So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. (John 19:16-18
As we consider the text before us today I would remind you that the gospel of John is particularly theological in its emphasis. John is writing with a thematic theological emphasis. So, when John includes various details in his writing I don’t want to assume that they are unimportant details, I want to ask and consider what might be the theological or thematic importance of such a detail.
So I hope to show that just in our small passage today that John is not merely narrating the logistics or facts of what happened when Jesus was taken to be crucified, but even in these details it is rich with theological significance and biblical themes that ought to stir our love and affections for Christ.
They Took Jesus
We notice first in verse 16 after Pilate gives in and hands Jesus over to them to be crucified, it says, “So they took Him…” Now when it says that Pilate delivered him over to “them” to be crucified, who is the “them” that is being referred to. It is the Chief Priests and the Jews, as the previous verses they are the ones clamoring for Jesus to be crucified and declaring that they have no king but Caesar. So Pilate delivers Jesus over them to be crucified. But, we know that it wasn’t the Chief Priests and Jews who literally did the work of crucifying Jesus, driving the nails in his hands and feet and raising him up on the cross. It was of course the Roman Soldiers who did all of that work. So what the gospel writer is showing us is that Pilate is handing Jesus over to the demands of the Jews, he is delivering Jesus up to them and their wishes. John is showing that both the Jews and the Romans bore responsibility, but because it was the Romans who did all the work of crucifying Jesus, John is emphasizing, for theological significance, that this betrayal and rejection of the Messiah is exactly what the Jewish Chief Priests wanted. The crucifixion of Christ was their doing, even though they did not lift the hammer to nail Jesus’ flesh into the wood.
So Pilate delivered Jesus over to them and so they took Jesus… Here again this language of taking Jesus shows they, both the Jews and the Romans, are completely responsible and guilty of this greatest crime in all of history of crucifying the Lord of life. They did it. They were not compelled against their will to take Christ out and crucify Him, it was exactly what they wanted. Yet we know that they had not the power to do such a thing unless God had not ordained it to be so. Such is the testimony of the early believers in Acts chapter 4 as they confess that those who were gathered together against Jesus were appointed to do everything that God’s hand and plan had predestined to take place.
Herein we see the great humility and condescension of Christ to submit himself to such tyranny, suffering, and shame. They had no power or authority over Him but that which was given to them by God. They had no cords with strength enough to bind the Son of God, yet He submitted to them. They had no nails that could actually hold Jesus to the cross, yet He stayed there desiring to do the Father’s will and carry out the work necessary to save His people. What great amount of love for His Father and for His people who were yet the ungodly and sinners does Jesus exhibit in His complete willingness to submit himself to a bloodthirsty mob and Roman crucifixion. It cannot be remarked enough how much the Son of God who shared the same glory with the Father condescended to us in order to endure the greatest humiliation and shame the Roman empire could come up with.
For all that Chris endured on our behalf, how joyfully willing we ought to be to suffer a little mocking and a little shame from the world on account of Christ. How unwilling and embarrassed we sometimes are. But Christ was not unwilling to suffer what He did, and He was not embarrassed to do so for you. How that ought to give us courage and strength to endure whatever this world may do to us. It is important that we gain this resolve from Christ now, because there will come a day, Lord willing, where we are ridiculed and mocked by the world, as a Church. And there may be many ways that they try to put us to shame, and in ways that are not fun to endure, yet it is a small portion of following Christ.
He Went Out
“So they took Jesus, and he went out…” He went out. They took Him outside of the city in order to crucify Him. Now this shows us that even in what seem like such insignificant details that Jesus is fulfilling the law and is truly our sacrifice for sins. There was a particular sin offering in the Old Covenant that required the burning up of the flesh of the sacrifice outside of the camp. Exodus 29:14, “But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.” And again in Leviticus 16:27, “And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire.” This is truly amazing. They beat and scourged Jesus, pouring out his blood, which was shed for the atoning of sin, then they took him and they went outside the camp to be burned up, so to speak, as our great sin offering before God.
The writer of Hebrews also finds it of great significance that Jesus was brought outside the city to suffer, as it says in Hebrews 13:11-12, “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” When Jesus went outside the city to suffer, He did so for you, in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. This is how we read the Bible with faith, as Christians. We don’t just read the facts of what happened and say okay, we read the facts of what happened, as having been done for us, which means the facts of what happened had great theological significance. It is unbelief to read that Jesus was taken outside the gate, to a place called Golgotha and crucified between two others, and to take it as merely the facts of what happened. To read it in a believing way, with faith is to read that Jesus was taken outside the city to a place called Golgotha and was crucified between two others for me. That really happened for me. He suffered and died, and did these things for me. He did it to atone for my sin. It is not belief to just read these things and believe that they happened as it says. All of the unbelievers who did this to Him know that it happened. But are you reading and believing in faith, saying, Jesus did this for me and my sin?
