by Abdul H. Manraj
Jesus is probably the most misunderstood religious personality in the history of the world. He never claimed divinity and was as human as the prophets who preceded him. From a theological perspective, arguments can be made to support any religious dogma regardless of which denomination one subscribes to, and religious texts can be interpreted in any number of ways, some of them quite nebulous, to bolster a particular argument or belief.
That being the case, this article will approach the above subject from a historical perspective, and provide some substantial evidence that is quite irrefutable, using both historical data as well as sacred texts to defend the postulation regarding Jesus. The information presented below aims to prove that Jesus was no more than a revered prophet of God, and his “second coming” is a myth. Jesus confirmed his humanity when he reportedly said: “I can of mine own self do nothing...”(John 5:30) Nevertheless, millions (possibly billions) of people in the world today have a vested interest in the “second coming” of Jesus, the very foundation of their belief is riding on this prophecy. As such, his elevation to godly status has some profound implications not only on religion but also on politics, with dire consequences for the future of all humanity.
The Status of Jesus
Jesus was born a Jew, and since he did not preach a new religion or change any laws (Matthew 5:17), he died as a Jew, supposedly betrayed by his own people, who (according to the New Testament) said: “…His blood be on us, and on our children.”(Matthew 27:25) Jesus’ disciples believed that he was the “Messiah” or “Anointed One.” Other titles applied to Jesus were Prophet and Rabbi. According to both the Bible and the Quran (the divine book of Muslims), Jesus came into being through a miraculous virgin birth, i.e., he was born without the intervention of a human father. Both religious texts concur that God has the power to make such miracles happen.
The two texts differ significantly over Jesus’ status. Whereas the New Testament elevated Jesus to divinity, the Quran emphasized his humanity, comparing his creation to that of Adam. Jesus, the son of Mary, delivered the same message as the prophets before him, i.e., “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.”(Deuteronomy 6:4) Neither the word “Trinity” nor this doctrine is explicitly found in the New Testament. In fact, the ideology developed over several centuries after the death of Jesus. There are many factors that led to the outcome of the Trinity concept, some of which will be briefly addressed in this article.
It is believed that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, located in present day Israel. All of the prophets mentioned in the Bible (and Quran) originated from various areas of the Middle East. Paul, not Jesus, is primarily responsible for the current Christian creed based on the doctrine of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). Saul was a Jew who reportedly persecuted the early Christians. His name was later changed to Paul, probably because the name Saul was associated with Judaism. One day on his way to Damascus, Paul had a vision that resulted in his conversion. Following this incident, Paul became the most ardent missionary of Christianity.(Noss 466-467) In his book “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History,” Michael Hart lists Muhammad first, followed by Paul, and then Jesus. Hart proposes that the honor for the spread of Christianity has to be shared between Paul and Jesus. Apparently Paul won because he wrote more books of the Bible than any other author, whereas Jesus did not write a single word. It should also be noted that Paul never even met Jesus.
Since Jesus did not write any of his teachings, historians are generally in agreement that the writings that have come down to us in the New Testament have been amplified with the predispositions of the early Christians, thus displacing the original teachings of Jesus.(Noss 446) More than three centuries after Jesus was reportedly crucified, there were many controversies and minutiae surrounding his status. Emperor Constantine called the first ecumenical council of the Christian church in ancient Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) in 325 CE to resolve the issue. He hoped that a general council would solve the problem created in the Eastern church by Arianism, a “heresy” first proposed by Arius of Alexandria, which affirmed that Jesus was not divine but a created being. The council condemned Arius and incorporated the non-scriptural word homoousios (of one substance) into what later became known as the Nicene Creed, signifying the absolute equality of the Son (Jesus) with the Father (God). Emperor Constantine then exiled Arius. To differ from the official and final version of this new theology – which essentially stated that Jesus was God incarnate – was blasphemy.(“Encyclopedia Britannica Online”)
Christianity later became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius, and there were attempts at formalization and uniformity within the church regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. This did not stop the controversy, and there were more ecumenical council debates between western and eastern Christians for generations. Western Christian theology eventually dominated. The result was that Christians, particularly in the East, who disagreed with the newly mandated doctrine of the Trinity, were ostracized and persecuted. In some cases, those who rejected the new doctrine were put to death as the concept eventually took hold.
