Category Archive: Christ’s Passion

Shadows of Breath

A human being is only breath and shadow.

~ Sophocles

Photo by muratseyit, courtesy of iStockphoto (Fluid appears as white densities in lungs.)

My father was never one to rest for long periods. If he was still, he was either in Bible study or very exhausted. One of the most frustrated times I remember he had was when pulmonary edema debilitated him.

  • Pulmonary edema is the malady of having fluid in the lungs.

When fluid fills these air sacs, people struggle to breathe. My father suffered this from cardiomyopathy, a swollen and malfunctioning heart. His cardiac function before he died was only at twenty percent of its capacity. And his respirations demonstrated it.

  • This condition causes its victims to be short of breath.

Walking across the room made him have difficulty breathing. Any movement winded him – just as it does all others who endure it.

  • Lack of oxygen fatigues the body.

Again, Daddy couldn’t do very much without having to take a breather. No one can if they can’t catch their breath.

  • Lack of oxygen causes muscles to cramp.

Every athlete knows this agony. More and more suffer these sustained contractions at the end of games because of the fatigue that comes with exertion. My father suffered them as well from the reduced oxygen in his blood stream.

  • The lack of oxygen contributes to acidotic blood.

The body’s design calls for a certain maintenance pH. When the human body retains carbon dioxide, it lowers the pH. The resultant acidosis makes the muscles cramp more, adding to the person’s anguish.

  • People hyperventilate, trying to get more oxygen.

This only compounds the problem. People suffering from panic attacks hyperventilate. Nausea ensues from changes in the blood pressure. Paresthesias follow. That’s why people get numbness, tingling, or pain in their faces and limbs when they panic.

Some will faint from their anxiety because the body is trying to stop the de-oxygenation process.

  • In recent posts, we’ve discussed a Nazi torture called aufbinden.[1] [2]

The victims of this torture experienced similar woes. When they fainted, they died if not revived by their tormentors.

  • And those crucified did even more so.

If suffocating from the process of crucifixion wasn’t enough, they had to endure severe cramping as well. But this added to their misery. As horrible as these things were though, pulmonary edema only compounded their agony.

  • The crucified endured the effects of pulmonary edema on top of everything else.

Part of the futile cycle that resulted in the suspended victims is that their heart muscles spasmed out of control just like all the other muscle groups did.

  • The crucified had severe chest pain.

If you consider all of the agonies we’ve discussed in recent blogs, this is yet another woe we must add to those tortures. The heart begins to convulse due to the tetany, the lack of oxygen, the blood loss, the pain, and the heavy burden of trying to keep its master alive.

  • The heart begins to fatigue as well.

As the heart fatigues, the blood vessels become congested. The reduced cardiac output dams up the vessels, and they begin to leak fluids into the cavities resulting in edema in the extremities, pericardium (heart sac), and lungs.

  • This edema in the body – especially the heart and lungs – only worsens the agony.

It makes the person feel more short of breath because water fills the lungs rather than oxygen. The person begins drowning in his own bodily fluids.

  • This condition fulfills yet another sign of Jonah.[3] [4]

Jonah nearly drowned in his own sin.[5] Jesus, in His own fluids produced by our sin.


[3] Luke 11:29-32; Jonah 1 – 4.

Doing as the Romans…

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

~ Edmund Burke

Camp de Concentration du Struthof, photo by Jean-Luc Stadler, courtesy of iStockphoto

Everyone should visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Exhibit after exhibit of heinous crimes remind us of mankind’s depravity when there are no moral restraints. Saddening. Sickening. Despicable.

My uncle was one of the soldiers who witnessed the horrors of those concentration camps. Even as dementia erased his memory, he recalled the vivid nightmares seared into his mind.

The Holocaust remains a sobering testimonial of atrocities perpetrated against innocent people during World War II. Unspeakable crimes. Unthinkable malice. Indescribable anguish.

It’s appalling we let it happen. That’s why the memorial has Burke’s proclamation posted on a wall as the patrons exit. No group of people should be allowed to abuse people created in God’s image like they did.

But what’s more disconcerting is … the Nazis felt justified in their depravity.

  • They claimed that they helped humanity.

One of the memorial’s displays describes how the Nazi scientists experimented on helpless men, women, and children. The tyrants had no regard for their prisoners’ health, or really anyone else’s for that matter. The fiends just tested the limits of human endurance for their own satisfaction.

They tortured by inconceivable means. Toyed with various weapons. They shot some. Electrocuted others. Gassed thousands. Incinerated scores more.

You name it – they probably did it. But we want to focus on just one investigation the perpetrators undertook.

  • They experimented with hanging.

