The Woman Clothed with the Sun

The Woman Clothed with the Sun

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And a great sign was seen in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried, travailing and pained to bring forth (Rev. 12:1,2)

Of all the books of the Word, the book of Revelation is the least well understood. Laymen and scholars find the imagery and visions difficult to interpret into a meaningful message. Most non-New Church scholars and theologians simply say that the Revelation of John must be symbolic on some level, but they admit that they do not have the key to unlock that symbolism. Consequently the book of Revelation is revered by many simply because it has been included in the Bible, but it remains a mystery to those in the traditional Christian dogma.

The science of correspondences, revealed by the Lord to the world through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, provides the key to unlock the symbols of the book of Revelation, showing it to be a clear prophecy of the time and manner and establishment of the New Christian Church. Our text, the vision of the Woman clothed in the sun, is from the twelfth chapter and teaches how the New Christian Church was established at first in the heavens at the time of the last judgment, and how it showed the Lord’s Divine Love for all people and His plan to regenerate them.

In school we were taught that it is not correct to begin a sentence with the word “and,” and we were also taught that the Bible is an example of excellent English writing – yet many sentences, paragraphs and even chapters begin with the word “and” as does the twelfth chapter of Revelation. There is a spiritual reason for this: the science of correspondences tells us that when a chapter begins with a conjoining word such as “and” it signifies a continuation of the general sense of the previous chapter. Here the previous chapter was the vision of the two witnesses. The two witnesses (olive trees and lampstands) represent the two essentials of a true church, the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord, and a life according to His commandments. That these two are essential is shown by the last thing said in the twelfth chapter which refers to the seed of the woman clothed in the sun, that they should keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus Christ, that is, to know the Lord, and live according to His commandments (See REV 12:17). Our text must be understood in the light of this leading idea contained within it in its internal sense: that the church is established by the Lord, by means of men who acknowledge Him and live according to His commandments.

The image of the Woman clothed with the Sun is a familiar one to us, for it is often used in illustrations of our church literature – but the usual illustration of a beautiful, radiant young woman with the moon under her feet and a crown of stars, while delightful, is not complete. The woman John saw in his vision was great with child, in the final stages of labor. Her face may have expressed both pain and joy: the pain that comes from the ending of one state of life and the joy that comes with the beginning of another.

This woman seen by John in the spiritual world represents the New Church. The church is represented by a woman, because the church is the bride and wife of the Lord. As a bride is in the affection of the wisdom of her husband and loves him because of that wisdom, so the church looks to conjunction with the Lord, for, like a bride, it wants to be one with the Wisdom that is from the Lord.

The Lord appears in the spiritual world as the Sun of Heaven to represent the power and life-giving nature of His Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. The woman who represents the church is seen with that power and life from the Lord radiating to men through her as if from a sun. She is clothed with the sun for two reasons: Because the Lord’s life flows into man through the church in the heavens, also, when men in the church know the truths from the Word and live according to them they are in love to the Lord, which love is signified by the light and heat of the sun. Thus, the radiant power of the woman comes from the reciprocal conjunction of men with the Lord. Man receives good and truth from the Lord through the church, and then as if of himself chooses to make it his own, thus returning that love to the Lord. This reciprocal conjunction is the life of heaven from which all delights and blessings flow.

The moon, representing the faith of the New Church, was seen under her feet, because at the time of John’s vision, and even at the time Swedenborg was visiting the spiritual world, the New church in the heavens had not yet been conjoined to the church on earth. The conjunction of the New Church in the heavens and the church on earth was the Lord’s purpose, and the revelation of the internal sense of the Word through Swedenborg was the means to that goal.

However, that was not the end, but a beginning. The Lord has, through His second coming, given us the tools to establish the church on earth if we sincerely desire it and work for it. Our text warns us that establishing the church on earth will not be easy: she travailed and pained to bring forth (text). The Writings tell us that this means the church on earth will not be easily received at first, especially by those who are in faith alone (AR 531).

Because we are living in a world where the traditional Christian churches have very powerful influence, it is tempting to use this teaching to excuse our small rate of growth, to apply this teaching only to others, those outside the church; to say that the New Church would grow if it weren’t for the appeal of the doctrine of faith alone. We do this in part because we believe that things would be easier for us if the New Church were larger, for then there would be more resources for us to draw on; We could proudly tell our friends and business acquaintances that we belonged to the New Church (and they would have heard of it), and many other natural reasons. But what is the true reason for us to work for the growth of the church on earth? The true reason is that “the church in the heavens cannot subsist, except there be also a church on earth, which is in concordant love and wisdom” (AR 533).

This is the spiritual reason for working for the growth of the church, the fact that the church in the heavens and the church on earth are related as the spirit and body of a person. Just as no person can come into the spiritual world without having first lived in the natural world, the church in heaven cannot exist without the church in the world as its foundation. This means that the growth of the church on earth, both in numbers of members and in the quality of spiritual life, greatly affects the growth and eventual development of the church in the heavens. The heavenly church cannot be built beyond the foundation laid for it upon the earth. The church on earth and the church in the heavens are more intimately related that we can imagine, for they correspond to each other, and both are founded upon the reception of the Word by man and angel. Thus, it is absolutely necessary that there be a church somewhere in the world, where the Word is, and where by it the Lord is known (AR 533).

