Bill Johnson’s Christology: A New Age Christ?, part IIIa

[See also: Part I, The Christ Anointing and the Antichrist Spirit, Part II, Part IIIb and Part IV (Conclusion).]

Cosmic humanism forms the basis of the New Age Movement and related religious expressions, particularly Eastern mysticism.  It says that man is evolving toward a state of higher consciousness that will result in the attainment of godhood…

…Many have…adopted a form of cosmic humanism, believing that they are capable of achieving the same anointing of Christhood that Jesus had.  Their beliefs are predicated upon a new Gnosticism which appears so very Christian as to deceive even the elect if possible.  Through close examination, however, they are found in an error so serious that it threatens the stability of the churches in which these people fellowship and, in some cases hold positions of leadership. 

- Albert James Dager, Vengeance Is Ours85

Occultists / esotericists cannot deny that there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth (and maintain any real credibility) as the evidence for His earthy life is insurmountable.  Instead, He is humanized at the expense of His deity and proclaimed a righteous teacher, a model to emulate.

As noted in part II, a belief in reincarnation is integral to New Age / New Spirituality teachings.  In New Age Christology, Jesus of Nazareth was merely human and His life as the son of a carpenter was one of a number of incarnations.   For example, one of his previous incarnations was as Joshua son of Nun.  In fact, He was incarnated once more following His crucifixion and resurrection.86

In the New Age / New Spirituality and some other occult teachings, there is a false Trinity made up of The Father, the Holy Spirit (Holy Breath, sometimes Wisdom Sophia), and The Son (the Christ, the Logos, the Word):

The Christ is son, the only son begotten by Almighty God, the God of Force and God omniscient, the God of thought; and Christ is God, the God of Love.87

In His incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, the man Jesus overcame many tests and trials through much effort during the first 30 years of His life.  Because of this, He proved worthy to manifest ‘the Christ’.  Therefore, He was chosen to be the new world teacher (the Christ) of the Age of Pisces to succeed Gautama Buddha, the Christ of the Age of Aries, once Jesus would perfect Himself at Ascension.  Thus, Jesus was “christed” in a ceremony occurring just after His water baptism in the Jordan by John when the Holy Spirit (Holy Breath) descended upon Him as a dove.  It was at this point Jesus was deemed “the Christ”.88

This ‘christing’ resulted in Jesus becoming the temple of the Holy Breath (Holy Spirit) thus providing the power for His miracles, while “the Christ” completely overshadowed Him, taking full possession.89  This “Christ Spirit” stayed with Him until some time before the Crucifixion so that it was only the man Jesus who died.90  It was the “Christ Spirit” which raised Jesus’ dead body at the Resurrection while Jesus of Nazareth went on to be reincarnated as Apollonius of Tyana who subsequently ascended thereby becoming Master Jesus and world teacher as “the Christ” for the Piscean Age.91

Jesus’ life became a symbolic pattern for all to follow toward their own salvation – just as the man Jesus procured His own.

Before going further in explaining New Age Christology and comparing this to Bill Johnson’s, it’s important to keep in mind the intention as explained earlier by Alice Bailey.  As stated in part I, in order for Christianity to be “transcended” the goal is in preserving the outer appearance in order to reach the many who are accustomed to church usages.  In other words, the doctrines must seem to be orthodox while actually teaching unorthodoxy.  By implication, a certain amount of duplicity and inherently contradictory statements would be part of the plan.

For example, in the kenosis theories claiming Jesus emptied Himself of some or all divine attributes to become a man, there is the implication of Jesus’ pre-existence as God rather than the New Age view that Jesus was previously incarnated as a man.  Certainly, no one can deny Jesus Christ’s pre-existence as God and remain in a Christian pulpit (at least not generally).  However, as noted in part II, claiming Jesus was/is eternally God yet He “emptied Himself of divinity” during the Incarnation is an inherent contradiction.  The point is, ‘Christianized’ New Age will not completely parallel New Age / occult theology.

Comparing Specific Christological Statements

Many prominent authors and conference speakers add fuel to the fire of fear assuming that because the new age movement promotes it, its origins must be from the devil92

Given Bill Johnson’s words above, obviously, he sees no trouble with at least some New Age concepts or practices.  And, of course, this illustrates that Johnson acknowledges there is a New Age movement.

