The Last Testament: Jonas Bendiksen chronicles seven men who claim to be the Messiah

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

Jesus of Kitwe (born Mupeta Chishimba) proselytizing in a market place. Big crowds gather, recording his every word on their mobile phones. Zambia, 2015 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Jesus of Kitwe (born Mupeta Chishimba) proselytizing in a market place. Big crowds gather, recording his every word on their mobile phones. Zambia, 2015 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Moses Hlongwane, otherwise known simply as Jesus, giving a sermon during his wedding to Angel, one of his disciples. In Moses' theology, his wedding day was the start of the End of Days. South Africa, 2016 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Moses Hlongwane, otherwise known simply as Jesus, giving a sermon during his wedding to Angel, one of his disciples. In Moses' theology, his wedding day was the start of the End of Days. South Africa, 2016 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Vissaron addresses his disciples on his birthday, January 14th, otherwise known as Christmas to his followers. Russia, 2015 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Vissaron addresses his disciples on his birthday, January 14th, otherwise known as Christmas to his followers. Russia, 2015 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

INRI Cristo, rides a bike around his compound outside of Brasilia, known as The New Jerusalem. INRI are the initials that Pontius Pilate had written on top of Jesus' cross. Brazil, 2014 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

INRI Cristo, rides a bike around his compound outside of Brasilia, known as The New Jerusalem. INRI are the initials that Pontius Pilate had written on top of Jesus' cross. Brazil, 2014 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Communal feast during an all-day pilgrimage march for Vissarion's birthday on January 14th. This date is known as the true Christmas to his followers. Russia, 2015 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Communal feast during an all-day pilgrimage march for Vissarion's birthday on January 14th. This date is known as the true Christmas to his followers. Russia, 2015 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Vissarion, the Christ of Siberia. Formerly a traffic policeman in the 1980s, he got his first revelation that he was Jesus Christ at the same time as the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since then he has gathered a following of 5-10 000 disciples in the Siberian forest. There they live in separate villages with their own infrastructure and social systems. Russia, 2016 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Vissarion, the Christ of Siberia. Formerly a traffic policeman in the 1980s, he got his first revelation that he was Jesus Christ at the same time as the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since then he has gathered a following of 5-10 000 disciples in the Siberian forest. There they live in separate villages with their own infrastructure and social systems. Russia, 2016 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

INRI Cristo preaches to his followers from the top of the compound guardhouse. The disciples live a quiet and secluded life inside the compound, growing most of their own food and focussing on INRI's mission. Brazil, 2014 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

INRI Cristo preaches to his followers from the top of the compound guardhouse. The disciples live a quiet and secluded life inside the compound, growing most of their own food and focussing on INRI's mission. Brazil, 2014 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

A disciple of Vissarion during a Christmas pilgrimage. Here, Vissarion's birthday January 14th is counted as the true Christmas. Russia, 2016| © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

A disciple of Vissarion during a Christmas pilgrimage. Here, Vissarion's birthday January 14th is counted as the true Christmas. Russia, 2016| © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Much like the biblical Jesus was originally a carpenter, Jesus of Kitwe makes a living as a taxi driver. Here he sits in one of his two Toyota Corollas. Zambia, 2015 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos

Much like the biblical Jesus was originally a carpenter, Jesus of Kitwe makes a living as a taxi driver. Here he sits in one of his two Toyota Corollas. Zambia, 2015 | © Jonas Bendiksen/ Magnum Photos