The Messianic Prophecy and its Fulfillment
by Rev. Willard D. Pendleton
… To understand [the Christmas] story as it is recounted in the Gospel of Luke we must go back into the history of that nation among whom the Lord was born. For it is here, in the historical and prophetical Word of the Old Testament, that the prophecy of Him who was to come is to be found. Indeed, it is this prophecy which accounts for the remarkable history of this people and sets it apart from the life story of all the other nations of the ancient world.
It is to be noted, however, that the Messianic prophecy did not have its origin among the Israelites. The first recorded statement of a Savior who was to come is found in the third chapter of Genesis, where, in rebuking the serpent who had deceived the woman, the Lord God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed . . . [he] shall . . . [trample upon] thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3 : 15)
The first thing that strikes us in connection with this prophecy is its obscurity. In fact it is so obscure that the question immediately arises, how, from this statement, did men know that the Lord was to be born into the world? But the Writings state that the ancients also possessed other doctrinals “from which they knew that the Lord would come into the world, and that Jehovah would be in Him, and that He would make the Human in Himself Divine, and would thus save the human race.” (AC 3419) What specific forms these other doctrinals or prophecies took, we cannot say, for the Ancient Word has been lost, and all that remains of it today is to be found in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis in which the prophecy of the seed of the woman is found.
One thing, however, is certain: the knowledge of the Advent did not originate with the Hebrews. It had its origin among the remnant of the Most Ancient Church who survived after the fall. It was from this remnant that the Ancient Church was formed, which, in turn, recorded the prophecies of the Lord’s coming in the Ancient Word. But when in the course of time the Lord did not come, the ancient prophecy was gradually forgotten. As men fell away from internal worship and turned to external worship, that is, as the men of the Ancient Church became idolatrous, the time came when they did not even know the name of the Lord. This was the case with Abraham, a descendant of the Ancient Church, with whom the historical Word of the Old Testament begins.
According to the testimony of the Writings, Abraham was an idolater who worshiped a family God by the name of Shaddai; and it was as God Shaddai that the Lord revealed Himself to Abraham. But if this be so, the question arises as to why the name of Jehovah, and not that of Shaddai, repeatedly occurs throughout the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The reason is that the book of Genesis was written many years later by Moses, to whom the name of Jehovah had been revealed. Because of this later substitution of the name of Jehovah for Shaddai, we are left with the impression that the patriarchs knew the Lord. This, however, was done by Moses for the sake of identification; but the real reason, although unknown to Moses, was, we are told, for the sake of the internal sense. (AC 7194)
Throughout the entire story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, however, there is only one open or direct reference to the Lord who was to come. It came at the end of the patriarchal period, when, in the blessing of his sons, Jacob said of Judah: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.” (Genesis 49: 10) The historical meaning of the text is clear. The function of government was to belong to Judah until such time as He who had been promised of old came into the world. By this renewal of the ancient prophecy with the sons of Israel, the nation that descended from them was set apart from all the other peoples of the earth. As the Lord said later unto Moses: “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people. . . . Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19: 5, 6) But the holiness of Israel did not consist in any spiritual virtue that was peculiar to this people, but in the representative function that they were selected to serve in preparing the way for the Advent.
Yet here is a curious thing: while it is true that throughout the entire patriarchal period only one direct reference is to be found concerning the Advent, in the derivation of the spiritual sense out of the letter it is this series which serves as the basis for the exposition of the doctrine of the glorification. Seven volumes of the Arcana Coelestia are devoted to this primary doctrine of the church. Chapter by chapter, verse by verse, the Lord’s life on earth is progressively revealed.
By the Lord’s life on earth, however, I do not have reference to the historical events which are recorded in the New Testament, but to those states which He put on as a man in the world. Here are revealed the laws of mental growth and development, the formative states of the Human, the nature of the Lord’s temptations, the quality of those perceptions which were revealed to Him from the Divine, and the nature of those states of humiliation and glorification which marked His progress toward union with the Divine. This testifies to two primary teachings of the Writings:
a) That apart from the spiritual sense, the Word in its letter cannot be understood.
b) That in its inmost sense the Word treats exclusively of the Lord, and were this not so the Word would not be Divine. For as the Writings insist, the Old Testament comes to us in the form of history, and if this history did not contain Divine truths, that is, truths concerning the Lord, it would have no more claim to meaning than the history of any other people or nation.
