Cross Sunset

The original question was: I am a medical doctor and a Christian.  I am sure you would get more people in church if you taught Jesus didn’t actually die, he was just comatose and revived after three days.  People would find it easier to believe and the churches would be full.  Why don’t you teach this?

Answer by Diane Eager

During his earthly life Jesus himself made it quite clear to the disciples that he would be killed, i.e. put to death, by the Jewish and Roman authorities. For example, in Luke 18: 31-34 we he gives this prophecy: “And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’”

The fulfilment of this prophecy is clearly described in all four gospels. Let’s look at their description of Jesus’ death and the events that surrounded it.

All four Gospels describe Jesus’ death on the cross. If you put their descriptions together, Jesus last few moments were: Jesus commended his spirit to his Heavenly Father, he bowed his head, gave up his spirit and breathed his last.  (Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46, John 19:30)

It couldn’t be made any clearer that Jesus actually died on the cross.  When you have breathed your last breath, and your spirit has left your body, you are dead, not unconscious.

Now let’s look at the bigger picture.

After being condemned to death, Jesus was taken by a squad of Roman soldiers and crucified, along with two others. Jesus died more quickly than the others, and quicker than most crucified victims.  He was already in a bad state, having been flogged and beaten.  Crucifixion was a normal means of execution in those days, so we can assume the Roman soldiers knew what they were doing, and knew when their victims were dead.  After all, their job was not done until Jesus and the others were dead.  The supervising Centurion noticed a significant change, when Jesus “breathed his last,” as did many of the watching crowd, who, assuming it was all over, left the site immediately after. (Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47-48)

When the soldiers were ordered to take the crucified men down, they confirmed that Jesus was dead by piercing his side with a spear. Assuming the soldier who thrust the spear was right handed and thrust the spear from in front of Jesus’ body on the cross, the spear would have pierced Jesus’ left side, probably piercing his heart.  If he wasn’t already dead, this would certainly have killed him off.  However, we are told that “blood and water” flowed out of the wound, not just blood.  When blood clots, as it does after death, the aggregated mass of blood cells separates from the surrounding fluid.  Therefore the “blood and water” would have been clotted blood, serum (the blood fluid) and fluid from the pleural and pericardial cavities (fluid filled spaces around the lungs and heart).  The soldiers clearly took this as a sign that Jesus was already dead.

Jesus’ burial is also described in detail. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body, wrapped in grave clothes, and placed it in a tomb.  There is no doubt those who took the body and placed it in the tomb knew Jesus was dead.  In those days most people were more familiar with death than we are, as they attended to the preparation and burial of dead bodies themselves.

Jesus’ body was wrapped in grave clothes, both for decency and to facilitate moving the body. Wrapping the body would have included tying the legs together and securing the arms to the sides.  It is very hard to move a dead body without doing this.  The grave clothes also included an additional cloth over the face, which would have held the lower jaw in place and was secured by tying it around the neck.  This process would prevent any live person from breathing or moving.

Jesus was then placed in a tomb, a cavity hewn from a rock wall which was ‘officially’ closed by a large stone being rolled over the opening and seals set on it. Roman soldiers were set to guard the entrance to the tomb, with orders to let not anyone come and remove the body.  (Matthew 27:62-66)

The whole procedure of taking down the body, wrapping and placing it in the tomb was witnessed by the women who had witnessed the crucifixion, and there would have been other witnesses as well who had not left straight away, such as the Apostle John who describes these events in detail. (John 19:31-42)

The discovery of the empty tomb is also clearly described. As the women approached the tomb an angel came down from Heaven and moved the stone away from the tomb entrance.  This was such a terrifying event the Roman soldiers fainted, and no doubt ran away as soon as they regained consciousness.  (Matthew 28:1-4)  Moving the stone was not to let Jesus out, but to let the witnesses in.  The angel told the women Jesus was not in the tomb – He had already risen.

If none of this happened, either Jesus is a false prophet, or the Gospel writers made it up, and the Gospels are not God’s word.

Like the writer of the question I am also trained in medicine, and I think it is preposterous to claim that Jesus merely revived himself from a comatose state, freed himself of the grave clothes, and then with his severely injured hands, feet and side, moved the stone and overcame a guard of Roman soldiers. The grave clothes were found neatly folded in the empty tomb, so what happened to Jesus?  Did he leave the grave clothes in the tomb and walk naked on his wounded feet through the garden unnoticed by anyone, all the time being able to breathe in spite of the hole in his side?

The other excuses for the empty tomb are almost as silly. If the disciples tried to steal the body they had to contend with the Roman soldiers, who may have been frightened rigid by an angel from Heaven, but would have no trouble dealing with a few fishermen and various other ordinary people.  Others have claimed the women went to the wrong tomb and then led the disciples “up the garden path”.  However, we are told that the women accompanied the burial party to the tomb and witnessed the burial.  They were not relying in directions from anyone else.  They had already been there.  (Luke 23:50)

After Jesus was taken up to Heaven the Apostles clearly associated the crucifixion with Jesus’ death. For example, in his Pentecost speech Peter describes what happened to Jesus: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23)  Later on Peter very bluntly told the people “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15).  The Apostle Paul is equally clear about Jesus having died on the cross, when he described Jesus humility and triumph to the Philippians: “And being found in human form he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:8)

If anyone claims Jesus didn’t die we need to consider the serious implications for us. If Jesus ascended into heaven without having died and been raised from the dead, then none of us are saved from our sins, and we have no hope of eternal life.

Scripture is very clear that sin brought real physical death into the world. The Apostle Paul explains: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  This means the penalty of physical death needed to be paid by a real physical death.  We all deserve to die because we have all sinned, (Romans 3:23) but Jesus did not need to die.  He committed no sin, but he freely gave his life for us, as Paul explains: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  Therefore, we can joyously join Paul in proclaiming: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:22)

Finally, we should give the last word in the argument to Jesus Christ. When he appeared to John on the Island of Patmos he gave this assurance: “Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one.  I died and behold I am alive forever more, and I hold the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)

So, would churches be full if we taught Jesus didn’t die?

Even if they were, it would be pointless, as everyone would be condemned to Hell with no hope of salvation. If Christ did not die and rise from the dead (not just recover from being severely wounded) then any preaching in such a church is in vain, and the people’s faith is futile because they are still in their sins.  (1 Corinthians 15:12-15)

Why don’t we teach that Jesus didn’t die?

Our priority at Creation Research is not full churches, nice as that may be. We want Christ’s kingdom to be full.  The way into Christ’s Kingdom is admitting you are sinner, believing that Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sin, and accepting the free gift of eternal life that Christ offers to all who put their faith in Him.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is our guarantee that we can look forward to eternal life with Him in Heaven.

Related question:
THIRD DAY: Why did Jesus say he would be buried for three days if he died on Friday and rose on Sunday?  Answer here.

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