Jesus Becomes an Apocalyptic Figurehead
At the first Pentecost held 50 days after Jesus was crucified, the mystery of the empty tomb of Jesus was linked to the prevailing idea that the end times were near. A rumor spread through the crowd claiming the Jesus' empty tomb meant that Jesus had risen from the dead in bodily form. This was a sign to the crowd that the end times were starting! This caused a great excitement among many which was interpreted as them being filled with the spirit of God.
Pentecost became the first and most important early Christian holiday. The importance of Pentecost to Paul is evidenced by his continued desire to attend Jerusalem during Pentecost in what seems to be an annual remembrance event (1 Corinthians 16:6-9, NIV). On Paul’s last trip to Jerusalem, he did not want to be delayed in Ephesus so could attend the Pentecost celebration according to a first person report preserved in Acts 20:15-17. Paul was never anxious to attend Jerusalem for any other Jewish holiday.
Pentecost Gives Birth to Apocalyptic Christianity
(July 9, 2022) One of the great ironies of history is that Christianity became apocalyptic while Jesus was anti-apocalyptic. This betrayal of Jesus began at the festival which Christians call Pentecost but which Jews call the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of the Leavened Bread held in July/August. It celebrated the wheat harvest and it was observed 50 days after Passover (Feast of the Unleavened Barley Bread) when Jesus was crucified.
This linkage of the end times with the dead rising began in a section of the Hebrew Scripture book of Isaiah known to scholars as the "Little Apocalypse." It dates to shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE (Millar 1992). This section sought to explain why God allowed the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The conclusion was that God's chosen people had not lived up to their purpose by bringing a fuller, more spiritual life to the world:(Isaiah 26:19, NIV) We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life. 19 But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—
This high ideal of universal salvation started to be replaced by vengeful end times judgment after the dualist Zoroastrian Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BCE. This replacement was accelerated and amplified by the trials the Jews experienced under Hellenistic rule after the Persian defeat by Alexander in 332 BCE.
These Hellenistic induced tensions became apparent during the rule of the Hellenistic king Antiochus Epiphanes (ruled 175 to 164 BCE) who tried to Hellenize the Jews and in so doing eventually lead to the Maccabean revolt. During the troubles of his reign the Biblical book of Daniel was written(Daniel 12:1-2, NIV) “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
The book of Daniel makes the first mention of an “anointed prince” (“christ” in Greek) yet this mention references a real historical event surrounding a prince commander of Antiochus Epiphanes. His “anointed prince,” Apollonius, attacked Jerusalem in 167 BCE killing most of its men and enslaving most of its women.
After this victory Apollonius ordered the destruction of the outer city walls which was accomplished in seven weeks according to the Daniel text below. After that, he rebuilt the smaller and older center of Jerusalem for use as a base by his army. This fortification was completed in just over a year. About sixty-two weeks after his victory (the time interval again according to Daniel) Apollonius was killed in battle by a revolting Jewish army (Whitehorne 1992). The remnants of Apollonius’ army then destroyed their Jerusalem fortification before retreating. This event is described in the Daniel passage below:(Daniel 9:25-26, KJV) 25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah (Anointed) Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off (killed), but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
A few generations later when the Maccabean revolt did not turn out to be as perfect as some expected, the historical “anointed one” (Hebrew “messiah”) in the above passage came to be interpreted as THE apocalyptic “Anointed One” or “Elect One” (capital letters) by those not knowing their history.
The end time idea became a part of Jewish culture during the times between the Biblical New and Old Testaments as evidenced by the books of the Pseudoepigraphia (2 Macc. 7:9, 14, 23; 12:44; 14:46, 2 Esdr. 7:32-44, 1 Enoch 51:1-5). Significantly, this Jewish apocalyptic literature was not included in the Bible because it shows the Jewish people coming out on top instead of the Christians.
What happened at Pentecost was recorded with some embellishments fifty years after the event in the book of Acts:(Acts 2:1-4, NIV) When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
What is clear is that a mass emotional event occurred in those who believed that Jesus arose from the dead. This was interpreted as the coming down of divine spirits (collectively, the Holy Spirit). Thus was formed the core statement of faith of Christianity. If you believe that Jesus arose from the dead then you would receive the gift of the spirit and be saved from the coming apocalypse.
The observation that Gentiles could receive the Spirit like this was the main reason for admitting them into early Christianity as mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians in chapters 2 and 3:1-5. Acts very explicitly records this justification:(Acts 10:44-47, NIV) 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
ReferencesMillar, William, R (1992) Isaiah 24-26 Little Apocalypse . In Anchor Bible Dictionary (vol. 3), Editor-in-Chief David Noel Freedman. Doubleday
(Acts 22:6-9, NIV) 6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ 8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. (also in Acts 9:1-19, 26:1-18)
The Resurrection According to Paul
(July 9, 2022) The earliest mention of Jesus's death and assumed resurrection in some form are in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians written in 53 CE and his subsequent letters:(Thessalonians 4:13- 18, NIV) Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
(1 Corinthians 15:35-44, NIV) But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body... 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
(1 Corinthians 9:1, NIV) Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?
Still the resurrection of Jesus in some form meant to Paul and most Christians that the end times were at hand and would occur within their generation. This even led Paul to recommend that people not marry:(1 Corinthians 7:27-31) Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. ... But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. 29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
For Paul, the main purpose of Christianity was gaining eternal life. Doing the will of God was secondary. This importance is shown by this statement in Paul's letter to the Corinthians:(1 Corinthians 15:13-14, NIV) 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
Paul did not mention the empty tomb or give any hint that people saw Jesus in the flesh. He also mentions that the time interval of Jesus’ resurrection “was according to the scriptures” indicating that no observational evidence existed for the first reported sightings.
