Jesus Christ

Christians know and love Jesus.  He is saviour, redeemer, healer, master, bridegroom, lion, lamb, helpless infant, broken sacrifice and Lord of Lords.  He is humble and exalted, meek and mighty, personal and transcendent.   

 

It is puzzling and disturbing to Christians that so many people acknowledge Jesus as a good and wise man, but no greater than others they might mention in the same breath. They do not believe he is the incarnate Son of God. Other people blame Jesus for the violence committed in his name. They see him as a source of evil, and perhaps an evil being himself.

 

The Bible says without the slightest ambiguity that ‘Whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him.’ (John 3:36)  These are fearful words. Christians tremble at the thought of their friends and family suffering eternal wrath. They proclaim the love of Jesus, warn of the wrath to come, cajole, plead and threaten, and finally, when their words fall on deaf ears, they are left puzzled, disturbed and fearful. If only the unbelieving world could be made to see Jesus through our eyes, they would surely all believe in a heartbeat!

 

Jesus, for Christians, is like water for fish. He is our infinitely abundant ocean; the source and situation of life. It is hard for fish to imagine that other creatures – like blue birds and brown bears – have no relationship to salt water.  It has no use or purpose for them. Blue birds and brown bears can’t imagine how their lives would change if the oceans vanished or had never existed.

 

What would Jesus mean to a person who had never read a Bible or heard his name?  It is hard for modern Christians to imagine the Highlands of New Guinea 100 years ago, or Australia 250 years ago, or the Americas 600 years ago or the entire world 2100 years ago, when everyone was absolutely, totally ignorant that a person named Jesus ever had loved or would live, one day in the future.  The historical Jesus, whether for them past or future, was impossible to believe in or reject. So what was the purpose of their lives and the meaning of their deaths?

 

Christians believe it is possible for physical beings to have a direct personal relationship with a transcendent spirit. Therefore anyone, anywhere, at any time could know Jesus. What would that relationship look like?

 

Early Christianity was built on personal experience.  Their faith greatly increased their ability to love their neighbours. They shared what they possessed and cared for one another. In the modern world they would be labelled communists or communalists. Faith communities built around church ‘families’ and the leadership of ‘shepherds’ was so effective that when Roman Emperor Julian led a Pagan revival he deliberately modelled his neo-Paganism on the Priest-church-social network structure.  The short-lived pagan revival mimicked the forms of Christianity but lacked its spirit.

 

Christian faith also allowed Christians to love God in ways that Paganism had never envisioned.  Pagans were terrorized by their gods, who were capricious, cruel and remote. Unless an oracle received a divine message, Pagans could never be sure which gods were tormenting them or why.  Their only hope of deliverance was to repent and offer sacrifices until the angry god was appeased and the torment ended.

 

Early Christians believed that Jesus was present in their lives, transforming them morally and ethically, blessing their families and relationships. Christianity enabled believers to love God in a direct, reciprocal manner, and to love their neighbours in ways that created a more compassionate, egalitarian and just society.

 

Is it possible for Jesus to touch the lives of people who do not ‘know him’ – people who may have lived before he was incarnate?  Was it possible for Moses, David, Ruth and Esther to be guided and protected by Jesus?

 

The Gospel of Love answers emphatically that it is possible for anyone, anywhere, and anytime to know the spirit of Jesus, without knowing anything about the ‘historical’ Jesus.  If that is true, then what is the meaning of ‘Whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him’?

 

Can we say that people who recognized divine power in the beauty of nature, ‘believed’ in Jesus? If so, then many Pagans will have eternal life.  Can we say that those who strove to live righteous lives ‘believed’ in Jesus? If so, then righteous people of all faiths will have eternal life. But what exactly did they have to believe and how sincerely did they have to believe it to have eternal life? What would someone have to do or believe (or not believe) to be eternally condemned?  

 

Such vague and arbitrary boundaries between salvation and damnation are unworthy of a just God.  No one can make an eternally binding decision to believe or reject without full knowledge of who Jesus is and what he represents. The Early Church believed that God had provided a future time and place where the unfinished business of this world will be brought to completion.  Many Christians who ‘believe’ in Jesus also ‘believe’ all non-Christians will go to hell.

 

Blind belief in the historical Jesus is far less meaningful than a personal relationship with the spirit of Jesus, which in turn is far less tangible that a direct relationship with the person of Jesus.  The 1000 year resurrection will make it possible for human choice to be fully expressed and divine justice to be fully and fairly executed.  Those who chose to believe will know what they believe. Although it is hard to imagine why others will reject salvation, they will be free to do so with full knowledge of the consequences.

