There were early Christians who didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus. The gospels accommodate these people by writing them into the stories of the risen Jesus:
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him they worshiped Him; but some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17).
Another group who didn’t believe that Jesus came in the flesh at all pop up in the first letter attributed to a John. Most scholars are of the opinion that this John was not the same as the John who supposedly wrote the fourth gospel nor the John who made up the Revelation that bears his name. Nor do they think that any of these Johns was a disciple of Jesus.
In ‘John’s’ second letter, he warns against those who disputed that Jesus made any earthly appearance. To be sure, he thinks little of them and labels them anti-christs, but nevertheless makes clear these people are, or were cult members, not disbelieving outsiders:
…many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (2 John 7-9).
Paul famously knows nothing of an earthly Jesus. His Jesus is a celestial being who appears in visions and revelations, his mission to save mortals entirely worked out from ancient scripture:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8)
Unlike the later gospel-Jesus, Paul’s Jesus did not resurrect in a flesh and blood body but a spiritual one because, according to Paul, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15.50).
What are we to make of these early cultists whose views of Jesus did not comply with later orthodoxy? There are some big hitters here – disciples, Paul and other members of the church – who appear not have known about a human Jesus or who didn’t recognise his bodily resurrection. They and their views were clearly significant enough for them to be included in early documentation and to make it, disparagingly in some cases, into the Bible itself.
Today’s Christians largely ignore the Jesus who supposedly walked the Earth. Most of them don’t do what that he commanded them to do. They don’t believe he taught the end of the world was imminent. Instead, they worship a being who, they’ve convinced themselves, lives in the sky with God and blesses them from above. A human Jesus is as irrelevant to them as the idea was to Paul, John’s anti-christ believers and the disciples who doubted.