(Jewish version )
(For the Gentile Reader)

ATTENTION:  This article presents a graphic description of the medical aspects of death by crucifixion on the body and may be disturbing to some people.

Before reading this article, test yourself.

1. The primary cause of death by crucifixion is:

2. The legs were:

3. The legs might be broken to hasten death to:

To see just WHO crucified Yeshua, click HERE.
(HINT:  NOT "the Jews")

Message by Richard Blakeley, MD, at Nassau Bay Baptist Church, 18131 Naussau Bay Drive, Houston, TX 77058, on March 23, 1975.

Christ's Crucifixion

"He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; He hath borne our sorrows and carried our griefs.  Yet, we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted; but He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.  With His bruises, we are healed.  He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter.  He hath poured out His soul unto death." (Is. 53:3-5, 7, 12)

How familiar these prophetic words of Isaiah.  Paul says, "We preach Christ crucified."  "Christ died for our sins," and even, "I am crucified with Christ."  To all but the newest Christians, such phrases seem to almost roll off the tongue without pause or much reflection.  The cross, the crucifixion, the death of Jesus have become familiar to us.  We capitalize them, we paint pictures, we hang replicas on the walls of our churches.  We say that baptism itself mirrors the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord.  But do we really think about what happened?  Do we really have any idea of the extent to which Jesus suffered as He bore our sins on the cross?

This has been a week of suffering and difficulty in our church.  When things aren't going our way, or when we see loved one ones, for example, lying in a hospital bed, hurt after a senseless automobile accident, we may find ourselves again asking God how much we will be asked to bear and wondering why he permits his children to suffer so.  But, as Bill said this morning, when we ask God--and listen--the answer comes, and with it, peace.  God understands our suffering well, and we know this because He Himself experienced awful agonizing human suffering.

Ninety minutes ago, in a house in Pasadena, a man complained of pain in his chest.  An ambulance was called and the man was rushed to a hospital where I was.  When he arrived, he was dead, and I had to be the one to tell his wife, to start her on her journey through the valley of loneliness.  Can she count on God for help?  I believe that Jesus' death on the cross tells us that God understands what that woman feels.  He'll help her.

Obviously, I was not physically present at Calvary, but I would like to take you there with me now.  I want you to prepare yourselves to face something which will not be pleasant to hear, or to see in your mind.  I can only say this: In seeing Jesus the way that I see Him now, and the way that I will share with you, I personally have been moved.  What started as a preparation for a talk I had been asked to give a couple of years ago became a soul-shaking experience for me, and I guess that I want you to feel the same thing.

I am grateful for several sources which include secular historical and archeological information, other physicians who have published writings concerning the crucifixion, certain historical narratives, detailed studies by others of the Shroud of Turin (about which I shall speak later), the Bible, and God Himself, who has helped me to see clearly His Son dying for me.

Let us go now to the Garden of Gethsemane outside Jerusalem.  It is Thursday night[1] before Passover, A.D. 30.  Jesus Christ will be dead in 18 hours.  Jesus knows what lies ahead.  A few days previously, when the disciples criticized a woman who anointed Jesus with precious perfume, Jesus replied, "She has done what she could, and has anointed my body ahead of time for burial."  He repeatedly told His disciples of his coming death, and here, in the garden, Jesus is in agony as He prays, "Father, My Father, take this cup away from Me."  He is described as being in great anguish, grief, and distress.  "My soul is crushed," He said.

We see His loneliness, first of all, as He find Himself face to face with God, where no one else, least of all His sleeping disciples can help.  We see His stark human fear of impending death.  Painful as that would be to anyone, He was only 33 years old.  My age, in fact.  By human terms, Jesus' work had seemingly barely begun, and his supporters seemed weak, uncomprehending, and unreliable.  His plea to His heavenly Father stamps Him as your brother and mine.  Jesus was certain that the cross was God's will, but He was struggling with the "why;" why this way?  Here in Gethsemane, Jesus was struggling to accept what He did not fully understand, just like we do.

Luke says His sweat was like drops of blood.  The cold, clammy, thick sweat of supreme agony.  Dr. Luke knew nothing about hormones.  Today we know that a man in this state has an increased level of circulating adrenalin, which causes that kind of sweating.  The same hormone would have caused Jesus' heart to pound, His intestines to go into spasm, and His mouth to dry up.  He probably became nauseated, and may have felt stomach cramps.  If He tried to speak any of His prayer aloud, the words would have stuck in His throat.  Still, He beautifully accepted God's will in love and trust, and in that submission, passed the point of no return.

