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The Day of Judgement
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 28, 2010
Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44 Psalm 122
Both of our Bible readings this morning deal with the coming of the Lord, or the last days. In Isaiah, the last days will be a time of peace throughout the planet, God will settle all disputes, and the law will be promulgated throughout the world. Our New Testament passage seems to me to be a little more frightening. It is written in New testament terminology, so instead of the coming of Yahweh, or Jehovah, we have a story about the second coming of Jesus. According to the letter of the story, the righteous people will be taken up to heaven, while the unrighteous will be left on earth. So we have the famous passage,
“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left (Matthew 24:40-41).
Fundamentalist Christians talk about this a lot. They emphasize the second coming of the Lord and this passage about some being taken up to heaven and some left behind. They call this the “rapture”–those who are taken up are “raptured” up into heaven. There is even a fiction series about when the rapture happens. All manner of calamity takes place as airplane pilots are raptured up and their planes crash; bus drivers are raptured up with the same result, and so on.
Christians have been waiting for this to happen ever since the time of Christ. Jesus says of the second coming, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things will have happened” (Matthew 24:34). But that generation did pass away and all those things did not happen. In the year 1,000AD, since it was the millennium, everyone in Europe thought that the Second coming would happen. But it didn’t. Then in 2,000AD a lot of people were preparing for the second coming. But it didn’t come. Today there are many, many Christians who are warning us to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. I’ll wait.
But if Jesus’ words are true, there needs to be another way to understand them. Let’s assume that Jesus was telling the truth. That the sun would be darkened, the moon not give its light, the stars fall from the sky, the heavenly bodies shaken, and the Son of man will come in the clouds of the sky with great glory, flashing like lightning (Matt. 24:29-30). And let’s take Jesus at His word and assume that all these things happened before the people of His generation had passed away. Nobody saw all those calamities. But Jesus tells us that they had to have happened. Given these facts, we can make sense of Jesus’ statements if we consider these remarks to be about what goes on in the spiritual world, or inside the soul of each individual. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus told them,
The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you ( Luke 17:20-21).
How much plainer can Jesus speak. “The kingdom of God is within you.” This means that all those predictions about the coming of the Kingdom are inside us: the darkened sun and moon, the stars falling from the sky, the shaken heavenly bodies, the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of the sky, flashing like lightning. All these things are inside us. We won’t see these things happen on the earth. In order to understand the second coming of the Lord, we need to look inside. The dreadful cosmic phenomena refer to falsities that will darken the light of the Gospel truth in the final days. The coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of glory is the revelation of truths from the Bible in the appearances with which some of them are clouded. The shaking of the heavens also refers to struggles that we of the church go through in trying to live a Christian life in a fallen world.
It’s hard to reconcile the Old Testament passage and the New Testament passage. The Old Testament passage speaks of a renewed earth, when the law will be taught to everyone and in that passage we hear the beautiful line that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” The Old Testament speaks of a renewed earth while the New testament speaks of people being taken up out of the earth and into heaven. Both of these passages are about the end of days.
The two passages can be reconciled, however, when we look at them from what they mean for each of us. We are told to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man because we don’t know when He will come. Jesus tells us, “You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matt. 24:44). The coming of the Son of Man calls our attention to judgement. The warning to be ready is a call for us to be vigilant about our spirituality. There is a final judgement upon our death, but, in fact, judgement is daily–in fact, minute by minute. Every day we confront choices about how we will respond to the issues we encounter. Every choice can be seen as the coming of the Son of Man. Every way we respond to each other or to our life’s situations is a statement about our spiritual condition.
Sometimes we need to fall back on a lesson we have learned in life or in church when we choose how to respond to life’s situations. As we make more and more positive choices, we become more and more firmly committed to a Christ-centered life. This is what Jesus means when He says, “You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” Practicing spirituality every day in every aspect of our lives is being ready for the coming of the Son of Man. For if we live that way, we will be ready to face the Lord when He comes to us.
This is also what is meant by the prophesy in the book of Isaiah. When we are seeking spiritual teachings, and when we put love for God above all, then Mount Zion is raised up as “chief among mountains” (Isaiah 2:2). Mount Zion was where the temple stood in ancient Israel, and as such, it symbolizes God’s presence on earth and with each of us. When we enrich our spiritual knowledges by learning and seeking, then we are being like those who say in Isaiah, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD . . . He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3). So in reality, as the prophet says, “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (2:3).
Both the Old Testament passage and the New Testament passage, however, do talk about the end of days. In both passages, there is a feel of attainment. This is a picture of life when a person has become regenerated. In Swedenborg, there is a final place that a person can come to in his or her spiritual pathway. And by place, we do not mean a geographical location. We mean rather a state of mind. In the final step of our spiritual development, we are called celestial people. Before this, we were called spiritual. The spiritual person has doubts, struggles, even at times will sink into despair. But when we become celestial all these struggles cease. If we are persistent in our spiritual work, we have the promise that there will come a time when there is rest, and the struggle stops. When we have so practiced the law of the LORD that it is written in our heart, when we do good from a love of good, then we will come to a place of peace. Swedenborg writes,
Another reason why the celestial man is the Sabbath, or rest, is that combat ceases when he becomes celestial; evil spirits depart, and good spirits and celestial angels draw near; and when these are present evil spirits cannot be, but flee far away (AC 87).
This is that end state that Isaiah talks about when he says,
He will judge between the nations
And will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
Nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
The spiritual war that goes on in our souls is over. This promise of peace is held out to each one of us. Jesus tells us, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). The celestial person is surrounded by heavenly angels and has God’s ways written upon his or her heart. Such an individual acts from love, not self-compulsion. And the celestial person feels a wonderful joy and peace:
None can know what the tranquility of peace of the external man is, when conflict or unrest from lusts and falsities ceases, but he who has known the state of peace. This state is so joyous that it surpasses every conception of joy. It is not only a cessation of conflict, but it is life coming down from interior peace, so affecting the external man as cannot be described. Then truths of faith and goods of love are born which derive life from the joyousness of peace (AC 92).
This joy and peace is what Isaiah was talking about in the last days, and this is what it means to be taken up by Jesus–not physically from this world but taken to Jesus in our hearts and souls.
and it is the state we will find ourselves in when we are taken by Jesus.
For many of us, this may seem a ways off. But I think we can hold on to the hope that it is attainable. There can be for us a place of peace and joy beyond the words of this world. On this we have the prophesy of Isaiah, the words of Jesus, and the testimony of Swedenborg.
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