WHERE IT ALL BEGAN (Part IV)
CONCEPTS SHARED BY MANY RELIGIONS
One nice thing about being inquisitive, it takes your mind places you might never venture without having been pushed or challenged to go there. But the effort also requires more than casual interest or a quick perusal. It is a search for facts and then further research to put them all together to create a cogent understanding of those facts. And when you have a seasoned guide to help you explore, you’ll be introduced to things you would have never found on your own. That’s why reading and listening are so important to education.
When we go to the beginning of the Bible and read the historical accounts from the time God created man down to the time of Jesus, we find that the prevalent form of government around the world was that of Despotism. That is not necessarily a bad word. Despotism is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. That entity may be a monarchy, or an autocracy, or it may be an oligarchy, which is ruling by a select group.
The word despotism comes from the Greek word despotes, which roughly means “master” or “one with power,” and it has been used to translate a wide variety of titles and positions. It was used to describe the unlimited power and authority of the Pharaohs of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Kings of Israel and Judah. But when Democracy came into fashion in Greece under the leadership and writings of Solon, a respected statesman, lawmaker and poet who lived in Athens. He greatest contribution was his efforts to legislate reforms against political, economic, and moral decline in what had become Greece’s outdated capitol city. Although his campaign failed to have any immediate impact, he is still credited with laying the foundation that led to the formation of Greek democracy. Slowly other nations began to copy this form of government, but it would take a long time to gain momentum worldwide. We all know that it was not too long ago when the Kings of Europe and Emperors of Asia ruled in despot fashion. The influence of this type of rule in Italy led to the Roman Catholic Church adopting a similar style with the evolution of the Papacy.
Under such despotism, there is no concept of freedom in the sense that the rules and commandments of the Master can be violated, ignored, or altered without punishment. From time to time, a benevolent despot would, of his own free will, modify certain laws as a convenience for his subjects to placate growing unrest, but people could not through their own efforts amend or rewrite those laws. Therefore the word “freedom,” became synonymous with rebellion and overthrow of the despot so as to take control through revolt and revolution.
In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam there is a clear acceptance of despotism by virtue of the recognition that there is but one God who rules heaven and earth. There is no one above Him and no Council to which He must report or get approval. His commandments and rules cannot be amended by man, because man has no such authority. Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses tells the children of Israel, “You must not add to what I command you. And you must not take anything away. You must obey the commands of the Lord your God that I have given you.” There is no end or term limit to His reign, it is eternal. In earlier times this same concept was accepted as a model for the family, with the male being the undisputed head of the household. Today, such despot rulers are known more as tyrants and dictators.
At this same time there developed a network of world commerce facilitated by a thing called the “Great Silk Road.” But merchandize was not the only thing transported along this route that tied the civilized world together, there were also ideas and concepts. And since Greece became a leader in philosophy and language, much of what was passed on around the world came through this Greek linguistic and commercial system.
One of the ideas found in teachings from Greece to China to Alexandria in Egypt and every place in between, was the doctrine of metempsychosis or “Transmigration of the Soul”. It arose in the writings of Orpheus, who was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth. By the 6th century B.C. the Orphic religion taught that soul and body are united by a mutual compact, but one which is not equally fair to both. The soul is divine, immortal and aspires to freedom, while the body holds it in fetters as a prisoner. Death dissolves this compact, but only to re-imprison the liberated soul after a short time: for the wheel of birth revolves inexorably. To these unfortunate prisoners of reincarnation Orpheus proclaimed a message of liberation. He told them that they stood in need of grace from redeeming gods, and called on them to turn to God by ascetic piety of life and self-purification. For the purer their lives, the higher will be their next reincarnation until the soul has completed the spiral vortex of destiny to live forever with God from whom it comes.
Thus we see the seeds of belief in gaining eternal life as an end to repeated reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul. If a person does not change their ways and begin to live a righteous life by doing good deeds, their judgment will only send them back to repeat the process over and over again until they get it right. Judaism never adopted this cyclic concept as a whole, but attaining everlasting life was considered only possible by repeatedly fulfilling the law through righteous living. To do this it was necessary that they atone for their mistakes through animal sacrifice so that they did not have to die in order to start over. In other words, they could keep going in this life by transmitting to the animal who was sacrificed in their place all their bad deeds, or unrighteousness, so they could continue on their journey toward perfected righteousness and eternal life.
So when Jesus came, we can only imagine the shock when He begin to teach that He was the ultimate sacrifice, and anyone who believed in Him to satisfy God’s demand for punishment of their sins, would be given eternal life through Him. Not only that, but He promised that even after those who believed in Him died physically, their souls would live on, and one day He would return to give them a new body so they can live with God forever and ever. We see this concept at the end of Psalm 23.
So we see that God did not spring the ideas contained in Judaism and Christianity on an unsuspecting world without little or no connection to anything man had ever heard or was told before. In Acts of the Apostles 14:17 the apostle Paul made this clear when speaking to the Lycaonians who mistakened he and Barnabas as the gods Zeus and Hermes incarnate, “In the past God let all the nations do what they wanted. But God was always there doing the good things that prove He is real. He gives you rain from heaven and good harvests at the right times. He gives you plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.’” Paul repeated this same point in verses 29-31 where he told the Areopagus Council in Athens, “We all come from God. So you must not think that He is like something people imagine or make. He is not made of gold, silver, or stone. In the past people did not understand God, and He overlooked this. But now He is telling everyone in the world to change and turn to Him. He has decided on a day when He will judge all the people in the world in a way that is fair. To do this He will use a man He chose long ago. And He has proved to everyone that this is the man to do it. He proved it by raising Him from death!” But through Jesus it provided a way for all of these ideas to come together in one Person, in one Gospel, so that the whole world could be saved by one Savior. Man did not discover the idea of eternal life. God is eternal, therefore it already existed in Him. But man sought this eternal life, this fountain of youth, but could never find it on his own. That’s why it took a revelation from God for mankind to hear the truth. Therefore, in despot fashion, eternal life is only found in Jesus Christ because He is the only Way, the only Truth and the only Life. Perhaps that’s why it is so easy for us to call Him our Lord and Master.