Judas now arrives with the captors.  Jesus is tied up, and at one o'clock in the morning, the group arrives at the house of the high priest, Caiaphas.  Luke says that Jesus was guarded throughout the night, waiting for the day, and that His captors hit Him.  Jim Bishop, who wrote the book The Day Christ Died, describes the scene:

Sometime during that endless night, or possibly at daybreak, the Sanhedrin assembled for the trial.  "Are You the Son of God?", they asked Jesus.  "Yes, I am.", our Lord replied.  With that, the Council voted the death sentence.

So it is, that in the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated and exhausted from a sleepless night, is taken to Pontius Pilate.  Pilate is indecisive, uncomfortable, and unsure of himself.  When Herod fails to take charge of the prisoner, Pilate decides to have Jesus whipped, apparently as a compromise measure.

It is here that I wish to interject some comments about a piece of cloth known as the Shroud of Turin.[2]  This strip of linen about 14 feet long and 3-1/2 feet wide is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, largely because of the manner in which its owners keep it protected in a cathedral in Turin, Italy.  In fact, it is said to be the very cloth in which the body of Jesus was wrapped when He was laid in the tomb.  Its authenticity has not been proven or disproved, though many have tried, but its existence for the past 600 years is absolutely established.

What makes the shroud remarkable is that it reveals a double image of a man, front and back views, with the two views head-to-head.  A burial shroud in Jesus' day was generally twice the length of the body.  The body was laid lengthwise on one end of the out-folded cloth, and then the uncovered portion of the shroud was passed over the front of the body, completely enfolding it front and back.  Therefore, if an image of a body so wrapped were to be somehow transmitted to the cloth, it would appear exactly as this one does -- head to head, front and back images.  The image appearing on the Shroud of Turin is that of a man who was clearly beaten and crucified.

The most remarkable and exciting aspect of the shroud is its own evidence that it is, in fact, the very cloth used to enfold Jesus' body, and that it is Jesus' body that we see on the cloth.  Surely a forgery, you say.  Possibly, but the forgery would have to have been done prior to the year 1356, the year to which we can trace its existence clearly.  I am convinced that in or before that year, no one could possibly have forged what we now know to be anatomical facts, but which then would have been considered erroneous.

Most importantly, perhaps, the images on the shroud went unrecognized for what they really were until 1898, when the first photograph was made of the image.  In that year, when the Italian photographer first examined the negative in his darkroom, he was stunned to see a positive image of the body and face of the crucified man.  Subsequent examinations have confirmed what Secondo Pia, the photographer, first recognized.  The image on the Shroud of Turin is, in fact, a perfect photographic negative, a concept never even dreamed of until the last century.  I don't think that it was a forgery.

Dr. Robert Buckland, a professor of pathology at the medical school in Galveston, studied photographs of the shroud and published his findings in a medical journal.  He, as well as many others, believe that the image is that of Jesus Christ's body.  The consistency with the gospel description of the crucifixion is perfect, and analysis of the shroud image gives added detail to what the gospel writers say.  Using these findings, together with secular historical information regarding the period and additional details from the Bible, we can now reconstruct the scene as Jesus is whipped and crucified.

His clothes are stripped off and his hands are tied to a post above his head.  On the shroud image, the marks of the whipping appear on the front and back of the body, but are most distinct over the back, extending from the shoulders to the calves.  No marks are seen on the arms or forearms, suggesting that they were, indeed, tied above His head.  The whip was called a flagrum.  It was two or three throngs, at the ends of which were tied two small balls of lead.  The flagrum could thus produce bleeding, because the metal would tear the skin, and study of the shroud suggests that either of two persons did the whipping, or perhaps one person did the whipping alternately from the right and then the left of Jesus' body.

At first, the heavy leather thongs cut through the skin only.  Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing oozing, and then more rapid bleeding as deeper and deeper blood vessels are ripped open.  The small balls of lead first produce large deep bruises which 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.

At last, the tribunal in charge steps forward and halts the brutal torture.  It is his job to see that Jesus does not die from the beating.  He has not yet been sentenced to die.  The tribunal shouts a curt command, and Jesus is left alone, hanging limply from where His hands are tied to the post.  The tribunal jerks the bindings off His arms and Jesus sags to the ground only half conscious.  With anger, the tribunal orders a soldier to help Jesus stand up again, and now, little by little, His entire body begins to throb with pain, as the momentary faint subsides.  But no one pities Him.  The soldiers are just doing their job, just obeying orders.  Jesus is, for them, an object of contempt and amusement, all in a day's work.

