Table of Contents
Part VII: How Did Jesus Die?
Did the Lord Die of Heart Rupture?
THE POWERS of
the human body to survive physical injury are truly extraordinary.
Crucifixion is one form of capital punishment which it is commonly
believed the body can least sustain for any length of time. And
when it is preceded by scourging and other insults to the body,
and by a period of tremendous emotional stress, and when food
and water have been denied, and when, in addition to these things,
the body is secured to the cross not only with ropes as was common
but with nails driven through the feet and hands, then it is
hard to believe that a human being could long survive the ordeal.
And yet, amazing though it may seem, the simple fact is that
men have lingered for days and, upon a few extraordinary occasions,
have been taken down and have recovered from the ordeal.
1 of 13
As a matter of fact, part of the
very ignominy of this particular form of capital punishment was
due to the long process of dying. It is not without significance,
therefore, that it is said of the Lord that He not only "endured
the Cross," but that He "despised its shame" (Hebrews
12:2). And it is most important to realize that He need not have
"endured" at all, for He could easily have dismissed
His life far sooner than He did. Because He had the power to
lay down His life at will (John 10:l8), Jesus could, had He wished
to do so, have terminated life at once without lingering indefinitely,
for He was not subject to natural death as we are, but made after
the power of an endless life (Hebrews 7:16), and no man had the
power to take His life from Him. The point here is that Jesus
remained alive on the Cross as long as He did in order to fulfill
certain requirements prerequisite to our redemption. We shall
return to this circumstance subsequently. In the meantime, it
is important to realize that no other form
of capital punishment,
such as might have been employed by the Roman authorities (drowning,
poisoning, beheading, strangling, and so forth) would have provided
the stage upon which this divine drama could be enacted. Crucifixion
was the required form of punishment for the fulfillment of God's
purposes. As we have already said, the Lord died on the Cross,
but not because of it.
Although we can certainly assume
that the Lord could have sustained Himself indefinitely on the
Cross, such an event would have been a miracle from the physiological
point of view. But it is also true that His dying so soon was
equally exceptional, and it will be useful to review in this
connection some of the known cases of prolonged survival on a
cross, and even of recovery when removed after several days.
For much of the following information I am indebted to William
Stroud, M.D. (3)
In 1617 Jacobus Bosius published
a work in Antwerp entitled Crux Triumphans et Gloriosa
(The Cross Triumphant and Glorious) in which he told of
the crucifixion of the apostle Andrew who is said to have lived
on the cross for two days. (4) He referred also to the crucifixion of Victor, Bishop
of Amiterna, who although crucified with his head down, a circumstance
most unfavourable to the continuance of life, survived in like
manner for two days. Bosius noted that according to Origen and
other early Fathers this seems to have been commonly the period
of survival when death was not hastened by other means.
Bosius also repeated the well-known story
of Timotheus and Maura, a married couple who suffered in the
year A.D. 286 during the Diocletian persecution. After being
horribly tortured, these two godly souls were crucified together
and according to many dependable witnesses actually survived
nine days while mutually exhorting each other in the faith, expiring
on the tenth day. Stroud rightly observes that this may well
be an exaggeration, nevertheless there are many accounts of people
surviving for two or more days.
In the year A.D. 297, by the order
of Emperor Maximian, seven Christians at Samosata were subjected
to various tortures and then crucified. According to Alban Butler,
3. Stroud, William, M. D., The Physical
Cause of the Death of Christ, Appleton, New York ,
422 pp. Most of the quotations in this chapter are from Dr. Stroud,
but the full documentation of the original is given as far as
possible. This is not to create the impression that we have done
the research involved from original sources, but to provide the
reader with a source which could conceivably be accessible to
him where Stroud's work is not.
4. Bosius, Jacobus, Crux Triumphans et Gloriosa, Antwerp,
1617, pp.8, 9, 43, 47, 94, 112-115.
5. Butler, Alban, Lives of the Fathers, 12 vols., London,
1812-1815, vol.6, p.251-252.
[one of them], a venerable old man, died on the cross in a short
time. James, Romanus, and Lollianus, expired the next day being
stabbed by the soldiers while they hung on their crosses. Philotheus,
Habibus and Paragrus, were taken down from their crosses while
they were still alive. The emperor being informed that they were
alive, commanded large nails to be driven into their heads --
by which they were at length dispatched.
