Note to Reader: This fictitious conversation is written respectfully but honestly. It is how I would imagine an actual conversation with the biblical Jesus would go. It is based on an entire lifetime of contemplative thinking, rigorous biblical research and personal experience as a former evangelical. I offer it as a sensitive and thoughtful means of understanding the real Jesus and not the Christian version which is based on experientialism.
Me: Hi Jesus, how are you?
Jesus: Where am I? And who are you?
Me: It may surprise some people you have to ask me those questions?
Me: Because a huge portion of the world’s population think you are the eternal Son of God who knows everything.
Jesus: That’s blasphemy! You don’t look like an Israelite. Are you a Gentile?
Me: Yes, why?
Jesus: I shouldn’t be talking to you.You’re unclean.
Me: Will you make an exception given the nature of this conversation?
Jesus: I suppose I will have to in order to get some answers.
Me: I’m a seeker of truth, and let’s just say it’s been many years since you died. Do you remember how you died?
Jesus: Of course, I was crucified by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for refusing to renounce my claim to the throne of Israel as King of the Jews.
Me: Were you surprised by the tragic ending of your life?
Jesus: As a matter of fact, I was. I was convinced God would rescue me and place me on the throne to rule the nation. At least I knew I would be resurrected with the righteous one day regardless. I assume that day is here?
Me: Actually, it has not come yet and may never arrive.
Jesus: So how am I here talking to you then?
Me: Let’s just say, you are here as a hypothetical and leave it at that, okay?
Jesus: Very well.
Me: Would it surprise you to know the land of Israel remains without a king or Temple?
Jesus: That is surprising but that will change soon I’m certain.
Me: Then this next piece of information may shock you even more. It has been two thousand years since you were crucified and for most of that time, Israelites have not lived in the land.
Jesus: Are the Romans still occupying it?
Me: Not exactly, it has mostly been occupied by Muslims and Christians?
Jesus: What are Muslims and Christians?
Me: Let’s skip the Muslims right now and focus on the Christians.
Jesus: Why are they called, “Followers of the anointed one?”
Me: Actually, they are followers of you. You are the anointed one.
Jesus: I was anointed and had many followers before I died. Do they follow my teachings?
Me: Yes and no, you have hundreds of millions who think they follow you but actually follow a resurrected non Jewish version of you. By the way, “Jew” is an abbreviated form of “Judean” and carries ethnic and religious connotations. Most people refer to you as a Jew even though you lived outside Judea because you practiced Yahwism which was of course centered in Jerusalem. Anyway, they believe you rose from the dead three days after you died and shortly after that ascended to heaven to be with God, your father. They believe the fact God raised you from the dead and seated you beside him in heaven proves you have always been divine. Most of your followers considered you the eternal “logos” who became a separate entity from God at the time of creation but were still subordinate. Several hundred years later, you would be elevated to the status of equal to God, a position many believe you currently occupy.
Jesus: You keep referring to me as God. There is only one God, Yahweh, and I am not him. It is blasphemous to suggest otherwise. I can’t believe my fellow Israelites could or would make that mistake.
Me: Well, that brings us to the next issue. Very few Israelites believe you were anything but a false prophet and messianic pretender. Those who follow you are almost exclusively Gentiles who took over the religion started by you and your disciples.
Jesus: I didn’t start any religion. I was preaching the good news of the coming kingdom promised in the ancient writings. What religion are you talking about?
Me: Christianity, it is the world’s largest religion and it is based on your alleged resurrection from the dead. Its adherents worship you and claim you reside in the hearts of believers through the holy spirit.
Jesus: I don’t understand why people think I was resurrected when I obviously was not. I of all people would know if I was raised from the dead, don’t you think?
Me: It’s a bit more complicated than that. You see, after you died and were placed in a sealed tomb a group of your female followers came to embalm you for permanent burial. Upon arriving at the tomb, they discovered the stone had been rolled away from the entrance and your body was missing. One of them, Mary of Magdala, claimed to have seen an angel who told her you were alive. She told your disciples about it, but they thought it was nonsense and returned to Galilee. When they returned to celebrate Pentecost fifty days later, they discovered Mary was claiming to have since had a personal mystical encounter with you in your resurrected body. Your disciples gathered together to pray to God about this matter. While doing so, some began to have visions of you which soon spread to the others until most were professing to see you. Excitement about your being raised from the dead began to grow but apart from your closest disciples, no one else could verify your bodily presence. Many began to doubt you had been resurrected and thought it was more likely your body had been secretly stolen by some of your other followers for private burial. Then your disciples suggested you had ascended to heaven to receive your glorified body and would return shortly with a host of angels to inaugurate the messianic kingdom. Now instead of God carrying out the judgment on the nations, you in your heavenly body would serve in that role.
Jesus: I’m still confused about those who claimed to see me when obviously they did not. I wished I had been brought back to life but this idea of receiving a spiritual body is unheard of. Only God, Satan, angels and demons are spirit beings. Even at the great resurrection, we will still have mortal bodies albeit they will be much better. And I don’t understand how Gentiles became so involved in a religion that was exclusively for Israelites. Did they all proselytize?
