Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The second coming of Jesus Christ and Mitt Romney

To properly understand Mormon beliefs require knowledge of context and background; and few non-Mormons have the background necessary to properly our beliefs. One common misunderstanding is that we believe Christ’s Second Coming will be somewhere in the United States. Such a notion is not so much wrong as it is incomplete.

In an interview of Mitt Romney, George Stephanopoulos brought up the LDS idea of the Second Coming. He asked Romney, “In your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches that Jesus will return probably to the United States and reign on earth for 1,000 years” (here).

Damon Linker brought his concern that Mormon beliefs teach Jesus’ Second Coming will be in the state of Missouri. In his Here and Now interview (here) he says: “[Mormons] believe not only, like many Evangelicals and Catholics, that when Christ returns he’ll do so in the Middle East. They believe that he might also come and rule the world from the territory of the United States…What would happen if some faction of the Mormon Church became convinced that Christ had already returned and was living in Missouri for instance? Would Romney dismiss this? Or is this something that he’d have to take very seriously?” Thus if it was believed that Jesus was hiding out somewhere in Missouri a President Romney might be obliged to prepare the way for a theocratic Kingdom of God. However, Linker’s understanding of the LDS view of the Second Coming is incomplete, and the part about Romney is a little paranoid.

This post will help clarify the LDS view of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Four appearances
LDS beliefs hold that there are four main appearances of Jesus Christ: his appearance at the New Jerusalem (to be built in Independence Missouri); his appearance at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman (near Independence Missouri); his appearance at the Mount of Olives (at Jerusalem in Israel); and finally his appearance to the world (at Armageddon).[1]

Christ’s appearance at the Mount of Olives (at Jerusalem in Israel)
The Bible prophesies that after an army has captured Jerusalem and is about to destroy the Jewish people the Messiah (for Christians this is Jesus) will come and save them.

I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. (NIV, Zech. 14:2-5)

Of these verses the Protestant scholars Johann Keil and Franz Delitzsch wrote in their famous commentary on the Old Testament, “The Lord will then take charge of His people; He will appear upon the Mount of Olives, and by splitting this mountain, prepare a safe way for the rescue of those that remain, and come with all His saints to complete His kingdom (Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament).

Christ’s appearance at Armageddon
Another Biblical prophecy of the Second Coming is Christ’s appearance at the battle of Armageddon, called “that great day of God Almighty” in Revelation 16:14. Of this appearance Revelation 19 reads,

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (KJV, Rev. 19:11-16)

His appearance to the wicked is also mentioned in The Doctrine and Covenants:

Who is this that cometh down from God in heaven with dyed garments; yea, from the regions which are not known, clothed in his glorious apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength?…And the Lord shall be red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat. And so great shall be the glory of his presence that the sun shall hide his face in shame, and the moon shall withhold its light, and the stars shall be hurled from their places. And his voice shall be heard: I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me; And I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger, and their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment; for this was the day of vengeance which was in my heart. (D&C 133:46-51)

Christ’s appearance at the city of New Jerusalem (to be build in Independence Missouri)
(Please note that the Missouri New Jerusalem is distinct from the heavenly one mentioned in Revelation 3:12 and 21:2.[2])

And it shall come to pass that I will establish my people, O house of Israel. And behold, this people will I establish in this land [the Americas], unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you. (3 Nephi 20:21-22)

The late Apostle Charles W. Penrose said of Christ’s appearance at the New Jerusalem, “that appearance will be unknown to the rest of mankind. He will come to the Temple prepared for him, and his faithful people will behold his face, hear his voice, and gaze upon his glory. From his own lips they will receive further instructions for the development and beautifying of Zion and for the extension and sure stability of his Kingdom” (Millennial Star, 10 Sept. 1859, pp. 582-583, taken from Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, H-10, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

The location of the New Jerusalem temple is to be Independence Missouri (D&C 57:3). The city itself is to be dedicated to God. At the center of the city will be a temple (actually a temple complex). When Elder Penrose says “He will come to the Temple prepared for him” he is referring to the temple in the New Jerusalem. There is little distinction made between the temple and the city. The city New Jerusalem will be built before Christ’s appearance there.

