Thursday, April 21

How Did Jesus Die?

Although we may directly say "Jesus died on the cross," this is an oversimplification of the medical details and processes which led to the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Here. we seek to further examine the death of Jesus Christ. Be forewarned that we will be examining this in detail, much like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was centered around the death of Jesus. Medical experts, archaeologists, theologians, and historians alike have examined the death of Christ in detail, and agree that he suffered one of the most agonizing deaths a human can endure. It began in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus went there to pray with a few of His disciples, who fell asleep despite mere hours before having claimed that they would do anything to protect him. Knowing what lie ahead, Jesus began to sweat profusely, and was deeply stressed. According to Dr. Luke, "And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22:44) Here, tiny blood vessels ruptured within Jesus' sweat glands, and emitted red drops that fell to the ground. This is a known medical symptom, called hematohidrosis.  (Photo credit: Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ starring James Caviezel as Jesus Christ)

Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D., in The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, states the following, "What happens is that severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As a result, there's a small amount of bleeding into these glands, and the sweat comes out tinged with blood. We're not talking about a lot of blood; it's just a very, very small amount... What this did was set up the skin to be extremely fragile so that when Jesus was flogged by the Roman soldier the next day, his skin would be very, very sensitive."[1] By this time, Jesus was severely in danger of going into shock, and could die unless given fluids, which he clearly was not. Soon after, he was arrested by the Romans. He was taken to the Jews, who spit on him and beat him. When it came time for the Romans to handle him, Jesus was flogged. Romans were known to be brutal in their torture - they knew their trade. They made sure that the whips would leave deep lacerations on the body, cutting the body with each strike. One of the tools used in flogging was designed specifically to tear large chunks of flesh off of the body. Many people did not live through flogging to be crucified.

As noted by John Mattingly, "The adjudged criminal was usually first forcefully stripped of his clothes, and then tied to a post or pillar in the tribunal. Then the awful and cruel scourging was administered by the lictors or scourgers. Although the Hebrews limited their law to a number of strokes in a scourging to forty, the Romans set no such limitation; and the victim was at the mercy of his scourgers... The brutal instrument used to scourge the victim was called a flagrum... It can readily be seen that the long, lashing pieces of bone and metal would greatly lacerate human flesh."[2According to medical experts, by this time, the floggings would have caused fluid build up in Christ's lungs. Coupled with the crown of thorns thrust upon Jesus' head, which was likely made of thorny nabk found around Jerusalem, the pain would have been enough to kill a man. The crown of thorns digging into His scalp would have caused excruciating pain that would likely irritate nerves and increase the pain as the hours dragged on. By now, Jesus was bleeding all over, had thorns stuck on His head, was deeply stressed, was losing fluids fast, and had gone without nourishment for several hours. In this condition, after Pilate's decision to have Jesus crucified, He was forced to carry His own cross. Simon of Cyrene was seized and helped Jesus carry the cross the remainder of the way. (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26)

As conveyed by Paul S. Taylor, "Hung completely naked before the crowd, the pain and damage caused by crucifixion were designed to be so devilishly intense that one would continually long for death, but could linger for days with no relief. According to Dr. Frederick Zugibe, piercing of the median nerve of the hands with a nail can cause pain so incredible that even morphine won't help, “severe, excruciating, burning pain, like lightning bolts traversing the arm into the spinal cord.” Rupturing the foot's plantar nerve with a nail would have a similarly horrible effect. Furthermore, the position of the body on a cross is designed to make it extremely difficult to breathe."[3]

James Caviezel as Jesus Christ
Crucifixion was certainly one of the most excruciatingly painful ways to die. Frederick Farrar explained the crucifixion, "For indeed a death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of horrible and ghastly—dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, shame, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds—all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the suffer the relief of unconsciousness."[4] Farrar continues, "The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries - especially at the head and stomach - became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there added to them the intolerable pang of burning and raging thirst; and all these physical complications caused an internal excitement and anxiety, which made the prospect of death itself - of death, the unknown enemy, at whose approach man usually shudders most - bear the aspect of a delicious and exquisite release."[5]

Matthew 27:45-53 conveys, "From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' (which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, 'He's calling Elijah.' Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, 'Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him.' And when Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people."

Jesus died a painful, stressful, excruciating death. Crucifixion itself was not first employed by the Romans, but by the Persians, and later adopted by the Egyptians, Carthaginians, and Romans. Crucifixion was designed to provide a death that was not merely humiliating, but also extremely long and painful. One example of a mass crucifixion occurred in 71 BC, as Roman historians tell us. Spartacus and his men (rebel slaves) were captured by the authorities, and approximately 6000 were crucified on both sides of what is known as the Appian Way. Unlike what happened with Jesus, however, their bodies were left up for display, to rot and to be a visible sign for any future slave rebellions.[6]

"James Thompson believed that Jesus did not die from exhaustion, the beatings or the 3 hours of crucifixion, but that he died from agony of mind producing rupture of the heart. His evidence comes from what happened when the Roman soldier pierced Christ's left side. The spear released a sudden flow of blood and water (John 19:34). Not only does this prove that Jesus was already dead when pierced, but Thompson believes it is also evidence of cardiac rupture. Respected physiologist Samuel Houghton believed that only the combination of crucifixion and rupture of the heart could produce this result."[7] It is important to note that Jesus died of His own will. He allowed Himself to die, that final moment did not come about by exhaustion, nor pain, nor emotional or mental stress, but by His own will. For Christians, the death of Jesus symbolizes the reconciliation of the broken relationship between God and man, and the opening of the way to new life through him. 
Troy Hillman

