Disclaimer: This is a fictional narrative, meant as a dramatization of Jesus’ crucifixion. The story is not meant to be historically accurate, and only loosely represents the factual events as portrayed in the New Testament Scriptures. The goal is to pull the reader into the scene, giving him/her the first person perspective of the one holding the hammer and nails.
As I stood in the alley between the bank and the bakery, my backpack felt like a pressing weight on my shoulder. There was a sound like a shoe scuffing the pavement behind me, and I spun around, coming face to face with my brother and best friend.
“John, you know you don’t have to do this…please, don’t.” Jes whispered urgently. He looked around the alley, then turned back and met my eyes. His stare bore into me, making my stomach clench anxiously.
I rolled my eyes and huffed in irritation. “Yeah, I know I don’t have to—I want to.” A thrill rushed down my spine as I thought of the events to come in the near future. I pulled out my cell phone to check the time. Only 2 minutes to showtime.
“You know that Father wouldn’t want you to do this.” Jes warned. I knew he was right. Father was always saying things like, “Don’t covet what’s not yours.” Or his other favorite, “Honor your father and mother.”
“I know.” I muttered. I didn’t care about what Father thought, however. My thoughts were centered on the fun and excitement before me. I was sick of hearing about what I could and couldn’t do, or should and shouldn’t do. I always felt like Father was a buzz-kill. I knew he loved me and said things for my own good, but I was tired of feeling like all my friends got to do fun things and I was left out.
I looked back up at Jes’ face and was rocked to the core to see the sadness and pain etched deeply there. Suddenly, I wondered for a fleeting moment if I should go through with this. But, as he glanced away, the moment passed and my determination to proceed settled over me like a blanket.
“I see I can’t talk you out of it.” He said softly, then walked back out of the alley and turned toward the bakery to the left. Within seconds after he left, Izzy’s car pulled into the alley and parked in front of the bank’s side door. My three friends climbed out of Izzy’s car and walked to the trunk to retrieve our gear. Izzy tossed me a ski-mask and pulled his own over his face. I walked over to the three of them and accepted a Glock from his hand, stuffing it into the back of my black jeans. We all pulled on bullet-proof vests and then walked over to the bank door, leaving the trunk slightly open.
One of the others pulled out a cloned key for the back door and opened it quietly. Two of my friends led the way with their AR-15s. The men made their way through the back corridor and to the teller door. Izzy opened the door and pointed his gun at the bank manager, while my two other friends entered the lobby, their guns pointed at the two guards standing near the front doors.
“Everyone get down on the floor and put your hands where we can see them!” I shouted, pulling zip ties out of my jeans pocket. There were about 40 people inside, including the tellers and bank manager. I rushed forward and began cuffing each person with the zip ties. I could hear muffled crying and Izzy’s commands to the bank manager as the primary safe was opened. I made my way to the back and waited for my opportunity to carry the bags of cash to the car.
There was a sudden sound of scuffling coming from the lobby, followed by grunts and a wordless shout. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
I ran back toward the lobby just as a gunshot went off. Cries of terror and despair echoed in the large chamber just as I turned the corner. My stomach clenched as I watched one of the guards drop to the floor with a bullet to the brain.
“Matt! What are you doing!?” I yelled at my friend, who stood over the dead guard, chest heaving.
“He didn’t give me a choice!” Matt cried, glancing over his shoulder at me, his gun shaking in his hands.
A sharp shove came from behind, throwing me to the floor. A sharp kick to my ribs came next, causing the air to rush out of my lungs and my side to seize with pain. A gunshot echoed again as I curled onto my side in pain.
“One more move and you’re next!” Matt yelled at the other guard who stood over me. “Down on your knees! Now!”
Izzy rushed from the back, three duffle-bags slung over his shoulders. “Come on! Let’s go!”
Sirens sounded in the distance as the men made their way back toward the corridor, leading toward the side alley. I attempted to stand and follow, but collapsed back to the ground with a groan. I realized that one or two of my ribs were cracked, the ache causing a spasm of pain to rip through me.
“John! Come on!” Izzy called over his shoulder, waving his hand toward the hallway door, but I remained struggling for breath on the floor. My three friends exited the door just as flashing red and blue lights lit up the lobby.
