Two thousand years ago Jesus was crucified for our sins. It is easy to say those words, but what does it mean. The English language derives the word “excruciating” from crucifixion, acknowledging it as a form of slow, painful suffering. This punishment was reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the lowest of criminals. Crucifixion was invented by the Persians between 300-400 B.C. It is quite possibly the most painful death ever invented by humankind.
Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged. Traditionally, the accused stood naked, and the flogging occurred from the shoulders to the upper legs. The whip contained metal balls that hit the skin, causing deep bruising. Sheep bone attached to the tips of each strip ripped the flesh and muscle.
Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. As they hit Jesus in the head, the thorns from the crown pushed into the skin and He began bleeding profusely. The thorns also caused damage to the nerves to the face, causing intense pain down His face and neck. Due to severe blood loss, Jesus was likely in shock. As such, He is unable to carry the cross and Simon of Cyrene executes this task.
They nailed Jesus’ wrists and feet to the wood. The huge nails damaged or severed the major nerves causing continuous agonizing pain. As the cross bar was lifted into position Jesus’ full weight pulled down on His nailed wrists and His shoulders and elbows dislocated. In this position, Jesus’ arms stretched to a minimum of six inches longer than their original length.
As Jesus hung on the cross, the weight of His body pulled down on the diaphragm. In order to breathe or speak Jesus needed to painfully push up on His nailed feet enabling his lungs to function. The difficulty surrounding exhalation led to a slow form of suffocation. Carbon dioxide built up in the blood, resulting in a high level of carbonic acid in the blood. Jesus’ body responded instinctively, triggering the desire to breathe. At the same time, His heart beat faster to circulate available oxygen. The decreased oxygen caused damage to the tissues and the capillaries began leaking watery fluid from the blood into the tissues. This resulted in a build-up of fluid around the heart and lungs. The collapsing lungs, failing heart, dehydration, and the inability to get sufficient oxygen to the tissues essentially suffocate the victim. The decreased oxygen also damages the heart itself, which leads to cardiac arrest. In severe cases of cardiac stress, the heart can even burst, a process known as cardiac rupture. It is possible Jesus died of a heart attack.
While these unpleasant facts depict a brutal murder, the depth of Christ’s pain emphasizes the true extent of God’s love for His creation. Teaching the physiology of Christ’s crucifixion is a constant reminder of the magnificent demonstration of God’s love for humanity that was expressed that day in Calvary. This lesson enables us to participate in communion, the remembrance of His sacrifice, with a grateful heart. As a flesh and blood human, Jesus felt every ounce of this execution. What greater love than this can a man have for others?
The core of this post was liberated from Cahleen Shrier, Ph.D. of Azusa Pacific University.