The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion

This is long but very good: I ran across this on the net, and had never heard it quite like this before. Couldn't help but weep.

The Crucifixion From A Medical Perspective

Summarized and Edited by Michael K. Farrar, O.D.

From an article by Dr. C. Truman Davis, M.D., M.S.



I thought it might be beneficial to share with you a summarized version of an article I read some years ago on the physical experiences of Jesus during the crucifixion.

The physical suffering of Christ began in the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ is confronted with the reality of His approaching death. In this intense moment, Luke 22:44 states that being in agony, Christ’s sweat became as blood. This is a true medical phenomenon called “hematidrosis.” Under great emotional strain, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat, thus the term “bloody sweat.” We can’t even imagine the amount of emotional stress Christ was under at this time.

After the arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiphas, the High Priest; it is here that the first physical trauma was inflicted. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiphas, John 18:22. The palace guards then blindfolded Him and mockingly taunted Him as they each passed by, spat on Him, and struck Him in the face.

In the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, is taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia. This is the seat of government of the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Through popular request of the people, Pilate orders Jesus to be crucified, but first to be scourged. The soldiers prepare Jesus for scourging by first stripping Him of all His clothing and then His hands are tied to a post above His head.

The scourging begins, by the Roman legionnaire stepping forward with the flagrum (or flagellum) in his hand. This is a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the lower tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises that are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death the beating is finally stopped. Half-fainting, Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with His own blood.

A robe is thrown across His shoulders. The taunting Roman soldiers place a stick for a scepter in His hands. A small bundle of branches covered with long thorns is formed into the shape of a crown and then pressed into Jesus’ scalp. Again, there is much bleeding (the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body). After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from His hand and strike Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, they tire of their sadistic sport and the robe is torn from His back. This had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal causes excruciating pain and the wounds begin to bleed again.

We should mention at this point the exact type of cross which Jesus is to carry to His crucifixion. We usually see pictures of Christ on a “Latin Cross.” In reality, Jesus was actually crucified on a “Tau Cross.” The Tau Cross had a “stipe” (upright portion) and a “Patibulum” (Cross-Arm) just like, the Latin Cross, only the Tau Cross patibulum was placed in a notch at the top of the stipe. This gave the Tau Cross the appearance of the Greek letter Tau or the English letter T. The patibulum of the cross was placed on the shoulders of Jesus and this was what He carried up to Golgotha.

With this heavy burden, Jesus begins His slow 650-yard journey along the path to the hill of Golgotha. In spite of His efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance. The centurion selects a person from the crowd to carry the cross of Jesus.

The crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic mixture. He refuses. The patibulum is placed on the ground and Jesus is thrown backward onto it. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. Again a common misconception is that the nails were driven through the palms of Jesus’ hands. This could not be true for the hands would tear apart trying to support His weight on the cross. It is know that the wrist was also considered to be part of the hand, so the nails were driven between the two wrist bones and provided for a very adequate support system during a crucifixion.

The legionnaire upon finding the depression between the bones in the wrist drives the heavy, square, wrought iron nail through Jesus’ hand and into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum is then lifted in place at the top of the stipe and the “titulus” reading (Jesus, of Nazareth, King of the Jews) is nailed in place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. Christ is now crucified. As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain; the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet.

At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life giving oxygen. It was undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered the seven short sentences recorded in the Bible.

The first sentence was while He was looking down at the Roman soldiers throwing dice for His seamless garment, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

The second sentence was to the penitent thief; “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

The third, while looking down at the terrified, grief stricken, adolescent John, “Behold they mother,” and looking to Mary, His mother, “Woman, behold they son.” (John 19:26-27)

The fourth cry is a quote from the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber; then the other agony begins. A deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium (the sack enclosing the heart) slowly fills with serum and beings to compress the heart.

It is now almost over, the loss of tissue fluid has reached a critical level, the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick sluggish blood into the tissues; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain.

Jesus gasps His fifth cry, “I thirst!” (John 19:28)

A sponge soaked in Posca, a cheap, sour wine that is the staple drink of the Roman legionnaires, is lifted to His lips. He apparently doesn’t take any of the liquid. The body of Jesus is now near death. He can feel a cold chill creeping through His tissues. This realization brings out His sixth cry, possibly little more than a tortured whisper: “It is finished.” His mission of atonement for the sins of mankind has been completed. Finally He can allow His body to die.

With one last surge of strength, He once again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters His seventh and last cry, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit.”

The common method of ending the crucifixion was by curifracture, the breaking of the bones of the legs. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward, the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of the chest, and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when they came to Jesus, they saw that this was unnecessary.

Apparently to make double sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance through the fifth interspace between Jesus’ ribs, upward through he pericardium and into the heart (John 19:34). The watery fluid that escaped from this wound was the fluid that had built up in the pericardium around the heart and the blood from within the heart. We therefore have evidence that our Lord died not from the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but from heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid of the pericardium.

Here we have a glimpse of only the physical torture that our dear Lord endured during the crucifixion. We can only imagine the emotional and psychological sufferings that took place, not to mention the spiritual burden of carrying the penalty for all the sins of all those who have ever and will ever live. Christ paid a great price, but rose in victory, proving His offer of everlasting life is available to anyone who would simply accept Him as his or her Savior and Lord.