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Christ on the Cross

"He began to teach them, that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31).

A Multitude of Sufferings

Jesus' physical stresses began in Gethsemane the night before He was crucified, when He literally was sweating blood (hematidrosis). There, He was manhandled by a large band of armed soldiers and led to the trials before the Sanhedrin and high priest where He was punched, spat upon, and pushed down. He had no sleep during this period and was not fed or provided adequate liquids. Jesus was then taken to Pilate, then to Herod, and back again to Pilate where He was finally sentenced. This ordeal went on all night through the early morning hours. Finally, Jesus was handed the death penalty and scourged until He was critically ill. In fact, He was too weak to carry the patibulum (cross beam) to Golgotha.

Upon arrival at Calvary, Jesus was likely pale, covered with large, seeping, painful bloody wounds upon His back and legs, and had a swollen face from the thorny crown and other abuse from the soldiers. His eyes were probably almost swollen shut. If He were admitted to an emergency room today, He would be swarmed by medical personnel for urgent and dire diagnostic testing and treatment. But He had yet to finish and fulfill His ultimate purpose: to voluntarily suffer and die by crucifixion as the sacrifice for sin.

Dying in our Place

In Palestine, time was stated by hours, with six in the morning representing the first hour of the day. We are told in Scripture that from the sixth hour (noon) until the ninth hour (three in the afternoon), the sun ceased to give light (Mark 15:33). During this time God sent a phenomenon of darkness in the middle of the day, which signified the darkness of sin that Christ was bearing at His time of death. When, in God's providential timing, Jesus knew the weight of His Father's wrath had reached its climax and been satisfied, He said, "It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost." (John 19:30).

Jesus died only six hours after being nailed to the cross, a rather rapid death for crucifixion. Victims of crucifixion often survived longer on the cross, even several days. However, this was not in God's will for Jesus, since the bodies of those crucified that Sabbath eve needed to be removed before sundown, in keeping with Jewish law. If Jesus were alive at sundown, His legs would have been broken in order to cause rapid death, just as the criminals' were. But this would have violated Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 34:20. Jesus was indeed the ultimate Passover lamb (Exodus 12).

Was Jesus Really Dead?

Over the years, critics and skeptics of Christianity have put forth the idea that Jesus did not really die, but was only unconscious when removed from the cross. This is at odds with both Scripture and medical science. John records in his Gospel that the soldiers were certain Jesus was dead (John 19:33). Remember, these soldiers were professional executioners who knew their job and knew it well. In addition, the thrust of a spear into Jesus' chest would inflict mortal injuries that would be incompatible with life (John 19:34).

Other evidence that Jesus was unquestionably dead is revealed in passages about His burial. The tomb had a large stone placed in front to seal the opening (Matthew 27:59,60). If He were alive, it would have been impossible for Jesus in such a weakened state to move a stone that weighed at least several hundred pounds. In addition, Jesus' face was wrapped in burial cloth (John 19:39,40) which, in conjunction with a sealed-up tomb, would have caused rapid suffocation—even if Jesus were alive (which is impossible). The only plausible explanation is that Christ was dead and nothing but a supernatural, miraculous event—the Resurrection (John 20)—could bring Him back to life!

—Condensed from Died He For Me: A Physician's View of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Copyright (c) 2008 by Mark A. Marinella, MD, FACP.

The cross is neither for wearing nor bearing; it is a thing to die upon. —Samuel Chadwick