What is the history of crucifixion?
The history of crucifixion can be traced back to the Egyptians (Genesis 40:19) and the Persians (Esther 7:10). It was also practiced by the Assyrians, Scythians, Indians, Germans, and from the earliest times by the Greeks and the Romans.
Alexander the Great, after the conquest of Tyre, had two thousand Tyrians crucified as punishment for their resistance.
Crucifixion was a punishment that was only for slaves or malefactors of the worst kind and Roman citizens were exempt from it. If the Jews used this manner for punishment, it was usually done after the death. In other words, the body or the head was tied to a stake and therefore, placing the head on a pole after death was also called crucifixion.
From the earliest accounts of the history of crucifixion, it was considered the most horrible form of death. To the Jew, it would seem even more horrible because of the curse. "You must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance" (Deuteronomy 21:23).
The process of crucifixion was horrible in itself. First came a scourging with a whip that was usually embedded with nails or pieces of glass or bone to heighten the pain. Many died from the scourging before they got to the cross. The place of execution was outside of the city (Acts 7:58, Hebrews 13:12) and the criminal was made to carry all or part of his cross and if he was unable then someone was pressed to carry it for him.
The process of attaching the person to the cross was either that they were fastened to a cross piece and were raised to a cross that was already standing by ropes or they were fastened to the cross and then the cross was raised. The person was tied or nailed to the cross depending upon the method used by the soldiers who carried out the punishment. When the malefactor arrived at the cross, he was stripped naked and what clothes he had were divided among the soldiers, usually a unit of four soldiers with one being the leader.
Death came from asphyxiation or pure exhaustion and if they were bound with thongs it might take days to die. The crucified one would not be able to raise himself up to allow his lungs to breath and that was hastened by the breaking of the legs (John 19:31). Usually the body was left to rot on the cross and this was done as a deterrent to those who entered the city. Crucifixion was capitol punishment and the sight of the crosses to those who came into the city was a grim reminder of the justice that awaited those who engaged in criminality.
The history of the LORD'S crucifixion confirms most if not all of these historical facts. The fact is made in Scripture that Christ was made a "curse" for us. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a cures for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13). Jesus was scourged (John 19:1) and made to carry His cross and when He stumbled, another was called to carry it (Luke 23:26).
Jesus' clothes were taken and the soldiers gambled for them (Psalm 22:17-18; Matthew 27:35-36). When it was found that Jesus was already dead, His legs were not broken to fulfill Scripture (Psalm 34:20; John 19:32-33, 36). The fact that Jesus' body was not left to rot on the cross was a concession by the Romans to the Jews (Matthew 27:58; Mark 15:42-46) for the next day was a high Sabbath for celebration of the Passover or this was the day of preparation for the Passover (John 19:14, 31, 42). The Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross overnight and since the Jewish day began at sunset, the body of Christ was taken down, prepared, and buried before the Passover began at sunset.
In spite of the history of crucifixion, the crucifixion of the LORD Jesus Christ was not a "train wreck" that was out of the purpose and will of the Father. Although Christ was hung on a cross, it was not the crucifixion that took His life, He "laid it down." "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.
This command I received from my Father" (John 10:17-18). "When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up [dismissed] his spirit" (John 19:30). Nations down through history have used this form of punishment and torture and God has taken the curse of the cross and turned it into a gift of grace.