The Passion of Christ

Mel Gibson’s gripping film, The Passion of the Christ, introduced movie-goers to the horrific treatment inflicted on Jesus Christ during His crucifixion ordeal. Viewers wept and turned away at the gruesome cinematic portrayal.

The reality was much worse. Crucifixion at the time of Christ was a hideously cruel method of capital punishment that delayed death, while exacting the fullest possible measure of pain and suffering. For sheer lingering agony, there is nothing to match it.

The passion of Christ climaxed at the Cross, but it began in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He anticipated the torment to come. As He prayed, “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…,” Luke tells us that His “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” A 1986 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” suggests Christ’s bloody sweat was hematidrosis, a rare condition linked to extreme mental and emotional turmoil.

After His arrest and trial came the flogging—the savage prelude to nearly every crucifixion. Naked, His hands tied to a post, Christ stood as the soldiers began their cruel work. Wielding whips with leather strips into which iron balls or sharp bits of bone were tied, the soldiers delivered full-force strokes that lacerated Christ’s flesh from His neck down to His ankles.

Next came the Cross, which Christ bore until relieved by Simon of Cyrene, on shoulders already reduced (the JAMA articles states), to “quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.” Finally, He arrives at Golgotha, the place ordained for Him before all time. It was there that the soldiers laid Him on His back, with the Cross underneath. First one arm, then the other, was stretched out, and the great hammer came down, driving seven-inch tapered iron spikes through both wrists into the wooden beam below. Doing so, the JAMA article states, crushed the median nerve and produced “excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms.”

The soldiers then nailed Christ’s feet to the Cross and lifted it upright.

Crucifixion made breathing, especially exhalation, extremely labored, as the victim hung from his arms on the Cross. Death would come quickly from asphyxiation, but for the cruel and cunning Roman innovation of bending the victim’s legs to cheat death and extend pain. With His legs bent, Christ could lift His body and exhale by pushing on His feet, a searingly painful movement as His full weight rested on His impaled feet.

The maneuver also forced him to exert pressure against the spikes in His wrist, unleashing fresh torrents of pain. Compounding the severe agony, the effort to exhale caused Him to scrape His scourged back against the coarse timber. Each labored breath brought with it yet another tidal wave of intense pain.

But as great as the agony of crucifixion was, it was but the outer shadow of the anguish that Christ endured. There, on the Cross, He drank the cup over which He had prayed so fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was that cup, the cauldron of God’s wrath for sin, which passed His lips on that cruel Friday. Jesus took it and drank it down. He who knew no sin became sin for us and endured untold torment in body and soul to spare sinners the eternal pains of Hell.

That Cross was yours and was mine. Jesus Christ endured on the Cross that which we deserve, that which we ought to receive. Dear friend, if you have not done so already, yield yourself to Him today and find the joy and peace of everlasting life.

D. James Kennedy, Ph.D., is senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, and president of Coral Ridge Ministries, an international Christian broadcast outreach