Sometime circa 4 b.c.e., a baby was born in Galilee, a hamlet so small and remote that it’s never been mentioned in the Jewish Bible. Nazareth probably consisted of a hundred or so residents, all of them poor and illiterate land workers. Almost nothing is known about this Nazarene, though there is slightly more information available about his younger brother, James.
In the mid-to-late twenties, c.e., this young man would become the disciple of a very famous preacher known up and down the Jordan as John the Baptist. After John was captured and killed by Herod, Jesus would branch out on his own, proclaiming himself a prophet of the order of John. A short time after that, he would take on the moniker of messiah… a Jewish savior sent to restore Israel to its former glory, and deliver them from Rome.
Because of his sedition, he would be labeled by Rome as a lestai—bandit, and crucified by Rome on a cross alongside other lestai, with a placard proclaiming his crime: King of the Jews.
Following his death, a young Jewish man, probably a temple cop, or a Jewish mercenary of some kind, would proclaim that he had a vision of a resurrected “Jesus” on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. He would use this “vision” to turn the Jewish messiah into a Christ. With this new Christ, he would go on to create a whole new religion, which he would proclaim as gospel, canvassing the Mediterranean and most of the known world. He would continue this until his death, which legend says happened in Rome, in 64 c.e.
Despite opposition from Jesus’ brother, the new leader of Jesus’ movement, and Jesus’ disciples, Paul was relentless. He would make three trips back to Jerusalem trying to convince Jesus’ disciples of his legitimacy.
Circa 50 c.e. he would pen his first of several letters. Galatians isn’t only Paul’s fist letter, it’s the earliest written document of the Christian Bible.
Shortly after Paul’s death, Israel would go through a series of uprisings against the Roman Empire, only to be finally defeated in 70 c.e., six years after Paul’s death. Jerusalem was razed by Rome—and the Temple burned to the ground so that nothing but ashes remained. The Romans intended that no human being would ever even know it was there in the first place.
Shortly after Israel’s utter destruction, an author who identified himself as John Mark would take quill to paper, and pen what would be the first gospel, the Gospel of Mark. About a decade later, authors who identified themselves as Matthew and Luke would copy Mark, along with another document known to us as Q. Finally, at the beginning of the next century, circa 110 c.e., the final gospel, the Gospel of John would go into circulation.
These gospel writers would ultimately write about two different characters: Jesus the Jewish messiah, and Christ, the Grecian demigod, created by Paul. Their entire doctrine would be filtered through Paul’s doctrine first.
Christians are profoundly confused as to what they truly believe about the man they claim to follow. For the most part it has to do with their lack of interest in studying the man they so love to ‘cite,’ but it also turns out that there is a good reason for this confusion. They’re following two different people.
Jesus the Jew taught that salvation was through doing good to others, and obedience to the law.
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only one who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
The Christ disagrees:
We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Jesus spoke at length about God’s kingdom—a kingdom here on earth. He proclaimed the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore Israel—the nation—and the Temple to its rightful place as God’s throne. The Christ had no interest in earthly kingdoms at all but spoke of a heavenly kingdom… a “new heaven and a new earth.” Jesus preached repentance, baptism, and good works. The Christ wasn’t interested in any of those. For Christ, all that was needed was faith—believe in his name, and that was it. Jesus was a Jew and sometimes dismissive of non-Jews. Christ was a Hellenized Jew, who rejected Jewish law in favor of “faith.”
Paul, the creator of Christ, never once spoke of Jesus’ life, his family, his upbringing, his ministry, or even his spiritual philosophy. Instead, he spoke of only three things: the death of the Christ, the resurrection of the Christ, and the communion of the Christ. Paul ignored Jesus altogether. He ignored Jesus’ connection to John the Baptist, he disparaged baptism, and only mentioned repentance once:
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
We are very often confused by Christian behavior, because it so often goes against the Jesus of the gospels. We wonder why it is that Christians don’t notice that. In reality, they choose, instead, to follow Christ. The Jewish messiah would be far too difficult to follow. He had contempt for the elite; he placed high value on action—particularly good works; he insisted that repentance was the way to God’s grace; forgiveness from God came through our forgiving others first; and that the poor in God’s kingdom were more valuable than the rich.
Jewish Jesus demanded a lot from his disciples, and most people just aren’t willing to subject themselves to his extreme ideas. So instead, they turn to Christ.
Christ, was absolutely okay with seeking revenge:
… hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
I Corinthians 5:5
Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
I Timothy 1:20
Christ courted money; Christ argued that slaves should be subservient to their masters; Christ had no problem letting people suffer if they couldn’t find work:
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.
II Thessalonians 3:10
Christ, in other words, is more like us.
Jewish Jesus looked into the universe and he saw something, something wonderful—something he called God. This something valued him—so much so that he could say, “I and my father are one.” But that value God placed on Jesus, he also placed on Jesus’ enemy, which would prompt Jesus to say:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Matthew 5: 43-47
These are things Christ would never ask us to do. With Christ, we must simply “believe” and we will be forgiven no matter what we do. We can act in the moment, and then simply ask for forgiveness. So ultimately, they prefer to follow Christ.
Will the real Jesus please stand up!