What was the Crucifixion like?

What was the extent of the physical suffering Jesus endured at the crucifixion?  Consider that the English word “excruciating” is from the Latin meaning “out of the crucifixion.”  I’ve found that the best way to comprehend the magnitude of the Christ’s physical suffering on Good Friday is to read the following description that we’ve adapted from the work of medical doctor, C. Truman Davis (see I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 380-383).  The short video above also illustrates the kind of brutal punishment Christ took to pay for our sins.

WARNING:  THIS IS GRAPHIC (You may have a difficult time getting through it).

The whip the Roman soldiers use on Jesus has small iron balls and sharp pieces of sheep bones tied to it. Jesus is stripped of his clothing, and his hands are tied to an upright post. His back, buttocks, and legs are whipped either by one soldier or by two who alternate positions. The soldiers taunt their victim. As they repeatedly strike Jesus’ back with full force, the iron balls cause deep contusions, and the sheep bones cut into the skin and tissues. As the whipping continues, the lacerations tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss set the stage for circulatory shock.

When it is determined by the centurion in charge that Jesus is near death, the beating is finally stopped. The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with his own blood. The Roman soldiers see a great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They throw a robe across his shoulders and place a stick in his hand for a scepter. They still need a crown to make their travesty complete. A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long thorns are plaited into the shape of a crown, and this is pressed into his scalp. Again there is copious bleeding (the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body). After mocking him and striking him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from his hand and strike him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into his scalp.

Finally, when they tire of their sadistic sport, the robe is torn from his back. The robe had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal—just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage—causes excruciating pain, almost as though he were being whipped again. The wounds again begin to bleed. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans return his garments. The heavy horizontal beam of the cross is tied across his shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution party walk along the Via Dolorosa. In spite of his efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss,

is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance. The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus follows, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock.

The 650-yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed. Jesus is again stripped of his clothes except for a loin cloth which is allowed the Jews. The crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild pain-killing mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the cross beam on the ground, and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tight, but to allow some flexibility and movement. The beam is then lifted, and the title reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The victim Jesus is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places his full weight on the nail through his feet. Again, there is the searing agony of the nail tear- ing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet. At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed, and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. It is undoubtedly during these periods that he utters the seven short sentences that are recorded.

Now begin hours of this limitless pain, cycles of cramping and twisting, partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins. A deep, crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over— the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally he can allow his body to die. With one last surge of strength, he once again presses his torn feet against the nail, straightens his legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters his seventh and last cry: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus went through all of that so you and I could be reconciled to him; so you and I could be saved from our sins by affirming, Father, into your hands I commit my life.  If you haven’t done that, why not?

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26 replies
  1. Chris Dean says:

    As wonderfully accurate and precise this physical description is of Jesus death was, while it was necessary for His blood to be shed for our sins to be remitted, it wasn’t sufficient in and of itself for our salvation.

    In addition to Jesus’ physical death, He need to spiritually bear the wrath of the Father poured out full strength culminating with His “forsaking” of Jesus at the end of the crucifixion as He was imputationally “made sin” on our behalf. Just as our sin is an infinite offense against the infinitely holy God, the punishment we deserve, the wrath that God has for that sin is correspondingly infinite. And that’s why infinite God Himself in the person and work of the infinite God-Man Jesus had to bear that infinite burden on our behalf, otherwise we’d spend an infinite amount of time bearing His wrath in Hell.

    It is a strong proof of Jesus’ divinity, if you ask me – that only infinite God could bear the infinite weight and pay the infinite price God demanded for our sins. To quote D.A. Carson “In Christian propitiation, God the Father sets forth Jesus as the propitiation to make himself propitious; God is both the subject and the object of propitiation. God is the one who provides the sacrifice precisely as a way of turning aside his own wrath. God the Father is thus the propitiator and the propitiated, and God the Son is the propitiation.”

    To God be all the glory, great things He has done!

    Reply
  2. moose says:

    if “god” is going to judge us, why does “god” need a condition 4 forgiveness? and why is “gods” condition 4 forgiveness that a barbaric act of violence has to take place? why won’t god just say—i can forgive u 4 your sins, but you need to go climb up a tree first? but i guess the christian god can’t do that huh? doesn’t that sound a little more humane and less disgusting? why not just forgive (to those that ask 4 forgiveness) without the bizarre condition like this? god is god right? god can do whatever god wants right? god can forgive w/out condition right? i can forgive w/ out condition–if u punch me in the nose and say i am sorry–i will forgive you without condition–does that mean i can do something “god” can’t? (forgive w/out a bizarre condition)

    hypothetically—if “jesus” was who you think he was, what if he was never crucified? what would that mean? would that mean then that “god” would say—-i am sorry i can’t forgive anyone 4 their sins and you will all have to go to hell?

