Since the first century, there have been persistent attempts to undermine the facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What really happened on that far-away hill?
Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, according to Dr Lloyd Davies, a noted British physician. Says Dr Taylor: "At his crucifixion Jesus was in shock and suffering from falling blood pressure ... his ashen skin and immobility were mistaken for death". Six hours on the cross. He fainted. A cool tomb. Tended wounds. And recovery. It all sounds so obvious, so simple. And it avoids the embarrassment of having to explain the resurrection of Jesus!
Yet it's grossly wrong.
And what's more - few Christians understand the real cause of the death of this most famed person in history! According to the Bible - the only contemporary documentary source still available - Jesus Christ really and truly died: "Christ died for our sins", said the apostle Paul (I Cor 15:3). And that's repeated a dozen times in the New Testament. He was resurrected from among the dead, we're told (v.12). The apostle Peter, seven weeks after these momentous events, told thousands of his contemporaries - most of whom had been in Jerusalem when the crucifixion took place: "you put [Jesus] to death" (Acts 2:23). No one denied the fact.
A Broken Heart?
But how did Jesus die? Popularly, he died "of a broken heart". Others think he "gave up" life. Yet others claim it was just a mirage, that Jesus was just a phantasm! But traditionally his death was caused by the awful trauma of crucifixion. It's a long, slow, agonizing, tortured death. Endlessly, from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon - the man Jesus suffered on our behalf. And as Dr Davies points out, such death throes could be prolonged for possibly three or four days.
This time, however, it was different. The New Testament clearly and consistently documents the awesome events. Jesus died in about six hours. Why?
The Jewish annual Sabbath - the first Day of Unleavened Bread - was about to begin (at sunset), and it was contrary to Jewish Law for a body to hang on a "tree" overnight, especially on a Sabbath - John 19:31, Deut 21:23. By the way, the "cross" to which Jesus was nailed was a tree-trunk [upright stake], maybe with cross-bar on top, not the familiar "Latin cross". [See Harper's Bible Dictionary, article "cross" for a full description of the procedure.]) By some accounts, a Roman soldier who failed to ensure the death of the "victim" would himself be crucified. So, to expedite death the soldiers shattered the legs of two of the criminals hanging beside Jesus. When they came to Jesus to mete out the same fate - he was already dead! Even Pontius Pilate was surprised, and demanded confirmation (Mark 15:42-45).
What happened? Why did Jesus die so "speedily"? Did he really "just give up"? Or die of a broken heart?
In fact, Jesus was executed. Deliberately slaughtered as in a sacrifice. The record states: "And when they [the soldiers] came to Jesus and saw that he was dead already, they broke not his legs" (John 19:33) - a fact foreshadowed in the original type of the Passover lamb (v.36, Exodus 12:46).
The apostle John clarifies: "But one of the soldiers with a spear [had?] pierced his side and at once there came out blood and water". John knows - for he was right there and saw it with his own eyes (John 19:35)! Of course! A three inch wide razor-sharp spear severed major arteries and ripped into his bladder (cp. Isa. 36:12 LXX). Blood and water indeed! His pulsing heart pumped out his life's blood. Not a mere trickle, but all of it. Not blood cells and separated plasma, but blood and urine.
Two explanations of the Spear Thrust
i) Jesus only appeared to be dead:
Here modern medical knowledge can come to our aid. We know that the appearance of death can precede real death by several minutes, sometimes longer. CPR on drowning victims is often persisted in for ten or more minutes. Roman soldiers also knew about "playing possum", pretending to be dead. So the sword thrust would have been "just in case". And the fact blood and urine exited confirmed their caution. After death, blood congeals and urine flow out of its own accord, because the muscles no long contract to hold it in. In Jesus's case, the blood and urine were still in their living state - Jesus was not yet clinically dead.
ii) The spear thrust occurred earlier:
A) A grammatical reason:
Let's be clear about the text here! A reading of the King James version would indicate that the spear thrust occurred after the apparent death of Jesus. However, the aorist tense of the Greek in John 19:34 can mean "had pierced" (pluperfect). That is the spearing had occurred before the related event of the soldiers breaking the thieves' legs - as the Moffatt translation and many manuscripts show. Writes one scholar: "In narration the aorist is used for the pluperfect" [G B Winer: Treatise on NT Greek]. And, of course, the pluperfect denotes an event that took place previous to another past event. [However all the events in this passage are reported in the aorist, so the question arises as to why only the verb "pierced" is to be understood in the pluperfect.]
