Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
The Crucifixion is an Accepted Historical Event
Sometimes when we study Bible doctrine, we forget that our doctrine is based upon historical events. The doctrine of sin is founded on the actual event of Adam’s sin. The doctrine of salvation is founded on the historical fact of the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul taught that Christ died (history) for our sins (theology) (1 Cor. 15:3).
The Final Meal
The night began with the celebration of the Passover and the eating of the Passover meal. As the disciples gathered with Jesus, he took it upon himself to wash his disciples’ feet and teach them humility (John 13:1-20). As they ate, he announced his betrayal and made his last appeal to Judas Iscariot, the financial secretary of the group, who would betray him (John 13:21-29). That night Jesus introduced the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:17-20) and gave them the Upper Room discourse, which contained the embryonic teachings of the church age, including a life of love, fruitfulness, yet persecution. Right up to the end, Jesus was involved in the training of the twelve.
The Final Journey
Jesus left the upper room and walked with his disciples as a group for the last time. They headed for the Mount of Olives. This group which had traveled together for over three years had already begun to break up. Judas had gone to arrange for the soldiers to arrest Jesus. Together, those that remained made their way to a favorite spot for prayer. Perhaps it was seeing the vines climbing the side of a building that prompted Jesus to say, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). With this observation he taught his disciples about the abiding life (John 15). Recognizing the sorrow they would soon experience, he told his disciples he was going to send the “Comforter” (John 16). Together they arrived in the garden to pray.
The Garden Prayers
Jesus prayed for many things. He prayed for the events he would soon be experiencing. He prayed for the accomplishment of the will of God in his life. He prayed for his disciples and those who would someday become his disciples. He prayed for those of us today who seek to live for him in our society. Finally, he prayed for himself. He understood the wrath of the cup of judgment he was to drink in death. “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44). When he finished, he woke his disciples to witness his arrest.
The Arrest of Christ
As the soldiers and religious leaders accompanied Judas Iscariot to the garden, Jesus was waiting. Knowing what was happening, he called Judas his “friend” (Matt. 26:50). He was taken with force, despite the fact he offered no resistance. The only act on his part was to heal a servant’s ear which had been cut off by one of his disciples (John 18:1-12). Jesus willingly submitted to those he knew had come to kill him. He was about his Father’s business.
The night was filled with mock trials to humiliate the Son of God. He appeared before the high priest, who had judged him guilty before he was arrested. Then Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of the Jews) that had arranged his arrest. He was sent to Pilate, the Roman military leader, who questioned Jesus and then sent him to Herod. After interrogating Jesus, Herod returned Jesus to the original Roman judge, Pilate. Being found innocent in a Roman court of law, the mob vote of the people suggested the method of punishment. Before crucifixion, he was beaten by the soldiers.
Crucifixion was abhorred in the mind of every Roman subject. Roman soldiers had learned from the Phoenicians a very sadistic and painful way of executing criminals. The very word “cross” would stimulate a repulsion by anyone who had witnessed this event.
Crucifixion usually began with a beating. A man would be lashed with a whip which had bits of metal, bone, or stone at the end of each thong. The whip, as it cut the back of the convicted man, would wrap around him. When it was raised to be lowered again, it would tear the flesh. Often a condemned man would faint from the pain.
Bearing One’s Cross
The second aspect of the crucifixion was the custom known as “bearing one’s cross.”
The written-out accusation would be tied about his neck and he would be paraded to the place of execution. The shingle he wore would then be nailed above him on his cross so that those who witnessed the event knew his horrendous crime. Jesus’ crime was published in three languages and read, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19).
Agony on the Cross
The third aspect of crucifixion was agony leading to death. A man was crucified in such a way that he could not easily breathe. His arms and feet were fastened to the cross in such a way that he had to push his body up to breathe. Every time Jesus would breathe, he had to raise his body to gasp for air.
As he reached for air he would scrape the open wounds on his back up and down the rough wood of the cross. The Romans knew their craft. They could execute a man and let him suffer for as long as nine days until he died. And besides the physical suffering, there was the degrading humiliation.
When the soldiers came by to break Jesus’ legs to speed up his death, they found a lifeless body. A spear thrust into his side produced blood and water. A friend of Jesus was granted permission to bury the body in his tomb. Jesus was anointed with spices and placed in the borrowed tomb. There he stayed for three days.
A key to understanding the death of Christ is to recognize the resurrection of Christ. The focus of Christianity is not a crucifix but rather an empty cross and an empty tomb. Christ died but lives today.
Jesus’ Words While Being Crucified
When we examine the nature of crucifixion, it would be understandable to expect irrational behavior, cursing, or self justification from the mouth of the condemned man. Such was not the case with the death of Jesus. Seven times he spoke from the cross. These are known as the seven last words of Christ. They reflect his divine-human nature, that he was the God-man. These words reflect the purpose for which he came-the salvation of God. These seven sayings give insight into how Jesus faced the crucifixion.