There are a
number of cases in which men were cruelly tortured, and then
crucified head down, yet surviving for 24 hours or more.
Much more recently, a Captain Clapperton
reported on capital punishment in the Sudan in the year 1824.
(6) He speaks of
beheading as being reserved for Mohammedans, and impaling and
crucifixion for "unbelievers." He states that he was
told, merely as a matter of curiosity, that these poor wretches
who are crucified generally linger for three days before death
puts an end to their sufferings.
Impaling was, if anything, an even
more horrid form of capital punishment, a punishment not infrequently
used even in modern times by the Turks. In this, the condemned
man may be thrown from some height onto a sharpened stake. Dr.
Stroud found a report by H. Maundrell who, while travelling in
the Middle East, was actually a witness on one such occasion.
(7) It is almost
unbelievable, yet these are his words: "The criminal 'sitting'
on the stake remained not only still alive but drank, smoked,
and talked as one perfectly sensible, and thus continued for
some 24 hours." But, he remarks, generally after the tortured
wretch has remained in this deplorable and ignominious posture
an hour or two, one of the bystanders is permitted to give him
a "gracious stab to the heart" to put an end to his
Referring to numerous executions
which took place in Constantinople in 1829, a Mr. A. Slade wrote:
(8) "In many
shapes death triumphed during this terrible fortnight. Two wretches,
convicted of attempting to fire the new seraglio at Beglerbey
on the Bosporus, were impaled; one still breathed on the following
day." Dr. Stroud even referred to one man who survived so
long that birds were beginning to peck out his eyes before he
was dead, he being unable to protect himself. (9) He also mentioned another report by a Bishop Wiseman,
written in 1828, in which a young man possessed of great physical
strength was crucified under the walls of Damascus for murdering
his master. The Bishop reported that though he was
6. Clapperton, Capt., in Denham and Clapperton,
Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa,
London, 1926, p.107: Clapperton's narrative.
7. Maundrell, H., Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, London,
8. Slade, Adolphus, Records of Travel in Turkey and Greece,
vol.1, London, 1883, p.447.
9. Stroud, William, ref.3, p.60.
nailed to the cross in
hands and arms and feet, he remained alive from midday on Friday
to the same hour on Sunday. (10)
Stroud also mentions an extraordinary
case where a man, moved by religious impulse, attempted to commit
suicide by crucifying himself. He was 46 years of age, a native
of Venice and had succeeded in nailing his feet and one hand
to the cross. He was unable to complete the crucifixion, of course,
but hung in this position, equally unable to undo what he had
done. He was taken down by some passerby and subsequently died
in a lunatic asylum, approximately one year later. (11)
Although Stroud's work is long
out of print and hard to obtain, the reader will find in it many
illustrations with full documentation of the fact that crucifixion
does not normally bring a quick end to the sufferer, even after
the condemned man has suffered the most terrible mutilations.
Men have been broken on the wheel, stretched on the rack, hung
by their thumbs, and even partially burned, and after all this,
been crucified and yet survived for many hours on the cross.
Some cases have even been reported from the Far East during World
It is not surprising, then, that
Pilate found it difficult to believe that Jesus had died so soon
(Mark 15:44,45). I am convinced that the cause of Jesus' death
was not crucifixion per se, though certainly it was the
object of those who were responsible that this was what should
happen. The Jewish people, as well as Pilate and the Roman authorities,
were quite aware of the recognized Jewish law that no one should
be allowed to hang on the cross after six o'clock in the evening
of that particular day since the following day was a holy day.
Unlike with ourselves, the Jewish day begins at six o'clock in
the evening. It was therefore necessary to insure death before
that time, and for this reason the Roman soldiers took steps
to guarantee that all three condemned men would die very shortly.
Breaking the legs of the two other men had the effect, presumably,
of putting all the strain on the arms and on the chest muscles
so that suffocation would soon put an end to life. I think it
is noteworthy that those responsible for this unpleasant task
of hastening death did not move along the line, as might have
been more natural, but left Jesus till the last as though they
were afraid to touch His body. Perhaps it was with some genuine
relief that they found Him already dead, for there can hardly
be any doubt that the common man who had no reason for religious
10. Wiseman, Bishop, Twelve Lectures on the Connection
Between Science and Religion, vol.I, London, 1836, pp.265f.
