As a natural follow up to my last few posts, which outlined how I came to believe Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet, I'd like to comment briefly on a few of his other teachings. As a Christian, I had always believed that the words of Jesus are timeless...sage wisdom, from God's own son, somehow (miraculously!) just as applicable to our lives, today, as they were to his closest followers two thousand years ago!
But, is this really true?
Well, as it happens, I do think that Jesus taught some "timeless" things. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", for example, certainly qualifies as timeless advice (even though most Christians are oblivious to the fact that it didn't originate with Jesus).
There were other things Jesus taught, however, that Christians tend to ignore (or explain in a very awkward way). These things seem a little odd, to believers, or even downright puzzling. As I pondered further on the implications of Jesus' apocalyptic worldview, some of these very passages (that I had once wondered about) began to make better sense. Let me give you one quick example...
"Let the dead bury the dead" (Matt 8:22; Luke 9:60)
Huh? What could Jesus possibly have meant by this? Is he (God) against funeral preparations? Funerals themselves? Grieving over lost loved ones?
Or, perhaps, Jesus thought the end was near. The time was very short; right around the corner, in fact, so "let the dead bury their own dead"!
Is it just me, or does this verse not make much better sense when seen in an "apocalyptic" light? How would one make any reasonable heads or tails of it otherwise?
Even the teachings of Jesus that could more comfortably be positioned as "relevant" fit nicely into the apocalyptic framework. Listen to Bart Ehrman,
"It could easily be argued, in fact, that all of Jesus' injunctions to love others, to give oneself to others, to serve others, and so on were instructions on how to inherit the Kingdom that was soon to appear. For Jesus, everything else paled in comparison...
One shouldn't be concerned about such trivial matters as what kind of clothes to wear or what kind of food to eat...
If thieves want to take you clothes--let them! If bullies want to force you to do their work for them--let them! If the government wants to take your money--let them! If thugs want to beat you--let them! If enemies want to kill you--let them! None of these things matters. Your should give away your shirt as well as your coat, you should go an extra mile, you should render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, you should turn the other cheek, you should not fear the one who can destroy your paltry body. The Kingdom is coming, and the concerns of this life are trivial by comparison." (from "Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium")
Getting back to our original question, is Jesus relevant? For me, the answer is now yes and no. I think Jesus taught some good things, in fact there's very little doubt about that fact in my mind. But this doesn't mean he was God...and it doesn't mean we should govern our lives by the Bible, as if it were a perfect book (it's not). The Bible was a product of its time, and Jesus was a man of his.
I feel as if I've said enough, in these last four posts, to at least sketch out my reasons for switching camps on the question of Jesus' identity (the so called "real Jesus"). While I still remain open to a change in perspective (again), as of this writing it remains highly plausible to me that Jesus was, at root, a failed apocalyptic prophet. While I don't want to in any way minimize the significance of this change, as it relates to my personal journey (after all, I had previously believed Jesus to be God in human form!), I also don't want to get bogged down with any one topic here on the blog. This blog is primarily about telling my story, so the "arguments" I present along the way are simply meant to illustrate my line of thinking at different points in the journey.
As such, I'll consider this post to be the last (for now) on Jesus' apocalypticism and I look forward to continuing on next time with other elements involved in my de-conversion.