One of the things that Jesus seems to be determined to do during His teaching phase is to abolish the prevailing religion of Judaism, to abolish even the concept of religions, and to teach His followers and the rest of the world to relate to God individually.
It is hard to imagine how nearly all the scholars who have studied the Gospels over the past two thousand years seem to have missed seeing this! But the fact that the Gospels were packaged with the Old Testament and the letters of Paul to create the Christian Bible in the year 325 – so early – may have given scholars a kind of dispensation to see Jesus as just part of their religious team. For whatever reason, they seem largely to have missed seeing what you will see is obvious. And as you read Jesus’s Gospel words closely, you will notice that it first occurs to Him rather late in His earthly career that some Jewish clergy might be planning to incorporate His teachings into Judaism. So then He insists that of course they mustn’t do that! But the possibility that after His death people might simply invent a new religion, name it after Him, make Him its figurehead, and then proceed to ignore most of what He taught for the next two thousand years seems never to occur to Him.
One fact that needs to be dealt with directly is that Jesus did not die for our sins. There was no need for Him to do so, nor is there any afterlife evidence that His death on the cross has ever made an afterlife difference for a single human being. Moreover, as is made clear elsewhere on this website, there is nothing in what Jesus taught that gives any basis to most of what Christianity teaches, except for a suggestion that we love and forgive. Everything else that makes up the religion of Christianity came from somewhere else altogether. It certainly didn’t come from Jesus! Indeed, just the simple fact that God never judges us goes a long way toward abolishing the religious rules of Christianity, so let’s begin to look at how Jesus establishes the fact that neither God not Jesus ever judges us.
Jesus says, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (JN 5:22-23). And then on a different day, with different Temple guards listening, Jesus says, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (JN 12:47). So there you have it. Certainly God doesn’t judge us, and Jesus doesn’t judge us either. And from what did Jesus come to save us? The evidence of the way that He talks about religions and clergymen throughout the Gospels strongly suggests that He came to save us from the fears that religions instill in us, and to teach us to relate to God individually.
Jesus tells us flat-out that God is Spirit, and that we must worship God in spirit and in truth. As you read His words further, you get the stronger and stronger sense that the Jews’ mode of worship of His day is not the truth, and that if it were not a capital crime for Him to state that plainly, Jesus would be repeatedly saying it. Instead, He comes as close as He can safely come. He says, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (JN 4:24). “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (JN 6:63).
And Jesus despises religious traditions! He says, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men… You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (MK 7:8-9). “Why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?… You hypocrites! Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (MT 15:3-9).
Jesus has no use for clergymen. They test Him often and they seem to really get on His nerves, which is a remarkable statement to make about someone who otherwise seems to be so gentle and kindly, and who genuinely loves people. Here is a sample of some of what He says. But He never has anything good to say about clergymen!
“Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation” (MK 12:38-40).
“Woe to you religious lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering” (LK 11:52).
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (MT 23:13).
Jesus began His ministry in a synagogue, but in general He prayed in the open and He didn’t obey the Sabbath laws, nor indeed did He obey any religious laws. Here is the moment when Jesus announced to His homefolk who He was:
“And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, feeling full of the Spirit, and He stood up to read. And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all the people in the synagogue were intently directed at Him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (LK 4:16-21). It was a beautiful moment, but it was not to last. As Jesus soon discovered, no one is a prophet in His own hometown.
The Jews of Jesus’s day took the Sabbath very seriously, much as Orthodox Jews still do today, but Jesus repeatedly and quite deliberately violated the Sabbath rules. “And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking and eating the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath” (MK 2:24-28).
About the only time that Jesus shows real anger is when He sees the lively commerce in sacrificial animals that is going on in the Temple grounds in Jerusalem. He enters the temple area and drives out those who are selling and buying, and He overturns the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who are selling doves. And He says to them, “It is written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” And those who were blind, and those who limped came to Him in the temple area, and He healed them (MT 21:12-14).
Jesus’s healing on the Sabbath is another frequent bone of contention, but He keeps on doing it. For example, when He cures a woman who has been bent over for eighteen years, and suddenly she can stand up straight, the synagogue leader is indignant because Jesus has healed on the Sabbath day. He says, “There are six days during which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” But Jesus answers him and says, “You hypocrites, does each of you on the Sabbath not untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it away to water it? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this restraint on the Sabbath day?” And as Jesus said this, shaming His clergyman opponent, the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him (LK 13:14-17).
Jesus tells us frequently to pray and to practice our acts of righteousness modestly, and in private. He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (MT 6:1-6). Notice here that Jesus actually suggests that you not pray in the synagogue, or perform your acts of charity through any religion. In this beautiful passage He suggests that you create a private relationship with God. It should be just you and God alone.
Jesus wants us to know that God, and not any member of the clergy, always has our back. He says, “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
“And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these! But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (MT 6:25-33).
As Jesus’s time on earth is winding down, He becomes concerned that some of His teachings might be simply incorporated into the prevailing religion, while other teachings might be lost. To forestall that, He begins to preach against it, saying, “But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved” (MT 9:16-17). “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (MT 13:52). “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (JN 14:15-17).
He urges us to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (MT 7:7-8).
Jesus tells us that He has come to us from God on a mission. He says, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (JN 7:16-17). And Jesus wants no worship! He says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (LK 6:46). “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter” (MT 7:21). “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death” (JN 8:51). “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (JN 8:31-32).
Jesus wants nothing to come between us and God! And especially, He wants to free us from every fear-based religious rule, from every pompous clergyman, indeed from everything that ever might come between us and God’s love. No one who honestly reads Jesus’s words can draw any conclusion but the obvious one, which is that He came to do away with all existing religions, and indeed to do away with even the very idea of religion itself, and to teach us to begin to relate to God as individuals in the most intimate way, and to build our deeply intimate human-divine relationship with God.