DID YOU MISS THE LAST JUDGMENT?
A Sermon by the Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
“Nation will rise up against nation. There will be great earthquakes in various places, and mighty, terrifying signs from heaven. And the nations will be distressed at the roar and surge of the sea.” (Luke 21:10, 11, 25)
Jesus Christ predicted it. And He was quite clear about it. There would soon be a time when the whole world would be in turmoil. There would be conflict among men. Corrupt leaders would take gullible people astray. Even the earth itself would be in tumult. And there would be a judgment. Evil people would be exposed for the cunning frauds they are. Good people would be separated by God and taken to heaven. The evil people would be cast into hell. The prediction is repeated in even greater detail in the book of Revelation where the wars and physical upheaval are described.
The Writings for the New Church make several important observations about these predictions in the letter of the Word. In explaining the stories of the great judgment, we are told that, while the letter of the Word is quite true and accurate, its common interpretation is often false. The overriding principle, the first and primary element of our faith is that the Lord is pure and infinite love. He is life itself, and is only life. We cannot, therefore, interpret the stories of the Word to mean that He acts from hatred or anger. There can be no case in which He condemns anyone or casts them into hell fire. Thus our first task is to read the stories of the judgment upon people as not being caused by an angry God, but as the response of evil people to the presence of God.
And here we have the first element of the last judgment that we really don’t want to miss. The Lord God Jesus Christ loves you. When He is present, you will feel oppressed. But you can always remember this: His presence is not causing your hardship. His love only lifts you up. It is the evil desires and false ideas present in your life that are in turmoil and feel threatened. If you miss this, you will miss the process that leads up to your last judgment after the death of your body.
Another observation the Writings make is that the last judgment is a spiritual event, not an earthly one. We know that everything Jesus said was true and accurate, but was a parable about our spiritual life. To think that He was speaking only to those within the sound of His voice is to make the Word merely a history book. So, in fact, in what we read this morning, He was describing not the destruction of the physical world, but of a spiritual world. He was not predicting the destruction of some people upon the earth and the eternal life of the saved upon the earth, but of the fall and rise of people in the spiritual world, and the destruction of the false heavens evil leaders had created.
Let us not miss this part of the last judgment! We can certainly live life as though this world is all there is to it. We can even live a natural and civil moral life. We can act like good people. But our lives are more than that, and it is easy to interpret the parable that our lives are. We can make a series of decisions that lead us into turmoil and heartache, and then blame something or someone, or just “the world,” for our troubles. Or we may interpret what happens as the logical, natural and even Divinely ordained, results of the choices we made and the actions we took. When we do this, a judgment occurs. That is, evil and good are distinguished from each other. We look at the spiritual part of our life, and hold it as more real, more important, more essential, than our physical life. And we conclude that we will be happy or troubled, saved or condemned, not based on our past actions, but on the condition of our hearts developed over the course of our life, and fixed at the time of our death, which is our last judgment.
And this leads us to consider the details of the great, general last judgment that prepared for the establishment of the new Christian church as it is described in the Writings for the New Church. The story of what actually happened in the spiritual world during the whole of 1757 on earth also reveals the details of the judgment on our life. We miss this judgment to our eternal peril.
It all began when an increase in the Lord’s presence was felt among those in the lowest heavens, closest to the fake heavens evil spirits had created below the heavens but not in hell. These evil men fooled many people who were good at heart but ignorant as to the truth, into following them and giving them honor. Thus the people began to worship the evil leader. This belief and behavior kept these people from being made fit for heaven.
Have we not all experienced this? We may live with a lie about ourselves. We may harbor ill will. We may be selfish . We may hide from ourselves our own love of evil. Such a spiritual condition will keep us trapped in the lower earth, as it were. We cannot rise above some natural, even physical impulse. A sure sign is that we don’t know how else to be. We may have an idea in our memory from the Word, but exactly what to do is not clear. We know only to live with the resentment, take care of ourselves, seek worldly counsel and try to fix the people around us. These are the product of cunning evil spirits, creating a world we come to believe is how life really is. It is at this point that we need to have our consciousness raise, for we don’t want to miss this judgment.
