Now for those who don’t know much about this process, again the Romans had perfected it by Jesus’ time. The condemned prisoner would have their hands pierced with nails that were about the diameter of a nickel, and they would have been several inches long. Some people suggest that Jesus’ wrists were pierced instead of the hand because of the impossibility of the hands to support the weight. Scripture specifically describes everything else associated with the crucifixion, so I see no reason to interpret this differently. I believe the nails were specifically in His hands.
I think this is supported, also, if you understand how crucifixion was administered. It was not the loss of blood or the trauma that usually caused death. This form of punishment was intentionally designed to inflict the maximum pain and suffering during the execution process. Not only was it degrading because the prisoners were usually executed in the nude, and not only was it painful because of the nails, but it was done so in such as way to slowly asphyxiate the individual. Psalm 22:14-18 says:
14 I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet;
17 I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me.
18 They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. (NKJV)
Notice verse 14. This is not just a poetic reference to Jesus. It is a literal description of the crucifixion process. The process of asphyxiation during crucifixion was caused because the prisoner’s arms would be dislocated from the shoulder sockets so that the weight of the body would slowly collapse on itself putting pressure on the lungs until they could no longer breathe. To help support the weight, the arms would usually be lashed to the cross-tie, which is how the hands could be pierced and still support the weight without tearing away.
The condemned’s feet would be positioned and nailed in such a way that it would exacerbate the asphyxiation process because the prisoner would be able to partially support the body weight initially, but over time the muscles in the legs would slowly give out, and the prisoner would begin the downward spiral leading to death. Death could be within a few hours as in the case of Jesus, or it could take several days, but normally it took quite a while for an individual to die this way. This is why Pilate was surprised at how quickly Jesus had succumbed (see Mark 15:44).