The Central Message of Jesus

Deutsche Version: die zentrale Botschaft von Jesus.

As I pointed out previously, Christian fundamentalists and former fundamentalists having turned into militant atheists have the very same view of the Bible for what concerns morality and theology. Every command attributed to God is completely consistent with the others and the truth of Christianity (or the moral character of God) stands and falls with the validity of the smallest allegedly divine order find within the pages of Scriptures.

But is it how Jesus viewed things?

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

Jesus did not tell to the asking person:

You should stone your disobedient children.“ or

Fool! How dare you ask such a silly question to me! Every command is equally important!“

But he said that the entire Jewish Law can be traced back to love for God and love for one’s neighbour as for oneself. And the Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that our enemies also belong to our neighbours.

The phrase „And the second is like it“ is particularly intriguing.

It is very likely that Jesus meant that the purest way of loving God is by loving the people he created in his image. This aspect is particularly visible in one of Jesus’ descriptions of the final judgement:

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 25:32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them

one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 25:33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 25:34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 25:35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me

drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 25:36 I was naked, and you clothed me.

I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’ 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 25:38 When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 25:39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ 25:40 “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothersr ,

you did it to me.’ 25:41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from

me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave

me no drink; 25:43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t

clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ 25:44 “Then they will also answer, saying,

Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’ 25:45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ 25:46 These will go away

into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Mattew’s 25:31 – 25:46

This passage sounds certainly hard, but it shows it is all about love: non-believers having loved the poor people are called into the presence of the Lord whereas believers having ignored their needs are driven out of His presence.

Now we have to deal with a troubling passage:

18“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:18-19

It is very easy to find commands in the Torah not only failing to foster love but also going in quite the opposite direction.

Jesus seemed to be well aware of this as he said

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-48

While not explicitly formulated in any passages of the Old Testament, the principle “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is implied by numerous texts.

(Interestingly enough, it can also be found in the writings of many allegedly enlightened modern secularists).

So if he really literally meant we ought to literally obey the Law then he was literally inconsistent.

Such a cognitive dissonance could perhaps be understandable for a Jew of his time unwilling to deny the validity of what was considered as a divine tradition.

But I doubt that Jesus was inconsistent in that respect, I believe He really meant that love is the ground of everything AND that the law was fulfilled in Him, perhaps in a metaphoric way.

I’m still struggling to understand Jesus attitude towards the Law.

But we can be quite sure that Love was the foundation of his entire ethic even if he might have been culturally unwilling to let go of the inspiration of the Law, the logical implications of his central teachings notwithstanding.

7 thoughts on “The Central Message of Jesus

  1. Nice fisking. I found your site after that comment you left @ Deeper Waters.

    [LS] “I’m still struggling to understand Jesus attitude towards the Law.”

    You realize, of course, that just the Gospel Narratives (GOSPAN) alone have several theologies piled a-top one another? Soup for example. The GOSPAN is a mixture of several kinds of flavor/main ingredients, so it is difficult to ascertain if it is Chicken, Beef, Turkey, Pork, Vegetable, Noodle, Lentil, etc…

    -bunto

  2. Greetings from America!

    I’m curious what it is in the Old Testament – specifically – that you interpret as facilitating unlovingness towards neighbor. This seems to be the crux for your determination that Jesus is being inconsistent in his commands to keep the law, and ultimately justifying a position that claims that Jesus did not say everything that He is attributed as saying in the Gospels (Synoptic or otherwise).

    Many thanks!

    • Hello Paul.

      First of all, I want to emphasize that I believe that the earthly Jesus was never omniscient nor infallible but was a Jew of his time.
      Saying the contrary would, to my mind, call his humanness into question.

      In the OT, girls who have been raped but didn’t cry or scream had to be put to death.

      It is extremely hard for me not to believe this goes against the logical implication of the sermon on the mount.

      Jesus might or might not have said that the entire Torah had to be followed. I don’t know but if he did, he was inconsistent with his central message.

      Even if holds true, I don’t think it would greatly Christianity which is the assertion that God showed us His true face through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

      Lovely greetings.

      • Thank you for the response. A point or two of clarification – do you believe that Jesus was the Incarnate Son of God, at the same time divine and human, or only a human like you and I? I want to understand more precisely your view of him, so that I don’t assume things.

        I think that you are referring to Deuteronomy 22:23-24. Deuteronomy 22 has several different teachings on marriage and sexual relations that are appropriate and inappropriate. These verses read:

        23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (ESV)

        The issue is not that the young woman deserves to die for being raped, but rather the implication is that she did not avail herself of help that was readily at hand, and therefore this is likely not a case of rape, but rather of illicit, consensual sexual relations. Had she cried out, she would have had plenty of assistance from her family and neighbors to save her from her attacker.

        This is made clearer by the immediately following verses 25-27. Here, the rapist alone is to die, since the young woman had no one to come to her aid:

        25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, 27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

        Is there a particular reason that you compare this issue to the Sermon on the Mount?

        I would be more inclined to say that Jesus’ central message is that of Mark 1:14-15. Jesus is preaching and teaching to the Jews. The summation of the Old Testament as Love God and Love your Neighbor was probably not original to Jesus (Luke 10:25-28 seems to bear this out). As such, the Jews understood the common call to love God and neighbor. What Jesus takes his hearers to task on is that in emphasizing the importance of the Law of Moses, they have actually ceased loving either God or neighbor. The center of Jesus’ message is rather than taking comfort in mindless obedience to the law, his hearers need to repent – even the Pharisees who prided themselves on their ability to completely fulfill the law (by their own assessment of ‘fulfillment’). Repentance is needed by everyone because the Kingdom has come in Jesus and the Kingdom is not one of blind obedience to the law but of true love of neighbor (something the law intended, but could not produce because of humanity’s broken, sinful state).

        Perhaps this is helpful? The Old Testament has many things in it which sound harsh and difficult to our modern sensibilities. But I have trusted my life’s work and calling to the idea that however difficult they might be, they are not inconsistent with the entire message of the Bible, including the person and work of Jesus. I seek to apply my intellect honestly and fully to the task, and I am grateful for others such as yourself who assist me in this task!

  3. It would seem that the Israelites who God brought out of Egypt were a rather unruly bunch (stiff-necked) and they needed more structure – hence the Law.
    But Jesus summary of the Law as Love is undeniable.
    1200 years later he thought they were ready for it.
    Add another 2000 years and we might be closer.

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