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R. Craig Hogan, Ph.D.

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Yeshua ben Yosef and Spiritual Growth

In the period after Yeshua's death, his followers believed he would return imminently. It was a matter of days or weeks, but certainly not years or decades. The missionaries, apostles, and core followers were intent on bringing as many converts to Judaism as possible because Yeshua was going to return to establish the Jewish Kingdom of God. All Jews would participate, and gentiles could join in by becoming Jewish.

In the focus on converting as many people as possible to Judaism before the parousia (second coming), the missionaries and apostles kept in abeyance any reexamination of Yeshua's teaching about spiritual development. There was no need for it because the Kingdom of God was about to be established. But as the centuries rolled on, the church never got beyond the conversion focus, and Yeshua's teachings about growing in spirituality remained unheeded. They are still shrouded today in ecclastical robes.

Yeshua never suggested that swearing allegiance to him would admit someone to the Kingdom of God. This is what he said:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: metanoia (μετάνοια), and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 )

The word “metanoia” has been translated as “repent,” but that is a mistaken translation using a word that has grown far from the meaning of the word “metanoia.”  The Greek μετάνοια is a combination of μετά (after, with) and the verb νοέω (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing).  Metanoia means "a change of mind". It does not mean “repent” in the sense that I’ve done bad things and I have to confess that I’m an awful person.  It means, “I must become a new creature by changing my thought patterns.”  Yeshua was saying that those hearing his words must undergo a change of perspective, a transformation of the mind to an entirely new view of themselves, the world, and God. That will result in the kingdom of God. (Maurice Nicoll, The Mark. Vincent Stuart, London, 1954).

In the West, the monotheistic religions have so captured the human psyche that we can hardly consider God and eternal life without falling into the assumptions we grew up with about them. After his death in 30 CE, Yeshua’s teachings were reinterpreted repeatedly by the church that was growing up with his Greek and Latin names, Christ Jesus. The Yeshua who taught in the hills of the Galilee remained there.

Today, when we unfold the shrouds surrounding his teaching, we find that what he said is quite different from what the church teaches. The church created an image of judgment, exclusivity, intolerance, and condemnation. When we strip that away, we see Yeshua’s teachings in an entirely new light. This book looks at them from the knowledge that he was teaching non-judgment, unconditional love and acceptance, and tolerance. His words have quite different meanings knowing that.

We have the sense that the kingdom of God is a far-off place, that people will physically enter in the future if they’re good enough. If they aren’t good enough, they’ll go to a place of eternal torment. Thankfully, that terrible myth is extinguishing, but traces of it still afflict our views of existence and spirit.

When Yeshua spoke of entering the kingdom of God, he used the Greek “entos,” which means going through space and ending up inside of something. “Entos” appeared when Yeshua said “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also,” (Matthew 23:26), meaning inside. He used the same word to describe the location of the kingdom of God. We enter it by going inside. The Kingom of God is within.

He was speaking of changing a worldview. A word easier for us to understand would be “realize” the kingdom of God. The “ize” ending means “to make,” and “realize” means to make real. The reality of entering the kingdom of God is in each person, that comes through simple realization.

Yeshua said that the kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it. (Gospel of Thomas, 3:13) Men do not realize it. It is available to us, but we don’t enter it because we don’t realize it.

When the teacher of the law spoke with Yeshua about the kingdom of God, he said to Yeshua, “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." Yeshua replied, “You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Luke 12:32-34). The man of the law was not entering a physical place, and it was not far off in time. Yeshua was saying your attitude of mind, your wisdom, your worldview is that of someone entering the kingdom of God.

He repeatedly referred to the kingdom of God as being within:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)

He described the kingdom of God as a present reality that was among them:

“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28)

“I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are [present tense] entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:31)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

“Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim [present state] the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)

“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’” (Luke 10:9)

"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16)

So the Lord said to him: Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but the inside of you is full of robbery and wickedness. (Luke 11:39)

14 Now the Pharisees being lovers of money heard all these things, and were ridiculing him. 15 And he said to them: You are those justifying yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts, for the thing exalted among men is an abomination before God. (Luke 16:14-15)

He described the kingdom of God as a continuing reality immediately upon death in the afterlife:

“I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:25)

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

He pointedly describes those who develop spiritually as entering the kingdom of God in the parable of the sower, which he explains for the disciples. He describes people who hear the teachings and grow to spiritual maturity in this life (“produce a crop”), and he describes people who hear the teachings and turn away from them back to the material realm (“making it unfruitful”):

The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown. (Matthew 13:14-20)

Yeshua said pointedly that entering the kingdom of God meant growing spiritually, in this life. He repeated the focus on growing in his description of working at building on the teachings:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Yeshua’s view of the kingdom of God was in contrast with the Jewish messianic view in the first century CE that the kingdom of God would be Zion, the physical land of Israel, and the Jews were to be the beneficiaries of the exclusivity of love from their God, Yahweh, who would route the occupiers and establish the kingdom of God in Israel for his chosen people.

The disciples and early church misunderstood him. He was clear about his message of love, brotherhood, and spiritual growth within, but they still expected Yeshua to usher in a messianic kingdom by destroying the Romans and ascending to a throne. They first expected it during their lifetime, but that didn’t happen. Then later followers described it as an event to occur in the future, but they embellished it to be an awful, violent wrenching of the earth and sky where “men will faint from terror.” It is an awful scene imagined by the writers who envision the Old Testament Yahweh Sebaoth, the God of armies, decimating the enemies of the followers of Yeshua and standing in triumph over them. It isn’t in keeping with the teachings of Yeshua from the earliest gospels (Mark and the Q source) or the earliest writings from the early church, Paul’s epistles and the other epistles. The church simply added it to make their evangelism more appealing.

Passages in the canon that expect Yeshua to return as a messianic warrior were clearly added by the early church, especially in the later gospels (Matthew, Luke, and John). The ideas contradict his focus on peace, brotherhood, forgiveness, compassion, and spiritual growth within, not a kingdom without.

 

 

 

 

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