No matter where you look, a cloud of confusion hangs over the message of Jesus. To cut through it we have to be specific about who we mean when we refer to Jesus. One Jesus is historical, and we know next to nothing about him. Another Jesus is the one appropriated by Christianity. He was created by the church to fulfill its agenda. The third Jesus, the one this book is about, is as yet so unknown that even the most devout Christians don’t suspect that he exists. Yet he is the Christ we cannot—and must not—ignore.
The first Jesus was a rabbi who wandered the shores of northern Galilee many centuries ago. This Jesus still feels close enough to touch. He appears in our mind’s eye dressed in homespun but haloed in glory. He was kind, serene, peaceful, loving, and yet he was the keeper of deep mysteries.
The first Jesus is less than consistent, as a closer reading of the gospels will show. If Jesus was perfectly peaceful, why did he declare, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”? (Matthew 10:34) If he was perfectly loving, why did he say, “Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”? (Matthew 25:30)
If Jesus was humble, why did he claim to rule the earth beyond the power of any king? At the very least, the living Jesus was a man of baffling contradictions.
Millions of people worship another Jesus, however, who never existed, who doesn’t even lay claim to the fleeting substance of the first Jesus. This is the Jesus built up over thousands of years by theologians and other scholars. He is the Holy Ghost, the Three-in-One Christ, the source of sacraments and prayers that were unknown to the rabbi Jesus when he walked the earth. He is also the Prince of Peace over whom bloody wars have been fought. This second Jesus cannot be embraced without embracing theology first.
The second Jesus leads us into the wilderness without a clear path out. He became the foundation of a religion that has proliferated into some twenty thousand sects. They argue endlessly over every thread in the garments of a ghost. But can any authority, however exalted, really inform us about what Jesus would have thought?
These two versions of Jesus—the sketchy historical figure and the abstract theological creation—hold a tragic aspect for me, because I blame them for stealing something precious: The Jesus who taught his followers how to reach God-consciousness.
I want to offer the possibility that Jesus was truly, as he proclaimed, a savior. Not the savior, not the one and only Son of God. Rather, Jesus embodied the highest level of enlightenment. He spent his brief adult life describing it, teaching it, and passing it on to future generations.
Jesus intended to save the world by showing others the path to God-consciousness.
The idea of the Second Coming has been especially destructive to Jesus’s intentions, because it postpones what needs to happen now. The Third Coming—finding God-consciousness through your own efforts—happens in the present. I’m using the term as a metaphor for a shift in consciousness that makes Jesus’s teachings totally real and vital.
When Jesus Comes Again
Imagine for a moment that you are at the top of the hill where Jesus is and he delivers a sermon, and you are deeply struck, to the heart, in fact. He promises that God loves you, a statement he makes directly, without asking you to follow the duties of your sect or to respect the ancient, complex laws of the prophets. Further, he says that God loves you best. In the world to come, you and your kind will get the richest rewards, everything you have been denied in this world.
As the son of Adam, your sins have brought you a wretched existence, full of misery and endless toil. But Jesus doesn’t mention sin. He expands God’s love to unbelievable lengths. Did you really hear him right?
You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before all men. He compares you to a city set upon a hill that can’t be hidden because its lights are so bright. You’ve never been told anything remotely like this or ever seen yourself this way.
Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and the door will open.
Consider the lilies, how they grow: They neither toil nor spin, but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. Consider the crows, for they neither sow nor reap, they have no storeroom or barn, and yet God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than the birds!
When he preached, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other also” (Luke 6:29), Jesus wasn’t preaching masochism or martyrdom. He was speaking of a quality of consciousness that is known in Sanskrit as Ahimsa. The word is usually translated as “harmlessness” or “non-violence,” and in modern times it became the watchword of Gandhi’s movement of peaceful resistance. Gandhi himself was often seen as Christ-like, but Ahimsa has roots in India going back thousands of years.
In the Indian tradition several things are understood about non-violence, and all of them apply to Jesus’s version of turning the other cheek. First, the aim of non-violence is ultimately to bring peace to yourself, to quell your own violence; the enemy outside serves only to mirror the enemy within. Second, your ability to be non-violent depends on a shift in consciousness. Last, if you are successful in changing yourself, reality will mirror the change back to you.
Without these conditions, Ahimsa isn’t spiritual or even effective. If someone full of desire for retaliation turns the other cheek to someone equally enraged, the only thing that will occur is more violence. Playing the part of a saint won’t make a difference. But if a person in God-consciousness turns the other cheek, his enemy will be disarmed.
Adapted from The Third Jesus, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2008).