The Medium of Revelation

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Teach your children and your grandchildren concerning the day you stood before the LORD your God in Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ And the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words. (DEU 4:9,10,11)

Our subject for today is “Prophecy,” specifically the many different ways that the Lord had presented His truth to mankind through the history of the Churches. Our text from Deuteronomy was selected because it sums up what all prophecy is intended to do:

  • to gather the people to the Lord;
  • to let them hear and be instructed by His own words;
  • to submit themselves to His words and obey them because they fear to harm what is good from God;
  • to provide the means to earn eternal life;
  • and to teach these Divine truths to others, especially one’s own children, thereby passing on the Divine gift of eternal life.

In the earliest days of mankind, there was no need for prophecy. The people of the Golden Age were like the angels because their will and understanding were conjoined. Because of this, unlike us, they were in open communication with heaven throughout their life in the natural world. They received their instruction from the Lord in the same way the angels did – and still do.

When the men of that church fell into terrible evils, the Lord made a fundamental change in the structure of the human mind. From that time forth, the will and the understanding were separated. This change made it possible for people to choose to do things that they knew to be true, but that they didn’t want to do. This meant that it was possible for them to rise above their hereditary evils through regeneration, but it also meant that they were no longer able to have open communication with the angels. Their spiritual senses were closed except during times of worship and instruction. At first, these people of the Silver Age received their instruction through visions and revelations made to the head of each family. The father would then instruct his family, each one according to his ability to understand. These men, who had visions and spoke with angels and then taught the lessons to their families, were the first prophets, the first people to hear God’s message of hope and salvation for the purpose of carrying it to others.

The Silver Age, also known as the Ancient Church, lasted for a very long time, and during the course of time it, too, became corrupted and less spiritual. As this gradually happened over a long period of time, the Lord provided for a continuing system of orderly instruction: as people grew more spiritually distant from heaven and were no longer able to understand or take the responsibility for visions, their spiritual senses were closed off and the Lord provided that writing be invented so that just a few could serve as prophets and write down the words of revelation. These writings could then be preserved and kept for generations and be passed around from place to place or copies made. In this way, as people became less and less spiritual, and as fewer and fewer people were capable of carrying the Divine message to others without perverting it, it was still provided that God’s Word was available to many.

The very earliest writings were collected into a “book” called the Ancient Word. Although this book is now lost to us (and it probably didn’t look much like what we think of as a book), parts of it were copied by Moses into the book of Genesis, and there are other passages that refer to it in the Old Testament. We don’t know if Moses came to know the Ancient Word during his studies in the libraries of Egypt before his exile, or if he came to know of it through his father-in-law Jethro, who was a “priest of Midian.” But in the last part of his life, while on the journey across the wilderness, Moses was commanded by God to write the many laws that would govern every aspect of the Hebrew’s daily life. The stories that make up the first ten and a half chapters of the book of Genesis are from the Ancient Word. Even the most cursory study of these chapters shows that they are very different from the rest of the Old Testament – with the exception of some parts of the Prophets which are purposefully written in the style of the Ancient Word. These ancient writings are not for the sake of historical record, but are instead highly symbolic. The stories of Creation, Noah and the Ark, and the Tower of Babel are some of the earliest things ever written, and when studied as artefacts of that earlier age, they can give us some insight into the kind of people that lived at the dawn of history.

When we reflect on how many people were involved either in writing the Word, or who had visions or prophetic dreams, we can see that for most of the history of mankind, it was not uncommon for a person in this world to be a prophet, to have his spiritual senses opened so that he could see into the spiritual world and tell others about his experiences there.

Just as there were many different prophets, there were many different ways in which the Divine message was passed on. The doctrines of the church and a study of the prophetic experience in scripture indicate that the most common and simplest form was that known as “living voice.”1 It is probably the most common because hearing a voice, like that of another person speaking to you, is the most natural form of communication, and therefore most likely to be the least disturbing. It was also necessary in ancient times before there were any written scriptures. We are told that when the Ten Commandments were given to Moses from the mountain, they were given in a “living voice” so that all the people gathered around the mountain heard the words of God in their own heads so they could not later accuse Moses of making the whole thing up. The great majority of scripture was written in a similar manner, where the prophet heard a voice which dictated exactly what he was to write.

We need to take a moment to think about the nature of this revelation, to distinguish between the sensation perceived by the prophet and what it was in itself. In the Word Explained2, a study of scripture undertaken while Swedenborg was first being introduced to his calling as a prophet, he wrote, Although the voice is as clear and loud as that of a man who is speaking to himself – for it can be heard even when others are speaking – still it does not come into the ear by means of the air outside, but it comes into it from within; and therefore is not heard by a bystander. (Ad 3/6966)

This principle establishes the essential point about prophecy, that it involves a communication between God and man through an intermediate. God cannot directly approach a man in the world, so He meets man halfway: God “borrows” the body of an angel, flowing into his mind so that the angel knows nothing other than that He is Jehovah. On the other hand, the prophet’s spiritual body, which sleeps within, is awakened as to one or two of its senses, and so man meets God in the spiritual world. It should be added that this communication by “living voice” has now be entirely replaced by the scriptures. God does not need to speak in our ears, for we can easily read His own words for ourselves when we freely choose to.

