Is the Second Coming a Physical Event or Spiritual Event?

Jesus promised his disciples and those who followed Him that He would come again. This is known as the Second Coming. There are several “mainstream” interpretations of the Second Coming which has formed some false expectations in the minds of many. With these false expectations, many will not see the reality of the true Second Coming. False expectations can blind people to the truth – for example, the Jews expected a literal Messianic King, who would lead them to conquer the world. This false expectation is diametrically opposed to the spiritual truth of the Word, and because of it, the Jews completely missed recognizing the identity of Jesus Christ.

As it was then, so it is now. There are several false expectations that have been formed regarding the Second Coming. To be specific:

  1. There will be a visible appearance of Jesus in the sky, seen by everyone.
  2. At some point in time, Jesus will descend upon the Mount of Olives.
  3. Related to #2, there will be a third temple established in Jerusalem.
  4. There will be a rapture of Christians into the clouds of the sky.
  5. There will be a literal physical resurrection of the body.

So lets examine expectations surrounding each of these subjects, and look at what the New Testament actually has to say on this.

IS THE SECOND COMING A PHYSICAL RETURN OR A SPIRITUAL REVELATION?
Let’s start with a verse may indicate that there will be a physical return, visible to everyone:

Behold, he comes with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. (Rev. 1:7)

There is a similar passage in Matt. 24:30. This at first seems that He will make a visible appearance, and that every eye shall see Him. But Jesus counters this argument in what at first seems to be a conflicting statement:

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God comes not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21).

This is important, the word “observation” means “visible evidence” or “outward show” – something that can be seen with one’s literal eyes. This means there will not be outward visible evidence of the Second Coming.  So what does it mean that “every eye shall see him”? What it means is that those who have spiritual sight, that is spiritual understanding, will be able to see the truth of the Second Coming. That this is the spiritual meaning of “eye” can be seen from the following passage:

And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell. (Matt. 5:29)

This Jesus commands after stating one should not look upon a woman lustfully, for even the thought of it is considered adultery (Matt. 5:28). It’s one’s internal thought or intent that counts. Thus he is of course not literally stating that we should pluck our eye out, but rather, that one should correct how one sees things. These false thoughts should be searched out and removed. Thus “eyes” in the spiritual sense signify one’s spiritual understanding in a good sense, or a false understanding in the bad sense.  Correcting how one sees things falsely is again portrayed as removing a “beam” out of one’s “eye” before removing a speck of dust out of another person’s “eye” (Matt. 7:3-5).

So let’s pick out another passage, which causes problems to many:

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Truly I say unto you, There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. (Matt. 16:27-28)

Some early Christians had interpreted this that the Second Coming should have taken place in the lifetime of the disciples. That the early Christians had this expectation, can be seen from the following passage, where Jesus singles out the disciple John after Peter asks what would become of him:

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
So the saying spread abroad among the brothers  that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:21-23)

And, in the literal sense, it was John who literally saw the Second Coming take place, in a spiritual vision as recorded in the book of Revelation.  That Jesus is talking about one’s spiritual vision is easily proven in the book of Revelation. Before John’s grand vision, John states this:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10)

Which means he was in a spiritual visionary state. That “in the spirit” means one was in a spiritual visionary state can be seen from Ezekiel:

The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah (Eze. 37:1)

After which Ezekiel sees a vision of a valley of bones coming to life. John would later mention he was caught up into heaven “in the Spirit” (Rev. 4:1), that he was carried away to a wilderness “in the Spirit” (Rev. 17:3), and he was taken to see the New Jerusalem “in the Spirit” (Rev. 21:10).

Combining Jesus’ statement of His Second Coming, with the fulfillment of it by John seeing it in a spiritual vision, we can infer that John is a type of the future, where the Second Coming will be seen in spiritual vision.

