44 Details About Death by Crucifixion

We’ve seen movies about the death of Jesus.  We’ve seen paintings.  It seems every rock star and rapper is wearing a crucifix around their neck.

On “Good” Friday, I think it would be appropriate to meditate on the historical reality of that day.  It would serve us to contemplate what Christ actually endured to redeem and justify the lost.

These are 44 details about the method of execution known as crucifixion.

1. Crucifixion is likely the most painful death ever invented and is where we get our term “excruciating.” The Roman Senator Cicero called it “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.”

2. It was reserved primarily for the most vicious of male criminals.

3. Jesus was stripped naked and His clothing divided by the Roman guards. This was in fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, “They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

4. The crucifixion of Jesus guaranteed a horrific, slow, painful death.

5. Having been nailed the cross, Jesus now had an impossible anatomical position to maintain.

6. Jesus’ knees were flexed at about 45 degrees, and He was forced to bear His weight with the muscles of His thighs, which is not a position that is possible to maintain for more than a few minutes without severe cramps in the muscles of the thigh and calf. (Think wall squats.)

7. As the strength of the muscles of Jesus’ lower limbs tired, the weight of His body had to be transferred to His wrists, His arms, and His shoulders.

8. Within a few minutes of being placed on the cross, Jesus’ shoulders were almost certainly dislocated.

9. Minutes later Jesus’ elbows and wrists became dislocated.

10. Thus, prophecy was fulfilled from Psalm 22:14, “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint.”

11. After Jesus’ wrists, elbows, and shoulders were dislocated, the weight of His body on his upper limbs caused traction forces on the pectoralis major muscles of His chest wall.

12. These traction forces caused His rib cage to be pulled upwards and outwards, in a most unnatural state. His chest wall was permanently in a position of maximal respiratory inspiration.

13. To expire air from His lungs, Jesus had to push down on the nails in His feet to raise His body, allowing His rib cage to move downwards and inwards.

14. Unlike Hollywood movies about the crucifixion, the victim was almost certainly extremely active. The crucified victim was physiologically forced to move up and down the cross, a distance of about 12 inches, in order to breathe.

15. The process of respiration caused excruciating pain, mixed with the absolute terror of asphyxiation.

16. As the hours of the crucifixion wore on, Jesus was less and less able to bear His weight on His legs, as His thigh and calf muscles became increasingly exhausted.

17. Within minutes of crucifixion Jesus became severely dyspneic (short of breath).

18. The Romans could prolong the pain for days by erecting a platform on the cross that allowed the condemned more ease for respiration movement. Conversely, when the Romans wanted to expedite death they would simply break the legs of the victim, causing the victim to suffocate in a matter of minutes. Neither occurred in Jesus’ case.

19. Jesus’ movements up and down the cross to breathe caused excruciating pain in His wrist, His feet, and His dislocated elbows and shoulders. In particular, the pain from the shattered median nerves in His wrists exploded with every movement.

20. Jesus was surely covered in blood and sweat. The blood was a result of the scourging that nearly killed Him, and the sweat as a result of His violent involuntary attempts to expire air from His lungs.

21. Throughout all this He was completely naked, and the religious leaders, the crowds, and one of the thieves on the cross beside Him were jeering, swearing and laughing at Him. In addition, Jesus’ own mother was watching.

22. Physiologically, Jesus’ body was undergoing a series of catastrophic and terminal events.

23. Because Jesus could not maintain adequate ventilation of His lungs, He was now in a state of hypoventilation (inadequate ventilation). His blood oxygen level began to fall, and He developed hypoxia (low blood oxygen).

24. In addition, because of His restricted respiratory movements, His blood carbon dioxide (CO2) level began to rise, a condition known as hypercapnia.

25. This rising CO2 level stimulated His heart to beat faster in order to increase the delivery of oxygen and the removal of CO2.

26. The respiratory center in Jesus’ brain sent urgent messages to his lungs to breathe faster, and Jesus began to pant.

27. Jesus’ physiological reflexes demanded that He took deeper breaths, and He involuntarily moved up and down the cross much faster, despite the excruciating pain.

28. However, due to the nailing and His increasing exhaustion, He was unable to provide more oxygen to His oxygen-starved body.

29. The twin forces of hypoxia (too little oxygen) and hypercapnia (too much CO2) caused His heart to beat faster and faster, and Jesus developed tachycardia. His pulse rate was probably about 220 beats/ minute, the maximum normally sustainable.

30. Jesus was already very dehydrated, having apparently had nothing to drink for about 20 hours.

31. His blood pressure surely fell alarmingly. It was probably about 80/50.

32. He was in first-degree shock, with hypovolemia (low blood volume), tachycardia (excessively fast heart rate), tachypnoea (excessively fast respiratory rate), and hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).

33. By about noon Jesus’ heart probably began to fail.

34. Jesus’ lungs probably began to fill up with pulmonary edema. This only served to exacerbate the challenges with His breathing, which was already severely compromised.

35. Jesus was in heart failure and respiratory failure.

36. Jesus said, “I thirst” because His body was crying out for fluids. He was in desperate need of an intravenous infusion of blood and plasma to save His life

37. Jesus could not breathe properly and was slowly suffocating to death.

38. At this stage, Jesus probably developed hemopericardium – plasma and blood gathered in the space around His heart, called the pericardium.

39. This fluid around His heart caused cardiac tamponade, where the fluid around His heart prevented Jesus’ heart from beating properly.

40. Because of the increasing physiological demands on Jesus’ heart, and the advanced state of hemopericardium, Jesus probably eventually sustained cardiac rupture. His heart literally burst. This was probably the cause of His death.

41. At three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus said, “Tetelastai,” meaning, “It is finished.”

42. At that moment, He gave up His Spirit, and He died.

43. When the soldiers came to Jesus to break His legs, He was already dead. Not a bone of His body was broken, in fulfillment of Psalm 34:20 “He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken.”

  1. He willingly endured the most excruciating and terrifying torture ever invented [and rose from the dead – a topic for Sunday!] to pay the price for our sin.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

And by His scourging we are healed.

All of us like sheep have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to his own way;

But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all

To fall on Him.

Isaiah 53:5-6

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