Of course Jesus wasn't a Christian technically since he was/is the Christ. Do we see any signs that he was instituting a new religion called Christianity though? Let's check out some common "church" beliefs and see if Jesus' ministry aligned with them.
Did Jesus demand that his followers adhere to a set of beliefs about his birth narrative in order to follow or know him? No. The gospel of Mark which is considered the oldest gospel doesn't even mention it.
Did Jesus require that his disciples believe in hell? No, the Old Testament scriptures never spoke of hell, and Jesus only warned his generation of "hell" on earth... Gehenna, the valley of Hinnom where hundreds of thousands of bodies would be cast and eaten by worms after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Here are numerous articles demonstrating Jesus never taught on HELL.
Did Jesus teach anyone that they must believe in him in order to go to heaven when they die? Not once. The indisputable fact is that there is not even one verse in the entire Bible that teaches one must believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven when they die. Jesus said if they wanted to know what God the Father was like, they were to see how he lived and loved and forgave others. Jesus didn't say... "I am the Way..." to heaven. He said he was the Way to knowing the Father.
Did Jesus start an institution? No. As difficult as it is to believe, Jesus wasn't starting institutional churches, nor was he creating a new religion. He fostered relationships. The word in the epistles "church" just meant "called out ones", ecclesia. These "churches" were gatherings of like minded Jews and sometimes Gentiles who were called out of the Law system and bonded in fellowship so that they might encourage one another as they saw the Day of the Lord approaching. That Day was AD 70 when 1.3 million Jews were horribly slaughtered and/or burned. The believing ones, the ones called out of the darkness of the Law into the marvelous light were able to transition into the new era of the spiritual kingdom and were saved from the wrath of the Law.
Did Jesus tithe to the local church? No. There were no churches. The only time he mentions the tithe is that under the Law system he told the religious leaders that they missed the point. They tithed mint and cummin but neglected the weightier matters of the Law. He told those under the Law system that it was good they did the former, but they should not have neglected the latter. But we are not under the Law of the tithe given to Israel.
Did Jesus say they must believe in him in order to be born again? Not one time. He simply told Nicodemus that the Jews (in Greek he uses the plural for you) must be born again and that it was something the Spirit did, not something that they had any part in whatsoever. Being born again or born from above was the corporate experience of all, not the individual experience of a few. For a mind-blowing full explanation see The Born Conspiracy: Is Everyone Born Again?
But didn't John say some have life and others don't therefore we need to believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven? Eternal life is not heaven. Jesus said eternal life is knowing God. Lets look at that momentarily... John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Let me paraphrase: "He who trusts in Jesus holds on to ("to have, to hold, to embrace, to hold fast to") the foretaste of the age of life with the non-religion of knowing God by direct internal experience, but if he doesn't hold on by his trust in him, then he stays under the passion of God against the system of Law (the wrath of the Law) and will not pass into the age of life." This verse can't apply to us because we are already on the other side of that "wrath" event. If you think this is a stretch and fanciful interpretation just check out both Eternal Life Does Not Mean Going to Heaven and You Were Born Into Grace.
Did Jesus teach that the church would do evangelism for 2000 years trying to reach the planet with the gospel? No. Yes I know that you want to throw the Bible at me now. It might surprise you to know that Jesus never called it a "Great" or "Commission". It was a commission for that generation to reach throughout the Roman world with the good news of the soon coming kingdom that was inaugurated in AD 70 when the earthly kingdom of religious Judaism fell.
Remember Jesus told them to "teach them to observe/obey EVERYTHING I commanded you". There are many commands that were limited to that generation and cannot and should not be kept today such as "sell everything and give to the poor and come follow me" or for them to be ready to "leave father and mother and houses and land". Don't believe me? Check out... The Great Commission vs the Grace Commission.
Did Jesus teach people a "sinners prayer" to say after they raised their hands that they wanted to go to heaven? No. There is no such thing as a sinners prayer in the Bible. Stringing together verses that are out of context to create a religious hoop to jump through is a foolish attempt to institutionalize a separation theology.
Did Jesus teach an end of the world? Not once. He taught them that the end of their religious system, the Jewish-religious "world" as they knew it, was coming to an end in just a few short years. Matthew 24:3 for instance doesn't say "tell us about the end of the world" as the KJV translates it, but rather the "end of the age". All the writers of the NT spoke of the end of the age as the end of the Old Covenant age and the "last days" of that system.
