When I had finished speaking these words, the angel who had been sent to me on the former nights was sent to me again.
He said to me, "Rise, Ezra, and listen to the words that I have come to speak to you."
I said, "Speak, my lord." And he said to me, "There is a sea set in a wide expanse so that it is deep and vast,
but it has an entrance set in a narrow place, so that it is like a river.
If there are those who wish to reach the sea, to look at it or to navigate it, how can they come to the broad part unless they pass through the narrow part?
Another example: There is a city built and set on a plain, and it is full of all good things;
but the entrance to it is narrow and set in a precipitous place, so that there is fire on the right hand and deep water on the left.
There is only one path lying between them, that is, between the fire and the water, so that only one person can walk on the path.
If now the city is given to someone as an inheritance, how will the heir receive the inheritance unless by passing through the appointed danger?"
I said, "That is right, lord." He said to me, "So also is Israel's portion.
For I made the world for their sake, and when Adam transgressed my statutes, what had been made was judged.
And so the entrances of this world were made narrow and sorrowful and toilsome; they are few and evil, full of dangers and involved in great hardships.
But the entrances of the greater world are broad and safe, and yield the fruit of immortality.
Therefore unless the living pass through the difficult and futile experiences, they can never receive those things that have been reserved for them.
Now therefore why are you disturbed, seeing that you are to perish? Why are you moved, seeing that you are mortal?
Why have you not considered in your mind what is to come, rather than what is now present?"
Then I answered and said, "O sovereign Lord, you have ordained in your law that the righteous shall inherit these things, but that the ungodly shall perish.
The righteous, therefore, can endure difficult circumstances while hoping for easier ones; but those who have done wickedly have suffered the difficult circumstances and will never see the easier ones."
He said to me, "You are not a better judge than the Lord, a or wiser than the Most High!
Let many perish who are now living, rather than that the law of God that is set before them be disregarded!
For the Lord b strictly commanded those who came into the world, when they came, what they should do to live, and what they should observe to avoid punishment.
Nevertheless they were not obedient, and spoke against him; they devised for themselves vain thoughts,
and proposed to themselves wicked frauds; they even declared that the Most High does not exist, and they ignored his ways.
They scorned his law, and denied his covenants; they have been unfaithful to his statutes, and have not performed his works.
That is the reason, Ezra, that empty things are for the empty, and full things are for the full.
"For indeed the time will come, when the signs that I have foretold to you will come to pass, that the city that now is not seen shall appear, c and the land that now is hidden shall be disclosed.
Everyone who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders.
For my son the Messiah d shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years.
After those years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. e30
Then the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings, so that no one shall be left.
After seven days the world that is not yet awake shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish.
The earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who rest there in silence; and the chambers shall give up the souls that have been committed to them.
The Most High shall be revealed on the seat of judgment, and compassion shall pass away, and patience shall be withdrawn. f34
Only judgment shall remain, truth shall stand, and faithfulness shall grow strong.
Recompense shall follow, and the reward shall be manifested; righteous deeds shall awake, and unrighteous deeds shall not sleep. g36
The pit[h] of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of hell[i] shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight.
Then the Most High will say to the nations that have been raised from the dead, ‘Look now, and understand whom you have denied, whom you have not served, whose commandments you have despised.
Look on this side and on that; here are delight and rest, and there are fire and torments.’ Thus he will[j] speak to them on the day of judgment—
a day that has no sun or moon or stars,
or cloud or thunder or lightning, or wind or water or air, or darkness or evening or morning,
or summer or spring or heat or winter[k] or frost or cold, or hail or rain or dew,
or noon or night, or dawn or shining or brightness or light, but only the splendor of the glory of the Most High, by which all shall see what has been destined.
It will last as though for a week of years.
This is my judgment and its prescribed order; and to you alone I have shown these things.”
I answered and said, “O sovereign Lord, I said then and[l] I say now: Blessed are those who are alive and keep your commandments!
But what of those for whom I prayed? For who among the living is there that has not sinned, or who is there among mortals that has not transgressed your covenant?
And now I see that the world to come will bring delight to few, but torments to many.
For an evil heart has grown up in us, which has alienated us from God,[m] and has brought us into corruption and the ways of death, and has shown us the paths of perdition and removed us far from life—and that not merely for a few but for almost all who have been created.”
He answered me and said, “Listen to me, Ezra,[n] and I will instruct you, and will admonish you once more.