Aufbinden was a form of military castigation intended to discipline soldiers. In the Dachau concentration camp, the assassins extended it to murder.[1]

  • The Nazis suspended the condemned men by various means.

They found that the different methods had varying effects on the human body. What they determined is that they could impact the victims’ suffering and death by what techniques they employed.[2]

  • Dangling of a human body causes extensive muscle spasms (tetany).

Tetany involves muscle groups throughout the human body. Excruciating pain ensues because muscles in the limbs, chest, stomach, and back remain in sustained cramps.

One spectator of aufbinden noted that the corpses persisted in extreme rigidity.[3] Death didn’t relax the convulsed muscles.

  • Suffocation follows the tetany.

Eyewitnesses reported that the victims of aufbinden constantly pulled themselves up to breathe. One observer reported:

After hanging for an hour, this drawing up became more and more frequent, but at the same time more and more feeble.[4]

  • The body fatigued very quickly.

The onlooker recounted that the victims died after about three hours. Sometimes, the Nazis sped up the asphyxiation by tying weights onto the legs to hasten the suffocation. At other times, they spread out the hands to lengthen the process.

  • It appeared that the victims could inhale but not exhale.

Such a process would mimic the disease of emphysema (COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). The lungs would fill with carbon dioxide, which limited how much oxygen could enter.

  • These processes led to progressive suffocation.

No relief came to these individuals until they died.

  • Believe it or not, the Romans had recognized similar effects.

They understood that their techniques of impaling the condemned impacted the time it would take for death to occur. The Persians were the first to crucify enemies, followed by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The latter conquerors perfected its cruelty by extending its torment.

  • Someone who’s crucified would endure these same atrocities.

Jesus suffered similar abominations that these victims in the Nazi concentration camps did. That almost all of these prisoners were innocent Jews produces a startling reminder of what happened when the Romans did much the same thing to Jesus …

  • They crucified the King of the Jews.[5]


What are your thoughts about Jesus suffering the cruel fate that God’s people have since biblical days?

[2] Pierre Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon (Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, 1953), 174.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Matthew 27:37.

Crucifixion Science

He will not allow me to catch my breath, but fills me with bitterness.

~ Job 9:18, NKJV

Photo by Clayton Hansen, courtesy of iStockphoto


Since Constantine abolished crucifixion in the fourth century, modern scientists could only speculate on what occurred to those crucified. While most didn’t want to ponder such anguish, some medical investigators did.

  • Dr. Le Bec’s theories

In the 1920s, Dr. Le Bec focused on the effects of impaling a human body. He theorized the raised positions of the arms at crucifixion immobilized the respiratory muscles – rendering expiration more difficult.

Thus, Le Bec proposed the crucified suffered progressive suffocation. He suggested that this deoxygenated state initiated even more extreme muscle cramping, resulting in a condition known as tetany.[1] [2] (Tetany is the malady where multiple muscle systems in the body contract simultaneously.)

Over the next few decades, others expounded on Le Bec’s theories.

  • Dr. Hynek’s observations

Doctor Hynek witnessed a related form of torture (aufbinden) while he was in the German army in World War I. During this military castigation, the officer hung the soldier by two hands from a post so that his toes barely touched the ground. His suspended hands supported the whole weight of his body.

After a period of time in aufbinden, the muscles of the arms and hands began to twinge. These tremors gave way to violent spasms – spreading even to other muscles in the body. Eventually, these convulsions involved muscle groups over the entire body as tetany set in.[3]

  • Dr. Barbet’s studies

Doctor Pierre Barbet wrote more extensively about this condition in relation to crucifixion. He felt that the impaled persons suffered from tetany when they were crucified.[4]

Tetany generated a constant, unbearable agony because the violent cramping persisted in sustained contractions over the entire body. At its worst, the muscles remained rigid until death.

Crucifixion’s anguish was excruciating in every way. As the cramps moved to involve the muscles of respiration, the progressive suffocation set in.

The end result of tetany is asphyxiation.

Thus, the crucified struggled to breathe until they finally succumbed to an agonizing death. They could inhale, but they couldn’t exhale. The deoxygenation of the blood caused the muscles to cramp even more severely.

What resulted was a vicious, futile cycle culminating in a torturous death. No one hung still while being crucified, until death alleviated the excruciating agony. That’s what Jesus suffered on His cross.

Just like Jonah experienced, the Savior fulfilled this sign of Jonah.[5] [6]

[1] A. Le Bec, “Le Supplice de la Croix,” L’Evangile dans la vie (April 1925): 12 -18, referenced in Pierre Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary: the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon, translated by The Earl of Wicklow (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image Books, 1953), 80-81.

[2] A. Le Bec, “The Death of the Cross, a Physiological Study of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ,  (October 1925): 126-132, referenced in Frederick T. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus: a Forensic Inquiry (New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 2005), 9, 102, 103, 131.

