Popular television shows like “Ghost Adventures” use the latest technologies to “prove” that spirits of the dead are all around us – and want to make their presence known.
But is this true? The short answer is no. As Christians, we must gauge all truth claims by the Bible, the ultimate and unchanging measure of reality.
If you believe doomsayers or John Cusack movies, the world will end Dec. 21. That’s the date of the so-called Mayan Apocalypse, when an important cycle of the Maya Long Count Calendar draws to a close.
Not to worry. End-of-days predictions have made and broken pundits and self-proclaimed prophets for millennia. Not to be outdone by religious fanaticism, contemporary culture embraces the drama of a cataclysmic end to the world.
For example, in the 1979 film “Mad Max,” a shortage of fossil fuels drives the breakdown of society, prompting leather-clad motorcyclists to terrorize anyone with a full tank of petrol.
In “Planet of the Apes,” astronaut George Taylor discovers he has traveled through space and time, returning to an earth where humans are mute and loud-mouthed armor-wearing apes are in charge.
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 and watched the youngster’s appearances on TV shows.
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 will be repressed.
In any case, stories like Colton’s appeal to our desire to know more about the afterlife.
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).
Rev. 8:10-11 – The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter (HCSB).
This is the third of the first four trumpet judgments that affect natural objects, in this case fresh water, resulting in the death of many. The final three trumpet judgments, which we will address in later lessons, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.
In this judgment, John sees “a great star, blazing like a torch,” falling from heaven and striking a third of the rivers and springs of water. This star is called Wormwood, which means absinthe, a bitter herb, and many die from drinking the water.
Is this “star” an object from outer space – a meteorite, perhaps? Is it an angel or demon? A world leader? When John says it falls from heaven, does He mean from the throne of God or the stellar sphere? Why does it fall on a third of the fresh water? And are these all the waters of the earth, or just in Israel and the surrounding lands? Why does this star have a name? And how can a bitter herb kill so many people? Let’s dig a little deeper and see what we can learn.
The third angel blew his trumpet
As a reminder, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In this case, the sound of the shofar announces the commencement of judgment. Following each trumpet blast, we are introduced to the instrument of God’s judgment: hail and fire, mixed with blood (the first judgment); something like a great mountain ablaze with fire (the second judgment); a great star, blazing like a torch (the third judgment); a third of the sun, moon and stars struck (the fourth judgment); a star with the key to the abyss (the fifth judgment); the release of four bound angels at the Euphrates River (the sixth judgment); and loud voices in heaven and an opening of God’s sanctuary (the seventh trumpet).
The sound of the shofar alerts us that God is moving righteously in judgment, extending His mercy a little while longer for those who will repent, destroying the wicked, rewarding His people, and preparing the created order for new heavens and a new earth.
Christians in particular should joyfully anticipate the sounding of the trumpet that heralds our physical resurrection and glorification – the “last trumpet” of 1 Cor. 15:52 and “the trumpet of God” in 1 Thess. 4:16.
Next: A great star fell from heaven (Rev. 8:10-11)