11. Stroud, William; ref.3., p.338.
hostility must have looked
upon Jesus with respect. But one of those in a position of higher
authority, fully persuaded that Jesus was dead, seems
to have felt that he would not be fully performing his duty unless
he made absolutely sure. We are told that he plunged his spear
into Jesus' side, apparently penetrating just under the rib cage
which would be a prominent feature in the circumstances, intending
thereby to effect a heart wound.
The result must have been somewhat
unexpected. As far as the centurion was concerned, he had probably
performed this particular duty on a number of occasions previously
and he would therefore be aware of the fact that under normal
circumstances a corpse does not bleed. From a physiological point
of view, the body of the Lord was now simply a corpse, but when
the centurion's spear penetrated, we are told that "there
came out blood and water" (John 19:34). The situation was
an exceptional one and bears examination.
As medical knowledge has
increased, it has come to be believed by a number of commentators
that only one circumstance could account for the flow of blood
and water from a corpse wounded in this way: namely, a ruptured
heart. "Heart break" is considered by most people to
be more psychological than physiological, a subject more worthy
of poetry rather than medicine. The fact is, however, that the
phenomenon has been observed on a number of occasions, and it
is now apparent that the heart may rupture without always causing
the immediate death of the victim. Indeed, there may be a delay
of many hours. We shall consider the evidence for this below.
In the circumstances surrounding
the Lord's final hours of suffering it is not at all surprising
that His heart should have been broken, and the question which
has to be asked is, Do we have any clear indications as to whether
this occurred on the Cross or some hours before? This is an important
question: but there is another one of equal importance, namely,
Was this the cause of His death; Was this the reason that He
was so soon dead? I think there is evidence which allows us to
determine with some measure of certainty when the rupture of
His heart actually occurred, and I think that a careful analysis
of the original terms used in describing the unusual circumstances
of His expiration allow us to say with some measure of assurance
that heart break was not the immediate cause of His death. He
died with a ruptured heart, and not because of
it; just, as we have already seen, He died on the Cross,
but not because of it.
Let us examine some aspects of
heart rupture as a physiological phenomenon in general, and as
one circumstance involved in the sufferings of our Lord. It should
be noted, in passing, that during the
last century postmortems
were much more common (at least in Europe) than they are today.
For one thing, in those days it was not necessary to obtain permission
either beforehand from the deceased or afterwards from the nearest
of kin. Today it is, and as a consequence it is far less often
carried out. Thus although instances of heart rupture in circumstances
such as those considered below may, in fact, be more frequent
than present literature indicates, they are not recognized as
such. In many of the cases which follow, heart rupture was reported
because postmortems had been carried out.
Heart rupture may occur in response
to either great agony of soul or great joy. In the latter case
it may be that rather than joy it is an experience of tremendous
relief which overwhelms the heart. Dr. Stroud referred to a lady
who, being suddenly told of the return of her son from the Indies,
a return which she had feared would never occur, was so overwhelmed
that she suffered a rupture of the heart which proved fatal.
He referred in the same place to another lady who was so extremely
affected with sorrow at the departure of her son for Turkey that
she died suddenly at the very moment she was about to withdraw
her hand from the parting farewell.(12)
Historians present us with many
instances of the fatal effects of excess joy, but the circumstances
often reveal that it was relief from great anxiety which really
overwhelmed the individual's emotional system. Pliny, for example,
informed us that Chilo, the Lacedemonian, died upon hearing that
his son had gained a prize in the Olympic Games. (13) Valerius Maximus has told
us that Sophocles, the tragic writer, in a contest of honour,
died in consequence of a decision being pronounced in his favour.
