“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Hanging on the cross naked and confused Jesus uttered perhaps his most honest and revealing words. Quoting from Psalm 22:1, Jesus came to the stark realization his Messianic dreams would die with him on the cross.
Up to this point, the events of the last week during Passover seemed to confirm his wish and that of his followers. He had already been nominated, “King of the Jews” (actually ‘Judeans’). All that remained was for Yahweh to inaugurated His kingdom by supernaturally irrupting and destroying the wicked Romans in fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy.
1“A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls.
2I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. 3Then the Lordwill go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. 4On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. 5You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.
“14This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. (Zechariah 14:1-5, 12)
This chapter of Zechariah paints a dramatic picture of incredible pain and suffering inflicted by Yahweh upon the enemies of Jerusalem. Written during the Maccabean Wars, it reflects the angst of the Israelites who staunchly refused to compromise their religious beliefs and paid the price for those convictions. Failure then for Yahweh to intervene and establish his kingdom resulted in this scenarios shift to a yet future time of realization. Jesus and his followers hoped they would see this day appear. It did not come.
When it comes to unfulfilled prophecy, the believer has two options. Either they accept it is the product of a religiously addled mind with idealistic expectations and romanticized hopes that will never come. Or refusing to abandon faith in their God, they defer these prophecies to an as of yet unrealized future day. This keeps the window of hope open indefinitely.
Along with Jesus the hopes of his followers died as well. The finality of this moment saw them prepare his body for burial and their return to Galilee to resume their previous occupations. For all intents and purposes, it was over… until it wasn’t.
At this point, we have, “The Tale of Two Jesuses.” There is a branch of theology called “Christology” which concerns itself with a study of Jesus from pre-birth (eternal Son of God) through incarnation, earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification and future role as King of the new heavens and new earth. This is a gross and deliberate distortion which attempt to “Christianize” the Jesus who walked the earth and blend him with the Jesus who sits in heaven. In a rational world which refuses to accord this mischaracterization of Jesus to Christians unchallenged, a branch of theology labelled “Jesusology” or “Jesololgy” would exist to differentiate the two.
Most Christians would bristle at the idea there were two Jesuses, but there were, kind of though one is a figment of the imaginations of the early Christians. There was the earthly Jesus who lived in Nazareth and travelled to Jerusalem to be baptized by John. Shortly thereafter, he experienced a profound awakening which transformed him. He believed he had been anointed and appointed by God to preach the gospel to his fellow countrymen. Walking in the footsteps of his mentor, John the Baptist, he heralded the arrival of the kingdom of God. He urged “the lost sheep of Israel” to repent and be baptized so they might be cleansed and forgiven thus escaping the wrath of God.
For just over a year, Jesus preached this message largely in Galilee functioning as a special prophet of the Last Days. His ministry was marked mostly by exorcisms and healings of the lame, blind, deaf and sick. This power over the satanic forces was evidence the kingdom had arrived like the leading edge of a terrible storm. As the storm clouds of God’s holy wrath continued to build so too did fear in the coming judgment.
We will now look at the other Jesus, the heavenly Christ. There is not the slightest doubt Jesus’ closest disciples, the ones most intimate with him and entrusted with his deepest secrets, had no idea about his resurrection. None. Even if they had “temporarily” forgotten, which is itself almost inconceivable given the immense gravity of its importance, they were still totally unaware despite repeated and powerful visual reminders. Even when Jesus stood “before their very eyes” they still refused to believe.
To an outsider who was once an insider, I am astonished how I missed this in spite of combing through the gospel narratives for over a decade. I dissected the text so carefully by hand writing my own harmonized version in order to better understand the life of Jesus. I studied the gospels meticulously in Bible school, Bible college and Seminary. I wrote papers and took tests and exams on them, yet I never saw what is now so apparently obvious. Faith is blind.
I never want to insult the intelligence of evangelicals anymore than I would have wanted someone to have insulted mine when I was an earnest believer. My deep devotion to God prevented me from looking at or considering anything which might erode my faith. I had no reason to doubt and every reason to believe.
The big question is: Where did this concept of Jesus as the heavenly Christ originate? The answer: At the empty tomb.
All roads to Christianity lead to a vacant tomb where a handful of women went to embalm Jesus for permanent burial. The four gospel accounts may vary on many details but one thing is beyond question. One Easter morning, a group of women led by Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb of Jesus intending to anoint it. Upon arrival they discovered the stone guarding its entrance had been rolled away and his body was missing. These details would seem historically irrefutable. What transpires after this requires delicate analysis.
Note to Reader: Since graduating from seminary over two decades ago, my commitment to studying this topic has only intensified. It has been my singular passion if not obsession. I have sacrificed my life in pursuit of the truth about Jesus and the Bible. This is not a hobby nor a vendetta against a bad experience within evangelicalism. It is and has been a dispassionate quest to find answers to doubts that began to surface and build throughout my Christian experience. From the beginning, my sincere goal was to deepen my faith not abandon it. This attitude provided me with the objectivity I needed to explore my faith. By letting down my faith guard, I was able to see — for the first time — the Bible in the clear light of rationality. Unobstructed by a preconceived Christian perspective, the sacred text of scripture offered a reasonable explanation to revealing its secrets.