Christ’s appearance at Adam-ondi-Ahman
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (later became an Apostle) wrote in his book Mormon Doctrine:

Before the great and dreadful day when the Lord is to return…there is to be an appearance at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman. There Adam, the Ancient of Days, will sit in council with his children; there Christ will come, and to him shall be given “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Dan. 7.) The place where this gathering will take place has been specified by revelation. (D&C 116.) (“Signs of the times”, Mormon Doctrine)

[It should be pointed out that in LDS teachings Adam is known as the Ancient of Days and also as Michael the Archangel (D&C 27:11). See Adam-God theory]

At this meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman a proclamation probably similar to this one will be made, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever…We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned” (Rev. 11:15-17).

The order of appearances
The order of these appearances is not known exactly. Generally it is believed that Christs New Jerusalem appearance will be first, followed by his Mount of Olives appearance, and finally his appearance at Armageddon. The Adam-ondi-Ahman appearance is closely connected to the New Jerusalem one, and will probably be either just before or after the New Jerusalem appearance. Since (Mormons believe) the New Jerusalem and the Palestine Jerusalem are the two world capitols from which Christ will rule during the Millennium, it would make sense that the New Jerusalem would be built before Christ is proclaimed king. Thus the Adam-ondi-Ahman appearance will probably be after the New Jerusalem is constructed.

To a Mormon the world capitols of New Jerusalem (Zion) and old Jerusalem are what Isaiah is referring to when he writes “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3).

Jesus has said, “behold, I am coming quickly” (NASB, Rev. 22:12), so it is anticipated that his four appearances will be relatively close together in time.

A little mentioned appearance
Jesus’ appearances at the Mount of Olives and at Armageddon are widely accepted by Christians. However there is a third appearance mentioned in the New Testament, which, for whatever reason, is often taken to mean Jesus’ appearance at Armageddon or the Mount of Olives. There is an appearance described in the book of Acts:

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (NIV, Acts 1:9-11)

This was a peaceful event with only Jesus and his followers present. As the two angels explain, Christ will come as they saw him go, in a very peaceful way: no ten thousand saints riding on horses, no battle of Armageddon; and no earthquakes, splitting mountains, or trumpets. Thus Jesus will make a personal appearance to his followers. I interpret this as Christ’s appearance at New Jerusalem or Adam-ondi-Ahman. Naturally this can be disputed.

Should people be concerned?
I suppose some people might find the New Jerusalem and Adam-ondi-Ahman appearance bothersome. What if the Mormon President announced that we must begin construction of the New Jerusalem? Would President Romney be obligated to give his assistance? After all, Mormons who have been through the temple have made a covenant to build up the kingdom of God and establish Zion. And Mitt Romney has been through the temple and made this covenant. (Some people refer to having been through the temple as being a “Temple” Mormon.)

For this concern to be addressed the backdrop of the New Jerusalem and the last days must be understood.

The backdrop
It is believed that the New Jerusalem will be build during the last days before Christ’s coming to the world. Jesus taught that in the last days, “ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars…For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:6-8). Of the New Jerusalem it is recorded in LDS scriptures,

And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion. And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety. And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another. (D&C 45:66-69)

The city New Jerusalem is to exist during a time of tremendous war and destruction. It will be built only after a watershed event that will determine the fate of the nation “either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds” (1 Nephi 14:7). In the Book of Mormon Jesus explains what will happen if we, as a nation, repent.

I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land [the Americas] for their inheritance; And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem. And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem. And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst. (3 Nephi 21:22-25)

But if we do not repent,

Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. (3 Nephi 20:16)

When Jesus says “ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob” he means those to whom he was speaking, the Nephites and the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon. It is almost universally held among Latter-day Saints that this means Native Americans and their descendants, primarily Latin America.[3] It might seem strange to some that the New Jerusalem is prophesied to be built primarily by “the remnant of Jacob”; especially since Mormons are stereotyped as being whites of Northern European descent. However, the prophecy states that the city will be built by (probably) a coalition of Anglo-Latin Mormons and also non-Mormons.