(14) Alus Gellius
mentioned a remarkable example in the sudden death of Diagoras,
whose three sons were crowned the same day as victors in the
Olympic Games, the one as a pugilist, the second as a wrestler,
and the third in both capacities. (15) Livy also mentioned the case of an aged mother who,
while she was in the depths of distress from the tidings of her
son having been slain in battle, died in his arms from excess
of joy on his safe return. (16) According to Dr. Thomas Cogan, all these are probably
examples of rupture due to emotion. (17) We do not, of course, have any positive proof, since
no autopsy was reported in any of these
12. Ibid., p.93.
13. Gaius Pliny, Book 7, "Man," section 7.
14. Valerius Maximus, ix.12.
15. Alus Gellius (A.D. 130-180), Noctes Atecae, iii. 15.
16. Titus Livius, History of Rome, xxii.7.
17. Cogan, Thomas, M.D., Philosophical Treatises on the Passions,
Bath, 1802, pp.285, 363, 364.
cases. On the other hand,
J. G. Zimmermann noted that Philip V of Spain died suddenly on
being told that the Spaniards had been defeated; and an autopsy
showed that his heart had ruptured. (18)
According to Stroud, a Dr. Hope
in a work published in London in 1839 entitled On the Diseases
of the Heart and Great Vessels, stated, "Rupture
of the heart or great vessels into the pericardium is not always
immediately fatal, as a solid coagulum or a fibrinous concretum
has in several instances been known to arrest the hemorrhage
for a few hours. Of the ten cases mentioned by one authority,
eight died instantly, one in about two hours, and another in
fourteen hours." (19) Stroud also mentioned a case recorded by a German
physician, Dr. Daniel Fischer, who wrote as follows: (20)
A gentleman, aged 68, and apparently
possessing every claim to longevity, was, after having spent
many years at court, compelled to quit it and retire to a country
residence. . . . Toward the close of life his attention
was occupied by an unpleasant business, which, as interfering
with the indulgence of his propensity for solitude, had the effect
of aggravating his melancholy. . . . On the 16th of October,
1817, he was seized, while walking, with a severe pain, which
he supposed to be cramp at the stomach. The pain, after returning
repeatedly, attended with violent agitation and agony, proved
fatal on the evening of the 20th (i.e., four days later). On
examination of the body 18 hours after death, the only morbid
condition of any importance was rupture of the heart. On puncturing
the pericardium, which had the appearance of being distended
by a substance of a dark blue colour, a quantity of reddish fluid
escaped, and afterwards florid blood to the amount of two or
three pounds. The membrane was then slit up, and the heart was
found to be surrounded by a coagulum more than three pounds in
weight. When this was cleared away, a rupture was discovered
in the left ventricle, which extended upwards from the apex about
one and a half inches on the external surface. The internal wound
was found to be about half an inch in length. . . .
Owing to the
smallness of the aperture, the fatal consequences of this rupture
had evidently been protracted.
A word is necessary about the probable
course of events, considered purely from a physiological point
of view, which lead to the actual rupture of the heart. According
to Allan Burns in his Diseases of the Heart, this is what
The immediate cause is a sudden
and violent contraction of one of the ventricles, usually the
left, on the column of blood thrown into it by a similar
18. Zimmerman, J G., On Experience in Physic
(translated from the German),vol.2, London, 1782, pp.268.
19. Hope, James, M.D., On Diseases of the Heart and Great
Vessels, 3rd edition, London, 1839, p.198.
20. Fischer, Daniel, M.D., "A Case of Rupture of the
Heart," in The London Medical Repository, vol.11,
p.422-427, vol.12, p.164-68.
21. Burns, Allan, On Diseases of the Heart, Edinburgh,
contraction of the corresponding auricle.
Prevented from returning backward by the intervening valve, and
not finding sufficient outlet forward in the connecting artery,
the blood reacts against the ventricle itself which is consequently
torn open at the point of greatest distention, or least resistance.
