The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ
Hanging on a cross was the most disgraceful, agonizing, and cruel form of death penalty. In those times, such a death penalty was imposed only on the most hardened criminals: thieves, murderers, instigators of rebellion, and felons. The torture of a crucified man is impossible to describe. Besides unbearable pain in every part of the body, the crucified underwent the ordeal of terrible thirst and spiritual suffering until dead. Death was so slow that many suffered on the cross for several days. Even the executioners, habitually brutal people, could not keep their composure while looking at the suffering of a crucified man. They prepared a beverage by which they tried to quench his unbearable thirst; or by adding various substances, they tried to temporarily dull consciousness and alleviate the suffering. By Jewish law, a crucified man was considered cursed. The chiefs of the Jews wanted to disgrace Jesus Christ forever by condemning Him to such a death.
When they brought Jesus Christ to Golgotha, the soldiers offered Him sour wine to drink, mingled with bitter substances to lessen the suffering. The Lord, when He tasted it, did not wish to drink it. He did not want to lessen the suffering. This suffering, He took upon Himself voluntarily for the sins of all people; thus, he wanted to bear it consciously to the end.
When all was ready, the soldiers crucified Jesus Christ. It was about midday, by Jewish reckoning — the sixth hour of the day. When they crucified Him, He prayed for His tormentors, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
They crucified two robbers with Jesus Christ: one on His right and one on His left. Thus, the scripture of the Prophet Isaiah was fulfilled: “He bared the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Is. 53:12).
According to the order of Pilate, a title plate was attached to the cross over the head of Jesus Christ indicating His guilt. On it, there was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews;” and many read it. Therefore, the sign did not please the enemies of Christ. Thus, the chief priest went to Pilate and said, “Do not write ‘King of the Jews’ but write that He says ‘I am King of the Jews’.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
In the meantime, the soldiers who had crucified Jesus Christ took His garments and began to divide them among themselves. The outer garment they divided in four parts, one for each soldier. The tunic (the inside garment) was seamless, woven from top to bottom. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” And having cast lots and sitting, the soldiers guarded the place of execution. This fulfilled the ancient prophecy of King David, “They parted my garments among them; and for my clothing, they cast lots upon my vesture” (Ps. 21:19).
His enemies did not cease to insult Jesus Christ even on the cross. Those who were bypassing derided Him wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You, Who would destroy the Temple and build it in three days, save Yourself and come down from the cross.”
So, also, the chief priests with the scribes and the elders mocked Him saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross, so we can see; and then we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now if He desires Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’.”
Following their example the pagan soldiers, who sat near the crosses and kept watch over the crucified, taunted Him saying, “If you are King of the Jews, save Yourself!”
Even one of the crucified thieves, who was to the left of the Saviour, railed at Him saying, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us!”
But the other thief, on the right, rebuked Him saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation (the same torture and death)? We are indeed justly condemned; so we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Having said this, he turned to Jesus Christ with the prayer, “Remember me, Lord, when You come into Your kingdom.”
The merciful Saviour accepted the sincere repentance of this sinner indicating such wonderful faith in Him and answered the wise thief, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Standing by the cross of Jesus, there were His mother, the Apostle John, Mary Magdalene, and several other women who revered Him. It is impossible to describe the grief of His mother seeing the unbearable suffering of Her Son. When Jesus Christ saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold Your Son!” Then, He said to John, “Behold your Mother!” And from that hour the disciple took Her to his own home and cared for Her until the end of Her life.
Meanwhile, during the suffering of the Saviour on Golgotha, there occurred a great sign. From the hour that the Saviour was crucified, from the sixth hour (about 12 o’clock noon by our calculation), the sun darkened, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (three o’clock in the afternoon by our calculation), until the Saviour died.
This remarkable, worldwide darkness was noticed by pagan historians, the Roman astronomer Flegontus and Junius Africanus. A noted philosopher from Asia, Dionysius the Areopagite, in Egypt in the city of Heliopolis at the time, observed the sudden darkness and said, “Either the Creator is suffering or the world is coming to an end.” Later Dionysius the Areopagite converted to Christianity and became the first bishop of Athens.
About the ninth hour Jesus Christ cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” These were the beginning words from the 21st psalm of King David in which David clearly foretold the suffering on the cross of the Saviour. By these words the Lord for the last time reminded people that He is the true Christ, Saviour of the world.
Some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, He is calling Elijah.” Others said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.”
The Lord Jesus Christ knowing that all was now finished pronounced, “I thirst.” Then, one of the soldiers at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, put it on a stick, and raised it to the parched lips of the Saviour. When He had received the vinegar, the Saviour said, “It is finished;” — that is, the promise of God was fulfilled, the salvation of the human race was accomplished.
Then, He crying with a loud voice said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
In the same hour, the veil of the Temple covering the Holy of Holies was torn in two from the top edge to the bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had reposed were raised. Coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they went to Jerusalem and appeared to many people.
When the centurion (chief of the soldiers) and the soldiers who were with him keeping watch over the Saviour saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” All the multitudes that had assembled to see the sight in fear began returning home beating their breasts.
Friday evening came. At that hour, it was necessary to partake of the Passover meal. The Jews did not want to leave the bodies on the cross on the Sabbath because it was the Passover Sabbath considered a feast day. Therefore, they asked Pilate permission to break the legs of the crucified so that they would die more quickly and might be removed from the crosses and taken away. Pilate gave permission. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. When they came to Jesus Christ they saw that He was already dead, and thus they did not break His legs. One of the soldiers, in order to leave no doubt that He was dead, pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
Note: See the Gospels of Matthew 27:33-56; Mark 15:22-41; Luke 23:33-49; John 19:18-37.