It is clear from the Word that many prophets also had visions and dreams. Some of the visions were prophetic, like those of John on the Isle of Patmos, but in many cases such visions were the cause of strange behaviour: for example when king Saul apparently went insane, stripped himself naked and rolled in the mud, we are told that because of this he was from that time onward considered to be “one of the prophets.” (1SA 19:24, Cf. 10:10-11) Visions occurred when all the spiritual senses are awakened and the sensations of the world are closed off.

Prophecy sometimes comes through dreams, and the Heavenly Doctrines tell us that there are four kinds of dreams.

  • The first is “prophetic” where the Lord speaks to a man directly through the heavens.
  • The second type is “instructive” and is from the Lord to man through the means of an angelic messenger, such as the “Angel of Jehovah.”
  • The third type is called “significative,” because the images in these dreams signify different things in the same way that everything seen in the spiritual world has a spiritual meaning. Such dreams with an “internal sense” are inspired by spirits who are nearby when you are sleeping.
  • The fourth kind of dream is called “fantastic” and includes all the dreams that are strange, or frightening. These are not inspired by angels, although they are monitored by them so that our spiritual freedom is always protected (it is the angels who watch over us that cause us to wake up before the dream becomes harmful).

Over a period of some 27 years, Emanuel Swedenborg, whose birthday we celebrate this month, personally experienced all these various forms of prophetic revelation as he was gradually introduced to the spiritual world by the Lord.

However, the Lord took Swedenborg one step further than the prophets who went before him. His visions, his presence in the spiritual world was different in that he was not merely a passive observer for a few moments or hours, but was able to move about freely, to question, to argue, to take part in the daily life of the spiritual world as if he was a spirit himself. In this way, he received an intimate understanding of the spiritual world that was not possible to one who only observes passively for a brief moment. This means that his Theological Writings are more complete, more comprehensive, and more detailed than was possible with any prophecy before.

Prophecy and prophets have changed through the ages. Swedenborg can be seen as the most recent in a long line of men who have been invited to see into the spiritual world and reveal to others what they have seen there. There are differences between Swedenborg’s experience and that that of earlier prophets: The length of his visionary period is remarkable, as is the sheer volume of material revealed through him. The documents reveal a depth of humanity in the interaction, the curiosity and scientific method with which he attacked the problem as it unfolded before him that is not present in other works. And most remarkable is the fact that he not only carrying information from the Lord down to people in the natural world, but in many cases also served to reveal the things that he had learned from the Lord to those in the spiritual world! As he travelled throughout that world, and discussed various topics with the spirits there, he was constantly revealing to the spirits the doctrines that he had learned from the Lord, thus he had a tremendous impact on spiritual world as well. Unlike other prophets, he carried God’s message to the people of both worlds.

But let us not be distracted by the accomplishments of the man Swedenborg from the reason for this revelation – which is the same as that for all revelation: God is continually seeking to reveal His nature to mankind, to teach us the way to live in this world that will prepare us for eternal life in heaven, and to bring us comfort in times of trial. God uses people to carry these messages to us because only by the mediation of a human mind, conscious in the world of nature, can spiritual ideas be brought into the words of earthly language and be written down. The only real purpose and use of prophecy in all its forms through the ages is to bring God’s message to each of us in words and mental pictures that we can understand, be comforted by, and learn from, words that will allow God to draw near to us, and show us the way to our eternal, spiritual home.

Teach your children and your grandchildren concerning the day you stood before the LORD your God in Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ And the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words. (DEU 4:9,10,11) AMEN.

First Lesson: 1SA 19:18-24

So David fled and escaped, and went to Samuel at Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and stayed in Naioth. {19} Now it was told Saul, saying, “Take note, David is at Naioth in Ramah!” {20} Then Saul sent messengers to take David. And when they saw the group of prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as leader over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. {21} And when Saul was told, he sent other messengers, and they prophesied likewise. Then Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also. {22} Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?” And someone said, “Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.” {23} So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. {24} And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” Amen.

Second Lesson: MAT 16:13-20

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” {14} So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” {15} He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” {16} Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” {17} Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. {18} “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. {19} “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” {20} Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Third Lesson: Heaven and Hell 254.

I have been told how the Lord spoke with the prophets through whom the Word was given. He did not speak with them as He did with the ancients, by an influx into their interiors, but through spirits who were sent to them, whom He filled with His look, and thus inspired with the words which they dictated to the prophets; so that it was not influx but dictation. And as the words came forth directly from the Lord, each one of them was filled with the Divine and contains within it an internal sense, which is such that the angels of heaven understand the words in a heavenly and spiritual sense, while men understand them in a natural sense. Thus has the Lord conjoined heaven and the world by means of the Word.

2) How the Lord fills spirits with the Divine by His look has also been made clear. A spirit that has been filled by the Lord with the Divine does not know otherwise than that he is the Lord, and that it is the Divine that is speaking; and this continues until he has finished speaking. After that he perceives and acknowledges that he is a spirit, and that he spoke from the Lord and not from himself. Because this was the state of the spirits who spoke with the prophets they said that it was Jehovah that spoke; the spirits even called themselves Jehovah, as can be seen both from the prophetical and historical parts of the Word. Amen.

1Viva voce (AC 9416, 9905, 10355:4)

2Also known to some as the Adversaria.

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1982 – 2012
Author:  Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page updated August 12, 2012

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