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By Richard Gunther
Many people have a longing for a better world, and many express this longing in terms of a vague but real afterlife, where the souls of the dearly departed may rest in eternal bliss, free at last from the sorrows and trials of this present life. Again, at several funeral services I have attended, the ambiguous nature of the service has left me with the impression that the soul of the person in the coffin, regardless of his or her beliefs in, or lack of beliefs in Jesus, will even now be in heaven. God, it is suggested, welcomes all and sundry into His eternal Kingdom, because, it is thought, He is too loving and too big-hearted to send anyone, even the very worst of sinners, to hell.
On the more formal, or technical front, there are several religions, which teach dogmatically that death is not the end of life, but that it is a transition between two lives, or levels of life. The souls of the departed, it is taught, pass from this life into the next, and return as another human or animal. As the Hindu says “There is a chain of rebirths in which each soul, through virtuous living, can rise to a higher state.” The ultimate of goal of Hinduism is to reach Nirvana, which is a state of freedom from rebirth.
Against all these beliefs, general and specific, is the Christian Bible, which teaches that death is the end of life, the extinction of consciousness, until the day of resurrection. It is not taught anywhere in the Bible that souls fly to heaven at the moment of death, or that the “saints” are in heaven, awaiting the day of their return to earth. This death-to-heaven teaching is a tradition which has been smuggled into the Christian church from the heathen or pagan religions, and ought, I think, to be exposed for what it is: a lie.
But that aside, the belief in reincarnation is not an idea which was invented by humans. Its origin can be traced back to the beginning of human history, and its shape can be found in the words of Satan as he tempted Adam and Eve. God told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him, they would die (Gen.2:17) The Hebrew actually means “dying you shall die”, which explains why death was not instant on their disobedience. The process of death began as soon as sin entered the world, which is why we are accustomed to seeing humans, plants, animals and even the mineral kingdom subject to ageing, decay and disintegration on all levels.
Satan however, contradicted God and suggested: “You shall not surely die: for God knows that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods . . .” In these simple words, the whole theme of life after death, reincarnation and variations of it are found.
Let us pause for a while and read some of the ways in which this double lie of Satan’s has been amplified and expressed by various non-Christian belief systems:
In general terms, Spiritualists believe that:
Unification Church (The ‘Moonies’):
Unity School of Christianity:
The fact that most humans long for a life after death indicates something hidden deep in their psyche, or subconscious. It is an inherent belief, because the thought that “this is all there is” is untenable to many. Life is such a brief span of time, and there are so many unaddressed injustices that it seems logical that there should be another place for people to go to, where the mess can be sorted out. Some people cry out for Judgement, for redressing of wrongs, for punishment of tyrants, and so on. “Surely” they cry, “These things cannot be the final word – there must be another life after death, in which the final balancing of the books can be carried out!”
Animals too are often included in the afterlife. Many people (the American Indians, for example) imagine ‘happy hunting grounds’ for themselves and their pets and it is well known that Egyptians (and many other civilizations) took their most precious things with them to the grave, so they could continue to enjoy their services in the life to come. Some people pray to their departed at the graveside, others sincerely belief that ‘so-and-so’ is ‘up there’ watching over them. The Roman church among others has long held that many chosen saints make intercession on behalf of people here on earth, and Mary is supposed to be seated close to her Son – where she is supposed to have been for the last 2000 years.
The lie by Satan that death is not the end of life, and that a god-like state awaits us after death, is clearly seen in all these above cases. Humans instinctively reject the idea of the finality of death partly because we are made in the image of God, who is eternal, and partly because the lie of reincarnation seems more attractive that total unconsciousness.
There are many books on the subject of Reincarnation, which the Reader is encouraged to find. Some of these books are written to support the belief, and others are written to reject it. Those which support the belief quite often move from mere dogmatism, or teaching, to supposed ‘case histories’ of people who have discovered or remembered the place where they supposedly lived in a former life. One girl, for example, remembered many details about a village in India, though she had never been to the village. Based on the ‘memories’ of the girl, the case for reincarnation was apparently ‘proved’, for how else could she know about these things except by previously being there? To those who believe in reincarnation this kind of testimony is a watertight evidence, but to those who believe in the power of Satan to deceive these cases are but another of his tricks.
After all, is it not likely that he who started the lie will do all he can to make it seem plausible? Having told one lie, is it not probable that Satan will not hesitate to tell more lies? Even in the human sphere, this is the usual progression. So why should it surprise us if it happens in the heavenly?
Satan the liar.
One character trait found in Satan is his propensity to tell lies. This aspect of his makeup is worth pursuing, because it provides a good foundation for the question: “Should we trust Satan?” If we can show that Satan is totally untrustworthy, then logically, anything he says should be examined carefully, or rejected as unreliable.
