My conversations with Jesus (Part 4: Paul’s “other” gospel)

Me: I hope you are enjoying these chats as much as I am. I am gaining a lot of clarity on many matters, so thanks.

Jesus: They have definitely contained some startling revelations.

Me: Care to elaborate?

Jesus: Hard to know where to begin. I think the most shocking is how belief in my resurrection escalated to equality with God. But we have explored that already. A close second is how a religion so entrenched in Judaism, which incidentally I vigorously propounded, could be completely removed from it while still professing to be inextricably linked to it and me.

Me: As you know, I have no vested interest in Christianity whatsoever, so it is easy for me to explain this. Christianity should never have made it beyond the first century let alone as a purely Gentile faith. It is only due to Paul’s efforts that we are having these conversations; otherwise, Christianity would have been thought of as a short lived sect spawned by first century Messianic fever.  When you and the messianic kingdom repeatedly failed to appear the death knell sounded for Jewish Christianity. Even Paul was persuaded he would witness your return in his lifetime and his writings reflect this belief. But his efforts unknowingly ensured Christianity’s survival as a newly emerging Gentile religion independent of Judaism.

Jesus: Yet two thousand years later with Israelites still completely indifferent to it, Christians still claim a close association with the nation of Israel and its people. Why if not reciprocated?

Me: It hasn’t always been like this. Judaism legitimized Christianity. It was unfathomable for Christians to sever this link without destroying their own religion until Christianity was strong enough to survive without this association. After it had established its own independence it no longer needed Judaism. At that time, most believed Christianity had replaced Israel as the church and were the recipients of God’s blessings. Often they would engage in aggressive attempts to coerce conversions of Jewish people to Christianity. There was no other option for Jews. For much of history, this relationship has been strained. The resurgence of Christian Zionism is a recent phenomenon caused by those who took a literalist approach to the Hebrew writings and concluded God wasn’t finished with Israel. The caveat is Christians are still insistent all Jews will convert to Christianity eventually, which means belief in you as God and heavenly messiah regardless of prophetic traditions.

Jesus: Of course this is preposterous especially my role as God which we’ve discussed. It undermines everything contained in the sacred writings. The only means whereby Gentiles could participate was through full conversion including circumcision. To force Israelites to abandon their religion for a law-free Christianity is repulsive. From what I’ve read in the gospels, Israel figured prominently in all my discourses. By the way, “Christian Zionism” sounds like an interesting topic to explore. It obviously means Christians who support the sacred city and its future promises.

Me: It is extremely relevant to our discussion and we will revisit it at a later time. I do not disagree with you about the centrality of Israel in your ministry and that of your disciples after your death. They continued preaching the gospel of the kingdom except your role changed dramatically as we have reiterated. Forgiveness of sins was offered now in your name and your return would inaugurate the kingdom.

Again Paul must be blamed for persuading Gentiles and Jews they could inherit the promises only by rejecting Judaism and embracing grace apart from the law. I think once Gentiles got a taste of the promise of eternal life, they were not about to surrender it no matter what did or did not transpire. Instead they revised their understanding to accommodate Israel’s perennial rejection. The fall of Jerusalem seemed to be a readymade explanation perfectly suited to their viewpoint. Centuries of Jewish persecution and dispersion has only reinforced it. We must also remember Christianity was losing its appeal to Israelites so there was no pressure from within to challenge it as in its early stages. Jews were scattered abroad and had little power or interest in challenging a rapidly burgeoning and powerful religion once it gained Rome’s endorsement. Today Christians vastly outnumber Israelites who are currently benefiting from evangelical’s view of Israel. 

Jesus: Two thousand years without any sign of the kingdom and Israel’s displacement from the land seems strong evidence against Christianity regardless of Pau’s teachings. 

Me: It is equally strong evidence against your message wouldn’t you say?

Jesus: I think we have established that point.

