Thursday, April 18, 2019


Jesus’ death after only three to six hours on the cross surprised even Pontius Pilate.  The fact that Jesus cried out in a loud voice and then bowed his head and died suggests the possibility of a catastrophic terminal event. What exactly was the final blow? 

Eugene Delacroix, "Christ on the Cross," c 1853-56, pastel

Jesus’ death may have been hastened simply by his state of exhaustion and by the severity of the scourging, with its resultant blood loss and pre-shock state.

He even needed help carrying His cross, yet there is never any evidence in the Gospels to even hint that He was less than a normal man of good health.

One must remember why He was on that cross -  the weight of the sins throughout human history- which continues to this day, most probably was more then His Body could take.

While death on the cross may have been caused by any number of factors, and likely would have varied with each individual case, the two seemingly most prominent causes of death probably were hypovolemic shock -
a condition in which severe blood or fluid loss makes the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body,  
and exhaustion asphyxia.  The ability of Jesus to cry out with a loud voice indicates that asphyxia was probably not the major causative factor.

The finality of death upon the cross often was accomplished by the breaking of the legs of the victims, which caused still more traumatic shock and prevented an individual from pushing up in order to fully respire. In an effort to get the bodies off the crosses before the Sabbath day, the soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with Him: but when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already.  When the soldier pierced His side “there came out blood and water” (John 19:32-34).

The traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death.

Much speculation has centered on the exact location of the puncture wound and thus the source of the resulting blood and water. However, the Greek word (pleura) that John used clearly denotes the area of the intercoastal ribs that cover the lungs. Given the upward angle of the spear, and the thoracic location of the wound, abdominal organs can be ruled out as having provided the blood and water.

A more likely scenario would suggest that the piercing affected a lung (along with any built-up fluid), the pericardial sac surrounding the heart, the right atrium of the heart itself, the pulmonary vessels, and/or the aorta. Since John did not describe the specific side of the body on which the wound was inflicted, we can only speculate about which structures might have been impaled by such a vicious act. However, the blood could have resulted from the heart, the aorta, or any of the pulmonary vessels. Water probably was provided by pleural or pericardial fluids which surround the lungs and heart.

St. John Paul:  From the very beginning the Church has contemplated the pierced heart of the crucified Christ from which came blood and water, the symbols of the sacraments which constitute the Church; and, in the heart of the Word incarnate, the Fathers of the Christian East and West saw the beginning of the whole work of our salvation, the fruit of the love of the divine Redeemer, whose pierced heart is a particularly expressive symbol.

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