November 18, 1978. I remember the date well. I was a freshman at Houston Baptist University, just starting my college career. As a proud Texan who came to Christ in the Bible Belt, it never really occurred to me that people could believe in anything other than the tenets of the Christian faith.
Meanwhile, there was a 47-year-old man from Crete, Indiana, who had assembled a band of religious followers. They formed the Peoples Temple in Indiana in the 1950s, and would later move to California before eventually establishing the temple in what would be known as Jonestown, Guyana. Under his leadership, 918 members of his cult were either murdered or committed suicide on this date, 38 years ago.
How does this happen? To that question the Bible offers an answer. In the last days, we are told that many “will believe a lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
Deception is as old a tool as the devil himself. He asked Adam, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:3). It is so easy to be led astray. While the Jim Jones event was catastrophic by any measure, deception did not die in Guyana 38 years ago.
Perhaps the greatest trap is not believing the devil or even false teachers, but believing ourselves. Leonardo da Vinci said, “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”
Opinions get us into trouble. Tragically, 918 people died because they put opinions ahead of truth. The measure of truth is the Word of God. What happened 38 years ago is a tragedy for the ages. The only worse tragedy would be to learn nothing from it.