Note: Forgive me for the long blog, but this one really got me going!
Last Sunday night on TV One's Sunday aired the report A.J. The Messiah. The program was the story of A.J. Miller in Queensland in Australia, who, unlike most of us, genuinely believes that he is Jesus. Miller appears at one level to be a normal Aussie bloke, in his early thirties, longish brown hair, unshaven, good looking, articulate and charismatic. Yet, unlike anyone I know but in the manner of other Messiah-claimants, he says without inhibition, "I am actually Jesus." He claims to remember vividly his former life and death including his experience of crucifixion. The memories supposedly began when he was 2 years old and realised later that he was Jesus around 33. In the program he writes on a white-board, "I am Jesus. Deal with it"—to applause from his congregation. He has disciples, some of whom claim to have been with him 2000 years ago including Mary Magdalene who is his "soul-mate' and remembers vividly watching his "annihilation." Her family too thinks she is mad. Then there is Cornelius the soldier who claims to remember Jesus healing his servant (Luke 7) and recalls being asked to execute Jesus but not being able to nail him to the cross because of the love in his eyes—this was his death sentence in his "first life." A.J. is most definitely an attractive and dynamic man. When asked whether he did certain the miracles in Scripture, he says he did some like the healings and raising Lazarus. He did not walk on water apparently, nor turn water into wine. Helpful, because this sort of thing is observable. His mum tried to commit him to a psychiatric work. Miller writes this off as the same as his family in the first century who all thought he was mad—there is evidence of this in the Scriptures of course. He has no nail marks in his hands because, "it's not the same body."
This Miller does not appear mad. He genuinely believes his own story. If anything, he is deluded. In the story, we see him helping people find release from their addictions, get in touch with their pain, and having powerful emotional experiences. Rev David Millikan, a cult specialist and the reporter in the program, describes what he does as, "rehab, new-age, pop psychology." Millikan goes on, "he sets up as sort of spiral where people get dragged down and down and down and people are asked to plumb the depth of emotions from which many of them can never escape... One of his techniques is to help them find emotional trauma in their family." The people lap his stuff up with deep emotional experiences as he speaks. Miller genuinely believes he holds the salvation of the world in his hands. He spreads the word through You Tube and the web. There are 100,000 of his DVD's in circulation. He calls his message the "the Divine Love path" which offers oneness with God through his teachings. His community is called "God's way of love community" with disciples who have left businesses, family and everything to follow him. He has an inner core of thirty or so and a special thirteen, reincarnated to spread his message. Some are giving money, and he is buying land around the world, and setting up communities which he calls sanctuaries.
His message is tearing marriages and families apart. The program featured one Dhughaighn MacMurirch who spoke of losing his wife to the movement, and the pain it has caused. MacMurirch said he would like to "tear his throat right out!"— that would not faze A.J, they did something like this the first time around. Another woman testified in his meeting without any qualms at all, "yesterday I left my husband of thirty years!" She had decided on the basis of his teaching, that her husband was not her "soul-mate" because of his teaching. Miller is into soul-mates, God reveals whether our spouses are or are not ours, and if not, we can leave our present one and God will help us find the true one. As with any prophets and self-proclaimed Messiahs, any challenge to his teaching has little effect on him because of his claim to divine authority. He said to Millikan when challenged, "now now, David, you engage, read your bible, what was said about me in the first century, what does it say Jesus did in the first century"" When challenged further by Millikan that he is dangerous, A.J. simply resorted to the argument that people in the first century treated him the same way and challenged Millikan that he will come back for a deeper discussion in the future.
His teaching is classically apocalyptic, good vs. evil. Evil spirits are the explanation for the struggles of life. One disciple admits being overrun with demons and going on drinking binges. He believes a horrendous cataclysm is about to engulf the world and his communities are to prepare for this. He will emerge a saviour from the chaos. Some of the things he has said are that a continent is going to rise next to Hawaii, a 100m tsunami will hit Australia and other events such devastating earthquakes. Countries will disappear, others will change completely, and some emerge. One of the most troubling things in the program is Miller interacting with children! He is great with them and they clearly they love him. He answers their questions. When asked whether God has a mum and dad, he says that is the hardest question to answer, "I have lived now for 2000 years and I don't know the answer."
