Rev. 14:6 – Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, having the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth — to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He spoke with a loud voice: “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (HCSB)
In Revelation 14, John sees three angels and records their unique messages. The first angel flies high overhead and proclaims the “eternal gospel” to the earth’s inhabitants. The second angel announces the fall of Babylon the Great. The third angel warns that those who worship and beast and receive his mark on their foreheads or hands will be severely punished. Finally, John hears a voice from heaven promising comfort to those who “die in the Lord from now on.”
This passage raises many challenging questions:
- What is the “eternal gospel?”
- Who or what is “Babylon the Great?”
- What does it mean to “drink the wine of God’s wrath?”
- Do verses 10-11 speak of temporal punishment on earth, or of everlasting torment in hell?
- What does the third angel mean when he says, “This demands the perseverance of the saints?”
- And who are the “dead who die in the Lord from now on?”
Let’s take a closer look.
So, how do Christian missionaries teach Muslims about Jesus when Islam denies His deity and death on the cross? And how do new converts from Islam to Christianity worship Jesus without inviting severe persecution?
One answer is Chrislam, the bringing together of Christianity and Islam. Proponents of Chrislam say that because the Qur’an mentions Jesus and affirms certain biblical teachings about Him, Christianity and Islam share at least some common ground.
They further argue that if Christians avoid the offensive term “Son of God” when referring to Jesus, and emphasize His role as prophet rather than divine Savior, Muslims are more open to the gospel. Once they come to faith in Christ, Muslims may continue to worship at a mosque, pray Muslim prayers, and even partake in a pilgrimage to Mecca.
This column appeared July 17 in The Pathway of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
The story is told of a Christian missionary who traveled deep into the heart of a distant land where the gospel message had never penetrated. The missionary labored for years learning the language and adapting to the culture.
At long last, he was able to clearly communicate the story of Jesus. Many of the once animistic people eagerly became Christians.
But not their chief. He listened intently and weighed the missionary’s every word. Finally, he asked, “Would I go to this place called hell if I never heard about Jesus?”
“Well, no,” the missionary replied.
“Then why,” said the chief, “did you come?”
The story illustrates an issue that has perplexed us for centuries. If faith comes by hearing, as the apostle Paul makes clear (Rom. 10:17), then what about those who have never heard of Jesus?
Are they going to hell? Getting a second chance in the afterlife? Will everyone be saved in the end, anyway? Or is this an unanswerable question – perhaps even a foolish one akin to asking whether God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift?
No doubt, some people ask the question in an effort to justify their unbelief. And for them, the simple response is: “Well, you’ve heard of Jesus. What will you do with Him?”
Still, the question is a haunting one. And the Scriptures seem to lack a single, clear proof text that satisfies those who like their answers in sound bites or 140-character tweets. Take heart, though. There are a number of biblical truths to ponder as we share our faith with others and trust the Holy Spirit to draw them to Christ.
Consider these 10 simple truths:
- Jesus Christ is the only Savior. Jesus declares this when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter affirms it in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.”
- God loves all people and desires their salvation (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
- God is just and will judge all people justly (Job. 34:10-12; Ps. 9:8; 98:9; Jer. 11:20; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:5-11).
- All people are aware of God’s existence (Rom. 1:18-23). They have failed to act responsibly on what God already has revealed to them, whether through the light of creation (Romans 1), the light of conscience (Romans 2), or the light of Christ (Romans 3).
- All people are sinners and know it. God has written His law in their hearts and all people are aware that they have violated the law of God (Rom. 2:1-16). No one will be able to stand before God in judgment and claim that he or she never willfully did wrong.
- Men and women are not sentenced to hell based upon whether they heard of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are justly and fittingly condemned based upon the fact that they are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23).
- It appears that if people respond to the light they do have, God will send them the brighter light of the gospel. Consider the Ethiopian eunuch, for example, in Acts 8:26ff, and Cornelius in Acts 10:25ff.
- Evidently, God will judge people based on their response to the light He has given them as expressed in their deeds (Rom. 2:6-11), words (Matt. 12:36-37) and thoughts (Heb. 4:12). This does not mean good works save people, or that salvation is found in other religions; rather it means that people’s response to God in faith, or lack thereof, is evident in their thoughts, words and actions.
- It appears there will be stricter judgment for those who have rejected the gospel than for those who have never heard (John 3:36; 12:48). Jesus also told the Jewish leaders – who had greater degrees of knowledge of the Scriptures – they would receive “greater damnation,” and He pronounced many “woes” on them (Matthew 23).
- Christian evangelism is essential for at least three reasons: 1) God commands us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20); 2) the preaching of the gospel is the means by which people hear and are saved (Rom. 10:13-17); and 3) all people may share in the blessings of eternal life, not only beyond the grave, but now (John 10:10).
This article appeared June 20 in The Pathway of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Ferdinand Waldo Demara began his nefarious career during World War II by borrowing an Army buddy’s name, going AWOL and faking his suicide. A string of pseudo careers followed in which Demara portrayed a sheriff’s deputy, a doctor of applied psychology, and a child-care expert.
He was best known for masquerading as a surgeon aboard a Canadian Navy destroyer during the Korean War, successfully completing a string of operations. His final gig: a Baptist minister.
