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Groping For God: How the Greeks Anticipated the Coming of Christ

By James Chaisson

In the gospel of John, we read about some Greeks who come to Philip and ask to see Jesus.

Rumors and news about Christ have been circulating and these men are longing to make his acquaintance. The text says:

“Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” -John 12:20–21

While we might think this is somewhat surprising, Greeks seeking Jesus–after all he is the Jewish Messiah–the interesting fact is that Pagan Greeks have been searching for Jesus for centuries.

It is true that they did not know who they were looking for, but it is undeniable that many were groping in the dark for a savior, for one who would rescue them from this broken world and defeat death.

Consider for example, one of the plays of Aristophanes called “the Birds.”

In that play we start out with two companions, Pisthetaerus and Euelpides, who are frustrated and tired of life in Athens.

They are unsatisfied with the state of the world and they long for a new city, one where the citizens are friends and life is enjoyed. They eventually find a bird named Epops who describes to them the way of life among the birds.

Consequently, we find out that one major benefit of living with the birds is that they have no need for money. Euelpides asks Epops what life is like and he replies “Why, ’tis not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has no purse.”

Beyond the fact that the birds live without any care or desire for money they also enjoy daily feasts as if each day were a celebration.

After hearing about all these things Pisthetaerus and Euelpides decided to found a new city, a city where there is no need for money, where they eat an eternal banquet, and where everyone greets each other as friends.

It is clear that Aristophanes was longing for the city that Christ would build; a city where we share in the marriage feast of the lamb and where all are not only friends but brothers and sisters; a city where money means nothing because the streets are made of gold.

Another Greek poet named Euripides wrestles with a different human problem, that of death.

In his play “Alcestis” we are told the story of Admetus. Admetus is a man who is given a gift by one of the gods; he is told that he can cheat death and live forever if he finds someone who will die in his place. The condition is that this person must willingly die.

None of Admetus’s relatives cares to offer himself in his place, that is, none except for his devoted wife Alcestis, who vows to die in his place (sound familiar?).

At this point Heracles enters the picture; he arrives at the door of Admetus seeking hospitality and is graciously welcomed in. It is not long before Heracles discovers what has transpired and determines to journey to the underworld to fight death in order to bring back Alcestis.

Heracles says,

“I must save this woman who has died so lately, bring Alcestis back to live in this house, and pay Admetus all the kindness that I owe. I must go there and watch for Death of the black robes, master of dead men… Then, if I can break suddenly from my hiding place, catch him, and hold him in the circle of these arms, there is no way he will be able to break my hold on his bruised ribs, until he gives the woman up to me.”

Heracles descends into Hades and after he defeats death, reunites Alcestis with her husband. This is a touching scene, a powerful scene, and one that makes us long for a savior who can conquer death for us all.

Jesus was the long awaited Messiah that the Jews, with their prophetic revelations from God, were looking forward to.

He is also the long awaited hero for which the rest of humanity was groping in the dark to find, one who would conquer death for his bride and found a city where there is no need for money.

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