What Really Killed Jesus Christ?
Good News Magazine
January-March 1973
Volume: Vol XXII, No. 1
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What Really Killed Jesus Christ?
Jonathan N Buck & Lawson C Briggs  

Exactly what caused the death of Jesus Christ? Did His heart rupture as professing Christianity assumes? Did He suffocate? Or did He just pretend to be dead, and did His disciples later resuscitate Him? Can anyone know? And how important is it anyway?

   To BECOME the Savior of mankind, Jesus Christ had to pay the penalty — death (Rom. 6:23) — for all the sins that mankind had ever committed, was committing and would commit.
   So Jesus had to die. But was that all? Would just His death be enough?
   And would any manner of death have sufficed?

Our Passover Sacrifice

   God's written Word prophesied Christ had to die. To be our Savior He had to fulfill those prophecies. But God's Word also prophesied how He would die, because it was necessary for Him to die a certain way!
   We read in I Corinthians 5:7 that "Christ OUR PASSOVER is [has been} sacrificed for us." He was our Passover Lamb (see John 1:29, 36; Revelation 5:6, 8, 12, 13; 13:8; 14:1). The actual lambs sacrificed in Egypt (Ex. 12) and by the Israelites thereafter for centuries were but types of Jesus' sacrifice.
   But how then did Jesus — our Passover lamb — die? "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter..." (Isa. 53:7).
   Continuing (verse 12), "... he hath poured out his soul [Hebrew nephesh, life} unto death." This is how He died. But what was this soul or life that was "poured" out? Leviticus 17:11 explains:
   "For the life [mphesh] of the flesh is in the blood... it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul [nephesh]." And Deuteronomy 12:23: "... The blood is the life [nephesh]."

Christ Had to Shed His Blood

   The Israelites were told in Egypt to take of the blood of the Passover lamb and sprinkle it around and over their doors, "And the blood shall be to you for a token [a type or sign] upon the houses where you are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you..." (Ex. 12:7, 13). Because of the blood, their lives were spared — just as ours may be because of the blood Jesus Christ shed for us.
   We are redeemed "with the precious [shed] blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Pet. 1:19).
   "And almost all things are by the law purged [purified} with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission [of sins]" (Heb. 9:22).
   And so the BLOOD of Christ was poured out unto death — just as all the sacrificial offerings were drained of their blood. Any flesh sacrifice, which included the Passover lamb and Christ, its antitype, had to be drained of its blood, which was poured out on the ground (Deut. 12:24).
   Now even if Christ were to pay the penalty for the sins of only one truly repentant murderer, His body would have had to be drained of its blood, for the penalty of murder is death by the shedding of blood (Gen. 9:6).
   Clearly, therefore, Christ died as a result of pouring out His blood!

How His Blood Was Shed

   The Bible also shows how this terrible loss of blood was accomplished. But you won't find it in the King James version, for most of the key verse is actually left out. Along with parallel passages in the other gospels, Matthew 27 tells the story of Christ's death on the cross.
   Matthew 27:49 should read, "The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. AND ANOTHER TOOK A SPEAR AND PIERCED HIS SIDE, AND OUT CAME WATER AND BLOOD."
   Up until about 510-511 A.D., the whole of this verse was included in all Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. It was not until then that a spurious copy of Matthew's gospel was "found" (after being deliberately planted in Cyprus as a part of a scheme to justify Cyprian political independence) in which this verse was not included.
   After that, some of the Greeks decided to delete the verse, although many Greek manuscripts have retained the original to this day. The whole story can be found in Westcott and Hort's New Testament in Greek, pages 21 and 22. At least the Greeks left us a witness of what the true original reading was and should be.
   Thus Matthew 27:49 should show Christ had just died on the cross, or stake, when the soldiers came to break His legs John 19:31 — this verse will be explained shortly). To hasten His death, one of the soldiers had stabbed Him in the side with a spear.
   As the crucial moment approached, the Father in heaven withdrew His presence in order that Christ might die alone, utterly forsaken, forlorn, desolate, as befitting the awful sinner He was now imputed to be because all mankind's sins — past and future - were now placed upon Him. That's why "about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice [the first time], saying, Eli, Eli lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46.)
   As the soldier pierced Him through with the spear, "Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice [this time as a result of physical pain], yielded up the ghost [Greek pneuma, His breath]" (verse 50). He died as the blood flowed from His body mingled with water — the water probably from a ruptured bladder.
   Admittedly, He had already lost a large amount of blood from the vicious scourging that normally preceded a Roman crucifixion. These scourgings were performed with a "flagellum," a whip that resembled a cat O' nine tails with bones and nails added to the ends of the leather straps to increase their tearing effect. There are records that some men died from the scourging alone. But Christ had been strong and healthy and survived the flogging.
   Had it not been for the spear, Christ might have remained alive for much longer, perhaps for days as historical records show often happened.

