The "preaching of the cross" is that our sole salvation is by faith in the atoning value of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The implication of this preaching is that His death was more important than His life. This twisted belief is in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus as found in the gospels wherein He is quoted as saying that His words are, if taken and practised by believers, the source of eternal life. Jesus gave great significance to the teachings He disseminated during His short life, but attached no importance to His own death.
If one draws the attention of a Christian to the fact that everyone dies, that all the Prophets before Jesus had died, and that Jesus would have died eventually had He not been executed, some respond that Jesus would have lived forever. This response is unsupportable by reference to any teaching of Jesus.
Further, Christians acknowledge that Jesus was born a helpless infant, lived through the vagaries of childhood and adolescence, and matured to adulthood - He wasn't born a 33 year old man. Apparently, Jesus wasn't immune to the process of ageing and, had He lived continuously these past 2,000 odd years, would be exceedingly decrepit by now.
If a Christian acknowledges that Jesus was a man and would have died one way or another, the "preaching of the cross" has little meaning. Had Jesus not been executed by the Romans, He might have been murdered a few years later by Paul who, while being a professed Christian, assaulted and almost killed James - the brother of Jesus - and, prior to his "conversion," was the murderer of many a Christian. If He had escaped Paul, Jesus might have succumbed to some other misfortune, or simply died of old age. By whatever cause, the end of His mortal life was inevitable. If it was necessary that He die as atonement for our sins, that purpose was assured by His birth.
But all this begs the real question concerning the presumed value of His sacrificial death. If omniscient God knew of His own plan to resurrect Himself in three days - where was the sacrifice? It is rather like knowingly writing a bad cheque to a charity and then claiming the receipt on your tax return: you gave nothing of value but just want to claim credit for making a sacrifice. Surely, God must be something better than a tax cheat and cheque-scam artist.
The ramshackle edifice of this intellectual fiasco is built on a foundation of folly. The first error concerns the mortality of God; If the Eternal Being could die, He is not God. But perhaps God could die for a few days - knowing that He would resurrect Himself as part of His bigger plan; In that case there was a period of three days when there was no God. If they say that Jesus wasn't really dead, then He didn't die for our sins. Or if they say that Jesus was dead but the other two Gods were taking care of the action while Jesus was down for the count, then they are polytheists. But perhaps just part of God died, in which case God was sick or un-whole, and therefore not God. No matter how you try to squirm from under the weight of the crushing truth, you are left with the fact that God is the God of the living, not of the dead, and He is the Ever-Living - the one true God.
The complication noted in the preceding paragraph derives from the erroneous premise that Jesus was God - a claim specifically denied by Jesus. His enemies misconstrued His teaching regarding His actual station. When Jesus said "Before Abraham was, I AM," His enemies incorrectly assumed that Jesus was claiming to be God. But Jesus taught that He was God's messenger and spoke only as directed by God (see John 12:49,50 and John 14:24). If we are to believe the station claimed by Jesus as the Messenger of God, His statement quoted above can not be interpreted as Jesus claiming to be God, but must be understood as being a message delivered by Jesus from God claiming to be God. Most Christians, however, share the same misunderstanding of the Pharisees, but for different reasons: the Pharisees made no honest attempt to understand His teachings in their panic to oppose the new Revelation, and Christians can not understand as they are preoccupied with promoting a spurious fable about the atoning value of His death and resurrection.
Yet another error is the supposition that Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead, walked through walls, let Thomas put his hand into His wound, and then ascended on the clouds into heaven. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us - not on the clouds or in outer space. We know that living men can not walk through walls. Further, as God can not and did not die, He could not be resurrected. This Bible story was written by someone after the death of Jesus, was not a teaching of Jesus, and has meaning only as an analogy to a more significant truth:
Therefore, we say that the meaning of Christ's resurrection is as
follows: the disciples were troubled and agitated after the martyrdom of Christ. The Reality of
Christ, which signifies His teachings, His bounties, His perfections and His spiritual power,
was hidden and concealed for two or three days after His martyrdom, and was not resplendent and
manifest. No, rather it was lost, for the believers were few in number and were troubled and
agitated. The Cause of Christ was like a lifeless body; and when after three days the disciples
became assured and steadfast, and began to serve the Cause of Christ, and resolved to spread
the divine teachings, putting His counsels into practice, and arising to serve Him, the Reality
of Christ became resplendent and His bounty appeared; His religion found life; His teachings
and His admonitions became evident and visible. In other words, the Cause of Christ was like a
lifeless body until the life and the bounty of the Holy Spirit surrounded it.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 104)
One Christian asks "If Jesus wasn't physically resurrected, what was the point of His death?" There was, of course, no point to His death; "Good Friday" was an unnecessary tragedy of immense proportions that cut short His life and ministry. There was, however, an inestimable point to His life. The whole purpose of the life of Jesus was to bring us the words of God - words which are eternal life. His sacrifice was made each and every day of His mission as He graciously dealt with the ignorance and doubts of His own followers and fearlessly struggled with the blindness and defiance of cavilers from the old religion.
There is no doubt that Jesus was fully aware that His teachings would arouse the opposition of the old religionists, and lead to His suffering and premature death. Had He not been willing to sacrifice Himself, He would not have delivered God's Message. And had He not delivered the Word of God, there would be no salvation. So, in this sence, He did die as our redemption. It is also worthy to note that there was not one Prophet of God that was not vehemently opposed and did not suffer at the hands of those whom They came to save, including Baha'u'llah Himself Who suffered stoning, scourging, poisoning, exile, galling imprisonment, personal loss, duplicity, betrayal and public humiliation to bring us the Kingdom of God on earth:
Know thou that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God,
the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity
was infused into all created things. Its evidences, as witnessed in all the peoples of the
earth, are now manifest before thee. The deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the
profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have
produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the
quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive, and resplendent
Spirit. (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah,
Author - John Roncalio. © 2003, John Roncalio.
The views expressed herein are those of the author who is solely responsible for their contents.