As explained earlier, in New Age Christology, Jesus pre-existed as a human who had been reincarnated.  Once “christed”, He was en route to becoming “the new World Teacher”.93  Conversely, “Christ” is God’s son who pre-existed as “God”.  Here in the following is “Christ” as defined by a well-known New Age book by Levi Dowling first printed in 1907 (and presumably still in print) titled The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ:

We recognise the facts that Jesus was man and that Christ was God; so that in very truth Jesus the Christ was the God-man of the ages.94

Central to most all (if not all) occult doctrine is the belief that all humans have two natures – one human nature and one latent divine nature.  This divine nature is known as the “divine spark”, “seed”95 and/or the “Christ within” which must be awakened to begin “the Path” to self-salvation.96  The point at which one realizes and begins to actualize this inherent divinity is known as the ‘virgin birth’.97

This inherent dual nature in all humans makes us potentially the same as Jesus.  Since the term “Christ” is used in many different ways in New Age / New Spirituality teaching, it is confusing and sometimes difficult to interpret meaning which is ultimately determined by context.  In the following, in a book by Alice Bailey most likely originally written in the mid to late 1940’s, she is referring specifically to the person of the Incarnate historic Jesus at first; she then uses the term more generally in the second.  That is, in the second case Bailey is indicating that anyone can expand their “Christ consciousness” by following Jesus’ example.  By “the keynote of the Gospel story” Bailey means the so-called ‘good news’ that everyone can save him/herself and relate to the Father by our inherent divinity (awakened by the “Christ anointing” or, being “Christed”) and to humanity by our human nature:

…the keynote of the Gospel story [is] the human-divine nature of the [person of Jesus] Christ, relating Him to the Father through His essential divinity and also to man through His essential humanity.  The Christian Church gave a wrong slant to the teaching by making Christ appear as unique, though the higher criticism (deemed so shocking fifty years ago) has done much to correct this false impression.98

It seems quite possible that this “higher criticism” to which Bailey refers includes the kenosis theories at the turn of the twentieth century.

Also from Dowling’s book, who is usually affectionately referred to as simply “Levi”, is the New Age / New Spirituality teaching on two different aspects of “Christ”: the first is general, meaning “anointed” (or “christed”), while the second refers to a member of the false “Trinity” as indicated earlier:

The word Christ is derived from the Greek word Kristos [ED: actually Christos] and means anointed.  It is identical with the Hebrew word Messiah.  The word Christ, in itself, does not refer to any particular person; every anointed person is christed.  When the definitive article ‘the’ is placed before the word Christ, a definite personality is indicated, and this personality is none other than a member of the Trinity, the Son…99

Notice in the first three sentences the similarities between them and Bill Johnson’s teaching in the following:

Christ is not Jesus’ last name.  The word Christ means “Anointed One” or “Messiah.”  It [Christ] is a title that points to an experienceIt was not sufficient that Jesus be sent from heaven to earth with a title [Christ].  He had to receive the anointing in an experience to accomplish what the Father desired.100

…The outpouring of the Spirit comes to anoint the church with the same Christ anointing that rested upon Jesus in His ministry so that we might be imitators of Him…101

Per Levi, “every anointed person is ‘christed’” or receives “the anointing” or, “Christ anointing”, as Johnson calls it.  As previously pointed out in the CrossWise article The Christ Anointing and the Antichrist Spirit, Bill Johnson redefines Christ to “the anointing” and he subsequently redefines antichrist (spirit) to ‘anti-anointing’ in the same chapter of this particular book.

Confusingly, there is yet another aspect to the term ‘Christ’ in New Age Christology.  It is also an ‘office’ or ‘title’ for the “Christ” of the current age.  As noted above, there have been many “Christs” (or “World Teachers”) down the ages and, as previously stated, Jesus of Nazareth – more accurately, the now ascended “Master Jesus” – is the one for the Piscean Age, our current era/aeon102 having earned this ‘title’ and receiving His coronation at His “baptism in the Holy Breath (Holy Spirit)”.  This is explained in the Introduction to the book by Levi:

The word Christ means “the anointed one,” and then it is an official title.  It means, The Master of Love.  When we say ‘Jesus, the Christ’ we refer to the man and to his office; just as we do when we say…Lincoln, the President…Lincoln was not always President, and Jesus was not always ChristJesus won his Christship by a strenuous life…we have a record of the events of his christing, or receiving the degree Christ.  Here is where he was coronated…103

