Copyright © 1998 by Larry G. Overton
(My youngest daughter Jessica was 20 years old when this Fact Sheet was written. At the time, she was studying emergency medicine. She went on to drive an ambulance in this city, and later became a midwife and worked with her mother in her practice. She is now a wife and mother, and planning to resume her midwifery practice. I have chosen not to edit the article; I’ve left it as it was written 17 years ago.)
My youngest daughter Jessica recently received an e-mail from a paramedic. Jessica is studying to be an EMT and paramedic herself, and her on-line profile reflects that interest, as well as the fact that she is a Christian. It seems this paramedic was having difficulty reconciling all of the death he witnesses in his profession and the concept of a merciful, loving God. In his second e-mail to Jessica, he spoke of doubts concerning the resurrection of Christ. Here is a part of what he said.
“I have read the story of Jesus. I do sometimes think I believe. But my medical training often puts in doubts. For they hung him on the tree. then took him down and he arose again. Could he have been in a coma? I want to say no. but it is possible.”
This man’s questions come down to a matter of trust. That’s as it should be, for Christianity is ultimately a matter of faith. However, the faith the Lord requires does not insist that we ignore the facts. If the Christian message is true, then it will stand up to factual scrutiny.
This contention that Jesus snapped out of a coma in the tomb is a very old theory. Let’s look at the historic accounts of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and then compare this coma theory with the evidence. If Jesus was in a coma in the first place, then let’s look at what put Him in that coma, and whether the evidence supports the theory of His reviving and surviving under such conditions.
The Evidence Jesus had spent the night without sleep (Matthew 26:57, 74; 27:1; Mark 14:72; John 18:3, 28). He was then beaten (Matthew 26:67; 27:29-30; Mark 14:65; 15:16-20; Luke 22:63-64; John 18:22; 19:2-3), scourged or flogged with a flagrum, a whip with a sturdy handle and tongues of leather studded with bits of bone and/or metal (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1).
After all this, but before His actual crucifixion, the soldiers led Jesus away, forcing Him to carry the patibulum or crossbar of His cross. En route they compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry it for Jesus (John 19:17; Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). Evidently, He was already too weak from excessive blood loss due to several beatings, the crown of thorns and a scourging to carry His own cross beam the entire distance to Golgotha.
The Roman soldiers then crucified Jesus, nailing both His hands (wrists) and feet to that cross (Psalm 22:16; Matthew 27:33-35; Mark 15:22-24; Luke 23:33; John 19:18; 20:25, 27). He hung on that cross for six hours (Mark 15:25, 33-37). After He cried out and breathed His last (Matthew 27:46, 50; Mark 15:34, 37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:30), one of the Roman soldiers charged with executing Him stabbed Him with a spear. The spear entered through the rib cage, pierced the lung, the pericardium (the sac enclosing the heart), and the heart itself, releasing blood and pericardial fluid, the “blood and water” referred to by John (John 19:31-37).
He was then buried, which involved wrapping the body with strips of cloth, which had a sticky mixture of myrrh and aloes poured into the folds, creating a cocoon-like encasement for His body. He was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, which was a tomb carved out of rock and sealed by a massive stone. (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42) This tomb was then sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:62-66).
The coma theory maintains that Jesus swooned or fell into a coma on the cross, that He was mistaken for dead, taken down and buried, and subsequently “came to” in the tomb. In that setting, he not only revived, but thrived sufficiently to find the strength to extricate Himself from the strips of cloth He was buried in. He then would have had to single-handedly move the stone and contend with the Roman guards posted just outside the tomb.
The Gospel evidence mentioned above does not support such a conclusion. To begin with, Roman soldiers crucified Jesus (John 19:16; et. al.), and they were accomplished executioners. They knew how to execute a person, and they knew when a man was dead. They were also well motivated. If they failed to carry out the execution, they could be executed themselves. Also, as previously noted, when the soldiers determined that Jesus had already died, they made certain by piercing his side with a spear. The centurion later gave an accounting to Pilate, affirming that Jesus was indeed dead (Mark 15:43-45).
The burial of Jesus also testifies to His death. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus both gave Jesus a Jewish burial, and Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus saw them lay His body in the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15: 42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42) They were not under the impression that Jesus had survived the cross, and there would be no mistake later as to where the tomb was.
As I have already said, the Gospel evidence mentioned above does not support the conclusion that Jesus merely swooned or passed into a coma from which He later revived. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, died upon the cross on Golgotha. When all of the facts of the historic Gospel accounts are taken into consideration, it requires a greater “leap of faith” to disbelieve than to simply believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.