The incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus are the cornerstone of the Christian faith. The narrative is captured in the Apostles Creed (Symbolum Apostolorum): “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead…” But what is it about the crucifixion of Jesus? Why is it so important?

Jesus came in the flesh so he might die as a man. His blood became atonement for the sins of mankind. With his blood Jesus bought salvation for mankind. Blood is spiritual currency. Without the shedding of blood there can be no absolution for sins. (Hebrews 9:22). Therefore good works and morality cannot save us. Only the blood of Jesus can provide salvation. But that begs the question: Why did Jesus suffer so much? Why was he beaten so much? The floggings were extreme! The answer is on two levels – the natural and the spiritual.

In the natural the floggings served a purpose. In Roman times, scourging was done before crucifixion to bring a victim to a state just short of death. The whip had iron balls at the end of each leather thong. Sheep bones were tied near the end for laceration. First goes the skin, then the shredding of muscles. It was a blood bath that often induced shock. No part of the naked body was spared. Not even the face! Please forget all those artist renderings of wax figurine crucifixion of Jesus. Roman crucifixion was brutal. R18.

Crucifixion was so psychologically traumatic the site was located outside city walls to spare the citizens horror. It was so gruesome Cicero suggested the very mention of the cross should be removed from the mind, eyes, ears. Jesus was so disfigured from the beatings his face became unrecognizable! The clue is contained in the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah prophesied the crucifixion 700 years before the event): “He didn’t even look human – a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.” (Isaiah 52:14). Jesus became one huge bruise, his skin totally peeled off, bits and pieces of flesh scattered on the floor. Gory.

Crucifixion was a Roman tradition. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus said the Romans crucified thousands. After the flogging the victim would carry his own cross bar (the patibulum) to the crucifixion site. Weighed about 45kg. The upright (the stipes) was permanently mounted in the crucifixion site. The cross bar was mounted on the shoulders of the victim, his arms tied to it. If he tripped he fell face down.

Again contrary to those drawings the victim was not nailed to the cross through the palms. The wrists were nailed. The 13 – 18cm (5 – 7in) spike broke through the flexor retinaculum, ulnar nerve and artery, median nerve, radial artery, flexor pollicus and longus musculus. The victim was offered wine mixed with myrrh to act as mild painkiller. A charitable women association offered this. Before the feet are nailed, the body weight is supported by the arms. In this position it was difficult to exhale. To breathe properly, the victim must hoist himself up. The open wound on his back rubbed against the coarse upright. The pain would force a reverse downward movement and eventually the victim will suffocate.

Depending on the amount of flogging, the victim could live for a few hours or a few days. If no one claims the body, it would be left on the cross to be eaten by wild animals. But if the family claimed the body a Roman soldier pierced the chest with spear to make sure the victim died. In some cases the victim’s legs were broken to finish off the victim. This was called crurifragium. It was this specific that the scriptures declared concerning Jesus, “None of his bones will be broken.” (John 19:36). The bone of the Passover lamb must not be broken (Exodus12:46). Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb of God.

The prophecies of Isaiah give us more insight into the passion of the Christ: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” Isaiah 50:6.

But why did Jesus endure all these? As explained, reality occurs on two levels – the natural and the spiritual. In the natural the people thought his punishment were for his sins. Isaiah wrote: “And we thought his troubles were punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!” (Isaiah 53:4). That was the human perspective.

The spiritual perspective was another thing entirely. Listen to Prophet Isaiah: “But he (Jesus) was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” Isaiah 53:5 NLT. In other words, healing is part of the atonement. There’s provision for our healing… whatever the disease!

The Message translation states that each of those whippings was sin whipping him:
“But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him – our sins!” Those leather thongs with iron balls and fragments of sheep bones represent our sins. Our sins tore into him.

But was all that beating only for physical disease? Does the atonement cover diseases of the mind? Isaiah 53:3-4 says he was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief… it was our sorrows that weighed him down.” In other words, even depression is covered in the atonement. Jesus, the Bible says went through “travail of soul”.

The cross is a symbol of the gruesomeness of sin and diseases. It is not a fashion ornamentation. Every time you wear the cross, remember it for what it is – it is the symbol of the brutality of sin.

But what was God’s plan in all this? (God always has a plan, he never does random): “The plan was that he give himself an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it ­– life, life and more life.” (Isaiah 53:10). He gave himself as offering, so we can have life. Please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner. That Jesus died a gruesome death for me. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus as my Lord and my Saviour. And I receive the healing provided for me in the atonement. By the stripes of Jesus, I am healed! Healed of all my diseases, body and soul. Amen!”

© Leke Alder |