The Crucifixion

Crucifixion originated with the Persians and was later passed on to the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians.  The Romans called it by its Latin word, crucifixus, which means to "fix on a cross". The first century Roman cross consisted of two large wooden beams, a stake and a crossbeam (patibulum). The crossbeam was locked into place at the very top of the perpendicular stake, or near the top.  The Romans perfected it as a method of execution to cause maximum pain and suffering over an extended period of time.  Generally, crucifixion was reserved for slaves, provincials and the lowest types of criminals. Roman citizens, except perhaps, for soldiers who deserted, were not subjected to this treatment (McDowell).


When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”).  There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall (wine mingled with myrrh.); but after tasting it, he refused to drink it (Matt 27:33-34).  The mixture of wine and myrrh (a narcotic)  was commonly given to criminals before their execution in order to dull some of the suffering.  Jesus did not want His senses dulled.  He did not want His mind foggy when the sins of the world were poured onto His soul. And, the devil could never say, "You were drugged, you did not feel the pain!."

Jesus was then forced down on his bloody and torn back onto the cross. Burly soldiers firmly held his arms down as another soldier took a rough square nail, about 7 inches long that tapered to a sharp point and a heavy hammer.


 The soldier put the point of a nail in a place called the executioners point, a strong nest of bones in the wrist (below the heal of the palm or where the radius and ulna come together).

*Note: Studies have shown that nails driven in the palms of the hand as depicted in most pictures of Jesus crucifixion would not support the weight of a body. The executioners point however, with its cluster of bones combined with the muscles at the heal of the hand, would easily hold a crucified persons weight. 

 Then, with a sharp blow of the hammer, he drove the nail through flesh and muscle down into the wood.  As the nail violently pierced through the skin, pushing bones aside and grated against the median nerve in the wrist, sending fiery burning waves of pain down through the arms.


 As Jesus screamed and jerked convulsively, the soldier pounded the nail again and again, taking three or four blows to drive the nail through the wrist and through the wood, pinning Him to the cross.   Driven through the executioners pointno bones were broken or fractured fulfilling prophecy "He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken."  (Psalm 34:20).  Just like the sacrificial lambs offered at Passover, Exodus 12:46 they were not to have their bones broken.

Then, moving quickly, the soldiers moved to the other arm and the procedure was repeatedSometimes the victim’s arms were also roped into place, but this however, only extended the amount of time it took the condemned man to die.  Next, the Jesus feet were bent at approximately a 45-degree angle, then His left foot placed over His right foot.  The executioner then drove one single nail through both feet and deep into the wood as Jesus screamed and jerked in pain again. 


Sometimes the feet were placed on a wooden block as illustrated or just nailed to the cross itself.  Jesus was crucified,  pinned to the cross by three rough nails.  This however was just a hint of the pain to come. Then, two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.   Finally the executioner nailed the prisoners titulus above their heads detailing their crimes. For Jesus, Pilate had his titulus read: THE KING OF THE JEWS in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. 

John 19:19

19cPilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20Many 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. 21The 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.”

22Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”


 The horror of the cross

Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me (Psalm 22:16-17).”


Once each man was crucified, his cross was hoisted up by two soldiers behind the cross, while two more soldiers in front of the cross pulled the cross upright on ropes.  The heavy cross, with its victim pinned to it, slipped into a deep prearranged hole dropping about a foot.  This bone jarring drop often popped the joints of the arm out of place.

Psalm 22:14-15: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.”

Then, the soldiers quickly drove stakes around the base of the cross to hold it upright.  That’s when Jesus’ pain began in earnest.   Gravity jerked His body downward against the nails in his wrist, pulling His arms up and back and driving the air out of His lungs.  Fiery pain raced up His legs and down His arms as His bones ground against the nails.  Fighting against the pain, He quickly realized He couldn’t breathe.  And that’s when the dance of death by crucifixion began for Him.  The muscles of His diaphragm of His ribs were compressing His lungs, forcing the air from his lungs and making it impossible to breath.  After only a number of heart beats, hanging from his arms, His lungs became desperate for air.  The only way to breathe was to pull Himself up.  Pulling against the nails in His wrist, while pushing down on the nails in His feet (that’s why the legs were bent at 45 degrees), He struggled to inch Himself upward. The rough wood of the cross grated against the torn and ripped flesh of his back.  When He threw His head back in His efforts, the thorns in His crown ground cruelly into His Head.  Every muscle in His arms, legs and feet screamed in pain as muscle, bone and nerves ground against unmoving, unyielding iron.  Inch by inch, He struggled to pull Himself upward, high enough to be able to breathe.   Finally, He pulled Himself to a point where He could desperately suck in air.  But after only a few heartbeats His arms and legs and began to cramp, scream and tremble violently from the torture of the nails. He had to relax his muscles in His arms and legs, but then gravity quickly pulled Him down and the suffocation process started all over again. This was the brutal up and down process of  a crucified victim's death.  

Crucifixion was designed to be a slow cruel death, causing every square inch of the victims body to be wracked in indescribable pain.  There was no single position on the cross where the victim was free from pain for any time.   The struggle was brutal with this constant struggle up, down, up, down the muscles throughout the body, cramping and screaming in pain with no way to stop it.  The extreme physical exertion and loss of blood rapidly led to dehydration adding extreme thirst to the agony.  Fever and shock also set in causing the body tremble as if freezing.

The brutal battle to breathe caused the victim’s lungs to slowly, very slowly, start to collapse in small areas causing hypoxia and hypercarbia. This, in turn, caused their blood to begin to thicken, which in turn, caused the heart to pump harder and faster putting a tremendous strain on it.

