Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion: Jesus’ Suffering Part III

maxresdefault1The Crucifixion beginsJust prior to his crucifixion, Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic mixture, and he refused it (Mark 15:23, John 19:39).

Do you remember what mankind offered Jesus at his birth as gifts through the magi? Out of their treasures, they offered him gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). There are specific reasons that these gifts were chosen: God  rejects the best of mankind  and offers his Son!

Gold was a gift for the kings of the day.  And of course, Jesus was and is the King of kings, 7ecc093c1191ab6bce9732516f9b7f871Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). Gold is mentioned hundreds of times in the Scripture.  For example, when the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon in 1 Kings 10:10, she brought with her $122 million dollars (7000 pounds) of gold to honor the king.  Ironically, Jesus lived as the humble Servant (Mark 10:45), not as an exalted king! As discussed in the last blog, he wore a crown of thorns, not a crown of gold. Gold rejected!

Frankincense was derived from tree sap and was very costly.  It yields a very pleasant fragrance, and was used throughout Jewish history in animal and grain sacrifices (Leviticus 2:1, Exodus 30:34).  Ironically, Jesus offered himself up in his crucifixion as a sacrifice for us, a fragrant offering to the Lord God (Ephesians 5:2).

Myrrh was a preservative and liquid resin and had several uses.  Genesis 37:25 says that it was used in the ancient world to protect the human body from decomposition after death.   The gift of myrrh from the wise men would foreshadow that Jesus would “taste” death. In Egyptian history, mummies were often coated with myrrh. Jewish culture picked up on this.  John 19:39-40 says that myrrh was combined with other spices and put on Jesus’ body after the crucifixion in preparation for his burial.  His burial was never completed because of his resurrection and the preservation property of myrrh was not needed either. Myrrh was refused by Jesus before his crucifixion and after it!

a351The legionnaire (Roman soldier) drove a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrists of Jesus deep into the patibulum wood. The patibulum was then lifted in place at the top of the stipes. The left foot and right foot were extended, and a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. Jesus was then crucified. As Jesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shot up to his brain. As His arms and legs fatigued, muscle cramps knotted in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. The pectoral muscles and intercostal (between the ribs) muscles became paralyzed and he then could not exhale properly. Carbon dioxide built up in the blood stream. He is then unable to push himself upward to bring in life-giving oxygen. Posca, a cheap, sour wine which is the staple drink of the Roman legionnaires, is lifted to Jesus’ lips. (Mark 15:36; prophesized in Psalm 69:21) Jesus doesn’t take it.

Psalm 22– Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 while on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Matthew 27:46)  The prophecy in 22:14-18 says “I am poured out like effusion1water (22:14 a reference to John 19:34, where it says one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to assure His death, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.) Jesus likely had a large pericardial effusion which explains this flow of bodily fluids.

Not only did Jesus die of the physical anguish of crucifixion, but likely from a large pericardial effusion that constricted his heart function, and all his bones were out of joint.  “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd (a piece of broken pottery), and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pieced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. (Psalm 22:14b-18)”

What a view of the shame and suffering, naked in a public place; of what Jesus our Lord experienced for our sin.

The end of a crucifixion– the common method of ending a crucifixion was by “crurifracture,” the breaking of the bones of the legs. This prevented the victim from pushing themselves upward; the tension could not be relieved from the muscles o the chest, and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when they came to Jesus they saw that this was unnecessary. (John 19:32). Again, this a fulfillment of prophecy from Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, Psalms 34:20. “The Passover lamb must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones.”

The agony and bloodshed of the crucifixion is a stumbling block for many unbelievers. How could God allow this to happen? If Jesus was God he would have worn a Gold crown, right? At his Second Coming, things will be different!

Think about it.


God chose the worse method of suffering for his Son Jesus. Understand why.


References: “A Doctor at Calvary” by Pierre Barbet, MD, 1949. “The Day Christ Died,” by Jim Bishop, 1957. Life Application Bible, NIV version


Wisdom from the Word. Reference for personal or group Bible Study.

About Dr. Robert

I am married to Janet and we have four children. I am active in Grace church in Racine, Wisconsin and serve there in leadership and teaching . I have been an internist for 30 years and keep busy by taking care of a full load of patients. On the side, I like to write, coach, mentor, spend time with my family just hangin' out, and help take care of our two dogs; a rusty colored Golden Retriever named Finley and a Bernese named Sadie'.
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