This is going to sound funny coming from a Noahide, but follow me here. It really doesn’t matter who you are. Your religious beliefs aren’t important. You can even be an atheist, and I’ve got you covered here. There’s a Jesus for everyone in the Gospels. You just have to be willing to look for him. Moreover, you must be willing to stop looking once you find him.
A Jesus for Jews, Noahides, and Unitarians in Matthew.
To be clear, nobody abuses the prophets more than Matthew. Ok, maybe Paul does, but he has more opportunity. That aside, Matthew presents a view of Jesus that many of us find acceptable. First, he makes no claims of divinity. Furthermore, Jesus pays homage to the Pharisees in 23:2, saying they “sit on Moses’ seat”. Yes, he calls them hypocrites. However, he tells his disciples to follow their teachings.
In 5:18, Jesus says not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law of Moses. In 5:20 he says his followers must keep the law better than the Pharisees. Moreover, in chapter 25 he says rewards or destruction will be issued on the basis of charity, a very Jewish teaching.
Yes, Matthew does seem to accept the notion of substitutionary atonement. In 27:51, the temple curtain splits as Jesus dies. Clearly, Matthew sees Jesus as a sacrificial lamb. Aside from that, however, I truly appreciate his portrayal of Jesus.
Building your own Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Listen up atheists. You don’t see Jesus as God, but neither does Mark. In fact, when Peter calls Jesus the Messiah in 8:27, Jesus orders him not to tell people that. As in Matthew, Jesus refuses to give signs and defends the law of Moses.
On the cross, Mark has Jesus feeling forsaken by God. At his resurrection, the women tell nobody. Just how flexible is the Gospel according to Mark? With the work of scribes who added the last 12 verses, even snake handlers find their very own Jesus here.
Jesus becomes God in Luke.
For those of you who do see Jesus as God, but stop short of the preincarnate Word, Luke is your Gospel. Either a birthright or an adoptionist christology is presented here. Luke seems to see Jesus as becoming God at his birth. However, older manuscripts have him adding “this day have I begotten you” to the baptism narrative.
While Luke’s presentation is similar to Matthew’s, he rejects substitutionary atonement. Sticking with early manuscripts, Luke removes the symbology from the last supper. Moreover, Luke has the temple curtain torn before Jesus’ death. Clearly Luke sees Jesus as closing the covenant with the Jews, but he stops short of marking his death as a sacrifice for sins.
The high christology of John.
For strictly orthodox Christians, John is your Gospel. Starting in chapter 1, he teaches that Jesus is the pre-existing Word of God, and indeed God in the flesh. But why does John have such a different view of Jesus than the others? I have my suspicions.
In the prior Gospels, Jesus is human, the son of man bringing heaven to earth in the form of the Kingdom of God. However, Jesus teaches that “this generation shall not pass” before the kingdom is establish. John being written in the 90’s has seen most of that generation begin to pass. How can he rectify this?
To John, Jesus isn’t from earth. Hence, he didn’t come to bring the kingdom to earth. Rather, he is from above and taking his followers to the kingdom. Thus, we see the “I am” statements. No man comes to the Father without him, because no other man is from above. Hence, you must be born from above to enter the Kingdom of God.
The 4 Gospels truly give us a Jesus for everyone.
If we view the Gospels individually, we can each find an interpretation of Jesus that works for us. The problems arise when we try to blend them to create an orthodox Jesus. Then the inconsistencies are exposed, and we end up driving people away from Jesus. It is far better to view the Gospels individually and find the Jesus that works for you.
I’m guilty of merging the different versions myself. Hence, I’m not criticizing the behavior. My Jesus is a combination of Matthew and Luke. Like Matthew, I don’t believe that Jesus is God. However, like Luke I don’t believe he died as a sacrifice for sins. I come to the Father through Jesus only to the extent that his death is how I learned of Hashem.
Do you disagree with me? Excellent! I encourage you to find your own Jesus in the Gospels. If you’re an atheist who finds him as a compelling figure in Mark, I applaud that. Moreover if you’re an orthodox Christian who finds him to be the God of John, good for you. The only thing I ask of you is to have the courage to find your own Jesus without crucifying everyone else’s. If there is room for all of these views of Jesus in the Christian Bible, certainly we can accommodate him in the theology of our friends.