The crucifixion of Jesus is described in the Bible with the simple words, “They crucified him.” But the brevity of those words doesn’t do justice to what happened to Jesus on that day for crucifixion was the most horrifying, painful, and disgraceful form of capital punishment ever used.
The word “crucifixion” comes from the Latin “crucifixion” or “crufixus”, which means “fixed to a cross”. This method of execution involved binding the victim’s hands and feet and nailing them to a cross of wood by spikes driven through their hands or wrists and feet, but first the victim was tortured by any of (or a combination of) flogging, beating, burning, racking, mutilation, and abuse of the victim’s family.
Crucifixion most likely originated with the Persians and then spread to the Assyrians, Greeks, Scythians, Carthaginians, Germans, Celts, and Britons, as well as the Romans. Crucifixion as a type of capital punishment was primarily reserved for traitors, captive armies, slaves, and the worst of criminals but was also used when conquering armies took over a land. For example, crucifying criminals became common under the rule of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), who crucified 2,000 Tyrians after conquering their city. Recent archaeological discoveries of mummified crucifixion victims show the horror of the .
So, what happened with Jesus was not unique in human history. What was unique is that he came to earth for the express purpose of dying, which he knew would mean being crucified. Who would want to do that? No one! Jesus himself said that he came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In Galatians 4:5, we read that Jesus came to redeem us, to pay the price required to set us free. That price was his life. Paying with his life to bring us freedom and to set us free/redeem us from that which held us captive (Satan, sin, and death), is why Jesus came. He came knowing he would die by crucifixion. The thought scared him, as we read in Luke 22:39-44. And, yet, because of his love for us, Jesus agreed to being crucified. His death provided the perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins all humankind, thus making the crucifix, or cross, one of the defining symbols of Christianity (even though it has become a fashion item, ironically). Next week, we will look at what happened after the crucifixion of Jesus.