What about Reincarnation?

Many are intrigued by the teachings of the eastern religions, including the idea of reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that a departed soul will re-enter fleshly life in a new body. After millions (yes, millions) of cycles of birth and death, the person may be able to reach oneness with the universe and escape the reincarnation cycle.

Reincarnation is not based upon the Bible. Belief in a cycle of birth, death and re-birth is contrary to clear statements of Scripture. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says of death, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” The spirit returns to God, not to the earth to enter another body. Nothing can be more clear and contrary to the teaching of reincarnation than the declaration of Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.”

Reincarnation is not a random cycling of a spirit through various lives. Reincarnation serves a purpose that is the very opposite of the Biblical teaching of salvation. Through the process of reincarnation the person is given the opportunity to work out bad choices from previous lives. In the cycle of karma the bad done in previous lives affects the present life, and the choices made in this one affect the next. Through reincarnation the person is able to gain good karma until he becomes enlightened enough to break the karmic cycle. The Biblical teaching of sin and salvation is nothing like the hope offered by reincarnation. Salvation is never achieved by works, whether in this life or one to come. Salvation is always the gift of God received only through faith in Jesus. Those who are saved by believing Jesus have no need of a future life to work out their sins. Those who do not trust Jesus for salvation have no chance of ever being good enough for heaven.

Reincarnation is not another way to describe the Biblical teaching of resurrection. Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of them that sleep in the dust shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” The comfort Jesus gave at the death of Lazarus was, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live.” (John 11:25) Resurrection is the restoration of the deceased body and the reunion of the departed soul with the newly restored body. Except for the few Biblical examples of miraculous resurrection of individuals, the resurrection will be a mass event which will take place at the end of this age. Reincarnation is the re-entrance of an individual’s soul into a new body. The reincarnated person’s new body could be anything from an insect to a holy man depending on his karma. Reincarnation gives no promise of resurrection, but instead offers the hope of eventually escaping the endless cycle of birth and death.

Reincarnation is a belief of many eastern religions that is tied directly to their other religious principles. As a result, reincarnation is not a Biblical concept. It is instead completely contrary to the Bible.

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Does the Bible say anything about near-death experiences?

The image of a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end has been received by many Americans as the standard description of what a person experiences when he dies. This picture has entered the American consciousness through movies and personal stories of near death experiences. Other accounts have included the spirits of family and friends encouraging (or in some cases, warning) the person. Some who suffered heart attacks during medical procedures have described floating above the operating table, watching the doctor operate on their body and listening to the conversation of the nurses. Those who have experienced near death experiences know the memories are real and vivid. Does the Bible say anything about how a Christian should evaluate these near death experiences?

Before getting to he Biblical answer, a couple practical points should be mentioned as an aid to rightly thinking through this issue. Any injury that brings a person close to the point of death, and especially one that stops blood flow to the brain, traumatizes the entire body. As death approaches, the body suffers so many things that the senses are often overwhelmed or confused. Caution must be exercised that reports from those suffering great trauma do not become the final authority on how we understand major issues like life and death.

Some results of extreme or life threatening trauma have been tested and their effects duplicated in controlled settings. For example, astronauts in training are subjected increasing g-forces until they pass out. The astronauts commonly report seeing just before unconciouscness a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end. This vision seems to be nothing more than the common experience of a brain suffering the effects of oxygen deprivation.

The Bible speaks of some who died and were restored to life, but never records a near death experience or tells of someone who experienced one. Aside from Jesus, the Bible describes 8 specific instances of a person dying and being raised back to life. No record is passed on of what they experienced in the moments just before or during their death. The Apostle Paul wrote a signficant portion of the New Testament. In all his writings Paul made no mention of what he experienced in death. This implies, at the very least, the experiences of the person transitioning from death to life are not that important.

The only Biblical reference to a journey from life to the afterlife is that of the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16. When he died he was “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” (Luke 16:22) On the other hand, the rich man who died was buried and woke up in hell. Lazarus’ angelic transport could have been a Jewish idiom. But if angels literally guide the soul from earth to heaven, then that should be the standard by which all claims of near death experiences are evaluated. However, when the Bible mentions the movement of the soul from earth to heaven the typical description is of immediate translation. Scriptures describes death in such a way that we expect there to be no delay between death and the afterlife. Paul’s statement that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord agrees with David’s words, “I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” (Psalm 17:15) The soul has no conscious experience between the body falling asleep in death and the spirit awakening in the afterlife.

The Bible says nothing about near death experiences, but what it says about life and death makes it much more likely that the events experienced near death are not necessarily supernatural or spiritual in nature. They are probably the result of senses disturbed by the terrible trauma being endured. Hallucinations, vivid memories, partial awareness or oxygen defficient brain cells are ample explanations for near death experiences. Even if the near death episodes are actual experiences of real events, they must take a second place in importance and authority to the Bible. Exta-Biblical glimpses into the afterlife, if possible, are never necessary for the Christian life. God has revealed in His Word all that men need to know about what happens at death.