A quantity of blood is hereby discharged into the pericardium,
and having no means of escape from that capsule, stops the circulation
by compressing the heart from without and induces almost instantaneous
death. In young and vigorous subjects, the blood thus collected
in the pericardium soon divides into its constituent parts, namely,
a pale watery liquid called serum, and a soft clotted substance
of a deep red colour termed crassamentum.
out by Krumbhaar and Crowell, (22) most cases of spontaneous rupture of the heart recorded
in modern times are considered to be due primarily to coronary
disease which has produced infarction and partial or complete
aneurysm. Death is then said to be due to hemopericardium, i.e.,
effusion of blood into the pericardial sac. Karsner says that
in hemopericardium from rupture of the heart wall, the intraventricular
pressure is communicated directly to the pericardial sac. (23) This compresses intrapericardial
pulmonary veins and also inhibits cardiac diastole. The result
is usually rapidly fatal. When compression of the heart results
from hemorrhage into the pericardium, usually occurring after
rupture of the heart, it is referred to as cardiac tamponade.
Conversation with some of my medical
friends indicates that very little attention is given nowadays
to the possibility of actual heart rupture as the result
of great emotional stress. It is common enough to speak of heart
failure or stroke, etc., but apparently actual rupture, except
in cases of known disease or aneurysms, is not often recognized.
More frequent autopsy might reveal that true heart break occurs
more often than is supposed. It is a reflection of comparative
medical disinterest in such a possibility that even Hans Selye
of Montreal, one of the world's greatest authorities on human
stress in any form, does not refer to heart rupture due to stress
in his monumental annual reviews on the subject.
Stroud gave many other similar
case histories, and made frequent reference to the fact that
if the rupture occurred a sufficient time before actual death
the blood which leaked into the pericardium was found to have
separated into a coagulum and a serious fluid. There is little
doubt that this composite would have been referred to by a non-medical
observer as "blood and water": in the Lord's case
22. Krumbhaar, E. B., and Crowell, C., "Spontaneous
Rupture of the Heart, A Clinical Pathological Study, "American
Journal of Medical Science, vol.170, 1928, p.828f.
23. Karsner, Howard T., Human Pathology, 6th edition,
Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1938, p.379.
the spear of the centurion,
piercing the pericardium, allowed this blood and water to escape.
This circumstance strongly suggests that heart break had not
occurred immediately prior to the infliction of the wound but
some time previously. And we are given in Scripture some intimation
as to how long previously this rupture had actually taken place.
We are told in Luke 22:44 that
in the Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane great drops of
sweat were seen pouring down His face, with the appearance not
of the normal watery fluid which comprises ordinary human sweat
in times of stress but "as it were great drops of blood."
Now, sweat water is drawn by the glands from the blood, and the
blood is thereby concentrated. This filtrate from the blood is
almost perfectly pure water. When sweating first breaks out,
the fluid contains a number of substances including salt, but
altogether these substances amount to less than one percent of
the fluid which is otherwise pure water. Indeed, in a man acclimatized
to the heat, the water expressed to the surface by the glands
within a few minutes after the onset of sweating becomes the
purest watery fluid in the whole body. However, under very great
emotional stress accompanied by a marked rise in blood pressure,
red blood cells may find their way into the glomerulus and the
sweat then appears on the skin surface as "bloody."
The appearance of coloured
as opposed to clear watery sweat is referred to technically as
chromidrosis. Shelley and Hurley in reviewing the subject, concluded
that it is a function only of the sweat glands which are termed
The activity of these particular sweat glands is related to the
emotional side of man's nature and does not normally relate to
the mechanism whereby he maintains his body temperature. In the
cases referred to by these authors, the coloured droplets were
turbid and appeared at the follicular or hair openings in the
axillary vault or armpit. They mentioned two cases. In the first,
coloured sweat occurred in the armpit, a typical site for normal
emotional sweating; but in the second of their two cases, chromidrosis
appeared on the forehead. Although there is no evidence of apocrine
glands in this area, there are eccrine glands there, which respond
to mental or emotional stimuli as the apocrine glands in the
armpit do. Sweating does indeed occur in the forehead in response
to a rise in body temperature, but it also occurs in this area
due to mental stress, to anxiety, to fear, and to other stimuli
24. Shelley, W. B., and Hurley, H. J., "Methods
of Exploring Human Apocrine Sweat Gland Physiology," Archive
of Dermatatology and Syphilis, vol.66, 1952, p.156-161.
per se have nothing to do with a rise in body temperature.
Thus two distinct sweating mechanisms exist in this one area.
