The Golgotha Inscription
The crucifixion party finally reached the place of execution on the Mount of Olives. Luke 23:32, 33 says,
32 And two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. 33 And when they came to the place called The Skull [kranion], there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.
Matthew 27:33 says,
33 And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull…
Mark 15:22 repeats Matthew’s account with no new information. John 19:17 says,
17 They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull [kranion], which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.
John’s statement, “He went out, bearing His own cross,” uses similar terminology found in Heb. 13:13,
12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
In other words, the significance of Jesus being crucified “outside the camp,” that is, outside of Jerusalem, is that we too are called to leave the old Jerusalem and to seek the heavenly Jerusalem. We are in Christ, not only in His death, but also in “bearing His reproach” (that is, the cross itself) outside of the old system of Judaism.
Where was Golgotha?
It was unlawful to execute men or bury the dead within the walls of a city. In later years, of course, after the Jewish expulsion, a cemetery came to be located just outside the Eastern Gate. But under Jewish law, it was forbidden to bury people within 2000 cubits of that Gate, for that area was considered part of the city suburbs (Num. 35:5). Neither were they allowed to execute criminals within 2000 cubits of the gate or wall.
The traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion, a hill just outside the gate, is presented to tourists today as the crucifixion site. It has holes in the mount that makes it resemble a skull with eye holes and a hole for the mouth. However, this mount was not far enough away to qualify as being legally “outside the gate.”
Calvary, also Golgotha, was, according to the Gospels, a site immediately outside Jerusalem's walls where Jesus was crucified…. Golgotha is referred to in early writings as a hill resembling a skullcap located very near to a gate into Jerusalem: "A spot there is called Golgotha, - of old the fathers' earlier tongue thus called its name, 'The skull-pan of a head'." …. The traditional location of Golgotha derives from its identification by Helena, the mother of Constantine I, in 325.
Helena did not know the divine law. She was a Christian princess from Britain, the mother of the emperor, Constantine. Her status as the emperor’s mother gave weight to her pronouncement that the small hill just outside of Jerusalem was the place of The Skull where Jesus was crucified. She was, no doubt, a wonderful lady, and she wanted very much to find these “sacred sites,” but she guessed this site incorrectly, even as she also incorrectly guessed the site of Mount Horeb.
If she had known the story of David and Absalom, she would have realized that David’s sacrifice on the rosh (“top, summit, head or skull”) of the Mount of Olives prophesied of the location of Christ’s crucifixion (2 Sam. 15:30, 32). This was where David sacrificed, and this was where Jesus became the sacrifice.
Ashes of the Red Heifer
David’s place of sacrifice was also located near the ashes of the red heifer, which were also kept “outside the camp” (Num. 19:3). Rabbi Jonathan Adler says in an article, “The Location of Burning the Red Heifer,” that it was on the Mount of Olives. It was not merely the place where the heifer was burned, however. The site was large, having buildings and a great vat carved in the Mount. Adler writes,
When they reached the Mt. of Olives they found a location ready for burning the heifer, which was referred to as "a vat." This vat was not used for pressing grapes, but a square chiseled in the rock that resembled a wine press, in which was a large heap of wood upon which the heifer would be placed to be burned (ibid 8-10). Nearby was an “immersion cabin” to be used by the High Priest who would burn the heifer (ibid 7). The compound was constructed on top of a subterranean space, so as to separate it from the grave in the abyss (Tosefta, Parah, 3, 9 [Zuckermandel ed. p. 632]; Maimonides, Red Heifer, 3, 1).
He tells us further that according to Num. 19:4, the priest was to sprinkle the blood “toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times.” When the temple was built in Jerusalem, then, they sprinkled the blood of the red heifer from a specific location on the Mount where they could look down and see through the doorway of the temple. Because the walls and gates of the city obstructed that view, there was only a small spot on the Mount where they could see directly through the door of the Sanctuary. Adler says,
Consequently, the location of burning the heifer must be in a straight line east facing the Holy of Holies, and the variance can be at the most within an area of less than 40 x 40 m[eters].
He believes that the location was under the courtyard of the Catholic Church called Dominus Plevit, which now stands on that location:
Due east from the Sakhra rock and on the same level on the Mt. of Olives currently stands the courtyard of the Catholic church Dominus Plevit. Archaeological excavations conducted there about 45 years ago uncovered the remains of an ancient monastery. The archaeologists estimate that the monastery was built after the Persian conquest, about 550 years after the destruction of the Second Temple. Underneath the remains of the monastery courtyard there is a gigantic cistern. A wine press from the same period was found near the courtyard.
A friend of mine has been at this site and wrote that he “used an altimeter to validate the altitude (2520 ft) of the altar site of the Red Heifer.” The number 2,520 is of interest to us, of course, in that in chronology, it is a period of “seven times” (360 x 7 years). If this is related to the “seven times” allotted to the beast empires, we may see some sort of prophetic fulfillment of the red heifer soon. The elevation of Jesus’ crucifixion seems to prophesy that at the end of divine judgment, the people are set free from the power of sin which had put them into bondage.
John 19:19-22 gives us a detail that Luke omits.
19 And Pilate wrote an inscription [titlos] also, and put it on the cross. And it was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 20 Therefore this inscription many of the Jews read, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek. 21 And so the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, “I am King of the Jews’.” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
Pilate’s final objection to the crucifixion of Jesus was thus made apparent to all, at least all who could read the Hebrew inscription on the cross. John calls the inscription a titlos, which is the Latin word for epigraphe, the word used by Matthew and Mark. It read:
Yehoshua Hanatzri Vemelech Hayhoodem
The acronym for this phrase is YHVH, which is the Sacred Name of Yahweh. This inscription was the accusation against Jesus—that He was Yahweh in the flesh!
The Decrees Nailed to the Cross
It was customary in those days for the list of crimes to be written and nailed to the cross so that all who pass that way may read the reason for the man’s crucifixion. This was to act as a deterrent against others who might want to commit the same crimes. To write such an inscription, then, was not unusual, but the “crime” certainly was.
The chief priests wanted Pilate to change the crime to read that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews. Pilate, however, refused to change it, stating that He was indeed the King of the Jews—and more than this, He was Yahweh in human flesh.
The doctrinal significance of this is mentioned in Col. 2:14, where the Apostle Paul spoke of the crucifixion,
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
The decrees against us are all the sins that we have ever committed. All sin is reckoned as a debt, and so Paul calls it “the certificate of debt,” that is, the debt note that we incurred through sin. These sins, which brought the hostility of the law to us, was removed because this sin-list was “nailed to the cross.”
Some have mistakenly thought that the law itself was nailed to the cross, and this has been used to teach that the law was put away and to justify lawlessness. In fact, it was the list of crimes committed that was nailed to the cross, for this was the usual practice when anyone was crucified. Paul tells us that “the certificate of debt” was paid by Jesus on the cross.
In other words, He paid our debt as if He were liable for it. Our sin-list attributed all of our sins to Him, and so He paid the penalty for all the sins on that list. He honored the law and upheld it by paying its full penalty. The law is satisfied, and we have been set free of our sin-debt.