Forgiveness (Luke 23:34)
His first words were a prayer of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). As Jesus was experiencing more pain than most of us could imagine, he was praying for those that caused his suffering. Here, Christ reveals the divine attribute of love for everyone, including those who evidenced the most hate toward him.
Acceptance (Luke 23:43)
In the midst of the crucifixion, one of the thieves being crucified with Jesus realized he was spiritually condemned also. Though he had earlier mocked Christ, he now asked for forgiveness. Jesus responded, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” God, is bound by his nature to punish every sin, but in contrast, he also is bound by his nature to forgive all who repent and call for forgiveness.
Human responsibility (John 19:26, 27)
As he hung on the cross, Jesus saw his mother standing by the apostle John. Turning to them, “He saith unto his mother, Woman behold thy son.” The care of parents was the responsibility of the firstborn. Since Jesus had lived a sinless life, in death he would not forget to honor his mother (Exod. 20:12).
Separation (Matt. 27:46)
When the sin of the world was placed upon Christ, the heavenly Father could not look on his Son because God cannot look on sin. Fulfilling prophecy, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1). Jesus, at that moment, experienced alienation from God. This is when he dealt with the sins of the world. Death does not mean to cease to exist. Death means “to separate,” and in this cry Jesus reveals the fact that he was separated from God. Though Jesus was perfect, having never sinned, he experienced the consequence of sin-separation from God, which is the character of hell or punishment.
Suffering (John 19:28)
The fifth saying on the cross reflected the suffering of Jesus as he was crucified. “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accom-plished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” Even his thirst was a fulfillment of Scripture (Ps. 22:15). As a crucified man reaches the human limit of suffering, he experiences intense pain. Jesus’ cry of thirst reflects that he was not supernaturally exempt from the suffering normally experienced in crucifixion.
Some may assume that Jesus did not suffer to the limit of physical endurance because he was God. But Jesus probably suffered more intense pain because he was not a hardened sinner but was a perfect human. Most Bible scholars believe Jesus cried for something to drink so that he would have strength to make his victorious benediction.
Victory (John 19:30)
“It is finished!” The sixth cry from the cross was the cry of the victor. Scholars actually suggest several interpretations of what was finished.
- First, “It is finished” means Christ had accomplished salvation for the human race.
- Second, the statement means he had bruised the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).
- Third, he had demonstrated the love of God (John 3:16).
- Fourth, he had satisfied the demands of God’s holiness (Rom. 5:8).
- Fifth, Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament prediction of a coming Messiah.
- Sixth, it meant the suffering of the past six hours was over.
- But the seventh meaning applied to every Jew-they no longer had to bring an animal sacrifice continually for their sins.
He was the sacrifice for sin of which all the animal sacrifices were only the symbols. There is reason to believe that the expression, tetelestac in Greek, was the mark placed on a bill of sale which had the significance of “paid in full.” Symbolically, the veil in the temple was rent from the top to bottom (from God to man) when Jesus cried, “It is finished!”
Completion (Luke 23:46)
The final word from the cross was a prayer of benediction. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” Jesus had completed what he began to do. As Christ died, he committed his spirit to God. Because of the death of Christ, we can approach God with confidence that he is approachable. As Jesus committed his death to God, so we can commit our lives to him.
The words of Christ on the cross reflect the doctrine of his atonement for man.
The death of Christ was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. When God wanted to save Israel from a judgment upon Egypt, he commanded the sacrifice of a lamb and the -~ applying of the blood to the doorpost of the house. “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye t are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Exod. 12:13). God will save for eternity those who have trusted Christ “and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
Two Ways To View the Crucifixion
Depending on who you are, the crucifixion has two possible views:
- The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was good for us in that God in His great love and mercy offers through Jesus and His death for our sins the forgiveness of sins and the gift of everlasting life.
- The crucifixion of Jesus was evil on the part of all of us whose sins caused Jesus to be crucified. Your sins and mine drove those nails through His hands and feet, put that crown of thorns upon His brow, drove that spear into His side, and all of the other awful things done to Jesus at Calvary.
The crucifixion of Jesus is good for us, but was bad because we were the ones who caused Him to go to the cross. Thank God His great love overcomes all the bad for every person who repents of his sins and turns to Jesus.
In Philippians 2:5-7 we see that Jesus, as God, took upon Himself “the likeness of men.” Thus, Jesus became the one and only “God-man,” He was totally God and totally man at the same time. This is called the Hypostatic Union and is difficult to understand. But Jesus Christ, as the God-man died on the cross for our sins. So, God the Son did die for sinners. It had to be this way because Jesus has always been God and always will be God. He could not have put away His deity to die on the cross even if He wanted to, because He is God. And He had to die as God, being perfect, to be a satisfactory sacrifice for us in the eyes of God the Father.