In the case of the great last judgment described in Revelation, what caused change to begin was that the real heavens actually came down closer to the false ones. This caused the interiors of the people there to be disclosed. The leaders no longer looked like moral Christians, but like demons. Many of them and their followers then rioted and quarreled among themselves about God, the Lord, the Word, faith and the church. And because they then felt free to act out their lusts, they treated all these subjects with contempt and ridicule, rushing into crimes of every kind. So everyone who followed these evil leaders underwent a change of state. Then all at once all the magnificent buildings they had erected for themselves vanished; their palaces were turned into miserable huts, their gardens into pools, their churches into ruins, and the very hills on which they lived into piles of rocks, all corresponding to their criminal characters and appetites. (See Last Judgment (Continued) n.23)
These changes in their lives were accompanied by various tremors of their houses and of the ground around them. These were followed by earthquakes, huge to match their rejection of the Lord. Here and there also chasms opened leading to the hells below them, so allowing a direct communication with hell. Then clouds of vapor like smoke mixed with sparks of fire were seen coming up. This is what Jesus described as the ending of the age and the Last Judgment at that time: “Nation will rise up against nation. There will be great earthquakes in various places, and mighty, terrifying signs from heaven. And the nations will be distressed at the roar and surge of the sea.” (Luke 21:10, 11, 25; Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8). (See Last Judgment (Continued) n.25)
This first time you experienced this may have been the first time you were caught in a lie. Perhaps you were a child, perhaps a teen. Maybe as a young adult. Perhaps it didn’t happen until you were fully mature. In any case, when you were caught, your world came crashing down. The fact that you are here is s sign that you made the right choice: to let the destruction happen, and then allow the Lord to create a new heaven and earth for you. You might feel like you are in the wilderness right now. You may feel like your still in the one thousand two hundred and sixty days appointed for this time of turmoil. Just know that the Lord is protecting you. He is preparing you to be brought to His right hand, not His left. Don’t miss this part of your judgment! Continue to let the Lord visit you, even if it means that the evil desires and false notions that are running your life are painfully exposed.
Such visitations were also carried out in the spiritual world at the time of the universal last judgment by angels, for a visitation always takes place before a badly constructed community is destroyed. The angels would urge them to desist, and threaten ruin if they did not. They would check to see if there were any good people mixed in with them, and set these aside. But the standard-bearers would whip up their followers into a frenzy, and heap insults upon the angels, trying to attack them. Many of them had a faith separated from charity, and there were some who made a show of charity but still lived wicked lives. (See Last Judgment (Continued) n.26)
Everybody in the world of spirits could see this going on. Some would move away and seek shelter. These are those protected by the Lord under the altar or in the lower earth. But when such visitations and signs announcing the judgment to come were unable to deter people’s minds from criminal acts and seditious plots against those who acknowledged the Lord as the God of heaven and earth, and who treated the Word as holy and led lives of charity, the Last Judgment came upon them.
As we read in our lessons, the Writings describe how, in fulfillment of His predictions, the Lord appeared in a shining cloud with a sound of trumpets. This signal represented the Lord’s protection of the angels of heaven and the gathering of the good from all sides. The Lord never brings ruin on anyone, but is forced to withdraw because of the presence of evil. Then the wicked follow their own inclinations, which lead them into every kind of crime. And then even the appearance of the false havens was destroyed. Mountains are carried off to the far distance, or split open in the middle, or covered as by a flood. People gather themselves into groups to match their kinds of evil. they take themselves into chasms, marshes, pools and deserts, each of which was a hell.
Then the good people were carried away. The wicked left behind felt huge earthquakes, and panic broke out universally. People were seen running hither and thither, some taking to their heels to escape, some hiding in crypts, some in the cells and pits where their treasures were, while others carried out of them anything they could lay their hands on. After the earthquakes a volcanic eruption burst up from below. And then there came a gale from the east, which stripped bare, shattered and completely overturned everything. Then all the people were brought out of every place where they had hidden and were thrown into a sea, the waters of which were black. The number of those thrown in amounted to many tens of thousands.
Following this, smoke, as after a fire, began to rise from the whole district, and finally thick dust. This was carried out to sea by the east wind and settled as a layer on it. All their treasuries were turned to dust, together with all the possessions they held sacred. The reason the dust was scattered on the sea was that such dust means that which is damned.
Finally a black shape was seen flying over that whole district, which on closer view looked like a dragon - a sign that the whole of that great city and the district had become a desert. The reason it so appeared was that dragons mean the falsities of such a religion, and their home means a desert following overthrow.
