On Good Friday we remember the death of Christ and on Easter Sunday we remember his resurrection. But did Christ really die and come back to life three days later?
Over the centuries many people have sought to deny the death and resurrection of Christ. One theory is that Christ didn’t actually die on the cross. So when Jesus appeared to his disciples a few days after his crucifixion, it was because he had remained alive. This is usually called the ‘swoon theory’. The theory suggests that Jesus ‘swooned’ or ‘passed out’ on the cross and then was mistakenly buried. Once he was placed in the cool tomb, he revived and appeared to his disciples.
Yet this theory is absurd when you consider it. Firstly, even if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross, how does a person who has gone through immense physical suffering then wake up in a tomb, push back a heavy stone, and journey into the city to appear to his followers?
Secondly, when the disciples see Jesus after his crucifixion, they give no hint of seeing a man who had received a close shave with death. If a bloodied, injured man came into a room, you wouldn’t jump for joy. Someone would go for a doctor. Others would seek to do some sort of first aid. But the disciples don’t do that. In John’s gospel we read: ‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord’ (John 20:19-20). No one cries out, ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’ Instead the disciples cry out with joy.
Thirdly, the Roman soldiers were very good at killing people. There were harsh penalties if a soldier allowed a prisoner to escape. And that is what the ‘swoon theory’ suggests; that Jesus escaped the Romans. The gospels record the opposite. We read ‘The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water’ (John 19:32-34). The soldiers made sure Jesus was truly dead.
A medical examination of Christ’s death was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1986. It concluded: ‘[Jesus’] death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus’ death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier’s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.’
Those who deny Christ’s death because of the ‘swoon theory’ are grasping at straws. Maybe the reason such theories are still floating around is because people don’t want to acknowledge that someone came back from the dead. If they did, they know that their lives would need to be very different.