The Cross: Violent Grace

Originally published on James and Dave’s Bible Page

A number of years ago, I saw a sign on a church marquee which read “Salvation is free, because God paid so dearly for it.” This central truth, although believed by all Christians, is one which we all too often take for granted. When you think of the Cross, what comes to your mind? In our contemporary society, this most sacred symbol is often regarded as a trinket or a good luck charm. Even much of our great Christian art paints a very “sterilized” picture of what Jesus went through for us.

In this study, I would like for us to examine the events of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, including a detailed look at His crucifixion. I warn you that what you are about to read is very graphic, even gory. However, once you have finished reading it, I hope that you will be able to say along with the Apostle Paul: “…God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14).

Everything about Jesus’ death was very deliberate. He did not die as a victim. No one took His life, He voluntarily laid it down (John 10:17-18). Although legions of angels were standing by to rescue Him (Matthew 26:53), He would not fail to complete His mission, which was to freely give His life as a ransom for the sins of all people (Matthew 20:28;1 Timothy 2:6) .

Historians estimate the date of this history-altering event as being around Friday, April 7th, A.D. 30 (1). What was unfolding was a plan which God had ordained before the very foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). From the earthly viewpoint, the religious leaders of the day, jealous of Jesus’ influence and popularity, had turned him over to the Roman government to be tried for false charges of sedition. Although the occupying Roman Empire gave the Jews a great deal of freedom in conducting their legal affairs, Roman approval was required for an execution. In order to avoid a riot, and thus preserve his standing with the Emperor, Governor Pontius Pilate reluctantly consented to the crowd’s demands to have Jesus crucified (Matthew 27:22-24).

The first step in this horrible process was a brutal beating with a leather whip, which was called scourging (Matthew 27:26). The whip was what we would today call a “cat-o-nine-tails.” Jewish civil law limited the beating to forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3). However, the Romans recognized no such law, and thus were at liberty to beat the person as viciously as they pleased. They violently yanked out His beard (Isaiah 50:6), and His face was marred and disfigured unlike any other person who had ever lived (Isaiah 52:14). The beating itself was often fatal. Geikie’s “Life of Christ” tells us that:

Victims condemned to the cross first underwent the hideous torture of the scourge, and this was immediately inflicted on Jesus…He was beaten at the pleasure of the soldiers, with knots of rope, or plaited leather thongs, armed at the ends with acorn shaped drops of lead, or small sharp pointed bones. In many cases not only was the back of the person scourged cut open in all directions, but even the eyes, the face, and the breast were torn…Under the fury of the countless stripes, the victims sometimes sank-amidst screams, convulsive leaps, and distortions-into a senseless heap; sometimes died on the spot; sometimes were taken away, an unrecognizable mass of bleeding flesh, to find deliverance in death, from the inflammation and fever, sickness and shame. (2)

Eusebius, the early church historian, describes a Roman scourging of some martyrs thus: “All around were horrified to see them so torn with the scourges that their very veins were laid bare, and the inner muscles and sinews, and even their very bowels were exposed.” (3)

After the scourging, it was off to the hill known as “The Skull,” (“Golgotha” in Aramaic, “Calverius” in Latin). (4) This was the designated place where local executions took place, some by stoning, others by crucifixion.

According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, crucifixion was used by a number of ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians (Genesis 40:19), and the Persians (Esther 7:10). It was used by the Romans from the very beginning of their history, until it was eventually abolished by Emperor Constantine. For a devout Jew, it was even worse because according to the Old Testament Law, a person who was hanged on a tree was cursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:23). In any scenario, it was reserved for slaves and for the worst kind of criminals. (5)

Scholar and historian Alfred Edersheim tells us that “Three kinds of Cross were in use: the so-called St. Andrew

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