[ On The Physical Death Of Jesus, No. 1 ]
After Jesus suffered the flogging inflicted by Roman soldiers, He was in an extremely weakened condition. In such a condition, He was still forced to carry his cross to the place where He was to be crucified, until he fell beneath its weight and Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry it (John 19:17; Mark 15:21).
Since the weight of the entire cross was about 300 pounds, only the crossbar was carried. This weighed about 75 pounds and was placed across the nape of the victim's neck and balanced along both shoulders. The outstretched arms were then usually tied to the crossbar and the procession to the crucifixion site was led by a Roman Centurion.
During this procession, a Roman soldier usually carried a sign on which the condemned man's name and crime were written. This sign was then nailed to the cross for the public to see. In Jesus' case, Pilate had written, "This is Jesus The King of The Jews."
Then, at the crucifixion site, the victim was thrown to the ground with his arms outstretched along the cross bar. The hands could either be tied to the crossbar or nailed, but nailing was the preferred Roman method. The nails used were tapered iron spikes about five to seven inches long with a square shaft of about three-eighths of an inch across.
The nails were driven through the wrists, rather than the palms, and after the victim was securely nailed to the cross, he was lifted up to hang there. Then the feet were nailed to the upright on which the crossbar hung.
When all this was done, the soldiers and onlookers often taunted the victim and the soldiers divided his clothes among themselves. They could not do this with Jesus' seamless garment, so they cast lots for it (Matt. 27:35). Then, they waited for the victim to die. The length of time a person survived on the cross ranged from three or four hours to three or four days, depending on the severity of the beating. During this time, insects would often light upon or burrow into the open wounds of the helpless man and birds would tear at these places. It was also customary to leave the body to be devoured by predatory animals, but Roman law allowed the family of the condemned to take the body if they requested it.
Adding to the pain and agony of this ordeal, when the victim was thrown to the ground on his back for nailing him to the cross, his scourging wounds most likely would become torn open again and contaminated with dirt. And with each breath he took, the painful scourging wounds would be scraped against the rough wood of the upright part of the cross.
It has also been shown that the ligaments and bones of the wrist can support the weight of a body hanging from them, but the palms cannot. That's why the spikes were probably driven through Jesus' wrists between the two rows of carpal bones. This might not have produced a fracture, but it would sever the rather large median nerve and that would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms, according to the article by the physicians. We might also note that although the Scripture references the nails in His hands, the ancients customarily considered the wrist to be a part of the hand.
The article goes on to say that the major physiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The person who was crucified could barely breathe and they say "the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in a state of inhalation and severely hinder passive exhalation." In other words, he could take in his breath, but was hindered from exhaling, so his breathing was very shallow. They also note that muscle cramps or what they call "tetanic contractions" due to fatigue would further hinder his breathing. Thus each effort at breathing would become agonizing and tiring. That's important to remember as one studies Jesus' words from the cross. Each of his utterances was made with the most agonizing pain and effort.
For one on a cross to adequately exhale, he had to lift his body by pushing up on the feet and flexing the elbows. But this movement would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals producing further searing pain.
The flexion of the elbows would also cause the wrists to rotate about the iron spikes and cause fiery pain along the median nerves. The lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back of the victim against the rough wooden upright part of the cross and muscle cramps of the outstretched and uplifted arms would also add to the discomfort.
As a result of all this, each effort to breathe would become agonizing and lead eventually to asphyxiation. Such was the love of God and Christ for you and me.
[ On The Physical Death Of Jesus, No. 3 ]