Jesus Christ is one of the most popular people in history, and his life/story has influenced billions of people in the past, and present, and will continue to do so in the future.
According to the Bible, He came to show humanity the way, truth, and life so that they will be reconciled to God.
Even though Jesus made mention of places like Heaven, and Hell and the Bible listed laws and norms that may seem made-up or outdated in modern times, the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus Christ are still useful today (because they teach us how to be good people).
Jesus Christ insisted that love (in its purest sense) is the fulfillment of all laws; that it is all we ought to understand and embody.
For a long time before Jesus, people relied on laws as pointers of what to do or not do to be good, or at least not bad.
And, it worked to a reasonable extent. People were commanded to
- not kill
- not steal
- not cheat
- respect their elders
- give to the poor (tithe)
And there were both physical and spiritual punishments for breaking the laws.
It worked. Societies became a lot less savage; though mostly because people feared the punishments.
But, humans being humans always found loopholes; or a reason to break it.
This left the leaders with the job of perpetually judging, patching up the laws, and adding more deterrents/punishment (think stoning to death) to keep society going.
“Now the next day Moses sat to judge [the disputes] the people [had with one another], and the people stood around Moses from dawn to dusk.”– Exodus 18:13 (AMP)
It was a constant struggle; and still is to date.
Why do we need laws in society?
If we imagine goodness to be warm and evil to be cold, the law (which comes with punishments) was meant to scare people away from getting cold – it kept the fire of goodness burning even if it meant killing off some very awful people, fining some, or commanding people to give away ten percent of their income to the less privileged.
The law kept the fire from smothering: It ensured people don’t get too bad.
But, since the law was fixed, it limited the degree of goodness that can exist.
For example, it may be unlawful to look at a naked person who isn’t your partner, but it is good to do so if you find them drowning. As much as the law had the best of intentions, when held too tightly – when people for fear of breaking the law fail to do good – the law becomes problematic.
In other words, since the law was fixed, the brightness of the flame of good it supported was also fixed, is that when something better emerges, the law would, in contrast, appear dimmer or seem bad.
Worse, since the law had people who exalted and enforced it, it meant anyone who made the law look relatively inferior was a threat.
This is why in the Bible, we find the Pharisees constantly antagonizing Jesus for living/shining above/beyond the law.
In one instance, Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath and in another instance helped his disciples with some ears of corn on the Sabbath. Although there was nothing wrong with helping people, it was beyond the law – it (the goodness) encroached into the law of the Sabbath.
Of course, Jesus tried to inform them that the entire law should point people to Goodness, and if there is a law that impedes goodness, that law should give way for goodness.
In one passage, Jesus argues (about the law of the sabbath)…
“The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath…”– Mark 2:27 (NLT)
Jesus argued that it is good that you are all maintaining the “25 degrees Celsius” which the law has commanded that no one drops below, but it is okay to ignore the law if you are increasing the temperature to “100 degrees or more”. In fact, the law should support you, rather than punish you for finding new ways (that don’t fit into its framework) in achieving the same common goal (which is goodness).
In another instance, we find Jesus publicly confronting and calling them out on their misunderstanding of the entire goal. He said,
“You search and keep on searching and examining the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and yet it is those [very Scriptures] that testify about Me”– John 5:39 (AMP)
The problem is people forget the goal. The goal of the law is to ensure we don’t end up being like Hitler, but more like Jesus (or even better); that’s why he says it testifies to him – the one who loved humanity enough to die for them/us.
Again, you do not have to even believe Jesus was real to see the importance of his life, teachings, and sacrifice (as narrated in the Bible).
He wasn’t coming to ram down another set of laws down our throats but to liberate us from them. To get us to the point where we can increasingly become better people day by day.
He continued to rebuke the Pharisees by saying, in ‘42, “But I know you, that you don’t have God’s love in yourselves”.
In other words, they were not really interested in being good. They were just interested in doing all the wrong and selfish things that won’t break the law (because the law always has loopholes).
However, Jesus turning up the heat, and taking goodness to a whole new level made them look bad in contrast.
Yes, we need laws to ensure people don’t do wrong and get away with it, but sadly, the law can also limit goodness.
This was why Jesus proposed a new yet overarching law, Love.
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another”– John 13:34 (NASB)
What does Jesus say about keeping the laws?
It is important not to think that Moses, David, or any other leader are the people who you must follow their exact steps. Doing that will mean binding yourself to another set of rules that will sooner or later be outdated or get abused.
The whole point of Jesus’s teaching was to live beyond the law – to do good even when it is not explicitly permitted (or even forbidden) by the law.
In one instance, a Gentile woman came to Jesus asking for help. Now, it was not right for Jesus to interact with this lady according to the law (because she was Gentile), and he bluntly told her.
“Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”– Matt 15:26 (NLT)
He, in a sense, refused to heal the woman because it was not “right” according to the law. However, He changed his mind and extended His goodness to her.
He repeated this out stretching of goodness when He went to Trye and Sidon (which were again Gentile cities) and proceeded to feed over 4,000 of them.
In fact, He also went to Caesarea Philippi, which was yet another city filled with Gentiles, and continued to spread his goodness.
Jesus’s lifestyle shows that we must keep pushing forward, upward, and Godward even when the law does not permit or encourage it.
