Summary: The death of Jesus in Luke 23:44-49 shows us a number of events preceding and following his death.
In our study of the life and ministry of Jesus, we come today to examine his death.
During his final week in Jerusalem, Jesus was hailed by the people as their conquering Messiah, and then rejected by them as they cried for his death by crucifixion. After a series of rushed civil and religious trials, Jesus was finally sentenced to death by crucifixion.
Let’s read about the death of Jesus in Luke 23:44-49:
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:44-49)
It would be helpful for us to understand what happens to a person when he is crucified. Pastor John MacArthur says in his commentary on Luke:
Through the years there has been a lot of study done on the physical aspects of crucifixion. Perhaps the most concise and helpful treatment appeared in the March 21, 1986, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (vol. 255, no. 11) in an article entitled, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” (William D. Edwards, MD; Wesley J. Gabel, MDiv; Floyd E. Hosmer, MS, AMI). According to that study everyone who was crucified was first beaten. The victim’s arms were lifted up and tied to a pole, leaving him in a slumped position. Braided leather thongs with bits of metal and bone embedded in them were used to lash the victim from the bottom of the neck down to the back of the knees. Two lictors (attendants of Roman magistrates) hit him with alternating blows. There are no indications as to how many lashes the victims customarily received; that was at the discretion of the lictors. The bone and the metal would rip into the flesh, causing deep contusions and lacerations into the subcutaneous tissues, and then into the fabric of the muscles. The resulting pain and blood loss would lead to circulatory shock.
All three men crucified that day were scourged. But the soldiers, in their mockery of Jesus, put a robe on Him made of wool that would have irritated His open wounds. They also placed a crown of thorns on His head, beat Him in the head with a stick, and spat on Him. At some point, they tore the robe off Him, which would have ripped open the wounds. Further, the hematidrosis (bloody sweat) He experienced (Luke 22:44) made His skin hypersensitive. The Lord also suffered from lack of sleep, lack of food, and lack of water.
Crucifixion was a slow death, intended to inflict maximum agony and suffering. The victims carried their crosses, or at least the crosspiece, across the back of their necks and shoulders with their arms tied to it. Jesus received help from Simon of Cyrene in carrying His cross, either because in His weakened condition He could no longer carry it, or perhaps because He was not moving fast enough to suit the soldiers.
Arriving at the place of crucifixion, the prisoners would be offered sedation (which Jesus refused; Matt. 27:34) and then be thrown to the ground on their backs. The crosspiece would then be pulled under their shoulders and their arms nailed to it using tapered iron spikes five to seven inches long, and about a half inch square. They were driven through the wrists rather than the palms of the hands so they could carry the full weight of the slumping body.
The impaled victim was then lifted up, and the crosspiece was attached to the upright post, often called the stipes. The feet were then nailed with one nail, the knees bent up so that the victims could push up on the wounds in their feet as well as pull up on the wounds in their wrists in order to breathe. The sagging position of the body with the knees bent made it impossible to breathe steadily; the soldiers could cause death in minutes by breaking the victims’ legs (cf. John 19:31–32). Needless to say, no one survived crucifixion.
The agonizing pain those crucified endured is almost incomprehensible. The most extreme word in English language to describe pain is the word “excruciating,” which comes from the Latin word excruciatus, meaning “out of the cross.” In order to breathe, a person had to pull and push himself up, causing the wounds on his back from the scourging to rub painfully on the rough wood of the cross. The nails in the wrists would crush or sever the long sensory radial motor median nerve, causing relentless bolts of pain. The nails in the feet would likely pierce the deep perineal and plantar nerves, causing the same results.