The mountains were seen to sink into the depths and all on them were swallowed up. One who had been placed on one of the mountains and proclaimed to be God, turned black and then fiery, and he was hurled headlong into hell. Other mountains too were seen, some split open in the middle forming a huge chasm spiraling downwards, and those on the mountains were thrown into it. Some of the mountains were torn up by the roots and so turned upside down that their summits were at the bottom. The people from the plains there were deluged with a kind of flood and covered over. But those among them who were from other quarters were thrown into chasms. (See Last Judgment n. 61)
All this happened in actual fulfillment of the Lord’s predictions. And yet it seems a bit unreal. Perhaps a way to begin to know its reality is to again remember your own experiences. Perhaps it was the onset of the depression. Perhaps the societal revolution during the 1960’s. Perhaps it is the continuing descent of our culture into the acceptance of all manner of evil practices. Perhaps it was the sudden, unexplainable and tragic death of a loved one - or even of a stranger. Or perhaps it was inside you; when you discovered an evil desire manipulating you. The Lord has predicted His coming to you. It will be preceded by a judgment. As fearful as we may be before it happens, we really don’t want to miss this judgment. It is the beginning of our salvation.
We are told that when the Last Judgment was completed there was joy in heaven and such an increase of light in the world of spirits as never before. We read the description of what the joy in heaven was like after the dragon was cast down in Revelation (12:10-12). The light in the world of spirits was due to the removal of those hellish communities which had blocked heaven like clouds overshadowing the earth. A similar light also dawned on people in the world, bringing them a new enlightenment.
Swedenborg reports that he saw a vast number of angelic spirits rising from the depths and being lifted up to heaven. These were the sheep, who had been kept back and guarded by the Lord at His right hand, to prevent them from coming into the malignant sphere of influence emanating from the dragon-people and having their charity stifled. These are the people meant in the Word by those who came out of their graves, and by the souls of those slain for bearing witness to Jesus,; and by those of the first resurrection.” Last Judgment (Continued) nn.28-30
So the spiritual world has now been freed of those who were attacking and leading people astray. Their tricks were more malign than any possible on earth, since they are then spirits, and it is in the spirit that all a person's malice is stored. A person's spirit is what thinks, wills, intends and devises. Many of them were tested and found to have believed nothing at all; but their minds had been prey to a shocking longing to lead others astray, the rich for the sake of riches, the poor for the sake of power. With that aim they had kept all in the deepest ignorance, so blocking the way to light, and to heaven. The way to light and heaven is obstructed when the knowledge of spiritual matters is obscured by idolatrous practices, and when the Word is adulterated, weakened and taken away. (See Last Judgment n. 62)
Those of them who had an affection for truth arising from good were preserved. Those who had lived pious and good lives, even if not in possession of truths, but who had had an affection for learning truths, were taken out and given dwellings. Communities were established. And as they were instructed, they are accepted into heaven. (See Last Judgment n. 63)
And so there we have the means knowing when our judgment is happening and how to move towards our Lord and Savior, and not run away into some cave of self-preservation. He will protect us when we bring the Word into our lives, and use it as a shield against all cunning attractive invitations to a false heaven. Allow the presence of the Lord in your life, despite the upset it can cause. In that way you will surely miss neither the great Last Judgment revealed in the Word, nor your last judgment by which you will be saved.
Lessons: Matthew 24 and Last Judgment n.28:
“THE LAST JUDGMENT IS TO BE WHERE ALL ARE TOGETHER, AND SO IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLD, NOT ON EARTH
The general belief about the Last Judgment is that the Lord accompanied by angels will appear in glory in the clouds of heaven, and He will then raise up from their graves all who have ever lived from the beginning of creation, clothe their souls with a body, and, when they have been summoned to meet, judge them, sending those who have lived good lives to everlasting life or heaven, and those who lived wicked lives to everlasting death or hell.
The churches have taken this belief from the literal sense of the Word, and there was no possibility of removing it so long as it remained unknown that everything mentioned in the Word has a spiritual sense; and this sense is the real Word, the literal sense serving as its basis or foundation. Without this kind of literal sense the Word could not have been Divine, and have served both heaven and the world as a means of instruction on how to live and what to believe, and as a means of linking. So if anyone knows the spiritual facts corresponding to natural ones in the Word, he can know that the Lord's coming in the clouds of heaven does not mean His appearance there, but His appearance in the Word. The Lord is the Word, because He is Divine truth. The clouds of heaven in which He is to come are the literal sense of the Word, and the glory is its spiritual sense. The angels are heaven, from which He appears, and they are also the Lord as regards Divine truths. When the church comes to an end the Lord will open up the spiritual sense of the Word, and thus reveal the essential nature of Divine truth. This will be a sign that the Last Judgment is at hand.
Preached at Sarver, PA
February 20, 2000