Updated: Apr 13, 2020
Our Bible study group was studying about crucifixion because we are working on learning apologetics. When going over the scourging of Jesus one woman commented she was so uncomfortable with this topic and wondered why it was relevant. While it is a disturbing topic, one we would rather not think about, it is important to know about the crucifixion process. First, because there are going to be people we encounter who are skeptical. In order for Jesus to be resurrected, He had to die. We should know the proof of His death to be able to explain it to others. Second, understanding what our Lord willingly suffered and that it was out of His unfailing love for us that He did, makes our heart all the more grateful to celebrate "He is risen!" on Easter Sunday. Understanding crucifixion helps us defend our faith and adds to our faith.
Christianity hinges on the resurrection. If it didn’t happen our faith is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) In order for belief in the resurrection we must know He died.
We profess He was crucified, died and was buried.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with people shouting, "Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!" In just a few days Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, humiliated and sentenced. Pilate had Jesus scourged and handed Him over to be crucified.
They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him,... (Mark 15:19)
Crucifixion was the most brutal way to die ever invented. It was designed to inflict the most amount of humiliation and suffering as possible.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.
These prophetic words of Isaiah were written about 700 B.C. Crucifixion wasn't even invented yet. Sure the brutal Assyrians skinned people alive and hung their heads on spikes placed along a road to a city. The Babylonians were also brutal. But the first historically recorded crucifixion was done by the Persians in 519 B.C. The Romans perfected it though. They were experts according to all the historical records of crucifixions. It was done in public with everyone to witness. They began with a brutal scourging that was called the "pre-death." Followed by carrying your crossbeam to where you would be crucified. You were stripped naked. Nailed to the post and hoisted up. Roman crucifixions are well documented and were extremely brutal. They were meant to deter anyone from crossing the Roman government.
The crucifixion of Jesus has been established as a historical event not only in the biblical accounts but has also been confirmed by non-Christian sources. No one questions the historicity that Jesus was crucified.
They began a crucifixion with a scourging. Romans gave at least 39 lashes, but were not limited to that. We aren't told in the biblical text how many lashes Jesus got. They used a flagrum. A Roman flagrum consisted of several leather thongs on a handle and the thongs would have metal and bone at the end. The metal balls were to cause bruising, breaking capillaries and the bone on the flagrum would rip at the skin. It would shred the skin of the victim and often exposed the internal organs. It caused incredible bleeding. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders, down the back, to the buttocks and legs. The victim would experience hypovolemic shock which is the effects of losing a large amount of blood. The heart races, the blood pressure drops, the kidneys stop producing urine, and the person becomes very thirsty. Some victims wouldn't even survive it. The fact that Jesus could not carry His own cross is evidence He must have been in very bad shape.
This is a horrific scene from the 2004 The Passion of the Christ movie. It is extremely difficult to watch, but is historically accurate of what a Roman scourging would have been like.
The nails would have been driven through Jesus' wrists. The hands could not support the body and the nails would have torn through the hands. The wrists were considered part of the hand in that culture. This is where the median nerve runs. The nerve in each wrist would have been crushed and caused intense pain. From archeological evidence of other crucifixions we know the nail driven through His feet would have been about 7 inches long. Again it would have been driven through His nerves crushing them. The pain would have been excruciating. In fact that is how that word "excruciating" came about. It literally means 'out of the cross.'
Breathing on a Cross:
Hung on a cross with your wrists and feet nailed to it, legs slightly bent you would find it difficult to breath. Hanging there your breath is inhaled. To exhale you would have to push up, scraping your torn back and legs against the wood. To inhale go down. To exhale push up. Eventually the person becomes exhausted, can no longer push themselves up to breathe, and dies within minutes. Crucifixion is an agonizing slow death by asphyxiation.
No Broken Bones: A person hanging on the cross has to push up with their feet to breathe. If the Romans wanted to speed up the person's death, one of the things they would do is break the person's legs so they could no longer push up to exhale. Then they would die within minutes. In Jesus' case with the Sabbath coming the crucifixion had to end before sundown. The Romans broke the legs of the thieves being crucified with Jesus (John 19:32.) But when they got to Jesus, He was already dead. The bones of Jesus were not broken.
This fulfills the messianic prophecy that His bones would remain unbroken. He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:20) In addition there were strict restrictions for the Passover lamb. Exodus 12:46 tells us "nor are you to break any bone of it." This command is repeated in Numbers 9:12.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) His bones had to remain unbroken because Jesus was the Passover lamb. John 19:36 "For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, "NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN."
Piercing Jesus' Side:
The Roman soldiers made sure Jesus was dead by piercing His side. John 19:34 tells us - But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
Roman soldiers were skilled at killing people. If they didn't do their job, they themselves would be killed. That gave them some incentive to be sure the person was really dead. But it is the "blood and water" coming out of Jesus' side which proves it. The Roman soldier's spear apparently went through Jesus' lung and into His heart. When the spear was pulled out, fluid came out. After the pre-death (the scourging) the victim would go into hypovolemic shock. This causes heart failure resulting in fluid in the membrane around the heart which is called a pericardial effusion. There would have also been fluid develop around the lungs which is called a pleural effusion. This piercing the lung and heart would have caused seeing some clear fluid like "water" come out, followed by a large volume of blood coming out. Exactly like John tells us in his gospel.
Hold on - John's gospel says "blood and water," not "water and blood." This isn't an issue because the order of words in ancient Greek was determined not necessarily by sequence but by prominence. Even though the fluid would have actually come out clear liquid and then blood - there would have been a lot more blood than clear liquid. Ancient Greek word order is the amount not the sequence.
This fulfills the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:5 which tells us He was pierced through for our transgressions. And in Zechariah 12:10, ...they will look on Me whom they have pierced;...
There is no doubt that Jesus died on the cross because of the historical, archeological and medical information we have. All scholars agree on this - whether they are believers or not.