Real or Counterfeit Christianity? - Radical

Real or Counterfeit Christianity?

Who do you say that Jesus is? An important historical figure? A revered religious teacher? While all kinds of answers have been given to that question, the Bible teaches clearly that Jesus is Lord, God come in the flesh. In this message from Mark 12:35–40, David Platt helps us see the significance of Christ’s lordship. If we confess Jesus as Lord, then our lives should look different from the world and it should shape our message to the world. The One whom we proclaim as Savior is the One to whom every knee will one day bow.

We’re going to start in Mark 12:35. If you’ve been here the last few weeks, you know the setup. If you’re visiting today, maybe for the first time, we are so glad you’re here. Let’s set up this story again. This is Tuesday, although some say by this time it’s Wednesday, of the week when Jesus is going to be betrayed on Thursday and crucified on Friday by groups of people who were working against him. These groups have coordinated efforts to pepper him with questions, all with the intent of trapping Jesus and trying to bring him down. 

At the end of last week, we read that after Jesus’ responses, no one dared to ask him any more questions, at which point he decided that he was going to ask a question. That’s where we pick up in Mark 12:35. The Bible says:

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

So do you see how Jesus is warning the people, “Beware of  a counterfeit gospel being passed on by counterfeit people”? How do we know what’s real? Well, look where Jesus started. He said, “How can the scribes…”—the teachers of God’s Word in that day—“say that the Christ is the Son of David?” 

Now, when Jesus refers to “the Christ” here, that’s a reference to the Messiah, the deliverer of God’s people whom God had promised for centuries to send to them. God had made clear that Messiah, this deliverer, would come from the family tree of King David. We don’t have time today, but we could take a tour through the Old Testament and the New Testament—2 Samuel 7, Isaiah 9, Matthew 1, even Mark 10 and 11 that we’ve recently read as we’ve been walking through the Gospel of Mark. They all show that God’s people were waiting for centuries for a Messiah who would come from the family line of David.

So everybody accepts what Jesus says in Mark 12:35: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?” Then Jesus continues and says, “David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared…” Jesus quotes directly from Psalm 110:1 here: “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” Here it is from Psalms, although it says exactly the same thing:

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Now, what’s interesting about this Psalm is that it’s a psalm—a song—about God’s blessing on the king of Israel. Whenever you see the word “Lord” in your Bible with a capital L, then small caps ord, you know this is the Hebrew word, Yahweh. It’s the name of God for himself that he has revealed to his people. It was his covenant name in his relationship with the people of Israel. “The Lord says to my Lord…”

Notice that the second time he says Lord, it doesn’t have the small caps ord. It uses lower case ord. The reason for that is because it’s a different word in the Hebrew. The word here is adonai which often refers to God, but at other times, adonai can refer to a human ruler, like a lord or king. 

That’s the picture here in Psalm 110:1. This is God, Yahweh, speaking to the king of Israel, saying, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” God is basically saying to the king of Israel in the Old Testament, “I give you authority to lead my people in a way that reflects me, and as you lead my people to walk in my ways, then I will put your enemies under your feet.” That’s what the rest of Psalm 110 is all about.

Back here in Mark 12, Jesus asks a question. If King David himself wrote this, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then that means King David just called the future King of Israel his Lord, in a way that a father would never say about his son or grandson or great-grandson in that day. In other words, Jesus is pointing out that King David wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit about a King who would come from his line, who would not just be his son but would be his Lord—the Lord over King David.

In other words, this King to come would not just be like any human being. Yes, he would be a son, but he would also be the Lord of all. This King would be divine which is exactly what Jesus is saying here. Psalm 110 is quoted over and over again—being the most-quoted Psalm in the New Testament—pointing back to the divinity of Jesus, to how Jesus was not just human but God in the flesh.

In Acts 2:34, the very first Christian sermon, Peter quotes from Psalm 110 to say to the people in his day, “You crucified God in the flesh.” Jesus is not just the Messiah; he is the Lord over all. Look at Hebrews 1. It’s an amazing picture of the divinity of Jesus. At the very end of that chapter, the author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 110:1 to say, “Jesus is superior to every other person and every angel, because Jesus is God.” One of the fundamental teachings of the Bible is that Jesus is not just a man—although he is fully human—but Jesus is also fully God, God in the flesh. This means Jesus is Lord God over all. 

So here’s the first question we need to ask if we’re going to discern if we have received a counterfeit gospel. 

Do you believe Jesus is Lord?

I’m going to make it personal to each one of us. I’m asking you today, “Do you believe Jesus is Lord?” By “Lord,” I’m not just meaning a human leader or a good religious teacher. No, do you believe Jesus is Lord, God over all? This question is so critical because almost every other religion and cult in the world answers “no” to this question

Muslims say, “No. We respect Jesus as a prophet but he was and is not God in the flesh.” Atheists or agnostics of course, as well as Buddhists and a host of other religions—in fact, most people in the world—would say, “Jesus may have been a good teacher but he’s not God.” Hindus would say, “Maybe Jesus is a god but he’s not Lord, the one true God over all gods.” 

