One of the questions often asked about Christ’s crucifixion is why did Jesus die so fast? According to the Gospel writers, Jesus had been on the cross about six hours (9 am to 3 pm) before He died.
Crucifixion was a favoured form of execution used by the Romans because not only was it brutal but there were tricks that could extend the excruciating punishment for days.
Since people were hung onto the cross by hammering their arms and feet into the wood, they normally died by suffocation. As they hung from their arms, their chest cavity was stretched out making it impossible to breathe. In order to breathe they had to painfully push up with their feet in order to gain a breath.
Death would finally come when the person no longer had the strength to push up for air.
If the Romans wanted to be extremely brutal, they would put a seat on the cross so the person could rest which would extend the dying process for days.
But the Roman’s crucifixion of Christ was a bit more rushed.
It was taking place at Passover, so religious rules were on heightened alert.
The Jewish law stated that the bodies of people who had been executed for particularly heinous crimes were hung on a tree after death. This was reserved for those considered cursed by God. However, it also required their bodies to be removed before night fell (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Though a tree/cross was being used to execute Christ, this rule was still in play. Once the three men had died, they needed to be taken down before night started. This was complicated by concerns that they could die at night and the Jews requested that the three men be killed and taken down before the start of the Sabbath (John 19:331-33).
The Romans were aware of these intricacies and would not have provided a seat for the three being crucified that day. And after the Jews requested their deaths be hastened, the Roman guards went out and broke the legs of the two thieves to ensure that they would die quickly since they would not be able to push themselves up by their feet.
However, when they came to Christ they found that He was already dead and confirmed this by jabbing a spear into Christ’s side and water poured out. When the guards reported this, it seems Pilate was surprised by his early death (Mark 15:44).
So why did Christ die so fast?
Many suspect this was due to the severe beating that Jesus received before his crucifixion that resulted in a loss of blood.
We are told that Jesus was scourged at least two times. After the Jewish priests brought Christ to Pilate, he could find no guilt in him and wanted to release Jesus and ordered the Lord to be scourged thinking this would appease the Jewish priests (John 19:1).
The second took place after Pilate offered to release either Barabbas or Christ. When the crowd whipped up by the Jewish priests, chose Barabbas, Pilate ordered Christ scourged a second time (Matthew 27:26) and then sent him to be crucified.
Scourgings were a brutal affair that included using a whip with nails or bones attached that would cut to the bone, rip off flesh and result in a lot of bleeding. The scourging typically lasted until the person administering it grew tired.
At times people would even die from their scourgings and Jesus went through this twice.
This was in addition to the beating he received from the Roman guards.
By the time the Lord was put up on the cross, Jesus was in a severely weakened state and this showed up twice in the crucifixion story.
First it was typical for the convicted person to carry the top bar, not the full cross, to be used at their crucifixion.
The Lord was probably crucified on a Tau cross that looked like a capital ‘T’ instead of a Latin cross, often portrayed in the paintings, that looked like a lower case ‘t’.
The Tau crosses were popular because they were simpler to use, since the beam or patibulum only needed to be pounded into the top of the main beam and could be easily done at the crucifixion site.
Jesus had been so weakened by the scourgings and beating that He collapsed and could no longer carry the bar that probably weighed around a hundred pounds. This forced the soldiers to conscript Simeon to carry it the remainder of the way.
The second thing we see is that the blood loss from the scourgings had resulted in Jesus being severely dehydrated and while on the cross he cried out “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).
In this weakened state, Jesus quickly lost the strength to push up for air.