The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
May 4, 2014


1) The Crucifixion of Jesus (Mike Willis)
2) Did Jesus Suffer and Die "In Our Place"? (Tom Edwards)
3) News & Notes


The Crucifixion of Jesus
by Mike Willis

Capital punishment is still practiced in America and that in compliance with the revealed will of God.  The Lord revealed, "Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man" (Gen. 9:6).  Executing murderers in American society is done in as painless a manner as men can devise, and that without regard to how much suffering the criminal caused his victim.  We use lethal injection, the electric chair, hanging, and the firing squad.  All of these methods of executing a criminal result in virtually instant death and relatively little pain to the one put to death.  

When the first century Romans executed a man, they wanted the victim to suffer and they wanted his death to be a public spectacle to the community to prevent others from committing the same crime.  One manner of executing criminals used by the Romans was crucifixion, which they borrowed from the Phoenicians.  

Jesus' Death by Crucifixion Was the Fulfillment of Divine Prophecy

Crucifixion was not used by Jews in putting a person to death.  Among the methods for execution employed by the Jews were stoning, burning, beheading, and strangling (Mishnah, "Sanhedrin," 7:1).  When Jesus prophesied the manner of his death, he foretold to his disciples that the Jewish leaders would deliver him to the Gentiles (Mark 8:33).  Matthew records Jesus' prophecy of his death when he said, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again" (20:18- 19).  John records Jesus' foretelling his crucifixion saying, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (12:32).  "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (3:14).  

In addition to Jesus' words prophesying specifically of his crucifixion, there are several Old Testament allusions to it (Zech. 9:9; Ps. 22; Isa. 53).  

The Suffering of Crucifixion

We are impressed by the brevity of the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus.  Matthew simply says, "and they crucified him" (27:35); Mark says, "and when they had crucified him" (15:24); Luke says, "there thy crucified him" (23:33); and John, ". . . where they crucified him" (19:18).  Those who lived in the first century were fully aware of what these words meant, of the suffering that accompanied such a death -- even as we understand death by the electric chair -- which might not be understood by someone in another culture and time.  

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1939 edition) describes death by crucifixion for us: "The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, esp. in hot climates.  Severe local inflammation, coupled with an insignificant bleeding of the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated by the exposure to the heat of the sun, the strained position of the body and insufferable thirst.  The wounds swelled about the rough nails and torn and lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony.  The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued.  The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding.  The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths.  Tetanus not rarely supervened and the rigors of the attending convulsions would tear at the wounds and add to the burden of pain, till at last the bodily forces were exhausted and the victim sank to unconsciousness and death" (II:761).  

The length of the agony of crucifixion "was wholly determined by the constitution of the victim, but death rarely ensued before thirty-six hours had elapsed. . . . Death was sometimes hastened by breaking the legs of the victims and by a hard blow delivered under the armpit before crucifixion" (ISBE II:762).  

The Skeletal Remains of a Victim of Crucifixion

Our understanding of how crucifixion was administered has also been enhanced by archaeology.  In 1968, fifteen limestone ossuaries were found in three burial caves at Giv'at ha-Mivtar, Jerusalem.  Among the 35 skeletal remains that were found was that of a victim of crucifixion (tomb I, ossuary 4).  From a study of these skeletal remains one can confirm several biblical references to crucifixion and learn how crucifixion was practiced in the first century.  The crucified body is that of a male, 24-28 years old.  The skeletal remains include the heel bones that were "found transfixed by a large iron nail.  The shins were found intentionally broken" (N. Haas, "Skeletal Remains at Giv'at ha-Mivtar," Discoveries and Studies in Jerusalem 1970, 42).  These remains are presently in the custody of the Israel Museum and are the only extant remains from antiquity known to be evidence of crucifixion.  

In the remains at Giv'at ha-Mivtar, the crucifixion victim's heels show that they had been nailed to a cross.  A wooden plaque, in a well preserved state, was situated below the head of the nail, between it and the bones.  A single nail pierced the wood, through the right heel, through the left heel and into the cross, where it apparently struck a knot in the wood and bent.  The board was used to prevent one's freeing his legs (intentionally or unintentionally) by pulling the nail through his bones.  

