Christian eschatological visions put into question

Article from the website « Blog de réflexion chrétien », 2008, revision 29/07/14, English translation from French 03/08/14. Reproduction is authorized, provided it is complete and that the source is indicated: https://reflexionsjesus.wordpress.com/


The objective of this paper is to inform the reader of the existence of eschatological visions of misleading nature.

We will consider for this purpose a few stories of visions of Christian inspiration from different eras. They will be brought together thematically, and they will be criticized point by point. We will present and explain a biblical interpretation that will support this criticism.

We will see that the eschatological teachings of these visions often oppose themselves and the interpreting reference.

Based on this observation, we will finally conclude the strong likelihood that these visions are indeed just counterfeits.

*******

The writings of the Bible enable us to understand, through a futuristic interpretation, that God has planned a day of final judgment on all men. The verses below (see also Mt 25:31-46) describe a judgment with eternal consequences, which will be attended by all men, while the earth and the sky will disappear, indicating that the judgment is yet to come:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:11-15) [1]

As part of this judgment only two outcomes are possible: firstly eternal bliss, the other eternal perdition. This will be the time when the deeds of all men will be revealed and evaluated:

[Those of the nations] show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Ro 2:15-16) [2]

On the other hand, the Bible indicates that some people after death, go directly to « paradise » (cf. the criminal in Lu 23:43), or by the side of Abraham (cf. Lazarus in Lu 16:23), which are presumed to be enjoyable spiritual places. Beside that, we learn that some dead people are said to be tormented in « hell » (cf. the rich man in Lu 16:23). It should be noted that in the verses of Lu 16:23 and Re 20:13-14, it’s the same Greek word « Hades » which is used. It is sometimes translated by the words « the place of the dead » or « hell« .

From what we have seen, these after death situations can only be understood as temporary. However, although temporary, they clearly result from some form of judgment.

If there is therefore a form of judgment at death, in any case, it would not be a judgment of God upon the deeds of men, which it is said above that it will happen at some point: the Day of Judgment. This form of judgment at death can only be based on the prior knowledge of God about the outcome of the final judgment. It is clear that this prior knowledge is existing and obvious, since those who are destined for eternal bliss, even before passing the final judgment are already in the « book of life« , which is presented as the condition for avoiding eternal damnation.

But whatever may be the conjunctures about the form of temporary judgment and the nature of its consequences (e.g. « hell« , Lu 16:23), in any case, these temporary consequences should not be confused with those from the final judgment mentioned above (e.g. « the lake of fire« , Rev 20:15).

******

Thus, if this interpretation of the Bible is correct, remarks referring to a form of divine judgment just after the death of a person, based on deeds and having eternal consequences, can not be true. But it turns out that some Christian visions tend to let understand that the death of every man would be followed by a final judgment.

We can find this concept in many visions of the Christian era; The Apocalypse of Paul, apocrypha from the late 4th century seems to be one of the first texts to reflect this. We give below an extract of a vision from the mystic St. Bridget of Sweden (1302-1373). In this story of vision, the judgment of a dead person occurs in the presence of Jesus in particular. There seems to be a final judgment, which in any case is a judgment of deeds:

In the same hour, therefore, Lady Bridget saw herself caught up to a certain large and beautiful palace where, upon the tribunal, the Lord Jesus Christ sat as if crowned as an emperor in the company of an infinite host of attendant angels and saints. She saw standing near him his most worthy Mother, who listened carefully to the judgment. Also in the presence of the Judge, a soul was seen standing in great fear and panic, naked as a newborn infant, and, as it were, entirely blind so that it could see nothing; but in its consciousness, it understood what was being said and done in the palace. An angel stood on the Judge’s right side near the soul and a devil on his left. […] After this, the devil speaks to the Judge and says: ”I know that you are justice and power itself. You do not judge less justly for the devil than for an angel. Therefore adjudge that soul to me! Using the wisdom that I had when you created me, I had written all his sins. […] Then, however, Christ the Judge spoke, saying this: ”Depart, O devil, my enemy!” Then he said to the knight [the soul]: ”Come, O my chosen one!” And so, at once, the devil fled. [3]

We can also find more recent visions, whose teaching is the same as above. We consider for illustrative purpose, a vision reported by the American prophetic ministry Rick Joyner (born 1949). During the latter, he met a deceased person who showed him how he passed judgment before getting his eternal reward in heaven:

There is an aristocracy here. The rewards for our earthly lives are the eternal positions that we have here. […] You are standing now among the lowest rank in heaven. […] The Lord also loves us with a love greater than you can yet understand. Before His judgment seat I tasted the greatest darkness of soul and remorse that can be experienced. Though here we do not measure time as you do, it seemed to last for as long as my life on earth had lasted. All of my sins and follies which I had not repented of passed before me, and before all who are here. The grief of this you cannot understand until you have experienced it. I felt that I was in the deepest dungeon of hell, even as I stood before the Lord. He was resolute until my life had been completely reviewed. [4]

If it is found that placing the final judgment of each man to death is a misconception, it is not so much what is criticized here. What is more is that this conception of things introduces the risk of bias and influence on the interpretative approach of biblical texts on eschatological questions.

