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8/09/2010

THE NEW GNOSTIC JESUS

Take heed that no one deceive you, for many will come in My name saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. - Jesus

Do you know the real Jesus? If you are depending on TV preachers for knowledge of Jesus, you may find yourself falling short. Benny Hinn recently preached a message about Jesus at a conference in Sweden that his friend and host, Ulf Ekman, said on his blog, “went far beyond what I see as classic Christian faith and sound doctrine.” “It was not just some Gnostic elements,” Ekman said, “it was too much pure Gnosticism.” Ekman wisely encouraged his audience to read their Bibles and compare what Benny said about Jesus with what Scripture says about Him. He also talked to Benny personally about the error and expressed hope that he listened and took it to heart.

The Resurgence of the Gnostic Jesus
Gnosticism, which is experiencing a resurgence in our post-modern world, values spirit over matter and personal, subjective experience over objective truth and reality. Because of this, the early Gnostics denied that Jesus had a real physical body, claiming, instead, that He was a spirit and only appeared to have a physical body. This same approach is rampant in our world today where the real Jesus of Scripture who not only comforts, but challenges and confronts, is exchanged for a spiritual, New Age/Gnostic Jesus who is offensive to no one and can be made to fit into any world-view.

Oprah Winfrey, for example, has popularized a Gnostic (New Age) spiritual Jesus that can be discovered within every person’s consciousness. She has helped popularize the New Age author, Echkhart Tolle, and his book, New Earth, in which he presents Jesus as a Spiritual Master, along with Buddha and others, who have tried to help humanity discover the “Christ consciouness” or “God consciousness” that is already residing within every person. For Tolle, Gnosticism was a positive movement, representing a rediscovery of the “original teaching,” which for him seems to be a mysterious, mystical truth that lies deep within the human concsiousness beyond the reach of words and intellect (which makes one wonder why he bothers writing his books).

In this same vein of Gnostic thinking, Deepak Chopra, the well-known Indian medical doctor and purveyor of Eastern mysticism, recently published a book entitled Jesus. Chopra admits that the Jesus of his book cannot be found in the Bible. Where did he get his Jesus? He says that he researched the cultural, political, and religious contexts of Jesus’ time. “Then I went into incubation, meditation, and I allowed this story to unfold.” Another Gnostic Jesus!

In a similar fashion, a Gnostic Jesus can emerge with Christian mystics who prefer the spiritual Jesus they encounter in a mystical state of contemplative prayer to the Jesus that is revealed in Scritpure. Indeed, in this post-modern world where every person’s experience is truth for them, it is easy for visions of Jesus to emerge that are divorced from truth and reality, often the product of someone’s over-active imagination.

The Only Reliable Revelation of Jesus
The only reliable revelation of Jesus is the one found in Scripture, and every other revelation must be subjected to this one. Jesus Himself clearly taught this to His disciples. For example, Luke 24:13-32 records the story of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to two of His disciples as they walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The two disciples did not recognize Jesus in His resurrected body and they shared with Him their sadness and disillusionment because the One they thought was the Messiah had just been crucified in Jerusalem.
Jesus responded by saying, Oh foolish ones and slow of hear to believe in all that the Prophets have spoken. The Jews of Jesus’ day referred to their Scriptures in various ways: “The Law and the Prophets,” “Moses and the Prophets,” and sometimes by simply, “the Prophets.” The reference here to the Prophets is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures. In other words, Jesus tells them that the reason they are so disillusioned about what has just happened can be traced to the fact that they do not adequately know the Christ/Messiah of Scripture.

Luke then says, And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:25-27). In other words, during this approximate two hour walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus Jesus spent the entire time taking these two disciples from Genesis to Malachi, showing them the Christ (Himself) in every book of the Old Testament.

Think of what He could have shared with them, but did not. He had just come out of the tomb where He had experienced the greatest demonstration of God’s power ever known. He had seen Satan’s grip on humanity broken. He had seen mighty angels at work rolling away the stone. But during this approximate two-hour walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, He mentioned none of these things. Instead, He gave priority to going through the Scriptures, making sure that they knew the Christ of Scripture. For Jesus, the most important revelation the disciples could have of Him was the revelation from Scripture.
Paul’s Modus Operandi
Although Paul, at the time of his conversion, had a supernatural encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he too knew that the ultimate revelation of Jesus is the one in Scripture. In describing Paul’s ministry in the synagogue in Thessalonica, Luke says,
Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:3-4).
Notice that “reasoning from the Scriptures” about the true identity of Jesus was Paul’s "custom," i.e., the normal way in which he carried out his ministry. In Thessalonica, Paul met with much opposition to his message of the Jesus of Scripture, but the problem was not with the message but with the hearts of the hearers.

From Thessalonica Paul and Silas traveled to Berea where they met a more fair-minded response than they had found in Thessalonica. Luke says, in Acts 17:11, that the Bereans, Received the word with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether those things were so. Notice that the determining factor in the Bereans decision was not how well Paul and Silas preached, or whether they felt goose bumps, or whether they saw miracles. The Holy Spirit commended the Bereans because they used Scripture as the final standard in judging the message of Paul and Silas.
Paul later traveled to Ephesus and, using this same approach of presenting Christ from the Scriptures, saw such a move of God that the economy of the city, which was based on idolatry, began to collapse. Luke sums up the success of his ministry in Ephesus by saying, So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed (Acts 19:20). Paul discovered that the real power is in preaching the Christ of Scripture.

Although Paul had many supernatural experiences of God's power and at least two supernatural encounters with Christ, except for the rare occasion, he avoids mentioning these in his letters. We only know of them because Luke included them in his historical account of early Christianity. For Paul, the revelation of Jesus in Scripture was what mattered and he discovered that God works powerfully when the Christ of Scripture is boldly proclaimed. Hopefully, the Church today will rediscover this same truth.
Martin Luther’s Vision of “Another Jesus”
Martin Luther found the revelation of Christ in Scripture to be the only protection against being led astray by a mystical, Gnostic Jesus. For example, while in intense prayer one day, he suddenly saw a shining vision on the wall of Jesus, with the wounds of His passion, looking down upon him. Luther, who had been an Augustinian monk, at first thought it was a heavenly vision, but changed his mind when he noted that the person in the vision was not compatible with the Christ he knew from Scripture. He said,
"Therefore I spoke to the vision thus: 'Begone you, confounded devil. I know no other Christ than He who was crucified, and who in His Word is presented unto me.' Whereupon the image vanished, clearly demonstrating from whom it came.'"
Conclusion
I grew up in a Pentecostal church that valued personal encounters with the Holy Spirit and, through the years, have grown in my appreciation for the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit in my life and in the lives of others. However, when it comes to the all-important task of knowing the real Jesus, we cannot rely on personal experiences or esoteric visions. We must be firmly grounded in the Christ of Scripture. Only by acquainting ourselves with the real Jesus of the Bible will we avoid being led astray by the many Gnostic/false christs that Jesus Himself said would appear in the last days.
For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Matt. 24:4,5,24).