Our interest this evening, however, is not so much in the spiritual sense which testifies to the Divinity and holiness of the letter as in the continuity of prophecy as seen in the spiritual sense, as it is in those occasional passages of the Old Testament where the inner vein of prophecy breaks through the letter and speaks directly of the Lord who was to come.
In this connection we note what is said concerning Shiloh, which signifies the tranquility of peace. It is a beautiful signification, and the inference was that some day a ruler or governor, who would be a lawgiver, would be born among this people, and in His day Israel would enjoy the tranquility of peace. But that day was not yet. Remaining in Egypt, the descendants of Jacob were enslaved by the Egyptians; and during the long years of servitude they forgot the God of their fathers. Thus it was that when the Lord appeared to Moses He had to identify Himself as the God of his fathers; that is, as Shaddai. But as in each progressive revealing, a new concept of the Lord is given, He said unto Moses: “I am . . . [Jehovah]. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob . . . [in God Shaddai]. But by My name Jehovah was I not known to them.” (Exodus 6: 2, 3)
In Moses, therefore, it seemed that one like unto Shiloh had come. Was he not a lawgiver? Neither did any come after him who so closely approximated this first definitive function by which He who was to come was to be known. But the days of Moses were not days of tranquility and peace. Israel was beset on all sides by enemies, and for forty years they were forced to remain in a wilderness where each day was a matter of bare survival. If Israel was to fulfill its allotted destiny new hope was necessary, and it was during this period that two further signs were given by which He who was to come was to be known.
It was Moses himself who gave the first sign, for he said: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet . . . like unto Me; unto Him ye shall hearken.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15) When Shiloh came, therefore, He was to be not only a lawgiver, but also a prophet; that is, even as Moses was speaking, now He, too, would speak with authority of things that were yet to come. In all probability it was this prophecy that heightened Israel’s sense of anticipation in the days of the later kings of Judah when such prophets as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah appeared upon the national scene.
The other prophecy of this period is the well known prediction of Balaam – a wise man or magi who came from among the sons of the east. It was he who, having been charged by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse Israel, blessed them instead. He it was who said: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side.” (Numbers 24: 5, 6) It was also he who took up his parable, and said: “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh. There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.” (Numbers 24: 17) For more than a thousand years this prophecy must have been preserved among the wise men of the east. How else can we account for Matthew’s testimony that “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.”(Matthew 2: 1, 2)
Now we note with interest that in the succeeding period of Israelitish history, that is, in the days of Joshua, the Judges and Samuel, no open reference to the Messiah is to be found. In all probability the reason for this was that during this period Israel was a divided nation, warring among themselves, and there was no unified concept of a nation into which the ideal of the Messiah could be recast. It was not until the time of David that Israel actually became a unified people, and he is generally regarded as the outstanding prototype of the Messiah. What is more, when the Lord was in the world He was frequently referred to as the son of David.
It was, then, in the image of David, that a new concept of the Lord as a king and a deliverer began to emerge in the popular mind. This image is reflected in the Psalms, many of which are attributed to David. While as yet obscure, the Psalms nevertheless opened the way to the more definitive statements of the later prophets. As for example, the twenty-fourth Psalm, where the question is asked, “Who is this King of glory?” The answer is: “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory..” (Psalm 24: 10) The question itself is evidence of the form in which the Messianic prophecy was now being cast.
