In our home city of Nottingham there is a Thai restaurant I have gone to several times. The food is good, and the ambience feels authentic. There are tuk-tuks (auto rickshaws) you can sit and eat in; the kitchen looks like a street kitchen; and the plates and utensils are rustic. Above the kitchen there are several pictures, signs, and memorabilia to remind those who have been to Thailand of Thailand.
One of the signs, written in neon, says “Same, Same, but Different.” In Thailand it’s a phrase you hear often to express the thought that while things are different, they are still similar. And while we all may be different, we share the same deep questions about life and death: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? These questions transcend language, race, culture, and religion. Questions that surround the subject of death, where we will end up after death, and what happens to us trouble every person on Planet Earth.
The last great deception before Jesus returns will be the same as the first deception Satan told Eve—she would not surely die. In Revelation 16 the Bible describes three unclean spirits coming out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet and uniting to deceive many. The dragon is unmasked as Satan in Revelation 12:9, the serpent, which hearkens back to Eden and the first deception regarding immortality and death. It’s same, same, but different.
The Biblical Belief on Death
The truth about death reveals God as a just, fair, and loving Creator. God never intended for anyone to fear death, which is partly why, I believe, the Bible describes death as a sleep (John 11:11-14). Most people are not scared of sleeping; it is a restful and peaceful experience. In Genesis 2:7 the Bible says that man was formed from the dust of the ground, God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. It’s like a mathematical equation: a human is made from dust and breath, and this produces a living soul. The living soul does not exist unless the dust and the breath are combined.
When a person dies, the dust goes back to the ground, the breath or life goes back to God, who gave it, and the living soul ceases to exist (Eccl. 12:7). There is not another element, a spirit that remains or floats around in the atmosphere. While the Bible also uses the term spirit as part of a person, it is a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with breath (Job 27:3; 33:4). The Bible outlines that at death both the living and the wicked sleep in the grave until the resurrection: some to the resurrection of life and some to the resurrection of the wicked (John 5:28, 29).
At the Second Coming the graves will open, and the righteous will ascend to heaven. Prior to the Second Coming, however, there will be a huge deception campaign by Satan himself with the goal of deceiving as many as possible. The deceptions at the end will involve ideas about death, because death concerns every person. While the roots and content of the deception are exactly the same, the actual manifestation of it will look different. Perhaps no one today would be deceived by a serpent talking to us from a tree, but Satan may come from another angle, one we least expect.
The British Museum in London, England, one of the world’s premier museums, has a permanent exhibition on death.1 It shows how various cultures and religions around the world view death: what their rituals are and how their belief system impacts their cultural practices.
Death is an emotional topic to discuss and a difficult experience to go through. The separation from loved ones is something we all fear. Even Jesus, when He was dying on the cross, looked up to heaven and cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). No one wants to lose connection with someone they love, and the allure of communicating with someone they’ve lost is appealing. This looks different depending on one’s culture or religion.
I once heard a story from an older minister and friend whose son had died in the Vietnam War. Several years after his son’s death, when my friend was in his bedroom getting changed, his “son” reappeared to him in full Army dress uniform. To prove it was really him, he lifted his trouser leg to show an ankle tattoo he had. When this spirit was rebuked in the name of Jesus, it instantly disappeared, but it is a clear example of trying to appeal to someone’s sense of loss on an emotional level to open them up to further deceptions.
In the United States and Western Europe the birth of modern spiritualism is linked to the Fox sisters from New York State. Mysterious rapping/knocking sounds were heard in the house, said by many to be the result of supernatural forces. While some have sought to downplay its authenticity, those connected to the cause firmly believe it, and Ellen White confirms that it was true. When I visited the Fox sisters’ house to film an episode of Lineage Journey,2 I met the husband of the manager of the site, who told me clearly that it was all real.
“Many endeavor to account for spiritual manifestations by attributing them wholly to fraud and sleight of hand on the part of the medium. But while it is true that the results of trickery have often been palmed off as genuine manifestations, there have been, also, marked exhibitions of supernatural power. The mysterious rapping with which modern spiritualism began was not the result of human trickery or cunning, but was the direct work of evil angels, who thus introduced one of the most successful of soul-destroying delusions. Many will be ensnared through the belief that spiritualism is a merely human imposture; when brought face to face with manifestations which they cannot but regard as supernatural, they will be deceived, and will be led to accept them as the great power of God.”3
It’s interesting that the Fox sisters’ house is located just about eight miles from Hiram Edson’s barn, said by many Seventh-day Adventist historians to be the theological birthplace of the Adventist Church. Two major end-time movements being formed during the same decade with roots in such close proximity doesn’t seem coincidental. The spiritualistic movement reborn in modern times in this obscure house in upstate New York has pervaded and permeated all aspects of society and culture. Music, TV, film, children’s cartoons, and video games have been saturated by this ideology.
Horror films are an increasingly sought-after genre, particularly among members of Generation Z, who watch them at a greater frequency than Millennials, Generation X, or baby boomers. Thirty-two percent of Generation Z have watched a horror film during the past month, in comparison to just 20 percent of millennials, 7 percent of Generation X, and 2 percent of baby boomers.4 In 2000 approximately 200 horror films were produced. That number increased to 1,000 by 2016.5 This subject matter conditions people’s minds. In addition to this, children’s cartoons frequently have the theme of life after death infused.
While modern spiritualism has impacted mainly Christian and post-Christian cultures in the United States and Western Europe, the deceptive ideas on death have permeated almost every belief system in the world. For example, in Hinduism the belief is that you are reincarnated, not really dead until your soul settles on its true nature. In Sikhism the belief is that the soul reincarnates.
End-time Deceptions Predicted
We are told, in Matthew 24, the signs of the end of the world. In this chapter the word “deceive” (or “deception”), or an allusion to this idea, comes up more than five times. We are told that there will be false christs and false prophets that will deceive, if possible, even the elect. In 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14, we are also told that Satan has the ability to appear as an angel of light, as he did when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. At the end of time he still possesses this ability and will use it to mislead those who are not rooted in Scripture.
If the majority of the non-Christian world already embraces a misunderstanding of death, if the majority of the Christian world believes in a concept of death that’s been heavily influenced by the writings of such philosophers as Plato, and if the majority of the atheistic and agnostic secular society has been influenced by the spread of modern spiritualistic ideology, then the majority are poised to be swept up in the final deception. In The Great Controversy we read this warning: “The last great delusion is soon to open before us. Antichrist is to perform his marvelous works in our sight. So closely will the counterfeit resemble the true that it will be impossible to distinguish between them except by the Holy Scriptures. By their testimony every statement and every miracle must be tested.”6 May we be vigilant and live our lives by every word of God, that we may not be deceived at the end.
3 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.:
Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 553.
4 https://www.virginmedia.com/virgin-tv-edit/tv/why-we-are-living-in-the-golden-age-of-horror-expert-interviews#:~:text=The number of horror movies, according to The Horror Report.
6 E. G. White, p. 593.