There are many books today about Jesus which demonstrate that there are conflicting understandings and interpretations of him among Christian believers. This article presents a challenge to the orthodox view of Jesus.

A starting-point is to observe (though some dispute this) that John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples all believed that the world was about to end, they expected a major intervention by their God, (if you wish look up (1) below); it did not happen, the world is still here, they were mistaken. The cast for this ‘end-time drama’ and its varied ideas came from the speculative thinking of previous generations who had endured conquest, exile and rule by foreign powers, and who had longed for independence again and peace; there might be a time of tribulation, the arrival of a Messiah and/or a Son of Man, a judgement of the living and the dead, and then the inauguration by their God of an everlasting kingdom of peace (2).

Possibly, Jesus came to believe that he would have to endure some of this supposed end-time tribulation resulting in his death, after which the new kingdom would come (3). In fact, the most likely reason he died was because some of the pilgrims in Jerusalem, for Passover, hailed him as the Messiah; and Pilate saw that by removing him, the excitable crowds would be quelled.

The disciples’ belief in his resurrection is probably best explained as arising from a combination of several factors: primarily, their understanding that his death was a part of this supposed ‘end-time drama’, which they imagined would be followed by the coming of the new kingdom in which they would meet him again (4), and some visions of him induced by their bereavement (5). In fact, no new kingdom ever arrived, nor did Jesus return as judge and saviour, and the world has continued on its way. Indeed what reasons, if any, would God have had to resurrect him? In today’s world would we not question the mental stability and judgement of people who live daily convinced that their God is about to end the world and who try to persuade others of their amazing beliefs?

So, was Jesus a saviour and mediator between God and his people? It depends on how you interpret the meaning of his death and whether you think a saviour or mediator is required, which in itself will depend on your understanding of what a supremely loving God is like. There are three main objections to the traditional beliefs that Jesus was a mediator and that by his death he saved humankind: from science, death is a natural process and not (as traditionally believed) a punishment for sin and a power needing to be defeated; from ethics, an innocent person (claimed to be Jesus) should not bear the punishment of the guilty (7); from theology, to require for the forgiveness/salvation process a human death and sacrifice suggests divine sadism (8).

With the deepest respect for others and their beliefs, to my mind, Jesus, and John the Baptist also, were mistaken and misguided ‘end-time’ prophets; Jesus was neither a mediator nor a saviour, neither super-human nor divine; we need to leave him to his place in history and move on. Another article will explore the massive implications of what this challenge to the orthodox view of Jesus might mean for working towards a radical and revolutionary transformation of Christianity.

The deeply attractive vision of a God of infinite love is, for me, (with all the problems and paradoxes it raises) part of the great and challenging mystery of the life we are caught up in. It is this vision that I reach out towards in a search to transform traditional forms of Christianity. “The revolutions that count come silently, come first in the heart... Revolutions of this magnitude do not overturn a system and then shape it. They reshape thought, and then the system overturns without the firing of a single cannon. Revolutions such as this dismantle walls people thought would never fall because no wall, whatever its size, can contain a people whose minds have long ago scaled and vaulted and surmounted it.” Joan D. Chissiter.

1. e.g. Luke 3:2-9, Matt.10:23, 19:28, Mark 9:1.
2. e.g. Daniel 7: 9-10,13-14 and 12:1-2, 4, Isaiah 9:6-7, 11: 1-9, and 53: 1-12, Luke 3: 15, Mark 8: 27-31, 9: 11-13 & ch.13.
3. e.g. Luke 12:49-50, Mark 9:30-32, 10: 45, 14: 25.
4. e.g. 1Thess.1:9-10, 4: 13-17.
5. e.g. Mark 16:9-13,
6. e.g. Romans 5:12.
7. e.g. Romans chs.5 & 6.
8. e.g. Hebrews 9:11-14.

Andrew Furlong

For more articles