But of all the references in the Psalms to the Savior, the most significant is found in the second Psalm, where it is said: “I have . . . [anointed] My king upon . . . Zion . . . I . . . [shall announce the statute] : The Lord . . . [saith] unto Me, . . . My son [art Thou] ; this day have I begotten Thee.” (Psalm 2: 6, 7) Here, for the first time, what was common knowledge among the people of the Most Ancient Church was revealed to the Jews: namely, that He who was to come into the world was to be as no other, in that He was to be conceived of Jehovah. Yet when, and where, and how this miracle was to be effected was not yet revealed. But one thing was certain: this Man, although like unto David, would be different, in that by virtue of Divine conception He would possess Divine attributes. This was a great step forward in the formation of the Messianic ideal in the national mind. Slowly but surely the way was being prepared for the advent of the Lord into the world.
It was not until the days of the later kings of Judah, however, that this new concept of the Messiah was confirmed. As the psalmists gave way to the prophets – those men of God who were specifically authorized to speak for Jehovah – the voice of prophecy was frequently heard throughout the land. Those were the days of Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habbakkuk and Jeremiah, an age in which the Messianic prophecy became so descriptive and so insistent that it seemed as if the day of the Lord was actually at hand. It was Isaiah who foretold how the Lord was to be born on earth; and who can forget his immortal words? “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us].” (Isaiah 7: 14) Neither did he leave to the imagination what manner of Man this was to be, for he said: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9: 6) Neither was there to be any doubt concerning the kingdom He would establish, for “of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9: 7)
But if it was Isaiah who foretold how the Lord was to come, it was Micah who designated the place of His birth: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler of Israel.” (Micah 5: 2) So specific, so urgent, so insistent was the voice of prophecy, and so desperate was Israel’s need at the time, that it was only reasonable to assume that the time was now at hand.
But despite all the signs that had now been given, the Lord did not come. Instead of the Messiah, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon; and having destroyed Jerusalem, he carried the people away captive into Babylon. What follows here is a matter of history – the tragic history of the remnant of a once proud nation whose confidence in their manifest destiny had seemingly ended in crushing defeat and foreign captivity. But the voice of prophecy, although it never again attained to the heights of eloquence and immediacy that are descriptive of the prophets who spoke for Jehovah in the days of the later kings of Judah, was not yet stilled. It was Daniel, the prophet of the captivity, who saw in the night visions, one like the Son of Man, coming in the clouds of heaven, and to Him was given “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom . . . which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7: 13, 14) In all probability it was this prophecy which led to a renewal of hope among those who later returned to Jerusalem. But apart from this we find no further open reference to the Messiah. While it is true that the prophets of the post-exilic period spoke of Him, they spoke in veiled terms which served to keep alive the hope of His coming, but did not provide any further signs by which He was to be known.
With the death of Malachi, the last of the prophets, the voice of prophecy ceased altogether. For almost four hundred years the Word of the Lord was not heard in the land. During these barren years in Israel’s history all that was known of the Messiah was what had been revealed to them of old time. But it came to pass, when Herod was king in Jerusalem, that rumors of one who had been born King of the Jews began to spread among the people. According to the testimony of certain shepherds, an angel of the Lord had appeared to them, saying: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And when they had seen . . . [Him] they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2 : 11, 17) It was also reported that following this there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, inquiring of Him who had been born King of the Jews, and they said: “We have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2: 2) Was this, indeed, He of whom the prophets had spoken, or were they to look for another? That is the question which to this day separates those who believe in Him from those who repudiate the testimony of the New Testament.
In reviewing the Scriptures, one thing is certain: the Lord did not come when expected; neither did He come as expected. Israel had looked for a king after the pattern of David and Solomon, but this Man came from among the lowly. According to the record, He was to be a lawgiver and a prophet; but the scribes and Pharisees accused Him of perverting the law, and the future of which He spake held no comfort for Israel. As to the kingdom which He was to establish on earth, He answered them, saying, “My kingdom is not from hence.”(John 18: 36) For these, and for similar causes, the Jewish Church rejected Him. But in this also a long forgotten prophecy concerning Him was fulfilled. Had not Isaiah said: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of . . . dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men.” (Isaiah 53: 1-3)With the Jews, therefore, as with every church since the beginning, the darker implications of prophecy were forgotten in anticipation of the event.
