What kind of man was Jesus Christ? How did he spend his last hours before his death?
Tuesday, April 24, was a day of preparation for the spring festival in Jerusalem. On that day in A.D. 31, Jesus arose and prayed. It was still dark, perhaps three a.m. when he arose, that is, if he slept at all that night.
As the first rays of sunlight cast their beams across the hillsides, Jesus and his disciples walked the short distance from Bethany to Jerusalem. Shortly before, Christ had reminded the disciples that he would be betrayed and crucified during this Passover. Already the chief priests and the elders of the people were meeting in the palace of the high priest to discuss how they might take Jesus quickly and have him brought to trial (Matt. 26:2-4).
That evening, as the sun set, the disciples made preparation for the Passover. It was the eve of the 14th of the first month of the Hebrew year. The Roman soldiers in Jerusalem took note of the round of activities that suddenly began with the approach of dusk. In an upper room in one of Jerusalem’s houses a single lamb was put on a table after it was roasted. Here Christ and the disciples sat down for the last supper. They finished the Passover meal and the institution of foot washing, the wine and the bread. Judas had, before the close of the meal, hurriedly left. Jesus Christ talked to the other disciples until about ten p.m. and then went to the Mount of Olives to pray. The day had been long. Perhaps 19 hours had gone by since arising. The disciples could not hold out any longer. They fell asleep.
Three times Jesus Christ prayed fervently to his Father. Beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. The perspiration mingled with blood as he thought and prayed, knowing what the next hours would bring.
Near midnight, Judas came with some soldiers. Then began the most demanding, horrifying 15 hours in history. Never has a man been called upon voluntarily to suffer as Jesus did. No man could have. No man was as perfect in mind and body as was Jesus Christ.
A small mob, armed with swords and clubs, took Christ and marched him off to Annas and then to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. (In this article, several translations are paraphrased in order to give a clearer picture of what took place on that last day. In a few cases, life and personality are given to certain character witnesses who would otherwise remain anonymous.)
The small group laughed, poking fun at Christ as they walked down the ravine and up the hill to the house of Caiaphas. The disciples had fled as prophesied! Christ was alone now. His trial was held, contrary to normal practice, in the secrecy of the night.
The priest and elders first talked aloud and then whispered as they sought a means of testimony that would result in his death sentence. They found two witnesses who claimed. “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days!’”
Caiaphas jumped to his feet glaring at Jesus and said, “Well, what about it? Did you say that or didn’t you?” Jesus Christ kept silent. “Answer the question. Are you the Christ?” Silence. “I adjure you by the living God that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the son of God.”
“Yes,” replied Jesus Christ, “I am, and in the future you will see me, the son of mankind, sitting at the right hand of God and returning in the clouds of heaven.”
Caiaphas ripped his own clothing, shouting at the top of his voice, “Blasphemy, blasphemy!” In this early morning kangaroo court, Christ was charged with blasphemy, of bringing from heaven the good news of the Kingdom of God (See Matt. 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22, John 18).
A few of the priests, with Caiaphas, began to curse Jesus. Then a fat, ruddy-looking individual spit in Jesus’ face. Others began heaping verbal abuse on him. Another struck him. The leaders of the court soon tired of this sport and retired to an inner room. Others came to see the man who had turned Jerusalem upside down. They wanted to see this man in the flesh.
Cautiously, they approached Christ. Would he shoot fire out at them or perform a miracle? “Are you the Messiah? Are you really the king over all those beggars you preach to?” they cried. Nothing happened. They grew bolder as Christ remained silent.
The soldiers were growing more and more indignant at this young upstart who boldly yet quietly stood his ground. One of them swaggered up to Jesus, looked him in the eye and arrogantly slapped him. “You rotten, filthy, contemptible hypocrite. You, who will not bow to the high priest, take that.” With an open hand he slapped him again, first on the right cheek, and then on the left.
Other soldiers, encouraged by that, tried a few jabs, kicks and verbal tirades of their own. A young soldier doubled up his fist, swung wide and smashed Jesus in the stomach. He doubled over in pain. Another soldier jerked him erect. Soon they were all beating Christ.
The merciless beating continued. Then someone shouted, “Hey, why not blindfold him? He’s a prophet. Let’s test him!” So blindfold him they did. They laughed at him, crying out derisively, “Who hit you that time, prophet, come on prophet, you can tell!”
Obscene names were din in his ears. Bleeding and bruised, he fell on the floor time and again, only to be pulled back to his feet for the next onslaught. Would it never end? Hour after hour it went on, with a little rest now and then as they tired of their new-found sport. The son of God uttered not a word, only an occasional groan escaped his lips.
