How Jesus Died

Hypovolemic shock.

Matthew 27:26, 28–31 (ESV)

Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Scourging was a normal crucifixion practice, but the scarlet robe wasn’t. When they stripped Jesus to put on the robe, they ripped off all the blood clots on his back. That made him bleed more. The crown of thorns cost him some blood too. Then they stripped him of the robe, ripping off the blood clots again.

Jesus is now incredibly weak—weaker than they expected Him to be. That’s a problem, not for Jesus, but for the centurion in charge of crucifying Him.

The centurion’s job is to kill people by crucifixion. They can have all the sadistic “fun” they want with the condemned, but the point of the whole thing is for other people to see them suffer crucifixion. Nailing a corpse up just won’t do. He had darn well better deliver the condemned to the cross alive or he’s toast.

The centurion needs to think fast. Jesus isn’t going to make it to the cross at all if He is to carry his own patibulum (the horizontal part of the cross) up the hill to Golgotha. Then the centurion spots a solution.

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. — Luke 23:26 (ESV)

Jesus barely makes it to the cross alive, and then doesn’t live long. Frederick T. Zugibe, in his landmark work “The Crucifixion of Jesus: a Forensic Inquiry” describes (on page 131) how dehydration plays a key role in crucifixion. People get super thirsty on the cross, partly because of the scourging. That thirst might even be most torturous part of the whole thing. Jesus says He’s thirsty just before He dies.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” — John 19:28 (ESV)

Zugibe concludes that Jesus died of hypovolemic shock; the blood loss and dehydration killed Him. Later, the Roman soldiers notice that He’s already dead, so they don’t break His legs. That’s important; because it fulfills Psalm 34:20.

He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. (ESV)

Even the soldiers who put the scarlet robe on Jesus helped fulfill prophesy. Jesus had it all planned out.

Using science, we can see how the whole sequence of events fits together perfectly.

It’s thrilling that modern forensic pathology can add to our understanding of 2000 year old scriptures.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.