Focus on Christ Meditations: 46. Death Fact
Mt 27:1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death
Mt 27:24,26 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” …. Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
In our studies on the Christ, the death of the Christ is of paramount importance. In the previous study we considered the warnings – or the absence thereof – of the death of Christ that were given by Christ, but were limited in the prophets, and in the next study we will go on to see the reasons why the death came about, from both a human standpoint and from God’s standpoint. But now, however, we pause to consider the reality of this death, because there are those, especially of one of the other major world faiths, who suggest that actually Christ never died and some alternative fanciful ideas are put forward.
My original intent was to go through the Gospels and itemise the various verses that take up so much of the back quarter or even third of these four books, but it is a big task and in some ways a dispiriting task and so I simply invite you to read the accounts for yourself for they are full and comprehensive.
Instead, what I want to do is approach the whole subject in a different way. What is clear is that, as our first verse above shows, it was the clear intention of the religious elite to have Jesus put to death and we’ll come back to that in a moment and look at it in more detail tomorrow. It is also clear that they pressurised the weak Roman governor into ordering Christ’s execution; that at least is how they saw it. In reality, observing the details, one might suggest it was pure outright premeditated murder carried out in the name of the state.
But my sense is that we are not to wade through the details but we are to look calmly and logically at what was going on and then ask, in the light of the basic facts laid out before us, is there any space to suggest that Christ did NOT die?
To answer that question I want us to consider the opposition that was mounted against Christ by what I have called the religious elite. It is Mark who leads the charge on this: “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mk 3:6). Then, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mk 11;18) And then, “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” (Mk 14:1) Add to that our first verse above and you have a very strong picture: “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.” (Mt 27:1)
Look at that list: Pharisees, Herodians, teachers of the law, chief priests, elders of the people. We’ll see tomorrow why they felt this strongly but there is no doubt about their intentions – it is to kill Christ. Now in case we have any doubt about this, see what happened AFTER Christ’s death and he had been buried: “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” (Mt 27:62-66) At that point they have NO doubts that they have a dead body in a tomb with a large stone over it which they sealed, and that the body must stay there to counter any plots for propaganda claims of a resurrection. At that point there are no signs that Jesus is anything other than dead.
To strengthen this point we need to remind ourselves that on the Cross the Roman soldiers, with hearts calloused by daily deaths, had looked at the body hanging there, decided that he was dead, and just to make sure, stuck a spear in his side so that liquid poured out and carried on pouring out. If we consider this alongside what we know of modern medicine, then even if there is a glimmer of life left in this body – and these expert executioners (and their lives depend on it!) are sure there isn’t – the only attention the body is given is to be rapidly wrapped in cloths before being put into the tomb-cave. There he is left over Friday night, all day Saturday, and into the later hours of Sunday morning, in the cold; technically three days, possibly 36 hours.
With the blood loss, the beatings and the spear in the side, there is no way any rational person can suggest a) this body is not dead and b) if there was an ounce of life in him he could undress himself and walk out of the cave and find clothes and get dressed. In modern parlance, he was on death’s edge at the best, but in reality almost one hundred per cent certainly, dead.
We have already touched on it above, but not only did the religious authorities want Jesus dead, but it was also in Pilate’s interest to keep the peace, to make sure Jesus was dead. If Jesus had come back after the crucifixion experience, in Pilate’s mind surely, this was the stuff that revolutions are made of, and we can’t have that. To suggest that the disciples got in and provided medical aid for Jesus, flies in the face of the evidence: they fled and were afraid of being arrested and suffering a similar fate. No, it was only the women who acted without that thought and they didn’t turn up until Sunday morning. (Note they didn’t come with medicine to revive, but spices etc. to make the death more acceptable).
Observing realistically the religious and civil authorities’ fears of Jesus as a potential leader of an uprising, and noting the intensity of that opposition (and the absence of Jesus’ followers), it is a foolish person, or an ignorant person who has never considered these things in detail, who can deny the claims of the Gospels which are clearly there – that Jesus Christ, was executed and was dead and buried. Having observed all this, it is now time to look at the reasons why Christ died.