“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:2-6
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:6-11
Our redemption from our sin comes from Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. Redemption is free for those willing to receive Jesus, but redemption was costly for God’s Son Jesus. Most people are familiar with at least the general outline of the story of Jesus going to the cross for our sins. But here I would like to go in greater in detail of what Jesus suffered for us, so we can get a better idea the length God went in love to be reconciled with us.
The beginning of the last part of the redemption story starts the night before our Lord’s crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was here we see the depths of Jesus humanity. Jesus living in the Israel under Roman rule knows the brutality of the cross. He almost certainly had seen men being crucified before. Crucifixion was fairly common and very public. Jesus knew the worst of all pains was ahead him. Mathew chapter 26 records “’My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus was under immense pressure, the scriptures tell us He was sweating blood. This rare condition called Hematidrosis, only happens when the body is under the most intense stress.
Jesus at this time is praying in the garden. He is with his handpicked disciples whom He has labored day in and out the last three years, and yet here we see them fail him. Jesus is about to be betrayed, and his disciples are too tired to engage in prayer for him. While Jesus is in the garden praying we see He is met with Judas leading a great mob of individuals to capture Him. Jesus being sold out by one of his disciples for something like a months salary. Jesus then goes through a sham judicial process all night, being mocked and beaten, during this time one of his closest friends Peter denies knowing Jesus three times in a row. The next morning Jesus is eventually handed over to Pilate. The Jews handed over Jesus because they were not able to exact capital punishment under Roman rule. Pilate sees no fault in Jesus, but eventually sentences Jesus out of fear of a revolt from the Jewish people.
The sentence handed down to Jesus was death by crucifixion, the most horrible death. Death on a cross was reserved only for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the worst of criminals. The punishment was so bad, that Romans were exempt from this type of punishment, except in the case of soldier desertion. This death was the most painful way to die, the word excruciating is derived from this painful death. The Latin word “excruciatus” means out of the cross. This type of death made many to speak out against the barbarism of it. Cicero called the crucifixion “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.“ The historian Josephus called the crucifixion “the most wretched of deaths.”
After Pilate renders down the death sentence the Gospel of Mark says “then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.” The sentence is brief, but it mentions Jesus is “scourged”. This scourging is referring to flogging, which is the preliminary punishment to death on a cross. Flogging done by Romans was absolutely barbaric. Flagellation was so bad, that it was referred to as the “half death,” because most people would die shortly after being flogged. After being flogged, many would be in a state of shock from all of the blood loss.
The way flogging would work, is that the victim would be usually be stripped down completely naked or close to it. The individual would then either be bound to a lower pillar and bent over, or chained to an upright pillar to be stretched out. Typically, then one or two soldiers, but sometimes up to six soldiers would rotate between each strike of the flagrum, alternating positions between strikes. The victim was struck all over the shoulders, back, buttocks, legs, even down to the sole of the feet. The flagrum was essentially a handle “with straps of leather at the end, at the end of each leather strap is a hook made out of bone or metal. Also, at the end of each strap is heavy metal ball, which was used to tenderize the flesh. “ These balls of metal would tenderize the flesh, then the hooks would dig in, the executioner then would tug and rip the flesh right off the body. During this process “lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.” Flogging was so brutal history even records a victims rib flying off during the process.
Once the flogging was done, the Gospel of Mark records this passage: “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.” Mathew 27:27-31
According to experts the crown they mockingly put on Jesus could have either been the Syrian Christ Thorn or the Christ Thorn plant. Both of these plants have sharp thorns which would have probably resembled something like a cap. Dr. Frederick Zugibe, one of the U.S. prominent forensics experts wrote a book called “The Cross and the Shroud: A Medical Inqiury into the Crucifixion. In this book he takes a deeper look at this potential damage this crown of thorns could have made.
“The nerve supply for pain perception to the head region is distributed by branches of two major nerves: the trigeminal nerve, which essentially supplies the front half of the head, and the greater occipital branch, which supplies the back half of the head.” These two nerves enervate all areas of the head and face.
The trigeminal nerve, also known as the fifth cranial nerve, runs through the face, eyes, nose, mouth, and jaws. Irritation of this nerve by the crown of thorns would have caused a condition called trigeminal neuralgia or tic douloureux. This condition causes severe facial pain that may be triggered by light touch, swallowing, eating, talking, temperature changes, and exposure to wind. Stabbing pain radiates around the eyes, over the forehead, the upper lip, nose, cheek, the side of the tongue and the lower lip. Spasmodic episodes of stabbing, lancinating, and explosive pain are often more agonizing during times of fatigue or tension. It is said to be the worst pain that anyone can experience.”
After Jesus was crowned with the crown of thorns, they led him away towards Golgotha, where He was to be crucified. On the way to Golgotha, Jesus was required to carry part of his cross. This was usually the horizontal part of the cross, which was probably upward of 100 pounds. This cross would have been more than likely carried on Jesus absolutely scourged back, probably with his arms tied to the crossbars. This walk would go through the public town, with everyone watching, mocking and jeering Jesus as he walked by in absolute pain. His family was in the crowd watching in pain. The Romans wanted crucifixions to be public and serve as physical reminders not to cross Rome. Jesus at some point on the way up to Golgotha probably painfully fell to the ground with the 100 pound timber attached to him. The scriptures only record he could no longer carry the cross so the Romans just grabbed someone from the crowd, Symon of Cyrene to carry the cross the rest of the way.
Finally Jesus arrives on the hill of Golgotha, probably exhausted and in excruciating pain. Jesus was probably stripped down completely naked or close to it. Jesus is then nailed to the cross with railroad like spikes in his wrists and feet or ankles. The iron spikes were 5 to 7 inches in length with a square shaft 1 centimeter across. “The pain from the nails would have been like having hot pokers driven through His hands, causing bolts of radiating pain up His arm. He would have screamed out in agony.” The scriptures tell us the Romans mockingly put up a sign that read “King of the Jews.” He was mocked by the Romans, and the Jewish priests who said things like “save yourself, and come down from the cross!” and “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
Crucifixions were immensely painful, and could last a few hours or up to a few days depending on the level of scourging and the person. According to one medical article, the breathing on top of the regular pain would be particularly painful and difficult. The article states it this way: “The crucial effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the chest muscles used for breathing in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and pulling the shoulders inward. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the bones in the feet, and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion, or bending of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden post. Muscle cramps and loss of feeling in both the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring, further reducing the oxygen levels in the blood, and lead eventually to asphyxia.”
It is not clear if Jesus died of asphyxia or perhaps of a heart attack. The gospels do tell us however he died on the cross, “since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.” The scriptures tell us that Jesus was already dead so to confirm “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” This indicated Jesus was already dead, and perhaps meant he died of a heart attack, or perhaps a broken heart.
The crucifixion was the most painful death to die. The Romans did not invent crucifixion, but it is said they perfected it to maximize pain, agony, and shame. But even in the midst of the worst pain, in the midst of taking on a unjust punishment for us, we see some of Jesus most powerful words while on the cross. In the gospel of Luke we see Jesus looks down on the cross at this accusers and says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It is here in this moment that we know no person, no sin, no evil, could ever be outside the loving reach of the cross of Jesus. Jesus looks to us today and invites us into a saving relationship with Him and receive his grace through the cross. Jesus in the book of Revelation tells the church of Laodicia “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”