With the exception of the introduction, Levi’s book is written in chapter/verse format as if it were a Bible.  Here is how the (fictional) account is presented:

…and now you stand ready to take the last degree. 6  Upon your brow I place this diadem, and in the Great Lodge of the heavens and earth you are THE CHRIST. 7  This is your great Passover rite.  You are a neophyte no more; but now a master mind. 8  Now, man can do no more; but God himself will speak, and will confirm your title and degree. 9  Go on your way, for you must preach the gospel of good will to men and peace on earth; must open up the prison doors and set the captives free. 10  And while the hierophant yet spoke the temple bells rang out; a pure white dove descended from above and sat on Jesus’ head. 11  And then a voice that shook the very temple said, THIS IS THE CHRIST104

Now let’s look at one more Bill Johnson quote we’ve used previously in part I to compare with the immediately preceding:

The outpouring of the Spirit also needed to happen to Jesus for Him to be fully qualified.  This was His questReceiving this anointing qualified Him to be called the Christ, which means “anointed one.” Without the experience there could be no title.105

To reiterate, following is the latter part of the previous Johnson quote with additional context provided:

…It was not sufficient that Jesus be sent from heaven to earth with a title [Christ].  He had to receive the anointing in an experience to accomplish what the Father desired.

The word anointing means “to smear.”  The Holy Spirit is the oil of God that was smeared all over Jesus at His water baptism.  The name Jesus Christ implies that Jesus is the One smeared with the Holy Spirit.106

As pointed out in part I, as per Johnson, logically Jesus was not Christ prior to this experience as this title was given only at the point when the Spirit descended upon Him as a dove [Luke 3:16; John 1:32].  Hence, He was merely Jesus of Nazareth until this anointing.  This sure resembles the teaching of Levi above, does it not?

One other important thing to consider which is best illustrated by picking out a bit of one of Levi’s quotes above:

…When we say ‘Jesus, the Christ’ we refer to the man and to his office; just as we do when we say…Lincoln, the President…Lincoln was not always President, and Jesus was not always Christ107

If one has this in mind, one could use Luke 2:11, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” [NIV 1984], to mean that Jesus is the future Christ and NOT that Jesus was born as the Christ.  This would be similar to stating, “On February 12, 1809 President Lincoln was born.” – certainly, Lincoln wasn’t born President for he was elected to the office of the President later.  In the same way, occult / New Age / New Spirituality teachings assert Jesus wasn’t born the Christ for he wasn’t coronated until He was around thirty years of age.  Of course, Christian orthodoxy affirms that Jesus was the Christ, our Lord and Savior at birth.

In the Apocryphal/Gnostic The Gospel of Philip from the 2nd century is a similar idea.  In the following, there is a specific distinguishing between water baptism and ‘anointing’ [chrisma is the Greek transliterated word meaning anointing].  The “anointing” here is identified as the mark of a Christian rather than true Christian conversion upon which one receives the Holy Spirit indwelling:

The chrism is superior to baptism.  For from the chrism we were called ‘Christians’, not from baptism.  Christ also was (so) called because of the anointing.  For the Father anointed the Son.  But the Son anointed the apostles.  And the apostles anointed us.  He who is anointed possesses all things.  He has the resurrection, the light, the cross.108

This reads like an “ongoing incarnation”.  Alice Bailey, in her 1937 Theosophical / New Age book From Bethlehem to Calvary: the Initiations of Jesus, quotes Luke 3:16, then describes the two steps in baptism, the first by John the Baptist in water and the second by Jesus Christ “which is that of the Holy Ghost and of fire.”109  She further describes this second baptism:

…The baptism which Christ gives His followers concerns the purification of the mind by fire.  Fire, under the universal symbolism of religion, is ever symbolic of the mind nature. This baptism by fire is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.110

Those who are or were involved with the so called ‘Third Wave’ have undoubtedly heard the word “fire” used to describe those “under the anointing” (especially from Todd Bentley at Lakeland).  Bailey’s use here is referring to the transformation of the mind (continued transformation by Transcendental Meditation / contemplative prayer / centering prayer / soaking, etc.) to expand one’s “Christ consciousness”.111  [See “Christ consciousness” section of ‘Christ’ in the New Age article.]  This is a process that continues until one, hopefully, ascends to Master, becoming a god oneself.

