In common vernacular when we say someone was “shocked” or “in shock”, we usually mean they were intensely surprised, or flabbergast. We might think of electrical shock. However, shock in medical terms refers to a condition of decreased blood volume and its associated consequences and complications. Traumatic shock is shock that occurs from blood loss to bodily injury (trauma).
The consequences of blood volume loss can directly lead to rapid, perhaps immediate, death. If less profound initially, shock can be progressive and set off a cascade of physiologic events that ultimately result in death. With blood volume depletion, circulation to organs and parts of the body can be critically decreased. This can cause the organ tissue to experience biochemical cellular injury and result in a generalized systemic (entire body) inflammation. The blood vessels may also constrict, further worsening this problem by decreasing blood flow. The heart may beat rapidly, particularly in a young healthy person, but may not have enough blood to pump in order to meet the body’s demands for blood supply. If shock progresses without rapid medical correction, the biochemical effects may be severe enough that death is inevitable even in the face of appropriate medical efforts later on. Progressive shock can lead to rapid death.
The biblical account of Jesus’ execution provides clues that he may have been progressing in shock. He would have been deprived any fluids from his arrest on, most likely. He was beaten several times, and scourged (Matt 27:27-31, John 19:1). This would have caused blood loss, as well as extensive musculoskeletal and possible organ tissue damage. Hematidrosis, “sweating blood”, indicates the intense stress and anxiety he experienced, and it is likely he would have been sweating profusely as the night progressed contributing to dehydration (Luke 22:44). By the time Jesus’ was compelled to carry the patibulum, the short section of the cross (70-80 lbs), a short distance of about 500 meters to the execution site, he was not able to do so. A bystander was enlisted by soldiers to carry it for him (Matt 27:32). Jesus’ cried out in thirst on the cross (John 19:28), indicating dehydration and perhaps early shock.
Finally, Jesus’ death occurred in about 6 hours, much shorter than the several days of crucifixion many victims experienced. The rapid demise of Jesus suggests a progressive underlying physiologic derangement, not directly obvious to observers and not typical of crucified victims. Pilate was surprised Jesus’ died so quickly, when release of his body was requested for burial (Mark 15:44-45). Shock was most likely a major factor, if not the primary mechanism, leading to Jesus’ death.