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The Crucifixion of Jesus

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by Dr. Doug Kennard, Professor of Christian Scripture, Houston Graduate School of Theology Jesus died on the eve of Passover between 30 and 34 AD, when the Passover lambs were likely being killed.[1] With Jesus beginning His ministry around 28 AD[2] and His ministry lasting at least two years on the basis of Passovers mentioned early in His ministry (John 2:13, 23), near the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:4), Jesus’s death on the eve of Passover[3] is at least 30 AD. Historically, Jesus’s crucifixion is thought to be between 30 and 34 AD because, after 34 AD, Pilate became entangled with a rebellion in Samaria and then was removed by the Roman Senate.[4]

Jesus had predicted that the elders and the chief priests would condemn Him and then crucify Him to death.[5] For a slave price of 30 pieces of silver, Judas betrayed Jesus in an olive orchard in Kidron valley facilitating the Temple guards to arrest Jesus and deliver Him to Caiaphas’s house, the high priest, on Jerusalem’s west ridge near the Herodian palace.[6]

When dawn occurred, the Sanhedrin gathered to hear Jesus’s case and then sent Him to Pilate.[7] Caiaphas claimed that it was expedient that Jesus die to preserve the nation (John 11:49-51). Reasons for Jewish condemnation of Jesus include:

  1. Jesus annoyed the priests by repeatedly cleansing the Temple as a motive for the priests having Jesus killed.[8]
  2. Jesus was viewed as prophesying against and claiming that He would destroy the Temple,[9] which was considered to be worthy of condemnation to death.[10]
  3. Priests viewed Jesus as teaching that they were in rebellion to God and tried to seize Him.[11]
  4. Caiaphas tore his robes claiming that Jesus blasphemed in His claim to be the Messiah.[12]
  5. The Sanhedrin claimed to Pilate that Jesus was guilty of insurrection in His claim to be king and that taxes should be withheld from Rome (Luke 23:2, 14 denied in 20:19-26).
  6. Jewish leaders were envious of Jesus (Matt 27:18).
  7. Jewish tradition claims Jesus was killed because of apostasy.[13]

Some of those in the Sanhedrin and the Temple guards mocked Jesus, slapping Him and demanding that Jesus prophesy (Matt 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:54-62). In Caiaphas’s courtyard, Peter denied Jesus three times, and then a cock crowed three times.[14]

Early Friday morning, the Jewish religious leaders brought Jesus next door to have a hearing before Pilate, likely in the Herodian palace Praetorium, but Pilate found Jesus not to be guilty.[15] With Herod Antipas, governor of Galilee, visiting Jerusalem in the other part of the Herodian palace, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for a hearing. Jesus was sent back to Pilate dressed regally. Herod found him innocent (Luke 23:7-12). Pilate heard Jesus’s case and wanted to release Him but, instead, condemned Him, motivated by the religious leaders’ threats and demands for Barabbas instead.[16]

The religious leaders motivated a mob in the courtyard of the Praetorium to chant for Jesus’s crucifixion.[17] Some guards dressed Jesus in purple, placing a crown of thorns on his head while mocking, spitting, and hitting Him.[18] Jesus was flogged extensively with leather thongs, which contained pieces of metal or bones tied into the whip, laying Jesus’s bones bare.[19] As prefect (one step above procurator), Pilate sentenced Jesus to death as “King of the Jews.”[20]

Jesus was forced to carry His cross and then, when He stumbled, Simon Cyrene was forced into carrying the cross a few hundred yards further to the place of crucifixion just outside the Gennath Gate (Matt 27:32; Luke 23:26). Golgotha (place of death), the crucifixion site, was on a rock in a quarry less than 250 yards outside the second wall.[21] The Church of the Holy Sepulcher replaced Venus’s temple occupying the quarry of Jesus’s death.[22]

Jesus was crucified by the Romans and religious leaders between two thieves.[23] The charge was placed above His head (Matt 27:37; John 19:19-21). Jesus’s crucifixion began about 9:00 a.m. with darkness dominating from 12 to 3 p.m. (Matt 27:45; Mark 15:25, 33). Death by crucifixion is described as cruel in causing asphyxiation.[24] Usually legs were broken but not Jesus’s, because He had already died (John 19:31-37; Gos. Peter 14). The guards gambled for Jesus’s clothes.[25] Vinegar was offered Jesus to dull his senses near death.[26]

Named witnesses at Jesus’s death include His mother, Mary, Mary Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and John (John 19:25-26). Jesus’s death identified a mimetic pattern that His disciples followed with their impending martyrdoms.[27]

Jesus prayed to the Father, expressing that He had been forsaken (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). Then, Jesus gave up His spirit and died (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46). The visible temple veil between the court and the holy place was torn from top to bottom during an earthquake, indicating that the temple was under God’s judgment.[28]

During this holy season in which Christians worldwide will celebrate the resurrection of Lord Jesus, consider taking some time to reflect on the price that was paid and the torture endured by the Suffering Servant as well—a willful obedience—because of His great love.

