At Easter, the thoughts of many Christians turn to the doctrine of inherent sinfulness and the need for a savior whose spilled blood could atone for humanity. The Bible leaves no room for another view, but another group of Jesus’ followers, now known as gnostic Christians, saw things in a completely different way.

They viewed ‘sin’ as ignorance. Instead of making up for Adam’s sin, Jesus restored the understanding of universal oneness that had been lost when we chose separation over unity with the Divine. The Gospel of Truth, (one of many early Christian documents not included in the New Testament) recognized Jesus as “a guide, a person of rest who was busy in places of instruction. He came forward and spoke the word as a teacher.” The Gospel of Truth also explains his mission:

“When all have received knowledge (the gnosis), they receive what is theirs and draw it to themselves…In time unity will make the heavenly places complete, and in unity all individually will come to themselves. By means of knowledge they will purify themselves from multiplicity into unity.”

Since it was understanding that was needed, not bloody sacrifice, Jesus’ gnostic followers realized that they needed to be their own savior. Since no one else can ‘wake up’ for us, the Dialogue of the Savior (another early document) advised:

“Enlighten your mind. Light the lamp within you. Walk upon yourself as on a straight road… knock on yourself as upon a door and walk upon yourself as on a straight road… Open the door for yourself that you may know what is…Whatever you will open for yourself, you will open.”

Although Jesus and his gnostic followers knew that no sacrifice was necessary, when circumstances brought Jesus to suffering, he used the opportunity to show in an undeniable manner that all suffering is an illusion. For those followers who believed this earth is our reality, Jesus’ death was devastating. For gnostic followers who had learned through their own experience that the material world is a virtual reality, the death of Jesus’ material body meant very little.

In The Acts of John, Jesus said, “You heard that I suffered, but I suffered not…One pierced was I, yet I was not abused. One hanged was I, and yet not hanged. Blood flowed from me, yet did not flow.” Although a projected image of a material body suffered, the true Self that had been Jesus, felt nothing.

The Apocalypse of Peter also contains a description of Jesus’ death that differs drastically from the New Testament gospels. When Peter sees Jesus being arrested he asks, “Who is the one smiling and laughing above the cross? Is it someone else whose feet and hands they are hammering?”

Jesus answered, “The one you see smiling and laughing above the cross is the living Jesus. The one into whose hands and feet they are driving nails is his fleshly part, the substitute for him. They are putting to shame the one who came into being in the likeness of the living Jesus. Look at him and look at me.”

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth reads, “It was another who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another. It was another upon whom they placed a crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over their error. And I was laughing at their ignorance.” Likewise, The Acts of John reports, “I have suffered none of the things which they will say of me.”

Some critics of gnostic writings claim that another person was substituted for Jesus and died in his place, but Jesus was talking about the difference between the little self that masqueraded as a body compared to the true, infinite, immortal Self that could never be harmed.

Considering that Jesus’ teaching was based in love, it’s impossible to even consider that he would cooperate with any plot to have someone else take his place. Instead, gnostic followers understood that Jesus was no longer experiencing through the false self or body and the Self was beyond all physical suffering.

Although Jesus’ gnostic followers would certainly have missed having their teacher with them in the flesh, they understood that their seeming separation was no more real than the illusion of the bodies they all projected. They knew only the immortal Self, unlike material illusion, was real and could never be harmed.

Jesus had won his freedom from duality and illusion and was liberated from the cycle of birth and death. He set an example every one of us can follow. In the Dialogue of the Savior, Jesus explained that our natural dwelling place is a “place of life” where “the true mind dwells” that is “only pure light.”

For most Christians, their belief system hangs on Jesus’ literal resurrection. Without that, they have no hope of salvation. But for Jesus’ gnostic followers, the resurrection had nothing to do with the reanimation of the body or a transformation from body into spirit.

Instead, The Treatise on Resurrection tells us, “The world is an illusion! The resurrection is the revelation of what is, and the transformation of things, and transition into newness. Flee from the divisions and the fetters, and already you have the resurrection … Do not suppose that resurrection is an illusion. It is not an illusion, rather it is something real. Instead, one ought to maintain that the world is an illusion.”

Mainline Christians must continue to belief that Jesus was crucified, resurrected and carried his spilled blood to heaven to atone for their sins. There is no proof that happened. Jesus did not return to vanquish the Romans and set up God’s government in the 1st century, and he has not returned to earth since that time even though most Christians continue to feel certain that he will.

On the other hand, Jesus’ gnostic followers held no such hopes. They understood Jesus to be a human like them, who experienced the Divine and encouraged them to do the same thing.What if Jesus were no different than you or me? Would his parables and sayings lose their value if he was an obscure, rural wisdom teacher who was killed by fearful politicians? Even if he performed no miracles and his body was not resurrected, what real impact would that have on us?

We would lose a savior, but Jesus’ gnostic followers learned from him that we all must save ourselves, just as he did. We can cling to a version of Jesus that condemns us as sinners and imprisons us in fear, or we can follow Jesus’ example and come to our own rescue by waking up to our innate oneness with ‘the Father.’ The choice always has been, and always will be, ours.

~ by Lee & Steven Hager, April, 2012. See:

Death & Resurrection: A Gnostic Perspective