UNITY OF VANCOUVER
“The Jewish Jesus”
THE JEWISH JESUS
Many people think of Jesus as the founder of Christianity but this just isn’t true. Jesus didn’t preach dissolving Judaism in the name of a more universal religion. He was deeply Jewish & remained so all of his life. He saw himself as having a mission within Judaism. He spoke as a Jewish Rabbi to other Jews & all of His early followers were Jewish.
Jesus was dedicated to restoring Judaism to what was originally taught by Moses before the return of those who had been taken away as part of the Babylonian Exile. Jesus’ primary concern was the salvation of the unique Monotheistic viewpoint of the Jewish spiritual world which was in crisis & threatened more from within by wrong teachers & the lying pens of the scribes than by the Romans.Jesus taught that purity was internal rather than external, that the temple of God wasn’t an just an outer building located in Jerusalem but within the individual who acts as the Mediator or Expressor of the gracious & compassionate presence of God. The heart of Jesus’ message was the Good News of the arrival of God among men & women, the “Kingdom of God is here, now. God has arrived & is within you & living through you in every act of compassion. In essence, Jesus proclaimed the end of organized religion insofar as he proclaimed the fulfillment of what religion had always claimed to be about, seeking & finding God. “Our Father, which art in heaven’ meant the end of separation between God & man, between men & women & the entire created world.
Jesus created a community, grounded in Spirit & structured around compassion, inclusiveness, acceptance, love, non-violence & peace in dramatic contrast to how people lived in his time. Scholars call it the Jesus Movement but Jesus’ referred to it simply as “The Way.” His passion for his mission involved him in a radical criticism of his culture's leaders & resulted in his death.
The odyssey of Jesus of Nazareth from a Jewish Prophet crucified for the crime of insurrection against Rome to divine ruler of the cosmos is an extraordinary event in Western history & given the current state of Biblical scholarship, one of the best documented. So why don’t you & I know more about how he lived & what he actually taught?
The primary reason that what Jesus was like as a historical figure is not widely known is because what he was like is seriously obscured by 2 dominant & historically incorrect, images of Jesus. People are taught to worship the image & go no further. Each of these images attempts to answer 3 important questions about the historical Jesus, which became the basis for Christianity.
These 3 questions are:
1. Jesus’ identity. What was he? God or man?
The 1st image is called the Popular image & identifies or sees Jesus as the only divinely begotten Son of God.
In this image, Jesus’ message & teachings were about himself; about his own identity as ‘the only’ Son of God, the saving purpose of his own death & the importance of believing ‘in him.’ In this image, His mission was to die on the cross for the sins of the world as a means of reconciliation between God & humankind. His life & death open up the possibility of eternal life for ‘true believers.’
The Popular image has its roots in the Greek language of the N.T. especially the Gospel of John, which says For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. & where Jesus allegedly speaks of himself as "the light of the world, the bread of life, the resurrection & the life the way, the truth, & the life. The Creeds of the Christian church grew out of this image. For example: The Apostles' Creed proclaims that Jesus was “God's only son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified died & was buried; on the 3rd day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God from which he shall come to judge the living & dead.” In the Nicene Creed, Jesus is spoken of as “The only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all world, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made (not created) being 1 substance with the Father.”
Many true believers would be surprised to learn that these creeds aren’t original to the Christian Church. They are part of a much older prayer to the Greek God Dionysus. In fact, many Christian customs, like communion, genuflecting & baptism were older customs borrowed from other religions because the founders of Christianity understood that people don’t change their habits & customs easily or quickly. Like other domination cultures before them, they understood that it’s much easier to shift people’s beliefs to what you want them to believe IF you leave their cherished habits alone. If fact, they might not even care that they’re no longer celebrating the Feast of Mythris or Winter Solstice if their tradition of gift giving & partying is left alone. Give the people a God to appeal to for justice & festival days off & they won’t care if their God is called Osiris, Dionysus, Theos or Jesus.
The Popular Image is the most familiar image of Jesus to both Christian & non-Christian. We’ve all seen this image reflected on Billboards: "Jesus died for your sins.” The celebration of major Christian festivals reinforces this image. Christmas, wise men, shepherds, angels, manger, star, virgin, wondrous birth, all call attention to his divine identify. Easter focuses on his triumph over death. For centuries, Christians, took for granted that this image accurately depicted Jesus as an actual historical figure.
Throughout the Middle Ages & into the modern period, the image of Jesus as the divine savior dominated Western worship & thought. In fact, Christians & non-Christians, like believers in Islam share this view. What separated them then & now isn’t the image but whether or not they believed the image was true. Mohammed taught that Jesus was a ‘great prophet & the Bible is a Holy Book.’ What Islam doesn’t agree with is that ‘Jesus is the only son of God & the Bible the only word of God.’ Religious Extremists teach a ‘religion of exclusion’ not ‘inclusion.’ The Popular Image began to COLLAPSE with the invention of the printing press & the meticulous study of the NT documents over the past 2 centuries. There are major differences between the portraits of Jesus in John's Gospel & Mathew, Mark & Luke, collectively known as the synoptic Gospels. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus never proclaimed his exalted identity; it wasn’t part of his public image or preaching. In Mark, Only on 2 occasions (both private) did Jesus allegedly talk about who he was, both near the end of his ministry. In John's Gospel, Jesus continually proclaims his divine identify & saving purpose.
