Evidence For Jesus’ Death

Jesus had to die so that God’s plan of salvation could be achieved. 2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 1 Peter 2:24, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Rom. 8:3-4, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Therefore, salvation is by grace through faith since it was not by our keeping the Law but by Jesus, God in flesh, who fulfilled the Law and died in our place. Eph. 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Gal. 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Eph. 5:2, “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

            Jesus death and resurrection are the core of Christianity. We will examine the evidence for Jesus’ atoning death and the evidence for his victorious resurrection so that we can be convinced of Christian truth and Christian hope. This conviction will lead us to respond to his grace and come to him through faith.

 

Why I Believe Jesus died

Joseph’s Requested Burial of the Body-Mark 15:42-43

            Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy and member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling court). Luke told us that he was against the Sanhedrin’s actions against Jesus, but John told us that for fear of the Jews he kept silent. If he had publicly stood for Christ, then the Sanhedrin would have cut him off from the country, his countrymen, and the Jewish religion.

            But Joseph was also “waiting for the kingdom of God.” “Waiting for” is προσδέχομαι  which means “to remain in a place and/or state, with expectancy concerning a future event.”[1] The same word is used to describe Christians who are “ἀναμένω: ἀναμένειν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν ‘to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). He boldly went into the Praetorium and requested the charge of Jesus’ corpse. In doing so he became ceremonially unclean under the Old Law. He would be unable to eat the Passover Feast. He further defiled himself by handling Jesus’ corpse.

            Joseph has risked everything because of his devotion to Jesus. During Jesus’ lifetime, he was afraid to acknowledge him. The events of the crucifixion changed all that for Joseph. He now risked everything because he so admired Jesus. It is hard to imagine Joseph taking such risk and going to such expense if Jesus had not really died. His actions alone are incredible testimony that Jesus really did die on the cross.

 

Record of the Unusual Early Death—Mark 15:44

            “Death by crucifixion was extremely slow, being sometimes delayed for four days. Pilate could thus hardly believe Joseph when he said that death had already set in in the case of Jesus. He is dealing with a Jew, even a Sanhedrist, and thus makes officially sure. The view that Joseph was a friend of Pilate’s is shut out by Pilate’s action in demanding a report from the centurion.”[2] Pilate’s shock is highlighted by the Greek text.  Mark records that Pilate “marveled” or “was surprised” (ἐθαύμασεν aorist tense) about Jesus’ quick death. The word ἐθαύμασεν means “to be extraordinarily impressed or disturbed by something.”[3] Pilate used two different verb tenses to describe the death. First, in verse 44 Pilate used the word τέθνηκεν which is in the perfect tense which highlights Pilate’s shock. After the emotions have calmed down, the centurion’s confirmation yields a simple aorist tense ἀπέθανεν. Pilate was not reacting emotionally. There was an expert and trusted confirmation. He simply acknowledged the death had occurred and at this point, he cared little about what would happen to the body.

 

Expert Confirmation of the Death—Mark 15:45

            The centurion was an expert of war and death. The Romans had crucified thousands. They knew exactly what they were doing. John records three witnesses to convince us of Jesus’ death on Calvary. John 19:31-37 records:

“Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Note the witnesses to Jesus death. First, we have the expert soldiers present who would not allow him to live. Second, we see the soldiers were convinced enough to break procedure and pierced his side with a spear in verse 34. Finally, John says he was an eyewitness to the events. Furthermore, we have the added testimony of fulfilled Scripture in verses 36 & 37. Psalm 34:20 prophesied that none of his bones would be broken. This is another picture of Jesus as the Passover Sacrifice (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). Zechariah 12:10 is also fulfilled: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

 

Purchase of Cloth, Wrapping, and Burial of the Body—Mark 15:46

            Isaiah prophesied of Jesus’ burial. Isaiah 53:9 records, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” Those who say Jesus just appeared to die or almost died lose any credibility when the body is taken down from the cross. It would be incredible to know just what it took for Joseph and Nicodemus (who bought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes according to John 19:39) to get Jesus down from the cross. This was no easy task. The three spikes driven through his body were either pried off the wood or his body was torn off the spikes. If he was almost dead, any life would have been revealed at this point if not snuffed out by the pain of the experience.

            Furthermore, the Bible tells us that two well trained Jewish leaders went to great expense to perform a quick burial preparation. Joseph purchased the cloth to wrap the body and Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of aloe and myrrh. Whatever time there was between the death of Jesus and the removal of the body was filled rushed activities. These men likely employed their servants to assist in the gathering of material and carrying the body to the tomb. This only adds to the number of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus had really died.

            Having been taken down, Jesus body was buried. “This tomb, where no decay or odor of death had as yet entered, was a fitting place for the body of Jesus, which no corruption or decomposition dared to touch (Acts 2:27). Here his holy body could have sweet rest, all its dreadful, painful work done. Yet Jesus was not intended for a tomb. He needed one only on our account, and only until the third day.” [4]

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 728–729.

[2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 731.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 444.

[4] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 733.

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