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Chapter 5


Christ’s death and resurrection



In the chapter 3 we discussed the past and present state of mankind.  We learned that man was made in God’s image.  This meant that we were holy and without sin.  By sinning Adam and Eve chose not to obey God. This placed a barrier for all time between man and God. We all continue, to this day, to choose sin over obedience to God.

As a result we have been condemned to death. That is, our actions have earned us the penalty of eternal death. This state is not God’s plan or desire. God does not want you or me to parish or be separated from Him. However, His just nature will not allow the laws of His creation to be broken. Exodus 24:7 says “maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished”. Man’s tendency was towards increased sin and wickedness. In Genesis 6:5–7 tells us that our actions actually made God sad that He had created us.  See also Ezekiel 18:4.

Mankind is God’s most special creation (Read Genesis 1:26 to 2:25) but we had become a source of grief and pain. Even then God did not abandon us but chose one family, Noah’s, to give man a fresh start. However just starting out fresh did not enable us to be obedient. Then, as now, many of the people chose evil over good.  Even Noah, God’s chosen man, could not control his appetite for self-indulgence (Genesis 9:21).  Again, a failure to live a godly life.

God again chose one of us, Abram, to re-establish a relationship between God and mankind. The basis of the new relationship was that man was to commit to loving and serving God first and ourselves second. This was to be accomplished by sealing this family as the special family (nation) of God.  God said, in effect, set aside yourselves from the time you are a baby as belonging to me. Show this by having your infant males circumcised, by leaving, the country of your birth, and by choosing between that which is most dear to you and serving Me.

Abraham (Abram) chose to serve God. We are told that his faith was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, 22). Abraham was not able to be righteous, but his faith was credited to him as righteousness.  In other words Abraham demonstrated by his actions that God was first in his life and this was credited by God to him as righteousness.

During this time of history our human conscience was the determining factor in our choosing between good and evil. The thousands of years from Adam to Moses showed that we did not have the force of will to choose correctly.

To remove this burden from mankind’s shoulders God gave His Law to Moses and the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai. The complete law was a framework for personal and community life consistent with God’s intent for man.

Exodus and Leviticus tell us about the law and sacrificial system set up by God. In it, He created the priestly class (the Levites) to enable sinful man to have a relationship with a holy God. This system required constant sacrifices for sin to be made.  However the nation of Israel was not able to discipline itself and carry this out. The sacrifices required the continuous actions of man and were not sufficient to atone for sin on a permanent basis. Over and over again man returned to a life of sin (Hebrews 10:1–4).

During these thousands of years we (mankind) showed that we were not able, or willing to choose good over evil. God in His love for us has provided a new and better way to be counted as righteous on the day of judgment. This is through the ministry of Christ. We should not  think for a minute though that God was stumbling around blindly looking for a way to get us to heaven. The two periods of time mentioned above were there for our benefit. We are in the very privileged position of being able to learn from past mistakes (1 Corinthians 10:6). Therefore, make sure that you do not choose to try to earn or achieve salvation through works or will power.  This is faith in yourself, not in God.

In chapter 4 we looked at the earthly ministry of Christ up until His death on the cross. We will now look at Christ’s death and why it was necessary and sufficient to restore our fellowship with God.  First we will look at the physical crucifixion.


The physical crucifixion of Jesus


[NOTE: The section that follows is taken from an account of Christ’s death from scourging and crucifixion written by a physician. It is based on the gospel accounts, and historical and medical knowledge. Because it is our intent to communicate as much important information about the Christian faith as we can in a survey format we are addressing Christ’s physical death. Christ’s voluntary death for our sins in this very cruel way is central to our understanding of His love for us. However this passage describes a terrifying event in detail, so it may not be comfortable to read. It is definitely not suitable for children, and some other people, so use your judgment. A line marks the end of the passage describing the crucifixion.]


Crucifixion is the torture and execution of a person by fixation to a cross. This was a relatively common form of execution for criminals in the time of Christ.  The cross has been described in three forms.  It may be the upright portion only.  This part is the stipes.  In addition, a crossarm called the patibulum may be fixed either to the top of the stipes to form a “T” or lower down to form what we typically call the “Latin cross”.  Most historical evidence suggests that it was the “T” shaped cross used to crucify Christ.

