Discussion on Mark 15:21

An assignment for New Testament Survey

In Mark 15:21, when Jesus was led to the place where he was going to be crucified, the soldiers forced a passerby named Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for Jesus. It is also recorded in other two synoptic gospels, Matthew 27:32 and Luke 23:26. I was asked several times by some believers in the church on the significance of this person. I also found different interpretations on the figure of Simon. Some even explain that this insertion indicates that sometimes strangers need to sacrifice because of the persecution to Christians, while some claim that Simon’s act is a deed of sympathetic magnanimity.[1]

So we fist need to know why Simon took the cross over from Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:41) Jesus says “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” According to many commentary books, the Roman rule over Israel of the 1st century was a very oppressive and dominating government. Craig Keener says in his commentary on the situation: “Because tax revenues did not cover all the Roman army’s needs, soldiers could requisition what they required. Romans could legally demand local inhabitants to provide forced labor if they wanted and were known to abuse this privilege.”[2] In the same way, Simon was forced by a Roman soldier to help carry the cross that crucified Christ. Betz notes that “the victim of such a despicable request was legally obliged to comply.”[3]

According to John 19:17, Jesus did carry his cross from the beginning. But probably it was too much for him. The beating, over-night questioning and loss of blood had weakened him very much. In order that the mission of Crucification can be accomplished on time, the soldier randomly picked up a guy and forced him into service. This Simon has no reason to disobey this order. But obviously he did not choose this task voluntarily.

The next question would be “who is this Simon”. Cyrene in North Africa had a large Jewish population. This place is also mentioned in the book of 2 Maccabees. The book of 2 Maccabees itself is said by its author to be an abridgment of a five-volume work by a Hellenized Jew by the name of Jason of Cyrene who lived around 100 BC.[4] Most scholars agree that Simon was probably a Jew and may have been a visitor coming to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Since Mark mentions his two sons Alexander and Rufus, it’s highly possible that Mark knows them well. Paul mentions “Rufus” in Romans 16:13 but we don’t know if he is the same Rufus mentioned by mark. After all, there’s no indication from the Bible that Simon came to faith after carrying the cross for Jesus. There are some conclusions based on deduction from church tradition, but we can’t 100% sure about it.

This research on this issue not only clarified the role of Simon in Mark, but also helped to better understand the Sermon on the Mount.

[1] Carson, D.A, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew (Zondervan, 2010), 643.

[2] Keener, Crag S., Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 199.

[3] Betz, Hans Dieter, The Sermon on the Mount (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 291

[4] According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2_Maccabees).