Golgotha: The Place of the Skull

Matthew 27:32, 33

When the soldiers brought Jesus out from the residence of Pilate, Jesus was already carrying the crossbeam that would serve as the upper portion of His Cross.

Most Roman crosses were shaped like a “T.” The upright post had a notched groove at the top into which the crossbeam was placed after a victim had been tied or nailed to it. The crossbeam, normally weighing about one hundred pounds, was carried on the back of the victim to the place of execution.

According to Roman law, once a criminal was convicted, he was to carry his own cross to the place of execution if his crucifixion was to occur somewhere other than the place of the trial. The purpose for exposing criminals heading for crucifixion to passersby was to remind those who watched of Roman military power. At the place of execution, vultures flew overhead, just waiting to swoop down and start devouring the dying carcasses left hanging on the crosses. In the nearby wilderness, wild dogs anxiously waited for the newest dead bodies, dumped by the executioners, to become their next meal.

After the person was declared guilty, a crossbeam would be laid across his back and a herald would walk ahead of him, proclaiming his crime. A sign with the person’s crime written on it would also be made, later to be hung on the cross above his head. Sometimes the sign bearing the person’s crime would be hung from his neck, so all the spectators who lined the streets to watch him walk by would know what crime he committed. This was the very type of sign that was publicly displayed on the Cross above Jesus’ head, with the crime He was charged with—”King of the Jews”—written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Carrying such a heavy weight for a long distance would be difficult for any man, but especially for one who had been as severely beaten as Jesus. The heavy crossbeam on which He was destined to be nailed pressed into His torn back as He carried it to the place of execution. Although the Bible does not state the reason why, we may assume that the Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to help because Jesus was so drained and exhausted from the abuse He had suffered.

Little is known of Simon of Cyrene, except that he was from Cyrene, the capital of the province of Libya that was situated approximately eleven miles south of the Mediterranean Sea. Matthew 27:32 informs us that the Roman soldiers “compelled him to bear his cross.” The word “compelled” is the Greek word aggareuo. It means to compel; to coerce; to constrain; to make; or to force someone into some kind of compulsory service.

Matthew 27:33 says, “And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull.” This scripture has been the center of controversy for several hundred years, for many have attempted to use this verse to geographically identify the exact location of Jesus’ crucifixion. Some denominations allege that the place of Jesus’ crucifixion was inside modern-day Jerusalem, while others assert that the name Golgotha refers to a site outside the city that from a distance looks like a skull. However, the earliest writings of the Church fathers say this phrase “a place of a skull” refers to something very different!

An early Christian leader named Origen, who lived from 185-253 AD, recorded that Jesus was crucified on the spot where Adam was buried and where his skull had been found. Whether or not this is true, there was an early Christian belief that Jesus had been crucified near Adam’s burial place. As this early story goes, when the earthquake occurred as Jesus hung on the Cross (Matthew 27:51), His blood ran down the Cross into the crack in the rock below and fell on the skull of Adam. This history is so entrenched in early Christian tradition that Jerome referred to it in a letter in 386 AD.

Interestingly, Jewish tradition states that Adam’s skull was buried near the city of Jerusalem by Noah’s son, Shem. Tradition says this burial place was guarded by Melchizedek, who was the priest-king of Salem (Jerusalem) during the time of Abraham (see Genesis 14:18). Unknown to most Western believers, this history is so accepted that it is considered a major theme of Orthodox doctrine, and the skull of Adam appears consistently at the base of the Cross in both paintings and icons. If you ever see a skull at the base of a crucifix, you can know that it symbolizes Adam’s skull that was allegedly found buried at the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

These extremely interesting facts, although unprovable, have retained strong support throughout 2,000 years of Christian history. If it were true, it would be quite amazing that the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, died for the sins of the world exactly on the spot where the first Adam, the original sinner, was buried. If Jesus’ blood ran down the crack in the stone and fell upon Adam’s skull, as tradition says, it would be very symbolic of Jesus’ blood covering the sins of the human race that originated with Adam.

But what can we definitely know about the place of Jesus’ crucifixion?

We definitely know that Jesus was crucified like a criminal by the Roman government just outside the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Whether or not He was crucified at the place of Adam’s skull is interesting but not important. What is vital for us to know and understand is that Jesus died for the sins of the entire human race—and that includes you and me!

Today we may not be able to say with certainty exactly where Jesus was crucified, but in our hearts and minds we should meditate on the scriptures that speak of His crucifixion. Sometimes life moves so fast that we tend to forget the enormous price that was paid for our redemption. Salvation may have been given to us as a free gift, but it was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Thank God for the Cross!

This question of where Jesus was crucified is a good example of the way people tend to get distracted by unimportant issues and, as a result, miss the main point God wants to get across to them. People have argued and debated for centuries about the accurate location of the crucifixion when the truth they should have been focusing on is that Jesus was crucified for their salvation! The apostle Paul wrote, “… Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). Of this, we can be sure!

Aren’t you thankful that Jesus’ blood purchased the forgiveness for all of mankind’s sin? It is true that through Adam’s disobedience, sin entered the world and death was passed on to all men. But just as sin entered the world through Adam, the gift of God came into the world through the obedience of Jesus Christ. Now the grace of God and the free gift of righteousness abounds to all who have called upon Jesus Christ to be the Lord of their lives (see Romans 5:12-21). Now every believer has the glorious privilege of reigning in life as a joint heir with Jesus Himself!

MY PRAYER FOR TODAY

Lord, how can I ever adequately say thank You for all that You did for me at the Cross? I was so undeserving, but You came and gave Your life for me, taking away my sin and removing the punishment that should have passed to me. I thank You from the depths of my heart for doing what no one else could do for me. Had it not been for You, I would be eternally lost, so I just want to say thank You for laying down Your life that I might be free!

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY

I confess that I am washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. His blood covered my sin, washed me whiter than snow, and gave me rightstanding with God. I have no need to be ashamed of my past sins, because I am a new creature in Christ Jesus—marvelously made brand new in Him. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new because I am in Jesus Christ. That’s who I am!

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER

  1. How often do you reflect on the work of Christ on the Cross?
  2. Have you ever taken time to think of what it must have been like for Jesus to take the sins of the whole world upon Himself?
  3. How would it affect you if you read each Gospel’s account of the crucifixion over and over again for an entire month? Why don’t you commit to doing this and see what God does in your heart as you read, reread, and meditate on these important scriptures?

 

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