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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Had Jesus sinned, what would have happened to Him?
This question, phrased in different ways, is often asked. And I’m always reluctant to deal with it because it is an invitation to speculate on matters about which we know nothing. What’s surprising is that some take their speculations so seriously that they become dogmatic about them. Humility should be a fundamental characteristic of any Bible student.
In this particular case my reluctance is determined by what we do know. We know that Jesus did not sin. That should be enough. But those interested in the question press the issue: Could He have sinned? Had He sinned, what would have been the consequences of His sin? In order to avoid dealing with this question again, let me make some comments that you may or may not find helpful.
1. Jesus and Sin: Could Jesus have sinned? My unambiguous answer: Yes! This is something the Bible supports. Jesus was absolutely human and was subject to temptations such as the ones we confront, as well as to others that we will never have to face (Heb. 4:15). Every day Jesus struggled against sin and was victorious over it. This was a real conflict; not because He had a nature corrupted by sin, but because He, like each one of us, had free will. It is free will that allows us to choose God’s side in the cosmic conflict. Rebellion is the rejection of that freedom or, more specifically, giving it up and choosing death.
The typical example of Jesus’ potential for sinning is His experience in Gethsemane, when His will would have urged Him to preserve His personal life, while His duty to the Father and the salvation of humanity called Him to self-sacrifice and death (Matt. 26:39). The power and reality of this temptation was predicated on the possibility of not doing God’s will. Otherwise the whole struggle would have been a pantomime, a self-deceptive exercise, or an illusion.
2. Jesus’ Uniqueness: The fact that Jesus overcame every temptation is incomprehensible to us because we are all sinners. The sinlessness of Jesus creates theological problems for those who would make Him very much like us. It is at this point that His uniqueness is manifested with great power. Whether we want it or not—and I personally want it—He is different from all of us! He never committed a sin in any form, type, action, or thought. He is the only and exclusive human being who has ever lived without sinning. It is this uniqueness that seems to prompt people to ask, What if He had sinned? We seem to feel uncomfortable with His sinlessness. But we shouldn’t be, because it is the prerequisite for the atonement.
3. Jesus’ Future: We can also affirm that the future of Jesus and our future are one, because He was victorious over evil and reconciled us to His Father. Could we postulate that there was an alternative future for Jesus in case He sinned?
Here’s where the speculation comes in the form of a theological argument. Let me put it as bluntly as I can: Had Jesus failed, the God we now know would not be our God. In other words, with respect to us, He would have ceased to exist. The failure of Jesus would have meant that God was unable to overcome the forces of evil and that Satan was powerful enough to overcome Him by derailing His plan of salvation, thus forcing God to abandon us.
As you can see, in my speculations the stakes are very high. The defeat of our biblical God at the moment of His greatest manifestation of power on the cross of Christ is something we can hardly begin to imagine, much less take seriously.
Since the biblical God is by definition unbeatable, our question remains almost unanswered. Had the human nature of the Son of God failed, God Himself would have failed. But He did not.