Were Jesus to become my patient at this point, I would be forced to call Him critically ill.  The extensive bleeding, agonizing pain, and widespread tissue damage, coupled with the physical exhaustion of sleeplessness and beatings alone, were enough.  But most terrible of all, the crushing blow of rejections by those He loved.  He had poured out love.  Hate was returned.  And now, He was alone.  Not a sympathetic face among the jeering crowd of torturers.  Where were His disciples now?  No friends, no future, no hope.  I would have to rush this patient to the hospital.  He would require sedatives, strong pain medicines, probably narcotics, intravenous fluids and blood transfusions.  Because the skin tears were contaminated, thorough, time-consuming cleansing with antiseptic solutions would need to be done, and antibiotics would have to be given for infection.

But I wasn't there.  You weren't there.  No ambulance came.  There were no sedatives, no narcotics, no fluids, no blood, no antibiotics.  There was no help for Jesus and no one who cared was there; just indifferent, mocking soldiers.

But wait a minute!  We are there, you and I, aren't we?  This is our savior, our redeemer.  It is our sins He bears.  It is for us that He is doing this!  Isaiah says, "He was wounded and bruised for OUR sins.  He was chastised that we might have peace.  He was lashed and we are healed.  We are the ones who strayed away like sheep.  We, who left God's paths to follow our own.  Yet, God laid on Him the guilt and sins of every one of us."  We are there, you and I, in every drop of blood.

The soldiers have a new idea for fun.  Jesus claims to be a king, doesn't He?  They throw a robe across His bleeding shoulders, and put a stick in His hand for a scepter.  They make a crown of thorns and put it on His head.  The thorns they use are one inch long, of the common Zizyphus plant, fashioned into a cap and pressed into place on the top of Jesus' head.  Thorns that are easily strong enough to tear right through his scalp, and there is much fresh bleeding.  Now, the soldiers ridicule Jesus, slapping Him, spitting on Him.  The shroud shows that His nose was probably broken.  They snatch the stick out of His hands and hit Him on the head with it, probably right on the thorns, and with each blow, the thorns are driven deeper into his scalp.  Then they rip the robe off, forcefully.  By now, it has become stuck to the cuts and tears on Jesus' back, and the sudden jerk is like tearing off a Band-Aid to which the scab is stuck, only a thousand times worse.  It feels like He has been whipped again, and there is more bleeding.  Pilate hopes that this would pacify the mob, but it does not.  They want Jesus killed on a cross.  So Pilate washes his hands and hands Jesus over.  The death sentence is now confirmed. 

Crucifixion, the torture and execution of a person by fixation to a cross, is first known to have been practiced by the Persians.  Alexander the Great brought the practice to the Mediterranean world where the Romans learned it and modified it.  The upright part of the cross, called the stipes, could have the crossarm, called patibulum, attached two to three feet below the top of the stipes, and this is what we usually think of when we think about a cross.  However, most evidence suggests that Jesus was crucified on a T-shaped cross.  The patibulum was placed in a notch on top of the stipes.  The stipes was generally permanently fixed in the ground at the site of the execution, and the condemned man usually was forced to carry the patibulum, weighing about 110 pounds, to the site of the execution from prison.

Jesus has to carry His own patibulum.  The distance from the palace to Golgotha, along the Via Dolorosa, is 650 yards.  Jesus tries to walk erect, but the weight of the heavy wooden beam, plus the shock produced by the bleeding, is too much.  He stumbles and falls.  The rough wood of the beam gouges into the torn skin and muscles of his shoulder.  He tries to rise, but the human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance. Simon the Cyrene is called to continue, and Jesus follows, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock.

Finally, they arrive at Golgotha, and Jesus is again stripped of His clothes except for a loin cloth, which was allowed the Jews.

According to the gospels, Jesus is now offered weak acid wine, the common drink of the soldiers, mixed with certain drugs (Mark calls them myrrh) which are used to stupefy criminals before their execution, so the pain is not so severe.  Jesus, however, refuses.  The executioner lays the crossbeam behind Jesus, and abruptly yanks Him backward to the ground.  The beam slams behind Jesus' neck, and soldiers stretch His arms out on the wood and kneel on the inside of His elbows.  The executioner takes a large 5-inch nail and probes for the hollow spot at the front of the wrist.  (Actual experiments have shown that nails passed through the palms of the hands cannot support a body.  The nail quickly tears through the soft tissues and skin as the weight of the body pulls on it.  A nail, however, placed through the wrist[3] and supported by the bones and ligaments of the wrist, does adequately support the weight of the body.  The nail marks seen on the shroud pass through the wrists.  For centuries, this was used as proof that the shroud was a fake, but twentieth century anatomists have shown that such marks are required if a man is to be crucified.)

