The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 3

Contents:
Author: Frederic William Farrar  | Date: A.D. 30

The Crucifixion

A.D. 301

FREDERIC WILLIAM FARRAR

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ took place on Friday of the Passover week of the Jews, in the year A.D. 30. This day is known and now generally observed by Christians as Good Friday. Crucifixion, as a means of inflicting death in the most cruel, lingering, and shameful way, was used by many nations of antiquity. The Jews never executed their criminals in this way, but the Greeks and Romans made the cross the instrument of death to malefactors. The cross was in the shape either of the letter T or the letter X, or was in the form familiar in such paintings of the Crucifixion as the well-known representation of Rubens. It was the usual custom to compel the criminal to carry his own cross to the place of execution. The cross was then set up and the criminal was usually tied to it by the bands and feet and left to perish of hunger and thirst. Sometimes he was given a narcotic drink to stupefy him. In the case of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the victim was fastened to the cross by nails driven through his hands and feet.

As Dr. Judson Titsworth has plainly pointed out, the men who were crucified with Jesus Christ were not thieves, but robbers (this is the term also used below by Farrar), or perhaps Jewish patriots, to the Romans political rebels and outlaws. They would then be classed with Jesus under the accusation that they were not loyal to the sovereignty of the Roman Emperor. During the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate there was a widely prevailing spirit of sedition and revolt among the Jews, and many rebels were sentenced to crucifixion. Such a rebel was the robber Barabbas, whom Pilate wished to substitute for Jesus as the victim of popular fury. The "robber" episode of the Crucifixion is treated by Farrar with a picturesque effect which heightens the vivid coloring in his account of the supreme event that marks "the central point of the world’s history."

Utterly brutal and revolting as was the punishment of crucifixion, which has now for fifteen hundred years been abolished by the common pity and abhorrence of mankind, there was one custom in Judea, and one occasionally practisedby the Romans, which reveal some touch of passing humanity. The latter consisted in giving to the sufferer a blow under the armpit, which, without causing death, yet hastened its approach. Of this I need not speak, because, for whatever reason, it was not practised on this occasion. The former, which seems to have been due to the milder nature of Judaism, and which was derived from a happy piece of rabbinic exegesis on Prov. xxxi. 6, consisted in giving to the condemned, immediately before his execution, a draught of wine medicated with some powerful opiate. It had been the custom of wealthy ladies in Jerusalem to provide this stupefying potion at their own expense, and they did so quite irrespectively of their sympathy for any individual criminal. It was probably taken freely by the two malefactors, but when they offered it to Jesus he would not take it. The refusal was an act of sublimest heroism. The effect of the draught was to dull the nerves, to cloud the intellect, to provide an anesthetic against some part at least of the lingering agonies of that dreadful death. But he, whom some modern sceptics have been base enough to accuse of feminine feebleness and cowardly despair, preferred rather "to look Death in the face"—to meet the king of terrors without striving to deaden the force of one agonizing anticipation, or to still the throbbing of one lacerated nerve.

The three crosses were laid on the ground—that of Jesus, which was doubtless taller than the other two, being placed in bitter scorn in the midst. Perhaps the cross-beam was now nailed to the upright, and certainly the title, which had either been borne by Jesus fastened round his neck or carried by one of the soldiers in front of him, was now nailed to the summit of his cross. Then he was stripped naked of all his clothes, and then followed the most awful moment of all. He was laid down upon the implement of torture. His arms were stretched along the cross-beams; and at the centre of the open palms the point of a huge iron nail was placed, which, by the blow of a mallet, was driven home into the wood. Then through either foot separately, or possibly through both together as they were placed one over the other, another huge nail tore its way through the quivering flesh. Whether the sufferer was also bound to the cross we do not know; but, to prevent thehands and feet being torn away by the weight of the body, which could not "rest upon nothing but four great wounds," there was, about the centre of the cross, a wooden projection strong enough to support, at least in part, a human body which soon became a weight of agony.

