What If Jesus Had Not Died

“What If?” is a series of best-selling books put together by Robert Cowley, in which historians look at some key event in history and try to imagine what if it had not happened that way.

What if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus?

That is the title of the chapter by Carlos M. N. Eire, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. The subtitle reads, “Christianity without the Crucifixion.”

Eire imagines Pontius Pilate heeding the warning of his wife whose sleep had been disturbed that night by thoughts of “that righteous man.” Her message to the governor said, “Have nothing to do with him.”

So, he asks, what if Pilate had done the right thing and resisted the religious leaders and the rabble who were crying for Jesus to be executed and had released Him?

On one page, underneath a 13th century painting of Pilate with the Jewish leaders is the caption: “The Decision That Made a Religion.”

Eire asks, “What if Jesus hadn’t been nailed to a cross at Pilate’s orders? What if he had lived a long, long life? Or even just ten more years? Or one? What if his person and message had been interpreted differently, as they surely would have been?”

The answers could easily go all over the map, as Eire acknowledges. He says, “To speculate on what might have happened if anything at all had been different in the story of Jesus and his followers is to sail in an infinite ocean of possibilities.”

In other words, your guess is as good as his.

One thing is sure: If no crucifixion, no resurrection. And without either a cross or an empty tomb, we have nothing but an inspiring story of a wonderful man who lived an exemplary life. In other words, we’re in big trouble.


Asking “what if Jesus did not go to the cross” is tantamount to wondering: “What if God were wrong?”

And when you open up that pandora’s box, chaos erupts in every direction.

This being Easter season, it’s the “in” thing for preachers and Bible teachers to go to seed on the pivotal event of the resurrection. Without it, nothing. With it, everything.

However.

The crucifixion is the first half of that story. Separating the death of Jesus from His resurrection and trying to make one more important than the other is like running a ripsaw through your torso and trying to decide which half was more essential to your existence.

I find myself wondering why Robert Cowley didn’t assign someone to write a far more intriguing chapter on “What if Jesus had not risen from the grave?”

I think we know why no such chapter can be found. It would be tantamount to admitting that Jesus really did rise from the dead. And if one admits that, he has to deal with a world of implications and consequences. So, it becomes easier for these (ahem) objective historians to ignore the resurrection, which many of them have ruled out as an impossibility without having investigated it for the simple reason that “people don’t come back from the dead,”and to deal only with the crucifixion which poses no problem for historians.

Interestingly, the Apostle Paul wrote his own abbreviated version of “what if Jesus had not risen from the grave?” in I Corinthians 15:12-19. He identifies seven consequences for us if Jesus’ body was decomposing in a grave somewhere:

–our preaching is without foundation

–and so is your faith

–we are false witnesses about God, claiming that He did what He did not

–your faith is worthless

–you are still in your sins

–all who have “died in Christ” are really dead

–we are to be pitied.

What Paul did not do, however, was to speculate on what would have been the consequences if Jesus had been released by Pilate and lived out the rest of His life in the kind of preaching/healing ministry that characterized the first three years. .

However, let’s engage in just a little of this kind of foolish speculation. Let’s ask: What would we have if Jesus had not died on the cross for our sins?

1. No sin offering. After all, what could we offer? That’s the question the prophet Micah posed: What should I bring before the Lord when I come to bow before God on high? Should I come before Him with burnt offerings, with year-old calves? …Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the child of my body for my own sin? (Micah 6:6-7)

2. No forgiveness. Everyone would be on his own before God. Forgiveness for all your sins against the Holy God? In your dreams.

3. No gospel. Since “gospel” means “good news,” we would have none. Our preaching would consist of: “You’re sinners and you’re going to hell.” Period. Come to think of it, our preaching would sound pretty much like some I’ve heard.

4. No Christianity. No church. No salvation. Nothing. Instead of a “Christian movement,” we would have a Jesus Memorial Society at best. A few persons with a love for history might meet occasionally to repeat Jesus’ messages and study the lore that grew up about Him. Nothing more.

Historian Eire thinks there would have been a religious movement to develop around the teachings and life of Jesus, but more along the line of those honoring Buddha and Confucius. However, he says the members of this religion would still be looking for a Messiah to come.

I think he’s right about that.

Without the cross, Jesus is not the Messiah.

After all, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 point to the death of the Messiah for the sins of the people. And without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)

However, Jesus did go to the cross, and the news is all good.

God knew what He was doing. Pilate caved in to the crowd and sent Jesus to His death. Jesus died on the cross as He expected. He bore our sins. They buried Him in a borrowed grave. And on the next Lord’s Day morning, disciples found the tomb empty and the Savior alive and active.

Not only do we acknowledge His death, we celebrate it. We call that day “Good” Friday.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. (Isa. 53:4)

Thank God for the cross of Jesus.

