The descent of the Christ
The descent of Christ can be reconstructed from the clues in the gospels of belief, in the letters of Paul and later Gnostic beliefs. Paul had his own idiosyncratic interpretation of Jesus Christ that differs in fundamental ways from the Gospel of Thomas so we cannot be sure that this was exactly what Mary believed in.
The great mystery of the decent of the Christ was pre-ordained before the beginning of time. It took place in this world at the appointed time. Yet in the spiritual reality there is no time and at the spiritual level the event can be experienced at all times. This is why some, such as the Egyptians, and the prophets of Israel could have a pre-conception of the event before it took place in the world. It had been revealed to these prophets that one would come in the form of a man, the Christ, who would redeem Israel and set up a new kingdom of righteousness over the world. Most Jews understood this to mean a political and military leader, a man like any other. But others interpreted this spiritually. They understood that the Christ was the son of god who would descend to Earth to rule as spiritual being over mankind. They believed he would descend from the sky in great glory accompanied by a retinue of angels. He would overthrow the armies of the Earth and establish a new heavenly rule – the Kingdom of God that is more aptly translated as the Imperial Rule of God.
Yet this is not how it happened. The mystic Christ, the Son of God, did indeed descend to earth to establish the kingdom of the father. Yet his form was glorious only to those with spiritual perception. To others who could see things only by the senses of this world he was imperceptible and the material form in which he came was lowly.
On the appointed day he descended as fire from the highest father. He was light from the first light and was splendid beyond comparison. As he fell he disguised his form so as to make his light bearable to the creatures at the lower levels. To Yahweh he took the form of his own son, and in his ignorance Yahweh thought he had conceived this marvellous being.
The Christ continued his descent until he came to the gates that guard the entry into the material world – the Gates of Hades. He now had lowly human form, dressed in a robe of light with a crown of white flowers on his head (from which was derived his title of the Nazarene meaning the crowned or wreathed one).
At the gates he comes face to face with the guardians, the demonic beings who are the Archons or Rulers of the Age. They had been appointed by Yahweh to guard mankind and jointly with the Angels of Yahweh to administer the Law. Their task is to test mankind by tempting and tormenting him and then to punish those who transgress. They are personifications of the primitive animal emotions that taunt mankind and lead him from god, emotions such as lust, greed, gluttony, ambition, cruelty, selfishness, and the drive for power. In appearance they were dark, ugly and corrupt - the true form of the animal passions that are so seductive to mankind. They also represent death itself and their dominion is both the material world and Hades.
When these demons saw this splendid being appear before them they were confounded. They suspected that he was the Christ and feared that he had come to end their reign. Among themselves they plotted and whispered. They decided first to try and win him over by bribery.
They fawned on him and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and tempted him with a deal. They would share their power with him. He could rule as king in power and glory over the kingdoms of the world, just as those who predicted the spiritual messiah prophesised that he would. They the demons would then serve him playing the same role as they did under Yahweh – tempting men and women into disobedience and then punishing those who offended.
Christ rejects their offers. He has not come to rule alongside demons but to redeem the soul of man.
Enraged the demons insist on their rights to rule in the lower realms. If he is to proceed he must submit to their authority. Only the dead can enter the underworld and if he is to enter he must die first.
Understanding what must happen, the suffering and corruption he must endure, Christ weeps and begs of his father to be relieved of this bitter cup. Yet there is no other way he can redeem mankind and create a path for the soul out of Hades. He is perfect and guiltless of any crime, yet out of pure love he drinks the cup that is held out to him. Resigned and sorrowful he submits to the demons.
The confrontation takes place at night when the forces of darkness are strongest. The signs of that confrontation are still present in the gospels of belief even though the story has been transposed to a trial in Jerusalem in front of Jews and Romans. In Mark the High Priest asks Jesus ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’. In Mathew the question is ‘I adjure you, by the living God, that you tell us if you are the Christ - the Son of God.' These are the questions the demons put to Jesus demanding to know if he is really the Christ. When he replies in the affirmative they rent their cloths in anger just as the High Priest rents his cloths. They then command him to prophesise so that they might know their fate:
And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy. (Mark 14)
This little phrase in Mark caused the author of Mathew unease. When he writes his gospel he tries to explain it away with the absurdity that they were asking Jesus to prophesise who it was who had just hit him! But this is not the meaning of prophecy, the art of predicting the great things that are yet to be.
