Saturday, 7 December 2013

Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ – not a very sensible comparison

Nelson Mandela’s achievements were monumental but the way that politicians and media commentators have seized upon his passing to outdo one another in their adulation of him is most unfortunate.

Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator, possibly takes the biscuit with this quote from yesterday:

‘There are very few human beings who can be compared to Jesus Christ. Nelson Mandela is one. This is because he was a spiritual leader as much as a statesman. His colossal moral strength enabled him to embark on new and unimaginable forms of action. He could lead through the strength of example alone.’

This morning, on the BBC Radio Four Today programme, presenter Justin Webb appeared to pick up on this by posing the following question (listen here) to former US president Jimmy Carter:

‘Some people have compared Nelson Mandela with Jesus. You’re a religious man. Would you?’

Carter’s reply was decisive.

‘No I would not go that far. I’m a Christian. I look upon Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as God himself, and I certainly wouldn’t compare any human being with Jesus.’

He then went on to pay tribute to Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa before reemphasising his point:

‘I wouldn’t compare any other human being with Jesus Christ.’

It seems that Mandela himself shared this view. Scottish minister David Robertson gave one of his favourite Mandela quotes on his Facebook page this morning:

‘The Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind... Our Messiah, whose life bears testimony to the truth that there is no shame in poverty: Those who should be ashamed are they who impoverish others.’

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once replied to a nine year old child who had asked her about Jesus:

‘However good we try to be, we can never be as kind, gentle and wise as Jesus… There will be times when we say or do something we wish we hadn’t done and we shall be sorry and try not to do it again! We do our best, but our best is not as good as his daily life. If you and I were to paint a picture it wouldn’t be as good as the picture of great artists. No our lives can’t be as good as the life of Jesus.’

Carter, Thatcher and Mandela himself seem to have to latched onto a deeper understanding of Jesus than Oborne.

The reality is that, unlike Mandela, Jesus did not seek to ‘lead by example’ or to start a political or even a spiritual movement. He also did not die to win a political victory.

Although his life has motivated many great social reformers he did not come to build a kingdom on earth but to offer us God’s forgiveness and new life for all eternity.

His aim was not to empty prisons but to empty graveyards.

And perhaps most importantly, unlike Mandela as the great man himself recognised in the quote above, Jesus rose from the dead!

On the day of judgement it will be Jesus who sits on the throne. And Nelson Mandela, like all of us, will be on our faces before him. 

Perhaps the last words should belong to the Apostle John, one of the three people on earth who knew Jesus best:

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ (John 1:1,14, 20:30,31)

Further reading


  1. God rest Nelson Mandela. His record on pro-life/pro-family issues:

  2. Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela, You were Great Leader of the world

  3. I agree with this> " he was spiritual leader"

  4. Mandela was not a good man. He pleaded GUILTY to 156 bombings which killed innocent women and children. His jail sentence was not a political one but one for murder. It was not a miscarriage of justice but a jail sentence he deserved. He was a Marxist communist. He was a liberal who changed the law of SA for liberal abortion. RIP

  5. I actually think of Joseph, Jacob's son, when I think of Mandela. He too was imprisoned and later became ruler of the nation. That seems more accurate an analogy.