What Kind of Death Did Jesus Die?
Stephen P. Willis
In 1 Cor. 2:2, Paul said, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." In making a comparison between the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God, Paul singled out the theme of the Gospel Plan of Salvation: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. When discussing the death of Jesus, some consider the agony in the garden, the hurried trials, the pains of the scourgings and the mockings, His lack of sleep, the bearing of the cross, the tortues of the crucifixion and then conclude that Jesus died of a heart failure. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible says that Jesus died from "orthostatic collapse through insufficient blood circulating to the brain and heart . . . ." It might be interesting to give various conjectures of the physical manner that Jesus died, but that is not our purpose here. This article will look at other aspects of the death of our Lord.
Jesus Died a Prophesied Death
It has been said that at least 300 prophecies were fulfilled in the events surrounding the death of Jesus. In Gen. 3:15 we find the first allusion to His death: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." Ps. 22 specifies crucifixion: "They pierced my hands and my feet (cf. Mt. 27:35). We read of the dividing of His garments in Ps. 22:18 (cf. Lk. 23:34). Mt. 27:34,48 records the fulfillment of Ps. 69:21, "They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."
In Acts 8, an Ethiopian nobleman was reading probably the greatest prophecy in the Suffering Servant passage, Isaiah 53. Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian, beginning with this passage. Many of the main points of this prophecy will be brought out as we further answer the question, What Kind of Death Did Jesus Die?
Jesus, Himself, foretold His death in a number of passages. He said that He would be lifted up (Jn. 12:32,33), and that this would take place during the time of the Passover feast (Mt. 26:2). He said that the Jews and the Gentiles would be responsible for His death (Mt. 20:17-19). He taught that the "sign of Jonah"-His being in the earth three days and nights-would be given to "this generation" (Mt. 12:40; 16:4).
In connection with this point, we might say that it was necessary that Jesus die-in order to fulfill prophecy.
Jesus Died a Blameless Death
"His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, Yet with a rich man in His death; Although He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth" (Is. 53:9). This prophesy is verified by the testimony of persons connected with the death of Jesus. Judas Iscariot exclaimed, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood" (Mt. 27:4). Pilate spoke for himself and for Herod: ". . . I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him" (Lk. 23:14,15). Although Jesus was blameless, Pilate still allowed Him to be crucified. While Jesus was on the cross, a thief, dying in the same way, said this of Jesus, ". . . this man has done nothing wrong" (Lk. 23:41).
The writer of the book of Hebrews also asserts the innocence of our Lord: "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin . . . . For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, to offer up sacrifices, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests (OT priests-sw), to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people . . ." (4:15; 7:26,27).
Jesus Died a Shameful Death
Certainly Jesus died a shameful death. The Romans considered crucifixion a humiliating way of dying. They only authorized this manner of death for slaves and degraded persons. When any leniency was shown to the victim, the executors would either cut the person's throat or build a fire under him so that he might suffocate. We might not think this too lenient, but it did hasten death. They did not do this for Jesus.
The Jews, too, thought that this was a humiliating experience, for the Law said that those who died on a tree were under a curse (cf. Gal. 3:13 and Dt. 21:23). These persons demanded a shameful death for the One who shamed them with His teaching.
Adding more insult to injury, Jesus was crucified between two thieves. Isaiah prophesied, "His grave was assigned to be with wicked men . . . . And (he) was numbered with the transgressors" (53:9,12).
Jesus Died a Forsaken Death
As if dying in shame was not enough, Jesus was also forsaken in His death. The scriptures teach that He was despised of men (Is. 53:3) and "His own" did not receive Him (Jn. 1:11). Even His Apostles forsook their Lord. At Gethsemane, they would not even stay awake while Jesus prayed to the Father (Mt. 26:36ff). Later we read about Peter who wept when he remembered the prediction that Jesus had made, "Before a cock crows, you will deny Me three times." Yes, Jesus was forsaken of men, even His disciples. But the crushing blow had to be the fact that He was forsaken by God in this death. Crying aloud, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Jesus again fulfilled prophecy (Ps. 22:lff). God will not, nor can He have fellowship with sinners, for He is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5). This is the reason that Jesus was forsaken by God: He was made to bear our iniquity (Is. 53:6,12); He became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus Died a Forgiving Death
Though He died a shameful death, and was forsaken by all, Jesus died a forgiving death. Some of the last words spoken by Him were, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk. 23:34). Oh, that we could bear with our fellow men in like manner!
Jesus Died a Sacrificial Death
A number of points might be made here about the sacrificial nature of His death (see 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 9:26b-28; 10:10).
1. It was a vicarious sacrifice-for the behalf of others. "But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him... who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?" (Is. 53:6,8; cf. 1 Cor. 15:3).
2. It was a justifying sacrifice-by faith and obedience, we can be made whole. "My Servant will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities" (Is. 53:11; cf. Lk. 22:19; Mt. 26:28; Jn. 1:29; 1 Jn. 1:7; 2:2).
3. It was a loving sacrifice. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:13; cf. Eph. 5:2; Rev. 1:5).
4. It was a willing sacrifice. Regarding the giving of His life, Jesus said, "No one has taken it (His life-sw) away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father" (Jn. 10:17,18; Mt. 26:39,42).
5. Again, we might say it was necessary -- for we could not have removed our own sins.
Jesus Died a Promising Death
By His death, Jesus made available a number of promises which are free to us upon faith and obedience. We can have our fears of death removed as a result of Jesus' death (Heb. 2:14,15). We are able to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-6). We are purified and made to be His possession (Tit. 2:14). Eternal life is also promised to the believer (1 Th. 4:14; 5:9,10). These are but a few of the spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus.
Simply stated, Jesus died a saving death. "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15)!
Truth Magazine XXI: 47, pp. 746-747