[3] R. W. Hynek, The True Likeness, 2nd Edition (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951), referenced in Barbet, 81-82.

[4] Barbet, 54, 80-82, 208.

Jesus’ Last Words

Doro … I can’t breathe!

~ The last words of Enrico Caruso

Silhouette by Jon Schulte, courtesy of iStockphoto

Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921) was the most famous tenor of his day. The Italian was the first singer to sell one million recordings. His operatic voice wooed the masses until he couldn’t sing any more.

During a 1920 performance of Samson and Delilah, a falling prop hit him in his side. Posthumous assessment theorized it caused a renal hematoma, which then later abscessed. The infection produced fluid on his lungs. The resultant empyema and pleurisy limited his performances.

His condition progressed despite surgeries and multiple medical therapies. Consultations with many different physicians proved futile. He died from complications related to his illness.

In the end, he had difficulty breathing. Much less was he able to sing. His last words to his wife Dorothy demonstrated the agony he suffered.

  • Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ last words weren’t longer?

Scripture records only seven short statements from the cross. Jesus had hundreds of thousands of people to whom He could’ve laid out a great message, but He didn’t.


Scripture gives us some clues in the Old Testament.

  • First, there was the sign of Jonah.

It’s obvious Jonah faced near-drowning. A recent blog discussed this facet of Jonah’s anguish. Even inside that fish, Jonah found respiration labored and torturous. The deep’s pressure constricted his chest. The small chamber provided limited breathing space. And its air was vile, acidic, and nauseating.

Jonah conserved every breath. His words were few. Just like anyone would be when they’re struggling for oxygen.

But Jonah’s suffering wasn’t even the first foreshadowing. We’d have to go further back in time.

  • Noah’s day gave us a glimpse.

After all, those unwilling to seek God’s provision in the ark drowned in their sin. The deluge silenced their last words – desperate and vile as they were.

  • Moses provided another clue in his chronicles.

God saved His chosen people through the treacherous waters of the Red Sea. The Lord drowned the charioteers of the hard-hearted pharaoh. God’s grace passed over the Hebrews, but not the Egyptian army. The latter had rejected the covering of the lamb’s blood. And they died in their sin, probably uttering blasphemous words against God.

  • God’s judgment silences the ungodly.

We see this pattern in mankind’s history above. Yet, not all suffering comes from sin. There are times when the just endure affliction … when trials attempt to suffocate their lives.

  • Job anguished for righteousness’s sake.

This patriarch was a forerunner of the Messiah, the Righteous One who agonized that we might become His righteousness. Now, listen to Job’s anguish and think on the Savior’s Passion:

For He crushes me with a tempest…

He will not allow me to catch my breath,

But fills me with bitterness.

~ Job 9:17, 18, NKJV

  • David prophesied of the Messiah’s agony to come.

Adrian Rogers calls Psalm 22, the Old Testament Calvary.[1] Many passages from this lament foretold of Christ’s suffering. Even one of Jesus’ short wails came from this very Scripture:

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

~ Mark 15:34, NKJV

There are so many such associations with the crucifixion that later posts will have to address them. But there is one striking, though hidden, truth.

  • David wrote this psalm in incomplete Hebrew sentences…

As if in a hurry.

As if having trouble getting his message out.

As if he were pointing us to what would happen on the cross of Christ.

  • Our Savior suffered progressive asphyxiation as He agonized at Calvary.

His lungs starved for air. His limbs cramped from the lack of oxygen.

If we understand the physiology of crucifixion, we’d glean a better understanding of what took place that day.

The Savior didn’t preach one last sermon … because He couldn’t. His sacrifice was the only sermon we need to hear.

[1] Adrian Rogers, The Passion of Christ and the Purpose of Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 82.

Freedom’s Crowning Achievement

A picture paints a thousand words; a look is worth ten thousand…

~ Anonymous

Photo by Peter Blazek, courtesy of iStockphoto

A partisan atmosphere existed on Capitol Hill. At every turn, debate and dissension were evident. Rumblings of secession had begun to sound on the coming horizon. The issue before the Congress at that moment was only a harbinger of a greater conflict to come.

  • Senator Jefferson Davis was the most vocal critic.

As the Secretary of War, it was his responsibility to oversee the project. And the future President of the Confederacy liked everything he saw except the one thing that made him irate. And it had to do with a woman … the Statue of Freedom.

The picture highlighted here shows the Civil War monument lying in the shadows of this bust. It’s an appropriate place for it, given what transpired.

Thomas Crawford had fulfilled his charge to carve an image of Freedom to stand atop the Congressional building. In her right hand, she grasped a sheathed sword; in the left, a laurel wreath and the Shield of the United States.

