The Death of Jesus Christ

by Elmer Towns
 But God commendeth his love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8


     The hill named Calvary outside of Jerusalem was well known as a place of execution. There Roman soldiers drove spikes through Jesus' hands and feet to nail him to the cross. As he hung on that cross, the soldiers and citizens continued their abuses. Looking down, Jesus saw his mother and a few close friends attending his execution. Finally he spoke. He did not condemn his executioners but forgave them. He did not pity himself but prayed for others.

     Usually when men face death, they become increasingly concerned about themselves, but this Man arranged in his last hours for the continued care of his mother. Finally, in the darkness of that day, he cried out, "It is finished!" The first recorded speech of Jesus as a child was that he must be about his Father's business (Luke 2:49). Now he announced to the world he had completed his Father's business.

     The death of Jesus Christ was unusual by any standard, but its uniqueness stands out in the realization that it included the physical suffering and death of God's Son. The heaven became dark at the death of Christ, reflecting the response of nature to an attack upon its Creator. This death of Christ lad an unusual purpose. The cross is the doorway for all spiritual blessing. At the end of the world all men will be judged and the death and resurrection of Christ are the basis of entrance into heaven. Therefore, an understanding of the death of, Christ will help us better appreciate what Christ did to accomplish our salvation.

     Like a gigantic interstate cloverleaf, several doctrines intersect and merge in the death of Christ. First, the incarnation is evident in that Jesus the man yielded to the evil imagination of men, yet, the divine Son of God controlled the events according to the sovereign purpose of God. Next, the kenosis revealed Christ's veiled glory, his human limitations, and the fact that he had voluntarily given up his comparative' attributes. In his death he destroyed the works of Satan.; The.'' justice and holiness of God was satisfied, plus the demands of the law were met, yet in the same action God exercised unlimited love to the sinner.

     Only a few stood on the hill of Calvary: soldiers, a jeering mob, and a handful of faithful followers; yet everyone born of woman stood spiritually before the cross. The sins of eternity past were joined with those of the future, and all humans are measured by that event. Therefore we need to examine the human events that led up to the death of Christ. By understanding the historical background, we have a better basis for understanding the doctrinal significance of the atonement.


     Sometimes when we study Bible doctrine, we forget that our doctrine is based upon historical events. The doctrine of sin is founded on the actual event of Adam's sin. The doctrine of salvation is founded on the historical fact of the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul taught that Christ died (history) for our sins (theology) (1 Cor. 15:3).

     The final meal. The night began with the celebration of the Passover and the eating of the Passover meal. As the disciples gathered with Jesus, he took it upon himself to wash his disciples' feet and teach them humility (John 13:1-20). As they ate, he announced his betrayal and made his last appeal to Judas Iscariot, the financial secretary of the group, who would betray him (John 13:21-29). That night Jesus introduced the ordinance of the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:17-20) and gave them the Upper Room discourse, which contained the embryonic teachings of the church age, including a life of love, fruitfulness, yet persecution. Right up to the end, Jesus was involved in the training of the twelve.

     The final journey. Jesus left the upper room and walked with his disciples as a group for the last time. They headed for the Mount of Olives. This group which had traveled together for over three years had already begun to break up. Judas had gone to arrange for the soldiers to arrest Jesus. Together, those that remained made their way to a favorite spot for prayer. Perhaps it was seeing the vines climbing the side of a building that prompted Jesus to say, "I am the true vine" (John 15:1). With this observation he taught his disciples about the abiding life (John 15). Recognizing the sorrow they would soon experience, he told his disciples he was going to send the "Comforter" (John 16). Together they arrived in the garden to pray.

     The garden prayers. Jesus prayed for many things. He prayed for the events he would soon be experiencing. He prayed for the accomplishment of the will of God in his life. He prayed for his disciples and those who would someday become his disciples. He prayed for those of us today who seek to live for him in our society. Finally, he prayed for himself. He understood the wrath of the cup of judgment he was to drink in death. "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44). When he finished, he woke his disciples to witness his arrest.

