“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’–which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of those standing near heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he’s calling Elijah.’
One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,’ he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.”
“It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.
Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.” When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
Mark 15.34-37; 42-45
Pilate was surprised to learn that Jesus had died so quickly. That was because Roman crucifixion was not merely an execution. It was a slow death by way of torture, filled with excruciating pain, designed by the Romans to extend the amount of time it actually took to die as long as possible. “Historically the process could take anywhere from 3-4 hours to 3-4 days. And there were reports of people living as long as 9 days on a cross.” The Jewish leaders and Pilate were both expecting it to take days for Jesus to die as was typical. That’s why the Jewish leaders petitioned Pilate to have his legs broken (John 19.31). Because when hung on a cross for crucifixion, “Modern forensic research shows that a person whose hands are bound above his head has severe trouble breathing.” The results being that:
“The muscles that run between the ribs are basically fully extended which means the ribs are fully expanded, which means the chest is essentially passively full of air. In order to get the stale air and the carbon dioxide and all the waste gases out, the victim would actually have to actively lift themselves up to get the pressure off of these muscles and allow themselves to exhale.”
Robert M. Morris, MD
ER Chief, Stanford medical center
To do so they would have to push their body up with their legs, putting more pressure on their nailed feet, sending more bolts of pain through the body. With the legs broken, the condemned person on the cross would no longer be able to lift themselves up to breathe, thus greatly hastening death.
As I mediated on the events of the crucifixion, it occurred to me that once on the cross, the result was inevitable, and everyone was merely waiting for the victim to die. The Jewish leaders were waiting, Pilate was waiting, those standing around the cross were waiting, the soldiers were waiting. It also occurred to me that the person on the cross was also waiting, fully cognizant of the fact that death was certain and near. It was just a matter of waiting for it to arrive.
Thankfully the United States and all first world countries have outlawed such cruel punishment because: “A real crucifixion would be unimaginable. Crucifixion is one of the worst ways to die. It’s a horrible, horrible way to die.” says Sarah Stroup,Professor, University of Washington. Thankfully most of us (none of us?) will face a crucifixion. Nevertheless, like those condemned on the cross, we are all waiting to die. As we’re reminded in the famous poem, book and movie: “For Whom the Bell Tolls“
“any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
The poem points out that death effects everyone through its impact on mankind. More importantly though, it tacitly makes the much more serious point that one day, the bell will be tolling for each one of us. In that sense, each toll of the bell reminds us that like those condemned to death by execution – regardless of the method – we’re all waiting to die. It’s merely a matter of time.
This would be a rather depressing thought, particularly for an Easter Sunday which is supposed to be joyous, were it not for the message of the cross. The message of the cross dispels the darkness of despair and shines the light of hope and joy into an otherwise grim and hopeless wait for death. What is that light? Christians call it the “blessed hope”:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Because at his appearing, Christians know we will live eternally with Him, and will soon see the place he has gone ahead to prepare for us:
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
So for Christians, the wait is not a bleak one. It is full of hope and joy. Of course this hope is only for Christians – those who have received him, believed in his name, and thus have become children of God. (John 1.12) Those who don’t believe have no such hope because as atheist and evolutionary biologist William Provine put it:
If you believe in evolution… there’s no hope whatsoever of their being any deep meaning in life. We live we die and we’re gone. Absolutely gone.”
Doubtlessly someone will ask, why should I believe in this “blessed hope”? What’s the evidence? This site is full of evidence for those seeking evidence, but on this day, the day we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, I ask you to consider only one piece of evidence: Jesus Christ was crucified, dead and buried. He rose again on the third day and was seen alive by many. With that evidence I ask you to take the Christian hope as your own by accepting his invitation:
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”
(Rev 22:17 NIV)
Drink deeply of the water of life, for it will become in you a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4.14)
1. Robert M. Morris MD, ER Chief, Stanford medical center, ref. from
Crucifixion, History channel documentary, 2008
2. Narrator, Crucifixion, History channel documentary, 2008
3. Robert M. Morris MD, Crucifixion
4. Sarah Stroup, PhD, Crucifixion
5. For Whom the Bell Tolls, title of the famous Ernest Hemingway book, based on the poem by John Donne. The 1943 Movie For Whom the Bell Tolls is based on Hemingway’s book and opens with the above section of the poem.
6. Save those who escape it through the rapture of course (1 Thess 4.15-16)
7. William Provine, ref. from Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed, Documentary, 2008
Crucifixion of Jesus, Marco Palmezzano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons