During the height of the wave of skyjackings to Cuba in the 1960s I can remember thinking that it might be kind of interesting to be on a plane that detoured to Havana. The passengers were always released unharmed and returned home within a day or so, and there really wasn't much danger involved in the oft-repeated process. But there certainly wouldn't be anything enjoyable about being a skyjack victim today. No one would voluntarily set himself up to be humiliated, harangued, and held for days on end while negotiators weighed his life against terrorist demands. Given a choice, we all avoid such situations.
But there was a time when the whole world was held hostage by terrorists who had practiced and refined their art to include elements unheard of even today. Their ultimatum included dire consequences for anyone who would try to rescue the hostages. Bent on creating a torture too horrible for even God to endure, they honed and refined their terror techniques to seeming perfection, then dared God's Son to test His mettle against it. Satan's challenge to Jesus was an invitation to terror. There would be no element of surprise in this terror attack only unmitigated cruelty.
And the wonder of it is that Jesus accepted the invitation. A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review (Vassilios Tzaferis, "Crucifixion The Archaeological Evidence," January-February, 1985) deepened my understanding of what Jesus voluntarily walked into as He stooped to enter our planet's predicament. The facts that impressed me most concerned the history of crucifixion.
Although crucifixion had been used at least since the Assyrians' day, it took the mad genius of the Roman executioners to polish it to the excruciating perfection it had reached by the time the power of the Most High overshadowed Mary in Nazareth to incarnate the Son of God in pink, pain-sensitive human flesh.
Before the end of the first century B.C. the Romans used crucifixion chiefly as a nonlethal humiliation for slaves, but by Herod's day it had become the most horrible of executions. By then the cross itself had been modified to include every imaginable feature for prolonging and intensifying suffering.
But to speak of the cross is to run ahead of the story. Before the cross came the flagellation or scourging. James Michener in The Source (New York: Random House House, 1965) describes a flagellation thus: "They stripped the old man till he stood naked; they then tied him to a pillar, where ten swift blows of the lash tore at him terribly. The speeding lead tips caught at his face and ripped out one of his eyes. They tore away a comer of his mouth and laid bare the muscles of his neck." --Page 317
Michener's description goes on to describe flagellation of the lower half of the body, and the gory details are more graphic than I care to repeat.
Crucifixion on a plain cross, such as we see in most artists' depictions, would cause death within a few hours. But in Jesus' day the cross had been modified by the addition of a pointed sedile on which one lacerated buttock could rest, and a suppedaneum for foot support. Crosses with these added features often served as a man's last home for three or more agonizing days.
Was it mere coincidence that Rome perfected the cross as an instrument of torture just before the advent of the Messiah? I hardly think so. It was part of Satan's well-considered plan to dissuade Jesus from His planned rescue mission. But He came anyway. Praise His name! --K.R.W.