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.


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