Seven Parables from Matthew


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 12, 2009

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (MAT 24:3)

  1. For three years the disciples had followed the Lord.
    1. For three years He had been hinting at a judgement to come, hinting at some kind of destruction. The disciples, from their understanding of the purpose of the Messiah, and from their hopes regarding their own places in the coming kingdom, were very interested in what the Lord had to say. Now, during the week following His entrance into Jerusalem as a King, their sense of anticipation was heightened to the breaking point. Then, while standing and admiring the temple in Jerusalem, the Lord casually commented that it would soon be totally destroyed, that not one stone shall be left here upon another (MAT 24:2).
    2. Apparently they were surrounded by crowds at the time, or perhaps they were too near the scribes and chief priests to talk freely, because the disciples waited until later when they were alone on the Mount of Olives to ask Him what He meant. He answered them by telling them seven parables about the Last Judgement.
      1. Let’s look at them together to try to establish a theme
  2. False Prophets, The Clouds of Heaven (MAT 24:1-31)
    1. First, in speaking about the “false prophets,” He describes the spiritual states that will cause the judgement.
      1. Nation will rise against nation (v. 7),
      2. lawlessness will abound (v. 12),
      3. and the love of many will grow cold (v. 12).
    2. Then He describes many scenes of destruction which exactly parallel the scenes that Swedenborg describes as happening in the world of spirits when in 1757 and following the Lord made a judgement on the states of those in the world of spirits.
      1. The false heavens were destroyed;
      2. When revealed in the light of heaven, the structures were seen for what they truly were – fabrications of the imaginations of the insane,
      3. They collapsed when the truth was revealed.
      4. The evil, no longer able to deceive, but seen in the true light, threw themselves, literally headlong, into the caves that lead to hell. It was if the earth itself opened up and swallowed them. The Lord, in Matthew, was revealing what would be happening in the spiritual world some 1700 years later. It was both a prophecy, and a warning to the disciples to get their spiritual houses in order.
    3. At the end of the prophecy He describes His return to make the judgement coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (v. 30)
  3. The Passing of the Age (MAT 24:32-42)
    1. Having taught the disciples generally about the coming judgement, in the second parable He becomes more specific about the need to be watchful, and that the signs should be obvious. The Lord teaches that He is not being sneaky or devious about this, but that everyone has the tools they need to recognize the coming of the age.
      1. He begins the parable with a comment about the fig tree. He said that when you see the leaves begin to bud, you know that summer is near (v. 32).
        1. Now, who among us, people who spend most of our lives indoors, do not understand that when flowers bloom and trees put out their leaves that summer is coming?
        2. In the same way, we should be able to look at the history of the Christian Church and see how as the doctrines were changed by councils, and how the loves of self-intelligence and dominion took over, that a new church would have to be established if the Lord was to be known in the world by means of the Word. It should be as clear to us as the coming of summer.
      2. On a personal level, none of us really believes that we are going to die – but the evidence is all around us that the natural body wears out and eventually dies. Since it cannot be avoided, we must prepare for it – but it is our inclination to not think about it, to put it off. Have their been other people so focussed on their lives that they were oblivious to their spiritual needs?
        1. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (MAT 24:38,39)
  4. The Watchful householder (MAT 24:43-44)
    1. When bad things happen to us, we often say, “If only I had known.” The Lord tells the parable of a homeowner whose house was broken into while he was not watching. The homeowner said that if he had only known when the thief was coming, he would have watched out for him and he would not have stolen his goods.
    2. Well, the Lord is telling us that the thief is coming, your personal time of judgement is near. Are you ready?
  5. The Faithful Servants (MAT 24:45-51)
    1. Next, He compares us to Good and Evil servants.
      1. When the Master is away, when we are strongly feeling that life is our own, when we have hardly any sense of the Lord’s perpetual presence with us, when we feel that we can do what we like without regard for the consequences because we are far to clever to get caught.
        1. The Good servant still acts honourably as if the Master were there all the time.
    2. The Bad servant’s true character is revealed when the Master is away.
      1. He beats and abuses the others.
    3. The obvious and only reason for this teaching is to give us a choice.
      1. How we behave is up to no one but ourselves.