It was probably at this moment of inconceivable horror that the voice of the Son of Man was heard uplifted, not in a scream of natural agony at that fearful torture, but calmly praying in divine compassion for his brutal and pitiless murderers—aye, and for all who in their sinful ignorance crucify him afresh forever: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

And then the accursed tree—with its living human burden hanging upon it in helpless agony, and suffering fresh tortures as every movement irritated the fresh rents in hands and feet—was slowly heaved up by strong arms, and the end of it fixed firmly in a hole dug deep in the ground for that purpose. The feet were but a little raised above the earth. The victim was in full reach of every hand that might choose to strike, in close proximity to every gesture of insult and hatred. He might hang for hours to be abused, outraged, even tortured by the ever-moving multitude who, with that desire to see what is horrible which always characterizes the coarsest hearts, had thronged to gaze upon a sight which should rather have made them weep tears of blood.

And there, in tortures which grew ever more insupportable, ever more maddening as time flowed on, the unhappy victims might linger in a living death so cruelly intolerable that often they were driven to entreat and implore the spectators or the executioners, for dear pity’s sake, to put an end to anguish too awful for man to bear—conscious to the last, and often, with tears of abject misery, beseeching from their enemies the priceless boon of death.

For indeed a death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of horrible and ghastly—dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds—all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to thesufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries—especially of the head and stomach—became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst; and all these physical complications caused an internal excitement and anxiety which made the prospect of death itself—of death, the awful unknown enemy, at whose approach man usually shudders most—bear the aspect of a delicious and exquisite release.

Such was the death to which Christ was doomed; and though for him it was happily shortened by all that he had previously endured, yet he hung from soon after noon until nearly sunset before "he gave up his soul to death."

When the cross was uplifted the leading Jews, for the first time, prominently noticed the deadly insult in which Pilate had vented his indignation. Before, in their blind rage, they had imagined that the manner of his crucifixion was an insult aimed at Jesus; but now that they saw him hanging between the two robbers, on a cross yet loftier, it suddenly flashed upon them that it was a public scorn inflicted upon them. For on the white wooden tablet smeared with gypsum, which was to be seen so conspicuously over the head of Jesus on the cross, ran, in black letters, an inscription in the three civilized languages of the ancient world—the three languages of which one at least was certain to be known by every single man in that assembled multitude—in the official Latin, in the current Greek, in the vernacular Aramaic—informing all that this Man who was thus enduring a shameful, servile death—this Man thus crucified between two sicarii in the sight of the world, was "THE KING OF THE JEWS."

To him who was crucified the poor malice seemed to have in it nothing of derision. Even on his cross he reigned; even there he seemed divinely elevated above the priests who had brought about his death, and the coarse, idle, vulgar multitude who had flocked to feed their greedy eyes upon his sufferings. The malice was quite impotent against One whose spiritual andmoral nobleness struck awe into dying malefactors and heathen executioners, even in the lowest abyss of his physical degradation. With the passionate ill-humor of the Roman governor there probably blended a vein of seriousness. While he was delighted to revenge himself on his detested subjects by an act of public insolence, he probably meant, or half meant, to imply that this was, in one sense, the King of the Jews—the greatest, the noblest, the truest of his race, whom therefore his race had crucified. The King was not unworthy of his kingdom, but the kingdom of the King. There was something loftier even than royalty in the glazing eyes which never ceased to look with sorrow on the City of Righteousness, which had now become a city of murderers. The Jews felt the intensity of the scorn with which Pilate had treated them. It so completely poisoned their hour of triumph that they sent their chief priests in deputation, begging the governor to alter the obnoxious title. "Write not," they said," ’The King of the Jews,’ but that ’He said, I am the King of the Jews.’" But Pilate’s courage, which had oozed away so rapidly at the name of Caesar, had now revived. He was glad in any and every way to browbeat and thwart the men whose seditious clamor had forced him in the morning to act against his will. Few men had the power of giving expression to a sovereign contempt more effectually than the Romans. Without deigning any justification of what he had done, Pilate summarily dismissed these solemn hierarchs with the curt and contemptuous reply, "What I have written I have written."

In order to prevent the possibility of any rescue, even at the last moment—since instances had been known of men taken from the cross and restored to life—a quaternion of soldiers with their centurion were left on the ground to guard the cross. The clothes of the victims always fell as perquisites to the men who had to perform so weary and disagreeable an office. Little dreaming how exactly they were fulfilling the mystic intimations of olden Jewish prophecy, they proceeded, therefore, to divide between them the garments of Jesus. The tallith they tore into four parts, probably ripping it down the seams; but the cetoneth, or undergarment, was formed of one continuous woven texture, and to tear would have been to spoil it; theytherefore contented themselves with letting it become the property of any one of the four to whom it should fall by lot. When this had been decided, they sat down and watched him till the end, beguiling the weary lingering hours by eating and drinking, and gibing, and playing dice.

