In an attempt to better understand the extent of suffering Jesus endured on our behalf in the hands of the Romans, I researched the historical methods of flogging, crucifixion, and the general treatment of those condemed to die on a cross. Our typical image of seeing Jesus nailed to the cross, head down with the crown of thorns, maybe a trickle of blood down his face but generally a clean body, are grossly inaccurate.
There are many parts of the crucifixion story that we read, but we pass by them without giving them much thought or understanding. We tend to forget that Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John wrote to an audience who had personally seen crucifixions repeatedly. Because we haven’t witnessed a true Roman crucifixion, and obviously didn’t live during those times, many of the details that are mentioned in the Gospels go unnoticed. I want to add some historical context to these chronicles so that we have a better undertstanding of what it was really like.
I plan to cover several topics of Jesus’ crucifixion. Rather than getting into the physical brutality right away, I want to start with more of the psychological torture, humiliation, and ridicule that Jesus experienced.
Today’s topic is centered around the final moments of Jesus’ life on earth. What did Jesus experience just before he died? John 19:28-29 gives a vivid view of the final insult.
28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.”[g] 29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit. – NLT
Readers of the day knew exactly what John meant when he said they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on the end of a stick. I, for one, used to think that the sour wine (vinegar) was the insult. Jesus wanted water, but they gave him vinegar instead. While that is cruel, that’s not the intent of what they did. It is far more revolting.
Roman public toilets, much like what is shown in the picture of these ruins, were common in all areas of roman control. There was an elaborate aquaduct system that would carry the human waste away with flowing water. The more affluent members of the Roman society would have people working in the trenches of these toilets. Since toilet paper didn’t exist, part of their job was to wipe the back sides of these people when they finished.
What did they use? They used sponges on the ends of sticks/poles to wipe the people clean. Because they used the same sponge on everyone, infections were common. In order to minimize the spread of infection, they would soak the sponges in vinegar.
What the Roman soldiers essentially did was to push a wad of used toilet paper into Jesus’ mouth. They put a filthy, rancid, feces-soaked sponge in his mouth. The last thing Jesus smelled and tasted… was that. What could be more blatantly insulting than to smear someone with the waste of another person?
The next time you are in church, and they talk about the suffering Jesus endured, you now have a small inkling of the insult and humilition he faced. By the way, he did this, willingly, for you. Jesus loves you, and wants to have a relationship with you. This is the price (a small part of it) that he paid so that you could be saved.
What would you do if you were supposed to be subjected to that? To have the contents of the bottom of a portable toilet shoved in your mouth? What if someone willingly took your place so you wouldn’t have to go through that? Would you thank that person? Would it be sincere? If they requested something of you, would you do it?
Jesus did that, and endured MUCH, MUCH more. All he asks in return is for you to repent of your sins, accept his free gift of salvation, and follow him. Is that really too much to ask?