Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mormon Eschatology

Eschatology (from the Greek ἔσχατος, Eschatos meaning "last" and -logy meaning "the study of") is a part of theology and philosophy concerned with what is believed to be the final events in the history of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world.

There is a growing sense among the people of the last days that we are on some sort of collision course with the inevitability of the "end of times." Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. Since Christ was first taken up into heaven as His disciples stood and watched in awe (see Acts 1:1-11) with a promise "this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven," speculation has abounded over the timing of the fulfillment of the prophecy.

Christians, however, are not the only source for speculations surrounding the end times. Much is being made of late about the fulfillment of the Mayan calendar coming to an end on December 21, 2012 (see my earlier post). In addition, the Muslims have an end time tradition embodied in the appearance of the Mahdi. According to the Shia and Sunni versions of the Islamic eschatology the Mahdi (مهدي Mahdī, also Mehdi; "Guided One") is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will stay on earth seven, nine, or nineteen years (depending on the interpretation) before the coming of the day, Yawm al-Qiyamah (literally "Day of the Resurrection" or "Day of the Standing"). Muslims believe the Mahdi will rid the world of error, injustice and tyranny alongside Jesus. The concept of Mahdi is not explicitly mentioned in the Qu'ran nor in the Sunni hadiths such as Sahih al-Bukhari which only mention the second coming of Jesus. It is only one of the six books of hadīth. Some orthodox Sunnī theologians accordingly question Mahdist beliefs, but such beliefs form a necessary part of Shīʿī doctrine.

According to scholars Julie Vryhof and Mitchell Uitvlugt, the advent of Mahdi is not a universally accepted concept in Islam and among those that accept the Mahdi there are basic differences among different sects of Muslims about the timing and nature of his advent and guidance. The idea of the Mahdi has been described as important to Sufi Muslims, and a "powerful and central religious idea" for Shia Muslims who believe the Mahdi is the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi who will return from occultation. However, among Sunni, it "never became a formal doctrine" and is neither endorsed, nor condemned "by the consensus of Sunni Ulama." It has "gained a strong hold on the imagination of many ordinary" self-described orthodox Sunni though, thanks to Sufi preaching. Another source distinguishes between Sunni and Shia beliefs on the Mahdi saying the Sunni believe the Mahdi will be a descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad who will revive the faith. Most significantly to Americans and Jews living in Israel, the newly re-elected president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad absolutely believes it is his calling to bring to pass conditions of chaos that will usher in the coming of the Twelfth Imam.

Which brings us to the Jews. In Jewish eschatology, the term came to refer to a future Jewish King from the Davidic line, who will be "anointed" with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age. In Standard Hebrew, The Messiah is often referred to as מלך המשיח, Méleḫ ha-Mašíaḥ (in the Tiberian vocalization pronounced Méleḵ hamMāšîªḥ), literally meaning "the anointed king."

Today, the various Jewish denominations have sharp disagreements about the nature of the Messiah and the Messianic Age, with some groups holding that the Messiah will be a person and other groups holding that the Messiah is a representation of the Messianic Age itself.

Traditional thought and current Orthodox thought has mainly held that the Messiah will be an anointed one (messiah), descended from his father through the Davidic line of King David, who will gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel and usher in an era of peace.

Other denominations, such as Reform Judaism, perceive a Messianic Age when the world will be at peace, but do not agree that there will be a Messiah as the leader of this era, rather they believe that it will be brought about by the work of humankind.

It should be clear that what is needed is a unification doctrine around all these disparate ideas. Just such unification can be found, I believe, in the Restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith, the boy prophet of 14 years of age, knelt in a grove of trees in upstate New York near Palmyra and declares: "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other — This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) — and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'" (JSH 1:16-19).

And thus began the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, built upon the sure foundation of a restored knowledge of the true identity of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. From Them he learned the truth about Christ's return to the earth in a future day as foretold by all the ancient prophets of whom we have written testaments. In subsequent visits with other heavenly messengers, Joseph Smith learned of his role in bringing to pass the fulfillment of events that would precede the Second Coming of the Lord and the ushering in of the Millennium.