In the following is Johnson as he explains the “baptism in the Holy Spirit”112 distinguishing between the Holy Spirit “that was already in Jesus’s life” and what transpired just after His baptism by John.  After quoting John 1:32, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him” [NKJV], a parallel passage to Luke 3:16 (as Bailey uses above), Johnson explains this baptism:

…Certainly this is not talking about the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that was already in Jesus’s life.  This was the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry, and the Holy Spirit came to rest upon Him [baptism in the Holy Spirit / “Christ anointing”] as a mantle of power and authority for that specific purpose.  But the fact that the Holy Spirit came to rest on Him is evidence of Jesus’s faithfulness to be perfectly trustworthy with the presence of GodThe same principle is true for us.

The Holy Spirit lives in every believer, but He rests upon very few…113

Here’s one more quote from Face to Face with God, the same Johnson book cited above:

…The baptism in the Spirit, a profound encounter with the face of God, adds the power of heaven to bring transformation to planet Earth…114

Does this not resemble the same basic teaching as the New Age / New Spirituality with respect to the ‘baptism of/in the Holy Spirit’ / “the anointing” / the “Christ anointing”?  “Transformation to planet Earth” sure has a New Age-y ring to it.

As noted in part I, Johnson claims that Jesus did not raise Himself from the dead contrary to John 2:19/10:17-18.

…Jesus GAVE Himself to be crucified.  He DID NOT raise Himself from the dead…His job was to give His life to die.  The Father raised Him by the Spirit…115

Of course, it was the entire Trinity who raised Jesus’ body from the dead as other Scripture attests [Holy Spirit – Romans 1:4/8:11; Father – Acts 5:29-31/Galatians 1:1/Ephesians 1:17-20; God – Acts 2:24/Romans 4:24].  However, Johnson’s phraseology is not that far from the words of well-known New Ager Benjamin Crème:

Jesus was raised from the dead by his teacher the Christ who entered his body 3 days after his death. Jesus was no longer in that body and it was the Christ whose personal name Lord Maitreya lived in that body for the 41 days after the resurrection.116

In essence, Crème is stating that it was the “Christ Spirit” which raised Jesus’ body and remained in Him at the instruction of the Father of the false Trinity. The difference in the Crème version is that Jesus’ immortal Spirit came back into the body of Apollonius of Tyana; and, upon his death, Jesus’ Spirit ascended and He became ‘Master Jesus’ and the “World Teacher” of the Age of Pisces.

One has to wonder why Johnson would emphatically violate Scripture in stating that Jesus DID NOT raise Himself from the dead especially when this is not much different than the occult / New Age / New Spirituality account.

Part IIIb will discuss “the Word made flesh” and “spiritual DNA” and part IV will specifically compare the Theosophical Jesus as pattern for mankind to quotes of Bill Johnson and concludes this series. [See also: part I, The Christ Anointing and the Antichrist Spirit, and part II.]

