Jesus proclaimed a good news of salvation that evoked great joy, but later a perverted form of it evolved and spread along with it. It was actually a threat of terror that evoked great fear. No more did it give joy, love and peace, but it spread anxiety, fear, anger, and enmity. Instead of bringing heaven on earth, it brought hell on earth. Let us see how it happened.
Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It was about our world becoming the kingdom of God. Right now it is the kingdom of Satan, and if we choose to reject Satan’s rule, and accept God’s rule, our world will become God’s Kingdom. Jesus asserted that God alone is holy/good/just, which helps us to be convinced that it is human to err. With this conviction, it becomes easy for us to admit our mistakes and seek forgiveness and also to forgive others. Jesus also taught us that God is like a father to us, and He loves us unconditionally. Such awareness of God’s love helps us to return such love to God and also to love one another. With such convictions about God about ourselves, our world gets transformed into the kingdom of God.
This is a great news that can be applied in the life of individuals and societies and in the life of the entire world. It is up to us to convert our world into a heaven-like one filled with love, joy and peace. Our world can become a great big family united by love. All we need to make it happen is to repent -- have a different mindset.
This is the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus, out of which evolved the early Christianity, which was a very powerful civilizing movement. Out of all the books in the New Testament, the first epistle of John presents the gospel of Jesus most clearly (1:5-10). The sermon on the mount (Mt 5-7) also presents Jesus’ gospel. The Lord’s prayer, taught by Jesus gives us a very clear picture of Jesus’ gospel. The kauma, the earliest liturgy in the Syriac tradition, also presents Jesus’ gospel clearly.
The Gospel gets perverted
The idea of God’s Kingdom was further elaborated with more details. It was believed that God would send a new king to replace Satan. The new king was referred to as the Messiah or Christos. It was believed that as soon as the messiah came, there would be a judgment, and Satan and all those who supported Satan would be burned in hellfire, and a brand new world would be inaugurated. This belief, which was literally understood, created a lot of anxiety and fear in people, for there was a possibility for anyone to be classified along with Satan as sinners. This made them fearful of the imminent judgment and the judge himself. They earnestly wished and prayed to spare them on the judgment day. Thus with this belief, God became their enemy instead of Satan.
When Jesus travelled around with the good news of the Kingdom of God, the primary concern of people was whether they would enter the kingdom. Some of them approached Jesus with such a question: what do I do to enter the kingdom of God? Or, what do I do to gain eternal life? Whether they would have a place in the imminent kingdom was the primary concern of most of the people of that time.
In the Lord’s prayer, which Jesus taught, the primary request is to deliver from the evil one, Satan. Satan is ruling the world, which is the cause of all of our problems. So what we need is to be delivered from the rule of Satan, and to be placed in God’s rule. But with the above-mentioned belief about the imminent judgment, God became the enemy, and our need was to be delivered from the judgment of God. God is sitting there ready to cast us to the hellfire, with a long list of all the sins we have ever committed. Thus God as the loving father gave way to God as a wrathful judge.
So the salvation we need is not from Satan, but from the wrath of God. Jesus was presented as the savior who saves us from the wrath of God. Jesus takes upon himself the capital punishment of death so that we can be spared from God’s wrath.
Jesus himself never proclaimed this perverted gospel. He only presented God as our loving father with unconditional love, and asked us to turn away from the rule of Satan and accept the rule of God. He taught that such a conscious choice would make a radical shift in our life, which was exemplified in the story of the prodigal son.
What is salvation
Our well-being with right relationship with God and fellow beings
Escape God’s judgment and get to heaven after death
Who gives salvation?
Jesus Christ’s sacrifice
Who needs salvation?
We, the children of God
We, the children of Satan, sinners by birth
Role of Jesus
Replace Satan as ruler
Protect us from God’s wrath
What do we need to do?
Reject Satan and accept God
Hide behind Jesus
Believe Jesus’ sacrifice
Judge and Judgment
The Old Testament asserts that God is the judge, and the judgment belongs to God, which means that God alone can do the right judgment, for God alone has sufficient knowledge to do so. Our knowledge is partial, so we cannot make the correct judgment. It was based on this understanding that Jesus advised us not to judge others. In the story of the prodigal son, the older son expects his father to make a judgment about which son was right and which one was wrong. However, when he sees that the father does not judge, he himself makes the judgment.
