It is better to reflect on the historical Jesus at Christmas than at Easter. At Easter, his tragic death overshadows his life, not to mention his teachings.
To gain an insight into anyone or anything, one first has to clear the brush that grows up around the person or thing and impedes our capacity for clear perception.
The first question about Jesus is: Did he succeed or fail in his mission?
My view is that he failed, and knew that he failed. Though Christians go into all kinds of contortions to explain away his last words (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”) there is really no other explanation.
What was Jesus’ mission? The same as all great religious teachers—to radically change the human heart, and thereby change the basic course of humankind. No teacher has ever done that.
But Jesus failed spectacularly. It wasn’t because there were others who were more realized—Siddhartha, for example. Jesus was amongst the greatest religious teachers and prophets.
In the history of the world’s greatest religious teachers, there has never been one whose faith was tested so drastically. Jesus didn’t understand what happened, why things went so terribly wrong, but he remained true to his faith in a higher intelligence, and in his mission.
I think this is why even people who abhor organized religion have a feeling for Jesus in their heart of hearts. Despite all the ‘Son of God’ blather, at bottom we know Jesus was one of us, and Darkness couldn’t break him.
In the deeper sense, Jesus didn’t fail of course; the people of his time failed to come up to the mark, as people have always failed to come up to the mark.
Jesus’ triumphal ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, signifying the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy, turned out to be premature. Jesus probably didn’t underestimate Satan, but he did overestimate his fellow Jews.
And they turned on him, playing right into Roman hands. Had Jesus succeeded in his mission, the entire Roman Empire would have been transformed, and the Roman Catholic Church would never have come into existence. (Nor would any of its Protestant offshoots, obviously.)
So was Jesus a warrior? The Buddha wasn’t; he had gone beyond that stage. But I feel Jesus was a prophet-warrior.
This dead culture venerates the vestiges of manhood on the battlefield and in other childish ways as heroes, but few people have an understanding of what a warrior really is.
Up to a point, a warrior is a true orientation in life, though it can be applied in either a true or false way. Heroes, on the other hand, are entirely fictional projections, the group fantasies of the legions that have never put their lives on the line, paying false homage to those that have.
Clearly Jesus was a prophet first, but he was a warrior and revolutionary as well, and not a ‘saint.’ He was neither interested in the original metaphor of the cave (the monk’s refuge and sanctuary), nor in its 21st century equivalent (the ‘cave-dwelling’ holdouts to modernism).
No, there wasn’t to be any killing in Jesus’ revolution. It seems absurd now, but he actually believed he could radically change the human heart. Was Jesus a fool, or are the fools those who believe in the self-projected and self-fulfilling prophecy that man will never change?
The tragedy of Jesus is not the cross, but that he didn’t understand where things went wrong. His everlasting greatness however, is that as he expired he still asked God to forgive the people of his time.
Jesus was a warrior because he stood against Darkness, mastered it within himself, and did not succumb to it by losing his faith and love for humankind. (Most moderns deny the intentionality of evil in human consciousness, but there’s a saying—“The greatest triumph of the devil in the modern age is convincing people it doesn’t exist.”)
What went wrong? Is it that after Jesus had mastered Darkness in the desert, the devil withdrew, and laid in wait for him in Jerusalem? After all, the arc of his teaching was very much upward, and it appeared to him that the old prophecy was being fulfilled.
Was it Jesus’ fate to die on the cross? Nothing is set in life, even if some outcomes are virtually certain. Perhaps Jesus was a sacrifice in the deepest and truest sense of the world.
Or perhaps he didn’t transcend destiny, and so it remains ours. Maybe both.