Part 6 Fact one: Jesus died on the cross

Fact #1: Jesus was killed by crucifixion

Skeptic James Tabor says, “I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus’ execution by Roman crucifixion he was truly dead.” Both atheistic New Testament critic Gerd Ludemann and agnotic Bart Ehrman, calls the crucifixion an indisputable fact.  Why? First all four Gospels report it. They are either independent eyewitness accounts or the writers received their information from eyewitnesses.  All four Gospels say the crucified Jesus was dead and buried.

Additional support comes from ancient historians writing during the 1st century AD. Jewish historian Josephus said this about Jesus, “And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him.” Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus writes, “Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.” Others who reported the death of Jesus were Lucian Samosata, a Greek satirist, Mara Bar-Serapion, a pagan, and the Jewish Talmud who report “Yeshu was hanged” another term for death on a cross .

Could Jesus have somehow survived the ordeal of crucifixion? In Matthew 27 we read that Jesus appeared before Governor Pontius Pilate and was questioned. Pilate found no reason to crucify Jesus but to appease the Jewish religious leaders he made a deal; he would release either Barabbas or Jesus. The people asked for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. We read in Matthew 27:26 (NIV) “Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” Jesus was then whipped by Roman guards. A flogging or whipping consisted of 39 lashes with a leather whip with metal balls woven into it to cause deep bruises. The whips also had bone fragments attached to cut the flesh. Many people died from this form of punishment. The movie “The Passion” depicts the horror of this torture extremely well. An almost dead Jesus was then forced to walk the streets carrying his cross. Upon reaching the location, spikes were driven into his wrists and feet. The cross was then set upright, with Jesus hanging by the nails. The Romans were experts in torture.

Once the cross was upright Jesus would have had to push up, using his feet, in order to exhale. If the crucified victim didn’t push up, he would have suffocated. This would have been an extremely painful causing him to slump down once again. Yet, to breathe he would have had to push upwards again and again. Once exhaustion set in, Jesus would no longer be able to push upward and therefore would not be able to breathe. The Romans knew anyone in a slumped position on the cross couldn’t breathe. It would be similar to having your head held under water. After a few minutes, say 10 minutes or more, the person would be dead. The guards easily could tell Jesus was dead.

This is why, when the Romans wanted speed things up and to make sure the criminals and Jesus were dead, it was their custom to break the legs of victims. We read in John 19:31-34“… Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”

With broken legs the person can no longer push upward which means they will quickly suffocate and die. And why didn’t the guards break the legs of Jesus? For the simple reason it was obvious he was dead. You have to understand Roman guards were execution experts. If anyone was taken off the cross alive and escaped, the custom was for the Roman guards to be put to death. In addition to confirm he was dead, one of the guards for good measure drove a spear through his heart and lungs.

History records Jesus died on the cross. This is fact #1 and is strongly accepted by the overwhelming majority of scholars.

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