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  • Writer's pictureEmily Brubaker

The Crucifixion of Christ

Updated: 4 days ago

The first, and most important, foundational doctrine of Christianity to discuss is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus' death and resurrection, the central tenets of the Christian faith completely fall apart. Most believers, like myself, have heard the story of Jesus' death many times; however, I will be so bold to say most do not know the intimate details of the crucifixion. Until now, I did not either. The death of Christ was an agonizingly gruesome one and knowing the depths he went to save us should compel us to love Him even more. While Christ's crucifixion is essential for the believer, my hope is anyone reading this will be intrigued and want to know more about a foundational belief of Christianity.

I want to begin by providing the historical basis of crucifixion. According to Encyclopedia Britannica (2023), "Crucifixion was an important method of capital punishment, particularly among Persians, Seleucids, Carthaginians, and Romans from about 6th century BCE to the 4th Century CE." Frequently, it was used as a punishment for religious or political agitators, slaves, pirates, or those who had no civil rights. Furthermore, there were several methods used to perform the execution. Typically, after being "scourged" or whipped, the individual, who was condemned, would carry the crossbeam of the cross to the location of his execution. There, the upright shaft was already placed firmly in the ground. After being humiliated by the stripping away of his clothing, the man was bound to the cross. His arms were outstretched on the crossbeam and nails were pierced through his wrists. The cross was then lifted into the air about 9 to 12 feet above the ground. Then, the criminal's feet were impaled with nails. Oftentimes, the name and crime of the individual were written above his head. Ultimately, death would result through a combination of organ failure, asphyxiation due to the body being strained under its own weight, and constrained blood circulation. Additionally, one's ability to inhale was severely limited, which accelerated both shock and asphyxiation. Thus, it was a slow, agonizing death. The death of Jesus Christ is the most well-known account of execution by crucifixion; however, this style of execution was used more than just one time. Darius I, king of Persia, crucified 3,000 political opponents in Babylon in 519 BCE. In 88 BCE, the Judaean king and high priest, Alexander Jannaeus, murdered 800 Pharisaic rivals. Finally, Pontius Pilate, the man who condemned Christ to death, did so in 32 CE. With the historical context of the crucifixion explained, it is time now to detail Jesus' execution.

While I am not going to tell the full story of Jesus' betrayal, death, and resurrection, I encourage you to read it for yourself. You can find the account in the first book of the Gospels, Matthew, specifically in Chapters 26-28. For those who might not know, the Gospels refer to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which are the first four books in the New Testament. Each of the Gospels provides us with extensive eyewitness testimony to the miracles, lessons, and acts Jesus performed during his earthly ministry. In Matthew 26-27, we read about the trial Christ went through before being sentenced to death. When asked, "Why did Jesus die on the cross?" most Christians will likely respond with, "He died for our sins." While this is true, I propose there is not just a single answer to this question. Instead, here are four additional reasons to consider: (1) Jesus was executed because local political and religious leaders viewed him as a threat, (2) Jesus was murdered because the Roman governor in Jerusalem also saw him as a threat, (3) Jesus was killed because of a betrayal committed by one of his closest friends, and (4) Jesus was killed to bring salvation to the world and to tear the veil between Heaven and Earth (Gushee, 2016). Now, the last reason relates to the idea of Christ dying for our sins, and, while I want to explain the theology behind that concept more, this article is not the place for it. Here, I want to refocus on the crucifixion, itself.

