The Sanhedrin (the Jewish Ruling Council) hated Jesus. Perhaps, it was more fear than hatred but both emotions were at play when they decided that Jesus needed to die. Maintaining the religious status quo was important to those leaders as it gave them a comfortable life as they revelled in the power they held over Jewish society. The Sanhedrin was made up of four groups: the descendants of Aaron (who were the only ones allowed to be the High or Chief Priests), Levitical priests, and two non-priestly bureaucrat-like groups, the Pharisees and Sadducees. They wanted Jesus dead but they did not have the legal authority to do so, thus they turned to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate and demanded that he put Jesus to death, on the trumped-up charges that Jesus was leading an insurrection in claiming that he was the King of the Jews. Fearing the consequences of defying the Jewish ruling Council (even though his wife had warned him by sending him a note as he sat on his judge’s seat, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”) Pilate gave in to his fear of the Jewish religious leaders and ordered that Jesus be crucified.
Pilate turned Jesus over to one of his centurion soldiers to carry out the death sentence but, before that happened, that centurion and some of army buddies, made sure that Jesus was publicly beaten, mocked, and spit on. A crown of thorns was placed on his head. He was stripped of his clothes and led to Golgotha, a word which means, “The Place of the Skull”, the site of crucifixion for Jews located just outside the city limits of Jerusalem.
Once violently crucified, Jesus was jerked into place by his cross being put into a perfectly-sized hole in the ground designed to hold up the cross. A mixture of vinegar, gall, and myrrh was offered to him, but Jesus refused it. Stakes were driven through Jesus’ wrists and ankles, fastening him to the cross where he was crucified between two convicted criminals. The inscription above his head read, “The King of the Jews.” Jesus hung on the cross for about six hours, from approximately 9 am to 3 pm. During that time, soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing while people passed by shouting insults and scoffing. From the cross, Jesus spoke to his mother Mary and the disciple John. He also cried out to his father, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
At that moment, darkness covered the land. A little later, as Jesus breathed his final agonizing breath, after first declaring, “It is finished” (a reference to the fact that his mission of redeeming humans from slavery to Satan, sin, and death was completed) an earthquake shook the ground, ripping the temple veil in two from top to bottom, an act which symbolically showed that there is no impediment anymore in terms of people coming into the presence of God.
Next week, we will back things up a bit and look at what was involved in the act of crucifixion. Until then, ponder the fact that Jesus died for you!