Because Golgotha was not only the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, but also the destination for His journey from the Fortress of Antonia, last Sunday we began a discussion as to the location of Golgotha for two fundamental reasons:
1. As a student of Scripture we want to be Biblical in our conclusions.
The 5 Biblical Requirements for Golgotha fit only the Mount of Olives:
(1) The Mount of Olives was located outside the city. (2) It was situated along a popular roadway pilgrims would use when coming to Jerusalem from the Jordan.
Located at the southern base of the Mount was (3) the Garden of Gethsemane and (4) a graveyard designated for the nobility of Jerusalem.
(5) According to Temple construction, Jewish tradition, as well as geographical topography, the only place you would be able to pier into the Temple to witness the veil being torn in two would be from the peak of the Mount of Olives.
The “Church of the Holy Sepulcher” and the non-official rock face resembling a human skull (both located north and west of the Temple) fail to allow those at the cross to view into the Temple to see this event as Jesus breathed His last.
2. Golgotha’s location being on the Mount of Olives provides deeper spiritual meaning behind Jesus’ journey, crucifixion, and experience.
If the Mount of Olives is the location of Golgotha, the journey to the cross deepens in its geographical significance:
Imagine the significant picture of Jesus.... The perfect “Lamb of God” being led north out of the Fortress of Antonia through the “Sheep Gate” - east across the Kidron Valley (which is filled with the blood of the Passover sacrifices) - then up to the summit of the Mount of Olives where He would be able to look over the city and into the Temple as He atones for the sins of the world.
If the Mount of Olives is the location of Golgotha, typologically, the crucifixion of Jesus become more scripturally consistent:
Though the Mosaic Law commanded all the activities of the priest occur within the Temple precincts, the procedures concerning the “Scapegoat” (Leviticus 16) and the “Red Heifer” (Numbers 19) took place on the Mount of Olives.
As you study the particulars of each of these sacrifices, you will discover they both find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus and the atoning work He would accomplished on the cross.
If the Mount of Olives is the location of Golgotha, the experience of Jesus on the cross becomes deeply symbolic:
Of the 15 times the Mount of Olives is referenced in Scripture it almost always speaks of some kind of “separation” adding a further dynamic to this location being the execution site of Jesus.
Jesus maintained this symbolism every time He visited the Mount of Olives:
While in the garden as He prepared Himself for His coming arrest and execution Jesus separated Himself from the disciples to spend time in prayer.
Then upon His ascension from the mount Jesus further separated Himself bodily from the Church so that He might send the Holy Spirit to fill their hearts.
When He returns to establish His kingdom, the mount will split in two before Jesus separates the elect from the wicked whom He’ll destroy and judge.
Note: The prophet Ezekiel sees the “glory of the Lord” depart from the Holy of Holies only to “stop above the mountain east of it.” By leaving the Temple for the Mount of Olives Matthew Henry commented that in doing so “God separated Himself from the vileness of His people”
If we keep with this imagery, as Jesus hangs on the cross, He will experience the ultimate “separation” of all.... when His Father, who’s presence departed from a sinful people from the Mount of Olives, forsakes His only Son as “He who knew no sin takes upon Himself the sins of the world.”
Scene of Activity
As the procession headed to Golgotha leaves the Fortress of Antonia, Mark 15:20 tells us “they led Jesus out to crucify Him.”
Mark 15:21 indicates, that along the journey to Golgotha, Jesus collapses under the weight of the cross. Since it’s obvious He will be unable to physically carry the cross, the soldiers pick out “Simon the Cyrenian” to carry the timber the remainder of the way.
Mark 15:22 then tells us the soldiers “brought Him to Golgotha.” It would appear, aside from being unable to carry the cross, at this point Jesus can no longer walk.
As the soldiers drag Jesus by the arms they finally arrive to the crucifixion site....
[Mark 15:23-25] “Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink (mind and pain numbing drug), but He did not take it. And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. Now it was the third hour (9:00 AM), and they crucified Him.”
If you were reading the story of Jesus for the first time, imagine what kind of impact those three words “they crucified Him” would have had on you!
