As a Christian doctor, people often wonder how it is that I can, on the one hand, believe factual and scientific information, while on the other be “religious”. It is a very reasonable area for consternation. Most are too polite to ask, of course.
Let me say at the outset that I don’t think I am a very religious person, and I have little time for pomp and ceremony. My Christianity revolves around a relationship with Jesus Christ, and what I do flows from that precious relationship. As such, I find that my faith in the risen Christ, and my profession not only co-exist, but are mutually supportive. I will return to this point later.
At this stage I would like to make this statement, and for a number of years I have been very clear on this one point: it is a fact that Jesus died and rose. And, this being so, His claims are true, and Christianity stands. But what is the basis for my faith in the Resurrection? Have I needed to throw reason overboard? I would like to present three separate aspects, which indicate that there is a reason for my faith. I will summarize these, and then I will expand on each:
- Firstly the evidence indicating that Jesus died and rose from the dead is overwhelming.
- Secondly, specific details surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection were foretold.
- Thirdly the risen Christ can be known and He can change us.
Before the reader considers the next section, it is important to note that it is graphic in medical detail, which some may find distressing.
THE EVIDENCE INDICATING THAT JESUS DIED AND ROSE FROM THE DEAD IS OVERWHELMING.
That Jesus died is beyond doubt. The medical evidence is overwhelming, quite apart from the contemporary historical accounts.
Most days I deal with people who have been injured. The pattern of injuries people sustain gives a great deal of information about what caused them. In fact, I often have to attend court cases to give evidence under oath concerning people’s injuries, and how likely their accounts are to be true. The pattern of injuries inflicted on Jesus gives an immense amount of information about what happened to him.
The Roman practice of that time meant that Jesus’ scourging would have been carried out with leather whips. Pieces of bone and lead were woven into the leather thongs, so that maximal injury resulted. The effect of this type of scourging would have been to create severe skin and underlying fat and muscle damage. Initial blood and fluid loss would have been considerable. After the initial loss, slow loss would have occurred in a way not dissimilar to a burn. The area damaged would equate to about 15% of body surface area, and fluid loss from this would be between 1-2 litres over 8 hours, assuming Jesus’ weight to be 70kg (the weight of an average adult male).
His scalp was bleeding from the thorns. The scalp is very rich with blood vessels, and bleeding would have been considerable, further adding to fluid loss. It is very likely that blood losses of 250-500ml occurred in this way.
Then He carried a heavy cross (the cross beam to be precise) and walked some distance in this state. The ensuing exhaustion would have resulted in profound sweat loss, further compounding his fluid depletion. So, without considering crucifixion, Jesus lost over 2 litres, most of which was blood or plasma. This low volume (hypovolaemic) state is characterized by a fall in blood pressure, a racing heart beat (tachycardia), and an elevated respiratory rate (tachypnoeia).
A 70kg man would be expected to have 5 litres of circulating blood volume. Loss of up to 2 litres (30-40%) is defined as class III shock. Loss of more than 2 litres (over 40%) is class IV shock and is life threatening. The pulse becomes thready in character, the skin pale, and the level of consciousness depressed. Loss of 2½ litres (50%) results in loss of consciousness, and death follows soon after. So as Jesus was nailed to the cross, He was already severely physically compromised.
The means of crucifixion was such that the nails were almost certainly placed though the lowermost part of the forearm, not through the hands. The simple reason for this is that the body weight has to hang through these points, and the force involved is massive. Similarly the nails were probably placed through the ankle joints, rather than the feet. This would have given a solid anchor point, and also avoided the impossible situation of the feet being nailed to a flat vertical surface. The risk of penetration of the anterior tibial artery, running in this vicinity, would have been appreciable, resulting in further slow blood loss.
Returning to the massive force resulting from hanging a man by the arms, this can be calculated by a simple application of vectors. Calculation is inappropriate here, but readers proficient in physics can appreciate that hanging a 70kg man with arms outstretched at 85 degrees (i.e. just short of horizontal) results in a distracting force on each arm of almost half a metric ton. Within minutes the shoulders dislocate, with the elbows and wrists following. The effect on the torso would have been outward movement of the shoulder blades, to the extreme, with resulting outward stretching of the chest wall. Practically, this expands the chest cavity, and makes the act of breathing very difficult. Every expiration takes increasing effort, and can only be achieved by lifting the body on the impaled ankles. Consequently, Jesus would have been unable to maintain normal breathing patterns, and hence, control over carbon dioxide and oxygen levels. Specifically respiratory failure occurs initially, with normal carbon dioxide levels, but slowly falling oxygen levels (known as a type I respiratory failure). The physical effects on the lungs are that fluid collects at their bases, compounding fluid loss, and exacerbating the respiratory failure. After a while, therefore, the carbon dioxide level starts to rise (type II respiratory failure), and the blood becomes progressively more acidic (acidosis). This in itself damages cells, and compounds the impending lethal effects of progressing from class III into class IV shock. Jesus would almost certainly have lapsed into and out of consciousness at this stage. The situation of profound shock and respiratory failure was constantly compounded by Jesus’ vertical and static position. Death would have followed with inevitability, and appears to have taken six hours from the start of crucifixion.
