The Second Coming

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30)

Our text for today speaks of the time when Jesus Christ was expected to return to earth to execute a judgement and establish an earthly paradise – an event that most Christians believe is yet to happen, but next week we will gather here to celebrate its 237th anniversary! We need to stop for a moment and think about that. Do we realize how casually we speak about the Second Coming in the New Church? Do we have any idea how strange it must seem to those who are not familiar with our doctrines to hear us talk about the Second Coming, or even the life after death?

I once overheard a New Church woman express her sympathy for the death of a close friend’s mother after a long and painful illness when they happened to meet in the Drug Store. She said to her friend, “I was so glad to hear that your mother died!” I remember looking around the store and seeing the shocked looks on people’s faces as everyone turned to see who had said that. We in the church are so familiar with the spiritual world that the death of someone who is old and in pain is to us a blessing, a peaceful passing from one life to another, something to look forward to when the end of life approaches.

Not only do we know what the spiritual world is like, but we also know some amazing things about its history, particularly the history of the Second Coming. This may also cause shock and surprise to those not in the church because the very idea that the states of heaven change, and might therefore have a history to know is quite an idea in itself!

As we prepare to celebrate the completion of the Last Judgement, the Second Coming of the Lord, and the establishment of the New Church, we need to have a clear idea of what those things mean.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that the Last Judgement and Second Coming of the Lord, foretold in the Prophets (such as Daniel), in the Gospels (particularly the 24th Chapter of Matthew), and in the book of Revelation, actually took place in the World of Spirits some 237 years ago.

The World of Spirits is a place of introduction for people who have died, for although we have all been created to live in the spiritual world, no one is ready to go straight into heaven or hell immediately upon the death of the natural body. This is because everyone has elements of both good and evil, and these need to be sorted out before we can enter our final home. The World of Spirits lies between heaven and hell just so that it can be a place where both the good and evil from the world can be gathered, instructed, and finally prepared to enter their home society in heaven or hell.

Each of us, while we live in the world, has within us a mixture of good and evil, truth and falsity. While we live in the world, the mixture is acceptable, but once we die, we must either remove all the evil and falsity before entering heaven, or remove all good and truth before entering hell, for there cannot be a confusion or mixture of good and evil in either heaven or hell, and no one in heaven or hell is allowed to have a “divided” mind, that is, a mind that contains both good and evil loves.

At least, this is what happens when things are in the order of creation. But when a church is coming to its end, as happens from time to time in history, and before the Lord has established a new church to take its place and serve its uses to the human race, the World of Spirits comes into a state of confusion and disorder because those spirits who are entering it from the world are themselves in a state of confusion and disorder. And whenever and wherever there are confusion and disorder, the evil spirits are sure to be there, adding to the turmoil and unhappiness. We are told that the evil spirits pretended that they were angels, and the new spirits from earth were so ignorant about spiritual things that they were unable to see through their deception, and so were captured in “false heavens” set up in the World of Spirits. This was the spiritual circumstance within the Jewish Church that made it necessary for the Lord to assume the Human form and come to earth.

These people were made captives by their own ignorance of spiritual truth. The only way that they could be freed was by being taught the truth. The problem was that the truth of their own churches had been so changed by the ideas of men that it could no longer help. The genuine truth of the Word was no longer known in the churches. And so the Lord began His great judgement by coming to earth Himself and teaching truths about heaven in words and stories that were suited to those times and those people. These new truths were heard in the spiritual world as well, and served to free the captives in the World of Spirits. They heard the Lord’s teachings, and saw their captors for what they were, and fled from them. Once they could see the difference between good and truth, evil and falsity, they could then prepare themselves for heaven or hell, and were free to do so, and find their eternal homes.

