Visions of the Lord


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (MAT 17:7-8)

In our lesson from the Divine Love and Wisdom we read how important it is for a person to have the correct idea of God, that each of us will find our home in heaven according to the idea of God which is confirmed and made manifest by our attitudes and actions towards each other. Our idea of God, how we visualize Him, how we regard Him, how we respond to His teachings, is unique in each of us, and becomes a part of our very character and being. We are taught that in all the heavens there is no other idea of God than that He is a Man (DLW 11), and that this is so because heaven as a whole and in regard to its least detail is in the human form. The thought of every angel proceeds according to the form of heaven, and when the Lord looks down on heaven it appears to Him in the form of a Grand Man because each of the societies there has functions that correspond to the various organs of the human body. Thus we can say that heaven itself is in the human form, and so it is impossible for any angel to think of God in any other way than as a Man.

Since heaven itself is in the form of a Man, and all the angels think of God as a Man, if we wish to be conjoined with the angels as to our thoughts while in this world, and as to our lives when we pass into the next, we must therefore learn to think in the same way that they do. If we believe that God is a “universal creative force,” or “nature,” or something else non-human, we have not aligned our thoughts with the angels in heaven, but instead we have begun to think as do the devils in hell.

We read from the work The Last Judgment that,

The Gentiles, especially the Africans, who acknowledge and worship one God, the Creator of the universe, have … the idea that He is a Man, and declare that no one can have any other idea of God. When they learn that there are many who cherish an idea of God as something cloud like in the midst of things, they ask where such persons are; and on being told that they are among Christians, they declare it to be impossible.… I heard a certain elder from the Christians say that no one can have an idea of a Human Divine; and I saw him taken about to various Gentile nations, and successively to such as were more and more interior, and from them to their heavens, and finally to the Christian heaven; and everywhere their interior perception concerning God was communicated to him, and he observed that they had no other idea of God than that He is a man, which is the same as the idea of a Human Divine. (LJ 74)

The Lord loves us, and we are to love Him in return, for the joy of heaven depends on this reciprocal conjunction, but the nature of love is such that for there to be genuine love (and not just some kind of affection or fondness) the one loved has to be able to return the love in a like manner. In other words, humans can only truly love other human beings. Can anyone love a force? Does it even make sense for you to say that you love gravity? Does your feeling about gravity make the slightest difference in its operation in your life? Of course not, and for this reason, we must have an idea of God as a Man, not as some cosmic, mysterious force.

It’s not even enough to think of Him in some kind of general way. We cannot love all of mankind, but we can love individual human beings. We cannot love individuals whom we have never met or spoken to. There has to be individual specific knowledge before there can be genuine reciprocal love. It is not enough to believe in some undefined “supreme being.” We are told that we must get specific knowledge of God as Man from the Word, and come to know Him as He reveals Himself there – and then we can begin to learn to love Him.

The Lord reveals His human to us gradually in the Word. Each revelation was carefully designed to be appropriate to the spiritual states of the men who were to see it. He had to show Himself to the men of the Most Ancient Church in a way quite different from His revelation to the prophets of Israel, to His disciples, or to Emanuel Swedenborg, because each of these were able to receive Him and understand Him in a different way. We are able to see the complete picture, for we can see Him in all of His revelations.

Today, we will look at several of these revelations or visions of the Lord so that we can see how the Lord shows Himself to us in such a way that our understanding of Him as God-Man can begin in our minds and grow throughout eternity. We will select some passages from the Old and New Testaments that will serve to illustrate the way we are to develop our picture of the Visible God even as our understanding of Him grows.

The first instance were the Word pictures God as Man is in Genesis. Adam and Eve are in the garden, have been tempted to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and have succumbed. We read:

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. 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. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” (GEN 3:7-9)

Who among us has not taken a walk in the garden in the cool of the day? What a distinctly human view of God the Creator is presented here: the father finding out the naughty children. True, their punishment is harsh, but no one who reads this passage can fail to see that they did the only thing that they were specifically forbidden to do. God has presented Himself to us here in a distinctly human way, although with a sharp edge of stern justice. A “universal life-force” does not walk in the garden in the cool of the day.

The Lord revealed Himself to Moses first in a bush that burned without being consumed, and later when He gave the law to Moses on Sinai, we are told that there was flame on the top of the mountain, and the cloud descended halfway down it. Also the Lord signified His presence in the camp of Israel by a continual cloud over the tabernacle during the day, and flame of fire by night. These symbols of the Divine presence were apparently as much as could be received by the Jewish Church during the age of the patriarchs. The Lord would occasionally speak to the prophets, or appear in a night vision, but such revelations did nothing to develop the idea of His Divine Humanity with them. Instead, He taught of His Humanity by prophecy that looked forward to the time that He would come in person as the shepherd of Israel.