What Crucifixion Was Like

   Crucifixion was carried out in such a way that loss of blood would be minimal. The victim was nailed to the cross in such a manner as to avoid the puncture of any large arteries, thus actually preventing the loss of much blood.
   In fact, the Roman goal was normally to prolong the agony as long as possible, sometimes for days, until eventually death came through exhaustion or through attacks of birds of prey or wild animals set loose by the Roman soldiers. There are many records quoted in most Bible dictionaries to show that a slow death was the rule. (See for example the Hastings Bible Dictionary, one volume edition, 1963.)
   Usually the Roman cross or stake included a strong peg projecting from the central stem at about thigh height. It appears it was high enough to afford the sufferer some rest, but too low for him, while slumping on it with his hands nailed over his head, to be able to breathe sufficiently to keep himself alive.
   In order to breathe, it was repeatedly necessary for him to thrust himself upward on the nails and wounds in his feet. Thus he was constantly writhing on the cross, up and down. When he became too tired to rise up on his feet anymore, he would suffocate.
   These facts, of course, completely rule out the main thesis of a book called The Passover Plot which appeared a few years ago. The author claimed that Jesus only pretended to be dead on the cross, or had merely passed out, and His disciples later resuscitated Him.
   If Jesus had only pretended to be dead, He would have had to go into a slump and hang by His hands and thus He would have been utterly unable to breathe. He would have been dead in minutes, beyond the possibility of human resuscitation. And if by some means His heartbeat could have been later started again, He would have been a victim of irreversible brain damage from lack of oxygen during His "death."

Importance of the Spear Wound

   Since Christ was strong both physically and mentally — for He was sinless (II Cor. 5:21) physically as well as mentally — He could easily have survived more than the few hours He actually spent on the cross. If He had died of any ailment of His own, His death could not have paid for the sins of anyone else. Clearly He did not die of a "broken" heart. His spear wound actually caused His death!
   Christ, our Passover Lamb, is symbolically eaten in the emblem of the unleavened bread of the New Testament Passover (I Cor. 11:24), just as the Old Testament lamb was eaten (Ex. 12:8-9). But no animal that died of itself could be eaten (Lev. 7:24; 22:8; Deut. 14:21), nor if killed without draining the blood from it (Lev. 17:13-14). Similarly, Jesus' symbolic body could not have become our Passover if He had died of Himself or been killed in any way except by bleeding to death.
   These facts illustrate the importance of the spear wound. It had to kill! Its effect had to be drastic enough to cause the loss of Christ's blood.
   The jagged spear wound was no tiny prick, nor was it just a test to see if Christ was dead. It was designed to kill — to shorten what otherwise might have been a long, drawn-out ordeal. It caused the necessary loss of His blood, so that the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12 was fulfilled.

Why the Thieves' Legs Were Broken

   A second commonly used method, apart from stabbing with a spear, to bring about a crucified person's rapid death, was breaking his legs. With broken legs, he could no longer thrust himself upward to breathe and would quickly suffocate.
   "The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation [the day preceding a Sabbath, in order] that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away" John 19:31).
   "Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs." One of the soldiers had already put Jesus to death, as the next verse actually tells us — "But one of the soldiers with a spear [had] pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water" (verses 32-34).
   Note that the word "pierced" in this verse is in the Greek aorist tense and may be correctly translated " HAD pierced," meaning action completed at a time before the soldiers came to break His legs. There was no pretense. Christ, the Creator GOD who was made flesh, was truly dead! By bleeding to death from a fatal spear thrust, He had fulfilled the prophecy and sacrificed Himself fully for the sins of all mankind.
   Thus the soldiers did not bother to break Jesus' legs. But what is the significance of this fact?
   The Passover lamb was never to have any of its bones broken — it remained whole until it was eaten (Ex. 12:46). This foreshadowed the fact that no bone of Christ's body would be broken on the cross. The spear wound helped to fulfill this prophecy by eliminating any need for breaking Jesus' legs. This fact is stated in John 19:36-37:
   "For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced."

