Jesus, Mithras, and Mithraism: Reflections on Matthew 16:15
"But who say you that I am?"
L. Dan Massey, Jr.
By the time of Michael's final review of the Urantian situation, just before embarking on the bestowal, the Mithras cult had developed its own, unique character and was spreading rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. Mithraism had, in fact, become the dominant, though unofficial, religion of the Empire. In his pre-bestowal planning, did Michael choose to identify his mission as Jesus with elements of the Mithraic story? What is the significance of Jesus' question recorded in Matthew 16:15?
"Even in the study of man's biologic evolution on Urantia, there are grave objections to the exclusive historic approach to his present-day status and his current problems. The true perspective of any reality problem--human or divine, terrestrial or cosmic--can be had only by the full and unprejudiced study and correlation of three phases of universe reality: origin, history, and destiny. The proper understanding of these three experiential realities affords the basis for a wise estimate of the current status." [The Urantia Book, 19:1.6]
The Christian Church has long focused great attention on the events surrounding Simon Peter's epochal assertion of faith, "You are the Deliverer, the Son of the living God." In Christian mythology, as understood by a layman, it is from this occasion that the origins of the church are traced, and it is from Jesus' actions in delivering the "Keys of the Kingdom" to the apostles that the supposed authority of the church derives. The momentous events in Michael's bestowal ministry which had led up to this critical moment are chronicled in the first half of Part IV of The Urantia Book.
We know from the book that Jesus had carefully prepared the Apostles for a change in the direction of his ministry after the final, fatal rejection at Capernaum, but the new direction that emerges at the time of Peter's Confession seems at first strange, surprising, and, from the viewpoint of two thousand years of hindsight, to have led the affairs of the Kingdom in some rather queer directions.
This paper examines this critical nexus in planetary affairs, reviews some of the results of this change in direction, and reinterprets the events leading up to this occasion in the light of the many things learned from all parts of The Urantia Book about the nature and purposes of Deity and the specific mission of Michael in his bestowal. This process eventuates in a substantial deconstruction of the Christian myth and opens up a more objective and truthful perspective on the recent past and the near future of religious evolution on Urantia.
One of the major problems in examining an occasion of this kind is the sense of sacredness which has grown up around the events with the passage of time. There has been a persistent human tendency to consider all matters pertaining to Michael's bestowal as having sacred significance. In fact, Jesus repeatedly warned his Apostles of the danger in treating purely secular matters as sacred.
"But as religion becomes institutionalized, its power for good is curtailed, while the possibilities for evil are greatly multiplied. The dangers of formalized religion are: fixation of beliefs and crystallization of sentiments; accumulation of vested interests with increase of secularization; tendency to standardize and fossilize truth; diversion of religion from the service of God to the service of the church; inclination of leaders to become administrators instead of ministers; tendency to form sects and competitive divisions; establishment of oppressive ecclesiastical authority; creation of the aristocratic "chosen-people" attitude; fostering of false and exaggerated ideas of sacredness; the routinizing of religion and the petrifaction of worship; tendency to venerate the past while ignoring present demands; failure to make up-to-date interpretations of religion; entanglement with functions of secular institutions; it creates the evil discrimination of religious castes; it be comes an intolerant judge of orthodoxy; it fails to hold the interest of adventurous youth and gradually loses the saving message of the gospel of eternal salvation." [99:6.3]
One of the great lessons of this sojourn at Caesarea, where Peter's confession occurred, had to do with the origin of religious traditions, with the grave danger of allowing a sense of sacredness to become attached to non-sacred things, common ideas, or everyday events. From one conference they emerged with the teaching that true religion was man's heartfelt loyalty to his highest and truest convictions.
But the greatest error of the teaching about the Scriptures is the doctrine of there being sealed books of mystery and wisdom which only the wise minds of the nation dare to interpret. The revelations of divine truth are not sealed except by human ignorance, bigotry, and narrow-minded intolerance. The light of the Scriptures is only dimmed by prejudice and darkened by superstition. A false fear of sacredness has prevented religion from being safeguarded by common sense. The fear of the authority of the sacred writings of the past effectively prevents the honest souls of today from accepting the new light of the gospel, the light which these very God-knowing men of another generation so intensely longed to see.
Even today mankind labors under these misapprehensions of sacredness. Not all matters, even those pertaining to the actions of incarnated Deity, are sacred in the human sense, and it is only by stripping away the tradition-encrusted layers of false sacredness that mankind has attached to these events that we may penetrate to the deeper significance enclosed therein.
This paper seeks to ignore the imputed sacredness of millennia of human misunderstanding and tries to explore these events from the celestial viewpoint of the Creator Son himself. In so doing, we will be guided by certain principles, the most important of which is this -- that Michael of Nebadon is at least as intelligent as the average Urantia mortal, that he had full understanding of the social, religious, and political situation into which he would incarnate, and that he commenced his bestowal with full appreciation of the likelihood of various possible outcomes, both desirable and undesirable. In addition, once incarnate as Joshua Ben Joseph, and once in full possession of his Deity mind faculties, the mortal mind of Jesus of Nazareth suffered from no superstitious illusions about the significance of his actions for the planetary cultural economy.
I believe that the Apostles had almost no comprehension of what was really going on at this time, and that the sacred myth of the origins of the church is, in fact, a product of their own egocentric interpretation of events to which they attached a false sense of sacredness. I further claim that Jesus, as both man and God, was aware that they would do this and intended this to be the result of his actions if they persisted in their materialistic view of his teachings. This result, therefore, was also intended by Jesus as the best way of dealing with a difficult, if not actually undesirable situation. When we have fully explored these events with the benefit of two thousand years of hindsight, we will, at last, be able to perceive the broad outline of a small but astoundingly clever part of the Divine plan for Urantia.
