There would be no Christianity without the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without His shed blood there would be no salvation for sinners, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). There have always been those who have denied that the Lord actually died on the cross, Islam being a case in point, “But they killed him not, Nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them” (Sura 4:156), they actually teach that Judas took Jesus’ place. In the Gnostic Gospel of Seth we read, “It was another who drank the gall and the vinegar on the cross; it was not I, it was another Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the hilltop over their error. And I was laughing at their ignorance, for thinking it was I who they were crucifying” (56:6-19).
In this study we will see that there were witnesses to this event. They were there on the scene so would know if He simply fainted or was in a coma. We can be convinced in our minds that Jesus really and truly died.
“And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
It is extremely unlikely that the centurion, who no doubt had given his men the responsibility of driving the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet, would have been deceived by someone in a coma. Here was a man who dealt in hard facts. Everything that had happened around and upon the cross convinced him that Jesus was more than a man. “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Notice that he uses the word “was” rather than “is”, indicating that Christ was truly dead. We understand from verses 44- 45 that the body was not released until it was shown that the Lord was dead, “And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.”
“There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem. And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph” (Mark 15:40-45).
While the disciples were hiding themselves, the women who followed Jesus stayed with Him until the end. These faithful women proved their love for the Lord when the men failed and denied Him.
We know very little of Joseph of Arimathaea except that he was a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret follower of Christ, “When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple” (Matthew 27:57), but now we see him going boldly to ask Pilate to release the body. He was obviously a rich man for he had a grave already carved out for himself. He could not stand by and see the Lord receiving a dishonourable burial. Joseph had lived in fear but now he walked in faith, “And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus” (John 19:38).
There were many others who knew that Jesus was truly dead, “And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned” (Luke 23:48). The religious leaders knew that He was dead, “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). No honest person can deny that Christ really died on the cross.
“And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid” (Mark 15:46-47).
“And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand” (John 19:39-42).
Everyone knew were Christ was buried, not in the cemetery for criminals, but in a rich man’s tomb. They all saw the huge stone that covered the entrance and watched as the seal was placed upon it. “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch” (Matthew 27:62-66). All this was a fulfilment of Isaiah 53:9, “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.”
The Lord Jesus Christ was put to death for us, and on our behalf He robbed death of its sting and victory. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). With Him we must die to ourselves and sin, be buried by baptism, and raised by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:3-11) … “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).