The End of the World As We Know It? The New Church Hope for the Future

Earth on Fire

Not what happened. Image copyright: rbv / 123RF Stock Photo

Is the world coming to an end? One of the most startling claims of the New Church is that the “end of the age” and the Last Judgment referred to throughout the New Testament do not refer to the destruction of the world, but are instead spiritual events that have already taken place. But if that’s the case, then just what IS the New Church’s hope for the future of life on planet earth?

What the Last Judgment did and did not accomplish.

Swedenborg wrote that the Last Judgment occurred entirely in the year 1757. If you’ve looked outside lately, you’ve probably noticed that the sky has not rolled up like a scroll, that the earth has not been consumed by fire, and that the righteous are not living in a giant golden city. So what happened? According to New Church theology, the judgment was a spiritual event – a revelation, a making-clear, of the hypocrisy and evil that had come to dominate Christianity by the eighteenth century, which led to a re-ordering of heaven and hell. Because all human thought stems from spiritual reality, that spiritual judgment brought about a change in the human spirit:

“People in the church will henceforward have more freedom in thinking about matters of faith, and so about the spiritual matters which have to do with heaven, because of the restoration of spiritual freedom. For now everything in the heavens and the hells has been restored to order, and it is from there that all thought is influenced about Divine matters or against them.” (Last Judgment §73)

The effects of the spiritual last judgment have been gradual, and will probably continue to be so.

The changes that happened in 1757 weren’t immediately visible:

The future state of the world will be exactly the same as it has been up to now; for the mighty change which has taken place in the spiritual world does not cause any change in the external appearance of the natural world. So just as before there will be politics, peace-treaties, alliances and wars, and all the other general and particular features of society….  (Last Judgment §73).

While there may not have been immediate visible effects in 1757, I’d argue that in retrospect it’s fairly clear that a world began to end in the 18th century. The world of Christendom, where nationality and identity and religion were inextricably intertwined, has largely collapsed, and in the Western world at least, religion is seen even by the most devout as an individual choice. There are upsides and downsides to this, but I think at least it’s evident that we are living in a new age.

As a pessimist by nature, I tend to focus on the downside – and I do believe that before something new arises in the world there will be a lot more falling apart (see, for example, the current political climate in the U.S.; my friend Joel Brown wrote a New Church Perspective article on this entitled “Things Fall Apart“). But there is also evidence already of new birth, new positive ideologies – an almost complete rejection among Christians of slavery, for example, and a challenging of male domination over women. But the changes have been gradual, and I expect them to continue to be so.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds, and neither does anyone else.

Even if change is gradual, I do expect change to continue. What will it look like? That I don’t know. And, I believe, neither does anyone else; Swedenborg testifies,

I had various talks with angels about the future state of the church. They said that they did not know what would happen, because the Lord alone knows the future. What they did know was that the servitude and captivity, in which people in the church have up to now been held, had been taken away, so that now through the restoration of freedom they could better perceive interior truths, if they wished to do so, and thus, if they wished, become interior people. But they said that they still had only faint hopes of the people in the Christian church, though much better hopes of a people far removed from the Christian world and sheltered from its attackers. (Last Judgment §74)

So, I have hopes and expectations and a general outline of where I think things are headed, but human freedom being what it is – I could be wrong. What I do trust to be true is that God will never stop creating new human beings, since infinite love can never have “enough” people to love.

There IS hope for a world of restored unity, and even a great decrease in war, natural disasters, and diseases.

Despite the fact that I don’t expect drastic overnight change, I do expect gradual movement in a positive direction. And if more and more people begin repenting of sin and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ as the one God, I expect there to be greater and greater unity in the world. There are prophecies of harmony and peace – that the “lion will lie down with the lamb,” that the law will be written on everyone’s heart – that, according to True Christian Religion, have yet to be fulfilled in the Church:

It is well known that these events did not take place in the previous churches. The reason is that they did not approach the visible God, whom all are to know. It is also because He is the Word, that is, the Law, which He will set in their midst and write upon their hearts. (True Christianity §789)

If and when that happens, I expect that to affect even physical things like diseases, because everything in the physical world is a manifestation of a spiritual reality. If by their choices, human beings give heaven more power than hell, even the physical world changes. People will still be in freedom to choose, but I believe we can return to the original plan – that God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven,” that people in the physical world act as a body for the spirit of heaven.

