The Science Of The Crucifixion

Welcome back! This is salt and light commission and as Holy Week is upon us.  We would like to take the time to talk about events that Jesus went or possibly went through prior to the glorious resurrection that defeated death and secured our eternal life with the Father.  We are going to walk through the last hours of Jesus’ life on earth by walking through the science behind the Crucifixion. To read more about the resurrection…Click Here.

Many a people know the claim that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  Whether they believe they needed saving or not is another matter, but they have heard it before. However, many of the same people don’t know how gruesome a death that was.  Maybe if people knew in the fullest of details what happened, maybe the claim would move from abstract to becoming more real. Let’s dive in.

The Crucifixion process was invented by the Persians between 300-400 B.C. It was undoubtedly the most painful death ever invented by mankind. The English language derives the word “excruciating” from crucifixion, acknowledging it as a form of slow, painful suffering. The punishment was reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the most heinous of lawbreakers.

Sweating Blood

Jesus takes His disciples to Gethsemene to pray, after the Passover meal, or what is commonly known as, The last Supper. The account is recorded in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:37-42, and Luke 22:39-44.  Jesus says His soul is in anguish with so much grief, to the point of death. So much so that when He is praying for the Father’s will to be done, but if it is possible that He will not have to go through what He was destined to go through, He begins to sweat drops of blood. 

Modern medicine can example this, it is a medical condition Jesus was experiencing.  Although rare, it’s a medical condition called, hematohidrosis, during which the capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands break down. Blood released from the vessels mixes with the sweat; therefore, the body begins to sweat drops of blood.  Jesus’ mental anguish of His impending death made His physical condition fail.

Ultimately Jesus was probably in excellent physical shape. Look at all the things He accomplished.  Always walking for miles, climbing mountains, talking for extending periods of time, healing crowds of people one by one, out maneuvering people that wanted to grab Him and stone Him.  And now we witness His body beginning to break down.

Sleep Deprived and Physically Abused

Late that Thursday night Jesus is arrested and spends the better part of early Friday morning walking 2 miles back and forth from Pilate to Herod sleep deprived.  He is beaten and mocked repeatedly.  As if the beating weren’t pleasant enough, He was still suffering from hematohidrosis, which was making His skin very tender.  This account is recorded in the 4 gospels: Matthew 26:67-75, Mark 14:61-72, Luke 22:54-23:25, John 18:16-27, if you want to read it in entirety.

Introduction To Flogging

Pilate after receiving pressure from the Jews to crucify Jesus, ordered Jesus to be flogged and then crucified. Flogging was the beginning part of the crucifixion process, and it was very painful.  When you read the gospel accounts this is what you will read:

  • Matthew 26:26, “But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.”
  • Mark 15:15, “He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.”
  • Luke 23:22, “Therefore I [Pilate] will have him [Jesus] punished…”
  • John 19:1, “Then Pilate ordered that Jesus be taken away and whipped.”

If you are reading this without knowing want flogging really is, you may glance over this statement as, ‘Jesus was whipped a little before being taken to the cross.’  Without having a true understanding of flogging you will miss the depth of Jesus’ punishment.  So, let’s look at the Roman flogging process, to understand what Jesus went through.

The Flogging

The tool used to flog was a whip, either long or short, that was made of twisted leather.  From the handle of the whip comes several strips of knobbed leather.  In the middle of these strips have metal balls, that would leave deep bruises when hitting the skin.  The metal balls and knots would have caused Vasodilation, which would cause the blood vessels and pain rectors to rise closer to the surface. This would cause intense bleeding and mind-numbing pain.  In addition to that, sharp fragments of sheep bone were attached to the tip of the strips. 

So, Jesus would have been undressed and tied to a pole where His back would be exposed to the soldiers. Undoubtedly when the sheep bone contacted to Jesus’ skin it would dig into His muscles and when the soldier would yank the whip back, it would tear chunks of flesh exposing bone.  There are records of flogging victim’s intestines falling out, because the whip would reach around the abdomen and the sheep bone would dig in, weaken the ab wall and causing the intestines to fall out. Jesus would have been whipped over 40 times. The process would have left Jesus’ back skin in ribbons and bleeding profusely. With the amount of blood loss and damage to the nerves in His back, Jesus’ body probably went into shock.

Head Trauma

When they were done, they placed a royal robe on His bleeding body, (which helped with the healing process, through blood clotting), and a crown of thorns on His head, and a staff in His hand to mock Him as the King of the Jews.  The scripture record that Jesus was beat in the head repeatedly with the staff after the soldiers took it away from Him. His face would have swollen and bruised. In a Messianic text, Isaiah 52:14, states that Jesus is beaten beyond recognition.

 He was then script of the robe He was wearing, which would have reopened the wounds on his back starting the bleeding process over again (Matthew 27:27-31).  Jesus is now in critical condition.  Some victims have died from the flogging alone.  