I mean you know it’s coming. Jesus predicted it and the flow of the narration indicates the end is near and His death inevitable. Any yet, you still can’t help but hold out hope that just possibly a major plot twist is about to happen.
Kind of like holding out hope that “Hank ASAC Schrader” finds a way to make it out of the desert alive before “Uncle Jack” abruptly pulls the trigger!
Scene of Activity
At Golgotha 3 of the 5 man execution squad take the horizontal beam from Simon and fasten it to the vertical beam that has been removed from its hole and laid on the ground.
While they’re busy prepping the cross the other 2 Romans soldiers strip Jesus naked leaving only His “crown of thorns” before throwing Him backwards against the cross.
They also remove the written accusation from His neck and nail it to the top of the cross. [Mark 15:26] “And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Luke 23 tells us the inscription was written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew (the languages of religion, commerce, and power).
Moving in unison two of the soldier quickly press Jesus’ shoulders against the wood while two others, using rope tied to His wrists, stretch out both arms fixing them in place. Jesus’ natural resistance and reflex would force His shoulders to pop out of joint.
The fifth man proceeds to drive a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. He immediately moves to the other wrist repeating the action.
With Jesus physically attached to the cross unable to free Himself, the beam is then hoisted into the air and dropped into a hole that has already been dug.
The impact of the beam hitting the ground sends a jolt of electrifying pain down Jesus’ arms as His full weight grinds together the nail and bone within His wrists. In addition to this the dragging of the wood upon His lacerated back causes His wounds to reopen.
Momentarily, Jesus would find Himself flailing around trying to find a foothold to alleviate the pain in His arms. This erratic activity would only worsen the friction between the nail and bones within his wrists. The pain was unimaginable.
The Romans would then take His left foot - press it back against the right - and with both feet extended drive a solitary nail through the arch of each foot into the wooden beam.
Though Jesus has now been officially crucified, what would occur over the next few hours as He hung on the cross would prove to be physically excruciating.
According to Roman records the shortest crucifixion was 32 hours and the longest was 13 days (they would speed up this procedure for the Sabbath began at sunset).
Roman statesman Cicero said: “It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is an act of wickedness; to execute him is almost murder: What shall I say of crucifying him? An act so abominable it is impossible to find any word adequately to express.”
The English word “Excruciating” is derived from the Roman word “out of the cross.”
Note: Roman’s were not allowed to be crucified. They instead were beheaded.
At this point Jesus is only left to choose between pain and more pain..... The only way to avoid the burning torment in His wrists was by pushing Himself upward placing His full weight on the nail driven through His feet tearing the nerves between the metatarsal bones.... each of these two options was equally tormenting!
And then came the inescapable craps..... As Jesus’ arms and legs fatigue, coupled with the dehydration and loss of blood from the scourging, waves of wrenching cramps sweep over His muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless pain.
Most interesting with these cramps comes a new dynamic to a crucifixion: the inability to push upward to inhale and exhale. As the minutes transition to hours, Jesus’ fight is no longer choosing between the pain in His wrists or feet, but fighting to raise Himself up in order to get even one short breath.
As Mark’s narrative progresses he’s going to divide Jesus’ six hours on the cross into two 3 hour sections: first, from 9 AM to noon; and then the second from noon to 3 PM.
During this first 3 hour section, Mark includes the activities of 4 different groups of people around the cross. Interestingly enough, each group represent the reactions of most who encounter a crucified Christ.
1st: The Pagans were oblivious to the truth.
Mark says, “And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take.”
For these pagan Roman soldiers it was just another day. It wasn’t that they were rejecting Jesus. These men simply didn’t care about spiritual things and instead preferred to remain oblivious to the significance of this Man and the truth of what was occurring on that cross.
Sadly, the pagan man who sees Jesus on the cross would rather remain oblivious to the truth so that they could go about their day without interrupted.
[Mark 15:27-32] “With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.”
2nd: The Religious made a mockery of the truth.
Mark says, “the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. (Their mockery affirmed that Jesus had saved others, but the rest of the statement misunderstood what was really taking place for if Jesus had saved Himself He would not have been able to save others.) Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” (The O.T. proved seeing never produced belief. You believe and then you see. Interesting, Jesus would be resurrected and yet they still refused to believe.)
