Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. The Via Dolorosa.




              2. Christ Bearing His Cross:

              Shape of the cross; the title.


                            Simon of Cyrene.


                            Women of Jerusalem.






              1. The Execution:

              General remarks on the punishment of the crucifixion.


                            The crucifixion of Our Lord described.




              2. On the Cross:

              Witnesses of the crucifixion.


                            The seven words of Jesus.


                            Death and accompanying circumstances.




              3. The Burial:

              The taking down from the cross, and embalming.


                            Further preparations for embalming the body of Jesus.


                            The sepulchre sealed and guarded.


§ 1. On the Way to Calvary

1. The Via Dolorosa. The road followed by Jesus to reach the place of the crucifixion is commonly called the Via Dolorosa. According to tradition its starting point was the fortress Antonia, where Pilate resided, and its terminus the place of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As, however, that church is within the city walls, while the Evangelists speak of the place where Our Lord was crucified as outside the city and “nigh unto it,” many reject the traditional site of Calvary, and consider the hill lying without the present wall, a little to the northeast of the Damascus gate, as the place of Our Lord’s crucifixion. But as it is agreed on all hands that the present city wall does not correspond exactly with the wall of Jerusalem in Our Lord’s time, it is possible that the old city wall did not actually include the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and in point of fact, no conclusive argument, archæological or otherwise, has yet been brought forward against the traditional place of Calvary. Admitting, therefore, that the general course of the road followed by Jesus is correctly indicated by tradition, the Via Dolorosa was about one-third of a mile in length.

2. Christ Bearing His Cross. After the final sentence had been pronounced, Our Lord was clothed again in His own garments, and He soon started for the place of execution, called Golgotha, from its skull-like appearance. He was led by a Roman centurion—to whom tradition gives the name of Longinus—and was surrounded by four soldiers, in the same manner as the two malefactors who accompanied Him, and whose execution had been decided on, on this great festival, to inspire with awe the Jewish multitudes. After the Roman custom, Jesus had to bear His own instrument of torture, a cross, most likely the crux immissa, or Latin cross †, as represented in early paintings. Whether the title, or white wooden tablet bearing the superscription which stated Our Lord’s offence, was borne before Him, hung upon His neck, or already fixed to the cross, cannot be defined.

Our Lord’s cross was indeed of sufficient size and weight to support the body of a man, but it was not the lofty and massive object which we often picture to ourselves. Yet it soon proved too heavy a burden for the physical strength of Jesus, exhausted by His long agony in the garden, by the barbarous treatment He had endured between the two meetings of the Sanhedrim, and chiefly by the scourging and crowning of thorns of the early morning. Patiently and slowly He moved up to the western city gate, accompanied by a very large multitude; but there, as He sank under His burden, the soldiers caught sight of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was just coming from the country, and whom they recognized as a stranger by his dress, and they at once compelled him to bear the cross after Our Lord. At this moment, also, the women who had followed with the populace coming closer to Him, raised their lamentations, but Jesus bade them not to weep over Him, but over themselves and over their children.

§ 2. Calvary

1. The Execution. Finally Calvary was reached, where the Son of God was to undergo the most ignominious and most painful of punishments. Crucifixion was ever regarded by the nations among which it was in use, as a most shameful punishment, and among the Romans in particular, it was generally reserved for slaves and foreigners. In the eyes of the Jews, one dying on the cross was accursed by God, and this is why Our Lord’s enemies had been so anxious to secure for Him this punishment as a signal protest against His pretensions to the Messianic dignity. To this peculiar shame of the crucifixion were added sufferings of the most intense character, and which terminated always after many hours, often after several days of cruel agony.

It was, in fact, to render these dreadful sufferings less unendurable that, according to existing custom, a draught of wine mingled with myrrh was offered to Our Lord before He was nailed to the cross; but Jesus refused to drink this stupefying potion, because He wished to experience fully the torments of His crucifixion. The crucifixion itself, being a mode of execution familiar to their contemporaries, is left undescribed by the Evangelists, but from various authors who speak of the execution of criminals by the cross, we may infer that Our Lord’s crucifixion was carried out as follows: While the cross was being placed in the ground, Our Redeemer was stripped of His garments, and with only a linen cloth about His loins, was lifted up by means of ropes to the sedile, or little projection midway upon the upright post of the cross. Having sat upon the sedile, Jesus stretched out His arms to be tied with cords to the transom, and then His hands and feet were nailed to the cross, four nails being most probably used for the purpose. Of course a similar treatment was inflicted on the two malefactors who were crucified, the one on the right, and the other on the left of Jesus.

