Did Jesus Actually Die on the Cross?

The basic tenets of the Christian faith have been skeptically criticized by unbelievers for centuries.  The belief that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead by the power of God three days after being executed via crucifixion by the Roman government is no exception.

It is undeniable that for two thousand years a sizable portion of the human populace has believed that the carpenter from Nazareth came back to life.  This belief is how the Christian religion started.  According to the New Testament record (as well as the Roman historian Tacitus, who described Christianity as “a most mischievous superstition” which was “thus checked for the moment” by the execution of Christ but “again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…” [Annals 44.3]), Christ was first proclaimed by his apostles as risen from the dead on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost not only after his execution, resulting in several thousand believing the claims of the apostles with that number continually rising, in spite of persecution, in the years to come.

Did the resurrection of Christ actually happen?  It’s clear the apostles believed it did.  But are there better explanations for what they believed to have happened? 

For example, could Jesus have simply passed out from pain, shock, and exhaustion while on the cross, been mistaken presumed deceased and thus taken off the cross, buried in Joseph’s tomb, only to then regain consciousness and reveal himself to his followers as alive, resulting in them spreading the story that God had raised him from the dead?

No, for several reasons.

The Roman soldiers were professionals.  Their job was to execute Jesus of Nazareth and the two thieves they had crucified alongside of him.  If they failed in their assigned task, it would have cost them their jobs and likely their lives.  That’s why one of them took a spear and pierced the side of Jesus, likely aiming for his heart.  By all visible accounts, Jesus had already died; the soldier simply wanted to make sure of it by stabbing his side with a spear.  If Jesus had in fact passed out, the spear would have ended his life for sure.

Assuming that he would have somehow still survived being impaled and was in fact simply unconscious as they took him off the cross and buried him in the tomb, one must keep in mind that this is a man who had been suffering from extreme blood loss caused by severe lacerations and wounds all over his back from a scourging he had received earlier, as well as from the puncture wounds from the nails in his hands and his feet and the stab wound from the spear in his side.  He would have therefore died from blood loss in the tomb, or even before they arrived at the tomb.

Assuming that he would have not died from blood loss, remember that he would have been severely dehydrated and weak from no food.  By Sunday morning, it would have been a little over three days since he had last eaten and ingested any liquids other than what little sour wine he could have taken from a sponge while on the cross.  In addition to weakness, the nail wounds in his hands and feet would have kept him from being able to walk or grasp anything with his hands.  Additionally, he was wrapped up in burial garments which had about 100 pounds of spices rubbed into them.

Keeping all of this in mind, there is no way this man could have found the strength to break through the 100 pounds of burial garments, roll away the huge stone blocking the entrance to the tomb all by himself, fight off the professional Roman soldiers guarding the tomb outside all by himself, talk to Mary Magdalene and then the women with her followed by Peter, walk seven mile to Emmaus with two disciples, and then walk back to Jerusalem to show himself alive to the eleven apostles…all in the same day.

If he had passed out and then revived and had somehow made it out of the tomb completely outside of divine supernatural power, Jesus of Nazareth would have been a crippled man near death.  He almost certainly would have died soon afterwards from his wounds.  This would not have been the type of man to inspire people to proclaim him to be the resurrected Son of God and be willing to die themselves for that lie.

Thus, one cannot disprove the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth by claiming that he had simply passed out on the cross to then regain consciousness later.

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