Jesus was led to a place called the Skull where he and two others were crucified. “When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull)” [Matthew 27:33; see Luke 23:33 ESV]. There are many reasons why this place was called the Skull, or Cranion, commonly known as Golgotha in Hebrew and Calvary in the Greek. All these words mean the skull. It was high place near the city where many people would pass and be forced to witness the cruel death of those sentenced by the Romans for whatever reason. Many people had died on this hill. Perhaps one of the reasons this placed was called the skull was because the heads of criminals were cut off after their death on the cross and left piled around as a witness. This is not farfetched though gruesome. Others have suggested the hill was in the shape of a skull though there are no documents which would validate this view. Legend suggests Adam’s skull was there though such a fanciful notion is dismissed outright as a subterfuge designed to cast doubt on the historical reality. Most likely the hill is named because it was a place of agony leading to death, where many had died and left on the cross until their bodies rotted and fell off.
Jesus has been tortured and is on the verge of dying. His body is traumatized and he is sinking into shock. Every inch of his body is bleeding, bruised, hurt. He has been beaten, scourged, mocked, spit upon, struck with sticks and whips and is not going to be nailed though his wrists and ankles to pieces of wood and exposed until his body dies. Never known for mercy or compassion these soldiers offer him a drink, drugged with myrrh, which is bitter. “They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it” [Matthew 27:34 ESV]. He was given vinegar, sour and rancid probably, mixed with bitter herbs. Don’t be deceived. This drink was not a drug meant to ease his pain but to prolong his life so he might experience the fullest measure of pain. Jesus was thirsty but refused this drink.
Crucified men were stripped of their cloths, a final, public indignity. It is a nice thought to suggest Jesus was modestly draped with something around his waist. There is no historical evidence suggesting this is true. Even the documents describing Jesus’ life and work tell us the Roman soldier “divided his garments among them by casting lots” [Matthew 27:35 ESV]. John’s documents give a better description of what happened. There were four soldiers in charge of Jesus. He wore five pieces of clothing. Remember, his cloths were soaked in his blood though he was not wearing them during his torture with the scourge. Each soldier got one of the pieces of cloths. They cast lots for the outer garment, his tunic, because they did not see any sense in ripping it into four pieces. “‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things'” [John 19:24 ESV; see John 19:23 also].
After crucifying him and dividing his clothes “they sat down and kept watch over him there” [Matthew 27:36 ESV]. Their job was to make sure he died. They would not leave until he was dead. Those crucified my live for days but those who nailed them to the cross did not leave. Should a man crucified escape, should anyone escape from the charge of a Roman soldier the soldier himself would take the man’s place. They crucified men, made sure they stayed on the cross and died on the cross because they were liable to die on a cross in their place should they escape. No one ever escaped from a cross.
With Jesus were two others. Three men were crucified that day in that place. They were criminals condemned to death. When they reached the place of execution they “crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” [Luke 23:33 ESV]. We do not know who these men were but we can make a fair assumption. These men were associates of Barabbas, the notorious criminal released though guilty of murder so Jesus, innocent of any crime, would die. It was, in the minds of the Romans, just to crucify the leader of a group in the middle of the group. Barabbas was the leader of his group of murderers and those who advocated insurrection, rebellion against both Roman and Jewish authority. Jesus never committed the crimes done by Barabbas and his group. Yet, now, probably to the surprise of the men crucified with him, Jesus is made their leader.
Jesus did lead a group of men for over three years. None of them, with the possible exception of Simon the Zealot, committed any crime worthy of imprisonment or death. Yet, Simon may have been more zealous in the keeping of Jewish law and tradition than in overthrowing the Roman invaders. We do not know. We do know Jesus had done none of the crime he was accused of doing. All of those appointed by Jesus to follow him, his disciples, were ordinary men with nothing about them which would cause them to stand out. They were fishermen, a tax collector and other nondescript men. None had great education. Matthew, the tax collector, may have had wealth, but following Jesus meant sacrificing his wealth. Of the people who followed Jesus the only one who gained any kind of notoriety was Judas and only because he betrayed an innocent man for money who was then murdered by the men who gave Judas the money.
By placing Jesus between two criminals the Romans and the Jewish leaders were driving home their mockery of who Jesus is and denigrating his actions and words. Mocking Jesus does not reduce him to something he is not, nor subtract from the history of the man’s life, words and actions. Nor will mocking Jesus keep him in the grave. He died on that cross. Nothing we have seen suggests otherwise. Everything we have seen here is plausible with no reason to suggest it is a myth or untrue. Equaling true is the reality of his resurrection.