Scriptures

Jesus’ Crucifixion

Introduction

The most important event in the world’s history was the crucifixion (and the resurrection) of Christ. Approximately one-third of the four gospels deals with the last week of the life of Jesus and His death, burial and resurrection.

 THE LAST WEEK

For some time, Jesus had warned the twelve that He would soon be leaving them. Seemingly, however, they did not understand this as they had not yet fully comprehended the spiritual nature of His kingdom. They still expected Him to reign over a temporal domain.

It was probably this same belief that caused many of the people to go before Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass. They spread branches in His way as they went and cried,

‘Hosanna in the highest.’

This was on Sunday, just five days before the one whom they triumphantly proclaimed was to be crucified.

The next day Jesus entered the temple as He had three years before and overturned the tables of the money-changers who were trying to make excessive profits from the people who came to worship.

This intensified the determination of His enemies to kill Him. When Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, came the following day to the chief priests offering to betray Christ, he found them eager to take advantage of his treachery. A bargain was struck and for thirty pieces of silver Judas agreed to betray Jesus.

THE PASSOVER SUPPER

On the night of His betrayal Jesus met with His disciples in an upper room to eat the Feast of the Passover. At this time, He gave the disciples His last words of exhortation, showed them a wonderful example of service by washing their feet, and offered to God that prayer for unity of all His disciples recorded in John 17.

During the Passover Jesus instituted in the presence of the disciples the beautiful memorial known as the Lord’s Supper.

He first took the unleavened bread of the Passover and then the fruit of the vine (grapes) and gave them to His disciples saying,

‘This is my body’ and ‘This is my blood.’ Matthew 26:26, 28

Some have understood the words of Jesus to imply that the bread and fruit of the vine were His literal body and blood.

The fallacy of this argument is easily seen when we consider that as He spoke both His body and His blood were before them in their entirety. Jesus was simply employing a figure of speech known as a metaphor in which a word suggesting one kind of object or idea is substituted for another by way of implying an analogy between them. Thus in saying, ‘This is my body’ Jesus was declaring, ‘This represents my body.’

GETHSEMANE

After the supper Jesus left Jerusalem with His disciples and crossed the brook Kedron to reach the Garden of Gethsemane. There he earnestly entreated the Father to let His cup of suffering pass from Him if it were God’s will. But it was not the will of God that He escape the suffering of the cross, even as it is not His will today to grant everything that His children ask. In His agony Jesus sweat as it were great drops of blood.

He returned to where He had left the disciples and found them sleeping, at the very time He needed them most. Three times Jesus prayed in this way and then, with His disciples, prepared to leave the garden. But at that moment they were met by a multitude who had come to take the Prince of Peace with swords and staves.

They were led by Judas who went straight to Christ and kissed Him to show his accomplices which man they sought. In a brief flash of courage Peter drew his sword and struck off the ear of the high priest’s servant, but a moment later all of the disciples, including Peter, fled leaving Jesus alone in His last hours before His death.

THE TRIAL

The trial of Christ was both irregular and illegal by judicial standards. In the dead of night, He was first taken to Annas, father-in-law of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas.

From Annas He was sent to Caiaphas who pronounced Him worthy of death who pronounced Him worthy of death. During these dark hours of the night Peter, afraid of the scorn of the Jews, denied that he even knew Jesus. First Judas had betrayed Him and now Peter denied Him. But while Judas went and hanged himself, Peter repented with bitter tears and thereafter remained faithful to the Lord.

After sunrise Christ was taken before the Jewish council where the decision of Caiaphas was formally approved. Under Roman law, however, the Jews did not have authority to condemn a man to death.

They sent Jesus, therefore, to the Roman governor Pilate who could find no fault in Him. Pilate sent Him to Herod who had jurisdiction over Galilee where Jesus had done most of His preaching. Herod then sent Him back to Pilate.

Pilate tried to find a way to release Him and still please the people, but failing in his effort he gave his consent to crucify Him although he knew He was innocent. He was turned over to the Roman soldiers who brutally mocked Him and whipped Him and then led Him away to be crucified.

THE CRUCIFIXION

Jesus was crucified at about 9:00 o’clock Friday morning (some say Thursday) at a place outside Jerusalem called Golgotha or Calvary. In English it means ‘skull’. Over His head on the cross was the inscription,

‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS’.

On each side they crucified a common thief to show their contempt for Him. This was the darkest hour in the world’s history, yet out of the darkness would soon come light as Jesus conquered death and the grave.

HISTORY OF CRUCIFIXION

Crucifixion is an ancient method of execution, in which the victim was tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang there until dead. It was never performed for ritual or symbolic reasons, usually, its purpose was only to provide a particularly painful, gruesome, and public death, using whatever means were most expedient for that goal.

The history of crucifixion can be traced back to the ancient Persians and there’s evidence to support the Greeks practiced this form of torture. As always, the Roman’s adapted the custom from Carthage and used it for slaves, rebels, and anyone who were their enemies, along with criminals. While most Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, if you were a Roman and found guilty of treason, then you could face crucifixion. Crucifixion was considered a humiliating way to die.

The prisoner usually had to carry the horizontal beam, patibulum, to the place of execution, not necessarily the whole cross. Crucifixion was an art form for the Romans who had specially trained men to carry out the sentence, there would usually be a commanding centurion and four soldiers. When it was done in an established place of execution, the vertical beam, stipes. was sometimes permanently embedded in the ground.

The Cross

The horizontal beam of the cross, transom, could be fixed at the very top of the vertical piece, the upright, to form a ‘T’ called a tau cross. The horizontal beam could also be affixed at some distance below the top, often in a mortise, to form a ‘t-shape’ called a Latin cross. Alternatively, the cross could consist of two diagonal beams to form an ‘X’. A single, vertical wooden stake with no transom at all has also been cited by some.

