The Gnostic Jesus

by the Institute for Gnostic Studies



To fully understand the Gnostic view of Jesus involves a radical reappraisal of how we see Christianity and Judaism. For the Gnostic, Gnosis is not the knowledge of the masses, but a secret wisdom - a comprehension only available to those who know. It is esoteric and results from a direct experience of the divine - exoteric Christianity is at best, its outer core or form, at worst, it’s corruption. The major stimulus for the rebirth of the Gnostic worldview was the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts, these texts discovered in 1945 comprise a veritable library of esoteric wisdom, it comprised some fifty two texts in either part or whole. Their importance cannot be underplayed, for example, Elaine Pagels in the Gnostic Gospels states “ Now for the first time we have the opportunity to find out about the earliest Christian heresy, for the first time the heretics can speak for themselves”.


The importance of these Gnostic texts is that they educate us regarding the teachings of the early Gnostics and from these we can re-construct what could probably be considered as “the first form of Christianity”. It seems from available evidence likely that the modern forms of Judaism and Christianity are the heresies that developed from this early Gnosis, rather than the other way around. When we begin to consider this paradigm, then the find at Nag Hammadi becomes of prime importance.


The Gnostic Myth


The world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire.

Gospel of Phillip.


The central myth of the Gnostic tradition is the fact that there is something wrong with the world.  At the same time most modern Gnostic groups have come to realize that the demonisation of matter is not the answer either. So what we come to appreciate is that our perceptions are conditioning our experience of the world (maybe even creating it) and hence since are perceptions are distorted so the world is distorted. There are various myths given as to how this took place, and man’s role in the process, but the general drift is that our perceptions have created a prison and that man’s spiritual essence is locked within this perception. Liberation comes through the awareness that our wrongful perceptions creates forms and energies which are locking us in a prison of our own making and hence man experiences that he is lost and a long way away from his home. The role of Jesus is not as some legalistic sacrifice to a father God who demands blood, but as a light being who comes from the higher levels of Light (the Aeons) to reveal the truth about mans plight. Jesus comes as a revealer, a bringer of Gnosis, he works at as catalyst for igniting the flame hidden within the heart of fallen mankind. The Gnostic Gospel of  Thomas, now seen as a historically reliable document, gives us a good indication as to the nature of Salvation. Throughout its many short, cryptic statements there is an emphasis on enlightenment and salvation through knowledge, rather than through ethical or devotional means. Even the introduction to the Gospel of Thomas makes this clear, liberation is through finding the knowledge hidden within the secret sayings of Jesus and those who experience this knowledge will not see death. This is a far cry from the modern fundamentalist who screams “give you heart to Jesus” and you will be born again.


Jesus and the Christ


One of the major points of agreement between all the early Gnostic movements was a belief that Jesus and the Christ were not the same thing. Now this is not as unusual as it first seems, indeed, Rev.Todd Ferrier, founder of The Order of the Cross, a modern day Gnostic,  suggests that even the name Jesus was a codeword, and that the historical being who took the names Jesus and Christ was using labels much akin to Sergeant Major or Loyal Follower. In any event, the term Christ or Christos means anointed one, it is similar to the Hebrew word Messiah. In Old Testament times there were many Messiahs. The Essenes, for example, expected two Messiahs to arrive and many believe that Jesus and his brother James were the two Messiahs so prophesied. The term Messiah or Christ was an appellation or classification rather than a name or title. The modern Christian claim that Jesus was the only Christ (or Messiah) is simply not tenable when we examine the history of the term. The concept of Messiah, Christ or “Sun King or Priest” can be traced through ancient Israel to the Essenes, there were many Messiahs along the way leading up to two specific prophesied roles, those of the Great Priest and King. From available evidence, Jesus and James had been trained into these roles from birth and at their respective baptisms became the two Messiahs. After the death of Jesus, James took over the early Church as the Priest Messiah.


The Death and Resurrection of Jesus


Valentinus divides Jesus quite literally from the Christ, he believes that the Christ force descended when Jesus was baptised and left prior to the crucifixion. While many Gnostics wouldn’t quite go that far, they agree with Valentinus that it is incongruous with the Gnostic tradition to place such emphasis on the crucifixion of Jesus. Modern Christianity with its focus on Jesus’ suffering and death seems to border on sado-masochism. For the Gnostic, pain and suffering are part of the fallen worlds condition, they are the result of our fall into matter, certainly Jesus suffered perhaps in as much that he had to take a fallen physical vessel as in the indignities of his crucifixion. However, there is no grace in suffering. The aim is to transcend matter, not wallow in its more painful aspects. The suffering and death of Jesus illustrated the reaction of the ignorant to the Gnosis, while his resurrection illustrated how death and matter could be overcome. It is irrelevant whether Jesus physically came back from the dead or not, since the Gnostics and Jesus have such contempt for matter, it seems highly unlikely that the resurrection had much to do with a re-enlivened corpse. It was an awakening to light, a Transfiguration rather than some ghastly re-animation.



The Message of Jesus


The message of Jesus needs to be seen in the context of man locked within the prison of his own creation, to interpret Jesus as some sort of sacrifice demanded by a deranged homicidal Jehovah says more about the mental state of modern man than about the real message of Christianity. The role of Jesus is  that of a light being who comes from the Treasury of Light to reveal the truth about the material plane. Jesus  comes as a revealer, a bringer of Gnosis, an opener of doors, he works to shatter the prison that locks the true Self into the body and awaken the light which is hidden within the heart of man. He comes as an emissary from a far away God, not the false God of creation, the screaming, demanding, arrogant Lord of Matter, but the true God, the “unrevealable, unmarked, ageless, unproclaimable Father “ (Gospel of the Egyptians).


Institute for Gnostic Studies, June 2000.


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