The state of humanity was such at the time of the Lord’s first coming, that He was not able to reveal everything that He wanted us to know. What He could teach was enough to lead men to heaven and to provide for their spiritual freedom, but He wanted to give far more than people were ready to receive then. As He Himself said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12, 13). Jesus had taught enough to get things moving, but there was more to be done, more to be taught, but He had to wait until the human race had digested what had already been taught before He could add anything more. So He returned to the spiritual world while humanity worked with the teachings that are now in the New Testament.

Sometimes, when a person is critically ill, there is more than one disease attacking him. The main disease responds to medication and only then reveals second disease lurking behind it. But once it has been revealed, the second disease can also be treated. The same kind of thing happened in the spiritual world. Once the problems caused by the literalistic and power-hungry Pharisees and Sadducees had been solved by the teachings of the Lord, other evils in humanity began to reveal themselves as the leaders of the Christian Church began to use that church as a means to get personal power and possessions. By the year 325 AD the leaders of the Christian Church were deciding the doctrine of that church by political councils.

The Nicene council was convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine whose ability to rule depended on support from the Christian faction within his government. He wanted this issue of Christ’s divinity solved quickly because the Christians couldn’t be helping him if they were bickering among themselves. So he compelled them to come to a compromise doctrine so they could get back to the work of ruling an empire. When that happened, when the leadership of the Christian Church turned away from scripture and toward their own power and prestige, it marked the spiritual end of that church.

Any student of history can trace the fall of the Christian church from that time. Soon the leaders of the church became so corrupt that a whole period of the history of the church is called “the pornocracy,” the rule of filth, by Christian historians. Hard on the heels of that came the Inquisitions, and the Crusades, and quite a few other unchurchlike things. It was forbidden for anyone but a priest to take the wine of the Holy Supper, or read the Bible, and no church services were conducted in a language understood by ordinary people.

Still speaking from the point of view of history, as Europe emerged from the “Dark Ages” (a spiritual darkness caused by the doctrines of the Church) and began to experience a rebirth of freedom of thought, many great men began to question the hold that the church had placed on the bodies, minds, and spirits of men, and through their questioning and thought, the Reformation was born. But as often happens when a movement arises to counteract an abuse, the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. While the Catholic church had put emphasis on obedience to the rituals of the church, or “works,” the Reformers decided to move entirely away from works to faith without works, and began to teach that faith alone would save. The problem with the Catholic Church was with the doctrines that were made by men in councils, but the Reformers missed that point, and instead of turning back to scripture, based their doctrine on the views of other, different men in different councils. The two great movements of the Christian Church swept back and forth across the face of Europe, and thousands died because they said their prayers in the wrong language – or their kings did.

And as they died, they were entering the World of Spirits without sufficient truth to be able to make the basic decisions between good and evil, truth and falsity. The hells were again able to rise up and set up their false heavens in the World of Spirits. Again, innocent people from the world were prevented, through their own ignorance of spiritual truth, from entering heaven. The falsities that had lain hidden beneath those that had been dealt with by the judgement on the Jewish Church were now exposed in their fullness. It was time for the Lord to finish the work that He had begun when He came to earth as Jesus Christ, it was time for Him to show all people that the Word did not teach either works alone, or faith alone, but the truth that the life of faith and charity together is the path to heaven.

The nature of prophecy is such that it is very difficult to tell what it really means when you first hear it. It is only after the prophecy has been fulfilled that you can recognize it. We know that the 12 disciples did not understand that Jesus Christ had come to establish a heavenly kingdom until after He had refused to fight when betrayed by Judas and allowed Himself to be crucified and then rose again, although the Old Testament was full of prophecies of exactly that sequence of events. In the same way the prophecies of the Second Coming are not so clear until you have seen the event in the past. Then you can look at what happened and see if it fits the prophecies.

