NKJV - 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him.
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None of the wounds inflicted by the process of crucifixion itself were normally fatal in and of themselves. (As a passing note, in Roman crucifixion, nails were not driven into the palms of the hands (as commonly portrayed), but into the wrists, in order to be secured sufficiently to hold the body on the cross.) The primary purpose of the act of nailing the condemned to the cross was as a means of exposing the condemned to public shame and ridicule, as well as to impress upon the public the consequences of violating Roman law. When the condemned would be hanging on the cross, they would have to push or raise themselves up by applying pressure to the nails in their feet so that they could extend their legs until their lungs were on the same level as their arms in order to be able to breathe, due to the inability to exhale while hanging by the nails. The condemned could survive on the cross for as long as they could push themselves up in order to be able to breathe. (The normal cause of death in Roman crucifixion was asphyxiation.) After the Romans believed that the public display purpose of the crucifixion had been served (or, in the case of Jesus' crucifixion, because Passover would begin at sundown), the Romans broke the legs of the condemned in order to hasten their deaths, since they would then no longer be able to push themselves up in order to breathe. Because of the extensive abuse and punishment (including scourging) that Jesus had already undergone prior to His crucifixion, He was in a weaker physical condition than the two others who were crucified with Him, which caused Him to die prior to the breaking of the legs. (This was also to fulfill the imagery and prophecy of Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, and Psalm 34:20, where the lamb slain at Passover was a prefiguring of Christ.) However, in order to assure that Jesus was dead, a Roman soldier pierced His rib cage with a spear, resulting in penetration of the pericardium (the membrane surrounding the heart), which was the source of the blood and water that flowed back out of the wound. Even this action (although it was performed by individuals who had no knowledge of Old Testament Scriptures) was also in fulfillment of prophecy (Zechariah 12:10).
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