The Romans Issued the Most Brutal and Agonizing Death Penalty the World has Ever Known by an Execution Style Called, ‘Crucifixion’ and Jesus Endured this to Pay for Our Sins
“Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:16).
This is the central verse of an amazing prophecy that details the suffering and death of Jesus Christ 1,000 years before his birth. In fact, we see details of a form of capital punishment known as “crucifixion” that didn’t even exist at the time this prophecy was written. It was not until the 1st Century AD that the Roman Empire instituted this horrible form of capital punishment to enforce their will upon the world.
Crucifixion typically began with a scourging or flogging of the victim’s back. The Romans used a whip called a “flagrum”, which consisted of small pieces of bone and metal attached to a number of leather strands. The number of blows given to Jesus is not recorded; however, the number of blows in Jewish law was 39 (one less than the 40 called for in the Torah, to prevent an accidental counting error). During the scourging, the skin was ripped from the back, exposing a bloody mass of tissue and bone. Extreme blood loss occurred, often causing death, or at least unconsciousness. In addition to the flogging, Jesus faced severe beating and torment by the Roman soldiers, including the plucking of His beard and the piercing of His scalp with a crown of thorns.
After the flogging, the victim was often forced to carry his own crossbar, or “patibulum”, to the execution site. The patibulum could easily weigh 100 pounds. In the case of Jesus, the record shows that he may have carried His patibulum the distance of over two football fields. In a weak and tormented state, it’s no wonder that Jesus needed a great deal of assistance. Once the victim arrived at the execution site, the patibulum was put on the ground and the victim was forced to lie on it. Spikes about 7 inches long and 3/8 of an inch in diameter were driven into the wrists. The spikes would hit the area of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain up the arms to the shoulders and neck. Already standing at the crucifixion site would be the 7-foot-tall post, called a “stipes”. In the center of the stipes was a crude wooden “seat” that offered minimal support for the victim. The patibulum was then lifted on to the stipes, and the victim’s body was awkwardly turned on the seat so the feet could be nailed to the stipes. At this point, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in dislocation at the shoulder and elbow joints.
The position of the nailed body held the victim’s rib cage in a fixed position, which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. Having suffered from the scourging, the beatings and the walk with the patibulum, Jesus was described as extremely weak and dehydrated. He was probably losing significant amounts of blood. As time passed, the loss of blood and lack of oxygen would cause severe cramps, spasmodic contractions and probably unconsciousness.
Ultimately, the mechanism of death in crucifixion was suffocation. To breathe, the victim was forced to push up on his feet to allow for inflation of the lungs. As the body weakened and pain in the feet and legs became unbearable, the victim was forced to trade breathing for pain and exhaustion. Eventually, the victim would succumb in this way, becoming utterly exhausted or lapsing into unconsciousness so that he could no longer lift his body off the stipes and inflate his lungs. Due to the shallow breathing, the victim’s lungs would begin to collapse, causing hypoxia. Due to the loss of blood from the scourging, the victim formed a respiratory acidosis, resulting in an increased strain on the heart, which beats faster to compensate. Fluid would build up in the lungs. Under the stress of hypoxia and acidosis, the heart would eventually fail.
There are several different theories on the exact cause of Jesus’ death. One theory is that there was a filling of the pericardium with fluid, which put a fatal strain on the ability of His heart to pump blood. Another theory states that Jesus died of cardiac rupture. Another postulates that Jesus’ death was “multifactorial and related primarily to hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia and perhaps acute heart failure.” Regardless of the actual medical cause the historic record is very clear — Jesus did not succumb to the physical suffering of the cross until it was his time. The Apostle John, his most loved disciple, and an eye witness of Jesus’ final moment writes this:
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
“It is finished!” The moment before his death, Jesus declared that the payment for our sin was paid in full We no longer need to fear that we must suffer for the guilt of our sin. He declared that everything that needed to be done so that God could forgive us was accomplished, and when the Roman soldier came to his cross to break his legs to put him out of his agony, like the two thieves who died with him, there was no need. Unlike any other man, Jesus gave up his spirit to death only when he was ready.
The Crucifixion was the Ultimate Example of How Our Sins Should Have Been Punished, But it is Also the Ultimate of Example of God’s Love Towards Us
Check out Psalm 22 for yourself and ask whether or not it is a graphic picture of Jesus’ crucifixion. Then turn to Psalm 34:20 and compare it with John 19:36. There was a reason why the soldier didn’t break one of Jesus’ bones.
How could all this have been prophesied a thousand years before Jesus died? Why did Jesus willing sacrifice himself like this and how did this death unite God’s love and His justice? What is your personal stance about the power and meaning of Christ’s death on the cross?
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