The Nails

The ‘nails’ were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7-inch-long with a square shaft 3/8 inch across. The victim was probably affixed to the cross by ropes, nails, or some combination of the two. In popular depictions of crucifixion, possibly derived from a literal reading of the description in the Gospel of John, of Jesus’ wounds being ‘in the hands’, the victim is shown supported only by nails driven straight through the feet and the palms of the hands.

However, the flesh of the hands can’t support a person’s body weight, so some other means must have been used to support most of the weight, such as tying the wrists to the cross beam.

Another possibility, that doesn’t require tying, is that the nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm. the radius and the ulna. The nails could also be driven through the wrist, in a space between four carpal bones which is the location shown in the Shroud of Turin. As some historians have suggested, the Gospel words that are translated as ‘hands,’ may have in fact included everything below the mid-forearm.

Another possibility, is that the nails may have been driven in on an angle, entering in the palm in the crease that delineates the bulky region at the base of the thumb, and exiting in the wrist, passing through the carpal tunnel.

The Romans would often display the victims, still on the cross, in rows, there would be row after row of condemned criminals lining the streets of the main entrance to the city, so that everyone entering a new city would know what would happen to them if they didn’t adhere to Roman laws and regulations. It also sent a powerful message to any oncoming enemies of the fate which awaits them.

FACTS ABOUT THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS

Jesus Carried His Own Cross

After Jesus was flogged, we know that He carried His own cross bar, weighing in at 75 to 125 pounds and He carried it outside the main city walls. The upright part of the cross was probably permanently mounted in the crucifixion area. The cross bar would be balanced on the shoulders, and His arms were tied to the crossbar.

We can only imagine what this would have been like, if He tripped or fell, He couldn’t use His arms to break their fall, He would likely fall face first into the ground. Once Jesus reached the place for crucifixion, Golgotha, He was offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh to act as a mild pain killer. Although this was a kind gesture, usually done by the women, Jesus refused to drink.

‘Then they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.’ Mark 15:23

Publicly Naked

Crucifixion was a very public affair, criminals, rebels etc needed to be reminded of the terrible consequences of breaking Roman law, fear ruled the day. Unlike we see in many artist’s impression of the crucifixion, the victim was usually stripped naked and hung naked.

Historian art has most people who were crucified covered in a loincloth, but this simply isn’t true. Nakedness was often a symbol of spiritual shame and ignominy.

Cause of Death

Death could come in hours or days, depending on exact methods, the health of those crucified, and environmental circumstances. It’s widely accepted that the typical cause of death was asphyxiation. When the whole-body weight was supported by the stretched arms, the victim would have severe difficulty exhaling, due to hyper-expansion of the lungs.

The victim would therefore have to draw himself up by his arms, or have his feet supported by tying or by a wood block. Indeed, Roman executioners were said to break the victim’s legs, after he had hung for some time, in order to hasten his death. Once deprived of support and unable to lift himself, the victim would die within a few minutes.

The Romans often broke the prisoner’s legs to rush the death process, please note the Romans soldiers responsible for carrying out the sentence, were responsible for the victim until they died, in other words, The Romans weren’t being kind by breaking the victim’s legs, they broke the victim’s legs so that they could get on with their other duties.

Burial afterwards wasn’t usually permitted. According to history, Emperor Constantine abolished crucifixion in the Roman Empire, when Christianity became the state religion.

Jesus Was on the Cross About Six Hours

Jesus’ final hours on the cross lasted from approximately 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., a period about six hours.

‘The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. ‘He saved other,’ they said, ‘but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if HE wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’. Matthew 27:41-43

Answering the question of how long Jesus was on the cross is complicated by the fact that two systems of marking time are used in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke use the Jewish system of marking time. John uses the Roman System. Using the Jewish system, Mark says,

‘They crucified Him and divided His garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified Him’. Mark 15:24-25

According to this, Christ’s crucifixion began at 9:00 a.m. Also, using the Jewish system of marking time, Matthew says that

‘from the sixth hour there was darkness over the land until the ninth hour.’ Matthew 27:45

That is, the darkness lasted from 12 noon to 3 p.m. This was Jesus’ final hours on the cross.

The seven recorded sayings of Christ upon the cross tell the story of His death

1. ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ Below the soldiers were parting His garments.

2. To His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ to John, commending her to his care, ‘Behold thy mother!’

3. To the thief who asked the Lord to remember him, ‘Truly I say unto you, Today you shall be with me in Paradise.’ It was now noon. For the next three hours the whole earth was darkened.

4. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

5. ‘I thirst.’ They gave Him vinegar to drink.

6. At about 3:00 o’clock He cried out, ‘It is finished.’

7. ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ At His death the earth trembled with an earthquake and the veil of the temple was rent in two, signifying the end of the law of Moses.

Observing the events of this hour, the centurion who had crucified Him said,

‘Truly this was the Son of God.’ Matthew 27:54

Nicodemus, who had once come to Christ by night, and a rich man, Joseph of Arimathaea, buried Jesus in Joseph’s tomb with the help of several women. Night was now on them, so they decided to wait until after the sabbath, Saturday, to finish their work.

Pilate placed a guard at the grave to prevent the disciples of Jesus from stealing the body. But when the women returned on the first day of the week, the stone before the sepulchre was moved and the grave was empty! Jesus had arisen!

ONE SOLITARY LIFE

Here is a young man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was 30, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office.

He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never travelled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

While he was still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth, which was his coat. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as has that One Solitary Life.

Author Unknown

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Matthew 28:19

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