The People who were Saved
at Jesus Christ's Crucifixion


Paintings by Penny Parker

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.  This He said, signifying by what death He would die" (Jn. 12:32-33)


What our Savior meant is the tremendous impact of His crucifixion on all peoples from every nation.  Truly the death of Jesus at the Cross, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, possesses an attraction for all people of the world.  From civilized and savage, learned and illiterate alike it breaks down all opposition and barriers, assimilates all to itself surpassing glory, whose uniting principle is the adoring subjection "to Him that loved them" and it "will draw all peoples 'TO MYSELF'" says the Lord.  This prophecy came to life on that historic day when Jesus attracted people from different nationalities and cultures by carrying the cross to Mount Calvary and was crucified on it.


Simon, the Man of Cyrene


“Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross.” (Mt. 27:32)


Condemned prisoners had to carry their own crosses to the execution site.  Jesus, weakened from the beatings He had received and the sleepless night of trials from different places, was physically unable to carry the cross any farther.  Thus a bystander, Simon, was forced to do so. 


“Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.” (Lk. 23:26)


Simon was from Cyrene, in northern Africa, and was probably one of the thousands of Jews visiting Jerusalem for the Passover.  From Luke’s account it is possible that Jesus carried one end of the cross and walked in front and Simon carried the other end walking behind the Lord. 


Simon did not know Jesus. Yet something happened on that walk. Between the gate of Jerusalem and the hilltop Calvary, Simon of Cyrene came into contact with the transforming sacrificial love and friendship of Jesus. Jesus would speak to one who, even under compulsion, was doing Him a service. We do not know what was said but we do know that God who became a Man that died for his sins would have touched any person who had to carry the cross with Him.


God had chosen Simon to carry the cross of Jesus for His great purpose.  He wanted to save him and his family.  Simon and his sons Alexander and Rufus were also mentioned in the Gospel because they were probably well known in the Early Church (Mk. 15:21).  The apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” (Rom. 16:13)  If this is the same Rufus whose father carried the cross of Jesus it can be assumed that Simon and his family must have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. 


“Now in the Church that was in Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” (Acts 13:1)


The names Simon and Simeon are the same, and the word Niger which means black comes from the name of a river in Africa.  The country of Nigeria derived its name from Niger.  Simeon and Lucius of Cyrene were prophets and teachers in the Church at Antioch.  African Christians had eminent positions in the Early Apostolic Church.


I heard an African-American preacher once said that the only person who had literally carried the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ was an African.  He was also the first person who ever came into contact with the Blood of Jesus Christ.  

Simon of Cyrene bore the wooden cross; Jesus Christ obeyed God and bore all our reproach, our judgment, our sin, our guilt, and our sickness.  He bore this spiritual cross for us by the freedom of His will.  What a wonderful Savior!

The  Roman  Centurion

“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Mt. 27:51-54)


There were at least four miraculous events that accompanied the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  There was a supernatural darkness all over the land for three hours.  Then there was a tearing of the veil that separates the Holy of holies in the temple.  An earthquake occurred and the rocks were split.  The fourth miracle was the resurrection of the dead people rising from the tombs.  Jesus’ death, therefore, could not have gone unnoticed.  Everyone knew something significant had happened.


Now when the centurion, the Roman military superintendent of the execution and they that were with him watched Jesus, saw the earthquake - or felt it and witnessed its effects, and those things that were done - reflected upon the entire event they feared greatly - convinced of the presence of a Divine Hand and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"  When Jesus asked His disciples “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 16:15-17)  We do know that when the Roman centurion had openly confessed, "Truly this was the Son of God!"  he had become a believer. 


During the time when Jesus Christ walked the earth the prevalent cult of emperor worship was in existence. [refer to emperor worship ]  The emperor had one of his titles of “divi filius”, Latin for “son of god”.  A Roman centurion (commander of 100 soldiers) served with the Roman legions that were the most powerful fighting forces in the world.  He was not only a strict patriot who was absolutely loyal to Imperial Rome but also an arduous worshiper of the emperor as a god.  Any Roman who denies the deity of the emperor could be stripped of his citizenship and right of land and property ownership.  The Roman centurion who publicly declared the Lord Jesus Christ to be the Son of God would be ostracized and immediately dismissed from the Roman armed forces.  It would not only be an end to his career as a centurion but also the end of all his special privileges as a Roman citizen.


Under extreme circumstances and persecution a Roman citizen would have given up everything that he owned to become a Christian, therefore an open confession of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the minimum requirement of salvation.  Hence the apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Rome thus:  “But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom. 10:8-13)  The Roman centurion who publicly confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: "Truly this was the Son of God!"  was saved.


The  Thief  on  the  Cross


 “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.” (Lk. 23:32-33)

The Romans crucified the basest of criminals, slaves, and enemies of Rome. Crucifixions were cruel. They would take heavy, wrought, iron nails and drive them through the victim’s wrists onto the crossbeam and the feet onto the vertical beam. And then they would lift the victim up so that the weight caused difficulty breathing. To ease the pain, the victims would lift with their feet, easing breathing but bringing great agony to the feet. Sometimes the pain would prolong for days.

“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."  But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."  Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."  And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Lk. 23:39-43)


One of the criminals railed at Jesus, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."  But when he had reproached Jesus, the other thief, who knew his position as a sinner, said: "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." It is better that we should seek forgiveness for our sins and salvation for our souls than to get angry with God. When Jesus heard the thief say this, he turned his face toward him with a look of approval. When the malefactor saw the face of Jesus turned toward him, he mustered up his courage, fanned the flickering flame of his faith, and said: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."  And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

The Master had time amidst the pangs of mortal death to listen to the faith confession of the believing criminal. When this thief reached out for salvation, he found deliverance. The crucifixion, the most cruel form of execution known to man, was given to the vilest of criminals.  The thief met Jesus at the cross and the Son of God Himself saved him personally.  He repented of his sins and believed Jesus Christ as His only Savior and was the first person on earth that was given the personal assurance of going to Paradise.

This Article is based on the Sermon preached by Paul Wong
to a Congregation in Houston, Texas on February 9, 2002
For comments please write first to: [email protected]

May God bless you.

Paul Wong is a Christian minister and the President of ARK International.
His ministry also serves as an architectural service company in Houston.
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