Focus on Jesus Series
Incidents and Unclear Passages Regarding the Via Dolorosa*
by Ed Vasicek
Jesus was forced to carry His own cross. Since crucifixion was a common form of capital punishment used by the Romans on non-citizens, it was all too familiar to first century Jews.
Philip Yancey, in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew makes these comments:
“It took time for the church to come to terms with the ignominy of the cross. Church fathers forbade its depiction in art until the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine, who had seen a vision of the cross and who also banned it as a method of execution. Thus, not until the fourth century did the cross become a symbol of faith. As C.S. Lewis points out, the crucifixion did not become common in art until all who had seen a real one died off...” (p. 203).
As victims hung naked on these crosses and experienced a slow, agonizing death, those decent people who witnessed these horrors wanted nothing to do with even the thought of the cross. It was a concept too horrible to entertain. Yet it is through Jesus’ work on the cross that our sin debt was paid in full (the term, “It is finished” can also be translated, “It has been paid in full”).
Simon the Cyrene was very likely a Jew who had made to the trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. There were many Jews living in Cyrene, a city of Libya. Since Jesus was too weak (after all the beatings and abuse He received) to carry His own cross, they forced the first man they saw to carry it (the Romans would never carry a cross), so Simon just happened to be there. Mark mentions that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, two key believers mentioned in Romans 16:13.
Women were crying and grieving along the street as they saw Jesus walking by. Some of these may have been disciples who had hailed Him on Palm Sunday. Jesus’ response is interesting: “...weep for yourselves....” He then went on to predict a horrible time for them and their children. He then says, “For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This statement alludes to an obscure text in Ezekiel 20:45-21:7, according to David Bivin in his work, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus: New Insights from a Hebrew Perspective. In Ezekiel, the “green tree” refers to those who are righteous, the dry tree to the unrighteous. In Ezekiel’s illustration, the green trees catch fire because of the intensity of God’s wrath against the dry, godless trees. So Jesus is saying, “If they do this to me, the Righteous Messiah, the unrighteous will receive a tragedy as well.” He was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in 70 A.D.
*Via Dolorosa is Spanish for the Way (path) of Suffering, the route Jesus took from Pilate’s seat to the Golgotha.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA