Faith

A Doctor explains how Jesus Really Died – “The Agony of Love”

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Crucifixion was invented by the Persians between 300-400 b.c. It was “perfected” by the Romans in the first century b.c. It is arguably the most painful death ever invented by man and is where we get our term “excruciating.” It was reserved primarily for the most vicious of criminals.

The most common device used for crucifixion was a wooden cross, which consisted of an upright pole permanently fixed in the ground with a removable crossbar, usually weighing between 75-100 lbs. Victims of crucifixion were typically stripped naked and their clothing divided by the Roman guards. In Jesus’ case this was done in fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, “They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

As a gesture of “Roman kindness” the prisoner was offered a mixture of vinegar (gall) and wine as a mild anesthetic. This anesthetic was refused by Jesus.5 Consequently, He bore it all! The Apostle Peter stated of Jesus:

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. 1 Peter 2:24

The victim was then placed on his back, arms stretched out and nailed to the cross bar. The nails, which were generally about 7-9 inches long, were placed between the bones of the forearm (the radius and ulna) and the small bones of the hands (the carpal bones). (Figure 1.)

The placement of the nail at this point had several effects. First it ensured that the victim would indeed hang there until dead. Secondly, a nail placed at this point would sever the largest nerve in the hand called the median nerve.

The severing of this nerve is a medical catastrophe. In addition to severe burning pain the destruction of this nerve causes permanent paralysis of the hand. Furthermore, by nailing the victim at this point in the wrist, there would be minimal bleeding and there would be no bones broken! Thus scriptures were fulfilled:

I can count all my bones: they look and stare upon me. Psalm 22:17He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken. Psalm 34:20

The positioning of the feet is probably the most critical part of the mechanics of crucifixion. First the knees were flexed about 45 degrees and the feet were flexed (bent downward) an additional 45 degrees until they were parallel the vertical pole. An iron nail about 7-9 inches long was driven through the feet between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsal bones. In this position the nail would sever the dorsal pedal artery of the foot, but the resultant bleeding would be insufficient to cause death.

The Catastrophic Result

The resulting position on the cross sets up a horrific sequence of events which results in a slow, painful death. Having been pinned to the cross, the victim now has an impossible position to maintain.

With the knees flexed at about 45 degrees, the victim must bear his weight with the muscles of the thigh. However, this is an almost impossible task-try to stand with your knees flexed at 45 degrees for 5 minutes. As the strength of the legs gives out, the weight of the body must now be borne by the arms and shoulders. The result is that within a few minutes of being placed on the cross, the shoulders will become dislocated. Minutes later the elbows and wrists become dislocated. The result of these dislocations is that the arms are as much as 6-9 inches longer than normal.

With the arms dislocated, considerable body weight is transferred to the chest, causing the rib cage to be elevated in a state of perpetual inhalation. Consequently, in order to exhale the victim must push down on his feet to allow the rib muscles to relax. The problem is that the victim cannot push very long because the legs are extremely fatigued. As time goes on, the victim is less and less able to bear weight on the legs, causing further dislocation of the arms and further raising of the chest wall, making breathing more and more difficult.

The result of this process is a series of catastrophic physiological effects. Because the victim cannot maintain adequate ventilation of the lungs, the blood oxygen level begins to diminish and the blood carbon dioxide (CO2) level begins to rise. This rising CO2 level stimulates the heart to beat faster in order to increase the delivery of oxygen and the removal of CO2.

However, due to the pinning of the victim and the limitations of oxygen delivery, the victim cannot deliver more oxygen and the rising heart rate only increases oxygen demand. So this process sets up a vicious cycle of increasing oxygen demand-which cannot be met-followed by an ever increasing heart rate. After several hours the heart begins to fail, the lungs collapse and fill up with fluid, which further decreases oxygen delivery to the tissues. The blood loss and hyperventilation combines to cause severe dehydration. That’s why Jesus said, “I thirst.”6

Over a period of several hours the combination of collapsing lungs, a failing heart, dehydration, and the inability to get adequate oxygen supplies to the tissues cause the eventual death of the victim. The victim, in effect, cannot breath properly and slowly suffocates to death. In cases of severe cardiac stress, such as crucifixion, a victim’s heart can even burst. This process is called “Cardiac Rupture.” Therefore it could be said that Jesus died of a “broken heart!”

To slow the process of death the executioners put a small wooden seat on the cross, which would allow the victim the privilege of bearing his weight on his buttocks. The effect of this was that it could take up to nine days to die on a cross.

When the Romans wanted to expedite death they would simply break the legs of the victim, causing him to suffocate in a matter of minutes. At three o’clock in the afternoon Jesus said, “Tetelastai,” meaning “it is finished.” Then He gave up the ghost. When the soldiers came to Jesus to break His legs, He was already dead. Not a bone of Him was broken!

How Should We Then Live?

I realize that it is difficult to read of the details of Jesus’ physical sufferings. And yet, when we realize that He looked forward, on our behalf, to the cross, we are overwhelmed with His practical demonstration of love and, hopefully, a personal realization of our unworthiness. How should we then live? I believe that the Apostle Paul said it best:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11

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