15 thoughts on “What If Jesus Had Not Died

  1. Interesting observation….and what would happen if the Jewish religious authorities would had recognized Jesus as the redeemer promised? I believe that Jesus would still have to die. Not on the cross but on the alter…as a sheep. When a sheep is use as a sacrifice,it is done without unnecessary pain. The high priest cut not the trot but a small cut at the main vein in the neck. It bleed slowly without pain and die as going to sleep. The blood is gathered and spread on the alter. The penalty of sin is death, and Jesus would had been expected to resurrected as predicted. How glorious it would had been? Instead, Jesus received abusive beating and a excruciating pain on the cross……food for taught

  2. EXCELLENT WORD ALL THE WAY ROUND, DOCTOR JOE! If Pontius Pilate had listened to his wife, it would have only postponed the inevitable as Jesus came to fulfill ALL of the Old Testament prophecies concerning The Anointed One. If not Pilate then Jesus’ death would have been ordered by someone else and his resurrection would have occured any way. 🙂

  3. Back in 1988 our illustrious governor, the honorable Edwin Edwards, said that he thought that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but just “swooned and passed out”. I still have the newspaper article somewhere. That was the same year that Jesse Jackson was going to run for president on a plank that he was going to close all the military bases in Europe and give the money to the poor over here.

  4. So if you are correct and Jesus’ death was all part of God’s plan, then why have Jews been accused of “deicide” (a ridiculous term on its face) for 2000 years? Were not the Jews of that era and Pilate acting under the Will of God? Were they not part of the Plan? Could the Jews of the era and Pilate have chosen to spare Jesus or did God dictate that they act as they did?

  5. Jesus had to die or shed His blood simply because God the Father had decided in eternity past to save human kind or God’s elect under eternal judgement because God foreknew or foresaw the fall of men. It was a sovereign decision. Meaning that no one outside of the Trinity could have interfered with it. So there is no “IF”. We it comes to God Almighty, there’s no if or but or surprise.

  6. Well , think Jesus can not die because he power then the devil and if it does happen and the devil I promise you that jesus will get back up and fight some more because in his own words won’t let the devil take over . just have faith in him and you will be bless and bless the other people that hurting

  7. I just read another article by Cooper P Adams asking why the Jews actually answering why in his opinion the Jews were blamed for crucifying Jesus and he pointed out all the layers and the people such as the high Priests who broke the law by even havin Jesus “tried” at nigh in secret It was against the law. and how they despised Jesus because he was nor the Military figure from an influential family who had come to overthrow Roman rule. This article talks about how The high Priests would make their wealth by selling off the things that were brought to the Temple such as doves sheep wine and oil and how Jesus had shown them up by driving the sellers and peddlers out of the Temple. The Head Priests were hypocrites I remember that either Caiaphas or Anas tore his robes in rage when Jesus answered one of his questions with “It is as you have said” If he had been an honest man he would have submitted himself to be executed. For that was the price for tearing the holy robes but he didnt.

  8. If Jesus had not died as claimed in the bible, today in 2017, all humans would have the Hebrew religion to follow as a path for a life well lived. Jesus was a Jew, his gospel spoken directly by him to Jews would have taken a completely different interpretation if he did not die as he did. Second, if Jesus had not died as he did the Islamic religion would not exist today. The reason being that Mohammad was motivated by God to reject the Christian religion and thus begin a new religion…thus, no Jesus, no Mohammad. Consider all the100s millions of humans that would never have died in wars started by Christians and followers of Mohammad over the past 2000 years if Jesus had not died as he did. If Jesus had lived to old age his gospel spoken directly to Jews would have led to a completely different religion, one not obsessed with pure selfish individual pursuit to reach heaven by faith that Jesus died for their continued daily sins. If Jesus had not died as he did his gospel would have formed a religion for all humans (Jews and non Jews) based on pure love for one another because we are all humans, where faith in the truth of the gospel of Jesus would have led each human to strive to live a righteous life (to go and sin no more), to unselfishly help other humans with no concept of heaven as a selfish reward to do so, and to meet death with a smile knowing that death, as a moment in time, is nothing more than lack of a life well lived helping other humans.

    • I’m going to leave your bizarre rant up so Christians can see how off-center some people can get. Good to be reminded of that sometime. Thanks for giving us exhibit A, John.

  9. Paul states, “If Jesus is not raised from the dead, our preaching is in vain and we are the most pitiable of men.”

    The original anonymous author of Mark fails to mention that Jesus rose from the dead! The Resurrection ending [Mark 16:9–20] was added to the end of Mark by an unknown author, a fact admitted by most contemporary New Testament scholars.” ~http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_16.

    “Catholics are not bound to hold these verses (Mark 16:9–20) were written by Saint Mark.” ~The Catholic Encyclopedia.

    “Now is it not strange that the crucifixion should take place during the Passover? Among the Jews, this was a most sacred occasion. For them to crucify anyone at this time, they would have to break at least seven of their religious Laws. Why then did they profane it with murder?” ~Lloyd Graham, Deceptions and Myths of the Bible, p. 345.

    “How much more will this be the case with anyone who by wicked doctrine corrupts the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a one becomes defiled. He will go away into Everlasting Fire, and so will everyone that listens to him [Ephesians 16]…But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, He became man in appearance [only], that He did not in reality take unto Him a body, that He died in appearance [merely], and did not in very deed suffer, then for what reason am I now in bonds, and long to be exposed to the wild beasts? In such a case, I die in vain, and am guilty of falsehood against the cross of the Lord.” ~Saint Ignatius, Trallians, 10, 105 C.E.

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