Here’s some psychological, biblical and historical evidence to provide some support that Jesus died from the “broken heart syndrome” (technically a psychosomatic phenomena called “stress-induced cardiomyopathy“).
Older couples that have been married for many years suffer intense grief when their spouse suddenly dies. Some times the husband and wife are so close that when the one dies, the other will end up dying soon after because of pain of being separated from their loved one.
People have studied the psychosomatic effects of rejection and separation. Dr. James Lynch wrote a book called, The Broken Heart, in which he states:
“stress, pain, anxiety, fear and rage sometimes appear in indexes of textbooks on the heart but never love. In surprising number of cases of premature coronary heart disease and premature death, interpersonal unhappiness, the lack of love and human loneliness, seem to appear as root causes of the physical problems.
We have learned that human beings have varied and at times profound effects on the cardiac systems of other human beings. Loneliness and grief often overwhelm bereaved individuals and the toll taken on the heart can be clearly seen. As the mortality statistics indicate this is not myth or romantic fairy tale. All available evidence suggests that people do indeed die of broken hearts”
Dr. Arthur Brown has been acknowledged by over sixty medical journals and publications for his findings. His findings also suggest a major relationship between heart disease and emotional stress.
Dr. David Jenkins states in the New England Journal of Medicine, “that a broad array of recent studies point with ever increasing certainty to the position that certain psychological, social and behavioral conditions do put persons at a higher risk of clinically manifest coronary disease”.
Dr. George Ingle from Rochester University Medical School, did a careful study for six years that explored the backgrounds of 170 sudden heart attack deaths. His studies showed that a great majority of sudden death cases had a close personal lose precede their death.
Grief is proportional to intimacy.
The more you love somebody, the more you are hurt when that person dies or rejects you. Can you be so close to somebody that their rejection can literally break your heart?
The Biblical Evidence
Jesus had a great amount of rejection and grief. Let’s look first at what the Bible says about Jesus’ rejection.
“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hid their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem Him” Isaiah 53:3.
“Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone (the stone refers to Jesus) which the builders (teachers of Israel) rejected, this became the chief corner stone;” Matthew 21:42.
“But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’ And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him” Matthew 22:38-39.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” Matthew 23:37.
“But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” Luke 17:25.
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and world did not know Him. He came to His own and those who were his own did not receive Him” John 1:10-11.
“And you are unwilling to come to me that you might have life” John 5:40.
“’They hated Me without cause’” John 15:25b.
These are a few passages that talk about Jesus’ rejection. There are others that state or imply His rejection by the world that He “so loved.” Several of the parables are about how the multitudes rejected Jesus. The parable of the landowner (Matt. 21:33-42), and the parable of the wedding feast (Matt.22:2-10) both depict the rejection of Jesus.
The scripture makes it clear that our Lord and Savior was rejected by the majority of those He loved.
Since love suffers when it cannot give
and intimacy is proportional to grief
we would assume that Jesus must have had an overwhelming grief.
The Bible states clearly that Jesus did indeed have great amounts of grief.
In Matthew chapter 26 verses 37 through 38, Matthew writes,
“And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death (italics added); remain here and keep watch with Me.’”
The entire chapter of Isaiah 53 describes Jesus’ grief. Here are the excerpts: “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”; “surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows he carried”; “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief”; and “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied”.
The gospel of Luke (22:44) states, “And being in agony he was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.”
C. Truman Davis, M.D. writes in his book, The Crucifixion of Jesus,
“Though very rare, the phenomenon of Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat”.
Jesus bloody sweat is evidence of great grief.
The crucifixion was a horrible means of putting somebody to death. The criminal was nailed onto the cross in such a way that his legs would be bent at the knees. The bend in the knees placed all the criminals weight on his arms. This, of course, hurt the hands, but it did more than hurt the hands. The position that the cross placed the criminal in would cause muscle cramps throughout his body.
C. Truman Davis states (speaking of Jesus), “Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled” This disabled the criminal to let out his breath. In order to prevent suffocation, the criminal would have to push up with his legs to change position. After spasmodically pushing up with his legs, the criminal would take a quick breath of air before letting himself back down again.
The criminal would eventually die of asphyxiation, or suffocation. It was said that a strong man could hang on the cross, some say, up to ten days before their bodies were so tired that they could not continue the process to get breath. Jesus, who was most likely a healthy man (he was a carpenter) was on the cross for only six hours before He died (Mark 15:25, 33). Pilate, himself was astonished that Jesus died so quickly (Mark 15: 42-44).
The Roman soldiers were surprised Jesus died so quickly. The Jews did not want the bodies of the criminals to remain on the cross over the Sabbath, so they
“asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; (breaking the legs disabled the criminals to push up so that they could exhale the carbon dioxide; thus, the criminal would suffocate to death) but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs” John 19:31-33.
Jesus was in his early to middle thirties and was most likely a strong man since He was a carpenter and walked most everywhere He went. If Jesus did die the normal crucifixion death, why did He die so quickly? Couldn’t he have lived longer on the cross?
We read in John’s gospel (John 19:34) that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water.” C. Truman Davis writes concerning the medical significance of the blood and water, “We, therefore, have rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Our Lord died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure…” (8). Heart failure that began to develop in the garden when Jesus was sweating blood, continued to build when he was rejected by many of his disciples and came to utter fruition when his people nailed him to a cross.
Let me suggest that Jesus died from stress-induced cardiomyopathy as a result of the rejection and grief he experienced as he walked the world.
Final thoughts from theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff:
God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering, sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffer. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love. Suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. The tears of God are the meaning of history.