Imagine a Thousand Years Ago!
I would like you to do some imagining with me. Place yourself back 1,000 years ago—which would be the year AD 1016. Or you could imagine 1,500 years ago, 1,200 years ago, or 700 years ago. Your ancestor might be living in a village in England, Germany, Italy, France, or Spain. Or he or she might be in an African village—in Ghana, the Congo, or Ethiopia; or a Middle Eastern village in Syria or Iraq; or an Indian village; or a Chinese village.
What thoughts crossed the mind of this ancestor of yours? Did he have a family life? (We’ll use the masculine pronouns here, but these points would be equally applicable to a female ancestor.) What about marriage, a job, a change of location, or a sickness?
Did this ancestor of yours have the ability to read and write? Probably not. If this person was living in Europe, he was probably Catholic—or perhaps Orthodox. If this ancestor lived in Africa or the Americas, he may have been animist or Muslim, and not at all “Christian” oriented. If he lived in India, maybe this ancestor was a Hindu; if he lived in Indonesia, he may have been a Muslim; and if he lived in Vietnam, he may have been a Buddhist. Did your ancestor come to his religious views from his own observations and inner conscience? Or did he follow a priest, pastor, or other religious leader?
As we look at this ancestor from our present perspective and in light of God’s Word, we would need to say that probably he was lost—he was in sin, unbelief, and alienation from God (see Mark 16:15-16; Romans 1:18-32; 2:4-5; Colossians 1:21-23). He may (or may not) have been “religious” but we know that religion, per se, doesn’t give eternal life and a place in heaven (Romans 10:1-3).
Did this person think about eternity? When he stepped outside at night and viewed the distant stars and the moon, did he think deeply and wonder who made all of these luminaries (Romans 1:20-21)? Did he wonder where he came from, why he was on earth, and what his destiny would be? Did his priest or religious leader teach that he was fine with his present knowledge and religious acts? Did this person think about death and did he have a fear of death (cf. Hebrews 2:14)? Did your ancestor think deeply, as he viewed the heavenly splendor, and did he ponder eternity—and wonder just what eternity meant to him (Ecclesiastes 3:11)? Did he try to appease the “god” he worshiped and served?
As we continue our ruminations, did our unknown ancestor think that he communicated with God or a god? Did he wonder if this higher power was real and did he speculate what He was like? Ask yourself if this ancestor had any concept of heaven or paradise and wonder if he would go there and what it would be like? Did he hold to a very different view, perhaps believing in reincarnation, vainly thinking that he would come back to earth as a dog, a cat, a cow, or an insect? Did he believe in the false concept of Karma and vainly think that he could pile up merits for the afterlife? Would he be better off after death? Or would he be in a terrible place?
If you have been following my train of thought and seriously wondered, along with me, what your ancestor of 1,000 years ago was thinking and how he was living, we should remember that our nature is vastly different from that of false gods and idols (cf. Acts 14:15; Romans 1:21-25). We are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27; James 3:9). And God has placed within us some concept of His will and truth (Romans 2:12-15). None of us is without this knowledge. We have some knowledge of the true and living God, thus we are without excuse before Him (Romans 1:20).
This ancestor of yours may have been dressed differently from you; he probably didn’t regularly shave or shower or bathe. He may have had difficulty finding sufficient food and clothing. He was probably acquainted with death all around him and was ignorant about how to treat common illnesses or injuries. But he had physical needs, personal sickness, earthly aspirations, and eternal longings.
However, we must admit—as we think about this ancestor in Europe, Africa, the Americas, or Asia—that probably he was lost. He didn’t know God and didn’t have a relationship with God. This is the presupposition that runs through God’s Word. People were “separate from Christ” and had “no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Their mind was “futile,” and they were “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that [was] in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (4:17-18).
Because of all of this unbelief and unrepentant sin, we must admit that not only was this ancestor separated from God during his earthly life, but at death, this person would be helpless (Romans 5:6), would be a sinner (v. 8), and would be under God’s just and holy wrath (v. 9). Because of personal sin, this ancestor would have experienced a “separation” between him and God, and God was far away (Isaiah 59:2). Although he may have thought he was doing the right things to assure his salvation in the afterlife, we know that no one can be saved on the merits of what he personally does or doesn’t do (Ephesians 2:8-9). Nor can one be saved by a defective faith and obedience (1 John 5:11-13; 2:3-6).
