When I had finished speaking, the same angel that had been sent to me on the earlier nights appeared again.
He said, "Stand up, Ezra, and listen to what I have come to tell you."
"Go ahead, sir," I said. He continued, "Picture in your mind a broad, immense sea spreading over a vast area,
but with an entrance no wider than a river.
No one who wishes to enter that sea, whether to visit it or control it, can reach its broad expanse of water without passing through the narrow entrance.
Or take another example: Picture a city built on a plain. The city is full of all kinds of good things,
but the entrance to it is narrow and steep, with fire on one side and deep water on the other.
The one path between the fire and the water is so narrow that only one person at a time may walk on it.
If anyone inherits this city, he cannot take possession of his inheritance without passing through this dangerous entrance."
"That is right, sir," I said. "That is how it is with the people of Israel," he added.
"I made this world for their sake, but when Adam broke my commands, the world came under my judgment. 1
Then the entrances into this world were made narrow and difficult to travel. They were rough, dangerous, and few in number.
But the entrances to the great world to come are wide and safe and lead to immortality.
Everyone who lives must walk the narrow and meaningless ways of this world in order to receive the blessings stored up in the world to come.
So, Ezra, why are you upset and disturbed by the thought that you are mortal and must die? 2
Why don't you think about the age to come, rather than the present age?"
I answered, "Lord and master, in your Law you said that the righteous would receive all these blessings, but that the wicked would perish.
The righteous then can endure all the difficulties of this narrow way because they look forward to the broad and open life of the future, but the wicked must pass through the narrow way without any hope of seeing the broad open life."
The angel replied, "Do you think you are a better judge than God? Do you think you are wiser than God Most High?
It is better to let many people of the present age perish than to allow them to neglect the Law that God has given them.
God has given clear commandments to everyone coming into this world, telling them what they should do to obtain life and to avoid punishment.
But the wicked would not listen and refused to obey him. In their foolishness
they have made their own wicked and deceitful plans. They denied the existence of God Most High and refused to follow his ways.
They have rejected his Law, refused to accept his promises, disobeyed his decrees, and failed to do what he commanded.
That's the reason, Ezra, that there is emptiness for the empty and fullness for the full.
"The time is coming when these signs will take place. The invisible city will appear, and the land that is now hidden will be seen.
Everyone who survives the calamities I have predicted will also see the wonderful things I will do.
My son the Messiah will be revealed, together with those who come with him. He will bring four hundred years of happiness to all these survivors.
At the end of that time, my son the Messiah and all human beings will die.
Then the world will return to its original silence, and for seven days it will be like it was at the beginning. No one will be left alive.
After seven days this corrupt age will pass out of existence and a new age will be awakened.
The ground will give up the dead who sleep there in silence, and the souls of the dead will be released from the places where they have been kept. 3
God Most High will appear on his judgment seat. Mercy and patience will vanish completely
and be replaced by judgment. Truth and faithfulness will once again stand firm.
The good and bad that people have done will be fully revealed, and reward and punishment will follow immediately.
The pit of torment, the fires of hell, will appear, and opposite them the Paradise of joy and rest. 4
"Then God Most High will say to the nations that have been raised from the dead, "Look! I am the one whom you have denied and refused to serve; it is my commands that you have rejected.
Look around you; there is joy and peace in one direction, fire and torment in the other.' That's what he will say to them on Judgment Day.
"On Judgment Day there will be no sun, moon, or stars;
no cloud, thunder, or lightning; no wind, water, or air; no darkness, evening, or morning;
no summer, spring, or winter; no heat, frost, or cold; no hail, rain, or dew;
no noon, night, or dawn; no daylight, brightness, or light. The only light will be the dazzling brightness of God Most High, making it possible for everyone to see.
The judgment will last seven years.
That's the arrangement I have made for Judgment Day, but I have revealed these things only to you."
Then I said, "Lord, I repeat what I said earlier: How fortunate are the people who can live now and obey your commands!
But what about those for whom I have been praying? There is no one in the present generation who has not sinned, no one who has not broken your covenant.
Now I understand that the world to come will bring joy to only a few, but torment to many.
The evil impulse within us has grown and it has led us away from God's ways, brought us to ruin, put us on the way to death and destruction, and taken us far from life. It has destroyed not only a few, but almost everyone who was ever created."
"Listen to me," the angel said, "and I will teach you further and correct your thinking.
Because only a few will be saved, God created two worlds, instead of only one.
