January 20, 2008
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of the heavens, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came, and took them all away, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.
Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the master of the house had known at what time the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.
For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think he will. Who then is the faithful and sensible servant whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' and shall begin to beat his
fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and shall cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Way back in June 1991 I read an article (or rather, a large ad) in USA Today that declared, "In Autumn 1992, Jesus is Coming Again," and the added prediction that, "In 1999, Human History Will End." The article gave explanations using various verses of Scripture to support its claims, along with some very questionable arithmetic used to establish the "correct" years. The really sad thing about this ad was the absolutely grotesque picture it painted of God. It lists a number of prophesies, which include:
- Jesus is coming in Autumn 1992. (Rapture)
- Only a small number of Christians who are prepared as his brides will be raptured, while others will enter great tribulation.
- God will leave some devout Christians as martyrs in tribulation to guide remaining Christians in his way.
- Europe will become Satan's slave; the Antichrist and his kingdom will be the European Economic Community.
- God has already opened the bag of war, famine, and earthquakes.
- Those who oppose what the young prophets are saying are opposing the Holy Spirit.
The article went on to say:
In the near future, many who have waited for Jesus and lived holy and faithful lives will instantly be changed into holy bodies and raised up to meet the Lord in the air. Such a wonderful event is called ""rapture."" There will be quite a confusion in the world after rapture. The families left behind will look for a large number of vanished people. However, raptured holy brides of Jesus will rejoice for seven years of wedding feast while the whole world, including left behind, lukewarm Christians, will enter the Great Tribulation, where most of them will be killed. God's righteous beloved children will be delivered, but unrepentant ones will face His judgment and perish.
The ad then goes on to exhort people to avoid destruction from this divine wrath:
Friends, please do not miss out on this critical event! Return to Jesus with a truly repentant heart. Live a holy and blameless life. God has spoken through many children that not many Christians will be raptured, much less than even one of ten according to their visions. Remember, only those who are prepared as His brides will be raptured!
The article then described a gruesomely pessimistic situation:
Seven years of tribulation is the most indescribable form of human destruction ever in human history. It is the beginning of the worst pain and suffering for unrepentant ones. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will become like blood. There will be wars, big earthquakes, various plagues, hail and fire mixed with blood burning one third of the earth. Mountains and islands will move out of place, seas will become blood, and water will become bitter. By the end of the tribulation, there will be only a few survivors.
I was curious about this proposed state of rapture so I searched the Scriptures for an explanation. I have a program on my computer that has both the Revised Standard Version and the American Standard Version of the Bible on it, and will search for any verse or word, and tell you where it is to be found. The word "rapture" was not to be found anywhere in the Bible.
I am quite sure that if the ad had been written following the breakup of the USSR, the ten republics then re-established would have been chosen instead of the ten countries in the EEC. But what a horrible thing it is to propose about God, who is repeatedly referred to in Scripture as being a God of love. Everything described is completely contradictory to the nature of love. Why would a God of love create the human race, give us the freedom to live in accordance with what we come to understand is the true and good, and then turn around and destroy everything because we didn't get it just exactly right? I am tempted to take the article apart piece by piece and disprove it with scripture and rational argument, but I am not going to do that because any thinking person can readily see the falsity and the irrationality that prevails in its statements.
Reading this moved me to develop this response, not only to this particular item, but to all the pessimistic, elitist rhetoric that fundamentalist preachers use to try to coerce people, through fear, into becoming Christians in accordance with their particular philosophy, theology, and interpretations.
I want to take a more positive approach, as the New Church teaches that people cannot and should not be forced or compelled to believe in the Lord God, and that we are all born in freedom to make our own choices as to what we will believe and how we will live and worship in response to our beliefs about God. I quote from The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine #148:
All freedom belongs to love or affection; for what we love, we do freely. Since freedom belongs to love, it is the life of everyone. There is heavenly freedom and there is infernal freedom. Heavenly freedom relates to a love for good and truth. And since the love of good and truth is from the Lord, freedom itself consists in being led by the Lord. Through regeneration we are introduced by the Lord into heavenly freedom. We ought to be in freedom so that we may be regenerated. Otherwise the love of good and truth cannot be implanted in us and appropriated to us so as to appear to be our own. Nothing is made a part of us that is done under compulsion.
