7. Death & Resurrection

7. Death & Resurrection

After going through several trials, Jesus was sentenced to be crucified along with two thieves. The prophecy of Isaiah: "He was numbered with the transgressors" was fulfilled (Isaiah 53:9,12). The soldiers broke the legs of the thieves, an action employed to hasten death. But when they came to Jesus, they found him already dead. They did not break his legs. Another prophecy was fulfilled: "Not a bone of him shall be broken" (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20). So according to the purpose of God, Jesus died and was buried.

As it was promised, on the third day, he was raised from the dead. To some people today, the idea of Jesus being raised from the dead is preposterous. Orthodox and Ahmadiyya Muslims are no exception. They both try to find evidence to support their denial of Jesus’ death on the cross. While Ahmadiyya doctrine takes him to Kashmir to die in his old age the majority of Muslims believe he was raised to heaven to come back later and then die a natural death. However the Qur’an makes it clear that his ascension would not transpire until after his death (Surah 3:55). If, as the orthodox Muslims believe, Jesus has ascended to heaven, he must have already suffered death and then been raised to life and ascended into heaven. This was the argument raised by Christians of the day which prompted Mirza to think about the orthodox belief regarding Jesus’ bodily ascension and thus he introduced the swoon theory and a delayed natural death for Jesus.

Blood and water: A sure sign of conspiracy?

To claim Jesus’ natural death Mirza Ahmad says: "To put an end to the life of a crucified person, it was the practice in those days to keep him on the cross for several days and then to break his legs. But the legs of Jesus were purposely not broken and he was taken down alive from the cross, like the two thieves. That was the reason why blood and water came out when his side was pierced. The blood, however, congeals after death. And here also, it appears that all this was a result of a conspiracy."1

Zafrullah Khan agrees with Mirza but declares that this "conspiracy" was a plan of God. He argues that apparently Jesus had died: "But in truth, despite the semblance of death, he was alive. If he had continued in that state for some time, the circulation of blood could also have stopped, but it was God’s plan that the process of his resuscitation should now come into operation."2

When Jesus’ side was pierced, had he been alive and his blood circulating, spouts of blood would have emerged with every heart beat. Instead John says "blood and water" came out. Dr Stuart Bergsma, a physician and surgeon states: "A small amount of pericardial fluid, up to 20 or 30ccs, is normally present in good health. It is possible that with a wound piercing the pericardium and heart, enough pericardial fluid might escape to be described as water."3

Rendle Short, late professor of surgery at Bristol University states:

As a result of the spiritual and physical agony endured, the deep distress in Gethsemane, the insults in the high priest’s house and the appalling brutality of a Roman scourging, a condition of acute dilation of the stomach may have developed and the spear wound drew watery fluid from the stomach and blood from the heart and the great vessels of the thorax. Needless to say, such a wound would be instantly fatal if the victim was not already dead, as indeed he was.4

Pilate’s favour

According to Mirza Ahmad, Pilate was a God-fearing ruler. He wanted to release Jesus, but "could not openly show favour to Jesus for fear of Caesar; for the Jews had declared Jesus a rebel". Pilate thought of a way to rescue Jesus. Friday was fixed for the crucifixion, only a few hours before sunset. Jesus’ legs were not broken and Joseph, a friend of Pilate, took the body. Pilate had planned that Jesus should be kept in Joseph’s tomb, an airy chamber so that Jesus would escape.5

Nowadays even some orthodox Muslims who do not believe in the swoon theory, still follow the Ahmadiyya line of reasoning. They ask: "If it was not a plan, then why did they not break Jesus’ legs?"

The only reason for breaking the legs of a criminal on the cross was to stop him from moving his body upward to ease the pain and help in breathing. This caused the victim to die sooner because of lack of breath and extreme exhaustion resulting in suffocation. Since Jesus was already dead, there was no need to break his legs.

If sparing his legs were a plan to save him, a soldier would not have pierced his side. This spear wound was so big that a man could put his hand into it (John 20:27). If Pilate had planned to rescue Jesus and if it were all a conspiracy and Joseph and his colleague knew, as Ahmadiyya claim, then Pilate would have not gone to such lengths to ask for his centurion to make sure Jesus was dead.

Jesus died of what?

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph an Ahmadi Muslim doctor and Medical practitioner Hameed Khan posed a question in support of his swoon theory: "Jesus was a young, healthy man of 33. He was only on the cross for a few hours. They didn’t break his legs. So of what then did he die?" (p.37; March 31, 1990).

