WHY JESUS DID NOT DIE ON THE CROSS
“The standard explanations for the crucifixion of Jesus
created a deep mystery of motive and consequence,
raising many questions about what truly is
God’s plan for our salvation.”
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) is undeniably one of the most emotionally charged and controversial events in all of religious history. It is also one of the most powerful and political, in that it laid the foundation for Christianity’s main principle of mankind’s spiritual salvation – that Jesus Christ was destined by God to die on the cross for our sins. But is this really God’s or even Jesus’ idea? The facts about what happened to Jesus 2000 years ago have been shrouded in mystery for as long as Christianity has existed as a major world religion. The commonly held views of the events of the crucifixion and the life and purpose of Jesus are well known to virtually every Christian and most others who have come in contact with Western Christian nations. But is this view, in fact, the truth? Or is there another explanation that must be considered for all true believers in Christ to fully understand Jesus, his status and his mission.
It is this alternate explanation of the reasons for, and results of, the crucifixion that I wish to bring to light before you now. It is the universal belief of all Muslims that Jesus did not die on the cross, because this would prove him to be a false prophet and a false messiah for the Jewish people, which Muslims do not accept. Islam teaches that Jesus was a true and beloved prophet of God, just like the Old Testament prophets before him, and that he was the Messiah foretold for the Jewish people in their scriptures. On this point, Muslims are closer to Christians in this regard than Jews.
Most Muslims, however, believe as Christians do: that Jesus was taken up physically alive into heaven and that he will return to Earth again in the same body before the End of the World -- although Jesus’ mission when he returns will not be to bring Christianity to the Muslims, but to bring Islam to the Christians and the rest of the world.
I belong to a Muslim Community known as Ahmadiyyat, founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889. We believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi foretold in Islamic scripture and traditions. As Ahmadi Muslims, we believe differently about a few key points relating to Jesus and the crucifixion.
From revelations to the Promised Messiah and through research done by him and his companions in the l890s, we have conclusive evidence that Jesus did not die on the cross -- for the same reasons stated earlier – but unlike the rest of the Muslim world, we believe that Jesus was actually put on the cross, only he did not die as a result of this crucifixion. He survived so that he could complete his stated mission to “gather and preach to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel” and to fulfill the Sign of Jonah he gave to the Jews prior to his crucifixion -- as Jonah was “three days and three nights alive in the belly of the whale,” Jesus, too, would be “three days and three nights alive in the belly of the earth.” As Jonah survived his ordeal and went on to successfully preach to his people, so too does Jesus say he will survive a similar trial and go on to preach to his people, the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.
He survived the crucifixion with the Divine help of Almighty God and the help of his trusted friends. One of these, Nicodemus, was a physician who treated his wounds with 100 pounds of medicinal plants and spices: the famed mixture of aloes and myrrh mentioned in the New Testament.
Another close friend was Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and powerful Jew in whose open-air sepulcher Jesus was taken for treatment and recuperation after the crucifixion. When Mary Magdalene first sees Jesus outside the tomb, she moves to embrace him but he stops her and says, “Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended.” That is, he is still suffering from his recent wounds but has not died from them. He even tells “Doubting Thomas,” who thinks he’s a ghost (as do all the other disciples), to stick his fingers into Jesus’ fresh wounds so he may know Jesus is not dead nor a ghost, but very much alive.
It is our belief that Jesus survived the crucifixion because he was notand could never be “accursed of God,” and so he could go on to fulfill his stated mission to preach to his people. We believe that he traveled extensively throughout the Near East where the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel were known to be: in Syria, Iraq, Iran, India, Afghanistan and Kashmir. We believe Jesus eventually died at the age of 120 and is buried in Kashmir, in the city of Srinagar.
An Ahmadi Imam I know has personally visited the sacred tomb of Jesus, and has been inside it to clean it and to pay his respects. Many may be astonished to hear that Jesus’ mother, Mary, is believed to be buried in Pakistan, in the town named after her: Muree. Some Christians may have heard that the disciple Thomas is buried in Madras, Southern India. He is. Why was he there? The tombs of Jesus, Mary and Thomas are all pieces in a religious puzzle that few Westerners have ever heard of, but to millions of Muslims and Hindus in the Near East, these places are common knowledge.
The standard explanations for the crucifixion of Jesus created a deep mystery of motive and consequence, raising many questions about what truly is God’s plan for our salvation. What were the motivations of the various groups involved in the crucifixion? What were the consequences of their involvement? The past 2000 years of world history have been filled with the reverberations from the events of that terrible day. And most important of all: Did Jesus truly claim to be God incarnate Who came to be put to death for our sins? Or did these ideas come from other religions and other, later followers of Jesus such as Mark, Luke, Paul and the 4th century Roman Emperor Constantine? None of these men ever met Jesus or witnessed his crucifixion and its aftermath.
