The crucifixion of Christ is recorded in all four gospels: Matthew 27:33-44; Mark 15:22-32; Luke 23:33-43; John 19:17-30.
Crucifixion is the process where a person is nailed or bound to a cross or a stake. It was first used by the Persians and later by the Egyptians, Carthaginians, and Romans as a form of capital punishment. Alexander the Great introduced it to the Mediterranean area and the Romans perfected it as a means of capital punishment.
Normally, there was a permanent stake in the ground. The victim carried the crossbar on his back to the stake. The crossbar usually weighed between 50 and 75 lbs. Sometimes the person was nailed to the crossbar, other times he was tied to it. The crossbar, and victim, were then hoisted into place. One method was to hoist the crossbar into a notch on top of the stake so the whole thing looked like a T. Another method was to place the crossbeam a few feet below the top making a cross. Yet another method was to nail or tie the person to a single stake in the ground. Usually a small sign on a pole with the crime written on it was carried ahead of the victim in front of the procession to the cross. It was then nailed to the cross above the head of the victim.
When nails were used, they were driven through the wrists between the radial and ulna bones and not through the palms since the nail would have ripped through the palm because the palm could not withstand all the weight of the body.
The Physical aspect of suffering in the crucifixion
Jesus agony began in Gethsemane with the sweating of blood. Hematidrosis is the name given to the rare occurrence of tiny blood capillaries in the sweat glands that rupture causing an oozing of blood to occur through the skin.
"And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground," (Luke 22:44).
Next, Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane at night. He was brought before the Sanhedrin and there struck by a soldier when Jesus questioned the High Priest.
"And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying, "Is that the way You answer the high priest?" 23 Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?" (John 18:22-23).
Jesus was then blindfolded and struck in the face repeatedly. Being blindfolded meant he couldn't "roll with the punches" and the blows would have been that much more destructive. The Bible says that He was beaten so badly He could hardly be recognized.
"And some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers received Him with slaps in the face," (Mark 14:65).
". . . So His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men," (Isaiah 52:14).
"I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting," (Isaiah 50:6).
Next, Jesus was stripped of His clothing and then scourged. In scourging, a soldier used a whip called a flagrum consisting of leather straps embedded with metal and glass fragments with small metal balls sewn into the end of each thong. This whip was brought down with full force and when struck against the back of Jesus, was pulled thus tearing the skin off, exposing muscle, and maybe even exposing His very bones. Undoubtedly, His back was reduced to an oozing mass of mutilated flesh. Scourging stops when it is determined that the victim is near death or 39 lashes was reached. 39 was the number of mercy according to Jewish law. By this time, Jesus was in great pain, suffering severe blood loss, and was becoming very weak and thirsty. Only after this was He taken to be crucified.
"Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified," (Matt. 27:26).
They then stripped Him, put a scarlet robe on Him and placed a crown of thorns on His head. The robe would stick to the congealing blood on His back and when they ripped it from Him later, it would have been very painful and would have helped to continue the bleeding even more. They put a crown of thorns on His head. These thorns were shoved between His scalp and skull as well as ripping and tearing at the skin. Severe bleeding would ensue along with great pain.
"And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him," (Matt. 27:30-31).
"And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (Matt. 27:29).
Then Jesus was mocked and beaten another time after the scourging. He would be very weak by this time and probably could not bear the weight of the cross. So, another person was drafted to carry the cross for Him.
"And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross," (Matt. 27:32).
Jesus was lead away to the cross and finally, He was nailed to a cross-beam. Normally a person was laid down upon the cross beam and a nail driven into one wrist. Then the other hand was pulled very tightly and another nail driven into the other wrist. The nails were usually about 6-8 inches long. Placing the nail in the wrist severs the median nerve resulting in a burning pain as well as paralysis in the hand.
Once Jesus was lifted to the cross, His feet were nailed to it. But, in order to do this, His knees were bent and the feet brought up a bit to allow them to lie flat against the stake so they could be nailed to it. Once suspended, the force of gravity brings the weight of the body down and the shoulders and elbows dislocate by popping out of joint, ripping ligaments.
Because of the outstretched position of the arms, the chest cavity is in a perpetually expanded state and it is very difficult to breathe. With the severe loss of blood from the scourging and crucifixion, Jesus would have become dehydrated and His body would have less blood to carry oxygen. Therefore, His heart would beat faster as it attempted to compensate and His need for oxygen would increase greatly. In order to breath, Jesus had to push up on the nails in His feet to allow His chest enough flexibility to inhale. Pushing up on the nails is not only excruciating, but this meant that He had to scrap His raw, beaten back against the rough wooden stake. This whole process of breathing and exhaling by pushing up on the nails only increases in intensity as time passes. Soon, the body gets to the point of no return and the heart either ruptures or the person dies from asphyxiation. But, before that happened, the blood loss results in extreme thirst as the body craves water to restore the lost blood. Jesus said, "I thirst" (John 19:28), whereupon a soldier offered Him some sour wine (Luke 23:36), but Jesus refused it -- because He would not seek to escape any of the ordeal.
In order to prolong the suffering, sometimes, the Romans would place a very small seat nailed to the stake so that the victim could partially sit on it. This would allow a small amount of rest and would greatly increase the time it took to die, sometimes several days. But in Jesus’ case, since He was so badly beaten before He got to the cross, He died in a short amount of time. It was, therefore, not necessary to break His legs to prevent Him from pushing up on the nails in His feet so He could breath. Jesus died a horrible death.
As I read this account, I am stricken by the greatness of His sacrifice and very thankful that He loves us enough to die for us. He deserves all the glory.
Crucifixion in the Bible
Matthew 26:2, "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.”
John 3:14–15, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."
Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."
Galatians 6:14, "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
Crucifixion and CARM
Was Jesus crucified on a cross or a tree?
Jesus was crucified on a cross, not a literal tree that had leaves on it. The Greek words for cross and tree are different. Let's take a look. The Greek word for cross is σταυρός "stauros."
Where was Jesus crucified?
Jesus was crucified just outside the city of Jerusalem at Golgotha which is called the place of the skull and is also known as Calvary. The traditional location is north of the temple, just area outside of the ancient city.
Crucifixion: "a common mode of punishment among heathen nations in early times. It is not certain whether it was known among the ancient Jews; probably it was not. The modes of capital punishment according to the Mosaic law were, by the sword (Ex. 21), strangling, fire (Lev. 20), and stoning (Deut. 21)." (Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893.)