Visions, Out of Body Experiences. Was Jesus a Mystic?

There are many mystical characteristics about the life of Jesus, in particular his miracles and interaction with spirits and the supernatural.

Raising the question, was Jesus a mystic?

Jesus had a notable amount of engagement with the spiritual realm. Which is best explained as him being a mystic.

Before you back-click, understanding what a mystic is, is critical.

What a mystic would look like in Jesus’ time.

Then, we can look at a few experiences recorded with Jesus having what can best be understood as a mystical experience.

What is a Mystic?

There is a wide range of ideas and definitions of what a mystic is.

So, regarding Jesus being a mystic. We are going to use a basic dictionary definition, understanding that many nuances will not be covered, but this should help to get us started.

A mystic is someone who claims to have access to knowledge beyond ordinary human experience through direct communication with the divine or spiritual intuition.

Another way to look a a person being a mystic is, as Dale Allison describes it, a “thin person.” Someone who is more open to experiencing things beyond the physical world. This can be visions, hearing voices, experiencing intense emotions, and having a deep sense of connection to the divine. One who is conscious of the spiritual realm that exists beyond the scope of microscopic analysis.

Mysticism in Modern Society

Mysticism, in its broadest sense, refers to a direct and immediate experience of the spiritual realm or the knowledge derived from such an experience.

Mysticism is experienced and often is an active part of many religious and spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Indigenous Spirituality and more.

The commonality transcending individual religion is that Mystics seek a deeper understanding and connection with the divine, transcending the physical world to experience God or ultimate reality directly.

Therefore, they often value personal spiritual experience over doctrine and dogma.

Often, they use rigorous spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer, fasting, and asceticism to prepare themselves for these experiences. The form often varies depending on their cultural and religious context. But the goal is always the same: a personal spiritual experience.

This is important to know for our references, but for Jesus, who lived in another time and place, it is better to determine what mysticism would be in his time.

Mysticism in Ancient Second Temple Judaism

Mysticism in Second Temple Judaism (516 B.C.E. and 70 C.E.) was largely centred around visions and heavenly journeys. There was a strong emphasis on experiencing God’s presence directly, often through altered states of consciousness. This form of mysticism was closely tied to Jewish apocalyptic literature, which depicted visions of the heavenly realms and the end of times.

The Hekhalot and Merkavah mystics were particularly notable during this period. They sought to ascend to heaven by meditating on the divine throne-chariot (Merkavah), a concept based on the visions described in the book of Ezekiel.

The Essense, which some argue influenced John the Baptist, where a mystical Jewish sect during the time of Jesus.

During this period, mystical writings were not uncommon. Three more commonly known are Ezekiel, Isaiah (Slightly Earlier Dating) and Daniel in the Old Testament.

Not in the Bible but from the same period, the Book of Enoch is about Jewish mystical experiences written in the same time period.

Closer to Jesus’ time, Saul, later called Paul, had a vision on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). The experience entirely transformed his life.

Later, Paul speaks of having “visions and revelations from the Lord” (2 Cor.12:1).

All this is to say that mysticism was not foreign in Jesus’ time or culture.

Mystical Teaching of Jesus

Two passages often used by proponents of Jesus being a mystic are Luke 17:20-21 and John 10:31-34.

In Luke, Jesus is talking with some Pharisees about the kingdom of God. In which he says not to go looking for the kingdom of God as if it was someplace to visit but that “the kingdom of God is within you” (KJV).”

John tells a story about Jesus in a heated conversation about who he was. Accused of blasphemy for claiming to be God. He responds by quoting Psalms 82:6, ‘You are “gods.” The Psalm goes on to say that they were sons of the Most High.

A very potent verse about our own level of spirituality.

The Gospel of Thomas is often considered a later writing of the second century, but some scholars like Crossan and many members of the Jesus Seminar date it earlier.

The gospel has a distinct mystical element to it. A common phrase is “For there is nothing hidden that will not become manifest.” Along with many comments with a mystical element to them.

More intriguing than his teaching is the mystical experience that Jesus had.

Jesus Having Mystical Experiences

One could argue the entirety of Jesus’ life was a mystical experience. But I am going to focus on 4 events in Jesus’ life that, outside of being mystical, are hard to explain or understand.

  • Jesus’ Baptism
  • Jesus’ Temptation
  • Healing the women suffering from chronic menstrual hemorrhage
  • Transfiguration

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is one of the most accepted facts of Jesus’ life by scholars. But all 4 gospels include a mystical element to this event.

Stainless Glass Picture of Jesus Being Baptised

Not only was Jesus baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, but the Spirit of God descends on him (Matt. 3:16, Mk. 1:10, Lk. 3:21, Jn. 1:32). The synoptic all include that heaven is open or torn open.

Hard to explain short of some gap between the physical world and the mystical, spiritual world was bridged.

Along with this sight and spiritual connection of Jesus, we have a voice out of thin air, or as Matthew calls it, a “voice from heaven.” Speaking and affirming Jesus.

It’s hard to read of Jesus’ baptism without seeing it as mystical.

Shortly after, Jesus was “led by the Spirit.” Continuing the mystical element, Jesus has an out-of-body experience with a spiritual being. In his temptation, as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 a spiritual being confronts Jesus, “the devil.”

Not only does he interact with this spiritual being, but he is given a vision of all the kingdoms of the world.

