Gospel of Thomas: Thomas 21
Humans: Good or Evil?
Thomas 21: Mary said to Jesus, “What are your disciples like?”
He said, “They are like little children living in a field that is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, ‘Give us back our field.’ They take off their clothes in front of them in order to give it back to them, and they return their field to them.
For this reason I say, if the owners of a house know that a thief is coming, they will be on guard before the thief arrives and will not let the thief break into their house (their domain) and steal their possessions.
As for you, then, be on guard against the world. Prepare yourselves with great strength, so the robbers can’t find a way to get to you, for the trouble you expect will come.
Let there be among you a person who understands.
When the crop ripened, he came quickly carrying a sickle and harvested it. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!”
In Thomas 21, Yeshua shows us He was aware most of His disciples were incapable of comprehending His teachings, being fearful of their god and enamoured of this world. The disciples believed the world would be restored to paradise when their god came to judge the living and the dead. Jesus saw them as having no ownership of their spiritual heritage. They waited for someone to tell them when they must give up their physical existence: ‘take off their clothes…in order to give it back…and they returned their field…’ They saw their physical body as their identity. This relates to the concept of Adam being created from dust—dust that belongs to a creator god. Thomas 21 redresses where we actually come from—the realm of the Spirit.
The obstacles and diversions we encounter in our daily lives: the suffering under oppressive individuals, who have been consumed by the lion (Thomas 7)—these are the distraction, the thieves who will invade our house (the soul). It is a fact that when our bodies are put under stress, injury, or illness, we become distracted from spiritual concerns. These things steer us away from knowing the nature of our true selves. We can no longer be ‘passersby’ (Thomas 42), or observers of the world; the powerful one (Thomas 98) has consumed us, like the lion consumes its prey. This is why we must guard ourselves against the thieves. We can do this by realising we are above all these obstacles—they cannot harm what we truly are. Our clothes may be damaged or removed, but what is underneath remains whole.
The idea that other powers are at play is another obstacle. Human mortality has forced people to measure the physical self, the reference point for knowing what they are, against the immensity of nature. Nature began to take on the face of God, particularly for those who wrote biblical texts, because nature appears to be so powerful in comparison to the vulnerable body. These illusions are also a barrier to a person’s growth as a spiritual being, because they have allowed the robbers to enter their house and steal their possessions. The ‘possessions’ are our understanding of what matters—we are made of the same Light, which springs from the Father/Source and was seen in its fullness in Yeshua.
Interestingly, both the Buddha (Prince Siddhartha Gautama) c. 486 BCE and Jesus (in this gospel) wanted the individual to search within to truly live in peace. In both cases, their followers reverted to creating institutions and the practices surrounding them became the focus. Religions, which have become institutions, tend to serve a peripheral purpose for people seeking spiritual growth. They comfort, but do not sustain, the soul seeking enlightenment. Christian Churches provide solace when people are in mourning, ill, or seeking absolution. The contemporary Evangelical Churches provide dynamic prayer; their pop-music and high tech light shows give followers a hit of communal ecstasy, which parishioners crave like a drug. In both cases, the only time worshippers feel truly connected to their god is when they are in the venue or Church. By themselves, they are less able to attain the same connection; this is what such organisations rely on. The thieves, in this instance, are the leaders of these groups, who focus on how to fill their churches with people, rather than making the pursuit of spiritual realisation the objective. Their sermons are usually about banal human concerns relating to finances, relationships, and their perceived distance from their God. They do not speak of the essence which makes us like Jesus. They do not teach us how to fully realise this potential. Their selective knowledge does not recognise the truth presented in the Gospel of Thomas.
Some Christian Churches use Satan as a tool to scare people into believing in the power of their Church or doctrine. The irony is that people who have aligned themselves with a negative power are worshipping something that does not have power itself—other than what people have given to it. Faith is the Source here. The only negative forces are individuals who have made a poor choice, because they are enamoured of these four dimensions. They want to keep other souls in this realm. This realm is how they define what it is to live. In the Gospel of Thomas the definition of what it is to live is very different.