Early in the morning, Jesus Christ was taken to Pilate for the official Roman verdict.Pilate asked Christ, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Yes.” After many questions, Pilate turned to the chief priests and the multitude and said, “I find no fault with this man.”
Someone indignantly asked, “What does he mean he can find no fault with this man?” Another said, “This man is from Galilee.” “What did you say? Is this man from Galilee?” exclaimed Pilate. “Take him to Herod.”
Herod granted an immediate audience, being very anxious to see Christ. Entering the room, he said, “Would you care to do a miracle for me?” Jesus Christ didn’t answer. After much questioning, Herod’s patience wore thin, and he ordered, “You over there, strip him.” Soon they had Jesus standing in the nude. Then a soldier rushed in with a beautiful king’s robe. “Dress him, said Herod. Then they began to beat him again (Luke 23:1-11).
Herod rendered no decision, but sent Christ back to Pilate. A large mob gathered. They chanted: “Crucify him! Crucify! Crucify! We demand the death penalty!
A messenger arrived with a note from Pilate’s wife. The note read, “Do not become involved with the death of this man. I have had terrible nightmares concerning him last night.”
Pilate offered to release either Barabbas or Jesus (Matt. 27:15-18). The mob grew more restless, screaming all the more, “Let him be crucified, let him be crucified!” Fearful of a riot, Pilate asked for a basin of water. Standing before the crowd, he washed his hands saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this person. The responsibility is yours!” (Matt. 27:23-24.) The mob yelled back, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Pilate then gave the order to proceed with the scourging. Two men pushed Jesus to the center of the courtyard. Pulling him over to a bent position, they tied his hands to a ring imbedded in a post.
Two methods of scourging existed at the time of Christ, the Jewish and the Roman! The Jewish scourging amounted to 40 stripes minus one, administered with three leather thongs. Only the very strong survived.
The Roman scourging was of a far greater magnitude. They called it the “half-way death.” IT supposedly stopped just short of death. Only the lowest criminal, the slave or foreigner received the Roman scourging. It was administered by a trained man called a lictor. (Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. iv. p. 419; The Day Christ Died, p. 302).
The mob waited with anticipation for the Roman lictor. Five minutes passed, then ten. Footsteps echoed across the courtyard. A hushed silence fell over the crowd, and every eye turned to the man carrying the scourge.
It was a vicious looking thing, having long strips of leather-like cords with chunks of bone and pieces of chain affixed to the tips.
The tough-looking, heavy-set Roman strode boldly across the courtyard, passing directly in front of Jesus Christ. He hesitated a moment. Bending over, he looked into his pain-wracked face. It was swollen and bruised.
Again he hesitated, but only for a moment, and then carefully paced off a number of steps and turned. Back over his shoulder whistled the scourge. Then with a sudden, powerful movement of his arm and a snap of his wrist, the lictor began the punishment.
Steel, leather and bone ripped into Christ’s body. Lacerated flesh bled profusely. Lash after lash continued to fall, ripping and tearing, until “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance” (Isa. 52:14).
Never had a man voluntarily taken so much, given so much! Those who looked into the eyes of Jesus Christ saw a burning desire and a determined look that said, “I give this life totally and completely for all of mankind.”
The scourging finished, they cut him loose. A limp body fell to the ground. Then his arm moved, and he pushed up on an elbow. Then his knee bent. Lifting himself, he staggered, then stood upright. They helped him with his clothing. A soldier adjusted his crown of thorns. They laughed as a short squat soldier kneeled, raised his arms and said, “Hail, king of the Jews, your royal majesty.”
What a pathetic sight. He didn’t look like a king. He didn’t even look like a man anymore! They jeered all the more as he wobbled. “Look at him. You call that a king, a prophet! Why he is nothing but a dog!”
A swarthy Roman soldier lifted a heavy wooden beam and roughly placed in on Christ’s right shoulder. The weight was unexpected, and he fell. He lay for a moment on the dirty street. The soldier kicked him and shouted, “Get up, king. Are you tired?” Christ struggled, but it was no use. His strength was nearly gone. The soldier looked and beckoned to Simon of Cyrene. “Come here you peasant, get this on your shoulder and follow me.” Slowly, they trudged the last weary steps to Golgotha, the “place of the skull” (Matt. 27:32-33).
The crucifixion by which Jesus Christ was to die was devised and perfected by the Phoenicians, who passed on their knowledge to the Romans. It took centuries to develop this “special crucifixion.” They had tried death by boiling, spearing, impalement, drowning, burning, strangulation, and yes, even stoning. They were all too quick!
What they wanted was a punishment that was excruciatingly painful and slow, preferably one that would last for several days. Death by crucifixion was the answer.
Simon dropped the stake to the ground beside the hole dug for its support. Four soldiers took hold of Christ and placed him on the stake. They turned and walked back to the band of people and soldiers who were standing in a circle to view the crucifixion. An old man offered them a cloth to wipe the blood from their hands.
