Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Counterfeit Jesus

If any man preaches any gospel other than that which you received from us, let him be accursed.” When I was a young Christian, I listened to Christian voices from many different churches which certainly exposed me to divergent interpretations within the larger Christian community. However, it also seemed that, despite occasional differences, most churches were proclaiming the same Jesus, the Son of God who gave his life for the sins of the world.

Cross - Photo by Timeo Buehrer on Unsplash
[Cross - Photo by Timeo Buehrer on Unsplash]

During my Christian education, I became familiar with the warnings of the New Testament about coming deceivers, “
false prophets,” and “false Christs” - “many deceivers would come and deceive many.” But I imagined they would originate largely from outside the church - “New Age” gurus, occult practitioners, Hindu mystics, new non-Christian sects, and the like.

The reality has been rather different, and in my case, unexpected. Certainly “New Age” and occult practices have infiltrated the church, but almost entirely from within, and frequently promoted by so-called “Bible-believing” church leaders. And mysticism has become the norm within charismatic and Pentecostal circles, though it has been rebranded under labels like “contemplative prayer.” Rather than the careful study of Scripture, many Christians now divine the will of God by deciphering Hebrew letters and numbers, lunar cycles, solar phenomena, and decoding the calendar, both the Hebrew and Gregorian versions. I must admit that I did not see this coming. Well, so much for my “prophetic” abilities!

But what bothers me the most is how the Christ of Scripture is being repackaged. Almost daily I hear or read Jesus described as the “roaring lion of Judah”; and of course, he wants us to “roar” right along with him. And very often, he “roars” with a distinctly American accent.

Yes, once he was the meek “lamb of God” who sacrificed his life for the entire world. But all that is about to change as he prepares to launch his final effort to take over fallen society. No more Mr. Nice Guy, from now on, he is out for serious payback. And like the occultic arts of divination, that notion is being promoted by church leaders, and especially by pastors, “apostles,” and “prophets” who have immersed themselves in partisan politics. In short, they are “preaching another Jesus.”

None of this comes as a surprise. Jesus himself warned that “many false Christs and false prophets would arise,” and use “signs and wonders” to deceive even God’s “elect.” Already in his day, the Apostle John found himself opposed by deceivers that arose from within his congregations, men he labeled “antichrists,” plural. In the original Greek, the sense of “antichrist” was “instead of Christ” rather than “against Christ.” In short, these men were proclaiming a counterfeit Jesus.

Likewise, Peter warned that “false prophets” would arise, “false teachers, who will introduce destructive heresies, denying even the Master that purchased them.” And effectively, that is what the promoters of today’s rebranded Jesus do, thereby denying the very Lord that bought them with his own shed blood.

And Paul warned of the coming “man of lawlessness” who would employ “lying signs and wonders” to deceive others, a figure he linked to the future “apostasy.” While to my knowledge the “man of lawlessness” has yet to appear, considering how popular Christianity has been infiltrated by the occult and other deceptions, I find it difficult not to conclude that the “apostasy” is well underway.

A verse from Revelation is cited commonly to validate the new “Jesus.” But its proponents misrepresent the passage and the theology of the book. They begin, and end, by reading one brief phrase with no regard to its context: “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has prevailed to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Apparently, in these last days, Jesus has become the “roaring lion,” and this rather irritable predator is in no mood to take prisoners. He has become the sword-wielding warrior who “rides the white horse,” meting out punishment to all who have opposed him.

But this reading ignores the larger passage. John first heard “lion of Judah,” but when he looked, he saw the freshly “slain Lamb,” and it was THAT figure that immediately approached the “throne,” took the “sealed scroll,” and began to break open its “seven seals.” What John “saw” interpreted what he first “heard.”  Jesus is the “lion of Judah,” but he fulfills that messianic role as the “slain Lamb.” He conquered by means of his sacrificial death. He does not reign in the same way as the political powers of this sin-dominated age.

This understanding is confirmed by the voices that began to declare the “slain Lamb” worthy to open the “sealed scroll,” and precisely because “you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation and made them a kingdom and priests for our God.”

And this passage is the first and last time in Revelation that Jesus is called the “lion of Judah.” In fact, it is the only time he is so labeled in the entire New Testament. It is also the first time he is identified as the “Lamb.” However, that becomes the book’s primary name for the Son of God. In Revelation, he is called ‘Jesus’ fourteen times, ‘Christ’ seven times, but ‘Lamb’ twenty-eight times.

Not only is the “slain Lamb” the one who conquered his enemies through his death, but that was also how he qualified to sit on his “Father’s throne.” And he summons his disciples to “overcome” in the very same way – “Just as I overcame and sat on my Father’s throne.” Thus, anyone who would follow him must overcome Satan in the same manner – “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of his testimony, and because he loves not his life unto death.”

Of course, Revelation subverts many popular messianic expectations. While it does apply the second Psalm to him - he certainly is the anointed “son” - rather than “smash the nations” as in the original prophecy, now he “shepherds” them. He does not rule by knocking his enemies on their collective noggin with his great “iron scepter”; instead, he redeems and “shepherds” them by his own shed blood.

Overcoming believers reign as “priests,” not tyrants. The call for Christians to overcome is a summons to persevere through tribulations and persecutions, all while bearing faithful witness. To suffer for the kingdom is what it means to follow the “Lamb.” John identified himself to the churches as a “fellow participant in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance in Jesus.” To suffer for Jesus is what it means to be his disciple.

Perseverance and faithful witness, even in the face of martyrdom, are how the church triumphs over the “Dragon,” the “beast,” and the “False Prophet.” If believers fail to take up the cross and follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” Satan will overcome them. Or perhaps more accurately, turn them into followers of this counterfeit Jesus.

The worldly triumphalism that is being promoted within evangelical and charismatic churches is “another gospel,” one that proclaims a radically “different messiah” from the one found in Scripture.

Paul declared that the message of “Christ crucified” was scandalous to Jews and folly to Greeks, and so it remains to this day. Nevertheless, the crucified messiah is “God’s power and wisdom,” the very means by which He conquered sin, death, and Satan. There is no true knowledge of God apart from Calvary.