Taken and adapted from, “Crucifixion”
Written by, John Osborne
Originally published, 1897
But what was the cause of our Lord’s death at so early a period in His execution?
We have already seen that victims would remain alive on the cross for many days, yet here was one dying when but the fourth part of one day had elapsed. There was no natural reason for the death at the end of six hours.
Jesus was in the prime and vigor of full manhood, in perfect health, with constitution unimpaired; under the operation of the natural laws of life. He might be kept on the cross and live for three or four days at the least: the recorded cases of endurance and survival of the crucified leave no doubt to us on this point. The death of our Lord, therefore, must be considered miraculous. The most notable solution of the problem hitherto offered, is that which attributes His death to rupture of the heart, the result of, and climax to a period of intense agony of mind, and the one circumstance on which this conclusion is predicated is that of the final cry, ”He cried with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit.”
But before treating of this event, let us consider some incidents connected with the post-mortem conditions. Joseph of Arimathea, having learned, probably from John, that Jesus was really dead, went to Pilate and asked for the body, his request being made about the same time but possibly a little before that of the chief priests and Pharisees, that the three bodies should be taken down and not suffered to remain on the crosses over night; they preferred this request in compliance with that injunction left them by Moses, and recorded in Deut. 21: 22, 23. To Pilate also, the news of Jesus’ death was unexpected; he doubted the truth of the report, but when it was confirmed by the centurion, the request of Joseph was granted, involving as it did a compliance with that of the chief priests.
Great credit must be given to Joseph of Arimathea for his clear-sighted shrewdness in forestalling the enemies of Jesus by his own request; for if these latter had obtained His body, they assuredly would not have left it unbroken and sound; that their disappointment was extreme was evidenced by the fact of their second request made to Pilate for a watch to be kept over the body in the tomb; urging for it the very natural reason that He, a deceiver, having prophesied while yet alive, that he would be raised from the dead the third day, his disciples, to carry out the deceit and to fulfil the prophecy, would steal away His body.
But under this hollow pretense was concealed their real fear, the fear that this death, occurring so early, beyond any reason or precedent, might after all be simulated or might be a fainting fit, due to a temporary exhaustion, and that when he had been concealed in a tomb which was in the care and keeping of his friends, he might soon, under the influence of restoratives, be brought back to consciousness; they ”made the sepulcher sure, the guard being with them;” that guard was placed there to prevent anyone from going in rather than to hinder the occupant from coming out; for, if the former contingency were to happen, then indeed as they declared, the last error of leaving a body with unbroken legs in the hands of its friends would have been worse than the first error of not having had its bones broken before being taken from the cross. Indeed, it was of the utmost consequence to these powerful enemies of our Lord, that he should never come down from the cross in a sound condition: for think, for a moment, of the cool diabolism involved in all their plans: during the early morning they were leading the dissolute mob in the demand to ”crucify Him,” and all that while, they knew that Jesus, if crucified, must not remain on the cross after six o’clock of the same day; feeling therefore certain that He would be alive at that time, they were equally certain that according to the rigid and unvarying Roman practice, His legs would be broken; thus, during all the six hours of the crucifixion, they were so confident of this result, and felt so secure of the success of their conspiracy, that they still led on and incited the mob in their cries, “Let Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, that we may see and believe;” “He saved others, Himself He cannot save; let Him come down and we will believe;” “Thou that destroyed the temple and build it in three days, save thyself.” The breaking of the legs was the one result confidently reckoned on in all their venomous calculations; for then He might be delivered alive and without protest to His friends and relatives; if He should then die, His body would bear the marks of dishonoring crime in the broken limbs; but if He survived, it would be as a cripple maimed for life; He would be a wretched burden to Himself and friends during many helpless years of lingering pain.