Then a specially trained soldier came on the scene. He held a large hammer and square-cut nails. He kneeled beside Christ and reached for his hands. He felt the bones and the flesh, took a nail from his mouth and placed it in Christ’s wrists. He raised the hammer and with a single blow drove the nail halfway through the bleeding flesh. Blood spurted in his face. Pausing, he wiped his face until he could see again. Metal rang against metal until the nail head was driven in, barely visible above the flesh.
Now the feet. Trial and error had shown that the legs must not be too far extended. Otherwise the subject died too soon. By nailing the legs in a slightly bent position, the crucified person was able to lean on the nails and prolong his agony.
In perfecting the crucifixion, the Romans encountered a problem. When they erected the stake, the weight of the body often caused the flesh to tear, allowing the body to fall to the ground. When this happened, they had to lift the subject into position for renailing, a rather messy affair. Then someone hit on the bright idea: Why not add a peg for the crucified to catch his weight on as a partial relief from the nailing? The weight on the peg would keep the nails from tearing out of the flesh, and it would help keep the criminal alive a little longer.
The soldier with the hammer positioned Christ’s right foot, insuring the right bend in the leg. Nails had to be just the right length and size. Spikes opened too large a hole. Selecting a nail; he pushed it into the flesh, and hammered until both feet were securely nailed.
Up stepped a squad of soldiers. They raised the stake into an upright position. The weight of Christ’s body caught on the peg and held firm. They moved the stake over the hole and eased it down. As it touched bottom, the nails tore at Chris’s flesh, widening his wounds.
His breath came hard. It was nearly impossible to breathe in this new position. It was difficult to expel the air. Experimenting, Christ found that when he pushed up on his feet against the nails, he could expel the air from his lungs.
Agonized suffering followed. The slightest movement caused excruciating pains to stab through his body. Inflammation from the scourging, the beating and the nails increased. Death was desirable. Would it never come?
The open wounds and the smell of blood began to attract insects. They swarmed around his face and body. His thirst increased. ‘
The spectators talked, laughed and stared as he hung naked in the heat of the morning sun, humiliated, scourged and crucified. They offered him vinegar mixed with gall. Jesus Christ refused it (Matt. 27:34).
They continued to revile him, wagging their heads and shouting epithets. The people jeered, “Look at you now! If you are so wonderful, save yourself and come down from the cross!” The chief priests and the religious leaders also mocked. “He’s quite clever about saving others,” they remarked to each other, “but he can’t save himself” (Mark. 15:29-32).
“Hey there, Messiah! Hey there, King! Come down from the cross (stake), and we’ll believe you!” One of the criminals crucified beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself, and us, too, while you’re at it!”
But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you even fear God when you are dying? We deserve to die for our deeds, but this man hasn’t done one thing wrong.”
Three hours went by and his life slowly ebbed away. Noon came. The sky darkened. The wind rose and the mob shrank back, looking into the ominous sky overhead. Priests and elders quickly disappeared, followed by most of the mob.
Christ knew what was coming next. He knew Isa. 53 had to be fulfilled that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins. Forsaken, Christ cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Those who heard him remarked, He’s calling for Elijah.” Moved, an older soldier took a sponge and filled it with sour wine. Then placing the sponge on the end of a cane, he lifted it up to give him a drink. But others objected. They had not yet seen enough. Curiously, they said, “Let him alone. Let’s see whether Elijah will come and save him.”
Then, a young, impetuous Roman soldier seized a spear. Raising it to shoulder height, he plunged it into Jesus’ side (See Moffatt’s rendering of Matt. 27:49). The spear penetrated the bladder and out came blood and water. Jesus cried out in pain and then he died.
As Christ gasped out his final breath, God the Father looked away from his beloved Son. Only God the Father would have the total control and love it took to keep from converting this earth into a cinder, along with all the wretched men who cursed their Savior.
When the soldier took up the spear and pierced his side, the life went out of the one who actively created this world (Heb. 1:2). He yielded up his physical life with a loud cry after suffering the most excruciating death in all history.Yes, this is the vivid truth about the man who was the all-powerful, living Word of God, who suffered and died to make all men free from sin.
And this same man – now alive because of the resurrection, will soon return in power with a shout and with the sound of the trumpet of God. When he comes, he will be heard around the world in a tremendous, ear-splitting roar. Every eye will see him. Every tongue will confess and know the true God, the Savior of this world. The Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem will split apart in his presence in an earth-shattering quake of unbelievable magnitude (Zech. 14:4).The “Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one” (Zech 14:9). That God, the living Word of God, is alive forever more! That God, the living God, died to make all men free.