This story of Jesus' crucifixion occurs in all 4 gospel accounts, with only minor variations of which details each gospel writer included. We chose to use the Mark telling as the basis for the story in this lesson, but you should read all 4 accounts in your study for this lesson.
Some teachers might feel uncomfortable telling this story to children - especially young children. While we certainly encourage you to be sensitive to your students' ages and their ability to process the information, we strongly encourage you not to water the lesson down so much that they miss the central point: Jesus Christ willingly suffered at the hands of men for our sins. You can teach them that the soldiers placed a crown of thorns on his head and give them a basic description of it without going into gory details. You can teach them that they nailed him to the cross on his hands and his feet without treating it like a scary movie.
Here are the components of the story:
- Jesus was put on trial - Jesus was first put on "trial" before the Jewish leaders. They were looking for some reason to be able to take him to the Roman government to be punished. They had different people give "testimony", but no one could get their stories straight. Finally they just asked Jesus to incriminate himself by asking him whether he was the Son of God. Jesus said, "I AM", and that was enough for them to convict him of blasphemy. Then they sent him to be put on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. He couldn't find any reason to put him to death, but by this time the crowd was whipped up into a fury and he had to worry about creating unrest in an occupied area. So he relented and had Jesus sentenced to crucifixion.
- The soldiers mocked Jesus - These Roman soldiers were hardened death squads. The Romans had perfected crucifixion as a method of punishment, and they were making a sport of it. They placed a crown made from thorns on his head, they put a purple robe on him (mocking him as "king"), spit on him, hit him on the head with sticks, and pretended to worship him.
- Simon carried Jesus' cross for him - They took Jesus to a hill called Golgotha (which meant, the "Place of the Skull"). They required Jesus to carry his own cross up the road. Along the way, Jesus grew tired and wasn't able to keep carrying it. So the soldiers forced a man named Simon to carry it for him.
- The soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross - These were not ordinary nails like you get at the hardware store. These were about 4-6" long and thick. If you can get hold of some, get some cut nails from the hardware store, which are much more like the nails they used. They nailed one into each of his wrists and one into both of his feet.
- The soldiers offered Jesus something to drink several times - Jesus was offered wine vinegar (literally just really old, sour wine) mixed with gall (a form of poison or narcotic) that he refused. After he said, "I thirst", they also offered him sour wine (also called vinegar, or wine vinegar) which he drank.
- The soldiers cast lots for his clothes - Again, making a game of this horrible torture, the soldiers cast lots (think rolling dice or choosing straws) to see who could take his clothes home as a souvenir of their day's work.
- The crowd mocked Jesus - The crucifixion lasted several hours. It was meant as a public embarrassment as much as it was torture. As people passed by, they shouted at him and mocked him. The soldiers had placed a sign over his head on the cross that said, "King of the Jews" to mock him. The people passing by told him that if he really was the Son of God, that he should just come down off the cross himself.
- Darkness fell over the land for 3 hours before he died - The Mark account tells us that at about noon, darkness fell over the land for about 3 hours until Jesus died.
- Jesus' last words - Jesus said several phrases that were recorded as his last words. Two of them were especially noteworthy. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” comes from Psalm 22:1. This helps us understand that Jesus was carrying our sins on him on the cross and that he was taking our punishment (separation from God). Then, just before he breathed his last breath, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)
- Miracles happened when Jesus died - The Matthew account gives us details about several miracles that occurred just as Jesus died. The temple curtain was torn in two; there was an earthquake; tombs broke open and saints were raised to life and they went back to Jerusalem and appeared to others.
- Joseph of Arimathea helped bury him - A man named Joseph of Arimathea bought a tomb and took Jesus' body down off the cross, wrapped him in a linen cloth and placed him in the tomb.
To put this story in context, see this visualization of the chronology of Holy Week.