Soteriology Lesson 25 - The Suffering, Crucifixion, and Death of Christ

Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook

Nov 19 2023 • 57 mins

Just prior to crucifixion, a person was scourged with a whip which had thongs that were braided with sharp objects such as nails. As an act of public humiliation, criminals carried their own cross to the place of execution, and once there, were stripped naked before being fastened to the cross, either with rope or nails. Being tied to a cross with ropes was less painful in the beginning, but would leave the victim to hang for a longer period of time, even days, which would make the experience more painful in the end. Some who were tied to the cross are recorded to have lasted for nine days. Nailing a person to a cross was more painful from the beginning and would have led to a quicker death. The body would hang between three to four feet from the ground. Sometimes a soporific was given to the victim to help numb the senses. In Jesus case, it was “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23), which our Lord rejected because it would have clouded His thinking (Matt 27:34). In some situations the Romans would break the victim’s legs which would hasten death, but according to Scripture, Jesus was already dead by the time the soldiers considered doing this (John 19:32-34). Unger notes, “In most cases the body was allowed to rot on the cross by the action of the sun and rain or to be devoured by birds and beasts.”[1] We know that Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body, that he might bury it, and Pilate granted his request (Matt 27:57-60). It’s most likely that Jesus was crucified in April, AD 33.[2]

The cross of Christ became central to the message of the gospel. The apostle Paul was sent by the Lord Jesus “to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Cor 1:17). Paul was not concerned with human sophistry, winning arguments, or impressing his audience by means of rhetorical prowess, but merely with presenting the simple message of the cross of Christ, which brings eternal salvation to those who trust in Jesus as their Savior. Paul continued his line of reasoning, saying, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...[and] we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:18; 23-24). Paul summarized his message when he said, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). The image of a crucified Savior seems entirely foolish to a world that creates its saviors out of strong heroes; strong in the human sense of one who can save himself and others. Jesus is certainly strong; after all, He’s God! And He does save forever those who come to Him in faith. However, the humility of the cross, with all its offense and shame, leaves no place for human wisdom or pride; for one must admit it was his sin that placed Messiah on the cross to be judged and die. To come to Jesus as a crucified Messiah requires humility, for one must honestly look at oneself from the divine perspective and admit he is a lost sinner in need of a Savior. A Savior who was willing to lay down His life and bear the punishment of the guilty. This requires truth, to see oneself from the divine perspective as utterly sinful and lost. And it requires humility, to admit one it powerless and cannot save himself from a damnable future to which he is certainly headed. It is the work of Messiah that saves. Nothing more is required. Jesus paid it all. W. E. Vine notes, ‘“The Cross of Christ’ does far more than express the fact of the infinite love of God to man in the death of His Son; it exposes the enmity of the human heart against God, reveals the true nature of sin as in the sight of God, and makes known the impossibility of bridging, by any human effort, the chasm that separates unregenerate man from God.”[3]Wendell Johnston adds:

  • "The cross stands at the center of Paul’s theology (1 Cor 1:23). He saw this humiliating and cruel instrument in a new light—as the extraordinary opportunity to boast in his Savior (Gal 6:14). The shameful cross stood for everything the world despised and thus His allegiance to Christ separated him from the world. Jesus’ death was like a magnet drawing the outcasts of the world to Christ (John 12:32). It makes human wisdom foolish (1 Cor 1:27) and weak people strong (1 Cor 1:25), and it breaks the spirit of the proud and lifts up the meek and humble (1 Cor 1:28). Because of His death Jesus breaks the shackles of those in bondage who believe in Him. The Cross brings peace to those in fear (Heb 2:14–15), and it unites Jews and Gentiles into one body (Eph 2:16). The Cross brought complete fulfillment to the system of the Mosaic Law and did away with all the regulations standing against humanity (Col 2:14–18). Because of the Cross, God gives eternal life to those who believe (Rom 5:18). The Cross, which to the world seemed proof of defeat, became the means of triumph (Col 2:15)."[4]

The cross represents the love of the Father, as “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). And it represents the love of Jesus for us, as Paul wrote of “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20b).