Men and women whimpered from their places on the floor, waiting for the police to enter the building. Panic caused the thumping in my chest to nearly triple in time. The double front doors burst open as police flooded the building. I knew I was done for—I stretched my hands above my head as the first cop to enter the building rushed over and disarmed me, then put me in handcuffs.
Officers began releasing the hostages from the zip-ties and sorting them into groups for follow-up interviews. After the building was cleared of threats, two policemen marched me to the police car and placed me in the back seat. My breath wheezed in and out of me as I hunched forward in the seat to prevent myself from sitting on my cuffed hands.
The two officers who had placed me in the cruiser eventually drove me to the police station for booking. Hours later, after I’d been processed for the booking, a doctor finally came to check my ribs. I was thankful that none of my other friends had been caught, but terrified that I would be punished for the rest of my life—especially since a man had died.
A few weeks later, I sat in a courtroom, sweating bullets as I listened to the charges being read against me. I could hardly bear to look up at the Judge seated before me…my Father. My brother and best friend sat in the row behind me, offering his comfort in spite of everything.
“These are serious charges.” The Judge, my Father, said with a look of sadness and pain on his face. “Your victims and their families deserve justice for what you and your cohorts have done.”
I looked down at my hands folded before me and nodded my head. My guilt was not only undeniable, it was overwhelming. “I know…” I whispered.
“Someone has to pay for what was done.” The Judge replied resolutely. Even though I was his son, I knew I would not escape the punishment I was due. “I’ve heard from some of the families represented here, and they want you physically punished for this crime.”
I looked up into his face, my heart beating faster in dread of the sentencing.
“Therefore, you’ll be—”
“Father!” A voice spoke from behind me, stopping the Judge from his sentencing. “Let me take his punishment.”
I jerked around in my seat to stare in disbelief and horror at Jes. “No!”
“Yes. I’m the only one who can.” He said so softly that only I could hear. I shook my head at him, gritting my teeth.
“You realize what you’re offering to do?” The Judge asked, standing up.
“Yes. I offer myself as his substitute.” Jes stood also.
“No!” I glared at Jes. “You can’t do this!”
“I can and I will.” Jes replied, his look of brotherly love causing me to choke on the emotions trying to come out. I shook my head again.
“Very well.” The Judge slammed the gavel onto his podium. “Jes has been sentenced to your punishment. But you will mete it out to him, John.”
“What?!” I shot to my feet, looking back at our Father in horror.
“Bailiff, escort both of them out of the building and to the courtyard behind the courthouse. Those who wish to watch the proceedings may follow.”
Two burly men escorted Jes and me outside, where a post with a metal ring attached to the top stood in the center of a circular field. As people filed out of the building behind us, I turned to Jes and glared at him.
“You’re an idiot! What are you thinking?? The perfect son, right? Now you’re taking my punishment?? For what reason, Jes? You weren’t even there!”
Jes looked at me, his eyes filled with sorrow and pity. “But I was…before you went in.”
I slapped him hard, hoping to knock some sense into him.[i] “You’re an utter fool if you think that somehow makes what you’re doing right. You’re innocent! I’m the guilty one! Tell Father you made a mistake and let me take my own punishment!”
My anger rose even higher as he simply shook his head at me, his lips tightly sealed against a response.[ii] The Judge walked outside, still wearing his robe, and sat down on a chair that was placed on the far side of the ring.
“Secure him to the post.” He commanded the bailiff.
The bailiff walked to where Jes stood waiting and removed his shirt, then led him roughly to the post and chained his hands to the ring at the top of the post, forcing Jes’ back to stretch upwards.
“Give John the whip.”
“Whip?” I asked, looking over at Father. He watched as the bailiff handed me a cat-o-nine-tails whip; something I’d only ever read about.[iii]
“Thirty-nine lashes, John. One for each of the victims in that bank.”
I gulped back bile as I stared at the cruel weapon in my hand. I knew I had no choice, but still I hesitated.