John’s Gospel records that when the soldiers found that He was dead, one of them “pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water”, (John 19:34). This passage records that the legs of the still-alive robbers were broken to hasten death. They knew that this would slowly asphyxiate the victims, who had been relying on taking their weight regularly through their legs in order to exhale. This act of leg breaking was therefore, not only very painful, but a guaranteed way to watch slow death.
The robbers would have become blue and gasping while the laughing soldiers mocked. If the victim was thought to be dead, the Roman soldiers were trained in spearing the heart to ensure death. The spear wound would most likely have penetrated the upper abdominal wall, the diaphragm, and the lower thoracic cavity. This would have caused blood loss, and this would have continued if Jesus were still alive. The fact that it stopped suggests that the heart was speared, and its unclotted contents emptied, followed by fluid from the fairly sizeable collections at the lung bases. It is also possible that fluid poured from a ruptured stomach: enlargement of the stomach, and stagnation of its contents are features of injury. It is important to note that the separate observation of fluid would not have occurred if bleeding were ongoing (i.e. Jesus was alive). With such a spearing it is possible, though not certain, that a ruptured lung would have also occurred. The negative pressure surrounding the lungs inevitably means that one lung collapses. If inflicted on the left side, the spear may well have penetrated the stomach and then the heart. (History suggests it was the left side, though the Bible does not record this detail). So, even if the heart were not penetrated, this major wound would have seriously injured the diaphragm and left lung. This injury alone, untreated, might result in death in an otherwise uninjured adult. This is especially so as a penetrating chest wound almost always causes a particular form of burst lung, which allows pressures to build up internally and compress the healthy remaining lung, known as a tension pneumothorax. This also results in distortion of the major vessels, and is often a lethal injury.
Considering Jesus’ appalling catalogue of injury, and for any who doubt that Jesus was dead, the effect of this would have been a dramatic compounding of the respiratory failure, acidosis, and a severe drop of the circulating volume below life-sustaining levels.
For all these reasons, the legislative culture of that period had good reasons to rely on crucifixion as a means of slow lethal punishment, guaranteed in its effects.
HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST
The historians of the day provide ample evidence that Jesus was killed. The Jewish Talmud recorded that Jesus was hanged on the eve of Passover.
Thallus and Phlegon, first century historians, both documented the sun being darkened at the time of Jesus’ death. An eclipse of the sun was given as the reason, though this could not be so as it was the season of the Paschal full moon when Christ died.
The three hour period of darkness was noted world wide, and was recorded in Rome by contemporary historians.
Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian, born 52-54AD. He stated that Jesus had been put to death by Pontius Pilate.
Flavius Josephus, born in 37AD, was a Jewish Pharisee and wrote, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works ….. Pilate … condemned him to the cross … he appeared to them alive again on the third day.” (I have shortened this comment slightly so that it is easier to understand, without changing the meaning in any way)
These independent accounts of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.
FURTHER EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST
Besides the medical and non-Biblical historical evidence already covered, the Bible records that there were witnesses who saw Jesus alive. The New Testament records that “after his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God,” (Acts 1:3 NIV).
Paul wrote “and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born,” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
Contemporary records such as these would have been torn apart if they had not been true. These words could not have been written without the people who were spoken of identifying themselves and agreeing.
If He didn’t rise, then what happened?
Other alternatives to Resurrection have often been put forward. Some have suggested that the disciples somehow stole the body and lied about the resurrection. However, there was a Roman guard, which was an ample challenge to a small group of fishermen.
Most importantly, the authorities were obviously perplexed as to what had happened, and they themselves never seriously believed that the disciples stole the body. For example, no charges were ever brought, and no motive was ever established. On the contrary, from about this time onwards these disciples of Jesus became willing to die for their belief in the risen Christ.
Others have suggested that Jesus did not die, but merely revived after swooning on the cross. However, the evidence already presented indicates that this could not be the case, and Jesus’ injuries were lethal. Even if they were not, how would He have escaped from a guarded, sealed tomb in such a desperately injured state?
Still others have suggested hallucination and hysteria on the part of the disciples. The fact that 500 were involved as witnesses to the sightings, and a contemporary account stated this, makes this unlikely. In addition, the fact that no one ever changed their stories despite widespread martyrdom makes this virtually impossible. An emotionally based belief, while sincerely held, would invariably lead to very inconsistent testimonies. The only remaining possibility is a miracle!
SPECIFIC DETAILS SURROUNDING THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION WERE FORETOLD
Actually most of Jesus’ life was foretold, and space prevents a detailed appraisal of relevant prophecies. Just taking those prophecies relevant to the Crucifixion and Resurrection there are 13, mostly given 700-1000 years before Christ’s birth. Their accuracy is astounding;
1 He Was rejected
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
John 1:10-11 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him
2 He was betrayed by a friend
Psalm 41:9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Mark 14:10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.
3 He was sold for 30 pieces of silver
Zechariah 11:12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
Matthew 26:15 “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins.