It was Moroni who told him about the gold plates that contained the record of ancient American prophets, and provided the means whereby Joseph could translate the record and bring it forth as The Book of Mormon.

Joseph continues his history: "After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus: For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming. In addition to these, he quoted the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, saying that it was about to be fulfilled. He quoted also the third chapter of Acts, twenty-second and twenty-third verses, precisely as they stand in our New Testament. He said that that prophet was Christ; but the day had not yet come when 'they who would not hear his voice should be cut off from among the people,' but soon would come. He also quoted the second chapter of Joel, from the twenty-eighth verse to the last. He also said that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be. And he further stated that the fulness of the Gentiles was soon to come in. He quoted many other passages of scripture, and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here." (JSH 1:36-41).

In the revelation given November 1, 1831, we know as Section 1 of The Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord told Joseph: "And again, verily I say unto you, O inhabitants of the earth: I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh; For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion. And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world. Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen. (D&C 1:34-39).

Search high and low in the eschatology of other religions, and nowhere will one find the declarative voice of certainty to the degree it is found in the revelations that came forth originally from the Prophet Joseph Smith or from his interpretations of other ancient texts. All that remains is for honest seekers of truth to examine his writings, his sermons and his teachings.

If you want to know the truth about the end times, look no further than Joseph Smith. Do not be deceived by other voices of prophecy that are not nearly as precise.

Ten years ago (and twice again since then), the youth of our ward were invited to submit questions to me, then I presented the answers in a fifth Sunday combined meeting. Whenever I have taught the youth of the Church, there is always an abundant interest in this topic. My guess is they all want to know what I wanted to know when I was in their situation: Will I have time to get married and have a career, a family and do all the things I want to do before the Second Coming? Now a grandfather many times over, I can assure all the youth in the Church today the answer is still a resounding "Yes!" Here's a sampling of their questions and my answers from that first meeting:

Is there really going to be a Second Coming?

This is always one of my favorite questions. It springs from the fertile minds of some in the Church who think all the references to the Second Coming are simply “figurative,” not literal. Like the circumstances surrounding the Savior’s birth, some prefer to shroud the truth in dark and mysterious secrets that aren’t secrets at all. The Lord through his prophets has had a lot to say about the Second Coming. Here’s a sampling of what the scriptural record has to say about that, then you make up your own mind:

Old Testament evidences:

The Lord said unto Enoch: “As I live, even so will I come in the last days.” (Moses 7:60). Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, in the last days, to dwell on earth for a thousand years (verse 65). Enoch prophesied, saying: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints.” (Jude 14, 15). So did Job: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:25). “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence.” (Psalms 50:3; note that verses 4 and 5 tell of conditions that shall attend the Lord's future coming). “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” (Psalms 72:8; see also verse 17; 82:8). “When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.” (Psalms 102:16). “The Lord of Hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 24:23). “The Lord God will come with strong hand.” (Isaiah 40:10). “The Lord shall reign in mount Zion even forever.” (Micah 4:7; see also Zechariah 14:9, 20, 21). “The Lord to come suddenly; but who may abide the day of his coming?” (Malachi 3:1-4). “Elijah the prophet to be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:5, 6).

New Testament evidences:

“The Son of Man to come in the glory of his Father.” (Matthew 16:27). “The Son of Man to come in glory and to judge the nations. (Matthew 25:31-46). “Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven.” (Matthew 24:30). “Of the day and hour of the Lord's coming no man knoweth.” (Matthew 24:36). “Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26; see also verses 32, 33, 37). “Of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38). “After many tribulations the people shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:27; read verse 10 and the verses following; also 17:26-30). “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” (Luke 12:40). “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night to those not prepared.” (2 Peter 3:10; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:2). “This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11). “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you.” (Acts 3:20). “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.” (1 Corinthians 4:5; compare 11:26). “From whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20). “At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:13; see also 2:19). “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7; see also 2:1; 1 Timothy 6:14; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:28). “Stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh (James 5:8). “That we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (1 John 2:28; see also 3:2). “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him.” (Revelation 1:7; see also 6:12-17).