So it is that at this season of the year when men pause to reflect upon the meaning of those events which took place almost two thousand years ago in the hill country of Judea, the question arises, Who was this Child and what did His birth portend? Some say He was but man, even as you and I and others are man. Others say, although He was man, yet was He the best of men, and as such, an example to all men. Still others hold that He was a third person in a mystical trinity of Divine persons. But the Writings insist that although He was born as man, He was God; that is, one God in person, who is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the faith of the New Church, and upon this faith, as a house upon its foundation, all of the Writings rest.
If, then, we would understand those things which were said by them of old time concerning this Child, we, too, must go unto Bethlehem, that is, to the spiritual sense of the Word, and there we will find Him. The reason for this is that apart from the spiritual sense the Word in its letter cannot be understood. But once it is seen and acknowledged that the Word in the letter contains a spiritual sense, the thought of the understanding is able to perceive that this Child, that is, the newborn doctrine of the Divine Human, is as no other, and that in Him all prophecy from the beginning is at this day fulfilled.
But again we are reminded of the prophecy of Isaiah: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” (Ibid.) It is a pertinent question, and in this the Second Advent does not differ from the first; for while many have heard of Him, few have sought Him. But there is a difference, and the difference is that the second coming of the Lord is not in person, but as the Writings testify, it is in the Word which is from Him and is Himself.” (TCR 776) This Word is the Word in its spiritual sense; that is, the Spirit of truth of whom the Lord spake to His disciples, saying, “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16: 13) In this, however, the burden of proof lies with the Writings, and this will be the subject of our next class.
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From ancient times it was known that the Lord was to be born on earth, but when and where this was to take place was not revealed. It was not until the days of the later kings of Judah that Micah the prophet spake, saying: “Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5: 2) It is reasonable to assume that this prophecy created a state of expectation among the people. The inference was that the coming of the Messiah, which had been so long delayed, was now at hand. But in this, as in former instances of open prophecy, Israel was destined to disappointment. Several generations passed; kings succeeded one another; but no one who fulfilled the prescribed qualifications of the Messiah appeared upon the national scene. Then came the armies of Nebuchadnezzar; Jerusalem was laid waste; and the people were taken away captive.
It was a pathetic remnant of a once great nation who returned to the site of Jerusalem after seventy years of foreign captivity. Under the urgings of Haggai and Zechariah they restored the city and rebuilt the temple, but prophecy had lost its emphasis upon the immediacy of the Advent. Then, without apparent cause, the voice of prophecy was stilled altogether. Generations passed, and the Word of the Lord was not heard in the land. With the passing of the years the central theme of prophecy was gradually obscured in the minds of the people, and all that was known of the Lord was contained in ancient scripts which preserved the record of that which had been told to “them of old time.”
It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that in the days of Herod few recalled those signs of the Advent which in earlier days had been common knowledge. Thus it was that when certain wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, and inquired as to where they might find Him who was born King of the Jews, none seemed to know of whom they spake. In evidence of their mission, the wise men spoke of a star which they had seen in the east. The reference was to the prophecy of Balaam, who, in viewing the encampment of Israel in the days of the wilderness, had said: “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24: 17) But if this prophecy had been forgotten by men, the record was yet intact. So it was that when Herod “heard these things, he was troubled. . . . And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.” (Matthew 2: 3, 4)They said unto him: “In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet . . . out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel.” (Matthew 2: 5, 6)
To all believing Christians, the story of the Lord’s birth is a matter of historical record. Yet the question arises, who was this Child who was born so many years ago in the hill country of Judea? Some say He was as other men, howbeit, the best of men. Others say He was the Son of God born in time, that is, a third person in a trinity of Divine persons. But it is the faith of the New Church that apart from the spiritual sense of the Word, the Word in its letter cannot be understood. If, then, we would know this Child, we, too, must go unto Bethlehem, that is, to the spiritual sense of the Word; for it is there, in the city of David, that is, in the doctrine of the Divine Human, that we will find Him who was spoken of by the prophets. Here, and nowhere else, is He to be found: “For thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel.”
