In traditional Catholic eschatology, there are four components which are properly called "The Four Last Things" for catechetical purposes, and they are as follows:
The fourth - Judgment - will be the focus of this study, as it serves to bridge the others.
Throughout the Bible, we see that God's justice, like His mercy, is talked about a lot - it is important to remember that Scripture wants us to understand that God is both righteous and loving. Justice is an integral part of God's self-revelation to us, and to deny the force of divine judgement is to diminish God, and ultimately our own status as His children. Also, rather than being an opposing force, judgment is in reality an expression of God's mercy - an act of divine judgment is in itself an act of mercy too. Therefore, in the context of understanding the Book of Revelation, it is important to first understand the idea of covenant, the bond that ties us to God the Father.
To reiterate, a covenant is a sacred family bond which God gradually has extended over generations to more and more people. And, it is an ancient concept that we hear a lot of in Scripture. The covenant was a sacred bond in ancient cultures, including that of the Hebrews, that had a juridical dimension that often was officially sealed with a sacrifice of some sort. When two people swore an oath of covenant before an elder, it was often with the sacrifice of an animal such as a bull - the animal was ritually killed, and then it was divided in half. Each partner in the covenant had to walk between the two halves of the slaughtered animal's carcass, and this signified that if either party violated that covenant, then the judgment/consequence of that violation would be upon the offending party. Which leads to the second part of the covenant, which entailed a law of some sort. The law was not meant to be merely an arbitrary act of power, but it was an expression of paternal wisdom and love. And, it reflected the covenants God made with His people over the generations too. If we violate God's covenant with us, its fruit is sin, but sin is more than just an infraction of a mere law - the word sin in the original Greek was the word hamartia, which was a term often associated with archery which signified "missing a mark." In archery, there is a target you aim for, and if you miss, the danger is that the sharp missile you are shooting could potentially injure or kill someone standing by. Sin is like that too - if we miss doing what God commanded us to do, we end up hurting ourselves or someone else; sin has far-reaching consequences, in other words. And, those consequences are the fruit of sin - broken lives, broken homes, etc. Sin, therefore, is rooted in our refusal or lack of focus in keeping the covenant God made with us - we therefore refuse to love God as He has loved us. And, as a result, when we willfully commit sin, we willfully abandon our status as children of God, and the divine life of Christ in us is extinguished as a result. So, God needs to get our attention to get us "back on the mark," and the way He often does this is through divine judgment.
Judgment is an expression of God's love, but we choose to receive it via our disobeying His commands and violating His covenant relationship with us. Therefore, what is often called a "curse" of God upon us is in reality divine judgment for failing in some area to fulfill that which God has called us, and these "curses" are not an expression of hatred, but rather of fatherly love and discipline. Like some medications we are prescribed by a doctor to treat serious injury or illness, these judgments often hurt in order to heal, and also like medications, they can have some severe side effects until they do what they were meant to do. They produce a suffering, therefore, which is remedial, restorative, and redemptive. Let us now look at some Scriptures.
Job 5:17 tells us that "happy is the man whom God corrects. Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Lord." Chastening is another term used in Scripture to describe temporal judgment God allows in this life to bring us to redemption and restoration. If we don't resist the chastening, there is a promise to us that "because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth." (Revelation 3:10, NKJV). What that means is that if we endure our trials we face now, and persevere through them (and we will have those if we haven't already!) it will strengthen us in righteousness, and place us in the hedge of grace God establishes around us. Therefore chastening, and the trials it can produce, is not necessarily something to be resisted, but rather an expression of the divine love of God for us. For those who are parents, consider your own children. If you live next to a busy street, you give a commandment to your kids to not go into that street unsupervised, and you tell them that for their own protection - after all, I don't believe you nor they would look forward to becoming "road pizza" from car mowing them over! If they disobey that rule, and survive it, you as a parent have a punishment you administer to them such as a spanking, grounding, or a revocation of some privelege. Your punishment of your kids is not done because you hate them, but because they violated a command you gave them that jeopardized their safety. God operates concerning us like that too - he gives His commands for our own benefit, not because He doesn't want us to enjoy a good quality of life. God is love, but "he who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (I John 4:8, NKJV). And, we must remember that God's love is all consuming, as God is ultimately love but also "our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29). God's fatherhood, therefore, doesn't lesson the severity of His wrath nor does it lower the standard of His justice. Although the secular man wishes to portray God as merely a judge who is eager to mete out punishment to transgressors (some Christians too have this misconception), it must be remembered that a loving father such as God demands more from His children than a magistrate demands from defendants in a courtroom. And, to temper that, a good father also displays mercy, an attribute God, as our Father, also displays to us.
