“Death On The Cross”
March 28, 2020
DEATH ON THE CROSS
John 19:16 says: “Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.” (NIV) That’s a very simple sentence isn’t it? Ten Words. But it holds so much information the world needs. It reminded me of a verse in the Old Testament. Genesis 1:16 says: “He also made the stars.” (NIV) How many stars are there? And they get only five words in the creation story.
Sometimes some things are too over-simplified. But, there is nothing simple about an execution, especially a crucifixion. We will start with the preliminaries. They don’t just take someone out and hang them on a cross, a lot of “preparation” must go into it first.
After Pilate passed down a verdict, he did not want to give… the soldiers took over. For them it was routine, as far as crucifixions go, except this time they had a special criminal, Jesus Christ, the radical Rabbi. Jesus would receive a little extra treatment to which others might not be subjected.
It was just before 8:00 in the morning and the crowds were beginning to gather in Jerusalem, the Holy City, for the Passover feast. There would be tens of thousands of people passing the areas were Jesus was tortured and crucified.
The first step in the process would be the scourging. There were two types of scourgings in Jesus’ day, the Jewish type and the Roman type. A lot of people have the misconception that Jesus was subjected to 39 lashes as was common in Jewish practice. The limit for their punishment was 40 lashes so they would stop at 39, just in case someone miscounted. The last thing the self-righteous Jewish leaders want to do is beak the law.
Jesus did not receive 39 lashes; that would have been more merciful. He was in the hands of the Romans and they didn’t care about Jewish laws nor about mercy. All they cared about was torture. There was no set number of lashes, the term usually used was, “Near unto death.”[i]
A man trained in torture, called a Lictor, was the one who would administer the punishment. The Lictor was a professional torturer. When he left home in the morning with his brown bag lunch, he was heading to a day of scourgings. And a man like this enjoyed his work. He was a professional at it. He used a tool called a Flagellum. This was a piece of wood 2-3 feet long and fitted on the end with leather thongs. To the end of the thongs pieces of bone, glass, metal balls and other objects were sown. This is the instrument used to administer the scourging.
The criminal would be lead to a low stone column where his clothes would be removed and he would be bent over the stone. There would be rings in the pavement beneath him to secure his hands and feet. This gave a clear target to the Lictor.
As the Roman soldier repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the ends of the flagellum would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive the cross.
The sever scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a preshock state. Moreover, Hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water and sleep, also contributed to His generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and probably critical.”[ii]
But, the suffering did not end there. The cruel soldiers who circled around Jesus’ bloody body did not let it end there.
(Matthew 27:27-31) The soldiers had been listening as Pilate had mockingly called Jesus “King of the Jews.” So they played up on the point for their own entertainment. The robe they put on Jesus was a short cloak that almost comes to the waist. The crown of thorns probably had strong thorns about 3 to 4 inches long. Except for the cloak and crown Jesus was naked. Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. (NIV)
After all that came the beatings, spitting and pulling out of His beard. Have you had enough? Would you have stood there silently and taken all of that… for me?
The soldiers bowed before Him in jest and called Him King, and well they should have. One day they certainly will for real, as everyone will bow and call Him Lord.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)
Criminals were commonly paraded through the city to the crucifixion site, and no exception was made for Jesus. Generally surrounded by four soldiers lead by a Centurion, the victim was made to carry his own cross.
Pilate had a sign made for Jesus to hang over His head. It said, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” John 19:19-22 – Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:19-22 NIV)
Pilate had this message written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Remember there were tens of thousands of pilgrims pouring into Jerusalem for Passover and there would be plenty of people to see this man suffer.
Crucifixion is a barbaric form of capital punishment that began in Persia. The Persians believed that the earth was sacred, so death could not be allowed to contaminate the earth. Therefore, criminals were fastened to vertical shafts of wood by iron spikes and suspended above the earth to die from exposure, exhaustion and suffocation. Death was painfully slow and publicly humiliating.
From Charles Swindoll’s book “Exalting Christ, The Lamb of God” – “The executioner laid the crossbeam behind Jesus and brought Him to the ground quickly by grasping His arm and pulling Him backward. As soon as Jesus fell, the beam was fitted under the back of His neck and on each side, soldiers quickly knelt on the inside of the elbows, the thorns pressing against His torn scalp.
“With his right hand, the executioner probed the wrist of Jesus to find the little hollow spot between the radial and ulna bones. When he found it, he took one of the square-cut iron nails, raised the hammer over the nail head and brought it down with full force.
“Two soldiers grabbed each side of the cross-beam and lifted. As they pulled up, they dragged Jesus by the wrist. The ritual was to nail the right foot over the left, this was difficult. If the feet were nailed too close to the bottom of the cross the victim would die too quickly. [iii]
In order to breath the victim had to push up with his legs on the nailed feet to catch a breath. The lifting by the arms had probably pulled the shoulders out of socket so there could be no help there. Excruciating pain accompanied each upward push for breath and every downward release from fatigue. Fittingly, the words excruciating and crucifixion come from the same Latin root word. Each movement cut deeper into bone and tendons and raw muscle. He raised himself up to breath, His raw back scrubbed against the rough hewn cedar cross. Waves of hallucinations drifted over some victims and in time flies and other insects found their way to the open wounds.
Helplessly suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus could look down and see His mother’s eyes. She and her sister, as well as Mary Magdalene were huddled together trying to endure the ordeal. I can’t imagine watching my child being put through something like this. Jesus’ friend John was also there as a witness to the Sacrifice of the Lamb.
As Jesus hung there and suffered, He faced the final moment He had dreaded for so long. Then came the moment when God the Father turned His back on His Son and all the sin of the world was poured out on Jesus’ shoulders.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46 NIV) God the Father’s Lamb paid the price, as the song says, “Jesus Paid It All.”
At the point when Jesus knew He had accomplished everything His Father had sent Him to do, to fulfill one last Scripture:
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God. (NIV)
They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst. (NIV)
He had said, “I am thirsty.” And after receiving a drink of bitter vinegar, He said, “It is finished.” He then bowed His head and died. (John 19:28b-30)
Of all the thousands of Lambs that the Jews had sacrificed during Passover, finally the Perfect Lamb of God was sacrificed, and they would not receive any of the forgiveness that every drop of His blood offered.
[i] Bishop, Jim, The Day Christ Died, (New York, NY,: Harper and Brothers, 1957) pp. 290-91
[ii] Edwards, William, D., “On the Physical Death of Christ, The Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, pp. 1457-58
[iii] Swindoll, Charles, Exalting Christ, The Lamb of God, (Insight for Living, 2000) p90
Great “picture” of Jesus on his last terrible day. What an amazing thing he did for us. Thank you, Pastor Doug for everything you do, especially in these times.
Ethel McClung says
So graphic, but I made it through it. I cannot comprehend the pain, suffering and possess regret and humble thankfulness for what He did for us. Thank you for your support and love for our church family.
Deb Ruby says
Wow! This is the most detailed explanation of the Crucifixtion I have ever heard. Leaves me weak just thinking what Jesus endured for me.