The Big Question 8: Did Jesus Actually Die on the Cross?
Apr 24, 2018 1993
Did Jesus actually die on the cross?
It is not unusual to ask the question: Did Jesus Actually Die on the Cross?
Some years ago I was in the Middle East, and I enjoyed several conversations with a non-Christian I met there.
He believed that Jesus couldn’t possibly be God, because God would never have let himself be crucified. It was just too inappropriate, and well, humiliating. He also told me that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, but that instead, God rescued him, and took him to heaven.
I’ve heard this view before. Some people also use it to explain the resurrection. You see, you have to explain the fact that people actually saw Jesus alive after his death. So, the theory goes, Jesus went unconscious on the cross… just fainted… and they thought he was dead and they took him down, but he wasn’t really dead.
Let’s look at some facts.
- Firstly, Roman soldiers killed people for a living. They certainly knew if someone was dead or not.
- There is no record in all of ancient history of anyone surviving crucifixion. The historian Josephus records how he tried to save the lives of three crucified men, but they died anyway. It’s no surprise, given the blood loss and inevitable infections.
- Jesus was found to be already dead by the Roman soldiers, but just to make sure, they thrust a spear up into his chest cavity and into his heart. Everyone at the scene knew he was dead.
- His grief-stricken followers buried him.
So, we find, everyone who was there at the time knew that Jesus was dead. No one denied it.
In addition to that, we have the evidence of non-Christian historians such as the Roman Tacitus, who confirm that Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate.
So, why has there been such a huge effort to deny the death at the cross? Because if you deny that Jesus died, then you don’t have to explain the resurrection, for which there is abundant evidence.
Back to my friend in the Middle East? What did I tell him when he told me that Jesus couldn’t be God because God would never have allowed himself to be crucified?
Well, first of all, I agreed with him that God must by definition be the most merciful and the most loving being in the universe, and so he must also be the greatest sacrificer because love always means sacrifice. My friend and I agreed to that point.
And then I suggested to him that because God is the greatest sacrificer, it just fits that he would be willing to die on the cross, as the greatest sacrifice to save men and women.
We didn’t agree on that point.
What do you think?