(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 15, 2001
The Burial of Jesus
PROOF OF HIS DEATH (31-37)
In our study of John 19 last week, we read the account of Jesus’ death on the cross on Golgatha’s hill. The accounts given in Matthew, Mark and Luke are also straight forward in telling of this gruesome event and Jesus’ death. In the Bible there are four independent accounts of His death, one of which was written by an eyewitness (John) and another who had “investigated everything carefully from the beginning” (Luke 1:1-4). To these can be added the weight of the ancient historians Josephus and Tacitus who both record Jesus’ death. It would seem silly to even suggest that Jesus did not die on the cross, yet that is not just a suggestion, but a belief by many people who should know better, and many others that have been left in ignorance. This effort to deny that Jesus died on the cross is not about His death, but about His resurrection. If Jesus did not really die on the cross as reported in the gospel accounts, then He could not have risen from the dead, and if He did not rise from the dead, then He is not the Son of God, the Messiah, and therefore has no claim on your life. The effort to deny that Jesus died on that Roman cross is not born out of scholarship and an effort to come to truth, but an effort to deny the implications of the truth.
I learned many years ago, while earning my Bachelor of Science degree, that just because someone claims to be a scientist does not mean they follow the scientific method and are truthful. The amount of fraud committed by scientists in pursuit of proving their ideas by whatever means possible is actually frightening. The same occurs by those who claim themselves to be experts and scholars. They may have great intellects and even be able to read several languages, but their interest is in their own theories and not the truth. Integrity, not intellect, is more important when it comes to searching for the truth. The so called, “Jesus Seminar,” of a few years ago is a case in point. All these people who were supposed to be scholars gathered together to vote on what Jesus actually said. The final result was a Bible that has almost nothing attributed to Jesus Himself. In professing to be wise, they became fools.
Such is the case with the effort to deny the death of Jesus in order to also be able to deny His resurrection. This denial is made by both people who are ignorant and by people who claim to be wise. In answering their denial the truth is demonstrated and their foolishness is proven. What the apostle John wrote in John 19:31-37 gives the needed proof that Jesus did indeed die on the cross. But before I examine that section in detail, let me remind you of what Jesus had suffered so that you can judge for yourself if there is anything reasonable in the various denials about Jesus’ death.
Jesus had already had a very emotional and tiring day on Thursday leading into the events of Friday. He would have been up early according to His normal custom. That evening was the Last Supper with His disciples in which He instituted the ordinance of Communion and gave His final teachings. There was the emotional stress in the Garden of Gethsemane in which He prayed for the Father to remove the cup of suffering He was about to drink if it were possible, yet not as He willed but as the Father willed. The fervor of that prayer was so great that His sweat became like drops of blood falling down on the ground. Then there was the betrayal by Judas, the arrest and the trials. Then the physical sufferings began.
Recall that Jesus was struck by the officers of the High Priest during that phase of the trial (John 18:22), but that was minimal to what Jesus suffered in Pilate’s vain attempt to pacify the Jews and yet not kill Jesus. Pilate had Jesus scourged. The instrument used to scourge or flog someone was a short piece of wood to which many leather thongs had been attached. At the ends of these thongs were tied bits of bone and metal that would pummel and tear the flesh of the one being flogged. The victim would usually be tied to a stake so that the back was bent. The soldier giving the flogging would strike the victim’s back. Jewish custom limited the number of strikes with the whip to 39 (40 less one to avoid violating Deut. 25:23), but the Romans were not so limited. We do not know how many times Jesus was whipped with the scourge. We do know that as each strike would be laid upon His back, the pieces of metal would cause deep bruises and contusions while the bits of bone would lacerate the skin. As the beating continued, the back, from the shoulders to the buttocks, would become a mass of shredded flesh. Eusebius, an ancient historian, described a scourging saying, “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowls of the victim were open to exposure.”
It would not be uncommon for people to die from this type of scourging which was why the Jews had limited the number of times the person could be struck. The amount of blood lost in such a flogging could be enough to cause what is known as hypovolemic shock which refers to a loss of blood pressure because there is not enough volume of blood left to keep it up. Even if this loss of blood did not bring on death, the body would be craving fluids because of the blood loss. The Scriptural account of Jesus’ crucifixion points to the fact that He was suffering from the severe loss of blood. It is this blood loss that probably caused Him to collapse while carrying His cross and to later cry out in His thirst.