Me: Christianity has persisted for so long in spite of the things mentioned for many reasons. First, it began as a sect of Judaism which gave it its original grounding. Second, Paul made it immensely attractive and approachable for Gentiles allowing for a huge influx of converts. Third, Christianity owes its life to man’s  desire to minimize fear and optimize hope. The prospect of escaping death and gaining eternal life was irresistible. Fourth, being a Christian is heritable. The overwhelming majority of Christians have always been born and raised into the faith. Once Christians started to have children, it was natural for parents to impart their faith to this new generation of believers. This cycle has never stopped. The impact on Christianity has been an endless supply of predisposed believers to repopulate the faith. Children were socialized into Christianity without a choice. Last, Christianity has been virtually unchallenged for most of its history.

It should be stressed it has only been in the last four to five hundred years that significant opposition to Christianity’s absolutist dogmas has been mounted. Until then it was considered incontestable as an historically founded religion rooted in Judaism. It had both credibility and respectability until dawn of modern science and the Age of Reason when for the first time its legitimacy was severely challenged. We touched on this earlier as you will recall. I mention it now only to address your question.

Once science and rationalism were applied to Christian authoritarianism, many either vacated the faith or modified it to conform to these “new” truths provided by science. It was a battle of reason versus revelation with no decisive winner and both sides claiming victory. Tragically, this fight continues to this day.

The point is no amount of evidence will sway those who have already embraced the hope Christianity provides and have done so for two millennia. And since this often begins before adulthood when a strong emotional bound is formed, few will abandon it even despite being presented with overwhelming evidence against it. It is easier to turn a blind eye to reason and default to the supernatural and irrational.

Jesus: So Christians are not interested in facts as much as the promise of one day being resurrected?

Me: Christians are masters at compartmentalizing their lives into two worlds. They have been conditioned from childhood to believe in a literal heaven which they will one day inherit because they believe in you. The same New Testament also teaches about a vibrant spiritual world which now exists that is antithetical to the natural world in which they live. You more than anyone know about the unseen world of angels and demons.

Jesus: The focus of my ministry was thwarting Satan and his evil forces in preparation for the arrival of God and his kingdom. Until this time, Satan had unfettered reign in the lives of those constrained by sin. By delivering them from the power of sin in their lives, Satan was forced to release his grip on them. Exorcisms brought deliverance from all manner of sickness and disease which were the product of sin.

Me: Many Christians believe this world is as active now as it was when you walked the earth. Their challenge is what is their role and responsibility in these two worlds and how to reconcile both. Some believe this spiritual realm contains separate truths from those of this world which only believers understand and appreciate. They consider it more important to live in accordance with these spiritual standards than those of the carnal world. However, as previously mentioned, this involves sacrifice which many others are reluctant to make. They believe in the prospect of a future life but don’t want or feel they have to give up the pleasures this world has to offer. They think a lukewarm faith still is enough to gain them entrance to the next life so why deprive themselves of anything in this one. They want the best of both worlds despite the New Testaments making it an either or choice. 

Jesus:  How do they determine what is true and not true or what to obey or not obey?

Me: Of course it depends on one’s definition of truth and how that truth is ascertained. Truth is never an option when it doesn’t have to be. Many proponents choose not to challenge their faith for fear of what they might discover and because it provides them with so many things like comfort, peace, joy, strength, guidance and hope. Second, as the world has changed so has its views on morality and Christians have been forced to adapt or risk losing adherents due to irrelevance or too high standards. Rejecting the faith is not an option so they customize it for their own purposes. Third, as just mentioned, because they inherit their faith, it is much easier to rationalize its truthfulness from within than determine its validity from without. Truth is subjective not objective because the spiritual world has no boundaries. It is its own source of “truth.” Last, and here again this is the crux of the matter, ultimately most Christians do not want a faith which emphasizes sacrifice, discipline and commitment. They want comfort and convenience if possible.

Jesus: I always taught faith comes with a price, and it is sacrifice. But those things you mention faith provides are good things to have regardless of how you acquire them?

Me: Of course but only if they are based on reasonable verifiable truth or at the very least not irrationality. And as we must discuss at some point, beliefs have consequences not just in the lives of those who are believers but also those who are not.

Jesus: Can you give me an example of irrationalism within Christianity?

