What if Jesus Had Been Accepted as the Messiah?

Jesus enters

Various Scriptural passages indicate that Jesus, before his trial and execution, had hoped for a very different outcome of his sojourn on earth:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets, and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (MT 23:37).

St. John Chrystostom paraphrases the Lord’s lament: “Even these murders of yours would not have alienated Me from you, but I would have taken you to Me, not once or twice, but many times.” This passage, and a passage from Luke, “If only you had known, in this day, the things that are to your peace; but now they are hidden from your eyes” (LK 19:42 ) – indicate that there was a “Plan A,” which turned out to be unworkable, because of contingencies, and now had to be replaced by “Plan B.”

Plan A, of course, would have involved acceptance by the Jews of Jesus’ messiahship. One can imagine this taking place, in spite of the distrust and rumblings of the powers-that-be in Jerusalem at that time.  Jesus had secret disciples like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and no doubt a substantial minority of the scribes and Pharisees (probably including the Pharisees who warned Jesus about dangers from Herod (Lk. 13:33) or the ones mentioned in Acts 15:5 as converted after the Resurrection) were seriously considering the claims of this carpenter from Nazareth. It could have happened that one or more of these interested but timid persons may have “gone public” suggesting to their confreres that Jesus might be the Anointed One, and that the authorities should avoid moving precipitously to hostile measures.

Eventually a growing majority in the Sanhedrin, heartened by the fact that Jesus was incredibly meek like Moses, who was the “meekest man on earth” (Num. 12:3), and had promised not to abrogate the Mosaic law, but to fulfil it, might have been able to temper the opposition.  They might also have taken to heart his admonitions about misunderstanding the Sabbath, and about the subordination of cleansing rituals, etc. and became attentive to the more substantial elements of the law.

The prophecies of Isaiah and other prophets indicating that the Messiah would be a “suffering servant” and spurned were not irrevocable.  As in the case of the predictions of the prophet Jonah about the destruction of Nineveh, God is always hopeful that a change of heart will take place, so that impending punishments will be called off.  Free will, both for the individual and for peoples, is always of the essence. It was not fated that so many Jews should fail to recognize their Messiah.

So what would have happened if Plan A were implemented, and Jesus was able to gather the children of Jerusalem “under his wings?” St. Cyril of Alexandria interprets “under his wings” as meaning “under the shelter of his power.” The Messianic expectations at the time were well expressed by the crowd that came together at Jesus’ Ascension: They asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  Israel at that time was under the hegemony of the Roman Empire, with only a puppet king. Would Jesus somehow bring about the culmination of the Davidic kingship in such an unlikely context?

What would have been the “things that are to your peace” (Lk. 19:42), that Jesus regretfully wishes would have been implemented? St. Theophilus of Antioch interprets Jesus as telling the Jews that he would have freed the Jews from oppression by the Romans: “I came to visit and to save you, which if you had known and believed on Me, you might have been reconciled to the Romans.” How would such a reconciliation take place?  If Jesus, son of David, were honored as king of the Jews, rather than Herod Antipas, appointed by the Romans as Jewish king, certainly a different mode of “kingship” would start to prevail in Israel.

Would the “Star of David” become the prevailing symbol of Christianity?  Certainly the religion that would worship God “in spirit and truth” (Jn. 23-24) would be much more Jewish in appearance than present-day Christianity – not just the candles, the tabernacle, priestly vestments, liturgical borrowings, etc.

Would Jesus remain on earth, maybe something like the Shiva Mahavatar Babaji of Hindu folklore, a divine being who has allegedly been materializing periodically from time immemorial? Probably not, since Jesus told his disciples he had to leave them before the Holy Spirit would come to perfect the Church (Jn. 16:7), and also since he planned from the very beginning of his public life to leave the Eucharist, his flesh and blood, (Jn. 6:54) so that all his followers at all times and in all parts of the world, not just his present disciples, might enjoy his real presence. Thus, he might have remained for a time but ascended into heaven at some point.

The members of that alternative Church today would probably be similar to the Jewish Christians predominating shortly after the Resurrection – the same ones who raised questions about whether the Gentiles shouldn’t be obligated to various Mosaic regulations – questions which led to some final decisions by the Apostles in Acts (15:7-21). Probably circumcision would be abrogated in favor of Baptism; but some of the Mosaic practices regarding diet and prayer practices, and some Jewish feasts might have been retained.  Possibly the devout Pharisee, Saul/Paul, would have been convinced and converted along with other Jews, and received a vocation to focus on the Gentiles.