It was a scene of tumult. The great body of the people seem to have stood silently at gaze; but some few of them as they passed by the cross—perhaps some of the many false witnesses and other conspirators of the previous night—mocked at Jesus with insulting noises and furious taunts, especially bidding him come down from the cross and save himself, since he could destroy the Temple and build it in three days. And the chief priests, and scribes, and elders, less awe-struck, less compassionate than the mass of the people, were not ashamed to disgrace their gray-haired dignity and lofty reputation by adding their heartless reproaches to those of the evil few. Unrestrained by the noble patience of the sufferer, unsated by the accomplishment of their wicked vengeance, unmoved by the sight of helpless anguish and the look of eyes that began to glaze in death, they congratulated one another under his cross with scornful insolence: "He saved others, himself he cannot save" "Let this Christ, this King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." No wonder then that the ignorant soldiers took their share of mockery with these shameless and unvenerable hierarchs: no wonder that, at their midday meal, they pledged in mock hilarity the Dying Man, cruelly holding up toward his burning lips their cups of sour wine, and echoing the Jewish taunts against the weakness of the King whose throne was a cross, whose crown was thorns. Nay, even the poor wretches who were crucified with him caught the hideous infection; comrades, perhaps, of the respited Barabbas, heirs of the rebellious fury of a Judas the Gaulonite, trained to recognize no Messiah but a Messiah of the sword, they reproachfully bade him, if his claims were true, to save himself and them. So all the voices about him rang with blasphemy and spite, and in that long slow agony his dying ear caught no accent of gratitude, of pity, or of love. Baseness, falsehood, savagery, stupidity—such were the characteristics of the world which thrust itself into hideous prominence beforethe Saviour’s last consciousness, such the muddy and miserable stream that rolled under the cross before his dying eyes.

But amid this chorus of infamy Jesus spoke not. He could have spoken. The pains of crucifixion did not confuse the intellect or paralyze the powers of speech. We read of crucified men who, for hours together upon the cross, vented their sorrow, their rage, or their despair in the manner that best accorded with their character; of some who raved and cursed, and spat at their enemies; of others who protested to the last against the iniquity of their sentence; of others who implored compassion with abject entreaties; of one even who, from the cross, as from a tribunal, harangued the multitude of his countrymen, and upbraided them with their wickedness and vice. But, except to bless and to encourage, and to add to the happiness and hope of others, Jesus spoke not. So far as the malice of the passers-by, and of priests and sanhedrists and soldiers, and of these poor robbers who suffered with him, was concerned—as before during the trial so now upon the cross—he maintained unbroken his kingly silence.

But that silence, joined to his patient majesty and the divine holiness and innocence which radiated from him like a halo, was more eloquent than any words. It told earliest on one of the crucified robbers. At first this bonus latro of the Apocryphal Gospels seems to have faintly joined in the reproaches uttered by his fellow-sinner; but when those reproaches merged into deeper blasphemy, he spoke out his inmost thought. It is probable that he had met Jesus before, and heard him, and perhaps been one of those thousands who had seen his miracles. There is indeed no authority for the legend which assigns to him the name of Dysmas, or for the beautiful story of his having saved the life of the Virgin and her Child during their flight into Egypt. But on the plains of Gennesareth, perhaps from some robber’s cave in the wild ravines of the Valley of the Doves, he may well have approached his presence—he may well have been one of those publicans and sinners who drew near to him for to hear him. And the words of Jesus had found some room in the good ground of his heart; they had not all fallen upon stony places. Even at this hour of shame and death, when he was suffering the just consequence of his pastevil deeds, faith triumphed. As a flame sometimes leaps up among dying embers, so amid the white ashes of a sinful life which lay so thick upon his heart, the flame of love toward his God and his Saviour was not quite quenched. Under the hellish outcries which had broken loose around the cross of Jesus there had lain a deep misgiving. Half of them seem to have been instigated by doubt and fear. Even in the self-congratulations of the priests we catch an undertone of dread. Suppose that even now some imposing miracle should be wrought! Suppose that even now that martyr-form should burst indeed into messianic splendor, and the King, who seemed to be in the slow misery of death, should suddenly with a great voice summon his legions of angels, and, springing from his cross upon the rolling clouds of heaven, come in flaming fire to take vengeance upon his enemies! And the air seemed to be full of signs. There was a gloom of gathering darkness in the sky, a thrill and tremor in the solid earth, a haunting presence as of ghostly visitants who chilled the heart and hovered in awful witness above that scene. The dying robber had joined at first in the half-taunting, half-despairing appeal to a defeat and weakness which contradicted all that he had hoped; but now this defeat seemed to be greater than victory, and this weakness more irresistible than strength. As he looked, the faith in his heart dawned more and more into the perfect day. He had long ceased to utter any reproachful words; he now rebuked his comrade’s blasphemies. Ought not the suffering innocence of him who hung between them to shame into silence their just punishment and flagrant guilt? And so, turning his head to Jesus, he uttered the intense appeal, "O Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." Then he, who had been mute amid invectives, spake at once in surpassing answer to that humble prayer, "Verily, I say to thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise."