4 He was dumb before his accusers
Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
Matthew 27:12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.
5 His hands and feet were nailed
Psalm 22:16 “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet”
John 19:18 Then were crucified Him and with Him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
6 His bones were not broken, but His joints were dislocated
Psalm 34:20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Psalm 22:14 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.”
John 19:33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
7 He was dehydrated and thirsty
Psalm 22:15 “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.”
John 19:28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
8 They cast lots for His clothing
Psalm 22:18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
John 19:23-24 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.Let’s not tear it, they said to one another. Let’s decide by lot who will get it.
9 He was mocked
Psalm 22:7&8 “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
Matthew 27:39-40Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
10 His words before death
Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Matthew 27:46 NIV About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
11 There was darkness over the land
Amos 8:9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the Earth in broad daylight”.
Matthew 27:45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
12 He was buried in a rich man’s tomb
Isaiah 53:9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Matthew 27:57-60 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.
13 He would rise from the dead
Psalm 16:10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
Acts 3:15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.
THE RISEN CHRIST CAN BE KNOWN, AND HE CAN CHANGE US.
Jesus promised that it was important for him to die, rise and go “to sit at the right hand of the Father” because if He did the Holy Spirit would come. Indeed, about six weeks after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon those who had believed. This was Pentecost, and its significance was far reaching.
Until that time, men and women had no realistic way to be changed. Although they could choose to obey God’s instructions (His commandments and laws), this did not bring about any true change within.
Suddenly, however, at Pentecost we could have the very Spirit of the living God within us. This brought the creative force that lies behind the entire universe into our hearts. Immediately at this point one might reasonably exclaim, “Why are not all Christians transformed characters, therefore?”
The fact is that this Spirit of God does take up residence within believers, but He is the Holy Spirit, and functions exclusively in the context of our obedience to His promptings. This point is easily lost sight of, and not as popularly taught as other aspects of the Spirit’s work. Furthermore, His promptings often are costly to obey.
So most believers find themselves in the school of obedience to the “Resident Boss” (as Watchman Nee so aptly referred to the Holy Spirit). Our progress is sometimes painfully slow as we struggle with our wills. But the Spirit faithfully uses every opportunity to train us. Being one with the Father and Jesus the Son, He constantly offers us a closer walk with the Master, Jesus. And it is this walk, which is so real, so sweet, and so changing.
As a doctor I come across people who long to be different. One evening I was on duty and a 19 year old girl, who had overdosed on a common pain killer, started to tell me about her life. Her boyfriend (and father to her 3 year old son) had introduced her to heroin, and regularly stole to get money for his own habit and hers. She felt trapped, and longed to rise above her captivity, but could not. She longed to be different, but the reality of life was already deeply ingrained in her, and she could not believe she could be any different.
Indeed true change is rare, a fact which frustrates those who seek to help some of the seriously dysfunctional people within society. This is why true accounts of how people’s lives have changed are so powerful.
HOW MEDICINE AND FAITH IN CHRIST ARE MUTUALLY SUPPORTIVE.
Jesus spent years with fishermen, but never did He minimize the skill of fishing. But on the occasion when He said, “cast your nets” great things happened! When He walked on water He wasn’t trying to disprove any physical law! It is simply that the created world does not limit the Creator.
Rather, He created it to function according to predefined norms, which we, as scientists, uncover. Initially it was so good. Before evil existed, all of creation was for benefit and blessing. But evil came and distorted love so that hate emerged. Evil turned benefit to damage, blessing to cursing. Energy was always intended for good, not for destructive bombs. Biological multiplication was always for growth and health, not bizarre viral infestation. Originally these norms were simply the physical definitions the Creator had placed his work into.
But at any time God can step outside of these boundaries. And when He does, we see the most amazing of events. So we hear of laboratory confirmation of HIV positive patients with full-blown AIDS becoming symptom free and HIV negative after simple prayer. We have authenticated accounts of terminally ill patients being cured, and patients with advanced pulmonary tuberculosis having no trace of their disease.
Such accounts cause some to say they are fake, or even the work of the enemy! But why should God not have the freedom to step outside of established order if He chooses to? Jesus is the light of life, and all life flows from Him. He could not be contained in death, and He cannot be contained in the expectations we might have.
LET ME SUMMARISE
I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because historical records that He lived convince me. The medical evidence that He died convinces me. All the details surrounding these events were accurately predicted, and I find these convincing. The tomb was empty and I can find no tangible alternative to His resurrection.
The most convincing issue to me is that, being alive today, He changes people’s lives. He heals people’s bodies and minds. He is able to shine His light into our hearts and utterly transform us. And He is the Light we will all see in due course.
Dr John Sloan
© NewHope Ministries Trust.
For further information, the following subjects are available on this web site:
THE CRUCIFIXION: THE MEDICAL AND PROPHETIC ASPECTS
THE SHROUD OF TURIN PROVES THE RESURRECTION
THE BIBLE IS SUPERNATURAL
Dr Richard Kent also provides FREE LECTURES on these subjects.