The Longest Six Hours
Have you ever noticed how non-descriptive the Gospel writers were when it came to the crucifixion? They all just basically say, “and they crucified him.” There is very little detail about what crucifixion actually entailed, probably because the original readers were already familiar with it. However, I think it’s important for us to be reminded of what we’re talking about.
“Crucifixion” was a particularly prolonged, painful, and public way to die. In fact, the word “excruciating” means “out of crucifying.” The person usually lingered for hours before finally succumbing to heart failure, asphyxia, dehydration, or shock. This is how the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes crucifixion:
“The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, esp. in hot climates. Severe local inflammation, coupled with an insignificant bleeding of the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated by the exposure to the heat of the sun, the strained position of the body and insufferable thirst. The wounds swelled about the rough nails and the torn and lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. Tetanus not rarely supervened and the rigors of the attending convulsions would tear at the wounds and add to the burden of pain, till at last the bodily forces were exhausted and the victim sank to unconsciousness and death” (p. 761).
The ESV Study Bible adds this:
“Crucifixion was widely believed to be the worst form of execution, due to the excruciating pain and public shame. Hanging suspended by one’s arms eventually caused great difficulty in breathing, which could be alleviated only by pushing up with one’s feet to take the weight off the arms. But that motion itself would cause severe pain in the feet, arms, legs, and back, causing the exhausted victim to slump down again, only to be nearly unable to breathe once more. Eventually, the victim would succumb to suffocation, if he had not already died as a result of the cumulative effect of the physical trauma inflicted on him” (p. 1886).
The nails were between 6 and 7 inches long. The horizontal cross beam that Jesus carried was about 6 feet long, and weighed about 70 pounds. It was an unfinished piece of lumber, which means its splintery surface would have rubbed against His open wounds. The vertical cross beam was about 8 feet long. The scorching heat, swarming insects, and scoffing bystanders only added to the torture. Jesus was on the cross for six long hours — the longest six hours in history!