Why are there so many Christian churches and sects in the world who deviate doctrinally in a lesser or greater degree from the Bible, while in some cases completely denying the truth? It emanates from ignorance and deception, and this phenomenon is further increasing in extent. In view of these problems we need more than ever to expand our knowledge of the Word of God, to deepen our spiritual understanding, to raise the level of our dedication to the Lord Jesus, and to sharpen our vigilance against the deception of Satan and his false prophets. Falsifications of the Christian faith are proliferating in the end-time in preparation of the coming of the false Christ and the false prophet, who will deceive the world with their lies (Matt. 24:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:6-10; Rev. 13:11-14).
Although spiritual deception started in the Garden of Eden and continued unabated throughout the centuries, it is now taking on the greatest proportions in the entire history of mankind. It is of the greatest importance that every person ensures that he or she has not been deceived because there are many false prophets in the world (1 John 4:1).
Since the start of the Christian era, many churches have shown a fatal inability to distinguish between the truth of God’s inspired Word and misrepresentations of it (Gal. 1:6-8; 2 Cor. 11:2-4). From the last-mentioned Scripture it is evident that there are three main ways in which the truth of Scripture can be distorted by Satan to deceive Christians and lead them astray. These perversions involve crucial issues which lie at the very core of our faith and are intended to deceive people into accepting another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel.
The following are the seven most common ways in which the Person, work and image of the Lord Jesus are distorted so as to present a counterfeit Jesus who is powerless to save lost sinners from the righteous judgements of a holy God:
Jesus the human teacher. In sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and in other religions such as Islam, the deity of Jesus is denied. They portray Him merely as a human prophet or a gifted teacher, while explicitly denying that He is the Son of God (1 John. 2:22-23). In various theological seminaries the deity and virgin birth of the Lord Jesus are also denied.
Jesus the example. Preaching in many of the formal and spiritually dead churches often presents the life of Jesus merely as an ideal example we should follow. In such moralistic sermons, no reference is made to His atoning death and shed blood which alone can cleanse from sin. Instead of the need for new birth, Christian virtues are taught, without the risen Christ who alone can enable us to “walk in the newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). People are not saved under moralising preaching of this nature – they are only intellectually and emotionally motivated.
Jesus the giver of gifts. Many people are attracted to Jesus because they feel they can derive various benefits from Him. He should heal them, bless them, prosper them and provide for all their material needs. They want to rule as kings in His kingdom now.
Jesus the political liberator. A Jesus who is a freedom fighter and who champions the oppressed is often proclaimed in the Third World. He came to set political captives free and to uplift them on the socio-economic level of existence. This Jesus is only concerned with their secular affairs. He did not come to liberate them from sin, but from governments which impede political, social and economic progress. He blesses them in the struggle against their oppressors without denouncing their amoral behaviour or stressing the need to engage in a spiritual struggle against the real oppressor of their souls, Satan.
A Jesus who died in hell. Another serious distortion of the redemptive work of Jesus that enjoys much popular appeal is proclaimed by Word of Faith preachers. According to them, the physical death of Jesus on the cross is not important as He, according to them, died spiritually in hell for the sins of the world. They allege that the cross is a symbol of weakness and a place of failure.
Jesus the sinner. The Jesus depicted in many Hollywood films is a fallen sinner like other human beings who are controlled by their fleshly passions. This blasphemous depiction of Jesus is the theme of films such as Jesus Christ Superstar, The last temptation of Christ, and Jesus of Montreal. In the last-mentioned film the counterfeit ‘Jesus’ is outrageously depicted as staying with other young people in a Montreal flat, where they live licentiously and overindulge in liquor.
The cosmic Jesus. The intensified campaign to misrepresent the Person, character, work and Name of Jesus is aimed at preparing the world for Satan’s great end-time counterfeit Christ, the Antichrist. Jesus Himself warned that the world will be deceived by this impostor and others who would impersonate Him (Matt. 24:4-5). The New Age Movement presents a Jesus who is the personification of the messianic expectations of all the religions of the world. He is, therefore, the cosmic Christ, or universal Christ, of all faiths who will head up a spiritual hierarchy that unites, synthesises and thus supersedes all the religions on earth.
