From New Wine
Magazine, April 1982.
Originally published in Arizona Medicine , March 1965,
Arizona Medical Association.
explanation of what Jesus endured on the day He died
by Dr. C. Truman Davis Dr. C. Truman Davis is a graduate of
the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. He is a
practicing ophthalmologist, a pastor, and author of a book about
medicine and the Bible.
the body of Jesus of Nazareth actually endure during those hours
The physical passion of
Christ began in Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of His initial
suffering, the one which is of particular physiological interest
is the bloody sweat. Interestingly enough, the physician, St.
Luke, is the only evangelist to mention this occurrence. He
says, "And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his
sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the
(Luke 22:44 KJV).
Every attempt imaginable
has been used by modern scholars to explain away the phenomenon
of bloody sweat, apparently under the mistaken impression that
it simply does not occur. A great deal of effort could be saved
by consulting the medical literature. Though very rare, the
phenomenon of hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented.
Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat
glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process
alone could have produced marked weakness and possible shock.
Although Jesus' betrayal
and arrest are important portions of the passion story, the next
event in the account which is significant from a medical
perspective is His trial before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas, the
High Priest. Here the first physical trauma was inflicted. A
soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when
questioned by Caiaphas. The palace guards then blindfolded Him,
mockingly taunted Him to identify them as each passed by, spat
on Him, and struck Him in the face.
In the early morning,
battered and bruised, dehydrated, and worn out from a sleepless
night, Jesus was taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the
Fortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of
Judea, Pontius Pilate. We are familiar with Pilate's action in
attempting to shift responsibility to Herod Antipas, the
Tetrarch of Judea. Jesus apparently suffered no physical
mistreatment at the hands of Herod and was returned to Pilate.
It was then, in response to the outcry of the mob, that Pilate
ordered Barabbas released and condemned Jesus to scourging and
Preparations for Jesus'
scourging were carried out at Caesar's orders. The prisoner was
stripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His
head. The Roman legionnaire stepped forward with the flagrum, or
flagellum, in his hand. This was a short whip consisting of
several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead
attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip was brought down
with full force again and again across Jesus' shoulders, back,
and legs. At first the weighted thongs cut through the skin
only. Then, as the blows continued, they cut deeper into the
subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from
the capillaries and veins of the skin and finally spurting
arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles.
The small balls of lead
first produced large deep bruises that were broken open by
subsequent blows. Finally, the skin of the back was hanging in
long ribbons, and the entire area was an unrecognizable mass of
torn, bleeding tissue. When it was determined by the centurion
in charge that the prisoner was near death, the beating was
The half-fainting Jesus
was then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet
with his own blood. The Roman soldiers saw a great joke in this
provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They threw a robe across
His shoulders and placed a stick in His hand for a scepter. They
still needed a crown to make their travesty complete. Small
flexible branches covered with long thorns, commonly used for
kindling fires in the charcoal braziers in the courtyard, were
plaited into the shape of a crude crown. The crown was pressed
into his scalp and again there was copious bleeding as the
thorns pierced the very vascular tissue. After mocking Him and
striking Him across the face, the soldiers took the stick from
His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns
deeper into His scalp. Finally, they tired of their sadistic
sport and tore the robe from His back. The robe had already
become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds,
and its removal, just as in the careless removal of a surgical
bandage, caused excruciating pain. The wounds again began to
In deference to Jewish
custom, the Romans apparently returned His garments. The heavy
patibulum of the cross was tied across His shoulders. The
procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the
execution detail of Roman soldiers headed by a centurion began
its slow journey along the route which we know today as the Via
In spite of Jesus'
efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam,
together with the shock produced by copious loss of blood, was
too much. He stumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam
gouged into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He
tried to rise, but human muscles had been pushed beyond their
endurance. The centurion, anxious to proceed with the
crucifixion, selected a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon
of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus followed, still bleeding
and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock. The 650-yard
journey from the Fortress Antonia to Golgotha was finally
completed. The prisoner was again stripped of His clothing
except for a loin cloth which was allowed the Jews.
The crucifixion began.
Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic,
pain-reliving mixture. He refused the drink. Simon was ordered
to place the patibulum on the ground, and Jesus was quickly
thrown backward, with His shoulders against the wood. The
legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of the wrist.
He drove a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and
deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and
repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too
tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum
was then lifted into place at the top of the stipes, and the
titulus reading "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"
was nailed into place.
The left foot was
pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet
extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each,
leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now
As Jesus slowly sagged
down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating,
fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in
the brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the
median nerve, large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist
and hand. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching
torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet.
Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through the
nerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet.
At this point, another
phenomenon occurred. As the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps
swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless,
throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push
Himself upward. Hanging by the arm, the pectoral muscles, the
large muscles of the chest, were paralyzed and the intercostal
muscles, the small muscles between the ribs, were unable to act.
Air could be drawn into the lungs, but could not be exhaled.
Jesus fought to raise Himself in order to get even one short
breath. Finally, the carbon dioxide level increased in the lungs
and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided.
The Last Words
Spasmodically, He was
able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving
oxygen. It was undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered
the seven short sentences that are recorded.
The first - looking down
at the Roman soldiers throwing dice for His seamless garment:
"Father, forgive them for they do not know what they
The second - to the
penitent thief: "Today, thou shalt be with me in
The third - looking down
at Mary His mother, He said: "Woman, behold your son."
Then turning to the terrified, grief-stricken adolescent John ,
the beloved apostle, He said: "Behold your mother."
The fourth cry is from
the beginning of Psalm 22: "My God, My God, why have You
He suffered hours of
limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps,
intermittent partial asphyxiation, and searing pain as tissue
was torn from His lacerated back from His movement up and down
against the rough timbers of the cross. Then another agony
began: a deep crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium, the
sac surrounding the heart, slowly filled with serum and began to
compress the heart.
The prophecy in Psalm
22:14 was being fulfilled: "I am poured out like water, and
all my bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax; it is
melted in the midst of my bowels."
end was rapidly approaching. The loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical
level; the compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick,
sluggish blood to the tissues, and the tortured lungs were
making a frantic effort to inhale small gulps of air. The
markedly dehydrated tissues sent their flood of stimuli to the
brain. Jesus gasped His fifth cry: "I thirst." Again
we read in the prophetic psalm: "My strength is dried up
like a potsherd; my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou has
brought me into the dust of death". (Psalm 22:15
A sponge soaked in posca,
the cheap, sour wine that was the staple drink of the Roman
legionnaires, was lifted to Jesus' lips. His body was now in
extremis, and He could feel the chill of death creeping through
His tissues. This realization brought forth His sixth word,
possibly little more than a tortured whisper: "It is
finished." His mission of atonement had been completed.
Finally, He could allow His body to die. With one last surge of
strength, He once again pressed His torn feet against the nail,
straightened His legs, took a deeper breath, and uttered His
seventh and last cry: "Father, into Your hands I commit My
The common method of
ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the
bones of the leg. This prevented the victim from pushing himself
upward; the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of
the chest, and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two
thieves were broken, but when the soldiers approached Jesus,
they saw that this was unnecessary.