“Pilate was surprised to hear that He was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.” Mark 15:44 (NIV)
Critics of the resurrection of Jesus Christ have long sought to discredit the miracle of the resurrection by suggesting that Jesus never really died on the cross to begin with. The idea began with the Roman governor, Pilate, who condemned Jesus to death on the cross. The Gospel of Mark points out the governor’s doubts when Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Jewish ruling council, asked him for the body of Jesus. Joseph was a secret follower of Christ. Afraid to lose his place on the council or, perhaps, experience pushback for being a Christ follower, Joseph kept silent about his faith in Christ until he witnessed the crucifixion. While Jesus’ own disciples fled in fear of the Jews, Joseph threw caution to the wind and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus so he could bury him in his own tomb. Mark describes what happened in these verses:
“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that He was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” Mark 15:43-46 (NIV)
Considering it would have cost the centurion’s life, he made sure Jesus was in fact dead before reporting back to the governor. Only when Pilate was confident of Jesus’ death did he release the body to Joseph. But, how can we be sure? This is the point critics have raised in an argument called the Swoon Theory or the resuscitation theory. These skeptics would argue that Jesus was not truly dead at this point and, instead, only appeared to be dead. Perhaps, it was the drug he was offered that knocked Him out, or the suffering on the cross that rendered Him unconscious. Then, while resting in the tomb for three days, Jesus’ body begins to heal and recuperate with enough strength to roll away the stone, overpower the Roman guards, take a fourteen-mile hike to Emmaus with a couple of Christ followers, and appear before the disciples as the death-defying, conquering King! Seriously! If you have that much faith to believe a story like that, you have more than enough faith to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
For those who reject the Gospel accounts, history records five ancient sources outside of the Bible to corroborate the death of Jesus on the cross. These accounts are from Josephus, Tacitus, Lucion, Mara Bar-Serapion, and The Talmud. In addition, there are nine ancient sources confirming the disciples were convinced Jesus had risen and appeared to them.
The evidence of Jesus’ death on the cross is overwhelming. He died for you and me so that we may be reconciled to God. He paid a debt He did not owe for a debt we could not pay. The cross demonstrates the value of your life to God. He says, “You are worth dying for!”