In examining Jesus' decisions and actions from the perspective of Michael of Nebadon I will set aside the more obvious concerns of the bestowal mission, such as his commitment to doing the Father's will, his need for the physical vehicle of his incarnation to survive infancy and childhood, and the events and decisions leading up to his full achievement of personality integration at the time of his baptism. These matters are not unimportant. Rather, they are matters of such importance that a natural preoccupation with them tends to cloud our ability to perceive and to analyze the more subtle features of Jesus' life work Let me simply say this--Creator Sons do not fail to achieve the purposes of their bestowal incarnations by the methods approved for their use. Even though the actual life circumstances of the incarnate son are, from the human perspective, subject to personal, spiritual, psychic, and physical risks, the celestial purposes are always addressed and always achieved.
Instead of these major factors, we must examine those areas of Michael's bestowal in which no such force of destiny provides a teleological override of the direction of finite events. We shall examine those occasions on which the fully creative potentials of Deity are expressed through free will choice, as separated from the cases in which the mortal mind of the incarnate god exercises the relatively free human will. Only in this way will we discover the actions of creative Deity disclosed in planetary history and destiny.
In viewing the planetary situation on Urantia from the Salvington perspective, Michael wished to provide the maximum uplift to human minds and spirits to prepare them to benefit from the bestowal of the Spirit of Truth, an event which would turn psychic reality on Urantia upside-down. The better the mortals of Urantia could anticipate and work with the Spirit of Truth, the more quickly the secular institutions of life could be improved and refined and the greater would be the benefit, on all levels of reality, to the greater number of Michael's mortal children.
To accomplish this, it might have been helpful for Michael to leave behind on Urantia some token of his bestowal more substantial than the Spirit of Truth to provide a path of entry for the mortal mind to more sublime realities. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, he was prohibited from leaving behind offspring, images, writings, or other things that might become an object of superstitious veneration. In addition, since his bestowal life was to benefit not only Urantia, but planetary societies throughout all Nebadon, nothing physical could ever serve the purpose.
We can imagine Michael considering whether he might simply fix things on Urantia, so everybody would be put out of their misery. But this would never really be acceptable. Simply fixing Things would be too much like a human child playing war with tin soldiers. Creation of this order is, at best, an aid to fantasy, but ultimately boring. The very hosts of heaven would sing out, "BO-RING."
There are two problems. First, and most obvious to our limited, human insight, a broken planet must want to be fixed. This was clearly not the case with Urantia, as was proven by many events of the bestowal. Second, and more subtle, a broken planet must learn to fix itself. Otherwise, it would constantly need fixing and become an eternal dependent on divine omnificence. It is clear from The Urantia Book that personally taking care of every detail of running a universe is not the job Michael signed up for when he started his creative exercise. Even worse, other planets throughout Nebadon would be thus deprived of the opportunity to observe the mortal process of planetary recreation and maintenance. It was equally important for the other planets to observe how this is done and learn to do it for themselves.
The Spirit of Truth would, of course, provide the major motive force for planetary re-creation; however, the bestowal offered a window of opportunity in which Deity could interact directly with and directly instruct humanity in the proper way. For this, though, there would need to be a clear message that could be communicated unambiguously to a critical core of humans who would be so convinced of its truth and so motivated to its dissemination that it would spread throughout the planetary culture and provide the psychic substrate on which the Spirit of Truth could more readily activate the human will to perfection. The problem for Michael was, of course, what this teaching, this revelation, would be and how he would fix it so firmly into the thought streams of humanity that the essential saving message at its core would never be lost.
I suggest that he would have most desired to give a clear teaching of truth to all humanity. Such a teaching would be embraced by a homogeneous social institution which would be well prepared to carry forward its worldwide dissemination and application. Such would have been the course of the bestowal on a normal planet, and such a bestowal would have ended in a physically as well as spiritually dignified manner, as befits the incarnation of a Paradise Son.
We know, however, that, on Urantia, the rebellion of the original Planetary Prince and the subsequent default of Adam and Eve had made the emergence of such a worldwide institution of enlightenment impossible and had resulted in the persistence of wildly fragmented races and religious and cultural sects for tens of thousands of years, right down to the times of Michael's appearance. There was no way a single human being, even one who incarnated the person of Deity, could create such an organization in the space of a single mortal lifetime without recourse to a vast amount of superhuman intervention in planetary affairs.
The only possibility that would be open to the incarnate Michael would be to work with the existing and highly fragmented human institutions. Unfortunately, there was not even consistency or coherence of purpose among these groups. Some of the Greeks had made great progress in philosophy and refining the art of clear thinking. The Romans, as a society, had learned many of the arts of government. The Hebrews had developed a profound intellectual and literal commitment to their humanly evolved idea of righteousness. Behind it all lurked some of the ideas and teachings of Melchizedek, which had helped foster and stabilize the light of truth, but nowhere was there either a literal or a psychic basis for opening a dialogue, much less making a quick move to coherence and unification.
