By Wayne Turgeon
Jesus Christ died a shameful death for all of our terrible sins. But how could this strong, physically fit human being have died before the miserable thieves who were crucified alongside Him?
“The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they brake not his legs” (John 19:31-33).
That high day in a.d. 31 was the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread. It officially began at sundown, Wednesday evening, about three hours after Christ’s death. Roman soldiers were dispatched to break the legs of Christ and His companions so they would suffocate and the bodies could be buried before sundown (Deuteronomy 21:23). But they found Christ already dead. This was surprising news even to Pilate (see Mark 15:42-45). So how was this possible?
Many have wrongly assumed that Christ was dead before His blood was shed. Some believe and teach that Christ died of a “broken heart” and that the fluids that had collected around His heart only dribbled out a little blood mixed with water after He was struck in the side.
We will see from the Bible, however, that it was the severe and sudden loss of blood that caused His death. If His life’s blood was not poured out before death to completely blot out our sins, you and I do not have a Savior!
If Christ died of a “broken heart” due to His own physical weakness and suffering, that means He would have had His own physical sins to die for—instead of dying for our sins! He could not have qualified as our Savior. But we know that in Christ there was no sin.
Christ Our Passover
Anciently, the Israelite slaves in Egypt could never have been delivered out of bondage if the original passover lamb had not been slain for sacrifice by having its blood shed.
Notice the original command in Exodus 12:4-6: “And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”
As the lamb was a type of Christ and had its own blood shed, so Christ also had to shed His own blood to pay for our sins—something animal sacrifices could never do. It required the life of the Creator, which is greater than the sum total of all our lives. “… For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). If not, we are without a Savior and, therefore, without hope.
According to Hebrews 9:22, without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins. God requires that we have a broken, humble spirit—but that doesn’t pay the penalty of our sins. What does pay the penalty is the Passover—Christ—who shed His blood. Leviticus 22:8 and Deuteronomy 14:21 tell us that we are not to consume any animal that dies of itself. If the passover lamb had died of itself, it could not have been eaten. Similarly, if Christ died of Himself, His blood was not shed for us. God’s plan demanded He be killed by the shedding of blood.
In John 19:33, we see that Christ was already dead by the time the soldiers came to Him, thus eliminating the need for them to break His legs in order to hasten His death. These men did not realize that they helped fulfill this prophecy: “He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken” (Psalm 34:20).