For many, the phrase “Jesus Christ” conjures up the image of a God-man, of God Almighty temporarily in human flesh. However, “Christ” is just our English transliteration of the Ancient Greek “Christos,” which literally means “anointed”; and which was the New Testament’s equivalent of the Hebrew “Messiah.”
So, really, asking whether Jesus was the Christ means to ask whether he was anointed by God to announce the good news (gospel) of God’s Kingdom on Earth. Jesus, if anointed or chosen by God, is a prophet—but not just any prophet. He is THE prophet who brings about a decisive change in human history. Paul speaks of the Christian epoch as a New Creation. “The old has gone, the new is here!”
“But,” you say, “the world was not changed by Jesus. He himself was crucified, and the world continues in its evil ways with violence and injustice everywhere.” Better to say, I think, that Jesus revealed the presence of God’s Kingdom amidst evil.
Whenever love and justice triumph over prejudice, hate, and violence, the power of God bursts through evil. Call it Grace, Salvation, or whatever. It is real. It is here and now, surprising us with its Eternal Presence or—as Friends say—its Inward Light. Quakers, of course, generally acknowledge that the Inward Light moves outward, into action in the world. Friends often call that outward movement “social justice,” but it may be manifested by simple, individual acts of love and kindness. And those Friends who are bolder believe in a supernatural Kingdom of God that exists “outside” and “above” the circumstances of time and place.
Will we somehow enter a mysterious Realm of Peace and Love beyond our existence, beyond this vale of suffering and death? Will we experience a Hereafter that is a state of complete and utter Blessedness? Will we—I wonder—attain Eternal Life? Here, the idea of Resurrection comes into play. Was Jesus somehow resurrected and His Presence returned to life?
I don’t believe in the literal Resurrection of a ghostly Jesus who passes through walls and visibly ascends into Heaven as his disciples watch. I do believe that the disciples had a mystical experience of Jesus’ Presence after his crucifixion, and I believe that their supernatural experience corresponds to an objective reality. Thus, if Jesus is somehow saved from sin and death (“sin” means separation from God), all humanity is potentially saved.
Paul says that anyone who calls Jesus “Lord” and believes in the Resurrection can look for a life after death in which their “body,” i.e., their personality, continues to exist. How this could be I do not know, and my anxiety about the possibility of dying into oblivion sometimes overwhelms my faith and trust in God. That anxiety, however, only shows my human weakness and the secular rationalism that co-exists with my faith.
The faith of the early Christians was stronger. They spoke of following Jesus as “The Way.” Does that mean that non-Christians are not on the path of salvation? I believe otherwise. The Christian Way is really “A Way.” Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Atheists, and Agnostics have their own way into Heaven. Sometimes people do not even know that they are on a spiritual journey, but God’s power mysteriously directs their earthly progress toward a Heavenly Home.
I know that by using symbols like “Kingdom” and “Heaven” I’m mixing mythology, reason, and logic; but the transcendent nature of God—ultimately unknowable—can only be expressed with similes and parables like Jesus used as he preached and lived among us. And I believe that Jesus is the Christ, anointed by God to preach the Gospel.
Luke even has Jesus s
ay as much in a synagogue where he quotes a passage from Isaiah. Luke has Jesus make this claim:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to
proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (NIV)
After Jesus rolled up the scroll from which he had read, he says, very directly, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
I am reminded of a more modern quote from Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer ends his book by writing,
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old,
by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He
speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to
the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And
to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will
reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which
they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable
mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
~ Richard Russell
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