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The Crucifixion of Christ

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The Crucifixion of Christ



The Crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19)



History of crucifixion

The cross has become the most universally known symbol because since the death of Christ, the history of the world has been decisively shaped by that crucifixion event.  The widespread use of the cross as a common Christian symbol and the distance in history has made it difficult for a contemporary people to understand the harsh reality that underlies the theology of the cross. 

When Paul preached the message of the cross, any person would have understood that Jesus had died an especially agonizing and humiliating death, the kind of death reserved for rebellious slaves, political rebels, traitors, enemies, or criminals.  The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived in the first century A.D. and was an eye witness to many gruesome crucifixions, characterized this form of execution as "the most wretched of deaths."  The pain was so horrible that our English word "excruciating" is formed from the Latin word crucis, meaning "cross".  The origin of crucifixion cannot be determined with certainty, but it is believed to have begun with the ancient practice of making public displays of corpses, heads, etc. on on pointed stakes.  These ancient and primitive forms of impaling were practiced by the Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Persians around 1000 B.C.  By the first century B.C., the Roman Empire adopted this method as their own and refined it to a sinister art.  Although the Romans used the cross daily at times, their abhorrence for it was expressed by Cicero:  "Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts."  He called crucifixion "the supreme capital penalty, the most painful, dreadful, and ugly."  So dreaded was this penalty that the very words "Crucify him!" released an agony of emotions in the heart of any criminal upon hearing his sentence.  The Jewish people understood that anyone who was hung on "a tree" as a form of execution was considered accursed of God(Deuteronomy 21:23;  Galatians 3:13).  When Pontius Pilate presented Jesus before the Jewish people and they cried out, "Crucify him!," they knew they were asking for the most agonizing and disgraceful form of public execution.

Rome used crucifixion extensively.  Beginning in 71 B.C., Rome lined up the Appian Road stretching from Caua to Rome with 6,000 crucified rebels.  In 7 A.D., a minor revolt in Judea was brutally squelched, resulting in the crucifixion of 2,000 Jews in Jerusalem.  During the siege of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D., 500 Jews were crucified each day for several months.  In times of war, crosses were roughly constructed, and the victims were nailed to them in every imaginable position. During peace times crucifixion was carried out in cities like Jerusalem with sadistic formality.

1.     What did Jesus experience at His crucifixion?   “…and they crucified Him” (Mark 27:35)

a.      Prophecy fulfilled: Jesus foretold his death on the cross

b.     Love: Jesus said that no one took His life but that He would give it as a ransom.

c.     Betrayal:  Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of His closest disciples

d.     False accusation by His enemies

e.      Injustice: Jesus was tried at night against Jewish law

f.       Scorn and humiliation by the Jewish leaders: The High Priests, scribes and elders spat in his face and stuck him with the palms of their hands, mocking him

g.     Cruel plotting of His enemies: Jesus was sent to Caiphas, the High Priest, and then to Pilate because the Jews could not carry out the death by crucifixion (a sign of being cursed by God).

h.     Mockery by royalty: Pilate sends Jesus to Herod. The soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him and put a purple robe on Him and send Him back to Pilate.

i.        Rejection: Jesus was declared innocent by Pilate.  He offered to release Jesus but the crowd demanded that a thief, Barabbas, be released and Jesus crucified. Pilate washed his hands and delivered Jesus over to be crucified. Jesus was made a scapegoat.

j.        Turned over for crucifixion: Jesus was turned over to the Roman Carnifix Sererum who was in charge of the entire crucifixion process.

k.     The crucifixion process began with a process of humiliation: Jesus was taken by Pilate’s soldiers to the Praetorium where he was stripped and a scarlet robe was place on him.  They twisted a crown of thorns and put it in on his head, and a reed in his right hand.  Then they bowed down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.”  Then they spat on him and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  Isaiah 50:6 says that they also plucked out his beard.  After this they took the robe off of Him, put his own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.

l.        Beatings:  Jesus was then led from the Praetorium to an outside court where he was stripped, bound to a column, and savagely scourged with a flagellum, a short whip consisting of leather thongs, each loaded with jagged pieces of metal or bone and weighted at the end with lead.  The whipping was administered by two legionnaires called lictors. Each strike of the whip would tear open Jesus’ skin on his back, buttocks, and legs.  Fragments of flesh would be torn from him.  Many did not survive this process. Jesus was beaten with 39 stripes. There are 39 classifications of diseases.

m.   Public parade: Four legionnaires and a centurion then escorted Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem carrying His cross to the place of execution. At the head of this grim procession was a Roman soldier carrying a wooden sign called the titulus, which stated the offender’s name and offense.

n.     Physical weakness:  Jesus was so weak from dehydration, the loss of blood and muscle damage from the scourging that he was unable to finish the they found a man of Cyrene (a black man), Simon by name, and compelled him to bear His cross

o.     Anticipation of excruciating pain: At the site of execution, Golgatha (“place of the skull”), they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink as a sedative for the pain which He was about to experience.  But after tasting, He did not drink.

