Recent decades in the Western world have certainly witnessed in our communities an increase in the amount of what we might call Christophobia, or a paranoid fear of Christ. Indeed, some quarters exhibit more of a fierce hatred. Any lingering post-Victorian respect for Christ, even if somewhat vague and incoherent, is almost gone. Yet we find something similar in the New Testament period. Some of the teachers of the law – God’s law! – claimed that Christ was possessed by Beelzebul, the prince of demons (Mark 3:22). They acknowledged that he was able to perform miracles and cast out demons, but they could not believe that he did this through God’s power. Therefore, his power had to be demonic, from the devil. The only thing that stops many from asserting this today is that they do not believe in the existence of Satan.
Jesus was also compared to John the Baptist. The blunt messenger of the coming Messiah lived an ascetic life, wearing a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist and eating locusts and wild honey. For this, he was accused of having a demon, but Jesus’ different lifestyle made no difference to the critics. They accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard (see Matt.11:18-19). To the jaundiced, it does not matter if the charge is asceticism or sociability, as long as it provides an excuse. Because Jesus had prophesied that he would rise from the dead after three days, he was declared by the chief priests and Pharisees to be an impostor (Matt.27:63), which he would be, if the resurrection were not true (1 Cor.15:12-19).
After hearing Jesus declare himself to be the light of the world, the Pharisees objected that he was a liar: ‘You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true’ (John 8:13). They entertained no such doubts about their own opinions even after Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. Hence they tried to intimidate the healed man: ‘Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner’ (John 9:24). In fact, at this stage even the man born blind had no real idea as to the person of Jesus: ‘Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see’ (John 9:25).
One thing leads to another, without necessarily adding to the wisdom of the ages. Christ claims to be the door and the good shepherd, and this leads to another division among the Jews. John records: ‘Many of them said: “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Others said: “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”’ (John 10:20-21) In John 8 and in John 10 Jesus is threatened with stoning for blasphemy, for being a man who made himself out to be God (John 8:58-59; 10:31-33).
This hostility to Christ demonstrates the spiritual and depravity of human beings. So Jesus challenges his hearers: ‘How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?’ (John 5:44) Yet the Jews persisted in seeing that the problem lay in Jesus’ poor communication skills: ‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly’ (John 10:24). There is a madness in our hearts because of the Fall. Therefore, as Jesus says, the Psalms are fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause’ (John 10:25). The gospel claims seem like foolishness (1 Cor.2:14), and foolishness can become disdain, and turn to irrational hostility.
Now we are able to better understand the modern Christophobia. It is often the inchoate, half-thought out fearful response of sinners in the presence of the righteous judge. Back in eighteenth century Scotland, Dr John Erskine of Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh was known as the Evangelical leader who confronted the Moderates of his day. The Moderate leader, the historian, William Robertson, believed in human reasonableness and in the great possibilities of education. Hence he stated that if Virtue were to appear in all its beauty, all men would worship it. Erskine replied that it had, and men crucified him.
With warmest regards in Christ,
– Peter Barnes