THE MOUNT OF OLIVES PROPHECY

There are a couple of passages that are used as proof that Jesus will return in physical form upon the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem. One is the scene of the ascension of Jesus at the Mount of Olives. After Jesus commands his disciples to return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, He then ascends into heaven. There is unfortunately a mistranslation here in most English translations, I will select the NASB:

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

This is stating that Jesus will return “in just the same way” or as other translations have it, “in like manner” (KJV).  The problem here is this phrase is added by the translators, the Greek simply has “as.”  So the last sentence should read as follows:

This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

It simply says He will come again from heaven.  It does not say “in just the same way” or “in like manner.”  This phrase was added by translators.  I double checked this with an online Greek interlinear tool, you can see the entire chapter here: Greek Interlinear of Acts 1. The same Greek word (Strongs #5158) is simply translated as “as” in Acts 7:28, 15:11, 27:25.

Another point, when Jesus appeared to others after the resurrection, in many cases He manifests Himself by opening up their spiritual vision:

And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. (Luke 24:30-31)

With the corrected translation of Acts 1:11, it is saying Jesus will come “as you have watched” or “as you have seen.” If they were seeing Him with their spiritual vision opened, then this means He will return in a manner that is seen in spiritual vision.

Now, there is the case of a prophecy of Zechariah which speaks of the Lord standing on the Mount of Olives:

Jehovah shall go forth, and fight against the nations. . . . His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before the face of Jerusalem . . . and the mount of Olives shall cleave asunder, that a part thereof shall remove toward the east, and [a part] toward the sea, with a great valley; and a part of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and a part of it toward the south (xiv. 3, 4).

This many have taken to be a prophecy of the Second Coming. But that is not the case, it is a prophecy of the First Coming, foretelling how a new church would be established that would withdraw from the Jews and go out towards the Gentiles. The spiritual sense of this prophecy is explained by Swedenborg in Heavenly Arcana:

“Here the Lord and His coming are the subject; by the mount of Olives is signified the good of love and of charity and thus the church, for these goods make the church. That the church would remove from the Jewish nation, and would be established among the Gentiles, is signified by the mountain being cleft asunder toward the east, toward the sea [the west], and toward the north, and the south; in like manner as by the words of the Lord in Luke: Ye shall be cast forth without. And they shall come from the east, and the west, and from the north, and the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God (xiii. 28, 29). In a universal sense by Jehovah going forth and fighting against the nations, and by His feet standing upon the mount of Olives which is before the face of Jerusalem, is meant that the Lord from the Divine love would fight against the hells; for the nations are the evils which are from the hells (n. 1868, 6306), and the mount of Olives, on which were His feet, is the Divine love.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9780.13)

The massive work Heavenly Arcana goes through several passages that prove that in the spiritual sense, mountains signify love (or in the opposite sense selfish pride), and nations in a bad sense signify the evils of hell. It is also known to some that Jesus made a descent into hell between his death and resurrection and effected a last judgment. In these spiritual judgments, this is portrayed in the spiritual world as the upheaval and upturning of mountains (see Rev. 6:14-16). The upturning of mountains in the spiritual world is further described in Swedenborg’s vision in the work The Final Judgment. That “mountain” has a spiritual meaning can simply be seen from the gospels:

For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20)

Jesus is obviously not literally speaking of a literal mountain. Following the description of the splitting of the Mount of Olives, Zechariah then describes a river that proceeds out of Jerusalem toward the west, and toward the east through the split Mount of Olives, which again has a spiritual meaning:

In that day living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; part of them to the eastern sea, and part of them to the hinder sea (xiv. 8).
“Living waters from Jerusalem” signify truths from a spiritual origin in the church, which are the truths that are received by man when he is illustrated by the Lord while he is reading the Word. “Jerusalem” is the church in respect to doctrine, the “sea” signifies the natural man, into which those things that are in the spiritual man descend; the “eastern sea” signifies the natural man in respect to good; and the “hinder sea” the natural man in respect to truth; and as the natural man is in the generals of truth, “sea” also signifies the general of truth.” (Apocalypse Explained, n. 275.20)

This river is again described in the vision of a new temple in Jerusalem in Ezekiel, which literalists interpret as a future third temple. However it is symbolic, and it spiritually signifies the Christian Church that would be established. This is shown in detail in the blog post The Spiritual Symbolism of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Third Temple. There are several items in Ezekiel’s vision which show that it cannot be taken literally, but should be interpreted in a spiritual manner.