  • It was Crawford’s choice of headdress that enraged Davis.

The artist had crowned this American icon with a pileus – the mark of a freed slave.

  • The pileus was a full-headed cap that freedmen wore to distinguish them from enslaved co-workers.

This symbol had passed down from the days of the Greek and Roman empires, when emancipated slaves had continued to work alongside those who weren’t free.

  • As time passed, this headdress came to symbolize liberty in many cultures.

The pileus was the ancestor to the Scottish bonnet worn by those who opposed the English tyranny. Patriots in the French Revolution donned the bonnet rouge to defy aristocratic rule. Phrygian caps and berets have their origins with the pileus as well. The statue Democracy at the US Capitol dons a liberty cap.

"Democracy," photo by Gary Blakeley, courtesy of iStockphoto

  • What today is nothing more than a fashion statement was of utmost importance to earlier generations.

That’s why not that long ago a political battle ensued over the American Capitol’s citadel. A simple hat’s shape promoted the idea of freed slaves. It prompted Jefferson Davis to say of that form:

… its history renders it inappropriate to a people who were born free and would not be enslaved.[1]

  • We’ve lost the symbolic meaning of the pileus.

Thus, we might not grasp what it means to say that Christ bore just such a crown – one that covered His entire scalp. We have discussed why this is significant in a previous post.[2]

Yet, there bears another important consideration.

  • Christ’s crown had a metaphorical meaning for us as well.

Scripture tells us that sin enslaves. Paul wrote:

Do you not know … you are slaves of that one you obey – either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?[3]

Paul goes on to say that Christians used to be slaves of sin and that we’re liberated from sin.[4]

  • Who liberated us from sin’s enslavement?

Listen to Paul’s answer:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me form this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord![5]

Jesus did.

  • Jefferson Davis got it wrong.

As a nation, we fought off aristocratic rule. Americans fought for religious freedom. Many martyrs died for that right.

  • Even more, humans aren’t born free from sin’s penalty.

We’re condemned to our deaths because of sin’s enslavement. And Christ suffered that slave’s death to which humanity’s doomed.

He did so wearing a pileus crown. He didn’t do so because He was a freed slave … but because by it He freed those who were enslaved to sin.

  • Mr. Davis didn’t comprehend how that the Statue of Freedom mirrored the work of Christ.

Or, maybe he eventually did.

After the Confederacy surrendered, Jefferson Davis suffered the chains due a traitor. Despondent. Defeated. Depressed. The pope sent him a crown of thorns as a reminder to persevere through trials just as Christ did for him.

  • Certainly Jesus died for him just as He did for those enslaved.

But perhaps the biggest irony of all is that Jefferson Davis had more in common with Jesus than we might think in the end.

… The former pro-slave proponent suffered from trigeminal neuralgia – a condition likely suffered by Christ because He wore a pileus crown when He freed us from our sins.[6]

It’s what Paul Harvey called the rest of the story.[7]

[1] Communication from Jefferson Davis through Captain Montgomery Meigs to Thomas Crawford, cited in Vivien Green Fryd, Art and Empire: The Politics of Ethnicity in the United States Capitol, 1815-1860, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1992), quoted by Wikipedia contributors, “Statue of Freedom,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 10, 2012).

[2] J. Shan Young, “A Splintering Headache,”, posted 05/09/2012.

[3] Romans 6:16, HCSB.

[4] Romans 6:17, 18, HCSB.

[5] Romans 7:24-25, HCSB.

[6] J. Shan Young, “A Splintering Headache,”, posted 05/09/2012.

[7] Paul Aurandt (Harvey, Jr.), Paul Harvey’s the Rest of the Story, (New York: Bantam Books, 1984).

A Splintering Headache

Image by Jana Blaskova, courtesy of iStockphoto

The whole head is injured…

~ Isaiah 1:5, NIV

To the sailors aboard the Tarshish-bound vessel, Jonah was a headache. Inside the large sea creature, the wayward prophet suffered one. Jonah’s skull pounded as if being crushed. The depths to which his rebellion had flung him would have done that to any human being.

In great torment, Jonah cried out to God in his distress.[1] And in this he foreshadowed another sign of Jonah that the Messiah would fulfill.[2]

We have spent the last two blog posts discussing Jonah’s anguish and what type of crown Jesus most likely wore.[3] [4] The obvious question to ask: why is it important?

Follow along as we ponder Christ’s Passion.

  • The thorns used for the crown were not the garden-variety of briars on rose bushes.

Although such pricks are painful, they weren’t the sorts of thorns the Romans had laying around in Palestine.