    4. There is more to this than simply our outward behaviour towards others.
      1. Who among us is not capable of living according to the laws, living a civil life? The real concern goes beyond that, to the world that we create within our own minds.
      2. The Lord is far more concerned with that imaginary world in each of our minds where we act as if no one knew, and as if it could be that there were no consequences for our actions. This is how we are going to act once we arrive in the world of spirits and enter into the state of interiors, on our eternal place will be determined by these inner, private thoughts.
  6. The Wise and Foolish Virgins (MAT 25:1-13)
    1. AC 4638
      1. And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came. This signifies their too late application.
      2. And they that were ready went in with him to the wedding; signifies that they who were in good and thence in truth were received into heaven.
        1. Heaven is likened to a wedding from the heavenly marriage, which is the marriage of good and truth; and the Lord is likened to the bridegroom, because they are then conjoined with Him; and hence the church is called the bride.
      3. And the door was shut signifies that others cannot enter.
      4. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, lord, open to us; signifies that they desire to enter from faith alone without charity, and from works in which there is not the Lord’s life, but the life of self.
      5. But be answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not; signifies rejection. His not knowing them means in the internal sense that they were not in any charity toward the neighbour and thereby in conjunction with the Lord. They who are not in conjunction are said not to be known.
      6. Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh; signifies an assiduous application of life in accordance with the precepts of faith, which is “to watch.” The time of acceptance, which is unknown to man, and the state, are signified by their not knowing the day nor the hour in which the Son of man is to come.
  7. The 5, 2, and 1 Talents (MAT 25:14-30)
    1. Once again, the Master is going away to return at an undetermined time in the future
    2. The first thing to remember is that this is NOT about “talents.”
      1. The “talent” is a measure, or weight, of gold
      2. We should be thinking about the gifts of good given to us by the Lord
        1. Affection for truth: The ability to be affected by truth and to thus change our lives
      3. Everyone of us is given some good, some opportunity to do good
      4. People who have great wealth, or great abilities can give a great deal, people who have less can still give fully.
        1. Remember the widow’s mite. She gave only a little, but it was all that she had so it is of more value than a gift of a great fortune from a rich man.
      5. The Lord’s caution is about wasting His gifts.
  8. The Least of These My Brothers (MAT 25:31-46)
    1. The way we treat each other is a picture of our true inner nature.
    2. It’s not too hard to imagine that if the Lord were to appear and ask us to do something, we’d be quick enough to do it. Probably we’d be so impressed that we would even be able to anticipate His needs without His asking!
    3. The “hard saying” of this parable is that the Lord is telling us that He is here right now – in the form of anyone who needs our help.
    4. Again, the message is that we must always act as if the Lord was present, because in at least one sense, He always is.
  9. Conclusion
    1. This concept must be extremely important or it would not have been repeated so often.
      1. The Second Coming would take place on many levels.
        1. In the largest sense there would be a judgement in the spiritual world at a particular moment in history.
        2. There would be judgements on individual churches as they faced and overcame, or faced and succumbed to the various crises of faith and life.
        3. Each of us is going to face a personal “last” judgement when the body dies
          1. And how that judgement goes depends on how we act when we think that the Lord is not around.
      2. Each of us will face a number of crisis points throughout our lives.
        1. Where to go to school – and what to study there
        2. Whether to continue a relationship with a potential marriage partner
        3. Deciding to marry
        4. Children
        5. Career changes
        6. Where to live
    2. At each of these important decision points
      1. Whether we’re talking about huge organizations or individuals, the Lord wants to know if we will act as if He is present at a time when we feel He is not.
      2. Will we be good servants who care for each other when unsupervised, or will we act selfishly.
    3. How many times shall we forgive another? Seven times?
      1. Here are seven warnings – or seven attempts to forgive us.
        1. The Word is like a person clothed
        2. Some places heavily cloaked
        3. Other places about as clear as can be
          1. This one is pretty clear
        4. Sheep and Goats
        5. Right and left
        6. There is going to be a JUDGEMENT — Where are you going to be?
      2. And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (MAT 25:46)


