Here are two related question from different readers regarding events at the crucifixion.
What is the revelation behind it being a cross that Jesus died on? God chose a cross instead of any other shape. Why?
JM from Bronx, New York
Why did the Roman soldiers break the legs of the two thieves at the cross with Jesus?
NP from Arkansas
Part 1: No Detail Too Small
No Detail Too Small (Part 1)
I’m answering these two questions together because they both demonstrate how carefully God oversaw every detail of the death of his beloved son. As we study God’s Word, the richness of meaning continues to deepen, detail after detail.
The Romans kept upright beams in the ground so as to be prepared when crucifixion was chosen as punishment. The one to be crucified usually carried their own cross beam to the site and then they were attached and the beam and hoisted up, forming what we would call the shape of a cross. This is what happened to Jesus except that he was not able to carry his own cross beam the whole way and received help along the way.
The important detail here is that Jesus hung on wood – or a tree. Here’s why: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree-‘” (Galatians 3:13) The writer in Galatians is referring to a scripture in Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Jesus deliberately identified with what was cursed in order to break the curse introduced by Adam and Eve by their sin.
At the time, the Romans and the Jews thought they were doing things their way but they actually played into God’s hands. This is also true regarding the breaking of the legs of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus.
Legs were frequently broken at crucifixion in order to hasten death. This particular crucifixion was happening at Passover. “The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31)
When the soldiers came to the scene they broke the legs of the two thieves but because Jesus was already dead they did not break his legs. That is an extremely important detail.
It is actually a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah. “For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken.'” (John 19:36) John is referred to these Old Testament scriptures: Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12 and Psalms 34:20. The presence of the two thieves helps to highlight one more prophecy fulfilled.
For anyone who looks closely, even at the natural events, Jesus is revealed as Messiah – not just to the Jews, but to the whole world.