Think about the scene: These men are the spiritual and religious leaders of Israel; and yet, because Jesus was a threat to their religious system they stoop to the low point of mocking a Man in the midst of His execution....
Sadly, the religious man who sees Jesus on the cross would rather mock the truth than accept the reality his favor with God is not produced by his personal godliness.
3rd: The Masses remained ignorant of the truth.
Mark says there were “those who passed by” (these were bystanders not complicit in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution, but in seeing the religious leaders mocking Jesus, willingly join into the fray) and they “blasphemed Jesus (to rail at), wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”
Understand: Jesus is not high above the onlookers. The cross was designed to lift the prisoner no more than a few feet in the air keeping the individual at eye-level. History says it wouldn’t be abnormal for a man to die by being eaten by jackals.
Because these people followed the religious leaders and didn’t think for themselves, their accusations illustrated a deep ignorance to the truth: (1) Jesus never said He’d “destroy the temple and build it in three days” (2) If they had listened to anything He’d say leading up to this day, they would have understood if Jesus had “saved Himself” He wouldn’t have been able to save them!
Sadly, there are those who pass by Jesus on the cross - blindly believe what they’re told - and never take a moment to examine the truth for themselves.
Final Group: The Transgressors reviled the truth.
Mark says “with Jesus they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left” and “even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.”
What do we know of these other two men:
1. They were co-revolutionaries of Barabbas.
Mark 15:7, Barabbas “was chained with his fellow rebels” before release.
2. They were publicly known as “robbers.”
Greek word “robber” doesn’t describe a man who takes property by stealth, but rather a “brigand” (bandit) or “a outlaw who conducts warfare by skirmishes and surprises, who makes the war support itself by plunder, by extorting blackmail, by capturing prisoners and holding them to ransom, who enforces his demands by violence, and kills the prisoners who cannot pay.”
3. Scripture defines them as “transgressors.”
Mark writing in Greek quotes a Hebrew verse Isaiah 53:12, “the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”
Hebrew (Isaiah 53) - “transgressors” - verb “pasha” - “rebel.”
Greek - “transgressors” - adjective “anomos” - “violator of the law.”
This means prophetically Isaiah was spot on.... Jesus would be numbered with the revolutionaries; and yet, Mark also sees in Isaiah’s explanation of what these men had done (verb) a description of who these men were (adjective).
Though they were guilty of revolting against Rome, more importantly they were guilty of revolting against the God who had created them.
They both “reviled Him.”
“Reviled” means “to cast in one’s teeth” akin to “chewing up and spitting out.”
Q: What had Jesus done against them to warrant such ridicule?
Where they jealous Jesus had taken Barabbas’ place instead of theirs?
Where they upset Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they hoped for?
Where they upset Jesus had the middle cross of recognition?
A: They do what all unrepentant men do in the presence of holiness.
Understand, there is only one of two reactions of the “transgressor” to the righteous presence of Jesus: repentance or revilement.
Sadly, there are people who see Jesus on the cross and revile Him because His very presence shines further light onto their own wickedness. It’s simply a truth that Jesus’ righteousness highlights humanities depravity.
For many, if the light never shinned and all lived in darkness, there would no longer be a moral compass to convict people of sin.
At some point while all this is occurring between 9 AM and noon [Luke 23:39-43] “one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
At first this man reviled Jesus, so what caused this man to change his mind?
1. Aside from the mocking of the crowd, during these first three hours Jesus will make 4 statements from the cross (by the end there will be a total of 7 statements).
Though the Roman soldiers have scourged, crucified, and proven oblivious to what was really happening by gambling for His possessions.... Though the religious leaders and the crowd of passer-by’s have mocked Him and hurl blasphemous accusation His direction.... And though he and the other rebel hanging on the opposite cross have joined into the fray....
The first words this man hears come from the mouth of Jesus rock his world [Luke 23:34] “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
2. At this point something in his heart begins to stir. He continues to watch Jesus. His love for His accusers. His patience and tolerance. As the man watches his mind races.