After Jesus was scourged, the soldiers mocked him. They put a purple robe upon Him and a crown of thorns upon His head. The crown was probably made from the Spina Christi or Palinrus shrub which is common to the area. It has thorns that can be several inches long. This would have caused blood to flow down from His head. There was a cohort of soldiers present (Mt . 27:27) and they were mocking Him. They would kneel before Him and call out, “Hail, King of the Jews,” then they would spit on Him and strike about the face and head (Mt. 27, Mark 15). After this Jesus was presented before the Jews and then questioned by Pilate again.
Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified, and according to custom, Jesus had carry His own cross to the place He would be crucified (John 19:17). At some point along the way, Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to carry Jesus’ cross the rest of the way. That Jesus could not continue to carry His own cross shows that Jesus was in a serious medical condition before He was even crucified.
Upon arrival at the place of crucifixion, Golgatha, which is Hebrew for “place of the skull” (“Calvary” comes from the Latin term meaning the same thing), Jesus was laid down upon the cross and nailed to it with spikes five to seven inches long. He was then lifted up on the cross and it was slid into a post hole. There Jesus would hang. I pointed out last week that as horrible as the physical torture Jesus endured would be, that was not the worst part of His suffering. The worst part was the point in time in which Jesus bore our sins upon Himself which caused Him to be separated from the Father for the first and only time and therefore to cry out, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). There is no way to describe the mental and emotional anguish that would have been for Him. Think of your worst nightmare of being rejected, abandoned and alone and multiply that by infinity. Anyone who has ever been rejected by someone you love knows the physical pain that is part of the emotional response. Jesus would have had that pain in its severest form when He bore our sins in Himself.
John 19:30 says that after Jesus had received the sour wine, in fulfillment of prophecy, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head, and gave up the Spirit. We studied the crucifixion last week, and if people would simply believe the Scriptural accounts as they would of any other eyewitness or researched event, there would not be a need to go through it again this week, but I have done so to demonstrate the foolishness of some of the ideas proposed that Jesus did not die. Those who do not believe the Bible would be better off just saying so and not bother to try to explain it away, for in doing so they only show themselves to be fools.
There are several variations to what is often referred to as the “swoon” theory. The commonality in all of them is that Jesus did not really die on the cross, but simply passed out or “swooned” and then revived later in the cool of the tomb after He had rested. But before we even look at the hard evidence John gives in the rest of this chapter as an eyewitness, it is nonsense to suppose that anyone could endure this type of torture, then be wrapped from head to foot with linen cloth, laid in a grave for some 36+ hours with nothing to eat or drink, then revive, unwrap himself, roll back a heavy stone by himself, overcome the guards and escape. And for anyone foolish enough to even consider such nonsense, what John states in verses 31-37 is the final testimony to the truth and will serve as the final warning to those who will not place their faith in Jesus as the substitute sacrifice for their own sins.
Dead on the Cross (John 19:31-37)
31 The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high [day]), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and [that] they might be taken away. 32 The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; 34 but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water. 35 And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. 36 For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
The Jewish religious leaders continued in their hypocrisy. Deut. 21:22,23 is specific that the corpse of a person that is put to death and hung on a tree was to be buried on the same day so that the land would not be defiled. They do not want to break this commandment for fear that it defile them and prevent them from the proper celebration of the Sabbath which was about to begin. They were not concerned with the fact that they had just broken many of God’s commandments in having Jesus crucified and had polluted the land with innocent blood. Such is the nature of religious hypocrisy.
In order to speed up the process they gain Pilate’s permission to have the legs of those being crucified broken. Remember that crucifixion kills by the means of a slow suffocation. If the legs are broken, the one being crucified cannot use their legs to push up to get a breath. They would then quickly suffocate. This breaking of the bones (called a crurifragium) was done by using a hammer or iron mallet and hitting the leg at the instep. The cruelty of this is hard to imagine, and yet it would often be the coup de grace that would end the suffering of crucifixion that might otherwise have lasted many more hours or even days. After the legs of the two thieves had been broken, they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, so they did not break His legs.
This initial assessment by these Roman soldiers is the professional testimony that Jesus was dead. These were men well acquainted with death by crucifixion. John points out this scene with the inclusion about the legs of the other two being broken, but Jesus being left alone because it is another fulfilment of prophecy. Psalm 34:20 states specifically that “He keeps all His bones, Not one shall be broken.” This was in keeping with the typeology of Jesus as the Passover Lamb, for none of the bones of the Passover lamb were to be broken either (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12). Jesus was now dead, but even here it is God that is in control to make sure that all prophecy would be fulfilled.
