How Do We Know That Jesus Really Died?

by J Warner Wallace

A recent podcast listener offered the following objection: Couldn’t the disciples have been wrong about the death of Jesus? After all, when Paul was stoned by the Jews from Antioch and Iconium (in Acts 14) they drug him out of the city and left him for dead. “While the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city” (verse 20). If the disciples were wrong about Paul, couldn’t they also have been wrong about Jesus? As I always say, anything and everything is possible, but not everything is reasonable. There are good reasons to believe that the disciples were not wrong about the death of Jesus:

1. Extended Contact

Unlike the their contact with Paul after his stoning, the disciples were in intimate and extended contact with the body of Jesus. We have a tendency to read over the following verses very quickly:

Mark 15:43-46

“So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council… …bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.”

But stop and think about it for a minute. The disciples had to remove the nails, collect the body, carry it some distance to the tomb, treat the body thoroughly with the customary ointments and spices used in such situations, wrap the body and then place it in the tomb. While we can read through this process in minutes, it takes a lot longer to actually complete. Surely the disciples were also deeply grieved by the death of Jesus. In all this extended contact with his body, do we really think they wouldn’t do everything possible to prove to themselves that he wasn’t really dead? In all of this time, is it reasonable to believe that they wouldn’t have noticed the three inconvenient properties of dead bodies? I’ve been around enough dead people to recognize that properties that appear when a heart stops beating:

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Loss of Temperature

When the heart stops pumping, the body begins to cool. In the time it would take to prepare Jesus for the tomb, the disciples would certainly have observed this feature of death.

Rigidity

When blood is not circulating, the body begins to stiffen. Dead bodies begin to feel and behave differently than unconscious bodies with a beating heart.

Lividity

Gravity begins to act on un-circulating blood. As blood settles in those extremities that are closest to the ground, discoloration is notable.

In all the time it took to prepare Jesus’ body, with all the extended contact the disciples had, is it really reasonable to think they would not have repeatedly checked to see if he was still breathing and that they would not have noticed the three inconvenient properties of dead people?

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