Calvary -The Geographical Account
There are many names and locations given over the years shared through tradition, recorded in the Bible, 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 location 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 and potential places.
The real pressing problem is that not all scholars, theologians, or average professing men and women can agree, or pinpoint one geographical location where Calvary indeed took place. Many people are firm in their personal beliefs, which can and do vary from person to person. When pressed, people often fail to produce solid biblical proof for backing up their closely held 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 a man, 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 substantial 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 geographic location is accurate, while the others are far from the Truth of God divinely recorded by the 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 indeed is recorded and eternally preserved in God’s infallible Word (Psalm 12:6-7).
Humanity does not have any genuine artifacts 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 undoubtedly have led man to cling to them tightly as idols rather than as valuable 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 at one time professed themselves to be a god but, in the end, did not defeat death.
Indeed, you understand that God’s Word indicates He physically died and arose without any question or further clarification needed. Yes, 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 by looking at revealed clues about Calvary as found in God’s Word. Combing through the biblical accounts as divinely inspired to be recorded by scribes, Apostles, and prophets reveal useful descriptive information concerning the geographical scenes which supernaturally unfolded on that particular day, 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 that we can drink in an intimate glimpse of Calvary through the heart of a mother. Mary was Jesus Christ’s human mother. However, nothing further 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, but nothing descriptive concerning the exact location.
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.
As an interesting side note, there are no written words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, describing the scene surrounding the site of the death of her son Jesus. Indeed, her pain and any questions or description about this event were most likely way more than she could express. Likely many mothers who have had to bury their son or daughter way too soon can relate to her silence and suffering, Mary probably was in heart communication with God, rather than verbalizing about her painful experience concerning Jesus’s suffering and death on this dark day.
A mother naturally desires to stand by and remain loyal to her child despite any impending circumstances or setting. How tough that would have been to witness the hanging death of your child. Likely she and many others did not understand the many spiritual significances taking place this day or how it would weigh upon their future.
We can glean geographical information tied to other notable people and events regarding His death on Calvary, recorded in both the Old and New Testament. This additional information concerning Calvary and potential locations 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 this place called 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 of 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 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 site of Jesus Christ’s hanging was located in the same place other common criminals before He was hung in ancient biblical history. Hangings were notoriously reserved for lawbreakers in ancient biblical times and for this reason, took place outside the city gate.
The law of the Bible speaks about the death of Jesus Christ, as well as the common 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.
Again we know that the place of Calvary was in a public area, one used by the Roman government for routinely carrying out crucifixions. The location 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 citizens and foreigners alike:
The mention of city gates does play an essential 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 town and a location just beyond this was set aside for hanging criminals. The city gates were likely situated in a highly-trafficked area because we know that 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 commonly piled, leperous people were forced to live rather than among the inhabitants of the city. Outside the city, the gate area was not notable or likely well kept. 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 entering into deep prayer, distancing Himself from His disciples for seeking the will of His Father. Jesus entered into prayer concerning His will, and His disciples fell asleep while on watch nearby. It is interesting that a tomb is found near this garden and perhaps is the one which served as a grave for Jesus Christ. Maybe they were one in the same burial site recorded as belonging to a rich man and offered it for Jesus Christ’s human burial.
In the book of Matthew, there is a place called Golgotha 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 point to a few modern sites today, having similar markings and described as potential places where Calvary took place. Yes, it is possibly one of these places is the exact spot, but there is nothing that identifies any location beyond a doubt according to what God revealed for our learning in the whole canon of scripture.
This point is where a child of God’s faith should kick into high gear. The reason for hope is to believe in the will and work of God without sufficient evidence or tangible proof. A person cannot “see,” “hear,” “taste,” and “feel” the power and presence of God. Physical indications that Calvary did take place are not necessarily evident for us to view today. A person must place faith in spiritual-based things unseen by believing God’s Word as it was inspired and recorded in ancient times.
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 is revealed in God’s Word, and we must seek to rest our faith upon Him.
The actual geographical location of Calvary, like the resting place of the ark built by Noah, remains a mystery to this day, but each of us can look from the earth through the lens of faith to God concerning these matters. It is funny, even though humans have determined longitude and latitude, the North Pole and the South Pole, discovered the Seven Natural Wonders and located many other earthly marvels it is not possible humanity can view 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, in a nutshell, is more about the attitude and spiritual weight found within the heart of man than in locating the actual geographical location where Calvary took place.
Viewing Earth from the vantage point of the heavenly realm will answer many questions our eyes cannot fathom or assess from the limited vantage point from this earth. Until then, we must look at God and things divinely described in His Word concerning the past, the present, and the eternal future, using spiritual eyes filled with lasting 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