Last time in this 2 part series I raised the issue, following analogies with God lying (1 Kings 22:21-22) and Elisha lying (2 Kings 8:8-10: Elisha says “Go, say to him, ‘You shall certainly recover,’ but the Lord has shown me that he shall certainly die.” And, in fact the man never recovers from the illness because he is soon murdered), if an argument could be made that God lied to Jesus that He would rescue Jesus from the cross by sending Elijah, even though God knew Elijah wouldn’t come and God was just trying to lessen Jesus’ burden (On God lessening burdens, see Psalm 68:19-20; Psalm 81:6-7; Psalm 55:22; 2 Cor 1:4; Matthew 11:29-30)? Just as Mark portrays John the Baptist as the new and greater Elijah, Jesus would be John’s successor and superior, the new and greater Elisha who does not tell the lie but is told it. See:
If this is the case, we should see some imagery pointing to Jesus not dying on the cross. And that’s exactly what we do see in Robert M Price’s excellent little essay: Price, Robert M. (2011). “Explaining the Resurrection without Recourse to Miracle.” In The End of Christianity (pp. 219-232), ed. John Loftus. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
For example, Price argues at some early level of the mythmaking of the Christian story, we have evidence Jesus was presented as escaping the cross. His divine sonship would be shown not by succumbing to the cross, but escaping/overcoming it. Somewhat hidden and somewhat preserved in Mark, Jesus may have gone to the cross believing that his Gethsemane prayer would be answered and that God would intervene in history and miraculously send Elijah to rescue him (Mark 15:34-36), but then ultimately realized that God would not come and had abandoned him to his terrible fate: hence the cry “My God My God, Why Have You Abandoned Me?” . Price raises the issue that the desperate prayer in Gethsemane may have originally been envisioned as being granted (compare Hebrews 5:7, where Jesus’ prayers were “heard”) (Price, 2011, p. 223).
Jesus may have thought/been portrayed as thinking that the willingness of Jesus to die, like that of Isaac, is what answers future Israel’s sins, not his actual death. Perhaps Jesus thought that a Swoon-like situation (where Jesus only seemed to die on the cross, but really lived) was in play with him being rescued from the cross, only God would send Elijah to rescue him instead of his disciples (as the disciples had abandoned him and the crowd heard Jesus crying out for Elijah from the cross). Ironically, Mark seems to use imagery that is certainly compatible with a “seeming death,” such as the odorous/drugged liquid being offered to Jesus, which could have knocked him unconscious and make it seem like he died, hence facilitating him being taken down from the cross prematurely (Price, 2011, p. 223). And, in fact, Pilate is perplexed as to why Jesus expired so quickly.
It is difficult to see how this line of thought can be reconciled with a penal substitution interpretation of the cross where Jesus paid the death penalty we deserved, but makes perfect sense under the Moral Influence theory of the cross where Jesus’ unjust suffering is supposed to inspire our repentance, and so this could be accomplished without the tragedy going so far that Jesus actually had to die. What God couldn’t do was actually save Jesus, because “Christ In You” was needed for the battle against the temptations of Satan, present and to come.