    Reply
    • Frank Turek says:

      Good question Moose. If I understand your point correctly, you are asking why God can’t just forgive sin without anyone paying for it. Because then He wouldn’t be Just. God is infinitely Loving but also Infinitely Just. The only way to satisfy both infinite and unchangable standards is to punish an innocent substitute in his place. Paul explains this in Romans 3:26: that Christ is remains Just as He is the Justifier of sinners who trust in Christ.

      If you commit a crime by stealing $5000, and the judge is your father, he can’t let you off without punishment. If he’s going to be just, he must punish you. But he can remain just if he freely chooses to pay back the $5000 and any other penalty for you. Simply saying, “I forgive you” doesn’t do justice. Someone is still out $5000 and needs to be compensated.

      Reply
      • moose says:

        frank–when you say that god is infinitely just–how do you know what :just” means according to “god”. how does anyone know what “god’s” ideas of justice is according to “god”–no one knows, all you can do is rely on philosophy and ancient holy books–holy books authored by who???

        when you say that someone commits a crime by stealing $5,000.00–the person commiting the crime does deserve his/her punishment on this earth in his/her lifetime–we all agree with that. does that person deserve a 2nd punishment again in some afterlife? if so why?

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          Moose, I struggle with this as well but I think the “2nd” punishment would only occur if the person in prison did not repent? Only God knows that? I agree with you, and do not like the idea of hell either. But if christianity is true, it does not matter what I think, because everything belongs to God and he makes rules.

          Reply
  3. Thinker says:

    First off, I am not Frank….

    Moose stated: “when you say that someone commits a crime by stealing $5,000.00–the person commiting the crime does deserve his/her punishment on this earth in his/her lifetime–we all agree with that. does that person deserve a 2nd punishment again in some afterlife? if so why?”

    I think a good example here would be if a child got in trouble for back talking or searing at a teacher at school. Almost certainly, the child would get detention, miss recess, whatever. If the teacher were to call home and tell the parents what happened, and they decided to punish the child as well, would you also consider that a “second punishment”? What if it was your child and you told them they were grounded for a week because of what they said to their teacher, and they came back and said “you can’t do that, I have already been punished at school”. No reasonable parent would buy that. Why? Because though there was one “offense”, ultimately two entities were impacted. The teacher and school, when the child when the child disobeyed their rule, and the parents when the child disobeyed their rule. Similarly, when someone steals $5000, they not only disobey society’s law (with an equivalent punishment if they get caught), but also God’s law as well.

    I wish I had more time to address some of your other comments….maybe later this week.

    Reply
    • moose says:

      thinker–there are so many absurdities with the idea of hell, i dont even know where to begin. it is the main reason i am no longer a christian. obviously there is no reason to believe it. the idea was invented by who? ancient cavemen

      Reply
      • Thinker says:

        Moose – you could “begin” to address the alleged “absurdities” by addressing the details of my original response back to you. It’s unclear to me if you even read what I wrote back to you based on your post.

        Cavemen, what?????

        Reply
  4. Stephen B says:

    “No reasonable parent would buy that. Why? Because though there was one “offense”, ultimately two entities were impacted.”

    Sorry, I consider myself a reasonable parent and I think one punishment here sounds quite reasonable. Two punishments for the same single act of naughtiness sounds eminently UNreasonable. And for the second punishment to be an infinite one, when the crime was certainly finite, sounds utterly absurd.

    Reply
  5. Thinker says:

    Well, I appreciate your comment, but I guess we’ll just disagree with that one from a parenting perspective.

    Let me ask you this then. Based on this rationale, what if someone was convicted of a crime and also sued in civil court for punitive damages. Assuming they were convicted in criminal court, would you agree your line of thinking could be extended to preclude a second civil judgement against them since they are already paying for their crime with the punishment from the criminal trial? Would that not be “two punishments for the single act of naughtiness”?

    Reply
    • Stephen B says:

      One is punishment, the other repaying damages caused, and therefore not actually a punishment. This isn’t analogous to punishment from God – an infinite being hasn’t been damaged, and at any rate punishment in the afterlife of a human being isn’t going to repair that damage for the infinite being. None of this makes sense.