Paul saw himself as crucified with Jesus, as he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20a). The words “crucified with” translates the Greek verb sustauroō (συσταυρόω), which means one is crucified with another. This is used in a literal sense of persons crucified in physical proximity to each other, such as “The robbers who had been crucified with Him”, that is, Jesus (Matt 27:44; cf., Mark 15:32; John 19:32). But Paul uses the word in Galatians 2:20 in a spiritual sense, in which he is identified with Christ on the cross. This same spiritual identification truth is for all who have trusted in Christ as our Savior, for to be “crucified with Christ” means that we are identified with our Lord in His death, burial, and resurrection. God sees us there are the cross, with Christ, dying with Him. Paul states, “our old self was crucified with Him” (Rom 6:6), and “we have died with Christ” (Rom 6:8). Furthermore, we partook of His burial, resurrection, and ascension, for “we have been buried with Him” (Rom 6:4), and “raised up with Christ” (Col 3:1; cf., Eph 2:6a), and even now are seen to be seated “with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6b). Concerning Galatians 2:20, William MacDonald states:

  • "The believer is identified with Christ in His death. Not only was He crucified on Calvary, I was crucified there as well—in Him. This means the end of me as a sinner in God’s sight. It means the end of me as a person seeking to merit or earn salvation by my own efforts. It means the end of me as a child of Adam, as a man under the condemnation of the law, as my old, unregenerate self. The old, evil “I” has been crucified; it has no more claims on my daily life."[5]

Who Crucified Jesus?

The question is sometimes raised as to who crucified Jesus? According to Chafer, “Closely related to the contrast between the divine and human sides of Christ’s death, is the question: Who put Christ to death? As already indicated, the Scriptures assign both a human and a divine responsibility for Christ’s death.”[6] According to the testimony of Scripture, Jesus’ death on the cross was the result of: 1) God the Father who sent Him, 2) Jesus who willingly went to the cross, 3), Satan who worked through others to help crucify Him, 4) unbelieving Jews, and 5) unbelieving Gentiles. The Bible verses that address the various persons involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are intermixed. That is, a passage might address God the Father and Jesus, or Jews and Gentiles, or Satan and Jews, etc. It is from these Scripture passages that the following categories as recognized.

God the Father Sent Christ to Die

Who crucified Jesus? The ultimate answer is God the Father. The Father was motivated by His love for us to save us; therefore, His plan of salvation involved sending His Son into the world to die in our place. The record of Scripture is, “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isa 53:10a), and “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16a), and “this Man [Jesus], was delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23a), and Peter, praying to the Father, said, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28), and “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all” (Rom 8:32). Chafer notes, “Human hands might inflict physical suffering and death as any victim would die, but only the hand of God could make Christ a sin offering, or could lay on Him the iniquity of others (2 Cor 5:21; Isa 53:6).”[7]

Jesus Willingly Went to the Cross

Though the Father sent Jesus into the world to be an atoning sacrifice for sin, He did not force Him onto the cross. Jesus consented to come into the world and go to the cross and die for us. He voluntarily laid down His life. The writer of Hebrews states, “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me’” (Heb 10:5). Jesus, in hypostatic union, speaking from His humanity, said, “Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God” (Heb 10:7). Constable notes, “Jesus was not some dumb animal that offered its life without knowing what it was doing. He consciously, voluntarily, and deliberately offered His life in obedience to God’s will.”[8] Jesus’ voluntary death on the cross is found in several passages. Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Paul wrote, “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:2), and “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20), and “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed” (Tit 2:14). The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Christ “offered up Himself” (Heb 7:27; cf., Heb 9:14).

Satan Was Instrumental in Jesus’ Crucifixion

The very first prophesy related to the cross is found in Genesis, when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen 3:15). Concerning Genesis 3:15, Chafer notes, “it is implied that Satan did what he could in the exercise of his power—directly, or indirectly, through human agents—against the Savior.”[9] Satan’s seed refers to all those who reject God and Christ and are part of Satan’s kingdom of darkness.[10] Jesus said to unbelieving Jews, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), and all unbelievers are “the sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38). These were used by Satan to help in the crucifixion of Christ. On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, John records, “During supper, the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him” (John 13:2). During the meal, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me” (John 13:21), and “After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly’” (John 13:27). Here we observe a coalescence of Satanic and human activity to betray Jesus to those who would crucify Him. In this regard, Satan was the motivating force behind Judas, his willing instrument, to bring about the death of Jesus.[11]

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the chief priests, officers of the temple, and Jewish elders came to arrest Jesus (Luke 22:52a), and He said to them, “While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours” (Luke 22:53). Those who came physically to “lay hands” on Jesus were the Jewish authorities who conspired to kill Him. God, in His sovereignty, permitted this to happen, because it served His greater purposes to bring about salvation through the cross. But even though it was their hour to act, these men were not acting alone, as Luke’s reference to “the power of darkness” demonstrates that Satan was behind them, driving them on as his agents of lies and destruction. Later, Luke would use the term darkness as a symbol of the sphere of Satan’s authority (Acts 26:18), as would Paul (Col 1:13).

