“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1Co 15:54-55 NASB)
If the fact be told, Christianity is the only religion that sets aside death and judgment for her believers. Every other religion leaves humankind in a state of uncertainty and often even in hopelessness. In this entry I want to deal with that most crucial issue in the human experience, death and judgment.
As a beginning place I’ll share words from three men who represent the best that their religion had to offer; Rabbi Saccai of Judaism, Mohammed of Islam, and the Apostle Paul of Christianity. Each man speaks to what their religious world offered with respect to death and judgment.
Let’s begin with Saccai. Rabbi Saccai lived before and after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. His full name was Rabbi Yochanan ben Saccai. [Yochanan is Hebrew for John.] Some scholars believe that Rabbi Saccai was the ‘John’ who sat in judgment of the apostles and possibly participated in the trial of Jesus.
If that is the case here is the Scripture reference that may apply to Rabbi Saccai:
“On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. When they had placed them [Peter and John] in the center, they began to inquire, ‘By what power, or in what name, have you done this?’…
“[After the council had deliberated] And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Act 4:5-7,18 NASB)
Yochanan ben Saccai was so well known and revered in Judaism that when anyone spoke of John of the Sanhedrin, no futher identification was needed. He was so highly regarded in Judaism that he had the title, ‘the light of Israel, the right pillar of the Temple, and its mighty hammer.’
[The Jews loved titles as do many among Christians today. Jesus warned believers against the use of titles. That's why I have little for those who like to be called 'apostle' or 'prophet' so and so. To me it reeks of pride.]
As for Rabbi Saccai, this man was the major influencing factor in giving shape to Talmudic Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d.. But did he deserve the title, ‘light of Israel’? I’m afraid not. That title belongs to one Person alone, the Messiah.
Here is the Saccai’s death bed testimony as recorded in the Talmud:
Rabbi Saccai’s deathbed testimony
“When dying, his disciples came to see him. He burst into tears. Ask, ‘Why?’ ‘If I were now to be brought before an earthly king, who lives today and dies tomorrow, whose wrath and whose bonds are not everlasting, and whose sentence of death, even, is not that to everlasting death, who can be assuaged by arguments, or perhaps bought off by money I should tremble and weep; …
“…how much more reason have I for it, when about to be led before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be he, who liveth and abideth for ever, whose chains are chains for evermore, and whose sentence of death killeth for ever, whom I cannot assuage with words, nor bribe by money! …
“…And not only so, but there are before me two ways, one to paradise and the other to hell, and I know not which of the two ways I shall have to go whether to paradise or to hell: how, then, shall I not shed tears?”
Think about Yochanan ben Saccah’s death bed testimony. Does it sound like he had any assurance in that which was to come?
Then we have this statement from the writings of Islam, concerning Muhammed’s own insecurity.
How Muhammad looked at death
“Muhammad said: ‘By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me.’” (hadith 5:266) - In Islam the only guaranteed way to enter heaven is by martyrdom. This is the driving force of suicide bombers.
The testimony of the apostle
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain…But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Phil1:21-24)
Paul carried in his heart what old timers called ‘divine assurance.’ Every true believer carries this assurance.
Can we carry this further? How about the Hindu religion? It is the same. They preach ‘another’ Jesus. He is one of the many reincarnations of God, called an Avatar.
How about superstitions…
It doesn’t matter how many crosses a rock star may hang around his neck, this has nothing to do with Jesus of the gospels. The cross is not some amulet to wear to give good luck. The only cross that saves is the message of the cross. Paul said this message is, “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.“ (1Co1:18)
What then is the point? The point is that there is only one Jesus Christ. He Himself is in the message of the cross. And when Jesus Christ is preached, and received, and accepted as the atonement of our sins, and as Redeemer and Savior, for the believing one there is a seal placed upon their heart.
This seal carries in it the testimony of divine assurance. The seal carries in it the very life that Jesus came to give us. The seal contains the presence of heaven as a continual reminder that we are simply pilgrims on a journey.
And the seal carries in it that the believer has already been judged in Christ and that heaven is the believer’s assured destiny. Christian believers are the very children of the throne.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.“ Joh 5:24
“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb 2:14-15 NASB)
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Php 3:20-21 NASB)
” [God] and raised us up with Him [Jesus}, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:6-9 NASB)
Yes, Jesus laid death and judgment in the grave
This is why there is no such thing as a person not knowing if they are saved or not. You either believe in and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, or you don't. There is no middle ground. If you truly trust in Jesus as Lord of your life, this means you have left the world of darkness, that you have turned from your sins, and that you now carry in your heart a divine seal of salvation.
Paul adds to this in saying,
"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." (Rom8:14)
"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ..." (Rom 8:16,17)
"The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself ... and the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life..." (1John5:10)
Now we know why...
...Rabbi Jochanan ben Saccai faced death with tears and dread. and why Mohammed did not know what Allah would do with him. And we also understand why true believers have no dread of death or fear of eternity. It is because God's 'seal' of the heart carries with it the very essence of our heavenly home.
God's children all carry in themselves a heavenly consciousness. We know that this world is not our home. We share in the testimony of Jesus Christ.
"And He was saying to them [Pharisees], “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” (Joh 8:23)
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (Joh 15:19)
“[Father] I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they [all true believers] are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (Joh 17:14)
The simplicity of faith in Jesus
God’s divine seal of assurance goes much much deeper than our emotions. It is a thing of the heart. Paul said that with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. What he is saying is that the confession is an automatic response to what has happened in the person’s heart. We speak what is in our hearts. If Jesus Christ is our Lord, we will certainly let people know it.
The apostle also warns against believers following after strange teachings and following after things that may not be of God:
“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.“ (2Co 11:3NASB)
It is the simple message of faith in Jesus Christ, and in the finished work of the cross that we must preach and tell the world. If we are preaching anything else, there can be no work of salvation. The apostle quoted Isaiah, in saying,
“Lord, who has believed our report [message]?” He then says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Cf. Rom10)
Christ Himself actually speaks to the hearts of men and women in the preaching of the cross. This is what makes preaching so powerful. Paul says it plain enough when he said to the Corinthians,
“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1Co2:2)
He then explained why this was the only message he preached;
“So that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (Cf. 1Co2:5)
With all this in mind, let me share just a bit about…
The Jordan message…
Crossing the Jordan is a figure of speech that believers use for our passage into the eternal kingdom of God. As a long time minister of the gospel it has been my great honor to attend to the going home of so many of God’s children. It is as the Psalmist said,
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” (Psalm 116:15 nasb)
The Lord called me to preach the gospel of His Son when I was twenty-four years old. I will soon be seventy. But the Lord did something a bit extra on my behalf. He has also allowed me to sing the gospel in the form of songs that He has given me.
Some years ago the Lord gave me a song to share about the believer’s journey into His eternal kingdom. The song is entitled, ‘At the Crossing of the Jordan.’
There is nothing professional about the song, but it does carry with it a message from heaven. Take a moment to listen to ‘At the Crossing of the Jordan.’ Its me on the guitar with help from some dear friends and family. The song speaks to our journey home. Let it speak to your heart.
That’s it for now.
May the Lord be gracious to you,