 

Augustine refused to believe in a literal 1000 year resurrection.  He had no need of it.  After Augustine became Bishop and a holy warrior, he refused to believe in freewill. He had no need of it. In fact freewill and personal responsibility were anathema to mass conversion.  God may have the time and patience to allow people to understand the full consequences of love, hate, selfishness and cooperation; Augustine had an entire Pagan Empire to convert quickly; no debate could be permitted and no exceptions granted. Augustine based the wrath of God on Original Sin, relegating personal sin and a personal relationship with Jesus to secondary status. 

 

The implications of this new doctrine were profound.  Because condemnation was transferred from personal sin to imputed sin, the Gospel of Wrath became dependent upon the literal, historical rebellion. Original Sin is dependent on two literal, historical people named Adam and Eve. The Gospel of Wrath would collapse if the entire human race were not descended from those two rebellious, cursed individuals.  We see in the modern world the desperate struggle of Christian

Fundamentalists to deny the overwhelming evidence that human beings lived before 4000 BC, and that sickness, suffering and death were present in the world long before the dates assigned to ‘literal, historical’ Adam and Eve.

 

The Gospel of Wrath, Original Sin and historical Eden are inextricably linked because God’s Wrath is justified by the imputed sin of Adam. The corollary is that God’s mercy is justified by the imputed sacrifice of Jesus.  This abstract imputation of God’s rage, satisfied by the sacrifice of an innocent victim, made it possible for salvation to be imputed to innocent babies, who were baptized without their consent.  The historical Jesus is necessary to atone for the rebellion of historical Adam so that salvation can be imputed to babies.

 

Adults are responsible for their own sins. They don’t need to blame Adam. This will sound heretical to Christians indoctrinated in the Gospel of Wrath; blind faith in an unknown God has never saved anybody.  Christians can believe that Jesus existed, that he was born of a virgin, that he was God incarnate, that he was crucified, that he rose from the dead, and that he now sits at the right hand of God judging the living and the dead; but what does this ‘belief’ signify if there is no personal relationship, no spiritual transformation?  Multitudes of humans never had the slightest opportunity to know the historical Jesus. But they did have an opportunity to personally experience the spirit of Jesus. This is important. If John’s Revelation is true, they will have an opportunity to have a direct relationship with the person of Jesus during the 1000 year resurrection. This is essential. The Gospel of Wrath ‘believes’ in the historical Jesus.  The Gospel of Love is transformed by the living Jesus

 

The Catholic Church has placed great emphasis on the historical Jesus, particularly the helpless infant and the crucified object of God’s wrath writhing on the cross. Personal experience of the spirit of Jesus is possible, but not essential.  The Catholic Church agrees with Augustine that Eden must be a literal, historical event but that a 1000 year resurrection of the dead cannot be interpreted literally.  Some of the dead will be reconciled with God via purgatory. Some will be separated from God in Limbo and Hell.  Some who never knew the historical Jesus, and never received the sacrament of baptism, will receive salvation and eternal life for reasons that are known to God alone.  The Catholic Church has preferred mystery in the divine realm to the literal simplicity of a general resurrection of the dead.

 

The Protestant Reformation reaffirmed the Gospel of Wrath, Original Sin, the historical necessity of Adam and Eve, the imputation of sin and the imputation of salvation.  Jesus was reduced to his historical role of blood sacrifice, to redeem the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus was no longer the saviour of the entire human race due to the doctrine of Limited Atonement and indeed his role as Saviour was reduced to a legal contrivance after freewill and personal responsibility were replaced by double predestination. The Protestant Reformation agrees with Augustine that Eden must be a literal, historical event but that a 1000 year resurrection of the dead cannot be interpreted literally. 

 

Modern Charismatics have attempted to restore Christianity to its pre-Augustinian purity.  Predestination has been replaced with freewill. Charismatics seek a personal relationship with Jesus.  However, most Charismatics are Bible literalists who agree with Augustine that there is only one acceptable means of salvation and anyone who is not consciously born again is lost. Unlike Catholics and Calvinists, Charismatics do not formally acknowledge exceptions for those who never knew Jesus, thereby limiting the possibility of salvation to the relative few who have had an opportunity to hear the gospel. There will be no ‘second chance’ after death, not even for the multitudes who never had a ‘first chance’ of salvation.

 

Many Charismatics have reverted to Early Church expectation of a future, literal 1000 year resurrection of the dead, but have retained the Augustinian/Catholic/Calvinist belief that salvation is determined solely in this life, whether or not Jesus was known.  The questions ‘Do you know that Jesus loves you?’ and ‘Are you Saved?’ also carry the sinister meaning of Original Sin for the unsaved.

 

 

Comment or Question?