Main article: The Sufferings of Christ
Christ’s Martyrdom Sufferings are what our Lord suffered as an innocent victim of man’s cruelty, especially in the last week leading up to the cross, which is often called the Passion Week. These sufferings were not only physical. We must remember that the Lord perfectly felt the wicked intentions behind the physical pain that men inflicted on His body.
Also, when making a dichotomy between the Lord’s physical sufferings and atoning sufferings we must be clear that the atoning sufferings had a physical component as well. He bore our sins “in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). Not only that, but Hebrews 10:10 says “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. Furthermore, when Christ was forsaken of God, He cried “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me“… He refers to Himself; spirit, soul, and body. This is why I chose the term “martyrdom sufferings”; to be clear, we are speaking of the sufferings of our Lord at the hands of men.
It is not my purpose to go into extreme detail on the martyrdom sufferings of Christ. Much of it we are not told. In Christendom there is often an unscriptural over-emphasis laid on the sufferings of Christ as a martyr. Many attribute the work of atonement to the martyrdom sufferings, but that is a false notion. In fact, an entire movie has been produced, titled “The Passion of Christ” in which the martyrdom sufferings of Christ are highlighted. But all those sufferings never atoned for one sin. The atoning work was done in the three hours of darkness; and therefore it was hidden from the eyes of men.
The First Occurrence. The first occurrence of physical violence to our Lord’s Person is referenced in John 18. Incidentally, reading this verse was what triggered a heightened interest in me to study this subject.
“And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?” (John 18:22)
For the very first time, the Son of God was struck by a human being. Standing before the high priest, having been falsely accused, an officer struck Him with the palm of his hand. What sorrow passed through His heart at that moment? He had given that officer breath and strength. That man’s very existence was owed to the blessed Lord who stood before him. There it happened, with all of heaven’s hosts looking down, for the first time, the Creator purposely injured by His creature. As angelic hosts awaited His call, how their hearts must have panged at the sight… heaven’s Beloved One struck by a sinful, mortal man.
Abuse in the Judgment Halls. The abuse only continued in the trials of our Lord. Next we read of slapping, spitting, and beard-plucking, which are quite personal forms of torture. What was the Lord’s disposition? He gave Himself to it; a willing victim.
“I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)
Then we come to the torture Christ suffered at the hands of the Romans. Firstly, the scourging. The scourging here is the Roman flogging that was preliminary to every execution. Only women and Roman soldiers would be exempted. The victim was repeatedly lashed across the back with a short whip made of several leather strips, into which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bone were tied. The iron balls caused deep contusions. The sharp pieces tore long furrows. One soldier alternating positions or two soldiers at a time would administer the punishment. Often the soldiers would gauge the victim’s strength and blood loss to determine the number of stripes.
“Pilate therefore took Jesus and scourged him.” (John 19:1)
“The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.” (Psalm 129:3)
In mockery of His claim to David’s throne, a crown of thorns was woven, and placed upon His blessed head. A wooden reed was placed in His hand as a mock scepter; then it was taken, and used to beat the thorns into His brow.
“And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand… and they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.” (Matt. 27:29-30)
The Crucifixion. It was the common practice to force the condemned man to carry his own cross to the place of execution. Jesus began that torturous path, but once they had exited the city walls His burden was partially transferred to Simon. John 19 indicates that Jesus carried His cross all the way to the place. We must conclude that Simon carried part of the cross, perhaps the back part, bearing it “after Jesus”. Likely this was because the scourging had physically weakened the Lord, and the soldiers did not want Him to collapse before the crucifixion. This gives us an indication of the intensity of the torture the Lord had already endured up to this point.
“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha.” (John 19:17)
“And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.” (Matt. 27:32)
Crucifixion was a method of execution used by the Romans for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state. It was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die (Phil. 2:8). Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason. The victim was either tied or more often nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Iron spikes were driven between the wrist bones, and ankle bones. Gravity prevented the victim from using the chest muscles to breathe. Shallow breathing was only possible using the abdominal muscles. A painful pushing up with the legs was required to exhale. The intention was to inflict rapidly increasing pain to achieve a prolonged, agonizing death. Death usually came by asphyxiation which was hastened in some cases by breaking of the legs below the knee, as was the case with the two thieves. Crucifixion is often portrayed with the victim nailed to a very tall cross. History shows that the crosses were actually much shorter, and left the victim at nearly eye-level with the bystanders. This would have a profound effect on those who passed by; to look into the eyes of a condemned man, in deepest agony.
“They crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” (John 19:18)
His Death as a Martyr. We must remember that the life of the Lord Jesus was not taken from Him. In Exodus 12:46 we read; “Neither shall ye break a bone thereof…” Not a bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken. This scripture is quoted in John 19:33-36 in connection with the Lord being dead before the soldiers reached Him with their clubs. To break a bone of the lamb would introduce the thought of “crushing” or forcibly ending life. It was imperative that Christ lay down His own life in obedience to His Father’s will (John 10:18). No man took it from Him. And yet, while no man took His life from Him, God holds man responsible for their intentions… murder. Accordingly, in the book of Revelation, Jesus appears as “a lamb as it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). The symbol of a “slain lamb” has the idea of an innocent victim subjected to a violent death. It says in Zech. 12:10 that Israel “shall look upon me whom they have pierced”. God holds them responsible.
The Death of the Cross. In Philippians 2, we find that death – and specifically, the death of the cross – was the ultimate humiliation for our Lord.
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:8)
The cross in scripture is always the symbol of shame in the eyes of the world. But, far be it from the Christian to boast in anything that this world glories in. Our only boast is in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14), because we owe all our peace, our blessing, our security to that work which He accomplished.
By crucifying the Lord between two malefactors, His enemies were associating Him with evildoers. The difference between Jesus and the thieves is summarized best in the words of the repentant thief; “we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:41). This indignity was suffered by our blessed Lord until His death. After He bowed His head and gave up His spirit, a Roman spear pierced His side (evidently an action taken by one of the four soldiers to verify that He was really dead, John 19:32-34) and “immediately there came out blood and water”. After this, men had the wicked intention of throwing His blessed body in a criminal’s grave, but the Father saw to it that the only hands that touched His body were kind and loving ones. Even His tomb was fit for a rich man!
“And men appointed his grave with the wicked, but he was with the rich in his death, because he had done no violence, neither was there guile in his mouth.” (Isa. 53:9)