Unification News for March 2000

Divine Principle, Volume 4 - Part 4

Before we examine the significance of the present days, let us quickly look at some historical expectations of what the Last Days will be like. The Bible is replete with apocalyptic prophecy pointing to a cataclysmic end to the earth and all its works. If we accept the Divine Principle view of God's ultimate purposes in history, however, we must be sure of literal interpretations of such apocalyptic imagery.

Although dramatic cataclysmic events could well attend the transformation of this world from a sovereignty of evil to a sovereignty of good. Divine Principle suggests that as a general rule biblical apocalypticism is best understood spiritually and symbolically.

Divine Principle avoids the violently literal apocalypticism fashionable in fundamentalist circles for much the same reasons that Origen of Alexandria rejected it 1,000 years ago: He, who had emphasized the perfection of divine love, could not bring himself to believe that the wrath of God was a final expression of that love.

If God in His wrath

According to the Principle, if God in His wrath devastated the earth (along with a number of other supernatural cataclysmic actions) as envisioned by some millenarians, this would either mean that God had given up His plan for the reconciliation of mankind or that He had made a bad mistake in the first place. For Divine Principle neither option is viable.

Then how shall we interpret apocalyptic material? The Principle would agree with Professor William G. Doty of Rutgers University, for example, who has pointed out that apocalyptic writing "...is largely figurative language, richly textured with the language forms of symbols, images and metaphors" (Contemporary New Testament Interpretation).

The prophecy in Revelation 21 of "a new heaven and a new earth" is a case in point. Exiled on the Mediterranean island of Patmos, the author of this fascinating and much-discussed book writes of his vision:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." (Rev. 21:1).

A new kind of world

For Divine Principle, this passage may be best understood as referring to the transformation of the earth as we know it, with all its hatreds and wars and sufferings, into a new king of world characterized by justice, peace and well-being. Only in such a fashion will the "first earth" pass away. Since God's Kingdom is to be eternal, and the earth is the place where He will establish His Kingdom, then the earth must be eternal also.

Similar to this famous passage from Revelation, the second Letter of Peter also suggests the demise of our world. In writing of the second coming day of the Lord, II Peter 3:12 warns us that "the heavens will be kindled and dissolved and the elements will melt with fire!"

Again, we must avoid a literal interpretation of such a dismal forecast for God's creation. For God to permit such an event would be a negation of His original purpose in creating humankind. As a parent, He seeks to have His children dwell in love and happiness on earth.

In addition, as we have mentioned, such dire forecasts contradict other Biblical insights, such as the Book of Ecclesiastes' promise that: "a generation come, and a generation goes, but the earth remains forever" (Eccles. 1:4).

Judgment by fire

In all probability the fire referred to in II Peter 3:12 indicates a type of judgment. In Luke 12:49, for example, Jesus exclaims that:

"I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled!"

Jesus, of course was no arsonist. However, as the prophet Jeremiah suggested, the word of God has the same purifying effect as does fire (Jer. 23:39). Rather than igniting a literal fire, Jesus brought a purification which was symbolized by the image of a fire. This purification took place not by fire but by the Divine Word.

God's Word confronts people with their own corruption and their own limits. "How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" asks Peter (Mt. 18:21). And Jesus replies not seven times, "but seventy times seven." In this encounter Peter's inner limits are exposed and challenged by Jesus' words. The Master's words both judge and purify the disciple. By the same token, the idea that in the Last Days the earth is to be consumed by fire suggests how it will be cleansed. The earth will be purified by the Truth of God.

The Rapture

Another spectacular sounding and familiar prophecy is found in Paul's first Letter to the Thessalonians. Here the Apostle promises the faithful that they will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air:

"For the Lord himself will come down with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."

While this statement has been a source of hope for conservative believers the world over, we must see it in perspective. For one thing, Biblical scholars note that Paul's Letter to the Thessalonians is the first of all his letters and thus reflects only the thinking of his early public ministry. While we cannot see into the mind of Paul, it seems that at that point he him-self, with the great majority of the early Christian church, was anticipating the early return of Jesus in some supernatural way.

With the long delay in Jesus' return, Paul's thinking seems to have undergone an evolution, such that in later letters he no longer seems to wait Jesus' return on the clouds. In Philippians 1:21-23, for example, Paul writes that he looks forward to his own death, for it is through that event that he will finally meet Christ.

Apocalyptically Misled

From another point of view also we may be doubtful of taking the Thessalonians passage literally. Regardless of the intellectual development of Paul, in light of the Principle, which emphasizes that God's ideal is to be realized on earth, not in the skies, we must regard his early Thessalonians statement as figurative on the face of it. In the Bible "heaven" usually refers to the holy and exalted real under the sovereignty of good, while "earth" other refers to the unholy or sinful realm dominated by evil.

The phrase "Our Father, who are in heaven", for example, does not primarily mean that God is located in the sky, but rather refers to the holy and exalted realm of God's existence. Thus to "meet the Lord in the air" should not be understood as referring to the physical elevation of Christians to meet Christ in the sky; perhaps rather it can be best seen as referring to the development of inner spiritual qualities such that Jesus' followers are elevated to become one with Christ inwardly.

Through the leaders of Israel had been faithful to God, as they understood him, and eagerly awaited the Messiah, they were unable to accept Jesus when he came. In his common humanity, he did not conform to their own extravagant preconceptions. How can faithful, spiritually conscious people today be sure that they also, like the ancient Jews , will not fail to recognized God's new dispensation when it arrives? Perhaps it too will arrive in a wholly different manner than expected.

The danger of this happening is increased greatly by the character of the language in much of the apocalyptic material in the Bible. Apocalyptic material by its very nature is difficult to understand, so that a variety of interpretations, many of them bizarre, are possible. Failure to take a proper approach to it can result in a narrow-minded blindness and even a tragic rejection of God's continuing revelation to man. One must be open, then, to new understanding.

In summarizing its view of apocalyptic, Divine Principle would support the view of Germany's Professor Jungen Moltmann, well-known as the architect of the "theology of hope". Moltmann stressed that the world should not be viewed as the waiting room of the soul's journey to heaven but rather as a battleground for freedom and the arena for creativity. Both Moltmann and Divine Principle would agree with a remark by Walter Rauschenbusch, the Baptist father of the Social Gospel:

"Ascetic Christianity called the world evil and left it. Humanity is waiting for a revolutionary Christianity which will call the world evil and change it."

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