Today's verses are Mark 15:44,45: "Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph." Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus, after only six hours on the cross, was dead. Most crucified criminals took days, perhaps even weeks, to die. Jesus died more quickly because of the thirty-nine lashes he had endured, something the Romans nicknamed "intermediate death." Many prisoners condemned to crucifixion didn't even survive this scourging. By the time that Jesus was placed on the cross, his body had already endured overwhelming physical pain. That is why he died so quickly. Nevertheless, Pilate was surprised he had died so quickly.
Pilate checked with the centurion who observed it all. The centurion told Pilate Jesus was indeed dead. Therefore, he granted Jesus' corpse to Joseph. Pilate alone had jurisdiction for the body to be buried. Once he determined Jesus was indeed dead, he gave the body to Joseph. It was his one benevolent concession in his oversight of Jesus.
Why is all this important? Jesus must be dead. Over the last several decades, a theory hatched by spiritual skeptics about Jesus' death and resurrection gained some traction. It's called the "swoon theory." It goes like this: Jesus wasn't really dead on the cross. He was merely "swooning." He appeared dead but he really wasn't.
He was then taken from the cross by friends and placed in a damp tomb. After some hours of being in the tomb, his body was refreshed enough that he could walk out. He did so and went back to his disciples. He encouraged them to keep his message of love alive. They did so. This is what stimulated the formation of the church. This is the what stimulated a worldwide movement that we know to be Christianity today.
Of course, it would take more faith to believe the "swoon theory" than to believe the resurrection. Why place his beaten body in a tomb? Why not take it to a place where he could be properly cared for? How could a few hours in a damp tomb revive a person who had just experienced "intermediate death" from the Romans? How did he have the physical strength to roll away the two ton stone from in front of the tomb (see tomorrow's blog)? Why would the disciples, over the next decades, be willing to give their lives as martyrs for this scenario?
No, Jesus was dead. He was placed in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. There he laid for parts of three days until God the Father resurrected Jesus' body into his eternal glory, rolled back the two ton stone and then Jesus appeared to his disciples alive!
For God's great plan of salvation to occur, Jesus needed to be crucified, dead and buried. Jesus was dead. The centurion knew it. Pilate knew it. Joseph knew it.
Jesus had to die. Why? Because our sins died with him on the cross. It's an essential tenet of the Christian faith.
It cannot be denied. It cannot be explained away.
He was dead.