[1] Matt 27:45-46; Mark 15:25, 33; Jub. 49.10; Josephus, Ant. 14.65; J. W. 6.423; Philo, Laws 2; m. Pesah 5.1.

[2] Luke 3:1-2; Tacitus, Ann. 1.

[3] Matt 26:2, 5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2; 11:55-57; John 19:14; Gos. Peter 5; m. Sanh. 6; b. Sanh. 43a; Sifre Deut. 221.

[4] Josephus, Ant. 18.85.

[5] Matt 16:21; 17:12;, 22-23; 20:18; Mark 8:31; 9:12, 31; Luke 9:22, 44; 17:25; 18:31; 22:22.

[6] Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:44-49, 53; Luke 22:47-48, 54; John 18:1, 8-14.

[7] Matt 26:57-68; Mark 14:53, 55; 15:1; Luke 22:66; 23:1; John 18:19-24.

[8] John 2:13-16; Matt 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-46; Mark 11:11-18

[9] Matt 24:1-2, 15, 30; 26:61; 27:40; Mark 13:1-2, 14, 26; 14:58; Luke 13:35; 21:5-6, 20, 27; 19:43-44; John 2:19; Gos. Thom. 71; Tob 14.4; Yoma 6.3.

[10] Jer 26:11; Josephus, J. W. 6.3000-9.

[11] Matt 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19 similar to 4Q500.

[12] Matt 26:64-66; Mark 14:62-64; 15:2; Luke 22:69-71; John 19:7, 14.

[13] Luke 23:2; b. Sanh. 107b; 43a; 67b; b. Soṭah 47a; Sib. Or. 8.206-7.

[14] Matt 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:63-65; John 18:15-18, 25-27.

[15] Matt 27:11-19; Mark 15:2-16; Luke 23:3-7, 13-24; John 18:28-40; 19:7-13.

[16] Matt 27:18-26; Luke 23:13-25; Gos. Nicodemas; release similar to Livy, History of Rome 5.13.8; Pliny Younger, Epistles 10.31; m. Pesaḥ 8.6.

[17] Matt 27:20; Mark 15:11-15; Luke 23:18-24; John 19:6, 15.

[18] Matt 27:27-31; Mark 15:17-20; John 19:2-5; Gos. Peter 6-10; similar to Philo, Flauccus 36-39; Dio Cassius, Roman Hist. 64.20-21; PLouvre 68 1.1-7.

[19] Matt 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:16; John 19:1; Josephus, J.W. 6.304; Letter from Pilate to Claudius.

[20] Matt 27:17, 22, 37, 42; Luke 3:1-2, 23:23; John 19:7; Caesarea dedication stone perhaps for lighthouse but found in theater; Tacitus, Ann 15.44; Gos. Peter 11; Nicene Creed; Old Roman Creed; Apostles Creed.

[21] Matt 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17; Josephus, J.W. 5.146; m. B. Bat. 2.9; Egeria  Itin. 24.7; 25.9, 11; 27.3, 6; 30.1-2; 31.4; 35.2; 36.4.5; 37.1-8; 39.2; Jerome, Ep. 58.3.

[22] Eusebius, Vita Const. 3.36, 39 and Onomasticon; Jerome, Ep. 58.3.

[23] Matt 26:5; 27:35, 38; Mark 15:24, 27; Luke 23:33, 39-43; John 19:18, 23; Josephus, Ant. 18.64; Gos. Peter 10; Letter from Pilate to Claudius contained in Acts of Peter and Paul 41-42 and Tertullian, Apology 5.21; The Trial of Pilate in Rome; Josephus, Ant. 18.63-64; Tacitus, Ann. 15.44.

[24] Josephus, Ant. 13.381; Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.165.

[25] Matt 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24.

[26] Matt 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30; Gos. Peter 16.

[27] Matt 10:38-39; 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-37; Luke 9:23-26; 14:27; Acts 7:54-60; 12:1-6.

[28] Matt 27:51-54; Mark 15:38; possibly evident in earthquake shake strata near Qumran delta of Dead Sea). In response a centurion announced that Jesus was innocent (Matt 27:54; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:47.