THE LIFE OF CHRIST
In our last lesson, Jesus was brought before Pilate, then sent to Herod, and the back Pilate. Pilate tried to get the Jews to free Jesus, but they choose Barabbas instead. Jesus had to suffer through scourging and being humiliated in front of everyone. In this lesson, we will begin examine how Jesus made His way to the cross to be crucified.
John 19:17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.
John focuses on what Jesus did during this time, but the other accounts give us more information of what happened as Jesus made His was to Golgotha. Jesus started out carrying His cross, but as some point during His journey He could no longer bear it. So, a man named Simon was forced to carry the cross for Him by the Roman soldiers (Mk. 15:21; Lk. 23:26). While we do not know for sure, it is believed that Jesus was not carrying the entire cross, but the cross bar. It is estimated that the crossbar weighed around 75 lbs and was put across the shoulders of the victim with their arms stretched out and their hands tied. Next, Luke records:
Luke 23:27 And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. 28 But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 "For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!' 30 "Then they will begin 'to say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" ' 31 "For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?"
A great number of people were following Jesus as He made His way outside the city. The women that followed were beating their chest in grief and wailing for Jesus. Even though He was not strong enough to carry His cross, He managed to speak to these women and tell them not weep for Him. Instead, He wants them to weep for themselves and their children and even states that those who are barren and have no children will be blessed. The reason He is saying this is because Jerusalem would be destroyed and many Jews would lose their lives as He predicted in Matthew 24.
Of course His prediction came true because starting around A.D. 66, the Romans began to attack the Jews, and in A.D. 70, they surrounded the city of Jerusalem for about five months. According to Josephus, starvation became so bad in the city that a woman killed and ate her own baby (The War of the Jews 6.3.4).
Verse 31 is a proverbial saying, and I believe Mr. Coffman explains it best:
This proverbial expression has been variously interpreted; but it would appear that Farrar's explanation is correct: "If they act thus to me, the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and the false?" There is here a dramatic prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, in which women especially would be deprived and suffer tribulations.
The green tree represents the innocent and holy Saviour in the spirituality and vigor of his life; the dry tree represents the morally dead and sapless people, typified by the fig tree, blasted by his word, four days earlier.
Thus, by this prophecy, as Jesus left the city for the last time, he prophesied its doom no less than he did upon entering it (Luke 19:41f). Not even the prospect of immediate death took the Saviour's mind away from the awful penalties that would fall upon Jerusalem for his rejection. The fires of suffering consuming Jesus (the green tree) would be nothing to compare with the fires of destruction that would burn up the dead tree (Jerusalem, judicially and morally dead) (Coffman’s commentary on Luke 23).
Jesus is taken to Golgotha, which is called the place of the Skull. No one knows with certainty where this place of execution took place, but many favor a hill located outside city that looks like a skull.
Before He was crucified, He was offered sour wine mingled with gall (Mt. 27:34). Gall is “a bitter substance made from wormwood, a plant yielding a bitter-tasting dark-green oil that is alcoholic in its effect” (Friberg Lexicon). Mark’s account says it was mingled with myrrh (Mk. 15:23), which was “a transparent, brown, brittle, odorous substance, with bitter taste” (Fausset’s Bible dictionary). Some believe that both of these accounts are talking about the same substance while others believe both gall and myrrh were mixed with the sour wine. One thing we know for sure is this drink was designed to help sedate a person so he would have some relief from the pain, but when Jesus tasted it, He refused to drink it. He would endure all the pain of His crucifixion with a clear mind.
Jesus was not alone that day because two unnamed thieves called evildoers by Luke (Lk. 23:32) were being crucified as well. These two thieves deserved the punishment they received, but Jesus was innocent. Isaiah prophesied that He would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). At 9 A.M., they crucified Him (Mk. 15:25).