Should Christians study prophecy?

It seems that many Christians are unwilling to engage in serious study of books that speak of future events, like Revelation. Some do not even like to read those books. Christians shy away from the study of end times prophecy because of the difficulty in understanding the subject matter and the many different opinions taught about the end of the world. The study of the Bible’s teachings about the end times is certainly challenging, but is this a good reason to avoid the subject? Does the Bible give any reasons why Christians should study prophecy?

Christians should study prophecy because it is a significant portion of the Bible. Scripture contains over 31,000 verses and a quarter of them are prophetic in nature. Some of the prophecies have already been fulfilled, but there are many still awaiting fulfillment. Most of Revelation, large portions of Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel contain prophecies of the end times. One of the longest recorded sermons of Jesus (Matthew 24-25) speaks of the end times. To neglect the study of prophecy is to neglect the study of large portions of the Bible.

Christians should study prophecy because it shows the faihtfulness of God. The prophetic passages reveal the wrath of God on sin, show how God is going to fulfill all the promises He made to the saints of the Old Testament and assure the Christian that salvation brings eternal blessings. The study of prophecy shows that God has kept His Word and that He will continue to do so throughout all eternity.

One of the common objections against studying prophecy is the rampant speculations and crazy predictions from the prophecy “experts’. God did not tell us His future plans so Christians could attempt to figure out exactly when Jesus is going to return or could create crazy speculations about the relation of lunar eclipses to the end times. Christians should study prophecy so they will know how to live in this life in light of Christ’s return.

God has revealed how Christians are to apply the prophetic passages. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” (2 Peter 3:12) The return of Jesus, the establishment of His kingdom on earth, the judgment of the lost, the destruction of all things and the establishment of eternity should all motivate the Christian to live holy and godly lives in this world. The study of prophecy challenges the Christian to live today for eternity.

One caution must be given. While the study of the end times is good and profitable, care must be taken to not overemphasize its importance. The Christian ought to have an undersanding of all the Word. To neglect any portion of the Bible is dangerous. If a person only studies the prophetic passages, then significant and essential portions of the Bible will be ignored. The study of prophecy should not be neglected, neither should the study of prophecy cause the Christian to neglect the other doctrines of the Bible.

The difficult study of end times prophecies is worthwhile for every Christian. God promises, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” (Revelation 1:3)

Why are there so many different kinds of churches?

If Christians all love God, and if every believer has the Holy Spirit living within him to give understanding of the Word of God, then why are there so many different churches that believe so many different things? Most communities have Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Baptist Churches. Add to this the Congregational churches, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentacostal, Church of God, Church of Christ, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Assemblies of God and non-denominational churches of all stripes and flavors. If God’s truth never changes, why is the list of different kinds of churches is so long and bewildering.

Not all who claim to love God truly love Him. Men have always used religion for their own selfish purposes. The Epistle of Jude warns against those who “ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” Selfish men will use the Bible to justify their false teachings so they can get rich. Besides the willful distortion of the Bible for selfish gains there is the inability of the unsaved to understand Scripture. The things of God cannot be understood by the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14), thus those who have rejected God can not rightly understand God’s Word.

On top of this, Satan is actively working to confuse and distort the truth of the Bible. Since the beginning of the church there have been false teachers masquerading as men of God and traveling around teaching things they ought not (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). The Bible also warns that as we get closer to the return of Jesus more preachers of false doctrines will spring up. Satan has always and will continue to have men in the church who promote demonic doctrines.

Aside from the distortion of truth by the enemies of God, believers face a couple challenges in rightly understanding the Bible. Sin has affected our ability to comprehend the truths of God. The effects of sin upon mankind are more than just moral. Everyone has brain damage. The consequences of sin prevent the minds of men from working as they ought. Salvation does not entirely change this reality. After salvation the Christian still battles the hindrances of the flesh. Even when the Holy Spirit enlightens our understanding we do not fully know as we ought. Now we know in part. Now we see dimly. Our limited knowledge hampers our understanding of Divine truth which causes good Christians to reach different conclusions.

Every person is also a product of his time. As we read the Bible we cannot help but read it in light of our own presuppositions and assumptions. Our understanding of God’s Word is shaped by our culture. The most careful student of the Word can not fully put aside his own culture and background. Everyone has his own ways of thinking. Some people are more logical and some are more emotional. Some prefer facts while others prefer experiences. The variations in each person and personality shapes how we understand, and misunderstand, truth.