As you say, only a few people are righteous, but there are large numbers of wicked people. But listen:
If you had only a few precious stones, would you add lumps of lead and clay to them in order to have more?"
"Surely no one would do that, sir," I answered.
"Take another illustration," he continued. "The earth itself will give you an answer if you humbly ask it
whether it produces more gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, or clay.
There is more silver than gold, more copper than silver, more iron than copper, more lead than iron, and more clay than lead.
So judge for yourself which are more desirable and valuable, common things or rare things."
I answered, "Lord and master, the common things are cheap; it is the rare things that are valuable."
"All right," he replied, "so draw the logical conclusion: the person who has what is scarce has more reason to be pleased than the person who has what is plentiful.
It's the same with the judgment that I have promised: I will be pleased with the few who will be saved, because they are the ones who now praise and honor me and make my name known.
I will not be sad about the large number of people who will be lost, because even now they last no longer than a vapor; they disappear like fire and smoke; they catch fire, blaze up, and quickly go out."
Then I said to the earth, "Look at what you have done! When you gave birth to the rest of creation you gave birth to reason.
It would have been better if you had never been created. Then we humans would never have had the power of reasoning!
But as it is now, our reason grows up with us and then torments us, because we realize that we are going to die!
Compared to us who must bear this sorrow, the dumb animals must be happy.
They are much better off than we are. They do not have to look forward to the judgment; they are not aware of any torment or salvation that is promised to them after death.
What good is it to us that we are going to be given life in the future if it is to be a life of terrible torment?
Everyone who is born is caught in the web of sin, is full of wickedness and burdened with guilt.
I think it would be better if after death we did not have to face judgment."
The angel replied, "When God Most High was creating the world, as well as Adam and his descendants, the first thing he did was to get everything ready for the judgment.
So you ought to learn from your own words. You said that your reason grows up with you,
and that's the point. The people of this world used their reason and sinned; they received God's commands but did not keep them; they accepted the Law and then disobeyed it. And that's why they will suffer torment.
What excuse can they offer at the judgment? How can they answer at the last day?
God Most High has been very patient with the people of this world for a long time, but it has not been for their sake. He has done it for the sake of the age to come."
Then I said, "Sir, may I ask you, please, to explain to me what happens when we die, when each of us must give back our soul? Will we be kept at rest until the time when you begin to make your new creation, or will our torment begin immediately?"
"I will answer that question also," he replied, "but do not include yourself among those who will be tormented because they have no use for religion.
After all, you have a treasure of good works stored up with God Most High, which will not be shown to you until the last days.
But to answer your question about death: When God Most High has pronounced the final decree that a person shall die, the soul leaves the body to return to the one who gave it. Immediately it praises the glory of God Most High.
Let me explain first about people who had no use for the ways of God Most High and hated those who worshiped him.
There is no place where their souls can go for rest; they must wander around forever in torment, grief, and sorrow. Their torment will progress in seven stages.
First, they ignore the Law of God Most High.
Second, they can no longer make a sincere repentance and obtain life.
Third, they see the reward stored up for those who put their faith in the covenants of God Most High.
Fourth, they think about the torment that has been stored up for them in the last days.
Fifth, they see angels guarding the homes of other souls in complete silence.
Sixth, they recognize that they must soon be tormented.
Seventh, and worst of all, when they see the glory of God Most High, they are sick with remorse and shame. They cringe in fear, because while they were living they sinned against him. And now they are about to come before him to be judged on the last day.
"Now let me explain about those who followed the ways of God Most High and what will happen when the time comes for them to leave their mortal bodies.
While they lived on earth, through constant difficulty and danger, they served God Most High and carefully kept the Law given by the Lawgiver.
This is what they will receive:
They will rejoice when they see the great glory of God. He will receive them, and they will enter their rest in seven stages of joy.
The first joy is to have struggled hard and won the victory over the evil impulse which was formed in them, but which did not succeed in leading them from life into death.
The second is to see the endless wandering of the souls of the wicked and the punishment that is waiting for them.
The third is to know what a good report their Maker has given about them, that during their lifetime they kept the Law that was entrusted to them.
The fourth is to appreciate the rest that they are to enjoy in the places where they have been brought together, guarded by angels, in complete silence, and with the glory that is waiting for them at the last day.
The fifth is to rejoice that they have now escaped the corrupt world and that they will receive the future life as their possession. They can see both the narrow, troubled world from which they have been freed and the spacious world they will receive and enjoy forever.
