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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Betrayal, Trial, and Death of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Why Was Jesus Crucified Rather than Stoned to Death?

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Why Was Jesus Crucified Rather than Stoned to Death?

The Betrayal, Trial, and Death of Jesus – Question 7

At the time of Jesus, those who committed crimes worthy of capital punishment were stoned to death. Crucifixion was not the Jewish form of execution. Why then did the religious leaders take Jesus Christ to Pilate in order to have Him crucified? Crucifixion was the Roman form of punishment. Why didn’t they stone Him like they eventually did with the martyr Stephen? Several observations can be made.

1. There Is a Curse Associated with Crucifixion

One of the reasons may have been the curse associated with crucifixion. The Old Testament speaks of those being cursed who hang upon a tree. We read,

If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:22, 23 NIV)

By having Jesus crucified, the religious leaders may have thought that this would end any talk about Him being the Messiah—since the Messiah certainly would not have been cursed.

Paul would later write to the Galatians about the curse that Christ bore on our behalf. He put it this way:

Christ paid the price to free us from the curse that God’s laws bring by becoming cursed instead of us. Scripture says, “Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.” (Galatians 3:13 God’s Word)

Jesus became a curse on our behalf so that we could be set free from sin.

However, the curse associated with death by means of crucifixion could have been the motivation of the religious leaders to have Jesus die in this manner.

2. Only the Lowest Members of Society Were Crucified

Another reason may have been the way the Romans used crucifixion. A Roman citizen was never crucified—they were put to death by the quick method of beheading. Only slaves, political rebels, and the lowest criminals were put to death by crucifixion. The cross was a symbol of shame for the Romans. The Roman writer Cicero wrote.

Even the word ‘cross’ must remain far, not only from the lips of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thoughts their eyes their ears.

The religious leaders may have wanted Jesus to die a particularly shameful death.

3. The New Testament Writers Do Not Emphasize His Suffering

The New Testament writers did not emphasize the physical suffering of Jesus upon the cross. The suffering that Jesus went through was more than physical agony. Indeed, His death paid the penalty for the world’s sins. In doing so He was, in some way unknown to us, separated from God the Father. The Bible says,

At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NLT)

There was a separation between God the Father and God the Son in those hours Jesus was upon the cross. During that time the penalty for our sins was placed upon Him.

Therefore, as far as Christians are concerned, the symbol of the cross does not have so much to do with the physical suffering of Jesus. It represents the “good news” that salvation has been obtained for those who come to God in faith.

Summary – Question 7
Why Was Jesus Crucified Rather than Being Stoned to Death?

Jesus Christ was put to death by the terrible method of crucifixion. Although we are not told why the religious leaders did not organize a group of people to stone Him, it is likely due to the curse associated with crucifixion. The Old Testament speaks of those who die in this manner as being “cursed.”

Crucifixion was reserved for the slaves, political rebels and the worst criminals. The religious leaders may have wanted to make it clear to all that Jesus could not have been the promised Messiah because of the manner in which He died. Certainly God would not allow His “Chosen One” to die such a horrible death. Thus, they may have assumed a death by crucifixion would end all talk of Jesus being the Messiah.

When the New Testament writers spoke of Jesus’ death, it was not to emphasize the horrible suffering that He endured on our behalf. Rather it was to proclaim the victory that Jesus won in paying the penalty for sin. He did indeed become a curse for us, the innocent died for the guilty.

Consequently, the fact that Jesus was crucified emphasizes that awfulness of our sin; the penalty of which was placed upon Him. Realizing this should cause us to hate sin all the more as well as to love Jesus all the more. Indeed, He died so that each of us could live.

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