The most telling detail of all is how the Roman soldiers are supposed to have bowed down to worship Jesus as King. This recalls the fact that the demons are forced to worship the Son of the Most High God as their King even as they crucify him. They do so with mockery and violence.
And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, and began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. (Mark 15)
The crown of flowers is replaced by a crown of thorns and the cloak of light is taken away from him to be replaced by a cloak of purple – signifying both kingship and a descent to the material world. The demons then bow down to him as King.
In the gospel stories of the trial of Christ he is brought by the Jewish priests to Pontius Pilate. The real Pontius Pilate had nothing to do with the crucifixion and would have been amazed had he known that he would be infamous forever for having ordered a crucifixion that existed only in the mystic experiences of a young Jewish woman whom he had never met. But that does not mean that the role that was later assigned to Pontius Pilate was not in the original story. The Jews and the Roman soldiers were originally demons but who then was Pilate? Most likely he is Yahweh himself. The demons do not have authority to crucify the Christ without appealing to Yahweh. Pilate as provincial governor exercised an authority that was both absolute and yet also temporary as it was delegated by a higher authority and could be withdrawn. So also did Yahweh exercise complete authority over mankind but that authority too was delegated from the highest god on a temporary basis. Paul calls Yahweh the mediator. Just as the Jews came under Pilate’s authority even though he would have despised them so also the demonic beings were under Yahweh. When the demons come to him asking that they should have authority to crucify Christ, Yahweh tries everything to dissuade them. He does not want the Christ, whom he believes to be his son, to suffer crucifixion. Instead he offers up Barabbas, one who is guilty of insurrection and whom as part of that insurrection has committed murder. The insurrection is not against the rule of Rome - no Roman governor would ever have contemplated releasing such an insurrectionist. The insurrection is against law of Yahweh and is the disobedience that brings death into the world, the disobedience whose archetypal form was the disobedience of Adam. Barabbas stands for man himself. Yahweh is offering the demons man, the guilty party, to punish instead of the Christ. The demons reject this offer because they wish to destroy the heir.
“Crucify him!” they demand. Yahweh has to grant their demand and surrender to them the Christ. He does so exceedingly unwillingly but his own law traps him. Why do the demons have such power over the Christ?
The answer is contained in the theme of betrayal that runs through the passion story. Jesus is betrayed into the hands of his enemies by his disciple Judas. He is denied three times by Peter. His disciples cannot even stay awake on watch while he communes imploringly with the high father. This makes it clear who betrays Jesus – it is his own followers, it is man and woman. Man has betrayed Jesus into the hands of the demons through sin. The demons have no power over the innocent but Jesus has taken on himself the guilt of others and has been betrayed by the sin of those others.
The demons drag the Christ away from this audience with Yahweh hitting him and spitting in his eyes. They take him to the place of execution outside the Gates of Hades. There they hang him on a stake from midday until sunset when he dies. At that time the victory of the dark forces is complete. The extent of that victory is summed up in the Christ’s despairing cry, “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me!”. He is utterly forsaken and abandoned by the light. The demons dance in jubilation at his defeat. They take his body down from the stake and drag it across the ground to a pit-like tomb that has been hewn out of solid rock. Down into this pit they cast his body and shout in joy as it falls. A great stone is pushed across the pit mouth to seal him in for eternity. In the cold darkness of the tomb his body lies stiff and lifeless.
The Son of the Most High God has been defeated. He will be condemned to the underworld forever by the immutable law of Yahweh under which none who die can return to the land of the living. The demonic forces shall continue to rule in the world of men and shall be more powerful than ever now that the heir has been killed.