Before Jesus was ever hung on the cross, he endured a horrific physical beating at the hands of the Roman soldiers (Terasaka, 2017). This was likely due to a Roman law, which stated a criminal was to be flogged first before being crucified; however, some scholars propose Pilate requested the flogging in hopes of getting Jesus off with a lighter punishment. It is important to note, the Bible does not give a definitive reason one way or another. During a whipping, the Romans utilized a whip, often referred to as a flagellum or flagrum, and it consisted of small shards of metal and bone attached to several strands of leather. The number of lashes Christ received is not recorded in the gospels, but Roman law did not dictate a limit for the number of strikes inflicted. During the flogging, the individual's skin was stripped away from the back, exposing a bloody mass of bone and muscle. Oftentimes, the victim would become weak due to extreme loss of blood. After enduring the beating, Jesus was stripped of his clothing. The Roman soldiers placed a scarlet robe on him before putting a crown of thorns on his head. They mocked him by kneeling in front of him saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" Then, they took the staff they had given him and began hitting him on the head repeatedly. The crown of thorns is typically depicted as an open ring; however, it is likely the crown actually covered the entirety of Jesus' scalp. Therefore, the repeated blows to his head would have driven the thorns into his scalp and forehead, resulting in severe bleeding. The thorns were estimated to have been 1 to 2 inches in length. After, Jesus was forced to carry the crossbar of the cross across his shoulders as he walked through the crowded streets to the place he was to be crucified: Golgotha. In Aramaic, Golgotha means "skull," and it is also called Calvary. In Latin, the word, "calva," means "skull" or "bald head." The approximate distance Jesus carried the cross was 650 yards, and the bar likely weighed between 80 to 110 pounds. During his march, Jesus was unable to continue carrying the cross, and some scholars theorize he may have fallen at one point. Falling with a heavy bar on His back may have resulted in a contusion of the heart, which could have predisposed it to rupture on the cross (Terasaka, 2017). Unable to carry the cross, a man by the name of Simon of Cyrene was summoned to assist Jesus.

Once Jesus arrived at Golgotha, the process of crucifixion can be summarized as follows: "The patibulum (the crossbar) was put on the ground and the victim laid upon it. Nails, about 7 inches long and with a diameter of 1 cm (roughly 3/8 of an inch) were driven in the wrists. The points would go into the vicinity of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain to radiate through the arms. It was possible to place the nails between the bones so that no fractures (or broken bones) occurred. Studies have shown that nails were probably driven through the small bones of the wrist since nails in the palms of the hand would not support the weight of a body. In ancient terminology, the wrist was considered to be part of the hand. Standing at the crucifixion sites would be upright posts, called stipes, standing about 7 feet high. In the center of the stipes was a crude seat, called a sedile or sedulum, which served as support for the victim. The patibulum was then lifted onto the stipes. The feet were then nailed to the stipes. To allow for this, the knees had to be bent and rotated laterally, being left in a very uncomfortable position. The titulus was hung above the victim's head" (Terasaka, 2017). As the cross was erected, there would have been an immense strain on Jesus' wrists, arms, and shoulders, possibly resulting in dislocation. As stated before, inhalation was severely limited due to the arms being held up and outward. With the arms outstretched, the rib cage would have been in a fixed-end inspiratory position, which would only have allowed Jesus to take shallow breaths. According to Terasaka (2017), death by crucifixion likely came in the form of suffocation. More specifically, slow suffocation due to the following: (1) shallowness of breathing causing small areas of the lungs to collapse, (2) decreased oxygen and increased carbon dioxide which causes acidic conditions in one's tissues, (3) the build-up of fluid in the lungs, worsening Step 2, and (4) the heart becoming so stressed it eventually fails. Now, Scripture does not detail the specific cause of Christ's death; however, theologians have proposed three theories, which include: (1) his pericardium filled with fluid, putting a fatal strain on his heart, preventing it from pumping blood, (2) he died because of a cardiac rupture, or (3) he experienced a fatal cardiac arrhythmia (Terasaka, 2017). The last point I will touch on is how long it would have taken before Christ died. On average, death by crucifixion was recorded as taking between 2-4 days, but there are reported accounts of individuals living as long as 9 days (Terasaka, 2017). Mark 15:44 reads, "Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead" (Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 2001). Thus, the testimony of Mark suggests Jesus died a rather quick physical death.

The foundational truth, of Christianity, is God sacrificed His only Son to restore the broken relationship between man and Him (John 3:16). As stated above, Jesus willingly gave up His life as a ransom for us. He was perfect, completely innocent, yet he endured the punishment we deserved. How often do you hear of a story where the hero died for the villain? Do you remember the Roman soldiers who mocked Him? That was us. That is still us. We daily forget to appreciate the depths Christ went to tear the veil, to defeat death, and to provide us with the only way to have a relationship with God the Father. Lord, forgive us when we forget.


Crossway Bibles. (2001). Holy Bible: English Standard Version.

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2023). Crucifixion. Law, Crime, and Punishment. Retrieved from

Gushee, D. P. (2016). Why was Jesus killed? Religion News Service. Retrieved from

Terasaka, D. (2017). Medical aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved from

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