In this, our second of six blog posts exploring the validity of the resurrection of Christ, we invite you to consider the factual, historical evidence that gives believers certainty that Jesus did rise from the dead, just as He promised! If you missed our intro blog post, catch it here.
Today we look at the crucifixion details of Jesus’ torture and death. Is it possible, as some assert, that Jesus wasn’t really dead when His body was removed from the cross?
No, and we can know this with certainty for several reasons.
First: The Romans were experts at crucifixion. Though they didn’t invent it, the Romans used crucifixion extensively because it worked so well as a deterrent. All who came upon a Roman crucifixion quaked at suffering a similar fate, because this form of torture was gruesome, degrading, and led to an intensely painful death. The Roman statesman Cicero called crucifixion “the most cruel and hideous of tortures.”
Second: The Jewish leaders were well aware that Jesus had predicted His own resurrection. Fearing that His followers might take extraordinary measures to make it appear that Jesus’ claims proved true, they took equally extraordinary precautions to ensure that Jesus died. They then had His body sealed in a tomb under heavy Roman guard.
Third: Even minus the guards, it would have been difficult for Jesus’ followers to remove the massive stone sealing the tomb’s entrance. Typically, to close the tomb, a heavy stone of perhaps several thousand pounds would be rolled down a groove, at a decline, to settle in front of the entrance. To remove the stone, many men would have had to roll the stone backward at an incline. Yes, the stone was rolled away, but not by human effort.
Fourth: Researchers have uncovered that twelve reliable, non-Christian sources, dated approximately 20 to 150 years after Jesus’s crucifixion, record that Jesus died. One of the sources, Cornelius Tacitus (AD 55-120), is considered by many to be the greatest ancient Roman historian.
Details on the Torture
The four Gospels share details of the crucifixion of Jesus. These include the public flogging Jesus first had to endure. Romans typically used the flogging to hasten the victim’s death. The whip, made of leather throngs of various lengths, was interwoven with sharp, jagged pieces of bone and lead. With every lash, these bits of bone and lead ripped Jesus’ back to shreds.
As a 1986 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association records, “As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissue. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.”
The Jews limited their floggings to 40 lashes. The Pharisees, with their obsessive legalism, would limit their lashes to 39 so that if they miscounted they would not be guilty of breaking the law. The Romans had no such limitations. The floggers inflicted whatever pain they felt like giving. Infection set into the open wounds also immediately.
We know that Roman soldiers then shoved a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, causing even further bleeding and dehydration. The soldiers also spit on Jesus, and beat Him with a rod. In his article highlighting the medical aspects of the crucifixion, Dr. Mark Eastman says, “Jesus had not drunk since the night before, so the combination of the beatings, the crown of thorns, and the scourging would have set into motion an irreversible process of severe dehydration and cardiorespiratory failure. All of this was done so that the prophecy of Isaiah would be fulfilled:
I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. Isaiah 50:6.
In his article, Crucifixion — The Physical Suffering of Jesus, Jeremy Myers says, “Most artists do not even come close in depicting what Jesus looked like after all of this torture. He was probably the most inhuman looking thing you’ve ever seen. The prophet Isaiah wrote of the Messiah:
“They shall see the Servant of God beaten and bloodied, an object of horror; so disfigured many were astonished. His face and His whole appearance were marred more than any man’s, one would scarcely know it was a person…” (Isa 52:14).
As the Gospels tell us, Jesus repeatedly faltered as He struggled to carry the heavy crossbar — the horizontal beam of the cross called the patibulum — as He made His way to Golgotha. A centurion forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the heavy beam for Jesus.
Details on the Crucifixion
Finally reaching the crucifixion site, Jesus had to endure even more agonizing pain as long metal nails were driven into His wrists (considered part of the hand in the language of Jesus’ day) in order to hold Him to the cross. The nails, most assuredly, came into contact with the median nerve. For His feet to be pierced with nails, the guards twisted Jesus’ legs into an unnatural and painful position.
The Romans knew that once the victim was finally hanging from the cross, it could take hours for Him to die. As He fought off suffocation, He was forced to take the next breath by laboriously pulling himself up by His wounded hands and feet. “The pain was absolutely unbearable,” observes Dr. Alexander Metherell, PhD. “In fact, it was literally beyond words to describe; they had to invent a new word: excruciating. Literally, excruciating means out of the cross.”
Adds Myers, “When air is so precious, and each breath so painfully won, He still uses that breath to communicate with people who are near. The first sentence, looking down at the Roman soldiers throwing dice for His seamless garment, is ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ In my mind, this is one of the most remarkable statements in all of Scripture.”
Jewish law prohibited a crucified person from hanging on the cross during Sabbath. So to hurry the process, Roman soldiers could decide to break the leg bones of the victim. The Bible tells us that the legs of the two thieves crucified with Christ were broken, but the soldiers did not need to break Jesus’ legs because they observed that He was already dead (John 19:32-33). Scripture tells us that it took Jesus six hours to die after being put on the cross.
Pilate demanded certification of Jesus’ death before allowing His body to be removed from the cross. Only after four Roman executioners certified that Jesus was indeed dead, did Pilate give the order for His body to be removed. The executioners felt certain that Jesus was dead because when a great spear was thrust into Jesus’ side, both blood and water flowed out (John 19:34). Had Jesus been alive when the spear entered His body, strong spouts of blood would have emerged with every beat of His heart.
Jesus was dead. The Bible says it. Documented history proves it.
In the next blog post, we’ll look at the burial procedures used to prepare Jesus’ body to exacting Jewish customs.
Thought to Ponder
By trying so hard to prevent any kind of fraudulent later claims that Jesus was resurrected, His enemies did us the great favor of providing powerful evidence. In truth, the fact that Jesus was killed is as certain as any event recorded in history.
Have you ever wondered if any of the Roman soldiers, Jewish leaders, or people in the crowd chanting for Jesus’ crucifixion were among those who saw Him in His resurrected form?
Here’s one thing we do know, based on everything Jesus taught: if their paths did cross, Jesus offered them His unending forgiveness and grace. That, my friends, is the Good News! We can do nothing to separate ourselves from God — except choose to turn our backs on Him.
We are about to celebrate Easter. Take the Easter Challenge: with whom you can share God’s amazing love for us? Who can you invite to church on Easter Sunday? After just reading about what Jesus did for you and me, are you moved to know him personally today?
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean’s new 64-page booklet, The Resurrection and You. We are certain this little booklet will be an effective evangelism tool for you this Easter season.