Q: #209. Can you describe Jesus' physical sufferings on His final day?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Based on both Biblical and historical evidence, I think it is safe to say that Jesus may have suffered more physical pain in His final hours on Earth than any man in history. As I have studied this over Easter, I have had chills as I read what He endured. I believe you will find, as I have, that it certainly gives you a greater appreciation for what Jesus has done on our behalf because He loves us SO much!
The Bible shows us that Jesus (being God in the flesh) knew ahead of time the things He was going to suffer before they happened (Jn 18:4)(Mt 26:36-42)(Mk 14:34-37)(Lk 22:39-44). This caused Him such distress that as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest, "His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" (Lk 22:44). This rare phenomena is called "hematidrosis" and it occurs when under extreme stress, the small capillaries surrounding the sweat glands burst, and blood mixed with sweat pours out of the sweat glands.
The beginning of these sufferings was right after He was betrayed, arrested, and deserted by the disciples (Mt 26:56). He was taken to the High Priest's house, where He was struck in the face by an officer of the High Priest (Jn 18:22). Shortly afterwards, He was blindfolded, then beaten and spit upon by the men around Him (Mt 26:67-68)(Mk 14:65)(Lk 22:63-65), and had his beard pulled out (Isa 50:6). After this beating, He was sent to Pontus Pilate, who questioned Him and then sent Him to Herod after finding out He was a Galilean (Lk 23:6-7). Herod, along with his men, "treated him with contempt, mocked Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate" (Lk 23:11). Pilate questioned Him some more, and then giving into the crowds wishes, ordered Jesus to be crucified (Mt 27:22-26)(Mk 15:12-15)(Lk 23:23-24)(Jn 19:15-16).
Before being led to the crucifixion site, Pilate ordered that Jesus be flogged (Mt 27:26)(Mk 15:15)(Jn 19:1). This was a HORRIFIC ordeal! In fact, it was so bad that Roman law would not allow Roman citizens to undergo it (see: Acts 22:24-29). The victim was first stripped of all clothing, then tied to a post with his hands above his head (to stretch the skin making the wounds worse). He was then flogged by one or two people with a whip (or flagellum). This whip (often called a cat-o-nine tails) consisted of a handle (about 18" long) with 9 leather straps about 6 or 7 feet long, and at the end of each strap was small lead balls mixed with pieces of animal bone or metal. These would tear into the body more and more with each successive lashing, with the lead balls ripping into the skin and the jagged pieces of bone or metal tearing it out. As the flogging progressed, muscles, vital organs, and even the spine could often be seen openly. Huge strips of skin would be hanging from the body.
According to Jewish law, this beating had to be stopped after 40 lashes (Deut 25:1-3), however, the Jews made a tradition of 39 lashes just in case a mistake in counting was made: see 2 Cor 11:24). The Romans had no such law though, and may or may not have exceeded this limit.
After this flogging, the victim was untied and fell to the ground, often unconscious, sometimes dead never even making it to the crucifixion. Jesus survived it without losing consciousness (partly a testament to His good health I am sure), and then came the next torture. He was then clothed and led to the Praetorium where the soldiers stripped Him again, likely tearing the flesh off His back as the drying blood adhered to the cloth. They put a scarlet robe on Him, and made a crown of thorns, placing it upon His head. They then mocked Him some more, spit upon Him, and struck Him on the head with a reed, driving the crown of thorns into His head (Mt 27:29-30)(Mk 15:16-20)(Jn 19:2-3). These thorns were about 2" long and extremely sharp. Since head wounds tend to bleed easily and profusely, Jesus had blood pouring down His face from these thorns.
The soldiers then took the robe off of Him (likely tearing off more flesh), and put His own clothes back on Him (Mt 27:31). After the flogging, the victim was made to carry his cross to the crucifixion site. Most scholars and historians believe it likely that Jesus did not carry a full cross as is often depicted, but rather, He carried a "crossbeam" (or "patibulum"). In those times, the cross usually consisted of a vertical beam which had been permanently secured in the ground, and a crossbeam which was placed atop this vertical beam. This crossbeam usually weighed around 100-150 lbs., and was about the size of a railroad tie. The condemned would carry this crossbeam on his shoulders to the vertical beam at the crucifixion site.