The defeat and death of the Son of God is a cataclysmic event that shakes the heavens. Yet in the world it is witnessed only by that person to whom it has been ordained that it shall be revealed. The Gospels of Belief make it quite clear who this witness was. Not a king, or a great warrior, or a high priest. Not even a man but a woman - Mary the Magdalene.
By means of contemplative states of mind she had been able to penetrate to the mystic level of reality where the event takes place. She sees the man of light and recognises him as the Christ. On her knees she, a woman of sin (not in the sense of a prostitute but in the sense that all men and women are sinful) anoints his feet with her hair. She is there at the terrible crucifixion, weeping and sharing his suffering at the foot of the stake. She follows the demons to the tomb and when they are gone she enters to anoint him in death and share the darkness. Her love is sufficient to enable her to penetrate the stone that seals the tomb, yet as she passes it rolls back to seal both of them together in an embrace of death.
While the Christ’s body lies in the tomb his spirit has passed through the Gates of Hades into the world of the dead. The demons of that place are fouler even than those who guard the gates. Yet they have no power over him, cannot see him or apprehend him, and he passes among them unperceived. He travels to the place of the soul, the dwelling that is both house and tomb. Inside lies a boy, in death like slumber or slumber like death. The Christ puts forward his hands and commands him to arise.
At this moment the corpse of Christ and the grieving Mary are joined by a mysterious dark third. This third brings with them the things of death. This is the moment of utter darkness and terror. The three are utterly forsaken and without god, lying in the tomb which is both the pit of death and the pit of sin.
Yet the demons have been tricked. The sacrifice that Christ made out of pure love has created a more powerful force than the demons can comprehend, more powerful even than the dictates of Yahweh. The light of Christ’s self-sacrifice short circuits to the light of the highest father and creates a great rift in the fabric of reality. The stone is rolled aside and the Gates of Hades are cast down. The Law of Yahweh is overturned.
Mary perceives this as a sudden influx of light, by the disappearance of Christ and by the transformation of the dark third into a magnificent youth glowing with light and dressed as a bridegroom. His name comes to her also – he is to be called Jesus.
The event is even more miraculous than Mary originally perceives for she comes to understand that Jesus is the Christ. He has come down to take human form to establish his kingdom on earth.
The role of demonic forces in crucifying Christ is mentioned in the epistles of the apostle Paul -
Yet we speak of wisdom among the initiated (the perfect), a wisdom not of this age, nor of the Rulers (Archons) of this age who are becoming useless, but we speak the hidden wisdom of God in a secret, that God foreordained before the ages to our glory, which none of the Rulers of this age knew, for if they had known, they would have not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2)
The phrase Paul uses “Rulers of this age ” or Archons is a technical Gnostic term that refers to the demonic powers that rule over the world. Paul is here saying that these demons were tricked into crucifying Christ.
In Romans Paul talks about death entering the world through one man, Adam, and being banished by one man Jesus Christ. In Corinthians Paul makes clear that these first and second men are different in nature:
The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a life giving spirit. The spiritual was not first but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15)
That is although Jesus Christ was a man he was a spiritual man and not like Adam a material, or earthly man. The coming of Jesus as a man in this spiritual form is a concept that can only be understood in the terms of the philosophy of the early Christians that underlies the epistles of Paul. The evidence from the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip, the teachings attributable to Simon Magus, and the teachings of the Gnostic Valentinus was that men and women were conceived as being twofold or hermaphrodite in nature. One half of the person was the earthly man or woman, the other half, of the opposite sex, was the soul or spirit. At the original creation man was a perfect union of male and female, the material and spiritual. But when Eve was separated from Adam death entered the world. In terms of this philosophy a spiritual man, such as Paul describes Jesus, is one half of a person whose earthly nature was female.
Mary was the only one to witness the event of the crucifixion as it happened in the time of this world. But as an event that is essentially spiritual in nature it is accessible from any time or place. The initiate into the inner mysteries can experience it at any time with the same reality as Mary did. A female initiate must follow the example of Mary and place herself as Mary at the foot of the cross and in the tomb. This is one reason why Mary is joined in the gospels by other women at these key times. The story recalls not just Mary’s experience but the experience of all female pneumatic, or spiritual, Christians.