[1] Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. 195. Print.
[2] Mattingly, John P. Crucifixion: Its Origin and Application to Christ. Unpublished Th. M. Thesis: Dallas Theological Seminary, May 1961.
[3] Taylor, Paul S. "How did Jesus Christ die?." Christian Answers Network. Christian Answers Network, 2003. Web. 20 Apr 2011. .
[4] Farrar, Frederick W. The Life of Christ. Dutton, Dovar: Cassell and Co., 1897. Print.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Stan Campbell, et. al, . "Jesus: Phenomena Surrounding the Crucifixion." American Bible Societ Presents: Inside the Mysteries of The Bible. 2010: 63. Print.
[7] Ibid, [3].


  1. hello i am awakening from the dead!!!!!

  2. As a hypocritical human, I only hope God can have mercy on me.

  3. Wow- well written. Praise the Lord for what he's done for us. No mere man could do this much.

  4. Now, no wone are very kindness, friendly and does something good to us. But he is the only one kindness people in the world. No wone can be like him.

  5. I can't imagine giving my life up for someone i don't know let alone the whole world. I'm jus grateful that Jesus loved me so much to do that for his Father, though i don't deserve it. Praise the Lord

  6. If GOD loves human being so much- then why GOD has to kill himself to forgive his creation? Or to Kill his SON to forgive some guilty, while his SON is sinless? If GOD died for 3 days then who were ruling the earth? Are we SIN less now? Can do anything and go straigh to heaven? please help me to answer Muslim people..!

  7. Anonymous,
    Thank you for taking the time to comment. You have raised several wondrous questions, I will try to answer them succinctly, but for the first part I will delve into a bit of philosophy. Humans are sin-corrupted beings, and there therefore prone to death - leading us to conclude that we are finite beings. God, however, is in infinite, eternal being. He has no beginning, and he has no end. So I would be unable to have myself crucified for the sins of humanity, because the payment for sin is an infinite payment. As a finite being, I cannot make an infinite payment. If, however, God became incarnate as a man - the infinite being in a finite body - and died for the sins of humanity, the infinite price for sin would be paid. In other words, Jesus had to die because He was the only one who could make that payment - in answer to your first two questions.

    Thirdly, God the Son died in physical form. His Spirit was still very much alive, albeit in Sheol. God never actually died, it was the physical body his infinite spirit was attached to. Also, God exists as a Trinity - three in one. God the Father and God the Spirit were still ruling the cosmos. Muslims have often contended with me that the Trinity is "illogical." However, I can provide a good example from Physics. In thermodynamics, the triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which the three phases - solid, liquid and gas - of whatever substance (H20, for example) can coexist at thermodynamic equilibrium. In other words, we have something existing as three-in-one.

    Fourth and fifth, while - by accepting Jesus as Lord and believing that He rose from the dead - we are saved, we are not technically sinless. You cannot be sinless until you are rid of your physical form which is itself corrupted by sin. But your sins are covered under Christ. According to Scripture, there is only one way to get into heaven, and that is through faith (which is essentially trust) in Jesus, who is Himself God. No good works can save you, so that no one can boast that one is greater than the other (Ephesians 2:8-9).

    Thank you again for taking the time to comment, I hope this aids you in your discourse with the Muslims. If you have any further questions or need clarification, feel free to reply or email the ministry. God bless!

  8. Hi! I've been reading your site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent job!
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  9. How much of a sacrifice is it to know you're going to get to rise from the dead, go to Heaven and be immortal?

    1. Anonymous,
      Part of the reason I wrote this article was to answer that very question, but clearly it did not. There is little point in restating everything written above so I will simply refer back to it. Essentially, regardless of the reward, the journey itself is a struggle. You're missing the entire point.

      Jesus was already in Heaven and immortal. He did not need to come down to earth, take on human form as the Godman and suffer as the infinite being to pay the infinite payment for sin - which we could not, as finite beings, ever hope to pay. Jesus already "had it all," so to speak. He was and is God, and never needed to change what He was doing. Yet He deliberately came down, and went through the entire excruciating process described above, simply to allow His creation a chance at life.

  10. Okay... I'm only on this page because I'm doing my RE homework, and I feel really awkward... So I felt as though I should announce that I am a Muslim.


    Sorry. Please ignore me. I'd feel really uncomfortable if I didn't write that.

    Anyway, carry on with the 'ask a question for Tony to answer' thingymagiggy. :D

  11. From the Book of Genesis we are reminded that there would be a descendant of Eve who was going to crush the head of the serpent. God's Love is abundant. God does not want his children to go to hell. I have two children. I would not want my children to suffer. I want them to have a good life. So our father in heaven want all of us to inherit his Kingdom. This is the reason why John 3v16 shows us the Love of God being exposed.

    People want to go to heaven but they do not want to die. I thank the publishers for the Good work they are doing. God is great