And he bearing his cross went out to a place called the place of the skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha, where they crucified him and two others with him, one on either side and Jesus in the center (John 19:18).
Jesus carries his own cross to the gate; he is bleeding and fully dehydrated. His physical capacities are exhausted as he carries the cross for about half a mile. Jesus arrives at the Roman place of execution called Golgotha meaning, “place of the skull.” Jesus is brought here as we read dark ominous words, “where they crucified him.” What was crucifixion?
The soldiers secured Jesus backwards against the cross, and drove two heavy square iron nails through his wrists into the wood. Then they took Jesus’ left foot, pushed it backwards against the right foot, both facing downward, to drive another one of these large nails through both, leaving some flexibility in the body for movement. Jesus hung there in such excruciating pain, raising himself up for air until his heart was compressed and he suffered asphyxiation. This is the cruel death of crucifixion.
The soldiers then stripped Jesus of his clothing into four parts. In Roman executions, the victims were left hanging on the cross naked and full of shame. The crucifixion of Jesus ended with him so thirsty that he was unable to swallow as he cried out, “I thirst.”
One of the most painful things one could ever face in this life is to die of thirst. According to an early twentieth-century study by W. J. McGee on death by thirst,
Saliva becomes thick and foul-tasting; the tongue clings irritatingly to the teeth and the roof of the mouth…. A lump seems to form in the throat…. Severe pain is felt in the head and neck. The face feels full due to the shrinking of the skin…. Speech becomes impossible…. The tongue swells to such proportions that it squeezes past the jaws…. The throat is so swollen that breathing becomes difficult…. Finally…there is “living death.”
The soldiers then mocked Jesus by giving him sour wine (John 19:29). We read the final words of Jesus, “It is finished,” as he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).
In Christ’s death the greater story is revealed.
The physical details of Christ’s sufferings recorded by the biblical writers, particularly John, have the goal of helping us to understand the deeper theological significance of the death of Christ. The physical aspects alone were common to any criminal facing the cruel death of crucifixion. Something entirely different was happening in the death of Jesus that had never happened before.
Pilate had taken his seat and rendered Jesus guilty, though there was no fault in him to deserve such a judgment. Just like Isaac carried wood to the altar for his death, Jesus carried the wood on his back to the altar, only this time there was no lamb in the thicket to save him because he is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Jesus arrived at the place of the skull–Golgotha. It is here that a great victory would be achieved, he would crush the skull of the serpent as promised in Genesis 3:15. Jesus was stripped naked to tell us that he was bearing our shame. As the first Adam’s shame was covered in the garden by God, God now uncovered his righteous Son in judgment to bear the shame of our guilt and rebellion.
At Golgotha, Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath with a cry of deep “thirst.” Jesus frequently spoke of hell as a place of unending thirst. Jesus descended into hell for us, facing our unending thirst of a deserved eternal judgment. The message is clear: on the cross, Jesus was suffering, in body and soul, the wrath of God for our sins.
This is the Christian gospel.
On Good Friday, a greater judge than Pontius Pilate took his seat; it pleased the heavenly Father to bruise his Son, whom he loved, for us and in our place. Jesus took the judgment that we deserve to free us, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, “from the severe judgment of God.”
The final words of Jesus on the cross, “It is finished,” leave nothing in question that still needs to be accomplished. Jesus paid, in body and soul, for all our sins. It is done, finished, and complete. What a marvelous gospel the Christian faith announces: The just for the unjust, he “who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
This is the Christian gospel. You cannot add to it. You cannot make yourself today more right with God than what the offering of Jesus has accomplished. God is calling you, dear reader, by grace, to believe in Jesus and you will be justified and set free from all your sin. This is the best news God could ever give to a world in darkness, blighted by sin and sorrow. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. This is the good news of Good Friday.