Then as the other criminal (a friend and cohort) begins to join into the blasphemous accusations, this man has had enough. He rebukes his friend, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”
This statement reveals the working of the Holy Spirit.
This rebel has come to recognize His sin in comparison to Jesus’ innocence.
He recognizes that death will soon lead to an afterlife and a judgment.
- He realize that God should be feared for he would soon stand in judgment.
Then he asks Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
This statement now reveals a faith in Jesus’ ability to save Him.
“Lord” is the Greek noun “kyrios” or literally “christ” - Hebrew “messiah.”
Not only did he believe Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, but the rest of his request shows a profound spiritual intuition.... As the Christ, Jesus was more than a King, but a Savior. The man believed that Jesus could save him!
Then comes Jesus’ second statement from the cross, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Two rebels hung to Jesus’ right and left. It’s interesting Scripture provides no distinction between either man.... both began the day in prison.... both were declared guilty of the same crime and condemned to the same death.... both experienced the same scourging and were hung on identical crosses. They both revolted against Rome and they both mocked Jesus. Scripture declared that both of these men were transgressors and neither man could do a thing to save himself (each man had his hands and feet nailed to a cross).
Two rebels hung the same distance from Jesus.... Each had the same amount of revelation.... Each within earshot of Jesus’ Words from the cross and each able to watch the way in which Jesus lovingly handled His accusers. Two rebels hung the same distance from a Savior.... Each the same distance from eternal separation or permanent forgiveness.... Each the same distance from God’s righteous wrath or His amazing grace.... Each could experience restoration or everlasting condemnation.
Two rebels were provided the same opportunity.... both men would die on a cross but they were each given the opportunity to go to heaven instead of hell. Though both would be unable to do anything to earn God’s favor, each man was given the opportunity to ask Jesus for salvation and believe with the activity of faith.
Two identical rebels - hung the same distance from Jesus - who had each been given the same divine opportunity to accept Jesus or blaspheme Him - would in the end find themselves in the same situation.... the Roman’s would come by and break their legs expediting the effects of the crucifixion. Each man would struggle to breath his last before finally yielding to the fate of death.
However, because of their differing positions concerning Jesus, they would awaken to two radically different destinies. One rebel who rejected Jesus would awaken to hell, while the other who placed his eternal faith in Jesus would awaken to Paradise.
It’s amazing, but two rebels and two crosses illustrate that salvation has nothing to do with what we do, but rather in what He did on that third cross and in whom we ultimately place our faith! Because of this scene we know righteousness cannot be a matter of performance, but one entirely of faith!
Note: Your salvation from sin and life eternally has nothing to do with your first holy communion, your confirmation, or being baptized.... as illustrated by two rebels, the only thing that matters in this life is what happens between your heart and His!
Charles Spurgeon told of a man who dreamed that he stood without the gate of heaven, and while there he heard sweet music from a band of godly people who were on their way to glory. They entered the heavenly gates and there was great rejoicing and shouting. The man asked, “Who are these?” and he was told that they were the band of prophets. He signed, and said, “Alas, I am not one of those.”
He waited a while, and another band of bright ones drew near to the gate of heaven with hallelujahs, and when he inquired, “Who are these, and whence came they?” The answer was, “These are the glorious company of the apostles.” Again he sighed, and said, “I cannot enter with them.”
Then came another body of men who were white robed and bearing palms in their hands, who marched amid great acclamation into the golden city. These he learned were the noble army of martyrs; and again he wept, and said, “I cannot enter with these.”
In the end he heard the voices of much people, and saw a greater multitude advancing, among whom he perceived Rahab and Mary Magdalene; and there is Saul of Tarsus and Nicodemus; and there is the thief who died at the right hand of Jesus. These all entered in. And the man asked, “Who are these,” and they answered, “This is the host of sinners saved by grace.” Then he was exceeding glad, and said, “I can go with these.”
Yet, he thought there would be no shouting at the approach of this company, and that they would enter heaven without song; instead of which, there seemed to rise a seven gold hallelujah of praise unto the Lord of love; for there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over even one sinner that repents.