Shouldering The Savior’s Burden: Who Helped Jesus Carry The Cross?

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The crucifixion narrative begins at the Antonia Fortress in the center of Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was probably convicted, flogged, and sentenced to death. From there, Jesus would have taken a circuitous journey through the city to the hill just beyond Jerusalem, where he would have been crucified. The trip would have spanned roughly a half mile of curving road, and it was here that Jesus collapsed under the weight of the cross. But who helped Jesus carry the cross?

The Roman soldiers faced a dilemma when their efforts to persuade him to continue failed, and they sought a solution. They considered enforcing the Roman rule, where a tourist could be made to carry the load for a mile. In this case, Simon of Cyrene[1] was seized and compelled to carry the cross alongside Jesus.

Who Was Simon Of Cyrene?

The Bible tells us that Simon had two sons named Alexander and Rufus. There is also a man named Rufus recorded in the early church in Rome, so it is not out of the question that this gospel worker is the son of Simon of Cyrene mentioned to the readers of the Gospel of Mark.

It’s important to remember that Simon was a native of Cyrene, a city in Northern Africa, and was likely a dark-skinned man. Cyrene, a city located in what is now contemporary Libya, was home to a sizeable Jewish population. Thus, he could also be a Jew.

The Story Of The Man Who Helped Jesus Carry The Cross

Mark’s Gospel reveals that Simon was traveling in the opposite direction from Jesus and the others, entering Jerusalem. The Romans grabbed Simon as he passed by while Jesus walked and forced him to carry the cross.

For an unknown distance, Simon carried Jesus’ cross, maybe all the way to Golgotha. The Stations of the Cross depict righteous weeping women following Jesus on his way to Golgotha, with Simon bearing the cross in the second station.

After Jesus’ resurrection, Simon of Cyrene disappears from the Bible. Tradition states that Simon traveled to Egypt to preach God’s Word. After that, Simon was allegedly sawn in two as a martyr in 100 A.D., as recorded in the apocryphal Acts of Simon and Judas.

simon of cyrene in the middle of a crowd

What Does The Bible Say About Simon?

Only three verses in the Bible mention Simon of Cyrene. Even though this is his sole reference in the New Testament canon, three of the four Gospel writers consider him significant enough to include him in their scriptural reports.

When we compare these three verses to John’s account of the story, which leaves out Simon, we can discern the many facets of the narrative:

As they were going out, they met Simon from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry the cross.

Matthew 27:32

Simon, from Cyrene—father to Alexander and Rufus, was passing by, and the soldiers forced him to carry the cross.

Mark 15:21

As the soldiers led Jesus away, they took ahold of Simon from Cyrene, laid the cross on his shoulder and made him carry it following Jesus.

Luke 23:26

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)

John 19:17

Matthew’s Gospel identifies the object Simon carried, which was the cross. We also learn that they are leaving, but from where exactly? The crucifixion that day would happen outside of Jerusalem’s city walls. Thus, the answer would be Jesus and the other condemned men leaving the city.

Meanwhile, as mentioned above, Mark states who Simon was and what he was doing when Jesus faced execution. Luke says that Simon “was seized,” and soldiers had the cross laid on him. The texts do not state that he did it voluntarily. To put it in spiritual terms, we would prefer not to carry our own crosses because of what Simon accomplished.

On the other hand, it takes on a deeper significance here. According to Luke, Simon could only move as quickly and as far as Jesus did, and as Jesus was too weak to bear the cross by himself, Simon had to pick up the slack. Simon, who was practically trailing behind Jesus, seemed destined to become one of the Master’s devoted disciples.

John simply states that Jesus carried the cross out of town, bearing the weight of humanity’s sins on his shoulders. However, he deliberately omits the excruciating journey to Golgotha, the agonizing crucifixion, and the profound sacrifice that unfolds.

Why Did Simon Of Cyrene Carry Jesus’ Cross?

Roman soldiers could order a civilian to help Jesus carry supplies for a distance of one mile. This might be a bag, a piece of equipment, or a cross. It was common practice for the Romans to require their subjects to go “the extra mile” when doing their duties.

This is probably why Simon assisted Jesus in carrying the cross. There was no indication that Simon was chosen for this role other than that he was present at the moment. He gave the impression that he was up to the task, and Jesus had clearly become too weak to bear the cross on his own.

The Romans probably also saw that Jesus was struggling to carry the cross. Perhaps he appeared weak to the point of collapse. Finding a random person to bear Jesus’ cross for him was a straightforward answer to their “problem.”

Why Is It Important That Simon Of Cyrene Carried The Cross?

Scripture frequently provides or discloses the author’s motivation for mentioning particular events and persons, whether to teach modern Christians or provide background for a narrative. Simon of Cyrene appears to fall under the latter category.

He seems to be thrown in as a side note for dramatic effect, but since God never wastes words, the Gospel authors’ decision to include him in the story must have been deliberate. Few people’s names appear throughout the Bible. The inclusion of Simon’s name lends credibility to the story.

It’s possible that God had a hand in why the soldiers chose Simon of Cyrene to bear the Lord’s cross on his journey to Golgotha. We must never lose sight of the fact that Immanuel (God with Us), the Creator (Colossians 1:16), and the One who bears our burdens (Psalm 55:22) relied on the assistance of a human being.

The fact that Simon bore Jesus’ cross is a constant reminder of God’s humility. All the gospel writers clearly believe Jesus was God incarnate. We also know that the condemned were subjected to public humiliation as part of the execution process. In addition to watching, Simon shared the guilt of a condemned man.

simon of cyrene holding on a log

Conclusion

The Christian ministry is exemplified by Christ’s sacrificial love on the cross and subsequent resurrection. In order for Christ’s life to be made known in our frail bodies, we devote ourselves to his suffering and death. Just as Simon carried the cross prepared for Jesus, so must we carry our own crosses today.

Remember Paul’s message in Philippians 3:10: We do this so that we may know Jesus and his resurrection’s power—taking part in his suffering, fully understanding the meaning of his death. Simon of Cyrene is the model of discipleship as he walks behind Jesus carrying the cross. Christians today must continue to walk in his footsteps, carrying the cross.

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