A Look at Jesus on Crucifixion Day
There are many things that Christians do while partaking of the Lord's Supper each first day of the week (Acts 20: 7; I Corinthians 11: 17 ff). Whether they close their eyes and try to imagine the scene of the cross, open their Bibles to one of the accounts of His death, or read words about Jesus' suffering, if those actions lead them to a proper discernment of His death, burial, and resurrection, they are properly remembering His death until He comes (I Corinthians 11: 25, 26). Let us commemorate Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection by looking at His head (crown of thorns), His back (the scourging), His hands, and His feet.
Jesus' head (the crown of thorns). Much less is typically said of Jesus' head than about his hands and feet. In terms of chronology, after the sixth mock trial of Jesus, scripture says in John 19: 1 that "Pilate took Jesus, and scourged him." John then says"And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, "See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold the man!" (John 19: 2-5, ESV). All of these proceedings were outside of either Jewish or Roman law. Innocence was presumed until a preponderance of evidence showed a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Jewish law did not permit cruel and unusual punishment, and even the hard-boiled Romans operated under policies about how sentences were to be carried out. Personal feelings were not supposed to spill over into the course of due process in trying and punishing criminals. The very creation or existence of a crown of thorns was out of place in a criminal proceeding under both Jewish and Roman law. The thorns were hastily plucked or cut from a tree or bush. Very likely the handling of a thorny limb resulted in bloody hands for the person who concocted the contemptuous crown. Matthew (27:29) and Mark (15: 17) say simply that the soldiers "placed" or "put" the crown of thorns on Jesus, with no mention of whether the crown was thrust upon his head or simply laid there. But in the verses immediately following, they say that the soldiers struck him on the head. The crown of thorns dug into the delicate skin of his head and made him bleed. As you picture our Savior, think of Him with the crown of thorns and blood on his forehead, on His ears, and on the back of his neck. This time the soldiers were allowed to go too far in imposing a punishment on Jesus that would not have been given even to a convicted murder, thief, or kidnapper.
Jesus' back. So much about Jesus' agony on that horrible Friday was left unsaid in the simple words, "And Pilate took Jesus, and scourged him." Scourging
|Whipping post, circa 1700, Colonial US||
Cat o' nine tales, available on line as a curiosity item today
was a punishment not far from death. It was scarcely preferable to crucifixion, hence Pilate's offer to scourge Jesus and let him go. We may never have precise figures about the survival rate from scourging, but it is likely that about 50 percent died at the whipping post, another 20 to 30 percent died on the way home or shortly after arriving home, and 10 to 20 percent were still living a month after the event. If flogging (scourging) was done by the rules of Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 25: 1-3), one person would strike the exposed back of a man with a simple whip (not the more dangerous device shown above, right) with not more than 40 stripes. Another person would count the stripes, lest the 40 be exceeded, and then the man giving the stripes would be obligated to receive whatever number of stripes he had just given to someone else. But by Christ's time, the lethality of the punishment instrument had been increased. The cat o' nine tails pictured above is banned in all but three countries of the world because the knots tied on the end of the leather strips make the beating too deadly. Prisoners of Christ's time would have loved to trade this instrument with what they faced. They typically faced a beating from a nine-legged whip that had pieces of sharpened animal bone, animals' teeth, or sharpened pieces of metal tied to the ends. Such instruments are banned in all countries of the world today, at least publicly. On each blow from the whipster, as the nine ends came down on the naked and outstretched back of the prisoner, they went into the flesh by as much as half an inch. Then as the whipster pulled back to retrieve his whip, these tore chunks and pieces of flesh from the prisoner's back, and blood sprayed the air. By the end of even the third stroke, the prisoner's back was an open bleeding mess. Some bled to death before the 39 strokes were finished. Some bled to death on the way home. Some fell victim to the opportunistic infections of the septic environment of Christ's time. By simple mathematics it is seen that 39 strokes x 9 tails of the whip each time equals 351 lacerations opened in our Lord's back in a matter of a few minutes. Any one of those would have necessitated stitches if this had happened in our modern times. What love He had for us! See how much He cared! He cared enough to be beaten within an inch of his life to pay for the mistakes, the wilfully lost opportunities, and the sins (to put it more accurately) that we would one day commit.
See how different our Master was from other men! Most prisoners, if they lived through a scourging, did not show themselves in public again. They avoided any conversations, any interactions, any kind of events that might bring them back to the whipping post ever again. In contrast, Jesus "presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God,"(Acts 1: 3) and " Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me," Paul said in I Corinthians 15: 3-8. Jesus was far from a recluse after his scourging! Behold the back of Jesus!
The hands of Jesus. So much more has been written about the placement of the nails in Jesus's hands than has been written about his head and his back, hence the greater attention given in this writing. But the thing that was different about Jesus' hands compared to the hands of the many convicts who were crucified by the Romans in Christ's time was that His were the hands that did not fight back.
The soldiers were prepared for prisoners to do two things as the moment of crucifixion drew near: (1) They would try to fight, and (2) they would try to run. Our Lord did neither. He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53 which said "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (53: 7). No doubt the soldiers were surprised when they rushed him to find a prisoner who did not lift his hands to try to defend himself. But a crucifixion was not a place or time for quiet, introspective reflection. As the soldiers pinned Jesus to the wooden cross, one soldier on each side of His body put his knee into the fleshy part of His upper arm so He could not move. He took a square iron nail (steel had not yet been invented; round nails wouldn't be manufactured until around 1900 AD) and drove it into the lower part of Jesus' palm, where it would not rip out when the cross was lifted with the body on it and then dropped into the waiting hole in the ground. Though Jesus may have cried out in pain, He did not curse the soldiers who carried out the "sentence" or the hypocritical Pharisees who had manipulated the system to put Him there. Jesus understood that He was the sacrifice--the only sacrifice that could pay for the sins of the whole world. You may want to re-read Romans 5: 6-9.
The feet of Jesus. Jesus' feet didn't run. When He said in John 10 that he was the shepherd and not the hireling who would run when the wolf came near, He meant it with every drop of blood in His body. As Isaiah said. "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted." (53: 4). Jesus could have called down legions of angels to put a stop to the contemptable trials, the mocking, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the path to Golgotha, and the crucifixion. Yet His plea was "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." See the love in our Master's eyes? Of this Paul would later say "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2: 5-11).
At communion time, then, see the head of Jesus with the crown of thorns, the back of Jesus that was beaten for you, the hands that did not fight back, and the feet that did not run. He waits for you each week so that you and He can commune in spirit and in truth. He is our resurrected savior.
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