Jesus is executed by crucifixion
Matt. 27:27-31 The Roman soldiers take Jesus inside the governor’s residence. They mock Jesus as ‘the King of the Jews’ and dress him in a scarlet robe (a symbol of Roman imperial power) and a crown made of thorns.
Matt. 27:32 Simon from Cyrene is forced to help carry Jesus’s cross to the place of crucifixion, outside the city walls. Cyrene was a port in Cyrenaica (modern-day Libya), rich in wheat, wool and dates. It had a Jewish settlement and had become a Roman province in 74BC (see Map 16).
Matt. 27:33-34 Shortly after 8.00am (during the ‘third hour’) Jesus is crucified at Golgotha (Aramaic, meaning ‘Place of the skull’) on the hill of Calvary (Latin, also meaning ‘Place of the skull’), just outside the walls of Jerusalem (see 7 on Map 13).
This Friday – 7th April 30AD – is commemorated each year by Christians as ‘Good Friday’ - the day when Jesus died as the ultimate sacrifice, rendering the system of sacrifices in the Temple redundant, and making faith in Jesus as God’s ‘anointed one’ the only way to be put right with God. (See the feature on When was Jesus crucified? later in this section.)
A cross at the Biblical Resources Institute, En Kerem.
Roman prisoners were forced to carry their own cross (or usually just the heavy crossbar) to the place of execution where the crossbar (the ‘patibulum’) was attached horizontally to a permanent upright stake (the ‘crux’). If a condemned man was too weak to carry the heavy cross or the crossbar on his own, a passing civilian would be forced to carry it for him (see John 19:17 & Mark 15:21).
Jesus was probably forced to carry the crossbar of his own cross through the city steeets from Pilate’s residence in Herod’s Palace, roughly along the line of what is now David Street leading east from the Jaffa Gate (see 7 on Map 13). Turning north along what would become the Cardo Maximus, the main throroughfare of Roman Jerusalem (now Suk El-Attarin), he’d have left the city by a gateway located in the 1st century wall, near the Alexander Hospice. He was crucified on a rocky outcrop on the eastern side of an old disused quarry, just outside the city wall.
3rd Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem (John 19:17)
Today, pilgrims walk the Via Dolorosa (the ‘Way of Sorrow’) along the route medieval pilgrims believed Jesus carried the cross. They pause at thirteen ‘stations of the cross’ to remember key events on the route from the Antonia Fortress – where the Crusaders believed Jesus was condemned by Pilate – to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – built on the site of the old quarry where Jesus was crucified and buried.
When Jesus reached Golgotha, the place of his crucifixion, the Roman soldiers nailed a written charge on the cross above Jesus’s head (a ‘titulus’ or ‘title’). It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’ in Aramaic (the local language that Jesus spoke), in Latin (the official language of the Roman Empire) and in Greek (the universally spoken language of the eastern Mediterranean world). The letters ‘I.N.R.I.’ – often seen on western medieval paintings of the crucifixion – stand for the words of the Latin inscription ‘Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum’ – ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of Judaea’ (the land of the Jews). In Greek and other Orthodox churches, icons often bear the letters ‘I.N.B.I’ representing the words of the Greek translation (the ‘B’ stands for ‘Basileos’ – ‘King’).
Matt. 27:35-44 Two robbers are crucified beside Jesus, one on his right and one on his left. The Roman soldiers gamble by casting lots to divide up Jesus’s clothing (see Psalm 22:18), while passers-by hurl insults at Jesus and tell him to save himself “if you are really the Son of God” (Matthew 27:40) (see Psalm 22:7-8).
Matt. 27:45-49 From the ‘sixth hour’ (beginning just before 11.00am) until the ‘ninth hour’ (starting a few minutes after 2.00 pm), dark stormclouds cover the land. Shortly after two in the afternoon, Jesus calls out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46), quoting the very psalm, written by King David, that others have just hurled at him in abuse (see Psalm 22:1).
Some think he is calling Elijah – who was believed to help the godly in times of need and was expected to re-appear when the Messiah or Christ came to earth (see Malachi 4:5 and the feature on Was John the new Elijah? in Chapter 2).
Matt. 27:50-56 Finally, Jesus cries out again in a loud voice, then gives up his spirit and dies. At that moment, there is a huge earthquake and the curtain of the Temple – separating The Most Holy Place (the symbolic dwelling place of God) from God’s people – is torn in two (see Map 12).
From now on, believers will be able to enter directly into God’s presence because Jesus – by shedding his blood and dying on the cross – has paid the price of mankind’s rejection of God and has put those who believe in him right with God (see Hebrews 9:1-14 & 10:19-22).
Matt. 27:57-61 Before the evening approaches, Jesus’s body is removed from the cross and his corpse is buried nearby in a new tomb belonging to Joseph from Arimathea, a wealthy man who was a member of the Jewish council (the Sanhedrin). Arimathea (meaning ‘city of the Jews’) was a town 20 miles / 32km north west of Jerusalem (see Map 15).
The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem (Matthew 27:60)
The Tomb of Jesus
It was normal Jewish practice to take down the bodies of those who had been crucified and to bury them before sunset (see Deuteronomy 21:23). Jesus’s dead body was placed in a tomb cut into solid rock with a stone rolled across the entrance to prevent jackals and thieves getting in.
At burial, a corpse was usually washed and anointed with spices such as aloes and myrrh. Aloes are known to have come from India or China (though Numbers 24:6 suggests they may also have been grown in the Jordan Valley). Myrrh is a resin extracted from trees grown in Arabia and North Africa.
Joseph, with the help of Nicodemus (another member of the Jewish council – see John 19:39), took Jesus’s body and wrapped it in a linen cloth – even though this activity would have made both of them ritually ‘unclean’ for seven days (see Numbers 19:11). They then placed the body on a stone ledge (a ‘loculus’) inside the tomb.
The exact location of Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified) and Jesus’s tomb is not certain. However, the traditional sites now located close together inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were so revered by Christians during the first century that the Emperor Hadrian attempted to obliterate any memory of the site of Jesus’s resurrection when he re-built Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina in 135AD. He infilled the old quarry, levelled the site and built his Capitoline Temple in honour of Venus – the goddess of love – over what was then believed to be the site of Jesus’s tomb.
This location was identified by Macarius, the Bishop of Jerusalem, who attended the ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325AD. He asked the emperor, Constantine, to excavate Christ’s tomb. Consequently, the pagan temple was demolished, the infil removed, and a church built on the site of Calvary and Christ’s tomb in 326AD. The site of the present Crusader church, begun in 1012AD, would have been just outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus’s day, as the dead were always buried outside the city walls (see Map 13).
In 1849, General Gordon (a British army general) identified a rocky outcrop to the north of the Old City – resembling a skull with two eye sockets and a nose – as another possible site of Jesus’s crucifixion.
The site of Gordon’s Calvary is located close to the Damascus Gate, near to the Garden Tomb – a rock tomb situated in a peaceful garden. This tomb contains a ‘loculus’ (a stone ledge for the body) and an adjacent ‘weeping chamber’ where professional mourners led the lamentations (weeping and wailing) for the dead. The tomb has features similar to those constructed around the time of Christ, though it is thought to date from the 7th or 8th century BC.
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