Me: First, on the topic of those who claimed to have met you after your death. Initially, based on Mary’s testimony, many thought you had simply been brought back to life physically since your body was obviously gone. But when no one other than Mary could find you, it was thought you were in a spiritual body having gone to heaven and then returned to meet your disciples. This was confirmed by your disciples who “saw” you even though the door to the room they were in was locked. On the question of Gentile converts, things get a bit confusing.
Jesus: Gentiles were always allowed to convert so long as they were willing to conform to the ancient statutes, ordinances and laws, especially circumcision.
Me: Interesting you should bring up that last point. It all started when a zealous Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus began persecuting those Jews who claimed you were the heavenly messiah. He was responsible for the deaths of many of those who believed in your resurrection. Then while he was traveling to Damascus to continue this mission he had a vision of you though temporarily struck with blindness at the time. During which he was overcome with guilt at having been complicit in persecuting and arresting Christians and claimed you queried him on this. In an act of contrition he professed faith in you and promised to serve you even changing his name to “Paul.” He began to preach the Christian gospel which based its authority to forgive sins on your resurrection and in your name. Paul had limited success because Jews on both sides of the debate on who you were and were not didn’t trust him or thought him a defector. The things that changed everything for Paul and the world was the receptivity of this gospel among Gentile converts to Judaism. They were quick to respond but because they were uncircumcised, they were seen as disqualified from participating in salvation. The matter was addressed by your disciples because Peter had begun to offer salvation to uncircumcised converts to Judaism. Paul would exploit this opportunity by taking the gospel to pagan Gentiles much to the displeasure of your disciples.
Jesus: May I interrupt you at this point. Why would Peter allow uncircumcised Gentiles to believe when circumcision is the primary requisite for being a participant in the promises? Our people fought and died to protect this sacred rite. Why would my disciples give it up?
Me: That’s a very good question. Based on the little bit of historical information we have. It seems it can be traced to a manifestation of God’s spirit in the lives of these “half converts.” The outpouring of God’s holy spirit during the “Last Days” was seen as evidence of his validation of what was called, “The gospel of Jesus, the Christ.” So when those who were keeping the law began to display identical signs, it was determined God must be extending the gospel to them regardless of being uncircumcised. The response from this group was so strong as to be hard to deny without calling into question the Jewish response.
Jesus: I still don’t agree since obviously I did not rise from the dead and ascend to heaven, but be that as it may, why did Paul remove the gospel from Judaism?
Me: I think the answer to that question has several parts. First, it is hard to ignore the frustration Paul felt at having a message and no audience with which to share it. If and when an opportunity presented itself, he wold seize it. Second, Paul was a powerful figure with extensive training in the ancient traditions which put him at a huge advantage to your largely illiterate fishermen who had no expertise in the prophetic texts. Third, for the most part, the Jewish leadership had denounced your messianic bid prior to your death, as you know. When your disciples began to preach you had risen from the dead and gone to heaven from where you would soon return as the “heavenly Christ,” their animosity only intensified. Needless to say, the longer the delay in your return, the greater the number of Jews who lost hope and left the faith. By bringing the gospel to Gentiles with no investment or expectation in the restoration of Israel, and who were under no obligation to conform to the law especially circumcision, conversions increased dramatically. Incidentally, Paul masterfully used Israel’s large scale rejection of your messiahship to justify Gentile inclusion in the promises. By appealing to “remnant” theology, Paul posited God had temporarily hardened the hearts of most Jews, except the remnant, so Gentiles could be saved. Then when you returned, God would remove this stubborn resistance and “all Israel would be saved.” Finally, but not the least, a devastating famine put enormous financial stress on the Jerusalem church which largely focused on the needy. A mission you started. Thus without the aid of their Gentile brethren it would not have been able to survive. The Gentiles viewed this obligation as returning the favor for extending the gospel to them.
Jesus: I still can’t believe everything I thought would happen never materialized. I guess the only comfort I can take in all this is knowing this Christianity is based on nothing but a superstitious belief in a resurrection that never occurred. I have another question. What made those familiar with prophecy think I could possibly be the heavenly messiah to Gentiles?
Me: From the moment belief in your resurrection started, enthusiastic Israelites began combing the ancient texts for clues to confirm its validity. Using a method of esotericism to extract hidden truths buried in the prophetic writings, early Christians were able to lay a theological foundation for their beliefs. However, it was the industrious work of Paul who was able to construct an elaborate system upon which to base his theory of Gentile inclusion. His efforts alone are the reason Christianity has survived as long as it has. He is the true savior of the faith.
Jesus: It is all a remarkable story which unfortunately I could never condone. To elevate me to equality with God contradicts everything I hold dear. Furthermore, to make me an object of worship is an affront to the central tenets of Judaism. The undeniable fact Jews for two thousand years have categorically rejected Christianity’s claims about me should close the matter. I am curious as to what this religion operating in my name looks like. Do they aspire to righteous living and addressing the needs of the disenfranchised and vulnerable of society? What do Israelites today believe and what is their relationship to Christians? And how do Christians think I could go from being God to a man and back to God again?
Me: I think we will have to save those for our next conversation. Also, you might be interested to learn of something called, “The virgin birth.” It is the foundational doctrine of Christianity to explain both your humanity and divinity as well as your qualifications as messiah and substitute for mankind’s sin.
Jesus: You’ve lost me already