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Jesus' graphic crucifixion

The physical passion of Christ began in Gethsemane. The bloody sweat happened under great emotional stress of the kind Jesus experienced; tiny capillaries in the sweat glands broke, mixing blood with sweat; this may well have produced noticeable weakness and possible shock.

After His arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was then brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas who was the High Priest; it is here that the first physical trauma was inflicted upon Jesus. A soldier struck Him across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiaphas; the palace guards then blind-folded Him and mockingly taunted Him to identify them as they each passed by; they spat upon Him and struck Him in the face.

In the early morning, battered and bruised, dehydrated and exhausted from a sleepless night, Jesus was taken across the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of Judaea, Pontius Pilate. Pilate tried to pass responsibility to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Judaea. Jesus apparently suffered no physical mistreatment at the hands of Herod and was then returned to Pilate.

jesus being scourgedIt was then, in response to the cries of the mob, that Pilate ordered Barabbas to be released and condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion. Preparations for the scourging were carried out when Jesus was stripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His head. The Roman legionnaire stepped forward with the flagrum (or flagellum) in his hand (the flagrum is a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each). The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back and legs.

At first the thongs cut through the skin only, but then, as the blows continued, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produced large, deep bruises which were broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back hung in long ribbons and the entire area became an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. The beating was stopped when it was decided by the centurion in charge that the prisoner was near death. The half-fainting Jesus was then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with His own blood.

jesus wearing crown of thornsThe Roman soldiers saw a great joke in the provincial Jew claiming to be King; they threw a robe across His shoulders and placed a stick in His hand for a sceptre, but they still needed a crown to make their travesty complete. Flexible branches covered with long thorns (commonly used in bundles for firewood) were plaited into the shape of a crown which was pressed into Jesus’ scalp. Again there was copious bleeding, the scalp being one of the most vascular parts of the body.

After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers then took the stick from His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. They eventually tired of their sadistic sport and tore the robe from Jesus’ back. Already having adhered to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, its removal caused excruciating pain, and almost as though He were again being whipped the wounds once more began to bleed. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans returned His garments. The heavy patibulum of the cross was tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves and the execution detail of Roman soldiers headed by a centurion began its slow journey 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 became too much. Jesus stumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam gouged into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. Jesus tried to rise but His human muscles had been pushed beyond their endurance. The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selected a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus followed, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock until the approximate 650-yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha was completed. Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic mixture. He refused to drink. Simon of Cyrene was ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and then Jesus was quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drove a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tight, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum was then lifted in place at the top of the stipes and the titulus reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, was nailed in place.

jesus on the crossThe left foot was then pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes facing down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. Jesus was now crucified. As He slowly sagged down, placing more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain; the nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerves.

As He pushed Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet; as the arms fatigued, great waves of cramp swept over the muscles, knotting them in a deep, relentless and throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles became paralyzed and the intercostal muscles were unable to act. Air could be drawn into the lungs but could not be exhaled. Jesus fought to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. As the carbon dioxide built-up in the lungs and in the blood stream, the cramps partially subsided. Spasmodically, He was able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.

Jesus experienced hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain where tissue was torn from His lacerated back as He moved up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony began; a terrible crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum and began to compress the heart.

It was then almost over. The loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level; the compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissue; the tortured lungs made a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues sent their flood of stimuli to the brain. Jesus gasped His cry of thirst. A sponge soaked in posca, the cheap, sour wine which was the staple drink of the Roman legionaries, was lifted to His lips, but He apparently did not take any of the liquid.

The body of Jesus was now in extremes and He could feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. This realization brings out the words “It is finished” in possibly little more than a tortured whisper. His mission of atonement was completed; finally He could allow His body to die.

With one last surge of strength, He once again pressed His torn feet against the nail, straightened His legs, took a deeper breath and uttered His final cry: “Father, into Thy hands I commit my Spirit”.

In order that the Sabbath not be profaned, the Jews asked that the condemned men be dispatched and removed from the crosses. The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the bones of the legs. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward, thus the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of the chest and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when the soldiers came to Jesus they saw that this was unnecessary.

To make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. There was an escape of water fluid from the sac surrounding the heart, giving post-mortem evidence that Jesus died not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure (a broken heart) due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.


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