Such a statement from a doctor who practices in medicine is not a sensible one. Even young men in good health can die of shock or a heart attack. No two people are alike in terms of physical stamina and endurance. This we know from our daily experience. Mirza and his followers ignore the fact that the Gospel narrative does not say that the thieves went through the same punishment, before being crucified, as Jesus did. It does not say that the thieves were flogged and beaten like Jesus was.

Just for a moment, one should think of the situation the night before Jesus’ trial. Think of the strain and pressure that Jesus was under. The Gospel tells us that during his prayer his sweat was like drops of blood.

Although this is a very rare phenomenon, bloody sweat (hematidrosis or hemohidrosis) may occur in highly emotional states or in persons with bleeding disorders. As a result of haemorrhage into the sweat glands, the skin become fragile and tender.6

Some critics like the Ahmadiyya think that perhaps it was a kind of stigmatisation (blood oozing from the palms or elsewhere) and thus was not that dangerous. However the description in the Gospel according to Luke supports the diagnosis of hematidrosis rather than eccrine chromidrosis (brown or yellow green sweat) or stigmatisation. Such a condition may have produced hypovolemia. Even if Jesus’ blood loss probably was minimal, the cold night air may have produced chills.

Soon after midnight, Jesus was arrested and went through trials, not in one place, but in three different places. He was dragged around. There were three Jewish and three Roman trials, followed by flogging, mocking and beating by the soldiers and this was not a symbolic ritual. They used a whip for flogging, known as a flagrum. It had a sturdy handle to which were attached long thongs of leather. Jagged pieces of metal and bone were woven into it. The Jews used to limit their lashes to 39 but the Romans had no limitation and could continue as long as they pleased.

The effects of such a flogging were horrible. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin of the victim’s shoulder, back and legs. Then as the blows continued, they cut deeper and deeper into the muscle tissues, resulting in a stripping away of flesh. In a very short time the skin would hang in long ribbons. Very often the back of the victim was reduced to a pulp.7 The soldiers handled him roughly. They brought a crown of thorns and put it on his head. Would they have put it on his head with care so that it might not hurt him? They kept beating him, spitting at him, saying: "Tell us who has beaten you". When the soldiers tore the robe from Jesus’ back, it must have reopened the scourging wounds. As hematidrosis had rendered his skin tender, the severe scourging and loss of blood made his condition more critical before the actual crucifixion. Such a behaviour indeed is not part of a plan to escape from the punishment.

Crucifixion for two hours?

Mirza Ahmad ignored all the facts and asserted, "It is improbable that thieves who were crucified at the same time as Jesus should have remained alive, but that Jesus should be dead within two hours."8 Mirza tries to give the impression that he was dealing with the gospel account. However after taking the whole procedure in the gospel record into consideration, the estimate of time must exceed six hours.

The gospel narrative shows that: "It was the third hour when they crucified him" (Mark 15:25). That would be about 9 o’clock in the morning. We are further told that at the ninth hour Jesus died (Mark 15:33-37). That makes a total of six hours. Even then, the body had not been removed. According to Roman law the body of a condemned man belonged to the state. That is why Joseph of Arimathea had to go to Pilate to ask permission to bury the body of Jesus. Receiving permission, he came back and "took down the body" (Mark 15:46). This would mean that much more time elapsed, so Jesus remained on the cross for more than six hours.

It is usually argued that people with no strength left do not die with a shout as Jesus died. This would mean, the argument runs, that Jesus merely fainted. The biblical answer is very simple and straightforward. Jesus claimed to have perfect control over his life and the manner in which he was going to give up his life (John 10:18). Throughout his life, attempts to kill him always failed (Matthew 2:13-21; Luke 4:16-30; John 7:32, 45-46; etc.). The recorded sayings connected with his crucifixion reveal that Jesus died of his own accord. He himself knew the time when it arrived; he accepted it, put himself in God’s hands and died.

If Jesus had remained alive on the cross for the length of time it ordinarily took to die by crucifixion, there would have been no evidence that Jesus had the power to lay down his life by his own will. He chose the very moment of his death (John 19:30). He gave up his life while yet physically able to live. If he had faded away into unconsciousness, or gone into a coma, he would not have been able to claim that he had the power, whenever he wanted, to give up his life.