Satan was called “The father of lies” by Jesus.
“You (religious leaders) are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” John 8:44
In this statement Jesus shows how Satan is the supreme and unrivalled liar, and that people who follow him are like his children. By extension, if anyone propagates beliefs, which are not written in the Bible, then they also become, by association, followers of Satan. This means that all reincarnation teaching is Satanic because it contradicts God’s Word, and that all who teach it are repeating the lies of Satan.
Again, in the book of Revelation, we are told which classes of deceivers are thrown into the lake of fire:
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” Revelation 21:8
Notice which classes of liar are in the lake of fire. These words “whoremongers” and so on are not to be taken literally of course, but as symbolic of other more spiritual things, such as those who mix truth with error (spiritual prostitution) and so on, but the theme is clear – Satan’s work is always the corruption of God’s Truth, and his agency is always humans who prefer these corruptions. Behind every false belief is Satan. Behind every Bible-contradicting religion is Satan. Behind every Cult and Philosophy, every spiritual counterfeit and Theological opposition is Satan. He may not always be directly involved, because humans are more than capable of propagating error without Satan’s help, but there is no question that Satan is the originator of every basic contradiction and deception known to Man. You might say there is a ‘family likeness’.
The lie by Satan that sinners could “be as gods” is usually part of the life-after-death teachings of cults and religions. It is an appealing teaching because it gives people a hope that one day, after death, they might be happier, healthier and perhaps even live in a state of absolute bliss. Hinduism and Krishna and others for example teach “one’s deeds, good and bad, are measured and judged either for or against him. Only when his good deeds have “atoned” for his bad deeds (and he is thus cleansed of this evil world) can he realize his oneness with Krishna and cease his cycles of rebirth”(‘Answers to the Cultists at Your Door’ by R. and G. Passantino, page 150)
But such teachings are very difficult to examine. Obviously, if someone has been reincarnated and returned as another person, they might be able to relate to the finest detail incidents from their previous life. This might be convincing evidence, but what usually happens is that the previous life is subsequently forgotten. Those who claim to remember a past life are hard pressed to produce any substantial details.
There are also many people who all claim to have once been, for example, Cleopatra, or Elvis, or Mark Anthony, or Caesar Augustus. Obviously all these people cannot all be right. And just how anyone can decide which modern-day person actually was the person in question is another indissoluble problem! A third problem is the fact that world population is increasing. Reincarnation would make this rather difficult, unless of course new souls are being produced from somewhere. But this last point may be considered facetious, as there are always explanations to cover such things.
Does the Bible teach reincarnation?
The simple answer is “no”, but there are some texts which the supporters of reincarnation like to point to, so we will quickly cover these now.
1. The witch of Endor
In 1 Samuel 28 is an account of a séance. King Saul sees the army of the Philistines and in fear tries to find out what will happen in the coming battle, but God is displeased with Saul and “When Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” (verse 6). This means that God withheld an answer. He gave Saul no dream, or vision, and no reply from the high priest who held the Urim and Thimmim (two objects in the high priest’s breastplate bag which answered to a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ depending on which he took out), and no visit from any prophet.
Upset by this lack of reply Saul went to a spiritist woman at Endor, disguised himself, and asked her to call up Samuel the prophet. The woman did so and a demon appeared, with the appearance of an old man. Saul could not see this apparition but when the woman described it he concluded that it was Samuel. It is clear from the context that Samuel did not appear, so no evidence for reincarnation is present. This was a common demonic manifestation, and besides, God had already refused to answer Saul by prophets, so it is hardly likely that the great, obedient prophet Samuel would disobey God for the sake of wicked Saul.
2. The mount of transfiguration
In Matthew 17 (and Mark 9) Jesus and some of his disciples go up a hill and there Jesus is suddenly made glorious, and with him are seen Moses and Elijah. But as the transfiguration passes and Jesus comes down the hill he says: “Tell the vision to no man”. “Vision” in Greek is “horama” (hor’-am-ah) something gazed at, i.e. a spectacle (especially supernatural), sight, vision. The vision was provided to show, in a picture, the relationship between Jesus the Son of God and two of his most significant servants.
The fact that no dead prophet can exist alive again until the great day of resurrection is dealt with a little further on in this essay.
3. The return of Elijah
Some believers in reincarnation point to what Jesus said about Elijah. According to them John the Baptist was Elijah literally returned – see Matthew 17. This, they say, is proof of rebirth.
