The End Has Come . . . And Gone
The world is coming to an end! Right . . . about . . . now! Or maybe next year? Anyway, it’s gonna happen soon, so you’d better be ready!
So say the Christian fundamentalists. And lately, a whole lot of people who don’t understand the Mayan calendar have joined them.
But every time they’ve predicted the end, the world has kept right on turning.
That’s because the “end times” described in the Bible are not about physical events at all. Even the book of Revelation itself describes them as taking place in the spiritual world.
According to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), the events described in Revelation have already taken place—and we are now living in the days when the New Jerusalem is coming down from God out of heaven (Revelation 21:1–2).
How else can we account for the unprecedented changes that have taken place in human society in the last few hundred years?
The power of the church to control human minds and lives that lasted for thousands of years is now largely a thing of the past. And the amazing scientific, technological, and social advances of recent centuries are unique in the history of humankind.
I don’t think so!
The End of the World?
Where do some Christians get those crazy ideas about the end of the world?
The predictions of the end of the age, the second coming of Christ, and the New Jerusalem are found in the book of Revelation (also called the “Apocalypse” from the Greek word for “revelation”) and in the so-called “little Apocalypse” in Matthew 24. In these places, we read of various wars and cataclysms, culminating in the first heaven and earth passing away, and a new heaven and earth taking their place (Revelation 21:1). From this newly re-created heaven a vast city, the New Jerusalem, will descend (Revelation 21:2). According to its dimensions, it will fill the entire then-known world (Revelation 21:15–16).
The battles leading up to this new heaven and new earth will be fought by Christ and the angels against various demonic beasts. And at his second coming, Christ himself will appear (Matthew 24:30, 26:64; Mark 14:62).
For centuries, Christians have assumed that these things would take place literally. They have believed that the earth we are standing on and the heavens above us would be destroyed, and a new earth and a new heaven would be created at the time of Christ’s prophesied second coming. They have believed that the second coming itself would be a physical appearance of Christ just as the first one was. In recent decades various fundamentalist groups have built much of their appeal on the idea that all of these prophecies will be literally fulfilled . . . and soon!
The Apocalypse: Physical or Spiritual?
But does the Bible itself support the idea that these prophecies will be fulfilled literally here on earth?
In the book of Revelation the author, John, continually tells us that all of these things were seen “in the spirit” (Revelation 1:10, 4:2, 17:3, 21:10). In other words, he saw these things taking place, not in the physical world, but in the spiritual world.
Further, most of the action takes place not on earth, but in heaven.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
When we read “heaven” and “earth” in the Bible, we naturally assume that “heaven” means the spiritual world, while “earth” means the material world. So we would assume that if it says in Revelation that something happened “in heaven,” that means it happened in the spiritual world where angels and devils live, while if it says something happened “on earth,” that means it happened in the material world where we humans live. Many traditional interpretations of the events described in the Book of Revelation make exactly this assumption.
However, the original Greek language of the New Testament uses the same word for both “heaven” and “sky.” And in ancient times people did not have our modern conception of the earth as a planet traveling through space. “Earth” simply meant “land” or “ground.” In most places in the Bible it would be more accurate to translate these two words as “sky” and “land.”
For example, in a traditional translation we read in Revelation 12:7–9:
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
According to the usual Christian interpretations, this means that the dragon will be thrown out of heaven (meaning the spiritual world) and will come down to earth (meaning the material world) to make war against Christian believers on earth (see Revelation 12:17).
But that’s not what John saw at all.
What John saw was a battle in the sky. The dragon lost that battle, and was thrown out of the sky down to the land below. And as John has already told us, all of this was seen with his spiritual eyes—meaning it all took place in the spiritual world. The sky and the land he is describing are the spiritual sky and land.
In other words, none of the action in the book of Revelation takes place in the material world. All of it takes place in the spiritual world. The idea proclaimed by Christian fundamentalists that all of these things are going to take place here on earth is not even supported by the Book of Revelation itself.
Although the popular novels and movies about the end of the world put out by fundamentalist Christians may be highly entertaining, they are pure fiction. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with creating literature and movies that dramatize the events narrated in the Book of Revelation. Visuals can be helpful in grasping the meaning of the text. But to jump to the conclusion that the events described in the Bible will actually happen physically here on earth is not pure Christianity, but pure Hollywood.
