Not only do we confess in The Apostles' Creed that Jesus suffered, we also confess that he was crucified. To merely say that Jesus died would be to miss the barbarism of his execution. Crucifixion is perhaps the cruelest form of execution ever to be concocted by the mind of human beings. It is certainly more cruel than execution in the electric chair or the gas chamber or by the hangman's noose or even the guillotine.
Alister McGrath describes it this way:
The victim would usually be flogged, and was often forced to carry the cross-beam to the place of execution. When this place was reached, the victim's arms were generally nailed to the cross-beam. This was then raised up. Far from an essentially bloodless form of execution, as some commentators have suggested, the victim would have bled profusely.... But death was not usually due to loss of blood. The victim found it increasingly difficult to breathe, due to the strain placed on his chest by the sheer weight of his body. Eventually, he would die from exhaustion, unable to breathe.Origen, one of the Early Church Fathers, called it: :the utterly vile death of the cross." Classical Roman writers were often reluctant to write in detail on the subject, apparently due to its gruesome nature.
However, the important thing, as far as most of the New Testament is concerned, is not how Jesus died, but why. There is the event of Jesus' death, but also the significance of it. What we confess in the Creed is not just the event. Most people, historians included, believe that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, but Christians believe more than this. We believe there was a purpose in it all.
Paul tells us of this purpose in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures."
Jesus died in the place of sinners, like Barabbas for example. Barbados certainly understood the essence of the cross. We do not know whether he ever accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. However, Barabbas certainly knew this: that Jesus died in his place. That is the meaning of the cross: that Jesus died in your place and in mine.
Tomorrow we will take a look at what C. S. Lewis makes of this, what theologians call the doctrine of the Atonement....