Jesus suffered death by the Roman penalty of crucifixion because the Jewish Sanhedrin had no power to inflict capital punishment, according to John 18: 31. In the gospels there is certainly a tendency to heighten the Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus and to mitigate that of the Romans. During a time of conflict between Judaism and Rome, when the gospels were compiled, it was in the interests of the Church to stress the differences with Judaism. But a trial before the Sanhedrin is historically credible: it secured a unanimous verdict from the different groups on the ground of blasphemy. What Jesus was alleged to have uttered and which secured his condemnation (Mark 14: 63–4) is similar to that mentioned in the Qumran Temple scroll as deserving the death penalty: Jesus was leading Israel astray (Deut. 13: 1–11). Having obtained this convenient unanimity, the high priest could then rephrase the charge for the prefect. Pilate could not ignore the presence in the city of a Messianic pretender (Luke 23: 2).

The death of Jesus by crucifixion was ordered by Pontius Pilate on a charge of high treason. He was first flogged (Mark 15: 15) and, then being too weak to carry the crossbar, was assisted by Simon of Cyrene. Jesus refused wine mingled with myrrh, offered to reduce the agonizing pain, but died more quickly than was usual. The body was removed by Joseph of Arimathaea, who had in mind the injunction of Deut. 21: 23 that a corpse should not remain exposed on a tree overnight.

Such a fearsome penalty was not easy to reconcile with a belief in Jesus' Messiahship, so it inevitably led to intense theological reflection. Paul interpreted the death as signifying the end of the Jewish Law (Gal. 3: 13) since such a death put the victim under the curse of that Law. It was a sacrifice to deal with sin, and Christians by baptism share in what Christ did on the cross; it is their death to sin, and the beginning of a new life. In later epistles Paul took up the ‘scandal’ of the ‘weakness’ of Christ's death: it represented a judgement against the world's arrogant claims to wisdom (1 Cor. 1: 18–25), and those who suffer in some measure like Christ (Mark 8: 34) could expect to share in his resurrection.