B) A textual reason:
The sequence that the spear thrust occurred before the solders declared Jesus dead is confirmed by an early variant of Matthew's account in ch. 27:49, according to many early MSS until the 6th century, though not so translated in the KJV. This version of the text of v.49 reads: "But the others said, 'Stop, let us see if Elijah does come to save him!' Seizing a lance, another [a soldier, according to John] pierced his side, and out came water and blood".
See also the Moffatt and Fenton translations, but Bruce Metzger's "A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament" considers that "a later copyist awkwardly introduced it into the text."
Matthew went on to say: "Jesus, again uttered a loud scream [in pain], and gave up his spirit".
In this case, no wonder he screamed in agony. No wonder he was "already dead" when the soldiers reached him!
Jesus was Killed
We can no longer reconstruct the precise details of the events themselves. But the evidence is overwhelming. Jesus died instantly. Not from a broken heart but by means of a Roman spear - thrust, his life blood spilling into the dust.
As the Scriptures consistently teach, the blood of Jesus was shed poured out, not mere drops - again foreshadowed by the blood of the Passover lamb (Ex 12:21-22).
This is perfectly in accord with the Bible statements that Jesus' blood was shed or poured out, not mere drops, that he was sacrificed, again foreshadowed by the blood of the Passover lamb (Ex 12:21-22), which corresponded to him. (See I Corinthians 5:7).
Medical comments on the Crucifixion of Jesus
Elsewhere, the Scriptures say Jesus' blood was shed - "poured out". At that very moment - as Jesus Christ was being thrust through while hanging defenseless on the tree at the "Place of the Skull" [Golgotha, Calvary]. the priests in the nearby Temple were sacrificing the Passover lambs, whose blood also was being literally poured out by the slice of a blade. [According to Josephus, so many lambs were needed for the multitudes observing the Passover, that their slaughter took many hours. Some speculate that Jesus was killed at the same moment that the most important lamb was sacrificed - the one to be eaten by the Chief Priest].
Jesus was the perfect antitype! As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: "Christ our Passover is sacrificed [slain, slaughtered] for us" (I Cor 5:7). Indeed it was prophesied in Isaiah - some seven centuries before Jesus' death - "He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:4-5)! The early Church understood that this applied to the death of Jesus (see Acts 8:32-35).
No - Jesus Christ did not faint or fall into a coma. He was not merely comatose with the possibility of a natural recovery in the coolness of the rock tomb. After being gouged by the spear, he was truly brain-dead. He was as dead as anyone can be! And Jesus remained dead and in a sealed tomb for the next seventy-two hours, heavily guarded - on pain of death - by a contingent of armed soldiers.
Challenge of Resurrection
Then, after three days and three nights in that tomb, Jesus Christ was resurrected by the majestic power of Almighty God. He burst from the bands of death into the realm of the spirit. Without his lifetime of struggle, his death and his subsequent resurrection our faith would be an empty shell.
And the world would be without hope!
Without his successful battle against sin in a lifetime of overcoming., without his very real death, and without his resurrection you would not have a Savior!
The good news is that Jesus Christ did indeed die on that free. He died for our sins. And each person who responds to the call of God can be washed clean of all sin through his shed blood. Because of his sinless life, death could not hold him - God raised him from the dead and set him at His right hand. There he remains - agonizing over each of his brothers and sisters in their trials.
If you want to respond to the personal challenge of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, if you want to live for ever, write for our free articles What Do You Mean "Repent"?, The Empty Tomb and Coming To Baptism. And if you want counsel on this vital matter perhaps the most vital of your life you are invited to contact any office of the Churches of God
To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.
For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Volume 2 No. 2, March/April 1998. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.
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