Crucifixion was not devised by the Romans, but by the Carthaginians hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. However, the Romans truly refined it to new heights of cruelty that would prolong the death of the condemned person as long as humanly possible. Let’s put it this way, anyone who might have witnessed a Roman crucifixion would definitely think long and hard before doing anything that might anger the Romans in charge. As a matter of fact, the Romans themselves considered it so inhumane that they would not allow Roman criminals to be executed in this fashion.
When it comes to the crucifixion in the gospels they present two key ideas: the mockery of the executioner’s tools and the majesty of God’s plan of redemption through the cross.
The only place where the crucifixion is graphically portrayed is in Psalm 22, the gospels simply do not go into great detail. There is no reason for them to do so since everyone living during the time of the Romans completely understood just how horrific of a death it was. But for us, we truly have no idea to what extent that Christ was so truly willing to go in order to redeem our souls.
John 19:18 – “There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.”
The Torture of the Cross
The cross would be laid on the ground and the condemned would be laid on it. The nails were 9 to 12 inches long and they were driven into the wrists. This would drive the nails through their main nerve center leading to the hand and would keep them from pulling their hands off the cross. Feet were overlapped and nailed to a pedestal. Then they would hoist the cross up with ropes and drop it abruptly into a hole and the cross would crash into the hole with a thud. This alone would be excruciatingly painful because more than likely this would have caused their shoulders to separate and elbows dislocate.
Crucifixion was sadistic, first the nailing to the cross then ultimate death through suffocation. Because the way the arms were positioned the chest would be constricted and the only way to breathe was for the person to pull themselves up off the nail in the feet from the pedestal. This would give the lungs a little chance to get much needed air. But the person on the cross couldn’t handle the pain all that long and would have to release themselves. This would continue over and over again in order to try to keep from suffocating. Because of this the body gets no rest.
Now add the internal crisis going on. The circulation of the blood has been hindered by the damage put on so many blood vessels, so this mean that more blood was going to the brain than could be returned to the body which caused extremely intense pressure causing even more unbelievable pain. The suffering of crucifixion actually goes well beyond what our civilized minds can even begin to grasp.
Crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals and was even a horrible way to treat a rabid animal. Yet this was the suffering and treatment that was laid upon the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Savior. It is completely unfathomable that Jesus had to endure such treatment and it is unnerving or should be unnerving to think that it was the sin of mankind, our sin that was so vile that this was the only way in which we could be redeemed!
Let us not forget that even more was done to Jesus that those on each side of him. Before he was placed on the cross he had already faced and endured unspeakable torture of being whipped with whips made of glass and hooks, tearing the skin from his body. Imagine the agony he must have felt when his raw back come into contact with the harsh wood of the cross.
The Cross’s Humiliation
John 19: 23-24 “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be’; this was to fulfill the Scripture – ‘THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS'”
There was more to crucifixion than ultimately death, but it was also to impose as much humiliation as possible. Clothing for the 1st century Jewish man was five pieces of clothing: shoes, turban, belt, loincloth and the outer tunic. The soldiers divided all of Jesus’ clothing, each piece for the four of them and then since there was a fifth piece left, the tunic they drew lots to see which of the four soldiers would get the tunic. This means that Jesus was left left with no shred of human dignity as He suffered on the cross. This heartbreaking fulfillment of Psalm 22 had the soldiers stripping Jesus naked.
Matthew 27:36 “Sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there.”
The soldiers sat down instead of standing guard because they had become so callous to such torture that it meant nothing to them that even an innocent man was being slowly destroyed before their eyes. This demonstrates just how easily all mankind can be to absolving themselves of any responsibility for our own destructive behavior. This is why it is impossible to begin to honor this historical sacrifice of the cross in our own lives if we cannot grasp the true reality that even though you and I were not there when it happened it is still us, mankind, who caused it to happen! When we look upon His Cross, what do we see? Do we truly believe that we are the ones that put Him there? Do we see Him truly as the Savior and Lord of our souls or are we more like the soldiers, our own gaze passing by with a numbness that simply keeps us from really feeling the weight of His agony for us?
The Mockery of the Cross
Matthew 27:37-44 “Above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ at that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying,’He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE HIM now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.”
There Were Three Groups of Mockers
Passersby – These people were probably not part of the original crowd that had shouted “Crucify Him!” The crucifixion site was right by a major entry point to Jerusalem and those entering the city seem to immediately embrace the sport of tormenting crucified people.
Chief Priests, Scribes, Elders – These were the ones who formed the religious establishment of the Jewish faith and were an institutionalized group of leaders who very often got stung by the condemnation of Jesus. They were suppose to be very formal and professional men, but Luke reports on how they were “sneering at Him”.
Thieves – In the beginning both of the thieves next to Jesus were mocking him but as the day went on, the one thief begins to what the soldiers, crowd and religious fail to see and that is who Christ really was. Because of this he repents and believes and is saved by Jesus while still clinging to life on the Cross Himself.