Me: Paul based his entire theory on the assumption of an afterlife. Physical death was inevitable but could be avoided by eternal life. Those who were, “Dead in Christ” would achieve the same glorified resurrection you did. He had no basis for his position other than his own anecdotal experience and the fledgling Christian movement. Furthermore, he used fear as his primary tactic warning those who did not believe their sin would result in divine condemnation. I find it astonishing Christianity bases its entire philosophy on something it knows is unverifiable. It exploits this unknown by magnifying the fear with the additional threat of eternal condemnation all of which are baseless. 

Jesus: I suppose my having a conversation with you supports his view in an afterlife.

Me: Not exactly, you are an elaborate hypothetical construct for the purpose of defending the opposite position. I should add your own ministry utilized fear in the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God and his attending wrath to generate response to your message of repentance and the need for forgiveness. Christians have never stopped using this same method primarily on their own children and the gullible, vulnerable and desperate of society. Evangelicals are notorious for exploiting these groups for financial gain or to illicit conversions. That too is for a later conversation.

Jesus: So let’s talk more about these evangelicals to which you keep referring.

Me: I thought you’d never ask.

Jesus: What’s an “evangelical?”

Me: That’s like asking, “What’s a cloud?” There are some basic characteristics which identify a cloud but there are also many differences. And the most salient feature of a cloud is that it is constantly changing. It’s the same with evangelicals. 

Jesus: Intriguing but why?

Me: What is unique about evangelicals is their ability to change to conform to the current situation and justify it as divinely ordained. They lack a central authority or religious body to maintain orthodoxy. They pride themselves on being autonomous and solely reliant on God’s word. They appeal to the New Testament writings which traditionally have had a broad and varied history of interpretation. To illustrate, an evangelical one hundred years ago would have considered divorce among the worst sins but today it is widely practiced and tolerated among evangelicals. There are many other examples such as materialism, violence, sexual promiscuity, premarital sex, gluttony, pride, greed, immodesty and many more.  

Jesus: How is that possible?

Me: Evangelicals are no different from anybody else. They want to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. They are an experientially drive belief system undergirded by fear and take their cues from personal encounters with God through the Bible. This gives them the freedom to invent or change ideas and then profess them to be divinely sanctioned. The pick and choose what is binding and what is culturally mandated largely based on their own biases, prejudices and vices. Think of it like you would a prophet only every evangelical thinks they have “prophetic” ability that entitles them to private personal revelation. Many appeal to an inner voice or prompting from God’s spirit as validation. The downside to this is this method is often used to justify behavior which seems antithetical to New Testament writings. 

For most evangelicals, their sole interest is going to heaven when the die. They have no viable incentive to live holy lives because they don’t believe they will ever be judged. They are exempt from judgment and eternally secure no matter how they live. This refers back to an earlier point that most evangelicals don’t feel a real obligation to God to live holy lives because they have been raised in the faith.

Jesus: It is impossible to come to that conclusion based on the Hebrew writings which make righteous obedience to the law the sole criteria for salvation. And from what I have read in the Christian writings, a premium is placed on virtuous living to assure deliverance. The gospels about me describe the necessity of being prepared for my arrival or face the consequences.

Me: Speaking of “being prepared,” I have always wanted to ask you about your baptism experience. What happened that day when you met John the Baptizer.

Jesus: It revolutionized my life. I had always been a faithful Israelite going to synagogue, visiting Jerusalem for the festivals and doing my best to keep the sacred laws. I was not perfect but I tried to be obedient. I heard about John’s ministry concerning the coming kingdom and his offer of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin or face the possibility of God’s wrath. I worried I might not have done enough so I made the journey in the hope of getting baptized and obtaining forgiveness.

Me: From what were you repenting?

Jesus: There was not one thing. It was more a question of not doing enough good which I vowed I would change.

Me: Do you mean you intended on beginning a ministry to help the needy before your baptism?

Jesus: Yes but I had no idea to what degree. My baptism experience was so liberating and transformative, I felt God wanted me to serve in the role of a prophet of the Last Days similar to John. I sensed his anointing spirit upon me. I had hoped to learn from John but he was arrested not long after I arrived so I returned to Galilee fearing I might suffer the same fate. 

Me: That clears up a lot of confusion. When you were on earth you were confronted with Israelites who refused to live by the dictates of the law, right?

