The New Testament makes a big deal about the crucifixion of Christ. Paul went so far as to say, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!” (Gal. 6:14). But often when reading or preaching about the crucifixion we tend to sanitize the method of Christ’s death. The first readers of the Bible, however, would have reacted very strongly to the mention of the cross. Crucifixion was a vivid and terrible reality in the minds of anyone touched by the Roman Empire. This is how the Journal of the American Medical Association described the crucifixion of Christ:
Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials was flogged and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes) his feet were nailed to the stipes. The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier s spear into his side.” (JAMA 1986;255:1455-1463)
Was it necessary for Jesus to die by crucifixion?
According to Isaiah 53:10, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” for the purpose of making him a sin-offering. Even the extreme suffering of crucifixion was not sufficient to atone for the sins of humanity deserving of hell. The real atonement took place when God released His righteous anger upon His own Son.
Nevertheless, the cross was not without purpose. Galatians 3:13 reveals that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” By his crucifixion, Christ physically demonstrated the curse that He was taking upon Himself. Further, Christ demonstrated the awful nature of sin by taking upon himself the most excruciating and publicly shameful display of torture and death known to man. At the same time Christ demonstrated the incredible love of God for sinners.* According to Christ, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). How much more, when the Lord of All lays down his life in the most painful and shameful way possible?
In summary, the purposes of the cross may be enumerated as follows:
1. To fulfill prophecy
2. To demonstrate the curse Christ took upon Himself (Galatians 3:13)
3. To demonstrate the terrible nature of sin
4. To demonstrate the incredible love of God (John 15:13)
In the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery there hangs a painting, Christ on the Cross, by Peter Paul Rubens. It is striking in its clash of darkness and light, and as the viewer looks at the painting his eyes are directed to Christ’s arms, upraised as if in victory. That is the effect of the cross of Christ. Christ transformed the most hideous death mankind could invent into a symbol of victory over the powers of darkness (Colossians 2:15). Through the crucifixion of Christ, God communicated to us a graphic picture of redemption that has been boldly and unforgettably stamped upon the human heart.