During Lent I learned about an important unearthing in the field of archeology that took place 50 years ago. The find sheds remarkable light on the crucifixion and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
John 20 tells us that Jesus told the disciples to examine His hands and side. Jesus invited Thomas and the apostles to put their fingers into His hands and side. “Do not be unbelieving, but believing,” Jesus said. Thomas responded and said, “My Lord and My God!”
While John mentions the hands and the side, Luke records Jesus’ words about His hands and feet. Jesus said, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.” Luke 24:39 While John wants his readers to marvel at the mystery that the very side that was pierced by the soldier’s sword now is healed and able to be touched again, Luke desires His readers to consider how the prophesy of Psalm 22:16 stands fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Psalm 22:16 says, “They pierced my hands and feet.”
But for a long time liberal scholars believed that Luke was making up the account of the “hands and feet.” Up to that time, they had no written record or physical evidence that a crucified man ever had his feet nailed to a cross.
In 1968 a group of ossuaries (bone boxes) were discovered that proved the scholars entirely wrong. The bone boxes dated to the first century, within 35 years of the time of Christ, and were discovered in a cave in Jerusalem, just a mile and a half away from the tomb where Jesus was buried. Several remarkable finds were uncovered including:
But also in the discovery of the others were the bones of a man who had indisputably been crucified. Not only were the man’s bones recovered, there was an iron nail still sticking out from his feet! This was the smoking gun!
The bones were found in Ossuary 4 in Tomb 1. The man was determined to be 24-28 years old. His name, Jehochanan (John), was inscribed on the outside of the stone box. A four and a half inch nail still pierced his right heel. Here was undeniable evidence of the use of nails in the crucifixion of the victim’s feet.
While crucifixion was a very common form of execution in Jesus’ day, it is rare to find the body of a crucified victim. Crucified bodies were often discarded in a dump as families usually did not bury one who died in such a shameful manner. Yet not only is it rare to find the body of a crucified victim, in Roman times iron was rare, and under most circumstances nails were removed from the body of the crucified sufferer and used again. When Jehochanan had been taken down from the cross, the nail could not be removed and so he was buried with it. It was discovered that the nail had penetrated the wood of the cross, likely struck a knot, and had bent. Nearly 2,000 years later the tip of the nail was still bent!
When Jesus said, “Behold My hands and My feet,” He truly meant it and truly said it. His hands and His feet had been pierced, and yet the feet that had been crucified were the same feet that were before them again. The nails on Jesus’ feet could not hold Him down. The feet that had walked to give the message of truth and forgiveness, the feet that had walked to deliver healing to the leper and the lame, the feet that had walked to proclaim peace and pardon, were the very feet that did not remain in the tomb.
We do not worship a dead Lord, but a living Christ who was crucified and triumphed over the cross and the grave. Jehochanan’s feet and bones are still in the tomb (even with the nail!), but the feet and bones of Jesus have risen!