More than four
There are, however, more than four appearances of Christ: “For behold, he shall stand upon the mount of Olivet, and upon the mighty ocean, even the great deep, and upon the islands of the sea, and upon the land of Zion. And he shall utter his voice out of Zion, and he shall speak from Jerusalem, and his voice shall be heard among all people” (D&C 133:20-21).

Constitutional crisis
There are several instances where early church leaders mention a future Constitutional crisis, where the constitution will hang by “a thread” or “a hair”. It is recorded that Joseph Smith said, “Even this nation will be on the verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the Constitution is on the brink of ruin this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction” (Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Historical Archives, Box 1, March 10, 1844; taken from Ensign, June 1976, pp. 64-65). On January 3, 1858 Apostle Orson Hyde said,

It is said that brother Joseph in his lifetime declared that the Elders of this Church should step forth at a particular time when the Constitution should be in danger, and rescue it, and save it. This may be so; but I do not recollect that he said exactly so. I believe he said something like this--that the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and said he, If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the Elders of this Church. I believe this is about the language, as nearly as I can recollect it. (JD 6:152)

This idea of the Constitution hanging by a thread has also been repeated by current leaders of the Church. In 1972 Neil A. Maxwell (then Commissioner of the Church Educational System, now an Apostle) wrote,

Preston Nibley, in an article written nearly a quarter of a century ago, describes the transmission of the words of the Prophet about the Constitution of the United States and its coming to peril point eventually. There is some question, because of failures to record and memory differences, as to whether or not the Constitution (which in all versions would be in jeopardy) would be saved by the “elders” of this Church, or whether “if the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the elders of this Church.” Whatever version is correct, we do seem to have rendezvous with history concerning the American Constitution. (Neal A. Maxwell (July 1972), The Lonely Sentinels of Democracy, New Era, p. 50; here).

In 1987 the President of the church, Ezra Taft Benson (who held the view that the Constitution will be saved), said,

I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. It will be saved by the citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened members of this Church—men and women who will subscribe to and abide the principles of the Constitution.

I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval on the Constitution of this land.

I testify that the God of heaven sent some of His choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government, and He has sent other choice spirits to preserve it. We, the blessed beneficiaries, face difficult days in this beloved land, “a land which is choice above all other lands.” (Ether 2:10.) It may also cost us blood before we are through. It is my conviction, however, that when the Lord comes, the Stars and Stripes will be floating on the breeze over this people. May it be so, and may God give us the faith and the courage exhibited by those patriots who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor that we might be free, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. (Ezra Taft Benson (Sept. 1987), The Constitution—A Glorious Standard, Ensign, p. 11; here)

It is not known if this crisis will precede or follow the building of the New Jerusalem. Though I would have to say it would likely precede its construction. Also, it is not certain if the war with “the remnant of Jacob” (which can be avoided) will be linked to this Constitutional crisis. But one would be hard pressed to imagine these events as unconnected. But for now, “this is not yet, but by and by” (D&C 63:35).

In the Book of Mormon the New Jerusalem is built after (or after avoiding) a war with “the remnant of Jacob”. It is believed that after this crisis they will convert en masse. [4]

Final comments
Is any of this likely to materialize during a President Romney’s tenure? The New Jerusalem is intimately connected to the idea of Christ’s political kingdom. In the book of Revelation John the Beloved said that after the millennium the heavenly New Jerusalem would descend from God, “I…saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband….Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:2-3). This image of the heavenly New Jerusalem as a bride adorned for Christ, and that Christ will rule from his city, parallels the importance of the earthy New Jerusalem. (See footnote [2].) It must be built before there is any political kingdom of God; further, circumstances surrounding its establishment are extraordinary: It will be build by a collation of Mormons and non-Mormons; the times in which it is constructed are such that the city shall be “a city of refuge” (D&C 45:66); and “every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety” (D&C 45:68); and “it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another” (D&C 45:69).

