It was thus in a troubled and divided land that Jesus came to preach to his fellow Jews. He preached the love of one God for all people. He preached to the poor, the weak, and the simple, rather than to the priests of the Temple. His “Blessed are the poor in spirit” has an Essene echo, though Jesus was not a revolutionary like the Essenes, nor an ascetic, since he preached the enjoyment of the good things of this world.
He was kind but stern—good intentions were not enough. Above all, he preached gentleness and love. “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Though he preached that the abused should turn the other cheek, he also said at another time that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. Plain people understood him and took comfort from his words.
From Jesus’ preaching would arise theological conclusions of enormous importance. From the books of his disciples, the Gospels, we learn what Jesus said. He spoke of his Father in heaven, referred to himself as the Son of man, and taught that he was the Messiah whom God had sent to redeem humanity from sin. Those who hearkened and led decent lives on earth would gain eternal bliss in heaven; those who turned a deaf ear and continued in their wicked ways would be eternally damned in hell.
Jesus was the Christ, the anointed one. His followers said he was begotten by the Holy Spirit and miraculously born of a virgin mother. He was baptized by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan, and therefore his followers were also required to be baptized. He gave bread and wine to his followers at a feast of love and told them that it was his body and his blood, and that they should partake.
Such teaching—though not without parallel in ear¬lier Jewish thought—aroused alarm and hostility among the Jewish authorities. Sadducees and Pharisees mistrusted all reformist efforts, of which Jesus’ seemed only one more. When the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?” and Jesus affirmed that he was, he was doomed, both by the sanhedrin and by the Romans. In Christian thought the crucifixion became the supreme act of redemption: Jesus died for everyone. His followers declared that he rose from the dead on the third day and would soon return—to end this world in a final Day of Judgment.
Even in this bare summary we can see elements of Christian belief that are similar to Judaism and others that were present in the mystery cults. But Jesus’ sacrifice of his life for humanity, and the intimacy with God promised in the future eternal life, gave Christianity a simplicity and a popular appeal that no mystery religion could duplicate.