Calvary -The Geographical Account
There are many names and locations given to us over the years by tradition, recorded in the Bible, or taken from historical accounts, and from various verbal narrations and rituals passed down through the centuries regarding the exact site where Jesus Christ was crucified.
Commonly heard names and descriptions of the site of Calvary include: The place of the skull, Golgotha (or the place of the head), upon a hill far away, outside the camp, the altar of the red heifer, the altar of sin, and the hill upon the Mount of Olives. These are the ones most often cited or used in describing the location or actual holy place where Calvary did indeed take place. If you have taken some time to read and study the Bible along with records of ancient history, then likely you are already familiar with these names.
The real pressing problem is that not all scholars, theologians, or average professing men and women can agree on, or pinpoint one geographical location where Calvary indeed took place. Many people are firm in their own personal beliefs, which can and do vary. When pressed, these same people fail to produce solid biblical proof for the purpose of backing up their opinion.
A belief without biblical proof, as found in an inspired Bible verse from God’s Word, is just a tightly held belief or an opinion of mankind, which can and does fluctuate with time and circumstances. A divinely inspired verse from God, on the other hand, is the eternal inspired Truth of God. There is a huge spiritual difference between the two, a Truth of God always stands the test of time and the state of affairs; both in this world and forever in the eternal realm. An opinion can waver and fade at the slightest contrary wind.
How then can one geographical place be sorted out to match entirely with God’s scripture and relate with such an assortment of varying opinions and ancient accounts? Only one geographical place is accurate, while the others remain far from the Truth of God and divinely recorded by inspiration of God.
Perhaps man will never know for sure from this side of heaven exactly where the cross of Jesus Christ stood, placed in the middle of two thieves, upon the hill of Calvary.
The spiritual work of Calvary certainly is recorded and eternally preserved in God’s infallible Word (Psalm 12:6-7).
Mankind does not have any genuine tangible items he can hold in his hand preserved from the day of Calvary, no cross, no grave clothes, no known remnants left. Possessing any of these things would certainly have led man to cling to them tightly as idols rather than as irreplaceable spiritual relics from history. If a man found human remains of Jesus Christ, understand that it would mean that He did not rise onto new eternal life. It would make His sacrificial death on the cross of no effect on sin, thereby making eternal life an impossible spiritual feat. There is no such thing as a dead Savior. There are many dead “wanna be gods” occupying graves today who professed themselves to be a god but could not defeat death.
Certainly, you understand that God’s Word clearly indicates He arose again and without any question, we serve a risen God and Savior!
John 3:16-17 (KJB) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Praise the Lord! We serve a risen Savior who soundly defeated death and the grave (1 Corinthian 15:3-4)
Let’s begin this discovery for finding the location of Calvary by looking at revealed clues found in God’s Word. Combing through the biblical accounts as divinely inspired to be recorded by scribes, Apostles, and prophets will reveal useful descriptive information concerning the geographical scenes which supernaturally unfolded that particular day, and in the following days, in and around the area which contained the hill of Calvary.
The Apostle John gave us the most detailed account of the event of Calvary to be contained within the pages of God’s Word. John’s description involved the activities of Mary, Jesus’s earthly mother so we can drink in an intimate glimpse of Calvary through the heart of a mother. Mary was Jesus Christ’s own earthly mother. However, nothing is mentioned about His earthly father, Joseph, who many believe had already died. There are also accounts of the presence of apostles, acquaintances, friends, and followers included in the Apostle John’s inspired record about this day.
John 19:25-27 (KJB) Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Take note that there are no recorded words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, talking the death of her son Jesus. Certainly, her pain about this was likely way more than she could express. Perhaps many mothers who have had to bury their own son or daughter way too soon can relate to her silent pain and suffering, Mary undoubtedly inwardly felt on this day.
A mother naturally desires to stand by and remain loyal to her child despite any impending circumstances. How tough that would have been to witness the hanging death of your own child. Likely her and the others did not understand the many spiritual significances taking place this day or how it would weigh upon the direction of their own futures.
Other important events tied to His death on Calvary were recorded, in both the Old and New Testament, giving us other significant finds concerning Calvary. Among important details we can glean are:
It was a walkable distance from the city where Pilate handed the fate of Jesus Christ over to Roman soldiers. He and the other two criminals were expected to carry their crosses to the place of their death on Calvary.
John 19:16-18 (KJB) Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. 17 And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: 18 Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
This distance being walkable could narrow down the many available areas comprised with a hill in which his crucifixion could have taken place. However, the landscape could be considerably different today than it was two thousand years ago with ancient hills potentially being leveled and level ground being raised up to new heights today.
We know that the place of Calvary was in a common area where the Roman government routinely carried out crucifixions. The place of Jesus Christ’s hanging was located in the same place other common criminals before Him who were hung in ancient biblical history. Hangings were for lawbreakers in ancient biblical times and took place outside the city gate.
