Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”Ω

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why do we care about Christ’s suffering on the cross?

The Apostle Peter said it best: “By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet 2:24; Rom 5:6)

 The Jewish authorities said that Jesus claimed to be a king, charged Jesus with sedition (Mark 15:2), and sentenced him to crucifixion, the penalty for sedition (John 19:19). In fact, Jesus was a king (messiah) in the Jewish sense, but not a king (political rival) in a Roman sense. For this reason, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate cross examined Jesus publicly and concluded: “I find no guilt in him.” (John 19:4) 

Jesus’ link to Pontius Pilate underscores the credibility of his innocent suffering. Even by Roman standards, Pilate was corrupt and brutal. Pilate had Jesus both flogged and crucified solely to satisfy the blood lust of a crowd (Josephus 2009, 3.1). By contrast, when the Apostle Paul found himself charged with profaning the temple only a few years later, another governor, Porcius Festus, simply kept him locked up for two years (Acts 24:6-27). Interestingly, Pilate links Jesus to a person known by historians outside the biblical text. Not only is Pilate mentioned in Josephus, an inscription bearing the phrase “Pontius Pilate Prefect of Judea” was found in 1961 in the excavation of a theatre in Caesarea (Zondervan 2005, 1714).

Jesus’ death on the cross underscores his extreme suffering. The Romans devised crucifixion as a method of execution by torture—it amplified the suffering inflicted. It was a slow, painful death. Crucifixion was so horrific that Roman law forbade Roman citizens from being crucified.

In Jewish tradition, death on the cross meant that one was cursed by God (Deut 21:22-23). This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “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.” (Gal 3:13)  The implication was that the crime committed was so horrible that the person deserved not only death but also eternal damnation. Jesus’ burial reinforced this point.

Burial behind a stone assured that Jesus was truly dead, as the death of Absalom illustrates. Absalom rebelled against his father, King David, and raised an army to over-throw him. He was captured because his hair got caught in a tree which led to the belief that he was cursed by God. David’s commander, Joab, had Absalom publicly executed, buried in a pit, and covered with stones (2 Sam 18:10-18).

Because Jesus was sinless and remained innocent, even in death, he became the only sinless person to live after Adam (Heb 4:15). Unlike Adam, Jesus, whose sinless life came to an abrupt end, never gave into temptation. In death, he was accordingly a perfect (without defeat or blemish) sin offering (Lev 4:22-24). In dying, Jesus became the Second Adam, reversing the curse of death, as validated by his resurrection (1 Cor 15:21-22).

In the same way that the holy conception confirms Jesus’ divinity and establishes credibility with God, Jesus’ innocent suffering on the cross confirms his humanity and status as God’s chosen sacrifice for our sins.


Zondervan. 2005. NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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