Here would be the triumph of the priestly adversaries; no more would He pass through cities and villages teaching and preaching His abominable doctrines; if ever able again to walk, no one would ever listen to Him; for it was a law, if not written, yet sanctioned by universal maxim, that any mind, to be sound and entitled to teach sound precepts to others, must be housed in a sound body; thus discredited, and His person ever proclaiming its own dishonor in the sight of all men, His mission as a teacher and leader must come to an end.
They were dumbfounded at the untimely and incomprehensible decease of Jesus at so early a stage of the execution; their plot was by it entirely defeated, their plans altogether foiled; this impostor who had so plainly said to all the world that after three days in death he would rise again, was now about to be put in the tomb with unviolated body and that too, in the charge and custody of his friends; nothing now was easier than for His disciples, if the tomb were left unwatched and they thus unhindered, to enter at the right appointed moment, bring Him forth, and declare that He had risen from the dead; so the guard was set, and we all know with what futile result. They were brave and effective enough against human invaders of the tomb, but fled from the presence of one of the heavenly host.
John, in his record, lays special emphasis upon this omission to break the legs as positive evidence of the fact that Jesus was really dead; and also puts like emphasis upon the other singular appearance, that of the blood and water following the spear thrust in His side, and he three times reiterates the credibility of his own testimony — “and he that has seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he speaks true, that ye might believe,” That omission to break the legs John regarded as proof positive of the actual death of Jesus and that He was not in any faint or trance. And the blood and water from the wound was adduced as proof of the unusual nature of His death; for in the body of the ordinary victim dying on the cross after days of exhaustion from maceration and fever, the blood would by slow degrees be wasted, the heart would grow weaker as vitality day by day receded; and as the end drew near, it would throb ever more slowly and intermittently, until at the last, its final pulsations might be hardly detected; it is evident that with the blood being daily appropriated in maintaining and repairing the wasting tissues, little or none of it would remain in any artery or vein of the starved-out sufferer, and then a spear thrust into the body would elicit little or no blood at all. But out of the wound in Jesus’ side came blood and water. That decomposed state could only exist in the case of a person dying as miraculously as did Jesus, when the heart in full and regular action would in an instant come to a complete stop; so that the blood in its flow would be at once arrested, being kept in the arteries and veins, and in the lungs also and liver. The blood, however, in this condition, would at once begin to separate into its different parts as above indicated.
In all cases of the death of ordinary mortals the last contraction of the heart is made with great force in such wise as to expel all blood from the main arteries and drive it into the terminal capillary vessels. But no such contraction took place in our Savior’s heart, it suddenly stopped in obedience to His will, the arrested blood stood still in every artery and vein; and thus the spear when soon afterward thrust into His side, whether it entered the lungs or liver, would find the blood just beginning to separate into its component parts, the serum and coagulum.
John, if he could have had the knowledge of physiology we possess, would have written it: ”There came out the decomposed blood; that is, the thick, dark-red coagulum, and the colorless white serum;” and he mentions it to establish the fact of the strange and unusual nature of our Lord’s departure; a parting from life entirely inconsistent, by any possibility, with the worn-out and impoverished condition attended upon by slow starvation. He also refers to the passage contained in the thirty-fourth psalm; one like many others serving both as a song of praise by its writer, and as a prophetic condensed biography of our Savior: so also does he quote from the twenty-second Psalm and from the twelfth chapter of Zechariah which in like manner set forth the soul experiences of their writers as well as the prophecies concerning the anointed and suffering Messiah. That is, without doubt, a very strained interpretation which would make the words of 1 John 5: 6, 8, “water and blood,” to mean the white serum and red fibrin that came from Jesus’ body; such symbolism is inaccurate, inelegant and irreverent; serum is not water merely, but contains albumen and other elements of the blood; and the red fibrin is not blood, but only a portion of the blood.
A much happier exegesis of that passage is that which sees in the water of baptism in which Jesus came, the cleansing and purifying influence He exerts upon the believer’s heart; which sees also in the blood in which Jesus came, the life He gave for us and by which, continually filling our souls with it, He saves us.