How did Jesus Christ die?
Medical experts, historians and archaeologists have examined in detail the execution that Jesus Christ voluntarily endured. All agree that he suffered one of the most gruelling and painful forms of capital punishment ever devised by man. Here is a brief summary of some of the things we know about his last hours from history, archaeology and medicine…
Severe stress, even before the abuse began
Jesus had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Even before the crucifixion began, he clearly had physical symptoms associated with severe stress. The night before the execution, his disciples reported seeing Jesus in “agony” on the Mount of Olives. Not only did he not sleep all night, but he seems to have been sweating profusely. So great was the stress that tiny blood vessels were rupturing in his sweat glands and emitting as great red drops that fell to the ground (see Luke 22:44). This symptom of severe stress is called hematohidrosis. (Learn more…)
Jesus was physically exhausted and in danger of going into shock unless he received fluids (which he apparently did not). This is the man that the Roman soldiers tortured.
Torture by beating with Roman scourges
Having previously been beaten by the Jews, it was now the Romans’ turn. The beatings administered by Roman soldiers are well known to be very bloody, leaving lacerations all over the body. Romans designed their whips to cut the flesh from their victim’s bodies. These beatings were designed to be painful to the extreme. It would also cause a fluid build up around his lungs. In addition, a crown of thorns was forced into his scalp which was capable of severely irritating major nerves in his head, causing increasing and excruciating pain, as the hours wore on.
In Christ’s severely stressed condition, these beatings were easily enough to kill him. His body was horribly bruised, cut and bleeding. Having had no nourishment for many hours, and having lost fluids through profuse sweating and much bleeding, Jesus would have been severely dehydrated. This brutal torture would certainly be sending him into what doctors call “shock,” and shock kills.
In addition, Jesus was forced to carry the wooden beam on which he would die. Imagine the effect of carrying a heavy weight if you were in that condition.
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.
Frederick Farrar described the intended, torturous effect: “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.”
One doctor has called it “a symphony of pain” produced by every movement, with every breath; even a slight breeze on his skin could bring screaming pain at this point.
Medical examiner, Dr. Frederick Zugibe, believes Christ died from shock due to loss of blood and fluid, plus traumatic shock from his injuries, plus cardiogenic shock causing Christ’s heart to fail.
At the ninth hour (the time at which a sacrificial lamb was killed everyday in the Jewish temple), Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated,“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and soon died, after saying “It is finished.” At about this moment is probably the time when the temple’s priestly ram’s horn would have been blown that day, announcing that the priests had completed the sacrifice of the lamb for the sins of Israel. Also at that moment, the great, thick curtain that closed the Holy of Holies room from view, ripped open from top to bottom.
—Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46
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.
There is no question that it was painful beyond words.
Biblically, it is clear that Jesus chose and willed His moment of death. That moment was induced not by pain, emotional stress, heart attack, or any other, but by His will. Though fully human, He is also fully divine. As God, He could not die from external sources, but only of His own volition and will.
Near the end, a criminal beside him mocked, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” Little did this sinner know that the man he was speaking to hung there voluntarily. He was speaking to our Creator, capable of releasing all the power in the universe and beyond, and easily saving himself. Jesus remained in this agony and shame, not because he was powerless, but because of his incredible love for humanity. He suffered to provide the needed way of salvation for you and me.
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- What is crucifixion? Answer
- Sweating blood - Did Jesus really do it? Answer
- Biblical description of Christ’s last day, death and resurrection: As told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- On what kind of cross was Jesus crucified? Answer
- ► Jesus Christ GREATLY HUMBLED himself for humanity’s sake. How and Why? Answer
- DID JESUS ONLY FAINT and then recovered from his wounds? Answer
- If Jesus is God, how could he die? If Jesus died on the cross, then how can he be alive today? Answer
- ARCHAEOLOgY—Have any burial sites been found for the people involved in Christ’s life and death? Answer
- Why the DIFFERENT INSCRIPTIONS on the cross? Answer
- What does the inscription “INRI” mean? Answer
- fall of man and sin
- justice of God
- Redeemer and redemption
- debt and debtor
- the final judgment
- What does Islam teach about the crucifixion of Jesus? Answer
- crown of thorns
Frederick W. Farrar, The Life of Christ (Dutton, Dovar: Cassell and Co., 1897).
- Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Campus Crusade).
- Michael Green, Man Alive (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968.
- Dr. Ramsay MacMullen, History Professor Emeritus of Yale University, Dr. James Strange, Professor of Religious Studies, University of South Flordia, and Dr. Frederick Zugibe, medical examiner, in “How Jesus Died: The Final 18 Hours” a video released by Trinity Pictures.
- Death & Resurrection of the Messiah, Faith Lessons (video) (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Focus on the Family).
Author: Paul S. Taylor of Christian Answers. Copyright © 2000, 2003, Films for Christ, All Rights Reserved—except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.