One important fact that would prevent the construction of the New Jerusalem anytime soon is that the site for the New Jerusalem temple ([5] or here for temple site) is not owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of the site is own by a branch of the Latter Day Saint movement called the Community of Christ. (Formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or RLDS; here for official website, here for Wikipedia.) In 1994 they dedicated a “temple” on the temple lot which they believe fulfills a prophecy given by Joseph Smith. The actual temple site, where the corner stones were placed, is owned by another church called the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) (here for Wikipedia). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns a small visitor center on the larger temple lot. The Community of Christ and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) have owned these sites for more than 100 years and are not likely to recede ownership anytime soon.

One of Linker’s concerns is that Romney might feel obligated to follow some “morally outrageous” proclamation of the LDS Prophet. A proclamation that might somehow be linked to a belief that Christ has come. Such a notion stems from Linker’s lack of understanding of the finer points of Mormon beliefs. The answer to his question “What would happen if some faction of the Mormon Church became convinced that Christ had already returned and was living in Missouri for instance? Would Romney dismiss this? Or is this something that he’d have to take very seriously?” becomes obvious once Mormon beliefs are correctly understood. Mitt Romney would not have to take it seriously, and probably wouldnt

So, whatever the case may be with Romeny and his faith, the issues of the Second Coming of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and New Jerusalem would be a non-issue during his tenure as President.

[1] For a more detailed description of these four appearances see Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, Enrichment section H-10.

[2] The heavenly New Jerusalem is the prototype of the earthy one. After the millennium “the holy city, new Jerusalem, [shall come] down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). In the Book of Mormon the prophet Ether saw that the heavenly New Jerusalem would descend from God and become established in this hemisphere. Then he mentions another New Jerusalem to be constructed, also in this hemisphere: “[North America is] the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord. Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land” (Ether 13:3-4, italics mine). Notice that the heavenly New Jerusalem is “the New Jerusalem” while the constructed one is “a New Jerusalem”.

[3] “The history of this American continent also gives evidence that the Lamanites have risen up in their anger and vexed the Gentiles. This warfare may not be over. It has been the fault of people in the United States to think that this prophetic saying has reference to the Indians in the United States, but we must remember that there are millions of the ‘remnant’ in Mexico, Central and South America. It was during our Civil War that the Indians in Mexico rose up and gained their freedom from the tyranny which Napoleon endeavored to inflict upon them contrary to the prediction of Jacob in the Book of Mormon, that there should be no kings among the Gentiles on this land. The independence of Mexico and other nations to the south has been accomplished by the uprising of the ‘remnant’ upon the land. However, let us not think that this prophecy has completely been fulfilled” (Church History and Modern Revelation, Salt Lake City, Utah: published by The Council of The Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1946).

A proclamation of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1845 says, “He will assemble the Natives, the remnants of Joseph in America; and make them a great, and strong, and powerful nation: and he will civilize and enlighten them, and will establish a holy city, and temple and seat of government among them, which shall be called Zion” (taken from “New Jerusalem”, Encyclopedia of Mormonism).

[4] It is prophesied in the Book of Mormon that the native Americans (Lamanites) and their descendants (both native and mestizo) would become prosperous and, by enlarge, convert to the church. Their prosperity is described as “blossoming as a rose”.

About this LDS scripture says, “But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose. Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed” (D&C 49:24-25).

Apostle Wilford Woodruff (became president of the Church in 1889) said in 1873, “The Lamanites will blossom as the rose on the mountains. I am willing to say here that, though I believe this, when I see the power of the nation destroying them from the face of the earth, the fulfillment of that prophecy is perhaps harder for me to believe than any revelation of God that I ever read. It looks as though there would not be enough left to receive the Gospel; but notwithstanding this dark picture, every word that God has ever said of them will have its fulfillment, and they, by and by, will receive the Gospel” (JD 15:282).

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi said, “And then shall the remnant of our seed know concerning us, how that we came out from Jerusalem, and that they are descendants of the Jews. And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which was had among their fathers” (2 Nephi 30:4–5).

[5] A satellite image of the New Jerusalem temple site in Independence Missouri. The steel spiral building and the large oval building are owned by the Community of Christ. They own most of the temple site (here for more information about the lot).

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