Crucifixion is a particularly painful form of execution. As Elder James E. Talmage explained, “The victim lived in ever increasing torture, generally for many hours, sometimes for days. The spikes so cruelly driven through hands and feet penetrated and crushed sensitive nerves and quivering tendons, yet inflicted no mortal wound. The welcome relief of death came through the exhaustion caused by intense and unremitting pain, through localized inflammation and congestion of organs incident to the strained and unnatural posture of the body” (Jesus the Christ, Chapter 35: Death and Burial).
Furthermore, when Jesus was crucified, He bore additional pain: “In addition to the fearful suffering incident to crucifixion, the agony of Gethsemane had recurred, intensified beyond human power to endure” (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Chapter 35: Death and Burial).
With that understanding, I think it is remarkable that the Savior could speak of His suffering in terms of its positive impact. Several times during His mortal ministry, and at least once after, He spoke of being “lifted up” on the cross, so that He could in turn lift us up to eternal life. For example, early in His ministry, speaking with Nicodemus, He compared His own future crucifixion with the raising of the Brass Serpent by Moses to heal the Israelites:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.John 3:14-15
Later, while preaching to a group of Pharisees, He prophesied, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he” (John 8:28). And during the last week of His life, He taught, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). John recognized the importance of this choice of words, adding that Jesus made this statement to “[signify] what death he should die” (John 12:33).
During His visit to the American continent following His death and resurrection, Jesus expanded on this imagery:
My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.3 Nephi 27:14-15
So Jesus was lifted up—violently and painfully—so that we might also be lifted up—joyfully and gloriously. I’m awestruck that He can speak of His agony in terms of its purpose and effect, that He can reframe His very conspicuous suffering as a means of bringing us to Him so that He can uplift us. The very fact that His execution was so public helped Him to accomplish its purpose, and He highlighted that fact for us.
Today, I will be grateful for a Savior who suffered and died so that I can return to God’s presence and be saved. I will remember that because He was lifted up, we can also be lifted up.
Leave a Reply