The Via Dolorosa—The Way of Sorrows



We are meditating on the drama that led up to the crucifixion of Christ. In the scene presented to us in the gospels, we see rebellious men behaving their worst to the Creator of the Universe. After Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the whole affair, the soldiers clothed Jesus in a scarlet or purple cloak, the color of a king, and put a reed into His right hand instead of a scepter. They put a crown of thorns upon His head and kneeled before Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews,” mimicking the “Hail, Caesar!” while at the same time spitting upon Him. With all the open wounds in His back, they then pulled the purple robe away, causing further blood loss, before putting the Lord’s clothes back on Him (Matthew 27:27-31). They then prepared Jesus for crucifixion.


Typically, the Roman soldiers would tie the cross beam, the patibulum, usually weighing at least one hundred pounds, to the victim’s shoulders. At the front of the procession to the place of crucifixion, one soldier would carry a sign written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (John 19:20). This sign would indicate His "crime." The chief priests objected to this statement, demanding that it be changed to read, "He said He was the king of the Jews," but by this time, Pilate was so disgusted with them, he answered, “What I have written I have written” (John 19:22). A guard of four soldiers led by a centurion walked Christ out to the public place where He would be crucified. They would part the garments of Jesus among themselves as a “benefit of the job.”


The route that day was a circuitous route, for Rome wanted as many people as possible to see an example of those who stood against the Roman empire. John tells us that Christ was taken to the Place of a Skull, called Calvary, or Golgotha in Aramaic (John 19:17). Some say that the place was so-called because of the skulls of other victims left lying there, but this is unreasonable when one considers the Jewish passion for cleanliness and holiness of the land. It was more than likely a hillside shaped like a skull. Crucifixions took place on major thoroughfares and outside city gates so that many people would see and fear the same fate. The Lord was severely weakened by having no sleep, being scourged and beaten in the face by the Roman soldiers, humiliated, spat upon, and hit about the head with a staff. Jesus needed help to carry the cross as the loss of blood already weakened his body. Victims of crucifixion would not usually undergo other punishment before their execution.


26As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' 30Then " 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" ‘31For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" 32Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left (Luke 23:26-33).

In His weakened condition, the one-hundred-pound crossbeam, i.e. the patibulum, was too much for Jesus to carry, so the Roman centurion compelled a traveler just arriving into Jerusalem for Passover, Simon from Cyrene, North Africa, to carry it. On the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, Jesus was concerned for the women crying and wailing for Him. Christ told the mourners to weep for themselves and for the judgment that will follow. In a proverb (vs. 30-31), He compared Himself to a tree that is green and full of life. Righteous green Jesus was not a natural object to be burned in the fire of judgment, but the dry, lifeless nation of Israel rejecting mercy and grace, would have to face the fires of judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Keith Thomas

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, study 63. The Crucifixion of Christ (Luke 23:26-49).