Eschatology and Sacred Space in Islam and Mormonism
There are some clear similarities at the structural level between how the two faiths view these subjects; but there are very large differences when closer scrutiny is brought to bear on the doctrinal details. The descent of both faiths from a common basis in the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity provides some common groundwork. When it comes to eschatology both faiths teach the descent of mankind into evil and darkness prior to the return of Jesus to the earth. Both teach a general resurrection of all people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. Both teach that god will judge every person based on what they have done. Both teach a blessed afterlife for believers and a fiery hell for evildoers.
The LDS view of last things encompasses the Biblical teaching on the subject with much of its own material expanding and adding to this teaching. The burning millennialism of the early LDS leaders may have waned but the church itself carries the name “Latter-day” which is a clear testimony to the prevailing belief amongst Mormons that we are near the end of our present age. The LDS standard works, their canon of scripture, have much to say about the time we live in and what is to be expected in the days preceding the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.
It should be recognized that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the establishment of the LDS church are in themselves notable signs that God is again moving and that the present age is drawing to a close. The Mormon view of history since the first advent of Jesus is that the church quickly fell into great apostasy and stayed in darkness until the nineteenth century. This apostasy is the frequent subject of the prophecies of the Book of Mormon as exemplified by Nephi who writes:
Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 28.9)
This apostasy through which all branches of the Christian church had fallen into error necessitated what Mormons call the Restoration wherein the Book of Mormon was unearthed and given to Joseph Smith to translate. Joseph Smith also reestablished the true church, along with its priesthood authority. It is worth noting that the LDS Scriptures mince no words telling of the downfall of the apostate church system in the last days. Joseph Smith quotes Jesus as telling the Mormons that “the great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall be cast down by devouring fire,” (Doctrine and Covenants 29.21a).
The standard works include commentary on eschatological passages from the Bible and teachings about the last days unique to Mormon thought. The book of Doctrine and Covenants is LDS Scripture on a par with the Bible and the Book of Mormon and it traces the outline of what is to be expected in the last days. Section 45 has Jesus giving a teaching about the consummation of this age in which he teaches a sequence of “wars and rumors of wars” and other upheavals which seem to run parallel with the unearthing of the Book of Mormon. The coming forth of the Book is described in Biblical phraseology: “a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fullness of my gospel;” (Doctrine and Covenants, 45.28b). The Mormon Jesus goes on to teach that the generation which receives this fullness of the gospel and rejects it will be the one in which the Biblical “times of the Gentiles” shall be fulfilled (Doctrine and Covenants 45.30). In the Book of Moses from the Pearl of Great Price (another part of the standard works) the Lord speaking to Enoch describes the last days as “days of wickedness and vengeance,” (Moses 7.60). Cosmic disturbances are consistently described along with moral evil. When I asked an LDS member to tell me the outline of events leading up to the end of the world he said, “Prophetic events include wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and other natural disasters occurring with increasing regularity, men’s hearts will fail them, unrighteousness will abound, etc.” In tandem with this he mentioned that “…Christ will gather his elect His people (the gathering of Israel).”
Another key development prior to the end is the gathering of Israel to its ancient land including Jerusalem. In Mormon thought this also included the conversion of at least some Native Americans. To Mormons the Native Americans (or at least certain tribes) are the descendants of Jews who fled the kingdom of Judah prior to the exile into Babylon. Their history is narrated in the Book of Mormon and it is believed that they possessed the same gospel that the early church in Palestine did. This American church also descended into spiritual darkness. Their apostasy has left them ignorant of the fact that they are indeed of the seed of Abraham. A key teaching of the LDS standard works is that these descendants of Israel will also be gathered along with Jews from the entire world to their ancient home and will embrace the fullness of the gospel.
The final judgment is a frequent subject in the standard works as well. The wicked will be doomed when it comes, “But behold, the residue of the wicked have I kept in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day, which shall come at the end of the earth;” (Doctrine and Covenants 38.5). The basic premillenial Christian expectation of the end is taught in the standard works. Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, and then his people will “reign with me on earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 43.29). As for the wicked, they “shall go away into unquenchable fire,” (Doctrine and Covenants 43.33). The thought of this final judgment is said to strike “the wicked with awful dread and fear” (Jacob 6.13).