In the city of Memphis, near Alexandria in the Nile delta, there flickered a faint light of actual truth. Here, in the precincts of the ancient temple of the Aten, a small, almost unknown, nearly secretive group kept alive the knowledge and traditions of Egypt from the times when the young Pharaoh, Ikhnaton, under the tutelage of his mother, the Great Empress Tiye, had made bold to reform the whole of his nation to the worship of The One True God. Although Ikhnaton's vision had failed his nation, and the great city of god at Akhetaten had long since crumbled to dust, this brief but spectacular effort had deflected the course of cultural history in the Levant and made possible the persistence of the teachings of Melchizedek and the Salemite missionaries down to the times of Moses and the emergence of the Hebrew peoples.
Except for a few isolated individual visionaries scattered here and there, this group of communicants of the Aten in Memphis was the only group of humans on Urantia that possessed, at least in their traditions, a reasonably accurate understanding of the broader meaning and purpose of Michael's bestowal. Had Ikhnaton's reforms succeeded, Michael would have probably incarnated in Egypt, and Urantia would be a very different place today. But the small group of believers that actually persisted in the Aten cult was too small and inward-directed ever to make a short-term useful impact on human society. An analysis of the prospects of this devoted group of followers would show that, although they possessed an understanding of the facts of the bestowal, their destiny would be to have known the truth, to have been more cosmically aware than the rest of the planet, but to have been unable to act effectively to take advantage of this fact.
As Michael surveyed Urantia from Salvington, he must have thought that, given the limitations of the Aten cult, the next-best venue for his ministry would be the Hebrews, who held the essential truths of his teachings buried deep within their complex theology and legalistic religion. They were especially well-organized and, if they could be won in large numbers to the truth, it might be possible to reform the Jerusalem-centered ecclesiastical bureaucracy into a useful tool. On the other hand, the actual practice of their religion had degenerated into sacrificial rituals that were awesome in their embrace of materialism.
Worse yet, their concept of divine truth had degenerated into a religion of the book that focused heavily on a body of supposedly sacred texts which contained a little truth admixed with vast amounts of completely fictitious racial history. Across the centuries their scribes had dutifully copied the writings of ancient prophets, and, with each transcription, had updated the teachings to harmonize with the evolving racial and political consensus regarding the final emergence of a Jewish state with supreme authority conferred by God himself. The ethnocentric silliness of this belief was clearly not apparent to the Hebrews themselves, who found solace from the hard facts of Roman rule in such quaint fantasies.
As a result, there was virtually nothing in the pseudo-sacred texts of the Hebrews that Michael could expect to use effectively to affect the formal, organized thinking of a devout "people of the book." Aside from an appeal to the spiritual nature, the best concrete, textual reference was the prophecy of the "Son of Man" from the supposed writings of Enoch. This legend, only partly accredited, would have to be his vehicle for exerting direct leverage on the Hebrew attitudes. Then, perhaps, by illuminating the genuinely prophetic writings where fragments remained in the canon, enough spiritual pressure could be brought to bear to achieve some useful results.
The problem, of course, would be that, once the Jews found out that he was the "promised Messiah," they would want him to pay off on all the promises that had been made to the race in his name by generations of pseudo-religious social parasites who knew nothing of his real nature. That was clearly impossible. It would be a disservice to everyone on the planet, and would have worse results than just fixing up the mess by divine fiat, since the Hebrews suffered under primitive tribal standards of socialization in virtually every important respect.
Clearly, anything he did with the Jews would have to work into their organized programs in some way. Since being the wholly acceptable Messiah was definitely out, he would have to consider alternative approaches. The intensely significant and sanctified feast of the Passover might offer some possibilities for religious engineering.
I imagine the Salvington corps of bestowal analysts must have worked long and hard with Michael, sifting through the details of all branches of Urantian culture and religious thought in planning the bestowal. It must have been clear that the greatest hope for improving the planet would come from having a major, organized body of mortal culture wholeheartedly embrace his teachings. The prime candidate for such a transformation would have been the Hellenized culture of Rome, which had not only managed to grow and stabilize itself for many centuries, but had generally served to unify and harmonize (by force) the wildly divergent cultures of the Mediterranean basin. The problem, of course, was that the Greeks, who exerted substantial intellectual influence, didn't care much about real religion, and the Romans, who ultimately ran things, were even less interested than the Greeks.
I think the Salvington surveys must have turned up one additional ray of hope, besides the Hebrews, and this was among the devotees of the strange and remarkable father-god of ancient Persia, Mithra. As the tides of trade, government, and commerce had swept eastward from Greece and Rome into the Levant, so had complementary currents moved out of Egypt, India, and Persia, carrying with them the news of ancient gods and legends. These supermortal beings were no less believable in their attributes and aspects than were the happy go-lucky gods of Mount Olympus, ruled over by Zeus/Jupiter, a name which itself meant "God the Father" (dyaus p'ter) in the Indo-European root tongue. The very novelty and unfamiliarity of the new Eastern deities, and the continuing pressure of growing scientific knowledge, fostered syncretism and the emergence of new, more encompassing theologies.
Tarsus, the Roman capital of the province of Cilicia, and the birthplace of the Apostle Paul, was an ancient Hittite city which had been conquered in the ninth century B.C.E. by the Assyrians under Shalmaneser III, and in the sixth century by the Persians. The passage of Alexander in 333 B.C.E. led to cultural changes through which the city became sacred to the memory of the Greek hero and demi-god Perseus. The revised worship of Mithra, the ancient father-god of the Persians, had surely reached Tarsus, through its large Persian population, soon after the sixth century conquest. The later arriving Greeks introduced their belief in Perseus as the father of the Persian race, while laying the foundation for a major school of Stoic philosophy, and this heady mythic metaphysical brew became the formative solution for a new religion. The announcement of the discovery of the precession of the equinoxes by Hipparchus, in 128 B.C.E, may have provided the seed around which an exotic and complex secret doctrine would crystallize.