The victim apparently suffered the breaking of the leg bones mentioned in John 19:31 and experienced by the two thieves crucified with Jesus.  The right tibia and the left calf bones (tibia and fibula) were broken in their last third.  Haas wrote, "The fracture of the right tibial bone (the fibula being unavailable for study) was produced by a single, strong blow. . . . This same blow had had indirect repercussions on the left angle bones.  The percussion, passing the already crushed calf bones, was a harsh and severing blow for the left ones, attached as they were to the sharp-edged wooden cross" (57).  Judging by the position of the break, scholars concluded that the knees were semi-flexed.  The position of the body on the cross is described as follows: "the feet were joined almost parallel, both transfixed by a single nail at the heels, with the legs adjacent; the knees were doubled, right one overlapping the left; the trunk was contorted; the upper limbs were stretched out, each stabbed by a nail in the forearm" (58).  

The weight of the body on the cross was supported by a sedecula, a piece of wood attached to the upright beam on the cross, which in the body at Giv'at ha-Mivtar supported the right buttock.  

In the body from Giv'at ha-Mivtar, a post mortem amputation of the feet occurred, which scholars believe occurred only after several abortive attempts had been made to extract the nail.  The curved shape of the nail suggests that the nail struck a knot in the wood of the cross and bent.  When those trying to remove the body from the cross could not remove the nail, they cut off the feet and then removed the nail, plaque of wood and feet from the cross for burial.  

Jesus and Crucifixion

From this knowledge of crucifixion, we have a rather clear understanding of what Jesus endured at Calvary.  After being scourged by Pilate's soldiers (see article on scourging in this issue), Jesus was led away to be crucified.  His scourging was so intense that he was unable to bear his cross the full distance to Golgotha and stumbled underneath its weight.  Simon of Cyrene was compelled into service by the Roman government to bear Jesus cross (Matt. 27:32).  Jesus was taken to Golgotha (Mark 15:22), also known as Calvary (Luke 23:33).  

When the party arrived at Golgotha, the ritual of crucifixion began.  The soldiers offered Jesus a narcotic to deaden the pain, which he refused (Matt. 27:34).  The vertical post of the cross was placed in the ground.  To it was attached a board, a sedecula, to support the weight of the body.  The process of crucifixion usually began by nailing the victim's arms to the cross.  Sometimes the nail was placed in the forearm, although Scripture seems to indicate that the nails penetrated Jesus' hands (John 20:27).  Sometimes ropes were used to secure the body to the cross, to prevent one from ripping his hands free from the nails.  Then the body attached to the cross beam was raised and attached to the vertical post.  At this point, the feet were nailed.  A large metal nail, that had already been driven through a board, was nailed through one's ankles.  The wounds of crucifixion were not mortal, although they were painful.  Jesus' rather quick death, after only six hours, points to the severity of his scourging as hastening his death (Matt. 27:45-50).  

One may distance himself from the full impact of these descriptions of death by crucifixion.  They are the cold words of mere type on a page.  I must relate this to myself in some manner.  On two occasions, I have fainted when I was given a shot, a mere needle inserted just below the surface of the skin and then quickly withdrawn.  If my flesh flinches and cringes from such minor pain, how could I endure having a nail intentionally driven through my hands and feet? And, given the power to prevent it, as Jesus the omnipotent God possessed and had at his disposal (Matt. 26:53; cf. John 10:18), would I willfully choose to endure it for someone -- yea, anyone -- else? Imagine the first stroke of the hammer against the nail being driven into one's hand! One would blurt out an involuntary scream of pain.  One would wince and grimace.  And, then imagine the next hand being penetrated in the same manner.  Oh, the sensations as the raw nerves rubbed against the rough nail as they raised his body and attached the cross beam to the vertical post.  The pain of the nails through the hands was probably less than that of the nail driven through the ankle bones.  Trying to support one's body on the cross without aggravating the pain around the nail holes would be impossible.  Locked in one position, unable to move, no doubt produced cramps in various parts of the body.  Slowly the life oozes out, until in welcome relief the spirit departs the flesh.  Such was the death experienced by our blessed Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate God.  

1. Jesus knew what was involved in crucifixion.  Since crucifixion was commonly used as a form of capital punishment, Jesus was familiar with the humiliation and suffering that attended to that.  Nevertheless, he voluntarily chose death on the cross that we might be saved from sin.  

2. Jesus rejected the narcotic drink.  Matthew relates, "They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink" (27:34).  The drink was designed to dull one's senses so that he would not be so sensitive to the pain he endured.  Jesus refused the drink, choosing to suffer all of the agony of crucifixion with clear senses.  

3. Jesus suffered the humiliation of the cross.  The cross was not an emblem of honor to be worn about the neck, as is the case with modern crucifixes.  Rather, the cross had the same connotation in the first century as hanging and the electric chair have in this period.  Furthermore, the Old Testament said, "And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance" (Deut. 21:22-23).  

4. Jesus endured mockery as he hung on the tree.  Matthew records, "And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself.  If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.  Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save.  If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.  He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God" (Matt. 27:39-43).  