As Paul explains, Christ will return in flaming fire, “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). When one dies without Christ and the eternal life that He brings, he is consigned to a place of “torment” (Luke 16:23) and “agony” (vv. 24, 25). There is no hope at all. And there was no substantial hope for our dear ancestor—if he didn’t know God through Christ Jesus (cf. John 17:3).
What makes you and me different? We have the same genes in our body as did our ancestor of 1,000 years ago. Although this may have been 20 or 30 generations ago, he was just as human as you are today—and you are of the same nature as he was. He was made in God’s image and needed to be saved from God’s coming wrath (cf. Romans 1:18; John 3:36). If he didn’t go to heaven when he died (even though he thought he would go), if he didn’t really believe with a saving faith (John 3:14-18), repent of all of his sins (Acts 17:30-31), and experience a baptism into Christ (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-39; 22:16), why should we think that we will go to heaven ourselves? Are we trusting in our own defective knowledge, religious rituals, or good deeds? What are you doing today to assure your own preparation to meet God in judgment and have a place in God’s eternal presence one coming day?
Imagine further with me about this unnamed ancestor of yours, dated at 1,500, or 1,000, or 500 years ago. He may have gone outside at night and tried to count the stars—and pondered about a God and Creator who made all of them. He may have evaluated his life and concluded that he would go to heaven for he didn’t know of anything else to do in order to prepare. If this ancestor was a Hindu, he may have imagined that he would come back as a four-footed animal. If he was a Muslim, he may have imagined that Allah would weigh his good deeds and his bad deeds and make a choice according to this knowledge. If he was a Catholic, he may have surmised that he would go to Purgatory for several thousand years and then be released to go to heaven. We know that such thoughts as these don’t rest on reality, but he may have mistakenly thought that what he was told by his religious leaders was true. Even his conscience may have been molded by faulty information, thus he thought that he was prepared for the future and would be going to a “better land” with all pain and sorrow gone. But he was wrong.
I’ve asked many questions in this little conversation because the nature of our essay seemed to demand it. I want you to imaging along with me—and place yourself in the shoes of this unnamed ancestor (wherever he may have lived). Today, you have vastly more knowledge than this ancient person. You probably have a Bible or many Bibles in your house and lying on your shelf. Maybe you are trying to “earn” your way to heaven by being religious, going through certain religious rituals and being part of a church of some kind. Or maybe you don’t do these things and just “hope that things will work out in the end.” Thus, you hope that you’ll go to heaven as a matter of course—if there is a heaven at all. Are you doing anything different from your ancestor who lived in that little village of Africa, or South America, or Europe, or India? Are you being honest with yourself or are you closing your eyes and heart to reality?
Friend, I’m calling on you now to face the facts! Face reality and determine now to find the answers to your spiritual dilemma. You have the means today that your ancestor may not have had. You can read the truth in Scripture. You have vastly more knowledge of God’s creation—whether this be the vastness of space above you, the world of the infinitely small found in the microscope, and the natural discoveries all around you. You have read and seen all of this from the fields of astronomy, medicine, physics, and chemistry. Yes, this is contaminated with the lies of evolution and humanism, but we have seen enough to make us all guilty before a holy and just God (cf. Romans 1:16-32; 3:19).
I challenge you to search your own conscience and recognize your guilt before God (Romans 2:12-15). Search the natural world and recognize that evolution is false but God has created all things by His power and wisdom (Romans 1:19-21). Read your Bible for all of its worth (if you don’t have a readable copy of the Bible, invest in a good one that you can understand!). You will see that God calls on you to repent of your sins (2 Peter 3:9) and place your faith in God and in Christ (John 3:36; 5:24). Be willing to be baptized (immersed in water) into a relationship with Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16).
You will discover what Jesus meant when He declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to [God] the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). You will then not fall into the sad and lamentable trap that came upon your ancestor that sent Him to a place of eternal punishment (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 5:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
Please don’t be like your ancestor, but come to Christ right away! Be willing to “flee from the wrath to come” by finding your refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ! Heed the words of the Lord Jesus, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34; cf. vv. 35-38). Are you willing to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus with all of your heart?
There’s no other way!