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How Did He Die?
by Wayne Blank
Crucifixion became a common form of execution in the ancient world, mainly by the Carthaginians, Persians, Seleucids, and of course The Romans who used it until the fourth century, when emperor Constantine abolished it.
The usual crucifixion began with the victim being flogged and severely beaten. He was then forced to carry or drag the crossbeam of the cross to the place of execution, where the upright post was already firmly fixed in the ground (see Cross Or Stake?). He was then bound or nailed to the crossbeam which was then raised up and attached to the post about 10 to 12 feet (3 or 4 meters) off the ground. The feet were then nailed to the post. The legs were then often broken with an iron bar.
The death of the victim, depending upon age and physical condition, would usually be the result of heart failure, suffocation or exhaustion - but rarely soon. In some cases, it could take days.
Jesus Christ was a strong, perfectly healthy young man when He was arrested on The Night He Was Betrayed. And yet He died on the cross at Calvary (the "Place of The Skull," in photograph above) within hours. How is it that He died so unusually soon? Pontius Pilate was surprised when he found that Jesus was already dead (Mark 15:44), even though Pilate well-knew how severely He was beaten beforehand. Pilate was surprised because he knew what the normal outcome of crucifixion meant in terms of time.
There are two major schools of thought regarding how Christ died - that He simply died of Himself, or that He was killed by a Roman soldier with a spear. Both can be supported by Scripture.
Did Christ Die Of Himself?
There are Scriptures that support the belief that Jesus Christ died, unexpectedly, of Himself, well before the other two men who were crucified with Him that day.
"Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." (John 10:17-18 KJV)
The primary argument against the Christ dying of Himself is that the Passover Lamb, of which Christ was the fulfillment, was to be actually slain, not simply die of itself.
Was Jesus Christ Speared To Death?
"The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, 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. 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: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." (John 19:31-34 KJV)
Many assume that the soldier speared The Body of the Messiah after they knew He was dead (how did they know?), but why would he do that? Sheer maliciousness could be one answer, but that would still leave the big question unanswered - why then was Jesus already dead, before the other two men who were flogged and crucified with Him, and well before Pilate expected, even though Pilate knew how severely He was beaten?
People who die of suffocation or heart failure don't usually do so "with a loud voice" as Jesus did (Mark 15:37 KJV). If you've ever witnessed someone having a heart attack, or choking on a piece of food, you know how relatively quiet they are - people beside them often don't realize what is happening until the person collapses. But, people who have been suddenly stabbed do naturally cry out "with a loud voice" from the pain and the shock.
Also, dead people do not have the blood pressure to produce a "sudden flow of blood" as described in John 19:34 (undertakers use a small pump while embalming - they don't simply "drain") - but people who are still alive do produce a "sudden flow of blood."
Throughout the Bible, Jesus Christ is referred to as "The Lamb of God" (John 1:29, see also Passover and The Lamb Of God), which is a direct reference to the slaying of the Passover lamb that was always done by its shed blood, from someone actually killing it (Exodus 12:6-7). It was not to be strangled (i.e. suffocated, as happened to crucifixion victims after their legs were broken - hanging from the arms alone eventually causes suffocation from the person unable to inhale because the full body weight would then have to be drawn upward with the chest muscles). It is also very interesting to note that none of the lamb's bones were to be broken (Numbers 9:12), something that was not done to the Christ.
Fact Finder: Is salvation made possible by the actual shed blood of Jesus Christ?