Jesus: My ministry was to the, “Lost sheep of Israel” to bring them back to the fold through repentance. 

Me: You also were harangued by the religious leaders who you deemed hypocrites. Yet they believed God would grant them entrance to the kingdom.

Jesus: Some were sincerely endeavoring to fulfill the requirements of the law while others were using their office for financial gain and personal glory. I tried to warn them God’s standards were higher and unless they repented they too would be judged alongside wicked Gentiles. Christians still should fear punishment and aspire to the highest standard of righteousness.

Me: You would think so but they have devised something called,  The Rapture theory. I think this doctrine more than anything helps explains so much of what plagues evangelicalism. It teaches you will secretly return “to snatch away” all believers from the earth simultaneously given them new glorified bodies. Then you and they will return to heaven for a period of seven years. During which there will be a time of great suffering and tribulation on the earth after which you will again return but this time in dramatic fashion for all the world to see. Now here’s the key, because believers are now in perfect sinless bodies they cannot be judged when God pours out his wrath on all mankind.

Jesus: I read about times of great distress in the gospels but I do not recall a secret return.

Me: That is not surprising since it is not a biblical doctrine but an invention based on the misinterpretation of a single verse. Yet this teaching is so engrained in a segment of evangelicalism as to be almost as authoritative as belief in your virgin birth. This teaching is so insidious even if Christianity isn’t true. It breeds complacency and hypocrisy giving believers a false security and lack of incentive to aspire to New Testament ideals. If it were true, most “Christians” would be surprised at your Second Coming to be judged as unbelievers for failing to be adequately prepared.

Jesus:  I still do not see how Israel fits into this rapture idea? I return secretly for Christians but not Israelites. Then after the seven years expire, I return to judge unbelievers who would seem to include Israel from everything about which we have talked. It still seems to be primarily a religion focused on Gentiles. What about Israel and the kingdom?

Me: This is where it gets very complicated. I should preface this by saying there is more controversy than consensus among Christians regarding Israel’s place in future events. For certain evangelicals it is all part of a system of interpretation called, Pre-tribulation premillennial dispensationalism. Its primary characteristic is a view which sees Israel and the Christian church as distinct but complementary. Jews are currently in a state of suspended animation awaiting reactivation. When the Rapture occurs they will awaken, or be awakened, from failing to recognize you as their messiah and turn to you in abject contrition. 

Jesus: But if the Rapture is a secret, how will they know I have come?

Me: Evangelicals suggest the sudden disappearance of hundreds of millions of Christians will be sufficient to jolt them into realizing their error. Some believe it will drive them to the New Testament where they will discover the necessary information about you for salvation they have neglected for so long. There also is a view God will supernaturally remove their spiritual blindness which he imposed for the sake of the Gentiles.

Jesus: This is not much of a connection to Judaism? It seems Christians and Judeans are two separate groups with the Lord favoring Gentiles for all but seven years? 

Me: For most of Christian history, the prevailing thinking has been Israel was replaced by Gentile Christianity because of the nations failure to recognize you as messiah. The indisputably fact the Jewish nation has not been in their homeland and have suffered great persecution throughout most of their history seemed to support this. 

Jesus: I’m still baffled by this fact. I can only conclude it is because of their refusal to follow the law. It was the same reason why the city fell to Babylon almost six hundred years before I was born. The prophets have promised a glorious restoration which is still pending in spite of Christianity.

Me: I’m not sure I agree, but in terms of Christianity no such justification for Israel’s future as they see it exists since it is a religion based on a myth.

Jesus: So what do evangelicals believe is their current and future relationship to the nation of Israel.

Me: As we have said they believe the Jewish people have been in a state of perpetual spiritual blindness for two thousand years which will end at the Rapture. At this point Israel resumes her role in God’s program. Currently American evangelicals have shied away from trying to convert Jews by leaders who maintain the nation is under God’s sovereign care. 

Jesus: What about the countless Jews who have not recognized me for the last two thousand years?

