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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part VII: How Did Jesus Die?

Chapter 1

Did the Lord Really Die on the Cross?

     SOME YEARS ago a young lawyer in England who had come to share the views of liberal theologians, especially in Germany, maintaining that the resurrection scenes in the Gospels reflected only the delusions of certain of the more desperate of the disciples of Jesus whose faith had been shattered by His ignominious death, set out to prove to his own satisfaction that they were so full of improbabilities and inconsistencies that they could be ignored altogether.
     Using his legally trained mind to the best possible advantage he set himself to an examination of the evidence from every point of view -- and came to precisely the opposite conclusion. Sir Robert Anderson, a name familiar to many thoughtful Christians of an older generation, himself became a firm believer and wrote a number of works which became classics in their way, among which is his well-known The Silence of God. Such is the power of Scripture.
     It is the supernatural element of Scripture which causes concern to those who are proud in intellect, for it puts something beyond the range of man's unaided power of thought, just as it is the judgment aspects of Scripture which cause offense to those who feel themselves morally worthy. Philosophers and theologians of the nineteenth century in continental Europe were willing enough to accede to the judgment of history as to the extraordinary perfection of Christ's life and the manifest nobility of His self-sacrifice in death. But they were quite unwilling to admit that He who so lived was any more than simply a very great man and that He died anything other than a martyr's death. The idea of a bodily resurrection, a resurrection of the whole man, who thereafter for many days shared with His disciples a substantial part of their old life together in such a concrete way as to establish beyond doubt in their minds that He really had

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risen from the dead, not as a ghost but as a re-embodied person -- this they could not allow. It was admitted that these disciples really believed that Jesus had returned to be with them; and, therefore, disallowing such a miraculous event as bodily resurrection, it had to be assumed that somehow Jesus had never actually died on the Cross.
     Although the view that Jesus was only thought to have died on the Cross, and that subsequently the coolness of the tomb in which He was laid -- supposedly dead -- had revived Him, is no longer seriously held even by the most liberal theologians, it is still worth noting why the view was abandoned. It is quite extraordinary how men who are desperate to evade the force of Scripture will grasp at alternative explanations. As we shall see, the more deeply one examines the Gospel accounts of the Lord's death, the more certain it is that He really did die. And the difficulties which face anyone who seriously holds the liberal view are overwhelming, the more so as they are the more carefully examined.
     It is difficult indeed to suppose, for example, that one who had suffered the appalling strains and stresses, physical and emotional, of the previous hours, could be nailed to the Cross, receive a severe wound in the chest, be laid in a cold tomb, and there revive and find energy enough with such wounds in hands, feet, and chest to brace himself against a stone which almost certainly could only be moved from the outside, and which was far too heavy for the women themselves to move, and simply roll it out of the way. And this apparently without the soldiers on guard being awakened! Only a few hours later this figure, so mutilated according to Scripture as to be scarcely recognizable (Isaiah 52:14), presented Himself before Mary and overwhelmed her with the joy of recognition. Shortly thereafter He walked for miles without limp, tiredness, or evidence of mental anguish with two disciples who would surely have recognized Him at once if He still bore the marks of utter exhaustion that must have remained with Him had His recovery been a natural one. There is no evidence of any desperate need for rest or food or drink. There is every evidence that when their clouded vision had suddenly cleared by His simple act of breaking bread with them they recognized Him because He was exactly as they had known Him sharing their table before the events of those terrible last days. According to Scripture, the resurrected Lord was seen by hundreds of people, five hundred at one time together (1 Corinthians 15:6). One or two people may have hallucinations, but not hundreds, least of all when they are all together.

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     In a series of essays published in 1893 under the title, Primary Convictions, William Alexander had something of great value to say about these resurrection scenes: (1)

     In the introduction to "The Monastery," Sir Walter Scott discusses the reasons for the comparative failure of one of his previous novels, "The Abbott." He attributes it in part to his delineation of the White Lady of Avenal, and remarks emphatically upon the almost certain breakdown of "supernatural machinery" in works of fiction.