We should appreciate that in the Jewish faith, Satan is not looked upon as a fallen angel, creating obstacles from his own will or from a malevolent nature. To a Jewish person, Satan, or rather the satan – meaning accuser, is doing the bidding of their God. His purpose is to improve humanity’s focus on overcoming obstacles with true faith and love of God. Remembering that Jesus was Jewish, we start to see a divide between the Jewish and Christian perceptions of this character and wonder: how did this become so distorted? From this schism, we can see how the authors of the New Testament had been influenced by the Greek myths of a malevolent deity, a deity the Gnostics erroneously saw as the god of the Old Testament. Evidently, these beliefs stemmed from Plato’s Cave allegory. The puppet master became the malevolent demiurge Yaldabaoth. In the New Testament, we see the influence of this allegory appear in Paul’s letters. Paul refers to the elemental spirits (Stoicheia) which he suggests were responsible for creating the Law—which Jesus made redundant. Yeshua saw humans as the only ones capable of true evil. He explains that this happens when the lion consumes the human and then presents as human (Thomas 7). In this state, the human becomes the mythologised Satan, an obstacle to the true self and to others.
We should also consider the conundrum of those who claim they require the rite of exorcism, or are deemed to require this rite. These ‘possessed’ individuals express in their actions the antithesis of the perfect human. The stereotypically abusive and physically violent behaviour is symbolic of the struggle between the intelligent, spiritual human and the primal beast humans evolved from. An analogy would be the battle between the nature of the lion (Thomas 7) and the nature of the lamb. How would it benefit ‘Satan’ to possess people and behave in this way? Logic suggests that if such a ‘fallen spirit’ existed it would be subtle about the way it makes people’s lives difficult. The question then arises: are these ‘possessions’ really manifestations of a malevolent demon, living in darkness and fear, or is it an expression of the individual’s struggle to overcome primal urges and fears? It is likely to be a combination of these two. The Gospel of Thomas points to this ongoing struggle to find and become the perfect human—like Jesus.
Satan was initially represented as a member of an angelic group, but then in successive narratives became an accuser who suggests, and later creates, obstacles for humans and for Jesus. As mentioned previously, the Jewish community continues to see this angel in a more positive, functional position. The Jewish text refers to ‘the satan’ which means prosecutor, who is working on behalf of Yahweh (YHWH). Nowhere in the Old Testament (Torah) is ‘the satan’ a source of evil, or referred to by the proper noun, Satan. This characteristic is erroneously linked to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, through the New Testament. The snake/serpent was the shrewdest creature in all creation. It was the antagonist in the Garden of Eden narrative, tempting Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. This narrative reflects the way humans wrongly perceive their predicament in this existence as punishment for sinning. It makes sense that this sin might involve people’s tendency to succumb to inherent egotism, insulting their creator by wanting to be like a god. Through the Gospel of Thomas, we see this narrative in a very different way. The snake/serpent represents the same qualities we see in the lion from Thomas 7. Its inability to disconnect from the surface (the earth, or forbidden tree in this narrative) is metaphoric—it is the problem humans struggle with constantly. However, we are creatures that have taken to walking on two legs, so that our head is the furthest from the ground. This is symbolic of our potential to be connected to the Spirit realm—we can think and feel beyond the parameters of day-to-day survival. It is also the reason birds are considered spiritual entities—they possess the ability to rise above this earthly plane. The serpent in the Garden of Eden offers what most people want: a quick solution to life’s conundrum. If they were like God, they would want for nothing and know everything. Jesus tells us, the journey through this realm will have its difficulties, but these can be used to enrich our understanding and appreciation of the Spirit. Through this process, humans learn they are the wealth. The shell people inhabit keeps their heart and mind on the ground–this is the cause of the poverty.
In the Christian version of the Jewish text (Old Testament) we see the proper noun of ‘Satan’ replace ‘the satan’. In changing the word for this character’s purpose (being the accuser) to a name, the name becomes imbued with negativity. This angel no longer works for Yahweh, he works for himself. Satan becomes an adversary of God and humans, working from his own volition. In the narrative of Job 1:6 we see Satan referred to as one who serves God: ‘One day when the sons of God came to attend to Yahweh, among them came Satan.’ Satan suggested to God that Job would not remain loyal if everything he had was taken away. The implication was that Job only loved God because he had material wealth and good health—his love of God would cease if he lost these things. God agreed to test Job and put everything Job had in Satan’s control. This was the beginning of Satan’s career as the source of evil—the adversary of man and God too. Here, we must recognise our definition of what is good is tainted by the natural world, which is not in itself evil. It is an obstacle because of its chaotic and unpredictable nature. As such, defining natural disasters as works of evil is incorrect—only humans and entities inhabiting other realms are capable of evil. Sometimes humans are Satan, working only for the self (Thomas 7). God does not place one person or group above another; the situation one exists in is reliant on chance. What one does with this situation is completely up to the individual. It can be a place of great wealth.