*******

Some visions evoke a completely different eschatological perspective from those previously seen. They maintain that after death all men would be capable of evolving to paradise.

This concept is based on the following principles: After death, the spirit of men would enter into an intermediate state between different spiritual levels. The level they would be given to integrate would depend on their own advancement degrees, according to a principle of spiritual compatibility.

Such principles have been expressed, particularly by Swedish mystic, Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), as the result of his conversations with spirits, in his visions:

The world of spirits […] is in an intermediate state, since so long as man is in it he is not yet either in heaven or in hell. The state of heaven in man is the conjunction of good and truth in him; and the state of hell is the conjunction of evil and falsity in him. Whenever good in a man-spirit is conjoined to truth he comes into heaven, because that conjunction, as just said, is heaven in him; but whenever evil in a man-spirit is conjoined with falsity he comes into hell, because that conjunction is hell in him. That conjunction is effected in the world of spirits, man then being in an intermediate state. It is the same thing whether you say the conjunction of the understanding and the will, or the conjunction of good and truth. [5]

This type of statement is also found in the visions of the Indian Christian preacher, Sadhu Sundar Singh the (1889 – disappeared in 1929):

But there is yet another world of spirits after they leave the body at death. This is an intermediate state — a state between the glory and light of the highest heavens, and the dimness and darkness of the lowest hells. In it are innumerable planes of existence, and the soul is conducted to that plane for which its progress in the World has fitted it. There, angels especially appointed to this work, instruct it for a time, that may be long or short, before it goes on to join the society of those spirits — good spirits in the greater light, or evil spirits in the greater darkness — that are like in nature and in mind to itself. [6]

Other visions mention some elements of the same nature, such as that of the American Christian Baptist Marietta Davis (1823-1848). Although the overall message of her vision is different from the first two, the concepts of the intermediate space and spiritual compatibility are clearly mentioned:

[…] since this intermediate state or vestibule of the spirit world, is visited by beings varying in character from the unholy and wretched, to the bright and sanctified angels who in multitudes congregate at the portals of death, as messengers of God. And all classes as they emerge from the physical form are attracted to and mingle with kindred associations, beings to whose character they assimilate. Those of discordant and unhallowed natures are attracted by like elements, and enter into regions overhung with clouds of night; while those, who for the love of good, desire pure associations, are by heavenly messengers conducted to the orb of glories appearing above the intermediate scene. [7]

The principle of spiritual compatibility, coming from various visions as those above is the basis of the idea that spirits could progress after death to the point of gaining paradise. For example, according to Sadhu Sundar Singh, after a more or less long evolutionary process, all the spirits of the dead men are going to finally be assembled in the presence of God. You can see below what he concludes from his visions:

 […] No spirit can exist forever, if separated from God by sin or evil. It must either cease to exist or return to God who is the source of life. There is no spirit which will ever cease to exist; therefore every spirit finally must return to God, even though it may be after ages of ages. [8]

It is understood that this idea of ​​a generalized return of the spirits of the dead to God is contradicted by the idea of ​​a divine judgment after which it is said that many will go to eternal perdition. (See also Mt 7:13-14)

The teaching of the visions that we have seen is problematic primarily because it leads to a questioning of the idea of ​​a final judgment.

*******

A classic interpretation of the Bible is that the dead will rise at the end of time. Dead bodies will then get eternal ones, that is to say incorruptible:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1Co 15:51-53) [9]

The Bible mentions several resurrections befallen in the past (e.g. Mt 27:52), but no explanatory detail permits to conclude whether it is eternal resurrections. By cons, regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the scripture indicates that he would be the first (cf. Ac 26:23, 1Co 3:20;23) to have experienced this type of resurrection three days after his death. In terms of other men, the Bible speaks of « the first resurrection » which, according to a futuristic interpretation of scripture is yet to come. This would therefore indicate that there has been no prior one outside that of Christ:

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. […] I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev 19:19-20 and Rev 20:4-6) [10]

We see that the first resurrection occurs after the destruction of what this text called « the beast » and « false prophet » by Jesus (the rider on the horse). It seems that the « antichrist » mentioned in the New Testament (1Jn 2:18;22, 1Jn 4:3, 2Jn 1:17) is in fact « the beast » or possibly the « false prophet« .

