Anyone who knows the Easter story knows that Jesus’ demise on the cross was a horrific event for various reasons. It’s difficult to read about the crucifixion without wincing at the physical and psychological suffering Jesus underwent. What more seeing a Passion Play or a movie like “The Passion of the Christ”?
The Romans were expert persecutors and prolonged Jesus’ suffering as much as possible. Given that crucifixions could take several days, the question naturally arises: how long was Jesus on the cross?
What Happened Before The Crucifixion?
Fortunately, the Bible provides us with a timetable of events during Jesus’ dying hours.
Thursday, after meeting with Judas outside of the Garden of Gethsemane, He was taken into custody. Late Thursday night or early Friday morning saw Jesus on a “false trial” with the religious elite before being taken back and forth between Pilate and Herod.
He was whipped, tormented, and forced to carry the crossbeam (with the help of Simon of Cyrene). All that before getting nailed to a wooden cross.
How Long Was Jesus on the Cross?
To make sense of the timeline, one must be aware of the differences between the Roman and Jewish calendars.
Romans considered midnight to be the beginning of the day. According to John’s account (John 19:14), Jesus was presented to Pontius Pilate at around the sixth hour, Roman time. Therefore, as per John, Jesus’ trial commenced at about the sixth hour, or 6 a.m.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke start their days at six in the morning, the traditional Jewish hour of the day’s start. From what we can gather from Mark, Jesus was crucified at 9 a.m., during the third hour (Mark 15:24–25). Based on Matthew’s account, the sun went down between the sixth and ninth hours, around midday and three in the afternoon. (Matthew 27:45).
Simply put, 3 p.m. is the ninth hour of the day. Curiously, the second sacrifice likewise occurs at nine o’clock. Priests were getting ready to sacrifice the lambs that people had sent to Jerusalem for the Passover as Jesus hung there dying.
The immaculate, blemish-free lambs were slain at 3 p.m., the same moment Jesus, the Lamb of God, laid up his own life without sin and flaw.
Intriguingly, some Bible historians think that throughout the three hours of darkness and Jesus’ silence on the cross, He was experiencing the spiritual death of our damnation in hell and isolation from God the Father.
Mark’s gospel (see verses 34-37) writes, “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice… and breathed His last.”
At roughly 9 o’clock, Jesus Christ gave his life in the ultimate sacrifice (Matthew 27:46–50). At this point, a Roman soldier pushed a spear into Jesus’ side to ensure He was dead before removing Him from the cross (John 19:34–38).
Therefore, we know that Jesus stayed on the cross for approximately six hours, a significantly shorter time compared to the four days that some people were on the cross throughout their crucifixions.
How Did Jesus Die On The Cross?
We need to know that Jesus was in full control of everything that happened on the cross. When the Romans ridiculed Him, urging Him to summon His angels to save Him, Jesus could just have done so. Jesus had the opportunity to show his power by unleashing an army of angels on the multitude. Instead, He pleaded with God to pardon “those who do not know what they are doing,” and he bore our harsh damnation.
In the Bible, Jesus is said to have said, “Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani” (which translates to “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”) once the darkness had lifted. He was served wine vinegar, wept out once more, and surrendered His spirit (see Matthew 27:50).
The torment did not kill Jesus. No amount of bleeding could kill him. He did not suffocate to death.
Keep in mind that the Roman guards who crucified Jesus also shattered the legs of the two criminals so that they couldn’t push off the spikes in their feet and breathe.
There are seven occasions we know Jesus spoke from the cross. He declares, prays, and converses with the thief, His mother, and John. He also reveals that He is thirsty, revealing His humanity by admitting that He needs something to drink.
The Bible notes that in His last moments of life, Jesus shouts out in a loud, booming voice, even though it must have been excruciatingly painful to constantly gasp for air while your body mass weighs down on the spikes.
Once the soldier reached Jesus, He found that He had already given His life as a sacrifice for us. Instead of being taken from Jesus, He willingly gave his life.
A Sign Of God’s Unrelenting and Unending Love
God’s love for men led Him to offer His only begotten Son for their salvation (Romans 5:8).
As one of the most popular Bible verses eloquently puts it: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for humanity to be redeemed. Even those who crucified Him were not beyond the reach of His love. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do,” He pleaded (Luke 23:34).
Humans can be “called the sons of God” because of the love given to them by God the Father (1 John 3:1). It’s been said that “no greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). God’s love is infinite and boundless. There is no one God’s redeeming kindness, mercy, and peace cannot save.
But there is one condition: faith in Christ and eager engagement with Him. God’s kindness changes a man’s heart, leading to contrition (Romans 2:4). His mercy is the candle that drives out darkness, restores the fallen, and makes saints of sinners. Therefore, every believer should be overjoyed by the fact that he already possesses “everlasting life” as a gift from God.
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