By BRUCE GREEN
Teaching Minister at 10th Street Church of Christ
When we touch the cross, we put our finger on the pulse of the universe. We touch something that is warm, alive and vital. Yet it is also holy, arguably the holiest ground of all. With that in mind, I invite us to take off our sandals and approach the cross in reverence and humility.
In an effort to help us appreciate the suffering Jesus endured in redeeming us, people sometimes do what the writers of the New Testament didn’t do — they go into extremely graphic detail about the flogging and crucifixion of Jesus. The New Testament writers didn’t need to do this because the people they wrote to understood this — it was part of their world. It’s done today because people generally aren’t familiar with these practices. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing.
However, sometimes the purpose of elaborating on the flogging and crucifixion practices of the Romans in the first century is done to show that Jesus was beaten to the point of being near death, as in the movie, The Passion of the Christ. As I said, the intent in this is honorable, but the question we need to ask is, “Is this an accurate portrayal of what happened with Jesus?”
Ed Wharton addresses this in his book, Christianity: A Clear Case of History. Here are some of the lines of evidence he points us toward in answering this question:
None of the NT writers go into explicit detail concerning the suffering of Jesus prior to His crucifixion. He was flogged, beaten and a crown of thorns was placed on His head. Certainly, this was extremely painful and while we know that sometimes people were almost beaten to death prior to crucifixion, there’s no evidence to support that this was the case with Jesus.
We do know that when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus, Pilate was surprised to hear He was dead so soon and called the centurion in to confirm it (Mark 15:44). This is significant because if Pilate didn’t personally witness the flogging of Jesus, he at least saw Christ soon afterward (John 19:1-5). If Jesus was near death after His flogging, then Pilate wouldn’t have been surprised that His death happened so quickly.
Jesus died after just six hours on the cross (Mark 15:25, 33-37). Death on a cross could take hours or days depending on the manner in which a person was crucified (i.e., how their body was positioned on the cross and whether they could breathe in that position), their general health and the severity of the flogging they received prior to crucifixion. Death was due to a combination of fatigue, exposure and asphyxiation, but rarely, if ever, loss of blood.
The two rebels who were crucified with Jesus also provide us with some insight into the nature of His crucifixion. We have no reason to believe that Jesus was crucified in a different manner from them. Yet after approximately nine hours, they were still alive and their legs were broken to hasten their deaths so their bodies could be taken off the cross before the Sabbath began. A good question to ask is, “Why didn’t this have to be done with Jesus?”
In all of this, there is no attempt to minimize the sufferings of Jesus — but rather to redirect our thinking to what the N.T. writers point us toward in understanding the agony of the cross.
To be continued next week!
You can find more of Bruce’s writings at his website: a-taste-of-grace-with-bruce-green.com