Three Different Themes of Mockery
One theme was denying the power of Christ as they taunted him about if He was the Son of God that He could come down off the cross. Their statements nearly echo the words of Satan during the testings of Christ in the desert. This crowd was simply working under the assumption that it was weakness that kept Jesus on the cross, when in reality it was His omnipotent strength that kept Him there.
The next theme of mockery they denied the purpose of Christ. “He saved others; He cannot save Himself.” What a flawed perspective they had at the root of their beliefs. They even had the audacity to imply that Satan powered His miracles because if it were God who had powered His miracles then God would not allow Him to be up on the cross to begin with. Even with all the prophesies coming true and the testament of Christ Himself, they still did not understand why He had come and who He really was. His mission was not to save himself but to give of Himself, the mission being fulfilled right before their very own eyes yet they denied it to be true. They scoffed at Him saying if He’d come down from the cross that then they would believe Him. Not true. Come on, if they could not and would not believe in Him after He healed the sick, cast out demons and even raised the dead, they were never going to believe Him no matter what He did.
Finally the third theme of mockery was that they denied the person of Christ. “Let God rescue Him now if He delights in Him!” When the priests said this they were sarcastically quoting Psalm 22 which they claimed to believe to be messianic and used the words of the Psalm to attack His relationship with His Father. They might have well said “Your Father has no love for you, no concern for you nor has He any time for you!” What makes this mockery so heartbreaking is that they did it based on scriptural statements but their understanding of those scriptural statements were way off point and misguided.
No one knows for sure how long all of this dreadful mocking lasted but it could have been three hours, while most of this taunting Jesus, the Living Word was totally silent. But when He finally spoke, He thought only of them, who were mocking and torturing Him “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.” This expresses the immense depth of His divine love for all of us, even those who turned their backs on Him and refused without second thought, to believe in who He really was and is for us today and always. He didn’t even consider declaring His innocence, which He had every right to do, He did not call out for His own personal deliverance, He didn’t destroy them in vengeance, and He had the power to do so. Instead, the Son of God, hanging suffering on the cross, cried out in pity for all of humanity and called out asking for His Father to have mercy on them!
There probably is nowhere else in the history of mankind where we can so clearly see the great capacity of the human heart to rebel, hate and pour out wickedness onto a sinless soul such as Jesus Christ. However, rising out of that horrible darkness of evil is the glorious cross standing there in triumph proclaiming the overwhelming magnitude of the love that God has for His children. When we gaze upon the foot of the Cross, we are looking upon one of the most pivotal moments in all of human history. It is the most dramatic display of love that the world has ever seen and will ever see! All of our eternity hangs on the events that surrounded that moment in time.
The Pure Majesty of the Cross
Because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all humans are said to be born under a death sentence. It is our penalty as a fallen people. However, death was not Jesus’ penalty, it was His destiny. It was simply His purpose statement for coming to earth on that first Christmas. He was “born to die”.
When it comes to the fulfillment of Christ’s mission we see our Savior fulfilling His destiny that had Him saying to Pilate: “For this I have been born.” (John 18:37) The Son of God dies, but in splendor and majesty, not in defeat and loss.
The crucifixion is said to cover about six hours. The gospel writers capture a series of seven things that Christ says while dying on the Cross of Salvation. Some refer to these as the “Seven Last Words”. The first three statements that Christ makes during these six hours are considered horizontal in nature and describe the conclusion of His dealings with mankind.
Forgiveness – “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Redemption – To the thief on the cross next to Him; “Amen, Amen, I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Compassion – When Jesus looked upon the face of His suffering mother and John, the disciple whom He loved standing with her, He said these compassionate words to His mother “Woman, behold, your son!” And then He said to His disciple “Behold, your mother!” And from that moment on John took her into his own home and cared for as his own mother.
With those three things, Jesus took care of those who were around Him during His dying moments and knew then that He could move onto the ultimate task that was at hand. This is where his final four statements are engaging His Father. These are statements that express all of the spiritual aspects of Jesus’ work.
Readiness – “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty'” (John 19:28)
Fulfillment – “Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30)
Release – “Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 27:37)
The Majesty of Compassion
There were four women that no one seemed to notice or care about during the crucifixion. But, Jesus noticed them. As He gazed down from His Cross whom did He see?
Mary, His mother – There Mary was, experiencing exactly what Simeon had told her many years before when he said to her that “a sword will pierce even your own soul.” (Luke 2:35)
Salome, Mary’s sister – The wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John (Mark 15:40, Matthew 27:56)
Mary, the wife of Clopas – Some say this was the mother of James “the Less” and maybe even the other Judas.
Mary Magdalene – The woman whom Jesus saved from seven demons.
