Why was Jesus' death so violent?

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Have you ever read or listened to an account of Jesus' last hours? How He prayed, sweating drops as thick as blood, asking His Father to find another way? How He was whipped with a cat-o-nine-tails, beaten with sticks, and "crowned" with thorns? Torture so brutal that He lasted only a few horrible hours on the cross instead of the days it took most to die? Have you ever wondered why He had to go through that?

Leviticus 17:11 explains God's plan for forgiving sin: "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." It was this way from the beginning. Immediately after cursing Adam and Eve for sinning, but before He kicked them out of the garden, God made garments of skin for them, clothing them, hiding their shame. Still in Eden, and God had to kill the first animal. Hebrews 9:22 says, "And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." "The wages of sin are death" (Romans 6:23). The life of a being is in the blood. The atonement of sin requires blood.

But the lambs placed on the altar weren't tortured. Bulls, goats, even pigeons were killed humanely before their blood was drained. Why did Jesus have to suffer?

For us. Not for God. A metaphor for us, because we're simple, shallow creatures who can't see the forest for the trees. Because we can wrap our heads around whips and thorns and nails. We can go to Passion plays and cringe. We can read medical documents and blanch. But we can't understand the real reason Jesus sweated like blood and pled with God to find another way.

I don't think He was afraid of the torture. I'm sure He wasn't looking forward to it, but that's not what kept Him up all night. He kept silent during the scourging. But He cried out when God turned His face away. "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). When the sins of the world were put on Jesus, God turned away. For the first time ever, Jesus lost connection with God. Jesus so loved God and delighted in Him that God's words were more important than bread. Jesus' idea of a vacation was to go to a lonely spot and pray. But there was no one to listen now.

This was Jesus' greatest suffering, but how can a human mind really understand it? How long was He separated from God? No more than a few hours. Anyone on Earth would trade a few hours of time away from their best beloved to avoid being whipped nearly to death. But Jesus put up with being beaten, mocked, scourged, and crucified because it was the only way to get our attention. If He would have died quickly, we wouldn't have understood the weight of His sacrifice—not His life, but His moments away from God. And how horrible that separation will be for those who choose it as their permanent eternity.

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Published 6-6-11