Presumably, if peace with the Romans had ensued, the Temple in Jerusalem would have been protected under the power of the Messiah from destruction in 70 A.D.  In the Temple unbloody sacrifices might still be offered, after the pattern of the sacrifice of fruits, grain and wine already offered by Jews in addition to the sacrifice of animals; and the Eucharist would remain as a permanent presence to his followers, offered and consumed in the Temple and the synagogues.

Most important, however, we should consider the fact that there was a Plan A as well as a Plan B. This offers us evidence of the continuing sort of dialogue that God carries out with the world – God is desirous of pouring out all manner of benefits, but depends almost rigidly on free-will cooperation and making adaptations in response to both individual and group decisions.

If St. Paul’s prediction in Romans 11:25-26 that the Jews will finally be converted after the Gospel has been preached to the whole world, something like Plan A may eventually be implemented after all, at some time in the future when Jesus’ compatriots proclaim, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The vision of Isaiah 60:1 of Jerusalem as the “light of the world” may then be finally implemented.

Howard Kainz

By

Howard Kainz is professor emeritus at Marquette University. He is the author of several books, including Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010). Professor Kainz is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine.

  • Andrew

    Highly speculative “what ifs,” somewhere along the lines of whether there would have been an incarnation if Adam hadn’t sinned or where would we be if May would have said no.

  • Harry_piper

     Someone’s got to write an alternate history story and/or book based off this idea. 

    • Pierre

      Yes, absolutly

      • Pierre

        Hoops ! Absolutely

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  • rsmy

    Surely the atoning sacrifice of His death would still be required and surely the Romans would have executed Him,in the same manner as a threat, if the Jews accepted Him as their king over Caesar.

    • Peter Freeman

      I’m not quite sure why His death would have had to be at the hands of men, if we mortals had refused to kill Him. Natural death seems pretty unpleasant and violent enough…especially in an age with a crude sense of medical science.
      And Pontius Pilate didn’t seem to think Christ’s followers were a grave threat to Roman authority, especially when Christ made it clear that he wasn’t interested in exerting temporal power.

      • Howard Richards

        So, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who dies a natural death in the pasture,” huh?  And I guess that bit about ” And thy own soul a sword shall pierce” was conditional, too.

        Dr. Kainz thinks there would still be a Eucharist.  I suppose it would include, “This is My Body, which is not broken for you,” and, “This is the chalice of My Blood, the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, which will NOT be poured out for you and for many.”

        What nonsense.

        The fact that Jesus would be rejected by the “best” of the Jews and by the “best” of the Gentiles was as predictable as that a majority of both groups would knowingly commit personal sins.

        If Kainz wants to ask useless questions like this, how about, “What if people were still born with Original Sin, but no one EVER knowingly and willingly committed a personal sin?  What would history look like THEN?”  Or, “What if humans were marsupials, and so that an ‘unwanted joey’ could just be transferred to another pouch?”  Or, “What if children grew to adulthood in a single day and were not dependent on parents?  How would that change human nature?” 

        • Allan

          Howard Richards is a beautiful example of a person who knows the faith intellectually, but has a heart as hard as rock.  Apparently, his Holisness Howard the Great deigns to dictate to us what we may think about and discuss, and what is “nonsense” that should be avoided.  You really would have hated Aquinas, what with all his theological speculations.  And of course, nothing can be gained by thinking about such things and reflecting on other possibilities.  No, better to turn off your brain like Howard and just regurgitate only what you have been told by the appropriate authority, without thought, reflection, or meditation.  Thanks for your great input Howard.  And the thing is, you made some decent points at the beginning of your post, but the tone was so arrogant that your points were swallowed up in your pride.

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  • Jeromeleo

    I can’t think that the Passion was “Plan B”, Jesus came into the world to die for us. I think that was the Father’s Will.

  • hombre111

    Strange article.  Nothing is as intransigent as the human heart. 

  • http://twitter.com/AquinasFTW AquinasFTW

    Jesus knew the outcome. He prophesied that He would be put to death. The Incarnation would not have occurred unless God had already seen his own crucifixion and death. As Jesus said, He laid down his life “willingly”. No one took it from Him, because what God wills, is simply a fait compli. In a mysterious way, God knew what each man in the drama of the Passion would do with his free will if He (God) entered into their midst. Thus, plan A was simply not possible because God had seen with certainty the outcome. The only way to avoid this was not to become Incarnate at all. But his will was to be the Paschal Sacrifice.

