A few weeks ago, in a tattoo parlor in the hip art deco district of Miami Beach, people were lining up to get "666" tattooed on their bodies, and then smiling through their pain. But these are not devil worshipers. They see themselves as devout followers of Jesus Christ. But the major difference that separates them from other Christians around the world is that the Jesus Christ they worship is alive and well -- and living in the suburbs of Houston.
These people belong to a new movement devoted to a man who calls himself the Second Coming of Jesus, and also claims the title of Antichrist, which to him is the next incarnation of Jesus on earth, not an evil being. To show their devotion, some followers ink themselves with "666." One follower said, "I just want to make sure it's visible, that everyone knows my life belongs to the man." Another said, "I want everyone to know I'm one of the antichrists."
They and others like them are fervently devoted, some say fanatically, to a 60-year-old Puerto Rican whose legal name, to his pleasure, is Jose de Jesus, or "Jose of Jesus." He counts followers in more than 30 countries; some say they total more than a million. But where does this man, who claims to be God, live? Not where you might expect: He resides with his wife in a suburban community just outside Houston.
When asked to explain who he is, de Jesus responds: "Jesus Christ, man, the second manifestation, the Second Coming of Christ." He acknowledges that "it bothers a lot of people" that he calls himself Jesus.
De Jesus' beginning was anything but grand. Born in Puerto Rico, de Jesus grew up poor, living in government housing. He stole for a living to pay for his teenage heroin addiction and admits to eight felony charges that put him behind bars for nine months.
Like many, de Jesus says he was born again in prison. From there he moved to the United States, where he became involved in church youth groups, and eventually a minister in Boston. But it was a vision, de Jesus says, that turned him from man of God to being God.
"The same spirit that was in Jesus of Nazareth, and the same spirit is in me. He came to me. He [integrated] with my person in 1973." de Jesus says this happened when two angels came to him in a vision, and while he admits there's no real way for him to prove that he's Christ, he says his followers aren't asking for proof.
"So you tell the millions of followers I have that … this guy is a liar. You know what are they going to say? Is that I prefer his lies than what religion gave me. I prefer, see because when they believe in what I teach, they activate angels in their life."
His followers do seem happy. They greet him with mariachi bands at airports and often collapse in tears when they see him preach. But when he speaks to them, it is without theatrics. No holy rolling, no healing -- it's a pretty straightforward lesson in the fundamentals of what he believes. And it's an upbeat, no-fault, sin-free message. This self-proclaimed Jesus does not believe in sin, hell, the devil or damnation of any kind.