The sixth is to be shown how their faces will shine like the sun and how they are to be like the light of the stars that never die. 5
The seventh joy, and best of all, is when they rush to meet God face-to-face, with perfect trust and happiness, without any fear or shame. They served him during their lifetime and now they will receive from him their reward in glory. 6
These rewards that I have been telling you about are those that have been prepared for the souls of the righteous. I described to you earlier the torment that the rebellious will suffer."
Then I asked, "When the souls of the righteous are separated from their bodies, will they be given time to see what you have told me about?"
"They will be free for seven days," he answered, "and during that time they will be able to see the things I have told you about. After that they will be brought together with the other souls in their homes."
Then I said, "Sir, please tell me whether the righteous will be able to ask God Most High to show mercy on the unrighteous on Judgment Day.
Will fathers be able to pray for their children, children for parents, brothers for brothers, relatives for those near to them, and friends for those dear to them?"
"I will be happy to tell you," he replied. "Judgment Day is final and sets the final seal on truth for all to see. You know that in this age a father cannot send his son to be sick for him or sleep or eat or be healed for him. An owner cannot send his slave to do these things for him, nor can a person send his best friend.
In the same way, on that day, no one will be able to pray for another person. Each person will receive the punishment or reward for his own sinfulness or righteousness."
"If that is so," I answered, "how can we explain what we find in the Scriptures? Abraham prayed for the people of Sodom, and Moses for our ancestors who sinned in the desert. 7
Later, Joshua prayed for the people of Israel in the time of Achan, 8
and Samuel prayed for them in the days of Saul. David prayed at the time of the epidemic, and Solomon prayed for those who were going to worship in the Temple. 9
Elijah prayed that the people might have rain and for a dead person to come back to life. 10
Hezekiah prayed for the people during the time of Sennacherib. And there are many other examples. 11
If righteous people prayed for the unrighteous during such times when corruption increased and injustice multiplied, why won't the same thing happen at the Judgment Day?"
"The present age is not the end of everything," the angel answered. "Even in this age, the glorious presence of God is not always seen. That is why the strong have prayed for the weak during this age.
But the Judgment Day will be the end of the present age and the beginning of the future age. Then all corruption will end,
self-indulgence and disloyalty will be eliminated. Righteousness and truth will reach their full maturity.
So on Judgment Day, no one will be able to have mercy on those who have been condemned, and no one will be able to harm those who have been acquitted."
I answered, "I made this point before, and I will make it again. It would have been better if the earth had never produced Adam, or when it had done so, if it had made him so that he could not sin.
What good is it for any of us to have life in the present age, when it is full of misery and when all we can look forward to after death is punishment?
O Adam, what have you done? Your sin was not only your own downfall; it was also the downfall of all of us who are your descendants.
What good is it to us that we have the promise of immortal life, when we have committed sins that condemn us to death?
What good is the hope of eternity, when we find ourselves in such a completely hopeless situation?
What good is it that safe and secure homes have been prepared for us in the future world, when we have lived such wicked lives?
What good is the promise that the glorious presence of God Most High will protect those who have lived pure lives, when our own lives have been so full of sin?
What good is it that Paradise is shown to us, that its imperishable fruit can heal us and provide all we need? We can never go there 12
because we have lived unacceptable lives.
What good is it that the faces of those who practice self-control will shine more brightly than the stars, when our own faces will be blacker than the night?
Never in our whole lives, when we sinned, did we think about what we would have to suffer after death."
The angel replied, "Here is the meaning of the conflict that every person on earth must endure:
If he is defeated, he must suffer the things you have just told me about, but if he is victorious, he will receive the rewards that I have just mentioned.
That is why Moses long ago urged the people to choose life so that they might live. 13
But they did not believe him or the prophets who came after him, and they did not believe me when I spoke to them.
So the sadness over their destruction is nothing compared to the great joy over the salvation of those who believe."
I answered, "Sir, I know that God Most High is spoken of as merciful because he shows mercy to those who have not yet entered this world.
He is called compassionate because he shows compassion to those who repent and obey his Law.
He is thought of as patient because he is patient with his own creatures who have sinned.
He is known as generous because he prefers to give rather than to demand.
And he is known as very forgiving because he continues to forgive sinners of the past, present, and future.
If he did not continue to forgive, there would be no life for this world or the people in it.
He is spoken of as pardoning because, if it were not for his goodness in pardoning sinners, not one person in ten thousand would gain life.
He is called judge because he pardons and blots out the many sins of those who were created by his word.
If he did not, only a handful of the whole human race would be left."