When you come to the Lord’s Table in a little while, one of the ways you take the Lord’s Supper is by taking it in faith. And that is that you don’t just believe the facts that Jesus’ body was broken and blood was shed. But that you take the bread and wine, and believe, “this is for me.” His body was broken and blood was shed “for me.”
Bearing His Own Cross
“So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross…” Jesus went out, bearing his own cross. So after they beat Jesus to a pulp they now make him carry his own cross. Most likely it was the cross beam they would’ve placed on his shoulders to carry that they would then raise up on the vertical beam when they arrived at the location. Now we know from the other gospel accounts that on the way to Golgotha they ended up compelling another man, Simon of Cyrene, to carry Jesus’ cross. John does not include this detail, as it is apparent he doesn’t need it to show what he is trying to show. It is perfectly acceptable to say that Jesus went out bearing His own cross, for He did. It is true. But furthermore, John is not concerned with detailing the logistical details of how they got from the Praetorium to the place of the Skull. John is concerned with emphasizing the theology and the biblical themes.
In this we see that the cross that was given to Jesus by His Father, was given to Him alone to bear. There was no other who could bear it for Him. There is no other who could share in the load. There is no Peter or other disciple suffering with Christ in this moment. As Jesus had told His disciples earlier, He would be going to a place that they could not follow. Here is that place. They could not follow Him in suffering for our sins, let alone their own sins. This task was left only for Jesus to do. He was alone in His suffering, and in the cross He had to bear. There was no other man or person, king or chief priest that could bear the cross with Him or for Him.
This shows us that Christ was the only one to suffer for our sins. Therefore He is the only one that we should trust in to forgive us of our sins. There is no penance, father, pope, apostle, or saint who we ought also to trust for the forgiveness of our sins alongside Christ. There is none other that we should look to. There is no good work that we can do to add or assist with or complete the atoning of our sins. This task, this cross, was given to Jesus alone to bear. It was His.
So we ought to be reminded that we cannot bear our own sins unless we want to go to hell. Sometimes we can act like Jesus didn’t bear our sins on the cross. And so we hold on to them. We feel like we have to deal with them all ourselves, we have to be the one to make them right and atone for them. This is folly and we all know that it doesn’t work. If you have or are trying this, you are probably exhausted. Your life is probably a bit of a stressful unhappy mess. That is because you can’t bear your own sins, guilt from the past, regret for what you’ve become, shame for the sins you continue to struggle with, embarrassment about those you have hurt. You can’t bear that sin on your own shoulders. It had to be carried on Jesus’ shoulders to the cross. And He did it. By Himself, without you, without your help.
Others of us may need to be reminded that not only can we not bear our own sins, but neither can our loved one bear their own sins. Some of us may have times where we act like Jesus didn’t bear the sins of our spouse upon His shoulders, and so we continue to lay their sins back on top of them. This is not to say there is no responsibility on us and others for their and our sins, there is. It is not to say there aren’t situations when the nature of a relationship must change because of sin. But it is to say that we must receive forgiveness from Christ, and we cannot refuse the forgiveness He offers to us. And it is also to say that as Christians who have been forgiven of so much more that could ever be committed against us, we are required by God to forgive one another. And if we believe that Jesus bore His cross alone and bore the sins of all His people on His shoulders, then we have a gospel big enough to forgive whatever is done to us.
The Place of the Skull
“…he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.” So Jesus is taken to be crucified at The Place of a Skull, called Golgotha. Now, one of the things about the God of the Bible is that He loves to tell stories, and He is great at it. One of the things that we learn from God about story-telling is that in a good story you drop subtle themes early on that you hint at throughout the story that will culminate in a big plot twist at the crescendo. And one of those themes that our God has placed in His story-telling that He likes to tell is the theme of head crushing. He likes stories with some skull cracking. God really likes this theme because He introduces it very early on in the beginning. And if there is anything in us that maybe doesn’t like this theme as much as God seems to, because maybe we are a bit squeamish or overly Victorian, we need to realize that we are not more righteous than God, and that maybe He actually has the ultimate standard of best taste in stories.
