Though it might seem obvious that Jesus died on the cross, there are many people out there that doubt this point. Granted, the reason why they want to question the death of Jesus is because you can’t have a resurrection without death. And the resurrection is everything to Christianity. If Jesus did not resurrect, as Paul states, our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). By questioning the death of Jesus, a person can unravel the resurrection and thus unravel all of Christianity. So let’s explore this idea. How can we know with confidence that Jesus really died on the cross?
1) First, the idea that Jesus didn’t die on the cross is really insulting to Romans. The Romans perfected the art of killing. They built their empire on it. They invented new and creative ways to kill people. They killed for entertainment and sport. Besides, Jesus and the two thieves were not the first people the Romans had crucified. In fact, in 71 BC Spartacus, a Roman slave, led a slave revolt in Italy. They were defeated and he and many of his fellow slaves were crucified, their crosses lined up along the roadside of the Appian Way. So the Romans have been crucifying people for decades at this point. Given all of this, it is quite unbelievable to imply the Romans would not have effectively killed Jesus or would not have known if Jesus were dead.
2) Second, we must consider the physical torture Jesus endured. By the time Jesus is sent before Pilate He has been awake for two days and has already been hit and beaten during the trial with the high priest. After the crowds chanted for Pilate to crucify Jesus and release Barabbas, there is one small verse that simply says, “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.” (John 19:1) What a short verse to describe such a horrible, gruesome thing. It sometimes makes it tempting to read right passed it.
In our modern vernacular, we use “scourge” to mean something that just causes suffering and pain. But we must consider the historical context as it was written. In Roman times, a scourge was a whip usually made out of leather with multiple endings with stone, bits of rock, or shards of pottery tied to it, something like this picture. It was used to inflict severe punishment on a criminal. This was no switchin’ from your momma. The purpose of this device was torture, to rip the flesh off of the bone, to weaken a person so they would die faster.
Add to this the crown of thorns stuck in Jesus’ head and you can see what level of pain and torture Jesus went through before His execution. Was this effective at torturing and weakening Jesus? Absolutely. How do we know? Jesus was too weak to carry His cross up to the hill where He would be crucified (Luke 23:26). At Golgotha, He is then nailed to the cross and lifted up. Even though Jesus had endured such excruciating pain, this did not kill Him. And it didn’t alone kill the two thieves on the cross beside Jesus.
The Romans didn’t employ execution methods that were quick and painless for the prisoner. They wanted long drawn out, excruciating methods for killing the accused. When a person was crucified, they were able to live for some amount of time by pushing their body up so they could still breathe. They could do this until they were too weak to push themselves up, and then they would eventually suffocate. This is the significance of the soldiers breaking the legs of the thieves on the crosses beside Jesus. They needed to hurry up this process so the bodies weren’t hanging up there during the Passover Sabbath. Therefore, they would break their knees so they could no longer push themselves up, speeding up their death.
Keep in mind all that Jesus endured and what physical condition He was in when He was lifted up on the cross.
3) Third, now we can look at the evidence of Jesus’ death.
When we consider everything Jesus endured and the evidence of the people watching the crucifixion, it is clear Jesus died on the cross in accordance with God’s perfect timing, the Scriptures, and Jesus’ own prophecies. The religious leaders and Roman soldiers may have thought they were in control of this and were responsible for killing Jesus, but God was still in perfect control.
Jesus could have done the very thing the people were taunting Him to do – He could have come down off of that cross and turned the tables on the executioners. He could have called down legions of angels to rescue Him. He could have done any number of miraculous things in that moment. But the most miraculous thing is that He chose to die. That was the true miracle. His love for humanity and His obedience to God the Father conquered over His desire to avoid the cross. He chose the moment that He would allow them to take Him. And He chose the moment when He yielded up His spirit.
I pray that you take a moment to consider the price He paid to show His love for you.