What kind of an ad would the New Church print on the subject of the second coming of the Lord? What would our headline read?
THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD IS A PRESENT DAY REALITY! HUMAN HISTORY WILL CONTINUE INDEFINITELY!
Our subheadings would include the following statements:
- The Lord provides religion for all people, and everyone who acknowledges God and practices good, as he or she understands it, will enter the heavenly kingdom.
- The Bible is the Word of God and speaks everywhere of him and of his Church both in heaven and on earth. It is not about the condition of the physical world and our social and political life.
- The overall spiritual condition of the human race has been continuously improving, and will continue to do so until the state of joy and perfection described by the Holy City New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven has been reached.
- Our present life continues into the other life. Death is only a transition from conscious life in the natural world to conscious life in the spiritual world.
- God does not destroy, he creates; he does not punish anyone; he loves us so much that he gives us complete freedom to choose his way or not.
- All humans are created to become angels in heaven, as the purpose of creation is a heaven of angels from the human race.
- The growth in science and technology and the improvements in the world political situation, along with the expansion of human rights, are reflections of the general spiritual growth of the human race.
- Gloom and doom is out! Growth and optimism is in!
Let us now take a little time to examine our reading from Matthew.
By "day and hour" a period of time is not meant, but rather a state or condition of the church in the world, and of each person in relation to good and truth. All things of religion have relation to good and to truth. They are what make up the church; and the subject here treated of is the state of the church (religion) in the world. It is describing a state of transition during which the old man-made traditions and views are being replaced with God-centered knowledge suited to an ever more intelligent, educated, and knowledgeable population. It is compared with the time of Noah, when a similar transition took place because there had been, over thousands of years of human life and growth, a corruption of the good and truth that was originally given to mankind, which people lived by in the Adamic age (the time of the most ancient people). This corruption resulted in an inundation of evil and falsity.
The two in the field symbolize those within the church (in the broadest ecumenical sense) who are engaged in good, and those within the church who are engaged in evil. The two women grinding at the mill symbolize those within the church who are engaged in truth, and those within the church who are engaged in falsity. The Son of Man means the coming of divine truth into our human awareness. So the women in the various conditions describe the various ways that divine truth is received by the church and its individual members. Women represent the church, as can be seen by the biblical analogy of the church being the bride of the Lord.
"Being ready" is one of the key things here. Once we become aware that our spiritual growth is a self-sought ongoing action, and not an instantaneous state that is imposed on us from outside of ourselves, we need to get actively involved in the process. This means taking the initiative to learn more about the divine truth that is available to us in the Word, and then putting that truth to work in our lives. Each time we become aware of a new truth, we should use it and practice it and incorporate it into our daily lives. This will bring about a heavenly state in our lives here in the world, which, in turn, will be what we carry with us into the spiritual world when we die.
The name "servant" or "slave" has spiritual reference to those who are in possession of the truth. These may be either good or bad servants, depending on how they use the truth--that is, whether they use it to do good or to do evil. In a broad sense everyone is a slave or servant, for it is the duty of every member of the household of faith to serve the rest; thus we are all accountable for the way we treat our neighbors.
We have every reason to be optimistic. Surely God, who created everything with such order and precision, and in a way that functions so perfectly, does not intend to destroy it all. Human life is more significant than to be merely something that exists and then is arbitrarily altered by either destruction or enhancement. Human life is an ongoing entity, which has purpose and reason and intelligence. It is capable of receiving the Lord's divine love and using it for good for other people. Blessed is the servant who does that. Blessed also are all of you who see the Lord's Kingdom through his Holy Word, and do that which is good. Amen.
O God, you created the eternal hills in the spiritual world, where all whose hearts are open live in closeness to you, the Sun of heaven. You also created the hills of this world to give us a picture of that eternity, and bring us closer to you. You have now revealed that we need not fear the destruction of this natural world. Give us patience and peace in knowing that even in our spirits, your eternal hills will survive every cataclysm, while only those parts of us that turn toward self-centered and material desires will taste destruction. Even as we feel the pain of that destruction within, we thank you for the purification and new life that comes after the spiritual storm has subsided. Amen.
Rev. David Sonmor