The Place of the Skull

“And he bore his own cross and went to what is called the Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.”

(John 19:17)

After the third unjust and unfair trial, our Lord is led toward the place of his execution. He begins, battered and torn as he was, carrying his own cross. This, of course, will not last long as he understandably collapses under its weight, but we get ahead of ourselves. It is here that Jesus’ words, “Take up your cross and follow me,” find their ultimate meaning. How often we see people using Jesus’ phrase to talk about the problems and challenges they face in life, but truly, what can compare to this? What financial or family matter can compare? What difficulty or impairment could you have that would look like this? When Jesus said, “take up your cross,” this is what he was speaking of — an implement of torture and death. And to demonstrate the horror of what he commanded, Jesus literally takes up his own cross to walk to Golgotha.

The Place of the Skull, or Golgotha…literally, “the skull place,” appropriately named given that it is a roundish hill, like the top of a bald skull…in fact the name Calvary, which it is often called in old hymns, comes from the Latin, Calvarius, meaning “bald skull.” The Gospel accounts record that this is just along the road a short way out of the city…a logical place for Roman executions and an appropriate name for the purpose to which it was put.

There is also a certain sense of prophetic irony to this as the prophesy that is being fulfilled there on the cross is the crushing of the head of the serpent. Thus, much like Jael’s tent-stake driven through the skull of Sisera, Jesus’ cross was driven through the top of the skull to signify that his sacrificial death is crushing the skull of the great enemy of God’s people — the Devil, the serpent himself.

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