85Dager, Albert James Vengeance is Ours: The Church in Dominion. © 1990 Albert James Dager, Sword Publishers, Redmond, WA; pp 12-13.  Bold from emphasis in original; underscore added.
86Bailey, Alice A. Initiation, Human and Solar. © 1951 Lucis, NY, (4th paperback ed, 1980), Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY; pp 56-57
87Dowling; p 6.  Emphasis added.
88Dowling; pp 6-8, 82-83, 94
89Dowling; p 8
90einterface website. “The Master Jesus” taken from Benjamin Crème’s works Maitreya Mission, Volumes 1, 2, and 3. <http://www.einterface.net/gamini/indexju.html> par 1-5; as accessed 04/17/12
91Bailey, Initiation, p 56-57
92Johnson, Dreaming with God; p 86.  Emphasis added.
93Dowling; p 8
94Dowling; p 8
95Dowling; p 6
96Bailey, Bethlehem to Calvary, pp 24, 26; Bailey, Externalisation, p 592
97Bailey, Bethlehem to Calvary, pp 9, 21-22, 24, 26
98Bailey, Alice A. Telepathy and the Etheric Vehicle. © 1950 Lucis, NY, (2nd printing, 1957), George S. Ferguson, Philadelphia, PA; pp 127-128.  Underscore added.
99Dowling; p 6.  Emphasis in original
100Johnson; Heaven Invades, p 79.  Emphasis added.
101Johnson, Face to Face, p 77. Underscore added.
102Dowling; pp 3, 8
103Dowling; p 8.  Underscore added.
104Dowling; pp 82-83.  Underscore added; caps in original.
105Johnson; Face to Face, p 109.  Underscore added; other emphasis in original.
106Johnson; Heaven Invades; p 79.  Bold from emphasis in original; underscore added.
107Dowling; p 8.  Emphasis added.
108Schneemelcher, Wilhelm; transl. R. McL. Wilson New Testament Apocrypha: Volume One: Gospels and Related Writings. © J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tubingen, 1990; English Translation © James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 1991 (Rev. ed.), Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY; p 200.  All emphasis added; parenthesis in original.
109Bailey, Bethlehem to Calvary; p 98
110Bailey, Bethlehem to Calvary; p 99.  Emphasis added.
111Here are a few statements taken from Alice A. Bailey’s A Treatise on Cosmic Fire [© 1951 Lucis Trust (1925, 4th ed 1951), Lucis Publishing Company, George S. Ferguson, Philadelphia, PA; p xvii] which are themselves from H.P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine [n.d., “Third Revised Edition”; identified as “S.D.”] (all emphasis added): “Fire is the most perfect and unadulterated reflection, in Heaven as on earth, of the One Flame.  It is life and death, the origin and the end of every material thing.  It is divine substance” (S.D. I. 146).  “Fire and flame destroy the body of an Arhat [ED: 4th level initiate]; their essence makes him immortal” (I. 35).  “The fire of knowledge burns up all action on the plane of illusion, therefore those who have acquired it and are emancipated are called ‘Fires’” (I. 114).  Of what are Bentley and others referring when they use the term “fire” and “fire of God”?  I was once given a cd of Robert Stearns / Jason Upton / JoAnn McFatter / Julie Meyer titled Freedom’s Fire [see here: http://store.liveinhispresence.com/Freedom_s_Fire_Prophetic_Worship_Robert_Stearns_p/cd-ffpw.htm ] with tunes such as “Burn Away”, “Swirling in the Fire”, “Freedom’s Fire”, “Burning Desire”.  From the same individual I was also given a copy of JoAnn McFatter / Steve Mitchell / Steve Swanson Messengers of Fire [see here: http://www.joannmcfatter.com/messengers.html ] with selections titled “Contact”, “Seven Spirits Burning”, “Messengers of Fire”, and “Winds of Fire”.  One must wonder what is meant by ‘fire’ in hyper-charismatic circles in general.
112Johnson, Face to Face; p 79
113Johnson, Face to Face; pp 21-22
114Johnson, Face to Face; p 102
115“ewenhoffman” Maintaining the crosswalk- sermon of the week Feb 27th 2011. 16:45 – 17:00.  Emphasis in original; underscore added.   As accessed 03/11/12.
116einterface website.  “The Master Jesus”; par 3

The Kingdom of God is at Hand, part I

[see part II here.]

Jesus Himself stated, “The kingdom of God is at hand” in Mark 1:15 [NIV]; however, it is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew that He also said “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matthew 4:17, 10:7 NIV] A quick examination of Scripture leads to the conclusion that the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonymous. So, is the kingdom of God NOW?

Most first century Jews, according to their understanding of Scripture, were looking for a Messiah who would provide theocratic rule thus delivering them from Roman oppression and immediately establishing the Kingdom of God – the Age to Come. The then-current age – “Satan’s Time” – was one of sin, sickness, demonic possession, and evil in which evil men were triumphant.[1]

Consequently, even though Jesus Christ healed the sick, drove out demons and even claimed to have forgiven sins, the majority of religious leaders did not recognize Him as the Messiah in part because He did not try to overthrow Rome. Since many of the Pharisees – one of the religious parties of the day – did not believe Jesus’ claim as the “I Am” [John 8:58] they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy!