    • Greg

      1- So, according to your logic, God already knew that Adam and Eve would fall/sin, therefore creating an evil and sinfull world, filled with pain and suffering, necessitating “salvation”, etc. etc. I don’t think so, I believe God knows ALL the possibilities all the probable actions yet only you with your God-give FREE wil can decide which action you will take. The same applies to people now as it does to people 6000 years ago and people in the future. Why would God prepare and protect a people to recieve the messiah for 4000 years expecting them to reject him?
      2- In John 3:14 it mentions that “…as the serpent was raised .. so must the son of man be lifted up…..” as to justify Jesus’ crucifixion, yet we fail to “connect the dots”
      Why was the serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert? It was clearly because the israelites had lost their faith in Moses, in the same way the people, at the time of Jesus, lost their faith in God’s word and providence.
      3- Jesus was killed CLEARLY because people did NOT believe he was the messiah. Not one of those who plotted against him said ” this is the messiah, let’s kill him to do God’s Will……

  • Tasantir

    As CS Lewis says somewhere, the mental states of Jesus such as His “hopes” and “wishes” are inconceivable. It is presumptuous in the extreme to even speculate about them and in my opinion, it is not useful and should be entirely avoided.   

    • Gonaive

      The hopes and wishes of Jesus, I believe, was to fulfill the hope of God. Unificationism speaks clearly on that.

  • Howard Kainz

    @jeromeleo et al: If I, with my limited knowledge, know how someone is going to react to what I say or do, I may wish or will the opposite.  If Jesus knew the future, that doesn’t mean He willed it, or that those who wanted to kill Him had no other choice. When Jesus says, “If only you had known, in this day, the things that are to your peace,” as the Fathers indicate, it means he wished otherwise. If we say that the Jews were predestined to kill Him, we do an injustice to human freedom.

  • mollysdad

    Here’s what I think would have happened. If Jesus had been recognised by the Jews as the Messiah, He would still have been crucified, as this was His mission for the forgiveness of sins. The Sadducees disbelieved in the resurrection of the body and insisted that the Messiah was to come from their own house, and not that of David. It is likely that they, as apostates, would have betrayed and murdered their King as in fact they did.

    However, the Jews were generally called to faith in Jesus after the Resurrection, and only a few were called before it. Had they believed in Jesus Christ, it is likely that Israel would have been re-established as a nation politically independent of the Roman Empire and under the earthly rule of Peter and the Apostles judging Israel in the name of her unseen King. The Temple would still have stood, but as a place of Christian worship without the Levitical sacrifices.

    • Pierre

      Did not Jesus say that he had the authority to forgive sins while he was
      alive on earth? M:2:9-10, LK.7:47-48,  LK 5:20. This means that we can’t say that it was necessary for him to be crucified in order for him to forgive sins. All he needed was faith.

  • theorist

    Jesus didn’t have to die because any thing he did would’ve been sufficiently dignified to accomplish his mission of reparation.

     

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnfmkennedy John Kennedy

    The article is timely because these kind of questions should be asked by a thinking Christian. Reverend Sun Myung Moon answers these questions lucidly as he teaches clearly that it was a mistake to kill/murder Jesus & though Jesus brought the wonderful spiritual salvation by his death on the cross he promised to come again to bring complete salvation spiritually & physically to humankind. We should look at the original purpose for sending the Messiah..he came to fulfill God’s original ideal which our first ancestors did not fulfill. Jesus should have found a bride that God had prepared for him & show the example of a true parent, husband etc. The Messiah is the one born without original sin & all mankind should be engrafted to him to cleansed of the original sin..that should happen here on earth. Jesus died on the cross due to the intransigence of the people of the time..it wasnt a complete victory for God. There is definitely a plan A but often due to lack of fulfillment of human responsibility plan B or even plan C comes into play. Thus the need for the second coming of Christ.

    • musicacre

      “Jesus should have found a bride?”
      That is a misconception founded by only the Unification Church. Jesus fulfilled the scriptures to the letter, right down to all the Old Testament prophets, of how he suffered, not hard to find all that information in the Bible.( thousands of of scholars have commented intelligently on this, in every age since.) The pride of the people in his time who did not accept him as the Messiah is the same kind of pride that keeps modern-day people bind to his extended hand of salvation. The Unification Church, founded by Sun Myung Moon, believes he is nothing more than a prophet and that he failed because he died. Moon, died, so I’m wondering how that affects his followers?

      • aeonlive

        Incorrect. Unificationism does not view Jesus as a prophet but as the messianic second Adam.
        It does not say that the person of Jesus failed but that his mission was cut short due to the irresponsibility of those who were prepared to facilitate his rise to power, and protect his family.

        The second Eve is unknown to history.