The Meaning for Us

   The important point to understand then, is that Christ had to die by the "pouring out of His soul unto death" (Isa. 53:12), to be our Savior. If He died without the shedding of His blood, no remission for the sins of mankind was made possible. But postmortem examination of the entire record in the Bible, including the part of Matthew 27:49 missing in the Authorized Version, shows He did die by loss of blood.
   Truly we do have a Savior! By being God made flesh and living a perfect human life, Jesus Christ qualified to die in our stead — as our sacrifice. By His death He paid the penalty for the combined sins of mankind — for your sins and mine.
   But one more vital thing was yet necessary before Jesus could indeed fully qualify to be our Savior. He had to be resurrected! Notice it: For "We shall be saved by his LIFE" (Rom. 5:10).
   Jesus was resurrected. He is today our LIVING, active High Priest at the Father's right hand, ministering to us the Holy Spirit; interceding continually for us with the Father (Heb. 7:25-26), supervising our spiritual growth to the same character image that He attained (Eph. 4:13).
   Brethren, as we observe yet another Passover, let's not take the sacrifice of our Savior lightly, but realize the awesome price he paid that we might live forever. Let's contemplate soberly and understandingly the fact that OUR SINS KILLED THE SON OF GOD.
   And let's never forget that we can live in God's Family only because Jesus Christ is ALIVE today and forevermore, as our great elder Brother and High Priest, who constantly intercedes for us with our heavenly Father.

Why We Don't Sacrifice and Eat Passover Lambs Today by Lawson C. Briggs

   SINCE Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament who spoke to ancient Israel, and the Personage who originally instituted the Old Testament Passover, He had the authority to change it. And He actually did change the manner of its observance!
   Notice the Gospel account:
   As they were eating the Passover supper "Jesus took (unleavened] bread and blessed it... and gave it to the disciples and said, Take eat; this is [represents] my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is [represents] my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:26-28).
   To understand the true significance of this scripture, we need to review several Old Testament scriptures and some of Jesus' own statements made during His ministry prior to this Passover night.
   Notice first that the Prophet Isaiah understood that the Passover lamb was a type of Christ. He wrote, regarding the death of the Messiah: "... He. is brought as a lamb to the slaughter" (Isa. 53:7).
   John the Baptist, carrying out his own commission of preparing the way for Christ (Luke 3:2-4) as prophesied in Isaiah 40:3, understood that Lamb had come.
   "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
   A little later John again spoke of Jesus specifically to two of his disciples: "Behold the Lamb of God!" (Verse 36.) These two disciples immediately began following Jesus. One of them was Andrew the brother of Peter (verses 35, 37, 40). The other was undoubtedly John, who was the only one to record this account. He omitted his own name according to his usual practice.
   Later, but before He died as our Passover Lamb, Jesus publicly alluded to the New Testament Passover and the new symbols of bread and wine He would institute. He said, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you" (John 6:51, 53).
   Eating this "flesh," unlike eating merely the physical lamb, would identify the eater with the eternal life of the Lamb of God. And along with it was the blood (not in the "flesh," but separate from it, for it had been all poured out from His body — see accompanying article) which cleared the way for all mankind to receive eternal life by making possible the remission of sins.
   As a result of this "hard [to be understood] saying" (verse 60), many of Jesus' disciples ceased to follow Him (verse 66). But Peter and John and the rest of the twelve, except for Judas Iscariot, were willing to accept it (even though they didn't fully understand it until the Holy Spirit revealed it to them — John 14:26) and were thus better prepared to accept His statement at the close of His last Passover supper, "This is (henceforth] my body."
   The new emblems were a substitution for — not an addition to — the physical lamb. In I Corinthians 11:20 the Apostle Paul further elaborates: "When ye come together therefore in one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper." The supper — a full Passover meal — was no longer the manner of observing the Passover. Instead Paul went on to clearly state that the simple emblems of bread and wine were to be taken on the Passover every year (verses 23-25).
   We keep the Passover today because it is commanded by God forever (Ex. 12:17, 24). But no longer do we kill a lamb and eat it, since the "Lamb of God" — Jesus Christ — has been sacrificed once for all: "Christ [who was foreshadowed by the literal Passover lamb] was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9:28). Instead, we take the unleavened bread, symbolizing Christ's broken body, and the wine, symbolizing His shed blood, as a MEMORIAL, looking back to our Savior's suffering and death for our sins.
   Clearly, the Old Testament observance of Passover is totally unnecessary today.

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Good News MagazineJanuary-March 1973Vol XXII, No. 1