Forty-three years ago today, November 18, 1978, over nine hundred men, women, and children in “Jonestown,” Guyana, committed suicide or were shot. They were followers of the Reverend Jim Jones and members of his Peoples Temple. The group had moved En masse from San Francisco, CA, to build a commune in “Jonestown,” Guyana. Jim Jones was a pentecostal minister in Indiana who rose to prominence in the faith healing movement when he came under the tutelage of another very prominent false prophet/teacher, William Marion Branham. John Collins wrote an excellent book, Jim Jones: The Malachi 4 Elijah Prophecy. In his essay, “The Message Connection of Jim Jones and William Branham,” co-authored by Peter M. Duyzer, they write:
In our previous article, we pointed out that the intersection between the ministries of Jim Jones and William Branham was critical to the success of Jones’ early ministry and his rise to prominence. William Branham initiated Jones into the mainstream of post-World War II healing campaigns at the Cadle Tabernacle in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1956. In many of these services, the mentor was advertised as the main speaker. Beyond that, Branham also appears to have held joint faith healing meetings with Jones in multiple cities.
Jones started his Peoples Temple in Indiana in the 1950s. In 1966, Jones moved the People’s Temple to Northern California, near the small town of Ukiah, followed by about sixty-five families. In the early 1970s, he moved the church and the group again, this time to San Francisco where his socialist leanings endeared him to politicians and activists alike, which garnered him more followers. He began preparing his flock for eventual mass suicide even before moving to Guyana:
In 1975, Jones conducted a bizarre experiment at Peoples Temple headquarters on Geary Street. Jones announced that an excellent wine had been vinted from grapes grown at the Temple’s former Redwood Valley headquarters, and that all those present ought to imbibe, despite the Temple prohibition against alcohol. The Reverend circulated among his flock, making sure that all were drinking. Then he called for attention and grimly announced that the wine contained a potent poison; everyone in the room would be dead in less than an hour. By killing themselves en masse, Jones explained, they would be protesting the world’s inhumanity.
How did Temple members react? About the same way that citizens usually react when their government declares war. Nobody rebelled; nobody called out for an antidote; nobody stood up and disputed the necessity of mass death.1“Peoples Temple: Historical Essay,” by Chris Carlsson, with large contributions from Dr. Weirde
The members followed Jones because in their eyes he was God’s spokesman, the direct representative of the highest authority, whom they were not allowed to question without fear of retribution from God.
The trigger for carrying out their rehearsed plan came on that fateful day in 1978. It was set in motion by a visit to the compound by U.S. Representative Leo Ryan, who was there that day to check out stories of abuse that had come to him. One of Ryan’s top aides, a former Jones follower, warned that “Jim Jones is Planning to Kill Everyone.” As he and his entourage were departing for home, Jim Jones had him killed. The rest is history.
Other such groups have come to no less tragic ends after being conditioned by their leader. In April of 1993, 76 Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, perished as their compound went up in flames. They too had been conditioned to believe that they would die in this way:
Koresh had predicted that the group would be assaulted and killed during Passover week, which, in 1993, took place between April 6 and April 13. His disciples would be resurrected with Koresh, and together they would carry out the Lord’s judgment and set up God’s Kingdom on Earth.2“The deaths of 76 Branch Davidians in April 1993 could have been avoided – so why didn’t anyone care?,” Catherine Wessinger
For an insider’s look we would recommend, Hearken O Daughter: Three Sisters from New Zealand Travel to Waco. Only Two Return
Then there was The Order of the Solar Temple, an esoteric cult group which, over a period of three years, 1994-97, seventy-four members died in murder-suicide rituals and were burned, making international news.
Several had been shot in the head or asphyxiated, and many had been drugged, in what were apparently ritual murders, although some were thought to have been willing participants in the supposed mass suicides.3“The 1994 Solar Temple cult deaths in Switzerland”
They too had been conditioned for this horror in advance. The leaders of the group:
Then, in 1997, thirty-nine members of another group, Heaven’s Gate, led by Marshall Applewhite, made international news. They too had been conditioned to carry out this group act. They recorded videos explaining their decision. They had a meal, dressed in identical outfits, drank poison, and went to sleep. Why? Applewhite had taught them that a spaceship was following the Hale-Bopp Comet and was coming to pick them up to live at a “level above human.” To be on that flight they had to shed their physical bodies.