Then there’s the cults. Mormons, who call themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS, can speak about Jesus in ways that sound similar to the way we might speak about Jesus. After all, they’re the Church of Jesus Christ, right? But when you explore what Mormonism teaches, much like a counterfeit bill, you realize that Mormons actually teach that Jesus is the firstborn spirit child of God, the heavenly father and the heavenly mother. Jesus is a secondary God under God the father and does not possess deity in himself. Instead, they teach, Jesus progressed to deity in the spirit world.

In a similar way Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim to be witnesses for Jehovah, for Yahweh, publish all kinds of tracts and booklets that are passed out and look like Christian literature. I’m sure you’ve seen or received some of these. They believe Jesus is a lesser god who was originally created as the archangel Michael before the world existed. 

So I hope you’re seeing how important this question is. Do you believe Jesus is just a man just like other religious teachers? Or do you believe Jesus is Lord, God in the flesh, who came to save us from our sins? 

Along these lines, here’s a simple illustration I learned from a man named Gregory Koukl that I’ve used ever since. The next time a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon comes to your door, they are actively spreading a counterfeit gospel. Or even the next time you’re talking with a Muslim, he or she believes in the Old Testament and the New Testament—the Injil—as authoritative teaching. 

So just do this. Open the Bible together and say, “Hey, let’s look at a verse. John 1:3 says this about Jesus: ‘All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.’” Even in a Jehovah’s Witness’s edited Bible, John 1:3 will say the same thing as what we have in our Bible. This is important because their version of the Bible skews John 1:1 and what it says about Jesus there. But John 1:3 is the same. 

So just read that verse or maybe ask them to read it. Then pull out a piece of paper and say something like, “Okay, let’s think together about everything that exists. Let’s write that out: “Everything that exists.” Let’s draw a box that represents everything that exists. Let’s imagine this box represents everything that exists.” Then draw a line down the middle that separates everything that exists into two categories. Say something like, “Okay, if this box represents everything that exists, let’s think about anything that exists that never came into being.” So maybe on the left side of the box write, “All things that never came into being.” Then ask the question, “So what goes in that box?” 

The Jehovah’s Witness or Muslim would answer, “God,” which is the right answer. God alone is eternal and uncreated. So then you put God in the lefthand side of that box. Then say, “Let’s think about anything that comes into being.” So write that out, “All things that came into being,” which is basically all created things. So maybe write that in the box on the right side, “All created things.” 

Then say, “Okay, according to John 1:3, all created things were made through Jesus. Without Jesus was not anything made that was made.” Then ask your friend if it makes sense, according to this verse—which is exactly what the first part of the verse says, “Created through Jesus” —and put an arrow pointing to all created things. John 1:3 makes it clear that all created things were created through Jesus. 

Then step back and summarize. “Okay, so everything that exists falls into one of these two categories. The larger box is everything that exists. The left side are things that never came into being. So everything is either created or not created. Nothing can be in both sides of this box. Nothing can be created and not created. It’s pretty simple. Everything is either in one or the other.

This then leads to the big question: “Okay, so in which category does Jesus belong?” Maybe pull out a coin to represent Jesus, like a quarter, and say, “Here’s a coin to represent Jesus.” You give it to your friend and say, “Place the coin in the box where Jesus belongs.” With the coin in their hand, their first impulse is going to be to put it in the category of things that came into being, on the right side here. 

The only problem is John 1:3 makes it really clear that all things were created through Jesus. So that can’t be Jesus. If Jesus created all things to come into existence, then Jesus must have existed before all created things came into existence. Therefore Jesus couldn’t have been created, so Jesus can’t be in the box on the right side. And if he can’t be in the box on the right side with created things, then he must go on the left with uncreated things—meaning Jesus is the creator. He is God. 

This is just a simple way to make the most of that moment at your door. Instead of just turning them away, give them something to think about straight from the Bible. And pray for God to open their eyes to see the beauty of Jesus as Lord. 

So now back to us. Ask the question, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus is not just a man, but God in the flesh, not just a good religious teacher, but God himself?” If not, then you’re believing a counterfeit gospel. And that’s not all. Just think about the book of James. Later in the Bible, James points out that even the demons believe this and they haven’t received the gospel. So if you believe Jesus is Lord, that still doesn’t mean you have the gospel in your heart. You’re now at the same level as demons are. 

So let’s ask a second question.

Does your life show Jesus is your Lord?

Jesus continues in this passage in Mark 12, “Beware of these scribes, not just because of what they teach, but because of how they live. They like to walk around with long robes, where they’re greeted in the marketplace as the spiritual leaders they are. They like having the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, while they devour widows’ houses.” We’re not sure what that means, but it’s clearly not good. They take advantage of widows and their possessions. “And they make long prayers, so people will think they’re spiritual.”