The Last Judgment and You
Yes, the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment are predicted to take place not in the material world but in the spiritual world. And according to the eighteenth century scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1588-1772), the Last Judgment has already happened. He even published an eyewitness account in his book The Last Judgment, originally published in 1758. If you want all the gory details, get the book!
I know what you’re thinking: “Do you seriously expect me to believe that the end of the world has already happened, and only one old European guy noticed it?”
First of all, the Bible does not say “the end of the world.” Some of the old translations do say that. However, the original Greek does not say “the end of the world,” but “the end of the age.” There’s a big difference! The Bible does not predict that the world is going to end, but that the era that started at the time of Jesus Christ would come to an end, and a new era would start for humanity.
And isn’t this exactly what has been happening for the last few hundred years?
Since the mid-1700s we have been living in a new age. It is an age in which the church no longer controls our thinking. We are free to investigate and explore both material and spiritual reality for ourselves.
The result has been a huge explosion of scientific, technological, social, and spiritual advances unlike anything that has ever occurred in all the previous ages of humankind.
And though the scientific and technological advances are the most obvious to our material eyes, it is the social and spiritual advances of this new era that will have the greatest long-term effects.
The main effects of the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment in the spiritual world were:
- Bringing the spiritual atmosphere that surrounds humanity back into balance
- Clearing away the spiritual blockages that had built up during many centuries of false and corrupted Christianity
- Restoring the flow of genuine spiritual truth to humans on earth
- Restoring our spiritual freedom
As a result of these changes, we can now freely choose what we will believe, and use our rational mind to make our own choices between good and evil, heaven and hell.
In other words, the main effect of the Last Judgment on us here on earth is that it created a new atmosphere of mental and spiritual freedom. This new freedom has resulted in all of the tremendous scientific, technological, social, and spiritual advances that have taken place in the last few centuries.
The Second Coming: Spiritual, not Physical
What about the second coming of Christ prophesied in the Bible?
You guessed it! If the Apocalypse and Last Judgment are spiritual events, so is the second coming.
Listen, God already did the incarnation thing. God already took on a physical body and lived out a lifetime. Did he make a mistake the first time, so that he has to do it all over again? Don’t believe the “Rambo Jesus” version in which a jacked Jesus comes back to “take names and kick butt,” in military parlance. This would be totally out of character for the Jesus described in the Gospels.
Once again, traditional and fundamentalist Christians have interpreted literally and physically statements that were meant to be taken spiritually.
The second coming of Christ does not involve any physical reappearance of Jesus on earth. Instead, it involves a new, spiritual appearance of the Lord as the light of new spiritual knowledge available to people on earth. The way for this was paved by the Last Judgment in heaven, which opened up the channels so that spiritual light could flow freely to people on earth.
All Things New!
Yes, the Last Judgment has already taken place, and the Lord’s promised second coming is now happening within and around us.
What will this new spiritual era look like?
Just wait and see!
But all joking aside, here are a few things we can already see happening:
- The old religious institutions and dogmas are losing their hold on society.
- There is a new focus on spirituality and on gaining a deeper understanding of the human condition.
- People are acting more and more from their own loves and their own choices rather than externally imposed ones.
- The social masks are gradually coming off, and people are saying and doing more of what they really think and feel.
- Marriage is seen more and more as a spiritual and eternal relationship.
- Long-hidden evils are coming out into the open where we can finally see them and deal with them.
- There is a new sense of all people on earth being part of a single human community.
- There is a growing appreciation of the variety of human beings, and the unique contribution that each individual and each culture can make to a greater whole.
- The light of spiritual truth is spreading around the world through new, broader, and faster channels.
- There is a growing sense that humanity has entered a new and better phase of its spiritual evolution.
As stated in Revelation 21:5, God is making all things new! And we are privileged to be living in this new spiritual era.
This article is © 2012 by Lee Woofenden
For further reading:
- Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth
- Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!
- The Evangelicals are Right: The World IS Coming to an End!
- How Big is the New Jerusalem?
- The Heavenly City: A Spiritual Guidebook, by Emanuel Swedenborg