The ointment

Mirza Ahmad said the body of Christ was kept in a big cave. It was like a big chamber, in which several people could remain without being suffocated. According to him, Nicodemus and Joseph lavished great care on Jesus, finally restoring him to consciousness. Referring to John 19:39-40, Ahmad alleged that they brought a mixture of medicine, or herbs to apply to Jesus’ wounds. It was because of the application of such ointment that "within three days he recovered sufficiently to be able to march seventy miles on foot from Jerusalem to Galilee".9

Zafrullah Khan, however says: "It was the action of the aloes and the spices that operated to restore the breathing which had stopped and that in turn helped to maintain and strengthen the action of the heart, though no doubt it would have taken some time for Jesus to recover complete consciousness."10

It is certainly true that Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes and that Jesus’ body was wrapped with these spices in strips of linen (John 19:39-40). Having adopted a "pick and choose" approach, the Ahmadiyya ignore what the next verse says: "This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs" (John 19:41).

The Jewish historian, Josephus, records that when King Herod died, it required five hundred servants to carry the spices.11 When Gamaliel, a teacher of Paul, died, eighty-six pounds of spices were wrapped around his body. Therefore, it was not some peculiar ointment made specially to heal Jesus, it was part of the normal burial custom. The aromatic spices mixed with myrrh were placed between the wrappings of the grave vestments made out of white linen. It served as a cement to glue the cloth wrapping into a solid covering. It adhered so closely to the body that the wrapping could not easily be removed.

On the morning of the first day of the week this body vanished. The vestments were there. All the wrappings were intact and in position. The shape of the body was still apparent but the corpse had been extricated from it. Getting out of grave clothes and rolling back the stone at the entrance of a tomb are not possible for a newly revived person. Indeed to walk out, stepping over the soldiers and then be able, as the Ahmadiyya claims, "to march seventy miles on foot from Jerusalem to Galilee", would have been impossible.

Resurrection or Resuscitation

After his resurrection Jesus’ body was of such a nature that he could transcend all earthly limitations. He could suddenly appear and then conceal himself, or his identity. The Ahmadiyya claim that these appearances were not supernatural; Jesus was in disguise. When Mary Magdalene went to the grave, she found Jesus in gardener’s clothes.12 Jesus did not want to be recognised by the Jews, re-arrested and placed upon the cross again. Therefore, he disguised himself and when the disciples saw him, they were mistaken and thought that he had been raised from the dead instead of having been revived. Jesus tried to prove to them that he was the same. He showed them his wounds, he ate, and lived with them, to prove that "his body retained its mortal character".13

If Jesus had been raised, Mirza Ahmad questioned, why was it that Jesus, who had a duty to proclaim the miracle of his resurrection among the Jews, kept it secret? nay, he forbade others to disclose it and "made a journey of seventy miles to Galilee in order to save his life".14 Certainly Jesus asked his disciples to meet him in Galilee but there is no statement found in the Scriptures where Jesus told his people not to proclaim his resurrection. Instead we see Jesus commanding them to go to all nations, preach, teach and baptise (Matthew 28:16-20). Following Mirza’s argument, the Ahmadiyya argue that Jesus did not appear to the Jews, but only to his followers. How easily they ignore the fact that all the disciples were Jews. The account shows that Jesus did appear to some unbelievers who then became faithful disciples. James, his own brother, did not become a follower until after his resurrection and Paul long after his ascension.

Mirza’s argument is not a new thing. People challenged Jesus even while he was actually on the cross saying: "Let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him" (Matthew 27:42). But he would not be manipulated. People have to believe in Jesus on God’s terms not on their own terms. "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

Jesus told his disciples: "After I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee" (Matthew 26:32). Mirza Ahmad strangely finds support in this reference for his swoon theory. In his opinion the "verse clearly shows that Jesus, after he had come out of the tomb, went to Galilee and not to heaven. Jesus’ words "After I am risen" do not mean his rising up alive after he was dead."15 We marvel at such an interpretation! Jesus predicting his death or resurrection is recorded 17 times in the New Testament. On some 30 occasions, the phrase "from the dead" is found along with such words as, "God raised Jesus" or "Jesus rose".

The disciples’ courage

Shams, another follower of Mirza, alleged that the disciples knew that Jesus had not been raised from the dead, but they did not tell about it because they were afraid of "cruel persecution". He adds: "So it is more than possible that they concealed the matter and replied that Jesus had risen from the dead."16

It is indeed difficult to believe that these disciples were oblivious of Jesus’ predictions of his resurrection and would fix on the desperate plan of vowing never to divulge the truth and keep on proclaiming his resurrection. Is there a persecution that exceeds the taking of a person’s life? Who would have persecuted them if they had proclaimed that he was not raised? History tells us that the disciples did not care about their lives, but cared only for the truth. They proclaimed that Jesus was crucified, died, was raised and will come again to judge the nations. Whenever the opposition wanted to stop them, their answer was: "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29).