Though none spoke to comfort Jesus—though deep grief, and terror, and amazement kept them dumb—yet there were hearts amid the crowd that beat in sympathy with the awful sufferer. At a distance stood a number of women looking on, and perhaps, even at that dread hour, expecting his immediate deliverance. Many of these were women who had ministeredto him in Galilee, and had come from thence in the great band of Galilean pilgrims. Conspicuous among this heart-stricken group were his mother Mary, Mary of Magdala, Mary the wife of Clopas, mother of James and Joses, and Salome the wife of Zebedee. Some of them, as the hours advanced, stole nearer and nearer to the cross, and at length the filming eye of the Saviour fell on his own mother Mary, as, with the sword piercing through and through her heart, she stood with the disciple whom he loved. His mother does not seem to have been much with him during his ministry. It may be that the duties and cares of a humble home rendered it impossible. At any rate, the only occasions on which we hear of her are occasions when she is with his brethren, and is joined with them in endeavoring to influence, apart from his own purposes and authority, his messianic course. But although at the very beginning of his ministry he had gently shown her that the earthly and filial relation was now to be transcended by one far more lofty and divine, and though this end of all her high hopes must have tried her faith with an overwhelming and unspeakable sorrow, yet she was true to him in this supreme hour of his humiliation, and would have done for him all that a mother’s sympathy and love can do. Nor had he for a moment forgotten her who had bent over his infant slumbers, and with whom he had shared those thirty years in the cottage at Nazareth, Tenderly and sadly he thought of the future that awaited her during the remaining years of her life on earth, troubled as they must be by the tumults and persecutions of a struggling and nascent faith. After his resurrection her lot was wholly cast among his apostles, and the apostle whom he loved the most, the apostle who was nearest to him in heart and life, seemed the fittest to take care of her. To him, therefore—to John whom he had loved more than his brethren—to John whose head had leaned upon his breast at the Last Supper, he consigned her as a sacred charge. "Woman," he said to her, in fewest words, but in words which breathed the uttermost spirit of tenderness, "behold thy son;" and then to St. John, "Behold thy mother." He could make no gesture with those pierced hands, but he could bend his head. They listened in speechless emotion, but from that hour—perhaps from that very moment—leading heraway from a spectacle which did but torture her soul with unavailing agony, that disciple took her to his own home.

