The Death of Christ (1)

It really goes without saying that Christ died at the hands of man and not from natural causes or by his own hand. However, the position is sometimes taken that although his enemies crucified him, he did not die from this, but from his own act when on the cross. Such a view actually invalidates the atonement, for it was necessary in order that a sacrifice should be an atoning one, that the victim's blood should be shed (the sacrifice had to be slaughtered); a creature that died of itself would not have been acceptable (Leviticus 4 & Hebrews 9:22).

Specific Scriptures that attribute our Lord's death to man are as follows:-

(1) "The Son of man is delivered into men's hands, and they shall KILL him" (Mark 9:31)
(2) "Ye, by the hand of lawless men, have crucified and SLAIN" (Acts 2:23)
(3) "The originator of life ye SLEW" (Acts 3:15)
(4) "The Just One, of whom ye have now become ... MURDERERS" (Acts 7:52)
(5) "Christ ... being put to death in flesh" (1 Peter 3:18)

It is to be noted it was not just a matter of evil intention on the part of the Jews, but that they actually killed the Lord. In the Old Testament we also have a reference to Christ's death. It is stated in Isaiah 53:8"He was cut off out of the land of the living" - not "he cut himself off". The truth is that the Jews were responsible for his death; the immediate instruments being the Romans who used crucifixion as the method of execution (Mark 10:33 & Acts 5:30). For the view that Christ did not die as a result of crucifixion it may be urged that He himself said "I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it again. I have received this commandment of my Father." (John 10:17/18). John, who emphasises the personal greatness of Christ, tells us what he does himself. On the other hand Matthew, who emphasises Christ's official greatness, speaks more of what is done for him. Thus we have for example in John 18:6 "When therefore he said to them, I am he, they went away backward and fell to the ground". However in Matthew 26:53 Christ says: " Or thinkest thou that I cannot now call upon my Father, and he will furnish me more than twelve legions of angels? " In both passages it is quite clear that Christ went to the cross, as one hymn states "the willing victim". He could have escaped had he so wished as he did in Luke 4: 29/30 and John 8:59. The statement of the Lord "I lay down my life" must not be taken to mean "I take my own life". This is going much too far and really makes the Lord commit suicide which to my mind is an abominable idea.

The passage in John 10 is really presenting a similar thought to that of Paul in Philippians 2:8 “Becoming OBEDIENT even unto death, and that the death of the cross." Many martyrs have laid down their lives for the Lord but this does not mean that they took their own lives.

Another argument that may be used to support the idea that Christ was not actually killed by man is that he was not on the cross sufficient time for death to have been the result of crucifixion. It does indeed appear that his early death surprised Pilate (Mark 15:44/45) and it appears that he died before the others that were crucified with him (John 19:32/33). However, not too much should be made of this, because Jesus had suffered much from scourging and other indignities that may not have been inflicted on the thieves. He had also suffered spiritually, being forsaken by God. The fact of Christ's early death, it may be mentioned, is used by Muslims to deny that he really died at all and also by some unbelievers who argue that he only swooned and recovered in the cool of the tomb. There are various arguments against this, perhaps the most telling being that after he had died he had his side pierced and suffered the loss of blood and water (John 19:34).

The only other argument, of which I am aware, that could be used to support the idea that Christ did not die by the hand of man is that he is said to have delivered up his spirit (John 19:30). That is, it was his own act. Before discussing this it may be as well to state that all that man can do is kill the body (Luke 12:4) and that is all that this article contends for. Christ knew when the end had come (John 19:28). He no doubt used his remaining strength to utter the loud cry mentioned in Luke 23:46. Most would I believe accept that this loud cry corresponds to the "It is finished" of John 19:30. Christ then bowed his head and delivered up his spirit. This corresponds to what we get in Luke where he said "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46) and then expired. The death of Stephen was similar, so that we have " And they stoned Stephen, praying, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And kneeling down, he cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And having said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:59/60) Of course Christ is unique in all that he did, so it is to be noted that he delivered his spirit into the hands of his Father, whereas Stephen asked Christ to receive his. Further, Christ's delivering up of his spirit was ACTIVE - it was what he did. Stephen by contrast was PASSIVE - he simply asked Christ to receive his.