It is important to note that in this prophecy, Bethlehem is also referred to as Ephratah, the name by which it was known in most ancient times. By Ephratah, therefore, is signified the Word in a former state; that is, the Word as to its letter, from which the spiritual sense is derived. Thus it is that in the Psalms of David we find an earlier and more obscure forecast of the Lord’s birth in which it is said: “Lo, we have heard of . . . [Him] . . . [in] Ephratah, we found . . . [Him] in the fields of the. . . [forest].” (Psalm 132: 6) By the fields of the forest are meant those appearances of truth in which the Word in its letter is written (AE 700: 9) and it is from these appearances that man forms his first idea of God.
Let us have no illusions, therefore, concerning the use of the letter of the Word. Were it not for the letter, man could not be introduced into the spiritual sense; for it is upon the idea of God as Divine Man that the faith of the New Church rests. This is the primary teaching of the Old Testament and of the New Testament; and unless a man believes this, how can he accept the testimony of the Writings concerning themselves?
As the Lord said to the Jews: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets . . . but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5: 17) If the Writings break with the letter, it is not with its essential content but with those appearances of the letter in which the Divine doctrine is obscured. It is, therefore, in order that man may enter with perception and understanding into those things which are contained in the letter that the Writings are given; and the central theme of the letter is the prophecy of the Lord’s birth and His life in the world.
It is He, therefore, of whom we have heard in Ephratah; and in the recollection of these things we experience the delight of former states. Thus it is that when we reflect upon the Christmas story there is a renewal of those affections which we knew as children, when we heard with awe and wonder the story of the Lord’s birth among men. It is these affections of former days that the Writings call “remains.” They are so called because they remain with man as long as there is any remnant of innocence in him; that is, any desire whatsoever to be led by the Lord. Never underestimate the influence of first states of instruction upon the mind; for while much of what is learned is obscured in the memory, the delight that is inspired may yet be recalled to service.
It is these primitive affections of childhood that are represented in the scriptural story by those who received the Lord at His birth. Were it not for them there would be none to receive the Divine doctrine at its coming; for at the time of His coming, Herod is king in Jerusalem, and Caesar Augustus is emperor of Rome. By Herod is represented the love of self, which exercises dominion over man’s natural affections; and by Rome is represented the natural-rational, which exalts human reason. Thus it is that when confronted with the claim to the authority of Divine truth, the natural-rational, like Pilate, takes refuge in skepticism, saying, “What is truth?” To such states of mind the Divine doctrine cannot be revealed, for in such states man does not will to believe. It is, then, only to those who will to believe in His Word that the Writings are addressed.
Yet faith in the Writings is not the faith of childhood. If it were, there would be no need for the Writings. It is because the faith of childhood is not sufficient to the more advanced states of adult life that the Lord has come again as the Divine doctrine. It is, therefore, not as children that we experience the joy of the Lord’s advent, but as those who are permitted to perceive what these things interiorly present; for it is here, in Bethlehem of Judea, that is, in the spiritual sense of the Word, that He to whom all prophecy attests is to be found. We see Him, therefore, not as we knew Him in first states, but as He is now revealed; that is, as Divine Man made visible to the sight of the understanding in the Divine doctrine. The meaning of the prophecy, therefore, is clear. If we would know the Lord we must go unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass that the Lord hath made known unto us. If we will do this, we will come to see that all revelation from the beginning testifies to the Divinity of this Child. That this is so is evident from the treatment of the letter of the Word in the Arcana Coelestia. Verse by verse, and chapter by chapter, we follow the sacred text through the formative states of the Human, and through those alternate states of temptation and glorification which marked His progression toward union with the Divine. Thus the Divine doctrine, which formerly dwelt in Ephratah among the obscure appearances of the prophetic Word, is now to be found in Bethlehem; that is, in the plain teachings of the Writings concerning Him. That is why it is said that Bethlehem represents the Word in a new state.