The Romans were experts at crucifixion, and they executed in different ways using different crosses. According to Nelson’s Bible Dictionary there were four different types of crosses used:
(Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary p. 315)
It is believed that Jesus was crucified with either the Latin cross or St. Anthony’s cross. Since Matthew’s account says that a written accusation was placed above Jesus’ head (Mt. 27:37), this suggests the Latin cross was used because there had to be enough space for this sign to be attached that was written in three different languages (Jn. 19:20). Sometimes they would also have a crude seat about halfway down the cross, which was not designed for comfort, but to prolong the agony of the victim. Depending on the severity of the scourging the victim would live anywhere from three hours to three or four days. Notice what Mr. Hester says about this:
When the Romans conquered Palestine they continued the use of this form of punishment, but only in the case of slaves and the most vicious criminals. Thus crucifixion carried with it a stigma. It was a part of the humiliation of Jesus that he should be made to suffer this particular form of death. It identified him with the lowest class of criminals. Crucifixion was an unspeakably horrible means of death. Cicero in condemning it said, `"Let it never come near the body of a Roman citizen; nay, not even near his thoughts, or eyes, or ears." Victims of crucifixion were suspended on a cross placed well above the ground.... It consisted of two rough beams or logs nailed together near the top of the upright beam which was placed in the ground. The victim was usually stripped of all clothing, these garments falling to the lot of the executioners. The upright was placed securely in the earth standing some ten feet above the ground. The horizontal beam was placed on the ground, the victim was laid down with arms extended on this crossbar to which they were fastened with cords and afterward by nails driven through the palms. The bar was then raised to its appointed place near the top of the upright where it was securely fastened. The body of the victim was left suspended by the arms. The feet were then fastened to the upright by the use of long spikes driven through the balls of the feet. Thus suspended the victim was left to hang in physical agony until death mercifully released him from suffering ... Since no vital organs were affected the poor victim lingered in the throes of the most excruciating pain. Death came slowly; the victim often lived as long as two or three full days. Throbbing with pain, burned with fever and tortured by thirst, these unfortunate men often prayed for the relief which only death could furnish (H. I. Hester, The Heart of the New Testament p. 214-215 – The Annual Denton Lectures – Studies in John Electronic Version).
The first thing they would do to Jesus was throw Him down on His back and stretch His arms out on the cross beam. While this was happening dirt would be getting into open wounds on His back making his back hurt even more. Based on a crucified body dating around the first century that was found in an ossuary near Jerusalem, the nails that were used were about 5 to 7 inches long, and they were tapered iron spikes with a square shaft about 3/8 of an inch across (On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ – William D. Edwards, MD).
They would drive these tapered spikes through hands of Jesus. While we do not know if they ran the spike through His palm or His wrist, both were considered part of the hand. Based on the evidence we have today, the spike was probably driven through the wrist because the ligaments are strong enough to hold the weight of a person, but a spike through the palm would almost always tear through the hand.
A spike driven through the wrist would cause even more intense pain to the victim. According to a physician:
Furthermore, the driven nail would crush or server the rather large sensorimotor median nerve. The stimulated nerve would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms. Although the severed median nerve would result in paralysis of a portion of the hand, ischemic contractures and impalement of various ligaments by the iron spike might produce a claw like grasp (On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ – William D. Edwards, MD).
Next, Jesus would have been hoisted up on the cross and His feet would be nailed to the cross. There are different opinions on how His feet were nailed. Some believe His feet were nailed to the sides of the cross, while others believe they were nailed together on the front of the cross with one nail. There are also two possibilities of how they could have nailed the two feet together. The legs could have been together with the knees bent to one side, or the legs could have been in an open position with the legs spread out with the knees bent.
The only archeological evidence we have of a first century man being crucified was discovered by Vassilios Tzaferis in 1968. Kyle Butt writes:
In 1968, Vassilios Tzaferis found the first indisputable remains of a crucifixion victim. The victim’s skeleton had been placed in an ossuary that “was typical of those used by Jews in the Holy Land between the end of the second century B.C. and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70” (McRay, 1991, p. 204). From an analysis of the skeletal remains of the victim, osteologists and other medical professionals from the Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem were able to determine that the victim was a male between the approximate ages of 24 and 28 who was about 5 feet 6 inches tall. Based on the inscription of the ossuary, his name seems to have been “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol,” although the last word of the description is still disputed (p. 204). The most significant piece of the victim’s skeleton is his right heel bone. A large spike- like nail had been hammered through the right heel. Between the head of the nail and the heel bone, several fragments of olive wood were found lodged. Randall Price, in his book, The Stones Cry Out, suggested that the nail apparently hit a knot in the olive stake upon which this man was crucified, causing the nail and heel to be removed together, due to the difficulty of removing the nail by itself (1997, p. 309) (Apologetic Press Archaeology and the New Testament).
There should be no doubt that people were crucified with nails during the first century. Once He was crucified, He would experience excruciating pain no matter what position He was in.
Dr. C. Truman Davis notes:
As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists excruciating pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain -- the nails in the writs are putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.
At this point, 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 pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. It was undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered the seven short sentences recorded (A Physician Testifies About the Crucifixion - The Review of the NEWS, April 14, 1976).