      Reply
      • JJ says:

        Stephen, I think maybe the disconnect is in the concept of “eternal punishment”. There are multiple human definitions of “hell”, but the one consistency is that it is outside the presence of a holy God. No God has not been harmed, but if you choose to live without Him, then you are (and will be) outside His presence. It’s not about punishment for harming God, it is about showing the desire to be with Him.

        Reply
  6. Thinker says:

    Actually, I specifically stated punitive damages, which by definition are “Monetary compensation awarded to an injured party that goes beyond that which is necessary to compensate the individual for losses and that is intended to punish the wrongdoer.” Punitive is not about repaying damages, hence my use in the example. Would you agree that punitive damages are also wrong, extrapolating your original example? The reason I ask is you implied this type of double punishment is unreasonable in the case of a child talking back at school, yet is well accepted within our society, so obviously this line of logic is “reasonable” to many people.

    Who said God was “damaged”? Is a judge or jury personally damaged by a DUI defendant who they convict and sent to jail (unless they happened to be injured by them)? Not at all, but they are still applying justice based on law, even if they themselves were not specifically hurt by the crime.

    Reply
  7. Luke says:

    Thinker wrote: Is a judge or jury personally damaged by a DUI defendant who they convict and sent to jail (unless they happened to be injured by them)? Not at all…

    It’s funny how differently people can see the world.

    What’s so clear to Thinker, seems so wrong to me.

    There was recently a tragedy in my city: a drunk driver accelerated into a crowd of people on a sidewalk killing several and injuring many. I was several miles away at the time, as were most people I know. To say none of us were “personally damaged” by this (or any other incident, even on a smaller scale) seems cold and honestly just wrong to me. I’m not stating this as a critique of what Thinker has said here; it just surprises me sometimes how differently we see things.

    Many, many years ago, I was on a jury dealing with the death of small child at the hands of an adult. We learned about this case in such great detail and through such heartbreak that perhaps it’s just influenced how I think about these things. No man is an island, it’s been said. That case taught me perhaps more than anything how true that can be.

    Luke

    Reply
  8. Thinker says:

    Luke,

    I by no means meant to sound insensitive to this issue. Maybe “not at all” was too strong a term. I read the paper and am grieved by some of the stories, and also have friends in law enforcement and the fire service who deal with tragedy all the time. It is not easy. I guess my ultimate point was that justice delivered does not ultimately have to come from the injured party (hence why an infinite God not directly hurt is still justified in justice).

    Reply
      • Louie says:

        Stephen & Thinker:
        I cannot recall God being hurt in the bible; upset perhaps, dissappointed maybe, but not hurt. I see it as though he is a the judge in courtroom, except he has the truth, can read your heart, and knows the punishment that fits the crime.

        Reply
      • Thinker says:

        Why could an infinite being not allow themselves to feel grief / pain if they are the author of love? A truly inifinite being would not only have the power to shield themselves from everything (if they so chose), but also allow themselves to experience it as well.

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          Who are you speaking of? Jesus or God? Jesus felt it for sure. I’ve not read any passages in bible that tell me God feels pain.

          Reply
  9. Robert says:

    This whole crucifixion makes no sense. God must sacrifice himself to himself so that he can then do something else (forgive sin). If God has to run this rigmarole then he is the victim of circumstance just like the rest of us. Not such an awesome God after all.

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      Then again, here we are talking about it 2000 years after it happened, so it worked. If he’d just said, “You are forgiven” and walked away, I doubt we’d still be talking about that, actions speak louder than words. You and I can relate to that pain he must have felt, and it leaves a lasting impression.

      Reply
  10. DagoodS says:

    What does “justice” mean to a god?

    Words have meaning; we utilize this communication form to explain ideas, eliminate possibilities, and provide a way for you to understand what I am saying. If I say, for example, “I drive a hard bargain,” we understand this to mean I am a tough negotiator. Not that I operate a vehicle with a poor purchase price.

    In the same way, the word “just” or “justice” has meaning. When we ascribe it to an action, we understand it to define the action. We mean, “according to the law.” Justice can be harsh. If the law states jaywalkers receive the death penalty, then a person convicted of jaywalking must be executed. It is the only “just” thing to do. If the law states the fine can range from $100-$200, then the ONLY Just amount is within the range.

    I often get the impression (both in real life and in theological discussions) the word “just” is conflated with “fair.” Death for jaywalking doesn’t seem fair; but if it is what the law ascribes, then it would be “just.”