     The arrest of Christ. As the soldiers and religious leaders accompanied Judas Iscariot to the garden, Jesus was waiting. Knowing what was happening, he called Judas his "friend" (Matt. 26:50). He was taken with force, despite the fact he offered no resistance. The only act on his part was to heal a servant's ear which had been cut off by one of his disciples'" (John 18:1-12). Jesus willingly submitted to those he knew had come to kill him. He was about his Father's business.

     The trials. The night was filled with mock trials to humiliate the Son of God. He appeared before the high priest, who had judged him guilty before he was arrested. Then Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of the Jews) that had arranged his arrest. He was sent to Pilate, the Roman military leader, who questioned Jesus and then sent him to Herod. After interrogating Jesus, Herod returned Jesus to the original Roman judge, Pilate. Being found innocent in a Roman court of law, the mob vote of the people suggested the method of punishment. Before crucifixion, he was beaten by the soldiers.

     The crucifixion. Crucifixion was abhorred in the mind of every Roman subject. Roman soldiers had learned from the Phoenicians a very sadistic and painful way of executing criminals. The very word "cross" would stimulate a repulsion by anyone who had witnessed this event.

     Crucifixion usually began with a beating. A man would be lashed with a whip which had bits of metal, bone, or stone at the end of each thong. The whip, as it cut the back of the convicted man, would wrap around him. When it was raised to be lowered again, it would tear the flesh. Often a condemned man would faint from the pain. The second aspect of the crucifixion was the custom known as "bearing one's cross." The written-out accusation would be tied about his neck and he would be paraded to the place of execution. The shingle he wore would then be nailed above him on his cross so that those who witnessed the event knew his horrendous crime. Jesus' crime was published in three languages and read, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19).

     The third aspect of crucifixion was agony leading to death. A man was crucified in such a way that he could not easily breathe. His arms and feet were fastened to the cross in such a way that he had to push his body up to breathe. Every time Jesus would breathe, he had to raise his body to gasp for air.

     As he reached for air he would scrape the open wounds on his back up and down the rough wood of the cross. The Romans knew their craft. They could execute a man and let him suffer for as long as nine days until he died. And besides the physical suffering, there was the degrading humiliation.

     When the soldiers came by to break Jesus' legs to speed up his death, they found a lifeless body. A spear thrust into his side produced blood and water. A friend of Jesus was granted permission to bury the body in his tomb. Jesus was anointed with spices and placed in the borrowed tomb. There he stayed for three days.

     A key to understanding the death of Christ is to recognize the resurrection of Christ. The focus of Christianity is not a crucifix but rather an empty cross and an empty tomb. Christ died but lives today.


     When we examine the nature of crucifixion, it would be understandable to expect irrational behavior, cursing, or self justification from the mouth of the condemned man. Such was not the case with the death of Jesus. Seven times he spoke from the cross. These are known as the seven last words of Christ. They reflect his divine-human nature, that he was the God-man. These words reflect the purpose for which he came-the salvation of God. These seven sayings give insight into how Jesus faced the crucifixion.

     The first word—forgiveness (Luke 23:34). His first words were a prayer of forgiveness: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). As Jesus was experiencing more pain than most of us could imagine, he was praying for those that caused his suffering. Here, Christ reveals the divine attribute of love for everyone, including those who evidenced the most hate toward him.

     The second word—acceptance (Luke 23:43). In the midst of the crucifixion, one of the thieves being crucified with Jesus realized he was spiritually condemned also. Though he had earlier mocked Christ, he now asked for forgiveness. Jesus responded, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." God, is bound by his nature to punish every sin, but in contrast, he also is bound by his nature to forgive all who repent and call for forgiveness.

     The third word—human responsibility (John 19:26, 27). As he hung on the cross, Jesus saw his mother standing by the apostle John. Turning to them, "He saith unto his mother, Woman behold thy son." The care of parents was the responsibility of the firstborn. Since Jesus had lived a sinless life, in death he would not forget to honor his mother (Exod. 20:12).