  • Tcjy8

    As others have pointed out, the whole purpsoe of the the Incarnation was/is the Atnonement.  And the Atonement was for the Redemption of all mankind.  The very creation of a Chosen People was to ensure the coninuation of monotheims and expecation of a Savior.  Some might recall that several years ago, in a response to David Linghoffer’s book Why the Jews Did not Accept Jesus, Fr. Neuhaus pointed out that while at the time of the crucifixion Roman census data had the Jewish popluation of their empire at nearly six million, by the mid fourth century there were less that twelve percent of that number.  Fr. Neuhaus asserted that there was a great surge in the number of Jews accepting Jesus as the Messiah after the diaspora of AD 70 because many believed the destruction of Jeruselem was a punishment for the death of James.  Those Jews who believed in Jeusus probably did not consider themselves converts.  With the realization among both Jewish and gentile Christians that Jesus had come to save all mankind, thoseJjewish practices that were intended to separate the Jewish people for thier unique role in salvation history were no longer needed.  With so many defections from their heritage, it is easy to understand how those who resisted the idea of Jesus as Messiah saw Christians as traitors and apostates,  and so they preached hatred of Christianity.  Now here is a Plan B to mull over:  What would have happened if those who rejected Jesus had just said a few silent prayers of thier wayward brethren and preached kindess and toleracne for the poor fools that believed that the Nazarean Carpenter was the Messiah?

  • enness

    ‘The wages of sin is death.’ 

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  • Jeremiah

    When Jesus’s message was spread to the Romans by Paul, a story line focused on how Jesus was going to save the Jews from the Romans would not have been a successful method. Paul’s story had to hide Jesus’s message of freeing the Jews. This allowed Jesus’s other teachings and story to be spread to the gentlemen. This likely avoided the downfall of Jesus’s message and instead allowed it to spread.

  • Greg

    1- So, according to common, christian “logic”, God already knew that Adam and Eve would
    fall/sin, therefore creating an evil and sinfull world, filled with
    pain and suffering, necessitating “salvation”, etc. etc. I don’t think
    so, I believe God knows ALL the possibilities all the probable actions
    yet only you with your God-give FREE wil can decide which action you
    will take. The same applies to people now as it does to people 6000
    years ago and people in the future. Why would God prepare and protect a
    people to recieve the messiah for 4000 years expecting them to reject
    him?
    2- In John 3:14 it mentions that “…as the serpent was raised .. so must the son of man be lifted up…..” as to justify Jesus’ crucifixion, yet we fail to “connect the dots”
    Why
    was the serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert? It was clearly
    because the israelites had lost their faith in Moses, in the same way
    the people, at the time of Jesus, lost their faith in God’s word and providence. Had to israelites maintained their faith in Moses, There would have been NO NEED to save them from the serpents.
    3-
    Jesus was killed CLEARLY because people did NOT believe he was the
    messiah. Not one of those who plotted against him said ” this is the
    messiah, let’s kill him to do God’s Will……

  • Graham Lester

    If Jesus had been accepted he would have eventually grown old and died. Within a few years of that people would have realized that the Kingdom of Heaven had not arrived and they would then have declared retroactively that Jesus had been a false messiah.

    • Pierre

      Why do you think, Jesus would have just grown old and died as a single man? Instead, he (the new sinless Adam) could had married in Holy Matrimony (the New Eve that God had prepared for Jesus) and started God’s lineage here on earth during his life time. This is why Christ comes again as the Bible says for the Banquet Marriage of the Lamb. We are still waiting for God’s Kingdom here on earth. Jesus is the true son of God. He had God’s sinless seed in him.

      • Graham Lester

        Remember that Adam is just a metaphor. We evolved from higher mammals. Check out evolution on Wikipedia. If humans had been created suddenly as special creations it would be pretty easy to pinpoint the time and place historically. If animals had not evolved there wouldn’t be tens of thousands of extinct species. Why would God leave all those dinosaur and early hominid fossils lying around if He didn’t want people to believe in evolution? Please think about these things a little bit and don’t just take other people’s “revelations” at face value. The theory you are advocating was invented by a Korean lady named Song Do Kim in 1924. It was later adopted by numerous Korean sex cults, including the Unification Church. Do some research!

  • Ali Mhjoub

    Yes, the whole story on Jesus life and ministry need to be rewritten anew. The reason God allowed Christianity full of errors is to create a solid foundation for the Second Coming of the Christ. When Christ comes back, he will tell the world the whole truth just as he said in John 16:12,13,25. the good news is that Christ had already come! He Sun Myung Moon! The new truth about Jesus is found in the “Mission of the Messiah” chapter in the Divine Principle, the teachings of Rev. Moon.

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