The bottom line to the discussion so far is that St. John's vision recorded in Revelation is not only sacramental/liturgical (which it is), nor is it only prophetic (which it also is), but it is very much a juridical allegory, as the book has as its setting a courtroom scenario. For one thing, we read of "two witnesses" in Revelation 11. There is some debate over who these two witnesses are; some say (as does Dr. Hahn) that they are Moses and Elijah. The reason for this, as we see in Dr. Hahn's text, is that Revelation 11:3 seems to allude that Moses represents the whole of the Law (Torah) while Elijah represents the whole of the Prophets. Another position, however, which I would take is that the witnesses are Enoch and Elijah, and there are two reasons for that. First, neither of these men died on earth, but both were assumed while alive by God Himself into heaven. Therefore, the witnesses haven't experienced mortal death yet, but they do in Revelation. A second reason why this is a viable interpretation is that Elijah in essence represents the nation of Israel, while Enoch is a representation of the Gentile nations as a witness of God regarding each. At any rate, both interpretations of this come to the same conclusion - the witnesses testify that the people of God (Israel and later the Church) know full well the obligations of their covenant with God, and are now accountable for that knowledge. However, the two witnesses, be they Elijah and Moses or Elijah and Enoch, are by no means the only ones.
Revelation talks of "other witnesses," and the Greek word used for "witness" here is mrtuo, which renders in English the word martyr. This group of witnesses, in Revelation 11, call for a swift execution of sentence, and they testify (witness) with their very lives - as the great Church Father Tertullian wrote, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." And, as we read further, we note that these witnesses were the same John saw as "under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held." (Revelation 6:9). At this point, we see a direct tie to the Mass, for in many churches throughout the ages, this Scripture has given a foundation to a tradition which is carried on to this day - under the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated in many parishes is often a reliquary which contains a relic of the patron saint - often a martyr - after whom the parish is named. The reason that martyred saint's relic is found under the altar of the Lord is simple - it bears its own testimony of faith to us, reminding us that standing up for the Lord can risk one's life, but it is worth it because upon that testimony the Church is established, a testimony Jesus Himself modeled for us in his own Crucifixion. This is very important for us to remember, especially should our nation face its own time of judgment for its transgressions.
So, what is the testimony of these martyrs in Revelation about?? It is a testimony against Jerusalem, but why? Going by Dr. Hahn's text, Jerusalem is on trial, and God is its judge (Rev. 20:11). And, God is assisted by angels seated on 20 thrones (Rev. 20:4) who are given executive mandate by God Himself to execute the sentence of the judgment, and that sentence is recorded throughout Revelation's chapters. The "sentence," if you will, is portrayed by John in the terms of what Dr. Hahn calls a "terrible Passover." What he means by that is that the chalice of God's wrath is poured out in 7 libations which represent 7 plagues - a liturgical action. We read more about this in Revelation 15-17, and note that within this liturgical setting, the angels serve as priests and are pictured carrying harps and singing what is called "The Song of Moses" - "Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the Saints! Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for your judgments have been made manifest" (Revelation 15:3-4, NKJV). This is a liturgy that means death to God's enemies, but salvation to His Bride, the Church. There is a serious lesson here for us today too. When we often partake of Communion at Mass, many of us go through the motions without understanding that what we are receiving is the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord, and depending on the manner or attitude we receive it, the Eucharist can be a two-edged sword. It can bring life to the faithful, but death to the apostate, and we are given that choice in how we approach the Body and Blood - life or death? My spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, talks about this at length in his book Sacramentalized but Not Evangelized (Destin, FL: St. Symeon the New Theologian Press, 2005) on pages 104-105 when he discusses the implications of how we receive the Eucharist and approach the Lord's Table in this present time. Fr. Eusebius reminds us in his book of the grave consequences of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in an unworthy manner, and cites I Corinthians 11:29, which warns that "he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's Body." Therefore, the question arises - how does one receive worthily? First, being "worthy" to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord doesn't imply perfection on our part, and thanks be to God for that! But, the Eucharist must be received with the deep conviction of Christ's sanctified love for us on Calvary for our sins - He loves us with an everlasting love. Therefore, it is important to approach the Lord's Table in humility and sincerity, with a sincere belief that one is truly receiving Jesus when one receives the Eucharist. The Eucharist is offered for forgiveness of our sins, and for the healing and restoration of our whole being. And, as Fr. Eusebius points out, the message of the pulpit (which we call the Homily and Lessons) must proclaim what the altar celebrates. In other words, it is the "Threefold Cord of Catholicity" proposed by Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (the Word Proclaimed, the Word Celebrated, and the Office of the Church which authenticates both) enacted in the setting of the Mass.
