When God the Son added perfect humanity to Himself, this enabled Him to experience suffering and death with, and on behalf of, humanity. The suffering of Christ may be viewed in at least two ways: 1) His suffering during His time on earth prior to the cross, and 2) the suffering of the cross. As the God-Man, Jesus was perfectly holy in all His thoughts, words, and actions. Such perfect holiness brought with it a special form of suffering in this world that the rest of us could never know, since we are capable of yielding to the pressures of sinful temptation. When the time of His death was nearing, Jesus told His disciples “that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matt 16:21; cf., Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22). It’s noteworthy that Jesus said His suffering, dying, and resurrection were things that “must” happen to Him. The use of the Greek verb dei (δεῖ) here denotes divine necessity, which meant it was the will of God the Father that these things happen to Christ. Thomas Constable notes, “Jesus said that it was necessary (Gr. dei) for Him to go to Jerusalem. He had to do this because it was God’s will for Messiah to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. He had to do these things to fulfill prophecy (Isa 53; cf. Acts 2:22–36).” The absolute necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross further emphasizes our helplessness to save ourselves, for if our salvation could have been secured by any other means, then the death of Christ would have been unnecessary.
While in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to God the Father, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt 26:39). In His humanity, Jesus struggled to face the cross, understanding the scope of what it meant and the agony associated with it. Jesus prayed a second time, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done” (Matt 26:42). The reference to the “cup” speaks of the suffering of the cross. John A. Witmer states, “In the Old Testament a ‘cup’ sometimes symbolized wrath (Jer 25:15), and so Jesus was aware that His coming death meant He would bear the wrath of God the Father against sin. Though Christ had no sin (2 Cor 5:21), He bore the sins of the world on Himself (1 Pet 2:24). Thus He was made ‘a curse for us’ because of His being hanged on a tree (Gal 3:13).”
While on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46). This was the cry of Jesus from His humanity. Peter tells us that Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet 2:24). Peter’s reference to Jesus’ “body” indicates humanity, not deity. Sin cannot be imputed to deity. Humanity can bear sin. It was while Jesus was on the cross that He bore the wrath of the Father as He died in our place and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. And the Spirit sustained Jesus’ humanity while He bore our sins. Robert G. Gromacki states, “God the Son incarnate suffered and died. The Father did not suffer and die. Nor did the Holy Spirit suffer and die, even though He filled Christ when the Savior suffered and died.” The suffering and death of Jesus on the cross was salvific, as Jesus was made “sin on our behalf” (2 Cor 5:21). Mark wrote, “When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Mark 15:33-34; cf., Matt 27:45-46; Luke 23:44-46). Concerning this moment on the cross, Witmer states, “It was at this point, as Jesus bore the sin of the world, that God, the Judge of sin, turned away from Jesus Christ, His incarnate Son, the Sin-bearer, as far as the personal consciousness of Jesus was concerned.” But there is some mystery at work here, for God the Father could not forsake God the Son, as a separation within the Trinity is not possible. Yet, somehow, the humanity of Christ—not His deity—was forsaken at the time of the judgment on the cross, otherwise the words of Jesus would be meaningless. But Jesus’ suffering and death did happen, and it was His time on the cross that brought about our salvation; a salvation that is applied to us at the moment we trust in Christ as our Savior.
Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26). In the book of Acts, Luke records that Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering” (Acts 1:3). Peter said, “the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18). And Paul reasoned “from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Acts 17:2b-3; cf., Acts 26:23). Jesus’ suffering and death were necessary for salvation to be available to humanity.
The Cross & Crucifixion
The cross overshadowed the life of Jesus, and He knew dying for lost sinners was the ultimate purpose of the Father. When facing the cross, Jesus said, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour ‘? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27). For lost sinners, the cross of Christ is both personal and purposeful. It is personal, because “Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), “for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3), and “not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). And His death was purposeful, as Christ “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18), and that we might “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10). The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.
The word “cross” translates the Greek noun stauros (σταυρός), which refers to “a pole to be placed in the ground and used for capital punishment, cross.” The word “crucify” translates the Greek verb stauroō (σταυρόω), which means, “to fasten to a cross, crucify.” Crucifixion was practiced by ancient cultures such as the Egyptians (Gen 40:19), Persians (Est 7:10), Assyrians and Greeks. By the time of Christ, the Romans had used crucifixion as a means of death more than previous cultures. According to John Stott:
- "Crucifixion seems to have been invented by “barbarians” on the edge of the known world and taken over from them by both Greeks and Romans. It is probably the most cruel method of execution ever practiced, for it deliberately delayed death until maximum torture had been inflicted. The victim could suffer for days before dying. When the Romans adopted it, they reserved it for criminals convicted of murder, rebellion or armed robbery, provided that they were also slaves, foreigners or other nonpersons."
Just prior to crucifixion, a person was scourged with a whip which had thongs that were braided with sharp objects such as nails. As an act of public humiliation, criminals carried their own cross to the place of execution, and once there, were stripped naked before being fastened to the cross, either with rope or nails. Being tied to a cross with ropes was less painful in the beginning, but would leave the victim to hang for a longer period of time, even days, which would make the experience more painful in the end. Some who were tied to the cross are recorded to have lasted for nine days. Nailing a person to a cross was more painful from the beginning and would have led to a quicker death. The body would hang between three to four feet from the ground. Sometimes a soporific was given to the victim to help numb the senses. In Jesus case, it was “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23), which our Lord rejected because it would have clouded His thinking (Matt 27:34). In some situations the Romans would break the victim’s legs which would hasten death, but according to Scripture, Jesus was already dead by the time the soldiers considered doing this (John 19:32-34). Unger notes, “In most cases the body was allowed to rot on the cross by the action of the sun and rain or to be devoured by birds and beasts.” We know that Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body, that he might bury it, and Pilate granted his request (Matt 27:57-60). It’s most likely that Jesus was crucified in April, AD 33.
The cross of Christ became central to the message of the gospel. The apostle Paul was sent by the Lord Jesus “to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Cor 1:17). Paul was not concerned with human sophistry, winning arguments, or impressing his audience by means of rhetorical prowess, but merely with presenting the simple message of the cross of Christ, which brings eternal salvation to those who trust in Jesus as their Savior. Paul continued his line of reasoning, saying, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...[and] we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:18; 23-24). Paul summarized his message when he said, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). The image of a crucified Savior seems entirely foolish to a world that creates its saviors out of strong heroes; strong in the human sense of one who can save himself and others. Jesus is certainly strong; after all, He’s God! And He does save forever those who come to Him in faith.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Mt 16:21.
 John A. Witmer, “Jesus Christ”, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 352.
 Robert G. Gromacki, “The Holy Spirit”, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 468–469.
 John A. Witmer, “Jesus Christ”, Understanding Christian Theology, 352.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 941.
 Ibid., 941.
 John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 29.
 Merrill Frederick Unger et al., “Cross”, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 264.
 See Harold Hoehner’s book, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, pages 95-114.