According to the Bible, Jesus was so weakened from His beatings that He could not carry His cross to the crucifixion site. Therefore, a man named Simon from Cyrene was told to carry Jesus' cross for Him (Mt 27:32)(Mk 15:21)(Lk 23:26). The distance to the place of crucifixion was only about 650 yards away, and reached by a path called the Via Dolorosa ("way of suffering").
** It should also be noted that at this point Jesus hadn't slept in 36 hours and had been walked back and forth for several miles between places in His weakened condition.
By the time Jesus reached the crucifixion site, He was probably in what a hospital would call "critical condition." At this point, His hands were nailed to the patibulum (or possibly the full cross). Another point that most scholars and historians agree upon is that "hands" really means "wrists." The hands could not have been nailed to the cross because they could not support the weight of a man's body hanging on the cross. The nail would rip right out of the hand. The wrists, however, could hold a man's weight when done properly. History seems to bear out that this was what the Romans did. The Romans had perfected this technique, driving a 5-7" nail (more like a spike) between the radius and ulna bones in the wrist and directly into the median nerve. This gave maximum strength and caused maximum pain, as well as minimal blood loss. (One source said it would be like being struck with a cattle prod that never stopped shocking.) More on this subject here.
After being nailed to the patibulum, the patibalum was hoisted up to the top of the vertical beam with the victim attached (all of the victim's weight was on the wrists nailed to the patibulum). This often caused the shoulders to be dislocated, and could have happened to Jesus (read Ps 22:14, a prophecy about Jesus saying "all my bones are out of joint"). Once the patibulum was attached to the vertical beam, the victim's feet were placed one on top of the other and nailed to the vertical beam (knees at an angle). Sometimes, a small platform was placed just below the feet so the victim could push up on it.
At this point, slow death usually occurred. Cruelly, crucifixion was not meant to kill victims quickly, but slowly over a period of days. A victim would sometimes die after a few hours (often depending on how badly they had been beaten beforehand), but more often they would live for several days, and sometimes for even a week or more. During this time, they would endure excruciating pain. In fact, we got the word "excruciating" from the cross (Latin "excruciatus" meaning "to crucify."
While nailed to the cross, the victim could easily breathe in, but he could not exhale. The only way to exhale was to push up with his feet, causing searing pain in his nailed feet. It also caused his open back wounds to rub up against the rough vertical beam. In addition, the victim would suffer from severe cramps, dehydration, lungs slowly filling with fluid, bugs eating into the wounds, and birds picking at the wounds, among other things...
When the victim could no longer push up, he would lapse into unconsciousness and suffocate. Death by asphyxiation. If the Romans wanted to end this process early, they would break the legs of the victim by smacking the shin bone with a spear until it broke in half, thereby not allowing the victim to raise himself. Death would occur in a few minutes. This was done to the two thieves that were crucified on each side of Jesus. (Jn 19:31-37) says the Romans broke their legs because the Jews wanted them dead and buried before the Sabbath, which was going to be in a few hours. Jesus' legs were not broken though, because He was already dead, having dismissed His spirit (Mt 27:50). This fulfilled prophecy which stated no bones would be broken on Jesus (Ps 34:20). (Also see: Ex 12:46 which points to this)
During the time Jesus was on the cross (6 hours: Mk 15:25,33-34,37), he said 7 things (See: Q: #70). Each of these precious statements should be magnified even more when we know that in order to say them, He had to push up, causing the searing pain we discussed above. At the end of His life, Jesus said, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). This meant that His work of atonement to pay for our sins was completed. Friend, Jesus did all of that suffering because He loves YOU! He gave His life so that you could spend eternity in Heaven with Him. Have you surrendered your life to Him and accepted that payment? If not, please see our Plan of Salvation link and do so TODAY!