(60) They crucified him, along with the criminals – Luke 23:33

After he was arrested, Jesus suffered three brutal beatings before he was crucified. He was beaten by the Jews, mocked and beaten by Herod’s soldiers and then flogged by the Romans, a punishment so brutal that it often left the victim dead. They then put a crown of thorns on his head and struck and mocked him. Jesus would have been very weakened by the pain and the loss of blood even before he was crucified. He was forced to carry his cross to the site of his execution but, presumably because of his weakness, the Romans had to conscript another man to carry it in his place.

Luke very simply records that, “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals” (Luke 23:33). The full meaning of this would have been well known to those living in the Roman world as crucifixion was commonly used by the Romans to punish criminals. It was a barbaric and cruel punishment which inflicted severe pain over a long period. The word ‘excruciating’, that we use for the worst pain today, comes from the same root as the word for crucifixion, meaning to be fixed to a cross. The criminal had nails driven through their wrist into a cross bar that was then hoisted up and attached to an upright beam which their ankles were then nailed to. The victims were crucified naked to add to their humiliation. The combination of the loss of blood and the difficulty in breathing – as the victim had to push themselves up on their nailed feet to be able to take in air properly – resulted in a slow, lingering death, which could take up to a number of days.

It was common to put a notice up indicating the man’s crime and Pilate put a sign over Jesus which read “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews” (John 19:19). The chief priests objected to this, saying that Jesus only claimed to be the king of the Jews, but Pilate irritably dismissed their complaint.

As the soldiers were nailing him to the cross beam Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), a remarkable expression of compassion for his executioners.

The gospel writers record a number of things that Jesus said on the cross. John tells us that Jesus’ mother Mary was there watching her son suffer and that Jesus asked him to take care of her. Luke tells us of a conversation with one of the two criminals who were crucified with him. One mocked Jesus but the other recognised that Jesus had done no wrong and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Matthew tells us that there was complete darkness for three hours as Jesus hung on the cross. God, the source of light, hid his face from his Son because, as Paul put it, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21) and he could not look on sin. As he endured this separation from his Father, Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) quoting David’s words from Psalm 22. After this he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30) as he realised that his earthly work was complete and then “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” as he “breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).

Jesus’ death was accompanied by various signs. In the temple the curtain that hid the holiest place from the view of everyone except the high priest – and he entered only once a year – was torn in two from top to bottom symbolising that Jesus’ perfect sacrifice had now made it possible for all to enter into God’s presence (see Hebrews 10:19-20). There was also an earthquake which broke open some tombs and a number of people came back to life and went into Jerusalem. Those watching were in awe and the centurion, who had overseen many executions, saw that Jesus was different and said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

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