Jesus’ Crucifixion from a Medical Standpoint

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Caution: this post may be graphic to some individuals; reader discretion is advised!

One of the most painful things for me personally is to see Jesus mocked.

Not because of my beliefs…lets set those aside for a moment. Let’s set aside that He IS my Lord and Savior…that He DID become the human visible form of the Almight Invisible God.

What hurts the most about mocking Jesus is the very little respect people have for the very real pain He endured during the last day in His life. This post aims to bring the medical aspect of it out to light and understand, truly understand what He suffered during his Crucifixion. So when atheists or non-believers mock the cross, it pains me because they are mocking the suffering of another human being. That is, in essence, de-humanizing yourself for your own personal entertainment. It’s not only despicable…its heart wrenching for me. When did we grow so cold and callous? When did our hearts become like stone and mock such pain? These so-called atheists “stand” for tolerance, respect and equality. Well, where is the tolerance, respect, and equality for Jesus? You can choose to not believe in Him as the Son of God. You can choose to not accept Him as your personal Savior. You can choose whatever you wish…but you CANNOT deny His human suffering.

Without further ado, let us go into the crucifixion. This is information extracted from articles written by physicians. I am not a physician (yet) so the references will be listed at the end of this post.

“But, of course, the physical passion of the Christ began in Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of this initial suffering, the one of greatest physiological interest is the bloody sweat. It is interesting that St. Luke, the physician, is the only one to mention this. He says, “And being in agony, He prayed the longer. And His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.”  Every ruse (trick) imaginable has been used by modern scholars to explain away this description, apparently under the mistaken impression that this just doesn’t happen. A great deal of effort could have been saved had the doubters consulted the medical literature. Though very rare, the phenomenon of Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress of the kind our Lord suffered, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process might well have produced marked weakness and possible shock.”

“hemohidrosis” or “hematidrosis” has been seen in patients who have experienced, extreme stress or shock to their systems. A case history is recorded in which a young girl who had a fear of air raids in WW1 developed the condition after a gas explosion occurred in the house next door. Another report mentions a nun who, as she was threatened with death by the swords of the enemy soldiers,” was so terrified that she bled from every part of her body and died of hemorrhage in the sight of her assailants.”

“After the arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was next brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiphus, the High Priest; it is here that the first physical trauma was inflicted. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiphus. The palace guards then blind-folded Him and mockingly taunted Him to identify them as they each passed by, spat upon Him, and struck Him in the face.

In the early morning, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, Jesus is taken across the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. You are, of course, familiar with Pilate’s action in attempting to pass responsibility to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Judea. Jesus apparently suffered no physical mistreatment at the hands of Herod and was returned to Pilate.”

“Pilate is unable to convince the crowds of Jesus’ innocence and orders Jesus to be put to death. Some sources state that it was Roman law that a criminal that was to be crucified had to be flogged first. Others believe that Jesus was flogged first by Pilate in the hope of getting Him off with a lighter punishment. In spite of his efforts, the Jews allow Barabbas to be released and demand that Jesus be crucified, even crying that,“His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25) Pilate hands Jesus over to be flogged and crucified.

It is at this point that Jesus suffers a severe physical beating. During a flogging, a victim was tied to a post, leaving his back entirely exposed. The Romans used a whip, called a flagrum or flagellum which consisted of small pieces of bone and metal attached to a number of leather strands. The number of strikes is not recorded in the gospels. The number of blows in Jewish law was set in Deuteronomy 25:3 at forty, but later reduced to 39 to prevent excessive blows by a counting error. The victim often died from the beating. (39 hits were believed to bring the criminal to “one from death”.) Roman law did not put any limits on the number of blows given.”

“At first the thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles.  The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is finally stopped.  The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with His own blood.”

“The soldiers stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him.“Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. Jesus was then beaten by the Roman soldiers. In mockery, they dressed Him in what was probably the cloak of a Roman officer, which was colored dark purple or scarlet. He also wore the crown of thorns. Unlike the traditional crown which is depicted by an open ring, the actual crown of thorns may have covered the entire scalp. The thorns may have been 1 to 2 inches long. The gospels state that the Roman soldiers continued to beat Jesus on the head. The blows would drive the thorns into the scalp (one of the most vascular areas of the body) and forehead, causing severe bleeding.

“Finally, they tire of their sadistic sport and the robe is torn from His back. Already having adhered to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, its removal causes excruciating pain just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage, and almost as though He were again being whipped the wounds once more begin to bleed.”

The severity of the beating is not detailed in the gospels. However, in the book of Isaiah, it suggests that the Romans pulled out His beard.(Isaiah 50:8). It is also mentions that Jesus was beaten so severely that His form did not look like that of “a son of a man” i.e. that of a human being. The literal translation of the verse reads, “So marred from the form of man was His aspect, that His appearance was not as that of a son of a man.” People were appalled to look at Him (Isaiah 52:13). His disfigurement may explain why He was not easily recognized in His post resurrection appearances. 

From the beating, Jesus walked on a path, now known as the Via Dolorosa or the “way of suffering“, to be crucified at Golgotha. The total distance has been estimated at 650 yards. A narrow street of stone, it was probably surrounded by markets in Jesus’ time. He was led through the crowded streets carrying the crossbar of the cross (called a patibulum) across His shoulders. The crossbar probably weighed between 80 to 110 pounds.”

“In spite of His efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance.  The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus follows, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock, until the 650 yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed. Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and Jesus quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood.”