First Lesson: MAT 24:32 – 25:13

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. {33} “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near; at the doors! {34} “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. {35} “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. {36} “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. {37} “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. {38} “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, {39} “and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. {40} “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. {41} “Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. {42} “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. {43} “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. {44} “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. {45} “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? {46} “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. {47} “Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. {48} “But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ {49} “and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, {50} “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, {51} “and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(Mat 25:1-13) “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. {2} “Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. {3} “Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, {4} “but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. {5} “But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. {6} “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ {7} “Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. {8} “And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ {9} “But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ {10} “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. {11} “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ {12} “But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ {13} “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Second Lesson: AC 4636 – 7

That by [the parable of the wise and foolish virgins] the Lord described His own coming, is evident from the particulars, and from the end, where He says, “Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh,” as He also says in the foregoing chapter (xxiv.), where He is speaking expressly of His coming: “Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh” (verse 42). That His “coming” is the consummation of the age, or the last time of the church, has been shown before.

AC 4637 It is very evident that each and all things the Lord spoke in parables are representative and significative of the spiritual and celestial things of His kingdom, and in the highest sense, of the Divine things with Him; and therefore the man who does not know this must suppose that the Lord’s parables have no more in them than ordinary comparisons. Such must be the case with the parable of the ten virgins unless it is known what is signified in the internal sense by the virgins, and also by ten and five, and by the lamps, the vessels, and the oil, and by them that sell, the wedding, and all the rest; and the same with all the other parables. The things which the Lord spoke in these parables appear in the outward form like ordinary comparisons; but in their inward form they are of such a nature as to fill the universal heaven. For there is an internal sense in every particular, which is of such a nature that its spiritual and celestial diffuses itself through the heavens in every direction like light and flame. This sense is quite uplifted above the sense of the letter, and flows from the several expressions, and from the several words, nay, from every jot.


