Christianity is the number one most verifiable (or falsifiable) religion in the world, because Christianity makes truth claims that can be investigated historically and proven to be true or false. Last month I began to present a capsulized version of my study, Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? We took a long look at the first of what I call the Four Easter E’s:
Exist – Did Jesus Exist?
Executed – Was Jesus Executed?
Empty Tomb – Was Jesus’ tomb Empty?
Eyewitnesses – Were there Eyewitness accounts?
This month we’ll examine the second E – Was Jesus Executed?
Did Jesus really die? Before we get excited about the Resurrection, there must be the certainty of death! The crucifixion of Jesus Christ unto death is a link in the chain of Christianity that cannot be broken; if it is, then we are, as Paul said, the most pitiable of all people (1 Corinthians 15:19). Without both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our faith is futile.
Last month we saw that no serious historian rejects the existence of the historical Jesus; in the very same way, no serious scholar questions His death. Virtually all historians — secular, Jewish, Roman and Christian — agree that Jesus really lived and really died. The unbelieving New Testament historian Gerd Ludemann acknowledges that he does not accept many of the truth claims of Christianity, but he has no doubts that Jesus Christ really lived and really died. He has written that “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”
Professor Bart Ehrman, one of the most influential critics of Scripture in North America, echoes Ludemann: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of . . . Pontius Pilate.”
This certainty about the life and death of Jesus Christ is by no means limited to modern scholars. Many of the non-Christian writers of antiquity recorded the existence of Jesus and also reported His execution. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his Annals that Jesus was executed. Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian, reported the execution of Christ in his Antiquities of the Jews. Lucian of Samosata, the second-century Greek writer and rhetorician, referred to Jesus Christ as “the man who was crucified in Palestine.”
A number of extra-biblical Christian writers also verified the historicity of the crucifixion of Christ. Many of these men knew the original disciples. Here are three of these sources:
- 1 Clement, Letter to the Corinthians
- Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans
- Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians
Let’s now review the physical ordeal that our Lord endured, culminating in His death on a cross.
The first physical assaults occurred during the truthless trials conducted by the religious leaders. Scripture tells us that Jesus was beaten by His inquisitors, who blindfolded Him and slapped Him and struck Him again and again with their fists. Later those who guarded the Christ also beat Him.
The Sinful Scourging
Prior to being nailed to a Roman cross, Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged. The practice of Roman scourging — whipping the victim with cords laced with bits of bone or sharpened metal — was often enough to cause death due to massive blood loss and the certain onset of shock caused by the beating. When scourging preceded crucifixion, the goal was to put the victim in a near-death condition in order to shorten the time before death on the cross. The muscle tissue could be so torn by the scourging that it would look like shredded meat barely hanging on a bone.
Josephus painted a grisly picture of the outcome of a Roman scourging: “A man [was] whipped so severely that he was filleted to the bone . . . There was a group whipped until their intestines were exposed.”7
What a Savior we have in Jesus, who endured so much on our behalf! But the worst had not even occurred yet.
History provides ample testimony that those crucified on a Roman cross did indeed die! Roman soldiers were experts in dealing out death, and a centurion would oversee the process to confirm that death actually occurred. When they arrived at Golgotha, the Roman soldiers threw Jesus down upon the cross and drove the cruel nails through His hands and feet. He would hang on the cross for six unimaginable hours. John 19:30 tells us that Jesus, having accomplished all things in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, uttered His glorious victory cry: “It is finished!” And then He gave up His spirit.
Jesus had been executed. A soldier pierced His side with a spear to confirm death, and out poured the blood and water that provide even more proof that Jesus was, in fact, deceased. Modern medicine sheds some much-needed light on this biblical testimony about what actually happened during the crucifixion. A 1986 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association — no forum for Christian apologetics — published a detailed article describing the death of Christ, which concluded: “Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials, was flogged, and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. . . . [D]eath resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus’ death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier’s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicated that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.”
Of course, as horrific as the crucifixion was physically for our Lord Jesus Christ, it pales into insignificance compared to the mental anguish He experienced. As He hung there, Jesus drank the full cup of God’s righteous wrath against sin. Jesus Christ died as the sacrificial Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. He died for you and me.
We have the testimony of the biblical writers regarding the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; we also have Roman, Jewish and secular historians recording this truth. The consensus of historical scholarship and modern medicine is that Jesus died from the scourging and crucifixion. The notion that, after the dreadful physical abuse He had endured, Jesus somehow regained consciousness in His tomb and recovered from His injuries is, frankly, ludicrous.
We have now established that Jesus really existed as a historical figure and was executed under Pilate. Next month we’ll see the historical proof for the empty tomb.
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.