Around this time of year when talking about Easter, we refer to the fact that Jesus suffered and died. We almost say this as a calisaya and do not really think about the pain, suffering and torture that Jesus endured. With today’s blog, I want to change that. I will lead you through a detailed look at what happened to Christ in those few hours leading to his death.
I must give credit where credit is due; I got most of the material for this blog from two sources. The first source was the book “The Day Christ Died” by Jim Bishop. The second source is an article in JAMA March 27, 1986. The article is by two M.D.s who look at the Biblical account of the Crucifixion of Christ and explain medically what happened to Him.
The first thing we need to look at is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke 22:44
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Sweat turning to blood is a true medical condition called hematidrosis. This is where the capillaries (small blood vessels) break in the sweat glands and the blood mixes with the sweat making it look like the sweat has turned to blood. This is can be very dangerous, it can lead to low blood volume and even death. If a person does not die from hematidrosis, it affects the skin and makes it very susceptible to bruising, which in Jesus’ case is very important when He receives the whipping later.
Hematidrosis is also very rare, it only happens in very emotional states. We know Jesus was concerned about his death, but He was more concerned about the importance of His death for us. If Christ does not die, there is no atonement for our sin. Jesus literally had the whole world on his shoulders at that moment in time. This emotional stress is what causes the sweat to turn to blood. This really shows us how much Jesus loves us because of his concern for us. Jesus was thinking of you the reader right at that moment before you were even born. This is overwhelming for me.
The next important point in Jesus’ evening is His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke 22:52-54
“Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness. Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest’s house. And Peter followed afar off.”
It was very important that if a Roman solider was sent to arrest someone that they got their man and the man did not run away because if they were unsuccessful, the penalty was their life. Therefore, they were highly motivated to capture their man and not let him run. To prevent this they had worked out a very effective method. A roman solider would come up behind the man and wrap his arm around his neck quickly jerking backwards pulling the person off balance. As the person was stumbling backwards, the solider would stomp the instep of the person. In this time, Roman solider, had unique shoes or boots in that they would have taken nail and hammered through the bottom of their shoes to use like spikes just as a baseball player would today A solider needed to have good footing when fighting a battle and swinging his sword. Thus, the solider with nails in his shoes would cause great damage to the foot of the person being arrested and they could not run very fast. The soldiers would have done this to Jesus at His arrest and then they took him down the Mount of Olives across the city of Jerusalem to the high priest’s house on his bad foot.
The next torture they did to Christ was at the house of the high priest. Luke 22: 63-64
“And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?”
You see here that Jesus was beaten by the Jewish guards while in the hands of the high priest.
Now we come to the most brutal of all of the tortures of Jesus when he was flogged by the Roman soldiers. Matt 27:26-30
“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him and mocked him, saying, Hail King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed and smote him on the head.”
This passage quickly says they scourged Jesus, but this is a brutal beating designed to torture the person to be crucified and weaken them so they do not last as long on the cross. They would use what is called cat of nine tails. This is a small short whip. The soldiers were experts in using them for torture. The whips would have lead balls on the end that the soldiers would use first on the person’s back to make bruises and draw blood to the surface of the back. After the back was black and blue the soldier would then use the leather strap part of the whip that had bone chips and pottery shards imbedded in the leather. The soldier would then take the leather straps and smack them against the person’s back allowing the bone and pottery to imbed in the skin. He would then use a twisting motion to pull the whip back. In doing this, the soldier would rip open the back leaving ribbons of flesh.
In Christ’s case after he receives the beating the soldiers add more torture. The soldiers get a robe and put it on his back. If you remember your first aid to get bleeding to stop you apply clean dressings and apply pressure. The dressing gives the blood a place to clot, but when the soldiers get tired of the game they pull the robe off, pulling off the clots and making him bleed again, just like pulling off a band-aid but on a much bigger scale.
The soldiers make a special torture just for Jesus when they make a crown of thorns. The thorns are most likely from a Rose of Sharon bush. This is very similar to our Hibiscus bushes here in Texas. If you have ever looked at them very closely, you will see that they have thorns one and a half to two inches long on them. The soldiers would have used the bush trimming for kindling for starting fires so it was in their woodpiles. The soldiers wound this together and placed it on Christ’s head, then took the reed and beat the thorns into his head.
The final torture of Christ is the crucifixion itself. Part of the process was that the condemned had to carry their cross. Luke 23:26
“And as they led him away, they laid hold upon on Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.”
Jesus was so week that he could not even carry his own cross. We need to talk about the cross. What we normally call the cross is like a small “t” but in reality, the cross was more like a capital “T”. The vertical part of the T would have been left in the ground year round. The part that Christ carried would have been the cross bar which weighed about 110 lbs.
At the sight of the vertical part of the T, the soldiers strip the condemned of their clothes, starting the flow of blood again. They would then throw them down on their back, which is like rare hamburger meat. Then they would step on the hands and put the nail (more like a railroad spike) in the wrist just below the bones of the wrist. This spot is chosen for two reasons. One the wrist bones would stop the nail from pulling thru the hand. Second, there is a nerve there, the one that they free when they do carpel tunnel surgery, which causes great pain when the nail is up against it.
The condemned would then be lifted up onto the vertical piece using tools like large barbeque forks. The cross bar would have a large hole in the middle and the vertical piece would have part of it cut away so they would fit together.
The condemned would then have their legs bent up toward their torso and then nailed to the vertical piece. This would force the person to hang with their chest out over the ground. This would expand the whole chest cavity so the condemned could breath in but could not exhale. They would be forced to pull back on the nails of their arms and push up on the nail in their feet to exhale. This makes every breath incredible torture. Death by crucifixion was caused by suffocation. This could take days.
In Jesus’ case this was not true, Jesus had been weakened by the all the blood lost from the sweat turned to blood and all the beatings and the whipping. This caused his heart to beat too fast to pump what little blood he had left. This caused a little sack around his heart called the pericardium to fill with watery solution. This watery solution is normal, but the body produced more to help cool the heart and reduce friction. The body produced so much of this fluid that it squeezed the heart and caused the heart to fail. John 19:33-34
“But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they break not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.”
According to the M.D.’s in the article, the soldier pierced Jesus’ lung up into the heart. The water was the watery substance around the heart and the blood was from the actual heart.
Christ’s death is different from most crucifixions. He died earlier than most because of the extra blood lost through the sweat turning to blood and the extra beatings. This allowed the two prophesies about his death to be fulfilled. The first was that none of his bones would be broken; the soldiers did not have to break his legs. The soldiers would break the legs of those being crucified so that they could not push up to exhale, thus causing the condemned to die quicker. The second is that Jesus died the exact hour that all the Passover lambs were to be sacrificed.
I hope this helps you understand what Christ went through for us. I know when I found this out that it changed my whole appreciation of what my Lord did for me and I cannot thank him enough.