Actions and Incidents Attending the Crucifixion of the King of the Jews. Part One.

Taken and adapted from, “Crucifixion”
Written by, John Osborne

Originally published, 1897

Jacopo_Tintoretto_-_The_Crucifixion_(detail)_-_WGA22526

Interesting questions arise concerning facts and incidents attending the crucifixion of our Lord….

The most striking and important of these is the fact of His untimely death after He had been suspended but six hours on the cross; other facts are: the unnatural darkness during the last three hours of His execution; the earthquake; the opening of the graves of many holy people preparatory to the resurrection of their bodies three days afterward, simultaneously with, or soon after, the rising of His own body. Another incident, quite singular, is, that when they came to Calvary and before attaching Jesus to the cross, they offered Him wine mingled with gall, according to Matthew, or wine mingled with myrrh, according to Mark; this was an unprecedented act, and may properly first claim our attention.

It is very certain that the chief priests and scribes were the ruling and directing powers through all the pitiless scenes of that day from the beginning at the house of Annas [Annas, was a priest, was also the father-in-law of Caiaphas – the high priest that year], during all the mockery before Pilate, and at Calvary till the close of the tragedy. These easily swayed the wicked and abandoned rabble to do whatever they suggested; this draught of wine, therefore, was provided by their direction, and it may be taken for granted that it was brought there to be offered to Jesus from no kindly or merciful motive.

What, then, were the motives? We may first review a few facts precedent. Our Lord had reached the hill of Calvary in a very faint and weary condition; He had been without rest or sleep all the night, had passed through an experience very exhausting to soul and body in the garden of Gethsemane, had taken no breakfast, and no meal the night previous except that light one of the Passover with its bitter herbs; yet with all this His mind was clear, and His voice strong to utter all His thought. Just now, at nine o’clock, was a critical time for the chief priests and scribes; they could attach Him to the cross, but there might be danger of a rescue by His country friends abiding in the city just after the celebration of the Passover. These were in such overwhelming numbers as to be able to over-awe and overpower resistance coming from any quarter that would try to prevent a forcible rescue of Jesus from the cross; and if they were to come to Calvary in any great numbers, but few words of appeal would be needed from His mouth to induce them to take such action. To close that mouth, therefore, seemed to them a most needful measure; an offer of wine with myrrh before being placed on the cross might lead Him to think they gave it to Him out of pity for His exhausted state, and that they would not offer Him the usual vinegar and gall after He had been placed there; and so, when thirst and fever should come upon Him, He would, in His confused state, the more willingly take the latter drink, deceived by the thought that it was the same pleasant wine and myrrh offered Him before.

But the Divine Man knew how ”they thus reasoned within their hearts,” and so, “when He had tasted thereof He would not drink;” not that He desired a rescue, for He knew that the darkness and earthquake soon to come would so bewilder all men, friends and foes alike, that little or no thought would, by the mass of them, be given to any one of those three crucified on Calvary.

No stress is to be laid, on the difference between Matthew and Mark, the former giving the ante-crucifixion drink as wine and gall in place of wine and myrrh; the mixture of vinegar and gall always regularly provided at crucifixions to be given during the hours of night to hush the cries of the crucified was also at hand, and it would be natural for Matthew, having written his Gospel (as it is said) after Mark’s was written, to have become confused in his recollection as to the two kinds of drink, and make the unimportant mistake of putting gall for myrrh.

The darkness and earthquake may now claim attention, both supernatural events. The darkness was ordered in the loving counsel of the Heavenly Father doubtless for two purposes; the first, that which has been already noted, to turn men’s minds away from thought of rescuing Jesus, and the second, to cover His head in the day of battle from the heat of the noon-tide sun, that so in the cool darkness, no weakness or trouble of the afflicted and fevered body might cloud or disturb His intellect, nor any disorder of the brain come in to hinder Him in the awful conflict with the powers of hell.

The earthquake was sent in order that the graves of those saints appointed for this miracle might be seen and proved by many witnesses to have been opened by no human hand, so that during the three days intervening before the resurrection of Jesus, the remarkable fact might be established beyond doubt by those who, in that time, should have examined those same riven tombs, that their occupants had actually come forth after Jesus himself had risen, and that they “had entered into the holy city, and had appeared unto many.”

The recorded words of Jesus spoken while on the cross, were uttered after the darkness came; before that, the air was filled with mockings and jibes by the chief priests and the abandoned crew whom they led and inspired; and our Lord would prefer, on His part, to maintain that silence which ever becomes the innocent in the face of a horde of unjust and malicious, but powerful and successful, accusers. But when the noonday darkness came over the land, the appalled and cowardly mob passed quickly off the scene, and only the vengeful leaders, the near relatives and friends, with the four soldiers and centurion on duty were left as His companions there; these soldiers, stolid and brutal as ever under their iron discipline, had been, by instigation of the rulers (who all the morning had been fearing a rescue), offering the vinegar and gall, contrary to the usual custom, during the time of broad daylight, but now, in the darkness, and when Jesus had sent forth the cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” these soldiers, understanding none of the Aramaic language in which it was uttered, conceived it to be of the same sort of disordered raving they had so often heard on the crucifixion field; and so we read the very natural statement that one of them, without prompting from any one, did according to the usual custom, ran to offer Him the abominable stuff that should close His throat and stifle His voice. But the curiosity of the ignorant leaders, who knew not the tenor of Jesus’ words, forestalled the offer of the drink, ”Let be, let us see whether Elijah cometh to take Him down;” and thus the power of speech was, tinder the Father’s providence, preserved to Jesus, that He might utter His last ever memorable words. The chief priests and scribes had always taught that Elijah must first come before the Messiah, and if he were actually to come now and at this call, Jesus would have furnished himself the proof, to them, of the falsity of His claim to the Messiahship, for now Elijah comes after Him, whereas he should come before.

Soon the appointed moment came for Him to close the mournful scene; ”there was set there a vessel full of vinegar; ” this was the common, sour, cheap wine such as the soldiers could afford to have as a regular drink; this vessel of vinegar (of course without either gall or myrrh) was there as provided for themselves, when, having completed the task of execution, and with a long, idle day before them, ”sitting down, they watched Him there,” as they had often done before at similar scenes; thus with the means for playing games of chance, and with a cheap sour rink each crucifixion party passed each hot, monotonous day of their watch.

Our Lord now, in order that His vocal organs might be for an instant clear and strong, invited the drink by the words, “I thirst;” there was no delirium in His speech, and the centurion, seeing it really a case of thirst, doubtless bade the soldiers give Him the vinegar; he was obeyed; and then, with soul fully relieved and resigned, Jesus cried with a loud voice, “It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” and having so said. He bowed His head and yielded up His spirit. The centurion was amazed: through all his long experience in crucifixions, he had never known a similar case; the earthquake and the darkness might have impressed him, although he had known and felt such before, but here was a man praying for his murderers, silent under the scornful taunts of his enemies, innocent of crime, as Pilate, his own general, had testified; and yet he had declared himself forsaken of God; after all these mutually contradictory events, came the astounding climax of the man’s death after having been but six hours on the cross!

“Truly, this man was a Son of God!” was the cry of the pagan centurion, in whose system of belief a Son of God was a demigod, a man endowed by the principal gods with irresistible power over some particular forces in the celestial or earthly realm.

But what was the cause of our Lord’s death at so early a period in His execution? This we shall look at in our next segment.