Did Jesus Die?
Jesus didn’t die on the cross – he just passed out and then came round in the cool of the tomb. After a few days had passed he presented himself to his friends claiming that he had been raised from the dead.
So the argument goes for those who deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It sounds logical and reasonable – no death, no resurrection!
Before responding, I think it’s important that we are clear what Christians mean when they claim Jesus died and rose again.
First, it is not ‘Reincarnation’, the belief that when we die our soul lives on in the life of another human being, an animal or a plant. An endless cycle of dying and being reborn in the form of someone or something else.
Second, it is not ‘Resuscitation’, the belief that someone died but was revived to live on. People have claimed to have been resuscitated but the problem is it is temporary, sooner or later they will die again.
Third, ‘Resurrection’ is the belief that a physical death takes place and is followed by a bodily resurrection. A body that is no longer subject to disease, decay or death. However, there is no point talking about the Resurrection of Jesus if he did not first die. There are three things to consider, which, when taken together lead to the conclusion that Jesus did die.
First when we look at the earliest documents available to us, they all agree that:
(i) A man called Jesus existed; (ii) He was executed by crucifixion; (iii) After his burial his tomb was discovered empty and witnesses claimed he was alive.
There are at least seventeen documents from the first-century that talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus, written by at least seven different people, however, there are no first-century documents that say he did not die.
One of these documents ‘universally recognised’ to have been written fifteen to twenty years after the death of Jesus, reads: ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, And that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.’
The evidence is so strong that virtually no historian or scholar disagrees that Jesus died.
But we don’t just have to rely on Christian documents, secular writers also record the death of Jesus: Flavius Josephus, Jewish Historian AD66
'At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive…’
Cornelius Tacticus, Roman Historian AD112
'Nero falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the region of Tiberius.'
When we examine the earliest documents available to us there is wide spread agreement that Jesus did die.
Second Jesus lived at a time when Palestine was under Roman occupation. Any insurrection or rebellion was quickly and succinctly dealt with by crucifixion, a brutal form of torture that led to a slow but inescapable death. The Romans had adapted and perfected this style of execution, not only as a means of punishment but as a public warning to anyone who might step out of line. In other words, they did not make mistakes, they knew how to kill. In fact, it was so common hundreds could be crucified in one day. People who were crucified did not survive. It’s within this context that Jesus was tried for treason and sentenced to death by Pilate who handed him over to be crucified. Roman soldiers were well trained and experienced executioners. In fact, the threat of death was held over the executioner if the job wasn’t done properly. So the last thing you would do is make sure the person for whom you are responsible, is dead.
Third the medical evidence all points to the death of Jesus. Before taking the bodies down the Roman soldiers checked to make sure their victim was dead. If they were not dead, the soldiers would break the victim’s legs to quicken the process. Jesus’ legs, we are told, were not broken, but to make sure he was dead they thrust a spear up into his side. John’s gospel records that ‘blood and water’ flowed out separately from Jesus’ side, indicating that death had already taken place. Trueman Davis a medical doctor who studied the effects of crucifixion described how death would take place:
‘As the arms fatigue cramps sweep over the muscles. With these cramps comes the inability to push yourself upward. Hanging by the arms the pectoral muscles are paralysed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream…the loss of tissue fluid reaches critical levels – the compressed heart struggles to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues.’ Crucifixion led to death. Jesus died.
The earliest documents, the historical context and the medical evidence points to the fact that Jesus did not pass out and come round in the cool of the tomb. Surviving such a brutal execution is practically impossible. So if Jesus did die, what happened after his burial? Tomorrow we will look at the evidence of the empty tomb.
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