This is strikingly similar to Friedrich Nietzsche’s übermensch; which is the idea that individuals ought to strive to transcend the established morals and biases of society, to create their own meaning and purpose.
In a time when slavery is the norm, you have to be the one to say enough. In a time when internet bullying or scamming is a norm, you have to be the one who says no.
By understanding that you don’t need the law to be good, but that people need it not to be bad, you begin to not just abide by (or rely on) the law, but start from it to build higher values.
So, it makes sense when Jesus says;
“Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.”– Math 5:17 (GNT)
According to Jesus, the most important quality an individual needs to become good is Love. And without love, destruction, suffering, and death will reign. But, with love, there can be paradise on earth.
The teachings of Jesus are still relevant to date, and the value of His teachings can be seen by observing the deeds of the worst people in history.
Spoiler: They all had no love in their hearts which as Jesus warned, brought hell on earth.
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Most Evil Men In History, And Their Atrocities [These are the reasons Jesus’s teachings are still relevant today]
Please note that they are called “evil” because their actions led to suffering, not because they were inherently bad people.
I’ll start with the most popular
- Adolf Hitler: Promising territorial expansion, economic self-sufficiency, military security, and purification of the German race, Adolf Hitler was able to garner enough support to become President. And as promised, he dramatically improved the military strength of his people, eliminated unemployment, stopped animal cruelty, amongst other accomplishments. However, his actions ended up instigating the death of over 50 million people. Then, he killed himself before anyone had the chance to get revenge. Nice move Hitler.
- Joseph Stalin: When he was the Premier of the Soviet Union, he didn’t only promise but brought about industrialization, improved agriculture, improved/stable economy, victory over the Nazis (who were led by Hitler), and many more achievements. Some even argue that he was not really evil for his time. Nonetheless, over 1.5 million German women were raped, and more than 20 million people were killed due to his brutal leadership. He was also proud of his accomplishments, so much so that he once said, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is simply a statistic.”. He was rightfully called “the man of steel” – being someone who didn’t allow the notion of good and bad to hinder him from his goals.
- Vlad the Impaler: When he was the Voivode of Wallachia, he defended his people against the Ottoman Turks, and was once praised by Pope Pius II (1405-1464), for his military feats and for defending Christendom. His strict laws (whose punishment for violation was solely impalement) drastically reduced crime rates, promoted fairness in his kingdom, and so much more. Was he a hero or villain? Well, as his name suggests, he killed over 20% of the population by mostly impaling them through the buttocks till the stake came out of their mouths. It was written: “He roasted children, whom he fed to their mothers. And cut off the breasts of women, and forced their husbands to eat them. After that, he had them all impaled.”.
- Pol Pot: When he was Prime Minister of Cambodia, some sources claim he built irrigation systems and dams, doubled rice production, and eliminated malaria as well as unemployment, amongst other achievements. However, about 2 million people died because of these radical social and agricultural reforms, through forced labor, starvation, torture, disease, or execution.
- Joseph Fritzl: Unlike the overlords in our list, this man didn’t accomplish anything noteworthy. Instead, he locked up his daughter in the cellar of the family home for 24 years and raped her (every night) for 6 years. This resulted in the birth of 7 children, and when one of the kids died (due to negligence), he incinerated the corpse.
It is clear that even though most people on this list accomplished great feats, they caused great harm to people.
Was it worth it?
Should that even be a question?
You might ask, “Is it really bad for a man to seek to defend the purity of his land, culture, and history? To, like Hitler, seek expansion and destroy anything that tries to stand in the way of progress?”
Isn’t all governments, in a sense, guilty of this?
And you will be right. All governments protect their own and seek growth. But, most governments have also learned that there is a better way.
They’ve learned that when everyone is focused on building each other, rather than tearing each other down, everyone benefits.
Yet, there will be situations where the other person doesn’t understand this fact. And, they may push and trigger you to retaliate.
Should you take an eye for an eye?
When Jesus was being pushed to the limits, He informed his prosecutors
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will immediately provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?”– Mathew 26:53 (AMP)
His statement demonstrated that He wasn’t standing by His principles of love simply because he was a powerless peasant, but because he knew it was the superior way.
According to Jesus, it is better to hang on a cross than retaliate. Yes, “turn the other cheek,” He said (Matt 5:39).
(I know it sounds extreme…who can bear it? Who can reach that height of “goodness”?)
This is also why Mahatma Gandhi was greatly respected. Despite having the majority of the population on his side waiting for his command to go to war, he chose to be beaten, jailed, and ridiculed.
He stood by the principle until he won back his country’s freedom through non-violence.
And, even though debates about what is good or bad, right or wrong can get bourgeois and confusing, Jesus’s teaching of love helps make things simple.
Anything done without love, becomes problematic.
“Let love lead”– T.B. Joshua
Conclusion: What is the essential message of Jesus?
“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”– Immanuel Kant
The quote above (overly simplified) means when trying to achieve a goal, ensure people are not collateral damage.
Don’t defraud people to get rich. Don’t lie to people to get sex. Don’t do anything bad to people even if it will mean forfeiting something desirable. Don’t treat people as a means to an end.
And like Jesus said, “…Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:31).
To be a good person, the essence of Jesus’s messages/ministry, and the summary of this piece is “Love”.
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