What Did Jesus’ Suffering Look Like?

Thomas Griffin 4/5/23

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Scholars have reported that crucifixion is likely the most painful torture method that humanity has ever inflicted on its fellow human beings. The Gospels actually give little details concerning what it looked like because the process was so well-known to ancient people and so gruesome for readers to contemplate. We, however, are not as privy to the details. 

Understanding what actually happened to Jesus on Good Friday will only allow us to gain further access into the reckless love he has for each and everyone of us. If you are like me, you might view a cross daily or even multiple times a day. But what does it really mean to state that Jesus died for me on the cross? What really happened on Good Friday?

After Jesus gives us the gift of his Real Presence in the Eucharist at the Last Supper, he and his disciples went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). This is where Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss and Jesus is placed under arrest by the Jewish leaders. The next 36 hours or so would entail no sleep or rest for Jesus and would be filled with constant psychological and physical torture.

Once Christ is convicted of the capital offense of sedition (attempting to overthrow the government because he said he was a king) by Pilate he would have been handed over to Roman soldiers to be scourged. Again, the Gospels do not give details of this because this word needed no explanation. 

Prisoners would have been stripped completely naked and chained by their wrists to a post or wall. Two very strong, heavy soldiers would alternate blows as they whipped him with a device that could be called a “cat of nine tails.” This was a whip with nine straps that had objects tied to the end of each strap. At the end of each strap would have been a piece of glass, rock, bone, or metal object. The intention of the soldier was to hit the prisoner so hard that one of these sharp objects would dig into the flesh of the man. Then the soldier would pull back the whip, literally ripping out tendons and muscles from his face down to his feet. 

Recent medical analysis reports that the incisions Jesus would have endured during the scourging would have needed roughly two thousand stitches to repair. For this reason, many sources report that prisoners would often die during the scourging and not even make it to the cross. 

Following the scourging we are told that the soldiers placed a crown of thorns on his head (Mark 15:17). Thorns in Israel are 1 ½ to 2 inches long. A soldier would take a wooden reed to jam this crown into the scalp of Jesus penetrating the outer perimeter of his skull.  

Now a cross beam weighing between 150-300 pounds is placed on his shoulders and he has to carry it a half-mile to his place of death. Along the way he is continually mocked and whipped. Soldiers would have then held Jesus down as they nailed six to nine inch nails through his hands and feet. Then the cross would have been lifted about ten feet high in the air for all to see and mock. Ultimately, Jesus dies after hanging on the cross for nearly three hours. He would have died of asphyxiation or suffocation as he could no longer lift his beaten body up to breathe air into his lungs. 

This is what Good Friday actually looked like. This was the suffering of Jesus. This is why Holy Week is the greatest and most true story ever told. The pain he endured was for you and for me. So we could live life to the fullest and live with him forever. Let us keep his suffering in mind each time we are present at Mass and each time we neglect to pray or love our neighbor. 

He endured that for you. So, what does your suffering look like? Bring it to him, see his bloodied face of love and watch him conquer all evil and suffering by breaking out of his empty tomb. 

Thomas Griffin is the chairperson of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He has a masters degree in theology and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

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