I want to apologize in advance for two things… ONE – the length of this post (there was a lot to say and I just wanted to say it all in one post) TWO – the graphic nature of these words (and pictures!). There’s just no way around this… the death of our Savior was a hideous event (with much blood and anguish). But what He did, He did for us – all because He loved us… and there was no other way!
This Sunday is Easter (or as I prefer… Resurrection Day)! After His sacrificial suffering and death on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead – bringing the hope of salvation to all who believe… and to all who receive what He has done, by faith.
But there are people who do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus… because they believe that He never died. In a theory that has been circulating for decades, Jesus did not die on the cross… He merely swooned (passed out). To them: The miracle of the resurrection is replaced by (and is better understood as) a matter of resuscitation.
This week, “Science Says…” turns to medical science to discuss the all-important matter of whether or not Jesus could have survived the ordeal of the cross…
Jesus’ suffering begins on the Mount of Olives where Jesus spent the night in anguished prayer. Luke records: “being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Lk. 22:44).
Doctors know this medical condition as hematidrosis… “where severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands… and the sweat that comes out is tinged with blood.” This condition causes the skin to become “extremely fragile and very, very sensitive.”
After Jesus’ arrest and mock trial, He is subjected to a “terribly brutal” Roman flogging… which consisted of 39 lashes (or more) with a specialized whip of braided leather, interwoven with metal balls and sharp pieces of bone. The merciless whipping would both bruise and tear into the skin, “often revealing the underlying skeletal muscles, producing quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.” In most cases, the back would be so shredded that part of the spine was exposed. It was not uncommon for men to die from this treatment alone!
The flogging led to the experience of tremendous pain and to hypovolemic shock, due to the severe loss of blood. This type of shock is characterized by four things… 1) the heart races trying to pump blood that just isn’t there; 2) the blood pressure drops, causing fainting or collapse; 3) the kidneys shut down; 4) the person becomes unbearably thirsty (due to the serious loss of fluids).
At this point, there is “no question that Jesus is in serious to critical condition.”
After His brutal beating, Jesus was forced to carry the horizontal beam of the cross to the “place of the skull” (Golgotha).
The actual crucifixion was as follows… “Jesus would be laid down, and His arms would have been secured in the outstretched position, to the horizontal beam. Nails (5-7 inch spikes, tapered to a sharp point) would have been driven through His wrists (part of the hands in the language of the day – the wrists being a solid position, locking the hand, and not allowing tearing). The nails would pierce and crush the median nerve producing excruciating pain (in fact, “excruciating” literally means “out of the cross” – and was invented for just this type of pain!).
Then, Jesus was hoisted from the ground and secured to the vertical post of the cross – and more “nails were driven through Jesus’ feet. Again, crushing the nerves of the feet, accompanied by more excruciating pain.”
Hanging on the cross brought other unrelenting stresses on the body.
First, His arms would be stretched out (at least six inches), pulled from their sockets, dislocating both shoulders.
Second, the simple act of breathing would be nearly impossible. “Crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation. The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position… in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones.” This process of pushing up (further scraping a raw back on the coarse wood of the cross), breathing in, relaxing down, breathing out… would “go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over and the person wouldn’t be able to push up and breathe anymore.”
Third, as breathing slows, the victim “goes into respiratory acidosis – as carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbonic acid, and blood acidity increases. This leads to an irregular heartbeat…” signaling impending death.
Crucifixion was an immensely efficient (and terribly inhumane) way to kill the human body. There were never any survivors of this kind of torture to both body and spirit.
The final proof of Jesus’ certain death is recorded in John’s gospel: “When (the soldiers) came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead… one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” (John 19:33-34)
This is the result of another medical fact: pericardial and pleural effusion. Victims of hypovolemic shock, and the resulting extremely elevated heart rate, have fluid build-up around their heart and lungs. At this point, a puncture of the heart and lungs (after death) would produce a flow of clear fluid (much like water) and blood. The soldier, in John’s account, fairly certain of Jesus’ death, made sure by running a spear through His side… into the lungs and heart. “There was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead.”
Those trained in medicine (and especially those trained in areas of trauma on the physical body) have come to the same conclusion. Jesus was flogged and crucified by people who were experts at afflicting pain and killing the human body – and He met His bodily demise on that day in Jerusalem.
Dr. William D. Edwards, who authored the article “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” for the Journal of the American Medical Association, offered this conclusion: “Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted… Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”
A real Jesus went through real suffering and died a real death for the sake of real sinners who needed the love of a real God. But He did not stay dead for long (a topic for another day). It all comes down to this: the most important death in all of human history is meaningless to those who do not receive what He has done.
All He went through, all He did, was to pay the price so that each and every one of us could know God in a real and personal way.
This is truly what Easter is all about…
All medical quotes are from Dr. Alexander Metherell (M.D. Ph.D.).