The Crucifixion – The Cross

Jesus was then sent away to carry His cross to the place called Golgotha, where the execution would take place.  On the road there Jesus’ health deteriorated to the point He could not carry His own cross to the hill, which was part of the process.  A man, the scriptures record as Simon of Cyrene, does it for Him.  Jesus probably didn’t carry the traditional cross as we know it today.  The cross was divided into 3 parts, The vertical piece (the stipes) remains in the ground permanently. The accused carries only the horizontal piece (the patibulum) up the hill. Atop the patibulum lies a sign (the titulus), indicating that a formal trial occurred for a violation of the law. For Jesus this reads “This is the King of the Jews,” recorded in all 4 of the gospels

The Nailing

The Nailing

Jesus is thrown to the ground to be nailed to the patibulum. Some films depict this being done through the middle of the hand and some being done through the wrist.  The scriptures record the “hand,” but in Greek the hand included the wrist as well.  The modernly named wrist being the nailed location would provide the best position to support the weight of the body.  Regardless, scriptures indicate He was nailed to the cross.  Being nailed through the wrist with a 7-inch nail would have hit the median nerve.  This is a major nerve in the hand, and it would cause extreme pain shooting through both of Jesus’s arms.  In addition, as Jesus on the patibulum was lifted to the stipe His wrists, elbows, and shoulders would have been dislocated. Which is mentioned in another Messianic text, Psalm 22:14… “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint:”

His knees would have then been bent to about 90 degrees and nailed with another 7-inch nail through the dorsal pedal artery of the feet.  This would have caused severe pain and along with the weight of His body being pushed on this nail that is driven in all the way to the ankle bone. The pain would never subside.

Respiratory Distress

Respiratory Distress

The Diaphragm is a large muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity.  When you inhale the diaphragm lowers to allows the chest cavity to expand to allow air to flow into the lungs. To exhale, the diaphragm moves up, compressing the air out the lungs. This is done automatically unless you decide to hold your breath.  In Jesus’s case, as He hung on the cross, the weight of his body pulled down in the diaphragm preventing it to move up, so the chest cavity expands, air enters the lungs, and it stays there.  His lungs remain in the inhale position.  To exhale Jesus must push up on His nailed feet, scraping His tattered back against a rugged wooden cross.  He had to be in pain to do this repeatedly to breathe — and to speak.  Let’s not forget the bible records that Jesus spoke 7 times on the cross.   What’s remarkable about one of His statements, He asks God to forgive them.  Forgive them after all that we had addressed they did to Him.  Truly remarkable.  Classic Jesus, living out His message to the very end.

Cause of Death

In a quote from Cahleen Shrier, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, who presented a special lecture on the science of Christ’s crucifixion, states this:

“The difficulty surrounding exhalation leads to a slow form of suffocation. Carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, resulting in a high level of carbonic acid in the blood. The body responds instinctively, triggering the desire to breathe. At the same time, the heart beats faster to circulate available oxygen. The decreased oxygen (due to the difficulty in exhaling) causes damage to the tissues and the capillaries begin leaking watery fluid from the blood into the tissues. This results in a build-up of fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion) and lungs (pleural effusion). The collapsing lungs, failing heart, dehydration, and the inability to get sufficient oxygen to the tissues essentially suffocate the victim. The decreased oxygen also damages the heart itself (myocardial infarction) which leads to cardiac arrest. In severe cases of cardiac stress, the heart can even burst, a process known as cardiac rupture. Jesus most likely died of a heart attack.”

It’s interesting that she says in severe cases the heart can actually burst, because the second half of psalm 22: 14, it says, “… My heart is like wax; It is melted in the midst of my bowels.”

The Spear

The Spear

Crucifixion is designed to be a slow, agonizing, and shameful death.  But when the soldiers wanted to speed up the death on the cross, they would take a club or a mallet and break the legs of the victims.  That would result in them suffocating, because they would not be able to push up anymore to exhale.  The two men that were crucified with Jesus legs were broken, But the was no need to break Jesus’s legs because He was already dead. 

The nonbreaking of Jesus’ legs had a deep meaning of Jesus being the Passover Lamb of God.  As John testifies, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’” John 19:36. The Exodus 12:46 rule of not breaking any lamb bones is also echoed prophetically in Psalm 34:20: “He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.”

So, when the soldiers saw that Jesus was already dead.  They made sure by using a spear and thrusting it into His side. The  scriptures say that blood and water flowed from His side when they did.  Which is consisted with the analysis that there would be a watery fluid and blood surrounding His heart and lungs from internal hemorrhaging.

Good Friday

Now, this isn’t a blog to just talk about the science involved in the last hours of Jesus’ life on earth.  It’s a call to action also, for us to realize that the punishment He endured on and off the cross was meant for us. And He took it all so that you and I would not have to.  He endured the wrath of God so we could experience God’s love. With so much brutality done to our Lord and Savior, why do we celebrate Good Friday?  Because His death was not the end.  It’s the beginning of eternal life for those who receive. We celebrate the Father’s immense love, the Son’s obedience to love’s call, and the Holy Spirit’s role to help us understand that love. If you want to read more about Good Friday…Click Here. So, what will be your response?  Will you write it off as an interesting read?  Will you reject Him, or will you accept Him, because He took Your place?  The choice is yours.  That’s it for now, until next time…and remember you are the salt and light of the world. Be blessed. 

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