The Lord first opened the spiritual eyes of Emanuel Swedenborg in the year 1743. He spent the next 27 years being guided through the spiritual world, and, like John, being commanded to write the things he saw in a book. His observations filled volumes, detailed notes of things seen and heard at the command of the Lord Himself, and perhaps the most important thing he saw and reported during those years was that the Lord was making His Second Coming, not in person, but in the spiritual sense of the Word. Swedenborg was shown that everything in the Word contained a spiritual sense that could be worked out using what was called “the science of correspondences.” By this new science, the Bible became a work that spoke of the Lord and His kingdom in every verse, instead of being a book that appeared to be merely a history of the Jewish people. But most important, it told us that when Jesus said that He would return in “the clouds of heaven,” it meant that He would be reappearing through a new understanding of the stories of the Old and New Testaments. The stories are represented by clouds because, like mist, they stand in the way of the genuine meaning within, but they are clouds of heaven because the truths contained in the Bible are heavenly truths from God.

So the Lord came again, not in person, but through a new Revelation that opened the spiritual sense of the Word so that for the first time it could speak to all the spiritual states of people if only they used the proper key. This new truth was revealed in the World of Spirits as well, and as before, when the confused unhappy spirits heard the genuine truth from the Lord, they immediately recognized it, loved it, and made it their own. This new truth made it possible for them to see their captors for what they were and reject them, thus allowing them to freely choose their own heavenly society.

As we prepare ourselves for the Holy Supper, let us resolve to turn to the Word for ourselves, and with the knowledge that it contains heavenly truths that will help us live happy lives in this world and the next, make a covenant with the Lord today to make those truths our own by bringing them into our daily life, by striving to throw out those evils that oppose them, and by living a life of charity to all. If we do these things, then the Lord will indeed have made His Coming, for He will have come into our lives bringing peace, happiness, and eternal life. AMEN.

Lessons: Daniel 7:9-14, Matthew 24:15-31, TCR 787

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: DAN 7:9-14

(Dan 7:9-14) “I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; {10} A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened. {11} “I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. {12} “As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. {13} “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. {14} Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.

Second Lesson: MAT 24:15-31

(Mat 24:15-31) “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), {16} “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. {17} “Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. {18} “And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. {19} “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! {20} “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. {21} “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. {22} “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. {23} “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. {24} “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. {25} “See, I have told you beforehand. {26} “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. {27} “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. {28} “For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. {29} “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. {30} “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. {31} “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Third Lesson: TCR 787

This New Church is the crown of all the churches that have hitherto existed on the earth, because it is to Worship one visible God in whom is the invisible like the soul in the body. Thus, and not otherwise, is a conjunction of God with man possible because man is natural, and therefore thinks naturally, and conjunction must exist in his thought, and thus in his love’s affection, and this is the case when he thinks of God as a Man.

Conjunction With an invisible God is like a conjunction of the eye’s vision with the expanse of the universe, the limits of which are invisible; it is also like vision in mid-ocean, which reaches out into the air and upon the sea, and is lost.

Conjunction with a visible God, on the other hand, is like beholding a man in the air or on the sea spreading forth his hands and inviting to his arms. For all conjunction of God with man must be also a reciprocal conjunction of man with God; and no such reciprocation is possible except with a visible God. That before the assumption of the Human, God was not visible, the Lord Himself also teaches in John:-

Ye have neither heard the voice of the Father at any time, nor seen His form (v. 37).

And in Moses:-

That no one can see God and live (Ex. xxxiii. 20).

But that He is visible through His Humanity is stated in John:-

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath manifested Him (i. 18).

And in the same:-

Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one cometh unto the Father but by Me. He that knoweth Me, knoweth the Father, and he that seeth Me seeth the Father (xiv. 6, 7, 9).

That there is a conjunction with the invisible God through the visible, that is, through the Lord, He teaches in the following passages:-

Jesus said, Abide in Me, and I in you; he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit (John xv. 4, 5).In that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in Me and I in you (John xiv. 20).The glory which thou hast given Me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them and Thou in Me: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them (John xvii. 21-23, 26; also vi. 56).

It is also taught that He and the Father are one, and that in order to have eternal life man must believe in Him. That salvation depends on conjunction with God has been frequently

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

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