It stretches credulity beyond the limit to believe that these people were willing to die for what they knew to be a lie. Why would they sacrifice their lives for a lie? Many of these disciples died martyrs’ deaths because of their belief in the resurrection of Jesus and their belief in him as the Son of God.

The fisherman Peter, a man who denied three times that he even knew Jesus, later wept and repented. At Pentecost, the same weary Peter comes forward with great courage and joy to announce the resurrection. The Bible tells us that after his message, about three thousand came to believe in Jesus (Acts 2:14-47). If Peter were afraid, he would not have had the courage to accuse and charge the Jews of killing the Christ. Was there fear of persecution when before the Sanhedrin he accused them of killing Jesus? Boldly he claimed: "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead - whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:30-32). This same Peter was eventually also crucified for his faith. Who would die for a lie?

Tradition tells us that of all the apostles only John died a natural death. Others apparently were crucified, beheaded, stoned and killed by spear thrusts. If the apostles knew that the resurrection of Jesus did not occur, it would have been humanly impossible for them all to keep it a secret and even die for such a lie.

Charles Colson, an associate of former US president Richard Nixon and one of the conspirators of the Watergate scandal, relates: "With the most powerful office in the world at stake, a small band of hand-picked loyalists, no more than ten of us, could not hold a conspiracy together for more than two weeks."17 So it would also have been impossible for the disciples to keep it secret. "If the resurrection wasn’t true," Colson says, "those disciples could never have held out." Someone would have split and told the truth.

The wounded body

Mirza questions: "If he [Jesus] had been resurrected after death, how was it that this body or spirit could still have borne the wounds inflicted upon him on the Cross? What need had he to eat? If he required food, then he must be in need of food even now."18

The Bible teaches plainly that at the final resurrection, the bodies of believers will be changed. They will be raised as spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). Jesus had risen in the same body, but with spiritual effects. He could appear and disappear at will and was no longer bound by physical limitations (Luke 24:31, John 20:26). But because Jesus called on the disciples to handle him and because he ate a piece of fish before them (Luke 24:39-43), Mirza suggests that he had not risen from the dead. He turns a blind eye to the fact that Jesus did this to let the disciples know that the risen Jesus was not a vision, or a figment of someone’s excited imagination, but that he had conquered death and come back.

Mirza Ahmad should not have been very surprised about the body of Jesus bearing the marks of crucifixion. Muslim tradition also suggests that those who are wounded in the cause of God will be raised with their wounded body and the blood will be dripping from it.19 Muslims and Christians know that on the day of judgement the resurrection of the dead will take place. No wonder the Bible calls Jesus the first fruit of the resurrected ones and the Qur’an calls him the sign of that HOUR (I Corinthians 15:20; Surah 43:61).

Food and drink

It is indeed true that Jesus ate a piece of fish before the disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:41-42), but in the gospels nowhere is it written, as Mirza suggests, that Jesus had "the pangs of hunger and thirst" and needed rest and sleep.20

The Qur’an talks about a paradise for righteous Muslims after their resurrection. They will dwell in paradise and will be wedded to women with wide and lovely eyes. They will be provided with meat, fruit and wine (Surah 52:17-23). Now, if it is possible for a resurrected body to consume meat and fruit, then Mirza should not have been surprised at Jesus eating a piece of fish to show his love and affection for his disciples and to show that it was HE who had risen.

The Shroud of Jesus

Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs (John 19:40).

The Shroud of Turin is an ancient linen cloth fourteen feet long by four feet wide with the image of a dead man somehow imprinted on it. Since the 14th century it has been claimed by some to be the actual shroud in which the body of Jesus was wrapped after he was brought down from the cross.

The shroud image portrays a man 5 feet ten and a half inches tall and weighing about 175 lbs. It is of a man, bearded with long hair like the popular artistic portrayal of Christ. The image shows scourge wounds, numerous puncture wounds in the scalp, a wound in the side, nail marks through the wrists as well as through the feet, all of which fit the sufferings of Christ as narrated in the gospels.