The Europeans were immersed in paganism when Jesus was born, and it took about eight centuries before all of Europe finally accepted Christianity as their creed. During such a lengthy period, it was only natural that some pagan beliefs and practices were incorporated into the new religion. For example, December 25th was a popular Roman holiday that celebrated the winter solstice as a symbol of the resurgence of the sun, which heralded the rebirth of spring and summer. The birth of the sun became synonymous with the birth of the Son of God, which is now commonly accepted as Jesus’ birthday. The actual birthday of Jesus cannot be precisely determined, as Christians did not begin to reckon time before and after the birth of Jesus until about six centuries after he was born.(Noss 450) Another example of a pre-Christian ritual is the veneration of the evergreen tree in western and northern Europe, particularly in Germany during pagan times, so the “Christmas tree” was added to the birthday celebration of Jesus.
For thousands of years prior to the birth of Jesus, the Indo-Europeans had developed a tripartite ideology. At the highest level was a “sky god,” who sees all human activity from his heavenly abode. The second part of heaven reflected heroic warriors and raiders supported by a war/thunder god. The third part of this Indo-European belief was the pursuit of happiness – a universal human trait.(Winn 4-5) This tripartite scheme was prevalent in many aspects of Indo-European culture, and is evident even today. Examples include many nations’ flags that are made up of three colors, and governments that are divided into three branches – executive, legislative, and judicial.
Pre-Christian Europeans ritually sacrificed humans to their pagan gods.(Winn 45-47) As the Europeans gradually started to move away from paganism and adopt their newly discovered Middle Eastern religion – Christianity – the idolatrous tradition of human sacrifice blended harmoniously with the new theology – the sacrifice of God’s only begotten son for the sins of all humanity. The tripartite hierarchy that was so embedded in Indo-European culture for thousands of years played an influential role in the development of a doctrine based on a triune God, viz., God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Was it a Crucifixion or Cruci-fiction?
According to the Bible, Jesus was not the only “Son of God” – there were others as shown in the verses below (italics mine):
“That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” (Genesis 6: 2)
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4)
“And thou shalt say unto Pharoah, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:” (Exodus 4:22)
“I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” (i.e., David – Psalms 2:7)
“They shall come with weeping, and with supplications, will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” (Jeremiah 31:9)
“Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the Son of God.” (Luke 3:38)
The Bible also states that a man can only die once: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”(Hebrews 9:27) For Jesus to be resurrected shortly after his death, he would certainly have had to be divine. The chronology shown in the verses below are hardly any indication that Jesus died on the cross. According to the New Testament (Matthew 27:45-46), Jesus was placed on the cross by the 6th hour (around noon), and he (God incarnate) supposedly cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He was taken down by the 9th hour (around 3:00pm), only three hours later. This was rather peculiar, in fact, Pilate marveled that Jesus was dead already after being on the cross for only three hours.(Mark 15:44) Since it was Friday and the Jews were anxious to bury Jesus before Saturday – the Sabbath – his crucifixion and burial were apparently expedited.
None of Jesus’ faithful disciples were there for him in his time of need, so they apparently did not witness his death as the New Testament tells us “all his disciples forsook him and fled.”(Matthew 26:56 and Mark 14:50) Jesus was placed into a sepulcher hewn out of rock, and a stone rolled unto the door of the sepulcher.(Mark 15:46) Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven devils (Mark 16:9), went to visit the tomb to anoint his dead body.(Mark 16:1) This was rather bizarre given that upon death, rigor mortis and decay starts immediately.
