The Suffering of Christ
This past fall, we spent a few days with friends from Memphis. Sharon asked if I thought about death much. I believe most people of our age think about death more than we ever have. Although I don’t look forward to leaving my family, I do have the comfort of believing what the future holds. That’s why each morning as I pray, I give many thanks for Christ’s suffering for me. The different ways and the degree to which he suffered give a much better appreciation of just what he did for me. I wish my writing could do the justice to Christ’s suffering that’s warranted. If you are reading this article, put everything else out your mind and concentrate on how much Christ suffered for you. This is a paraphrase of what a speaker once said: “If you were the only sinner in this world, Christ would have still endured the same terrible death for you alone!” As I’m writing this, I’m struggling with getting the order of events correct so I finally decided the order of his torture is not as important as our understanding of how much he suffered.
We don’t know for how long his abuse and death had weighed on Jesus’ mind but it’s clear that before Judas led the soldiers to him that his mental anguish started. As he instituted the Lord’s supper, he revealed to his apostles that he was about to be betrayed. After they took the supper, he led his apostles, except for Judas, to the garden. He took Peter, Andrew and John deeper into the garden with him. Matthew records that “he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” He admitted to the three apostles, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Jesus fell face first to the ground and prayed that God delivers him from the torture and crucifixion. Did he fall face first out of his respect for God or his grief? Maybe, both. He prayed three times for God to spare him from the anguish and pain that were coming. Christ knew he was not only facing a cruel death but extreme abuse during the final six hours of his life. It’s recorded that his sweat became as great drops of blood. This phenomenon is called Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat is well documented. Under great emotional stress of the kind Christ suffered, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood and sweat. This process might well have produced great weakness and possible shock. Luke records that God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus.
Christ already knew his betrayer. Judas had been with Christ from the beginning of the apostles. He had heard Jesus’ teaching and seen the miracles he performed. Jesus even kneeled in front of Judas and washed his feet. Now Judas stood with him face to face and betrayed him with a kiss. What an emotional disappointment for Jesus! He was bound like a common criminal then led off for the trials and the abuse to begin.
The mental distress continued while Jesus waited in the courtyard of the high priest. His guards began to mock him. The physical pain started as the guards began to beat him. They hit with their fists and whips or flogs. The whips were made with pieces of bone and metal tied in the leather to make sure his flesh was torn. Most likely, Jesus was tied to a post where his back was exposed for the beating. Jewish law set the number of blows at 39 but the Romans had no such law, so we don’t know exactly how many blows he took. Many historians believe it was at least 39. During all this abuse, they added insult by spitting in Christ’s face. There is not much that would make me angrier than spitting in my face. It’s during this time in that courtyard that Peter denied three times he knew Christ. Although Jesus predicted Peter’s denial, it must have hurt emotionally.
The soldiers took Jesus away from Pilate to the Praetorium, where more soldiers continued to abuse him. It was here they placed a crown of thorns on his head. The crown was another way to mock Jesus’ sovereignty. The scholars disagree as to the number of thorns in the crown. Some say it makes absolutely no difference. Some writers say that the tradition in those times there were seventy-two thorns. If you’ve ever worked with bushes that have thorns, you can understand how much thorns hurt. The soldiers continued beating Jesus, especially on the head which drove the crown of thorns further into his scalp. They placed a scarlet robe on him and a staff in his hand to continue mocking him and spitting on him.
Not all the commentators agree that the following verses were written about Jesus, but, I think they were. The gospels did not report the severity of the beating Christ took but Isaiah 60:6 reports the following: "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting."
Isaiah 52:14: "... Just as there were many who were appalled at him -- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--"
The words in Isaiah paint a very vivid picture of Christ’s suffering! The soldiers beat him so badly that his face was disfigured. It’s hard to imagine the pain endured from pulling his beard out.