Michael's Bestowal in the Context of Mithraism
Perseus was one of the sons of Zeus by a mortal, named Danae. Apparently, in the way myths evolve, the early Hellenization of the Mithra cult resulted in the transplantation of the heroic exploits of Perseus, the son of Zeus by a mortal, onto the person of Mithras, the son of Mithra born miraculously from the Earth-mother. Meanwhile, the Stoic school at Tarsus, which had long sponsored an astral religion of personal salvation (in which Perseus seems to have functioned as the keeper of the gates on the pathway of souls to and from genesis), was shaken to its roots by the discovery of Hipparchus that the "fixed stars" were anything but "fixed" in the sky.
While the immediate effect of this discovery was to trigger an unfortunate renaissance of stoic interest in astrology, it seems that the more metaphysically minded Stoics recognized, in the precession, the hand of a deity who ultimately transcended all others recognized from antiquity, but especially the sun, moon, and planetary gods. Perhaps because of local bias and astrological considerations, this splinter group of Stoics fixed on Perseus/Mithras as this transcendent deity and began an elaborate and esoteric reification of the "old religion" along the lines of their own apocalyptic and eschatological beliefs. Because of this deep connection into the intelligensia of Cilicia, variants of these beliefs became established throughout all social strata, particularly during the reign of Mithridates VI Eupator, the king of Pontus who conquered most of Asia Minor around 88 B.C.E. By the time Mithridates was overcome by Pompey in 66 B.C.E., Mithraic rites were firmly established as the normative religion among the Cilician pirates (Mithridates' navy), and probably in his other armed forces as well.
By the time of Michael's final review of the Urantian situation, just before embarking on the bestowal, the Mithras cult had developed its own, unique character and was spreading rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. It had, in fact, become the dominant, though unofficial, religion of the Empire. The soldiers of the Roman army had adopted Mithraism from their former enemies, who entered imperial service after Pompey's victory. Their conquests became the fertile stream which carried the cult to the far corners of the empire. This situation can have hardly escaped the attention of the Salvington planners of the bestowal. Let us consider for a moment some of the beliefs of Mithraism, to the extent they may be inferred from archaeological evidence.
The origins of much of Mithraic ritual lay in conventional fertility-astrology myths. Mithras is the son of god. He is a heroic solar deity, and is associated with the Sun. According to the solar version of the heroic myth, the son (of the Sun), in his mission from heaven to earth, performs his great deed which re-fertilizes the soil for the next season of growth. Subsequently, he dies and, on the third day, arises from the dead and ascends to heaven. Therefore, the day most sacred to solar heroes is December 25th, for this is three days after the Winter Solstice, when the resurrection of the Sun from the slow death of Autumn is first apparent to the careful observer. Because Mithraism incorporates additional mythic features of deity transcendence, probably added by the Stoics, the god of the Sun is also the Son of God. Even so, he and his father are one, for his father is also the Sun.
The Salvington analysts of Urantian religions must have known of the bizarre twistings of parts of the Melchizedek teachings which had somehow migrated into this new religion of Rome. Although Mithraism had been strongly influenced by Zoroastrian teachings of a dualistic spiritual universe, the fact that, in Mithraic myth, Mithras triumphs redemptively over the universal forces of decay and death showed that good would eventually come out on top. If the supposed mythic facts concerning the sojourn of god on earth counted for anything, the Mithraic version was closer to the truth than the Hebrew concept of the Messiah, which was grounded in the primitive tribal idea that Yahweh, the volcano demon, was literally the absolute god of the universe. Although the Mithraic liturgy was somewhat unsavory in its reliance on astrological iconography, sacrificial blood, and purifying holy water, it was no more offensive than the temple services in Jerusalem.
Given this somewhat more detailed (and speculative) view of the circumstances of the bestowal than is presented in The Urantia Book, how did Michael decide to deal with his need to create for Urantia some vehicle for improving human welfare and responsiveness to the upheaval induced by the bestowal of the Spirit of Truth?
The story is familiar to us. He is born in Bethlehem as Joshua Ben Joseph. He is recognized by a few people who really have some idea of his divine purpose. Old Simeon and Anna in the temple at Jerusalem are the ones we know best for giving voice to the heartfelt longing of the Jewish people for a deliverer, although their recognition was prompted by Zacharias, the priest. The priests of Ur sought out the infant, again in response to knowledge acquired by direct revelation to one of their associates.
As we know, circumstances conspired so that the infant Jesus was taken to Alexandria. And here occurred the only direct recognition of his divinity from traditional human sources that would mark his entire life on Urantia. For here those priests of the Aten, privy to the sacred heritage of Egypt's brief golden age of the spirit, journeyed from Memphis to see Jesus and "...to some extent understood certain phases of his divine mission to Urantia." Although this visit fulfilled an ancient obligation, and allowed the communicants of the Aten to know the supreme joy of being right about otherwise unknowable matters of spiritual destiny, even when ignored by the world, there was no way Michael's purpose could be fulfilled within this community.
Most importantly, it could not be fulfilled here because it did not depend on direct access to the wealth of human commerce or the organization of human government. Rather, as a result of the well-understood religious patterns on Urantia, it depended on a successful takeover or redirection of one or more extensive, well-organized religions through affecting the hearts of its communicants. No direct assault through the powers of mind or money could achieve this in the way the Spirit of Truth could, as it activated the memory, the story of the bestowal life, the bread of life.