Me: I would like an honest answer to that question myself. It is unpopular today to suggest all these souls will be cast into eternal damnation, but any other explanation tugs at the very fabric of the doctrine of salvation explicitly discussed throughout the New Testament. It is a thorny issue and one we could not hope to settle in a short span of time. It impinges on the sovereignty of God issue Paul addresses in Romans. We must reserve this for a later discussion on something called Christian zionism.

Jesus: Okay, so let’s assume the nation of Israel accepts Jesus as messiah, then what happens?

Me: At the completion of seven years, you return with every Christian who has ever lived to carry out judgment on all those who still do not believe in you. This is the beginning of your reign in the Millennial kingdom, or kingdom of God as you referred to it on earth, for one thousand years.

Jesus: I’m struggling to understand this. So I will return to establish the physical kingdom on earth which will consist of glorified Gentile Christians from the Rapture and non glorified Jewish Christians who are on earth because I will have destroyed everybody else?

Me: Basically

Jesus: What happens at the end of the thousand years?

Me: Satan will be released to wreak havoc on the nations of the earth before being cast into the Lake of Fire.

Jesus: But I thought I had already judged these nations?

Me: You’re right and this is one of many inconsistencies in the evangelical viewpoint. It is surmised despite indisputable evidence of your visible, glorified presence and that of hundreds of millions of saints, the battles of Armageddon and all the other supernatural dramatic occurrences, some will still choose not to believe. 

Jesus: After Satan has been judged what happens next?

Me: According to evangelicals, this is the Final Judgment after which the current heavens and earth are destroyed and a new heavens and earth are created. This is the beginning of eternity for all who have believed in you.

Jesus: What amazes me more than anything is nothing remotely resembling this teaching can be found in the Hebrew writings, yet Christians claim their religion is based on these texts? The kingdom of God was to be earthly and physical although glorious and beautiful and composed exclusively of Israelites and converts perhaps. 

Me: Christians utilize a method of interpretation called, “Spiritualizing” which allows them to take a literal text or concept and turn it into a “Christianized” version that fits their perspective. It has sustained Christianity for centuries, no time more so than today.

Jesus: I must ask what is their incentive to accommodate Israel in such a makeshift way? Why even include them if in doing so they are seen as more of an afterthought?

Me: A fundamental precept of evangelicalism is the belief God warned Abraham those who do not treat Israel with the utmost care will suffer his wrath. But those who support and defend Israel will be richly rewarded by God.

Jesus: I cannot say I totally disagree

Me: What would be your proof?

Jesus: The Lord has promised in the prophets to punish all those nations who have persecuted and mistreated his people. In the Last Days he will execute severe judgment and only the righteous will be spared.

Me: Does he mention Gentile Christians?

Jesus: No but if they are living righteously and supporting the nation, it sounds somewhat reasonable.

Me: I must remind you, these same people are also insisting Israel worship you as supreme God and reject Judaism and all its traditions especially circumcision as no longer effectual. They consider obedience to the Mosaic Law as one of the most grievous affronts to grace one can commit.  Do you still think they qualify for God’s blessings?

Jesus: It is hard to defend anyone who rejects the sacred traditions especially the Law. I guess we have Paul to blame for that.

Me: That’s right, Paul set the precedent which Christians have followed for two thousand years. When you think about it, Christians worshipping you is the greatest sin anyone can commit since it violates the first commandment, “You will have no other gods before me.” 

Jesus: I suppose that is true. 

Me: And to be perfectly honest with you, evangelicals are generally considered hypocrites especially in America.  America is the most powerful country on earth and where most evangelicals reside.

Jesus: The most powerful country on earth is governed by evangelical Christians?

Me: No but they do have considerable influence with the government especially in the last few years.

Jesus: It appears we are entering into a new area of discussion.

Me: Let’s call this, “Part 2” of our conversation on evangelicals and resume it at another time.

Jesus: Agreed

Published by ronarends

I was born in London, Ontario, Canada. I attended Capernwray Bible School (England and Austria), Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, Il.), the University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario), London Baptist Seminary (London, Ontario) and Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, Tx.). I have had several temporary jobs over the years but my focus has alway been on an investigative study of the Bible, Jesus and Christianity particularly evangelicalism. Currently editing a massive literary undertaking deconstructing Christianity and Jesus.

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