These stories of deadly cults—and there are so many others—tend to grab headlines due to the dramatic violent nature of the deaths; but the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, known by most as Jehovah’s Witnesses, is one of the deadliest killer cults in the world today. Through their strict prohibition of blood transfusions—which in their teaching is the transmission of sinful “life patterns” of the donor into the receiver—as well as essentially “eating blood”—they champion the death of innocents—one victim at a time, week after week, and year after year—around the world. The group’s own men, women, and children are their hapless victims. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS) even brags about the needless deaths of children in the feature article of the May 22, 1994 issue of their Awake! magazine, entitled “Youths Who Put God First.” Their proud declaration is:
In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue.5“Youths Who Put God First” Awake!, May 22, 1994, Vol. 75 No. 10; Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., Brooklyn, NY, p2
The first story they tell is that of 15-year-old Adrian Yeatts who, they write, “… felt that his Biblical hope of eternal life would be threatened”6“He Remembered His Creator in the Days of His Youth” Awake!, May 22, 1994, Vol. 75 No. 10; Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., Brooklyn, NY, p5 if he took a blood transfusion. So rather than tick off the angry (JW) god, Adrian died without really having lived.
Think of their boast—“thousands of youths are still doing it,”—supposedly dying for God, but actually sacrificing their lives to a most deadly religious cult. The average person is completely unaware of the lethal nature of this cult because we are not shown dramatic pictures of mass bodies of JWs in the news media. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is able in this way to hide from exposure as one of the deadliest modern religious cults in the world today.
As an aside: The word “cult” today is often seen as an unnecessarily pejorative term, but it is rather a useful term, exposing a real danger that the term “New Religious Group” or some other polite appellation just cannot convey. If there is a man-eating monster in the woods, gobbling up children, we’d want to convey the great danger to anyone we were trying to warn. “There’s a fella in the woods with strange eating habits” just won’t do it. That said, it probably would not be the best idea to harangue the cult member at your door with the news flash that he or she is nothing but a brainwashed cult member—because you want to gain his or her ear, to warn him or her of the danger they and their children are in if you are given that opportunity. That takes time and a little care, and some tact. On the other hand, you don’t want to be so dang polite that you won’t warn your friends or neighbors of the grave physical and/or spiritual danger these groups represent. The word cult generally conveys, in our world, some measure of danger to most people, making the word, in our estimation, a valuable word to use when appropriate.
Most members of cults are living lives of desperation—sacrificing their lives—
not really for others but for themselves, in a vain attempt to be “good enough” to earn God’s favor or committed enough to ascend to the “level above human.” Is there any among humankind that can be “good enough” to earn God’s favor or merit eternal life? The bad news is, NO!
As it is written, there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God, all have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12, NIV)
Against this, we have Jesus Who is not only fully God, but He is fully man as well, able to “stand-in for us” as a perfect human, taking upon Himself our rightful punishment, and giving us His righteousness in return. Jesus alone, out of all humanity is truly good—sinlessly perfect. He selflessly gave his life for those who were, because of their sin nature, enemies of God.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)
This is why we call Romans 3:21-26 the GOOD, GOOD NEWS. Paul wrote about the “righteousness from God” that we can receive by faith alone, without regard to our sinful deeds and/or pathetic attempts to live righteously on our own. God loves us and wants to GIVE US—all of us who will receive it—a free gift, the very righteousness of His Son. In return, we give Him the only thing we have to offer Him—nothing.
A gift offered can be a gift refused, and sadly often is, by people seeking to establish their own righteousness. What do we do with this righteousness from God once we receive it? We put it on, just like a beautiful garment, and “wear” it. When God looks at us from that day forward, He sees us “clothed” in the righteousness of His Son, and He credits that righteousness to our account as though we had earned it ourselves. God’s Son already has been voluntarily punished for our sins, so we are no longer at enmity with God when we take Him up on His amazing offer.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:1)
Please friends, whether you are slaving away for a cult group, or just “doin’ the best you can” to get into heaven, receive God’s free gift of peace with Him and eternal life today.Ω
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|↑1||“Peoples Temple: Historical Essay,” by Chris Carlsson, with large contributions from Dr. Weirde|
|↑2||“The deaths of 76 Branch Davidians in April 1993 could have been avoided – so why didn’t anyone care?,” Catherine Wessinger|
|↑3, ↑4||“The 1994 Solar Temple cult deaths in Switzerland”|
|↑5||“Youths Who Put God First” Awake!, May 22, 1994, Vol. 75 No. 10; Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., Brooklyn, NY, p2|
|↑6||“He Remembered His Creator in the Days of His Youth” Awake!, May 22, 1994, Vol. 75 No. 10; Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., Brooklyn, NY, p5|