by Rob Lundberg
We are coming up on the Easter holiday, and I have been thinking about the conversations you and I might encounter during the time when the COVID-19 virus is running rampant. Of course for believers, the death of Jesus Christ by Roman crucifixion is a fact. But there are those out there you and I might encounter who do not believe this, and think that it might be some copy cat myth. In this post, I am going answer the question, “Did Jesus die by Roman crucifixion?”
Now before it can be shown that Jesus rose from the dead it needs to be shown that He really did die. The Qu’ran claims that Jesus only pretended to be dead or that someone took His place,
“And for their saying, ‘Surely we killed the Masih, Isa son of Maryam, (The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary) the Messenger of Allah.’ And in no way did they kill him, and in no way did they crucify him, but a resemblance of him was presented to them (i.e. the matter was made obscure for them through mutual resemblance). And surely the ones who differed about him are indeed in doubt about him. (Or: it, “that”) In no way do they have any knowledge about him except the close following of surmise, and in no way did they kill him of a certainty.” (Qur’an 4:157)
And then, let’s not forget that skeptics have asserted that He appeared to have been dead, possibly drugged, but revived while in the tomb.
So before I get into the meat of my presentation Let’s put it this way, it is no miracle for a live man to walk out of a tomb. In order for the Resurrection to have any significance, Jesus had to be dead first. In order to show this, several points need to be considered:
- There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus was drugged. He turned down the common painkiller that was usually given to crucifixion victims (Mark 15:23). Just before death, He was given a sip of sour wine to relieve His parched throat, but not enough to intoxicate (v. 36). The obvious agony and His death cry do not fit the picture of a man who is about to pass out in a drug-induced state.
- The heavy loss of blood makes death highly probable. While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, His extreme emotional state caused Him to “sweat, as it were, great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). He had been beaten and whipped repeatedly the night before His crucifixion with a Roman scourge (a three-lash whip with pieces of bone or metal on the ends) which tore the flesh of the skeletal muscles and set the stage for circulatory shock. A crown of thorns had been pushed onto His skull. He was probably in serious to critical condition before they crucified Him. Then He suffered five major wounds between nine in the morning and just before sunset (Luke 22:25, 33). Four of these were caused by nails used to fix Him to the cross. We do know from the remains of Palestinian crucifixion victims that these nails were five to seven inches long and about three-eighths of an inch square.
- When they pierced His side with a spear, water and blood flowed out. The best evidence suggests that this was a thrust given by a Roman soldier to insure death. The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced His right lung, the sack around the heart, and the heart itself, releasing both blood and pleural fluids. Jesus was unquestionably dead before this wound was inflicted. The wounds in both His wrists and feet would have severed the major nerves. The final wound to His side would have been fatal in itself (Luke 22:34).
- The standard procedure for crucifixion was to break the victim’s legs so that he could not lift himself to exhale. The victim would be asphyxiated as his lungs fill with carbon dioxide. BE CLEAR ON THIS: they broke everyone’s legs. Yet the professional Roman executioners declared Christ dead without breaking His legs (Luke 22;33). There was no doubt in their minds.
- Jesus was embalmed in about 75-100 pounds of spices and bandages and laid in a guarded tomb (Luke 22:39-40). Even if He had woken up in the tomb, He could not have unwrapped Himself, rolled the stone back up the side of its carved out track, overcome and subdue the guards, and escape unnoticed (Matthew 27:60).
- Pontius Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead. The gospels record that Pilate wanted to be sure that Jesus was really dead before releasing His body for burial (Mark 15:44; John 19:31-37).
- If Jesus managed all of this, His appearance would have been more like a resuscitated wretch than a resurrected Savior. It is not likely that it would have turned the world upside down.
In the article entitled “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” the Journal of the American Medical Society concluded:
“Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right rib, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” (William D. Edwards, MD et al., “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) March 21,1986, p 1463.)
Conclusion: What is so important about Christ dying?
So why is there so much attention to the death of Jesus Christ? What is so important about this subject? Muslims deny Jesus was crucified as we saw in the first part of this post. Atheists and skeptics deny that they need anyone to die on their behalf. Let me close this post and answer this question with three thoughts.
First, Jesus’ death is a substitute payment to God for the sins we have committed.
Christ’s death on the cross actually demonstrates the love of God for sinful man. Sinners are guilty, lost and helpless in the face of God’s holy law which demands punishment for every sin. How can the sinner escape the wrath of God that is zeroed in on him to pay for their sins? We have an answer from the Apostle Paul, “God demonstrates his own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
As part of the amazing rescue God the Son volunteered to take the place of sinners and bear the just penalty for our sin. The sinless Son of God willingly suffered and died for them, “the just for the unjust” that He might bring us to the Father.
Second, Jesus’ death on the cross shows Him as our sin-bearer. In this we see the holiness of God demonstrated. There was nothing faked about Jesus’ death. There was no substitute for Him. He did not swoon or pass out on the cross. No one survives a Roman spear. The penalty for the sins of other was paid in full by the death of God’s sinless Son.
As He hung on the cross, Jesus cried out, My God My God why have you forsaken me? At that terrible moment God the Father turned His back on His Son, who then endured the penalty of separation from God. This was a demonstration of God’s perfect holiness. All sin, every sin must be punished — and when Jesus took the place of sinners He became as accountable for their sins as if He had been responsible for them. The one man who lived a perfect life, gave us His goodness when we believe and in exchange He takes all our badness on Him in order for that to happen.
Third, Jesus’ death on the cross presents Him as the Savior for those who will believe. Jesus being the Savior demonstrates the power of God. Three days after His death, Christ was declared to the be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead. He presented himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs. Death no longer has dominion over Him.
In Jesus’ resurrection, God the Father powerfully demonstrated that He accepted His death in the place of sinners as the full and perfect payment of sin’s penalty and as the basis on which he can offer a full and free pardon to those who would otherwise be doomed to spend eternity in hell.
If you have any questions or comments about what you have read, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to leave a comment as well. We read everyone of them and will reply to questions.
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Rob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a chaotic, “brave new world.”
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