What the Bible says about Jesus’ crucifixion

Typical crucifixion scene

Jesus "high and lifted up"?
It is His name that is exalted above the heavens.

Jesus Christ was crucified. He died on the cross of Calvary. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians have a long tradition of portraying Jesus on the cross. Protestants favour the symbol of an empty cross. However, the crucifix image of Jesus is so embedded in human consciousness that you may be surprised that it differs somewhat from the biblical description of Jesus’ sufferings.

The main reason this is worth pointing out is that it should act as a call to examine some of our cherished ideas of the Christian life in the light of the Bible rather than tradition.

  1. Jesus was not crucified on a high cross.

    His head would have been at a level about 3 to 4 feet (one metre) above the eyes of the onlookers.

    The reason we know this is so is because the soldiers gave Jesus wine vinegar through a sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant. ( John 19:29 ).

    Hyssop is a herb with a woody stem, but it grows no more than 18 inches (50cm) in height. The soldiers did not have to reach very high.

  2. Jesus’ bones were pulled out of joint.

    Psalm 22 is a prophetic picture of the crucifixion and it makes this statement ( Psalm 22:14-18 ).

    The weight of hanging on the cross made Jesus’ frame look skeletal and out of joint.

  3. Jesus’ beard was pulled out.

    The prophet Isaiah has this prophecy ( Isaiah 50:6-7 )

  4. Jesus was beaten and tortured beyond human likeness.

    Crucifixion was crude, brutal and gruesome. It was intended to be so. The Romans meant it to act as a deterrent, so that people would not rebel against their rule.

    The depiction of the scourging of Jesus in the film “The Passion of the Christ” – to highlight just one example – is harrowing, but if we go by Isaiah’s description ( Isaiah 52:13-14 ), it falls short of the effect that it had on Jesus’ form on the cross.

  5. Jesus was crucified naked.

    The loincloth image is an artistic nod to modesty. Roman soldiers would have had no such qualms.

    From the time of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, public nakedness has been a biblical symbol of shame ( Gen 3:7-11 )

    When Jesus was crucified He was bearing our shame ( Rom 10:11 )

Having said all this, it is my strong impression in reading the Bible that we are not meant to focus on Jesus’ sufferings in a voyeuristic way.

The New Testament accounts of the death of Jesus simply say that He was “flogged” and “crucified”.

Yes, Jesus suffered beyond imagining, but this truth is not presented to make us morbid. Jesus willingly paid our debt ( John 10:17-18 and Romans 6:23 ).

The New Testament rejoices in the resurrection of Jesus. That Jesus rose from the grave is our assurance that we receive eternal life through faith in His atoning sacrifice ( 1 Cor 15:12-20 )

A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within Me.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue sticks to the roof of My mouth;
You lay Me in the dust of death.

Dogs have surrounded Me; a band of evil men has encircled Me, they have pierced My hands and My feet.

I can count all My bones; people stare and gloat over Me.

They divide My garments among them and cast lots for My clothing.

I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard;
I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.

Because the Sovereign LORD helps Me, I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

“See, My servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Just as there were many who were appalled at Him — His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”

“The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.”

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.