For a man things are different. A male initiate must place themselves in the role of Jesus. They must experience the event even as Jesus would – the person crucified is both Jesus and themselves, the person who dies is both Jesus and themselves.
It is the male perspective that is important with Paul and in his epistles he is explicit about the need to be crucified with Christ. In Romans he talks about a ‘baptism to the death’ which involves dieing with Christ so that a person can be reborn:
Are you ignorant that we, as many as were baptized to Christ Jesus, were baptised to his death? (Romans 6)
This baptism to death involves dieing along with Jesus:
We were buried together, then, with him through the baptism to the death, that even as Christ was raised up out of the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in the newness of life. For, if we have become planted together in the likeness of his death, so also shall we rise. Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin may be made useless, that we should not longer serve the sin; for he who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6)
The person of the spirit, the pneumatic, is set free from sin because the old person, subject to the rule of sin, dies with Jesus. The person who dies with Christ becomes living:
And if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ, having been raised up out of the dead, does no more die, death over him has no more lordship; for in that he died, to the sin he died once, and in that he lives he lives to God; so also you, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to the sin, and living to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6)
The gospels of belief have indications of this practise of being crucified with Jesus. It is recorded that Simon from Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus. This is derived from the fact that the pneumatic underwent the crucifixion with Jesus. The carrying of the cross is indicated in another saying from the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said: He who shall not hate his father and his mother cannot be my disciple, and (he who does not) hate his brethren and his sisters and take up his cross like me shall not be worthy of me.
The use of the word ‘hate’ is one indication that the Gospel of the Twin was originally written in Aramaic since the equivalent word in Aramaic meant also ‘put aside’. The saying does not tell the disciple to literally hate his father, mother, brother and sisters but to put aside these family ties in order to follow Christ.
The practise is also indicated in the distorted story of Barabbas. For the name Barabbas is another form of the name Jesus. The male disciple is crucified as the ‘twin’ of Jesus – in the mystic world the rules of identity twist and shift and a person can be both Jesus and himself, both two and one. The disciple is put on trial with Jesus, the disciple is the guilty one, yet it is Jesus who bears the burden of death.
The final indication in the passion story of the disciple sharing the fate of Jesus is the crucifixion of the two thieves alongside Jesus. This is a muddled interpretation of the story that others were crucified ‘with’ Jesus which was interpreted in the gospels of belief as them being crucified alongside Jesus rather than in the guise of Jesus. The two thieves are guilty whereas Jesus is innocent – one gains the redemption with Jesus and the other does not reflecting the two outcomes of the resurrection event.
But why are there two thieves and not one? The reason is that the crucifixion is experienced by the three present at the tomb, the three forsaken by god. These three are Jesus, the disciple and the dark third. The third is mysterious and yet without the third nothing shall be accomplished, nothing shall be raised. The writers of the gospels of belief understood none of this. So the three were interpreted as three men who were literally crucified. In the Gospel of Thomas there is a recollection of the three in a highly obtuse passage. The Coptic version appears to have been corrupted with translation and copying. The manuscript of the oldest, Greek, version is damaged and difficult to read yet it appears to say the following:
Where there are three, they are without God, and where there is only one, I say, I am with that one.
The three who lie in the tomb are the three who are without god – literally god forsaken. What happens after the resurrection is that the dark third and Jesus are gone leaving the spirit and the disciple – as with the story of Mary, the angel and the empty tomb. The two, the spirit and the disciple, are really one through the mystic union of the bridal chamber. And Jesus is with that one. The same saying continues:
Lift up the stone, and you will find me there. Split the piece of wood, and I am there.
Why does this follow the original saying about the three and one? In the later Coptic version of Thomas it is in another place. They belong together because they both relate to the tomb. The saying is usually interpreted as being pantheistic – Jesus is present everywhere even underneath stones and in wood. Yet the saying specifically refers to actions – lifting and splitting – which has led others to the idea that it is manual work in general that is being referred to. But there is another deeper meaning than either of these two, one that shows the connection between Jesus and Osiris.