We can learn a lot about the answers to these questions by examining closely the actions and words of the various people involved in, or who are said to have witnessed, the crucifixion of Christ.
At the time of the crucifixion, while most people were just curious bystanders, some of the people were certainly the devoted followers and relatives of Jesus, such as his mother Mary and the disciples. No one could argue that this second group was not in deep anguish and sorrow over what was being done to Jesus. If Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ” can move entire audiences of devout Christians to tears 2000 years after the crucifixion, how much more powerful was the experience to those who knew and loved Jesus during his lifetime?
And surely, the reason for these tears today and 2000 years ago was the same: those who loved Jesus did not want to see him tortured so cruelly and be put to death in such an evil and idolatrous manner. And especially if you were a devout Jew, the spiritual significance of being put to death by crucifixion was even more painful, because this pain came from the fact that in the Old Testament, Book of Deuteronomy (21:23), to be put to death on a cross -- “hanged on a tree” -- was to be proven a false prophet or messiah; to be accursed of God and to turn away from God and have Him turn away from you because you have chosen to reject God and follow instead in the footsteps of Satan. God forbid! How could anyone think Jesus fits this description? No one. But that is what “accursed of God” means, and this is why it hurt the followers of Jesus so deeply at the time, and why it hurts me so deeply today as a Muslim -- where love and respect for Jesus and all other prophets is a requirement of my faith -- to have Jesus called “Satan” by those who say he was “accursed of God.” I cannot believe this!
It was no accident that the Jews needed Jesus to be crucified on a cross -- the sacrificial altar to the Roman sun god. The death of Jesus on the cross would prove he was a false prophet and not the Messiah the Jews were expecting to restore to them the Kingdom of David and their holy lands. Was Jesus a false Messiah? According to Jewish expectations of the time, he was not what they were looking for. He came to bring them back to the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of David.
The other group of people at the crucifixion was composed of citizens who disbelieved in Jesus and the Roman soldiers whose job it was to whip and then crucify him. This group was involved in all kinds of abuse against him, making fun of him, spitting on him, calling him a liar, a fabricator, an imposter, and telling him to “save himself and come down off the cross if he was the Messiah” as he claimed. Could these people have been right in their accusations? Why did they all assert that the proof of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah would be for him to come down off the cross and survive the crucifixion and not, as Christianity holds, to die as a sinless sacrifice because of it?
How could this central belief of Christians in the death of Jesus on the cross for their sins be such a foreign idea to the Jews of Jesus’ time? Should he not have made this idea crystal clear to his followers and disciples? Jesus should have stated clearly and repeatedly to all his followers, enemies and accusers at every opportunity that his only purpose in life was to be put on the cross to die for the sins of mankind.
When Pilate tells the Jews at the trial of Jesus that he plans to release him, Jesus should have told him, “No, you must crucify me so I can pay for the sins of the world. This is why I have come.” But he does not say this – in fact, Jesus never says anything remotely like this at those times when he should have spoken up the loudest to proclaim his mission: in the court before Pilate and Herod and the Jewish leaders, and while he is on the cross afterwards. And in the end, the charge against Jesus for which he was crucified was not that he was the Son of God, literally or otherwise, but that he was conspiring to make himself King of the Jews and start a rebellion against the Roman Empire.
And the one statement Jesus makes while on the cross that seems to contradict everything we are told about his purpose is: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Why was Jesus asking God to forgive them for crucifying him if that was God’s plan and if that’s what Jesus knew and wanted as well? And did God forgive them? Was God happy about the crucifixion or was He angry? Some say the weather was a Sign of God’s displeasure. What happened?
All of a sudden, they were engulfed in a severe windstorm and sudden darkness caused by an eclipse of sun, accompanied by an intense earthquake. They became very frightened, and most of them ran away from the scene. It can be reasoned that many of those who fled, including many of Jesus’ closest disciples, were all religious-minded Jews who considered the upheaval in the heavens and the earth to be signs of the displeasure of God at the events being undertaken against Jesus.