Jesus left Alexandria and returned with his family to Galilee, for this course had already been selected by the Salvington planners. There he grew to young manhood as Jesus of Nazareth, the child of as yet unfulfilled promise. During this time he mastered the intellectual content of the Hebrew religion and found the critical writing in the Book of Enoch which he had planned to make the starting point of his attempt to minister to the Jewish people. The liberal religious atmosphere of Galilee did not overwhelm or crush the human side of his spiritual development, so that his human mind was able to find the great truths within the scriptures and recognize the Enoch fragment when it came to him. Perhaps from an unrestrained position in Galilee he would actually be able to work his spiritual lever on the establishment at Jerusalem and shift the establishment onto a more productive path.
Eventually, he was able to travel from home, to see the civilized world, and even go to Rome. And here he made the second great connection of the mortal mind with the deity inevitability as he became fully acquainted with all the religions of the world, but most especially with the religion of destiny, Mithraism. Already Jesus had met with a Mithraic priest of Persian extraction at Carthage, and had delivered his memorable discourse on time and space. A central element of this discourse is an exposition of the difference between the human concepts of time and space and the perceptions of these realities held by lower (animal) and higher forms of consciousness. The focus of the discourse is on the nature and mechanism of conscious immortality, and the level of discussion is the most cosmologically advanced of any of Jesus' discourses reported in The Urantia Book. The ideas presented deal with Ultimacy as a reality apart both from the Absolute and the Finite, and mark this as an extraordinary revelation, considering the time and place. But more remarkable discussions were yet to occur.
With Nabon, the Greek Jew who served as a high priest of Mithras in Rome, Jesus held many meetings, of which the most significant was the discussion of truth and faith, presented on pages 1459 - 60 of The Urantia Book. Jesus' discourse went far beyond contemporary human understanding of these realities and permanently influenced Nabon's way of thinking about these things and their relationship to the attainment of personal immortality. Since the attainment of salvation was a major concern of the mystery cult, these discussions did much to uplift Nabon's concept of the truth embodied in the myths of Mithras. We are told, "These truths continued to burn within his heart, and he was of great assistance to the later arriving preachers of Jesus' gospel." And indeed he was.
In each of his encounters on the trip to Rome and the return to Nazareth, Jesus was selecting and preparing individual human truth seekers in many different schools of philosophy and theology to understand and to appreciate aspects of his revelation that would be particularly relevant and inspiring to the unique view point of their faith. Once this work was completed, once the fuel was laid for the religious conflagration that would sweep the Roman Empire, Jesus returned home to strike the match and ignite the kindling to start the process of religious transformation. After a period of personal preparation, he visited John and was baptized, completed the perfect and permanent alignment of his will with the will of the Father, and retired to Mount Hermon for forty days to complete the "cross-check" for his mission. It was during this time that the mortal and divine minds could fully intercommunicate and final decisions concerning the plans laid long ago on Salvington could be affirmed by the mortal mind based on the mortal life experience and acquired knowledge of life on Urantia.
Once he had fully affirmed and fine-tuned his plans, he returned from the mountain and began to select and to train the Apostles. He taught them, and the later evangelists, all the truth that they could bear, and then made them practice telling this truth to others. Appearing now among men as the Son of Man, Michael gradually extended his sphere of influence to bring his revelation of truth to hungry souls throughout Judea, Samaria, and the Decapolis, never competing with, but always complementing the work of John and his disciples. Finally, on January 13, 28 AD., three days after the death of John, Jesus arrived at Capernaum, in Galilee, to begin the next major phase of his public ministry. Up to this time he had taught the Apostles of truth and spiritual realities, but they had comprehended little. As always, they could not bring themselves fully to discard the racial delusions of the Jewish concept of the Messiah as a temporal ruler.
This obsession with the Messianic myth was so powerful that it kept Jesus from imparting a fuller understanding of his mission and purpose to the disciples and prevented them from properly understanding and acting on what he told them. Without the healing, helping ministry of the Spirit of Truth, the Apostles were unable to discriminate between their long, dearly held Messianic delusions and the cosmic truth which was exhibited daily before their eyes. At best, Jesus could hope that the teachings and the experiences would fill their minds with information consistent with cosmic truth, and inconsistent with their fondly held delusions, so that the eventual activation of these memories by the Spirit of Truth would enable them to begin to function on higher levels of faith. One senses, in reading this part of the book, the repeated disappointment which Jesus felt at the continuing incapacity of the Apostles to grasp and work with higher spiritual truths. In spite of this, the teaching work did make progress, and when, after the death of John, Jesus began not merely to teach but also to heal the sick and infirm, the news of his actions spread rapidly and attracted much attention.
It is clear that Jesus had made a conscious choice for the Son of Man to enter into a more demonstrative relationship towards the multitudes after John's death. He surely had planned to capitalize on the work done by John in preparing the way for his supposed Messianic role, and to accept that role to the extent it could be made to fit reality and to the extent the Jews would accept him in that role. It was unimportant that he could never really fulfill the total Jewish vision of Messiah. He would be what he was and show those who were willing to understand how his life and ministry transcended their highest ideals of Messiah. In addition, helping and healing people was both gratifying to his own deepest merciful impulses and evocative of increasing levels of popular attention and support for his ministry.
