An upcoming book contains the stories and photographs of seven men around the world claiming to be Jesus Christ returning to earth, and the author suggested that their stories may not be "more laughable" than what 1.3 billion other Christians believe.
"I guess, if anyone laughs at any of these Messiahs or the faith presented here, why exactly are they laughing at this and not at any other improvable faith? Are any of these characters or their theology any less plausible than mainstream religion?" photographer Jonas Bendiksen posed in an interview with Vice.com.
"If one expects Jesus to return at the end of time — and so much of Christianity is waiting for it — why wouldn't it be any of these characters? Why wouldn't you want to check them out? Why wouldn't that be plausible? Who gets to define what's laughable and what's acceptable in this sphere of things? Why laugh at Vissarion and not at 1.3 billion Christians?" he added, referring to one of the men who calls himself the "Christ of Serbia."
The description for The Last Testament, as the book is titled, presents it as a "sequel to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible."
The book tells the stories of seven men from England, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Zambia, Japan and the Philippines, who each claim to be Jesus. The chapters explain the separate theology of the individuals, and their "demands on mankind in their own words.
Bendiksen reportedly spent three years photographing the men, and pointed out that many now use social media websites like Facebook and YouTube to spread their message.
Some, such as Brazil's Inri Cristo, have amassed disciples who believe their claims that they are the biblical Messiah, though have also been condemned by mainstream churches as blasphemers.
Bendiksen told Vice that the six people he personally met truly believe that they are Christ.
"They live by it — for decades, in most cases — and they truly believe it. They're basically just going around the world acting upon that belief: God spoke to them somehow, whatever that means, and they're proceeding as they should. I didn't get the sense that any of the people I met were great manipulators," he described.
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The photographer said that some of the self-professed Messiahs have been beaten up on the streets and have experienced violence.
Mainstream church leaders have spoken out against them and accused them of blasphemy, he added.
There have been dozens upon dozens of men from different parts of the world claiming to be Jesus Christ, a Christian Post article from 2013 pointed out, though Christian leaders have explained why it is highly unlikely any to date are who they say they are.
Perry Noble, the now former pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, reminded CP at the time of what Jesus said in Matthew 24 — that others are going to come in His name claiming they are the Messiah.
"Then He basically says don't fall for it. Jesus says when He comes back, we'll know it," Noble paraphrased.
"The first time He came, He came in a very obscure way — you know, baby in a manger in a sheep cave outside of Bethlehem. But when He comes back again ... He will come as king, and we will know Him," the former pastor added.
"There will not be any doubt in our mind. ... He said until that time, don't fall for people who claim that they are Jesus. He said it would happen."