To complete Our Lord’s crucifixion, there remained only one thing to be done, namely: to set up above His head the title written by Pilate in Latin, Greek and Aramaic, to indicate the nature of the offence for which Our Saviour was thus punished. The wording of this title, which apparently declared Jesus the true King of the Jews, was naturally objected to by the Jewish leaders, but to their remonstrances Pilate had simply replied by the legal formula: “What I have written I have written.”

2. On the Cross. While the four soldiers in charge of Our Lord’s execution divided among themselves His garments, the great body of the people seems to have remained silently gazing upon Him, and only those who had borne false testimony against Him now mocked at Jesus, shaking their heads and repeating their calumnious accusations. Soon, however, the Sanhedrists chimed in, congratulating themselves with loud and scornful insolence upon their success; and they actually communicated their feelings of hatred and scorn not only to the ignorant Roman soldiers, but also to the people at large and to the very malefactors agonizing by the side of Jesus. Apparently but a small group of those who witnessed Our Lord’s agony on the cross, among whom of course were His mother and His beloved disciple, continued to sympathize with Him and to give Him external proofs of their intense grief.

Meanwhile Jesus had but feelings of compassion and love for those around Him, as is proved by three of the seven words placed on His dying lips by the inspired narrators. The first was a prayer for forgiveness in behalf of His very enemies; the second held out a magnificent reward to the repentant malefactor, while by the third He tenderly entrusted Mary and John to their mutual loving care. It is probable that during the miraculous darkness which set in at noon Jesus suffered in silence, and that He uttered the other four words only when it had ceased. The fourth word evidenced the incomprehensible anguish of His soul, and the fifth the intolerable thirst which consumed Him. By the sixth word He solemnly declared His redeeming work consummated, and in consequence, with the seventh, a final recommendation of His soul to His Father, “He gave up the ghost.”

At this same moment, prodigies attested the dignity of the Person who had just breathed His last. The veil of the Temple—the one which separated the Holy from the Most Holy Place—was rent from top to bottom; the earth quaked; the rocks were torn asunder; the graves were opened, and “many bodies of the saints that had slept arose.” No wonder, then, that in presence of the signs he witnessed, the Roman centurion exclaimed, “Indeed this man was the Son of God,” and that the Jewish multitude “returned striking their breasts.”

3. The Burial. While Jesus, the Lamb of God and the High Priest of the New Law, was consummating His sacrifice on Mount Calvary, the Jewish priests had been offering their usual sacrificial lamb on Mount Moria. As soon as their sacrifice was over, they hurried to Pilate, requesting him to hasten the death of the crucified that their corpses might be taken down before the beginning of the Sabbath, that is, before sunset. Pilate agreed at once to their request, for he was well aware that the Roman custom of leaving the bodies of crucified criminals without burial had been expressly modified in favor of the Jews, whose Law commanded that all such should be buried before night. According to his directions, the soldiers broke the legs of the malefactors who had been crucified with Our Lord, in order to hasten their death, but when on the point of doing the same to Jesus they found Him already dead, they did not break any of His bones; one of them simply pierced Our Lord’s side with his spear. Thus was the actual death of Our Saviour put beyond all doubt, for the inflicting of the wound was immediately followed by a flow of blood and water; thus also were fulfilled two prophetical passages of the Old Testament.

Meantime, a disciple of Jesus and a man of wealth, the Sanhedrist Joseph of Arimathea—a town probably to be identified with Ramleh—had come to Pilate to obtain the body of Jesus. The Roman procurator had not the least objection to grant a private burial for a man whom he had so often proclaimed innocent; but as crucified criminals survived much longer their execution, he made sure from the centurion in charge of Our Lord’s crucifixion that Jesus was really dead, and then he freely granted the request of Joseph. Having purchased fine linen, Joseph repaired promptly to Golgotha, where he was joined by Nicodemus, one of his colleagues and fellow-disciples, who brought about a hundred pounds of spices wherewith to embalm the body of his Master. Together they took down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, the folds of which they sprinkled with myrrh, aloes and other spices, conveyed it hastily into a garden near the place of the crucifixion, and laid it in a new tomb hewn out of a rock, which belonged to Joseph; finally, having rolled a great stone to the entrance, they departed.

The holy women who had been devoted to Jesus during His lifetime, and who now witnessed His hasty burial, carefully remarked the place where He was laid, and returning promptly to the Holy City, they purchased spices and ointments for a more perfect embalming of Our Lord’s sacred body after the Sabbath was past.

Apparently it was all over with the Messianic pretensions of Jesus, whose remains now lay lifeless in the sepulchre. And yet His enemies, remembering His prophetic words about rising on the third day, preferred to take precautions against all possible contingencies. The very morning of their great Paschal Sabbath, they therefore repaired to Pilate and obtained from him permission that the sepulchre should be made secure until the third day. Accordingly, the door of the sepulchre was carefully sealed, and Roman soldiers entrusted with the charge of watching the tomb of Jesus.

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