The interval of three days is used throughout the Old Testament to indicate an official separation between events or between and owner and his disposed property. So three days would have been required to completely separate life from death. Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days to signal his complete separation from the way he once was. The best example is this three day legalistic principle is from the book of Ezra:(Ezra 10:8, NIV) Anyone who failed to appear within three days would forfeit all his property
ReferencesHoole, C.H (1885) The Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans. Online at: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-smyrnaeans-hoole.html
John 20:24-28) Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Spiritual Versus Bodily Resurrection
(July 9, 2022) The debate over bodily resurrection versus spiritual gained intensity when the Gnostics started claiming that Jesus could not have existed in a physical body because the physical world was evil. This lead to the following response by Polycarp (69-155 C.E.), the orthodox Bishop of Smyrna in modern day Turkey, in a letter to the Philippian church written between 110 and 140:(Polycarp Letter to the Philippians, c140 CE) For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. (Schaff 1885)
Yet the Gnostic trend was clear earlier which caused the late gospels of Luke (80 CE) and John (90 CE) to push the physical body resurrection idea while still allowing for later spiritual body sightings by having a physical Jesus ascend into heaven. Luke says this in his last chapter (chapter 24):(Luke 24:36-39, NIV) 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
(Luke 24:50, NIV) When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Yet until that story was widely read and accepted the spiritual versus bodily resurrection remained an active subject for debate as shown by the following passage from Ignatius who was bishop of Antioch from 69 to 107 CE when he was killed by Roman authorities. Prior to his death he wrote several letters to his churches which were preserved.
Here Ignatius is stating his belief in the bodily resurrection described in Luke:(Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans, 107 CE, chapter 3) For I also know and believe, that he (Jesus) exists in the flesh even after the resurrection. And when he came unto them who were with Peter he said unto them, Take, handle me, and see that I am not a spirit without a body; and straightway they touched him and believed, being convinced by his flesh and his spirit. On this account also they despised death, and were found superior to death. But after his resurrection, he ate and drank with them, as being in the flesh, though spiritually he was united to the Father. (Hoole 1885)
None of these later resurrection reports are consistent from source to source indicating that they are late legendary accounts developing after Pentecost. The phenomena of people “seeing” dead celebrities is a common occurrence. The most widely known example of this are the many sightings of Elvis Presley which occurred shortly after his death in 1977. To see the extent of the Elvis sightings simply do an internet search.
The Nicene Creed
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops produced the following English translation of the Nicene Creed which has long been the standard Christian statement of faith. Notice that the teachings of Jesus are not even mentioned:
I believe in one God,the Father almighty,maker of heaven and earth,of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,the Only Begotten Son of God,born of the Father before all ages.God from God, Light from Light,true God from true God,begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvationhe came down from heaven,and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,he suffered death and was buried,and rose again on the third dayin accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heavenand is seated at the right hand of the Father.He will come again in gloryto judge the living and the deadand his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,who proceeds from the Father and the Son,who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sinsand I look forward to the resurrection of the deadand the life of the world to come. Amen.
Christianity Defines Itself as Apocalyptic
(July 9, 2022) The apocalyptic characteristics of Christianity are made clear by its official creeds. The earliest Christian creed came out of a large council held in 325 CE and it is called the Nicene creed. It later became the core creedal statement of Christianity. Its creation was commanded by Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, who desired to have a unified Christian Church supporting his Roman Empire.
At the time Christianity was in the middle of a theological dispute about how Jesus Christ was related to the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Arian branch, which included all of the Greek speaking areas outside of Egypt, viewed Jesus as an inferior divinity because he was "begotten." The Greek word translated as “begotten” has to be contrasted with “made.” The word “begotten” represented creation by the inherent power of birth. It was not a creation done by a crafter.
According to the Arian branch, Jesus was therefore not divinely perfect but he was perfectible and that is what made him human. This meant that like Jesus, all humans were perfectible as well. Jesus was someone to emulate in Arian Christianity.
In contrast the orthodox branch claimed that Jesus was divinely perfect from the beginning just like the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. Only a perfect and sinless Jesus could offer apocalyptic salvation to overcome the original sin of Adam. In this scheme the church was actually required to be the vehicle for this salvation through its sacraments.
The orthodox view won out in the end because of institutional self-interest and because it was the easiest. People do not have to work at being better in apocalyptic Christianity. The removal of human perfectibility also eliminated the last official bit of the real Jesus in Christianity because Jesus was teaching that humans needed to improve themselves in order to gradually manifest the Divine Home Energy on earth via the Law of Attraction.
The orthodox victory was complete by 381 CE when Arianism was declared a heresy by emperor Theodosius in 381 at the council of Constantinople which reaffirmed the Nicene Creed. The followers of Arianism were then actively persecuted and their books burned just like the Pagans (Rubenstein 1999).
While the Nicene Creed is still recited in Christian churches to this day, the definition of a Christianity has been extended in Protestant denominations to include the authority of the Bible. The Protestant World Council of Churches says this (World Council of Churches: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/about-us):The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As a consequence, any religious group which wishes to emphasize the teachings of Jesus instead of the apocalyptic ideology about him are not considered to be Christian by the National Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches. Such religious groups include the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Unity Church, both of which started out Christian.