Excerpted from my article in the March/April 2001 issue of The Catholic Answer:
The full terror of Jesus' death is well magnified by looking at it through the prism of diabolic vengeance: Jesus took Satan's beating. Jesus, Full Being incarnate and therefore Full Goodness incarnate, was assailed by Satan, the anti-being of evil. Satan unleashed his wrath on Jesus, and Jesus stood there, taking it, as Satan flailed away at him, evil unhitched, centered on one man, tearing through him, hurting him any way possible. Everything that deprives a person of the dignity of existence was used against Jesus: Mockery, spitting, nakedness, whipping, cutting, bleeding, public humiliation, carrying one's own instrument of torture.
Jesus' excruciating torture, on the physical sphere, is documented by Dr. Barbet in A Doctor at Calvary. The following are just a few highlights of his suffering:
During the beating in the Praetorium, with the skin extremely tender from the suffering in the Garden, he received blows with sticks. The beating bruised his cheek, broke the septum of his nose, and may have produced a serious concussion and broke vessels in the membranes that envelope the spinal cord and brain.
He was later scourged with a flagrum, an instrument consisting of long, thick thongs with lead balls on the end. The thongs cut into the skin and dug the balls into the body, scraping it open. This torture by itself often killed men. Although Hebrew law restricted the strokes to forty, Jesus probably received sixty.
The thorns which comprised his crown were long and very sharp and probably tore the whole head of Jesus, wounding the entire surface of the cranium and forehead, resulting in a further loss of blood (when cut, the scalp bleeds vigorously).
The cross was laid across Jesus' tender and bruised shoulders, further tearing the skin. When he fell under its weight, the cross scraped away the skin across all the bony protrusions from the shoulder blade to the base of his back.
After nailing him to the cross (including a large nail through the middle of each wrist), he died the horrible death of crucifixion, the most-terrible death inflicted in the ancient world, in which a person dies slowly of asphyxiation,
On the spiritual plane things weren't much better. Commencing with Jesus' agony in the Garden, climaxing with his words on the cross, “My God my God why hast thou forsaken me,” and ending when he cried aloud in agony and gave up his spirit, Jesus' spiritual suffering paralleled his physical torment.
Jesus suffered on the emotional front as well. Not only was the whole ordeal leading to his death humiliating and scary, but tradition tells us he saw his mother during it all. Stumbling with his cross, barely making his way, hearing the crowd jeer, he looked up and saw his mother see. And as he hung on the cross, he knew he was the cause of a mother's worst nightmare, the death of her child.
In short, Jesus endured the most fearsome suffering imaginable: An ontological beating that produced an ontological suffering. In such a beating, everything in a person must suffer. In Guardini's words, “No one ever died as Jesus died, who was life itself. No one was ever punished for sin as he was, the Sinless One. No one ever experienced the plunge down the vacuum of evil as did God's Son–even to the excruciating agony behind the words: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' Jesus was really destroyed. . . He no longer had anything, was anything: 'a worm and not a man.'”
The pain couldn't have been any greater.