Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ body so that he might bury it (in today’s Mark reading). Pilate was surprised to learn that Jesus was already dead, within 6 hours. Death by crucifixion often lasted 2-3 days – unless the condemned man’s legs were broken so that he died quickly of asphyxiation. When the soldiers came to break Jesus’ legs, he was already dead.
So, why did Jesus die so quickly?
At first I thought it was because of the injuries Jesus sustained before the cross. He was beaten with fists in the home of the high priest (Mark 13: 65). Then the guards beat him (vs. 66). Finally, Pilate had Jesus beaten with whips (Mark 15: 15). Pilate knew that Jesus went to the cross after he had already sustained many injuries, but he still wondered why Jesus died so quickly.
Perhaps Jesus died quickly because the punishment due us was so terrible for Him to bear. Jesus was separated from God the Father, marked by his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15: 34).
Though the separation was brief, it bore the weight of millions upon millions of eternities of just retribution for all our sins. To Jesus, it felt like forever that he had to bear his Father’s wrath, that he had to be separated from the Father he had loved from all eternity. The wrath of God killed Jesus spiritually, leading to His quick physical death.
Perhaps Jesus died quickly because of His Father’s mercy. Instead of waiting three days before meting out our spiritual punishment on Jesus, the Father waited only six hours. Why add any more physical suffering to the horrific spiritual suffering?
Once the separation from His Father was complete, Jesus could say, “It is finished.” ( John 19:30).
And because Jesus had completed our atonement, there was no reason for any more suffering. Perhaps with joy, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23: 46).
Perhaps Jesus died quickly because it’s one more detail that might not have been included if this were a myth. Why point out that your sect’s leader died quickly? I mean a long, protracted death might make the leader a more impressive martyr.
That little detail, like many others included by the gospel writers, tells us that this is a true story. Jesus really did die and did so quickly – but only after bearing the eternal consequences of our sin so that we might live with Him for eternity.
And then He rose.
Today’s Readings: Numbers 35:1-36:13, Psalm 35:17-28, Proverbs 12:3, Mark 15:21-47. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts.