(Jewish version HERE)
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:
A. Heart failure.
B. Loss of blood.
2. The legs were:
A. Allowed to hang loose.
B. Straight, with the feet nailed side by side.
C. Straight, with the feet nailed together.
D. Bent, with the feet nailed together.
3. The legs might be broken to hasten death to:
A. Intensify pain to expedite heart failure.
B. Increase difficulty of breathing.
C. Accelerate blood loss.
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.
"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
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 night1 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
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
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
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
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
- The guards took turns standing before Jesus, stinging Him with slaps that drove his head to the left and right. They began to enjoy the game. They progressed from slaps to heavy punches on the head and chest and stomach. When Jesus doubled up, they hit Him in the face, and that brought Him erect again. They stood close to Him
and spit in His face. Somebody got a cloth and blindfolded Jesus, and the guards danced around Him, slapping His face and bantering, "Act the prophet. Who struck you?" They called him cruel, obscene names, and His knees began to buckle. So they held Him up until He was strong enough to stand again, and then they beat Him up again.
"Up Calvary's mountain, one dreadful morn
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 wrist3 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.
Walked Christ my savior, weary and worn,
Facing for sinners death on the cross,
That He might save them from endless loss.."
"'Father, forgive them,' thus did He pray,
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.
E'en while His lifeblood flowed fast away.
Praying for sinners while in such woe,
No one but Jesus ever loved so."
"Blessed Redeemer, Precious Redeemer; seems now I see Him on
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
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
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)
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading, blind and unheeding,
dying for me."
"When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to His blood.
"See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all."
"Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Were you there when He rose up from the grave?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble."
1For a more accurate outline of this week, please see
2This 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)
3The Hebrew word yad means "hand," but it also
refers to the entire arm.
or WHAT Jewish Roots?
For further study, see the
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