     The point is well taken, for, as Alexander pointed out, even such a great literary artist as Shakespeare represented the great souls of the departed as uttering only a few words. As Alexander puts it, (2) "The impression produced by their apparition is floated in to us through the language of the spectators rather than the visitant himself." Speaking of the Ghost in Hamlet, he noted that the language of the Ghost himself falls far short of the lofty and awe-inspiring conception conveyed by the words of others who impart to us the impression which the dramatist wants us to form. It seems practically impossible for man to create and portray consistently and convincingly the doings and words of human spirits. When man creates a ghost, he creates only a ghost of a ghost.
     Supposing, for the moment, that we are allowed only one of two alternative views of the resurrection appearances: either that what the disciples saw was a ghost, or that what they saw was actually Jesus recovered at least partially from an ordeal which had been nearly but not quite fatal to Him. Then, what kind of a record might we expect to find? Assuming, first, that He really was only a spiritual being, a ghost if you will, then can one honestly imagine that such a scene as that in which Thomas was invited to handle and see that He was not a ghost (John 20:27), would have found its way into or been allowed to remain in the record? On the other hand, if He was really only a man recovering from a frightful ordeal, is it likely that a writer who wished to be convincing would tell his readers how, having shared a meal at Emmaus with two of His disciples, He suddenly and unaccountably disappeared out of their sight (Luke 24:31) without causing them to be in the least afraid or even curious, but rather 1eaving them with tremendous assurance? Surely the one thing which a fabricator would try to avoid would be logical inconsistency. Either He was a purely spiritual being, in which case it would be absurd to have Him inviting physical examination; or He was a

1. Alexander, William, Primary Convictions, Harper, New York, 1893, p.96.
2. Ibid.

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purely physical being, who could hardly have been described as disappearing instantly at will, or passing freely through barred doors and presenting Himself unexpectedly among His followers. As a ghost He would not invite physical examination, nor as an ordinary mortal be able to ignore physical barriers.
     But, on the other hand, if we once allow the whole record to stand precisely as it is, then we must admit that this Figure appears before us now as One whose behaviour and constitution are totally unaccountable unless we allow two facts: the first, that He really died by a means which left its marks upon His body and set Him free from the limitations of ordinary mortal existence; and secondly, that He really rose again from the dead in such a way that He carried with Him the total identity of His former existence, but with none of its limitations, being no longer bound by the space-and-time frame which had given to Him that character which rendered Him immediately recognizable in His risen state to His former disciples. A real life, a real death, and a real resurrection will alone account for these things.
     Although the resurrection scenes occupy only a few pages, the risen Lord is the same Lord, only even more gloriously so if that is possible, as the Lord who ministered among men and shared their daily lives in the years before the Crucifixion. Indeed, it was the absolute certainty of this identity which transformed disappointed, fearful, and even cowardly men who had experienced the apparent collapse of all their hopes, into spiritual giants, eloquent, fearless, and absolutely certain of what they believed.
     And at the end, they parted company with their Lord under circumstances which must surely be evidence of an entirely new kind of relationship. What parting with one dearly loved and utterly depended upon had ever before been an occasion of great rejoicing! Yet this parting was. The disciples returned from the Mount of Olives after the Ascension, not saddened, depressed, lonely, or fearful -- but with great gladness. Such a gladness in such a circumstance could only be accounted for by some tremendous conviction, a conviction that their beloved Lord had really triumphed over death. Such a conviction could surely have never arisen had those 40 days been spent restoring to health a defeated leader whose mission had manifestly failed. Those few days transformed a band of ignorant, uneducated, and often very selfish followers into a force which turned the Roman world upside down. It is no wonder that Sir Robert Anderson in the honesty of his mind found himself

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completely convinced of the truth of something which he had set out originally to prove entirely false.
     There is really no question that Jesus did die on the Cross. The real question is how He died.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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