The average American and most Christians have grown up with a “smorgasbord theology.” As a result, they can no longer tell the real from the counterfeit. The writer to the Hebrew Christians describes this mind-set. He stops in mid-thought, wanting to explain the priesthood of Jesus and how it is similar to the priesthood of Melchizedek. He recognizes that their spiritual discernment makes what he wants to write “hard to explain” (Heb. 5:11).
What had happened to these converts? They had become “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11). By this time in their Christian walk they should have matured, advancing from “milk” to meat (cf. 1 Peter 2:2). Instead of progressing from the basics and becoming “teachers” (Heb. 5:12), they are in need of someone once again to teach them “the elementary principles of the oracles of God” (5:12). As a result, their senses were not trained to discern good [the real] and evil [the counterfeit] (5:14). When something like the book The Shack comes along, we have no reason to think that Christians and the typical American religionist will be able to tell the difference between the real and the counterfeit, unless they have progressed to “solid food.”
What is a counterfeit? A counterfeit is an illicit copy of an original designed to be passed off as the real thing. We’re most familiar with the counterfeiting of United States currency. The important thing to remember about counterfeiting is that there is a genuine article that is being copied. If there is no genuine article, then there can be no counterfeit. If someone handed you a three dollar bill, you would know immediately that it wasn’t real. You might, however, be hard pressed to spot a counterfeit ten dollar bill.
We do not often consider “theological counterfeiting” as a way the devil might hide the truth from Bible-believing Christians. Yet the Bible shows us that there are counterfeit Christs (Matt. 24:5; Acts 5:36–37), counterfeit prophets (Matt. 7:15; 24:11; 1 John 4:1), counterfeit miracles (Ex. 7:8–13), counterfeit angels (2 Cor. 11:14), counterfeit gods (Gal. 4:8; Acts 12:20–23), counterfeit good works (Matt. 7:15–23), counterfeit converts and disciples (1 John 2:19), counterfeit spirits (1 John 4:1–3), counterfeit doctrines (1 Tim. 4:3), counterfeit kings (John 19:15), counterfeit names (Rev. 13:11–18; cf. 14:1), and counterfeit gospels (Gal. 1:6–10). Why should we be surprised if there are counterfeit kingdoms (Dan. 2; Matt. 4:8–11; Acts 17:1–9) and a counterfeit governmental age (Rev. 13:11–18)? Today’s political landscape is littered with counterfeits. They want the fruit of Christianity (covenantal prosperity) without the (covenantal obedience).
What should this tell us? When Jesus came on the scene to do the work of His Father, there was heightened demonic activity. Satan’s purpose was to counterfeit the work of Christ, to confuse the people. The devil knew his time was short (Rev. 12:12; Rom. 16:20). He was making a last-ditch effort to subvert the work of the kingdom. Satan gathered his “children” around himself to call Jesus’ mission into question (John 8:44). At one point, Jesus was even accused of being in league with the devil (Luke 11:14–28). As Jesus moved closer to establishing peace with God for us through His death and resurrection (cf. Rom. 5:1), the power of the devil was grounded, made impotent (Luke 10:18). Through Jesus’ disciples the world was turned upside down (Acts 17:6). Satan’s kingdom was spoiled and left desolate (Luke 11:20; Acts 19:11–20). Paul then tells the Roman Christians that God would “soon crush Satan” under their feet (Rom. 16:20).
Satan knew that he could not subvert the work of God by appealing to a people with a pagan worldview when they had been discipled under the Mosaic Law. Religious corruption was his new strategy for subverting God’s kingdom work. Jesus’ battles were with the religious leaders of the day. The Scribes and Pharisees used a counterfeit version of the law, adding to it when they needed it to get them out of a covenant obligation (Mark 7:1–13), and then ignoring it when it did not suit their purposes (Matt. 23:23), and then calling the new variety the real thing. It’s a form of “Baal-berithism”—baalism mixed with the promises of the covenant (Judges 8:33). The law was quoted, but certainly misapplied. Jesus was always accused of not keeping the law, of not following Moses. The devil had the Pharisees convinced that Jesus’ view of reality was false, the counterfeit, while their view was true, the original. In order for the Pharisees to keep up the charade, they needed to get rid of the Original. Their counterfeit would no longer be considered a counterfeit because there would be no original around with which to compare it.
Jesus came to install His kingdom through His marvelous grace. The kingdom was God’s good news that sinners would be saved. The political savagery of Rome’s kingdom and its promise of political peace and corporate salvation would die as God’s kingdom flourished in the light of His unfathomable grace. John the Baptist was its forerunner: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). God’s grace made repentance a reality. Without grace repentance would mean nothing. So entrance into the kingdom is God’s doing: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
But the King demands obedience. First, the sinner must repent, bow before God in humble submission to Him, in effect, to surrender unconditionally to God’s demands. Second, the new man or woman is Christ must live in terms of the King’s demands. His life must reflect righteousness: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17; cf. Matt. 6:33). For Jesus, the kingdom was established by fulfilling “all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This meant that He had to submit Himself to the demands of His Father (Matt. 3:17).
Satan offers a similar counterfeit program. Entrance into his kingdom comes through unconditional surrender to his “ethical system”: “The devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me’” (Matt. 4:8, 9). Satan wanted Jesus to give up the original for the counterfeit. Jesus’ finished work of obedience and sacrifice leads John to write: “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
The Kingdom belongs to Jesus. It’s His now! With this fact established, John writes, “He will reign forever and ever.” Because of Jesus’ obedience, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, . . . God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8–11). Any other view of the kingdom is a counterfeit.