When Isis finds the body of Osiris it has been absorbed into a great tree which has grown out of the tamarisk bush. Isis splits the wood of this tree to find the body of Osiris. When Mary the Magdalene seeks the body of Jesus the stone sealing the entrance is found rolled away. Originally the tomb was a pit and the stone had to be lifted so that Jesus could be resurrected. The two events are exact correspondences in the two stories. And it is precisely the moving of the stone and the splitting of the wood that are brought together in a saying about the search for Jesus.
The search for the body of Jesus is identical with another search – that for the dark third. For just as, in the mystic reality, the lines of separation between the disciple and Jesus become blurred so also does the dead Jesus stand for the dark third itself. This is the search mentioned in the saying at the beginning of in the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said: He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds; and when he finds he will be troubled, and if he is troubled, he will be amazed, and he will reign over the All.
There are two other sayings in the Gospel of Thomas that are almost identical to each other which refer to this search.
Jesus said: He who has known the world has found a corpse, and he who has found a corpse, the world is not worthy of him.
Jesus said: He who has known the world has found the body, and he who has found the body, the world is not worthy of him.
The body or corpse in these sayings is linked to the body of Osiris. When Set tears it into pieces and distributes those pieces through the world Isis has to search through the world to find it. By finding the body of Jesus the disciple is able to experience the resurrection and so rises above the world. A slightly distorted form of the same is recalled in another saying in Thomas:
Jesus said: He who has found the world and become rich, let him deny the world.
Riches in the Gospel of Thomas are code for the Kingdom of Heaven (as they are in Wisdom literature). So it is saying that those who have found the world (really the body of Jesus which is in the world) and entered the Kingdom of Heaven should renounce the world.
The deeper understanding in all these sayings is that the tomb in which Jesus/Osiris lies is identical to the world. The body of Jesus/Osiris is in all things yet it is his dead body, the body forsaken by god. Before the disciple can experience the resurrection they, like Isis and Mary, have to find this dead body. But the body of Jesus stands for a person’s soul just as the living Jesus stands for the spirit. So the search for the body of Jesus is the same as the search for the dark third, the soul, the image reflected in the dark pool of death within.
Although the dead body of Jesus is an image of the soul in general it is particularly apt in the case of women. The use of Jesus to represent the soul and the connections to Isis’s search for Osiris are indications that the Gospel of the Twin, now preserved in corrupted form as the Gospel of Thomas, was written by a woman, Mary the Magdalene.
The initiates, male or female, who were able to experience the resurrection to become pneumatics were the rare people who were ‘chosen’ rather than ‘called’. The Gospel of Thomas describes them as ‘one in a thousand and two in ten thousand’ - meaning they were very few in number. The pneumatic knew that the resurrection was something that happened in life and not after death. By the resurrection a person’s dead soul would be reborn as a living spirit and the person would enter the kingdom of the heaven. But to experience the resurrection a person must be able to place themselves in the mystic reality where it takes place.
By contrast the ‘psychics’ or those of the soul would not experience the resurrection. But they would hear and respond to passion as a story. Their soul would recognise its truth and they would enter into the Christianity of belief symbolised by baptism. The psychic would understand the resurrection of the soul as something that would happen to them after death if they kept faith in Jesus and acted on that faith by doing good works. It was for the psychic that the story eventually became literalised, as it was the literal form that was the easiest to believe in.
The Jews believed that the Gates of Hades were in three places – in the wilderness, under the sea, and in Jerusalem. When the story was literalised it was transferred into two of these locations. The temptation of Christ takes place in the wilderness. Originally this was part of the passion story but it became separated as the authors of the gospels of belief struggled to write a coherent narrative out of stories based upon mystic experiences. One sign of the connection is that both Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness and his stay on earth after the resurrection both take forty days. The crucifixion itself was sited in Jerusalem and the Gates of Hades became the gates of Jerusalem itself. So in the gospels of belief the crucifixion takes place outside the gates of Jerusalem in the place of the Skull and not outside the Gates of Hades.