upright beam which was already standing at the location where the crucifixion was going to take place.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we’re told that Simon was from Cyrene, a country that was situated in modern-day Libya, on the northern coast of the African continent. It was the capital of the Roman district Cyrenaica at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, and home to a large number of Greek-speaking Jews. In the Gospel of Mark,3 we are told that Simon was the father of two sons, Alexander and Rufus.
In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus went out, bearing his own cross,4 while in the Gospel of Matthew it says that Simon was compelled to carry it.5 Both are likely accurate. It is probable that Jesus started out carrying the crossbeam, but due to all that He had already endured, He was unable to carry it all the way to the place of crucifixion. One author explains:
He had been subjected to a great deal of stress. He had been up all night and had undergone the agony in the garden, the various sessions with the Jewish authorities, and the mockery of a trial before Pilate. He had endured the scourging, which … could be a very brutal affair. He had been mocked and hit by the soldiers. It may well be that Jesus had been more severely treated than the others who were crucified with him.6
All four Gospels tell of the place where Jesus was crucified, called Golgotha. Each Gospel adds an explanation of the name in parentheses. The Gospel of Mark says, they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).7 The Gospel of John states, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.8 No one knows for certain exactly where the place called Golgotha was located, but it seems that it was not far from the gates of Jerusalem.
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark both tell of Jesus being offered wine to drink.
They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.9
They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.10
It is likely that the Roman soldiers were the ones who offered Jesus the wine mixed with gall or myrrh, which would have a mildly numbing effect. It’s not known if the soldiers offered the wine out of kindness or if they were mocking Him. Jesus tasting it, and then refusing to drink it, may have meant that He wanted to keep His senses clear as He was about to give his life as a ransom for many.11
And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.12
The Gospel writers didn’t focus on the details of Jesus’ crucifixion; they simply stated that He was crucified. Each of the synoptic Gospels then tells of the Roman soldiers dividing Jesus’ clothes amongst themselves. When it came time to crucify Him, the soldiers stripped His clothes from Him, as those who were crucified were crucified naked. Acquiring the clothing of those who were crucified was a perk for the soldiers who conducted the crucifixion. The Gospel of John adds that Jesus’ tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things.13
Then they sat down and kept watch over him there.14
It was likely that the soldiers were instructed to remain at the site of the crucifixion until Jesus (and the two other men) died, to make sure than no one would come and take them down from the cross and thus rescue them from their death sentence.
And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”15
One reason the Romans used public crucifixion as a punishment was to deter others from committing crime or rebelling against Rome. Seeing the charge written on a plaque on the cross or hung around the neck of the criminal sent a powerful message. Each of the Gospels recounts that the charges against Jesus were posted on His cross.
In the Gospel of John, we’re told that it was Pilate who had the inscription written and that he received some pushback from the chief priests.
Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”16
Since the place where Jesus was crucified was close to the city, many people would have likely come to watch, as crucifixions were popular functions in the first century.17 The inscription was also in three languages, which meant that anyone who could read would most likely be able to read it.
Aramaic was the language of the country, Latin the official language, and Greek the common language of communication throughout the Roman world.18
One author states:
As for the notice itself, its implication that the Jews are a people whose miserable “king” hangs on a cross offends them, and is made all the worse by being publicly accessible as well to Gentiles passing by who read only Greek or Latin.19
Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to convince Pilate to remove the plaque from Jesus’ cross, the chief priests tried to persuade him to change what was written on it. Pilate refused to make any change.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 27:32.
2 Matthew 27:31.
3 Mark 15:21.
4 John 19:17.
5 Matthew 27:32.
6 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 714.
7 Mark 15:22.
8 John 19:17. See also Matthew 27:33, Luke 23:33.
9 Matthew 27:34.
10 Mark 15:23.
11 Matthew 20:28.
12 Matthew 27:35. See also Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34.
13 John 19:23–24.
14 Matthew 27:36.
15 Matthew 27:37.
16 John 19:19–22.
17 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 713–14.
18 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 714.
19 Michaels, The Gospel of John, 950.