     The fourth word—separation (Matt. 27:46). When the sin of the world was placed upon Christ, the heavenly Father could not look on his Son because God cannot look on sin. Fulfilling prophecy, Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Ps. 22:1). Jesus, at that moment, experienced alienation from God. This is when he dealt with the sins of the world. Death does not mean to cease to exist. Death means "to separate," and in this cry Jesus reveals the fact that he was separated from God. Though Jesus was perfect, having never sinned, he experienced the consequence of sin-separation from God, which is the character of hell or punishment.

     The fifth word—suffering (John 19:28). The fifth saying on the cross reflected the suffering of Jesus as he was crucified. "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst." Even his thirst was a fulfillment of Scripture (Ps. 22:15). As a crucified man reaches the human limit of suffering, he experiences intense pain. Jesus' cry of thirst reflects that he was not supernaturally exempt from the suffering normally experienced in crucifixion. Some may assume that Jesus did not suffer to the limit of physical endurance because he was God. But Jesus probably suffered more intense pain because he was not a hardened sinner but was a perfect human. Most Bible scholars believe Jesus cried for something to drink so that he would have strength to make his victorious benediction.

     The sixth word—victory (John 19:30). "It is finished!" The sixth cry from the cross was the cry of the victor. Scholars actually suggest several interpretations of what was finished. First, "It is finished" means Christ had accomplished salvation for the human race. Second, the statement means he had bruised the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Third, he had demonstrated the love of God (John 3:16), and fourth, he had satisfied the demands of God's holiness (Rom. 5:8). Fifth, Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament prediction of a coming Messiah, and sixth, it meant the suffering of the past six hours was over. But the seventh meaning applied to every Jew-they no longer had to bring an animal sacrifice continually for their sins. He was the sacrifice for sin of which all the animal sacrifices were only the symbols. There is reason to believe that the expression, tetelestac in Greek, was the mark placed on a bill of sale which had the significance of "paid in full." Symbolically, the veil in the temple was rent from the top to bottom (from God to man) when Jesus cried, "It is finished!"

     The seventh word—completion (Luke 23:46). The final word from the cross was a prayer of benediction. "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost" Jesus had completed what he began to do. As Christ died, he committed his spirit to God. Because of the death of Christ, we can approach God with confidence that he is approachable. As Jesus committed his death to God, so we can commit our lives to him.

     The words of Christ on the cross reflect the doctrine of his atonement for man.

THE CHARACTER OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST The death of Christ was more than a fact of history. The events of these three days, his death and resurrection, are the central experience of biblical theology. Christ provided in his death the possibility of a salvation experience for any who would respond to his invitation.

1. Father, forgive them. Luke 23:34 Forgiveness
2. Today thou shalt be with me. Luke 23:43 Acceptance
3. Behold thy son. John 19:26 Human responsibility
4. Why hast thou forsaken me? Matt. 27:46 Separation from God
5. I thirst. John 19:28 Suffering
6. It is finished. John 19:30 Victory
7. Into thy hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46 Completion

     The death of Christ was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. When God wanted to save Israel from a judgment upon Egypt, he commanded the sacrifice of a lamb and the -

applying of the blood to the doorpost of the house. "And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye t are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). God will save for eternity those who have trusted Christ "and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14).


     The message of the gospel is that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). That fact of history may become a part of our personal experience in theology as we trust Christ as our Savior. Often companies will offer special gifts with the purchase of their product. Usually a gift offer is for a limited time. Anyone who desires the gift of eternal life must realize that it is a limited-time offer, which ends at our death or when Christ returns.

     Some people say a loving God would never send people to hell. Certainly God does not desire to punish anyone. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). God has made a limited-time offer available to all. If a person does not receive Christ, God cannot be held responsible for sending that person to hell. If a person does not accept that offer because he procrastinates or is negligent for other reasons, then he is guilty of passive rejection. Others are guilty of active rejection because they have chosen not to believe. Certainly a loving God does not want to send anyone to hell, but neither will he take them to heaven against their will.


     Monday: Mark 14:1-21

     Tuesday: Mark 14:22-42

     Wednesday: Mark 14:43-65

     Thursday: Mark 14:66-15:15

     Friday: Mark 15:16-41

     Saturday: Mark 15:42-16:8

     Sunday: John 19:16-30

Taken from: What The Faith Is All About by Elmer Towns