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In Christianity,God,Jesus,Ron Galloway,Worldview

The Meaning of Christ in Other Religions (Part 3)

By Dr. Ron Galloway

In Part Two, I spoke of a certain graduate student who imagined that by showing me parallels between Christian symbols, beliefs, and objects and those of other religions, she refuted the originality of the Christian faith. But I have argued that all the religious parallel symbols she presented simply pre-figure the reality of Christ; they simply foreshadow the concrete reality. In all of her examples, the student was really presenting sacred objects or mythical stories that try to unite the profane with the sacred. All of them ultimately fail because they are all partial incarnations. Yes, they can all be seen by their very attempt, to point to the ultimate sacred one, the Christ, to whom all fragmented or partial understandings of the sacred point. Therefore they can be seen only as shadows, not the reality. There are a great many other parallel symbols and objects that the graduate student did not have on her list. Common among religions and mythical stories are sacred mountains, cosmic trees, annual renewals of the universe, sacred skies, seas, skies, earth, rivers , even sacred vegetation of every imaginable and unimaginable variety. The extent of such symbols is well documented in Mircea Eliade’s Patterns In Comparative Religions, Cosmos and History, and his very engaging work titled Images and Symbols.[1] But as we saw in Part 2, all such symbols were seen by Eliade, and can be seen by us, as abortive attempts at incarnation. Only the incarnation of Christ fulfils these abortive attempts at uniting the profane with the sacred.[2]

The Nativity of Christ, stained-glass window in the Cathedral of St. Patrick, Charlotte, NC, by Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en), CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsOnly the Jesus of Scripture was ever described as fully man and fully God, yet born as we are born. He is the God who, before His birth as a man, brought the whole of the universe into being. He is the true source of earth and sky. His death, resurrection and transfiguration are the true sources of the transfiguration of the whole of the cosmos. Christ can be viewed as the true cosmic tree, and the true tree of life that brings new heaven, earth, and humanity. Indeed the cross of Christ was a tree, symbolizing the dying and resurrected Christ who by His death and resurrection ushers in the opportunity for all to be reborn by the indwelling of Christ, who is both truth and life. The tree of life in the historical garden of Eden can be seen to foreshadow Christ Himself. In scripture He is the reality that is pointed to by the tree in the Book of Revelation whose leaves heal the nations. He is the true source of the knowledge of good and evil. As Saint Paul says: “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him.”[3]

In Scripture, He is the true living water, and true source of rebirth and regeneration. He is the true meaning of Eden in the transfigured garden of Eden that we find in the Book of Revelation.[4] Revelation chapter 21 speaks of a fully perfected, transfigured heaven and earth, yet it points to that which is beyond itself, and which fulfilled the transfiguration’s own perfection, Jesus the risen Christ who overcame the power of death. All the related symbolisms of human religion will one day find their “yes.” Even the horror of religions that practice human sacrifice, point out from their darkness to the true and freely given human sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself, He who was fully God and fully man.

Once we understand these symbols, whether they be pagan or Judeo-Christian, the nations of the earth have a bridge to draw them close to the one who came down into history for them, and is coming again. For surely, in the myths and symbols in sacred objects across the world, there is some part of humanity in the image of God crying out for God, however dim their understanding, to come down and save them. In longing for a centre of the earth—where God meets with humanity—are not their spirits crying out for their creator? In longing for a new world, and their own rebirth, are they not crying out for something their heart and conscience long for? With all their talk of sacred mountains, do they not truly desire Mount Zion, the Kingdom of God on earth? With the vast range of liberator and redeemer myths, and the myths of a virgin birth, do not all these point to what people long to have in reality? Do not the vast number of liberator or redeemer myths that talk of a King who will one day be born and will overcome the dark King, all refer to a true King who will one day be born in real history? This King is Christ. Do not all the fears, hopes, and yearnings that are expressed in myth and legend speak of a promise to come?

Are they not all deeply fulfilled where the Scriptures say that the “Yes” has come in the good news of Jesus Christ? [5] Does it not say in Scripture that all the promises of God to humanity have their yes in Christ?[6] Do not the Scriptures say that Christ will unite all things into Himself?[7] Do not those wondrous words in the Christmas song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” well express the deep longing in the human heart through legend song and ritual, to draw close to God?

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In the birth of Christ, all that man has longed for in his lost state, and separation from God, comes into history with a finality of promise. For then God, our Lord Jesus, completely took the part of man by fully becoming one. He thus brought all the blessings of eternity into time, and into the human heart. Now all that came before can be seen as shadow, and all the perverted ways of expressing the longing for rebirth of heaven and earth, of renewing the earth, and of renewing man can be seen in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In Him we see the reality in its uncorrupted, ultimate form. This does not suggest that either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit were responsible for the perverted ways of people whose understanding of sacrifice often came because of their contact with the spirit world through mediums, spells, or incantations, a form of contact strongly forbidden by the God of Israel.[8] They would do this and still do this in order to draw upon the powers of heaven, and receive its blessings. Such individuals only succeeded in contacting Satan and the spirit world. These evil practices enslaved them to a perverted lifestyle—child sacrifice, self-mutilation, ritual torment and slaughter. And yet, we continually see when Christ is preached, on mission field after mission field, that the very message of Christ, and the Bible itself, fulfil symbol after symbol couched in pagan myth, ritual and story. All their sacred mountains, temples, and objects, find their true fulfilment in the person of Christ. For here, the sacred one—the truly sacred one—comes and overcomes the power of darkness forever.

The battle that is even now bringing death to an end was won at the cross of Christ. Now in a very short time, Christ will come to claim His bride[9]. The end of sorrow and pain is very near, and all who know the Lord will live happily ever after. That is the essence of what J. R. R. Tolkien is getting at in his famous essay on myth and fairy story.[10] To Tolkien, what man invents in fantasy and myth is called secondary reality; but, as Tolkien explains, secondary reality longs to bring itself into reality. Only in Christ is that longing fulfilled. It happens because of His authentic coming down to man in the city of Bethlehem, authentic death and resurrection, authentic indwelling in the human heart, and His real and authentic return to come in a time that may not be too far away. At that time fantasies of secondary reality will all be understood as shadow, shadows that point to Christ Himself. It is He who will unite all heaven and earth in Himself. As Tolkien said of the story of Christ, it is the fairy tale that came true,[11] and those who belong to that Prince of Peace will live happily ever after on the day of His return.

This is the wonder of the Christian faith. It is such a precious reality that even the hopes and fears, and fantasies and myths of man, announce unawares—at some deeper level of the human self—the incarnation, resurrection and transfiguration of Christ and eventually of all things.


[1] Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. R. Sheed (London: Sheed and Ward, 1958); Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, tr. W. R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954); and Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, tr. P. Mairet (London: Harvill, 1961).

[2] See John 1, including “the Word Became a human being and lived among us” (1:14).

[3] Colossians 2:3.

[4] Revelation 22:1-2.

[5] 2 Corinthians 1:16-19.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Colossians 1:8-12.

[8] Deuteronomy 18; Revelation 21:7.

[9] Revelation 21:1-2.

[10] J. R. R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964), 65.

[11] Ibid., 64-66.