Hebrew 12:2 says “looking unto Jesus, the author, and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The deep intension of this article is to give a brief understanding of the Historical account, Shame, and the Cruelty of the Cross. When we study the branch of Christology in Systematic Theology, we see one of the major Atonement Theories which named Moral Influence Theory. This theory was originated by Peter Abelard and claimed that Jesus died to bring about a positive change to humanity. Even though this theory is considered as a false view of the atonement, in this article, I would like to call your same moral attention to the Cross to have a Cross centered life. In the Gospels, we read that when Jesus saw the Multitudes, He moved with compassion. Similarly, as we look at the Cross, we should be motivated and submitted ourselves to proclaim Jesus to the high and top. Many consider the Cross as an instrument where Jesus died and I don’t want to deny that but the agony of Jesus on the Cross is just beyond that and the same agony of Jesus should motivate us to have a Cross-centered life.
1. The Historical Account of the Cross
The historical account of the Cross has its origin from Persia or Median but the detailed history we understand from the time of Roman. The first historical record of Crucifixion was about 519 BC when Darius I, king of Persia, crucified 3,000 political opponents in Babylon. Eastern Mediterranean countries in the 4th century B. C, received the idea of Cross through Alexander the Great. The Phoenicians introduced the Cross to Romans in the 3rd century B. C. during the Punic War between Carthage and Rome. Roman officials were not aware of the Crucifixion until they come across it while fighting with Carthage. The Romans preferred crucifixion for 500 years until it was abolished by Constantine I in the 4th century A. D. Crucifixion was introduced into Judea by Varus, the legate of Syria, on his responsibility; and shortly after the death of Herod, he Crucified 2,000 Jews. Josephus, a Jewish Historian said about the Crucifixion as ‘the most wretched of deaths.’ Crucifixion was the most severe punishment a culprit could be charged. This was the worse way a person could die; therefore, it is considered to be the most severe punishment in the world. Our question is; why was it regarded as such? It’s simply because of the brutality maintained and carried out in the punishment or in the event of Crucifixion.
2. The Shame of the Cross
In the Ancient world, Cross had considered being an instrument of shame. Cicero, the Roman statesman said that ‘Cross is a tree of shame.’ The primary reason was; Crucifixion was a specific punishment for the slaves. Friends, let us remember that Jesus became a slave for us. Historians say that it was an extreme and ultimate penalty for a slave. When Paul was executed, there was a consideration of his Roman citizenship but look at Peter; he was a Jew. This cross is meant to embarrass the victim in front of everyone. Soldiers wanted to have fun and they have crucified the victim in whatever the manner they want. The second shameful aspect of Cross is that the victims are crucified naked. There is a great debate on Jesus’ Crucifixion because there was a purple covered his nakedness. We can see two special belongings for Jesus; those are the Purple clothes and the Crown made out of thorns. Here we need to understand the freedom and the sarcasm of the soldiers. The sarcasm of the soldiers here is that they wanted to mock the Royalty and the victory Jesus accomplished on the Cross. When we look at the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 6:3), we understand that any execution is carried out by shame, and man is stoned naked and the woman is not naked. As we look at the Cross of Jesus, although He had a little purple clothing, still it was not a modest way of dressing. Friends, he became naked for us. The third aspect is that Crucifixion was an event of the public parade. The victim is flogged through the public road so that no one will be dare to mess with the Roman authority. There was a public mockery in the event of Jesus’ Crucifixion and it was for the sake of redeeming sinful humanity.
Friends, let us be reminded of the fact that Jesus is a Son of God, but He became a slave; Jesus is a king who is Clothed in all glory and majesty, but He became naked; Jesus is exalted among the angels and in Heaven, but He became the object of public mockery. What we need to realize? In theology, it is summarized into one-word SUBSTITUTION. He had gone through such a shame and cruelty in the event of Crucifixion to take away the wrath of God that rested upon us. God has forsaken His own Son to save His chosen ones.
3. The Cruelty of the Cross
History says some Kings and the Kingdoms have capitulated to the Romans by hearing the cruelty of the Cross. The first incident before the Crucifixion is Scourging or whipping or flogging. Josephus, a Jewish historian says ‘a victim will be scourged until the bones were laid bare.’ Or until their entrails were visible. Soldiers flogged the victim consisted of thirty-nine lashes but frequently were a lot more than that in the Roman system. They use the whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls and hooks have woven into them. The whip also has pieces of sharp bone as well, which would cut the flesh severely. The scourging will be done from the shoulders down to the back, the buttocks, and the back of the legs. Many would die from this kind of scourging even before they could be Crucified. Usually, the victim will go into a Hypovolemic Shock. Which means the person is suffering the effects of losing a large amount of blood. This shock affects the victim in four ways; 1. Heart races and try to pump the blood that is not there; 2. Blood pressure drops; causing fainting or collapse; 3. The Kidney stops producing urine to maintain the body water level; 4. The Person becomes thirsty. The event of Crucifixion portrayed in the Gospels exactly tells us that Jesus went through Hypovolemic Shock.
To prolong the agony, Roman executioners used an instrument that would keep the victim alive on the cross for extended periods. It is known as a sedile, it was a small seat attached to the front of the cross, about halfway down. This device provided some support for the victim’s body and will try to survive a longer period. The victim died of multiple causes: broken bones, lacerated limbs, asphyxiation- when the weight of the hanging body will crush the lungs, strangulation- circulation of the blood will be cut off. Often, while left hanging in this decaying state, the victim’s organs were dragged from his body by roaming animals and eaten in front of him. But the final cause of death was dehydration.
Another important aspect of the Crucifixion is that nailing the victim on the CROSS. The crossbar is called Patibulum and this was a separate part from the vertical beam. Romans used Spikes that were five to seven inches long. They were driven through the wrists. Many have understood that it is in the palm but it is not in the palm because if it is in the palm, the victim’s weight will cause the skin to tear and he would fall from the cross. But it was on the wrist, because this was a solid position that would lock the hand. The nail will crush the Median Nerve and will produce Causalgia. It is a situation of long-lasting intense pain. The ultimate question remains with us is why this much cruelty on the cross? Quintillian, a Roman writer says whenever they Crucify the victim, the most crowded roads are chosen, where most people can see and be moved by this fear.
As we have pondered on the theme of historicity, shame, and the cruelty of the Cross. Friends let us examine ourselves that what is our motive in Christian life? Our motive in life should be the Glory of Jesus and proclaiming His name because Jesus had taken the shame and pain that you and I suppose to bear. If we live a casual life, after knowing the shame and the cruelty of the Cross that Jesus bore for us, we don’t live worthy of our call and our Christian journey would be an unproductive effort. Let us be motivated by the Cross where Jesus had paid the Ransom for us and at that Cross let us surrender our lives.