The Dragon and the Church


An Extemporaneous Sermon

by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, May 27, 2007

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. Rev 12:7-8

  1. As New Church Day approaches, we often turn to the images in the Word that relate to the Second Coming, particularly the visions John had on the Isle of Patmos.
    1. In particular, we think about the vision of the Woman Clothed with the Sun.
      1. How, in the process of labouring to give birth to the doctrine of the New Church, the dragon stood there waiting to steal it from her and destroy it.
        1. The child is a wonderfully apt image of the doctrine of the church.
          1. A little child instantly moves us with delight — as do so many of the doctrines of the New Church in their simple beauty and promise of eternal life.
          2. A little child is fragile — a simple joke can forever destroy the power of a story from the Word, or take away something of the innocent beauty of conjugial love.
          3. But the child has an iron rod in his hand — these doctrines, if taken to heart, can give us the strength and resolve we need to fight off the evils, to have the courage to co-operate with the Lord in His great work of salvation.
    2. We know that this is symbolic of a process that take place in our own minds as we struggle to make the church our own.
      1. That concept reminds us that it does not take place one time only, but time and time again — and it comes clearly into focus when we remember that the Word begins with this story as well, as Eve confronts the serpent in the garden of Eden.
        1. “Serpent,” ‘dragon,” “leviathan,” and “whale” are all various ways of translating the same word. You make the distinction between them through the context.
      2. And the theme of the woman, repenting the church, being confronted by the serpent, representing the attraction of the senses, is repeated at regular intervals throughout the Word.
      3. And in each case there is a prophecy and reference to the Lord’s own battle with the sensual in the establishment of the New Church in the heavens.
  2. Serpent and Eve: prophecy of the incarnation
    1. Recall the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden.
      1. God had said that Man and Woman should not touch the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because if they were to eat it they would die.
      2. The serpent told them that they would not die, but rather become as gods once they had acquired that new experience.
        1. From the literal sense, it appears that the serpent is telling them the truth, and that God is lying — after all, they ate of the fruit and they did not die. And, once they moved out of the garden they were faced with the challenges of life in the world and were compelled to move away from their childlike state and through trial and tribulation become the masters of the world; in that sense they did become like gods.
          1. Modern Christian philosophers have even argued that God gave them the command not to eat of the tree precisely so they would have a simple command to break, and by breaking it create the very evil that would serve to create the equilibrium necessary for their freedom!
      3. Therein lies the danger of the serpent, the sensual degree. It’s not that it is giving you bad information — the serpent did not lie. Rather it gives you just enough truth to confuse or mislead you.
        1. That’s why the serpent described in Revelation has 7 heads.
        2. The danger was not to the Most Ancient Church’s physical life in the world, but to its spiritual life.
          1. The sensual leads you to believe that the world is all there is, leads you to the idea that you are willing to sacrifice your spiritual welfare (which is way off in the future somewhere) for the sake of the current pleasures.
  3. Caduceus: prophecy of the crucifixion
    1. In this story, the church is not represented by a woman, but by the whole congregation of the children of Israel.
    2. The children of Israel were moving camp.
      1. It was a lengthy and difficult journey because they were going the long way around to avoid a confrontation with Edom. The people became “very discouraged” on the way. The began to curse Moses and say that they loathed the manna.
      2. As a result, poisonous serpents were sent among them, and many of them died. Moses prayed to the Lord for a solution to the plague.
      3. Num 21:8-9: Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
      4. The serpent, representing the sensual, represents the Lord being tempted as to the sensual degree by suffering the crucifixion.
      5. John 3:14-16: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
  4. Jonah and the Whale: prophecy of the resurrection.
    1. Mat. 16:1-4: Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; “and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.
    2. The “sign” was one of the most famous stories in the whole of the Old Testament, the story of Jonah and the whale.
      1. The core of the story is that Jonah, thrown from the ship to calm the storm caused by his disobedience, is swallowed by a whale. While not stated clearly in the letter, tradition holds it important that Jonah dies in the whale, and comes back to life when vomited up on the shore.
        1. This was to be the only “sign” or proof that Jesus would provide to the Jewish Church that He was the Son of God: that He would die, go under the earth, and come back to life on the third day.
  5. The Woman Clothed with the Sun: Prophecy of the birth of the New Church.
    1. The woman is the church
    2. The child is the doctrine of the New Church
    3. The dragon is the confusing doctrine of “faith alone” — shown by the multiple heads.
  6. The church may have to fight for itself from time to time.
    1. Because we are small, people sometimes call us a “cult.”
      1. We are not a cult by any known definition.
        1. Except that we are not “mainstream” Christianity – Trinitarian, faith alone, bodily resurrection at the last day, etc.
        2. But then a recent (2005) Gallup poll discovered something that we have known all along – that most “mainstream” Christians don’t actually understand or believe the main tenets of their churches.
          1. That the Holy Spirit is a person
          2. That there will be a bodily resurrection,
          3. and so forth.
    2. We may have to dwell in the wilderness for a while.
      1. A period of slow growth, away from the “mainstream”
        1. A temporary state of the church, that meanwhile it may be provided among more until it grow to its appointed state. (AR 531)
      2. We may need to grow wings.
        1. Divine circumspection over that Church, and its protection, while as yet among a few. (AR 531)
      3. We may need to have the earth swallow the flood.
        1. That (the false reasoning of the doctrine of faith alone) in all their abundance fall to nothing before the spiritual truths rationally understood. (AR 531)
    3. But what we can be sure of is that the Lord is protecting His New Church, and will do everything He can to ensure its eventual success in the world, as it has succeeded in heaven.
  7. The serpent attacks the church at key points in the letter of the Word.
    1. The garden of Eden, the Wilderness, the Prophets, the Gospels, and Revelation.
      1. The dragon really is there. We recently ran an ad that said that good people go to heaven no matter what church they belong to. A person called and read back the add onto the answering machine, then said, “it’s a lie – a lie!”
    2. At each place it points out our weakness, that we are continually susceptible to the serpent’s influence.
    3. And at each place it point out how the Lord fights the serpent for us at each stage of our life, and through His victory, we are saved.

    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. (Rev 12:16-17) Amen.

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

    First 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.

    Second Lesson: AR 550

    550. Verse 9. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, signifies that they who are meant by “the dragon” turned from the Lord to themselves, and from heaven to the world, and thence became sensual from the corporeal, who could not but be in the evils of their lusts and thence in falsities, and by separation from the Lord and heaven became devils and satans. … These, inasmuch as they make God three, and the Lord two, and because they place the commandments of the Decalogue among works by which there is not any salvation, are called “the old serpent, the Devil, and Satan;” and by “a serpent” is signified a man sensual from the corporeal (n. 424), who turns from the Lord to himself, and from heaven to the world; and by “the Devil” are signified they who are in the evils of lusts; and by “Satan,” they who are thence in falsities (n. 97, 153 at the end, 856,857). Such, also, was the serpent which seduced Eve and Adam, as appears from his description and the curse pronounced upon him (Gen. iii. 1-5, 14, 15). “The dragon” is here called “the Devil and Satan,” but he is so called, because all in hell are devils and satans; and thence hell in the aggregate is so called. Amen.

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