The Last Trump Has Sounded!
According to Swedenborg, the Last Judgment, prophesied throughout the
New Testament and anticipated with so much dread down through the ages,
has already taken place! He himself witnessed it during the earthly year
1757—not on this earth, of course, but in the spiritual world, in the
intermediate region known as the World of Spirits.
The Wheat and the Tares
When the Lord came on earth, people were not ready for pure Christianity; so he built up a temporary Christian church, which (he said) would last until "the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)
He illustrated the situation by telling the story of a farmer who sowed good seed in his wheat field. Later, when the workers slept, an enemy came and sowed weeds (tares) among the wheat, so that good and bad seed grew up together, side by side. The farm-hands asked, "Shall we root out the tares?" but the farmer replied, "Not yet, because you won't be able to distinguish between them and the wheat. Wait until the harvest, then the difference will be clear; for the tares bear a black, poisonous berry, whereas the wheat has a beautiful golden ear. At the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers: Gather first the tares and bind them in bundles and burn them; but put the wheat into my barns." (Matthew 13:24-30)
In this parable, the good seed is the Word, planted by the Lord himself as a basis for the Christian church. But Jesus knew that the church would not remain free from contamination. Evil spirits from hell would scatter subtle falsities in people's hearts; which would, in their early growth, closely resemble true doctrine, but which, when fully developed, would poison the whole world. "By their fruits you shall know them." (Matthew 7:16)
Mixed Company in the World of Spirits
Modifying the meaning of the parable slightly, Jesus said: "The good seeds are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of wickedness." (Matthew 13:38) As he foresaw, the millions of souls from the Christian church who entered the spiritual world during the centuries were a very mixed company. The powerful sphere of truth that judges newly-arrived spirits today, stripping off externals and thus propelling them to Heaven or Hell, was not then operating, so that the "dead" continued after death as they had been in this world, remaining for perhaps hundreds of years in the intermediate region. The hypocrites continued to be hypocrites, putting on a cunning show of benevolence; the proud continued to boast; the strong still dominated the weak. As spiritual substance is extremely responsive to the thoughts and affections of the inhabitants, they were able to hallucinate huge mountains of fake heavens, great and glamorous cities, gorgeous but tatty palaces for themselves, and all the outward trappings of a phony prosperity while the real saints had to hide themselves away.
But at last the time of "harvest" began to draw near. The poisonous fruits were ripening; the inwardly corrupt spirits were unable to conceal their true state any longer. At the same time, the inwardly pure were gaining courage to come out into the open: the ripe wheat was appearing. A separation and division was becoming evident.
The Trumpet and the Bright Light
So the Last Judgment began. It was initiated by a sudden and powerful concentration of divine truth from the Lord, which sounded like the blast of a trumpet. (Revelation 1:10; Apocalypse Revealed 1) (The proclamation of truth in the spiritual world often sounds like that. Remember how, while the Lord was delivering the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai: "The voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder." Exodus 19:19) Here, then, was the Last Trump, which people used to think would herald the end of the world!
Battered by the blast of truth, the evil spirits dropped all pretence. (Arcana Coelestia 2128). Their shams and hypocrisies were blown away. Their faces became as ugly as their hearts. The false heavens which they had built melted like wax and sank into a miry pit. Nothing remained in the whole area, except what truly reflected the interior states of the inhabitants—a dreary desert waste.
What became of these people in their nakedness? They "hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great and terrible day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Revelation 6:16-17)
The divine truth which worked the judgment came as a dazzling light from Heaven. Light has a wonderful power of separating good from evil. Law-abiding people welcome the light, whereas thieves and adulterers fear and hate it. As it is stated in John 3:19, "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Suppose a bright, penetrating light were suddenly to shine into the dark corners of our cities at night, there would be a spectacular separation of the evil from the good! (Lift a stone in the garden, and watch the ants, beetles and creepy-crawlies running for their lives!)
Swedenborg—the Only Witness
It is only from the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg that we learn of the Last Judgment. In his diaries for 1757 he recounts how he saw city after city in the World of Spirits collapse in ruins, causing thousands of people (spirits) to run hither and thither, and finally leap headlong into great cracks or fissures in the ground caused by an earthquake. These cracks in the ground were only an appearance, of course. The people who jumped down landed quite safely on a lower level of the spiritual world, close to the outskirts of Hell. On one occasion, Swedenborg saw thousands of spirits up in the air above him, looking like a great dragon which was trying to drag down the stars with its tail. Eventually, it was cast into the pit. In the end, the whole intermediate region was cleared of its evil inhabitants, leaving only the good, who were happy and comfortable in the light. These were gathered together by special angels and prepared for entry into a new Heaven.
As a general rule, it takes longer for the good to get to Heaven after death than for the evil to go to Hell, because the good have to learn the truths of faith which rule in Heaven, whereas the evil invent their own falsities, doing what comes naturally. (Heaven and Hell 499ff.) So, while it took only a few months, by Swedenborg's reckoning, for all the millions of malignant spirits thronging the World of Spirits to be formed into the new Hell, it took about thirteen years of our earth time for enough good spirits to be ready for the formation of the new Heaven. It seems probable that the Christian Heaven was completed in the year 1770, after which the New Church began to be inaugurated on earth.
