The Suffering of Christ (part 1)


His physical pain and death

“Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38).

The earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ was in preparation for His atoning death upon the cross. His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals something of the sorrow and suffering He was about to endure on behalf of sinners. There are four main aspects to the pain that Christ experienced. We will cover these in two studies.

The Crucifixion
It is often assumed, by well-meaning believers, that Jesus’ physical suffering was worse than any man has ever endured, but historical fact proves this false. There are worse and more agonising deaths than crucifixion, and we have to note that two other men were crucified with Him who had their legs broken (John 19:32). Scripture never indicates that the Lord suffered more than any man, though this does not lessen the terrible suffering which crucifixion produced. Unless we understand what this form of execution did to the body we will never know the full sense of what Jesus underwent. 

Crucifixion, apart from the pain caused by the nails, brought about a very slow death by suffocation. The outstretched arms pulled the person upward and outward, so that he would continuously gasp for breath. Every movement to ease the discomfort would only cause more intense pain. If he had been flogged, as Christ was, every time he moved or even twitched meant that the wounds would scrap against the rough wood of the cross. Seneca (3 B.C. – 65 A.D.), a Roman philosopher, described crucifixion as a “long drawn-out agony” (Epistle 101, Section 14). Criminals could hang on the cross for several days, which often became too much for even the most hardened of onlookers to bear. At this point the legs of the crucified were broken so that they could no longer support their weight, and causing fluid to build up in the pericadium (a membranous sac enclosing the heart). Death was almost instant.

Jesus’ physical death
Christ suffered for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3), but the Father did not allow His Son to go through unnecessary pain and torment. His suffering fully met the requirements of the Law, no more and no less. This means that God’s righteous anger was satisfied to the full; anything more than this would achieve nothing. When Jesus cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30), there was nothing more He could do or experience to save sinners. The sacrifice of His holy life was the perfect ransom for all.

The Lord was already dead when the Romans came to break His legs to please the Jews (John 19:31-33). This fulfilled the ancient prophecy which said that none of the Messiah’s bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20), and in turn proved that He was the perfect Lamb of God (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; John 19:32; 1 Corinthians 5:7).

To convince himself that Jesus was dead, a soldier thrust a spear into His side, thus piercing the pericardium. From this wound came blood and water, and revealed that He was dead (John 19:34). It is interesting to note that Zechariah 12:10 and Psalm 22:16 both use the word “pierced”. In the former it literally means “thrust through with a spear or sword”, while the latter means “hammered in” (as with the nails). Thomas would be eternally thankful for the action of the soldier (John 20:27-29).

The notion that Jesus died spiritually has no place in Scripture.

Scripture does not present us with the gory details of the Lord’s death on the cross for a very good reason. God wants us to focus on why Christ died rather than the method. Those who misunderstand the true meaning of the cross glorify the agonies of the flesh and know virtually nothing of why Christ’s death is important. Though the method fulfilled prophecy, it is the reason why He became the sacrifice for our sins that brings salvation to our souls. Without His physical death the Lord’s sufferings would never atone for our sins. The atonement (propitiation) is in His blood (1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25).