p.     Profuse bleeding: They took off his clothes to place Him on the cross.  This effectively reopened the wounds on his back as the garment had stuck to the coagulated blood on His back.

q.     Excruciating pain when spikes were driven through His hands and feet: They threw Him down upon the cross and drove nails (spikes) into His hands and feet, nailing Him to the cross. The nerve endings in these areas are very sensitive and would have created a type of pain that would shoot throughout His entire body.

r.       Mockery in His execution: The titulus was nailed above His head with this message written in three languages, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin:  “This is Jesus, The King of the Jews.” Greek was the common language; Hebrew was the religious language, and Latin was the legal language.

s.      More pain:  They raised the cross and dropped in into a hole.  The jar of his body on the nails would have created unimaginable pain and forcing many of His bones out of joint.

                                                  i.      Read Psalm 22:6-21  Description of what the Lord was feeling

t.       Waiting for death: While hanging on the cross Jesus was subject to weather, insects, intense pain from the wounds and stretching caused by strained positions, and slow suffocation caused by fatigue. Most victims could hang there for a few hours or even days depending upon their stamina. Therefore the offender’s legs were often broken to hasten death. Sometimes the dead bodies were left to putrefy on the cross and become the prey of carrion birds to complete the humiliation.

u.     The robbing of his possessions:  They divided the Lord’s garments, casting lots for them.  The tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece, so they cast lots for it rather than to tear it.  Then they sat down and kept watch over Him there.

v.     Blasphemy and mockery in His writhing torment 

                                                  i.      The people who passed by blasphemed, wagging their heads, and mocking Him, saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

                                                ii.      The chief priests, scribes, and elders also mocked Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God, and we will believe Him.”

                                              iii.      The soldiers mocked Him, saying:  “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” 

                                             iv.      The two criminals who were crucified on either side of Him also mocked Him.

w.   Love:  Jesus looked down from the cross and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

x.     Torture:  He hung from early morning until 3:00 p.m.  From 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. there was darkness over all the land.

y.     Abandonment:  Around 3:00 p.m., when the Passover Lambs were beginning to be sacrificed at the temple, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

z.      Thirst:  Jesus said, “I thirst.”  One of the bystanders filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.

aa.  Difficulty breathing:  Those being crucified would eventually die of suffocation.  In order to breath, they would have to push up on the nail in their feet and pull on the nails in their hands in order to allow their diaphragm to pull in air and then to they would exhale by dropping back down.  This up and down process would also create pain as the tender back of the victim rubbed against the rough timber, reopening wounds.  The victim would eventually wear down to the point where they had no more strength to continue this breathing process and, thus, suffocate.

bb.            Sacrifice accepted:  Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “It is finished!  Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” After crying out, Jesus bowed his head and breathed His last.


2.     What happened after Jesus died?

a.      The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

b.     A Roman centurion, when he saw the way Jesus died, said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

c.     In order to hasten the death, the order was given to break the legs of those crucified. This they did to the two other thieves. Jesus, being already dead, did not have his legs broken in order to fulfill prophecy.

d.     His side was pieced by a Roman spear: To insure that Jesus had really died, a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear.  Immediately blood and water flowed out.  The strenuous effect upon Jesus’ body had taken its toll.  Because Jesus died so soon and after crying with a loud voice, it is believe that He actually died of heart failure---a broken heart.  “Dr. Stroud (On the Physiological Cause of the Death of Christ, London, 1847) basing his remarks on numerous postmortems, pronounced the opinion that here we had a proof of the death of Christ being due not to the effects of crucifixion but to “laceration or rupture of the heart” as a consequence of supreme mental agony and sorrow. It is well attested that usually the suffering on the cross was very prolonged. It often lasted two or three days, when death would supervene from exhaustion. There were no physical reasons why Christ should not have lived very much longer on the cross than He did. On the other hand, death caused by laceration of the heart in consequence of great mental suffering would be almost instantaneous. In such a case the phrase “of a broken heart,” becomes literally true. The life blood flowing through the aperture or laceration into the pericardium or caul of the heart, being extravasated, soon coagulates into the red clot (blood) and the limpid serum (water). This accumulation in the heart-sac was released by the spear-thrust of the soldier (which here takes providentially the place of a postmortem without which it would have been impossible to determine the real cause of death), and from the gaping wound there flow the two component parts of blood distinctly visible.”  (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)


3.     Consider Jesus Christ

a.      Consider His sufferings

                                                  i.      Your Substitute

                                                ii.      Your sins

                                              iii.      Your trial

                                             iv.      Your sentence

                                               v.      Your punishment

                                             vi.      Your execution

b.     Look upon Him

                                                  i.      He loves you

                                                ii.      He is willing to forgive you

                                              iii.      He wants to give you a new beginning

c.     Call upon Him

                                                  i.      Come to Him

                                                ii.      Confess your sins

                                              iii.      Repent of your sins

                                             iv.      Believe in Him as your Savior and Lord

                                               v.      Receive His forgiveness

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