It also happens that a similar situation exists in the palmar
and plantar regions of the hands and feet. It is in these regions,
therefore, that one might expect to find bloody sweat under great
emotional or mental stress: namely, in the forehead, the palms,
and the soles of the feet. Shelley and Hurley properly observed
that the possible relationship of the phenomenon of chromidrosis
to hysterical stigmata or localized hematidrosis ("bloody
sweat") is worthy of wider exploration. And Rothman pointed
out, (25) palmar
"bleeding" was reported in the case of Theresa of Konnersreuth,
an individual whose medical history was examined at some length
by W. Kroner in 1927.
Now and then one reads of similar
cases in recent times, but I am not aware that any extended reports
have been written on them. However, in his work on The Siberian
Chukchee, Bogoras does note that a Shaman, or priest, when
called upon by a "spirit" to go into a "proper
state" of ecstasy for the performance of his ritual, may
sweat blood if he resists the spirit. Instead of the proscribed
behaviour he begins to act like a madman or an epileptic, and
has to be forcibly restrained. (26)
Now Stroud referred to a number of works
from the 16th to the 19th century in which are to be found case
histories of men who, being condemned to death under unexpected
circumstances, broke out into a bloody sweat. (27) One young boy is referred to who, having taken part
in a crime for which two of his elder brothers were hanged, was
exposed to public view under the gallows at the time and was
thereupon observed to sweat blood from his whole body. In a Commentary
on the Four Gospels published in 1639 in Paris, Joannes Maldonatus
referred to a robust and healthy man who had shortly before,
on hearing of sentence of death passed upon him, been bathed
in a bloody sweat. In 1743, J. Schenck, (28) in a work titled Medical Observations, referred
to the case of a nun who, falling into the hands of soldiers
threatening her with instant death, was so terrified that "she
discharged blood from every part of her body and died of hemorrhage
in the sight of her assailants." In 1800, S. A. D.
25. Rothman, Stephen, Physiology and Biochemistry
of the Skin, University of Chicago Press, 1955, p.187.
26. Bogoras: quoted by Alexander Goldenweiser, Anthropology,
Crofts, New York, 1945, p.251.
27. Stroud, William, ref.3, p.97.
28. Schenck, Joannes, Rarer Medical Observations (translation
of Observ. Medicae Rariores), Book 3, Frankfort, 1609,
Tissot, in a work on
the nervous system, (29)
referred to a sailor who was so alarmed by a storm that he collapsed,
sweating blood from his face continuously throughout the whole
storm. He mentioned that the bloody sweat renewed itself like
ordinary sweat as fast as it was wiped away. Charles IX of France,
a monarch of great cruelty but also great energy, both in mind
and body, died of a similar cause in his 25th year. (30) According to Voltaire,
he suffered fatal hemorrhage, the blood flowing from the pores
of his skin. Voltaire noted that this malady was not without
previous example, and he expressed the opinion that it is usually
the result of either excessive fear or great passion. In his
Histoire d'France, the historian de Mezeray referred to
the same circumstance, noting that it was about the 8th of May,
1574. (31) He said
that in his last illness near the end, Charles was found on one
occasion "bathed in a bloody sweat." The blood need
not reach the skin surface only by way of the sweat gland tubules,
but directly through the skin itself, a phenomenon which is a
special form of diapedesis.
There has been some question about
the veracity of this form of generalized cutaneous transpiration
of blood, but the phenomenon has been referred to continuously
from the time of Theophrastus, Aristotle, and Lucan right down
to modern times, and it seems unlikely that all these reports
are fabrications. That the sweat glands themselves are usually
involved seems likely, because some of those who have experienced
bloody sweat have reportedly noticed a tingling sensation in
the skin immediately before the bloody sweat has showed on the
surface. In our own laboratory where sweat measurements are made
with highly sophisticated equipment that allows us to determine
within one second when sweating is about to occur, we have found
that after a few days most subjects on a treadmill are able to
anticipate quite precisely when sweating is about to break out
by an awareness of this overall tingling sensation.
As already noted by Rothman,
very powerful emotion associated with strong religious feelings
may by some unknown psychomotor process lead to bleeding in the
hands and feet, and sometimes on the forehead, a phenomenon which
superstition has tried to link supernaturally with the wounds
of the Lord. But it may in fact be related rather to the activity
of a special class of eccrine sweat glands which, unlike the
rest of the eccrine sweat glands in the body serving
29. Tissot, S. A. D., Traite des
Nerfs, Avignon, 1800, pp.279, 280.
