Ten biblical truths about the afterlife

This is the first in a series of excerpts from “What Everyone Should Know About the Afterlife,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Three-year-old Colton Burpo had a near-death experience (NDE) while on the operating table. When it was over, he described his “three minutes in heaven” in vivid detail, including encounters with Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus, who had sea-blue eyes and owned a rainbow-colored horse.

Colton’s father, a Wesleyan pastor, believes the lad’s experience was real because he shared it with “the simple conviction of an eyewitness.”

You may read Colton’s story in Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, which ruled the best-seller list for 44 weeks. Millions of people have devoured the book, watched the youngster’s appearances on TV shows, and viewed the major motion picture based on his story.

Less popular but equally intriguing are books about NDEs in which people “die” for brief periods and experience the horrors of hell. To Hell and Back by cardiologist Maurice Rollins, for example, tells us that hellish NDEs have to be recorded and verified immediately after the person “returns” or the horrifying memories are repressed.

In any case, stories like Colton’s appeal to our desire to know more about the afterlife.

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The mystery of the Incarnation

This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” published by the MBC’s High Street Press and available at Amazon and other booksellers.

In previous columns, we explored the Incarnation – God becoming human in Jesus of Nazareth. While Jesus shares all the divine attributes of God the Father and the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:9), He is unique among the persons of the Godhead in that only He has taken on human flesh. 

That is so Jesus could experience the full range of humanity, including every form of temptation, on our behalf. Having lived a sinless life, He laid it down voluntarily on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God for our sins and securing everlasting life for all who call upon His name. Truly, the God-Man is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

It is difficult to wrap our finite minds around the mystery of the Incarnation. Yet this much is clear: sinful, fallen, and finite people can never repay the debt owed a holy, transcendent, and eternal God. So, in the wake of Adam’s sin, the triune God unveils a plan to rescue wretched people from sin and its consequences. 

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The Christian’s resurrected body

Memphis Belle is one of the most celebrated aircraft of World War II. Named after the girlfriend of chief pilot Robert Morgan, the lumbering B-17F Flying Fortress carried the first U.S. crew to complete twenty-five combat missions over Europe before returning to America, where the airmen were hailed as heroes during a three-month tour to sell war bonds and raise morale.

Based in England, Belle coursed through flak-filled skies over France and Germany in 1942-43. The ten-man crew battled Nazi fighter planes while delivering their payloads before returning to base through the same threatening skies. 

The crew’s survival through more than two dozen missions was rare indeed. In all, the Army Air Forces lost thirty thousand airmen in battles against Nazi Germany. During the heaviest fighting, U.S. bomber-crew airmen had a one-in-four chance of survival.

The plane’s exploits were featured in a 1944 documentary and retold a generation later in a major motion picture.

For a time after the war, however, Memphis Belle sat outdoors, neglected, until an ambitious restoration project began, requiring more than one hundred workers and thousands of hours to scrape paint, bend metal, and fabricate parts. 

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Incarnational heresies

This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

In recent columns, we explored the Incarnation – God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Before moving on in our study of the Trinity, we should note a number of heretical views that have plagued Christianity throughout its history. 

The church has effectively countered some of these false teachings, while others continue to rear their ugly heads and cause people who sincerely seek the truth to embrace “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4).

In God Among Sages, Kenneth Samples highlights eight historical heresies with respect to the Incarnation:

Docetism. This was an early form of Gnosticism, a heresy that threatened the fledgling church throughout its first three centuries. Docetism advanced a type of dualism, expressing the belief that spirit is good and matter is evil. 

Docetics argued that Jesus only appeared to be human. In fact, their name comes from the Greek word dokeo, which means “to seem.” They asserted that Jesus had a “phantom-like body.” 

Docetism denied the true humanity of Jesus, which undermined the reality of His death on the cross, burial, and physical resurrection – all necessary elements in the gospel message. The apostle John confronted Docetism in 1 John 4:1-3.

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The letter to the church at Laodicea

Rev. 3:14-22 – To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God’s creation says: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, “I’m rich; I have become wealthy, and need nothing,” and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, and white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. (HCSB)

The wealthy city of Laodicea lies 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia on the road to Colossae. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 62 and rebuilt by its wealthy citizens without the help of the state. Laodicea is a banking center and a producer of glossy black wool from which clothes and carpets are fashioned. The city also is host to a famous medical school that produces a salve for treating ailments of the eye. A massive wall rings the city. Three marble theaters are located here and, like Rome, Laodicea is built on seven hills. There is no evidence that Paul ever visits the city, but he expresses great interest in it (Col. 2:1-2; 4:16). The city’s water supply originates in hot springs six miles away. In its travels through the aqueduct to Laodicea, the water becomes tepid, providing a fitting backdrop for Christ’s letter to the church here, which lays claim to being the most notorious of the seven churches in Asia Minor.

Christ’s self-description: Jesus calls Himself “The Amen” (v. 14). The word “amen” appears nine times in Revelation and numerous times in other Scriptures, but this is the only time it is used as a title or name. It is a Hebrew expression of strong affirmation meaning “so be it.” More than 20 times in John’s Gospel Jesus prefaces His remarks with the words, “Amen, amen.” Paul writes of Jesus, “For every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in Him. Therefore the ‘Amen’ is also through Him for God’s glory through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). As the Amen, Jesus speaks and His words are as true as His divine nature; what He speaks always comes to pass.

He also identifies Himself as “the faithful and true witness” and “the Originator of God’s creation” (v. 14). Drawing from John’s description of Him as “the faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5), Jesus emphasizes not only that He speaks the truth but that He is the truth (John 14:6). The name “the Originator of God’s creation” in no way implies that Jesus is a created being or came into existence at any time. The Greek word translated “Originator” or “Beginning” is arche, which carries the idea of “active cause.” Paul instructed the Colossian church to share his letter with the church at Laodicea. If his instructions were obeyed, then believers in Laodicea would have been familiar with Paul’s description of Christ as Creator: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [Greek prototokos, pre-eminent; not protoktisis, first-created] over all creation; because by Him everything was created … all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:15-16).

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