The idea of a final judgment occurs in the Zoroastrian religion, which probably comes to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We may assume that this idea was originally employed as a scare tactic. Whoever used this idea hoped that people can be scared to behave well. In the pages of the New Testament, we see the Pharisees believing in the final judgment. They believed that the messiah would have the Jews on the right side, and gentiles on the left. Some Pharisees affirmed that only those Jews who strictly follow the rules would be safe on the judgment day. We see John the Baptist also using this tactic. He says that just as a farmer would burn the fruitless trees in his garden, God would get rid of all the evil doers from the world. He hoped that people would start bearing fruits in their life fearing the final judgment. He asserted that only those people who do good in their daily life would be safe.
Jesus is also presented as having similar belief about the final judgment. However, Jesus never presented it as the primary problem. The primary problem for him was the rule of Satan, and his primary activity was to overthrow that rule. It is possible that it was a part of Jesus’ teaching at the beginning, but later his focus might have shifted. It is also possible that what we read in the gospels is the view of the writers regarding Jesus, and not of Jesus himself. Jesus tries to explain in John’s Gospel that it is not God who judges, but it is we human beings who judge God. Also he clearly states that he came to the world not to judge the world but to save it (John 3:16-21)
It is unlikely that Jesus or John the Baptist or the Pharisees believed in a literal judgment. It was merely a belief about what might happen in the future, and they probably might have used this belief as a scare tactic.
Let me illustrate this with an example from our everyday life. Let us imagine an intersection where vehicles frequently collide with each other, and casualties occur. People plead the police to evolve a solution. To solve this problem, the police fix some stop signs and implement very strict traffic rules. Whoever breaks the rules are heavily fined. Now people begin obeying the traffic rules fearing the fines, and the casualties lower. But the police officers are now seen as their enemies, and not as friends any more.
This is an illustration of what has happened in Christianity. The original problem was/is that people surrender themselves to Satan, and lead an evil way of life. To bring them back, their leaders used scare tactics informing them that God would punish them if they continued in their evil ways. This has made them scared of God.
Once people get scared of God, naturally, they move away from God. They hide themselves from God’s eyes just as Adam and Eve did. Although they mechanically do the religious rituals, they hearts stay away from God like the prodigal son’s brother.
Although Christianity started as a religion of love, it has become a religion of hypocrisy and hatred. Its God is no more the father who loves unconditionally, but a God who is getting ready to cast all the sinners into hellfire. The traditional liturgy of Christianity is filled with prayers requesting God to spare us and our departed ones from the final judgment.
One wonders if Jesus had this in mind when he said the famous parable of the wheat and weeds growing together in the same field (Mt. 13: 24-30). The owner of the field sowed only good seeds in his field, but at night his enemy sowed the seeds of weeds there, and both grew together. The servants wonder how the weeds appeared there, and ask permission to clean the field of the weeds, but the owner prevents them saying that if weeds are uprooted, wheat also will be uprooted along with them.
Weeds have been in existence since the time of Jesus. Today after 2000 years, when we take a close look at the field of Christianity, what we see is not a pleasing sight. In the traditional churches-- orthodox, catholic, and protestant, weeds replaced the wheat early on, and people have either deserted the field or remained inactive. In the evangelical churches, weeds are thriving, with very little room for the wheat. Overall, there is very little wheat remaining in the field of Christianity.
The best sample of the weed Christianity is the one in Nigeria, where they try to appease the wrath of God. Bringing heaven to earth is not their concern, but they are waiting to escape to heaven when Christ comes. As a result, Nigeria has become the crime capital of the world. It has become a hell. Compare it with Almolonga, a city in Guatemala. Most of the population there believe in the father-God that Jesus proclaimed, and their goal is to bring heaven on earth. As a result, Almolonga keeps on getting closer to heaven. They don’t have jails there, and no more drunkards there. The city has become very prosperous, and it is producing all the vegetables Guatemala needs.
We need the kind of Christianity that brings heaven down to earth, not the kind that helps people to escape from this miserable world to the heaven above after death. We need the kind of Christianity that presents God as father who loves all people unconditionally, not the kind that presents God as a judge getting ready to burn all the sinners in hellfire. We need the kind of Christianity that helps us live in this world with love, joy and peace, not the kind that makes us live here with fear, anxiety, and hatred.
The servants in the parable could differentiate between the wheat and weeds, but for the last 2000 years the weed-gospel has been mistaken to be the wheat-gospel throughout the Christian world. Our inner eyes have been blind. If we can regain our eyesight and distinguish between the true and perverted gospels, Christianity can once again become a civilizing movement in our world.
John D. Kunnathu
Jan 17, 2019