Speaking from the cross was extremely hard because it was so hard to breath.  Yet, Jesus painfully pulled Himself up far enough to gasp in prayer,  "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."  Fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12; "He made intercession for the transgressors."

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

The Suffering and Glory of the Servant

 13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at himhis appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness 15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.


Isaiah 53

 1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,  he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him
 the iniquity of us all.  7 He was oppressed and afflicted,  yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,  so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression] and judgment he was taken away.  Yet who of his generation protested?  For he was cut off from the land of the living;  for the transgression of my people he was punished.9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.  10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus was nailed to the cross around the third hour, or about nine o’clock in the morning (Mark 15:25).  For six grueling hours, that Friday, He suffered the agony of crucifixion.  While He suffered, crowds standing beneath the cross hurled insults at Him, shaking their fist and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”   The chief priests and the teachers of the law stood with them and laughed at Him sneering, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!  Let's see if this Messiah, this King of Israel, can come down by himself from the cross, that way we can see and believe.  He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ (Mattew 27:42-43)”

One of the soldiers laughed and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself (Luke 23:37).  Then one of the criminals, gasping in pain cursed Christ hoarsely croaking, “if you’re really the Messiah, Save yourself and us and get us out of here! (Luke 23:39)”  But Jesus said nothing, not even looking at the man.  The the other thief, croaked, “Don’t you fear God?"  Straining against the pain, he hoarsely gasped, “We’re getting what we deserve!  This man has done nothing wrong!”  Then he slumped back down, exhausted.  A moment later, groaning with the effort, he pulled himself back up, looked at Jesus and roughly whispered, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom!”  Jesus struggling to pull Himself up enough to speak, turned to the repenting criminal and huskily replied, “I say to you today you shall be with me in paradise.” And slumped back down again (Luke 23:40-43).

For a while no one spoke, the only sound was the wind and the groans of the tortured men, struggling on the cross to breath.  Then, through a fog of pain, Jesus looked down and saw His mother with John the disciple.  He knew His time was short and that the worst of His ordeal was still ahead.  Painfully, He pulled Himself up, His body shaking and trembling from effort, and looked at His mother and hoarsely gasped out, “Woman this is your son” gesturing with his head toward John and gritting His teeth against the pain,  He looked at John and gasped, “This is your mother.’  With His mother taken care, of He allowed Himself to slump back down to ease the cramping in His legs and arms (John 19:26-27).


The Sixth Hour Darkness

At the sixth hour (twelve noon), something strange began to happen.  The sky began to rapidly dim then go dark until day turned into night.  The soldiers and people began to look at the sky and mutter, “What in the world’s going on?” There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, yet  suddenly at noon, it had turned dark as night.  Straining, they could barely make out the sun as if through a thick haze.  From the center cross in the deep darkness, they heard an agonizing, groan of terrible pain.  What they couldn’t possibly know, was time had reached a critical juncture.  God the Father had poured the sins of the world on God the Sons sinless soul.  For what seemed an eternity to Jesus, the searing pain of sin blotted out the pain of the nails and the cross.  The burning acid of hate, anger and sin burned against unquenchable love. Then, the part Jesus dreaded most finally happened.  In heaven, God the Father turn His back on Him.  For three hours of darkness, the true battle of the cross took place.   Still enduring the torturous physical pain of the cross, Jesus also took the searing pain of Sin, deep into His Soul.  Slowly, painfully, love surrounded hate, constricting around it like a python strangling its prey.  When God the Father turned His back on His Son, the pain became so unbearable Jesus cried out, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--Which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)


For three long hours in deep darkness, Jesus battled on the cross for mankind’s salvation.  For three hours, He experienced physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain beyond human comprehension.  As the ninth hour approached, His battle was almost over.  He’d won, and He hoarsely whispered, "I thirst" John 19:28.  It was the ninth hour.


A a soldier soaked a sponge and put in on a stalk of a hyssop plant, and then lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  Jesus sucked in the sour wine from the sponge to relive His raging thirst, and parched tongue. Then He painfully pulled Himself up one last time, and shouted in a voice of triumph, “Tetelestai …. It... is… finished! Father into Your hands I commit my spirit.” In Greek the word Tetelestai "It is Finished" which means "Paid in full." (John 19:30, Luke 23:46).  Then he slumped down, bowed his head and gave up His spirit.


When Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished," the earth began to shake, heave ,rumble and roll in a mighty earthquake.  In the temple, the high priest was about to offer the final lamb of Passover for the sins of Israel.  Out on the hill called Golgotha, the Lamb of God offered Himself for the sins of the World!  As the earth began to rumble and shake the high priest looked up in concern.  Then suddenly, to his horror, He heard a loud ripping sound and he watched in horror as the veil of the temple ripped from top to the bottom and was thrown back as if by a mighty hand right in front of his eyes.  Caiaphas jaw dropped in disbelief, that veil was four fingers (four inches) thick, thirty feet high and sixty feet long.  It was impossible to tear.  Yet he’d seen it ripped in front of his own eyes.  


On Golgotha the earth shook until rocks began to split.  In the graveyards outside Jerusalem, tombs were broken open and the bodies of many saints were raised to life and appeared to many in the city.  The Roman centurion standing at the foot of the cross, struggling to stand, stared up at the cross of Jesus in awe and whispered, “Truly this was the son of God” (Mat 27:51-54).


If this were the end of the story this would be just another tragic tale.  The story however, is only half over.  Why? Because, then came "Sunday" when Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave and now sits at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven.


Refecting Christ's Light



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