The humiliation Jesus experienced at the hands of sinful men caused Peter to exclaim, "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23).  Even before crucifixion, Jesus was treated derisively, being spit upon, slapped, and buffeted (Matt. 26:67).  This abuse makes his statement of intercession, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," even more remarkable.  


Jesus endured all of the pain and agony of the crucifixion.  He suffered this even though he was not guilty of any sin.  He suffered in our place.  His death was an atonement for sin, not the worthy punishment administered by the state to criminals guilty of capital offenses.  As we read of the suffering Jesus experienced on the cross, we are moved with compassion, sympathy, and empathy even as we are when we read of anyone's suffering such pains, deserved or undeserved.  When we realized he suffered without sin for a crime he did not commit, we are indignant at the injustice of his death.  When we think that it was an atonement of sin, the blood of God the Son being shed as the atonement for the sins of the world, we are drawn to him by love -- to think that he would endure such agony for me, a sinner.  John said, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 5:12).  

-- Via Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 1 p 15-17 January 2000, http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume44/ v440106011.htm


Did Jesus Suffer and Die "In Our Place"?
by Tom Edwards

Did Jesus actually suffer and die "in our place" or "in our stead"?  You might often hear this type of expression being used today, but is it literally so?  Perhaps many folks, in speaking of the Lord's sacrifice for us, have used this phrase metaphorically.  But we might need to remind ourselves that the Bible does not teach or indicate that we were ever to suffer a torturous death on a cross had it not been for the Lord taking our place in doing that; nor does it teach or imply that Jesus died for us so that we don't have to die physically.  And it also does not teach or indicate that Jesus took our place in suffering the penalty of our sins.  For in the Judgment Day, the penalty of our unforgiven sins will be having to suffer an eternal punishment in hell.   

Though I wouldn't think that anyone believes that Jesus suffered an eternity in hell, yet some people are of the persuasion that Jesus did go there for three days, after His death; but this is based on a misunderstanding of  the Scriptures.  For instance, Acts 2:31, in the KJV, states that "He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption." 

However, in this passage, "hell" is not from the Greek word "geenna" that refers to the eternal place of punishment in the lake of fire.  Rather, it is from the Greek word "hades," and which is how it is transliterated in various modern Bible versions.  Hades is where the souls of the departed go -- whether to Tartarus (torment) or Paradise -- to await the great final judgment.  For example, when Peter declares, "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment" (2 Pet. 2:4, ESV),  "hell" is not from the Greek word "geenna," nor from "hades."  Actually, the entire phrase, "cast...into hell," is from "tartaroo," with the noun-form being "Tartarus."  Therefore, some versions use the word "Tartarus," such as the Modern King James Version which renders part of this passage as "...thrust them down into Tartarus...."  And, as the verse shows, it is where these are "kept until the judgment" -- and not just "kept," but also kept "under punishment for the day of judgment" (v. 9). 

But Jesus did not go to Tartarus, the torment part of Hades. 

However, that is where the rich man of Luke 16:23 went.  It is said that he "In Hades lifted up his eyes, being in torment"; while far from him, he could see Lazarus, who had also died -- but was now in a place of blessing.  For between the two of them, as Abraham points out to the rich man, "...there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us" (v. 26). 

Lazarus, the redeemed, was in the Paradise-side of Hades and "being comforted" (v. 25).  And that was also the part of Hades that Jesus went to.  As He told the thief on the cross, shortly before their deaths, "...today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).  So that is what the "hell" (KJV) or "Hades" (NASB) is referring to in Acts 2:31.  Therefore, the part of Hades that Jesus went to was not a place of torment, but a place of blessing, a place where all the redeemed await the final judgment and do so most blissfully. 

Still others might think that Jesus spent some time in Tartarus based on 1 Peter 3:19.  For it says in the KJV, "...he [Jesus] went and preached to the spirits in prison."   The "prison" is talking about Tartarus in Hades.  But notice that the previous verse ends by speaking of "the Spirit"; and then the next verse begins by saying, "IN WHICH also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water" (vv. 19,20, emphasis mine, NASB).  So it would be by the Spirit that the message would be proclaimed.  We can also observe that the NASB has added the word "now" to help with the understanding that these "in prison" were not preached to while in the torment part of Hades; but, rather, while they were still living on earth, during the days of Noah -- but had "now" been deceased by the time of the writing.  Noah, in his day, was "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5); and we are told that "the Spirit of Christ" was within the prophets who were proclaiming God's word (1 Pet. 1:10,11).  So that would be how the Lord (while in heaven) would be making proclamation to others on earth -- through His servants who were moved by the Holy Spirit. 

