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Crucifixion

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Screen-shot from the film"Jesus", depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion was an infamous method of capital punishment used on violators of Roman law, specifically perpetrators of crimes such as rebellion, conspiracy against the government, and organizing riots. The process consisted of nailing a criminal to a cross, or crucifix, to die several days later, one of the most painful deaths imaginable, which is usually a combination of exhaustion and suffocation. Crucifixion was largely used by the Roman Empire to publicly execute offenders of the law. The most notable example of this was the execution of Jesus Christ. It is because of this that the cross became a symbol of faith in Jesus throughout Scripture and The Church.

Meaning

The English word Crucifixion is from the root words crux and fixus (cross and fasten). The "cross" is a construction of an upright beam and a crossbeam attached either upon its top like the a "T" or crossing like a "t" or an "x".

To "crucify" a person literally means to attach one to the cross beam. The name of the act of crucifying is "crucifixion."

Process

Criminals living during the Roman Empire were sentenced to crucifixion as a form of capital punishment. Crucifixion would not be used on Roman citizens Though Jesus Christ was sentenced to execution by crucifixion, the Roman governor Pilate did not see that Jesus had done any crime and sentenced Him to death in order to please the Jewish leaders [1]

Nailing on the Cross

Those sentenced to crucifixion would often be forced to carry the crossbeam (or maybe the whole cross) upon their backs on the way to the site of their crucifixion. Then the one condemned to death would be laid upon the cross and have their feet and hands nailed to it.

After the victim had been secured to the cross, it would be raised upright and dropped into a prepared hole in the ground. this would cause intense pain as the body was forced to work against gravity. The pain of the nails would be intensified as the weight of the body pulled against them. Meanwhile, the diaphragm would be stretched and useless, making it hard to breath.

Often, as in the case of Jesus, other painful punishments made things worse. In addition to forty lashes that left his back one large bloody wound, a crown of thorns had been added as a cruel joke by his Roman tormentors.[2]

Suffocation

Since the body of the victim was suspended above the ground, the natural body function of the muscles in the chest was nearly impossible. There is evidence that a small foot rest was provided, into which a spike secured the feet. The pierced feet would then support much of the body, allowing breathing while pushing against footrest.

This would tire the victim out, leading to exhaustion. However, this would take a very long time as shown by the demand to break the legs of the criminals on either side of Jesus. Jesus escaped this breaking of bones due to his having voluntarily relaxing and breathing out his last breath.[3]


Bleeding

Since crucifixion was supposed to be a prolonged death, bloodshed was not a major cause of death in the procedure. However, in the case of Jesus, there had been considerable bleeding because of the cruel treatment he had received at the hands of his Roman tormentors.

However, his bleeding had begun even before his capture as he agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane. In stress beyond what his body could endure, he had suffered bleeding under the skin as blood vessels broke. As he lay on his face before God, he sweat drops of blood onto the ground.[4]

After his trial, Pilate originally sentenced Jesus to be whipped to the limit of the law.[5] After that, making fun of Jesus' claim to be a king, the solders fashioned a crown of thorns to place securely on his head.[6]

When Pilate saw that this didn't satisfy the Pharisees and others, he was forced to sentence Jesus a second time — to be crucified. Being forced to carry His own crossbeam (which weighed about 30-40 pounds) proved so unbearable, a man from Africa, by the name of Simon, had to be pressed into service to carry it for him.[7] Once at Golgotha, Jesus' raw back was lain against rough wood as He was fastened to the cross. Blood stained the ground and the cross as the upright beam lifted Jesus to be seen by those standing upon the hillside.[8]

Blood continued to flow from the wounds in his head, back, hands and feet, for six hours. His heart was stressed to its limit as Jesus drifted in and out of consciousness. Though weakened beyond what would be expected (the soldiers were surprised that he was dead), Jesus was able to cry in a loud voice at the end.[9] However, to prove that Jesus was dead, a spear was thrust into his side. The mixture of blood and water that came out shows evidence of a heart that had literally broken.[10]

  1. John 19:6-16; Matthew 27:11-26; Luke 23:20-24; Mark 15:2-15 (Link)
  2. John 19:2,5; Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:17 (Link)
  3. John 19:31-33 (Link)
  4. Luke 22:44 (Link)
  5. Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:19 (Link)
  6. Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:7; John 19:2 (Link)
  7. Matthew 17:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26 (Link)
  8. John 19:17-18,20 (Link)
  9. Luke 23:46 (Link)
  10. John 19:24 (Link)

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