Unfortunately, his increasingly miraculous and attention-grabbing ministry worked against some of the more subtle aspects of his mission. The Messiah obsession of the multitudes made it even harder for them to focus usefully on his teachings than it had the Apostles, who benefited from close everyday contact with him. But this was expected too. Surely, he had foreseen the statistics of his popular appeal, even if he could not accurately predict the outcome of individual free will choice. As much as his mercy impulse prompted him to help and heal all his unfortunate children on Urantia, he would not do so, for it was essential that humankind master these problems itself, within the scope of its evolved planetary knowledge. A necessarily temporary removal of this burden would be worse than no help at all, especially since the people were so unwilling or unable to embrace the higher motivations to truth-seeking that he taught.
For fifteen months of his public ministry, Jesus appeared as both a teacher and a healer, but the work of healing increasingly consumed his energies and gradually stirred up more and more opposition from the religious authorities in Jerusalem. As the point of diminishing returns on this phase of his ministry was reached, Jesus performed his most massively visible creative miracle, the feeding of the five thousand, and then, at the peak of his popularity as a miraculous Messianic personage, refused to be made a king, disheartening many of his followers who left that day, never to return.
The necessity for shedding any remaining semblance of the Messiah role became even more apparent when, a few days later, he confronted the religious authorities from Jerusalem at the Capernaum temple. In the epochal sermon, presented on pages 1709-11 of The Urantia Book, we see for the first time that Jesus is actually claiming his own deity, notwithstanding that the Apostles' recognition of that change in approach will be delayed another four months. Surely he did not decide to take this new and extreme position without recognizing that, at this point in his ministry, the reaction of the religious authorities would be severe and negative. And so it was. From this time forward, although the door to forgiveness and reconciliation by Jesus would remain open to the religious authorities, Jesus' ministry would focus on the individual. Any idea of his life as a fulfillment of the Jewish racial destiny would not be seriously entertained, notwithstanding that the Apostles and many of his closest followers would continue to believe in it.
The great collapse in popular support, combined with the increasingly active opposition by the religious authorities, reduced Jesus' following to a minute fraction of its former size. Yet these remaining disciples were more numerous than those he had at the beginning of his work, and they had survived the disappointment of his first major break with the Jewish Messianic delusion. The result was the accomplishment of what had been Michael's purpose from the beginning of his public work as Jesus. He had managed to assemble a following of liberal-minded Jews who, by virtue of their experience of living and working with him for over two years, were totally loyal to his vision and trusting of his life purpose, even though they did not at all grasp its import. In short, their loyalty was increasingly fixed on Jesus as a person and less and less dependent on their confusions about his presumed Messianic role.
Yet even after this, there were many among his followers who remained because their Messianic delusion was so strong as to override the clear evidence of error which Jesus had provided. During the ensuing four months, he tried his remaining followers sorely, forcing them to face the near total rejection of his apparent mission by the general populace, and affording them few opportunities to experience acceptance of their teaching. Through out all this time he continued to teach, placing ever greater emphasis on the new revelation "of the spirit of the living God who dwells in the minds of men." And in conjunction with the emergence of this new and expanded view he increasingly disclosed his deity both to the religious authorities and to the Apostles.
He had carefully prepared the Apostles to achieve closure on the new revelation of his person and had laid the plans to achieve this closure which would bring about, at last, the ignition of planetary religious redevelopment, the irrevocable launch of the final eight month phase of his mortal life. It is appropriate to close this paper with an examination of this pivotal moment when the plans of Salvington, matured and refined through the mortal life, were set into final motion, since the outcome of this moment will move Michael's bestowal mission forward to its accepted, if not planned, conclusion.
What exactly had happened as a result of the final rejection of Jesus by the Jewish religious authorities which caused him to take this new direction? Two previous approaches to a coherent life mission appeared to have failed. The Son of Man, as a teacher, achieved only limited success. The Son of Man, as a teacher-healer, while apparently successful in attracting attention, created a confusing image by reinforcing the Messianic longings of the Jews, which he could never fulfill. Now, however, a new objective appears on the scene. For the final phase of his bestowal, Michael will structure the external, visible, material part of his life in such a way as to mesh with the salvation myth of Mithraism, which is, in material if not in spiritual content, much closer to the facts than the myth of the Jewish Messiah. And this is the final stage which must have been planned from the beginning on Salvington. No wonder the mortal mind of Jesus seemed to have its doubts.
In adopting this approach, or, rather, in accepting this final plan as a model for his earth life, the human Jesus was required to accept certain extraordinary corollary requirements. He would not try to be, nor would he want to be, a prophet or savior to the Mithraic cult. His experience with the Jews showed the problems in that approach. Rather, the story of his life, especially these last eight months, would become a vehicle by which his later apostles and followers would, without even meaning to, successfully take over the structure of the widespread Mithraic cult and infuse it with their Galilean ideals of liberalized Judaism, from which could then flower, under the influence of the Spirit of Truth, a religion of adequate power to preserve the ideals, if not the realities, of Jesus' religion to the time of a new, more tolerant, and spiritually conscious world order.
In order for this to happen, Jesus would have to become known as the Son of God, and would have to be fully accepted as such by a critical mass of Galilean Jews. This acceptance would have to be a matter of total personal faith, and not simply a matter of instruction. They would have to know the truth to the very core of their beings. It would be desirable for Jesus to enact, for their edification, a true parallel to the mythic adventure of Mithras. The Apostles would have to know and understand the reality of Jesus' victory over the Lucifer rebels. They would have to witness, in part, his acceptance and confirmation as the supreme power of the universe. Most of all, they would have to experience the phenomenon of a visible resurrection, with lots of appearances in the morontia form to convince large number of believers, who had not been close to him during his life, of the veracity of the Apostles' stories.
