CRUCIFIXION WAS A BRUTAL, gruesome, and highly public form of capital punishment employed by various ancient societies as a deterrent. Sometimes rulers ordered that members of rebel groups be crucified dozens at a time, with crosses lining the roads. When the Romans took control of the Mediterranean world, they perfected the science of crucifixion.
The gospels’ description of Jesus’ crucifixion fits with other accounts and with archaeological findings. Prisoners were flogged and then forced to carry the heavy crossbeam to the site of the execution. In Jesus’ case, the site was outside the city limits of Jerusalem at a place known as ” the Skull.” There, the victim would have his hands nailed to the crossbeam, and the beam would be raised atop some sort of post or tree. Often the feet or ankles would be affixed to the post with another spike.
The method was designed to be extremely painful, prolonging death as the victim struggled to raise himself up to breathe. For that purpose, a small seat was sometimes attached to the vertical beam. It might take days for a person to die, with the body left on the cross for scavengers. But Jesus’ crucifixion occurred on the day before the sabbath, so an effort was made to hasten his death and remove his body before sundown, When the bones of the two bandits crucified alongside Jesus were broken, a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out — an indication that he had expired.
There were several supporters of Jesus around his cross, mostly women, plus some soldiers and jeering bystanders. Two outlaws were crucified with him, one on either side, and one of them joined in jeering at Jesus— but the other expressed faith in him. At one point Jesus was offered a drugged vinegar sponge to dull the pain, but he refused it. Meanwhile, a strange darkness befell the land from noon to three.
From the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive his killers. He also said he was thirsty, and he charged his disciple John with care of his mother Mary. When one of the bandits beside him asked to be remembered in the coming kingdom, Jesus promised the man that he would be with him in Paradise. And in a crucial, climatic moment, Jesus cried out in words of a psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).
Christians now understand the Crucifixion as a victory, not a defeat. Despite the suffering and humiliation, that was where Jesus secured our redemption.