The physical passion of Christ began at Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Here Christ prayed in anguish, His sweat became as drops of blood (Luke 22:44). This is a very rare, but documented process called Hematidrosis or bloody sweat. It is caused by great emotional stress breaking the tiny capillaries in the sweat glands. This causes blood to mix with the normal sweat.  This process alone can cause weakness and a state of shock.

When Jesus was arrested He was taken to jail (Luke 22:63). When He was in prison the guards beat Him and insulted Him. It is doubtful if He was able to sleep at all during the night before His death. Very early in the morning He was taken before the council of elders.

Because the Jews were under the rule of Rome they did not have the authority to execute a prisoner for any reason. Therefore they took Jesus to Pilate, who was the leading civil authority of the area. When they arrived at Pilate’s court Pilate could find nothing in Jesus’ record that would warrant death. Learning that He was originally from Galilee, he sent Him to Herod, the ruler of Galilee, who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time. There is no indication that Jesus was mistreated while before Herod. Herod, finding nothing deserving death either, sent Him back to Pilate.

When Jesus arrived back at Pilate’s court Pilate stated that he still found no reason to kill Jesus. The Jewish leaders however pressured Pilate and threatened to send a delegation to Rome.  Pilate caved in and had Jesus scourged or flogged. This scourging was done with a whip made of strips of leather. Each strip had two balls of lead at the end. Jesus’ clothes were removed and His hands would have been tied to a pole above His head. As He was whipped the balls of lead would at first bruise and then sink into His back as the tissues broke down under the repeated beating. Blood would flow first from the broken skin and then from the muscles and veins as they were cut to ribbons.  Jewish law limited the number of scourges to 40, and the Pharisees limited it to 39 in case they miscounted.

After being flogged they put a fancy robe on His bloody back and a crown of thorns on His head. The crown was pushed down on His head as Jesus was struck on the face and head (John 19:3, Mark 15:17). This would have caused more bleeding as the scalp is one of the most vascular areas of the human body. By the time the robe was taken off of Him, the robe would have become stuck to His back by clotting blood, so removing it caused further bleeding and terrible pain.

In deference to Jewish custom, Jesus’ clothes were returned to Him. The patibulum of the cross is tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiers headed by a centurion, begins the 650 yard journey to Golgotha. The rough beam digs into the lacerated shoulders of Christ.The weakened and bleeding Christ is unable to carry the beam, so a visitor from Cyrene who happens to be looking on is forced to carry it the rest of the way. Note that normally at this point, as is the case of the two thieves, the condemned man would not have been harmed, while Jesus is in a state of shock and exhaustion from multiple trauma to His head, face, back, and legs.

When they arrive at the scene of the execution Jesus is again stripped of His clothing except for a loin cloth allowed Jews. Jesus is offered wine mixed with Myrrh, a mild analgesic, which He refuses. Jesus is thrown to the ground on top of the patibulum and a large square nail is driven though the small depression in the front of each wrist. The nail is not driven through the palm as is popularly believed because the nail would rip out before supporting the body’s weight. The patibulum and Jesus are then lifted to the top of the stipes. A sign reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The left foot is pressed backwards over the right foot and with the toes facing downward a nail is driven through the arch of each. The legs are left moderately flexed. The victim is now crucified. As He slowly sags down more weight is put on the nails in His wrist causing pain as the median nerves are compressed. This causes pain to shoot through the arms.  Because the weight is supported by the extended arms the muscles begin to cramp and the pectoral and intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but cannot be expelled causing carbon dioxide to build up in the body. Making a spasmodic effort He is able to raise Himself up by pushing down with His feet and exhaling. It is during these times that He utters the seven short sentences that are recorded.

After hours of limitless pain and intermittent partial asphyxiation another agony begins. The pericardium begins to fill with serum and starts to compress the heart. It is now almost over, the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level, the compressed heart is struggling to pump thick sluggish blood, and His lungs are making frantic efforts to gasp for air. A sponge soaked with cheap wine is lifted to His lips but He does not take any.

Jesus makes one last effort and lifts Himself on His torn feet and utters His last cry: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”  He can now allow His tortured body to die.

