Let us draw near and investigate the death of God’s only Son.
The concept of crucifixion was first practiced among the Persians. The Romans learned it, developing it to a high degree of efficiency c200 BC through AD 300, until it was finally abolished by Constantine. The original concept came from the practice of nailing a rodent up on a public wall in gleeful, revengeful merriment that this pest had been dealt with. Cicero thought crucifixion to be so horrible, he said, “Let it never come near the body of a Roman citizen.” This death was reserved for the worst of criminals and it brought terrible shame to the victim’s family. It was a special punishment for thieves, revolutionaries, slaves, and foreign criminals. To instill fear, Roman crucifixions were always public so all could view this slow death by asphyxiation. The victim was often tied with ropes and nails, struggling convulsively for days as insects and buzzards ate them alive. Crucifixions in first century Rome were so common the gospel writers saw no need to give the details.
Jesus’ suffering did not begin at Calvary but in Gethsemane. Luke mentions that Jesus sweat blood (22:44). This medical phenomenon is known as hematidrosis and has been experienced by individuals undergoing extreme psychological distress. The small capillaries burst into the sweat glands, causing a bloody secretion from the skin pores. The person literally sweats blood, resulting in profound dehydration and early stages of shock. After this horrific experience, an angel came to strengthen Jesus (22:43).
Jesus is then arrested and led away with His hands bound. After six separate illegal trials, taunted, mocked, struck in the face, bruised, spat upon, beyond any consideration of mercy, exhausted by interrogations, sleepless and dehydrated…after all this Pilate condemns Jesus to be scourged. Normally, scourging was a separate punishment. Pilate thought it would satisfy the mob’s thirst for blood. But your sins and mine were so costly that Jesus was scourged as well as crucified. Under Roman law, there was no limit to these beatings. The prisoner is suspended from a post or tied across something that would support his weight if he passed out, giving access to the legs, back, arms and chest. The instrument of torture was the flagellum. It had three or more strands of leather attached to a wooden handle. This tool was often tipped with bone or metal balls to weight the strands, tearing out bone and flesh when withdrawn for the next blow. As the flogging continued, a deepening state of shock would result. At first, only smaller capillaries bleed, then blood would spout from arteries under the muscles. Finally the skin of the victim is hanging in long ribbons. Beatings were often only stopped by the centurion in charge when it was determined the prisoner was near death—but sometimes not even then.
One might think that, if Jesus had to suffer for sin, surely what He had already endured would be enough. But the Son of God endured this for you and me because sin must be paid for and we could not pay for our own.
The Roman soldiers see a joke in Jesus claiming to be a king, so they throw a purple robe over His shoulders to mock His alleged majesty. They give Him a stick for a scepter and press a crown of thorns into His scalp. Since this is a very vascular area of the body, much bleeding would occur. Soldiers take the stick from him and drive the crown deeper into His head, mocking Him as “King of the Jews.” The robe, which would have become clotted with blood, is then torn off His back. The effect would be similar to a huge bandage being ripped free with blood already dried into the wound. The pain would be like being whipped all over again and all at once. Prophecy records that in addition to everything else, Jesus’ beard was pulled from His face (Isaiah 50:6), resulting in painful swelling. But this is what our sins did to Jesus. If you want to see the true horror of sin, dare to look deep into His face.
In John 19:5, Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd, asking them to behold Him, as if to say, “Isn’t this enough?” Apparently, it was not. Jesus would now have pale, sweaty skin and be in the stages of advanced shock. Mucus membranes, lips and eyes would be bluish. His blood pressure would be increased and His pulse pounding. Respiration would be slow and barely perceptible. It was only after all these sufferings that Jesus was condemned to be crucified. This was just the beginning.
The cross arm, patibbulum, was often attached two to three feet below the top of the beam. The common cross in Jesus’ era was shaped like a “t” and we know this was the type Jesus was hung on, for they put a sign over His head in mockery. An upright post was usually fixed in the ground and the condemned man was forced to carry the cross arm to that spot. Pictures of Jesus carrying the whole cross may be inaccurate, for the cross beam alone weighed over 100 pounds. A flogged and dehydrated man would have been hard-pressed to have carried the weight of an entire cross the 650-yard journey from the Fortress Antonia to Calvary’s hill. Due to the weight of His cross, blood loss, shock and dehydration, Jesus falls. The rough beam gouges His already lacerated skin.
Why did Jesus’ life on earth end in such a shameful, violent death?
Consider the Son of God on the cross of Calvary, suspended between heaven and earth, suffering for your sins.
The crucifixion took place from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. The period of darkness began about noon so Jesus was hanging in darkness for three hours (Matthew 27:45, Luke 23:44). It was almost as if the sun itself was ashamed to see the human race butchering their own Savior. Perhaps this darkness was to shroud Jesus’ agonies so that only the Father could see His suffering.
At the top of Calvary, the prisoners are stripped down to their loin cloths. The soldiers feel for a depression in the wrists. Large wrought-iron nails were driven through the small bones, causing the fingers to bend inward toward the palm. Although the two thieves probably struggled, I John 3:16 tells us, “He laid His life down.” The left foot was placed over the right and a single nail was driven through the metatarsal bones. But the victim was not stretched tightly. They knew each time the victim wanted to draw a breath, they must press against the nails to do so. The Romans had so perfected this hellish torture that they knew almost exactly how long a victim could survive by how much room for movement was left in their arms and legs.
As the arms tire, cramps sweep over the muscles, causing throbbing pain. Eventually, the victim becomes too weak to push upward any longer and the pectoral arm muscles and leg muscles become paralyzed. A man on a cross had to fight for every short breath. Air can be drawn in but not exhaled as carbon dioxide builds up in lungs. Only spasmodically could one stretch up to inhale. Every time Jesus spoke from the cross, He had to press against the nails to do so…to the delight of His enemies. His thirst would be almost unbearable.
Jesus has horrible chest pains as His lungs fill with serum, mucus and water, compressing His heart as it struggles to pump thick heavy blood into the tissues (Psalm 22). He experiences cramps and asphyxiation and His raw back rubs on the rough beam. His tortured lungs fight for air. Accumulated carbon dioxide and lactic acid create intense muscular hyper-excitability, causing violent muscle spasms throughout the body. Each and every movement was painful. Every heartbeat would hurt due to the pressure in His chest. In one last effort, He pressed His precious feet against the nail and cried, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit!” Although He could have called thousands of angels to rescue Him, He endured the cross for us so that we could be free from sin.
Normally, the legs of crucified victims were broken so they could no longer stretch up for breath. But when the soldiers examined Jesus (John 19:33), they found He was already dead. They did not break His legs, fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 34:33. One of the soldiers thrust a spear up through His ribs, piercing the sac of water around His heart. The hour He died was the official hour of the start of the Jewish Passover: Friday at 3 p.m. The trumpets would be sounding from the temple area. Not far away, sacrificial lambs were being driven toward the temple. But the time for the end of all animal sacrifices had arrived.
Still today, billions of people around the globe try to atone for their own sins. If they would only view the crime scene on Calvary, they would find that the Son of God has paid the price for all who trust Him as Savior.
Consider the following formula as the only math you’ll ever need to know:
Plus three nails
Equals for given.
If you do not know Jesus personally today, ask Him right now to come into your heart and forgive you for all of your sins. He will.