It was a good deal, but Simon didn’t know it at the time. He was the man the Romans compelled to carry Christ’s cross, after the guards realized after their beating, Jesus was in no condition to carry His cross to Golgotha.
I am sure at the time, Simon was wondering “why me.”
Since this was Passover, some doubt that the Romans would conscript a Jew to carry Christ’s cross, and probably identified Simon as a gentile by his dress. And since he was in Jerusalem for the Passover, it suggests he had converted to Judaism.
But the good deal was this, Simon would carry Christ’s cross, and in turn Christ would carry the burden of Simon’s sin.
Most Bible scholars believe Simon of Cyrene became a believer in Christ, because three of the Gospel writers not only knew his name and where he was from, but other personal details, suggesting they were familiar with him (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26).
Both Mark and Luke knew that he had just arrived into Jerusalem from the country. But then Mark adds this tantalizing tidbit:
21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.Mark 15:21 ESV
Mark just casually states that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. It appears that Simon brought his two sons along for the Passover suggesting that they were at least 12 years or older.
The inclusion of the names of Simon’s sons is also unusual, because obviously Mark presumes the readers would know who these two were as well, or why mention them.
Oddly the name Rufus pops up one more time, about 25 years later:
13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.Romans 16:13
In his letter, Paul greets Rufus and his mother, both believers. In fact, Paul says that Rufus’ mother had cared for Paul like he was her son. Since Paul had not been to Rome (Romans 1:13), it tells us that at one point Rufus’ mother attended a church where Paul had previously ministered.
Though we can’t be sure of this, ancient Church tradition says this is the same Rufus mentioned by Mark. If so, it implies that Simon and his family became Christians and were prominent in the early church and eventually ended up in Rome. Simon was probably dead at this point.
Some speculate that Simon might have been a follower of Jesus before the Lord was crucified, though that is unlikely because two Gospel writers mention he was just passing by. In other words, Simon was not in the crowd watching Jesus carry the cross, Simon had just arrived for the Passover celebration, and was walking by and probably had no idea what was going on.
But 50 days later, when the Holy Spirit fell on the Day of Pentecost, we are told that there were people from Cyrene in the crowd (Acts 2:10).
Is it possible, Simon and his two sons were there during the Pentecost celebration and became Christians? The personal data provided by the Gospel writers would certainly indicate that.
So where was Cyrene?
Cyrene was a Greek colony located in Libya, Africa. A major cultural centre, it had a large population of Jews and converted Jews. Though most paintings portray Simon as a Caucasian, many believe it is more likely he was black.
We do know that a “Simeon who was called Niger,” mentioned as one of the prominent prophets and teachers at Antioch (Acts 13:1), was undoubtedly black, since Niger means black or dark.
But is this the same Simon who carried Christ’s cross?
In the Greek, the name Simeon is a slightly different rendering of the name Simon, like David versus Dave.
Before his name change, the Apostle Peter was referred to as both Simon (Mark 1:16) and Simeon (Acts 15:14) indicating the two usages were essentially interchangeable.
Though we can’t be sure this Antioch teacher is the same Simon of Cyrene, curiously he is listed alongside “Lucius of Cyrene” and we also know that men (plural) from Cyrene had preached the Gospel to the Greeks (Acts 11:20).
If this is Simon of Cyrene, it would explain where Rufus’ mother and Paul first met, because Barnabas and Paul were also sent out from Antioch (Acts 13:2).
In an article entitled, “A Depository of Inscribed Ossuaries in the Kidron Valley,” published in the Israel Exploration Journal, author N. Avigad discusses the discovery of a burial coffin with the words inscribed in Greek, “Alexander son of Simon.” It is dated before 70 AD and falls into the life span of Simon and his family.
Of course, it can’t be certain that this is the same Alexander son of Simon mentioned by Mark, but the men from Cyrene who preached to the Greeks in Acts 11:20 must have been fluent in that language.