“So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.”—John 19:16–17
Pilate delivers Jesus over to be crucified and the soldiers take Him, but John is also careful to tell us that Jesus “went out bearing his own cross.” The synoptics are all keen on informing us that at some point along the Via Dolorosa (sorrowful way) one Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to carry Jesus’ cross. The soldiers’ concern in this was that Jesus expire on the cross rather than on the way to the cross. The Romans used the cross for a purpose, and a premature death would subvert that purpose.
Unlike the synoptics, John simply tells us, “he went out bearing his own cross.” John’s account doesn’t conflict with the other gospels in this, rather, there is an emphasis, a theological point he wants to highlight, one he has frequently been drawing our attention to. The Savior is sovereign. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has intentionally been walking with purpose to the slaughter. Again and again as Jesus returns to Jerusalem, we have seen He does so walking obediently towards the cross. In His arrest and His trials, Jesus leads them to lead Him to the cross.
“For this reason the Father loves me,” Jesus explains, “because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17–18). The sovereign Savior went out bearing His own cross. The Shepherd has been struck; the sheep are scattered (Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 26:31). Jesus walks alone to the cross. He is drinking the cup that the Father has given to Him—the cup of staggering, the cup of the wrath of the Almighty (John 18:11).
Despite the reservation of many modern scholars, I believe the early church fathers were right to see an allusion here to that most striking of episodes in the life of the patriarch of Israel and his beloved son. God commanded Abraham to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him on a mountain in Moriah (the same area where 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us the Temple would later be built). Moses records, “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together” (Genesis 22:6–8).
Once more, Father and Son walk up the hill together. The Father has laid the wood on His Son’s back. The Father carries the knife and the fire. The Son obediently carries the burden. But this time, the Son goes up the hill with full knowledge that He is the sacrifice provided as a substitute. And this time, no angel will stay the hand of the Father.
He went out bearing His own cross!