Biblical Definition Of
It is not certain where or when the practice of crucifixion originated, but it had been used as a method of execution long before the time of the Roman Empire. The Romans used it mainly against those accused of anti-government rebellion (Luke 23:18-19). When the Jews wanted to get rid of Jesus, they knew that if they accused him to the Roman governor of treason, they could call for his crucifixion (Luke 23:1-2,20-21).
Jesus’ trial, before both the Jewish Council and the Roman governor, ignored many of the normal procedures, and was contrary to all accepted standards of justice (Matt 26:57-68; 27:11-31). Once it became clear that Jesus was to be crucified, procedures followed a well established pattern.
The Bible gives no detailed description of the horrors that made crucifixion such a frightful sight, though it records the crucifixion story at length. This emphasizes the significance of the crucifixion as being central to the mission of Jesus and, indeed, to the entire history of the world (1 Cor 2:1-5; Gal 6:14; 1 Peter 2:24).
Crucifixion was carried out in a public place outside the city (Matt 27:31,33,39; John 19:20; Heb 13:12), though the trial took place inside the city, usually at the governor’s headquarters (Matt 27:27). The condemned person was first of all flogged (Matt 27:26), and then led off through the city to be crucified (Matt 27:31; Luke 23:27). He even had to carry the heavy piece of wood that formed the horizontal part of the cross on which he was to be crucified (John 19:17). If he was so weak from the flogging that he collapsed under the load, another person was forced to carry it for him (Matt 27:32).
At the place of crucifixion the usual procedure was to nail the victim’s outstretched arms to the crosspiece, and then to lift this on to the vertical piece already fixed in the ground. The feet were then nailed (Luke 24:39; John 20:25). Though lifted up from the ground, the victim was close enough to the ground for people to read the accusation nailed to the cross above his head (John 19:19-20). People could also give him drugged wine to deaden the pain, though when it was offered to Jesus he refused it (Matt 27:34).
The soldiers who carried out the crucifixion received the victim’s clothing (John 19:23-24). To prevent any attempted rescue, soldiers remained at the cross till the victim was dead (Matt 27:54). This may have taken several days, so to hasten the death they sometimes broke the victim’s legs (John 19:31). This was not necessary in the case of Jesus. When, after about six hours on the cross, he knew that he had finished the work he had come to do, he triumphantly committed his spirit to God, bowed his head, and died (Mark 15:25,33-34,37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).