The executioner positions one of his heavy square-cut iron nails against that spot on Jesus' wrist, raises his hammer, and brings it down onto the nail head with full force, driving it through the wrist and deep into the wood.  He moves, then to the other side and repeats the actions, being careful not to stretch the arms too tightly.  The signal is now given, and two soldiers grab each side of the crossbeam and lift Jesus up.  Jesus is dragged upright, and is hanging by His wrists.  As the soldiers push the patibulum higher and higher, His feet leave the ground, and His entire body hangs from those two nails.  The beam is lowered with a thud into the notch at the top of the stipes.

Next, the feet are nailed.  This is done by the Romans to prolong the agony of the victim.  Dr. Buckland, the pathologist I referred to earlier, actually had himself suspended from a cross, using leather wristlets for support.  He has written of the sensations he felt, saying, "The pain suffered from a suspension by the wrists alone is all but unbearable, with the tensions and strains being directed to the muscles of the shoulders and chest.  These muscles promptly assume a state of spasm, and the victim is physically unable to use the muscles in his chest to breathe.  However, as soon as a support is provided for the feet, the suspended victim is able to relive the strain on his wrists and direct the weight toward his feet."

The Romans, then, had learned to nail the feet to the cross, pushed slightly upward, so the crucified person could lean on the foot nail and push himself upward.  The usual way was to nail one over the other.  In Jesus' case, the shroud suggests that the sole of the right foot was pressed against the stipes.  The heavy spike was driven through the top of the left foot, passing into the arch of the right, and then into the wood.

Jesus was now crucified.

As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in His wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arm to explode in His brain.  The nails in the wrists are in direct contact with the median nerve.  In an effort to seek relief, Jesus pushes Himself upward, placing His full weight on the nail through His feet.  Again comes the searing agony of the nail, ripping through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of His feet.  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 chest muscles are paralyzed and are unable to act.  Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled.  Jesus fights to raise Himself to get even one short breath.  He is suffocating.

Finally, enough carbon dioxide builds up in the blood to relieve the cramp, and spasmodically, Jesus can push Himself upward to breathe out, and then breathe in life-giving oxygen.  It is during these periods that He utters the seven short sentences we have recorded in the Gospels.

Hour after hour, the limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial suffocation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He slides it up and down against the rough timber of the cross, bleeding continues.  Finally, the loss of tissue fluids reaches a critical level, and the critical situation pierces the messages of pain to Jesus' brain.  He gasps, "I thirst."  More of the cheap vinegar wine is offered to Him, but again, He takes none of it.

The body of Jesus is now in extremis.  He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues.  In a tortured whisper, He gasps, "It is finished."  His mission of atonement is completed.  With one last surge of strength, He again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes one last breath and, "Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit."

John records one final insult to Jesus' body.  Since it was the eve of the Sabbath, the Jews wanted to hasten the death of those crucified.  Thus, they went to Pilate to have the legs of the three broken.  With the background I have given you, perhaps you can understand why, with the legs broken, the victims could no longer take the weight off their wrists.  Respiratory paralysis and death by suffocation would follow rapidly.  However, Jesus was already dead.  John tells us that when one of the soldiers plunged a spear into His side, blood and water poured out.  Exactly what this water was, we don't know, but it was likely fluid which had accumulated in the spaces around His lungs and His heart.

The burial of a body had to be completed by sundown, and it would not be possible for the apostles to perform the usual burial ritual, which included anointing the body carefully with warm scented water and oils.  All that there was time for was to wrap the body quickly and quietly in a long linen cloth, which Joseph of Arimathea brought, and to place within the folds of the cloth and on the body a mixture of perhaps as much as 65 pounds of preservatives.  The body was then placed in the tomb, and exactly how long it stayed there, we don't know.

If the shroud is genuine, presumably the combination of chemicals, blood, body fluids, and whatever miraculous happening occurred at the moment of resurrection imprinted the image on the cloth.

The first day of the week, when it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away.  She stood there weeping, and, as she wept, she looked into the tomb.  She saw two angels sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.  They said unto her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"  She replied, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him."  And when she had thus said, she turned back and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom do you seek?"  She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said, "Sir, if you removed Him, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away."  Jesus looked into her eyes, and said, "Mary."  And she looked up at Him and said, "Master!" (from Matt. 28)

[1]For a more accurate outline of this week, please see Passover Week Return

[2]This message was given before further investigation of the shroud.  "Vatican-sponsored scientific tests conducted in 1988 indicated that the shroud itself dates no earlier than 1260."
(Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, c. 1991) Return

[3]The Hebrew word yad means "hand," but it also refers to the entire arm. Return

or WHAT Jewish Roots?

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Last update 16 December 2023