Historical background

Writings of the Intertestamental Era

400 years had already elapsed between the writing of Malachi, the last Old Testament book to be recorded, and the era of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In the intertestamental period (the time between the Old and New Testaments), the Jews were not a free people most of the time instead subjected to the rulership of various empires. There were no prophets providing correction or guidance; and, consequently, it was a rather unhappy time. As a result, it was a period marked by a surge in the production of literary works, the most important of which were the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Tanakh – what Christians know as the Old Testament (abbreviated LXX)[2], the Apocryphal & Pseudepigraphic writings (some of the Apocrypha were translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic and included as part of the LXX)[3], and the Dead Sea Scrolls.[4]

The word Apocrypha, from Greek derivation, means “hidden” which has a view of the works being either esoteric and only to be understood by the initiated or, “hidden” in that the nature of the writings are questionable or heretical[5]. The term Pseudepigrapha is usually applied to Jewish (and Jewish-Christian) writings from 200BC to AD200 and comes also from Greek etymology meaning the writings were attributed to fictitious authors[6] although some have authorship ascribed[7]. From both groups of works the subject of eschatology has a significant role. Taken all together, this literature appeared to have a profound effect on the pre-Christian and the immediate post-Resurrection era[8] up through the destruction of the Second Temple in AD70[9]. [Note: for the purposes of this article the “New Testament Apocrypha” including the so-called “Lost Gospels, ” Acts of Andrews, Epistles of the Apostles, etc. are not considered.]

…These and other writings emerged during the long silence that fell between the death of the last OT prophet, Malachi (about 400 B.C.), and the appearance of John the Baptist. To some extent these writings attempted to discern what God was saying to a nation that, though it had repudiated idolatry, still suffered under the dominion of a succession of pagan powers… [10]

At the Council of Jamnia in AD90 Jewish rabbis rejected the Apocrypha (of which parts were included in the Septuagint) as canonical[11]. Yet, some of the Apocrypha are included in the Catholic New American Bible as Deuterocanonical (meaning later added to the canon) books[12]. Some of the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine such as purgatory, masses for the dead, and obtaining the merit of God through good works come from these Apocryphal works[13].

The OT canon accepted by Protestants today was “very likely established by the dawn of the second century,” some time after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in AD70. However, the Apocrypha was still in common use by most Christians until the Protestant Reformation[14].

Societal Developments of the Period

Even though the Second Temple was in operation from 516 BC[15] until AD70[16,17] geographical constraints and oppressive regimes prevented easy travel for the typical Jew. Thus the synagogue was born. Synagogues can be likened to our modern day church buildings as they provided a convenient way to gather socially and to worship. Jesus Himself visited local synagogues [Luke 4:14-21; Matthew 12:9; Mark 1:21]; and, the Apostles [Acts 9:20, 13:5-43] and early Christian missionaries preached in them as well[18].

The Sanhedrin was a committee of Jews with recognized executive, legislative, and judicial power over Jewish faith and lifestyle during the Seleucid Empire (196 – 167BC), the Maccabean revolt (168 – 143BC) and within the limits imposed by Julius Caesar, Herod the Great, and Roman procurators during the Roman Empire (44BC – AD66).[19,20] Subordinate to the Sanhedrin were the religious parties or sects known as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and the Qumran community[21]. Since the Sanhedrin had authority over these sects and ultimate authority over capital cases (yet subordinate to Rome during Roman occupation), Jesus’ trial is seen as being conducted illegally[22].

Beliefs of the Sects

Not much is known about the separative and isolationistic Essene group except that they were very legalistic living both frugally and communally while limiting contact outside their sect. While they did not condemn marriage in principle it was avoided and celibacy was celebrated. Their sect was continued on by the adoption of children. There was an expectation of an impending apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Evidence of a soon to emerge Messiah is in their writings also[23].

Even less was known of the Qumran community until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) which were first unearthed in 1947. The Qumranians are likely a sect that broke from the Essenes. This extremely sectarian group rejected the Jewish leadership referring to them as “sons of darkness” and “men of the pit” while referring to themselves as “sons of light” and “sons of truth.” They firmly believed they were living in the end times[24].