    Justice has nothing to do with fairness. Humanity is limited in its capacity to correct wrong-doing. In a civil matter we can only award money. If someone destroys your car, we cannot order you to go back in time and get your car back—all we can do is award money. We can only punish crime by fines, confinement, treatment and execution. We cannot pull the bullet back; we cannot remove the physical and/or emotional scarring; we cannot return the victim to the precise state they were prior to the incident.

    It is impossible to achieve “fairness” so we do the best we can with justice.

    When the theist claims, “God acts justly,” the meaning we understand is that God is acting according to a law. Some prescription impinging or forcing God to act in a certain manner. (Whether God desires or does not desire the outcomes is, of course, irrelevant. Justice has nothing to do with desire.) This raises three significant (and in my opinion insurmountable) problems:

    1) What method do we use to determine the law God is following?
    2) What method do we use to determine whether God is following the law or not? Is He actually just?
    3) If God is merciful (Eph. 2:3-5) and mercy is the deliberate withholding of justice, who cares about our answers to (1) or (2) above, as God can act merciful or just at His whim or desire?

    Let’s look at an example of how convoluted this all becomes.

    King David slept with Bathsheba and killed Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite. God (through Nathan) indicates this was wrong. * 2 Sam. 12:9 God indicates the just punishment would be David’s wives all being raped by his enemy. Vs. 11. David repents. God then enacts mercy, takes away David’s sin and says David will not die. Vs. 13. Then God says the just thing to do is to kill David’s son. Vs. 14.

    *Oddly, in Deut. 20:17 God ordered the death of all Hittites, so why was killing Uriah wrong?

    So…what law is God following to provide as punishment another person is raped if David commits adultery? Was it within the law to allow God to take away David’s sin? Or was that against the law and therefore an act of mercy? What law allows God—after commuting the sinful act—to punish for it anyway? And what law allows God to kill another for the acts of the perpetrator?

    Reply
    • Thinker says:

      “King David slept with Bathsheba and killed Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite. God (through Nathan) indicates this was wrong. * 2 Sam. 12:9” – Agreed

      “God indicates the just punishment would be David’s wives all being raped by his enemy. Vs. 11.” – where do you see this in verse 11? My NIV version reads “Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.” Where is rape mentioned? The Bible comments for vs 11 note that this was fulfilled in 2 Sam 16:22, where Absalom takes over the kingship and this is a symblo of his royal power. I see no mention of rape.

      “David repents. God then enacts mercy, takes away David’s sin and says David will not die. Vs. 13. Then God says the just thing to do is to kill David’s son. Vs. 14.” I have no disagreement with your interpretation, but will note that God states he has taken away his sin, not simply forgiven it. Can’t you see how this is a picture of Christ? The innocent (Jesus) paying for the guilty (mankind)? Though it does, in a worldly sense, seem cruel, not how in verse 23 David states “I will go to him, but he will not come to me”. The child, in the context, went to heaven with God. This same foreshadowing is seen in many other places in the Bible as well,

      *Oddly, in Deut. 20:17 God ordered the death of all Hittites, so why was killing Uriah wrong?. Good question. First of David motives in killing Uriah were completely selfish and motivated by nothing but his own desires. There was no redeeming value to Uriah’s death outside of David’s own pride. If you look at Duet 20:18, we see why God said they needed to be destroyed – to protect the Israelites from their evil practices.

      “So…what law is God following to provide as punishment another person is raped if David commits adultery?” – Again, see above. I see no indication of rape.

      “Was it within the law to allow God to take away David’s sin? Or was that against the law and therefore an act of mercy?” – The gist of this, from my reading is not that God took away David’s sin, but it allowed it to be transferred to the child (and ultimately by Christ, which the child is a picture of). Even in the Old Testament, when animals were sacrificed, this was only a reminder and precursor to the sacrifice of Christ. Hebrews 10 is a great explanation of this.

      “What law allows God—after commuting the sinful act—to punish for it anyway? And what law allows God to kill another for the acts of the perpetrator?”. – Where does the Bible say the act was “commuted”? It simply says it was taken away, which I read in the context of the passages to mean it was transferred to the child (who “paid” for the sin), but this was just an illustration of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made on the cross. I feel that ultimately David’s sin was paid for by Christ, and not by the child, in the same way that the sins in the OT were paid for by Christ, and Hebrews 10 notes that the blood of bulls and goats can not take away sin. Ultimately, God is the author of life. In my view, God allowed the child to die, but not as a payment for David’s sin, but rather as an illustrative sacrifice foreshadowing that of Christ. The child was not the “payment” for the sin.

