Could Jesus Christ have returned to heaven without dying on the cross?

Could our Lord have returned to heaven without going to the Cross?

This idea used to be put forward as a possible suggestion for illustrative purposes. What a wonderful ending to our Lord’s life it would have been had He gone straight up to heaven without dying! but without asserting that this was a possibility. Of later years this supposition has become an affirmation, put forward as though there was a clear “thus saith the Lord” for it. Especially have speculative teachers, who love the sensational, asserted this in connection with the Transfiguration on the Holy Mount. In reality this was the most unlikely moment for such a thing to occur, had it been otherwise within the range of God’s purposes, for such an event is never hinted at in any of the three Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration.

In Matthew 17 this comes just after the Lord’s first clear announcement of His passion: “Jesus began to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things”, etc. (Matthew 16:21). In Mark 9 likewise the account is preceded by the words of Mark 8:31, “The Son of Man must suffer,” etc., and so in Luke 9—the reference to the sufferings in Luke 9:22 as a necessity, is followed by a glimpse of the coming Kingdom glory.

Far then from a choice being offered to our Lord on the Holy Mount of returning to heaven without dying, I believe this prophetic view of the coming Kingdom glory was to cheer the disciples in view of the certainly coming Cross. There is an additional fact given us in Luke, namely, the subject on which Moses and Elias conversed with our Lord in the glory —“They spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” Certainly Peter tried to turn Him from this purpose in Matt. i6, but was met with a stern rebuke.

The momentous scene in Gethsemane clearly shows, however, that the Lord was a free Agent in redemption. He was under no fatalistic necessity to redeem men, but He was “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world,” and He had said to Nicodemus, “The Son of Man must be lifted up.” Later we hear Him saying, “For this cause came I unto this hour,” and “The Son of Man came . . to give His life a ransom for many.” These two sides of truth are seen at Gethsemane. His holy human will rightly shrank from contact with sin, and the Divine abandonment involved; but as a Divine Person His will was able to say, “Nevertheless not My will but thine be done.” When Peter sought by the use of the sword to defend His Master, the latter says, in Matthew 26:52, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” but immediately adds, “But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”

In John 18:11 we have an additional word, “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” which, coming either before or after the other words, gives us the balance of Scripture. It was with “wicked hands”—the voluntary act of murderers—that men crucified and slew Him; but it was also with holy hands that He by a voluntary act, and by the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God (Hebrews 9). He could say with equal truth, “No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself,” and “this commandment have I received of My Father” (John 10). There was no fatalistic necessity for our Lord to lay down His life, but there was a moral necessity, and it is very unprofitable and unsound specula tio to assert the contrary.

W.H.