Book of Mormon and D&C evidences:

“The Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might and power, and great glory.” (1 Nephi 22:24; see also verse 26). “The bands of death to be broken and the Son to reign.” (Mosiah 15:20). “Elijah to come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (3 Nephi 25:5). “Christ expounded to the Nephites things that should occur until he should come in his glory.” (3 Nephi 26:3). The power of heaven to come down with Christ in the midst (3 Nephi 21:25; compare 20:22; see also 24:1-3). The Three Nephites to remain in the flesh until the Lord shall come in his glory with the powers of heaven. (3 Nephi 28:7). “Ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming.” (3 Nephi 29:2). “Christ to reveal himself from heaven with power and great glory, with all the hosts thereof.” (D&C 29:11; see also 45:44; 65:5). “The time is soon at hand when I shall come in a cloud with power and great glory.” (D&C 34:7, 8, 12). “When he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.” (D&C 76:63). “The Lord to be in the midst of the saints in glory, and to be their king and lawgiver.” (D&C 45:59; see also 1:36). “The Son of Man now reigneth in the heavens, and will reign on the earth.” (D&C 49:6). “The Lord will come down from the presence of the Father to take judgment upon the wicked.” (D&C 63:34). “Preparing the way of the Lord for his second coming.” (D&C 34:6; see also 39:20; 77:12). “The Son of Man to come in an hour you think not.” (D&C 61:38). “The time of the Lord's coming nigh at hand.” (D&C 35:15; 43:17; 133:17). “Hour and day of the Lord's coming no man knoweth, neither the angels.” (D&C 49:7; 39:21; 133:11). “The good and the meek shall be looking for the time of the Lord's coming.” (D&C 35:15). “He that feareth me shall be looking for the great day of the Lord to come.” (D&C 45:39; see also verses 40-56, and verses 74, 75). “Unto some it shall be given to know the signs of the coming of the Son of Man.” (D&C 68:11 – and I can tell you who “some” are – the people who seek shall find). “I come quickly.” (D&C 34:12; 35:27; 39:24; 41:4; 49:28; 51:20; 54:10; 68:35; 87:8; 99:5; 112:34).

What still must happen before the Second Coming?

That is a question with a very long answer, since most of the prophecies that describe the events preceding the Second Coming are as yet unfulfilled. I hope no one ever asks that question in the spirit of, “How much time do I have left?” We should always be repenting and be anxiously engaged in doing good and seeking to bring about Zion in our own sphere of influence.

My short response always favors Joseph Smith’s teachings about the seven seals in Revelation, each seal representing a 1,000-year period of the Earth’s temporal existence. We are living in the very end time of the sixth seal, because we are still waiting for the two major events of the sixth seal to occur: The “great earthquake” (see Revelation 6:12; also study D&C 77 in depth), and the sealing of the 144,000 high priests, 12,000 out of each tribe of Israel (see Revelation 7:4-8). The actual Second Coming does not occur until after all the events described in the seventh seal have been accomplished. So, those are two significant events yet to occur.

The Prophet Joseph Smith asked this question while in prayer one day. He was shown events in and around Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple yet to occur:

"I was once praying earnestly upon this subject, and a voice said unto me, 'My son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years of age, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man.' I was left to draw my own conclusions concerning this; and I took the liberty to conclude that if I did live to that time, He would make His appearance. But I do not say whether He will make His appearance or I shall go where He is. I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written — the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of heaven till I am eighty-five years old. Then read the 14th chapter of Revelation, 6th and 7th verses — 'And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him, for the our of His judgment is come.' And Hosea, 6th chapter, After two days, etc., — 2,520 years; which brings it to 1890. The coming of the Son of Man never will be — never can be till the judgments spoken of for this hour are poured out: which judgments are commenced. Paul says, 'Ye are the children of the light, and not of the darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief in the night.' It is not the design of the Almighty to come upon the earth and crush it and grind it to powder, but he will reveal it to His servants the prophets.

