DEATH, BURIAL, AND RESURRECTION
We have often heard people say something like this: "We need
to lift up Jesus. Jesus said that if we lift him up, he will draw
all men unto him." They mean well by saying such things - to be
sure. But when Jesus spoke about being lifted up, he was speaking
of his death - that he would be killed by crucifixion! Here is
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men
unto me. THIS HE SAID, SIGNIFYING WHAT DEATH HE SHOULD DIE"
Jesus would not die from sickness. He would not die from old
age. He would not die from being stoned or thrown over a cliff.
He would not die by being drowned at sea. He would die by being
lifted up - by crucifixion. The significance of this amazing
prediction of Jesus is not realized when it is misapplied to the
preaching of the gospel.
Pilate told the Jews to take Jesus and judge him according
to their law. But, being under Roman rule, they said: "It is not
lawful for us to put any man to death" - which would have
probably been by stoning (cf. Acts 7:59) - "that the saying of
Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death
he should die" (John 18:31,32) - referring back to his statement
about being lifted up, that is, his death by crucifixion.
TEN THOUSAND ANGELS?
A beautiful hymn about Jesus says, "He could have called ten
thousand angels..." It is true that Jesus could have called
10,000 angels to deliver him from being crucified. He could have
called 100,000 angels. But what the scripture actually says is
this: ". . . thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father,
and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of
angels" (Mat. 26:53).
Though the word legion was used to designate different
numbers at different times, most often a legion designated 6,000
men. At this rate, twelve legions would have been 72,000. In the
immediate context, Peter had drawn out his sword and cut a man's
ear off, supposedly to defend Jesus. Perhaps the reason Jesus
used the number 12 was as a comparison to the 12 apostles, If he
needed help, he had more than just twelve apostles to rely on. He
could actually call for twelve legions of angels!
DID JESUS FALL BENEATH HIS CROSS?
It is commonly assumed that Jesus carried his cross part way
to Calvary and fell beneath its weight. At this point, someone
else was called upon to carry it the rest of the way. But the
Bible does not say he fell beneath his cross. In fact, it is
possible that Jesus never carried the cross at all!
The accounts given by Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us it
was Simon the Cyreman who carried the cross. There is no mention
of Jesus carrying it in these gospels. Luke's account says: "And
as they led him [Jesus] away" - from where he had been judged by
Pilate - "they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out
of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might
bear it after Jesus" (Lk.23:26; see also Matt. 27:32; Mk. 15:21).
We should get this picture clearly in focus. "As" they led
Jesus away, Simon, a Cyrenian, was compelled to carry the cross.
He followed "after" Jesus. We are not told that Jesus carried the
cross part way, then Simon picked it up and went on from there.
John's account, if taken alone, seems to imply that it was
Jesus who carried the cross - carried it all the way to where he
was crucified "And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he
bearing his cross went froth into a place celled the place of a
skull... where they crucified him" (John 19:16-18). The careful
reader will notice, however, that the only difference in John's
account is that he simply does not state who it was that "bearing
the cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull."
John states that they led Jesus away. Then he says "And he
(whoever it was) bearing his cross (the cross on which Jesus was
crucified) went forth into a place called the place of a skull."
According to Luke's account, and also John's, it was when "they
led Jesus away" that the cross was placed on the one who carried
it to the place of crucifixion. When it is all studied out,
there is no room left for the idea that two different people
carried the cross - Jesus part way and then Simon the rest of the
Because of these things, some believe (and I think with good
reason) that the word "he" in John's account could be understood
as a reference to Simon the Cyrenian. Then there is harmony in
all of the accounts. It is not our purpose to be unduly dogmatic
on this point. But we can state here quite emphatically this
much: the Bible never says Jesus fell beneath his cross. This is
only a tradition.
A preacher I know has a little theory that Simon (who
carried the cross to Calvary) was the father of the apostle Paul.
We are told in Mark 15:21 that Simon the Cyrenian was "the father
of Rufus." When Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, he said:
"Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine." (Rom.
16:13). By assuming that Paul meant this woman was his mother in
the literal sense, and assuming that this Rufus in Rome was the
same Rufus whose father was from Cyrene, it could be concluded
that Simon the Cyrenian was the father (or step-father) of Paul.
But we feel the evidence is far from sufficient to warrant this
CALVARY - A HILL?
