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Did Jesus really die?

The Old Testament, as well as Jesus Himself, promised that He was going to die and rise again to pay the punishment for our sin (Matthew 16:21; Luke 24:46). So if Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, then Jesus would have been a liar and an imposter. Worse than that, Jesus wouldn’t have been our Savior, and we would still be unreconciled to God. So answering this question is like a 10 on the importance scale!

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Some people have offered alternative explanations for Jesus’ death, including that Jesus just fainted/passed out (or "swooned") due to the pain He suffered on the cross. They theorize that He later revived naturally in the tomb. Interesting theory...but is it probable?

Jesus' Death: A Biblical Perspective

The following are a few facts surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion from Jesus’ disciple, John, who was an eyewitness to these events.

  • Jesus was flogged (John19:1)
  • Nailed on a cross (John 19:18)
  • Gave up His spirit (John 19:30)
  • Speared in His side and blood and water flowed out (John 19:34)
  • Taken off the cross, wrapped in burial cloth, and placed in a tomb (John 19:40-42)
  • Jesus’ friend and disciple, Thomas, disbelieved his other friends when they told him that Jesus is actually alive and had appeared to them, and would not believe until he saw Jesus himself (John 20:25-27)
  • Jesus’ disciples suffered and eventually died for their testimony that Jesus died and rose from the dead (John 21:19)

A Closer Look at the Clues

Now let’s examine how these facts from John’s account act like evidence or clues to the truth that Jesus truly died. [REFERENCES]

  1. The Romans were experts at killing people and the type of flogging that they did was excruciating. “The back would be so shredded [from the beating of 39 lashes or more] that part of the spine was sometimes exposed by the deep, deep cuts... We know that many people would die from this kind of beating even before they could be crucified” (Strobel p.261). In medical terms, Jesus could have suffered hypovolemic shock because of the type of torture that He endured (Strobel p.261).
  2. The position in which Jesus was nailed on the cross caused each breath to be agonizing and eventually lead to asphyxiation (Strobel p.265). He would have to push up on His feet to exhale and then “after managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in... This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn’t be able to push up and breathe anymore.” (Strobel p.265)
  3. In medical terms, Jesus died of cardiac arrest (Strobel p.266). When the Roman soldiers discovered that Jesus was dead, one of them pierced His side with a spear, and John reports that blood and water flowed out. For many years, people didn’t understand what that meant. Some thought it was a symbol. But with today’s medical knowledge, we now know that John was observing the results of pleural effusion where water accumulates in the lung, which would have happened based on the type of traumatic death Jesus was experiencing (Wallace p.23-24).
  4. Those who handled Jesus' body after it was taken down from the cross would have known that He was dead. Things like rigor mortis, which is the stiffening and rigidity of a body after death, would have begun to set in, as well as Jesus’ body temperature dropping significantly because He was no longer alive (Wallace p.23-24). Those preparing for Jesus' burial would have observed these things as they wrapped and anointed His body. As these were His friends, it would make sense that they would have looked for any small sign that He was still alive before burying Him—but they found none (John 19:38-42).
  5. After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples. But one of them, Thomas, was not present with the other disciples at that time. So when they told Thomas that they had seen Jesus, Thomas didn't believe them. He clearly thought that Jesus was dead! It was only after Jesus appeared to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe" (John 20:27) that Thomas actually believed Jesus was alive. He knew how Jesus had died, and only the physical evidence of seeing his teacher's scared yet living body was going to convince him otherwise. After seeing Him, he knew that Jesus wasn’t an imposter posing as the risen Jesus, but it was truly his Lord and God (John 20:28)!
  6. Jesus’ disciples testified that Jesus had indeed died as payment for our sins and that He had risen from the dead—proving that our sins were paid for. This meant that God had extended an invitation for all people to receive His gift of forgiveness (Acts 2:23-24, 38-39). However, the same religious leaders that had put Jesus to death also arrested and beat any of His followers who proclaimed this message (Acts 5:17-18, 40). They could have been spared this suffering if they had denied their statement of belief that Jesus died and rose from the dead. Yet they continued to boldly proclaim their message despite the danger. Their fatal testimony is evidence that Jesus’ excruciating death really happened.

All of these clues point to the truth that Jesus really did die.

If Jesus is God and He died, does that mean God died too?

No, when Jesus experienced death, God did not die—even though Jesus is God. God did NOT cease to exist even though Jesus (who is God in the flesh) DID experience spiritual and physical death on the cross. Death means separation—separation from the body in physical death and separation from God the Father in spiritual death.

Mark 15:34 records Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, illustrating spiritual separation from God the Father in His human nature (not His divine nature). Jesus’ physical death happened when His heart stopped beating and His spirit was separated from His earthly body (Matthew 27:50), like what will happen to us when we die. Jesus’ death was real, and His resurrection was real!

Why did Jesus have to die?

Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. Jesus was sinless; He didn’t deserve to die. Yet He took our place and willingly paid the debt we owed for our sin—not with money, but with His own life’s blood (Romans 5:8-10).

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, YOUR sin can be forgiven if you believe, agree, and ask. Agree with God that you have done things that have broken His law (e.g. lying, stealing, disobeying your parents). Believe that Jesus died and came back to life to pay for your sin. Ask God to forgive you of your sin and be your Savior from eternal punishment.

To learn more about believing in Jesus, you can watch the video below or see this article: How can I be saved?



Resources: Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Zondervan Publishing House, 1998. | Wallace, J. Warner. Alive: A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection. David C Cook, 2014.

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TL;DR

Yes, Jesus really did die. John, a disciple of Jesus and an eyewitness to the event, records key facts that show that Jesus died (John 19). Jesus did not merely pass out from pain. He did not fake His death. The clues we have include an excruciating flogging that sometimes exposed the spinal column. Jesus survived this torture only to be nailed to a cross in a position that would eventually cause asphyxiation. His lifeless body would have shown signs of death like rigor mortis and coldness. Those handling His body would be certain He was dead (John 19:38-42). His disciples knew Jesus had died, yet they later witnessed Him alive with their own eyes. He walked and talked with them, and they touched His hands (John 20:28). They were willing to suffer and risk execution for testifying that Jesus had died and resurrected (Acts 5:17-18, 40). Jesus experienced both physical and spiritual death when He was on the cross as payment for our sin (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:50). If we believe the truth about Jesus as our Savior and ask God for forgiveness, our sins will be forgiven and we'll be reconciled with God (John 3:16-17).

Writer: Hanna S.

Hanna loves spending time with kids and teens. She enjoys being detectives with them to investigate God's Word to discover truths to answer any questions. She is the co-author of a newly published apologetics curriculum for children and teaches one online for highschoolers-adults. To learn more about her ministry you can visit networkerstec.com. For fun, she likes to play Ultimate Frisbee, read historical fiction, and paint.

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