In order that the Sabbath not be profaned, the Jews asked that the condemned men be dispatched and removed from the crosses. The common method was by crurefracture, the breaking of the legs. The victim could then no longer push himself upwards to breath and rapid suffocation then occurred. The legs of the thieves were broken but when they got to Jesus this was not necessary.

To be doubly sure of His death a legionaire drove his lance upward between the ribs through the pericardium and into the heart (John 19:34). Blood and water flowed from the wound. We then have postmortem evidence that Christ died not from the usual death by crucifixion, that of suffocation, but by heart failure due to shock and a constriction of the heart from fluid in the pericardium.


Why did we look at this depressing and cruel event? We do it for two reasons. Because some would have us believe that Christ didn’t really die, or that He wasn’t truly a man. Secondly, it shows us how much He loved us and points us toward the expectation of Easter morning.

The words to the following hymn were written by George Bennard when he was preaching in Sturgon Bay Wisconsin in 1913. If you visit Sturgon Bay you will find a cross erected as a memorial to the song and to the meaning of the cross of Christ.


The Old Rugged Cross


On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,

The emblem of suffering and shame;

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best.

For a world of lost sinners was slain.


O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,

Has a wondrous attraction for me;

For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above.

To bear it to dark Calvary


In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,

A wondrous beauty I see;

For ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died.

To pardon and sanctify me.


To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,

It’s shame and reproach gladly bear;

Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away.

Where His glory for ever I’ll share.[1]


Christ the perfect sacrifice


In the Old Testament sacrificial system the people of God were told to offer only the best for sacrifices to God (Leviticus 1:10, 22:17–33). God in his law requires all sacrifices be perfect and without blemish. This means that to be a fit sacrifice Christ had to be without sin. Jesus was this perfect “Lamb of God” (John 1:29)

Christ’s death on the cross had both a practical side, the fulfillment of the law as well as a symbolic side.  First Christ’s death on the cross shows all of us how much He loves us. Read John 15:13 and Romans 5:8. It is a hard physical fact that Christ went voluntarily to the cross to die. This historical fact demonstrates for all time that He chose love for us over comfort. As we study the mechanics of our salvation we should always turn back to the fact that God loves us. All of the doctrine regarding our relationship with God and each other must ultimately be founded on the love God has shown for us.

Second, by Christ humbling Himself by dying on the cross, He showed God’s view of sin. Christ became as sin to pay the penalty for us. Even though Christ remained sinless and is God’s Son, as He took our sin upon Himself, God’s righteous response to sin was the same. Sin produces death. God the Father made Jesus the object of His judgment when Jesus became the sacrifice for our sin.

Third, by raising Himself from the grave, Jesus demonstrated both that He is God and also that there is victory over death. The resurrection Christ seen by thousands (even five hundred at one time) gives us confidence that He was who He said He was.

Fourth, it also showed His continued love for the disciples and for us. Look at how He forgave Peter in John 21. How often we suffer from righteous indignation when we make some small sacrifice that is not recognized. Here Jesus, newly risen from the grave went to find His errant disciples and forgives them.

The sacrifice of Christ’s blood for our protection and life are most easily understood in the light of the Passover observance. If you will remember God provided for His chosen people who were obedient to be saved from the angel of death. By sacrificing a perfect lamb and sprinkling its blood on their door post the firstborn would be saved (Exodus 12).  Jesus, firstborn of God, became the lamb for all of us and shed His blood to purchase our eternal life.

There are a couple of terms used to describe the mechanism that provides for our salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ. Redemption, justification, substitution, and propitiation are some of the terms we use to understand the work of Christ.  Let’s define them as a gateway to understanding them. We will look at some of them further in chapter 6 covering the believer’s assurance of salvation.

Propitiation comes from the word propitiate which means to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of: APPEASE, CONCILIATE.  The work of Christ is to satisfy God’s righteous demands for punishment for the sinner. Christ’s death atoned for our sins to pay this debt owed to God. Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2, 4:10 talk about this. The RSV Bible uses the word expiation and the NIV uses the word atonement or atoning sacrifice instead.