The soldiers assessment was that Jesus was dead, but that would not be left to chance and so he took his spear and pierced Jesus side with the result that immediately there came out blood and water. One theory has it that this is what killed Jesus, but such again is the foolishness of those who profess to be wise. They delight in revealing their own mind rather than to consult with those who might know better. The flow of the blood and water is medical evidence of both death and the cause of it.
Over the years several medical doctors have commented on this unusual phenomena. I will quote from the findings of Alexander Metherell, M.D., PH.D. as quoted in The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.
In crucifixion, “As the person slows down his breathing, he goes into what is called respiratory acidosis – the carbon dioxide in his blood is dissolved as carbonic acid, causing the acidity of the blood to increase. This eventually leads to irregular heartbeat. In fact, with His heart beating erratically, Jesus would have known that he was at the moment of death, which is when he was able to say, ‘Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ And then He died of cardiac arrest.”
“Even before He died, the hypovolemic shock would have caused a sustained rapid heart rate that would have contributed to heart failure resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart, called a pericardial effusion, as well as around the lungs, called a pleural effusion.” When the Roman soldier thrust the spear into Jesus it “apparently went through the right lung an d into the heart, so when the spear was pulled out some fluid – the pericardial effusion and the pleural effusion – came out. This would have the appearance of a clear fluid, like water, followed by a large volume of blood.”
And as Dr. Stuart Bergsma has pointed out, if Jesus had still been alive when the spear was thrust into Him, only blood would have come out.
The apostle John emphasizes in verse 35 that he was an eye witness of these events and that what he is saying is true and is telling us so that we might also believe. His testimony removes all doubt that Jesus was dead on the cross prior to the soldier thrusting his spear into Him. To claim that Jesus did not die on the cross is sheer foolishness and only reveals the senseless speculations of those who refuse to believe the truth regardless of the evidence presented to them.
John also points out that the soldier’s thrust of the spear fulfilled prophecy. Psalm 22:16,17 speak of the Messiah’s hands and feet being pierced, but John quotes Zech. 12:10 here as the specific prophecy being fulfilled. This prophecy also contains a hope for the future when Israel will see Jesus and mourn, and out of that mourning will come repentance and a turning to the Lord. Jesus died on the cross as the substitute sacrifice for sin and by that gave hope to all mankind.
CARE FOR HIS BODY (38-42)
In the remaining part of John 19 we are told of the care for Jesus’ body.
38 And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret [one,] for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. 39 And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds [weight]. 40 And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Joseph was a rich man (Mt. 2:57). He was a prominent member of the ruling council (Mk 15:43), but he was a good and righteous man who had not consented to the Sanhedrin’s decision to crucify Jesus (Luke 23:50). To this point he had only been a secret disciple of Jesus, possibly out of fear that he would be dismissed from the Sanhedrin or even thrown out of the synagogue. But now he was lead to action regardless of any consequences. How many other followers of Christ have been the same way. They keep their love for Jesus secret because of the fear of man, yet God will not allow people to stay in that position. Sooner or later He will place them in a spot and call them to action to prove their love for Him. Those who truly love Jesus will not fail the test for their love will drive them on despite any negative circumstances. Such was the case with Joseph. He would have been well aware that the rest of the council would hear about his actions, but he no longer was concerned about that. He wanted to do something for Jesus. Mark 15 says that he gathered up his courage and came boldly to Pilate to request Jesus’ body for burial.
Mark 15 also tells us that Pilate was surprised that Jesus would be dead so soon and so summoned and questioned the Centurion before releasing Jesus body to Joseph. This is additional evidence of Jesus death. The Centurion would be held responsible if he had not carried out his orders to crucify Jesus and make sure He was dead. His testimony satisfies Pilate and Jesus’ body is released to Joseph.
We met Nicodemus in John 3. He was a Pharisee who was one of the rulers. He also was a follower of Jesus, but had been quiet about it to this point. Joseph and Nicodemus must have planned this together before Joseph went to Pilate because they act in concert and each are prepared. Joseph provided the linen cloth and his own newly hewn tomb (Mt. 27:59,60). Nicodemus gathered up the necessary burial spices which would have included myrrh and aloe. Myrrh was a fragrant gum from the Balsamodendron that was made into an oil or perfume. It was one of the gifts brought by the Magi to Jesus when He was a baby (Mt. 2:11). Aloe came from the Agallocha tree which was made into a powdered fragrant spice and used as a perfume. Nicodemus came with 100 litraV / litras – a Roman pound, about 72 of our pounds. These spices were used in the care of the dead as an act of love.