Unbelieving Jews Crucified Jesus

Though it was the Romans who actually placed Jesus on the cross and drove the nails, it was, according to Scripture, unbelieving Jews who conspired and lied about Jesus to have Him crucified (Matt 26:3-4; John 11:53). At the time of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, the Jews who were present all shouted, “Crucify Him” (Matt 27:22). God permitted Jesus’ crucifixion, both by the Jews and Romans, because it served His greater purpose. Luke recorded Peter, who said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22-23). Clearly this address was to the “Men of Israel,” who rejected Jesus and “nailed [Him] to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23; cf. Acts 4:10; 5:30; 10:39). In Acts 4:27, Luke recorded that there were “gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus…the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27), to crucify Him. Paul wrote about “the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets” (1 Th 2:14b-15a).

Unbelieving Gentiles Crucified Jesus

Though many unbelieving Jews were directly responsible for collaborating in the crucifixion of Jesus, it was Gentiles who actually did the work of placing Him on the cross. That’s what Jesus foretold His disciples, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up” (Matt 20:18-19). It was said of the Roman soldiers, “After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him” (Matt 27:31). Luke records in Acts, “truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27).

As Christians, we must not see Christ dying at a distant time or place. We should see our own hands driving the nails that put Him there and then lifting the cross. The crucifixion was not only for us, but by us. It was our sin that necessitated His death and judgment. We must see Jesus bearing all our sin and paying the penalty of the Father’s wrath that rightfully belongs to us. In May 2006, I wrote the following poem as I thought about the role I played in placing Jesus on the cross.

Christ to the Cross

(by Dr. Steven R. Cook) I and the Father led Christ to the cross, Together we placed Him there; I pushed Him forward, no care for the cost, His Father’s wrath to bear. Christ in the middle not wanting to die, Knelt in the garden and prayed; Great tears of blood the Savior did cry, Yet His Father He humbly obeyed. So He carried His cross down a dusty trail, No words on His lips were found; No cry was uttered as I drove the nails, His arms to the cross were bound. I lifted my Savior with arms spread wide, He hung between heaven and earth; I raised my spear and pierced His side, What flowed was of infinite worth. Like a Lamb to the altar Christ did go, A sacrifice without blemish or spot; A knife was raised, and life did flow, In a basin the blood was caught. Past the incense table and the dark black veil, To that holy of holy places; The blood of Christ was made to avail, And all my sins it erases. Now this Lamb on a cross was a demonstration Of the Father’s love for me; For the Savior’s death brought satisfaction, Redeemed, and set me free. Now I come to the Savior by faith alone, Not trusting in works at all; Jesus my substitute for sin did atone, Salvation in answer to His call.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger et al., “Cross”, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 264.

[2] See Harold Hoehner’s book, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, pages 95-114.

[3] W. E. Vine and C. F. Hogg, Vine’s Topical Commentary: Christ (Nashville, TN; Dallas; Mexico City; Rio de Janeiro: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 108-109.

[4] Wendell G. Johnston, “Cross,” ed. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, The Theological Wordbook, Swindoll Leadership Library (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, Inc., 2000), 77–78.

[5] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1880.

[6] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 49.

[7] Ibid., 51.

[8] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Heb 10:5.

[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 49.

[10] The seed of Satan ultimately relates to the coming Antichrist, who will, during the time of the Tribulation, seek to destroy Israel and prevent the coming of Jesus to rule over the earth. See Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s comments on Genesis 3:15 in his book, The Book of Genesis, Ariel’s Bible Commentary.

[11] On a separate occasion, after Jesus was born, Satan wanted to kill the baby Jesus. The apostle John—operating from divine viewpoint—records that Satan, “stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child” (Rev 12:4). But Satan’s attack was not direct; rather, King Herod was his tool to accomplish the nefarious deed. Matthew records the account in his Gospel (Matt 2:1-23). Herod was the human agent who wanted to kill Jesus, but Satan was the motivating force behind the attack.