Summary: What happened to Jesus after His body was placed in the Tomb?

Easter Series Pt 2

“The Truth about the Tomb”

John 19:31-42

John 19:33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:

First: Did Jesus die? Was he really dead?

I. The Body of Jesus

A. The recognition of His death v. 33

How did the soldiers determine that Jesus was dead? Remember that these men more than likely had quite a bit of experience with this type of execution and death was no stranger to them. They would have noticed that Jesus was no longer breathing, that his body had relaxed completely, particularly the dropping of his jaw, the fixed glazed appearance of his eyes and maybe even the lack of a pulse or heartbeat.

Heart stops beating and/or lungs stop breathing. Body cells no longer receive supplies of blood and oxygen. Blood drains from capillaries in the upper surfaces and collects in the blood vessels in the lower surfaces. Upper surfaces of the body become pale and the lower surfaces become dark. Cells cease aerobic respiration, and are unable to generate the energy molecules needed to maintain normal muscle biochemistry. Calcium ions leak into muscle cells preventing muscle relaxation. Muscles stiffen and remain stiff (rigor mortis) until they begin to decompose.

Rigor mortis refers to the state of a body after death, in which the muscles become stiff. It commences after around 3 hours, reaching maximum stiffness after 12 hours, and gradually dissipates until approximately 72 hours after death. Rigor mortis occurs due to changes in the physiology of muscles when aerobic respiration ceases.

Muscles are made up of two types of fibre. These fibres have connections between them that lock and unlock during muscle contraction and relaxation. These connections are controlled by a biochemical pathway within the cell, which is partially driven by the presence of calcium ions. The concentration of calcium ions is higher in the fluid surrounding muscle cells than it is inside the cells, so calcium tends to diffuse into the cell. High calcium levels inside the cell drive the biochemical pathway in the direction that maintains muscle contraction. To relax, muscle cells must expel the calcium ions from the cell and this requires energy molecules to pump them across the cell membrane.

After a body has died, the chemical reaction producing these energy molecules is unable to proceed because of a lack of oxygen. The cells no longer have the energy to pump calcium out of the cell and so the calcium concentration rises, forcing the muscles to remain in a contracted state. This state of muscle stiffening is known as rigor mortis and it remains until the muscle proteins start to decompose. Cells eventually die and the body loses its capacity to fight off bacteria. The cells’ own enzymes and bacterial activity cause the body to decompose - muscles lose their stiffness. Brain cells can die if deprived of oxygen for more than three minutes. Muscle cells live on for several hours. Bone and skin cells can stay alive for several days. It takes around 12 hours for a human body to be cool to the touch and 24 hours to cool to the core. Rigor mortis commences after three hours and lasts until 36 hours after death. Forensic scientists use clues such as these for estimating the time of death.

B. The response to His death v. 34

Since the death of Jesus had already been confirmed by the soldiers who were in attendance there is a question as to why one soldier took it upon himself to inflict a puncture wound to the already dead body of Jesus? Scripture tells us that He would be pierced, but why his side and what is the significance of the “…blood and water…”

There is evidence from Scripture that Jesus experienced hypovolemic shock as a result of being flogged. As Jesus carried His own cross to Golgotha (John 19:17), He collapsed, and a man named Simon was forced to either carry the cross or help Jesus carry the cross the rest of way to the hill (Matthew 27:32–33; Mark 15:21–22; Luke 23:26). This collapse indicates Jesus had low blood pressure. Another indicator that Jesus suffered from hypovolemic shock was that He declared He was thirsty as He hung on the cross (John 19:28), indicating His body’s desire to replenish fluids.

Prior to death, the sustained rapid heartbeat caused by hypovolemic shock also causes fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and around the lungs. This gathering of fluid in the membrane around the heart is called pericardial effusion, and the fluid gathering around the lungs is called pleural effusion. This explains why, after Jesus died and a Roman soldier thrust a spear through Jesus’ side (probably His right side, piercing both the lungs and the heart), blood and water came from His side just as John recorded in his Gospel (John 19:34).

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