We sing the beautiful hymn, "On a hill far away stood an old
rugged cross. . . " But the Bible does not say Jesus was
crucified on a hill. The Bible nowhere speaks of a "mount"
Calvary or gives the idea that the cross was carried up a road to
a mountain top! Instead, we are simply told that Jesus was led to
a "place" called Golgotha or Calvary, meaning "the place of a
skull" and was crucified (Mt.27:33; Mk.15:22; Lk.23:33; John
There are different theories as to what is meant by the term
"the place of e skull." A very old belief is that it was because
it was a place of execution and there may have been actual skulls
there. A more recent belief is the idea about a hill - and that
this hill was called Calvary because it had the appearance of a
skull. This is possible, but it is certainly not conclusive. As
Harper's Bible Dictionary (p.87) says: "There is little to
substantiate the view of those who accept the skull-like hillock
called 'Gordon's Calvary', with its eye-socketed caves recognized
in 1849 by Otto Thenius."
Some of us have seen pictures of Gordon's Calvary since
childhood. But usually the pictures don't show the noisy bus
station with many old busses coming and going right in front of
this rocky bluff.
The reason this hill is called Gordon's Calvary is because
General Gordon, a British soldier, was quite successful in
promoting the belief regarding this site. This was in 1882. What
about all the centuries before? Does the exposure of this hill as
we know it today even reach back to the time of Christ? Rocky
bluffs are common to the whole area around Jerusalem. It is not
as though this hill has been identified as Calvary for centuries.
Another site which is shown as Calvary was designated by
Helena during her visit to Jerusalem in the fourth century.
Inside the present tottering structure built over the spot
(shared by six Christian groups), the little hillock called
"Calvary" is 14 feet high, rising to balcony level. The objection
to this site is that it is inside the present north wall of old
Jerusalem and we know that Jesus was crucified outside the city
wall (Heb.13:12). But, again, we cannot be certain just where the
city wall may have been at this point 2,000 years ago.
But does it really matter where the exact site of Calvary
was located? The true significance is not where the cross was,
what shape the cross was, or who did or didn't carry the cross.
The thing that really matters is what was accomplished on that
cross at the place called Calvary. "The preaching of the cross is
to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it
is the power of God" (1 Cor.1:18).
WHAT KIND OF GARDEN?
After Jesus was crucified, he was buried in a tomb located
in a garden which was nearby (John 19:41). It is not uncommon for
us to think of this garden as a beautiful little park-like garden
with flowers and roses. We have probably gotten this idea from
the hymn which says: "I come to the garden alone, while the dew
is still on the roses. . . " But was it a rose garden?
Tertullian of Carthage at the end of the second century
spoke of this garden as producing "lettuces" (De Spectaculis,
xxx). Another second century work, "The Book of the
Resurrection," a Coptic manuscript from Egypt (now in the British
Museum) states that the gardener's name was Philogenes whose son
Jesus had healed. He spoke of it as "my vegetable garden." The
Epistola contra Judaeos of Amulo, Archbishop of Lyons, in the
ninth century quotes a Jewish tradition that had been handed down
that the tomb was "in a garden full of cabbages." It would be
useless to argue one of these viewpoints against the others. The
Bible doesn't actually say what kind of garden it was. But a
gardener worked there (John 20:15) and it was no doubt a garden
with some type of crop, not merely a flower garden.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as the name implies, is
supposedly built over the tomb in which Jesus was placed.
has favored this site for centuries. But the idea of "holy spots"
can easily lead to superstitious ideas that actually detract from
the truth of God, as during the middle ages when some were taught
that a visit to this spot was even efficacious to wash away sins!
Another possible location for the tomb is only a short
distance from the viewpoint for Gordon's Calvary. This is called
the Garden Tomb. It was first discovered in 1867 and was
excavated in 1891. It is not a case of this site being visited
century after century as we might have supposed. There are
actually hundreds of tombs in the area.
According to the scriptures, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea
(in which Jesus was placed) was in a garden, the disciples could
look into it from the outside, and there was standing room for a
number of persons within the tomb. There is nothing about the
Garden Tomb that would conflict with these things. However, going
inside the tomb I noticed it is actually a double tomb. There are
places cut out in the rock for two bodies. A rich man, it is
explained, might have had a tomb for himself and his wife. But
the Bible simply says that Joseph placed the body of Jesus "in
his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock" (Mt.27:60)
There is no mention of it being a tomb for two.
Was the Garden Tomb the place in which Jesus was buried? We
don't know. Interestingly enough, those in charge of the Garden
Tomb area do not insist on such claims. It is explained rather,
that this tomb probably dates from the first century and if this
was not the tomb, it was one similar to this. When I was there,
those in charge did not encourage people to regard this as a
"holy spot", whatever that might mean. Emphasis was placed rather
on the fact that the tomb - wherever it might have been - is an
EMPTY tomb! A talk was given here about the living Christ and
that he is not in a tomb, but standing at our heart's door, as it
were, willing to come inside and fill our lives with his presence
and power! What a refreshing contrast to some of the sites one
visits on a Holy Land tour!