Anyway, as it turned out, the stone covering the tomb was moved (Mark 16:4 and Luke 24:2), the sheets that the corpse was wrapped in were unwound and left in the sepulcher (Luke 24:12 and John 20:5-7), and the body was missing. Mary Magdalene saw a gardener near the tomb who turned out to be no other than Jesus in disguise.(John 20:14-16) He initially jested with her about why she was weeping and who she was looking for. She in turn questioned Jesus (thinking he was a gardener) about the body and asked if he may have removed it. Jesus followed up by just uttering her name: “Mary” and she immediately recognized her teacher and responded: “Rabboni.” The disciples disbelieved when they heard that Mary Magdalene had seen a live Jesus.(Mark 16:11) In fact, Jesus came and stood in their midst (John 20:19), and they were terrified and thought they were looking at a spirit.(Luke 24:37) Jesus assured the disciples: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” He then proceeded to show them his hands and feet, and asked if they had any meat as he was hungry. Jesus was offered some fish and honeycomb and he ate in front of them.(Luke 24:39-43)
All indications are that Jesus did not die on the cross; the evidence from the New Testament just doesn’t support it. Why was Mary Magdalene going to anoint a decomposing corpse? Why was the stone covering the tomb removed and why did Jesus need his decomposing body (unwrapped from the linen clothes) for his resurrection? In fact, a sympathizer – Joseph of Arimathaea – claimed Jesus’ body from Pilate and laid it in the sepulcher that he (Joseph) owned. He also rolled the stone that covered the door of the sepulcher.(Mark 15:43-46) Why was Jesus so well disguised as a gardener that even Mary Magdalene did not recognize him? Obviously Jesus was not afraid of dying twice, he did not want the Jews and Romans to recognize him since he was a condemned man. Does a “resurrected God” need food? Mary was not looking for a corpse; she was seeking a live Jesus so she could take him (not it) away.(John 20:15)
Muslims posit that the above concurs with the Quran which states: “…They slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain.”(Q4:157) Given that the verses cited from both the New Testament and Quran suggest that Jesus did not really die on the cross for the sins of all humanity, should we expect his return? Besides the second coming of Jesus, we should be expecting another prophet too since the Bible tells us: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.(Malachi 4:5)
The Second Coming of Jesus and Armageddon
Armageddon is mentioned in the Bible only once: “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”(Revelation 16:16) The Book of Revelation is also known as the Apocalypse of John, and is the last book of the New Testament. It is the only book in the New Testament that is apocalyptic in nature.(“Encyclopedia Brittanica Online”) Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus have been refined into a terminology known as “The Rapture,” even though the word “rapture” does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It is difficult to decipher and coherently follow the chronology of events that will lead to the expected Rapture, since the Book of Revelation (although attributed to John) seems to be a collection of units by various unknown authors toward the end of the 1st century CE. The “Rapture theory” was developed using books from both the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, in particular Daniel and Ezekiel. According to the Rapture theory, an anti-Christ (who represents the Devil) will emerge and rule the earth, and there will be much tribulation. Jesus, clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, will descend with armies from heaven upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his (Jesus) mouth will be a sharp sword, and with it he will smite the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.(Revelation 19:13-15)
Christians are not the only group expecting the second coming of Jesus; Muslims are also on the lookout for his return. While the Quran states that Jesus survived the crucifixion, it says nothing about his second coming – though Jesus’ death is implied at some later stage in his life. (Q5:117) Muslims supposedly derive the “second coming of Jesus” theory from sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad, documented more than 200 years after his death. It is interesting that Muhammad, who claimed to be the last of God’s prophets, would have mentioned Jesus’ return. As Islam spread in the Middle East, the Arabs generally belonged to two groups: Christians and idolaters. No doubt the stories about the second coming of Jesus were circulating. Some of the early Muslims, no less adept at embellishment than their Christian counterparts, took the same stories and gave them an “Islamic twist.” Christians are expecting Jesus to return, destroy an anti-Christ, and save a limited number of Christians who accept him as their savior. The majority of Muslims in the world today believe that Jesus will return and kill an anti-Christ, and save the Muslims who will be going through turbulent times under the yoke of this anti-Christ. At the same time, Jesus will supposedly clear up all of the confusion over his status, i.e., announce to the world that he (Jesus) is only human. Besides Jesus, Muslims are also expecting another leader known as “the Mahdi,” who will appear just before Jesus. This “Mahdi” is the equivalent of Elijah in the Bible, who is supposed to appear prior to Jesus. There is ongoing speculation regarding the identity of the anti-Christ, and the search for this elusive devil continues.