We learn also that only those who have gone through the first resurrection will be in position to reign with Christ.

*******

The resurrection of the dead is also the subject of visions whose teachings are highly variable. These teachings may show that some of the dead would be resurrected already permanently.

As a first illustration we can consider the story of the American Reverend Elwood Scott dating from the early 20th century. He lived the apparition of a character who narrated his own experiences of paradise. In one of these visions, Abraham ensured him that he and others would have already received their incorruptible body at the first coming of Christ:

The church on earth and in heaven will soon unite in one great jubilee and celebrate the final and great victories of the cross of our Lord, at the resurrection of all the saints, from the days of Abel to the end of the age. The living saints of earth as you know will all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, […] And then we shall receive the fullness and completion of our salvation: The redemption of our bodies. A very few of us have already had our resurrection as you see in my own case. » […] « All the elders, » said he, « received their resurrection at the time our Lord was raised and with Him became the first fruits of those who slept; yet we ourselves shall be freshly arrayed along with you for the marriage of the Lamb, a great event to which we all are looking. » [11]

In another vision, it was told to Rick Joyner by a deceased person that all the dead would receive an incorruptible body after their final judgment at their entry in the paradise.

Again my old acquaintance responded to these thoughts. « We have our incorruptible bodies now, and you do not. Our minds are no longer hindered by sin. […] [12]

Moreover, some of them would be already ruling with Christ:

As I approached the Judgment Seat of Christ, those in the highest ranks were also sitting on thrones that were all a part of His throne. Even the least of these thrones was more glorious than any earthly throne many times over. Some of these were rulers over cities on earth who would soon take their place. Others were rulers over the affairs of heaven, and others over the affairs of the physical creation, such as star systems and galaxies. [13]

In both visions seen here, we would have resurrections before the « first resurrection » that is considered here as future, which does not seem likely. It is therefore quite conceivable that on the basis of such visions as commented, the classical eschatology of the resurrection of the dead can be questioned.

Moreover, some visions do it explicitly. This is for example the case of the vision of the American Christian, Mary Kathryn Baxter, dating from 1976. According to it, a resurrection of the dead will take place before the appearance of the antichrist.

He [Jesus] said, « Soon I will return and take back with Me to heaven, first the righteous dead, then after them those that are alive and remain will be caught up to be with Me in the air. Following that, the Antichrist will reign upon the earth for an appointed time, and there will be tribulations such as have never been before, nor will ever be again. « And then I will return with My saints, and Satan will be cast into the bottomless pit, where he will remain for a thousand years. [14]

However, according to the timeline that we have explained above, the first resurrection of the dead will happen only after the reign of the antichrist has come and it was destroyed. If this chronology is correct, the above vision is also misleading. All these visions can therefore introduce confusion in the eschatological interpretation of scripture.

*******

As part of a futuristic interpretation of the Bible, another notable event is coming, the one where the devil will be bound in the abyss. He would be bound to this place after the victory of God over the beast who will have seduced the world, and that, « to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore« :

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh. And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev 19:19-21 and Rev 20:1-3) [15]

We can understand that the devil will mislead the nations until these future events, but for now he is not bound into the abyss. Besides, the Bible suggests that the devil has in fact misled nations since the creation of man. For example in the 1st century, Paul speaks of the devil as being now at work in the world:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Eph 2:1-2) [16]

Since half of the Middle Ages, some visions have depicted the devil bound in hell, such as in the vision of Tundale (1149). Some of these visions say that the devil was bound to hell in the past. Thus, the German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), would have seen the devil and his angels being bound by Jesus during his descent into hell:

Finally, I beheld him [Jesus] approach to the centre of the great abyss, that is to say, to Hell itself; and the expression of his countenance was most severe. The exterior of Hell was appalling and frightful; it was an immense, heavy-looking building, and the granite of which it was formed, although black, was of metallic brightness; and the dark and ponderous doors were secured with such terrible bolts that no one could behold them without trembling. […] the angels then compelled all the demons to acknowledge and adore Jesus. They would have infinitely preferred the most frightful torments to such a humiliation; but all were obliged to submit. Many were chained down in a circle which was placed round other circles. In the centre of Hell I saw a dark and horrible-looking abyss, and into this Lucifer was cast, after being first strongly secured with chains; thick clouds of sulphureous black smoke arose from its fearful depths, and enveloped his frightful form in the dismal folds, thus effectually concealing him from every beholder. God himself had decreed this; and I was likewise told, if I remember right, that he will be unchained for a time fifty or sixty years before the year of Christ 2000. The dates of many other events were pointed out to me which I do not now remember; but a certain number of demons are to be let loose much earlier than Lucifer, in order to tempt men, and to serve as instruments of the divine vengeance. I should think that some must be loosened even in the present day, and others will be set free in a short time. [17]

However, some time after the death of Jesus, Paul spoke of the devil as « now at work« , suggesting that the devil was not bound at this time by chains into an abyss and was not unable to act in the sense of the passage of Rev 20:2-3. So this vision brings only confusion on the understanding of the biblical text.