By being there for Christ, these four woman showed the true depth of their love for Him. Even though at one time Jesus rebuked Salome, she was still there. His main focus as He gazed down upon these four loving women, His main focus was on His mother and in deep compassion for her loneliness and loss, He asked John, the only disciple who had the courage to stand before the Cross of Christ his Master, if He would take Mary into his home and become her son and he her son. Once He knew that His beloved mother would be cared for He knew He could continue the awful task of becoming the true Lamb of God in a sin bearing sacrifice for a very lost human race.
The Majesty of Corruption
“Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?’ that is, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?'” (Matthew 27: 45-46)
At this time, it was midday and even though the sky should have been filled with sun during this time of the day in Judea, the seemed that even the light of creation had turned itself off. The apostle Paul will later describe it in this manner “He (the Father) made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ)” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This is exactly what Isaiah prophesied when he wrote this, “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:6. In that horrible moment, God decided to lay all of our sins on the sinless and utterly pure Lamb and both creation and the Creator responded to this horrendous transaction.
During that horrible moment, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom as the earth quaked and trembled and behind the scene of these events God the Father was at work. When the veil that guarded the Holy of Holies in the temple was torn apart, it made it possible for all who cam in the name of Christ to have “access through faith” (Eph. 3:12) to the very presence of God.
The darkening of the sun was considered by some to be an emblem of mourning and the Jewish religious leaders believed an even like this was connected to the coming of the Messiah. But this was far beyond any natural explanation. It wasn’t any eclipse since it happened during the Passover full moon and the darkness was way to deep and intense for it to be some sort of natural storm. So, the most reasonable explanation for it would be that God had done it. Maybe He was allowing creation to mourn its Creator or maybe He was keeping the sinful eyes of humans from watching the terrible, yet glorious expression of grace offered up by Jesus on the cross.
God the Father’s Response – The Father did more than just respond with this darkness. He was silent, dead silent. This was a silence that the suffering sin bearer, His Son, Jesus, received as abandonment.
Christ’s Response He responded as well at this very moment with two different declarations of pain that were directed to His Father in heaven! “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It was the all the anticipation in Gethsemane that had finally reached all the horrors on Calvary. Christ’s rejection at the hands of His own children was magnified a million times over by the separation from His own Father for the very first time in all of eternity! Even though the Son of God had never sinned in His life, the despair and anguished cry “My God” showed the pleading of a desperate sinner, for now Jesus was experiencing the full weight of isolation because of it.
The moment that Jesus took our sins upon himself on that cross, the holiness of God the Father simply could and would not allow the Father to remain in communion with His Son, Jesus. It was the sheer ugliness of our sins that forced Him to turn away from His very own Son. What anguish Jesus must felt at that very moment, the isolation that comes with being torn away from His Father. What Christ must have glimpsed was Hell itself, being totally separated from God!
After the feeling of abandonment and isolation had played its part He knew that all things had already been accomplished in order to fulfill the Scripture. John tells us in 19: 28-29 “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth.”
When Christ cried out “I am thirsty!” He wasn’t thirsty for water or wine but for regaining His fellowship and the presence of His Father, He was asking for this to be restored to Him! He had deeply felt all of the words of Psalm 42:2, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?”
With His suffering complete He wanted His communion back with His Father in Heaven. Now all that was left for Him to do was to announce the victory of the Cross, a victory that would provide the final solution for the problem of all the sin for all people.
The Majesty of Completion
“Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.” (John 19:30)
In Greek “It is finished” or “tetelestai” means “It is completed” or “I have done it!” Matthew says that Jesus’ last words were cried with a loud voice, which meant that this was His victory shout!
Jesus throughout His entire mission was completely committed to the will of His Father’s plan and He carried His commitment all the way to the very bitter end, “…obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phile. 2:8) “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work'” (John 4:34). “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17:4)
Yes, Christ had done it all! He didn’t leave any of His work incomplete, there was no love unshared, no suffering that was not accomplished. He had willingly completed all the things that the Father has asked and sent Him to do. Now, no more sacrifices would be required of Him and no more ritual would need to be done. As a pure gift of eternal grace, Jesus Christ the Son of God had completed salvation, once for all, for each and every one of us.
The Majesty of Control
“Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father into Your hands I commit My Spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:46)
Jesus Christ retained His regal composure here. He had willingly become the ransom for all suffering and death. All that was left for Him to do was to die. But even in death He was in control. On the cross He sought out the pardon from His Father, for all the sinful people of the world and at that instant He carried the entire weight of ALL the sins of the entire world on His shoulders and at the split second He cried “My God!” with the reckless cry of abandonment the deed was done, and He again cried out “Father!” Mission accomplished, relationship restored!
Jesus simply and powerfully fulfilled His own words of purpose, words that truly showed His control when He said:
“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10: 17-18)
Submissive to the Father’s eternal love and always obedient to His Father’s will, at the end, Jesus committed His Spirit to the Father and died with honor and glory.
May we all embrace the Cross of Christ as our own so that He might capture our hearts with His grace and blanket us with His mercy.