Roman law provided for the execution of capital offenders on a cross, which consisted of an upright post called the stipes and a crossbeam called the patibulum. Prisoners who were being led away to crucifixion usually carried their patibulum, which was joined to the stipes once they arrived at the site where they were to be crucified.
As we see in today’s passage, the horrible beatings that Jesus received made Him too weak to carry His cross—the patibulum—on His own. So, the soldiers leading our Lord to the place of His death “compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene” to help Him bear the crossbeam. Mark adds that Simon was “the father of Alexander and Rufus,” two men who presumably were known to Mark’s original audience (Mark 15:21). In all likelihood, this is the same Rufus later mentioned as a member of the church in Rome (Rom. 16:13), which helps confirm that Mark wrote for an audience that resided in Rome. In any case, that Rufus was a believer shows that Simon and his family never forgot Christ’s demand to take up their crosses and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34). Simon carried the cross of Christ literally, and, with Rufus, eventually figuratively as well in a life of discipleship.
Today’s passage also tells us that they crucified Jesus at “the place called Golgotha” (Mark 15:22), and they hung a sign identifying Jesus as “The King of Jews” above His head as He was placed on the cross (v. 26). The Romans typically posted the crime for which a person was being crucified above his head, so Jesus was essentially crucified by the Romans for sedition, for claiming to be king when Caesar was the true emperor. Without doing so knowingly, however, the Romans were proclaiming truth about Christ. He was—and remains—the King of Israel, God’s Anointed, and as such is ultimately Lord of Jew and Gentile alike (Ps. 2).
We will conclude our study today with John Calvin’s comments on the stripping of Christ’s garments (Mark 15:24): “God determined that his own Son should be stripped of his raiment, that we, clothed with his righteousness and with abundance of all good things, may appear with boldness in company with the angels, whereas formerly our loathsome and disgraceful aspect, in tattered garments, kept us back from approaching to heaven. Christ himself permitted his garments to be torn in pieces like a prey, that he might enrich us with the riches of his victory.”