Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Crucifixion is one of the most horrific forms of capital punishment ever used.  The historian, Josephus, called it “the most pitiable of deaths.”  The use of crucifixion can be traced back to the 7th century B.C.  The Persians seem to have originated the practice, but the Romans adopted its use and used it on slaves, rebels, and especially despised enemies and criminals.  Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion except for extreme crimes, such as treason.  There were instances of other countries using crucifixion as well.  Our English word ‘excruciate’, which is used to describe incredible pain, comes from the Latin word ‘excruciatus’ which was first used around 1570 AD to describe the torment of the crucifixion.

While there may have been some variations on the means of crucifixion, the typical crucifixion used nails to the hands and feet, with a small block of wood at the feet to help support the weight of the one being crucified.  Death from crucifixion could take several days.  With the hands outstretched and nailed to a horizontal beam, breathing was very difficult.  It would require the victim to support his weight by pushing up from the block of wood at his feet, or pull himself up by the nails in his hands to allow him to fill his lungs with air.  Typically, death would come from asphyxiation, dehydration, and exhaustion after several days of hanging on the cross.

Let’s look at the Bible’s description of the Lord’s crucifixion.  While the Lord had already taught His disciples about His upcoming death, He revealed how He would be killed in Matthew 26:2 which says, “Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified.”  Then we read in Luke 23:33, “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.”  In Psalm 22:16, we have a prophetic description of the Lord being nailed to the cross.  That says, “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.”  This would indicate that the Lord’s hands and feet were nailed to the cross.  After the Lord’s resurrection, to comfort His disciples and assure them that He had, indeed, been crucified and risen from the dead, He showed them the wounds of His crucifixion as we read in Luke 24:36-40, “And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.”

It is scriptural to refer to Christ’s cross as a cross or as a tree.  The Apostle Peter, in speaking to the Jewish nation after Christ’s crucifixion said in Acts 5:30, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.”  The word ‘tree’ is taken from the Greek word ‘xulon’ which means, “a timber, a stick, club or tree or other wooden article or substance.”  While witnessing to Cornelius, the Italian centurion, Peter said in Acts 10:39, “And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree.”  Peter would later use that same description of the cross in 1 Peter 2:24, where, speaking of the Lord Jesus, he said, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

The Apostle Paul, used the word ‘tree’ to describe the Lord’s crucifixion in Galatians 3:13 where he said, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”

Scripture also refers to the cross in many places.  John 19:17 says, “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha.”  Paul wrote of the Lord in Philippians 2:8 which says, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”  I counted 22 instances where the word ‘cross’ was used to describe the means of Christ’s death.

I think we can safely say to refer to the cross or the tree is equally scriptural.  The vital thing we need to know is that it was the sacrificial death on the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, or tree, that brings salvation to guilty, sinful people like you and me.  I pray that you all have put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” as we read in Hebrews 12:2.