The Mixed Murderers
When they led Him away, (23:26a)
The pronoun they refers to those listed in verse 13, “the chief priests and the rulers and the people.” The chief priests included the Sadducees, who ran the temple operations, and the high priest and the former high priests, who were all related to one another. The rulers were the members of the ruling Sanhedrin, made up predominantly of scribes and Pharisees, along with some Sadducees. The growing crowd that gathered early that Friday morning was orchestrated and manipulated by the religious rulers into demanding the crucifixion of Jesus. Although they are not mentioned, some members of a third Jewish sect, the Herodians (Jews who supported the Idumean dynasty), no doubt also were present. Of course the Roman soldiers who made up the execution squad that performed the actual crucifixion were also present.
Apagō (led away) is sometimes used as a legal term to refer to leading someone to trial, punishment, prison, or execution (Matt. 26:57; 27:2; Mark 14:44; Acts 12:19).
Driven by their self-righteousness and hatred, these murderers orchestrated Jesus’ execution by means of lies, manipulation, intimidation, and threats—thus bringing about the greatest miscarriage of justice the world has ever seen. The mixed multitude that pressed for His death represents all those who reject Jesus Christ in every generation (cf. Heb. 6:4–6).
The Supporting Stranger
they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. (23:26b)
On the way to the place of execution the Roman soldiers in charge of Christ’s crucifixion seized a man and pressed him into service (which they had absolute authority to do; cf. Matt. 5:41). Unlike the Roman soldiers and the centurion, who later believed in Christ (23:47; cf. Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39), this man’s name is given, Simon, as is the town he was from, Cyrene. Simon was a common Jewish name (there are nine men in the Bible named Simon, including two of the apostles). Cyrene was a city in North Africa, in modern-day Libya. It had a significant Jewish population, according to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. Visitors from Cyrene were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and heard the apostles preaching in their language (Acts 2:10). There were enough men in Jerusalem from Cyrene that they, along with men from Alexandria (another major North African city), formed their own synagogue (Acts 6:9).
Simon was seemingly chosen at random while coming in from the country to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Unless he had been in the city earlier in the week, he would not necessarily have known anything about Jesus. The soldiers placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. This was not the usual procedure, since the condemned were required to carry their cross to the execution site. Perhaps in His weakened condition from scourging the Lord could no longer carry the cross by Himself and needed help. Or it may be that He was not moving fast enough to suit the soldiers.
Simon was in fact not chosen at random; God was sovereignly reaching down to draw him (cf. John 6:44). Mark 15:21 further describes him as “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” That note obviously meant something to his readers, or Mark would not have included it. According to the traditional view, Mark addressed his gospel to a Gentile audience, initially the church at Rome—of which Simon’s son Rufus was a prominent member (Rom. 16:13). Paul also refers to Rufus’s mother Simon’s wife, as having been like a mother to him.
Here was a stranger, seemingly plucked spontaneously from the crowd to help carry Jesus’ cross. Having gone all the way to Skull Hill with the cross, Simon would undoubtedly have stayed and experienced the full reality of the crucifixion. At some point he embraced the gospel of the Lord whose cross he had carried. His wife and sons also became believers and were known to the church at Rome. One of them, Rufus, was singled out by Paul as a choice servant of the Lord, and Simon’s wife ministered to the apostle (Rom. 16:13). The church at Cyrene, in which Simon undoubtedly played a significant role, developed and grew strong, eventually sending out missionaries to preach the gospel to the Gentiles at Antioch (Acts 11:20). One of its members, Lucius, even served as one of the pastors at the Antioch church when Paul and Barnabas were sent out as missionaries (Acts 13:1).
MacArthur New Testament Commentary