Monday, October 28, 2013
Killing Jesus: The First Good Friday
by Mike Robinson
The study of everything that stands connected with the death of Christ, whether it be in the types of the ceremonial law, the predictions of the prophets, the narratives of the gospels, the doctrines of the epistles, or the sublime vision of the Apocalypse, this is the food of the soul, the manna from heaven, the bread of life. This is "meat indeed" and "drink indeed.”1
On the first Good Friday Jesus was nailed to a cross between two other men who were both criminals. The cross was wood and it was large and heavy. The stake was already fixed permanently in the ground and would have simply been reused from previous executions. Jesus carried the crossbeam of the cross (the patibulum) which was dense and weighty. Roman annals report that the nails were driven between the radial and ulna bones in the forearms, between the elbow and the wrist. The Jewish people considered the wrist to be part of the hand.
Usually a small sign was placed on top of the cross detailing the name of the person and his crime. Typically, the crucifixion procession was composed of soldiers with a flogger, executioner, civil authorities, and of course the criminal hauling the crossbeam. Beside the path would have been loved-ones, friends, and interested citizens watching the activities. When the procession arrived at the appointed post, the criminal was then nailed to the crossbeam. Next, the man nailed to the crossbeam, was raised, and the crossbeam was placed on the cross and then tightly secured.
The law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression (Romans 4:15).
The passion or suffering that Jesus was going to experience was not only the torrent of physical pain, but also the judgment and wrath of God that was due sinners (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-22; Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 2:21). He knew the pain that was about to be unleashed upon Him and since He was God, He could have escaped it. But Christ chose the suffering instead. He elected to go to the cross on our behalf. He was obedient, to atone for our disobedience.
Remember Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, at the home of the chief priest and when Jesus remained quiet at the questioning of Caiaphas, a guard struck Him across the face. Then He was mocked by the palace guards and aggressively pushed around. Later, soldiers took turns hitting and spitting on Him.
After that, Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate’s palace. Undoubtedly Jesus was considerably parched, fatigued, and bruised from His battering as well as the lack of rest. After all of the trials, Pilate washed his hands and condemned Christ to a scourging followed by crucifixion. The flogging would have caused deep welts to appear. Scourging was an extended method of whipping, where the victim's garments were torn off by the force of extreme lashing. Many historians assert that the Jews had a law prohibiting more than 40 lashes. But that was not the case with the Romans. Christ was cruelly whipped with a cattail which was a whip with numerous tentacles where the ends were tied with small balls of metal, nails, bone, and stones. The guard would whip the shoulders, posterior, and legs—it would create deep slashes, agonizing bruises, and an unmatched amount of pain. Often it could leave the victim in shock—the whipping would leave the flesh from the back dangling off as long pieces and covered in blood. The idea was to whip the victim in a systematic manner in order to keep him alive for prolonged torture. This meant that the Romans were watchful not to puncture a lung or a vital organ because that would have slain the criminal and stopped the torture.
Throughout this horrible agony of the scourging, the pain would be crushing, causing Christ to slip in and out of consciousness. After the flogging they would unfasten Him, making Him collapse on the dirt and blood. The guards then placed a scepter in His hands, with beaten arms throbbing from the whipping, and then they drove a crown of large thorns* into His head. These sharp bristles were brutal and caused abundant bleeding. The guards continued to ridicule Christ and mercilessly beat Him across His face.
Oh, the precious blood of Christ the crucified,
It speaks for me before Your throne;
Where I stand justified,
And who am I that I should know this treasure of such worth;
My Savior’s pure atoning blood, shed for the wrath I’d earned.
The soldiers placed the crossbeam across Christ’s shoulders and steered Him to the place of crucifixion. He was in agonizing pain from the whipping, beating, and torment. He was led into the procession carrying the cross along the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Suffering). Whilst on the way, Christ would have been in terrible pain, bleeding from the previous wounds and carrying of the heavy crossbeam. Thus, His muscles were pushed beyond their endurance into hypovolemic shock. The Bible reports that the soldiers seized Simon from Cyrene and mandated that he carry the cross for the rest of the way (Luke 23:26).
Jesus arrived at Golgotha where the stake was already in place. He was experiencing deep trauma from all of the previous torture as He was then nailed onto the crossbeam through His wrists by nails the size of railway spikes. These huge nails were driven through the wrists and the feet as they were plunged deep into the timber of the cross. Some guards, using large long tools and riggings, lifted Him up on the stake. The agony and pain of the nails being hammered through would have been extremely intense and shocking. Christ’s shoulders were pushed back against the rugged cross as He was being elevated. Then His left foot was positioned in such a way that would prolong the crucifixion and torture. Christ was offered a vinegar mixture with myrrh—a mild analgesic (gall). At first Jesus refused to drink any of it, not accepting any shortcuts or yielding to their vicious intentions. Lastly, the placard, "King of the Jews," was placed at the top of the cross. Jesus was crucified.
Commentator Matthew Henry explains: “Crucifixion was a death used only among the Romans; it was very terrible and miserable. A cross was laid on the ground, to which the hands and feet were nailed, it was then lifted up and fixed upright, so that the weight of the body hung on the nails, till the sufferer died in agony. Christ thus answered the type of the brazen serpent raised on a pole. Christ underwent all the misery and shame here related, that He might purchase for us everlasting life, and joy, and glory.”2 The physical agony was horrendous—this pointed to the true horror, the pain from the wrath of God poured out on Christ.
While Christ was suspended on the cross, He would have writhed to lift His body as it ripped His flesh from the nails driven directly in His wrists and feet. He would have had to do this for every breath, pushing Himself up and down in order to simply seize a breath. Once He stopped doing this, He would not be able to inhale or exhale anymore. Usually death by crucifixion was not by the injuries or the loss of blood, but by asphyxiation due to the victim not being able to push enough to support himself to breathe. Christ would have been moving Himself upward to escape the pain and lowering Himself to inhale air. Near expiration, a crucified man would only catch a quick breath. Yet, Jesus had mercy for the soldiers who were rolling dice for His clothes, and He asked, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." At that juncture, the two thieves were quarrelling, one recognized that Jesus was Lord, and Jesus told him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise." Then He saw His mother and John, and asked him to care for His mother (John 19:25-27). So even while in great torment, Jesus' highest concern was for other people.
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1. Weiler, J.H.H. First Things, The Trial of Jesus, July 2010.
2. Piper, John.