Eventually, this ethereal being called Satan becomes an antagonist who seeks to make people’s lives miserable out of jealousy and spite. This concept also comes through the Islamic tradition—the angel who would not bow down before man, as God asked him to. In the Synoptic Gospels, Satan becomes a symbol of Jesus’ destruction and a way for the gospel writers, after Mark, to vilify the Jewish people. This is evident in the way each of the gospels successively shows that the Sanhedrin, rather than the Roman Emperor (through his people) was the cause for Jesus’ execution. The vilification of the Jewish community climaxes in Luke, written by a gentile who felt marginalised by the Jewish Christians. Elaine Pagels ‘The Origin of Satan’, First Vintage Books Edition, May 1996, develops an extensive analysis and discussion on this topic. Furthermore, we see in the Gospel of John a very disturbing statement, which some Christians have interpreted as giving Satan the position of a deity—the Antichrist. In John Chapter 14:30-31, Jesus says: ‘I shall not talk to you much longer, because the prince of this world is on his way. He has no power over me, but the world must recognise that I love the Father and that I act just as the Father commanded.’ When we look at this statement through the lens of the Gospel of Thomas, we see that it is not about Satan, the Antichrist; it describes the men who have been consumed by the lion. The context of this pronouncement would place the Emperor or Caesar of the time in the position of ‘prince of this world’. The author of Revelations also made these references, calling the Emperor Nero the beast and identifying him with the numbers ‘666’. The early Christians used this number coding method so that the non-Christians would not know to whom they were referring. This hostile rhetoric could have gotten them killed in a most barbaric way.
In the ‘Temptation of Jesus’ narrative, Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms and riches of the world, mirroring a common experience of all humans. The symbol of a malevolent spirit, who claims the earth for his own, reflects the writer’s struggle to explain what may have happened during Jesus’ forty days and nights in the desert. The disciples would have been aware of this event, but it was apparently not passed onto the gospel authors. This is evident when we look at how this event is embellished in successive gospels. In Mark 1:12-13 (the first gospel written), Jesus is baptized by John, then goes into the desert where Satan tempts Him. This is where the story ends. In Matthew 4:9, the narrative is extended to describe how Satan said to Jesus: ‘I will give you all these…’ In the last Synoptic Gospel, The Gospel of Luke, the author corrects the implication that Satan is the owner and ruler of earth. In Luke 4:6 Satan says to Jesus: ‘I will give you all this power and their splendour, for it has been handed over to me, for me to give it to anyone I choose.’ The author of Luke links the way God hands over Job’s wealth to Satan in the Old Testament story—enabling the elaboration on the sojourn into the desert narrative, but ignoring that the satan was a heavenly accuser in the original Job myth.
Jesus’ temptation by Satan is a metaphor representing this world. Jesus was flesh and blood; like any man, He would have experienced pleasures and pain associated with this world (Thomas 28). He knew that He could have had an affluent and powerful role on this planet with the committed followers He was accumulating. Withdrawal from the world is common practice by ascetics in significant cultures. It is a pathway to knowing the true nature of self, away from the distractions of everyday life. However, as we shall see, it is not a necessary process for all to experience (Thomas 27). The root cause of “Satan” is the world and its deceptive beauty, power, and pleasures. It is also primal man, who is still within humanity. The fears primal man experienced is the trouble humans may expect. They arrive in our everyday interactions with the physical world and each other. The writers of the Synoptic Gospels only had the Satan of Job as a reference point—they would not have understood such a metaphor. This reinforces the notion that they were influenced by Greek myths. Through 77th Pearl: The Perpetual Tree, the Gospel of Thomas opens our eyes to these truths.
In Mark 8:31 Jesus openly states: ‘the Son of man was destined to suffer grievously…and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again’. Peter argues with Jesus, who rebukes him: ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do.’ Jesus is telling us that the nature of Satan is to think as one who is infatuated by this world. This person’s decisions are driven by its allure. This also confirms that people had become the adversary of the Spirit of Yeshua. Instead of an accuser (the satan) making an individual assess their love of God, people had inadvertently become the persona, ‘Satan’. The direction people take is intrinsically connected to the way they perceive this life; they alone can make these choices. Humans need to be on guard against the robbers, which manifest in various forms and have the same goal—to get in our way, to block our path.
When you are on your Sabbath, look past this world and its distractions to The Perpetual Tree, which is beyond the horizon. When you are not in a place of rest (Sabbath), use the soil you are in to grow and flourish
Read about Lucifer – he is the human, King Nebuchadnezzar, punished by God for his pride
77th Pearl: The Perpetual Tree – audio extracts from the book on YouTube
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