Crucifixion: A Brief Historical Introduction (Part 1)
The message of the cross; for those who know Christ as their Lord, unfortunately this phrase can become a cliche. But we hear it so often that we’re in danger of forgetting the impact this phrase had on the first. We’ve cleaned-up the cross so much that it no longer carries the offense that Paul spoke of. But this T-shaped wooden contraption is a precious thing to the Christian. It was upon the cross that Christ, our substitute, died for the sins of His people. The power of God is revealed in the gospel, and that gospel contains the preaching of the cross. The apostle Paul himself said that he would never boast in anything except the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14). Yet, today many Christians do not realize that Roman crucifixion was a common practice during the period between the Testaments and well into Jesus’ day.
As we shall see in the course of this series, crucifixion was far too common a practice in the first century. As cruel and barbaric as this form of execution was, for the average Jew or Roman, it was part of life under the pax Romana (the era of the “Roman Peace”). Though Christians now seem to have the “corner” on the cross, historically Jews also have found significant meaning in this symbol. For many Jews the symbol of the cross, or crucifixion, has represented the great cost to their people in remaining faithful to their religious values.
THE METHOD OF CRUCIFIXION
Many are not aware of the fact that crucifixion did not originate with the Romans. According to James A. Freeman:
It was an ancient mode of capital punishment, and is said to have been devised by the Semiramis. It was in use by the Persians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, Scythians, Greeks, Romans, and the ancient Germans. It was a most shameful and degrading punishment, and among the Romans was the fate of robbers, assassins, and rebels. It was especially the punishment of criminal slaves.
Before we go any further in our investigation it would be best to ask, what is crucifixion? Many do not grasp the offense of the cross precisely because they do not understand the method God used to accomplish His saving purpose. Crucifixion was not a death any person would have wanted to die. Of course this seems obvious, but what I mean is that no one, Jew or Gentile, would want the stigma, not simply the pain, attached to such death by crucifixion. More on this later…