What would change if Jesus died and stayed dead?

Luke gave me something great to think about today during our discipling meeting. What would be different if Jesus died and stayed dead?

[Now, before I dive in, I want to mention 1 Cor. 15:17..."If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." What follows is a thought experiment, not an attempt to contradict Paul.]

If Christ has not been raised, our faith would probably remain intact. We might not even notice the difference. If the gospel is really about Christ dying to pay the penalty for our sins, do we really need him to come back to life? "It is finished" he said. Do we need him anymore? Would anything change if he died and stayed dead?

Here're some thoughts about what might change:

We might approach the Gospels distrustfully. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what do we do with the things he said about his coming resurrection? Was he mistaken? Lying? If that's the case, can we trust him with other things? Will he really rescue us from our sins? Can we really call God "Abba, Father"? Will we be punished for writing long chains of interrogative sentences?

We might feel enormous pressure to perform. Imagine that God the Father sacrificed his Son to rescue us from our bondage from sin. Free, now, we would face the grief of the Son-less Father. Our adoption into his family, while still filling us with joy (what an honor!), would come with pressure. Our seat at the table would be Jesus' old seat. We'd wear his old clothes. We'd have to live up to his legacy. Jesus died for us, after all. He would want to see us, as Dickens said, "winning [our] way up in that path of [ours] which once was [his]...winning it so well, that [his] name is made illustrious there by the light of [ours]."

We might fear the future. If Jesus died alone and rots alone in a borrowed grave, what destiny awaits us? Can a servant be greater than his master? We would be hard-pressed to expect a good outcome for ourselves, bad as we are, if the best among us meets a miserable end. If he was rejected by God, we might be rejected. If he was broken, we might be broken. If he was abandoned, we might be abandoned. If that is the last word for him, it might also be for us. Did God accept the sacrifice? Did he really accept us? Or is what we see more real than what we've been told?

Fear, pressure, distrust: we don't feel those, do we? If we do, might we look to the resurrection? Instead of distrust, could we find courage because the things he foretold came to pass? Instead of pressure, could we rejoice that the one who takes our place also takes us to his place and resides in joyful fellowship with us? Instead of fear, could we feel hope that the rising again of the Chosen One might foreshadow the rising again of all who are in Christ? Instead of interrogatives, we could rejoice in declaratives (and long sentences full of big words).

Christ is risen indeed. All is not perfect, yet all is well.


  1. The absence of the resurrection would not merely cause a change or dilution in Christian philosophy or point of view. The resurrection is not merely a historical event that impresses us (although it is certainly that). It is the founding event of the church and, just as importantly for the purpose of addressing Luke's question, the power (a force, if you will, that is not limited to one morning in Jerusalem, but that is the turning point in all of cosmic history and is still active today) through which the church has survived and grown. Paul says that Jesus was declared with power to be the son of God by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4) and elsewhere says that the Christian will know "the power of [Christ's] resurrection." Phil 3:10
    Without the resurrection, would there even be a church? The church is the result of the gospel and the gospel is this: Christ is risen! Everything else is commentary; everything else flows from that fact.
    If there was no resurrection, why would Jesus be regarded any differently today than the scores of other rabbis and teachers of his time?

    Paul pretty much tells us that he would not have paid much attention to Jesus without the resurrection. He tells us that if Christ is not risen from the dead, we are of all men most miserable. Given that, what would we have for a bible? Remember, every encounter Paul had with Christ was with the resurrected Christ.

  2. I'm with you, Larry.

    There wouldn't be a church without the historical resurrection. The Eleven would have scattered, returned to their fishing. Paul would have had no one to persecute (though I imagine he might have turned on someone else). No, this thing would never have gotten started.

    God gave power to the church by raising Christ and sending his Spirit. We would probably have never heard of Christ if he did not return from the dead.

    Paul does, elsewhere and even in 1 Cor 15, give more reasons to value the doctrine of the resurrection. My three points were an attempt to wrestle in the very general with some of the ideas Paul presents in 1 Cor 15: distrust (v. 1-19), pressure (v. 20-28), fear (v. 17-19, 29-32).

    One quick question, I was wondering about this the other day, so I'm glad you brought this up. Could Paul have encountered Christ before the crucifixion? I know that we don't have any evidence of such an encounter, but I've always just assumed that Paul never knew anything about Jesus before the stoning of Stephen and the Damascus experience. Does he say somewhere that he never encountered Christ before the crucifixion?

  3. I may have overstated. I can't point to a verse where Paul says he never met Jesus before the resurrection. And, I don't really know what the commentators say about that. But, on the Damascus road it sure looks to me like he encountered someone he'd never met before - someone who was a complete, knock your socks off, surprise.
    I agree with all the points you made in your initial post about what philosophical comfort we may take the resurrection. Well done.

    PS When Paul meets Peter, after Paul's experience on the Damascus road, is it a first time encounter?

  4. Steve;

    Here is a paragraph from Ronald Rolheiser's blog column for this week. The whole thing is about the resurrection. He says what I was trying to say, but he says it better:

    In the resurrection of Jesus the very atoms of the universe were rearranged. The laws of physics were somehow stunningly altered and because of that our planet now too has the possibility of eternal life.

    You can read the whole column on ronrolheiser.com