by C Michael PattonJune 27th, 2007 7 Comments
In a previous post I put this question forward: Would Christ have died had he not been killed? The question is brought about by our pondering upon Christ’s identification with humanity and humanity’s identification with sin and death. Since Christ did not sin, and death is a result of sin, then wouldn’t it be systematic to believe that Christ would have lived foreverÂ in his unresurrected body had He not been 1) killed or 2) relinquished His spirit from His body?
I believe the answer is slightly more complicated than it might first appear having implications that reveal our assumptions about our Christology (doctrine of Christ), Anthropology (doctrine of man), Harmartiology (doctrine of sin), Eschatology (doctrine of the end-times), and Teleology (doctrine of ultimate ends or purpose). Now that is quite a claim that needs to be defended. Let me state this another way so that there are not any misunderstandings. Your answer to this question, yah or nah, is not the issue and is of minimal importance, but the assumptions that often cause one to say yah or nah are very important, ultimately being a result of your entire systematic theology.
I believe that Christ would have died a natural death had He not been killed. In fact, I believe that Christ got sick, ate, drank, had headaches, used the bathroom, was sunburned from time to time, had blisters on his feet when He walked too far, cried when hurt as a child, and sprained His ankle. In fact, He might have even needed to wear corrective lenses were His life lived in the 21st century (well, He probably could have had some sympathetic supporter pay for lasik!). The point is that Christ was very human, like us in every respect save sin.
“Save sin.” What does that mean? Save personal sin? – absolutely. Christ did not commit a personal sin (Heb. 4:15). Save inherited sin? – hmm, what does that mean? Normally inherited sin is equated with “sinful nature.”Â Hang with me for a moment. The sinful natureÂ has traditionally been defined as the sinful tendency or bent that you and IÂ have inherited from our parents; they inherited it from their parents who inherited it through their parents, and so on. In other words, it is mediated through procreation. It is the inward inclination and driveÂ to rebel. It is what caused David to cry out, “Look, I was guilty of sin from birth, a sinner the moment my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5, NET, emphasis mine). If thisÂ is the way we are going to define inherited sin/sinful nature, I agree, Christ did not have this corruption. I don’t believe that Christ had an inward drive or inclination toward sin. Although I could be wrong, I believe that with reference to Christ, all temptation for sin came from the outside.Â
Now, here is a second issue having to do with our understanding of fallen humanity and its relation to Christ. Traditionally the phrase “fallen nature” has been equated with “sinful nature” which is equated with inherited sin. It looks like this:
fallen nature=sinful nature=inherited sin
I am not sure, however, that this is a good equation. At the very least, I think we can understand more if we distinguish between fallen nature and sinful nature. Here is my proposal (I am not sure if this is original with me, but I don’t know any others who have articulated the issues in such a way – in other words, be warned!):
Sinful nature: The effects of sin that bring about spiritual corruptionÂ and death (separation from God)Â producing in us an inward inclination toward sin that is mediated through our parents. This effects only humans who are in spiritual relation to the first Adam.
Fallen nature: The effects of sin that bring about physical corruption and ultimate physical death that are mediated through the consequence of the fall. This affects all of creation.
Put the situation this way. After Adam’s sin, what would have happened had God not expelled him from the Garden? He would have had a sinful nature due to his sin and resulting spiritual death (separation from God). In other words, spiritual death would have been a reality, but not necessarily physical death. It was only when he was expelled from the Garden that physical death became anÂ imminent reality. Notice after the fall what the Lord said:
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever“- 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24 22; emphasis mine)
This tells us that it was not the sin itself or the resulting spiritual death that necessitated physical death, but the fact that Adam and Eve no longer had access to the “Tree of Life.” Whether you believe as I do thatÂ the “Tree of Life” is a literal tree or not, the resulting theology seems to be the same. Physical death came as a result of a sanctioned consequence for sin having to do with humanities lack of access to the “Tree of Life.” Therefore, while death does come as a consequence of sin, the consequence seems to be that humanity lacks something in creation that is essential to the sustenance of physical life. Since we don’t have access to this “Tree of Life” we die physically. It is that simple.
Therefore, Christ, even though He did not commit any sin and did not have a sinful nature, did have a fallen nature. Christ would have died because He did not have access to the “Tree of Life.” Now, we can discuss whether or not Christ could have, by right, had access to the Tree had He not been killed, but this is a different discussion. The fact is that Christ came on a mission to die. He had to be susceptible to physical death in order to be killed. This He did so that He could gain the right to represent us before the Father.
Concerning the “Tree of Life,” it would seem that the implications of what I have argued are far more systematic and far-reaching when one considers God’s ultimate purpose for humanity (teleology) and our future (eschatology). If God is indeed in the process of restoring all things as Peter so boldly proclaimed (“[Christ] Whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” – Acts 2:21; emphasis mine), then our final state is that of reliance upon the sustenance given to us by the “Tree of Life” once again. In other words, on the new earth, we will indeed live forever, not because we have some new kind of body that has an inherent inability to suffer death, but because believers will be “eating” from the “Tree of Life” as was originally intended. Notice in Revelation the Tree is once again introduced:
In the middle of its street, on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2 )
What is the “healing of the nations?” It seems to be in reference to humanity in general. You and I will need healing, the sustenance, that the tree provides in order to avoid physical death. Since we will be in perfect obedience to God, we will never lack access to this “Tree” and, therefore, we will never experience physical death again.
Notice again in the book of Revelation:
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” (Revelation 22:14-15 14)
Now, before you jump on this moving train with me, let me reveal a small problem with my otherwise flawless systemization of this issue! If all I have said is correct, and the “Tree of Life” provides us with the necessary sustenance for physical life, how is it that people who are damned live for eternity without access to the tree? This, I don’t have an answer for. Could it be that the damned are judged in their physical bodies (Rev. 20:5, 12-13) and then are separated from them upon their condemnation? Could it be that Hell, then, is not filled with physical people, but only the immaterial part of their constitution? Or could it be that even in Hell, God gives people this needed sustenance so that they can suffer physically for all eternity? I don’t know. But I don’t think that this problem is significant enough to warrant the ill-consideration of my proposal to these issues.
Anyway, I have gone long enough. Thoughts?
- Did Christ Have Gray Hair?
- Would Christ have died had He not been killed?
- Are We Condemned for the Sin of Another (Part 4: The Resolution)
- Are we Condemned for the Sin of Another? (Part 2)
- Can a Christian Support Abortion? The Theology of Abortion