The context shows that such an assumption is not valid. The disciples had just seen a vision of Elijah, and now they wondered why the scribes insisted that Elijah must come as a herald for the Messiah. Elijah had not (literally) come, they thought, so how could Jesus be the Messiah? The scribes had assumed that the Messiah could not come until the actual literal prophet Elijah came first and proclaimed him – the scribes did not believe in reincarnation either. But Jesus said Elijah had already come (verse 12), “then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptist”.
In what way was John Elijah? In the ministry he performed. John’s call was to “prepare the way” for the Messiah. The actual prophesy is in Malachi 4:5,6 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord”. The mystery is revealed in Luke 1:17 where the angel told Elizabeth that her son John would “go before Him (the Messiah) in the spirit and power of Elijah . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord”.
If the Jews had accepted John’s call and repented, the kingdom would have been given to them. Jesus said “And if you will receive it, this (John) is Elijah, which was for to come”. (Matthew 11:14.
There are other passages which believers in reincarnation like to quote, but it is interesting how on the one hand they refuse to accept the authority of the Bible, yet on the other hand they like to quote it to support their theories.
What does the Bible say about death?
In another of my essays ‘A Matter of life and Death’ this question is carefully examined. As far as the Bible is concerned time, for humans at least, Time runs in a line. History is linear. In God’s plan, humans must go through conception, birth, death, the sleep of death for an indeterminate duration, then resurrection and judgement, followed by eternity. It is clear from what the Bible says that these things follow in this sequence, without variation, for almost all humans.
We say ‘almost’ because during the ministry of Jesus and on the odd occasion in the Old Testament, one or two people were revived, but they were raised from the dead as mortals, and soon died again. This fact actually supports the Christian view that each soul is an individual, because each person was raised and then died, without being in some other body in some other place.
The Bible view of time also contradicts the reincarnation view, because God has allotted only 6000 or so years to His Great Plan for the restoration of the human race, from Creation, through to Redemption, and finally the Return of Christ. In order for reincarnation to work, endless ages are required, for each transmigrating soul to gradually perfect itself.
But the greatest witness to the non-reincarnation view is the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus died, and that after three days it was the same Jesus who rose again. If we believe the Bible then we must accept what it says, and there is no question, according to the Bible, that it was the same Jesus that died who also returned from the grave. Jesus himself insisted that his disciples examine him, and he ate food in front of them to prove he was not a spirit, or apparition – Luke 24:39-43.
The following are some verses, which emphasize the unique quality of life:
Josh McDowell, in his book ‘A Ready Defense’, page 215 says, “After more than 700 hours of studying the subject and thoroughly investigating its foundation, I came to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon people, or it is the most important fact of history. The resurrection issue takes the question ‘Is Christianity valid?” out of the realm of philosophy and makes it a question of history. Does Christianity have an historically acceptable basis? Is there sufficient evidence available to warrant belief in the resurrection?”
The answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes”. There are in fact at least five good, solid bases on which we can rest our belief in a literal resurrection.
1. Historical records – which refer to the event
2. Prophecy – which foretold it
3. Christianity – the rise of a body of believers
4. Logic – based on the Bible it is a reasonable proposition
5. Miracles – answered prayers, healings and so on
The relevance of the resurrection to the subject of reincarnation is this: if Jesus rose from the dead, then there is no room for a second birth. If Jesus set the pattern for all believers, then there is no warrant to believe that Christians need to be reincarnated. Jesus himself claimed to be the judge of the entire world, and as such he intends to one day raise all the dead – that is all the people who have died since Adam and Eve – so obviously there is no need for reincarnation.
What advantages might there be in reincarnation?
There are several.
In conclusion we find that we are now faced with two different points of view: the reincarnation view and the Bible view. We cannot fuse the two together, or reach a compromise in which both views work together. If we choose the path of reincarnation we follow the lie of Satan, and bypass the cross of Christ. If we follow the Bible path we must utterly reject the whole teaching on reincarnation. There is no middle road.
Norman Anderson, in ‘Jesus Christ: the Witness of History’, pages 113-114 says: “He frequently made claims which would have sounded outrageous and blasphemous to Jewish ears, even from the lips of the greatest of prophets. He said that he was in existence before Abraham, and that he was ”lord” of the Sabbath; he claimed to forgive sins, he frequently identified himself (in his work, his person and his glory) with the one he termed his Heavenly Father; he accepted men’s worship; and he said that he was to be the judge of men at the last day, when their eternal destiny would depend on their attitude to him. Then he died. It seems inescapable therefore, that his resurrection must be interpreted as God’s decisive vindication of these claims, while the alternative – the finality of the cross – would necessarily have implied the repudiation of his presumptuous and even blasphemous assertions”.
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