Most believe the thorns were from the Zizyphus spina christa. This creeper was common to the Judean landscape, and the people of that day used them as kindling for fires. Thus, the Romans would have buckets of these in the area of Jesus’ trial and abuse. They didn’t have to look around for something to shape into a crown. The material was available.

  • These thorns bear long spikes that are like wooden ice-picks.

Their sharp points are like long needles, capable of penetrating deeply into human flesh. They would be far more menacing than most splinters we’ve suffered.

  • A full-headed crown of thorns would have covered the entire scalp, ears, and forehead.

Due to the extensive vascularity of the face and skull, profuse bleeding would pour from the punctured flesh.

  • Experts have projected as many as seventy such wounds resulted.

Imagine the agony of seventy darts being rammed into the head. Then remember that they struck the Savior with a rod, nailing those prongs further into His skull. And most likely they bound them in place with plaited vines, such as sea rushes.

  • It was agony upon agony. But it was a far greater woe than we realize.

A forensic pathologist theorized Jesus suffered trigeminal neuralgia.[5] This condition is more excruciating than any other type of headache. Most experts consider it to be one of the most painful illnesses a human can suffer.

  • The trigeminal nerve is a main nerve trunk that traverses on each side of a person’s head.

A full-headed crown would cover the areas where these nerves lie. The multiple stab wounds from such a thorny diadem could pierce these nerves in many places, inducing severe pain along the affected pathways.

  • The trigeminal nerve carries pain fibers to the scalp, the forehead, the eyes, the ears, the face, the jaw, the nose, and the mouth.

Now consider the malady one has to endure if all of these areas are in extreme pain – at the same time. Our Savior had to endure such torture.

  • What would result would be more excruciating than any migraine.

It’d be more pressure than any sinus headache. More piercing than any earache. More pounding than any other in the eyes. More throbbing than any toothache. More spasms in locked jaws than temporal-mandibular joint pain (or, TMJ).

Combine every type of headache, and that’s what you get. An unbearable anguish most never could imagine.

Light would only exacerbate the misery. Wind and temperature change would make being outside devastating. The nostrils would drain. The eyes would water. The mouth would drool. The ears might bleed from the strain.

  • Even worse, it wouldn’t end until He died.

Now, consider what Isaiah foretold about Christ’s suffering to come: the whole head is injured.[6] A full-headed crown causing a trigeminal headache would fulfill Isaiah’s picture of what sin had done to those who suffer its penalty.

This was another sign of Jonah that the people of Jesus’ day probably didn’t understand. But it’s one that modern medicine, oceanography, and forensic pathology enable us to see. It should be another sign to our generation of how deeply He suffered to pay for the sin that weighed us down.

We were the cause of His headache. If we reject His sacrifice for us, we contribute to His heartache as well…


[1] Jonah 2:1-9.

[2] Luke 11:29-32.

[3] J. Shan Young, “Pressure Headache,”, 05/03/2012.

[4] J. Shan Young, “The Lord of the Ring?”, 05/05/2012.

[5] Frederick T. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry (New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 2005), 33-34.

[6] Isaiah 1:5, NIV.

The Lord of the Ring?

… Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.

~ Galadriel, The Lord of the Ring: the Fellowship of the Ring

Image by Catherine Lane, courtesy of iStockphoto

Galadriel narrated the ring’s history, which played a central role in The Lord of the Ring series. The forging of this small band was the source of a great evil that threatened all humanity. And yet knowledge of it became more myth as time distorted people’s memories. People forgot about its character – its part in the battle for mankind’s soul.

Not unlike Tolkien’s tale, details of Jesus’ Passion have suffered a similar fate. Two thousand years have passed since Christ’s crucifixion. Many of those events seem so well-known to us, but our perceptions of His suffering may contain many misconceptions – popular images somehow skewed by time.

  • And like familiar strangers, we may not know them as we think we do.

The shape of the crown of thorns is one most don’t consider as being in question. Modern portraits depict Jesus’ crown as being headband-shaped. They do so because of the expressions in religious art that the Renaissance produced.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, these talented painters portrayed the Savior wearing just such a scornful diadem. The problem was these artists were too far removed from any archeological evidence to support their vision of the Passion. A medical historian, Dr. Pierre Barbet, argued that their error resulted from basing their productions on the ringed shape of a revered relic known as “The Crown of Thorns.”[1]

It’s still housed in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The religious leaders had venerated the icon as being worn by Jesus at His death. We discussed its history in another post.[2]

  • This artifact has no thorns on it.

Instead, it’s just a band of plaited rushes.[3]

This icon still influenced these artists at a time when people worshipped such objects as idols. Their errant beliefs have in turn biased us.

  • Archeologists have unearthed earlier evidence of a different type of crown.

One that enveloped the whole head. And there are multiple examples of such a shape.