From the earliest days of the church there have been competing ideas within the church about key truths. In the beginning the transition out of Judaism and the influence of false teachers caused the church many troubles. The apostles had to confront false ideas that had already begun to infiltrate the church. Small wonder that when the apostles passed off the scene churches began to develop different ideas. Many different churches exist because Satan is active in hindering the truth and because we do not yet know God’s truth perfectly.

Will the rapture be secret?

When the rapture happens all living believers will be taken directly into heaven. At the same time all deceased believers will be resurrected. This sudden event will happen just before the anti-Christ comes to power and the tribulation begins. Those who reject the doctrine of the rapture use the name “secret rapture” as a derogatory term to discredit the idea. Some preachers have taught that Christians will disappear and no one on earth will know what happened. The rapture is a Biblical doctrine, but does the Bible say it will be a secret event?

Often we have questions about the Bible that it does not answer. Scripture gives very little attention to the rapture. For example, the Bible never describes the response of those left behind. Most of the material in the popular treatments of the rapture, like the Left Behind books and movies, is pure fiction. Though the Bible says nothing about the immediate aftermath of the rapture, it seems certain that the disappearance of millions of people from the earth will capture the attention of the world.

What the Bible does say about the rapture gives the sense of a dramatic event that will shake the world. The Bible describes archangels sounding trumpets, graves emptying and believers disappearing. Many think only Christians will hear the heavenly trumpets, but why? The Bible never says who will or will not hear the trumpet. Since 1 Corinthians 15 describes the events of the rapture as happening in the blink of an eye, we can safely assume that the saved will not float gently up into the air to drift slowly out of sight. Graves will suddenly empty and Chrsitians will disappear. It seems very unlikely that no one will notice these things when they happen. The rapture can hardly be called a secret event.

However, the real question is, will those left behind understand what is happening? Most of the world will probably not recognize the theological significance of the disappearance of all Christians. Those familiar with the Biblical teaching of the rapture will probably figure out what has happened. But since those left behind will be the ones who did not believe the gospel, it is safe to assume they will be tempted to seek explanations other than that God took all believers to heaven. The Bible does not teach that the rapture will be a secret. The Bible does not teach that the rapture will be seen by everyone. All we can say for sure is that the rapture will happen.

Was Judas Iscariot saved?

Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples. Judas was the one who sold out Jesus to those who wanted to kill him. When thousands of people abandoned Jesus because His words were too difficult to believe, Judas stayed with him. He was a theif who stole money that was given to Jesus. Judas traveled across the region of Judea preaching the message of Jesus to the Israelites. While a disciple of Jesus, Judas probably performed miracles. Judas obviously believed something about Jesus or he would not have devoted over three years of his life to following Him. The combination of committed disciple and greedy betrayer causes many people wonder whether or not Judas was actually saved.

The evidences for Judas’ salvation are not conclusive. Jesus said specifically that that doing miracles is not evidence of true salvation (Matthew 7:21-23). Belief in the existence of God is not enough, for even the devils believe. (James 2:19) Judas’ actions as a disciple are not necessarily proof of salvation nor was Judas’ betrayal of Jesus proof that he was unsaved. Peter denied Jesus (though he did not sell Him for money), but Peter later repented of his denial.

When Judas betrayed Jesus he felt great remorse. Matthew 27:3 says that Judas repented himself, yet Judas’ repentance does not seem to have the hallmarks of saving repentance. His response seems to be an emotional sorrow, not a rejection of his sinful actions or choices. He was sorry that Jesus was going to be put to death, but not necessarily sorry that he had betrayed Jesus. The remorse of Judas did not lead him to repentance but to suicide.

The Bible never gives a definite statement about the salvation of Judas, but Satan’s possession of Judas seems to strongly imply that he was not saved. (John 13:27) Many Christians are agreed that a genuine believer can never be demon possessed. It seems extremely unlikely that God would allow Satan to take possession of one of His children. This is even more telling in the case of Judas when he contrasted with Peter. The evening before the crucifixion Jesus warned Peter, “Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat.” But Jesus tells him, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”(Luke 22:31-32) Satan was actively working on Judas, but Jesus gives no indication of praying for Judas. Would the Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep neglect to protect one who was truly His own?

Scripture gives no compelling reason to believe Judas was saved. Some have said we do not know the reality of a person’s heart, so we should not say if one was saved or not. While the compassionate Christian will be careful to avoid being overly dogmatic about the state of another’s soul, the Bible gives specific evidences of salvation. The evaluation of the Biblical evidence leads me to conclude Judas was probably not saved. My conclusion does not condemn him to hell, nor do I wish for Judas to burn in hell. A comparison of Judas’ life and choices to the Biblical evidence of salvation leads me to believe he was never saved. If Judas had of repented of his sin, the grace of God is great enough that even the betrayal of Jesus could have been forgiven.

