a common mode of punishment among heathen nations in early times. It is not certain whether it was known among the ancient Jews; probably it was not. The modes of capital punishment according to the Mosaic law were, by the sword (Ex 21), strangling, fire (Le 20), and stoning (De 21).
This was regarded as the most horrible form of death, and to a Jew it would acquire greater horror from the curse in De 21:23.
This punishment began by subjecting the sufferer to scourging. In the case of our Lord, however, his scourging was rather before the sentence was passed upon him, and was inflicted by Pilate for the purpose, probably, of exciting pity and procuring his escape from further punishment (Lu 23:22; Joh 19:1).
The condemned one carried his own cross to the place of execution, which was outside the city, in some conspicuous place set apart for the purpose. Before the nailing to the cross took place, a medicated cup of vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh (the sopor) was given, for the purpose of deadening the pangs of the sufferer. Our Lord refused this cup, that his senses might be clear (Mt 27:34). The spongeful of vinegar, sour wine, posca, the common drink of the Roman soldiers, which was put on a hyssop stalk and offered to our Lord in contemptuous pity (Mt 27:48; Lu 23:36), he tasted to allay the agonies of his thirst (Joh 19:29). The accounts given of the crucifixion of our Lord are in entire agreement with the customs and practices of the Roman in such cases. He was crucified between two "malefactors" (Isa 53:12; Lu 23:32), and was watched by a party of four soldiers (Joh 19:23; Mt 27:36,54), with their centurion. The "breaking of the legs" of the malefactors was intended to hasten death, and put them out of misery (Joh 19:31); but the unusual rapidity of our Lord's death (Joh 19:33) was due to his previous sufferings and his great mental anguish. The omission of the breaking of his legs was the fulfilment of a type (Ex 12:46). He literally died of a broken heart, a ruptured heart, and hence the flowing of blood and water from the wound made by the soldier's spear (Joh 19:34). Our Lord uttered seven memorable words from the cross, namely, (1) Lu 23:34; (2) Lu 23:43; (3) Joh 19:26; (4) Mt 27:46; Mr 15:34; (5) Joh 19:28; (6) Joh 19:30; (7) Lu 23:46.
1. Its nature.
The most painful and the most degrading capital punishment, reserved for the worst crimes and for the lowest class of people. The Romans used a short beam fastened to a long upright one, on which was placed a piece of wood for the feet to rest on. Nails were driven through the hands and feet; but historians say that sometimes the feet were only tied. The torture was dreadful, and the thirst great; but in some cases life lasted three days, none of the vital parts being reached. The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and of the two malefactors are the only cases named in scripture: crucifixion was not practised by the Jews. A stupefying draught was given to the prisoners, but the Lord refused it. He would drink the bitter cup to the dregs. It is clear from scripture, by His crying with a loud voice just before His death, that as stated in John's gospel (Joh 10:18) He gave up His life. Lu 23:46; Joh 19:30. The Lord referred to the manner of His death as being lifted up out of the earth, so that death by stoning would not have answered to this. Joh 3:14; 8:28; 12:32. We also read that He was made a curse for us; for "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Ga 3:13; De 21:23. Thus did the blessed Lord in saving rebellious man go down to the very lowest form of death.
The crucifixion is used metaphorically to instruct those who are associated with Christ: of believers it is said their 'old man' is crucified with Him. Ro 6:6. Paul could say that he was crucified with Christ; and that by Christ the world was crucified to him, and he to the world. Ga 2:20; 6:14. He accepted the judgement of himself in the cross, and he was cut off from the world by the same means.
was in used among the Egyptians,
the Carthaginians, the Persians,
the Assyrians, Scythains, Indians, Germans, and from the earliest times among the Greeks and Romans. Whether this mode of execution was known to the ancient Jews is a matter of dispute. Probably the Jews borrowed it from the Romans. It was unanimously considered the most horrible form of death. Among the Romans the degradation was also a part of the infliction, and the punishment if applied to freemen was only used in the case of the vilest criminals. The one to be crucified was stripped naked of all his clothes, and then followed the most awful moment of all. He was laid down upon the implement of torture. His arms were stretched along the cross-beams, and at the centre of the open palms the point of a huge iron nail was placed, which, by the blow of a mallet, was driven home into the wood. Then through either foot separately, or possibly through both together, as they were placed one over the other, another huge nail tore its way through the quivering flesh. Whether the sufferer was also bound to the cross we do not know; but, to prevent the hands and feet being torn away by the weight of the body, which could not "rest upon nothing but four great wounds," there was, about the centre of the cross, a wooden projection strong enough to support, at least in part, a human body, which soon became a weight of agony. Then the "accursed tree" with its living human burden was slowly heaved up and the end fixed firmly in a hole in the ground. The feet were but a little raised above the earth. The victim was in full reach of every hand that might choose to strike. A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly, --dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds, all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries, especially of the head and stomach, became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and, while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst. Such was the death to which Christ was doomed. --Farrar's "Life of Christ." The crucified was watched, according to custom, by a party of four soldiers,
with their centurion,
whose express office was to prevent the stealing of the body. This was necessary from the lingering character of the death, which sometimes did not supervene even for three days, and was at last the result of gradual benumbing and starvation. But for this guard, the persons might have been taken down and recovered, as was actually done in the case of a friend of Josephus. Fracture of the legs was especially adopted by the Jews to hasten death.
In most cases the body was suffered to rot on the cross by the action of sun and rain, or to be devoured by birds and beasts. Sepulture was generally therefore forbidden; but in consequence of
an express national exception was made in favor of the Jews.
This accursed and awful mode of punishment was happily abolished by Constantine.