The most ancient portrayal of Christ’s crown appears on a second-century red jasper gem from Syrian Gaza. This iconic jewel displayed the Savior as having spikes coming from all over His head, as if wearing a radiant crown.[4] Not a headband type.

But this image wasn’t an isolated one in the early church. A fresco from the catacombs of Praetextatus (ca. AD 200) demonstrates barbs proceeding in all directions from Jesus’ skull.[5] A coin from Rhodes dated a few years later also bore a similar image.[6]

Together, these portrayals differ from what most perceive as occurring. Yet, they are more consistent with the earliest data. I also say this because of what Scripture says.

  • A full-headed crown of sorrow fit with Old Testament foreshadowing.

When Isaiah had to depict how the sinful Israelites appeared before God marred by their sin, he used many different images that the Messiah would later bear.

It shouldn’t surprise us that God saw into the future when He described their ungodliness. He gazed toward that day that His Son would pay for their sin debt. And ours.

In His omniscient and omnipresent anticipation of Christ bearing our sinfulness, He made this proclamation: The whole head is injured…[7]

That’s why I believe Scripture portrayed the shape of Jesus’ crown long before those Renaissance artists did. The Lord didn’t wear a ring … but a full-headed crown when He brought us into His fellowship. Not with a ring did He conquer evil and save the souls of everyone who believes.

What do you think?

[1] Pierre Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary: the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon, translated by the Earl of Wicklow (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image Books, 1953), 93.

[2] J. Shan Young, “The Crown of Sorrows,”, 04/29/2012.

[3] Alma E. Guinness (ed.), et al., Mysteries of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s Digest Association, 1988), 342.

[4] Dictionnaire d’Archeologie Chretienne et de Liturgie 3.3049, referenced in Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 867.

[5] Dictionanaire d’Archeologie Chretienne et de Liturgie 5, Illustration 4141, facing col. 188, referenced in Brown, 866-877.

[6] H. St. J. Hart, “The Crown of Thorns in 19:2-5,” Journal of Theological Studies NS 3 (1952): 66-75, referenced in Brown, 867.

[7] Isaiah 1:5, NIV.

The Crown of Sorrows

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

~ William Shakespeare

photo by Luis Pedrosa, courtesy of iStockphoto

Trouble from all sides brought despair to King Henry IV. His nobles rebelled. His friends abandoned his cause. One son was a conniving deceiver; another, a partying low-life. His own guilt burdened him further.

His worries aged him. Sleep evaded him, which produced more desperation.

The weary king disdained the vilest of his realm, who though committing heinous deeds could doze in their loathsome beds without remorse. He envied the wet sea-boy nodding off while perched in a crow’s nest amid storm-tossed waves and fierce winds.[1]

  • Why couldn’t his weary soul find such peace?

His crown sealed his fate.

Jonah understood Henry’s dilemma. Though not a king, he found himself tossed into a furious tumult of his own rebellion. Cast overboard. Abandoned to a raging sea. Willing to die. Forsaken even by death.

  • The prophet’s suffering brought him to the desperation of his hopelessness.

And in his misery, he recognized that he wore an uneasy crown … of seaweeds.

  • Even in this minor detail, we see a foreshadowing of Christ’s Passion.

Notice that the prophet bemoaned that the weeds were wrapped around his head – and only his head.[2] This was yet another sign of Jonah.

  • The Romans sought to torture their condemned prisoners by any means possible.

Various methods of torment were available to them, and they used them without impunity.

  • One particular game they played was basalinda (Latin, for king).

In this sadistic persecution, the soldiers chose a poor soul to be their idiot king. They mocked him in every way, including a fake coronation. The soldiers used baskets, vines, and thorns as the crown, depending on what they desired. In Jesus’ case, they employed the latter.

The abusers then weaved the crown in a way that covered the entire head of the victim. The Romans pressed the thorns into place, and they beat the prey with his make-believe scepter (usually a stick, a rod, or a reed). They committed these atrocities many times and in many ways.

  • To mock Jesus in this way was natural for the Romans.

Philo recorded a contemporary incident where they held a mock coronation service of a village idiot to embarrass Herod.[3] When the populace hailed Jesus as the King of the Jews, it sealed His fate with the mercenaries into whose vile hands He had been cast.

Scripture declares that they weaved a thorny crown for Jesus’ head. God’s Word informs us that they struck His head with a rod, beating those spikes into Christ’s scalp.

  • But what they may have done next is surprising…

The Cathedral of Notre Dame houses a relic known as “The Crown of Thorns.” The history of this icon is suspect before AD 1238. We know King Baldwin II gave the artifact to King Louis in that year. The French Monarch built a cathedral to enshrine it. While it’s improbable this was Christ’s crown, the historical object does share some insight into what might have happened to our Savior.

