Welcome to the final part of our three-part series, The Bible According to Jackson Ferrell, inspired by Hope Church‘s new year-long study of the whole Bible, This is the Story.
Thanks to my supporters on Patreon, who have made this series possible. Their support has also made possible my Duolingo-inspired absurdist comic series, Yossi and Tal, which will resume next month exclusively on Patreon.
The next thing that happened happened while there was a Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had brought Judea, the area of the two former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, under its control, and the Jewish people living there generally didn’t like that. A guy was born, called John the Baptist, whom Isaiah had written about: one who would prepare the way of the Lord. And as it turned out, he was preparing the way for his cousin, a man named Jesus, who was from Nazareth but was born in Bethlehem because his father was complying with a Roman census edict.
Jesus had a complicated relationship to the God of the Israelites. He was a man, born to human parents, but born before his father had ever had sex with his mother: “conceived by the Holy Spirit,” as one of his biographers put it. And he submitted to God’s authority and obeyed the laws God had given to Moses. But he did stuff on the Sabbath that the religious leaders considered work, and it was forbidden to work on the Sabbath. And when the authorities confronted him on it, he told them in so many words that he was Lord of the Sabbath. He forgave sins, accepted worship, and did other things that only God should do, even claiming, “I and the Father are one.” The things he did were such that his disciple, John, wrote that this man was in the beginning with God, even that this man was divine.
So, because Jesus had a complicated relationship to the God of the Israelites, he had a complicated relationship to the religious authorities. They accused him of the crime of claiming to be God, convicted him, and got Rome to put him to death on a cross. They had him killed on a Friday and put in a guarded tomb. But on Sunday, the women that had followed him most closely in life found his tomb empty and unguarded, with a messenger from God telling them that he was risen. They went to tell the disciples, and then Jesus himself started showing up and interacting with people. He left, returning to God (whatever that might mean), but he told them to wait in Jerusalem, where he would give them the Holy Spirit.
The disciples began telling people that God was moving in the world in a monumental way through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Judean authorities, disappointed that killing Jesus had not stopped his iconoclastic message, tried to silence his disciples, even killing some of them. The disciples fled the scene and started spreading out, largely for their own self-preservation.
One of the religious leaders, a Pharisee named Paul, was one of the most ardent persecutors of Jesus’ followers. But then, on the road to capture some more of them, he encountered a bright light that left him blind and a voice that identified itself as Jesus, whom he was persecuting by persecuting Jesus’ followers. The experience changed Paul’s life. He embraced the message he’d been trying to silence, preaching Jesus’ resurrection and pivotal importance in the consmic story. First he preached to the Jews, and then he started preaching to Jews and non-Jews alike. He started churches all throughout the Roman world. He wrote letters. He got into conflict with Romans, Greeks, his fellow Jews, and even his fellow followers of Jesus. Others wrote letters, too, as the new movement tried to figure out just what to do with this Jesus guy, what his relationship to God was, and what his resurrection meant for God’s world.
One of Jesus’ followers had a vision while imprisoned by Rome on the island of Patmos. It was weird, and it would fit right in with Ezekiel. But John, Paul, and the other folks who wrote these letters and biographies and accounts all expected Jesus to return. He would inaugurate God’s kingdom in the world in a radical way. He would set right all the things that had gone wrong.
Jesus has not returned yet. But you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.