Tag Archives: Golgotha

Centurion

From the time Jesus was presented to Pilate until his death there was probably one man in charge of the prisoner and may have witnessed everything which happened to him. This was the centurion, a man in charge of a hundred Roman soldiers. Jesus was too important a prisoner for anyone else to take charge. He was a Roman soldier ascending the ranks to his current position. He was not a Jew but more likely a pagan who may have cared nothing for any god. Probably superstitious to his core he was also hardened by the life of a Roman soldier. There was nothing in this man to suggest compassion or emotion other than the steel strength to do his duty no matter the suffering his duty visited upon anyone.

When Jesus was brought into the Praetorian a centurion took over from the temple guards who had charge. They, the temple guards were now in a Roman court. He was bruised and bleeding and probably haggard. I envision the Roman’s present laughing at the sight and making derisive comments. They hated the Jews as much as the Jews hated them. Pilate comes down and plays his part, posturing his way through the spectacle. Sending Jesus to Herod it was most like the centurion tasked with making sure Jesus did not escape or was abducted on the way and the way back. He probably stood by and watched as Herod questioned and abused the prisoner. Driving Jesus back to Pilate it was he who would then prepare Jesus for death by crucifixion. He led the guard in the scourging and abuse and he would then stop it to bring the man back for final judgment. He approved the crown of thorns and the mockery of the prisoner. He led the procession to Golgotha and he supervised the impaling of the prisoners with spikes through arms and feet. He was responsible for the prisoner and would not let him come down from the cross until he was dead.

But, he was also the one who heard the words of Jesus before Pilate, during his trial, on the way to the place of death and while he died on the cross. He heard Jesus speak with Pilate, never asking for his life, never begging to be let go, and never trying to prove his innocence. He heard the false accusations of the Jewish leaders and their request to release a known murderer instead of Jesus. He watched as Jesus was abused and witnessed the man’s demeanor. Jesus never tried to defend himself, never turned away from the torture inflicted. Nor did Jesus curse the men accusing him or abusing him. When Jesus was led up the hill the centurion heard him speak to the women, he watched the people who loved this man led away to die. When he crucified him and gambled for his cloths he heard every word Jesus gasped to those nearby, his compassion and love for them, his forgiveness. Jesus forgave the centurion for what he was doing.

Then darkness and he was there for he would not leave the men he had crucified. He was commanded to stay and guard them, not to protect them from the elements or the mobs walking by but to make sure they stayed on their crosses and finally died. He heard Jesus utter his last words and die. He felt the earthquake and heard the rocks move. He saw everything and heard everything. He had watched men die before having executed them himself. There was no fear in this man but at this moment he was afraid. Matthew says he and those with him “were filled with awe” [Matthew 27:54 ESV]. Their awe was fear. This is what the words mean. Great fear. His only frame of reference was superstition and seared emotions and hatred for the Jews. His words in Matthew and Luke are consistent and give a true impression of Jesus. “Truly this was the Son of God!” [Matthew 27:54 ESV] and “certainly this man was innocent!” [Luke 23:47 ESV]. There is no reason to suggest the centurion said “son of a god” as in one of the superstitious idols which filled his life. Both statements lend credence to Jesus’ innocence. Even Pilate and Herod determined Jesus was innocent of any crime deserving death. Now, the centurion who executed Jesus gives his firsthand opinion.

Jesus is dead, an innocent man executed by the religious leaders of the Jews who used the Romans as executioners.

It was not just the centurion who was affected but also his men and the crowds who had witnessed Jesus’ death. “All the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts” [Luke 23:48 ESV]. An innocent man was legally murdered by the authorities. Many knew Jesus and his life and words and actions. Only the hardest of the hardened would continue declaring Jesus guilty. It is hard to imagine any harder than the Roman soldiers who were there.

