What if Jesus Had NOT
Risen From the Grave?
An Easter Counterfactual Nightmare
On December 12, 1931, on a New York City street, Winston Churchill was struck by a car going 30 miles per hour. Said the future Prime Minister: “I do not know why I was not broken like an eggshell or squashed like a gooseberry.” What if he had been killed? What might have been the outcome of World War II, not only for Britain but also for the world?
Or what if Abraham Lincoln had survived Booth’s assassination attempt and lived to oversee the aftermath of the Civil War? Considering Lincoln’s many farsighted gifts of leadership, how might have the whole course of reconciliation, healing, and reconstruction transformed the landscape of race relations for future generations?
These are examples of counterfactuals. A counterfactual is a way to think about how history might be rewritten if specific events had turned out differently, such as: “If I had known she wasn’t coming, then I would not have waited around so long for her.”
Now, consider this counterfactual: What if Jesus had not risen from the dead? What if his body had decomposed in a borrowed tomb that later became a shrine to which people would make sacred pilgrimages to honor a moral revolutionary—but little more?
What then? What would be different about the course of history or the shape of Christianity? Would it even have any shape at all?
What about you personally? Would that change what you believe, how you live, what you hope? How would it impact your outlook after months of lockdowns and the fear of a COVID death?
Easter 2021: Should we shout or sob?
For a Christian, pondering such a counterfactual should make believers shudder. Even more, it should make us grieve over all that would be lost for us in this life, not to speak of any prospect of eternal life—if this “nightmare scenario” would remain unchallenged. As Paul said in the “Resurrection Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 15:
“Most to be pitied” in The Message paraphrase reads: “If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.”The Living Bible puts it like this: “we are the most miserable of creatures.”
It’s all about the nightmare of trying to survive in this life without ever being able to proclaim with boldness and joy, now and in the day when our own journey is over:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where then your victory?
Where then your sting? . . .
How we thank God for all of this!
It is he who makes us victorious
through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(1 Cor. 15:54-57,TLB, emphasis added)
Thankfully, there is one absolutely irreversible “factual” about which we can dance and sing on this coming Easter morning. It is the “factual” celebrated in a verse of Charles Wesley’s popular hymn that’s sung worldwide during this holy day:
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Coming back to 1 Corinthians 15 again, we read:
Christianity is the only religion in the world that depends on a miracle for its raison d’être—its reason to exist. Other faiths may acknowledge miracles, but the Christian movement stands or falls based on the historicity of one grand miracle—which also happens to be one of the greatest miracles ever!
Among spiritual founders, prophets, and leaders of world religions, the resurrection of our Founder and Leader remains unprecedented, lifting Christ higher and beyond all competitors and contenders for the Throne of the universe.
Resurrection has happened, for sure, but so far it has happened to one person and one person only—the One who says to all his followers:
With this great news comes a parallel “factual” of similar weight. To paraphrase N. T. Wright: “Other religions take bad men and try to make them better. Christianity takes dead men and makes them alive in Christ.”
When Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” he is only beginning to explore how our union with the Savior, who physically and permanently defeated death, causes us not only to regain but also to surpass all that the first Adam forfeited by his deadly rebellion!
Here is one other “factual” to consider
concerning the Resurrection:
The total number of New Testament passages concerning Christ’s resurrection nearly equals the combined total of passages that are specifically focused on his incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension.
This does not mean his resurrection is more important; all four dimensions of who Christ is for us remain forever inseparable. But clearly, in the preaching of Acts and the teachings of the epistles—even in Jesus’ earthly ministry—the Resurrection forms the dominant theme. It is pervasive!
Just look at the public preaching in Acts: The cross, as a theological doctrine, appears to be virtually nonexistent. The message of the Resurrection, however, dominates everywhere the Apostles go!
Sometime during Easter 2021, tell the Father how grateful you are for these five unassailable FACTS about Jesus’ triumph over the grave:
- The nature and triumphs of the Resurrection form the most awesome miracle in the universe—and now that miracle has come around to you.
- The Resurrection vindicates Christ’s person and validates his redeeming work, for now and eternity.
- Because of the Resurrection, the living, reigning Son of God has become your identity and your destiny for all the ages to come.
- Because Jesus has risen and you are united to him, you have died already, and your life has become wrapped up in Christ as you walk with him in resurrection riches.
- One day soon, when he returns to visibly reign over the universe, you will be given a body like his glorious, resurrected body by the same power by which he is even now bringing everything into subjection to himself.
A few days ago, Dr. Tim Keller, founder of the famed Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, publicly revealed in an article titled “Growing My Faith in the Face of Death” in The Atlantic that he is dying of pancreatic cancer.
Throughout the five pages, Pastor Keller gave readers the inside story of how he has wrestled with applying to his own life the great biblical truths he has shared with parishioners over the years who have faced a similar fate. His confession? “I was caught unprepared.”
Privately, he struggled with many fears, writing: “What would happen to me? I felt like a surgeon who was suddenly on the operating table. Would I be able to take my own advice?” Eventually, the questions became: “So, when the certainty of your mortality and death finally breaks through, is there a way to face it without debilitating fear? Is there a way to spend the time you have left growing into greater grace, love, and wisdom?”
The high point of the article revolves around how Tim Keller was forced back to this question: Is Jesus alive from the dead or not? Here’s how he reflected on this:
Ironically, I had already begun working on a book about Easter. Before cancer, the resurrection had been a mostly theoretical issue for me—but not now . . . I’ve been drawn to the work of the British biblical scholar N. T. Wright, who mounts a historical case for Jesus’s bodily resurrection . . . . They gave me a place to get my footing . . .
Most particularly for me as a Christian, Jesus’s costly love, death, and resurrection had become not just something I believed and filed away, but a hope that sustained me all day . . . [Now I pray] as I lay down in sleep and rose this morning only by your grace, keep me in the joyful, lively remembrance that whatever happens, I will someday know my final rising because Jesus Christ lay down in death for me and rose for my justification.
What’s the proof of how his journey into terminal cancer is working out for Tim Keller? Consider the title of his latest book that’s just out: Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. That sort of says it all, doesn’t it?
Personally, I’d also like to share more with you about the compelling FACTS of Easter. Let me do so through this ten-minute video from THE CHRIST INSTITUTES. In it, I explore “The Re-creation of the Resurrection” with you. It might even provide a joyful way for you to begin your Easter Sunday morning. View it HERE.
Note: Portions of this blog post were adapted from David Bryant’s latest book:
Christ Is NOW!
Seven Groundbreaking Keys to Help You Explore and Experience
the Spectacular Supremacy of God’s Son Today
You can order it HERE.
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.
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