What If UR Wrong

“It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things; but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.”

C.S. Lewis

Was Jesus Really Crucified?

by Mark Karapetyan

A few weeks ago, while I was answering questions on various theological topics, a skeptic quickly approached the microphone and cynically stated: “I don’t believe that Jesus was crucified. In fact, I don’t believe that he even existed. The crucifixion story is a cute tale invented by Jesus’ followers who successfully deceived many, including you!”

Since I was familiar with these types of baseless, hollow attacks, I decided to turn the table around and put him on the defense to make him realize how unreasonable his claim was. Without batting an eye lid, I challenged him: “Fine, now present me and the entire audience with your defense and supporting evidence, so that we can cross-examine your claims.”

The cynic was flabbergasted as he didn’t expect me to put him on the spot. He hummed for a few seconds, looked up and down as if he were trying to come up with anything to save face, and then responded: “Well, I’m not going to go over all the evidence, I’m not sure where to start. Many people in line are waiting to ask questions. I’ll let you provide the evidence.”

I smiled, and politely insisted: “That’s fine, we have plenty of time. The others are dying to hear your answer as well. Go ahead, please, tell us in detail why you believe that Jesus wasn’t really crucified.”

The skeptic became very uncomfortable. He cleared his throat a couple of times, and then nervously murmured: “You are the speaker; you tell me why you think I’m wrong.”

I took him up on his offer:  “Alright, I will tell you why I believe that Jesus was indeed crucified by the Romans.”  This is what I told the cynic and the audience that day:

“Before I present to you some non-Christian historical sources that validate the crucifixion claim, I would like to go directly to the Gospels first and discuss a few points. Jesus was either crucified, or he wasn’t; there is no in between. If he was crucified, then the matter is settled and the biblical accounts are accurate. If Jesus wasn’t crucified, then the entire Christian faith is dead and fraudulent. Without crucifixion and resurrection, there is no Christianity. That’s why it is crucial that we approach this matter carefully and ask the right questions to clarify the issue.

Let’s put Jesus aside for a moment and focus on his followers. Historically, it is verifiable through many different sources that Jesus’ followers died for their faith. What faith did they die for? The point that skeptics fail to explain is what made these simple followers willingly die for their rabbi? What was so special about Jesus that ten out of the twelve disciples gave their last breath for him. If they knew that Jesus wasn’t crucified and yet continued spreading the lie throughout the region, then all ten of them were the biggest fools that ever lived for losing their lives for a lie. If they didn’t know it, then they were the most pathetic followers the world has ever seen for not knowing that their master had been crucified. They were with him daily, for three years, so of course they would have known about his crucifixion. That’s why, when the Roman guards came to arrest Jesus, they all ran away like cowards. Why? Because they knew that the Roman guards didn’t come to play hide and seek with them. They came to arrest and kill. The Romans always meant business, and all the disciples and the followers knew it.

The night of his arrest, right before the Roman guards arrived, the Gospel writer Luke tells us that Jesus was in so much agony that ‘he sweat drops of blood.’

“Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44).

Notice the part where Luke tells us that Jesus’ sweat became like great drops of blood on the ground. This is a fascinating piece of information that helps shed light on the crucifixion story. How, you might ask?  The early church fathers did not know how to interpret this passage of drops of sweat turning into blood because it was something they had never seen; they were unfamiliar with this bodily condition. In fact, some early church fathers even tried to omit this verse completely from the chapter because they didn’t understand the meaning of it. They thought it was only a poetic reference. Today, however, we know the exact meaning of what Luke was trying to tell us. What Jesus went through in his agony is a medical condition called Hematidrosis.

Hematidrosis is an extremely rare condition characterized by the sweating of blood, which occurs when a person is facing death or highly stressful events. It occurs when the capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under extreme physical or emotional stress. This condition has been seen in prisoners before execution, and during wars. The great Italian Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci described a soldier who sweat blood before going to war. [i]

Interestingly, Luke is the only Gospel writer that mentions this medical episode that Jesus suffered on that night of his arrest. What was Luke’s profession? He was a medical doctor! Luke was the only one that could somehow understand the relationship between mental anguish and Hematidrosis.

Luke tells us that Jesus suffered from this condition right before he was arrested-but why? Why was Jesus under so much mental and emotional anguish before his arrest that he suffered from Hematidrosis?

The only logical answer to this question is that Jesus knew the manner in which he was going to die. Remember, Jesus repeatedly told his followers that he was going to be handed over to the Pharisees, suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day rise again. “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21).

Jesus grew up in Jerusalem under Roman occupation. As a Jew, he was familiar with Roman laws and rules. It is reasonable to assume that Jesus had witnessed many crucifixions, or at least heard of some, because the Romans practiced crucifixion everywhere they went to quench any rebellion against them, and send others a stern warning not to threaten the Roman Empire in any way, shape, or form. Crucifixion was used as supreme form of capital punishment to plant fear in the hearts of everyone.

Crucifixion often happened in a public place so that it served as a reminder not to mess with the Roman Empire. It was barbaric and extremely humiliating because the victim hung naked on a tree, sometimes for days, for the entire world to see. It was the most inhumane, painful way to kill a victim, and the Romans perfected it. Jesus knew this. He also knew the amount of physical and emotional pain awaiting him on that cross. He knew he was going to be humiliated before his mother and his followers. He knew that he was going to suffer for hours from thirst, hunger, and indescribable pain before he gave his last breath. He knew that he wasn’t going to die pain-free. Crucifixion was his destiny; that’s why, before his arrest, he was in such agony that his sweat became like drops of blood.