So, is this guy the Messiah? Jesus back at last? Has the second coming occurred, quietly and unobtrusively in Australia? Aside from jokes about Jesus being and Aussie, what can we say? From the documentary there are clear reasons that we can be certain he is not on the basis of the Scriptures:
- His bodily form is wrong: If A.J. were Jesus, he would indeed show the scars on his hands and feet. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus remains the same guy he was when he died and rose on earth. As such, he will be a first century Jewish male, not a tall lean Caucasian Aussie born man.
- His seeming return is wrong: Christ's return in the Scriptures will be a dynamic visible event in "the same way" as his departure (Acts 1:11). He will not be in the form of a baby born of a woman in Australia and live in seclusion in the outback starting another movement. He has done that. He is coming back full on to bring about the final restoration of his world, the resurrection, the judgment, and the eternal state. This guy is just another false messiah; one of the many Jesus predicted would come (Mark 13).
- His attitude to Scripture is wrong: A.J. appeals to Scripture in the story when it suits such as, his division of families, his own family's accusations of madness and rejection. He says he did certain miracles, but not others. He distorts it.
- His ministry is wrong: Jesus was not a pop-psychologist helping people get in touch with their emotions to be released from addictions. Jesus healed people with word and touch, powerfully releasing them from emotional and physical trauma through miracle. This guy does no miracles; he simply uses emotional manipulation, which causes people to attach to him. Jesus was not interested in attachment to him, but healing to become truly human and to go and engage in the mission of the kingdom.
- His sexuality is wrong: A.J. is clearly not celibate. He left the Jehovah's Witness church for a problem with a hooker. He is now clearly involved with "Mary Magdalene" and she is not the first he has told is Mary. The real Jesus was never in a sexual relationship with Mary on his first coming, he was celibate. A.J.'s behaviour is more akin to a guy who has worked out how to get women through the manipulation of the mind and emotions—he is a great con man, but he believes his own rhetoric.
- His interpretation of the world is wrong: A.J. is another of these people who reads the world totally apocalyptically, with evil spirits everywhere who invade the body and lead us to sin. A good look at Scripture sees that the world has evil, and there are spirits mentioned, but not everything is a direct result of evil spirits. In fact, the Scriptures see the world both as fallen, but also as a good place. It is classic cult-leader apocalyptic making people opt completely out and join his band.
- His attitude to mission is completely wrong: Jesus never behaved like this, gathering money, building isolated communities to avoid the disaster to come. He told his disciples to go into the world and engage; to witness in the context of the world sharing the message of God's love and acceptance. Yes, he called for the establishment of communities of faith, but these were to be mission centres as much as points of gathering. They weren't hiding places from a scary world, they were centres from which disciples went out and shared the message. This is classic apocalyptic withdrawal behaviour, hardly Jesus at all.
- His attitude to money is wrong: He is clearly seeking money to build his "empire." He is drawing it in from all over the world to set himself up. Jesus did nothing like this. He had no "place to lay his head." He died naked and poor. He lived through the generosity of women who travelled with him. He did not go looking for money but rebuked anyone who sought wealth at the expense of others. This guy is a classic empire building apocalyptic false prophet.
- His prophesies are wrong: A.J. claims that continents will emerge from the sea, tsunamis will engulf Australia, and earthquakes will split the world. As a good Aussie would say, "Yeah right." He is another doomsday madman who will be revealed as a false prophet rather quickly.
- His attitude to marriage and family is wrong: There is no evidence Jesus went out of his way to break up marriages and families, or that he had a theology of "soul-mates." Rather, Jesus preached the kingdom and people followed him. He did not set up to do so. He did not endorse such things. He stated that he split families, but there is no evidence of his splitting marriages. So, Peter travelled with his wife (1 Cor 9). Other family members travelled with Jesus, like James and John's mother the wife of Zebedee. When there is talk of "leaving families" it is not about the complete dissolution of relationships, these are mission engagement trips, with a good follower of God caring for their family and children. This is nonsense. Jesus wants us to love our wives and kids, and within the framework of the kingdom, that is our first priority.