But although at this day the ancient prophecy has been fulfilled, it seems that there are few to receive Him. In this, the Second Advent does not differ from the first. As the prophet Isaiah said: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” (Isaiah 53: 1) The answer is, to none save a few. Men say, If this be the truth, would we not know it? But like many in Israel who were indifferent to those things which were told abroad by the shepherds, the modern mind does not credit the possibility of an authoritative statement of truth. It is not that men no longer believe in God, but that they have lost faith in Divine revelation. Yet in this day, as in that, there is a remnant who have not forgotten the Word of the prophets, and perceive that the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, even as the Divine Child, were conceived of God, and not by man. In the final analysis, this is the test of truth, and when applied to the Writings it inspires faith.
At this time of the year, therefore, when we celebrate the birth of our Lord upon earth, let us not forget that those things which were seen by the shepherds were not only a fulfillment, but also constituted a renewal of the ancient prophecy; for as stated in the book of Revelation, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19: 10) That this is so is evident from the fact that the Lord Himself said that He would come again; but nowhere does it say that He would come again in person, but that He would come as the Spirit of truth, that is, as the spiritual sense of the Word. If men would read the New Testament with this in mind, if they would regard what is said there not merely as an historical record of past events but as a forecast of things to come, the Lord’s life on earth, His birth, His death, His resurrection would take on new meaning, and, as it is said in the preface to the work Heaven and Hell, ignorance would be enlightened and unbelief dissipated.(HH 1)
Consider, for the moment, the evidence in this regard. Did He not say to His disciples: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth”? (John 16: 1) Also: “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter; that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.” (John 14: 16, 17) And again: “When the Comforter is come . . . even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me.” (John 15: 26) Who is it, then, whom the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not? Is it not He of whom the Lord spake; that is, He who at this day testifies to the Divinity, to the holiness, and to the unity of the Word? And is this not He of whom the prophets spake; that is, the Lord in His Divine Human?
But like the Jews who did not receive the Lord because He did not conform to their preconceived concept of the Messiah, neither has the Christian world accepted the Writings. Because they do not conform to men’s preconceived concept of truth they have rejected them. But the truth of the Writings is not dependent upon men’s acknowledgment of them. As the Lord said to the Jews: “I receive not testimony from man.” (John 5: 34) In this, as in all things, the truth speaks for itself. As it is stated in the Writings: “It is the Divine which bears witness concerning the Divine, and not man, from himself.” (AE 635: 2) We do not accept the Writings, therefore, on the basis of Swedenborg’s claim to a Divine revelation, but upon the internal evidence that the Writings are what they claim to be; that is, the fulfillment of the prophetical Word.
By the prophetical Word, we here mean all the Word of the Old and the New Testaments. There is nothing said in the letter of either Testament that is not prophetic of the Lord who was to come; that is, of the Lord as He is now revealed in His own Divine Human. It is true that when the Lord came into the world men saw Him as a person; but to know the Lord is not to know Him merely as a person. It is to see and acknowledge the good and truth which are from Him; for to see what is good and true is to see what in essence is human. Hence we read in the Writings: “Who does not know that a man is not a man because of his having a human face and a human body, but because of . . . his understanding and the goodness of his will.” (TCR 417) This also is what is meant by the statement in the same number: “To love the neighbor, viewed in itself, is not to love the person, but the good that is in the person.” (Ibid.)
As it is with man, so it is with the Lord, who is Divine Man. If we would know Him we must know Him not only as He who came into the world in His own Divine person, but we must see and acknowledge that He is good and truth itself, and that all good with angels and men is from Him. But as God, or good, cannot be presented to the sight of the understanding except in the form of truth, the Lord gave the Word; and it is in His Word, and not apart from it, that the Lord may be known among men. Thus the Writings teach that the Word is the medium of conjunction between God and man. Yet how many at this day believe this? For the most part, men think of the Word as the testimony of the religious experience of the prophets and the evangelists. And while many believe that the prophets and the evangelists were somehow inspired, they do not understand the nature of their inspiration; neither are they prepared to believe that within the appearances of the letter of the Word there is a spiritual sense which constitutes an authoritative statement of truth.
