This week Vladimir Putin attended a public event honoring the eighth anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea. Speaking in Luzhniki Stadium to an audience estimated at 50 thousand, the president of Russia stood up and quoted a Scripture from the Gospel of John. “You know, I remember the words from the Bible,” Putin declared to those attending the concert/rally, “There is no other love rather than if someone gives soul for their friends [paraphrasing John 15:13].”
Yes, you heard that right, Vladimir Putin recited a passage from the Bible.
Christians across the world were aghast that the man masterminding the slaughter of innocents in Ukraine, who has sanctioned the murder of children, indiscriminately bombed a maternity hospital, whose snipers gunned down a 68-year-old American citizen while standing in a bread line and who is the architect of unspeakable destruction and devastation of a neighboring country appropriated a passage from the word of God. However, a quick look at Mr. Putin’s past remarks leads one to believe that his misappropriation of Scripture should come as no surprise.
Satan Knows His Bible
Most Christian theologians would agree that plucking one passage from the Bible is a perfidious practice. Indeed, the whole counsel of God should be consulted to discern the truth. We are also warned that deception is part and parcel of demonic activity. “Even Satan tries to make himself look like an angel of light,” warned the Apostle Paul in Second Corinthians.
Students of the Bible will also recognize that Satan knows the Bible and can misappropriate its meaning when it suits his purposes. Here is a classic exchange between Jesus and the devil written in the New Testament that demonstrates the devil’s knowledge of Psalm 91:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.
“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” (Matthew 4:1-10)
Jesus used God’s word to dispute Satan’s application of the Bible. This is because the Messiah knew “what was written” better than Satan and ultimately made a fool of the enemy. Theologian John Piper points out in his blog Desiring God, “[Satan’s] one aim is to destroy our faith. The word of God alone keeps faith alive. But we cleave to it, and Satan cannot tear it away. So he studies it. How else could he quote Psalm 91:11–12 to Jesus? He studies it. And he studies how to distort it and pervert it by plausible misinterpretations.”
In a brief exegesis of this passage, Florida Pastor Kent Heaton explained:
“It will come as a shock to most people to know that Satan is well versed in the word of God. James tells us the demons know and believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. Unlike many today, the demons tremble at the knowledge of Jesus. Failing in his first attempt the tempt Jesus; Satan turns to the authority appealed to by the Lord – the holy word of God. Joseph Hall (1574–1656) said it best: ‘Satan himself with a Bible under his arm and a text in his mouth.’ The text quoted by the devil is Psalm 91. What he conveniently leaves out of the text is the statement ‘to keep you in all your ways.’ A. T. Robertson writes, ‘So the devil quotes the Word of God, misinterprets it, omits a clause, and tries to trip the Son of God by the Word of God.’”
Misinterpretation and omission are methods often employed to create deception. These essential elements of deceit did not originate in the 21st century by members with the Fourth Estate. They have been around for thousands of years, so it should not come as a shock when the Russian leader seeks to justify his murderous behavior by cloaking it in the word of God.
Putin’s Twisted Theology
In 2017, Newsweek Magazine published an article describing the theology of Vladimir Putin: “‘Maybe I am about to say something that some people will not like, but I will say what I think,’ [Putin] says. ‘Firstly, faith has always accompanied us. It strengthened when things were hard for our people’s country. There have been harsh, godfighting years when clerics were destroyed and churches were ruined. But at the same time [Soviets] created a new religion. Indeed, communist ideology is very similar to Christianity.'”
An avid atheist, Vladimir Lenin, famously tagged religion as “the opium of the people.” Russia’s most celebrated Vladimir began the great communist purge of Orthodox Christianity in the Soviet Union. This anti-Christian fervor continued under the brutal hand of Joseph Stalin, who reduced the most splendid cathedral in Moscow to rubble in 1931.
However, Putin is a bird of a different feather. If we listen to his words, it is legitimate to consider a false spirituality may be the motivating force behind the Russian leader’s actions. It may be a distorted spirituality for sure, but spiritual, nonetheless. In other words, is Putin trying to rebuild Christianity in his own image? Here are a few reasons why this may not be such a fantastic theory.
The Russian Orthodox–Putin Nexus
While Christianity has been declining in the West, that is not the case in the east. It is, in fact, experiencing a renaissance of sorts and Putin is at the heart of this rebuilding effort. In 2008, The New York Times asserted, “This close alliance between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church has become a defining characteristic of Mr. Putin’s tenure, a mutually reinforcing choreography that is usually described here as working ‘in symphony.'”
In 2019, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church crowed that church construction was moving at a pace of building three churches per day. In 2021, a “Cathedral to the Armed Forces” opened its doors just outside Moscow. These edifices are replete with Military adornment.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church is Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of Putin. He has publicly endorsed the Russian president and referred to him as “God’s miracle.” Even though the two men have recently been at odds, they have enjoyed a long alliance. The Kirill/Putin partnership is evident if one looks at Putin’s long history of misappropriating Christianity for political and military purposes.
In 2013, the Russian leader spoke at the Valdai International Discussion Club on “diversity for the modern world.” In these remarks, he used Christian values to attack the West and provide a moral justification for his actions:
“We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.”
No one really knows what motivates Putin to commit such heinous acts against humanity. However, his comments and actions could easily lead one to the conclusion that he operates within the confines of a warped religious fervor. Of course, despots who lace their actions with twisted religious convictions are to be feared above all. Still, just as the devil was laid to waste by Jesus of Nazareth, Putin, too, is currently on a path destined for destruction. And the job of the Christian is to be able to discern the voice of Satan and that can only be accomplished with a thorough reading and understanding of the Scriptures.
~ Read more from Leesa K. Donner.
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