In other words, they don’t live with God or Jesus as their Lord; they live for themselves. Their actions and motives show that they are the lord of their own lives. Which leads to this question in your life: do your actions and motives show that Jesus is your Lord, the King of your life? Do you wake up in the morning and say, “Jesus, you are Lord of my life today. I love you and want to follow you. I want to do everything you call me to. I care about what you think of me, not what others think of me. I live for you as my Lord.”

This then leads you to spend time with Jesus, to read and listen to his Word, to obey it, to prioritize gathering with his people for worship, then to scatter, loving and serving others in his name. If we never spend time alone with Jesus, listening to or reading his Word, then is Jesus really Lord of our lives? If we don’t prioritize gathering with the body of Christ, the church, for worship—if that’s kind of an option, a ‘maybe’ in our lives—then is Jesus really the Lord of our lives? If there are areas of our lives where we are living in direct disobedience to God’s Word, with no desire for repentance, then is Jesus really Lord of our lives? Obviously, none of us is perfect. Only Jesus is. That’s the point, though. If Jesus is lord of our lives, then we are wanting to become more and more like him. We’re not content with the areas of our lives that don’t look like him.

These scribes were hypocrites, for whom God was clearly not the Lord of their lives. Now don’t miss hist. They were actually using religion as a cover-up for living how they wanted to live. Is that possible? Is it possible for people, even professing Christians, to use religion, church activity in the past or the present, as a cover-up for living how you actually want to live? Is that you? Do you use religion as a cover-up for living how you want to live, or is Jesus truly Lord of your life in a way that’s evident in every facet of your life?

This leads to one last question I want to ask. Though it’s not the main point of this text, it certainly flows from it.

Do you tell others Jesus is Lord?

Jesus warned the crowds to beware of these scribes because they were not only counterfeits themselves, they were leading others into empty religion. It’s kind of like having a counterfeit bill and passing it on to others in ways that ultimately leave them empty. 

It’s kind of like the people I mentioned in cults, who are passionately going door to door with a counterfeit gospel. What does that say about you and me who have the real thing? They’ve shared that counterfeit gospel with everybody in their neighborhood. What have we done with the real gospel? If you know Jesus is Lord—that he’s God in the flesh who came to save us from our sin—and if you’re following Jesus as Lord over your life, then you tell others about him, right? You’re passionate about doing this, because you know he’s not just Lord over you; he’s Lord over all.

Surely we can’t be around people and know that their eternity hinges on confessing Jesus as Lord, but say nothing to them about Jesus as Lord. People who know Jesus is Lord and follow Jesus as Lord tell others, “Jesus is Lord.” 

Observation: What does the passage say?

1) Read the passage aloud as a group and take some time to let group members share observations about them. Try not to move into interpretation of the passage or application of what you have read quite yet. Simply share what you observe.

  • Have a group member share the context of this passage. (What events were happening during this week Jesus’ life?)
  • What can you observe about Jesus’ question? Who and what does Jesus quote? (V. 36)
  • What five things did Jesus point out about the lifestyles of the scribes? (VV. 38-40)
  • Summarize this passage in your own words.

Interpretation: What does the passage mean?

1) Verse 36 reads, “The LORD (Yahweh) said to my Lord (Adonai), sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” Jesus follows with an important theological question in v. 37. What did Jesus want the listeners to understand about the Messiah?

2) Jesus taught those in the temple to beware of the scribes, and He warned them to beware not only of what they taught but of how the lived. What might be a current example of this type of counterfeit living?

3) The Bible says, “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). One leader put it this way, “The greater our revelation the greater our accountability.” What type of judgement is reserved for those Jesus described? (v. 40)

Application: How can we apply this passage to our lives?

1) 1. Are there areas in your life that don’t show those around you that Jesus is Lord? Consider the five areas Jesus pointed out in the lives of the scribes. Where might you need to make changes so that your life bears witness to your commitment to Jesus?

2) Take some time to process how you are doing with our call to faithful evangelism (2 Tim 4:5).

  • Do you regularly share the gospel with those around you?
  • If so, acknowledge God’s grace and take time to thank and praise God together.
  • If no, consider: what keeps you from doing so? Share openly with the group.

3) Share the name of one person in your life who doesn’t know Jesus. If you are willing, commit to one step of obedience that you can take this very week to share with this person that Jesus is Lord.

  • What will you do? (Will you write an email? Make a phone call? Have a conversation?) Share this with the group and ask them to pray for you and hold you accountable.
  • Take time to pray for these names and ask for divine appointments and boldness to share.

Mark 12:35-40 ESV

Whose Son Is the Christ? 

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy  Spirit, declared, 

“‘The Lord said to my Lord, 

“Sit at my right hand, 

 until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. 

Beware of the Scribes 

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and  have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.” 

Jesus warned those in the temple to beware of counterfeit teaching and living.

Consider the following three questions that can help us discern if we have received a counterfeit gospel.

  • Do you believe Jesus is Lord?
  • Does your life show Jesus is your Lord?
  • Do you tell others Jesus is Lord?
David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!