Definition: The word crucifixion comes from the Latin “crucifixio,” or “crucifixus,” meaning “fixed to a cross.”
Roman crucifixion was an ancient method of execution in which the victim’s hands and feet were bound and nailed to a cross. It was one of the most painful and disgraceful methods of capitol punishment. Victims were usually beaten and tortured and then forced to carry their own cross to the crucifixion site. The Roman cross was formed of wood, typically with a vertical stake and a horizontal cross beam near the top. Different types and shapes of crosses existed for different forms of crucifixion.
The Roman form of crucifixion was not employed in the Old Testament by the Jewish people, as they saw crucifixion as one of the most horrible, cursed forms of death (Deuteronomy 21:23). In New Testament Bible times, the Romans used this tortuous method of execution as a means of exerting authority and control over the population.
Before nailing the victim to the cross, a mixture of vinegar, gall, and myrrh was usually offered to alleviate some of the victim’s suffering. Wooden planks were usually fastened to the vertical stake as a footrest or seat, allowing the victim to rest his weight and lift himself for a breath, thus prolonging suffering and delaying death for up to three days. Unsupported, the victim would hang entirely from nail-pierced wrists, severely restricting breathing and circulation. This excruciating ordeal would lead to exhaustion, suffocation, brain death and heart failure. At times, mercy was shown by breaking the victim’s legs, causing death to come quickly. As a deterrent to crime, crucifixions were carried out in highly public places with the criminal charges posted on the cross above the victim’s head.
Also Known As: Death on the cross.
The crucifixion of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 27:27-56, Mark 15:21-38, Luke 23:26-49, and John 19:16-37.
Christian theology teaches that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Roman cross as the perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins all of mankind, thus making the crucifix, or cross, one of the central themes and defining symbols of Christianity.
Crucifixion was not only one of the most painful and disgraceful forms of death, it was one of the most dreaded methods of execution in the ancient world. Victims of this form of capitol punishment had their hands and feet bound and nailed to a cross.
Accounts of crucifixions are recorded among ancient civilizations, most likely originating with the Persians and then spreading to the Assyrians, Scythians, Carthaginians, Germans, Celts and Britons. Crucifixion was primarily reserved for traitors, captive armies, slaves and the worst of criminals. Over the course of history, different types and shapes of crosses existed for different forms of crucifixion.
Execution by crucifixion became common under the rule of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.). Later, during the Roman Empire, only violent offenders, those guilty of high treason, despised enemies, deserters, slaves and foreigners were crucified.
The Roman form of crucifixion was not employed in the Old Testament by the Jewish people, as they saw crucifixion as one of the most horrible, cursed forms of death (Deuteronomy 21:23). The only exception was reported by the historian Josephus when the Jewish high priest Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.) ordered the crucifixion of 800 enemy Pharisees.
In New Testament Bible times, the Romans used this tortuous method of execution as a means of exerting authority and control over the population. Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity, died on a Roman cross as recorded in Matthew 27: 32-56, Mark 15:21-38, Luke 23:26-49, and John 19:16-37.
In honor of Christ’s death, the practice of crucifixion was abolished by Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor, in 337 A.D.
made seven final statements during his last hours on the cross. These phrases are held dear by followers of Christ because they offer a glimpse into the depth of his suffering to accomplish redemption. Recorded in the Gospels between the time of his crucifixion and his death, they reveal his divinity as well as his humanity. As much as possible, given the approximate sequence of events as portrayed in the Gospels, these seven last words of Jesus are presented here in chronological order.
1) Jesus Speaks to the Father
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (NIV)
In the midst of his excruciating suffering, the heart of Jesus was focused on others rather than himself. Here we see the nature of his love-unconditional and divine.
2) Jesus Speaks to the Criminal on the Cross
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (NIV)
One of the criminals who was crucified with Christ, had recognized who Jesus was and expressed faith in him as Savior. Here we see grace poured out through faith, as Jesus assured the dying man of his forgiveness and eternal salvation.
3) Jesus Speaks to Mary and John
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” (NIV)
Jesus, looking down from the cross, was still filled with the concerns of a son for the earthly needs of his mother. None of his brothers were there to care for her, so he gave this task to the Apostle John. Here we clearly see Christ’s humanity.
4) Jesus Cries Out to the Father
Matthew 27:46 (also Mark 15:34)
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (NKJV)
In the darkest hours of his suffering, Jesus cried out the opening words of Psalm 22. And although much has been suggested regarding the meaning of this phrase, it was quite apparent the agony Christ felt as he expressed separation from God. Here we see the Father turning way from the Son as Jesus bore the full weight of our sin.
5) Jesus is Thirsty
Jesus knew that everything was now finished, and to fulfill the Scriptures he said, “I am thirsty.” (NLT)
Jesus refused the initial drink of vinegar, gall and myrrh (Matthew 27:34 and Mark 15:23) offered to alleviate his suffering. But here, several hours later, we see Jesus fulfilling the messianic prophecy found in Psalm 69:21.
6) It is Finished
… he said, “It is finished!” (NLT)
Jesus knew he was suffering the crucifixion for a purpose. Earlier he had said in John 10:18 of his life, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (NIV) These three words were packed with meaning, for what was finished here was not only Christ’s earthly life, not only his suffering and dying, not only the payment for sin and the redemption of the world-but the very reason and purpose he came to earth was finished. His final act of obedience was complete. The Scriptures had been fulfilled.
7) Jesus’ Last Words
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (NIV)
Here Jesus closes with the words of Psalm 31:5, speaking to the Father. We see his complete trust in the Father. Jesus entered death in the same way he lived each day of his life, offering up his life as the perfect sacrifice and placing himself in God’s hands.