The physical trauma of Christ
begins in Gethsemane with one of the initial aspects of His suffering
... the bloody sweat. It is interesting that the physician of
the group, St. Luke, is the only one to mention this. He says,
"And being in agony, He prayed the longer. And his sweat
became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground."
Though very rare, the phenomenon of hemathidrosis, 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
After the arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was brought
before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas, the High Priest. A soldier
struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by
Caiaphas. The palace guards then blindfolded Him and mockingly
taunted Him to identify them as they each passed by, spat on Him, and
struck Him in the face.
In the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and
exhausted from a sleepless night, is taken across Jerusalem to the
Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia. It was there, in response to
the cries of the mob, that Pilate ordered Barabbas released and
condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion.
Preparations for the scourging are carried out. The prisoner is
stripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His head.
The Roman legionnaire steps forward with the flagrum in his hand.
This is a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with
two small balls of lead attached to the ends of each . The heavy
whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus'
shoulders, back and legs.
At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as
the blows continue, they cut deeper into 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 produce large,
deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows.
Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the
entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn and bleeding tissue.
When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is
near death, the beating is stopped.
The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the
stone pavement, wet with His own blood. The Roman soldiers see a
great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They
throw a robe across His shoulders and place a stick in His hand for a
scepter. A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long
thorns is pressed into His scalp.
Again there is copious bleeding (the scalp being one of the most
vascular areas in the body). After mocking Him and striking Him
across the face, the soldiers take the stick from His hand and strike
Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp.
Finally, they tire of their sadistic sport and the robe is torn from
his back. This 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, cause excruciating pain ... almost as
though He were again being whipped, and the wounds again begin to
The heavy beam of the cross is then tied across His shoulders, and
the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves and the execution
detail, begins its slow journey. The weight of the heavy wooden
beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too
much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam
gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He
tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their
At Golgotha, the beam is placed on the ground and Jesus is quickly
thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The
legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist.
He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and
deep in the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and
repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly,
but to allow some flexion and movement. The beam is then lifted
in place at the top of the posts and the titulus reading "Jesus
of Nazareth, King of the Jews" is nailed in place.
The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with
both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of
each. As he pushes Himself upward to avoid the stretching
torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet.
Again there is the searing agony of the nail through His feet.
Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the
nerves between the metatarsal bones through the feet.
As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles,
knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these
cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by
His arms, the pectoral muscles are unable to act. Air can be
drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to
raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally,
carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the
cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push
Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.
Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending
cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is
torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough
timber. Then another agony begins. A deep crushing pain
deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and
begins to compress the heart.
The compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish
blood into the tissues. The tortured lungs are making a frantic
effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated
tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. Jesus gasps,
He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues.
With one last surge of strength, He once again presses His torn feet
against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and
utters His seventh and last cry, "Father, into thy hands I commit
Apparently to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his
lance through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through
the pericardium and into the heart. Immediately there came out
blood and water. We therefore have rather conclusive postmortem
evidence that Our Lord died, not the usual crucifixion death by
suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the
heart by fluid in the pericardium.