Christianity lives or dies on a singular premise – that the person Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Anything else that may be said about Jesus or Christianity hinges on this one thing being true. If it is false, Jesus was just a Jewish rabbi, with many thought-provoking teachings along with many false teachings. If it is false, the New Testament is rubbish, and the Old Testament, with its prophecies of a messiah left unfulfilled, becomes worthless. And those who put their hope in this idea are, according to Paul, to be most pitied of all people.
There are those who insist that it cannot be true, the Jesus could not have been resurrected. It is, after all, an idea that is antagonistic to the modern scientific mind. There is no way Jesus could have been resurrected. It defies reason. And alternative, more reasonable explanations have been offered up in its stead.
One of those potential explanations is known as the Swoon Theory. It attempts to explain the resurrection by asserting that Jesus was not resurrected because Jesus never actually died. Instead, Jesus passed out (swooned) on the cross, and when placed in the cool cave of a tomb, came to and left the tomb, and as He rejoined His disciples, He let them think that He had been resurrected.
There are several problems with this theory. The first problem is the expertise of the Roman soldiers at performing executions. They knew how to kill someone, and how to make sure they were dead. Of the three crucifixions that day on Golgotha, two of the men had their legs broken, because they were not yet dead and breaking their legs would hasten that outcome. But that wasn’t done to Jesus, not out of some act of mercy, but because it simply was not necessary. They knew He was dead. The second problem is the piercing of Jesus with a spear. This was done as a verification that He was dead. Death by crucifixion resulted in a buildup of fluid around the heart. When the soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, it wasn’t just blood that came out, it was also water – that fluid that had built up as Jesus died. So the soldiers had no doubt they removed a very dead Jesus from that cross. The third problem is the physical activity Jesus took part in after supposedly swooning. The scourging Jesus had endured had resulted in much blood loss for Jesus. Between that and the crucifixion, there is simply no possible way that Jesus could have awoken in the tomb and then removed that large stone covering the entrance. Or gone on the long walk with the two disciples who did not recognize Him.
There is another potential explanation called the Substitution Theory. This theory says claims that someone other than Jesus was put to death on Jesus’ cross. There are two flavors to this theory – that someone accidentally ended up being crucified in Jesus’ place, or that there was an actual conspiracy to prevent Jesus from being crucified. The biggest refutation to this is that while most of Jesus’ disciples who would have been able to identify Him did scatter, at least John and several women included His mother were present for the crucifixion. They would know Him, especially when Jesus asked John to take care of His mother going forward.
If Jesus was actually on the cross and not some sort of substitute for Him, and if He couldn’t have just passed out and revived once in the tomb, then we can say that Jesus did actually die on the cross on what we commemorate as Good Friday. His death was predicted by Scripture written hundreds of years prior to the event. His death could have been avoided, but was something Jesus walked into willingly. His death fulfilled completely the model given in the Old Testament of the sin sacrifice – our sin is treason against God which deserves death, and Jesus’ death pays that penalty for us.