Now about this word "wrath." First, we need to look at the psychology of sin. To start, God gave Israel His revelation, yet the people time and again did not honor nor thank Him for that - rather, they suppressed the truth by killing the messengers, including Jesus Himself. They also initially persecuted the Church too. Therefore, "the wrath of God is revealed against them." And as a consequence of that, "therefore God also gave them up to uncleannesss, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves." (Romans 1:24, NKJV). And, as far as their minds were concerned, God "will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie." (II Thessalonians 2:11). As Christians we have an obligation to resist sin, as well as the enemy of our souls who tries to entice us with it, as we are commanded to "resist the devil, and he shall flee from you." (James 4:7, NKJV). If we fail in this, it becomes sin, and if we don't repent of the sin, God will let us go our way - He gave us free will, so He doesn't force us to work righteousness in our lives. But, we do suffer consequences if we indulge in sinful activity, and it can ultimately cost us our eternal soul! This is why we also need to dispense with some incorrect theology at this point - contrary to popular thinking and some ignorance among even Christians, God is not the one who sends us to hell; we send ourselves if we don't obey Him. John 3:16 reminds us that "God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, and whosoever believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." Hell was not even meant for us, but rather Scripture reminds us it was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Yet, due to our free will, some among us chose a life of sin, and as a result such people become slaves of Satan and will share his fate. The Gospel message has at its core salvation from this fate, and only through the shed Blood and broken Body of Jesus Christ do we receive that salvation. Again, this is why we must take care in how we approach the altar of God to receive the Eucharist - it could imperile our very souls if we are not careful.
Sin is at its nature a type of decay - it rots and corrodes our values, and through it our perception of what is "good" and what is "evil" is twisted (Isaiah 5:20). In sin, we renounce God and His will for our lives, and in a very real sense we fellowship with Satan. We therefore replace the "gateway petition" of the Lord's Prayer - "Thy Will Be Done" - with a new credo: this one was formulated in the early 20th century by notorious Satanist Aleister Crowley and is called the Wiccan Rede, and what it says is this - "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Although that particular formulation is attributed to the wicked man Crowley, the philosophy behind it goes back to the first sin in the Garden. In modern times, this credo has taken a new expression we have heard as a mantra ad nauseum by progressives and secularists since the 1960's, and that would be "if it feels good, do it." The philosophy this thinking embodies is satanic to its core, and is called utilitarianism. Utilitarianism dethrones God as the center of our lives and sets the individual up as a "god" to his or her self, and in doing so it also devalues and depersonalizes others, making sin justifiable and evil "good" because it "feels good." When a person gets to that point, only something drastic like a personal calamity can save them from themselves at times, and that is where God's mercy is often revealed in his wrath. In reality, it is probably the most merciful thing God can do in such a situation, and it often takes tragedy to force us to refocus our priorities in life. A good example of this from recent times is evangelist Nicky Cruz, the violent gangbanger in New York City that Rev. David Wilkerson lead to Christ in the late 1950's, as is documented in the spiritual classic The Cross and the Switchblade. If God works in this way with the individual, how much more will he with a nation that falls into sin? Indeed, the Bible chronicles much of Israel's history from the time Moses crossed the Red Sea in Exodus all the way up to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman Emperor Titus in AD 70, and these national disasters conveyed to Israel a message that God was sending judgment to call His people back to Him. Although in many cases judgment - whether personal or national tragedy - is inevitable, the preferred response God wants is to forsake sin