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At death, Jesus takes us home

PROFESSIONS OF FAITH

One of the last times he saw his sister was in the hospital. She was suffering terribly from cancer. They talked very candidly about the future. She looked up at him and said, “John, I am going to die very soon and be with the Lord.” Dr. John MacArthur looked at his sister and said, “Sis, just remember, the worst thing that can happen to a Christian is the best thing that can happen to anyone else.”

Now I find that to be an interesting perspective on death. Children have interesting perspectives, as well, just ask a few.

Everybody has to die sometime, even if you don’t want to.

When you die, God takes care of you like your mother did when you were alive, only God doesn’t yell at you all the time.

God doesn’t tell you when you’re going to die, because He wants it to be a big surprise.

Only the good people go to Heaven, the other people go to where it is hot all the time like Florida.

Everyone is scared to die, except the people who are already dead.

A good doctor can help you so that you won’t die. A bad doctor sends you to Heaven.

Everyone cries when somebody dies because they don’t want to be left behind.

The apostle John gives us his perspective on death and life after death. In Revelations John shares terrifying images of death, wars, famine, and plagues, as well as glorious images of heaven.

In Rev. 6 John tells us that he saw the Lamb (Christ) open the first of seven seals, each which release God’s judgments. The first seal releases four terrifying horsemen, one at a time, who appear to be angels of judgment.

The first horseman is riding a white horse, holding a bow and was given a crown. He then rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. War and terrorism are the judgments Jesus says will characterize the present age of John. But as horrible as they are such events do not signal the end Jesus tells us, rather, “the end is still to come,” for these are merely “the beginning of birth pangs” (Mark 13:7-8).

In the ancient Mediterranean world, the Parthians were known as the only group to use mounted archers with formidable skill. White was the sacred color of the Parthians, and every Parthian army included some sacred white horses.

Many Jews expected Parthians to play a role in a climactic war (1 Enoch 56:5-7; Sibel Oracle 5.438)

But Revelation uses this image to underscore the point of hostile invaders, not to predict a specific Parthian invasion. The point is Roman rule will someday collapse–not to yield to an eternal rule by Parthia, but ultimately by God. The emptiness of a Roman peace will be revealed.

Conquest and war remain terrifying specters for our generation. Expounding on the red horse years ago, the late Billy Graham warned about stockpiles of 60,000 hydrogen bombs that could destroy human life on earth 17 times over. Nuclear and chemical arsenals continue to be a threat today and some may soon be in the hands of terrorists with less fear of retaliation than nuclear states. By some estimates the world still has more than 50,000 nuclear weapons, more than enough to end modern civilization. Terrorists without bombs will use whatever they have to make their political statement. That’s why we see radical Islamic terrorists murdering thousands of politically uninvolved peasants in Algeria back in the 1990s, including one 8-year-old boy…nearly decapitated while having his throat slit.

Domestic terrorism also poses a genuine threat. While Seattle and Portland have seen riots and unrest, who can forget Timothy McVeigh, whose truck bomb killed 168 people in Oklahoma City? He was not an isolated activist. He took his script for this bombing directly from William Pierce’s Neo-Nazi novel, The Turner Diaries. He had peddled the book, which sold over 200,000 copies, as he traveled the gun circuit. The novel not only prescribes the sort of truck, explosives, and time of day for McVeigh’s bombing, it also describes plans for what violent white supremacists hope to do after they’ve destabilized the federal government, for instance the lynching of tens of thousands of “race-mixers” from lamp posts in Los Angeles.

War is brutal and doesn’t choose its victims fairly. Whether because we know more about it or because killing machines and ideologies are more efficient, the last century has been one of the most savage in human history. Many are familiar with the Nazi holocaust against the Jews and the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda. Less known is the rape of Nanking, where after the Chinese city’s surrender, women were gang-raped and killed and men were butchered for bayonet practice.

Between 1941 and 1945, 200,000 Korean women were abducted for daily rape by occupying Japanese soldiers; after virgins became rare married women were taken. The Japanese used these “comfort women” for “an average of 20 to 30 and up to 70 soldiers a day.” Some had their breasts cut off, many committed suicide; most were slaves. At the end of the war most were left behind to die in isolated areas or were exterminated to conceal evidence of these atrocious crimes. The soldiers had comfort women stand in open graves and then opened fire on them. About two hundred were reportedly forced into a submarine, which was then torpedoed.

Those of us who do not face such tests would be facing them if we were born in such countries; therefore, let’s make good use of the blessings God has given us for his kingdom, and honor and pray for our brothers and sisters. Part of Revelations message is the warning that all Christians be prepared for suffering. Suffering is unpleasant, but it’s universal. It’s our opportunity to prove what we’re made of. How many of us are ready to cling to God’s grace the way our brothers and sisters cling? The sufferings of Revelation 6 are in principle God’s judgment call on the world, meant to vindicate rather than crush God’s true remnant.

War reminds us that modern civilization, which so often regards with disgust the barbarism of ancient civilizations, remains captive to the same sinful human nature.

This first horseman’s conquest brings bloodshed, famine, economic destabilization and wide-spread death.

The second horseman rides a “fiery red,” horse, a grisly image. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.”

Zechariah prophesied “a man riding a red horse” which has been interpreted as the Lord’s bringing judgment, turning the world into blood. “The sword” represents the judgment of warfare and violent death. No mention is made of nations, so “making men slay each other” might involve civil war, and revolts, like the Judean revolt of 66 AD and the violent power struggles in Rome in 68 AD. Bloodshed continues through all generations, personal, domestic, tribal. While we may suffer and die. God has a place for those who repent and call on his name.

Heaven is the only place with perfect peace and rest. Until then consider how one Christian faced suffering and death. Sentenced to be burned at the stake with the embers and the flames already beginning to lick at his feet one of his tormenters said, “What can your Christ do for you now?”

This brave Christian said, “He can do, and is doing, three things. First, He can cause me to love you, and I do. Secondly, He can give me a joy unspeakable, so full of glory I can’t feel the pain, and He has.” Thirdly, “He can take me to a place where I will never feel pain again, and He will.”

“We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” Paul wrote of his desire to be with Christ (1 Cor. 5:8). The word “present” literally means “to be at home.” For those of us who are Christian “this world is not our home, we are just a’passin through.” The closer we get to God, the more our heart will be homesick for heaven.

In Gen. 25 we read, “Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.” It doesn’t say he went to sleep; it doesn’t say that he rested. It says, “he was gathered to his people.” Where were his people gathered? His people were gathered in Heaven. When we die, we immediately go to be with the Lord, and with those who have been gathered to the Lord. In other words, we go home.

That’s what Henry discovered. Henry Wilkerson was a quiet, but sweet and godly man. Henry became terminally ill with cancer and died. Sharing about his death, his wife Elaine said in his last days, Henry hadn’t been reacting to anyone; hadn’t been saying anything, he’d just been lying in bed. She said just before he died, he rallied, looked at her and said, “Elaine, I’ve been talking to Jesus.” She said, “Oh, what did He say?” “He told me ‘Henry, I’m coming to take you home.'” That’s exactly what Jesus does. At death He takes us home.

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Rev. Charles Eldredge is pastor of Maitland Church of the Brethren, Lewistown, PA where he is currently serving in his 27th year. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in S. Hamilton, MA.

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