We find the same idea expressed in visions of heaven and hell, a fiction of George Larkin dating from 1711. We note that this text is sometimes wrongly attributed [18] to the English writer John Bunyan (1628-1688). On the other hand, this writing is clearly based on visions of the period and has the merit at least in a synthesis. Thus, in this pseudo-vision, the devil seems not to be able to leave hell:

We then came within hell’s territories, placed in the caverns of the infernal deep in the center of the earth. There, in a sulfurous lake of liquid fire, sat Lucifer upon a burning throne. His horrid eyes sparkled with hellish fury, as full of rage as his strong anger could make him […] “What would the Thunderer have?” said he. “He has my heaven already, whose radiant scepter this bold hand should bear. Instead of those never fading fields of light, He confines me here in this dark house of death, sorrow, and woe! […] Nor would I fear the utmost of His power, though He had fiercer flames than these to throw me in. Although I lost the battle that day, the fault was not mine! No winged spirit in heaven strove better for the victory than I did. But, ah!” he continued with a changed voice, “that day is lost, and I am forever doomed to these dark territories! [19]

In this case the devil is chained and imprisoned forever, which seems to contradict the interpretation that this does happen only at a future time. Once again, we can identify the risk to develop, on the basis of such kind of visions an erroneous eschatology of the end times.

*******

Not that divine visions belong to a bygone era, but more and more visions are divine only in appearance.

It is therefore prudent to consider all visions in the light of the Bible.

In this article, some excerpts of vision having an eschatological purport were considered. On the other hand, we presented and explained a futuristic interpretation of the Bible in order to highlight several obvious contradictions with the teaching of the visions.

It was then mentioned that these visions could bring confusion to the interpretative approach of biblical eschatological writings.

We have also noted that many of these visions partially contradict each other, which only adds to doubt about their origins.

The purpose of this article is to make the disciple of Christ aware of the evil power of what is considered here as counterfeit visions.


Endnotes

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version, Holman Bible Publishers, 1986.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Revelations of Saint Bridget of Sweden, Volume III, Oxford University Press, 2006, book 7, chap. 13.

[4] Rick Joyner, The final quest, Whitaker House, 1997, p. 89-90.

[5] Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell From Things Heard and Seen, The American Swedenborg Printing and Publishing Society, 1872, Paragraph 422.

[6] Sundar Singh, The Visions of Sadhu Sundar Singh of India, London: Macmillan, 1926, chap. 3.

[7] Gordon Lindsay, Scenes Beyond the Grave: Visions of Marietta Davis, Christ for the Nation, 1976, chap. 2.

[8] A. J. Appasamy, Sundar Singh: A Biography, The Lutterwoh Press, 1958, Letter of the Sadhu, november 12, 1928, p. 217.

[9] The Holy Bible: New International Version, Holman Bible Publishers, 1986.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Elwood Scott, Paradise, the Holy City and the Glory of the Throne, Engeltal Press, 1984.

[12] Rick Joyner, The final quest, Whitaker House, 1997, p. 88.

[13] Ibid., p. 116.

[14] Mary Kathryn Baxter, A divine revelation of hell, Whitaker House, 1997, chap. 20.

[15] The Holy Bible: New International Version, Holman Bible Publishers, 1986.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Clemens Brentano, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Benziger Brothers, 1904, chap. 59.

[18] The book republished under various titles as: Visions of heaven and hell and attributed to John Bunyan, was initially written by George Larkin (1699-1725) under the title : The World to Come ; the Glories of Heaven and the Terrors of Hell lively displayed under the similitude of a Vision, G. L. London, 1711. It plagiarizes some passages of the book of John Bunyan, A Few Sighs From Hell, George Offor, 1658. For further details see the reference biography:

John Brown, John Bunyan, his life, times and work, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and co., 1886, chap. 18.

[19] (Attributed to) John Bunyan, Visions of Heaven and Hell, Whitaker House, 1998, chap. 6.

Publicités

Une réflexion sur “Christian eschatological visions put into question

Laisser un commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion / Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion / Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion / Changer )

Photo Google+

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Google+. Déconnexion / Changer )

Connexion à %s