It is hard to imagine a more heinous form of capital punishment than crucifixion. In the ancient world, crucifixion was believed to be an effective punishment and was used often when an individual was being punished for robbery or rebellion. Jesus died on the cross and while his death is the ultimate sacrificial act, it is also one of the most horrific displays of inhumanity.
For years, theologians and historians have studied and pieced together the death of Jesus Christ. While some events remain unresolved and questionable, there are many facts we do know. It is important to separate the truth from revolving theories because it helps Christians better understand why Jesus’ sacrifice is still relevant and remains an act of faith that stands the test of time.
1. The cross was an implement of shame.
1 Corinthians 1: 18-21 ESV states, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
The message of salvation through faith in a crucified Savior was deemed foolishness and Paul refers to the cross as a stumbling block. The crucifixion of Christ is an emblem of the most atrocious of human obscenities. A person, Jesus Christ included, was nailed to the cross as a method of humiliation and embarrassment. Ultimately, the cross is more than a material for capital punishment – it is a public symbol of indecency and social indignity. Yet, so many people hold the cross up as the innate symbol of Christianity – when the reality is the cross is where Jesus was shamed.
2. Jesus Christ experienced hematohidrosis on the cross.
Records show that St. Luke recorded Jesus’ sweat turning into blood. Medically this is known as either hematidrosis or hemohidrosis and is caused when blood hemorrhages into the sweat glands. This is a rare condition; however, this can occur when an individual is in extreme physical pain or in persons with bleeding disorders.
The lacerations tore into Jesus’ skeletal muscles and produced ribbons of bleeding flesh – causing circulatory shock. The beating that Jesus received prior to being nailed on the cross is the cause for blood hemorrhaging.
3. We know what Jesus said about the cross.
In Luke, Jesus says:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…”
This saying is often referred to as “The Word of Forgiveness.” It is interpreted as Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness from the soldiers who were crucifying him, and the others involved in his execution. Even as he was committed to death, he believed that mankind was possible of greater good and second chances.
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Traditionally this phrase is referred to as “The Word of Salvation.” The Gospel of Luke mentions two thieves being crucified alongside Jesus. The two men are named Dismas and Gestas. One of the men believed in Jesus’ innocence. Jesus is telling the two men that he is standing by them and they will go heaven.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
This is called “The Word of Reunion” and many theologians believe this is the proclamation of Jesus joining God the Father in heaven. These were the last words of Jesus and they articulate Jesus’ faith and absolute trust in God – despite the horrible death he is experiencing. For Christians, this is the model of prayer that everyone is expected to adopt. In fear, sickness, and even in one’s death God is in control and will never leave their side.
4. The nails were not in Jesus’ palms.
Logistically, with today’s research and science, we know that nails through an individual’s palms would not support the body weight of an individual being crucified. Jesus died on the cross with nails inserted between the ulna and the radius. Obviously, this notion contradicts the description of Jesus’ injuries in the gospels.
In John 24:39 it states that Jesus had his hands pierced. Scholars have mulled over this for years, but the reality is none of the authors of the gospels were direct witnesses of the events. The earliest of the gospels, which is the Gospel of Mark, dates to c. AD 60-70 and that is approximately a generation after Jesus died on the cross. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to believe that there are some inaccuracies within the details. There’s no doubt that Jesus was covered in lacerations, blood and swelling, and a small oversight regarding the nail insertion location is really an honest mistake.
5. The pain inflicted on Jesus and His cause of death.
One of the most asked questions regarding the crucifixion of Christ is, “What did Jesus go through on the cross?” Clearly, the overall encompassing answer is extreme, indescribable pain. But it is clear, based on the history of crucifixions that the crucifixion itself is not the single reason for his death.
The beatings leading up to him being nailed on the cross created lacerations on Jesus’ body and created bleeding flesh ribbons everywhere on his body. Then he had to carry the cross – which is also a debated occurrence because the cross would have weighed somewhere around 300 pounds. However, any bearing of the cross would have created stress on Jesus’ body. Being fastened to the cross would make it incredibly difficult, and seemingly impossible to breathe because the position of the body produced a gradual process of asphyxiation. Jesus’ diaphragm and inner muscles became weak and exhausted – breaking his legs accelerated this process.
Historians believe that Jesus was on the cross for about six hours. Typically, a death by crucifixion takes 18 to 48 hours; however, in Jesus’ case it was shortened because of the monstrous beating he received prior to being nailed on the cross. Christians must remember the pain and shame that Jesus Christ endured because that is the only way their hearts won’t grow weary and lose faith, when they experience hurdles and opposition in their day-to-day life.