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Forgiveness Posted

Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, the authority over the province, the mouth and hands of Caesar, allowed himself to be manipulated by the local authorities, the Jewish religious leaders, and crucified an innocent man. He had determined Jesus was innocent of any crime deserving death. After interviewing Jesus, during the “trial” he may have concluded Jesus was insane for the condemned man admitted being a king. This was one of the blasphemous statements Jesus was accused of by the religious leaders. They declared Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews and the absolute authority of God over His people. Jesus never denied this accusation but declared his kingdom was of another place. I can see Pilate rolling his eyes as he hears Jesus, a ragged, beaten, abused man rebuke him and his authority by declaring himself a higher authority.

Pilate crucified Jesus between two criminals, suggesting he was the leader of a band of outlaws. Over Jesus’ head Pilate posted a sign, the charges against Jesus which led to his execution. This is normal. Over the heads of the criminals may have hung a sign which said “murderer” or “thief” or “rebel.” Over Jesus’ head hung the sign “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” [John 19:19 ESV; see Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38]. This galled the Jewish religious leaders. This inscription was written in three languages, Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Everyone who walked by, for the place of execution was near the city with people constantly traveling the road. “Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek” [John 19:20 ESV]. Hanging on a cross, swelling from the beatings and bruising Jesus may have been close to unrecognizable. For Pilate to hang this inscription over Jesus, the condemned and almost dead man, was an act of mockery. Pilate mocked the Jewish religious leaders and the man himself, thinking they were worthless and Jesus a lunatic. Pilate was finished being manipulated by them and rebuked by him. Their complaint “do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews'” [John 19:21 ESV] fell on uncaring ears. Pilate’s answer “what I have written I have written” [John 19:22 ESV] put an end to their argument. They would have to be content with knowing Jesus would be dead soon.

After they finished attaching Jesus to the cross, raised it into place, and crucified the other two beside him Jesus whispered a request but not to them. His statement is consistent with his personality as heard in his words and seen in his actions. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34 ESV]. To whom was Jesus referring? Was he referring to the Roman guard, his executioners? They were just following orders. But, they were cruel in the execution of these tasks having grown callused and unfeeling to those they were ordered to kill. These were the same who mocked him before and after the scourging. Was he referring to Pilate? He was the one who conducted Jesus’ trial, determined he was innocent and had him crucified anyway. He gave the orders to the Roman guard who fulfilled the task given. They all knew they were executing an innocent man.

Perhaps Jesus was referring to the Jewish religious leaders. They were the ones who determined months earlier Jesus would have to die. They were the ones who understood the law, were experts in the law, yet threw the law aside when it interfered with their judgment against Jesus. They knew they were having Pilate murder and innocent man. Perhaps Jesus was referring to all those who heaped abuse upon him while he hung on the cross. Perhaps Jesus was referring to any who reject him.

For now, we will assume Jesus was referring to the immediate circumstance. He was speaking of those who actually crucified him. It would seem his words had no effect upon them. They still divided his clothes and stayed to make sure he died. Nothing he could say to them would compel them to bring him down from the cross and he knew this. His executioners were simply tools who did not want the same thing to happen to them.

Jesus’ words assume several facts. First, there is a God and he listens to Jesus. Second, there is a law which God upholds and against which all are held accountable, including Jesus. According to the Jewish leaders Jesus deserved death because he was deceiving the people claiming to be a king, the ultimate authority over the Jews. According to Pilate, Jesus was insane because he claimed to be a king whose geography included spiritual places unencumbered by physical boundaries. Being a lunatic is not against the Roman law and he was innocent of any crime deserving death. Jesus had done nothing deserving being nailed to a cross. He had done nothing deserving death. He, powerless and abandoned, had the audacity to ask forgiveness for those who ignorantly put him to death “for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34 ESV]. Are these the words of someone truly deluded? Or are they the words of a man who knows what is happening and what the ultimate outcome will be? All of the evidence says he will die. All of the evidence says he will live again. There is more to his death, and his resurrection, than meets the eye.

Jesus Crucified

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.