John 19:16b-18 – So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.
One of the most fascinating things about the way that God’s word records for us the crucifixion of Jesus is the fact that we receive almost zero details regarding the actual event. This passage just told us that Jesus was led out of the city to a place they called Skull Hill, that he carried his cross, that he was crucified, and that two others were crucified beside him. So, though countless books, seminars, movies, and studies have been done on the physical effects of crucifixion, the Bible only focuses us on the details that surrounded the cross, not on the blood and gore of the cross itself.
William Hendriksen grasps this point when he writes:
It has been well said that the person who was crucified “died a thousand deaths.” Large nails were driven through hands and feet (20:25; cf. Luke 24:40). Among the horrors which one suffered while thus suspended (with the feet resting upon a little tablet, not very far away from the ground) were the following: severe inflammation, the swelling of the wounds in the region of the nails, unbearable pain from torn tendons, fearful discomfort from the strained position of the body, throbbing headache, and burning thirst (19:28).
In the case of Jesus the emphasis, however, should not be placed on this physical torture which he endured. It has been said that only the damned in hell know what Jesus suffered when he died on the cross. In a sense this is true, for they too, suffer eternal death. One should add, however, that they have never been in heaven. The Son of God, on the other hand, descended from the regions of infinite delight in the closest possible fellowship with his Father (1:1; 17:5) to the abysmal depths of hell. On the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
Hendriksen has it exactly right. The physical suffering that Jesus went through on the cross was horrific; however, the focus is more on what he suffered spiritually. The spiritual aspect of what was going on is, I believe, at the center of John’s mind. This is why John emphasizes that Jesus was led out of the city, as a criminal, with two criminals, and hung on a tree as one accursed. Just listen to these texts of scripture, and see how much we should see in these events.
On Christ being led outside the city:
Leviticus 16:27 – And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire.
Hebrews 13:11-12 – 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.
On Christ being hung on a tree:
Deuteronomy 21:22-23 – 22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
Galatians 3:13 – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
On Christ being counted with criminals:
Isaiah 53:12 – Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors ; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
What is it that God wants us to see in Christ walking out of the city, suffering the torture of the cross? God wants us to see that Christ was becoming an offering for the sins of others. He was becoming accursed for the sins for which you and I should be cursed. He was being counted guilty though he was innocent. Or, as Paul writes so clearly, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Embrace the cross because of the atonement. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, it was on the cross where God punished your sin. Jesus was your sacrificial substitute who paid the price for what you have done. On the cross, God satisfied his justice by fully carrying out the righteous sentence for your sin. He also satisfied and displayed his mercy by allowing Christ to serve as your substitute, because he could bear the punishment that you never could.