Jesus Died as a Man
Jesus Christ also died as a man. This identified Him with all of us in the human race. He was “made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7) and therefore, He could be tempted in all things as we are and remain sinless (Hebrews 4:15). We praise God for this wonderful truth. Jesus Christ is now our high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, because He knows exactly what we are going through.
God the Son is a person and as a person He died as God and as man He bore our punishment. Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was wounded for our transgressions: he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.”
We Have Redemption in Christ
In this chastisement Christ experienced what no other man has ever experienced. He became sin, taking on Himself our sins. And when He took upon Himself our sin on the cross, God the Father had to turn His back on God the Son, because of our sin which He had taken upon Himself. Thus Christ suffered the awful punishment of separation from God the Father at that time. But we praise the Triune God that Christ rose from the dead, victorious over sin and death, now to live forever as the God-man who accomplished our eternal redemption.
What a Savior we have! How can we do less than to give Him our best and trust Him as our all in all.
The Location of Jesus’ Tomb
There are two sites which are pointed out as the possible location of the tomb where they laid Jesus’ body after the crucifixion:
- (1) Church of the Holy Sepulcher – inside the present wall of the old city of Jerusalem
- (2) Gordon’s Calvary – outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem
The issues surrounding the controversy of the two “Garden Tomb” locations are presented in the following commentaries:
The Zondervan Pictorial- Bible Atlas, E. M. Blaiklock ed., Zondervan Publishing Co., Grand Rapids:
Golgotha: The traditional site of Golgotha goes back to AD 327, when the Emperor Constantine built the original church of the Holy Sepulcher over the spot [he had a temple of Venus torn down that had been built on the same spot] (John 19:41). The crucifixion took place outside the second wall of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12).
Josephus’ statement concerning the second wall was that it ran from the Antonia fortress on the east to the “Gate Gennath” in the first wall on the west. There has been considerable doubt about the exact line of the second wall on the north.
Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem conducted by Miss Kathleen M. Kenyon in 1963, indicate that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher lay outside the second wall, so that it could mark the site of Christ’s death and burial (p. 310).
The Bible And Archaeology, by J. A. Thompson 1962, Eerdman’s Publishing Go., Grand Rapids:
But the fact is that we have no clear information, archaeological or historical, which will allow precise identification. There is more than one proposed site for the place where Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, the house of Caiaphas, the place of the trial, Calvary, and the garden tomb. The confused visitor will be shown the scene by the Roman Catholics, the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Russians… “For some of these sites there is some archaeological information that may finally prove to be of value” (p. 347).
The site of Calvary and the tomb where Jesus was buried presents a difficult problem…. A great deal turns on the position of the second wall of the city, for the crucifixion took place outside this wall. Traditionally, the present position of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher marks the site of Calvary, and the tomb must be close by (p. 349).
In the absence of serious excavation in the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher it is difficult to arrive at a final decision.
Those who contend that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher gives us the site will show a tomb, the precincts of the church. But this lies under the same kind of doubt that attaches to the site of Calvary (p. 351).
A popular alternative site for Calvary and the tomb was taken up by General Gordon in 1883 when he saw a peculiar skull-like formation in the rocks to the north of the present wall. The rocky hill above was identified with Calvary and a tomb in the vicinity was taken as the garden tomb. But there is no convincing evidence at all that Gordon’s Calvary and the tomb have authentic value (pp. 351, 352).
The Stones And The Scriptures, by Edwin Yamauchi, 1972, Baker Book Publishing Co., Grand Rapids:
There are two sites which are pointed out as the location of Calvary (Golgotha) and the tomb of Jesus: 1) Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb favored by Protestants; 2) the Church of the Holy Sepulcher venerated by all other denominations (p. 108).
Even before General Gordon, in 1842 Otto Thenius, a German pastor, had been attracted to the same hill by two cavities which give in the appearance of a skull. A drawing made of the area by a traveler of the seventeenth century shows, however, the two “eyesockets” of Gordon’s Calvary had not yet been formed at that time (p. 110). (See also R. A. S. Macalister, “The Garden Tomb”, Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund (1907), p. 231).
The nearby Garden Tomb, although it has been made a restful basis for meditation, likewise has no claim to authenticity. Sockets for bolts and hinges in the jambs indicate that it was closed by a door and not a rolling stone. The so-called “window” is the top of the doorway of the originally independent chamber which has been partially blocked up with masonry. The tomb is probably of a Byzantine date.
On the other hand, the traditional site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the location both of Calvary and of the Lord’s tomb has much in favor of its authenticity. We know that the site of Calvary and other areas sacred to Christians were deliberately desecrated by the emperor Hadrian in AD 135.