The word “passion,” as most people know it today, comes from a French word associated with a state or outburst of intense feelings. However, the word is also associated with the final hours of Jesus’ life on earth. That “passion” stems from Latin and means suffering or enduring. It is most definitely what Christ did. He suffered more than we care to imagine. The passion of Christ begins with His time in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He began to really feel the heavy burden of what He must do, through His death on the cross. Jesus suffered so many things in those last hours: the betrayal of Judas, abandonment and denial by His disciples, arrest, trials, mockery, shame, and torture. These things He endured voluntarily.
The ancient Romans did not invent crucifixion, but they did perfect it. During the time of Jesus, the Romans were the only culture in the world crucifying people. It sent a more powerful message than other means of execution because it was particularly brutal and humiliating. Crucifixion was specifically designed for a slow death while inflicting the maximum amount of pain and suffering a human could possibly endure. It was incredibly painful, so much so, that a new word was invented at the time to describe the pain: “excruciating.” Depending on many factors, including the severity of the scourge and where/how the legs were fixed to the cross, the amount of pain and suffering a victim experienced could be adjusted through skilled administration. While the Romans crucified a lot of people, typically Roman citizens themselves were not subjected to this form of capital punishment. They viewed those who were crucified as vile.
Several types of crosses were employed at the time. There are no records of the exact type chosen for Jesus, but it is mostly depicted today as a “T” shaped cross where He would have hung with arms stretched outward from his body on either side. The Romans also used a couple of different methods to secure the arms and legs to the cross, but nailing was preferred. Sometimes they even placed a small seat, of sorts, for the victim to lay their weight against. At first this may sound like an act of kindness, it is not. It actually resulted in prolonged suffering. History proves the Romans had no real standard pattern of crucifixion they followed as a whole. The culture of the particular city they were in played a part, but the largest factor was the Roman soldiers themselves.
Only women and some senators were crucified without some form of flogging beforehand. Roman law saw to that. The weapon of choice for the scourging of the victim was a short whip. It was made from several single or braided leather thongs of varying lengths. Small iron balls or sharp pieces of bone were attached at the ends of the thongs. The scourge was intended to weaken the victim just before the point of collapse or death. The pain and blood loss usually set the way for circulatory shock. In this diminished physical state, the unfortunate soul would then have to carry their own cross outside the city walls to be crucified. Most of the time, if they used a “T” shape cross, the vertical pole was permanently fixed at the site of execution, and the victim was carrying the crossbar on his shoulders. A solution of sour wine (vinegar/wine mixed with gall and myrrh) was prepared and given to the condemned to act as a deadening agent for pain. Again, this may sound like an act of kindness, but it is not really. If you take a pain killer, your body relaxes. When someone hanging on a cross relaxes, they can’t hold themselves up so they suffocate and die. Maybe it was an act of kindness. The breaking of the legs was a more deliberate way to get the same effect. The body suffered tremendously during the whole process and a person could die at any point in the event from any one condition, but it was catastrophic to experience more than one at the same time: shock, low blood volume, exhaustion, asphyxia, irregular heart activity or acute heart failure, and a systematic shut down of all organs.
All of that was a pretty generic overview of Roman Crucifixion 101. It was, regardless of any of the variables, the most horrible death anyone could experience during that time, and it was chosen for Jesus. To understand why we must remember what Jesus came here to do in the first place. God promised a new covenant would be established to replace the old covenant. Most of the book of Exodus is spent with Moses and the development of the old covenant. It is a promise between God and His people. It is the only way the people could atone for their sins. It established the law.
To get yourself right with God under the law was very complicated. There was a temple, with an inner sanctum – the Holy of Holies. No one could go into the Holy of Holies except the high priest on the day of atonement. A veil, unlike any we see today, blocked the doorway into the sanctum. It was a heavy curtain weighing hundreds of pounds. The presence of God resided there, and humans are not worthy to be in His holy presence. The high priest had many preliminary things to do and rituals to perform before he could enter. There were more rituals once he did enter. This was all part of the law. The high priest would make sacrifices and ask forgiveness for the sins of all the people that had happened over the whole year.
Jesus came to fulfill the old covenant and become the new covenant Himself. The law could make nothing perfect, so the high priests had to perform the rituals over and over. The perfect sacrifice of Jesus makes the ways of the old covenant no longer necessary.
So Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. Now many have become [Levitical] priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do-first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, [appoints] a Son, who has been perfected forever, Hebrews 7: 22-28.
Only the perfect, holy Son of God would suffice. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, Hebrews 10:4. He then says, See, I have come to do Your will. He takes away the first to establish the second. By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all, Hebrews 10:9-10. Jesus also had to take on the sins of the whole world for all time. He died to cover everyone, even those not born yet. The sacrifice had to be great enough to carry the sins of the world. When you imagine how much sin we are talking about, then you can understand why He had to suffer so much.
The four Gospels do not go into detail of the scourging of Christ. A study of 1 Peter alludes to its brutality though. Roman soldiers were known to mock their victims during the process of crucifixion. They seemed to have a particular disdain for Jesus whom they made fun of for claiming to be a “King”. This fact supports the brutality of the torture they inflicted upon Him, placing a crown of thorns on His head to add insult to injury.
From the beginnings of creation, the innocent dying to cover the sins of the guilty has been a common theme. It started in the Garden of Eden, God Himself killed an animal to cover the sin of Adam and Eve. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them, Genesis 3:21. We are not told anywhere in the bible what kind of animal the Lord used, but I feel pretty confident it was a lamb.
There are many parts of the crucifixion of Jesus that have caused people to ponder. One such area is when Jesus cried out to the Lord and asked, “Why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46. People have different interpretations about why He said this, and others just simply don’t understand. Here’s what I think: I believe Jesus was quoting scripture – David, to be exact (ironic or not since Christ hailed from the line of David) – in Psalm 22:1-2
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
As utterly horrific as it all was for Jesus, it paid the price for mankind. Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29. At the moment of His death, that heavy veil in the temple was torn into from top to bottom. A sign from God that it was no longer necessary. The very flesh of His only begotten Son was the veil now. Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He has inaugurated for us, through the curtain (that is, His flesh), Hebrews 10:19-20. Because of Jesus, I never have to feel forsaken, or have some priest make offerings, or go without the stirring of the spirit within my soul. Thank you sweet Jesus for all you have done for me, and the whole world, when you were willing to pay the price for us!
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