The law of the Bible speaks about the death of Jesus Christ, as well as common the sacrifice of animals for sin, and the death of lawbreakers was to take place outside the gate of both citizens and foreigners alike:
Leviticus 24:23 (KJB) And Moses spake to the children of Israel, that they should bring forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stone him with stones. And the children of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.
Hebrews 13:11-12 (KJB) For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
We know that the place of Calvary was in a common area, or one used often by the Roman government for routinely carrying out crucifixions. The place of Jesus Christ’s hanging was located in this same general area other criminals before had been hung according to ancient biblical history.
Hangings were a common consequence for lawbreakers in ancient biblical times and always took place outside the city gate.
The law of the Bible speaks about the death of Jesus Christ, as well as the sacrifice of animals for sin taking place in the same general location. The Bible says the death of lawbreakers was to take place outside the gate, the same area was used for both citizens and foreigners alike:
The mention of city gates does play an important role in the location of Calvary. The Bible tells us that city gates, of any city, were always a prominent place, places of authority, for doing business, and for the greeting of any visitors into the city and a place just beyond this was set aside for hanging criminals. The city gates were likely situated in a highly-trafficked area because hangings were always carried out in public areas among witnessing crowds. In addition to the hanging of criminals, outside the city gates was where the trash was dumped, people who were leprous were forced to live rather than among the inhabitants of the city. Outside the city gate, was not notable, or likely well kept, or a distinguished area. There were several different gates in the city for leading to these various areas just outside the gates.
Jesus was nailed to a cross, like a criminal but was innocent of any crime or sin, to face physical death like a common criminal. Jesus Christ was a shed blood sacrifice, just like the animals in the Old Testament were offered upon a sin altar, located outside the city gate.
The book of John recorded about the location of a garden and an empty and available grave near to the place of Calvary:
John 19:41-42 (KJB) Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. 42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.
The garden mentioned in these verses perhaps was The Garden of Gethsemane, located near where Calvary took place, was where Jesus Christ sought privacy in deep prayer, even distancing Himself from His disciples, in seeking out the will of His Father. Jesus entered into prayer concerning His will, as His disciples fell to sleep while on watch near Him.
These verses also state that a new sepulcher, as was the tomb for Jesus Christ, was located near this garden. Maybe they were one in the same burial place, belonging to a rich man, who offered it for the purpose of Jesus Christ’s earthly burial.
In the book of Matthew, a place called Golgotha is mentioned.
Matthew 27:31-33 (KJB) And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. 32 And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. 33 And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull.
The biblical description rendered as “a place of a skull…” and the name “Golgotha…” is given in these verses from the book of Matthew. They are often thought to point to outcroppings of rock along a ridge of a hill which looked quite similar, perhaps when the sunlight hit it just right, to a skull. Many people look to a few modern places many have pointed to as having similar markings as described as definitively being the place where Calvary took place. Yes, it is quite possible one of these places was the actual spot, but there is nothing which identifies either place beyond a doubt according to the whole canon of scripture of God’s Word.
This is where man’s faith should kick into high gear. The reason for having faith is to believe in things of God, without having sufficient evidence, or actual proof that a man can “see,” “hear,” “taste,” and “feel” leading him to in them alone that Calvary did take place, rather than through faith in things unseen. It is believing God’s Word as it was inspired and recorded.
It is through faith that we can believe that God is who He says He is, and that His Son Jesus Christ died a sacrificial death, even if we cannot see or locate an actual physical location without some lingering questions, however, we know for sure that Jesus Christ’s death on Calvary did take place a little over two thousand years ago, because it has been revealed as such in God’s Word and we must seek to rest our faith upon the truths revealed in His Word.
The actual geographical location of Calvary, like Noah’s Arks resting place, may remain somewhat of a mystery while looking from this side of heaven through eyes of faith. Even though man has determined longitude and latitude, the North Pole and the South Pole, and named the Seven Natural Wonders, and found many other earthly marvels, he has not found or figured out every incredible thing God has created or allowed to take place on this earth.
It could be that the actual place of Calvary is an ordinary looking hill, except when viewed from the eternal standpoint of the heavenly realm. Calvary is more about the attitude and spiritual weight found within the heart of man than finding the actual geographical location where Calvary took place.
It has been said many times that a new view of earth from the heavenly realm will answer many questions our eyes cannot fathom or clearly view from our limited vantage point from this earth. Until then, keep looking at God and the many things divinely described in His Word, concerning the past, now, and the eternal future, through spiritual eyes of faith and hope.
Please read other devotions in this series including:
Look for our next devotion in this Calvary series called Calvary – The Contempt and Poison of Politics