The concept of Armageddon predates Christianity and Islam. Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism, was a Persian, who it is believed was the first prophet to preach monotheism. Estimates of Zarathustra's birth range from 660 BCE to 6,000 BCE. Zarathustra preached that there was a supreme God (Ahura Mazda), and an evil spirit (Ahriman). There was also a serpent king (Zohak) under the influence of Ahriman. The apocalyptic process is remarkably similar in Zoroastrianism, a battle foreshadows the end of the world, then there is a waiting period followed by a second battle that vanquishes all evil, followed by a peaceful era. Zarathustra’s version of Armageddon is derived from an even older version in Indo-European myth.(Winn 209-211)
Current Religious and Political Implications
Many evangelical preachers today allude to our tumultuous times, and advocate that the current global situation is ripe for the second coming of Jesus. TV evangelists reach an estimated 60 million regular viewers (a conservative figure) in the United States, who (according to a Nielsen survey) believe that nuclear war is inevitable because the Bible predicts that planet earth will be destroyed by fire.(Halsell 11) These Christian evangelists are staunch supporters of Israel. They believe that an alliance with Israel is imperative so that they can do God’s work, i.e., help to create a chain of events that is necessary in that region (based on their interpretation of the scripture) for the second coming of Jesus. These Jews and Christians are strange bedfellows indeed, given that according to Christian doctrine, Jews (along with every other non-Christian in the world) are doomed to damnation unless they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Fundamentalist Christians constitute a sizeable voting block in the United States, and no sane politician can ignore them. These fundamentalists exercise considerable sway over the U.S Congress and Executive Branch.(Halsell 163-167) They also influence U.S foreign policy in the Middle East, pressuring the U.S government to perform a delicate balancing act. Since evangelists and their followers believe that peace in the Middle East is against God’s will and counter productive to the emergence of an anti-Christ and the return of Jesus, politicians have to be careful not to appear too much in favor of peace while at the same time try to prevent a global conflagration from igniting in that volatile region of the world. There was a recent media report that one such evangelist – Jack Van Impe – claimed that the Office of Public Liaison for the White House, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, contacted him for advice regarding the Middle East.
Throughout history, millions of people have been annihilated due to religious polemic. God’s prophets all preached a consistent message, essentially for us to do good works given that we will all be held individually accountable on the Day of Judgment, based on the universal adage: “as you sow, so shall you reap.” People continuously engage in rabid arguments and violent conflict over the most esoteric of religious differences, sometimes even within the same religion, even though the commonalities among the monotheistic faiths far outweigh the theological disparities. Jews, Christians, and Muslims – or more precisely various sects within the three religions – believe that they have exclusive rights to heaven.
The majority of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are awaiting a savior: the Jews their Messiah, and Christians and Muslims the return of Jesus. It is incomprehensible that the gentle and peaceful Jesus, who reportedly said: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9), and who advised people who are smitten on one cheek to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29), would descend from heaven to save a select group and eradicate millions of innocent people. The “divinity / second coming of Jesus” theory may arguably qualify as the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind, and there is a great danger that the “Rapture” or “Armageddon” could manifest itself as a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Although a minority, hardliners from the three Abrahamic faiths – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – are trying to create an atmosphere of spiraling violence that could possibly lead to massive destruction and conflagration on our planet. If they get their way, there will be no savior on the horizon with a sword protruding from his mouth (somewhat paradoxical), but hundreds of millions of very disappointed – and possibly dead – people.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service Online: Nov, 2003
Halsell, Grace. Prophecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War. Lawrence Hill & Company: 1986
Hart, Michael H. The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. Citadel Trade: Nov, 1992
Noss, David S. A History of the World’s Religions. Prentice Hall: 11th ed. 2003
Pickthall, Mohammed M. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. Kazi Publications: 2002
The Bible: Authorized King James Version. Oxford University Press: 1997
Winn, Shan M. M. Heaven, Heroes, and Happiness: The Indo-European Roots of Western Ideology. University Press of America: 1995
Posted December 27, 2003. The above term paper was submitted for a religion class at George Mason University in the fall semester of 2003.