John records that Jesus initially carried his own cross before they forced Simon to take it. It’s believed the cross was about 15 feet long and weighed 300 pounds. Some historians believe Jesus was carrying the crossbar of the cross (called a patibulum) across his shoulders. The crossbar probably weighed between 80 to 110 pounds. Either one was a huge load for a man who has been so severely beaten and lost so much blood. He was forced to walk 2.5 miles according to one historian, but others say just 695 yards before Simon took over. Some theorize that he may have fallen while going down the steps of the Antonio Fortress and it was then they pressed Simon to take over the carrying of the cross.
The historians differ on the size of the nails and the location on the body. The length was anywhere from 5 inches to 9 inches and about 3/8 of an inch in diameter. Medical historians believe the nails were driven between the two bones in the wrist while others stick to the palm of the hand. In ancient terminology the wrist was considered part of the hand. Some writers believe a nail was placed in each foot while others believe the feet overlapped and one nail was used. There are records of the nails being hammered through the heels. Regardless of the size and the placement of the nails, the pain must have been excruciating. After Jesus was nailed to the cross, the soldiers pushed it into the hole. It probably bounced around until it finally settled in the hole. The bouncing would have caused extreme anguish by tearing the flesh.
Some believe that death by crucifixion is the most painful death ever invented. It was used for the worst of the worst criminals. It was a horribly slow way to die. Psalm 22:14-15 tells us how bad Jesus’ physical shape was: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death." A potsherd is a broken piece of ceramic material, especially one found on an archaeological site. Jesus had no strength to deal with his pain.
When the cross was erected upright, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms, and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. The arms, being held up and outward, held the rib cage in a fixed position which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. The sagging of his body made breathing extremely hard so he would try to push upwards with his legs to expand his diaphragm and catch a full breath. Jesus would only be able to take very shallow breaths. This may explain why Jesus made very short statements while on the cross. As time passed, the muscles, from the loss of blood, insufficient oxygen, and the fixed position of the body, would undergo severe cramps and spasmodic contractions. Eventually, fluid builds up in the lungs; the heart is stressed and eventually fails, ending Jesus’ life.
The scripture tell us that when the soldiers came to break Jesus legs to hasten his death, they found that he was already dead. They speared his side bringing out blood and water. Medical writers believe the spear was thrust into Jesus’s heart from the right side to insure death.
Having suffered severe blood losses from his numerous beatings and thus in a dehydrated state, Jesus, in one of his final statements, said: "I thirst." He was offered two drinks on the cross. The first, which he refused, was a drugged wine (mixed with myrrh). He chose to face death without a clouded mind.
Dr. Terasaka writes, "It was a merciful Jewish practice to give to those led to execution a draught of strong wine mixed with myrrh so as to deaden consciousness. The draught was offered to Jesus when He reached Golgotha. But having tasted it...He would not drink it.....He would meet Death, even in his sternest and fiercest mood, and conquer by submitting to the full..... The second drink, which He accepts moments before His death, is described as a wine vinegar.”
Isaiah 59:22: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” It seems as though as our sins fell on Jesus that God turned his face from Jesus, creating Jesus’ feelings of being forsaken. His feeling of being forsaken adds to the cruelty of the entire event for me.
Several verses in the Bible let us know that God has emotions. God watched the final six hours of his son’s life, causing him anguish. To hear your son ask why you forsook him must have broken his heart. It would have mine.
I Peter 3:15 tells us always to be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have. Most writers say that our hope comes from the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. I say that Christ’s extreme suffering, death, burial, and resurrection is my hope!
Enduring the savage treatment Christ received is almost unthinkable. He suffered all this for our sins. Be grateful!
I use to play a game with my children when they were young. I asked them how much I loved them placing my hands a foot apart and they said “No”. I continued moving my hands asking “this much” until they were as far out as I could reach before they finally said “Yes”. For Father’s day one year they gave a framed calligraphy which reads;
I asked Jesus
How much do
You love me?
And Jesus said
and He stretched
out his arms