What is God’s “still small voice”?

When seeking the will of God, some Christians counsel that we should be listening for the still small voice of God. When we are at peace, prayed up and waiting on the Lord, then He will speak quietly to the soul to make His will known.

The phrase “still small voice” comes from 1 Kings 19:12. At Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a test to see who was the true God. Though 400 prophets of Baal spent most of the day praying for their god to send fire heaven, their false god did not hear. Elijah offered a simple prayer to Jehovah and God sent fire from heaven that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and the altar it was offered on. After this dramatic victory, the Queen Jezebel swore to put Elijah to death. In fear for his life, Elijah fled. Over six weeks later he was 300 miles away at Mount Sinai. There on Mount Sinai God spoke to Elijah.

While Elijah was camped in a cave, a strong wind blew that broke the rocks in pieces, but God was not in the wind. An earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire. After all those terrifying events there came a quiet gentle whisper, the sound of silence. When Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave and God spoke with Him.

The lesson many take from this passage is that God speaks to us quietly in a way that is often very hard to hear. If we will just listen carefully God will tell us His will. However, 1 Kings 19 has nothing to do with how Christians today find the will of God. Even if it did, the passage does not prove what is being asserted. God did not speak to Elijah in a still small voice. After Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave. Then God spoke with Him. The conversation that Elijah had with God was clear and audible. God asked Elijah a question, Elijah answered and God gave Elijah specific instructions. When God began to speak with Elijah, there was no whispering involved. There was no gentle prompting of the heart. God spoke clearly.

If the still small voice is not God whispering to our soul, what is it? The still small voice was part of an object lesson to Elijah. Elijah was a fiery prophet who had just come from a great, dramatic victory. After the victory the people praised God, the prophets of Baal were put to death, God sent rain to end a 3 1/2 year drought. Things were going great, God’s power was on display and then Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life. In an incredible emotional reaction, Elijah fled to Mount Sinai.

At Mount Sinai Elijah saw the fire, felt the earthquake, heard the roaring wind, but God is not in them. God is not using those things to reveal Himself to His people. Instead, God was doing something else. God’s plan is not for a dramatic display of His power. God planned to do something even more effective- the quiet, almost unnoticed work. God was telling Elijah that He can and does work just as powerfully in the quiet as in the dramatic.

The still small voice of God is not the secret whisper of His will to your heart. The still small voice of God was an illustration to Elijah that God works in ways that are easy to overlook. God’s gentle goodness works powerfully to accomplish His perfect purposes. We do not need to listen for a still small voice in our hearts telling us God’s will. God speaks to men today just as clearly as He did to Elijah. His words are not audible, they are written down clearly for all to see and understand.

What is Soul Sleep?

If a couple Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on your door to tell you about their church, there is one doctrine that they probably won’t talk about right away. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are the two most well known groups in America that believe in soul sleep. The doctrine of soul sleep teaches that when a person dies, the soul, just like the body, loses all awareness and sensation. At death the soul of the person does not cease to exist, nor does it enter into heaven or hell, but it becomes unconscious of anything until the day of resurrection.

This doctrine finds support in the Bible’s use of the word “sleep” to describe death. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, He told His disciples that Lazarus was asleep. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul refers to those who have died when he says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” Proponents of soul sleep believe the figure of sleep applies to the deceased’s body and soul.

Other support is found in passages like Psalm 146:4, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” and Psalm 6:5, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Since man is more just body, since the dead do not think, and since the dead do not praise God, then the soul the soul must go into an unconscious or unaware state after death.

While this may seem to be reasonable and compelling evidence, the Bible makes several clear statements death which make the doctrine of soul sleep impossible. When Jesus taught about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 He plainly taught that when a person dies he immediately enters into his conscious reward. There is no delay between death and awareness. If the soul has no awareness, then the rich man could not wake up in hell. He would be aware of nothing until the resurrection. If the rich man awoke at the resurrection, Abraham was a liar when he said that the man’s brothers could read the Old Testament and thus be saved from hell. What Jesus describes is immediate, conscious awareness of the afterlife.

The book of Revelation tells of martyrs at the throne of God pleading for the punishment of their tormentors. They are clearly conscious, clearly communicating with God and clearly in heaven between their death and the resurrection. Why would they be asking God how long until He would judge their persecutors if they had been resurrected and were at the judgment the same time as their murderers?

The Bible uses sleep as a figurative term to describe the apparent condition of the dead. Sleep is not intended to describe the condition or awareness of the soul. The poetic passages of Psalms and Ecclesiastes that refer to the silence of the dead are speaking of the inability of the deceased to do any thing upon this earth. Soul sleep is not a Biblical doctrine, but a false teaching which denies the clear truths of the Bible about death, judgment and the afterlife.