Who Was Simon of Cyrene and What Does the Bible Say about him?
Everything recorded in the Bible is factual. From the truth of all reported words and events to the truth of Jesus as the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), the Bible wastes no words. The Holy Spirit superintended the words of Scripture to reflect God’s purposes, and everything it contains has meaning. Therefore, when we read short accounts of people, they are in the Word for a purpose. With that in mind, we should ask, “who was Simon of Cyrene and why is he mentioned in the Bible?”
Simon was, as written in Scripture, from Cyrene (Matthew, Mark, and Luke each say he was, “of” Cyrene), a city with a population close to 5,000 people. The Greeks made Cyrene a trade outpost ca. seventh century B.C., and it lay in the region of Cyrenaica, a coastal town on the Mediterranean Sea. As the Greeks expanded their empire, mythology guided them with names for new cities. Cyrene was named after Kyrene, the daughter of a Thessalian king (Hypseus), and a water nymph. Cyrene contained a number of Jewish settlers, and it is listed among the nations in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). People from Cyrene heard Peter preach is if in their own language.
Since Cyrene sat in modern-day Libya on the northern tip of Africa, many conclude Simon was a dark-skinned man, but we cannot know for sure because the Bible is not definitive about his race. Simon may have been African, but he could have been a transplanted Jew or of some other descent. Scripture does not say, and we must not assert something unintended by the writer of the Scriptures.
Simon of Cyrene is mentioned by name in only three passages of Scripture: Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, and Luke 23:26). In Matthew, it is said, “they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry the cross.”Mark’s Gospel states, “they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry His cross.” Luke says, “And as they led Him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.”
Why Is it Important That Simon of Cyrene Carried the Cross?
Often in Scripture, the author gives or reveals why certain events and people are mentioned, be they lessons for believers today or to add substantiation to an account. The latter seems to be the case with Simon of Cyrene. He appears to be an aside to add interest to the story, but since the Lord wastes no words, his inclusion by the Gospel writers must have some import. In the whole of the Bible, not many people are named. That Simon is named gives credence to the account.
God is always purposeful, and He may have directed the soldiers to choose Simon of Cyrene to carry the Lord’s cross for a portion of His travail to Golgotha. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Immanuel (God with Us), the Creator (Colossians 1:16), the One Who carries our burdens (Psalm 55:22) accepted help from a man. What a lesson in humility. And we know that part of the execution process involved shameful, public humiliation. Simon did not merely spectate; he also partook in the Lord’s advance toward crucifixion.
If we imagine the scene along the way, we envision crowds taunting the Lord as He bears the weight of His cross. The people probably jostled each other to see the Christ go by, the One to Whom they so recently cried “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord (Mark 11:9)! Isaiah says, “He was despised and rejected by men…He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:3). Mixed within the scoffers were disciples, including John, and Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25-26). Matthew and Mark say Simon “was compelled” to carry the cross, while Luke says Simon “was seized” and had the cross laid on him. In each account, Simon is pressed into service. The passages do not say he volunteered. In a manner of spiritualizing what Simon did, some say we, too, would rather not carry our “crosses.”
No matter who the Father chose to carry the cross for Jesus, that the soldiers pressed a man into service as a cross-bearer speaks to Jesus’ disfigurement and extremely weakened state. Was it pity that caused them to do it? We may never know. The soldiers had orders to get Jesus to Golgotha and face crucifixion and death. The Father appointed His Son to “death on the cross,” (Isaiah 53:10, Phil. 2:8), but the Roman soldiers would likely not have known the prophecies related to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. It’s possible, as they strode along with Him, that He, in His beaten state, may have looked ready to expire. Had that happened, the soldiers would have denied the mob their “spectator sport” of catcalls and a deathwatch as the crucifixion victims died on their crosses. The soldiers’ commanding officers expected them to carry out their complete orders, not let one of the men scheduled for crucifixion die before their duties were completed.
Jesus, in agony, while in the Garden of Gethsemane, cried out to the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:37-39). Simon’s service perhaps represents the Father’s act of love to His Son to temporarily ease Jesus’ burden. In God’s providence, His intentions are always accomplished—always. How kind of God to allow Simon a part in His Son’s last earthly journey (in His first advent).
Luke’s Gospel says Simon carried the cross “behind Jesus.” Some also spiritualize Simon’s conveyance of Jesus’ cross in relation to how we as believers are to “bear our own crosses” as we follow Jesus (Luke 14:27). Simon of Cyrene provides us with an implicit illustration of what that looks like. It’s not easy to follow Jesus. The world system tries to sway us with its distractions and enticements, just as Simon most likely received taunts and offers as he carried the Lord’s burden.
Believers today who seek to commemorate the various events along the way to Golgotha, including the spot where it is thought Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross, have chosen to walk the Via Dolorosa. It is during the walk one can pray and reflect on the Lord’s grueling struggle toward the Place of the Skull.
What Happened to Simon of Cyrene after the Resurrection?
Scripture makes no direct mention of Simon of Cyrene after the Resurrection. Tradition states Simon went to Egypt and shared the Gospel. After that, according to the apocryphal Acts of Simon and Judas, Simon was martyred in 100 A.D by being cut in half with a saw.
Cyrenians, however, are mentioned in Acts 6:9. They are of the group who disputed with Stephen as he did “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Since Scripture makes no direct reference to Simon, we cannot assume he was in that same gathering.
Mark’s Gospel states Simon bore two sons (Rufus and Alexander). This fact does not assert the sons were with Simon, nor does it mean the Rufus mentioned in Romans 16:13 or the Alexander cited in 1 Timothy 1:20 or 2 Timothy 4:14 are Simon’s sons. Yet Mark references them for a reason of which we are not aware and may never be.
Simon was there. He carried the cross of Christ. All the facts as recorded in the Bible are written by God’s design (2Timothy 3:16-17).
May we all—with a remembrance of what Jesus did for us—bear our own crosses daily.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Gift Habeshaw
Lisa Loraine Baker is a rock & roll girl who loves Jesus. She and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis. Lisa is co-author of the non-fiction narrative, “Someplace to be Somebody” (End Game Press, spring 2022). She has also written for Lighthouse Bible Studies, and CBN.com,
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.