On this Good Friday, the day Christians traditionally commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross, let’s examine the evidence surrounding his death and resurrection. I’d like to look at five specific examples.
1. The Sweat Turning to BloodIn the Agony in the Garden, Luke mentions (Luke 22:44) that Jesus’ sweat fell “like drops of blood.” That’s a medical condition called hematohidrosis, which the Indian Journal on Dermatology described as “very rare.” It occurs under extreme stress in a handful of people. Now, St. Luke was a doctor (as St. Paul mentions in Colossians 4:14), which is probably why he’s the only Gospel writer to draw attention to this fact: this is unlike what a first-century doctor would have seen in his day-to-day practice (and, as I mentioned, it’s still very rare).So it’s significant that this first-century source is describing a medical condition that was largely unknown, but which we now know to be stress-related. That is, the source is describing information that he would have been unlikely to make up, because even if Luke were somehow aware of hematohidrosis, why would he include that detail? To try and convince other first-century dermatologists? It’s a detail which seems supernatural and incredible, not a detail which seems natural and credible… yet we now know it corresponds to modern medicine. This suggests that Luke’s testimony is accurate: that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, who really did sweat blood in anticipation of His Crucifixion.
2. Blood and Water Flowing from the Side of Christ
Peter Paul Reubens,
Christ on the Cross between the Two Thieves (1620)
John 19 contains another gory detail in its gruesome account of the aftermath of Jesus’ death (John 19:31-37):“Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.
But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.'”This is packed with evidence. First, the author is familiar with Jewish religious practices. He says in verse 31, “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.” That’s a Passover reference, obviously, and it explains why Jesus’ followers celebrated Passover a day before the Pharisees (they were of a Jewish school which always observed Passover a day early when it fell on the Sabbath).Second, the author is aware that the bodies must be taken down (for reasons of ritual purity under the Levitical code.)Third, the author is all too familiar with crucifixion. He’s aware, for example, that the Romans broke the legs of their victims on the cross—the reason being that without the support of your legs, you can’t pull your body up to breathe, and you slowly die of asphyxiation. Though it sounds counter-intuitive, lack of oxygen is what frequently killed the victims of crucifixion, not having nails driven through their wrists.Fourth, the author hints at several lines of Biblical fulfillment. The Passover Lamb’s bones weren’t broken (Exodus 12:46; Num. 9:12) nor were the bones of the Messiah to be broken (Psalm 34:20). And there is a strangely God-like prophecy in Zech. 12:10, that the Chosen One will “pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication,” while they “will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”Given that the Christians believe that Christ is the only-begotten of the Father (John 3:16), this detail manages to fulfill all sorts of really intricate prophesies. If you think that this is easy, try it sometime: try and write a short fictional account of someone (anyone) living in the present who fulfills the Biblical prophesies, and make it believable.Finally, and this one blew my mind, the blood and water comport with medical evidence. After Jesus died, his body stopped metabolizing the water, so an upward piercing from a spear could have easily torn the lining of the stomach, causing the blood and water to pour out. John explicitly mentions this detail, but it’s not one a fictional writer is likely to have thought of (unless he’d cut open dead bodies, which Jews were forbidden to do).So far, then, we have reliable evidence that there was a Jesus who knew (and seemingly dreaded) going to the cross, but went anyways, and was killed. Both Luke and John mention pretty specific medical details unlikely to be concocted. All of this suggests that Jesus really lived and really died on the cross. There are dozens more verses that support this point, besides the ones above, as well as extra-Biblical sources acknowledging that there was a Jesus who died on the cross.