Counterfeiting the Light of the World
What is behind the many impostors of God’s Promised One?
IT WAS by the sparkling waters of the Sea of Galilee in the districts of Zebulun and Naphtali that a prophecy by Isaiah had its fulfillment nearly eight hundred years after being written. The prophecy said: “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter time hath he made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”—Isa. 9:1, 2, AS.
The great light was through the Promised One of God, the One who was foretold ages before in the garden of Eden. It was near the Sea of Galilee in the districts mentioned by Isaiah that he started his ministry and began shining as the light of the world.
Christ Jesus was that Promised One. He fulfilled the prophecies that identify that One. He was born of the tribe of Judah, as foretold by Jacob. He was born in Bethlehem, as foretold by Micah. He was born of a virgin, as foretold by Isaiah. He spoke in parables, as foretold by the psalmist Asaph. He was betrayed by a follower, as foretold by David. His betrayal was for thirty pieces of silver, as foretold by Zechariah. Lots were cast for his garments, and he was given vinegar and gall, as was foretold by David. He died a sacrificial death and was buried with the rich, as was foretold by Isaiah. These are only a few of the more than three hundred prophecies he fulfilled.
EFFORTS TO COUNTERFEIT THE LIGHT
A plot by Satan to counterfeit this Promised One and thereby create confusion became evident shortly after the flood of Noah’s day when the wicked rebel Nimrod was deified. He was the beginning of a long line of impostors who have pretended to be the light of the world. But instead of being bearers of light they have been bearers of darkness. They have turned multitudes from the undefiled worship of man’s Creator to the worship of creatures and have substituted lies for truth. This is what Satan planned.
The impostors who appeared before the days of Christ were thought by many to be the Promised One who is mentioned in numerous legends. The legends about him resulted from what the Flood survivors told their descendants about the One promised in Eden. As people multiplied and emigrated to various parts of the earth, the story went with them and was then passed down from generation to generation. This explains why promises of such a person are found in many pagan religions today.
Satan’s scheme worked well. The many imitations of God’s Promised One made the identifying of him difficult for multitudes of people. These followed the counterfeits as guiding lights, even though none fulfilled the prophecies that identified the true light. Some impostors were so successful in deluding people that a number of today’s major religions are built upon their worship.
When God’s Promised One finally appeared and began shining forth the light of truth by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, few received him. Even after the news of his arrival had been proclaimed to the most distant parts of the earth, the majority of mankind failed to recognize him as the genuine light of the world. They were either following counterfeit lights who had preceded Christ or were confused by them.
Christ was well acquainted with Satan’s plot. He knew that after he finished his work on earth many more impostors would rise up to confuse and delude future generations. He warned of this when he said: “Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them.” “Look out that nobody misleads you; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying: ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.” And so they have.—Matt. 7:15, 16; 24:4, 5.
During the more than 1900 years since his day there has been a steady stream of self-styled messiahs as well as self-appointed prophets and so-called manifestations of God. Their bad fruits of unscriptural actions and teachings have revealed them as Satan’s ministers who appear to be ministers of righteousness.
MANY JEWS MISLED
In the first century Jews in general ignored the Scriptural prophecies identifying Christ as the long-promised Messiah. He brought light to their darkened nation, but they closed their eyes to it. They dulled their hearing to his words. This was foretold by Isaiah.—Isa. 6:9, 10, AV.
They turned from the true light of the world and stumbled into pitfalls of false messiahs. It seemed of no importance to them that these impostors failed to meet the Scriptural qualifications that mark the Messiah. They went on blindly following them.
One appeared in the second century under the name of Bar Kokba (Cocheba). This is what The Jewish Encyclopedia says about him and his influence on the Jewish nation: “Although some . . . doubted his Messiahship, he seems to have carried the nation with him for his undertaking. After stirring up a war that taxed the power of Rome, he at last met his death on the walls of Bethar. His Messianic movement ended in defeat and misery for the survivors.”
Another counterfeit appeared between 720 and 723 by the name of Serene. Upon his promise that the Mohammedans would be driven from Palestine, multitudes followed him. They too were disappointed.
During the twelfth century the Jews went from one counterfeit messiah to another. Here is what McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia says regarding this: “The 12th century was particularly fruitful in producing Messiahs. About 1137 there appeared one in France, who was put to death, and numbers of those who followed him. In A.D. 1138 the Persians were disturbed with a Jew who called himself the Messiah. He collected a vast army; but he, too, was put to death, and his followers were treated with great inhumanity. A false Messiah stirred up the Jews at Cordova, in Spain, A.D. 1157. The wiser and better part looked upon him as a madman, but the great body of the Jewish nation believed him. On this occasion nearly all the Jews in Spain were destroyed. Another false Messiah who arose in the kingdom of Fez, A.D. 1167, under the name of David Alrui (Alroy), brought great troubles and persecutions upon the Jews that were scattered throughout the country.”