It was now noon, and at the Holy City the sunshine should have been burning over that scene of horror with a power such as it has in the full depth of an English summertime. But instead of this, the face of the heavens was black, and the noonday sun was "turned into darkness," on "this great and terrible day of the Lord." It could have been no darkness of any natural eclipse, for the Paschal moon was at the full; but it was one of those "signs from heaven" for which, during the ministry of Jesus, the Pharisees had so often clamored in vain. The early Fathers appealed to pagan authorities—the historian Phallus, the chronicler Phlegon—for such a darkness; but we have no means of testing the accuracy of these references, and it is quite possible that the darkness was a local gloom which hung densely over the guilty city and its immediate neighborhood. But whatever it was, it clearly filled the minds of all who beheld it with yet deeper misgiving. The taunts and jeers of the Jewish priests and the heathen soldiers were evidently confined to the earlier hours of the Crucifixion. Its later stages seem to have thrilled alike the guilty and the innocent with emotions of dread and horror. Of the incidents of those last three hours we are told nothing, and that awful obscuration of the noonday sun may well have overawed every heart into an inaction respecting which there was nothing to relate. What Jesus suffered then for us men and our salvation we cannot know, for during those three hours he hung upon his cross in silence and darkness; or, if he spoke, there was none there to record his words. But toward the close of that time his anguish culminated, and, emptied to the very uttermost of that glory which he had since the world began, drinking to the very deepest dregs the cup of humiliation and bitterness, enduring not only to have taken upon him the form of a servant, but also to suffer the last infamy which human hatred could impose on servile helplessness, he uttered that mysterious cry, of which the full significance will never be fathomed by man: Eli, Eli, lama Sabachthani? ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?")

In those words, quoting the psalm in which the early Fathersrightly saw a far-off prophecy of the whole passion of Christ, he borrowed from David’s utter agony the expression of his own. In that hour he was alone. Sinking from depth to depth of unfathomable suffering, until, at the close approach of a death which—because he was God, and yet had been made man—was more awful to him than it could ever be to any of the sons of men, it seemed as if even his divine humanity could endure no more.

Doubtless the voice of the sufferer—though uttered loudly in that paroxysm of an emotion which, in another, would almost have touched the verge of despair—was yet rendered more uncertain and indistinct from the condition of exhaustion in which he hung; and so, amid the darkness, and confused noise, and dull footsteps of the moving multitude, there were some who did not hear what he had said. They had caught only the first syllable, and said to one another that he had called on the name of Elijah. The readiness with which they seized this false impression is another proof of the wild state of excitement and terror—the involuntary dread of something great and unforeseen and terrible—to which they had been reduced from their former savage insolence. For Elijah, the great prophet of the Old Covenant, was inextricably mingled with all the Jewish expectations of a Messiah, and these expectations were full of wrath. The coming of Elijah would be the coming of a day of fire, in which the sun should be turned into blackness and the moon into blood, and the powers of heaven should be shaken. Already the noonday sun was shrouded in unnatural eclipse; might not some awful form at any moment rend the heavens and come down, touch the mountains and they should smoke? The vague anticipation of conscious guilt was unfulfilled. Not such as yet was to be the method of God’s workings. His messages to man for many ages more were not to be in the thunder and earthquake, not in rushing wind or roaring flame, but in the "still small voice" speaking always amid the apparent silences of Time in whispers intelligible to man’s heart, but in which there is neither speech nor language, though the voice is heard.

But now the end was very rapidly approaching, and Jesus, who had been hanging for nearly six hours upon the cross, wassuffering from that torment of thirst which is most difficult of all for the human frame to bear—perhaps the most unmitigated of the many separate sources of anguish which were combined in this worst form of death. No doubt this burning thirst was aggravated by seeing the Roman soldiers drinking so near the cross; and happily for mankind, Jesus had never sanctioned the unnatural affectation of stoic impassibility. And so he uttered the one sole word of physical suffering which had been wrung from him by all the hours in which he had endured the extreme of all that man can inflict. He cried aloud, "I thirst." Probably a few hours before, the cry would have only provoked a roar of frantic mockery; but now the lookers-on were reduced by awe to a readier humanity. Near the cross there lay on the ground the large earthen vessel containing the posca, which was the ordinary drink of the Roman soldiers. The mouth of it was filled with a piece of sponge, which served as a cork. Instantly some one—we know not whether he was friend or enemy, or merely one who was there out of idle curiosity—took out the sponge and dipped it in the posca to give it to Jesus. But low as was the elevation of the cross, the head of the sufferer, as it rested on the horizontal beam of the accursed tree, was just beyond the man’s reach; and therefore he put the sponge at the end of a stalk of hyssop—about a foot long—and held it up to the parched and dying lips. Even this simple act of pity, which Jesus did not refuse, seemed to jar upon the condition of nervous excitement with which some of the multitude were looking on. "Let be," they said to the man, "let us see whether Elias is coming to save him." The man did not desist from his act of mercy, but when it was done he, too, seems to have echoed those uneasy words. But Elias came not, nor human comforter, nor angel deliverer. It was the will of God, it was the will of the Son of God, that he should be "perfected through sufferings"; that—for the eternal example of all his children as long as the world should last—he should "endure unto the end."

