if you want to experience what he meant
saying- 4; upside down
latest update: 18-04-2018
For many who are first will become last.
For many that are first will be last, and last, first. (Pap.Oxyrh.)
The ones who are called first are likely the ones boasting in public on their relationship
with religious establishment and their proper fulfilling its rules and regulations;
the ones convinced of their place close to their God.
They, however, contrary to what they may be convinced of, will not be first, at least not
in finding the kingdom because they are looking the wrong way.
That they become last may mean that the ones who presume they know, will not get
there at all, but Thomas’ Jesus is without harsh negative value judgments about people.
Even Jesus' assessment of the Pharisees and Scribes, who may actually be meant in this saying,
is nothing compared to that found in similar sayings in Matthew and Luke, who are both
devastating in their Jesus' comment towards the Jewish scholars. However, the canonical gospel
writers may well have written against the Jewish scholars of their own days.
Matthew especially, and most clearly in his Sermon on the Mount, which was constructed
against the background of Psalm 119 (Spong,2016), portrays Jesus not as acting and preaching
against the Torah, but against its interpretation by the Pharisees. Jesus' interpretation goes beyond
just obeying the Law and the many rules and regulations derived from it. Just conscientious
fulfilment of the Law is never enough for Jesus (Spong,2016). For example: it is not
enough to refrain from actual adultery, having lustful thoughts towards women is what
should be abandoned, and there are more examples in Matthew. Spong's conclusion here is
that Matthew depicts Jesus as a new covenant Moses, with a new set of commandments.
However, if we consider Thomas as an independent attestation of Jesus' words, then at
least we can conclude that many sayings in Thomas concur with the idea that Jesus is
far from a pious Jew, following the Torah and its interpretation, he is not! And we should realize
that by considering the Law insufficient, in the eyes of especially his contemporary
Jewish religious upper-class parties Jesus was actually denigrating the Law as well as the
system that was bound-up with it, including the ones nurturing it; they saw Jesus as
despicable kind of rabbi, continually acting and preaching on the fringes of what
could be considered as sacrilege in the eyes of the official guardians of Judaism,
which they ultimately must have considered justifying a death sentence.
From the Thomas sayings I think that the shift Jesus makes is not from the Mosaic religion
to a new religious construct with his person as its historical founder, but as wisdom
teacher he preaches liberation from the strain of the Hebrew Law system that dictates
people's behavior but less so their minds, and to little avail. Trying to live "righteously" as
God Himself is "righteous" doesn't bring God any nearer. Law-abiding behavior does
not bring one closer to the divine. It is the internalized way of, pervaded by
compassion, looking at the world, one's neighbors and one's God. That is what Jesus
proclaimed, as the way to the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, the kingdom in Thomas does not refer to the end result of a Divine apocalypse
which brings God's kingdom of righteousness on earth through Jesus' second coming
as was believed by the initial Christians (See the letters of Paul and the gospel of Mark).
Nor was meant the fulfilment of the kingdom's proclamation by what early Christianities
considered as the actual spiritual manifestation of the "living Christ-Jesus' " among man.
Jesus never clothed himself with any "Christ ideas".
These were beliefs that came to live under the influence of what the Temple destruction
had brought. As Thomas seems to miss these, it is likely that the initial layers of Thomas
were composed at least before 70 CE, and as it misses any trace of eschatological thinking
even way back to the time before the Jewish 66-70 war and the distressing years leading
up to the actual war. Besides, as any idea of a redeeming Christ figure is also absent in Thomas,
one wonders if Thomas initially had not been composed even earlier that the Pauline letters.
In Second Temple Judaism those strictly adhering to "Moses and the Prophets" had
always been considered as the ones who are "first", which means most closely to God.
However, Jesus turns tables upside-down!
If you wonder how to seek the kingdom,
don't think you know already.
Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Luke 13:30; Mark 10:31