Part 2 continues our discussion of the differences in the way Jesus is presented by the New Testament and the Gospel of Thomas, and what that means for us.

Although the New Testament is focused on identifying Jesus as the messiah, in Thomas, the term is not used. In one instance Jesus calls himself “son of man.” In the New Testament this term is often capitalized and used to designate a special position, but it’s actually a term that can be translated “child of humanity” and carries the same meaning as our saying we’re part of the human race. When Jesus’ followers bring up their apocalyptic concerns, he gently chides them by reminding them that God’s kingdom “is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.” 

Since Jesus’ followers lived in a legalistic religious system that controlled their every thought and action, they often asked Jesus for rules. Instead of taking the role of a master or leader over them, Jesus said, “Do not lie, and do not do what you hate.” Since no one else knows what’s in another person’s heart, this “non-rule” encouraged them to let go of legalistic restrictions that encouraged judgment of others and instead examine their own motivation. 

The name given to the book also says a great deal about Jesus’ humanity.  Several gnostic writings are attributed to “Thomas” because the name meant “twin.” Jesus said:

While you are still in the world, listen to me and I shall reveal to you what you have thought about in your heart. Since it is said that you are my twin and true friend, examine yourself and understand who you are, how you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you are to be called my brother, it is not fitting for you to be ignorant of yourself

Some Christians believe Jesus was addressing a literal twin brother, but the symbolic use of the name in gnostic writings suggests that each reader who comes to an understanding of his words becomes Jesus’ twin and shares his ability to connect with the Divine. In Thomas, Jesus is pictured as a spiritual brother and guide who considers his teaching successful when his students attain or exceed his own level of awareness. This point is made clear when Jesus says:

Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to the person.

Jesus’ sayings offered living water, but he also emphasized that we must drink it ourselves. When we quench our spiritual thirst by contemplating the words of Jesus, we’re taking responsibility for our own spiritual awakening, not relying on a savior.

The opening words of the gospel calls Jesus’ teachings “hidden sayings,” but not for the reason you might think.  Jesus wasn’t choosing a few special individuals who would be given secret knowledge. In fact, he reassured his followers, “Know what is before your face and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not become apparent.” He was actually introducing his followers to information that was “hiding” in plain sight. But like hidden treasure, they would have to put some effort into removing the veils that were keeping them from seeing it. 

Matthew 13:34 tells us, “All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable.” This is especially evident in a sayings gospel like Thomas. Each story and saying makes use of symbolic language that can be understood on several levels. Most listeners probably took Jesus’ words at face value, and many of them interpreted his words to fit their apocalyptic world view. But seekers who came to him with empty hands (meaning they were open to receive) realized the symbols were meant to be a jumping off point for their own spiritual inquiry.  To help his listeners realize this was a process, Jesus said, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death. . .Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds.”

Since we have access to a glut of information, we might assume that seeking was an intellectual pursuit, but it’s highly unlikely that Jesus’ followers could read or write and they had no access to study materials. And Jesus was not directing his followers to go to established religious leaders for answers since he said, “The Pharisees and the scholars have taken the keys of knowledge and have hidden them. They have not entered, nor have they allowed those who want to enter to do so.” How should Jesus’ followers seek? He gave them a clue when he said, “I shall give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart.”

The only way to access information that goes beyond anything available through the senses would be to access a higher level of consciousness. This would be done through gnosis, a Greek word that means “knowing,” but describes learning experientially rather than intellectually. There are many things in our world (sky diving, skiing, skating etc.) that must be learned experientially. We can read guidebooks or get instruction from someone who’s proficient, but we won’t really understand until we take the plunge ourselves. The same is true of reconnecting with the Divine, but Jesus did tell his followers about a necessary first step when he said, “If you do not fast from the world, you will not find God’s kingdom.”

In Part 3 we’ll examine more of Jesus’ clues on becoming aware of our true identity

To learn more about the gnostic Jesus visit http://thebeginningoffearlessness.com/articles