"Judah must return, Jerusalem must be rebuilt, and the temple, and water come out from under the temple, and the waters of the Dead Sea be healed. It will take some time to rebuild the walls of the city and the temple, Etc.; and all this must be done before the Son of Man will make his appearance. There will be wars and rumors of wars, signs in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, the sun turned into darkness and the moon to blood, earthquakes in divers places, the seas heaving beyond their bounds; then will appear one grand sign of the Son of Man in heaven. But what will the world do? They will say it is a planet, a comet, etc. But the Son of Man, which will be as the light of the morning cometh out of the east." (April 6, 1843.) DHC 5:336-337. (TPJS, p. 286-7).

Do you think that the Second Coming is closer than people think and are prepared for?

As I pointed out in the beginning, what I think – my opinion – doesn’t really matter. There are two widely held misconceptions in the Church about the Second Coming: 1) That you can somehow estimate the time in days, months or years before the Second Coming will occur; and 2) that it will occur when we are sufficiently righteous and prepared for it.

First, the Second Coming will occur when all the events related to it are fulfilled, and not a moment sooner. So you must measure the nearness of the Second Coming in events, rather than with a calendar or a clock. My counsel is that we all become familiar with those events, then we will not be deceived when false prophets come among us determined to deceive us.

Second, the scriptural record seems replete with references that the Second Coming will happen as a day of vengeance and wrath to cleanse the world. The Second Coming will come in a day of perverse wickedness, not unlike the condition of the world just before the great Flood in Noah’s day, not in a day of righteousness. The righteous saints, many of whom will be prepared and ready and waiting anxiously, will neither hasten nor delay the Lord’s coming one way or the other. The events are clearly delineated (though often “scrambled” rather than arranged topically) in the scriptures. The Lord has not been silent on this point:

“What I the Lord have decreed in them [the published revelations and prophecies] SHALL BE FULFILLED.” Again, “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them SHALL ALL BE FULFILLED. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but SHALL ALL BE FULFILLED, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:7; 37-38). The time of Christ’s Second Coming has always been known to the Father from the beginning. We have no power either to hasten it or to delay it. (Read Joseph Smith-Matthew 40).

How close do you feel the Second Coming is?

This is a serious question, but my answer is the same as above – it doesn’t really matter how I feel about it. As more gray hair grows in among the black ones on my head, my feelings have changed. I could have my own Second Coming tomorrow if I die. In that context, the Second Coming for me could be very close indeed. I suppose that is true for all of us, because no one I know has yet been able to predict the time of death with any degree of accuracy.

So you want my feelings anyway? There are many, many events that must yet occur on this Earth before the Second Coming. You could all be grandparents bouncing grandchildren on your knees before the events are all fulfilled. But I believe that one of the key elements of prophecy relating to the Second Coming is what happens to the two sites of the Millennial temples that must be built before the Second Coming: One in Independence, Missouri (see D&C 84:2-5), and one on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. All the ancient prophets, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Micah, Zechariah, to name a few, saw that future Jerusalem temple in vision. Keep your eye on Independence and Jerusalem if you want a gauge to measure nearness. Then ask yourselves, "Which Church on the earth today holds the authoritative priesthood keys that govern temple building?" When the Jews and the Mormons finally build their Millennial temples in preparation for the Lord’s return, you will know that the day of the Second Coming is not far off. Until then, do as President Wilford W. Woodruff did -- keep planting your cherry trees.

One final thought to younger folks than I. When you live a long time, you outlive your fears of all the things you thought were going to happen because the things you once feared never happened. So I no longer fear the future because I've seen the past and I love today. It's really all I have and I'm going to make the very best of it I can.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this blog made me remeber that I had dreamed a dream last night in which I saw that the temple that has a dome on top of it was blown up from the inside with a rocket. The rocket flew all the way from the dome of the rock to the East Gate of the ancient temple of Jerusalem exposing the sealed doors. The temple was already built but both houses were adjacent to each other and connected by tunnels or pathways. Then I went inside the temple by the normal doorway or entrance to the west side of the sealed doors. I had to descend under the basemant of the temple and as I went through under it I was carrying in my arms a manchild full of light to light the way under the temple and I saw in one tunnel thereof a fountain of clear water running under the temple like a shallow river from the East side. It was winter time then; and I had to cross over it. I thought It would be freezng cold to the touch, for I had no shoes. But as I stepped through it it was not that cold, then I proceeded through to find the people that were wandering lost as a result of the blast.