By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- An Iranian judge who sentenced a well-known pastor and three devoted Christians to long prison terms is practically demanding that they no longer recognize Jesus as Lord, ahead of an upcoming appeal hearing, a well-informed church official told BosNewsLife Sunday, September 3.
"It seems that Judge Ahmadzadeh was not aware that all Christians are supposed to believe that Jesus is Lord," said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the independent Church of Iran, one of the country's main house church movements.
Judge Ahmadzadeh, who heads the 26th Branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, sentenced Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani along with Christians Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, and Saheb Fadaie last year to 10 years imprisonment each.
All four Christians were detained in May last year during a series of raids by security agents on Christian homes in the coastal city of Rasht.
Judge Ahmadzadeh reportedly found them guilty of ‘acting against national security’ by ‘promoting Zionist Christianity.' Pastor Nadarkhani, who earlier faced the death penalty for refusing to abandon Islam but was later released, and Omidi also received additional two-year sentences, to be served in what critics have called "an inhospitable area" in the south of the country.
However documents revealed to BosNewsLife Sunday, September 3, also showed that the judge linked his harsh sentence to their faith in Jesus Christ. "According to the verdict, the very point is that the Church of Iran is saying that Jesus is God and Lord," Khandjani added
"In other words, this verdict is against all Christians."
He explained that the Church of Iran agrees that Christ, who it believes rose from death, is the Son and image of God "the Father" as well as Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
"But for them [the court and Muslims] claiming that Jesus is the Lord is blasphemy. It is the very border between Christianity and Islam," said Khandjani, who is himself in hiding amid threats by security forces.
Muslims, in general, believe that Jesus was a prophet, not the Son of God.
News about the court pressure on the four men to change their views came before they were to appear in front of Judge Ahmad Zargar, head of the 36th Branch of the Tehran Appeals Court next month, October 4.
Christian activists say Judge Zargar is known for severe sentences and claim he was among several Iranian officials deemed responsible or complicit in "serious human rights violations" in 2012.
"We would need prayers of Christians everywhere. Humanly speaking, we cannot expect justice," Khandjani told BosNewsLife.
He said that despite ongoing pressure, Iran faces a "growing number of Bible believing Christians, most of them former Muslims." Khandjani says there may be at least 100,000 devoted Christians in the strict Islamic country, though some groups say that number may be several times higher.
"Many religious Christians have left as the Iranian authorities want to eradicate Christianity," he explained.
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing saying they uphold the law while defending Islamic traditions. Christians claim that the period preceding and following Iranian President Hassan Rouhani re-election saw a steep rise in the number of Christians found guilty on what they call vaguely-defined national security-related crimes for which they receive heavy sentences.