“And when they had crucified him.” (Matthew 27:35 ESV)
This verse is holy. Matthew doesn’t dwell on the physical sufferings. He is more interested in the theological meaning. Further, his audience would have known and probably seen crucifixions, so he didn’t have to go into detail. Since we haven’t witnessed one, let’s make sure we understand why these moments are so holy.
Upon arriving, Simon of Cyrene would have dropped the crossbeam. His part in the story is over. Two of the soldiers would have dug the hole for the upright and when it was deep enough, they would have dropped the vertical piece into place and wedged it in with rocks around the base.
The whole goal of crucifixion is to degrade the victim. Part of the shame was the naked exposure of the victim. The only concession they made was when they crucified a woman—she was crucified facing the cross, but still completely naked.
Once the upright was in place, the soldiers would have assisted the executioner in attaching Jesus to the crossbeam. Jesus was ordered to lie on his back with his shoulders in the center of the crossbeam. They would have measured his arms out and made a mark on the beam where his wrists were. They made a hole to allow the nail to pass through more easily.
Then, feeling for the depression at the front of the wrist, the soldier drove a heavy, square, iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. He quickly moves to the other arm and does the same, making sure that he allows room for flexing and movement on the cross. Jesus wasn’t stretched tight, but loose so that he would push and pull and squirm on the cross.
I imagine silence at this point, even among his enemies. One soldier held him around the middle with one on each side of the beam and they brought him over to the vertical piece. This was the hardest part of the process, attaching the victim and the crossbeam to the cross. Jesus is now dead weight. So they lift Jesus onto his feet and put his back against the upright. Then with forked poles and with the soldier now holding him by the knees, they inched his body up several feet until the crossbar sets into a notch already cut into the vertical piece.
The knees were moderately flexed. The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through them and into the wood. And that is what is summarized by, “And when they had crucified him.” (Verse 35)
Take a moment of silence to meditate on Jesus being nailed to the cross.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2017 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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