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What Happened to Simon of Cyrene, the Man Who Carried Jesus' Cross?

Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, and Luke 23:26. Mark’s version mentions that he had two sons, Rufus and Alexander.

What Happened to Simon of Cyrene, the Man Who Carried Jesus' Cross?

Simon of Cyrene is one of those interesting people we briefly see in the crucifixion story, whose part feels all the more important because we only get a glimpse of him. He’s there for a moment then disappears but seeing what he did and understanding the background tells us something very powerful.

Who Was Simon of Cyrene?

Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, and Luke 23:26. Mark’s version mentions that he had two sons, Rufus and Alexander, and Luke’s version mentions that Simon was coming into Jerusalem “from the country.” Jesus, who Pilate had condemned to death by crucifixion, was walking out of Jerusalem escorted by the Romans, carrying his cross to Golgotha. The walking toward Golgotha was a public event where Jesus (and the two thieves who were also condemned) walked down streets with people watching their progress. This was important since public punishments were meant to be shameful events—victims had to be made into objects of ridicule, sending the community a message about what happened when you broke the law.

As Jesus was walking, the Romans stopped Simon who was passing by, and they made him carry the cross. Simon carried the cross behind Jesus for an unspecified amount of time, possibly all the way to Golgotha. In the traditional Stations of the Cross, Simon carrying the cross is the second station, followed by righteous women weeping as they see Jesus walking toward Golgotha.

Why Did Simon of Cyrene Carry Jesus' Cross?

None of the three accounts state what specifically made the Romans think that someone had to help carry the cross, or why they picked out Simon.

However, some people have talked about the medical side of crucifixion, which may give us a clue. Lee Strobelinterviewed a medical doctor for his book Case for Christ, and the interviewee pointed out that it was common for crucifixion victims to be flogged beforehand, which we know happened to Jesus (John 19:1-4). This would partly be for humiliation, and also because crucifixion kills people via cardiac arrest—so, losing blood beforehand prepped people to die quicker. Roman whips in that period were brutal, with multiple leather strips that had bits of glass or metal embedded in them. Strobel’s interviewee pointed out that victims lost an enormous amount of blood and even muscle; some people died just from the flogging. He also noted that when someone feels so stressed that they sweat blood, as Jesus was in Gethsemane (Luke 22:40-46), that makes your skin more sensitive…meaning the flogging would cause even more damage.

All of these factors mean that when Jesus was carrying the cross, he was feeling very weak. The psychological stress of carrying his own execution instrument would have been too much for some people, his wounds and blood loss would have made it even harder. The Passion of the Christ illustrates just how hard it was to carry the cross in a scene where Jesus drops the cross and spins around, collapsing to the ground.

So it’s very likely that the Romans noticed Jesus was having a hard time carrying the cross. He might have looked like he was in danger of collapsing. Crucifixion was a well-practiced process for the Romans; they had done it many times and like any well-practiced execution technique, there was a program to follow. Disruptions in the program would make them look bad, suggest they hadn’t done their job right. It would also mean the intended effect of public executions, shaming the victim while frightening onlookers, might be compromised. So even though Jesus was half dead and very humiliated already, the Romans had to make sure carrying the cross didn’t kill Jesus from exhaustion. In military terms, that would be “bad form.” Getting someone off the street to carry the cross for Jesus was a simple solution to their “problem.”

The reason why the Romans singled out Simon is hard to say since the verse doesn’t tell us. It is worth noting that Simon was from Cyrene, a city in Northern Africa, and could have been a dark-skinned man. Racism based on skin color has a complex history—our understanding of it comes from slave trade practices started in the 1600s, before that racism based on other ethnic factors (religion, language, etc.) was more common. However, it’s possible that the Romans, members of the invading class who saw themselves as ethnically superior to everyone, singled Simon out because he was dark-skinned, and they wanted to humiliate him too.

What Happened to Simon after the Crucifixion?

The Bible doesn’t mention Simon of Cyrene before the Crucifixion, or at any point afterward. Acts 2:10 mentions that other people from Cyrene were present at the Pentecost event and heard the disciples speaking in tongues, but there’s no specific mention of Simon being among them. He also doesn’t figure in official early church documents. So, we really can’t say what happened after his encounter with Jesus.

There are a few legends and speculations about Simon here and there. A BibleStudyTools.com article by Lisa Loraine Baker claims that he is mentioned in the apocryphal text Acts of Simon and Judas, where he’s described as being martyred in 100 AD by being cut in half. However, the Encyclopedia Britannica states that this apocryphal book is actually talking about the apostle Simon the Zealot, so this may be a misnomer. Given that apocryphal texts are often bizarre and ahistorical, it’s possible that legends about Simon of Cyrene and Simon the Zealot were conflated over time.

An article by the Southern Nebraska Register mentions theories that Simon’s sons Alexander and Rufus who were involved in the early Roman church. This theory is based on the fact that the Gospel of Mark is the only one of the Gospels to mention Simon’s sons, and tradition holds that the Gospel of Mark is Peter dictating his story to his disciple Mark. Tradition also holds that Peter founded the Roman church (he was later martyred in Rome by Nero), and some documents mention a man named Rufus in the Roman church. Therefore, the Gospel of Mark can be seen as specifically directed to the Roman church. Moments in Mark where he makes unique points could be him highlighting things that his specific audience would be interested in (local connections and so forth). This idea is certainly possible and fits with the idea that different Gospels phrase their material differently for different audiences. For example, the Gospel of John is addressed to a Gentile audience, so rather than starting by talking about Jesus as Messiah, it opens by talking about Jesus as the Logos (word), a concept Greek-speaking Gentile audiences would be more familiar with.

Why Is His Story Important?

While Simon of Cyrene isn’t a major biblical character, and we need to carefully avoid putting too much weight on legends about him which we can’t verify, he has a very potent role in the story of Jesus’ death.

The fact that someone else was brought in to carry the cross reminds us that this was a public event. Jesus wasn’t dying for our sins with just a few onlookers—like all crucifixion victims, his death was made into a public spectacle.

The fact that Jesus needed help carrying his cross emphasizes just how weak Jesus was in this moment. He was fully God, but also fully human, and the flogging-walking-cross program was stretching Jesus’ human body beyond its limits even before he was on the cross.

The fact that Simon was walking behind Jesus also means that he was seeing the walk to Golgotha from almost the same perspective. He was seeing righteous people weep, the vicious people taunt and was close enough to Jesus that it would have felt like all this attention was directed on Simon as well. He got a secondhand taste of the burdens Jesus was carrying.

Some have pointed out that Simon’s role in carrying the cross behind Jesus reminds us of the posture God asks us to have as Christ-followers. We are commanded to take up our crosses and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24), knowing that we may be humiliated and broken in the process. The image of Simon struggling to carry a heavy cross, being pulled into the event’s shame and pain, walking behind a man who was God incarnate, is a potent metaphor for what following Jesus looks like.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Arthit_Longwilai

Connor SalterG. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,000 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.




This article is part of our People of Christianity catalog that features the stories, meaning, and significance of well-known people from the Bible and history. Here are some of the most popular articles for knowing important figures in Christianity:

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