For this reason the Most High has made not one world but two.
Inasmuch as you have said that the righteous are not many but few, while the ungodly abound, hear the explanation for this.
“If you have just a few precious stones, will you add to them lead and clay?”[o]
I said, “Lord, how could that be?”
And he said to me, “Not only that, but ask the earth and she will tell you; defer to her, and she will declare it to you.
Say to her, ‘You produce gold and silver and bronze, and also iron and lead and clay;
but silver is more abundant than gold, and bronze than silver, and iron than bronze, and lead than iron, and clay than lead.’
Judge therefore which things are precious and desirable, those that are abundant or those that are rare?”
I said, “O sovereign Lord, what is plentiful is of less worth, for what is more rare is more precious.”
He answered me and said, “Consider within yourself[p] what you have thought, for the person who has what is hard to get rejoices more than the person who has what is plentiful.
So also will be the judgment[q] that I have promised; for I will rejoice over the few who shall be saved, because it is they who have made my glory to prevail now, and through them my name has now been honored.
I will not grieve over the great number of those who perish; for it is they who are now like a mist, and are similar to a flame and smoke—they are set on fire and burn hotly, and are extinguished.”
I replied and said, “O earth, what have you brought forth, if the mind is made out of the dust like the other created things?
For it would have been better if the dust itself had not been born, so that the mind might not have been made from it.
But now the mind grows with us, and therefore we are tormented, because we perish and we know it.
Let the human race lament, but let the wild animals of the field be glad; let all who have been born lament, but let the cattle and the flocks rejoice.
It is much better with them than with us; for they do not look for a judgment, and they do not know of any torment or salvation promised to them after death.
What does it profit us that we shall be preserved alive but cruelly tormented?
For all who have been born are entangled in[r] iniquities, and are full of sins and burdened with transgressions.
And if after death we were not to come into judgment, perhaps it would have been better for us.”
He answered me and said, “When the Most High made the world and Adam and all who have come from him, he first prepared the judgment and the things that pertain to the judgment.
But now, understand from your own words—for you have said that the mind grows with us.
For this reason, therefore, those who live on earth shall be tormented, because though they had understanding, they committed iniquity; and though they received the commandments, they did not keep them; and though they obtained the law, they dealt unfaithfully with what they received.
What, then, will they have to say in the judgment, or how will they answer in the last times?
How long the Most High has been patient with those who inhabit the world!—and not for their sake, but because of the times that he has foreordained.”
I answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, show this also to your servant: whether after death, as soon as everyone of us yields up the soul, we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation, or whether we shall be tormented at once?”
He answered me and said, “I will show you that also, but do not include yourself with those who have shown scorn, or number yourself among those who are tormented.
For you have a treasure of works stored up with the Most High, but it will not be shown to you until the last times.
Now concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone out from the Most High that a person shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High.
If it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, who have despised his law and hated those who fear God—
such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, always grieving and sad, in seven ways.
The first way, because they have scorned the law of the Most High.
The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance so that they may live.
The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High.
The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days.
The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet.
The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will cross over[s] into torments.
The seventh way, which is worse[t] than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame,[u] and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High in whose presence they sinned while they were alive, and in whose presence they are to be judged in the last times.
“Now this is the order of those who have kept the ways of the Most High, when they shall be separated from their mortal body.[v]
During the time that they lived in it,[w] they laboriously served the Most High, and withstood danger every hour so that they might keep the law of the Lawgiver perfectly.
Therefore this is the teaching concerning them:
First of all, they shall see with great joy the glory of him who receives them, for they shall have rest in seven orders.
The first order, because they have striven with great effort to overcome the evil thought that was formed with them, so that it might not lead them astray from life into death.
The second order, because they see the perplexity in which the souls of the ungodly wander and the punishment that awaits them.
The third order, they see the witness that he who formed them bears concerning them, that throughout their life they kept the law with which they were entrusted.
The fourth order, they understand the rest that they now enjoy, being gathered into their chambers and guarded by angels in profound quiet, and the glory waiting for them in the last days.
The fifth order, they rejoice that they have now escaped what is corruptible and shall inherit what is to come; and besides they see the straits and toil[x] from which they have been delivered, and the spacious liberty that they are to receive and enjoy in immortality.
The sixth order, when it is shown them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of the stars, being incorruptible from then on.
