The Romans issued the most brutal and agonizing death penalty the world has ever known—crucifixion. Jesus endured this to pay the price for our sins.

When the soldiers were satisfied with 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. Once the victim arrived at the execution site, the patibulum was laid out on the ground and the victim was forced to lie on it. Spikes that were approximately 7” long and ⅜” in diameter were driven into the wrists. The spikes would hit the area of the median nerve, sending shocks of pain up the arms to the shoulders and neck. Already standing at the crucifixion site would be the 7’ 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 a tremendous strain on the wrists, arms, and shoulders, resulting in the dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints.

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, becoming utterly exhausted or lapsing into unconsciousness so that he could no longer lift his body off the stipes to inflate his lungs. Due to the shallow breathing, the victim’s lungs would begin to collapse, causing hypoxia. The loss of blood from the scourging caused an increased strain on the heart which would beat faster to compensate. Fluid would build up in the lungs. Eventually, the heart would fail.

There are several theories about the exact cause of Jesus’ death. One theory is that there was a filling of the pericardium (the sac in which the heart resides) 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. Regardless of the actual medical cause, the historical record is very clear—Jesus did not succumb to the physical suffering of the cross until it was his time.

The Apostle John, Jesus’ most loved disciple and an eye witness of his final moment writes this:

The crucifixion should have been the ultimate example of the cost of our sin. Instead, it became the ultimate example of God’s love for 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 any of Jesus’ bones.

How could all this have been prophesied a thousand years before Jesus died? Why did Jesus willingly sacrifice himself like this and how did his death unite God’s love and His justice? What do you believe about the power and meaning of Christ’s death on the cross?

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Sources: Randall Niles,,, and