Well, this is supposed to be a blog not a book, but here are my working theories:
1. After the fall of the Jewish religious system there was a growing antisemitism as the idea of Deicide developed among the Greek-Gentile believers. It was the idea that the Jews killed God (Jesus) and so they eventually rejected Jewish understandings of the scriptures altogether. This led to speculative interpretations of the scriptures from a Greek philosophical point of view rather than out of the Jewish cultural historical context from which it was written. By doing so they missed the most important message... Jesus came to testify to the end of any religion as a means to knowing God. Instead they became dispensers of their philosophical views that continued an us/them religious mindset... except it was reversed from Jew to Gentile, to now Gentile to Jew.
2. Arguments arose for the first three hundred years over what was the "right" way to understand the gospel and even Jesus himself. Those factions were no different than the ones we still have 2000 years later in that popularity or pressure or threats of curses and heresy created "sides" which coalesced into a continuing of the "churches" as a developing institution. So here is a question to the Fundamentalists... over the first 300 years until the Council of Nicaea was no one saved and able to go to heaven since there was no uniform agreement of how the gospel worked?
3. Constantine's conversion ended Roman persecution of those who trusted Jesus, but it introduced the toxic marriage of government power to institutionalize religion.
JESUS ENDORSED THE END OF RELIGION:
"Saved" has a context... and does not really refer to going to heaven. Sometimes has to do with physical healing as in saved or delivered from sickness. Most of the references to saved in the NT meant saved from the destruction of Jerusalem. "You will call his name Jesus for he will save HIS people from their sins". (See the insightful article How Saved Are We).
They needed to be saved from the effects their sins were having in provoking the Romans, saved from the consequences of breaking the Jewish Law which according to scripture was a nation coming to destroy them, just as happened with Babylon. Jesus was an eschatological Jewish prophet who in harmony with the prophets before him such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah was sent by God to warn them of the coming destruction.
They expected a Messiah who would come and deliver them by fighting the Romans and overthrowing their rule. But Jesus came and in his messianic rule taught them that what they needed to be saved from was the end of the old covenant age, the law, and from their unbelief. Instead of fighting the Romans, they were to follow his way of loving their enemies, forgiving them, and fleeing their possessions when Rome came, as such they would experience the joy of the coming age of the spiritual kingdom in which one had a relationship from the inside out without Jewish external religion.
In the process, as God's Son, he demonstrated at the cross the kind of love and forgiveness he was speaking about. He revealed what the Father was like. And by including us in himself as the Son of Man... his death, burial and resurrection declared that all belong to the Father and are seated before the face of the Father. In this sense ALL are saved spiritually in the sense that all will see him in truth either in this life or the next.
The point was to put an end to religion. Not to create another one. The New Covenant was the declaration that all humanity belonged to God... without religious ritual or hoops to jump through!
This is why Paul said in Ephesians 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself ONE NEW HUMANITY out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
The kingdom of God is not a religion one enters into. It is an era that came after the end of the Jewish temple earthly kingdom. It is the the realm that all enter into now by virtue of existence. They on the other hand had to see it by faith because it had not arrived yet.
SO WHAT ARE WE LEFT WITH?
The Greek word for "religion" used in James 1:27 is Original Word: θρησκεία, ας, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Phonetic Spelling: (thrace-ki'-ah)
Short Definition: ritual worship, religion.
He said to those believing Jews that the kind of religion (ritual observance) God accepts and is pure and undefiled religion expressed as visiting the widows and orphans in their trouble. In other words acts of love, mercy and kindness are the only rituals that mean anything to God.
Jesus told the woman at the well that the time was already arriving in her day where worship would have nothing to do with going to the temple in Jerusalem, but rather the non-ritual, non-religion of Spirit and truth.
Is Jesus the Savior of the whole whole. Yes. It is finished.
Yes Jesus revealed the Father.
Yes everyone has the Holy Spirit (See this great article Does Everyone Have the Holy Spirit?)
Yes, everyone will be with the Father after death because everyone belongs to him already. See Is God the Father of Us All?
Yes, God wants everyone to know him. So he took it upon himself to accomplish this: "No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest." Hebrews 8:11.
A few years ago I sensed the Lord speak to me saying, "Quit calling yourself a Christian. Christianity is a religion. You are not a religion. You are my son."