The Psalms contain many different images of the Lord as a warrior, as a king, but the most memorable image of the Lord given to us in the Psalms is that of the Lord as The Shepherd:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever. (PSA 23)

This Psalm may well be the most well-known and most beloved part of the Old Testament precisely because of the beautiful picture that it paints of the Lord, and because it leads us to love this image of Him because it is what we need to have a proper human picture of Him, so that we can begin to love Him as a person whom we know, and who has personal human qualities which we admire.

This theme of the Lord as the gentle shepherd is continued in the New Testament because the Lord wanted to present Himself to the people in such a way that they would understand His relationship to them, and since the great majority of people in those days worked in the fields, it should not be surprising that the Lord used this image to describe His relationship to His people.

The Lord compared Himself to the good shepherd as a symbol of His spiritual mission. The wolf which attacks the sheep is hell, and the Lord teaches that He will fight even to the death of the physical body for the sake of His people. We can see in hindsight that He was predicting His own death by crucifixion in the following passages, even while he was teaching the people about His great compassion for them. He taught:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But he who is a hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (JOH 10:11-16)

Not only did He lay down His life for His sheep, He has shown us that His compassion and love extends beyond the bounds of the Jewish Church to encompass all people in all nations who love Him and keep His commandments. In His spiritual kingdom, there is indeed only one flock, and one shepherd. In heaven, the trivial differences that divide the nations of the world drop away as useless and the true spiritual bonds within serve to unite all peoples in uses which serve the Lord and His kingdom.

Our final vision of the Lord comes from the Gospel according to Matthew; the Transfiguration:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, And was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (MAT 17:1-8)

There are several important representative elements to note here. Peter represents faith. James represents charity, and John represents the works that are the product of charity and faith in the man of the church. Also, the Lord was seen by them in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Moses was a symbol of the Law itself, and Elijah was loved as the greatest of the prophets, and so, by their presence, the Lord was graphically displaying to the three disciples His own relationship to the Word. Moses and Elijah are the Law and the Prophets — the Old Testament — and Jesus Himself stands for the New Testament.

The Lord gave the Word to us for the sake of our salvation. In it, He gave us many different visions of Himself so that we could see Him in our mind’s eye as a Man, the Divine Human, and come to know Him and thus love Him. We may first think of Him as our heavenly father, or as a shepherd, or as Jesus Christ. But if we desire it, and if we bring faith, charity, and works (Peter, James, and John) into our lives, then whatever image we have of the Lord will be transfigured before our eyes, and we will see the Lord as he really is — God-Man in His Divine Human — first with our minds as our understanding opens, and later with our spiritual eyes when we achieve our heavenly home. Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, And was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. (MAT 17:1,2) AMEN.

Lessons: EXO 33:7-11, REV 1:9-18, DLW 12, 13

1st Lesson: Exo 33:7-11

Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. {8} So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. {9} And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. {10} All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. {11} So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Rev 1:9-18

I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. {10} I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, {11} saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” {12} Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, {13} and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. {14} His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; {15} His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; {16} He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. {17} And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. {18} “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Amen.

3rd Lesson: DLW 12, 13

12. The common people in Christendom have an idea that God is a Man, because God in the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity is called a “Person.” But those who are more learned than the common people pronounce God to be invisible; and this for the reason that they cannot comprehend how God, as a Man, could have created heaven and earth, and then fill the universe with His presence, and many things besides, which cannot enter the understanding so long as the truth that the Divine is not in space is ignored. Those, however, who go to the Lord alone think of a Human Divine, thus of God as a Man.

13. How important it is to have a correct idea of God can be known from the truth that the idea of God constitutes the inmost of thought with all who have religion, for all things of religion and all things of worship look to God. And since God, universally and in particular, is in all things of religion and of worship, without a proper idea of God no communication with the heavens is possible. From this it is that in the spiritual world every nation has its place allotted in accordance with its idea of God as a Man; for in this idea, and in no other, is the idea of the Lord. That man’s state of life after death is according to the idea of God in which he has become confirmed, is manifest from the opposite of this, namely, that the denial of God, and, in the Christian world, the denial of the Divinity of the Lord, constitutes hell. Amen.

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