Jesus For Real, Or Jesus For Sale?

Most young people today don’t get all the miracle buzz about Jesus.
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Most young people today don’t get all the miracle buzz about Jesus.

For example, some of the older generations, especially conservative evangelicals, are continually promoting his imminent return. Seems a little iffy to Millennials and Gen Zers.

Historically, no one has ever certifiably returned from the long-dead before, although all three branches of the Abrahamic religious tradition have hopes for such a return.

For Jews, it is Elijah. For Christians, of course Jesus. For Muslims, one of the early Imams. Among liberal Christians, it is the heart and mind of Jesus that merits attention, not any supernatural abilities. They say he is the great philosopher of love and forgiveness, social justice and equality. But they look past much of history as well.

Those who study the historical times and cultural milieu of first century Palestine have a few things to say that should interest Christians and non-Christians alike.

First, while he was a martyred messiah figure for sure, Jesus was also a carpenter, a lawyer, and a country doctor as well. He rarely went to church. Synagogues were public multi-purpose civic centers like temples, where cultural, political, educational, and religious observances were all freely held. Besides, once Jesus fully launched a movement, he shunned even synagogues.

Jesus believed in non-violent change, but was okay with ownership of defensive weapons.

Jesus the man was not hesitant to comment on and lead out on public issues, like disease prevention (demons), high interest rates (moneychangers), discrimination (Samaritans), violent factions (zealots), empire building (legions), fair taxation (Caesar), and big government (“Corban”).

His was a public health movement as much as a religious reform movement. The amount of New Testament gospel scripture devoted to his healing activities is almost as much as that devoted to his theological and social teachings.

As a public figure and even as a private friend, he was capable of heavy sarcasm and vitriol, but only directed at institutions and their leaders, not at ordinary people. He believed that ordinary folk of his day were misled by the powers that be. They, and even most of their leaders, largely did not know what they were doing because they were too ignorant of history.

Jesus believed that the people of Palestine needed to learn, and were capable of learning, the democratic constitutional law of their ancestors, so he taught it to them.

Some of the sacraments that Christian denominations later instituted in his name were not a part of his teaching. But he probably would not at all be surprised about the politicized differentiation spawned by his followers in the centuries after he spoke. He knew what was in the hearts and minds of ambitious men and women.

The real, verifiable Jesus of first century Palestine was a figure that many irreligious moderns and spiritual-but-not-religious types might really enjoy hearing more about.

Robert Kimball Shinkoskey is a retired state government worker who writes about current issues from a historical perspective. He is the author of Do My Prophets No Harm: Revelation and Religious Liberty in the Bible.

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