      “And what law allows God to kill another for the acts of the perpetrator?” – this would be an interesting topic of discussion at a pro-choice rally.

      Reply
  11. DagoodS says:

    Thinker,

    Ah…I love Christian apologetics. It seems every apologetic defense creates more problems than the original issue! If vs. 11 is referring to Absalom (and I would agree it was), are you saying David’s concubines willingly had sex with Absalom? ‘Cause if they didn’t—it was rape. Further, if God had already forgiven David the sin, and assigned the punishment to another, why the additional punishment of Absalom raping David’s concubines?

    If…as you agree…God has taken away the sin, this is the same as commuting it. You make two conflicting statements, by stating, “…note that God states he has taken away his sin, not simply forgiven it” and then “The gist of this, from my reading is not that God took away David’s sin, but allowed it to be transferred to the child…”

    Where can we find the justice system under which God can “take away” as compared to “forgive” as compared to “transfer” a sin? What situations, under this justice system, is it applicable?

    More importantly, to whom or what can God transfer sin? Can God transfer it to a rock? A sheep? A cow? Another universe? While you gave a long defense of varying elements within the story, you failed to address the main point. You missed the forest for the trees.

    Where can we find the justice system God was following in 2 Sam. 12?

    You can “feel” whatever you want about how David’s sin was punished—we are looking for the actual justice system to review whether God did/did not follow it and therefore could be called “just.”

    Reply
    • Thinker says:

      Thanks for your comments.

      “If vs. 11 is referring to Absalom (and I would agree it was), are you saying David’s concubines willingly had sex with Absalom? ‘Cause if they didn’t—it was rape. Further, if God had already forgiven David the sin, and assigned the punishment to another, why the additional punishment of Absalom raping David’s concubines?” —— It’s unclear to me why you keep bringing up this rape topic in the context of the verse. What alludes to that? The Hebrew word used is the same used other places in the OT with no violent or forcible overtones. I agree it would be rape if it was forced, but where is that stated?

      “If…as you agree…God has taken away the sin, this is the same as commuting it. You make two conflicting statements, by stating, “…note that God states he has taken away his sin, not simply forgiven it” and then “The gist of this, from my reading is not that God took away David’s sin, but allowed it to be transferred to the child…”. —– If the governor commutes your sentence and the “punishment” just disappears, that is one thing. If your sentence is “taken away” because someone else is serving the punishment for it, that is something different. The latter is the case here.

      “Where can we find the justice system under which God can “take away” as compared to “forgive” as compared to “transfer” a sin? What situations, under this justice system, is it applicable?” —– God’s character demands justice. He forgives, not by simply forgetting the offense, but by taking the punishment on Himself in the form of Christ on the cross. That is the ultimate example of love. In this context, the terms “forgive”, “take away”, and “transfer” are not contradictory, but rather complimentary.

      More importantly, to whom or what can God transfer sin? Can God transfer it to a rock? A sheep? A cow? Another universe? While you gave a long defense of varying elements within the story, you failed to address the main point. You missed the forest for the trees. — If you read Hebrews 10 referenced above it will tell you that a cow or a sheep will not take away sin. Did you read it? I think the Bible makes it clear the only way for sin to be punished via transfer is through God himself via Christ.

      Where can we find the justice system God was following in 2 Sam. 12? — Keep in mind, as stated earlier, the child di not die to pay for David’s sin. Here is a good explanation:

      The tragic death of David’s son is a consequence of David’s sin, but it is not the penalty David deserves for his sin. The penalty for adultery and murder is death, on each count. David deserves to die, on two counts: adultery and murder. But Nathan has made it very clear that David’s sin has been “taken away.” The death of this child is a painful consequence of David’s sin, but it is not punishment for his sin, per se. That punishment has been taken away, borne by the Lord Jesus Christ. – http://www.ecclesia.org/truth/davids_son.html

      You can “feel” whatever you want about how David’s sin was punished—we are looking for the actual justice system to review whether God did/did not follow it and therefore could be called “just.” —— I think I explained this above – let me know if you still have question. Bottom line:

      1.) God’s character demands justice
      2.) God loving chose to bear that sin on the cross for us.

      I wish I had more time to write, but my lunch break is only so long…..

      Reply

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