The motivating force behind the widespread presentation of another Jesus is another spirit, which comes directly from the devil so as to bring people under the power of delusion. Because of this very real danger, we are warned not to naïvely believe every spirit that works through false preachers and so-called prophets, but to test the spirits (1 John. 4:1,6). The spirit of error is intent on deceiving people with sensational signs and wonders (2 Thess. 2:9-12), thereby preparing the world for the coming of the cosmic Christ with his miracle-working powers (Rev. 13:12-14).
As we approach this time of great deception, many false prophets are appearing on the scene to deceive people with their occult, supernatural powers (Matt. 24:11,24). This will lead to a great falling-away from the true Christian faith by yielding to deceiving spirits (1 Tim. 4:1). The New Age Movement and its associated false religions is at present focusing attention on the discovery and use of the miracle-working psychic powers of healing, self-healing and the promotion of supernatural manifestations. Even at many Christian meetings strange phenomena are now common, e.g. ‘falling in the spirit’. Various other phenomena, such as laughing in the spirit, prophesying in the spirit and dancing in the spirit, which result from this experience, are also attributed to the Holy Spirit. Many blindly accept these phenomena without testing the spirits, despite the danger of spurious satanic imitation in such manifestations.
The presentation of another Jesus under the motivation of another spirit can only be achieved within the theological framework of another gospel (2 Cor. 11:4). Wolves in sheep’s skins (2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; Acts 20:29-30) are proclaiming false gospels such as the following:
Dead formalism. A gospel shorn of the full significance of the cross of Christ, His shed blood as the only means of cleansing from sin, the need for new birth and the indwelling Holy Spirit, is not a gospel at all and can only lead to dead formalism (2 Tim. 3:5; Mark. 7:6-13). Dead churches are often motivated by various social, ethical or political issues to ‘positively’ transform society.
Kingdom gospel. Advocates of the kingdom gospel are unwilling to wait for Christ to reign on earth as King of kings, but insist that we should reign as kings in the kingdom of God here and now. Reclaiming our lost dominion over creation, we must wield the Holy Spirit’s power to subdue Satan and his demons, make disciples and despise the weak faith that is overcome by afflictions such as poverty and disease. Prosperity, signs and wonders are characteristics of the kingdom gospel, as well as the ecumenical uniting of all churches in order to demonstrate their strength to the world. However, in the process of unification, many Christian principles are abandoned.
The interfaith gospel. One of the false gospels that is rapidly expanding in today’s world is the interfaith gospel of the synthesising of all religions. It is based on the concept of universalism, i.e. that all religions worship the same God and can therefore join hands in unity. The Ecumenical and Interfaith Movements are based on this idea and they are actively pursuing the objective of establishing global religious organisations to unify humanity at the spiritual level. They maintain that the achievement of a mystical brotherhood of members of all faiths holds the key to global reconciliation and peace. As the religions of the world move ever closer to each other, it is obvious that ecumenical Christianity has to make self-destructive compromises with other religions to achieve unity. Many theologians have adulterated the Christian faith to such an extent that biblical truths have been distorted beyond recognition. In emerging African theology, Christian practices are freely mixed with ancestor worship and witchcraft. Globally, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam have been accommodated within this false brotherhood. The Bible calls the end-time union of the false religions “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:5). She is recognised and carried by the Antichrist because of her usefulness to him. It is very obvious that the Interfaith Movement of false religions is preparing the world for the coming false Christ, the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3,9). Many false teachers will deny Christ as Lord (2 Pet. 2:1-2) and assist in uniting Christianity with other religions.
I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide me into all truth, and give me the knowledge and discernment to distinguish between the truth and all forms of deception. If I know the Bible, which is the truth, and Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life, I will be protected against the subtle deceptions of the enemy. I take to heart the words of Jesus, when He said: “Take heed that no one deceives you… for false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:4,24). With the psalmist I pray: “Direct my steps by Your Word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me” (Ps. 119:133).
1. Name and discuss three counterfeit presentations of Jesus.
2. Describe two differences between deceiving spirits and the Holy Spirit.
3. What is the form of deception on which kingdom theology is based?
4. Who will be the ultimate head of the multireligious organisation on earth?
Prof. Johan Malan