Luke ends this experience with him being transported to the “highest point of the temple.”

If we take these stories as being historical, then the question arises.

A what time during this interaction was Jesus transformed from the physical world into a spiritual realm that transcends time and space?

Plus interact with spiritual beings we can’t see with our eyes.

Was it when he first “met” the devil in a trans or when he was transported from the wilderness to the temple in Jerusalem?

Regardless of when. Jesus experienced a mystical experience in the wilderness after fasting for 40 days while seeking the divine.

Jesus did many miracles, all could be attributed to mystical powers. But one stands out when thinking of Jesus as a mystic.

A woman suffering from chronic menstrual hemorrhage or as the gospels put it, “bleeding for twelve years”. (Matt. 9:20-22, Mk. 5:25-34, Lk.8:43-48). The mystical aspect of this miracle is the feeling of power being drained from Jesus.

Jesus had not consciously healed the woman. Nor performed some type of action.

The woman merely “touched his cloak,” and healing power like electricity flowed from Jesus to the woman. Healing her.

As if there was power within Jesus that was beyond him.

I do not claim to understand this or any miracle, but clearly, a “power resided in Jesus.”

Another event in Jesus’ life that could be explained as mystical is the transfiguration (Matt.17:1-8, Mk.92-8, Lk.9:28-36).

With slight variations, but Jesus, Peter, James and John go up a mountain.

Jesus is transfigured. His face shines, and his clothes are changed to “dazzling white.”

Then 2 dead men, Moses and Elijah. Important men in the Jewish religion appear, talking with Jesus.

Ending by being enveloped in a mystical cloud, similar to his baptism, speaks and affirms Jesus.

  • The changing of Jesus’ appearance.
  • Seeing and hearing and hearing people from long ago.
  • Hearing a voice from a cloud.

Which can only be explained as “beyond ordinary human experience.”

There are many more experiences of Jesus that fit well into the picture of him being a mystic.

Scholars Who Present Jesus as a Mystic

There is no shortage of authors and speakers claiming Jesus as their “source” or key mystic whom they follow. But sadly, many are strictly using the brand recognition of Jesus to sell their own version of spirituality and mysticism.

A serious scholar regarding the historical Jesus who believes Jesus to be a mystic healer is Marcus Borg. A member of the Jesus Seminar, author and former Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University.

A prolific author, writing many books about Jesus and early Christianity, but two related to Jesus and Mysticism are.

  • Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings
  • Jesus: A New Vision

Jesus: A New Vision a more comprehensive overview of his study of Jesus. If you are looking for a more thorough study of Jesus as a mystic healer. But Borg presents Jesus as more than just a Mystic, so there will be much more than just mysticism in the life of Jesus.

There are other authors who also present Jesus as a Mystic.

For example, Bruce Epperly, a Professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary, wrote Jesus: Mystic, Healer, and Prophet. I have not read, but skimming, it appears to be not so much a study of the life of Jesus. But presenting Jesus as a mystic from Epperly’s view.

Another is The Mystic Jesus: The Mind of Love by Marianne Williamson. A frequent guest of Oprah Winfrey and “spiritual advisor”. Again, she is less trying to understand Jesus rather more presenting the Jesus who she desires. Or, as the write-up puts it,

“She merges psychological and religious understanding, presenting Jesus as a guide to another way of thinking.”

Theodore J. Nottingham has a 3-book series, The Inner Meaning of the Teachings of Jesus. Yeshua the Cosmic Mystic: Beyond religion to Universal Truth (The Inner Meaning of the Teachings of Jesus) being most focused on the life and teaching of Jesus. Again, working in reverse.

What I am trying to say is there is no shortage of authors, speakers and YouTubers who present Jesus as a Mystic. But many of them are, unfortunately, simply using Jesus to advance their beliefs and thoughts.

One of the struggles of serious scholars perceiving Jesus as a mystic is a dominant view against the supernatural.

Ever since David Hume, there has been a bias among academics against miracles and the supernatural associated with them.

“Miracles are not impossible. I won’t say they’re impossible… I’m just going to say that miracles are so highly improbable that they’re the least possible occurrence in any given instance.”

Bart Ehrman

Without the supernatural, mysticism is dead.

So, with so many academics dismissing miracles as myths. The idea of Jesus as a Mystic is dismissed as well.

Many scholars strip away the mystical aspects of Jesus’ baptism and temptation as non-historical.

Outright deny that Jesus healed the woman. Or, at best, claim only that it was reported that Jesus did. Not that he did. Substructing the whole business of “power” leaving his body.

The same is often done with the transfiguration.

In more recent times, more historians are more open to the idea of miracles and the supernatural recorded in the gospels. But not to the point of using them to frame and understand the life of Jesus.

Just leaving it as “Jesus was known as a miracle worker.”

Not asking, but what does that make him, then? A Mystic, maybe. :

Conclusion: Was Jesus a Mystic

In conclusion, the question of whether Jesus was a mystic is a topic of debate among religious scholars. Some will argue that his teachings and actions demonstrate mystical elements.

Others dispute the validity of this assertion due to their bias against anything concerning the supernatural.

However, more historians are beginning to consider the possibility of miracles and the mystical elements in Jesus’ life.

Opening up greater opportunities for study and contemplate if Jesus was a Mystic.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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