The New Testament’s penultimate verse prophesies Jesus Christ’s imminent return. In 2014, Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen embarked on a project, The Last Testament, to chronicle seven men who publicly claim to be the biblical Messiah.
The project took Bendiksen on a journey from England, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Zambia, Japan and the Philippines to document these men, united in their faith that they themselves are the Chosen One, and have come to save the world.
Of the project, he said: "Christians have been waiting two millennia for the Messiah’s second coming when he will bring about the End times, judge humanity and correct our hopelessly flawed existence. I have always wondered what Jesus would say about our contemporary world if he came, and what today's people would make of the Son of God."
Of the seven men Bendiksen found, some are powerful and have thousands of followers, and others are true underdogs, with only a handful of disciples. In contrast to the ancient apostles’ media landscape of oral stories and parchment scrolls, Bendiksen was confronted with contemporary Messiahs communicating revelations in the age of Facebook, viral YouTube videos, twitter-storms and thirty-second attention spans. He immersed himself amongst the disciples of these men, and in each situation created an invitation to imagine each of the claimants to be The One.
Bendiksen adds: "While my story is about these Messiah claimants, my overriding theme is the mechanics of religion itself. My aim is to use this project to open a debate about faith. Is there anything stranger to dedicating your life to following a Siberian real-life Messiah than following the missives of an infallible pope?
"Or might Jesus of Kitwe, Zambia be just as likely a persona as a resurrected Christ? Personal religious belief is one of the few areas of society that is still politically incorrect to debate critically. I wish to encourage reflection and discussion through the telling of a unique and entertaining story."
The Last Testament by Jonas Bendiksen is now available in a new book of the same name, published by Aperture / GOST, and priced £40. You can go online to grab your own copy.
Main image: INRI Cristo is wheeled around their compound on a rolling pedestal. INRI are the initials that Pontius Pilate had written on top of Jesus' cross, meaning Jesus Christ, King of the Jews. Brazil, 2014 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos