Shabbat Shalom Magazine

Written by: Clifford Goldstein

Modern Messiahs

What is the meaning of this strange phenomenon?

Hegel, looking at the state of the world, once said, “Only God can save us.”

Though in today’s postmodernist milieu, Hegel’s assertion would seem woefully inadequate, even antiquated, one could take another look at the world today and agree that he has a point.

which is perhaps why so many people have, over the years, reached out to some of the strangest beliefs regarding God and how He will save mankind.

Unquestionably, one manifestation of the desire for salvation is found in the various modern messiahs. Indeed, if there’s one thing that the tragic deaths at Waco should teach us, it’s that the belief in the coming of the Messiah, far from being some antiquated Jewish teaching, is still firmly entrenched in the minds of many people. And though most people should have had enough sense to see through the obvious sham and falsity of David Koresh’s claim to be a “sinful messiah” (a claim that allowed him to sleep with his followers’ wives), many are still open to the messianic pretensions of those who would be king.

There is Sun Myung Moon, for example, whose devoted followers believe he is the Messiah. According to Moonie theology, Jesus Christ blew it by dying on the cross, and Moon is now the returned Christ who will usher in God’s kingdom, the task that Jesus failed to do.

Back in 1982, New Agers spent half a million dollars advertising in twenty of the world’s foremost newspapers that the Messiah had returned and was living in obscurity, only awaiting the right time to make his grand entrance.

Lubavitcher Jews were convinced that Rabbi Menachem Schneerson was the “Mosiach” and earnestly expected him to usher in the Messianic age.

The Aum Shinri Kyo sect in Japan, which made world headlines with its gas attacks in the subways of Tokyo, was headed by Shoko Asahara, whom his followers believed was Christ.

What this says is that even in our modern day and age, the belief and hope of a Messiah are still strong. Why? No doubt various complex factors are involved, but if history is any lesson, Messianic movements have always been the strongest during times of great strife and upheaval. And though that doesn’t necessarily fit our time, at least in the West, we are indeed living in an unstable age, socially, economically, and spiritually. One doesn’t have to be in the midst of war or a vast social revolution to feel overwhelmed, shaken, and uncertain about his existence. Life is changing so fast; technology is moving at speeds people are unable to keep up with; there is unease, fear, and tension in a world where all it would take is for one terrorist group to get hold of one atom bomb or chemical weapon to wreak great havoc.

And, of course, people are always looking for hope, for certainty, and for stability in the world, which offers—even in the best of times—a few eternal things. These messiahs—however different in style, theology, and manifestation—all spread to their followers the promise of hope, certainty, and stability that people crave. However, those who will follow them will inevitably learn just how false those promises really are.

Of course, there’s only one way to be protected from these false messiahs, and that’s through personal and intellectual knowledge of the true one.

Indeed, Hegel was right after all.


Image: Simon Magus. Public Domain

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