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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jesus’ beard was pulled out.
The prophet Isaiah has this prophecy ( Isaiah 50:6-7 )
- 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.
- 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”.
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 )