The shroud is a typical mediaeval relic. While there are some who are impressed by the shroud, thinking it gives support for the resurrection of Jesus, there are others who have used it to support their own view that Jesus survived the cross. Mirza did not have a chance to speak about the shroud before his death. However the Ahmadiyya movement did not want to be left behind and they have included the "evidence" of the shroud in their books and conversations to uphold the Swoon Theory. In 1978 the movement held a conference in London. The theme of their symposium on "The deliverance of Jesus from the Cross", was the Shroud of Turin.

The evidence for the shroud

The Shroud of Turin has been subjected to exhaustive investigation. There are major points in its favour but just as many against it.21 In the light of some favourable evidence, the late Zafrullah Khan of the Ahmadiyya considered the shroud to be quite authentic and suggested that the Ahmadiyya movement was "in a position to add - a statement borne out by scientific proof ... that God, ... never intended to let Jesus die on the cross."22

Ten years later in 1988 the so-called "scientific" proof went against them, with the dating of the shroud. The test of carbon dating showed that the cloth of the shroud did not come from the first century.23 As for us, it is strange that Christians of the first century did not make mention of such a burial cloth that had an image of the crucified and resurrected Christ on it. John 20: 5-7 indicates that there was a separate piece of cloth wrapped around Christ’s head. It is still the custom in some traditional Jewish circles to wrap the face with a napkin around the neck with the face exposed. The Turin cloth however shows the image of a face. Furthermore, experts on 1st century Jewish burial practices point out that putting coins over the eyes, as the shroud suggests, was not a Jewish practice.

Firsthand evidence for the resurrection

The disciples’ evidence of the resurrection of Christ was firsthand. "We are eye-witnesses of these things," was their constant pronouncement. Within a few weeks of the resurrection of Jesus, they started their mission from the very city of Jerusalem where he was condemned. They boldly proclaimed: "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact" (Acts 2:32). Such an impact was made that thousands of Jews became believers. Indeed, if the resurrection were a lie, they would have failed.

The institution of worship on Sunday or the first day of the week can be traced back in history to the early church in Jerusalem. It was nothing less than the resurrection of Jesus on this day of the week that changed the converted Jews from their strict observance of the seventh day Sabbath.

The institution of baptism is additional evidence. It symbolises the fact that as Jesus died and was buried, the candidate going into the water dies with Christ and is raised (coming out of the water) to new life as Jesus was raised to life (Romans 6:4).

The breaking of bread, or communion, is another practice which dates back to the early church and is a reminder that Jesus not only died on the cross for our sins and was buried, but on the third day he also rose from the dead as the victor over death and is reigning today.

Just as after the resurrection of Jesus the apostles were changed into a company whom no opposition could deter, the lives of people all down the ages from different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds have changed. They have found their salvation in the risen Christ. The resurrection of Christ is not dependent on a relic, or some ancient tale. Jesus has risen and is alive. He is still in action, changing people’s lives. The experience of many Christians throughout the centuries witnesses to this. So why then do the Ahmadiyya movement and orthodox Muslims not believe in Jesus’ resurrection? It is simply that for some people no evidence could ever be enough.

Notes on Chapter 7:

  1. Ahmad, Jesus in India, p.31.
  2. Zafrullah, Deliverance from the Cross, pp. 32-33.
  3. The Calvin forum, March 1948, p.165.
  4. The Bible and Modern Medicine, p.96
  5. Ahmad, Jesus in India, pp.31-32.
  6. Edwards et al, On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ, Journal of the American Medical Association, March 1986, p. 1456.
  7. C. Truman Davis, The Crucifixion of Jesus, Arizona Medicine, March 1965, p.185.
  8. Ahmad, Jesus in India, p.32.
  9. ibid., p.55.
  10. Zafrullah, Deliverance from the Cross, p. 59.
  11. Antiquities of the Jews, tr. William Whiston, p.471.
  12. Shams, Where did Jesus die? p.25.
  13. Ahmad, Jesus in India, p.46.
  14. ibid., p.48.
  15. ibid., p.25.
  16. Shams, Where did Jesus die? p.24.
  17. Colson, Loving God, p.67.
  18. Ahmad, Jesus in India, p.27.
  19. Sahih Bukhari, Vol.. 4, p. 46.
  20. Ahmad, Jesus in India, p. 30.
  21. David Sox, The Shroud unmasked, p.126
  22. Zafrullah, Deliverance from the Cross, pp.44-45.
  23. David Sox, The Shroud unmasked, p.151ff.