“The Crown of Thorns” is a woven mesh of sea rushes. The Romans often secured the thorny crowns in place by entwining them with plaited sea vines after they had hammered them into their victims’ skulls.

Scripture is quiet on whether this practice occurred with Christ or not. But it does offer an intriguing insight into this potentially being yet another aspect of Jesus fulfilling the sign of Jonah. It most certainly would have made that crown lie uneasy. And that torment would continue until He finally died.

[1] William Shakespeare, King Henry IV, Part 2, Act III, Scene 1, 15-31, in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Vol. 1, edited by W. G. Clark and W. Aldis Wright (New York: Nelson Doubleday, nda).

[2] Jonah 2:5, NKJV.

[3] Philo, In Flaccum VI, 36-40, in The Works of Philo, translated by C. D. Yonge (Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 728.

Eclipsing the Darkness

Out of Darkness comes the Light.

~ Ancient Mayan proverb

image by EmiliaU, courtesy of iStockphoto

On February 29, 1504, the natives were restless.

Christopher Columbus had beached his ship for repairs in St. Anne’s Bay, Jamaica weeks before. Worms had destroyed some of the ship’s wood, creating leaking holes. Not a good thing when you’re sailing the ocean blue.[1]

The stranded sailors were an unsavory bunch. The marooned seamen threatened mutiny. Many mistreated the peaceful natives aiding them. The crew’s abuse made the Jamaicans hostile to the Europeans’ presence. A disastrous end was near.

  • In the darkest of times, enlightened men act.

Columbus knew what he had to do. He called for a meeting at sunset. He warned the natives that God wouldn’t be happy if they cut them off from provisions. Columbus predicted that the Lord’s displeasure would blot out the moonlight that very night.

The full moon began to rise on the horizon. The Jamaicans doubted. The sailors readied for battle. The patient Columbus waited.

Then, the moon’s white surface began to blush – so much so that a blood moon resulted. What happened next frightened everyone. The moon began to disappear. And it remained invisible for almost an hour.

It was just long enough for the natives to acquiesce to Columbus for fear of upsetting the Almighty. It was impressive enough to silence the talks of war and of mutiny among the crew.

  • A man of faith acts on what he knows is truth.

Sea captains had to be astute astronomers in those days; an explorer in unchartered waters, even more so. Columbus knew of the impending eclipse from studying the navigational charts. And he used that scientific knowledge to his advantage.

  • God produced a celestial sign – darkening the sky to punish sin on our behalf.

Schove reviewed the known eclipses of AD 1 – 1000.[2] Records indicate a vast darkness blanketed the earth sometime between AD 29 – 33, the timeframe of Jesus’ death.

Phlegon, a first-century, non-Christian historian, wrote:

In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was an eclipse of the sun which was greater than any known before and in the sixth hour of the day it became night.[3]

Philopon, another early historian, wrote that Phlegon’s eclipse occurred during the crucifixion of the Lord Christ.[4] He went on to say it was recorded in the historical records of Tiberius, the Caesar reigning at the time of Christ’s death.

Thallus, another first-century historian, also wrote of this unexplained darkness, believing it to be a solar eclipse. Yet, Julius Africanus argued in AD 221 that it couldn’t be so easily explained since it happened when the moon was full.[5] A solar eclipse is impossible at such a time.

  • Only an act of God could have done it.

The apologist again cites Roman historical records that document its occurrence in the times of Tiberius Caesar.[6]

Further, Phlegon noted that the darkness extended all the way to Bithynia in Asia Minor. He also noted a great earthquake destroyed parts of Bithynia and Nicaea as well.

Grandez researched Chinese astronomical records from this same time. He reported that the Chinese had similar evidence of just such an unexplained darkness contemporary to the timing of Christ’s Passion.[7]

  • Out of darkness came the light again.

Columbus knew the eclipse would pass. He had faith in astronomy.

  • God was faithful to shine His Light once again from the darkness.

He caused it at Creation.[8] He does it every sunrise. With each the Lord foreshadowed His redemption plan coming to fruition on Easter morning.

  • From the tomb, God’s Light shines forevermore.

Only He can bring Light out of darkness, for He is the Light. John wrote:

… God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.

~ 1 John 1:6, NKJV

The Mayan saying bears truth of our Creator Lord who ordered: Let light shine out of darkness.[9] And it did.

[1] “In 1492,” Columbus Day poem.

[2] D. Justin Schove, Chronology of Eclipses and Comets AD 1 – 1000 (Dover, NH: The Boydell Press, 1984), 6-7.

[3] Phlegon, Chronicles, quoted in Bryan Brewer, Eclipse (Seattle: Earthview, 1978), 19.