“The procedure of crucifixion may be summarized as follows. The patibulum was put on the ground and the victim laid upon it. Nails, about 7 inches long and with a diameter of 1 cm (roughly 3/8 of an inch) were driven in the wrists. The points would go into the vicinity of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain to radiate through the arms. It was possible to place the nails between the bones so that no fractures (or broken bones) occurred. Studies have shown that nails were probably driven through the small bones of the wrist, since nails in the palms of the hand would not support the weight of a body. In ancient terminology, the wrist was considered to be part of the hand. Standing at the crucifixion sites would be upright posts, called stipes, standing about 7 feet high. In the center of the stipes was a crude seat, called a sedile or sedulum, which served a support for the victim. The patibulum was then lifted on to the stipes. The feet were then nailed to the stipes. To allow for this, the knees had to be bent and rotated laterally, being left in a very uncomfortable position. The titulus was hung above the victim’s head.”

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“As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.  At this point, as the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.”

“Jesus experienced hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain where tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins — a terrible crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.  One remembers again the 22nd Psalm, the 14th verse: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.”

“It is now almost over. The loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissue; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. Jesus gasps His fifth cry, “I thirst.”  One remembers another verse from the prophetic 22nd Psalm: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou has brought me into the dust of death.” A sponge soaked in posca, the cheap, sour wine which is the staple drink of the Roman legionaries, is lifted to His lips. He apparently doesn’t take any of the liquid.”

Death by crucifixion would have come about in the following manner:

“Shallowness of breathing causes small areas of lung collapse.

  1. Decreased oxygen and increased carbon dioxide causes acidic conditions in the tissues.
  2. Fluid builds up in the lungs. Makes situation in step 2 worse.
  3. Heart is stressed and eventually fails.

The slow process of suffering and resulting death during a crucifixion may be summarized as follows:

“…it appears likely that the mechanism of death in crucifixion was suffocation. The chain of events which ultimately led to suffocation are as follows: With the weight of the body being supported by the sedulum, the arms were pulled upward. This caused the intercostal and pectoral muscles to be stretched. Furthermore, movement of these muscles was opposed by the weight of the body. With the muscles of respiration thus stretched, the respiratory bellows became relatively fixed. As dyspnea developed and pain in the wrists and arms increased, the victim was forced to raise the body off the sedulum, thereby transferring the weight of the body to the feet. Respirations became easier, but with the weight of the body being exerted on the feet, pain in the feet and legs mounted. When the pain became unbearable, the victim again slumped down on the sedulum with the weight of the body pulling on the wrists and again stretching the intercostal muscles. Thus, the victim alternated between lifting his body off the sedulum in order to breathe and slumping down on the sedulum to relieve pain in the feet. Eventually, he became exhausted or lapsed into unconsciousness so that he could no longer lift his body off the sedulum. In this position, with the respiratory muscles essentially paralyzed, the victim suffocated and died.

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Due to the shallow breathing, the victim’s lungs begin to collapse in small areas. causing hypoxia and hypercarbia. A respiratory acidosis, with lack of compensation by the kidneys due to the loss of blood from the numerous beatings, resulted in an increased strain on the heart, which beats faster to compensate. Fluid builds up in the lungs…under the stress of hypoxia and acidosis the heart eventually fails. There are several different theories on the actual cause of death. One theory states that there was a filling of the pericardium with fluid, which put a fatal strain on the ability of the heart to pump blood. Another theory states that Jesus died of cardiac rupture.” The actual cause of Jesus’ death, however, “may have been multifactorial and related primarily to hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia and perhaps acute heart failure.”

“The body of Jesus is now in extremes, and He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. This realization brings out His sixth words, possibly little more than a tortured whisper, “It is finished.”  His mission of atonement has completed. Finally He can allow his body to die.”

With one last surge of strength, he once again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters His seventh and last cry, “Father! Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

“To confirm that a victim was dead, the Romans inflicted a spear wound through the right side of the heart. When pierced, a sudden flow of blood and water came Jesus’ body. The medical significance of the blood and water has been a matter of debate. One theory states that Jesus died of a massive myocardial infarction, in which the heart ruptured, which may have resulted from His falling while carrying the cross. Another theory states that Jesus’ heart was surrounded by fluid in the pericardium, which constricted the heart and caused death. The physical stresses of crucifixion may have produced a fatal cardiac arrhythmia.

The stated order of “blood and water” may not necessarily indicate the order of appearance, but rather the relative prominence of each fluid. In this case, a spear through the right side of the heart would allow the pleural fluid (fluid built up in the lungs) to escape first, followed by a flow of blood from the wall of the right ventricle.The important fact is that the medical evidence supports that Jesus did die a physical death.”

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Still think it’s funny? A man endured all this in the flesh! At the very least, show respect for the sanctity of life. If you can’t even do that, there’s no humanity left in you.

Please see this informative video of a Christian trauma surgeon who also briefly discusses Jesus’ death.

See this post on Instagram

References:
1. A Physician’s View of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ – Dr. C. Truman Davis

2. Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ – Dr. David Terasaka

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3 comments

  1. […] Jesus' Crucifixion from a Medical Standpoint (scientistsforjesus.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Wow! Thanks for sharing. Jesus did indeed give us the ultimate sacrifice.

  3. […] Jesus’ Crucifixion from a Medical Standpoint (scientistsforjesus.wordpress.com) […]

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