30. Voltaire, (F. M. Arouet), Complete Works, Basle, 1785,
31. De Mezeray, Histoire d'France, vol.3, Paris, 1865,
the purpose of the maintenance
of body temperature by evaporative cooling, are related to what
Walter Cannon so aptly termed "the fight or flight"
reaction. These particular glands respond not to a rise in body
temperature, but to a sudden increase in emotional stress. The
response is, in fact, exceedingly specific and very prompt, and
quite precisely related to the level of stress. As already noted,
these glands are found in the forehead region and in the palmar
and plantar regions.
The great beads of sweat which
appeared to those who were present like drops of blood falling
from the Lord's forehead certainly indicate a tremendous emotional
battle. I think that it would be quite wrong to attribute to
the Lord a terrible fear of what was to be faced, but there is
no question that He must have had a terrible horror. It is difficult
to know with certainty exactly what He meant when He cried that
the cup might pass from Him. But He must have been able to anticipate
what it was going to mean to take upon Himself personal responsibility
for all of man's terrible human wickedness, as though He Himself
were the cause of it all. He must have known that He was being
called upon to assume this burden not in some kind of "as
if" way, but in actual fact so truly that even His Father
would condemn Him as guilty and accountable. He could not dismiss
His life, if He was to fulfill this task, until He had indeed
assumed this responsibility. And for this reason He endured the
Cross rather than escaping from it -- which He could easily have
done by dismissing His spirit at any time, for He had the power
to do so (John 10:18).
I think there may be some justification
in supposing that it was in the Garden of Gethesmane that the
Lord's heart was ruptured, thereby allowing the blood which leaked
from it to accumulate slowly in the pericardial sac. The centurion's
spear subsequently punctured this sac and allowed the blood in
its separated form to escape via the wound. In Psalm 69:20 these
words seem to be prophetic: "Reproach hath broken my heart;
and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity,
but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none."
Surely the second part of this utterance was as literally fulfilled
as the first part, for in Mark 14:37 we are given a picture of
what happened when the Lord did look for comfort from His companions.
It is written, "And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping,
and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou
watch one hour?" (Mark 14:37).
The physical suffering which preceded
and accompanied the Crucifixion, appalling though it was, can
have been nothing really in
comparison with the
agony of soul that was to be faced on the Cross when the moment
came for the Father to lay upon Him the iniquity of us all and,
in the doing of it, to turn away from His beloved Son as One
vile and condemned and unforgivable, for on what grounds
could He have been forgiven? He bore our iniquity and paid our
debt in full. In those terrible hours the Father condemned His
Son as responsible for our wickedness, and His Son in the agony
of His soul accepted full responsibility. His anguish allowed
no accounting of the mere three hours marked off on our clocks.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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In times of extreme torture men
have commonly stated that all sense of time is entirely lost,
that in fact eternity takes over. The actual period of torture
may be a matter only of seconds, but the interval is experienced
as unending. While our clocks ticked over the minutes until they
showed the passing of three hours, to the Lord Himself the period
of torment under condemnation must undoubtedly have been experienced
as an eternity, and because He was who He was, He must have known
beforehand something of what the experience was going to entail.
It is, therefore, all the more wonderful that during the first
three hours on the Cross His thoughts were only for others, for
the forgiveness of His tormentors, and for the care of His mother.
Then judgment fell, and darkness.
It was only after the darkness
and judgment suddenly came to an end, and the horror and the
loneliness were terminated as the sense of fellowship with His
Father was restored, that He could cry exultingly, "It is
finished" (John 19:30). Then, and then only, was He free
to dismiss His spirit at will. But in the Garden of Gethsemane
the agony in anticipation of all that was to come -- the trial,
the mockery, and the desertion by His Father -- had already broken
His heart. It was not the cause of His death, but it did accompany
it. He died with a broken heart; and the centurion's spear
became the instrument in the hand of God, which bore witness
to the uniqueness of the Lord's death and to the ordeal which
had preceded it.