My friend David Stratton (who blogs occasionally at Dave’s Deliberations) recently sent me the link to this post, which describes a man who is convinced he is the embodiment of Christ’s second coming. The would-be Jesus claims 5,000 disciples who have left all to bask in his presence and hear his teachings. He was news to me.
A quick check on Google brings up lots of links to other stories, pictures, and even videos of “The Teacher” at work.
The story, in short: back in 1991 a Russian traffic cop named Sergei Torop was fired from his job, after which an inner awakening alerted him that he was actually Jesus, so he should get busy directing people rather than cars.
Torop changed his name to “Vissarion,” let his hair and beard grow to match the popular image of Jesus, donned holy man clothes, and started teaching his version of the gospel, with special emphasis on the evils of war and destructive environmental practices.
He’s been rather successful as a personality cult leader, with thousands of followers, many of whom have built huts or homes nearby so they can remain close to their Messiah during the wicked Siberian winters. They use a calendar based on Torop’s birthdate (it’s now year 48), and hold a special feast on the anniversary of his first sermon.
Torop’s followers must follow strict rules: they can eat only a vegan diet, and they can’t smoke, drink, or handle money.
Maybe he does it for them: according to the article, Torop travels extensively and lives in a chalet with his wife and six children, where he enjoys painting. Many of his closest followers live in wooden huts.
It’s probably quite evident by now that I don’t accept Torop’s claim to be the second coming of Christ, and I’m amazed that so many followers could be so deluded.
What comes to mind, though, is that most of the people walking around Jerusalem and the Galilee in 30 A.D. probably thought the same thing about Jesus and the goggle-eyed crowds who followed him.
That doesn’t make me wonder if “Vissarion” is legit — but it does give me pause when pondering whether a first century version of me would have given Jesus the time of day.
I’ll never know, but I wonder …
[The official English language version of the “Vissarion” website (from which the picture above came) can be found here.]
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.