Meditations on the Cross, 10
John, in his Gospel, in describing the crucifixion of Jesus, mentions almost incidentally, " ... the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city" (John 19:20). Three of the Gospel writers tell us that the (Hebrew) name of the place was Golgotha which all four tells us means "Skull" or "Skull Place" - Greek Kranion). It was obviously not very pretty place and one wonders little as to why the title. It doesn't take a great imagination to come up with an explanation. (The kinder gentler Latin name, "Calvary" is not found in the Greek texts of any Gospel.)
I've never been to the Holy Land and don't have any plans to visit in the near future, but I have read and seen photos of, and arguments for, the various places that are assumed to be Golgotha.
I have, however, often pondered John's remarks. Golgotha was "near the city," so therefore it must have been on the outside. And, of course, we would expect that. The prescribed place of execution by stoning in the Law of Moses was "outside the camp"; we read of this over and over in the Torah. "Outside the camp" was also the place where lepers and other unclean persons were to stay. It was the place where one went to relieve oneself. These places were considered unclean. One exception was that the remains of animals sacrificed in the tabernacle or temple were burned "in a clean place outside the camp" (Leviticus 4:12; 6:11).
Jesus, during His last week spent time teaching in the Temple. A parable that He told at this time was one we might call "The Parable of the Tenant Farmers." It is found in Matthew 21:33ff; Mark 12:1ff; and Luke 20:9ff. It is a story of a landowner who keep sending messengers to his tenant farmers to collect the rent in the form of "the fruit of the vineyard." As the story goes, the tenants mistreated, even murdered the messengers in succession, finally culminating in the murder of the landowner's son. As Matthew 2l:39 tells it, "They took him (the son) and threw him outside the vineyard and killed him." Luke tells it similarly although Mark has a different order. The story ends with judgment on the tenant farmers and their replacement with others.
Though there is much depth in the story, it doesn't take a great amount of interpretive skill to recognize the meanings of most of the details. Jesus is the Landowner's Son and His murderers are the Jewish leaders who were at that time questioning Him.
So then, what is the significance of the fact that Jesus was crucified "outside the city"? The anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews says in 13:11-14);
"For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the Holy Place for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus, so that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate."
Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish believers in Christ, who for some reason were considering returning to their old religion and apparently turning their back on Christ. The book is a series of warnings of the dangers of these actions. The author's final exhortation is this, Hebrews 13:14:"So then let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach."
As mentioned before, the cross of Christ is ugly; it is stupidity in the eyes of the world, even of those who are religious. We as followers of Christ, however, need to recognize that our identity with Him demands that we "go to Him outside the camp." Following Him will take us outside of our comfort zone of conformity. It may even require suffering for His Name.