THE ASCENSION FROM WHERE?
Following the ascension of Christ into heaven, we are told
that the disciples returned "unto Jerusalem from the mount called
Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey" (Acts
1:12). The mention of the Mount of Olives has caused some to
assume that Jesus ascended from this mount - perhaps from the top
of it. But why the top? Since he had a long distance to go, did
he need the summit as a launching pad? The top of the mount, as
we shall see, was not the place from which Jesus ascended.
Others think the ascension took place from the spot over
which the Church of the Ascension is built. This is on the
western slope of the hill, a spot designated by Helena almost 300
years after the ascension took place. The story is that Helena,
being very elderly, when climbing up the hill became too tired to
go further, so simply gave instructions to build the shrine at
But according to the Bible itself, the ascension was not
from the top of the mount or from the area of the Church of the
Ascension. Instead, the ascension is linked with Bethany! It is
clearly stated. "And he led them out as far as to BETHANY, and he
lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while
he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into
heaves" (Lk.24:50,51). This does not conflict with the statement
that they returned to Jerusalem "from the mount called Olivet",
for Bethany was located on the southeastern portion of this hill
The trip back to Jerusalem, we are told, was a sabbath day's
journey (Acts 1:12). This was figured at seven and a half
furlongs (or about one mile). But in John 11:18, we are told that
from Bethany to Jerusalem was about fifteen furlongs (or about
two miles), which would have been more than a sabbath day's
journey. At first glance, this presents a difficulty.
But Lightfoot, the noted Biblical scholar, explains: "Our
Savior led out his disciples, when he was about to ascend, to the
very first region or tract of mount Olivet, which was called
Bethany, and was distant from the city a Sabbath day's journey.
And so far from the city itself did that tract extend itself
which was called Bethphage; and when he was come to that place
where the bound of Bethphage and Bethany met and touched one
another, he then ascended; in that very place where he got upon
the ass when he rode into Jerusalem (Mk.11:1)" (Clarke's
Commentary, Vol.5, p.504).
In view of the distances involved and the information given
to us, it appears that when Jesus led his disciples out "to
Bethany", he did not lead them into Bethany, not into the town
itself, but rather to the town limit. That the ascension did not
take place right in the middle of town seems evident, for after
his resurrection he appeared only to certain ones: ". . . not to
all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God" (Acts
10:41). He was plainly visible when he ascended, but it was not
right in the middle of town nor on the western side of the mount
of Olives in full view of the city of Jerusalem.
THE UPPER ROOM
After Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples returned to
Jerusalem. "And when they were come in, they went up into an
upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and Simon Zelotes,
and Judas the brother of James" (Acts 1:13).
The next verse says: "These all continued with one accord in
prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of
Jesus, and with the brethren." From these verses we learn that
the upper room was where certain of the disciples lived and these
(along with others) all continued in one accord in prayer. But
WHERE they met for worship and prayer is not explained - not in
these verses. But, turning to the book of Luke, we find that the
place where they assembled for worship was the temple. After the
ascension, the disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy:
and were continually in the TEMPLE, praising and blessing God"
On the day of Pentecost when they were all assembled
together in one place, there is every reason to believe it was in
the temple - not in a comparatively small upper room of a house.
Let us carefully notice the following scriptures and see if this
is not definitely implied:
Luke 24:52, 53 tells us they were "continually in the TEMPLE,
Acts 1:14 says: "These all continued with one accord in prayer."
Acts 2:1 says: "They were all with one accord in one place..."
(on the day of Pentecost.)
Acts 2:46 says: "And they, continuing daily with one accord in
the TEMPLE ... praising God...."
According to these verses, before the day of Pentecost they
met in the temple. After Pentecost, we are told that the
disciples continued to meet in the temple. This wording
definitely implies they were in the temple on the day of
Pentecost. The sound from heaven of a rushing mighty wind "filled
all the house where they were sitting" (Acts 2:2). The use of the
word "house" would not prove they were all in a house in the
sense of an individual home. While the Greek word used here
(Strong's Concordance, #3624) is a general term which can be used
of a person's house, it is also used in the expression "house of
God" - the temple area where merchandise was sold (Mk.1:17) and
the same word is translated "temple" in Luke 11:51.
It should be remembered that though the Jews were divided
into different groups - groups that were often antagonistic to
one another - yet, the temple was a gathering place for them all,
regardless of which Jewish sect they belonged to. From the
scriptures and other records, we know that the temple had vast
corridors or "porches" which served as regular meeting places for
the various groups.