And now the end was come. Once more, in the words of the sweet Psalmist of Israel, but adding to them that title of trustful love which, through him, is permitted to the use of all mankind, "Father," he said, "into thy hands I commendmy spirit." Then with one more great effort he uttered the last cry—" It is finished." It may be that that great cry ruptured some of the vessels of his heart, for no sooner had it been uttered than he bowed his head upon his breast and yielded his life, "a ransom for many"—a willing sacrifice to his Heavenly Father. "Finished was his holy life; with his life his struggle, with his struggle his work, with his work the redemption, with the redemption the foundation of the new world." At that moment the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. An earthquake shook the earth and split the rocks, and as it rolled away from their places the great stones which closed and covered the cavern sepulchres of the Jews, so it seemed to the imaginations of many to have disimprisoned the spirits of the dead, and to have filled the air with ghostly visitants, who after Christ had risen appeared to linger in the Holy City. These circumstances of amazement, joined to all they had observed in the bearing of the Crucified, cowed even the cruel and gay indifference of the Roman soldiers. On the centurion who was in command of them the whole scene had exercised a yet deeper influence. As he stood opposite to the cross and saw the Saviour die, he glorified God and exclaimed, "This Man was in truth righteous"—nay, more, "This Man was a Son of God." Even the multitude, utterly sobered from their furious excitement and frantic rage, began to be weighed down with a guilty consciousness that the scene which they had witnessed had in it something more awful than they could have conceived, and as they returned to Jerusalem they wailed and beat upon their breasts. Well might they do so! This was the last drop in a full cup of wickedness: this was the beginning of the end of their city and name and race.

And in truth that scene was more awful than they, or even we, can know. The secular historian, be he ever so sceptical, cannot fail to see in it the central point of the world’s history. Whether he be a believer in Christ or not, he cannot refuse to admit that this new religion grew from the smallest of all seeds to be a mighty tree, so that the birds of the air took refuge in its branches; that it was the little stone cut without hands which dashed into pieces the colossal image of heathen greatness, and grew till it became a great mountain and filled theearth. Alike to the infidel and to the believer the Crucifixion is the boundary instant between ancient and modern days. Morally and physically, no less than spiritually, the faith of Christ was the palingenesia of the world. It came like the dawn of a new spring to nations "effete with the drunkenness of crime." The struggle was long and hard, but from the hour when Christ died began the death-knell to every satanic tyranny and every tolerated abomination. From that hour holiness became the universal ideal of all who name the name of Christ as their Lord, and the attainment of that ideal the common heritage of souls in which his spirit dwells.

The effects, then, of the work of Christ are even to the unbeliever indisputable and historical. It expelled cruelty; it curbed passion; it branded suicide; it punished and repressed an execrable infanticide; it drove the shameless impurities of heathendom into a congenial darkness. There was hardly a class whose wrongs it did not remedy. It rescued the gladiator; it freed the slave; it protected the captive; it nursed the sick; it sheltered the orphan; it elevated the woman; it shrouded as with a halo of sacred innocence the tender years of the child. In every region of life its ameliorating influence was felt. It changed pity from a vice into a virtue. It elevated poverty from a curse into a beatitude. It ennobled labor from a vulgarity into a dignity and a duty. It sanctified marriage from little more than a burdensome convention into little less than a blessed sacrament. It revealed for the first time the angelic beauty of a purity of which men had despaired and of a meekness at which they had utterly scoffed. It created the very conception of charity, and broadened the limits of its obligation from the narrow circle of a neighborhood to the widest horizons of the race. And while it thus evolved the idea of humanity as a common brotherhood, even where its tidings were not believed—all over the world, wherever its tidings were believed, it cleansed the life and elevated the soul of each individual man. And in all lands where it has moulded the characters of its true believers it has created hearts so pure and lives so peaceful and homes so sweet that it might seem as though those angels who had heralded its advent had also whispered to every depressed and despairing sufferer among thesons of men: "Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove, that is covered with silver wings, and her feathers like gold."

