In two weeks, we will reach the culmination of the Lenten/Easter season. As we take this time to reflect on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, I would like to present a two-part series about what makes the Easter holiday so important. Regardless of your own religious beliefs, I hope that these articles will at least give you a deeper appreciation of these events, which have literally split history in half.
Historians estimate the date of Jesus' crucifixion as being around Friday, April 7th, A.D. 30. The religious leaders of the day, jealous of His influence and popularity, had turned Him over to the Roman government to be tried for false charges of sedition. Although the occupying Roman Empire gave the Jews a great deal of freedom in conducting their legal affairs, Roman approval was required for an execution. In order to avoid a riot, and thus preserve his standing with the Emperor, Governor Pontius Pilate reluctantly consented to the crowd's demands to have Jesus crucified.
The first step in this horrible process was a brutal beating with a leather whip, which was called scourging. While Jewish civil law limited the beating to forty lashes, the Romans recognized no such law, and thus were at liberty to beat the person as viciously as they pleased. The beating itself was often fatal. Geikie's "Life of Christ" tells us that:
“Victims condemned to the cross first underwent the hideous torture of the scourge...(Jesus) was beaten at the pleasure of the soldiers, with knots of rope, or plaited leather thongs, armed at the ends with acorn shaped drops of lead, or small sharp pointed bones...Under the fury of the countless stripes, the victims sometimes sank-amidst screams, convulsive leaps, and distortions-into a senseless heap; sometimes died on the spot; sometimes were taken away… to find deliverance in death.”
After the scourging, it was off to the hill known as "The Skull," ("Golgotha" in Aramaic, "Calverius" in Latin). This was the designated place where local executions took place, some by stoning, others by crucifixion. According to Unger's Bible Dictionary, crucifixion was used by a number of ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians and the Persians. It was used by the Romans from the very beginning of their history, until it was eventually abolished by Emperor Constantine. In any scenario, it was reserved for slaves and for the worst kind of criminals.
Large, rusty spikes were driven into the wrists and feet. The cross was then erected, with the person's body suspended about four feet above the ground. What followed was a long, excruciating death so horrible that mere words cannot begin to do it justice. Medical Doctor Gerald H. Bradley gives us a look:
“This was the most agonizing death man could face...He had to support Himself in order to breathe...the flaming pain caused by the spikes hitting the median nerve in the wrists explodes up His arms, into His brain and down His spine. The spike burning through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet jerks His body erect, then the leg muscles convulse and drive His body downward...beating Him against the cross. Air is sucked in, but cannot be exhaled until the buildup carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood stream stimulates breathing to relieve the cramps. Exhaustion, shock, dehydration and paralysis destroy the victim. The heart is barely able to pump the thick blood as each of His billions of cells die one at a time. Prior to His death in all His agony, Jesus is in full control of His mind. He asks the heavenly Father to "Forgive them; for they know not what they do."
If the story ended here, we would have a beautiful account of a man dying as a martyr for His cause, but nothing more. What makes Jesus' death stand out is what occurred three days later: The verifiable, historical reality of His Resurrection! Next week, we will look at a few of the evidences for this remarkable event.