God introduces this theme in Genesis 3, when the curses are being given out for sin and rebellion against God. God tells the serpent that He will put enmity between it and the women and his seed and her seed, and that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent and he shall bruise his heel. And as the Bible unfolds we see this theme emerge throughout it many various points. Think of the story of Jael in Judges who drives the tent peg through the skull of sleeping Sisera to help save Israel. Or in Judges 9 when the evil king Abimelech has a woman drop a millstone on his head from high up in a tower that crushes his skull. Or think of the Philistine idol Dagon who God judges when the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant, God knocks this idol to the ground and off rolls his head. Or think of Psalm 68 that says God will strike the heads of His enemies. Or Psalm 74 where God crushes the heads of the Leviathan and gave him as food for the animals. Or Habakkuk 3 where it says God crushes the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Or think of Romans 16:20 which says that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Or in the book of Revelation where the beast is delivered a head wound.
We could go on, but there is one instance that I believe is most relevant to the text before us today. And that is the story of David and Goliath. In that story we have the two seeds warring against one another. In 1 Samuel 17 Goliath of Gath, the Philistine is described in such a way as to be the serpent or dragon-like figure. He is described as wearing a coat of mail, which were dragon-like scales. It is said he had a bronze helmet, which in the Hebrew would’ve been a lot more obvious description of a red fiery serpent. We all know the story. David takes his slingshot and strikes the forked tongue dragon serpent goliath who breathed out curses and threats against the seed of the woman, and he is struck on the forehead and killed. His head was bruised. Now the part of the story that always seems to get left out of the children’s storybooks is where David goes up, takes Goliath’s sword from him, and with Goliath’s own sword, cuts off Goliath’s head. The rest of the Philistines turn and run and the Israelites are invigorated with newfound courage. Now many of us were probably familiar with this aspect of the story, but there is still more to the story that often we may forget, and that is this: 1 Samuel 17:54 says that David took the head of the Philistine and he took it to Jerusalem. So little cute shepherd boy David, strikes down the giant, cuts his head off with his own sword, and then takes the head with him to Jerusalem, some cute little shepherd boy! Now, what is really interesting is that at the time David took the head of Goliath to Jerusalem, Jerusalem was occupied by enemies of Israel. It was yet to be taken and conquered by David. So why is David taking Goliath’s head to an enemy city? Now admittedly anything beyond this point is speculation, but there is a historical tradition that says David took Goliath’s head to a hill outside Jerusalem and stuck his head on a pole for his enemies to see and be afraid. We know that ancient warriors did this and it makes the most sense in the situation.
So, what does that have to do with Jesus being taken to Golgotha to be crucified? It is believed by many that that is the hill where David took Goliath’s head and put it on a stake. Thus it was called The Place of a Skull, and the name Golgotha may possibly have an etymology that comes from combining the word Goliath and Gath. Now, whether or not those details are true or not, we know that it is true that the very city where David took Goliath’s head was the very city where David’s greater Son and Lord, the Lord Jesus was crucified. And it was in His crucifixion where He was bruised for our iniquity and where he bruised the head of the serpent. The very stake that the seed of the woman and greater Son of David was lifted up on that was driven into the ground, was driven into a Skull, the hill of Golgotha, the Place of a Skull, so as Christ suffered and died, he was crushing and running through the skull of the serpent, trampling it underfoot.
Crucified Between Two Criminals
So they took him to the Place of the Skull which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. Verse 18, “There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.” Why was Jesus crucified with and between two others? In Psalm 22, the great crucifixion Psalm, verse 16 says that “a company of evildoers encircles me…” Jesus was crucified amongst criminals. The righteous sufferer who was without sin and guilt was crucified amidst a company of evildoers that encircles him. In the great messianic chapter of Isaiah 53, in verse 9 it is said of Him, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” And then Isaiah 53:12, “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
They made His grave with the wicked and He was numbered among the transgressors. He was without sin yet he bore the sin of many. Jesus was crucified between two criminals so that He would be numbered among the transgressors. He was treated as a criminal. He died the death of sinners. So that we sinners might live. In other words He was numbered among us. In His death He was identified with us. This He did, so that we might be identified with Him, in life and in glory. He was identified with sinners, and with us, in His death, so that sinners, like us, may be identified with Him in life, in resurrection, and before God. Once again we see the great condescension and humiliation of the Lord of Glory, to do such a thing, to debase Himself in such a way as to save wicked and evil men. The only way we can identify with Him in life, is if He identified Himself with us in His death. Dying a death among the wicked.
So wherever you are, whatever depths of sin and deep pits of struggle you may be in, it is not too low or too debased for Christ to redeem and forgive. Christ was numbered among the transgressors and suffered the greatest humiliation and shame, so that we might be numbered among the godly, in Him, in union with Christ.