Others, if they can and will, may see in such a work as this no divine Providence, they may think it philosophical enlightenment to hold that Christianity and Christendom are adequately accounted for by the idle dreams of a noble self-deceiver and the passionate hallucinations of a recovered demoniac. We persecute them not, we denounce them not, we judge them not; but we say that, unless all life be a hollow, there could have been no such miserable origin to the sole religion of the world which holds the perfect balance between philosophy and popularity, between religion and morals, between meek submissiveness and the pride of freedom, between the ideal and the real, between the inward and the outward, between modest stillness and heroic energy—nay, between the tenderest conservatism and the boldest plans of world-wide reformation. The witness of history to Christ is a witness which has been given with irresistible cogency; and it has been so given to none but him.

But while even the unbeliever must see what the life and death of Jesus have effected in the world, to the believer that life and death are something deeper still; to him they are nothing less than a resurrection from the dead. He sees in the cross of Christ something which far transcends its historical significance. He sees in it the fulfilment of all prophecy as well as the consummation of all history; he sees in it the explanation of the mystery of birth, and the conquest over the mystery of the grave. In that life he finds a perfect example; in that death an infinite redemption. As he contemplates the Incarnation and the Crucifixion, he no longer feels that God is far away, and that this earth is but a disregarded speck in the infinite azure, and he himself but an insignificant atom chance—thrown amid the thousand million living souls of an innumerable race, but he exclaims in faith and hope and love: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men; yea, he will be their God, and they shall be his people." "Ye are the temple of the living God; as God bath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them."

The sun was westering as the darkness rolled away from the completed sacrifice. They who had not thought it a pollution to inaugurate their feast by the murder of their Messiah, were seriously alarmed lest the sanctity of the following day—which began at sunset—should be compromised by the hanging of the corpses on the, cross. And horrible to relate, the crucified often lived for many hours—nay, even for two days—in their torture. The Jews therefore begged Pilate that their legs might be broken, and their bodies taken down. This crurifragium, as it was called, consisted in striking the legs of the sufferers with a heavy mallet, a violence which seemed always to have hastened, if it did not instantly cause, their death. Nor would the Jews be the only persons who would be anxious to hasten the end by giving the deadly blow. Until life was extinct the soldiers appointed to guard the execution dared not leave the ground. The wish, therefore, was readily granted. The soldiers broke the legs of the two malefactors first, and then, coming to Jesus, found that the great cry had been indeed his last, and that he was dead already. They did not therefore break his legs, and thus unwittingly preserved the symbolism of that Paschal lamb, of which he was the antetype, and of which it had been commanded that "a bone of it shall not be broken." And yet, as he might be only in a syncope—as instances had been known in which men apparently dead had been taken down from the cross and resuscitated—and as the lives of the soldiers would have had to answer for any irregularity, one of them, in order to make death certain, drove the broad head of his hasta into his side. The wound, as it was meant to do, pierced the region of the heart, and "forthwith," says St. John, with an emphatic appeal to the truthfulness of his eye-witness—an appeal which would be singularly and impossibly blasphemous if the narrative were the forgery which so much elaborate modern criticism has wholly failed to prove that it is—"forthwith came there out blood and water." Whether the water was due to some abnormal pathological conditions caused by the dreadful complication of the Saviour’s sufferings, or whether it rather means that the pericardium had been rent by the spear point, and that those who took down the body observed some drops of its serum mingled with theblood, in either case that lance thrust was sufficient to hush all the heretical assertions that Jesus had only seemed to die; and as it assured the soldiers, so should it assure all who have doubted, that he, who on the third day rose again, had in truth been crucified, dead, and buried, and that his soul had passed into the unseen world.

1The disputed date of the Crucifixion of Jesus—long variously placed between A.D. 29 and 33—is definetely fixed by many later authorities at the year 30.

Contents:

Related Resources

Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

Download Options


Title: The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 3

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 3

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Frederic William Farrar, "The Crucifixion," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 3 in The Great Events by Famous Historians, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), 24–40. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CW3N3531W193DX7.

MLA: Farrar, Frederic William. "The Crucifixion." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 3, in The Great Events by Famous Historians, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Vol. 3, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, pp. 24–40. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CW3N3531W193DX7.

Harvard: Farrar, FW, 'The Crucifixion' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 3. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN, pp.24–40. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CW3N3531W193DX7.