One more might be mentioned. He was Shabbethai Zebi, who proclaimed himself the Messiah in 1665. He gathered a large following of Jews in many countries. His movement lasted in some places for over a century, even though he turned Mohammedan.
Jews accepted these impostors as guiding lights, but yet rejected the true light of the world, Christ Jesus. They did what Isaiah warned against: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”—Isa. 5:20, AS.
IMPOSTORS AMONG PROFESSED CHRISTIANS
Christ said he would come again. But he did not say he would return in the flesh, and neither does the Bible say it. Yet many professed Christians have looked for a physical return. This has made them vulnerable to counterfeit Christs.
The Scriptures reveal that Christ returns as a life-giving spirit and not in the fleshly form of his humiliation. He does not return with a body prepared for sacrifice. The sacrifice was made at his first presence. His second presence is as God’s glorified King. Being a spirit, he is not visible to human eyes.
As Jews stumbled into the snare of counterfeit messiahs because they failed to follow Scriptural guidance, so have many professed Christians. They have failed to heed the advice at 1 John 4:1: “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.”
One of these impostors who successfully trapped Mohammedans as well as professed Christians was a man who assumed the name of Bahá’u’lláh. He proclaimed himself the manifestation of God in 1863, and was hailed by professed Christians as the returned Christ. By thinking this member of the Mohammedan faith was a divine light in a darkened world, they became victims of Satan’s age-old plot.
The Dukhobors were also victims of it. They originated in Russia, where a number of their leaders claimed to be reincarnations of Christ. The last pretender was Peter Verigin, who died in Canada in 1939. Because these people lacked an accurate knowledge of God’s Word they believed these counterfeits.
The people of Salesville, Ohio, were likewise deluded in 1828. Joseph C. Dylks came to them that year and proclaimed himself God and Christ united. He gathered a following that believed and worshiped him. He never returned from a trip to Philadelphia a few months later.
Then there was Francis Schlatter, who impressed the people of Colorado in 1891. Because his appearance resembled pictures of Christ people concluded that he was the returned Christ, and he did not hesitate to say that he was. They failed to realize that paintings of Christ are the imaginary products of artists. They are not accurate pictures of him. But the people went by what they saw and not by what they read in God’s Word.
A man today who is using the same method to beguile the gullible is Francis H. Pencovic. He parades about with long hair, a beard and a toga, and has been claiming to be Christ since 1948. He goes under the name of Krishna Venta. The word Krishna is the name of the Hindu counterfeit of God’s Promised One. In view of that his use of the name fits his pretentions. Gambling ventures have brought him publicity.
But special dress and an air of mysticism are not always needed to beguile people into believing claims of messiahship. All that was necessary in the case of T. Hugh Smyth-Pigott was for him to mount his pulpit and proclaim in a solemn tone that he was the Lord Jesus Christ. Women promptly rushed forward to kiss his clothing. This happened in 1902. From then until 1927 he had a colony of followers in western England. It was in that year that he died, in spite of his claim that he would never die but would be “worshiped and adored until time shall be no more.”
Five years later an American Negro brazenly proclaimed himself the incarnation of God. He assumed the name “Father Divine.” His unscriptural claims and teachings have not discouraged his devotees. By looking to him as the light of the world they too have fallen into Satan’s trap.
WOMEN AND INDIAN IMPOSTORS
Even women and Indians have impersonated God’s Promised One. There was, for example, Mrs. Dora Beekman, who, in 1875, claimed that she was the immortal reincarnation of Christ. And then there was Ann Lee, who, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, claimed that she was the female element of God. She thought Christ was the male element.
Among the Indians there was Venancio of Venezuela, who pretended to be the second Christ, and Wovoka in North America, who proclaimed himself King Jesus, the Son of God.
ONLY THE TRUE LIGHT LEADS TO LIFE
These are only a few of a great number of counterfeit lights that have bewildered mankind and created doubt and skepticism about the true light of the world, Christ Jesus.
Accurate knowledge of the Holy Bible exposes these counterfeits. It reveals what they are—ministers of Satan. It clears fogged eyes that they might distinguish the true light from the false.
The way to life is not in the footsteps of counterfeit messiahs and so-called manifestations of God. It is only in the footsteps of Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life. No man can come to God or gain life except through him. He gained this position by his ransom sacrifice. It bought back the right to human life.
The light from God’s Promised One is shining even more brightly today than it did centuries ago by the Sea of Galilee, for now he rules invisibly from the heavens as God’s glorified King. His light of truth is being reflected into all parts of the earth by devoted witnesses of his Father. They proclaim the good news of his kingdom and the blessings it will bring to man. By this means the invisible Christ is now dividing earth’s inhabitants. Those who respond to the good news of the Kingdom are being gathered into a New World society. For such ones Satan’s plot to confuse by counterfeits fails, because accurate Bible knowledge guides them. They clearly see that Christ alone qualifies as the Light of the world.
Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness. But their end shall be according to their works.—2 Cor. 11:14, 15.