Would Christ Have Died If Not Killed?
This is an interesting question to ponder. It’s more than pure speculation, as it has implications on how we view Christ and His identity with mankind. It also contributes to how we view the effects of sin on man.
Here is the issue: Death is the result of sin, yet Christ never sinned. If Christ did not allow himself to be put to death, would he have died? What do you think?
The Complexity of Christ’s Humanity and Sin
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). 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.
Yes, Christ Would Have Died Had He Not Been Killed
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.
Christ’s Fallen Nature?
“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.
Fallen Nature vs. Sinful Nature: A Proposal
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. 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 affects 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.
Is Death a Natural Aspect of Humanity?
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:
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
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.” Therefore, physical death is a natural aspect to humanity when we don’t have the right sustenance. Whether literal or figurative, the Tree of Life is necessary for life
The Role of the Tree of Life in Christ’s Mortality
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 subsistence 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.”
[Further exploration of the Tree of Life in Revelation 2:7 and 22:14 where, on a restored Earth, access to the Tree of Life returns!]
Conclusion: Questions and Considerations
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.