Summary: It really does make a difference what you believe. Your eternal destiny hangs in the balance.

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“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him." John 3:36 NIV


It really does make a difference what you believe. Your eternal destiny hangs in the balance. The Jonestown Massacre, also called the Guyana Tragedy, has a lesson that the Christian community needs to learn. That lesson comes through loud and clear: “Always keep your eyes focused on Jesus and never on man…any man!”

James Warren (Jim) Jones was one of the most (if not the most) notorious religious leaders of our time. He was born in Crete, Indiana on May 13, 1931. Jones held degrees from Indiana University and Butler University. He was ordained by the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ. In his early years in Indiana, he gained a reputation as a charismatic preacher with wide appeal to the masses.

Desiring to reach a greater number of followers, Jones moved to Ukiah, California where he established the “People’s Temple”. Envisioning even a greater following, he moved to San Francisco where he organized the “People’s Temple” in that city. In the summer of 1977, Jones and most of the 1,000 members of the Peoples Temple moved to Guyana from San Francisco after an investigation into the church for tax evasion was begun. Jones named the closed settlement “Jonestown” after himself. His intention was to create an agricultural utopia in the jungle based on quasi-communist principles. Jones told his followers to think of him as the incarnation of Christ and God.

In November 1978, U.S. Representative Leo Ryan led a fact-finding mission to the Jonestown settlement in Guyana after allegations by relatives in the U.S. of human rights abuses. Ryan’s delegation arrived in Jonestown on November 14 and spent three days interviewing residents. They left hurriedly on the morning of Saturday, November 18 after an attempt was made on Ryan’s life. They took with them eighteen Peoples Temple members who wished to leave. Delegation members later told police that, as they were boarding planes at the airstrip, a truckload of Jones’ armed guards arrived and began to shoot at them . When the gunmen left five people were dead: Rep. Ryan, a reporter from NBC, a cameraman from NBC, a newspaper photographer and one defector from the Peoples Temple.

Hours later, Jones ordered his followers to drink from a tub of grape-flavored Kool-Aid laced with cyanide and tranquilizers. Nine hundred and eight of them did. Children died first; babies were killed by poison squirted into their mouths with a syringe. Then the adults. Most were poisoned, some forcibly. Some were shot by security guards. As the ritual suicide progressed, it is unclear whether Jim put a bullet through his brain, or someone did it for him.

When the horrific scene was discovered, the lengthy process of returning the badly decomposed bodies home, many could not be identified except by dental records. The delay, the tropical heat and the animals in the jungle had taken a frightening toll. Our government, at first, thought of mass cremation but the Guyana government demanded that every body be removed from their country.

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