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A RAPTURE?

Next, associated with many Christians’ expectation of a physical Second Coming of Jesus is the idea of a rapture, where they will suddenly be caught up in heaven to be with the Lord. This mainly comes from the letters of Paul:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thes. 4:7)

The original prophecy of this was probably taken from the gospel of Matthew:

And they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24:30-31)

The original does not even mention the word “rapture” but instead “gather together.” Nevertheless, from the letter of Paul he mentions that those who are alive and remain will be “caught up” and from this Greek word we have the word “rapture.”  There are two interpretations of this. It can indeed mean a sudden physical transportation, as in the case of Philip:

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:39-40)

The word “caught away” is the same as “caught up” in 1 Thes. 4:7 where we get the term rapture. So from this, many assume there will be an actual physical ascension into the sky. However there is another, perhaps more interesting interpretation. The same word is used by Paul in a completely different context:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Cor. 12:2-4)

Some surmise Paul had this near death experience when he nearly died from being stoned to death. The word “caught up” or “rapture” is used twice in this verse. Here it does not refer to a physical ascension, but rather the rapture is to be caught up or enraptured in a spiritual visionary state.  And this is exactly what happens to John in his vision of the Apocalypse:

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. (Rev. 4:1-2)

With the apostles and select individuals throughout history, such visions took place on a limited individual basis. But the promise of the future is that such a visionary state will become more widespread:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28)

In parallel with that, the majority of cases have been of those who are false prophets. So in each case they should be tested to determine if what they are stating is valid. But the point here is this: the expectation of a “rapture” can be fulfilled by a widespread outpouring of the Spirit, allowing people to enter a visionary state. At the moment, this is not permitted for most everyone, as most people’s minds have been lowered into material and carnal desires away from the love of the Spirit.

IS THE RESURRECTION OF THE PHYSICAL BODY, OR THE SPIRITUAL BODY?

So somewhat related to all this is the doctrine of the resurrection. There are many, at this day, who expect a literal physical resurrection, where people will rise out of their graves. This view is related to a literal appearance of the Second Coming, where everyone assumes all things take place in this material physical world. But this is not the case: one is resurrected in the spiritual world, in a spiritual body. One can take the same passages and interpret them either way. For example:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51-53)

This would indicate we will be raised in a spiritual glorified body. Will it be visible in this world? Not necessarily. And then there is this one:

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)

To interpret these references to a resurrection, one must have spiritual knowledge of the afterlife. In the spiritual world, midway between heaven and hell, there is an intermediate state where souls gather, good and evil, who were not judged right after death. Many enter into a state of sleep. John sees them in one of his visions of the Apocalypse, where souls “under the altar” are told they must rest or sleep a little longer (Rev. 6:9-11). There are three heavens signified by the three divisions of the temple; the lowest heaven is represented by the outer court and this is where the altar was located. Those “under the altar” are those in this intermediate state between heaven and hell.

It is in this intermediate state, where many are unaware or asleep, is where the last judgment takes place. One is judged after death, some immediately who go to heaven or hell, but many will gather in this intermediate spiritual world. Thus, it is in the spiritual world where last judgments take place. And indeed, the Second Coming is this event – a judgment of souls in the spiritual world:

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (Matt. 16:27)

At this time, there is a separation between the good and evil. This is described in the parable of Matthew 25, where the righteous are signified by “sheep” and the evil by “goats” –

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matt. 25:31-32)

As this is a common misconception, one of the primary revelations given to Swedenborg is a complete explanation of the afterlife, the spiritual resurrection there, and how people are judged according to their works in a complete life review. For further information on this see Heaven and Hell as well as The Final Judgment.  This is becoming more well known among those who study the Near Death Experience from a variety of witnesses who have been brought back to life.

IF THE SECOND COMING IS “NONE OF THE ABOVE” THEN WHAT IS IT?