At the end of True Christian Religion, Swedenborg's last published work, we read the following memorandum: "After this work was finished, the Lord called together his twelve disciples who had followed him in the world; and the next day he sent them forth into the whole spiritual world, to preach the gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be for ever and ever . . . This took place on the 19th day of June in the year 1770." (True Christian Religion 791. See also Nos. 4 and 108) Because of this, June 19th is known as "New-Church Day."
After-Effects of the Judgment
Although nobody on earth except Swedenborg knew anything of the Last Judgment, yet its effects soon began to be felt. There was a startling increase of freedom everywhere, as if a load had been lifted from the human race. This led to revolutions in many parts of the world, the trade union movement, the abolition of slavery, women's rights, and so on. The "have nots" began to rise against the "haves," the underdogs against their masters; and today things have reached the stage where youth is rising against middle age, students are criticizing their teachers and children their parents! There is a critical spirit everywhere; nothing is taken for granted. Accepted beliefs are being challenged, and old customs are ignored. Even the church itself is under attack, because so many of its leaders in the past are suspected of hypocrisy.
The spiritual world is the world of causation. What happens there eventually works itself out here on earth, and nothing happens on earth without something in the spiritual world setting it in motion. How could the tremendous changes taking place in our society be accounted for, except as the result of epoch-making changes in the spiritual environment?
I look upon it in this way. Owing to the clearing-up of the World of Spirits alongside this earth, there has been a tremendous increase in the influx of love and wisdom from the new Heaven. To balance it, the Lord has permitted a comparable increase in the influx of evil and falsity from the new Hell. Thus we get the paradox that although the world is getting better and better and has never been so good as it is today, it is also getting worse and worse and has never been so bad as it is today! Whatever you say, the opposite is also true.
Imagine an enormous pair of scales, delicately balanced. More and more "good" is being piled on one scale pan, tending to tip the whole thing towards Heaven. If this were allowed to continue, people would become angels, whether they wanted to or not—puppet angels, mere automata, which is not what the Lord wants for his children. So, more and more "evil" is placed on the other scale pan, to preserve the equilibrium necessary for the exercise of free will. As we progress further and further into the New Age, the weights on both sides are increasing to a fantastic degree. All this accounts for the political unrest, vandalism, atheistical thought and general confusion of the present age. The most ignorant of laborers today has more individual freedom to "be himself" than many of the high-ups in the old days. No one feels subservient to anyone else; everyone can "do his own thing."
Our New Age Responsibility
It is a wonderful age we are living in, but a dangerous one. The leaders of any of the big nations could, today, blow the whole world to smithereens, which indicates the extent of the New Age Responsibility that we all share to some degree. It is up to every individual to face the challenge and choose heavenly influences and reject hellish ones.
"Behold," says the Lord, "I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil . . . Therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live." (Deuteronomy 30: 15, 19)
We saw in chapter 19 that there were four ages or eras in the past: the Most Ancient, the Ancient, the Hebrew, and the First Christian churches. Each of these was liquidated by a general judgment.
The Most-Ancient church was brought to an end by the judgment symbolized in the Bible by Noah's flood. The Ancient church was terminated by a succession of regional judgments, described by such events as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) and the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. (Exodus 14) There were, however, whole areas in the World of Spirits that were not judged until our Lord came on earth. He then, by his redemptive work, cleared the whole intermediate region and reordered the heavens and the hells; after this, he was able to launch the Christian church. "Now is the judgment of this world," he said, "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out." (John 12:31)
The Jewish race still flourishes. They have continued to worship the Lord in their synagogues down to the present day. But it is a historical fact that the temple in Jerusalem, which had been the central focus of the Jewish religion, was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, shortly after the crucifixion.
No More General Judgments
There will be no more general judgments. (Apocalypse Revealed 840) All the heavens are now complete, likewise all the hells (three of each, relating to the three degrees of the human mind—celestial, spiritual and natural). They are all "open" now; we can go to any one of them, according to the degree of our inner development. Moreover, the machinery of judgment (the bright light of divine truth) is still operating powerfully in the World of Spirits, and will continue to do so indefinitely; which means that every individual man and woman is judged personally, immediately after death. There will never be another large accumulation of spirits in the World of Spirits; instead there is a regular movement from there into Heaven and Hell. This probably accounts for the fact that the latest general judgment has been affecting this earth for such a long time, whereas previous judgments soon ceased to be felt, as the World of Spirits began to fill up again. The dead weight has been removed for ever. The New Age has come to stay!
Human Race now Adult
The development of humanity has been similar to the development of each individual. It was in its infancy at the time of the Most-Ancient church (a state of celestial innocence). Then followed the curiosity of childhood and its loss of innocence (the Fall), leading to youth (the Ancient church) and adolescence (the Christian church), followed at last by adult maturity that we are beginning to enjoy today. First suckling at the mother's breast, then strict parental control, then high school, then university— always under the authority of others until at twenty-one the young person "comes of age." There is a big family party; they are now answerable to nobody but themselves. From that time onwards they are expected to plan their own life, as they want it to be.
So with the human race. With the Last Judgment in 1757 (The Last Judgment), it gained its maturity. True, society is at present in a state of turmoil as it adjusts to its adult responsibilities; but humanity itself is now in control of the world, for good or ill. The responsibility rests on its shoulders; it will be up to all of us how the human race develops in the future or whether it develops at all! Humanity has had the "coming of age" ceremony, and has been given the key of the universe. Let us hope that, with the Lord's help, we will use it wisely!