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The key players in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
In practical terms, the story of Jesus’ crucifixion begins at the point he was betrayed. From this moment, right up until his death, certain individuals were involved in the final stages of Jesus’ life. Here we’ll discover who they were and the part they had to play.
By the time we get to his betrayal by Judas, Jesus was already a wanted man. He had upset the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees with his preaching. But perhaps the final straw, was him storming into the temples and accusing the leaders of turning his Father’s house into a market. His arrest was inevitable.
Judas' role was to lead a posse of men to Jesus’ whereabouts for thirty pieces of silver. As for Judas, the most commonly held outcome was that he returned the silver and hanged himself in disgrace.
Before we get to Pontius Pilate, Jesus was tried by Caiaphas. In many respects, as one of Jerusalem’s most revered and influential High Priests, Caiaphas' involvement in the crucifixion of Christ is the most significant. In short, Jesus posed a threat to Caiaphas' power, so he had to be stopped at all costs.
Jesus was unfairly tried in a rigged court, that illicitly took place at Caiaphas' house at night, where the High Priest unlawfully took on the role of prosecutor and judge. In the small hours, Jesus was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death, but without the power to order the execution, Caiaphas enlisted the help of the Roman authorities.
The Romans invaded Palestine in 63 BC, so they were in power during the time of Jesus. Pontius Pilate was in charge of the province of Jerusalem with little or no interest in Jesus, except the fact he threatened to disrupt the peace. So, when Caiaphas presented Jesus to Pilate it was for sedition, rather than blasphemy - which would have been somewhat meaningless to Pilate. Either way, Pilate declared Jesus innocent. But it didn’t end there.
The baying mob
Pilate’s decision didn’t go down well with the assembled crowds who were also convinced that Jesus was guilty. Pilate, while believing that Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong, was less keen on a protesting crowd turning into a riotous mob, especially during the Passover holiday. So, Pilate publicly exercised the tradition of letting a prisoner free on Passover, possibly in the hope the crowds would free Jesus and punish a person who already had form for criminality.
Barabbas, 'a notorious prisoner’, was set alongside Jesus and the gathered crowd was invited to free one of the men. But instead of choosing Jesus’ freedom, the crowds opted for Barabbas, leaving Pilate little choice but to condemn Jesus to death, before symbolically washing his hands of the whole affair.
Simon of Cyrene
Jesus was beaten and taken to Golgotha to be crucified. The cross on which he was condemned to die was carried behind Jesus by a person the Bible names as Simon of Cyrene. Little is known about the circumstances of this event but three out of the four gospels mention Simon of Cyrene by name. According to one translation of Luke's gospel, ‘as they led Him off, they made Simon, a man from Cyrene who happened to be coming in from the countryside, carry the cross behind Jesus’.
What we can glean in all versions of the episode is that Simon was made, even forced, to carry Christ’s cross by the guards, so what’s his significance? Well so far, he was the only character that hadn’t done anything to harm Jesus and, for a short while at least, Simon momentarily eased his suffering.
Similarly, Mary Magdalene appeared as a respite amid all this horror. According to the Bible, Jesus had cured her of seven ‘demons’ and all of the gospels (apart from Luke) attest that she was witness to Jesus’ crucifixion and his burial. Perhaps even more significantly, it was to Mary that Jesus first appeared after death.
It’s worth noting that some scholars believe that Saint Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, isn’t one but two, or even, three separate people. However, none of these observations diminishes the symbolic significance of her presence during Jesus’ final hours.
It’s noted by St John that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was also a witness to the crucifixion, but then it gets a little confusing. According to the gospels, there may have been as many as four Marys present. St John says Jesus’ mother, Mary of Magdala and Mary the wife of Clopas (who was possibly Jesus’ aunt) were in attendance. St Matthew and St Mark claim that another Mary, the mother of James and/or Joseph, witnessed the crucifixion too.
Longinus was the biblical name given to the anonymous soldier, cited by St John, who pierced the side of Jesus with his spear. His given name arguably derives from the Greek word for ‘spear tip’, because so little is known about him. An anonymous Roman Centurion also appears in the gospels according to Mark and Luke, and in this version, the soldier announced his belief that the crucified man was indeed the Son of God.
Some scholars have suggested that Longinus is a composite of two people, with others believing that Longinus was once blind, but his sight returned when some of the blood fell into his eyes.
St Dismas and Gestus
All the gospels mention two criminals crucified alongside Jesus. They were later given the names Dismas, the penitent thief, and Gestus, the impenitent thief. St Mark tells of Jesus being insulted by priests and members of the gathered crowd. St Luke wrote that one of the thieves (presumably Gestus) joined in with the mocking and was reprimanded by Dismas, who then asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded by informing the penitent thief that his place in paradise is granted.