The King on a Cross

Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. 33 And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.

35 Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:

“They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.”

36 Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. 37 And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:

THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. 43 He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Matthew 27:32-44.

Summary

As they come out of the Praetorium, Simon of Cyrene is compelled to bear Jesus’ Cross to Golgotha, the ‘Place of the Skull’. At this time, Jesus refuses the sour wine mingled with gall which would have dulled His pain. [Jesus did take some just before dying (see John 19:30) because His mouth was so dry that He could not speak (cf. Psalm 22:15). This may have fulfilled Psalm 69:21.]

Many prophecies of the Bible are being fulfilled at this point. He is crucified as predicted in Psalm 2 and Isaiah 53, though this Roman form of execution was unknown when the prophets penned those words hundreds of years before. His crucifiers fulfil another prophecy of Psalm 22 by dividing His garments between them and casting lots for His clothing. Watching Him die, they put the accusation over the cross ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS’. Unknowingly, they get that right.

Jesus is crucified between two robbers. Even they join in the blasphemy and insults that are hurled upon Him by the mocking crowd, chief priests, scribes, and elders. His ability to save, His trust in God the Father, and His claim to be the Son of God are all now thrown in His face. He can only answer those accusations by staying on the cross and accomplishing His work.

Analysis

“man of Cyrene, Simon” (v.32) — Cyrene was an ancient Greek city on the North African coast near present-day Shahhat, a town located in north-eastern Libya. Simon is a Jewish name. The fact that he was in Jerusalem at this time indicates that he was a Jew or a proselyte. There was a synagogue in Jerusalem called the Synagogue of the Freedmen for (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia) Jews (see Acts 6:9). His racial or ethnic background is uncertain, but he was probably a Jew of the Diaspora.

“compelled” — Occupying military forces had the right to command local citizens to perform certain tasks.

“to bear His cross” — Whether the crossbar or the entire cross was carried to Golgotha is uncertain. The shape of the cross may have been a capital “T,” a small “t,” an “X,” or a scaffolding holding several persons.

“Golgotha” (v.33) — This Hebrew word meant “skull.” “Calvary” is from the Latin. The term referred to a low, bald hill, not a full skull.

“they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink” (v.34) — The Babylonian Talmud says the women of Jerusalem gave this strong drink to condemned prisoners to ease their pain (cf. Mark 15:23, where “gall” means “myrrh”). This was possibly a prophetic reference to Psalm 69:21.

“He would not drink” — This has nothing to do with the modern denominational issue of total abstinence. He is refusing to take anything to dull either the pain or His senses.

“Then they crucified Him” (v.35) — The Gospel accounts do not dwell on the physical aspect of Jesus’ death (cf. Ps. 22:16). This form of death was developed in Mesopotamia and was taken over by the Greeks and Romans. It was meant to be an extended, excruciating death taking several days. Its purpose was to humiliate and cause fear as a deterrent to rebellion against Rome.

“divided His garments” — This is an allusion to Ps. 22:18. Jesus was possibly naked or, more probably, clothed in just His loin cloth.

“Casting lots” is used in the NT both as a game of chance, as here, and a way of knowing God’s will as in Acts 1:26. This followed the OT precedent of the Urim and Thummim. This mechanical means of knowing God’s will has passed away. This shows that the Bible records things that it does not necessarily advocate. Another good example of this same idea would be Gideon’s fleece (cf. Judges 6:36-40).

“accusation written against Him” (v.37) — From John 19:20 we learn the charge was written in three languages (Aramaic, Latin, and Greek). Pilate worded it on purpose in such a way so as to anger the Jewish leaders.

“two robbers were crucified with Him” (v.38) — This is an allusion to Isaiah 53:12. Josephus’ use of this term “robbers” suggests these may have been “zealots,” like Barabbas.

“those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads” (v.39) — This is an allusion to Psalm 22:7. Golgotha must have been near a main roadway into Jerusalem. The purpose of crucifixion was to deter crime and revolt.

“If You are the Son of God” (v.40) — These leaders had no doubt who Jesus claimed to be!

“chief priests … scribes … elders” (v.41) — This was the full designation of the Sanhedrin.

“He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him” (v.43) — This is a quote from Psalm 22:8. This Psalm of David describes Jesus’ crucifixion in amazing detail.

“Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him” (v.44) — Matthew states that both of the zealots crucified with Jesus insulted Him at first, but Luke 23:39 says only one of the criminals hurled abuses at Him. Again this is not contradictory but complementary. They were both angry and insolent at first, but one mellowed and repented.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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