Demara’s life is a fascinating but sad story of one man’s quest for respectability. His success as an impostor also exposes the soft underbelly of a society whose people are easily duped by one who talks smoothly and claims to serve the greater good.
For Christians, Demara’s story is a warning to be on guard against those who disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15). But how can we know a religious impostor when we see one? The apostle Paul gives us three clear markers in 2 Cor. 11:4. False teachers proclaim “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel.”
To illustrate, let’s look briefly at three belief systems: Islam, Mormonism, and the Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses) – each of which teaches unbiblical doctrines concerning Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the gospel.
Jesus. Muslims say Jesus was one of God’s greatest prophets but inferior to Muhammad. The Koran denies that Jesus is the Son of God, and any Muslim who believes in the deity of Jesus has committed shirk – a sin that will damn that person to hell. Muslims do not believe Jesus died on the cross but was called to heaven by Allah before His death and was perhaps replaced by Judas Iscariot or someone else who looked like Jesus.
Holy Spirit. Islam denies the deity of the Holy Spirit, whom the Koran describes as “the angel which brought revelation.” The Koran also calls the Holy Spirit “Gabriel” (2:97).
The gospel. Islam teaches that Jesus was neither crucified for our sins nor resurrected; therefore salvation cannot possibly be attained through faith in Christ. Salvation in Islam is a combination of works and fate. Muslims pursue the five Pillars of Religion and hope Allah is kindly disposed toward them.
Jesus. Mormons say Jesus preexisted in heaven as a spirit child of Heavenly Father (Ehohim) and one of his goddess wives (as did Lucifer and all pre-existent human beings). He then took on a human body through sexual relations between Heavenly Father and Mary. Mormonism recognizes the Trinity only as one in “purpose,” arguing instead for a multitude of gods.
Holy Spirit. Founder Joseph Smith taught that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit “constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.” He further said, “The Holy Ghost is yet a spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body as the Saviour did or as the gods before them took bodies.”
The gospel. Jesus’ atonement secured “salvation” (meaning resurrection) for nearly all people, but “men will be punished for their own sins” (Article of Faith #2 by Joseph Smith). People may earn “eternal life” (godhood) by “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel,” meaning works (Article of Faith #3 by Joseph Smith).
Jesus. Jesus was the first and direct creation of Jehovah. Jesus then created all “other” things (Col. 1:16 New World Translation). Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity, speaking of Jesus as “a god” or “mighty god” but not divine. They deny His incarnation, death on the cross (he died on a “torture stake”) and physical resurrection. Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 and is working today to overthrow Satan’s kingdom.
Holy Spirit. The “holy spirit” (always lower case) is the invisible active force of God that moves His servants to do His will. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming such beliefs to be inspired by Satan.
The gospel. Salvation in the Watchtower is a combination of faith and works, but there is no eternal security and virtually no hope of today’s Witnesses ever entering heaven, which is reserved for the 144,000 in the “anointed class.” The “other sheep” may, through faithfulness to Watchtower teachings and hard work, be brought back to life after an indefinite period of soul sleep and populate Paradise Earth.
In each of his roles, Ferdinand Waldo Demara was confronted with the truth – in some cases by the persons whose identity he had stolen – and exposed as a fraud. For Christians who encounter an array of false teachings today, our best defense is the truth of God’s Word.
The writer of Hebrews put it best: “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (4:12-13).
Rev. 4:1 – After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there in heaven a throne was set. One was seated on the throne, 3and the One seated looked like jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne (HCSB).
John’s first glimpse into heaven is of an open door. We see in Christ’s letter to the church in Philadelphia that Jesus, “the One who has the key of David,” is authorized as Messiah to open and close doors of ministry. He also has the keys of death and Hades (1:18) and ultimately tosses both into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). In the New Testament, an “open door” is an opportunity for the gospel’s advance (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). As the Head of the church, Jesus determines when and where the gospel will be effective (see Acts 16:6-10). Jesus also describes Himself as “the door” in John 10:9, the One through whom eternal life is granted.
So what is this open door in heaven? First, we need to understand that the door is “standing open,” not suddenly opened as we see in Ezek. 1:1; Matt. 3:16; and Acts 7:56, 10:11. From an earthly perspective heaven must be opened for God’s servants to be granted revelation, but for John, who is taken up into heaven – most likely by a vision rather than physically – the door already is opened and he may gaze upon things that Paul, who only heard them, could not express (2 Cor. 12:4).
The word “door” appears in about 180 verses of scripture and three times in Revelation. In Rev. 3:8, Jesus honors the faithfulness of believers in Philadelphia by placing before them an “open door” of ministry that no one is able to shut. In Rev. 3:20, Jesus stands outside the door of the church at Laodicea and knocks, seeking entrance and fellowship. But in Rev. 4:1, John sees an open door that leads into the throne room of heaven. No one there may close the door. No one desires to do so. While C.S. Lewis once observed that the door to hell is locked from the inside, entrance into heaven is by invitation only and requires belief in the One who is “the door.”
The door in this verse may symbolize the free access granted to those who have trusted in Christ and who, while on earth, were invited to “approach the throne of grace with boldness” (Heb. 4:15). Whatever the “open door” may be, it is a door not made with human hands; nor is it a door that human hands may open or close. John crosses the threshold by God’s grace through faith and enters the riches of the Creator’s throne room.
Next: A Unique Voice