“Do it.” Jes called from the whipping post before me. My anger returned in full force. What a stupid fool! I gripped the whip tightly and walked to stand directly behind him. With a sharp intake of breath, I pulled my arm back and swung forward with a snap of the leather straps. The pieces of glass and metal imbedded in the ends of the leather strands stuck in Jes’ back from the force of the motion, but worse than that was when I pulled the whip back again—large patches of skin ripped from his back.
I gagged and almost dropped the whip, but the Judge called out, “Again!”
I firmed my hand again and repeated the action, flaying more skin from Jes’ back. Again and again, I forced myself to strike him. He managed to only groan as his back became a bloody mess. After the fifth strike, blood began to splatter my face with each hit. My arm began to get tired after the 12th strike and I allowed my arm to fall to my side as tears and blood streamed down my face.
“Again.” My Father called brokenly from his seat across from me.
I looked up at him and saw my pain mirrored in his eyes. It angered me that he was allowing this and that emotion rushing through my veins gave me new strength to continue. 13…14…15…I dragged in ragged breath after ragged breath. 29…30…31… I counted numbly in my mind as I continued to strike Jes. 37…38…39…
The whip fell from my fingers. My arm ached so much that it almost felt as though it would fall off. I looked up at the Judge. He motioned for the bailiff to uncuff Jes from the post. Jes collapsed to the ground with a soft thud, followed by a groan of immense pain.
“That’s not good enough!” Someone called from the crowd around us. I jerked my head up in shock, wondering what more they could possibly want. Jes slowly knelt from his prone position on the ground and a guard walked over to force him to his feet.
“Bring out the outfit.” The Judge said, motioning again for the bailiff to fulfill his command.[iv] The bailiff returned a moment later with a finely crafted coat—clearly meant for a prince or king of some kind—as well as a large wooden box. He set the box down on the ground and then placed the coat on Jes. My best friend hissed in pain as the coat ravaged his already shredded back. Next, the bailiff opened the large wooden box and carefully pulled out a crown made from thorn branches.[v] The thorns themselves were about 1-2 inches long each.
“Have John put it on him.” The Judge commanded.
I choked on my own breath as the bailiff walked to me and gently placed it in my hands. I stared at this hideous thing and felt my already shaky knees weaken further. Jes glanced up at me and his chin jerked downward in the slightest of nods.
Tears ran down my face as I forced myself to walk over to where he swayed on his own trembling legs. I reached up and placed it on his head. Even as gently as I did, the thorns pierced his brow and blood poured down his face.
“Are you satisfied with this, Sir?” The bailiff called out to the Judge.
But before the Judge could respond, someone yelled, “No!! What about my son?? He’s dead because of him!”
“Yeah! He deserves to die!” A voice that sounded suspiciously like Izzy yelled in agreement.[vi]
I tried to see the person who’d yelled, but couldn’t identify them in the mob surrounding us. I looked back to the Judge, worried about what he’d say next.
“You’re right.” The Judge called back in a hoarse voice. “A life for a life is what the law says.”
My heart sank in my chest, and I struggled to breathe. “No…”
“John, you will nail him to that tree over there—” the Judge pointed, “and he will stay there until he dies.”
“I can’t…” I whispered, staring at him, willing him to change his mind.
“You must.” He said softly. He stood and walked off the field to the tree just beyond.
“Come on, John. You know you don’t have a choice. I volunteered for this, remember?” Jes shuffled forward toward the tree.
“Why?? Why did you do this??” I cried, forcing my legs to carry me forward as I followed him.
“Because…I love you.” Jes gasped as he stumbled closer to the tree—now only about 10 feet away.[vii]
“You’re crazy!!” I screamed at him, my heart breaking inside my chest.
A guard took off the coat Jes wore and then tied his arms to two vertical branches, forming a T shape. Then the same guard handed me a large mallet and three large nails the size of railroad spikes. He motioned for me to step forward and start nailing Jes to the tree.
“Nail his hands and feet to the tree.” The Judge said, then turned away from the scene.
I forced myself to approach and put the nails on the ground at the foot of the tree. Then, picking up the first one, I placed it in the center of Jes’ right palm and began hammering it into his hand. The first strike caused the flesh and tendons to give way. I thought for sure that it would break several bones, but never heard a crunching sound. After the first nail was in his hand, I bent over to pick up the second one and vomited all over the ground. Once I was able to stand up again, I moved over to his other side and began the process all over again in his other palm. Tears streamed uncontrollably from my eyes as I finished with his left palm.