It can also be pointed out that once a person leaves this life, his eternal destiny is sealed (cf. Heb. 9:27).  Therefore, preaching to the lost in Tartarus could not lead to salvation for any of them. 

What we see at Calvary, in what Jesus did for us, is the greatest expression of God's love and concern for the sinner.  For what other greater way could that have been shown?  And it was out of His fervent love for His Father, as well as for us, that Jesus not only came to this world willingly, but also willingly went to the cross to be tortured to death, and willingly remained on that cross through six hours of intense suffering, so that through His death an atonement could be made for every transgressor -- and so that hell can be avoided and heaven gained!

We cannot fully comprehend the greatness of the sacrifice Jesus made in leaving the glories of heaven to come to earth to take on a human body and suffer and die on a cross for those of us who are wretched sinners.  The Bible says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).  The riches we should be thinking of are of far greater value than merely the material wealth of this world.  Rather, they are the spiritual blessings and benefits the Christian has in Christ.  Because Jesus died for us physically, we can live from now on spiritually and for all eternity in heaven, if we continue in submission to the Lord.  For Jesus promises, "...if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death" (Jn. 8:51).  He doesn't mean in this that the Christian will never die physically, but that his eternal soul will always be alive unto God.  In contrast to that, lost souls are spoken of as being spiritually "dead" (Eph. 2:1; 1 Tim. 5:6); and though all souls (whether redeemed or lost) will never cease to exist, it is only the souls of the saved that will experience an eternal, quality life in the blissfulness of heaven, while the lost will spend an eternity in hell, which is referred to as "the second death" (Rev. 21:8).  For it will be an existence without the abundant spiritual life that Jesus came to give (Jn. 10:10).  

No greater need has the world ever had than the atonement for sin, which required the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  His atonement solves our biggest problem, saves us from an everlasting condemnation, and makes possible the greatest of all blessings and benefits for all eternity, if we will simply turn to Him through His word and faithfully submit to that message!  And, in that sense, we can say that Christ died that we might live -- and live forevermore!

So though the Lord did not literally "take our place" at the cross or "die in our stead,"  He did suffer greatly and died for us.  So that by His atonement, we can have eternal life if we will accept and obey God's plan of salvation.  For through that, we can receive the Lord's grace, His mercy, and His forgiveness and, thus, be redeemed and justified in His sight. 

May we never forget that Jesus willingly went through great torment for us, so that we do not have to end up in eternal punishment; but, instead, be able to enjoy the blessings of God for all eternity in that glorious place called heaven!


News & Notes

We extend our condolences to the family and friends of Charles "Chuck" Eugene Hartwigsen of Collierville, Tennessee, who passed away May 10.  He had been a member of the East Shelby church of Christ in Collierville where he had also served as an elder.  Let those of us who are Christians be praying for all his family and friends.

Let us also be praying for these following people:

Bob Tate
(Ken Robertson's brother-in-law) has been in the hospital undergoing tests to determine what has been causing his poor health.  Lately, he has not been feeling well, has lost much weight, and has been experiencing various symptoms. 

Abbie Percell
is progressing well, following the surgery she had (Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy) on April 29 in order to eliminate the spasticity in her legs, due to having been born with cerebral palsy.  Just two weeks after the operation a very noticeable difference can be seen in her steps while she is undergoing physical therapy.  Her legs and steps are now much straighter, and this is still the early stages of her treatments. So her improvement already is very impressive.   She will be having additional surgery (called PERCs) in a couple months.  While her first surgery had eliminated the spasticity, this second surgery will treat the damage that spasticity had caused. 

Steve Wolfgang will be having surgery May 20 to prevent further nerve damage to his back.  Steve writes, "...this is a back condition which has been moderately painful for years, but recently took a turn in a direction indicating impingement of spinal column, not just radiating nerves...."

Janice Persell
recently had surgery for ovarian cancer.

Candy Wise had surgery for breast cancer and is doing well.

Norma Burton
, who is in her early 90s, fell a few weeks ago and broke her hip, which required receiving a pin.  She is now in a nursing home and undergoing physical therapy.   

Richard Crews
is coming along fine, following his two-hour surgery (on April 16) for the rotator cuff that had become torn in his right shoulder, along with a torn bicep and ligaments; but is still having to wear an arm brace.

Let us also continue praying for the health of Virginia Fontenot, Shirley Young, Cheryl Crews, Peggy Lefort, and Terry and Pam MacDonald.

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21)     
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Park Forest

9923 Sunny Cline Dr., Baton Rouge, LA  70817
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