The 2nd image is of Jesus as an Eschatological Prophet.
1. His identity: He was a end time prophet who lived at a particular moment in history.
2. His central teaching was: Announcing the coming of the end of the world, (the end of an age) the last judgment & the dawning of the everlasting kingdom where the faithful would dwell.
3. His mission was to convince people of the urgency of repentance & to get them to repent before it was too late.
Though this image surfaced early in Jewish & Gentile Christianity, today, most scholars no longer believe that Jesus expected the world to end. Recent discoveries like the Dead Sea scrolls, Nag Hamadhi & developments in New Testament studies have paved the way for a new image of Jesus. Today we know that the Gospels aren’t a record of history written by Jesus’ disciples, but the developing traditions of the early Christian movement put into written form in the mid to last 3rd of the 1st century to the formalization of the Bible in 324 A.D. Even though we can never be certain that we have an exact quotation of Jesus, we can be relatively sure of the main themes of his teachings, the kinds of things he said & did & the result in his actions: healings, association & table fellowship with outcasts, the deliberate calling of 12 disciples, a mission directed to Israel & a historically documented final journey to Jerusalem that resulted in his death on the cross for the crime of insurrection to Rome.
From what we know today, we can form a much more accurate image of the kind of person he was & the very real dangers he faced in trying to change the status quo. He was a charismatic leader; a healer, sage & prophet whose mission was to revitalize Judaism. He sought to free people not from Rome but from the corrupt political power brokers that enslaved his people to ignorance & poverty through fear & religious & political persecution. By shifting our focus of attention away from blind belief & the question of whether Jesus said exactly the words attributed to him, a new image of Jesus based on his 2 primary commandments can evolve:
1st his relationship to the world of Spirit or God.
This shift dramatically changes the answers to the 3 questions.
1. Identity: Jesus was not either a Son of God or simply a human being, he saw himself as both, simultaneously. The world of Spirit was an active experience for him. It was the source of his power, the source of his teachings, the source of his freedom, the source of his spiritual authority, the source of his COURAGE & the source of his compassion. As he said, ‘it is not I but the father within that does the work.
2. His central teaching was the Great Commandment (relationship), which was to love God & our neighbor as yourself.
3. His purpose was to teach that the Kingdom of God is at hand; the two realities Spirit & Matter, which traditional Christians have frequently separated, are 1. In other words, we are in a dynamic, co-creative relationship of 1ness with Spirit that out pictures as ‘our neighbor’ – ‘the outer world of form’. “Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind. God is breathing me & I am breathing out the goodness of God.
Jesus taught that in order to learn & grow spiritually each individual must have their own deeply personal spiritual experiences which ‘result’ in God’s breathing good into & through each individual life.
Upon close observation, Religion is often nothing more than a set of particular beliefs, that a group of people, over time, have decided to hold as sacred, undisputable & unchangeable. Traditionally, churches are places where these beliefs are taught, maintained, reinforced & often forced on members. & what are these beliefs on which religions are built? They are nothing more than thoughts – intellectual concepts created & maintained by the logical mental function of the mind. Put bluntly, a belief is something we hope is true, even though we don’t really know if it is true. When we actually experience something to be true, we no longer need to ‘believe’ it’s true — we know it is because it is our personal experience. Our beliefs don’t connect us with God. Our direct experience is what brings us to God.
But as Jesus taught, our beliefs do matter. For example: Many Christians are taught to believe, that they’re born as hopeless sinners. ‘Original Sin’ is a concept; a belief; a seriously negative attitude, added to the doctrine of Christianity by St. Augustine that conditions us to fear God, hate ourselves & turn blindly to someone or something ‘outside ourselves’ like the church to save us. Likewise, believing in Heaven as a physical place where true believers go after the death of the physical body, is just that- another ‘belief.’ We don’t know if it is true – we just hope it is. What we do know is that it ‘excludes’ those who don’t believe labeling them Godless, wrong & eternally damned.
You can’t hold your focus of attention at the same time on an idea or thought & have an experience. Ask yourself, “In my religion & spiritual practices, am I aiming my mind’s attention toward experience or concepts?” Choosing to focus on inspired Spiritual experience shifts you into a image of Jesus.
Historically, a Hebrew Prophet was ‘called out’ by God when the Jewish people had lost their way spiritually & they were in imminent danger of ‘losing’ something vitally important like their freedom, their prosperity, their holy city of Jerusalem, their identity, or their country & way of life.
In the beginning, Jesus & all of his followers were Jews; in the end the church condemned the Jewish Christians as heretics. Until we resolve this paradox, we can’t hope to understand Jesus or Christianity because this shift shaped everything that was to follow. The 1st & greatest division in the evolution of Christianity addressed the question: “What is the relationship if any between the followers of Jesus as Christians & Judaism?”St. Jerome’s celebrated 4th century comment summarizes the rejection of Jewish Christianity. “As long they seek to be both Jews & Christians they are neither Jews nor Christians.” Jesus wasn’t trying to ‘save’ your eternal soul.’ He was trying to save the spiritfilled heart of Judaism before it became lost for all time.
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.