For the first time the Bible made sense. The key to unlocking its mysteries was so simple. Once you remove the reality of God (not belief in God!) from the equation, everything fits neatly into place. The vengeful God of the Israelites who indiscriminately kills anybody who is not of the “chosen race,’ the many miracles and events which are inconsistent with archeology and history, the failure of so much of Hebrew prophecy, the inconsistency of divine casaulty relative to sin and punishment and faith and blessing, the many textual and chronological contradictions, historical anachronisms, incompatibility of Hebrew prophecy with Christian interpretations, the failure of the promised Messianic kingdom during the first century of Christianity, Paul’s renegade version of Christianity which included Gentile inclusion, millennia of Christian history replete with atrocities and scandals committed by those professing to be followers of Jesus and last but not least the current abysmal state of American evangelicalism marked by hypocrisy, abuse, lethargy, complacency and overall contamination due to its alliance with the Trump presidency. If there ever was an unforgivable sin, it would be this.
The next stage of this article would be an in depth comparison and analysis of the four gospels to determine their credibility and hence reliability when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. But this must wait for another time due to its magnitude. We will cover this in an article entitled, “The mystery of the empty tomb.” Here we will vigorously scrutinize each detail of the resurrection story for internal congruence and logical consistency. For now we will touch on what lies at the bottom of evangelical faith if not reason.
The divine lottery. The amazing thing about a lottery is everyone who buys a ticket is a potential winner until the draw. Each person experiences hope and excitement at the prospect of winning before the winning ticket is revealed. Granted the winner experiences a much greater level but so would a person arriving in heaven. The major difference between this kind of lottery and the divine lottery held by Christians is the introduction of fear. It’s not just a question of “buying” a ticket to heaven, but also the consequences of not buying one.
In other articles I have emphasized how “fear” has always been Christianity’s trump card when it comes to eliciting faith. The threat of eternal damnation is unbearable. If someone offers an easy escape, most will take it. During Jesus day, the everyday Jew was at the mercy of the Jewish leaders when it came to matters of faith. Both John and Jesus presented themselves as prophets of God thereby making their words divinely authoritative. It is not surprising many Jews accepted their offer.
Evangelical preachers today continue to exploit the ignorance and/or vulnerability of those who fall prey to their tactics of psychological manipulation and fear mongering. Whether children, the aged, the sick (mentally or physically), the distraught, the depressed, the poor, the displaced, the frightened, the destitute, the hungry, the needy or whatever it might be — Christianity is in the business of over promising, under delivering.
Nobody can guarantee there is a heaven or hell much less promise a passage to either! But this does not matter as long as evangelical Christians can create doubt and stoke fear in the possibility of life after death based on Biblical claims. Until we stop placing any trust in the Bible’s authority as a divine book, and recognize it for what it is — the word and work of ancient men with finite knowledge and limited understanding of science and nature. They may have been sincere but they were also sincerely wrong.
Hope is a tremendous marketing tool which Christianity has been trading on from the beginning. The thing which is remarkable about hope is it is a future offer which you “pay for” today. And you will never know if it is true until you die at which time it is too late.
This argument always returns to the same place. “Well, I would rather be wrong and believe than risk being wrong and not believe.” Following this “logic,” everyone should practice every religion possible to ensure they cover as many bases as possible except for one major problem. Many religions contradict each other so which do you chose? The so-called Pascal’s Wager argument is internally inconsistent and must be forever abandoned as short sighted and impractical.
WARNING: Spiritual elitism alert! I know there are millions of Christians who haven’t the slightest hesitation in declaring every religion past and present which does not go through Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life” is wrong. Jesus is the only path to God, all others lead directly to hell. Evangelicals have no qualms denigrating Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and even branches of Christianity which do not include a “personal conversion experience or accepting of Jesus into your heart” teaching. Few evangelicals will actually publicly own this conviction for fear of being branded as religious bigots, preferring to “leave it up to God to decide who goes to heaven.”
Such exclusivity on salvation permeates and buoys evangelical ideology. It provides a sense of divine entitlement which breeds belief in American exceptionalism and triumphalism. These two elements can be found at the heart of evangelical nationalism and tied closely to Christian Zionism. America has been richly blessed by God because of her unwavering commitment to and support of Israel. Proof American evangelicals or Evangelicans have gotten it right (with God) is evidenced by the unparalleled prosperity and freedom it enjoys.
None of what I have said would matter were it not for evangelicalism’s growing militancy. The divide between evangelicals and non evangelicals is widening and this portends a potentially dangerous future in America. A spate of articles decrying the loss of religious freedoms, the intrusion of secularism, the prospect of socialism, the increase in persecution — whether real or imagined is irrelevant. Evangelicals are marshaling support, leaders are unabashedly stoking the fires of paranoia and fear in an attempt to mobilize voters. Now another Trump presidential term once thought unimaginable now seems all but certain, a terrifying prospect.