There was definitely a down side to this plan, especially for the human Jesus. As much as the Jewish authorities had hated and despised him and his teachings when he appeared as the Son of Man, they would become positively apoplectic when he claimed deity sonship as the Son of God. It took no great insight to know that they would pursue him personally to the limits of their ability, and destroy him when they could. That would be distressing, to say the least. On the other hand, there was much advantage to continuing a Hebrew-oriented ministry, even though it would hasten the end. In particular, the rite of the Passover could be readily adapted to form the foundation of a real communion experience.
He knew that, once he had attained full co-supremacy over the local universe, he would be able to literalize his presence anywhere and anywhen, so that, if he committed to appear wherever and whenever his followers celebrated the sacrament of remembrance, all practitioners of this form of communion throughout the time and space of Urantia would at last be able to worship in the genuine deity presence and be subject to the divine influence on their minds and souls. Since the Mithraic cult had already made a communion ceremony central to the weekly celebration of their belief system, the transformation of this ritual into a literal spiritual communion would expose the Mithraic communicants to regular, high-quality spiritual contact, whether they planned it or not. The rite would lay the foundation for the spirit to accomplish the motivation of the laggard human will.
Of course, the adapted Mithraic rite would have vastly more effect on its communicants than would occur with his own Apostles (who had been taught the truth and only awaited the activation of the spirit) or on the ceremonial Jews (who would experience relatively less exposure to the deity presence, since the communion was not a formal feature of their worship). The rapid acceleration of spiritual uplift among the Mithraists, once connected to this reality, would rapidly change the Roman Empire, since Mithraism was the major religion of personal experience within the Roman Army. Because of the extreme organization of the army, as well as the organization of the Mithraic cult, the infusion of spiritual power would create a social force able to begin the reformation of planetary culture.
Although I have described this plan quite plainly, this was not a cynical exploitation of human foolishness. Rather, it was a divinely loving acceptance of the necessity forced upon the bestowal Son by mankind's unwillingness to recognize the possibility of deity as anything other than a totem god. Although Moses and the Hebrew prophets had repeatedly tried to center the developing cult of Judaism on a spiritual concept of deity, judged in terms of statistics and outcome, they had failed miserably. Yet within ceremonial Judaism there lurked a concept of the truth, and within the lay followers of Judaism there were a few who retained this concept of the truth and were able to respond to Jesus when he appeared. The opposition of the majority was necessary to fully dramatize the occasion, and this could never have occurred in a liberal, cosmopolitan community like Alexandria. Without this persecution, Michael could not have created the image of the mythic Jesus that would enable the reform of Mithraism and lay the foundations of the future.
The central problem of making this work, not just for the Mithraic cult, but for all other religionists who might someday hear the Apostles' stories, was to totally lock in their commitment to his deity. The Apostles knew Jesus on many levels. They had known him as an expert carpenter. They had experienced him as a knowledge able fisherman. They had heard him teach individuals and multitudes. And they saw him heal the sick and infirm. They saw him multiply the loaves and fishes. And, when he had at last triumphed over the emotions of the crowd and was ready to be crowned King, they saw him refuse. Now it was necessary to force these Apostles to think, to analyze and to understand the meaning of all these things. He must challenge their ideas of the Messiah forcefully, yet build on them to achieve an understanding of his true nature and to lay the foundation of the new world order.
To do this, he put the Apostles through the most trying experiences of their lives up to this time. He took them to places where nobody was interested in their message. He forced them to reconsider what they were doing and why they were doing it. And he told them repeatedly that he was the Son of God and was one in both deity and divinity with his father.
Then, at what must have been the psychological low point in their hopes up to this time, he deliberately issued the challenge to their faith and belief, knowing the intended and hoped-for result. First he asked them, "Who do men say that I am?" Then, after the Apostles had expressed a number of viewpoints, he invited them to disavow these lesser concepts of his nature with the clincher question (and note the phrasing of the idea) "But who say you that I am?" (See Matthew 16:15) I wonder if the mortal Jesus held his breath while he waited for the answer to this one. He had focused heavily for the past four months on building the Apostles up for this moment. Would it work? What would be the result? Would it be close enough to the ideal that he would have what he needed?
In the event, Simon Peter obliged with his spontaneous outburst, "You are the Deliverer, the Son of the living God." Jesus' reply is even more remarkable, for he said, "This has been revealed to you by my Father. The hour has come when you should know the truth about me."
Obviously, he found the response satisfactory, but what did he mean by saying that it had been revealed to the Apostles by the Father? He had certainly spoken words that appear to have more or less that same message on many occasions during the past four months. What had the Father revealed? I believe that Jesus recognized in Peter's assertion a depth of acceptance of this truth that went far beyond mere intellectual assent. And it was in this that he recognized the revelatory hand of the Father, confirming the extraordinary path his divine self had planned and his human self had accepted for the remaining eight months of his bestowal life.
It was necessary for Jesus to make sure that the Apostles genuinely believed that they had discovered this truth completely independently and of their own, guided free will. He had to give them the opportunity to change their minds, so that they would be fully committed to this truth during the trying times ahead. So the following day he said to them, "Now that a full day has passed since you assented to Simon Peter's declaration regarding the identity of the Son of Man, I would ask if you still hold to your decision?" To which Simon replied, for them all, 'yes, Master, we do. We believe that you are the Son of the living God." And then Jesus took the first step on his now-certain path, when he said:
"You are my chosen ambassadors, but I know that, in the circumstances, you could not entertain the belief as a result of mere human knowledge. This is a revelation of the spirit of my Father to your inmost souls. And when, therefore, you make this confession by the insight of the spirit of my Father which dwells within you, I am led to declare that upon this foundation will I build the brotherhood of the kingdom of heaven. Upon this rock of spiritual reality will I build the living temple of spiritual fellowship in the eternal realities of my Father's kingdom. All the forces of evil and the hosts of sin shall not prevail against this human fraternity of the divine spirit. And while my Father's spirit shall ever be the divine guide and mentor of all who enter the bonds of the spirit fellowship, to you and your successors I now deliver the keys of the outward kingdom--the authority over things temporal--the social and economic features of this association of men and women as fellows of the kingdom."