In regards to the recording of the events of the crucifixion, there are no verifiable first-hand accounts from reliable sources or witnesses to explain what happened to Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. Virtually all reputable scholars say that the “John” listed as being present could not have been the same John who later wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation and who is reported to have died in 120 AD – 87 years after the crucifixion! Nor in the Bible is there a “Gospel of Nicodemus,” the physician who was an eyewitness to the crucifixion. In fact, a careful study of the New Testament reveals there was much uncertainty about the events of the crucifixion. The Holy Quran in 4:159 states with regard to whether or not the Jews succeeded in killing Jesus by crucifixion: “They were all in a state of doubt about it -- they had no certain knowledge thereof, but only pursued a conjecture. None of them were sure (as to what really happened to Jesus) but they could only guess.”
The Jews knew very well that a strong, healthy person of 33 years, hanging on a cross for 3 to 4 hours, could not die – even Pilate knew this because he “marveled” at the news that Jesus had died so soon. Pilate knew that it took days, not hours, to die from crucifixion. In fact, the other two thieves crucified alongside Jesus were still alive until their legs were broken. Jesus’ legs were not broken.
The Jews also knew that Pilate favored saving Jesus’ life when he went so far as to pronounce him “not guilty” before the court. More than once Pilate tells the Jews that Jesus should be released. In a last-ditch effort to save him, Pilate proclaims that he will flog Jesus and then release him – beaten but not dead -- in the hope that this degrading punishment would satisfy his Jewish enemies. Pilate in no way expected Jesus to die from this whipping as evidenced by his words “and then release him.” Despite what is depicted in the movie “The Passion of the Christ” as a merciless, brutal and prolonged beating of Jesus nearly to death, Christian historians generally state that Jesus was lashed only 39 times. This would be in accordance with a “chastisement” as punishment and not a whipping meant to kill someone.
Another event depicted in the film “The Passion of the Christ” that seems to spell the death blow for Jesus is when the Roman soldier pierces his side while on the cross. In the movie, the soldier is shown thrusting his spear savagely up into the body of Jesus. Christians often say that if Jesus had still been alive on the cross, this deep spear thrust into his side and presumably up into his heart certainly would have finished him off. But is this what actually happened? There was no autopsy performed on Jesus to determine how he died or if he was even dead. And if we examine the piercing event with basic common sense and with an understanding of the Greek word for “pierce” a completely different picture emerges.
Jesus was presumed to be dead when the Roman soldiers came to dispatch the two crucified thieves who were still clearly alive. The soldiers broke their legs, thus killing them, but they did not break the legs of Jesus, so he could not have died from clubbing. So it is stated that a soldier takes his spear and pierces Jesus in the side, and blood and water are reported to issue forth.
The obvious question is, why did the soldier pierce Jesus’ side? To “finish him off” as some claim, or to do what would be a natural test for responsiveness to pain – jab someone with a sharp object to see if they react, thus indicating they are still alive so you can “finish them off” by breaking their legs. But when Jesus did not react, the soldiers did not proceed with the next phase of leg-breaking, believing that he was already dead. The actual meaning of the Greek word for “pierce” means “to prick or scratch, to jab or poke.” Not the forceful, full-powered vicious thrust as depicted in “The Passion of the Christ.”
When trauma victims enter the ER at a hospital, they often appear dead, with no visible signs of life. One of the first things doctors do is poke them with something sharp or pull back on their fingernails or toenails to see if they react from the pain. Another thing they regularly do in trauma treatment is they put a hole in the injured person’s chest to relieve any pressure caused by edema – the internal swelling of body organs and tissues -- that may be suppressing vital signs and keeping the heart and lungs from functioning well. When they do this, the heart often starts beating with renewed vigor and strength, and the lungs are able to inflate easier as well. Also, blood and other fluids like water that have collected in the outer tissues often come gushing out as the pressure is equalized. So in all probability, the piercing of Jesus’ side saved his life, thus relieving the pressure on his heart and lungs. And everyone knows blood doesn’t flow out of a body unless there is a beating heart to produce blood pressure.
Also, after the crucifixion, the body of Jesus was given to his disciples. This was not the common practice; usually the enemies took the body so they could desecrate it. But it was Jesus’ friends who took his body down from the cross -- one of whom, Nicodemus, was purported to be a medical doctor who treated him with 100 pounds of aloes and myrrh. The Jews have never anointed the bodies of their dead with perfumes or spices, but the ancient Greeks and Romans did.
All of this -- taken together with Jesus’ own prediction that he would be back after three days and nights, fulfilling the sign of Jonah, who went into the belly of the whale alive, stayed there alive for three days and nights, and then came out alive -- leads inescapably to the conclusion that Jesus Christ never meant to die on the cross for anyone’s sins, nor did he in fact die, but was saved by the Hand of God to disprove the charges by the Jews that he was a false prophet and a false messiah. God’s destiny sometimes works just like this – what seems like a defeat is actually a divine means of success and escape from one’s enemies.