From the DSS it is evident that the Qumranians were highly legalistic with a commitment to study the Torah. The Qumran group believed they were living in the end times and accepted the guidance of a certain teacher of righteousness [ed: probably based at least in part on Malachi 4:5] who was presumably preparing them for the Messiah. Their own writings about this “righteous teacher” are too sketchy to determine the exact role of this figure; however, it is apparent that the community accepted his interpretations of the prophetic OT books regarding eschatology. Since the Qumran believed in a resurrection of the dead, it may be assumed in studying portions of the DSS that they expected the “teacher of righteousness to be martyred and eventually raised up[25]. Their Messiah figure, on the other hand, was more of a human son of David concept rather than a divine apocalyptic Son of man[26]. Some scholars construe that the Qumran belief system supports two or three Messianic figures[27,28].

As supernaturalists, the Pharisees believed in angels, demons, bodily resurrection [Acts 23:8], and immortality with reward for the righteous dead[29] in contrast with retribution for the unrighteous[30]. They were legalistic to the point of going beyond the Scriptures in attempting to adhere to the Torah; and, to this end added their own oral tradition to keep various points of the law. A good example of this is their view of the Sabbath [Mark 2:23-28]. The Pharisees “neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness” [Matthew 23:23 NIV] creating a more works-based religion than one with a personal God.

The Pharisees believed both in man’s free will and the sovereignty of God yet thought neither would cancel out the other. Ethics such as human equality were emphasized in their teachings but not necessarily from a theological standpoint[31]. They expected the Messiah to restore Jewish freedom[32].

One credible source stated outright that the Pharisees believed in reincarnation[33]; yet, the general consensus among Christian scholars is that Pharisaical belief regarding immortality adhered to orthodoxy instead. However, in the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic literature there are references to reincarnation[34]. In some camps, the Kabbalah was thought to be in use as early as the time of Moses as part of an oral tradition and reincarnation is one of the tenets of Kabbalistic doctrine[35]. While there are certainly some Jewish sects who currently espouse reincarnation[36], it is not clear when this doctrine first came about. The Apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, or Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach[37], contains a warning against such esotericism [Sirach 3:20-22].[38]

The common people were predominantly middle class and identified mostly with the Pharisees in part because this party was of the same class[39]. It should be noted that not all Pharisees were of the same ilk as those represented in the NT. Some contemporaries within their own party recognized their hypocrisy and rebuked them for it[40]. Gamaliel appeared to try to honor a personal God with his words [Acts 5:33-41]. Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, would, of course, become the Apostle Paul.

The Sadducees, more than any of these groups, had an interest in Temple ceremonies and sought a literal interpretation of the Torah. They appeared to reject extra-canonical sources for doctrine. As the most affluent of the religious groups, the Sadducees wielded political clout disproportionate to their relative size[41]. It is assumed that they held a large percentage of seats on the Sanhedrin.

The Sadducean view of eschatology was quite simplistic and widely divergent from the other sects as they did not believe in a resurrection [Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27] or an afterlife and even denied the existence of a spiritual world altogether [Acts 23:8] attributing everything to free will[42].

Eschatological Views of the Pre-Christian and Immediate Post-Resurrection Era

With the exception of the Sadducean view, the predominant Jewish belief of the pre-Christian era included the imminent arrival of a Messianic figure (or figures assuming one of the viewpoints regarding the Qumran group) to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and immediately establish the Kingdom of God. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart, in their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, describe the Jewish eschaton (view of the end of time) as the belief that the Messiah’s coming would usher in the “Age to Come” to be “characterized by the presence of the Spirit, righteousness, health, and peace.”[43]

Since Jesus Christ’s disciples/followers came directly from Jewish heritage or were familiar with Jewish eschatological beliefs, they were also expecting Him to soon usher in the Kingdom and overthrow Rome[44] while He was still on the earth. Consequently, Jesus’ arrest and subsequent death on the Cross was met with immense disillusionment among His disciples in part because of this assumption [Luke 22:61-62; 23:27, 48-49; 24:17-21]. However, their sorrow turned to joy with His Resurrection and Ascension!

Yet it was apparent that the end of the age had not come in full:

“Very early, beginning with Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, the early Christians came to realize that Jesus had not come to usher in the ‘final’ end, but the ‘beginning’ of the end, as it were. Thus they came to see that with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and with the coming of the Spirit, the blessings and benefits of the future had already come. In a sense, therefore, the end had already come. But, in another sense the end had not yet fully come. Thus it was already but not yet. [45] [emphasis in original]

First century Christians had to adjust their eschatological thinking to fit the events of the Resurrection and Ascension. However, apparently some were expecting the imminent return of Jesus Christ prompting the Apostle Paul to write the two Thessalonian letters to provide markers of what first must take place before His return. They still had a “kingdom now” mindset. This expectation of imminency with regard to Christ’s return continues in the mindset of most Christians today.