To see God, therefore, is to see truth; that is, to see Him as the truth of the Word. Hence it is said in John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1: 1) But whereas, prior to His coming, the Word was revealed through the instrumentality of the human of an angel who appeared to the prophets, and whereas at His coming the Word was revealed through the human that the Lord assumed from the mother, in His second coming the Lord is revealed in His own Divine Human; that is, as the Divine doctrine which, in the words of the Writings, “is from Him and is Himself.” (TCR 776)
By the Divine Human, therefore, is not meant that body of flesh and blood which the Lord put on by birth into the world, but that body of Divine doctrine in which He is revealed at this day. We do not see Him, therefore, as the disciples saw Him; that is, as one who is revealed to the sight of the senses, but as one who is revealed to the sight of the understanding, that is, the good which is implicit in the truth of the Word. For God alone is good, and he who perceives what is good from the affection of truth sees God. But before God may be seen we must first form some idea of Him. That is why the Word has been given, for apart from the Word, man cannot form any idea of God; that is, any idea in which truth may take form. Thus the Writings insist that “no one can think of the Divine itself unless he first presents to himself the idea of a Divine Man”; (AC 8705) for to think of God apart from the idea of a Divine Man is to think indeterminately; and as the Writings state, “an indeterminate idea is no idea.” (Ibid.)
Despite the apparent discrepancies that exist in the Scriptures, there is one teaching that is consistent throughout. This is that God is Divine Man. In the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and in the Writings there can be no question concerning this. But whereas in the Old Testament the thought is determined to the idea of God in human figure, and in the New Testament to the idea of God as a person, in the Writings the thought of the mind is elevated to the concept of a God who in essence is good and truth. Thus the subject of the Writings is the essential Human, or that which in essence is Human in the Lord. Hence we are told that we are not to think of the Lord from His person, and from this of His essence; but from His essence, and from this of His person.” (AR 611: 7) In other words, if we would understand who it was who was born into the world, we must not think of Him from the appearances in which the New Testament is written; but we must think of Him as He is revealed in the Writings, and then the appearances of the New Testament will be understood. For He was not man as we are man; neither was He a third Divine person in a trinity of persons, but He was, as the Writings teach, the one God of heaven and earth.
What, then, shall we say of this Child who was born so many years ago in Bethlehem of Judea? Is it not He who has come again in the spiritual sense of the Word? Yet, like the Christ Child, the Divinity of the Writings is not at first perceptible. As we read in John: “He was in the world . . . and the world knew Him not.”(John 1: 10) Think of the multitudes who saw Him as a man in the world; but how many perceived that, as foretold by the psalmist, He was the begotten of God? (Psalm 2 : 7) In this, as already noted, the Second Advent does not differ from the first. Because He has not come as expected, that is, as a person, men say this is not He of whom Christ spake. But as Nicodemus said to the Lord: “Can a man . . . enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born [again] ?” (John 3: 4) The answer is, he cannot. In other words, the Lord cannot come again as a man in the flesh; and if He did, who would believe it and what purpose would be served? But He can and has come as the Divine doctrine, that is, as the spiritual sense of the Word. Hence the teaching of the Writings that “the Second Coming of the Lord is not in person, but in the Word, which is from Him, and is Himself”; (TCR 776) and also the teaching that “the Second Coming of the Lord is effected by means of a man to whom the Lord has manifested Himself in person, and whom He has filled with His Spirit, that he may teach the doctrines of the New Church from the Lord by means of the Word.” (TCR 779)
“Who,” then, “hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” It is revealed to those who in their hearts believe that there is a God, that He is one both as to essence and person; and who believe that the’ Scriptures contain within themselves a spiritual sense which, although not at first apparent, is nevertheless implicit in the Divine text. To such, that high and holy event which took place in the days of Herod the king is seen, not only as a fulfillment of the ancient prophecy, but also as a renewal of the inner meaning of prophecy, which at this day has found its ultimate fulfillment in Him who has come as the Spirit of truth.
-New Church Life 1965;85:497-504, 545-552