Blog

Would Christ have died had he not been killed? (2)

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 forever 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.” Hang with me for a moment. The sinful nature has traditionally been defined as the sinful tendency or bent that you and I 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 drive 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 this 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. 

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 corruption and death (separation from God) 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 an 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 that 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?

7 Responses to “Would Christ have died had he not been killed? (2)”

  1. Michael,

    You certainly raise some interesting and valid points. I’m not sure that I agree with your distinction between the sinful and fallen nature but I don’t believe that any distinction is technically necessary in order to posit that Jesus would have died physically.

    I believe a very common misconception is that Adam was created either immortal or perfect–I don’t believe either to be true. I agree with your assessment that being restricted access from the tree of life is what ultimately caused physical death but I believe that this physical death was always impending even while Adam had access. As I’m sure you are aware, the phrase translated “you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17) is the Hebrew “mot tamut” which is intensive and that translation is certainly accurate, but there is another way the phrase can be translated and one that makes good sense in the context of the Genesis 2-3. We could also render it to say, “dying you shall die” which would lead to a conclusion that Adam was already dying but disobeying the command of God would either A) Certainly result in physical death, B) Result in spiritual death, or C) Result in both. I take C. to be the best explanation as we see that Adam was both separated from the presence of God (spiritual death) and ultimately died physically.

    This understanding eliminates the need to posit that Jesus would have lived physically forever had he not given his life as a ransom because it eliminates the idea that sin as the cause of physical death.

    One question I’d like to ask concerning your definition of ‘fallen nature’ is if it extends to all of creation (e.g. animals & plants)?

  2. Hey Michael,

    I agree that the Lord may have encountered colds, cuts, sprains and scapes like all humans do. I do have a problem seeing that as having a fallen nature. If the fallen nature is a result of sin then how can Christ be the “Spotless lamb who takes away the sin of the world”?

    It is not an impossible thing or far fetched to have a human being without a fallen nature. Adam was given a crack at it and he failed. Christ is the second Adam and where the first failed Jesus did not.

    The scripture states ” He made Him who {knew} no sin..” (2 Cor 5:21) the word used there for know “carries the idea of knowing on the basis of some sort of intimate or personel relation..” does it not?

    I have a few other thoghts but this is the first one and I will post them but I want to give the floor to you or others.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Every time I try to blog I end up deleting what I’ve written because my thoughts sound better in my head than on paper, but here it goes anyway. This is a really interesting question. I’ve thought about the dual nature of Christ, but never exactly from this perspective. I feel that Christ would have died if he wasn’t killed simply because he was human while on earth. If he did not have the capability of dying physically, he would not have been able to represent humanity. As humans we have dual natures in the sense that we are both good and evil. In order for Christ to be our representative, he needed to be of a dual nature as well….human in order to represent our human/sinful nature and God in order to represent our “godly” nature and to have power over our sinful nature. If Christ were not able to suffer and die physically then his suffering would not have been the sacrifice that is was.
    My thoughts on “the consequence of sin is physical death”. I used to believe that physical death was a punishment for sin, but recently I’ve started thinking it’s more of a blessing. Though aspects of this life are great, living with our sinful nature and its’ consequences for all eternity would in a sense be “hell”. So, upon physical death we either “shed” our evil nature and live with God for all eternity or “shed” our good nature and live in “hell”. So, if we chose to follow Christ, then physical death is not really a punishment, but an opportunity to live in our godly natures for all eternity.

    Claudette

  4. One thing I have learned, (as a result of interacting with humanity) is not to jump on the band wagon or the train, with out first understanding all the issues.
    That is really what is being discussed here issues about whether or not Christ would have died had he not been killed.
    Just a side note, some times I wonder and I do this daily it seems of late, do we as people, as believers in a non-believing world. Search for things that will do nothing to usher in new Christians? I understand in the 21st century we are becoming techno-literate of all things, including the ability to dissect religion in consumable bits that makes our understanding an easier pill to swallow, to appease our appetite for knowledge.
    Ok I am getting carried away with another subject, sorry for that.

    But I think it does have some merit as we try to understand this issue about Christ living beyond and dieing a natural death or even another attempt on his life.
    I just do not know, even if it were possible would it have been allowable. After all, the whole purpose was to die that we may live, and the text also said of a virgin birth implying without a man’s input if you will (I believe somewhere else there was a topic about sin being passed down thru the man).
    Now this may conflict with the tree of life both in the garden and hence later in the end of time in the new earth.
    The Tree has purpose, but IMO is not tied directly to Christ in that, Christ was no mere mortal man and had no need to be part of that which was purposed for humanity. I will have to admit I have not thought this thru as to how the tree plays the role in the end (will we be human in some fashion or of spiritual dimensions and why the tree if the latter?).

    I would speculate that Christ would have not died had he not been put to death that is, his purpose would have been contaminated and the saving effect, they all Christians revere would have been for naught.
    He very well could have left the plain of this earth within a blink of an eye never to return and curse us and started over again from scratch, and then maybe not, just set back and let humanity weed itself out, through whatever mechanism, i.e. nuclear war, natural disasters such as asteroid impact, global warming and you get the idea, in the end the strong will have survived.

    Another thing though, if we put to much focus on this we really do miss the mark, life naturally or spiritually lived. God would have had no reason to allow himself in a triune sense to carry on what had already been destined from the beginning.
    And that is another subject, which until the end of my life I will truly never understand, why do anything at all? Why create man in the first place? Sometimes this type of questioning and trying to answer sessions, makes me feel like we are in one giant lab experiment under God’s microscope.

    Sorry Michael, I’ll stay off the train this go around, could not happen, Jesus is 100% man yes and also 99.999 % God. I will bow out and use my escape Deut. 29:29.
    Thanks for letting me post. I had the day off!!!!

  5. Michael,

    I appreciate your comments, especially your distinguishing between
    the fallen and sinful natures and I will heed your warning and
    take it under advisement.

    You’ve touched on an issue that I’ve been wondering about and
    hope that you can shed some light on. I have been hanging with
    friends from a denomination that adheres to the doctrine of
    conditional immortality – the belief that, at Christ’s second coming,
    believers receive eternal life and unbelievers “suffer complete
    extinction of being”. I’d be grateful for your thoughts on this
    matter.

  6. I agree with your assesment of differance between the sin nature and fallen nature. As I understand Paul “all of creation” was made subject to the fall because of Adam’s rebellion.
    I am not sure if I agree with your assesment of the trees. The way that I have read the seperation in the garden was that if adam ever once took of the tree of life there would no longer be a possibility of death; either before or after the tree of knowledge. Imo the trees were a choice, trust God and take of the tree of life or call God a liar and take of the tree of knowledge.
    Bodily resurection of lost does have some sticky problems to it. I have been taught that it would happen and that they would be in a continuous state of decay (the image of a zombie with body parts falling off always came up) but you have given me more to think about.

  7. Theodore A. Jones December 13, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Adam nor Eve ever had access to “The Tree of Life. Error one. Christ “did have a fallen nature”. Error two.
    A bold and arrogant man who is fool enough to slander a celestial being and brag about it.

Leave a Reply