The purpose of creation is that there shall be a heaven from the human race. The Lord has provided all the things needed to achieve that goal: the Word, the church in the heavens, the church on earth, freedom of choice in spiritual things, and spiritual equilibrium. All that remains is for each of us to exercise our freedom of choice, to allow the Lord’s Divine Providence to lead us by means of the church on earth to the church in the heavens.

However, since each of us is truly free, falsity and evil have a pull on our hearts and minds equal to that of good and truth. Every one of us must make hard choices and turn away from the pull of hereditary tendencies to evils. To do this requires real power. The power to turn away from evil and falsity does not come from within ourselves, although it may at times seem this way. It comes from the Lord through the church and is represented by the “male child which shall rule the nations with a rod of iron” (REV 12:5). This child represents the doctrine of the church – not the words and ideas presented in the Word, but the ideas after they have been received in the mind and confirmed by a life according to them (See AR 148).

Truth must have power to remove falsity from the natural mind of a person, to turn him away from self-intelligence which leads toward hell. Truth has the power to turn him back toward the Word of the Lord which leads toward heaven. The doctrine rules with a rod of iron because iron represents truths in the natural degree (AE 176:4), and it is that degree which contains both truth and falsity mixed, acquired by the senses. The interior degrees of the mind cannot receive falsity for they are protected by the Lord for use by the truly spiritual person, an angel. So it is there, in the natural degree, that truth and falsity wage their battle. On the one hand are all the ideas that favor the loves of self and the world, and on the other hand are the ideas from the Word and preaching from it that a person has believed and lived.

The ideas from the Word that are of the person’s life itself, because he has lived them and thus appropriated them, are represented by the male child, for they are the person’s doctrine. It rules his mind with a rod of iron because that represents the power of doctrine to remove the falsity in the natural degree of the mind when a person chooses to remove it and asks for the Lord’s help in doing so. The resulting battle is felt as suffering and conflict, and is called “temptation.”

Our text calls to mind the battle that the Lord waged against the hells in order to complete the final judgment on the hells, and restore order to the spiritual world, thus establishing the New Church. We remember that its establishment was witnessed by Swedenborg in 1770 at the conclusion of the Last Judgment in the spiritual world. We might think about how far the church has come in its 213 years, and reflect on how far it has yet to go. We take pleasure in its successes and strengths, we hope and pray for its future growth among people in the world, wondering how we can best serve the Lord’s goals in furthering the church on earth.

But, at the same time, we must remember that the church must be in the mind and heart of each individual member before it can really be said to be established. Each of us is a little world, either a heaven or a hell. There must be a judgment in each of our minds, so that our own spiritual world can be reordered, and so that each of us may become a church, a true church, knowing the Lord as He is revealed in His Word, and living according to His commandments.

When each individual strives to become a true church, then the church on earth will surely grow in both numbers and quality, and the church in the heavens may then have a sure and excellent foundation to eternity. And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not, neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of God. (REV 12:7.8.10) AMEN.


First Lesson:

(Gen 3:1-13) Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” {2} And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; {3} “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” {4} Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. {5} “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” {6} So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. {7} Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. {8} And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. {9} Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” {10} So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” {11} And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” {12} Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” {13} And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Amen.

Second Lesson: Rev 12

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. {2} Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. {3} And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. {4} His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. {5} She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. {6} Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. {7} And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, {8} but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. {9} So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. {10} Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. {11} “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. {12} “Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” {13} Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. {14} But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. {15} So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. {16} But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. {17} And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Third Lesson: TCR 773, 774

The Lord’s coming is for the purpose of forming a new heaven of those who have believed in Him, and for the purpose of establishing a new church of those who shall hereafter believe in Him, inasmuch as these two are the ends for which He came. The very end for which the universe was created was no other than the formation from men of an angelic heaven, where all who believe in God shall live forever in eternal blessedness; for the Divine love which is in God and essentially is God, can intend nothing else, and the Divine wisdom which is also in God and is God, can effect nothing else.

TCR 774. The Lord’s presence is unceasing with every man, both the evil and the good, for without His presence no man lives; but His Coming is only to those who receive Him, who are such as believe on Him and keep His commandments. The Lord’s unceasing presence causes man to become rational, and gives him the ability to become spiritual.

This is effected by the light that goes forth from the Lord as the sun in the spiritual world, and that man receives in his understanding; that light is truth, and by means of it man has rationality. But the Lord’s coming is to him who joins heat with that light, that is, love with truth; for the heat that goes forth from that same sun is love to God and love toward the neighbor. The mere presence of the Lord, and the consequent enlightenment of the understanding, may be likened to presence of solar light in the world; unless this light is joined with heat all things on earth become desolate.

But the coming of the Lord may be likened to the coming of heat, which takes place in spring; because heat then joins itself with light, the earth is softened, and seeds sprout and bring forth fruit. Such is the parallelism between the spiritual things which are the environment of man’s spirit, and the natural things which are the environment of his body. Amen.

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