Finally, I knelt before him and began driving the final nail through both of his feet at the same time. He hung there gasping in pain, agony written on every line of his face.[viii] The mallet dropped from my hands as I stared up at him.
“I…chose…this…to save…you…” His breaths came out in pants, the words barely audible. But I heard. I heard every word.[ix]
“Jes…” I moaned, my anguish at this punishment more than I could bear. I knew that his body was shutting down—the wounds too great, his blood-loss too much.
“It’s finished.” He whispered, then his final breath rushed out of his lungs. He stopped moving, his head falling to his chest for the last time.[x]
Suddenly I heard shouts and laughter, my head jerked in the direction of the bystanders—they were gleeful as they rejoiced over his death. I couldn’t understand this reaction—Jes was innocent! He didn’t deserve any of this! He’d never done anything to hurt anyone, and yet here these people were glad that he was dead…at my hand.
“Justice is served!” One of them cried out cruelly as he turned around and walked away. My heart broke again, knowing that justice had not been served for Jes. Here I was, still alive and guilty. But here he was, dead and innocent.
Eventually, I forced myself up off the ground and walked over to where my Father stood. I looked up at his face, seeing the pain I felt reflected there. “Why did you let this happen??”
“Someone had to die, John. He chose to take your place. But this is not the end…” I watched as he walked away from the scene behind me. My emotions raged and I didn’t know what to feel. What did he mean by ‘this is not the end…’? I didn’t know, but I struggled to move on from this place.
I could hear the prison guards taking Jes down from the tree. I couldn’t watch. I ran away as fast as my feet would carry me.
Three days later, I sat at home staring at the clock ticking on the wall. I hadn’t slept or ate since the day I’d crucified my own best friend and brother. I couldn’t find the energy to care about it either. Suddenly, I heard a knock at the door.[xi]
“Go away!” I screamed angrily. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. Not now, not ever. But the knocking continued…on and on, until I finally got irritated enough to open the door. I stomped over to the front door and jerked it open intending to give the person a piece of my mind. But the face of my visitor stopped me in my tracks.
“H-how…?” I gasped and stumbled back a step. He stepped in after me and wrapped his arms around me.
“You don’t need to know the ‘how’ now…only that I still love you.” Jes held onto me tightly as I broke down weeping. I clung to him as I released all the sorrow and grief that had held me fast for 3 days. He was back! He was alive!
For the next several days, Jes and I spent every moment together. We reminisced about all the good times we’d had and my joy was overwhelming at being with my brother again. But eventually he took me aside and said something that made my heart stop.
“I’ll be going away now. You can’t come right now, but eventually I will come back for you.”[xii]
“What??” I cried, unwilling to hear this. I’d just got him back!
We were walking on a hiking trail near the edge of town. He turned back to look at me over his shoulder. I could hear a lot of other people milling around nearby, but I couldn’t think about anything other than his words just now.
“John, I will return. Don’t worry. One day you’ll see me again, but until then I’ll send someone to help you.”
“But why, Jes?” I watched him as he continued to walk up the trail ahead of me.
“Because I have to prepare a place for you.” I noticed that he seemed to be floating and suddenly it was clear that he was rising into the sky.[xiii] I stood below, watching him, my mouth hanging open. I couldn’t get words out of my mouth. I wanted to yell, “Wait! Come back!” But my tongue wouldn’t cooperate. Clouds obscured him and as I continued to stare upward, I could hear a crowd gathering around me, watching with me.
[i] John 19:3 NASB.
[ii] Isaiah 53:7 NASB.
[iii] John 19:1 NASB
[iv] Matthew 27:28 NASB
[v] Matthew 27:29 NASB
[vi] Luke 23:23 NASB
[vii] Romans 5:8 NASB
[viii] Mark 15:24 NASB
[ix] 1 Peter 2:24 NASB
[x] John 19:30 NASB
[xi] John 20:19 NASB
[xii] John 14:3 NASB
[xiii] Acts 1:9 NASB
[xiv] Matthew 28:20 NASB
[xv] Acts 1:11 NASB