The linen cloth would have been wound around the body, limb by limb, with the spices strewn in. This was the Jewish burial custom. They did not embalm as the Egyptians did. They would have had to do their work quickly for the Sabbath was approaching. Jesus died about 3 p.m. and the Sabbath would start at sundown, about 6 p.m. It would have taken sometime to get Pilate’s permission to take the body and to prepare everything.
In all this there are some additional prophecies fulfilled. Psalm 16:10 says that “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.” This being true, it was only appropriate that Jesus be laid in a new tomb in which there never had been any decay. Isaiah 53:9 states of Messiah that “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” Jesus died with thieves and would have been thrown into the grave of condemned men except for the intervention of Joseph of Aramethia, a rich man, and so the prophecy was fulfilled.
The tomb was in a garden. While there is some debate about the exact location of where this tomb was at, if the Garden Tomb was not the location, it would have been much like it. It was hewn out of the side of a cliff with a low entrance. In the front of it was a heavy stone that could be rolled down a groove in front of the tomb to block its entrance. Inside there was a bench of some sort. The angels would later sit at the head and the feet of where Jesus was laid.
After Joseph and Nicodemus had completed their work. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there too. They rolled the stone in front and left. Matthew also tells us that the next day the Pharisees went to Pilate and arranged for a guard to be set over the grave for fear of what Jesus had said that “After three days I am to rise again.” Pilate told them, “You have a guard, go, make it as secure as you know how.” The guard was posted. A seal was placed on the grave and as Psalm 2:4 states, “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord will have them in derision.” Jesus had been crucified, but they had not been in control of any of it. They had not won any victory. The guard and the seal on the stone would keep anyone from stealing Jesus’ body, but they would not be able to keep Jesus from rising from the dead.
Arrogant, prideful man would like to think himself to be in control, but He is not. The Lord is in control. For those that work against Him or deny Him that is scary for one day they will stand before Him to be judged, and there will be no escape. For those that love Him, it is very comforting for He is with us in our present trials and we have hope in His promise to take us to His Father’s house in Heaven with Him in the future. If the thought of the Lord being in control does not comfort you, then talk with myself or any of our church leaders. We would love to introduce you to our Savior.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “dead” or “death” is mentioned 2) Talk with your parents about the proof that Jesus died and why that is important. What does Jesus’ death and burial mean to you?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why would people try to deny the death of Jesus on the cross? Have you ever talked with such people? What were their reasons? What had Jesus suffered prior to the crucifixion – mentally and emotionally? Physically? Why did Simon of Cyrene have to carry Jesus’ cross? What does this tells us about Jesus’ physical condition at that point? What would be accomplished by breaking the legs of those being crucified? What did this request by the Jewish religious leaders expose their religious hypocrisy? Why didn’t they break Jesus’ legs? What is the medical significance of the blood and water coming out when Jesus’ side was pierced by the spear? What is the theological significance? How was Jesus’ body cared for and by whom? What risks did they take by doing this? Are you a “secret disciple” of Jesus at times? What fears do you face? What do you need to believe to overcome those fears? What prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’ burial? Who was in control of the events of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus? Does that bring comfort or fear to you?
All four gospels give an accounts of Jesus death. The ancient historians ____________ and ____________ also note it.
The real reason people deny Jesus’ death on the cross is because they want to deny His .
Jesus’ inability to continue to carry His own cross shows that He was in a serious medical condition _______________.
Bearing our sin
“Swoon” theories – It is __________________ to suppose that anyone could endure this type of torture, then be wrapped from head to foot with linen cloth, laid in a grave for some 36+ hours with nothing to eat or drink, then revive, unwrap himself, roll back a heavy stone by himself, overcome the guards and escape.
Dead on the Cross (John 19:31-37)
Soldier’s Testimony (31-33,36)- They did not break Jesus’ legs
Pierced Side (34,37)
if Jesus had still been alive when the spear was thrust into Him, only blood would have come out – Dr. Stuart Bergsma
Care for His Body (38-42)
Nicodemus – John 3
Some people keep their love for Jesus secret because of the fear of man, yet God will not allow them to stay in that position. Sooner or later He will place them in circumstances that call them to action to prove their love for Him. Those who truly love Jesus will not fail the test, for their love will drive them on despite any negative circumstances.
100 litraV / litras = approx.. ___________ U.S. pounds.
The guard and the seal on the tomb would keep anyone from stealing Jesus’ body, but they would not keep Jesus from rising from the dead. Arrogant, prideful man likes to think himself to be in control, but He is not. The Lord is in control
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