Hebrews – Chapter Twelve XIII

by Ed Urzi

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4).

In context, this reference to “shedding your blood” refers to the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. We can find an echo of that awful form of death in the modern-day word “excruciating.” This word is used to describe an exceedingly painful condition and finds its origin in a word that means “of the cross.” (1)

Despite our natural reluctance to engage this difficult topic, a comparative look at Jesus’ death can help us measure the true severity of our own life experiences. For instance, consider the fact that a crucified prisoner had to push himself up against the nail that held his feet in order to breathe as he hung upon his cross. If he failed to do so, death by suffocation would result. Crucified victims also experienced severe thirst and muscular cramping. Blood loss was extensive, and the nails used in securing the victim generated severe pain from severed or irritated nerve endings.

One medical commentator makes some additional observations regarding the act of crucifixion…

“When the cross was erected upright, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints… The arms, being held up and outward, held the rib cage in a fixed end inspiratory position which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath.

The victim would only be able to take very shallow breaths (This may explain why Jesus made very short statements while on the cross). As time passed, the muscles, from the loss of blood, last of oxygen and the fixed position of the body, would undergo severe cramps and spasmodic contractions.” (2)

This is how the crucified spent their final hours of life. As another commentator bluntly observed, “Romans were grimly efficient about executions. Victims did not escape with their lives.” (3)

However, the Gospel of John adds an additional detail related to Jesus’ crucifixion: “…one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:32). One source alerts us to the significance of this detail…

“Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death.” (4)

(1) See “Excruciating.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/excruciating. Accessed 11 Apr. 2023.

(2) Terasaka, David M.D. Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/terasaka_david/misc/crucify.cfm Accessed 12 Apr. 2023.

(3) Paul L. Maier, In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church [pg. 195]

(4) Edwards, William & Gabel, W & Hosmer, F. (1986). On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. 255. 1455-63. 10.1001/jama.1986.03370110077025. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/19648788_On_the_Physical_Death_of_Jesus_Christ Accessed 11 Apr. 2023.