This “tension” between the already but not yet is an important hermeneutical tool in interpreting the New Testament[46]. Passages such as Colossians 3:1-2 illustrate this quite well:

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [NIV]

We are already raised up with Christ, yet we are still physically here on earth. However, since we have the future expectation of being raised with Christ, we are to already set our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Similarly, when Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” He was using this same principle. The Kingdom era has already begun; but, the consummation is yet to be fulfilled.

There are those today who are attempting to hasten Jesus Christ’s return by taking the not yet into their own hands. It is the doctrines of some of these which will be compared to the doctrines of the groups above in the second part of this article.

See Part II here.

Endnotes:

[1] Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stewart “The Gospels: One Story, Many Dimensions.” How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. second edition, 1993; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; p 131

[2] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 164-174. This section features Bruce M. Metzger as contributor.

[3] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “Between the Testaments.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 179-192. This section features Harold W. Hoehner as contributor.

[4] Barker, Kenneth; Burdick, Stek, et. al. “The Time between the Testaments” NIV Study Bible. copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 1424-1425

[5] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 161 Metzger

[6] ibid. pp 162, 170

[7] Marshall, I. Howard; Millard, Packer “Pseudepigrapha” New Bible Dictionary. third edition, 1996; Intervarsity, Downers Grove, IL; p 985

[8] Gaebelein, Op.cit. pp 173-174 Hoehner

[9] Richards, Lawrence O. “Apocrypha” Richards Complete Bible Dictionary. 2002; World Bible Publishers, Iowa Falls, IO; p 76

[10] ibid.

[11] Marshall, Op.cit.

[12] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 162

[13] Richards, Op.cit.

[14] Barker, Op.cit. p 1425

[15] Richards, Lawrence O. “Ezra” Richards’ Complete Bible Handbook. 1987; Word, Inc., Dallas, TX; pp 233-234

[16] Wikipedia The Second Temple <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Temple> para 1; as accessed 10/17/10

[17] Richards, Op.cit. “The Second Temple” Bible Dictionary p 967

[18] ibid. “synagogue” pp 957-958

[19] ibid. “Sanhedrin” pp 894-895

[20] Gaebelein, Op.cit. pp 184, 189-191 Hoehner

[21] ibid. pp 192-193

[22] Richards, Op.cit. p 895

[23] ibid. “Essenes” pp 346-347

[24] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 395-398. This section features William Sanford LaSor as contributor.

[25] ibid. pp 399-401

[26] ibid. pp 400-403 [The bulk of this information on the Qumran is from the work of William S. LaSor titled The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972]

[27] Barker, Op.cit. p 1427

[28] Hanson, Kenneth “The Wicked Priest” Dead Sea Scrolls: the Untold Story. 1997; Council Oaks Books, Tulsa, OK; p 82

[29] Richards, Op.cit. “Pharisees” p 782

[30] Barker, Op.cit. “Jewish Sects” p 1473

[31] ibid.

[32] Richards, Op.cit.

[33] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 192 Hoehner

[34] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 165 Metzger

[35] Wikipedia “Primary Texts” Kabbalah. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabbalah> para 2, also “History: Origin of Terms” para 1; as accessed 10/17/10

[36] Rich, Tracey R. “Resurrection and Reincarnation” Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife. <http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm>  Copyright 5759-5760 (1999); Tracey R. Rich; para 4; as accessed 10/17/10

[37] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 166

[38] Confraternity of Christian Doctrine “Sirach” New American Bible. <http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/sirach/sirach3.htm> 2002; Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC; Sirach 3:20-22; as accessed 10/17/10

[39] Richards, Op.cit. “The Common People” Bible Handbook p 443

[40] ibid. “The Pharisees” p 442

[41] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 192 Hoehner

[42] Richards, Op.cit. “Sadducees” p 885

[43] Fee, Op.cit. p 132

[44] ibid.

[45] ibid. pp 132-133

[46] ibid. p 133

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