JESUS DIED. REALLY.

JESUS DIED. REALLY.
Silhouette of Jesus on the cross against a sunset sky

No one ‘seriously’ denies that Jesus Christ once lived and died. Theists and atheists alike affirm the impact of his life, and death, on earth. The three major world religions– Christianity, Islam and Judaism– affirm his existence as well, yet, all three are divided over the means of his death, and what that means for us today. Christianity teaches that Jesus was indeed crucified, and there are many biblical and extra-biblical records to prove this. The event, as it occurred some 2000 years ago, was recorded by many Jewish, Roman and Greek historians.

THE MEANS OF DEATH : CRUCIFIXION

Crucifixion is one of the cruellest, most horrific forms of killing ever invented by man. Interestingly, even the Romans themselves who invented this form of punishment were so horrified by it that it was against their law to crucify a Roman citizen, except in the case of treason.

According to a research done by Dr. F. P. Retief and Dr. L. Cilliers on “The history and pathology of Crucifixion,” death resulting from crucifixion usually occurred anywhere between six hours to four days, and this would be due to the multi-factorial aftereffects of compulsory scourging, haemorrhage and dehydration causing hypovolaemic shock (i.e. the loss of large amounts of blood) and pain. A person in a crucified position found it progressively difficult to breathe and the lack of oxygen eventually led to death by cardiac arrest. Also noteworthy is the fact that the attending Roman soldiers could only leave the crucifixion site after they could establish that the victim had died. The soldiers were known to use a number of ways to hasten the death of the victim which included the deliberate fracturing of the legs, spear stab wounds into the heart, sharp blows to the front of the chest, or a smoking fire built at the foot of the cross, which would reduce the amount of oxygen available to the victim for breathing.

FICTION?

Jesus himself said he would be crucified.

Matthew 16:21

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

And he did it willingly.

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.

The gospel writers carefully recorded the events leading to the crucifixion. Aside these many biblical records of the crucifixion, there many historical records written by people who had no interest in Christianity whatsoever exist. These people were professionals who published their work after much research, and safely to say, no bias.

EVIDENCE FROM JEWISH SOURCES

Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [Jesus] was hanged [or crucified]. … Since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.

Also, the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, writing around 93- 94AD, commented on Jesus in his “Testimonium Flavianum”:


About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by the men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

ROMAN SOURCES

Cornelius Tacitus in his Annals, xv.44:

Christus … was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontious Pilate.

Lucian of Samosata:

(Christ was) the man who was crucified in Palestine.

Further, a scholar by the name Paul Maier has noted that a Greek author from Caria called Phelgon, in a historical account that he wrote after the year 137 AD, reported that in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (held around 33 AD) there was “the greatest eclipse of the sun” and that “it became night in the sixth hour of the day so that stars even appeared in the skies.” Phelgon also stated that during this event, “There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.” This piece of history also confirms the eyewitness accounts found in the gospels Luke 23:44-45, Matt. 27:51-52.

In fact, the American distinguished scholar, Gary Habermas, after surveying over 3,400 critical scholars of various persuasions – Atheists, Agnostics, Jews and Christians with different theological views – concluded that more than 90 percent of scholars agree that Jesus’ death by the process of crucifixion is one of the three minimal (i.e. uncontested) facts in Jesus’ biography.

Moreover, why would a group of Jews (for all the first Christians were Jews by birth) fabricate the death of Christ? The Christians had nothing to gain from creating the story of a crucified Messiah. It made the spread of Christianity almost impossible from a natural viewpoint. Crucifixion was an obscene form of torture and execution reserved for despised criminals. Most people, hearing the Christian message that Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God who died by crucifixion, thought it was ludicrous. One of the earliest first century Christian preachers said, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles [that is, non-Jews]” (1 Corinthians 1:23 ). It was not to the advantage of Christians to concoct a crucified Messiah. It made their life and mission much harder.

Jesus on the Cross

THE DEMAND OF THE CROSS.

The Roman cross was revolutionary– it did not spare its victims, and it continues to make a demand on us today. It loses its power when it is reduced to a piece of jewel to be hung around our necks or a magic symbol to ward off evil. The cross is a radical thing.

Jesus puts a demand on us “to carry [our] cross and follow [him]” (Matthew 16:24). The cross is a call to discipleship– to leave all we have and follow him.

The love displayed on the cross requires us to do likewise for others– to love others as Christ loved us.

And ultimately, it is a demand on us and a call to selfless living – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

The paradox of the cross is this: perfect peace and perfect justice became united in one death one Friday afternoon when Jesus died. On the cross was the mercy and justice of God finding its fulfillment.

On the cross is the love of God made plain– 1 John 4:10

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

As we reflect on the passion, may our response be as the hymnist:

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

FURTHER READING

A. W. Tozer: The Radical Cross
https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-great-offense-was-jesusreally-crucified
http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/crucified.htm

This article was first published in the sixth edition of our magazine. Read more

Priscilla Kyei-Baffour
Priscilla Kyei-Baffour

Priscilla is a Medical Doctor, and an aspiring missionary. She’s the founder of EKISA Global, a ministry that seeks to reach out to the marginalized in society with the transformative message of the gospel.

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