The above mentioned question is one that is often posited in sermons and discussions in order to get the hearers to think about, and perhaps repent about, certain actions that they are committing: ‘Would Jesus approve of this?’ or ‘What would Jesus do or say about this?’
Though these are not wrong questions per se we would maintain that they do sidetrack us from the scripture’s leading in God’s plan of redemption, which includes our sanctification. (1 Corinthians 1:30) In order to respond we need to deal with first things first, or better, last things first: we must think eschatologically (think about the final ‘things’ and events of the world). Jesus approval or non-approval of our actions must not only be focused on the present but also on the future. For truly if Jesus were alive today He would be here as Judge of the world, having come to deal with men according to what they have done. If Jesus was alive today we would witness the truth of Philippians 2:8-9 in all its startling glory. Men and women and children would be bowing to their king; if Jesus was alive today all would recognize His Lordship.
But some will respond: you have misunderstood us. When we ask ‘what if Jesus was alive today?’ we mean what if Jesus was incarnate in this generation, as opposed to first century Palestine. Then we would think about how He wants us to be salt and light in this generation. In reply we consider, secondly, the redemptive-historical nature of God’s plan of salvation. We remember that God had a very specific plan for His people. This plan included the promise that the seed of the woman would triumph. (Genesis 3:15) But God did not tell Eve when the seed would come. From that time on God’s people looked for their Messiah but He did not come. But then He did, and rather suddenly. (Malachi 3:1) And “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11) This might cause us to wonder: perhaps He came at the spur of the moment; perhaps it was not planned but God acted in response to the affairs and activity of man.
Paul, however, reminds us that at the “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son.” (Galatians 4:4 – emphasis mine). And He was sent not only at a specific time but to a specific people, for He was “born under the law”. This was not the law of the nations but the law of the Torah, the Old Testament. Jesus was sent forth to the Jewish people first because “salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22) Thus promise to Abraham was fulfilled; the seed brought forth was when God had determined that it be so.
And He even died according to God’s plan. Peter told the Jews at Pentecost “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23 – emphasis mine) We rightly state then that Jesus lived and walked amongst His people at the right time and place so that He could accomplish redemption for all those who trust in Him, regardless of their time & place. God used this timely message to convert many to Himself. (Acts 2:37ff. cf. Acts 17:30)
Yet some might still say: yes but let us use our imagination to think of how our Lord would speak to what we are doing. We reply, thirdly, by looking at what God has told us in His Word. We don’t need to use our imagination; we simply need to be led by the example of scripture. Our Lord Himself preached from and explained the Old Testament throughout his ministry to address the needs of the day. And isn’t this what the apostles did when Jesus ascended into heaven? They returned to Jerusalem and started preaching the word. They began to fulfill the great commission not by preaching about what it would be like if Jesus was around in their time, but rather that Jesus lives! (Acts 2:24,31-33) This demonstrates the truth of what our Heidelberg Catechism says about how Christ rules His Church: by Word & Spirit. (Q&A 31) Wherever He is proclaimed today, He is still saving, healing, feeding, teaching, ruling, guiding, shepherding and doing many other great works that He did when He was on earth.
In addition, Christ has appointed the church to baptize & to eat and drink. The sacraments of God, as signs and seals of His covenant of grace, remind us that Christ is very near us: the water symbolizing the blood and cleansing of Jesus and the bread and wine reminding us of His death and resurrection. In a sense then, that is in a very real and present sense, Jesus is alive and is working in His people right now, to save them and to spur them on to good works (Ephesians 2:1-10) This is not only in an individualistic fashion, as the original question tends to focus on, but corporately as well, that is as one body (1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:13)
So instead of thinking and talking about ‘What if Jesus was alive today?’ how about we simply preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2) from the whole scripture? (Luke 24:44) If we want people to repent, preach the law to show them their sin and their need for Christ. In these things we will see the resurrected Christ, living and moving in us. For Jesus promised: “I will be with you always”. (Matthew 28:20) He is still here; He is here.