[4] Philopon, De. Opif.mund. II 21, in Felix Jacoby, Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker (Berlin: Wiedmann, 1923), referenced in Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict Vol. 1 (San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1991), 84.

[5] Julius Africanus, in F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? 5th Ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1972), 119, referenced in McDowell, 81.

[6] Julius Africanus, IIB, sect. 256f16, in Elgin Moyer, Who Was Who in Church History (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), 1165, referenced in McDowell, 84.

[7] Grandez, “Las tinieblas en la muerte de Jesus. Historia de la exegesis de Lc 23.44-45a (Mt 27,45;Mc 15,33),” Est Bib 47 (1989), 198, referenced by Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 1042.

[8] Genesis 1:1-5.

[9] 2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV.

Black Friday

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon the all the land until the ninth hour.

~ Matthew 27:45, NASB

Gustave Dore, photo by Ivan Burmistrov,Courtesy of iStockphoto

Annual mayhem ensued in 1960’s Philadelphia. It seemed everyone descended upon the city to celebrate Thanksgiving. Eager football fans swarmed to the downtown hotels while they awaited the annual Army – Navy football classic on Saturday.

Sandwiched between the Thursday feast and the Saturday game was a day filled with hundreds of thousands of people shopping for Christmas bargains. So many thronged to these sales that the streets became impassable. The honking horns, traffic jams, and impatient masses created nightmares for everyone there. Those who served in this chaos dubbed it Black Friday, which is what we know it as today.

  • The blackest Friday on record occurred two millennia before.

It was the day Christ died. And it wreaked utter havoc on the millions gathered to see it.

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  • Daytime darkness caused by eclipses weren’t unknown to earlier generations.

Historians recorded eclipses on the days Romulus and Julius Caesar died.

  • The Bible gives recurrent warnings of such judgments.

That’s why the Hebrews saw these omens as signs of God’s wrath.

Isaiah prophesied:

The sun will be darkened in its going forth …

I will punish the world for its evil…

~ Isaiah 13:10, 11, NKJV

Nahum proclaimed:

A jealous and avenging God is the LORD;

The LORD is avenging and wrathful.

The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries,

And He reserves wrath for His enemies…

And He will pursue His enemies into darkness.

~ Nahum 1:2, 8, NASB

Jeremiah declared:

I looked to the heavens,

And their light was gone…

All the birds of the sky had fled…

Because of the LORD

And His burning anger.

~ Jeremiah 4:23, 25, 26, HCSB

Joel warned:

The sun will be turned to darkness

And the moon to blood

Before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the LORD comes.

~ Joel 2:31, HCSB

Jeremiah lamented:

“You have forsaken Me,” declares the LORD…

“So I will stretch My had against you and destroy you…

I will bring against them …

A destroyer at noonday

I will suddenly bring down on her

Anguish and dismay…

Her breathing is labored.

Her sun has set while it was yet day…”

~ Jeremiah 15:6, 8, 9, NASB

  • The Hebrew terms for darkness (chosek, araphel) mean far more than just absence of light.

They describe misery, wickedness, destruction, sorrow, and death. This blackness was like a thick cloud of suffocating gloom that descended upon those experiencing it. A heavy evil seemed to compress them on all sides like an ebony veil of metal balls and chains.

  • That’s why Sheol was a place of blackness.

That’s why hell is a Stygian abyss though it burns with fire.[1] There’s no light at the end of the tunnel – no relief from sin’s heavy burden.

  • That’s what Jonah suffered in the belly of the fish.

He lamented his affliction in the darkness of the abyss. That’s why he called it Sheol.[2]

  • That’s what the people at Calvary witnessed when Jesus bore our burden.

The eerie blackness weighed on them. Moaning. Wailing. Screaming. There was no suffering in silence. In that ebony blanket, it was as though hell’s chaos had broken loose on earth.

  • T. W. Hunt commented that it was though God could no longer gaze at His Son when He bore our sin.[3]

And He made it so that others couldn’t either.

  • The darkness lasted from noon to 3 PM.[4]

As the blackness broke, Jesus was near His bitter end. His body marred beyond human recognition. Covered in blood. Gasping for breath. Suffocating from His own fluids. He finally let out a cry … and died.

  • This was Black Friday.

It was the day we now call Good Friday. And, for the Christian, every day that follows is one of thanksgiving when we come to realize it for what it is.

Have you ever thanked the Lord when you’ve faced such dark days?

[1] Matthew 22:13; 25:30.

[2] Jonah 2:2.

[3] T. W. Hunt, “The Mind of Christ: The Crucifixion,” (Nashville: Lifeway, 1994).

[4] Matthew 27:45.

*(Small web movie produced by Andy Stubbert, courtesy of iStockphoto)