of our own volition rather than be lost without hope of repentance (Mark 8:36). And, it must be remembered too tht although many people who read Revelation are often frightened by its judgments, it must be understood that God is allowing these things because He loves us - I know, and I have thought this too, that you may be saying, "Well, that is a funny way to show love - glad He doesn't hate us!" True, but from God's perspective, here is His plan - if we allow the world and its pleasures to rule us as a "god," the best thing the true God can do is to remove the foundation of that idolatry (yes, that is what it is!) from our lives. Years ago, a Foursquare Gospel lady minister by the name of Arleta Keck wrote a very good book called Come Into My Chambers (Los Angeles: Walk With Him Books, 1982), and the premise of that book was based on a word God gave her which she taught in a series of thirteen messages called "In the Chamber of the King." In this book, Rev. Keck compares the various aspects of the spiritual walk to the rooms in a house, what she calls a "parable," and one of the rooms she describes on pages 65-66 is "the Laundry Room." She writes, "When we yield to the Lord, we are blessed by every test we go through. The big testing time comes when we begin to use the gifts of the Spirit (for purposes of this text and to "Anglicanize" it a little, I am going to interpret this as being the service we are called to in the Church)...As soon as we use the gifts of the Spirit, someone (by this, it could mean either human opposition or Satan) is going to come along and say 'You're not in order"...God tests us to see if we are going to pay the price to stand with Him. He wants us to know He is using us. When we do for God, we are never going to get 100% approvals from people. That's what hurts! (Continuing p. 67) Many times in the receiving of the mighty works, I believe we need to stay long enough to hear the instructions of Jesus, regardless of how they may sound to us. We may have received the release, the deliverance, and the anointing upon our lives, but we need to wait and obey the Lord." Rev. Keck is correct in this, for one type of disobedience is not listening fully to God when He does give us direction, and in this the potential of sin arises when we begin to worship the vocation over Him who endowed it to us, and that too is a form of idolatry. How many ministers, for instance, want the fancy cars, nice titles, etc., but they don't want to commit to the task God has charged them with? We see it all the time on "religious television," in particular this abomination called the "Prosperity Gospel." When we get out of focus with even something we think we are doing for God, He can take that from us for a season in order to get our attention, and that can hurt as well. This is why a life of prayer and Bible study is so important, especially for those who serve the Church in any capacity.
The final hope though is actually something encouraging. First, it must be remembered that to live a good life doesn't mean being free from trouble, as Dr. Hahn writes on page 111 of his text, but rather to be free from needless worry. Bad things can and do happen to all of us, even us Christians - we are told even in Scripture that "He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45, NKJV), but for the practicing Christian even disaster can be for good, as "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28, NKJV), because they purify and sanctify us as we go through this pilgrimage of our Christian life. And, we also don't have to wait until the Last Judgment or death to be judged - we approach the judgment seat of Christ every time we attend Mass, before we partake of the Lord's Table. This is why we have things in our Book of Common Prayer such as the General Confession, an Examination of Conscience, and probably one of the most humbling petitions of the Mass which we say just before receiving the Eucharist - Domine non sum dignus, or "Lord I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof, but say the word only, and my soul shall be healed." This prayer is also found in the Gospels as well, as it was the very thing the Roman centurion said to Jesus in Matthew 8:8 when he approached in humility to ask the Lord's healing mercies for his beloved servant. And, as Christ had compassion on the Roman centurion, so He will have compassion upon us should we approach Him in the right spirit and attitude. God be with you until next time.