So its not a literal physical return, there is no literal physical resurrection, there is no rapture into the sky… all I have said so far is what it isn’t, and that one must look for a higher spiritual explanation.  It is very simple: in the First Coming, the “Word was made flesh.” The Word, or Greek Logos, is the Lord as to Divine truth made manifest in human form. In the Second Coming, the Word or Divine truth has been made manifest in the spiritual sense of the Word itself. This spiritual sense has been made manifest in the many volumes of revelations given in waking visions to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century. It is a more internal revelation, not an external visible revelation.

That this is so, is indicated by Jesus, who always describes the Second Coming as the coming of the “Son of Man.”  In the New Testament, “son of Mary” is used to refer to Jesus in His ordinary human form, “Son of God” is used to refer to Jesus in His glorified Divine Human form, but “Son of Man” is used to refer to the Lord as to the Divine truth. To appear “in the clouds of heaven” does not mean He will appear in the sky, but rather He will appear in spiritual vision. The “clouds” is the obscure truth that appears in the literal sense of the Word; for the Son of Man to “appear in glory” signifies the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word. This He did in the 18th century to Emanuel Swedenborg over a period of 27 years of continuous waking visions, where incorrect doctrines of Christianity have been corrected, for there are many false teachings that have corrupted the core of Christianity where very little truth means. And that is the other point: the Second Coming will take place when there is little or no faith left on earth:

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)

And there will be a general falling away from Christianity, where a false religion will come to take its place:

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (1 Thes. 2:3-5)

This particular prophecy is probably taken from Dan. 11:45. A “falling away” is an apostasy from the true faith, a “man of sin” indicates that the falling away is where sin is disregarded, and to show oneself as God is to have an incorrect understanding of God Himself. Thus to see and recognize the Second Coming, one has to first recognize the falsehoods that are propagated in one’s own religion. Very few question what they are taught to believe. Falsehoods from within is what causes a true church to come to its end:

“A church is brought to an end by various means, especially by such as cause falsity to appear as truth; and when falsity appears to be truth, then the good which in itself is good and is called spiritual, is found no more.” (True Christian Religion, n. 754)

Thus what to expect? A true revelation of Jesus Christ and Christianity, a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, revealed through spiritual vision. This will establish a New Church, which will be among the few and opposed by the many. This is signified by the 2 witnesses (Rev. 11), the sealing of the 144,000 (Rev. 7 and 14), and the woman who flees to the wilderness (Rev 12) which signifies a state of truth in obscurity known to few. This will be opposed by a false form of Christianity, signified by the dragon, beast and false prophet (Rev. 13) as well as the whore of Babylon (Rev. 17-18). That the Second Coming is a heavenly revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, can be seen by the coming of the Lord on a white horse, where we have this statement:

And his name is called The Word of God (Rev. 19:13)

As for the hidden spiritual sense of the Apocalypse, see further in the works Apocalypse Revealed and Apocalypse Explained. The good news here, is the Second Coming has taken place, to reveal a more spiritual Christianity where further heavenly secrets are revealed. This was revealed in spiritual vision by Jesus Christ to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century:

“We read in many places that the Lord will come in the clouds of heaven (as in Matt. xxiv. 30; xxvi. 64; Mark xiv. 62; Luke xxi. 27; Apoc. i. 7; xiv. 14; Dan. vii. 13; see also Matt. xvii. 5; Luke ix. 34, 35). But hitherto no one has known what was meant by the clouds of heaven; they have believed that He is to appear in them in person. But that by the clouds of heaven the Word in the sense of the letter is meant, and by the glory and power in which also He is then to come (Matt. xxiv. 30) the spiritual sense of the Word is meant, has been heretofore concealed, because hitherto no one has even by conjecture reached the conclusion that there is a spiritual sense in the Word such as this sense is in itself. Now because the Lord has opened to me the spiritual sense of the Word, and it has been granted me to be together with angels and spirits in their world as one of them, it has been disclosed that by the clouds of heaven is meant the Word in the natural sense, and by glory the Word in the spiritual sense, and by power the Lord’s power through the Word.” (True Christian Religion, n. 776)

Friday, March 24, 2017

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