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The Religion of Jesus PART 4: So, What Did He Believe?

Continuing from Part 3.

So, now we come now to the question of what Jesus himself believed. What was his religion? Or, more properly stated, what were the convictions that Jesus put into action? 

In Discourse #4 we explained why we will be sorting the record of Jesus words with three preferences:

  • We will prefer Mark where possible, being the first gospel written, and the gospel that Matthew and Luke copied.

  • We will consider the town-to-town teachings as especially authentic and well-remembered, mainly because they were repeated so often.

  • We will especially accept the parables, since each has an inherent unity (errantly translating a word here and there doesn’t change the point of the story), and since Jesus relied so heavily upon them.

This gives us a solid core of teachings to look at… a set of passages that are sufficient by themselves to establish what Jesus actually believed.

A further distinction showing what Jesus actually believed concerns what he chose to say and do, and which actions and responses were thrust upon him. I think this is a very important distinction. Any reader of the gospels has noticed the many times when people ran up to Jesus and thrust questions and challenges at him. Granted, there are lessons to be gleaned from some of these cases, but we learn far more about Jesus from the things he chose to do. Answering challenges were not part of his spiritual practice, they were impositions.

If, then, we pull away the actions that were thrust upon Jesus, we gain a much better look at his personal practices… the things he chose to do when nothing was pressing in upon him.

The Advanced Man

The picture we get of Jesus in the gospels is that of a very advanced man… a man deeply out of place on planet Earth at 30 AD. At first that may not sound like a terribly untraditional position (“the son of God” would necessarily be “highly advanced”) but the picture we get is less of a “divine being” and more of a “future man with a time machine.”

I’m not saying Jesus had a time machine hidden behind Mary and Joseph’s house, of course. But I do think this is an instructive model, and one that fits quite well.

Bear in mind, please, that Jesus did not go about telling people he was a divine being (no one in the Mark gospel seems to conceive of him that way), and that the earliest Christian theology… the earliest Christology… was that he became the son of God at his resurrection[1]See Romans 1:3-4, Acts 2:36 and Acts 13:32-33..

Then we see that even his hand-chosen students were unable to understand him. Here are four examples, among others[2]Mk. 4:13, 7:18, 8:17, John 16:12.:

Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Then are you also without understanding?

Do you not yet perceive or understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? How is it that you do not understand?

I have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now.

Beyond this, we see the disciples jumping wildly to conclusions, as if emotionally overcome by this man… erupting into some variant of the nervous smile. This is obvious in the transfiguration story (Peter was far out of his depth to suggest anything, and clearly spoke in some type of nervous response), as well as in the sequence of Mark 8 and Matthew 16, where Jesus warns them to “Beware of the leaven of the pharisees and of Herod.” Upon hearing this, the disciples chatter amongst themselves that maybe Jesus meant something about eating their bread. Jesus must then bring them back to reason, making them understand that he was talking about the teachings of the pharisees and Herod[3]And as with his parables, which will be discussed immediately, Jesus doesn’t give them the conclusion. Rather, he leads them to it and allows them to make the final connections themselves..

The advanced nature of Jesus is also to be seen in his use of parables. Jesus evaded doctrine, seemingly wherever possible. And I think the reason is obvious enough: Doctrine is “argument fodder,” and seldom adds any real substance to anyone.

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References   [ + ]

1. See Romans 1:3-4, Acts 2:36 and Acts 13:32-33.
2. Mk. 4:13, 7:18, 8:17, John 16:12.
3. And as with his parables, which will be discussed immediately, Jesus doesn’t give them the conclusion. Rather, he leads them to it and allows them to make the final connections themselves.
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