The seventh order, which is greater than all that have been mentioned, because they shall rejoice with boldness, and shall be confident without confusion, and shall be glad without fear, for they press forward to see the face of him whom they served in life and from whom they are to receive their reward when glorified.
This is the order of the souls of the righteous, as henceforth is announced;[y] and the previously mentioned are the ways of torment that those who would not give heed shall suffer hereafter.”
Then I answered and said, “Will time therefore be given to the souls, after they have been separated from the bodies, to see what you have described to me?”
He said to me, “They shall have freedom for seven days, so that during these seven days they may see the things of which you have been told, and afterwards they shall be gathered in their habitations.”
I answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, show further to me, your servant, whether on the day of judgment the righteous will be able to intercede for the ungodly or to entreat the Most High for them—
fathers for sons or sons for parents, brothers for brothers, relatives for their kindred, or friends for those who are most dear.”
He answered me and said, “Since you have found favor in my sight, I will show you this also. The day of judgment is decisive[z] and displays to all the seal of truth. Just as now a father does not send his son, or a son his father, or a master his servant, or a friend his dearest friend, to be ill[aa] or sleep or eat or be healed in his place,
so no one shall ever pray for another on that day, neither shall anyone lay a burden on another;[ab] for then all shall bear their own righteousness and unrighteousness.”
I answered and said, “How then do we find that first Abraham prayed for the people of Sodom, and Moses for our ancestors who sinned in the desert,
and Joshua after him for Israel in the days of Achan,
and Samuel in the days of Saul,[ac] and David for the plague, and Solomon for those at the dedication,
and Elijah for those who received the rain, and for the one who was dead, that he might live,
and Hezekiah for the people in the days of Sennacherib, and many others prayed for many?
So if now, when corruption has increased and unrighteousness has multiplied, the righteous have prayed for the ungodly, why will it not be so then as well?”
He answered me and said, “This present world is not the end; the full glory does not[ad] remain in it;[ae] therefore those who were strong prayed for the weak.
But the day of judgment will be the end of this age and the beginning[af] of the immortal age to come, in which corruption has passed away,
sinful indulgence has come to an end, unbelief has been cut off, and righteousness has increased and truth has appeared.
Therefore no one will then be able to have mercy on someone who has been condemned in the judgment, or to harm[ag] someone who is victorious.”
I answered and said, “This is my first and last comment: it would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or else, when it had produced him, had restrained him from sinning.
For what good is it to all that they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death?
O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.
For what good is it to us, if an immortal time has been promised to us, but we have done deeds that bring death?
And what good is it that an everlasting hope has been promised to us, but we have miserably failed?
Or that safe and healthful habitations have been reserved for us, but we have lived wickedly?
Or that the glory of the Most High will defend those who have led a pure life, but we have walked in the most wicked ways?
Or that a paradise shall be revealed, whose fruit remains unspoiled and in which are abundance and healing, but we shall not enter it
because we have lived in perverse ways?[ah]
Or that the faces of those who practiced self-control shall shine more than the stars, but our faces shall be blacker than darkness?
For while we lived and committed iniquity we did not consider what we should suffer after death.”
He answered and said, “This is the significance of the contest that all who are born on earth shall wage:
if they are defeated they shall suffer what you have said, but if they are victorious they shall receive what I have said.[ai]
For this is the way of which Moses, while he was alive, spoke to the people, saying, ‘Choose life for yourself, so that you may live!’
But they did not believe him or the prophets after him, or even myself who have spoken to them.
Therefore there shall not be[aj] grief at their destruction, so much as joy over those to whom salvation is assured.”
I answered and said, “I know, O Lord, that the Most High is now called merciful, because he has mercy on those who have not yet come into the world;
and gracious, because he is gracious to those who turn in repentance to his law;
and patient, because he shows patience toward those who have sinned, since they are his own creatures;
and bountiful, because he would rather give than take away;[ak]
and abundant in compassion, because he makes his compassions abound more and more to those now living and to those who are gone and to those yet to come—
for if he did not make them abound, the world with those who inhabit it would not have life—
and he is called the giver, because if he did not give out of his goodness so that those who have committed iniquities might be relieved of them, not one ten-thousandth of humankind could have life;
and the judge, because if he did not pardon those who were created by his word and blot out the multitude of their sins
there would probably be left only very few of the innumerable multitude."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (New Revised Standard w/ Apocrypha)