If the blood loss from the scourging did not ultimately kill the victim, he would either die from suffocation, exhaustion or even heart failure. I also want to point out that Psalm 22 prophecies around 20 different things that happened to Jesus during this time. Now that we know more about the physical details of our Lord’s death, let’s continue examining our text.
19 Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. 21 Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'He said, "I am the King of the Jews." ' " 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."
Pilate had this inscription written as the crime Jesus was being punished for. When we examine all four Gospels, we discover the title read, “THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” This is another instance where we have to look at all four Gospels to get the complete story because they each tell it from a different perspective. Most likely, Pilate came up with this title to chide these Jews, but these words were true.
According to verse 20, Golgotha was near the city, so everyone that passed by could see Jesus and the two thieves. The Romans did this on purpose so everyone would know that crimes will be punished. Jesus’ crime was written in three different languages. According to F.F. Bruce:
Hebrew (or Aramaic) was the vernacular of the Palestinian Jews; Latin was the official language of the Roman army; Greek was the common medium of culture and conversation in the eastern providences of the Roman Empire(F.F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John, p. 368).
The chief priests were not happy with this title, and they wanted Pilate to change it, but Pilate would not change it.
John 19:23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. 24 They said therefore among themselves, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be," that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: "They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots." Therefore the soldiers did these things.
When a person was crucified, his clothes became the soldiers’ property, so they took Jesus outer and inner garment. The outer garment was divided among them, but His inner garment was seamless, which indicates that it was an expensive garment. If they had torn it would lose it value, so they cast lots for it. Unaware to the soldiers, they were fulfilling prophecy (Ps. 22:18).
Before we examine our next verses, which records one of Jesus’ saying from the cross, I want to summarize the events that take place on the cross up to Jesus’ last saying:
The first thing Jesus says is recorded in:
Luke 23:33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." And they divided His garments and cast lots.
Now think about this first saying. Jesus was praying for these people that they might be forgiven for what they were doing. Even though Jesus had gone through more suffering and pain than most could bear and even though these Jews had earlier shouted, Crucify Him, Crucify Him! He was willing to pray for them. In doing this, Jesus was practicing what He preached.
Matthew 5:43 " You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Not only did He practice what He preached at this difficult moment, Isaiah prophesied that He would make intercession for these transgressors.
Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
Jesus’ prayer teaches us how much He wants us to be forgiven of our sins. Some Christians have the attitude that they hope they are saved, but friends we can know that we are saved and we can learn from this prayer of Jesus that God desires us to be saved. Notice what John said,
1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
If you don’t learn anything else from this lesson today, I want you to understand that you can have confidence in your salvation, and just as Jesus had demonstrated on the cross, His desire is that you be saved and have the forgiveness of your sins. God is not against us, He is for us.
When Jesus prayed for these people’s forgiveness, Do you think their sins were forgiven at that point without repentance on their part? Well, this question is answered when we read about the birth the church in Acts 2. The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak to the people in their own languages and they teach them about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection and how many of them had a hand in crucifying their own Messiah.
Acts 2:36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Notice they were still in their sins because they had not been forgiven, but they found out what they must do to take care of their sins. They were told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Peter tells us,
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
While it’s God’s desire that we be saved and have our sins forgiven, our sins are not forgiven until we obey the gospel. God provided us salvation through Jesus. This is God’s part, but our part is obeying the gospel and living faithful lives according to God’s Word. So, when those Jews obeyed the gospel on the day of Pentecost, Jesus’ prayer was answered because they were forgiven for putting their Messiah on the cross.
We can also learn from Jesus’ forgiving spirit He had toward those who had done all these cruel things to Him that we should have a forgiving spirit toward those who sin against us. If they repent, we must be strong enough to forgive them so we can be reconciled with them and God. This is not a topic to take lightly because Jesus clearly states that we must learn to forgive those who repent.
Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' 27 "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 28 "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' 29 "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' 30 "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 "So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' 34 "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."
I know this is not easy to do sometimes, but I think this text speaks for itself on the importance of forgiving those who repent. It should motivate us to learn to be forgiving when we think about what Jesus did for us even though we were sinners deserving eternal separation from God. Not only did God allow you to have your past sins forgiven, He also forgives you of your new sins when you repent and confess them to Him. He not only forgives, He remembers them no more as:
Hebrews 8:12 "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."
While we may never forget something sinful someone did against us, we must treat the sin as if it were forgotten and not hold it against a brother or sister once they repent and we forgave them. We have much more to look at regarding the sayings of Jesus on the cross, but we will have to end our lesson here. I think we should really think about what Jesus had to go through for us because when we do, it will help us appreciate what God has done for us and it will motivate us to keep sin out of our lives.