Special mention is made in the Bible of one of these
sections called "Solomon's Porch" in which there were benches so
that large crowds could be addressed. It was in this section of
the temple that a crowd gathered to hear Peter preach after the
healing of the lame man. Peter and John were on their way up to
the temple to pray when the man was healed, and "he leaping up
stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple ... and
all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called
Solomon's, greatly wondering" (Acts 3:8,11). This area became the
regular meeting place for those who were follower of Jesus
Christ. "And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch and
... believers were the more added to the Lord" (Acts 5:12).
The fact that 3,000 were converted from Peter's preaching on
the day of Pentecost, shows that the crowd was very large. An
"upper room" of that period which served as living quarters for
some preachers would hardly be large enough to admit that many
people! But with the belief that these things took place within a
section of the temple, there is no problem for space. It has been
estimated that the vast temple area was capable of holding
ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY?
How many followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit in the
initial outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost? It is commonly
believed there were "one hundred and twenty". But when the Bible
mentions 120 disciples, it was actually not in connection with
the day of Pentecost, but on a day when one was chosen to replace
Turning to Acts 1:15 we read: "And in those days (between
the ascension and Pentecost) Peter stood up in the midst of the
disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an
hundred and twenty)..." The Phillips translation says: "It was
during this period that Peter stood up among the brothers - there
were about a hundred and twenty present AT THE TIME - and
One hundred and twenty was the number of men that the Jews
required to form a council in a city, so this number of disciples
being present was apparently considered enough to go ahead and
appoint a man to replace Judas. But this cannot prove that 120
was the sum total of all the believers at that time.
Turning to First Corinthians 15:6, we read that Jesus
appeared to "FIVE HUNDRED brethren" on one occasion after his
resurrection. These to whom the Lord appeared were commissioned
to receive the Holy Spirit. Are we to believe that all of them
except 120 "backslid" and, consequently, did not receive the
Spirit? Are we to believe that these who actually saw the
resurrected Christ did not remain faithful even for a few days
until Pentecost? No, surely them was more reality in seeing the
resurrected Christ than this!
Even years later, when Paul wrote his epistle to the
Corinthians, he still spoke of them 500 disciples as "brethren."
Some, by then, had died, but many of them were still alive and
were still called brethren. They had not lost out with God.
Taking all of them things into consideration, it is far from
conclusive to teach that there were only 120 that received the
Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The 120 are mentioned in
Acts ONE; whereas, in Acts TWO the implication is that not just a
limited number of the believers was present, but that "ALL"
followers of Christ were there in one accord and were filled with
Some, believing the disciples were in the upper room at
Pentecost, think a special blessing awaits them when they visit
this room on a tour to the holy land. But if what we have said is
correct, the disciples were not even in the upper room when the
Spirit was poured out at Pentecost!
Besides, the upper room that is shown in Jerusalem dates
back only to the eleventh century and was built by the crusaders!
No building in Jerusalem today dates back to the time of Jesus,
for as Jesus himself predicted, such destruction would come upon
that city that one stone would not be left upon another (Luke
19:41-44). These words found fulfillment in 70 A.D. when the
Roman armies destroyed the city.
(Except for that which today is known as the "Wailing Wall" - it
is indeed the ONLY part of the temple and Jerusalem that remains
from the time of 70 A.D. - Keith Hunt).
HOLY LAND TOURS
In view of the fact that the Jerusalem which stood at the
time of Jesus was destroyed and the uncertainty that exists
regarding many of the sacred sites, I have sometimes been asked
if I recommend a tour to the land of the Bible. I will say this,
if you can, if you enjoy travel, if you have the desire, why not?
It is different than a trip to any other land because it was here
that so many events in the Bible happened.
While we may not know today the exact spots where certain
events took place, we can recognize general areas with certainty.
The Dead Sea, into which the Jordan river flows, is easily
identified. It is the lowest spot on earth, 1,300 feet below sea
level! When I was there, our guide told a story about three boys
who were bragging about what their fathers had done. One was from
New York, one was from Paris, and one from Israel. The one from
New York said: "You know the Empire State Building, my father
built that." The boy from Paris said: "You know the Eiffel tower,
my father built that." The boy from Israel said: "You know the
Dead Sea, my father killed that!"
There can be little doubt about the location of the Mount of
Olives, the old Temple site, or of the city of Jerusalem. No
doubt the stones in some of the old walls and buildings are
stones that were used in ancient buildings, for the city has been
destroyed and rebuilt several times. A trip to Jerusalem is a
unique experience and the land is the land in which Jesus lived.
Those who cannot make such a trip, however, need not feel
left out. We are just as close to God wherever we are. God has
poured out his Spirit upon all flesh and we need not go to
Jerusalem to find Him! "Believe me," Jesus said, "the hour
cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at
Jerusalem, worship the Father ... The hour cometh, and now is,
when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and
in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him" (John
TO BE CONTINUED