March 7, 2004
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth
not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth. II Timothy 2:15
Simon of Cyrene
by Jack Northart
Not everyone in the world wants truth. The sooner that sincere Christians wake up to this idea, the sooner we can get on with teaching those who are truly hungry and get away from wasting time on people who don’t want to know the one true God.
The Word of God is truth. It is perfect and precise. It is not full of error and contradiction. Those who truly hunger and thirst for answers will have their longing souls satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Truth many times conflicts with tradition, and such is the record surrounding the crucifixion of Christ. In this study, we will examine the incident of Simon of Cyrene and the cross that he carried for Jesus.
We are all familiar with the teaching of the arrest and torture of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. Many teach that this period of time was a few hours out of the course of one day; when it is more likely a much longer time of beating and torture. The pictures that we see depicted of Jesus’ body after these brutal beatings could never show the horrific nature of what he must have looked like. The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse of how gruesome it was going to be.
As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
The Moffat translation of verse 14 reads: “(He) was disfigured till he seemed a man no more, deformed out of the semblance of a man.” He was unrecognizable as a human being. The punishment inflicted by the bloodhounds of hell upon him has never been fully appreciated. Yet, he endured it all without saying a word and without anyone standing up for him. Even his closest friends turned and ran.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
He was so hideous that no one wanted to look at him, for he was beaten beyond recognition. The pain had to have been excruciating, the humiliation unthinkable, the bleeding profuse. How long did this mockery go on? We do not know. Did the soldiers continue to scourge and beat him throughout the afternoon, night and morning? Did they allow him to sleep? The Word of God does not tell us on these matters. Yet an entire band (cohort) of soldiers could torture one man for many hours. From the denials of Peter, to the illegal trials, to the continuous scourgings and finally, to the scene in the Praetorium, we see a picture of our savior’s endurance, love, and obedience in the face of unparalleled evil. By the afternoon of the third day after his arrest, God’s Passover lamb, Jesus Christ died for the sin and sins of mankind.
To discover the accuracy of God’s Word regarding the cross that Christ bore, let us consider separately each record of the Gospels.
Matthew 27: 27-32
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.
There is no indication in this record that Jesus ever touched the wooden cross that they crucified him on. Simon was compelled to bear the cross all the way to Calvary.
And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him. And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.
As Simon was passing by the hall, they compelled him to carry the wooden cross. There is no record here in Mark to indicate that Jesus carried the wooden cross.
Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will. And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after [behind] Jesus.
The word “led," pertaining to Jesus, in all three of these Gospels can also be translated “dragged” or “carried.” There is no indication that Jesus touched the cross during any of this. He certainly was in no physical condition to carry a cross; he had so suffered that he could not even carry his own body’s weight. Simon was coming from the city of Cyrene in Libya. He had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He had no more desire to go to a criminal execution than we would. Yet he became one of the central figures in the events of that morning. Imposed upon Simon was a task of utmost humiliation in having to do the will of the Roman soldiers and carry the cross behind a condemned criminal. This incident may have resulted in the salvation of Simon and his house as disciples from Cyrene are noted later in the Book of Acts (Acts 11:20). This interference in his life made all the difference in the world to this man. It turned out to be an interruption that was a gateway to life for him.
The misconception that Jesus carried his own cross comes from misunderstanding a scripture in the Gospel of John.
Then delivered he [Pilate] him [Jesus] therefore unto them [soldiers] to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing [Gr. bastazo] his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha.
The Greek word bastazo means “to lift or carry.” It is a totally different word from the one used when Simon was singled out to bear the wooden cross. Bastazo is never used in the Bible in reference to bearing a literal wooden cross. It is used of carrying physical burdens as well as bearing judgment, sickness, mental burdens and spiritual burdens of others. It is used figuratively in Luke 14:27 when Jesus challenged his disciples to take up “their cross” and follow him. Therefore, if Simon carried his wooden cross, what was the cross that Jesus Christ bore? Isaiah once again tells us.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Jesus Christ bore our sin, sickness and pain. These things make up the cross that he bore.
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.
II Corinthians 5:21
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Jesus Christ paid in full for all our debts of sin. He paid in full for our release from the bondage of the law. He was subjected to pain, sickness, suffering, and death on our behalf. All of the negatives against us were eradicated by him. It wasn’t the wooden cross that he died upon that is significant for us, but rather the scorn, pain and death that Christ bore for us. And now we have the joy of speaking to others in Christ’s wonderful name. We have the joy of sharing our means for furtherance of God’s Word, and manifesting God’s power in our time. This is our cross that we joyously bear.
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