Published in The Editors (Vol I. No. 2)
May, 1965

Thou shalt call his name Jesus." --Matt. 1:21

What can we agree on about Jesus? What common ground can we find amidst two thousand years of elaboration on his life and teachings, two thousand years of reverberating arguments over what he said and did and meant and intended, two thousand years of receding certainty and accumulating doubt and speculation?

The Gospels present two conflicting pictures of the Jesus that was: the picture of a Rabbi who taught in the tradition of the great prophets, Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah; and the picture of a self-proclaimed Messiah, a man superior by fiat arrogant and disdainful to the doubters around him. We could append two lists of all the quotations which conglomerate to produce these two images; we shall not, but we shall assert that the most noticeable thing about such lists is that all of the references which place Jesus in the Prophetic Tradition occur in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke--the Synoptic Gospels; and all of the references, with few exceptions which place Jesus in the role of a self-proclaimed Messiah occur in the Gospel of John.

The Synoptic Gospels may be "harmonized" with each other presenting a consistent sequence of events, five or six exhortative discourses as to the way of finding the Kingdom of God, and a set of miracles attributed to Jesus. The Gospel of John presents a completely different sequence of events a different set of miracles, and five or six completely different discourses, in that they deal with theology and symbols, the intent of which are to show that Jesus is the Son of God, or at least, directly, uniquely related to him.

Can both pictures of Jesus be true? Let us inquire a little into the nature of the Prophetic Tradition, and the Messianic Tradition. The teachings of the former may be summarized in the ideas of universal justice and mercy and brotherhood, that God's demands on men were that they be just and merciful, not merely ritualistic and that the Jews were not in fact the only people, that God could even find a Messiah in Cyrus the Persian. "Have we not all one Father?" sings Malachi (3:10) in the greatest assertion of universal brotherhood of all time. The great prophets tried to lead the people away from dependence upon sacrifice and ritual into the "weightier matters of the law" and from belief in themselves as the Chosen People.

The Messianic tradition is more complex. It derives originally from the prophecy of Moses that God would raise up to the people a great Prophet (Deut. 18:18). And the Judaic tradition always had one or more great prophets to be the exponent of the word of God--Moses, Samuel, Elijah Nathan, Isaiah. After the conquest by the Babylonians the Judaic culture and religion was being absorbed but the weight of independent tradition kept up a belief in liberation from the bonds of captivity. And it came; Cyrus ordered uprooted peoples returned to their native soils and'their religious practices permitted. This strengthened the Jews in their faith as a chosen people. But their freedom did not last, and they were conquered again by a succession of conquerors, up through Jesus' day. The tradition of a future date of liberation continued, however and grew into the Political Messianic Tradition that a great Leader would come, anointed (Messias) as were the kings of old, drive out the Romans and re-establish the Jewish kingdom as in the days of David and Solomon.

Starting about 300 BCE, a tradition known as Apocalypticism developed. It was typified by a great deal of current literature, predicting great cataclysms and the end of the world or the consummation of the age, the Last Judgment. Two of these books have found their way into the Old Testament Daniel and Joel, though Jewish thought rejected'the notion of apocalypticism about 100 A.D. For Apocalypticists the Coming of the Messiah meant the termination not just of Roman rule, but of all kingdoms, and the re-establishment of a new kingdom only for those chosen. So in attempting to understand the Messianic tradition we already have two conflicting views of what was to happen.

Jesus has been pictured as believing both, in the few Messianic passages in the Synoptics, largely quotations from Daniel and Joel. The Messiah pictured in John is something different even from these two conflicting views; His kingdom was not to be of this world, it would be a kingdom to come and of a different nature or substance; but John's Gospel most certainly pictures Jesus as the "only begotten" Son of God.

What was it that drew the people in multitudes to hear Jesus? Could it have been the reassertion of either of the two current Messianic beliefs, which were being asserted by an vnending succession of claimants to Messiahship, and who were all put down one after another? These ideas were the very air they breathed and what would have drawn them to Jesus if his statements had been the same as what they had already heard? We may perhaps then infer that Jesus was in fact saying something radically different, although even so his hearers may not have gotten his message.

We can find further corroboration for this in many of the descriptions by Jesus of the "Kingdom of God". "It comes not visibly," he tells the Pharisees, "but it is within your reach; it is as the grain of mustard seed or the leavening in the bread," he tells the people by the Sea of Galilee, "or a treasure hidden in a field--a pearl of great price for which a man sells all he has to attain it. The Kingdom of God is doing the Will of God, and to learn the Will of God you must look within yourself. Heretical teachings which go against the expectation of a Political or Apocalyptic MeSSiah, but which are consistent with the teachings of Amos and Hosea. "Seek ye the Lord, and ye shall find life," says Amos..(5:4); "What does the Lord require of thee," asks Micah  (7:9), "but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God?" Jesus adds to these the universal sonship with God--"Love your enemies"--"Forgive your supplicant without ceasing". Jesus must have known that the people looked upon the Romans as enemies, and can he not have intended the implication, the teaching that this was meant to suggest an alternative attitude towards the Romans than a Messianic hope? Finally he says, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"--"Give unto him that asketh of thee, and from him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again"--or if the Romans be Romans, let them be--"and unto God the things that are God's"--"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness"--"except your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees"--their scrupulous, ritualistic observance of thousand-year-old laws--"ye shall not find the Kingdom of God."

But nowhere is Jesus' utter rejection of Messianic claims or intentions more clearly brought out than in the three Wilderness Temptations. Confronted with a temptation to "turn stones into bread"--why not? Moses had fed the people with manna from heaven, and drawn water out of a stone--he rejects the temptation as Satanic, saying that something more than just material sa'tisfaction, of himself or the people, is necessary. Confronted with a temptation to assert Political Messiahship, of rulership over his people he rejects this also as Satanic--only the devil would tempt a man into political power, even if it were over all the kingdoms of the world. Confronted with a temptation more extreme than the others, that perhaps the words of the Apocalypticists were true, the words of John the Baptizer were true, and Apocalyptic Messiahship could be expected he compares this hope with the hope of being saved by angels if he were to hurl himself from the pinnacle of the temple rejecting it in turn as a Satanic temptation. We may then perhaps again infer that Jesus could not have expounded both his unique additions to the Prophetic Tradition--and also believed in either or both of these Messianic hopes.

What is the conclusion we may draw from this view that Jesus was an exponent, possibly the summit, of the Prophetic Tradition, that he forcefully rejected Messiahship for himself and a Kingdom of the Jews? It is that he rejected Messiahship as a valid concept. Messiahship is founded on a faith that things will be done for us, by an external power or leader, and Jesus' insight was that we must be our own Messiahs; we are all sons of God. We must search ourselves and do things with reference to ourselves; thus the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount about prayer and fasting--enter into thine own closet-- and on the larger, deeper meanings of the Law; and in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (which is really the Parable of the Perfect Parent), where God is ready to receive us, but when we come back to him, not when he brings us back; "the disciple when he is perfected shall be as his master"; "Ask, and it shall be given you, knock and unto you it shall be opened, seek, and ye shall find."

Why do ye not OF YOURSELVES judge what is right? (Luke 12:57)

(originally published under the name of John Fitz)