There was this guy who said he was the Son of God and the Messiah of his people. God appeared to him in a vision that enveloped him and changed him completely. Afterwards he discovered he had a knowledge of scripture that he previously hadn’t possessed and a invigorated sense of mission: God had appointed him to redeem his people. He changed his name and began to teach his people with power and a knowledge that all of them testified they had never experienced before. He brought them close to God and showed them how the world was coming to an end and how God would soon establish his Kingdom on Earth. He prophesied too, however, that he himself would die at the hands of the authorities, but that his followers should have no fear, because God would not forsake them: they would be part of the coming Kingdom.
And so it came to pass. At the age of 33, the Messiah died at the hands of the state.
And the name of this guy? Jesus, maybe? Well, it could be, but it wasn’t. Saul/Paul perhaps? Again, possibly… but no.
This guy’s name was David Koresh (real name Vernon Howell), leader of a Christian sect called the Branch Davidians. You may remember him from such massacres as the 1993 siege at Waco, where his church was based. He made all the claims above, just like Jesus and, to a lesser extent, Paul before him. None of his followers, it’s true, claimed to see him after his death, but some of those who survived the siege believe still that he will be resurrected and will return to lead them personally into the Kingdom of God.
I was watching a programme about him recently, a Storyville documentary originally broadcast in the States last year, which showed how easily we create our Messiahs and Saviours. The recipe, it turns out, is easy:
Take one charismatic individual who thinks he’s speaking for God;
Mix in an obsession with scripture;
Add some absurd self-promotion, and
Bake for a few years in the over-heated adulation of some desperate sycophants.
So – Jesus, Paul, Koresh. What’s the difference?
*Actually, the quote in the picture up top is not Jesus at all; its Koresh, from an interview with the FBI (see first link above.) John 14.6 says ‘No-one comes to the Father except by me,’ which is much the same.