So the Apostles also felt Jesus had finally decided to entrust them with a role in his Kingdom. It is doubtful that they understood what they had received, but they felt they had been given something, and that reinforced their commitment to stand by Peter's confession.
From here on in Jesus' life, he will increasingly live the life of a mythic hero. And he does this deliberately, to reinforce the myth, which is the most substantial literal thing the bestowal limitations allow him to leave to a generation of totem worshipers. He has already fully expounded his message of truth to the Apostles and to the people of Palestine. Knowing that that revelation is doomed as a social force, he now works to provide the mythic trappings, the sugar-coating which will make the awful social medicine of truth palatable.
The price the divine Michael will pay for this decision is, in its way, as great as the price the Christ myth says that Jesus paid on the cross to redeem the souls of a sinful world. The spiritual price to the human race is horrendous in the near term. And every spiritual horror which flows from this decision, and their number is beyond human calculation, is a double agony to the Creator Son because he experiences it personally through his mortal children and he knows that it is an inevitable consequence of his plan for the rapid, radical uplift of Urantia. Growth is accompanied by discomfort. Extreme growth is accompanied by extreme pain.
Let us examine some of the small change that makes up the price of Peter's confession and Jesus' acquiescence. Religious truth will be submerged on Urantia for fifty generations in the cocoon of a gross pagan myth that the incarnate deity decided to literalize in order to capture the attention of a totem-minded culture. The factualization of this myth will make it terribly difficult to uncover the truth, except through the passage of time. Those far-seeing souls who dare to penetrate the myth to secure the truth will be persecuted by Jesus' appointed managers of human affairs even more outrageously than the Master himself was persecuted by the Jewish authorities.
In time the practice of the religion of the myth will diverge so much from the inner truth that men will see the truth standing apart, an obviously divine reality unto itself. Perhaps a new revelation will be possible to sharpen the difference and accelerate the change, while making the divergence abundantly clear. But the price of further acceleration will beget more conflict for a time. In a sense, the belief system of the human race was tricked by God for two thousand years in a way which displays respect for the human mind only as a vehicle of free will choice. Man chose to require his savior and teacher to function as an object of idolatry in order to be believed. And the savior accepted this role because it was the best he could do with the resources at hand. And all the best religious engineers of Salvington had examined the problem beforehand and agreed with the diagnosis and treatment.
In the end, this was the best way to maximize the penetration into human culture of the knowledge and attitudes of heart that would be necessary to work effectively with the Spirit of Truth. The price was that the Creator Son would have to endure a lot in the short term, until the human spirit on Urantia could begin to find and harmonize with itself and with his own.
I think Michael must have carefully weighed the alternatives, not only before but after the event. What if he had not done this? What would have happened? He could have lived as King of Urantia, but that would have been bo-ring. Realistically, he might have stuck with the Son of Man image to the bitter finish. The Jews would have destroyed him one way or another, but he would have made only a very small mythic splash. The Apostles might not have kept the point so well and, since they would not have a good story for marketing purposes, they would have probably become a small school of religious philosophy, holding meetings in secret to avoid persecution. Ultimately, without the link into the Roman power structure, they would have gone the way of the Atenites, a fate superior to that of the Cynics and Stoics, but not much better than the followers of Abner achieved. We see that Jesus was the truly brilliant marketer, because he created the concepts that convinced Saul of Tarsus to accept the new religion, and Tarsus was the Mithraic cultural center.
If Jesus had not done these things, the Spirit of Truth would have been limited in its effectiveness in working with mortal minds that had no basis for understanding or appreciating its existence. Cultural progress would have been slow, hard, brutal, and barbaric. The truth-induced collapse of culture in preparation for the rebirth of civilization would have been deeper, because there would have been no literal, material institution to catch and preserve the useful pieces until they could be reassembled into a more appropriate structure. The recovery of civilization would have been slower, yet some aspects would have been improved. In the end, the time governor of progress was pressed to its limit by this plan and a universe learned the final lesson of the Lucifer rebellion.
There is a faster way towards perfection, if guided by the hand of God. But that faster way requires the mortal race to accept the transition from barbarism to light and life more rapidly, and does not bypass any of the steps along the way. The shocks come more frequently, the joy and pain more often, and only the eye of faith can sustain the mortal mind from the fear of this headlong rush into the unknown.
Urantia has been on this course for over 1,961 years, and today we are privileged to be recipients of the new revelation which will, at last, free the religion of Jesus from the myth of Jesus and launch our planet on the next stage of its flight toward future perfection.
(C) Copyright 1997, L. Dan Massey, Jr. 10818 Fawn Drive, Great Falls, VA 22066; used by permission
Author's Note: Information in this paper about the historic antecedents and context of Mithraism is derived from the book, "The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries--Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World" by David Ulansey (Oxford, 1989). The historical data and conjectures presented by Ulansey have been reinterpreted in light of statements in The Urantia Book about Mithraism.