For Jesus, the cross seemed horrifying. Only a crucifixion could have scared Jesus to the point of almost fainting. He wasn’t afraid of a mighty storm when he was on the boat with his followers; in fact, he was asleep and didn’t care much. With a few words, he commanded the winds to stay still after his disciples begged him for help. He wasn’t afraid of death itself because he had brought many back to life (including Lazarus, and the widow’s son at Nain). He wasn’t afraid of demons and spirits because he had easily defeated them when he was tempted by Satan before his ministry began, and when he cast them out of the possessed person and sent them to drown in the sea. Jesus wasn’t afraid of his adversaries either, because he turned their money tables upside down and called them “sons of hell and brood of vipers.” Jesus wasn’t afraid of anything, but in that specific moment, when he knew his end was near, and the manner in which he was going to die, he was terrified because he knew he was going to die by crucifixion!

There are more details in the Gospels that provide logical and reasonable evidence that Jesus was indeed crucified, but I’ll leave those for another topic.

I will point out some non-biblical sources that clearly testify to the crucifixion claim.

Since social media and smartphones were not available hundreds or thousands of years ago to record historical events, the only way historians can obtain information about the past is through archeological discoveries, oral traditions, first and second-hand eye witness testimonies, and manuscript evidence. These are some of the methods we can use to validate history.

Last year, while I was speaking in D.C. on the topic of the crucifixion of Jesus, an atheist student politely challenged me: “You’re claim that Jesus was crucified is not true. There’s no way of knowing whether he was crucified or not. We weren’t there to see it happen, therefore, the story can’t be taken seriously.”

I thanked him for his comment and asked: “But we have historical records and many eyewitness accounts that can validate the crucifixion story. Isn’t that enough evidence?”

“NO, of course not. That’s not acceptable loudly disagreed.

“Why not?” I inquired.

“Because there is no way we can rely on these methods to know whether something happened hundreds of years ago or not,” he shot back.

“Well then, answer me this” I requested. “Do you believe for example, that Napoleon Bonaparte lost the battle of Waterloo?”

The atheist thought for a few seconds and then hummed: “well yes, of course.”

“WHY?” I probed. “You weren’t there to see it happen.”

“Well, history tells us that he lost the battle. Historians recorded it. Survivors and witnesses were there to tell the story, and so it was passed down from one generation to the next,” he nervously murmured.

I took a step closer and countered: “Why do you rely on the historical methods to validate one historical account, but then, using the same historical methods, deny another historical account? Why do you accept what history tells us about Napoleon, but reject what history tells us about Jesus?”

The atheist quickly realized his double standard and quietly sat down.

Ancient manuscripts, eyewitness testimonies, and oral traditions are very crucial in obtaining facts of historical events. If not, then it would be impossible to know what happened in the past. Just because we weren’t there in the past to see something does not mean we can’t trust the account.

This is the case with Jesus and the crucifixion story. Contrary to common belief, there are many early non-biblical sources that wrote about the person of Jesus and documented his crucifixion. Here are a few examples:

Thallus (52A.D.)

Thallus was a Samaritan-born historian whose writings have not survived to the present day. Another writer, however-Julius Africanus (221 A.D.), cites the writings of Thallus saying that Thallus attempted to explain away the three-hour period of darkness at the time of Christ’s crucifixion: Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus and the crucifixion.

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.” (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)

Cornelius Tacitus (56-120 A.D.)

Cornelius Tacitus was known for his analysis and examination of historical documents and is among the most trusted of ancient historians. He was a Roman consul, and senator of Asia under Emperor Vespasian. In his “Annals’ of 116AD, he describes Emperor Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome and Nero’s claim that the Christians were to blame:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”

Mara Bar-Serapion (70 A.D.)

In the British Museum there is a letter written during the first century A.D. by a father to his son in prison. The father compares the death of Socrates, Pythagoras and a wise king: The fact Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King”:

“What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.”

Lucian of Samosata (115-200 A.D.)

Lucian was a Greek satirist who spoke sarcastically of Christ and Christians, but in the process, he did affirm they were real people and never referred to them as fictional characters:

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account….You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.” (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine. 11-13)

The Babylonian Talmud

The Talmud is a collection of Jewish writings constituting the religious and civil law. They were completed by 500 A.D. The Talmud states:

 “On the eve of Passover, they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that “(Yeshu) is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him.” But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover.”

Flavius Josephus (37-100 A.D.)

The most remarkable reference to Jesus outside the Bible can be found in the writings of Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian that writes about Jesus:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he … wrought surprising feats…. He was the Christ. When Pilate …condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared … restored to life…. And the tribe of Christians … has … not disappeared.”

Although many scholars dispute some parts of the account (such as if indeed one ought to call him a man, or restored to life), the crucifixion part is not disputed by any historian.

These are some of the early references, from non-Christian sources, that testify to the existence of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion.

Along with the resurrection, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most important historical events in human history. Humans filled with sin cannot face an eternal God, because sin is offensive to God. Sin separates us from God both now and eternally.

On the cross, all of our sins were laid on Christ, and he became the perfect sacrifice for all of humanity. In a court of law, if you are fined and another man pays the fine for you, then you are free to go even though you have not paid the fine.

It is the same in God’s court, if His son pays the penalty for your transgressions, then you are free to go even though you have not paid the price. However, you must accept the sacrifice on your behalf first…have you?

“Every time that I think of the crucifixion of Christ, I commit the sin of envy.”

Simone Weill

 

i] Dr. Frederick Zugibe

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