Jesus’ crucifixion and death (Matthew 27: 32–61, 65–66)

Jesus was taken to a place called Golgotha – which means ‘The place of the skull’ - for his crucifixion. This is where all crucifixions took place, it was just outside the city wall.

Crucifixion was used on the worst criminals as it was a very torturous form of execution. According to Jewish scripture, those who died by crucifixion were “under God’s curse”.

It was common to make the criminal carry the cross-beam of their cross to Golgotha. Most criminals would have been able to do this without any help. The fact that Jesus needed assistance from Simon of Cyrene tells us how weak he must have been – both physically and emotionally. The soldiers offered him a drink to relieve his pain, but he did not take it.

Romans crucified people publicly as an example to others. Many people would have watched the crucifixions and shouted insults at the criminals. On the top of each cross there would have been a sign outlining the crime committed. On top of Jesus cross it said ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.’

Jesus was crucified at 9.00am between two bandits.

The crowd, including the religious leaders, laughed at Jesus’ weakness and made fun of him. They shouted, “He saved others but he cannot save himself.” In this moment we can see Jesus as the suffering servant, alone and rejected by all. This was prophesied in Isiah:

He was put to death for the sins of our people.Isaiah 53:8

Matthew records some unusual events which occurred during the crucifixion of Jesus:

  1. Darkness descended on the whole region even though it was the middle of the day (12 o clock). In Jewish scriptures darkness was seen as a symbol of tragedy. Jesus then cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some people thought that he was calling for Elijah, who it was believed would help those in need. Many have reflected on why Jesus said this. Did he feel abandoned by his Father? Jesus cried out with a loud shout and died at 3 o’clock. It seems strange that Jesus had the strength to cry out when he was seconds from death. This is maybe the reason for the Roman centurion thinking he was the Son of God.
  2. After Jesus’ death there was an earthquake. People rose from the dead. This was a symbol that all those who believed and trusted in Jesus would be brought forgiveness and new life.
  3. The curtain hanging in the Holy of Holies (the place in the temple where God was present) was torn in two from top to bottom. The curtain tore from the top, suggesting that it was torn by God as a symbol that the way to Him was open. The barrier to God had been removed through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Matthew notes the women who were present and witnessed Jesus’ death. He mentions them by name - Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. They did not run away like the disciples and were the first at the tomb.

As a convicted criminal, Jesus was to be buried in the town dump. A rich follower of Jesus called Joseph of Arimathea did not want Jesus to have a criminal’s burial. He courageously went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body so that he could bury him in his own tomb. Pilate allowed him to do so. The tomb was sealed by a large stone and a guard was placed at its entrance.

Matthew notes that the two Mary’s sat close by and watched.