Justification is the act, process, or state of being justified by God.[2] Through the ministry of Christ’s death we are lifted from our natural state, to that of fellowship with God. We begin living in a justified manner, that is according to the righteous law of God.

Substitution, the substitution of one person or thing (as a mathematical quantity) for another. Here of course Jesus died on our behalf.  He took the punishment we deserved. Because Jesus is God He had victory over death where we could not.

Redemption, the act, process, or an instance of redeeming. Redeem, to buy back, or to free from captivity by payment of a ransom. In this case the doctrine states that Jesus bought our freedom and life by using His death as the ransom.


The Resurrection


Let’s study the resurrection of Christ from the grave. Without the resurrection we cannot have assurance of salvation. Two things are necessary if Jesus is to raise from the dead. The first is His death of course. Jesus Himself told us that He would die, but also that He would live again (Matthew 16:21, 17:9, 17:22–23; Mark 9:10; Luke 9:22–27; John 2:18–22 and many other places).

As we studied in chapter 4, Jesus was born, grew up, and in other ways lived a physically normal life. He did not exist as an image of a man but as a man in body. In the same way the man Jesus died a physical death, as we will. When Jesus was dead His body was taken to a grave carved out of stone. The grave was owned by Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57–60).  Before allowing Jesus’ friends to have his body Pilate had asked for proof that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44–44). This evidence was provided by Roman soldiers who were certainly very familiar with death. It is notable that though Jesus had many enemies, none called His death into question.

The body was prepared for burial with spices and washed. The body was then wrapped in cloth and placed in the tomb. A stone was rolled over the entrance so that no one could get in or out. Normally the body would have been embalmed at this time but the Sabbath had to be observed first.

How do we know that Jesus rose alive from the grave? Let’s look at some of the evidence. The Jews remembered that Jesus had predicted His resurrection so they requested and received a Roman guard detail from Pilate (Matthew 27:62–66). Later on the third day an earthquake caused the Roman seal to be broken and the stone to roll away, probably up out of a depression in which it was seated. The Roman guards then ran to the chief priests who had asked for them. They did this so that the chief priests could smooth things over with Pilate. The standard treatment of soldiers who failed in duty was death.

The disciples had dispersed after Jesus’ death, they had forgotten in their grief and fear that He would return.  Jesus appears to some and then all of them.  See Luke 24:34, 36–43; John 20:19–24, 26-29, 21:1-23; Matthew 28:16–20; Mark 16:14–20, and Acts 1:3–12.  Another proof of the active ministry of Christ after His death is how the disciples went from being a group of frightened depressed men, to an energetic and fearless team.

In all Jesus appeared to many people over a period of 40 days after He had risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:6). In Acts 2 Peter’s first sermon is recorded.  The central theme is that of the risen Christ. We are told that the people were convicted in their hearts by what they had done, and that three thousand were baptized that day. If it was not commonly accepted that Jesus had indeed risen then surely some among them would have objected to Peter’s speech. It is not reasonable that so many people who were personally knowledgeable of these events would have accepted this if it were not so.

The proof of Christ’s living power continue to this day. For nearly 2000 years Christ has been changing and renewing His believers. Many of us can testify to His power in our own lives. The fact is that most of us believe because of what He has done for us and in those who we know.

The institution of the Christian Church also shows His power. Even with all of its divisions and sometime apparent aimlessness, do you know of any other entity that has continued to function for 2000 years? Do you know of anything else that has effected human history to this extent?

For more information on the resurrection I recommend Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.[3] It responds to many of the objections made by some to the death and resurrection of Christ.



Discussion Questions



1. Why did Christ have to die? (Ephesians 2:12, 13, Romans 4:25, 1 Peter 3:18)




2. Did it have to be Christ who died for us?





3. What does Christ’s death show you personally? (Romans 5:8)





4. What does Christ’s death tell you about God? (John 3:16)





5. What does Christ’s death tell you about God’s attitude towards sin? (1 Peter 1:14–15)





[1] The Old Rugged Cross  by George Bennard  c 1913  renewed 1941  The Rodehever Co. owner.

[2] Definitions are from Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary  c 1976 by G. and C. Merriam Co.

[3] Evidence That Demands a Verdict  by Josh McDowell  c 1972 by Campus Crusade for Christ