All Things made New

All Things made New

And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write, for these words are true and faithful” (ver. 5). This signifies the Lord saying these things, concerning the last judgment, to those who should come into the world of spirits, or should die, from the time when He was in the world until now; namely, that the former heaven with the former earth, and the former church, with each and all things in them, should perish, and that He would create a new heaven with a new earth, and a new church, which should be called the New Jerusalem; and that they may know this of a certainty, and keep it in remembrance, because the Lord Himself has testified and declared it. The things contained in this verse, and in the following as far as the 8th inclusive, were said to those in the Christian world who should come into the world of spirits,—which is immediately after death,—to the end that they might not suffer themselves to be seduced by the Babylonians and dragonists. .For, as was said above, all congregate after death in the world of spirits,—and they incline to association with one another, as in the natural world,—where they are in company with Babylonians and dragonists, who continually burn with the desire to lead astray; and who were also permitted to form heavens, as it were, for themselves, by imaginative and illusive arts,—by which, too, they were able to mislead. Lest this should be done these words were spoken by the Lord, that they might certainly know that these heavens with their earths would perish, and that the Lord would create a new heaven and a new earth; at which time those that did not suffer themselves to be led astray would be saved. But it should be known that these things were said to those who lived from the Lord’s time down to the last judgment, which was executed in the year of our Lord 1757,—because these could have been led astray. But this they cannot be hereafter there, because the Babylonians and dragonists have been separated and cast out. (AR n. 886)

The Vision of the Holy City

And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (ver. 10). This signifies that John was translated into the third heaven, and that his sight was there opened, and the Lord’s New Church was manifested before him, as to doctrine, in the form of a city. “He carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain,” signifies that John was translated into the third heaven, where they are who are in love to the Lord, and in- the genuine doctrine of truth from Him. Great is also predicated of the good of love, and high of truths. Carried away into a mountain signifies taken up into the third heaven, because it is said “in the spirit,” and he who is in the spirit as to his mind and its sight is in the spiritual world; and there the angels of the third heaven dwell upon mountains, the angels of the second heaven upon hills, and the angels of the lowest heaven in valleys among the hills and mountains. When, therefore, any one in the spirit is taken up into a mountain, it signifies that he is taken up into the third heaven. This elevation is effected in a moment, because it is done by a change of state in the mind. “He showed me,” signifies that his sight was then opened, and manifestation. “That great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,” signifies the Lord’s New Church; for this reason it is called holy, and is said to descend out of heaven from God; it was seen in the form of a city, because a city signifies doctrine, and the church is a church by virtue of doctrine and life according to it. It was seen as a city also in order that it might be described as to its every quality; and it is described by its wall, its gates, its foundations, and various dimensions. The church is described in a similar manner in Ezekiel, where it is also said that the prophet was led in the visions of God upon a very high mountain, and saw a city on the south, which the angel also measured as to its wall, and gates, and as to its breadth and height (xl. 2, and following verses). The same is meant by these words in Zechariah: “Then said I unto the angel, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof’, and what is the length thereof” (ii. 2). (AR n. 896)

How the Lord’s Advent becomes effective in the Individual Man

How the Lord’s Advent becomes effective in the Individual Man

The Lord’s presence is perpetual with every man, the evil as well as the good; for without His presence no man lives. But His advent is to those only who receive Him,—who are those that believe in Him, and do His Commandments. The effect of the Lord’s perpetual presence is, that man is made rational, and that he can become spiritual. This is effected by the light proceeding from the Lord as a sun in the spiritual world, which man receives in his understanding; and that light is the truth by which he has rationality. But the Lord’s advent is to him who conjoins heat with that light, that is, love with he truth; for the heat proceeding from that same sun is love to God and towards the neighbour. The mere presence of the Lord, and enlightenment of the understanding thereby, may be compared to the presence of the light of the sun in the world; unless it is conjoined with heat all things on earth become desolate. But the advent of the Lord may be compared to the advent of heat, which takes place in the springtime; and because heat then conjoins itself with the light, the earth is softened, seeds shoot forth and bear fruit. Such a parallelism exists between the spiritual things in which a man’s spirit dwells, and the natural things in which his body lives. (TCR n. 774)

THE FIFTH, OR NEW CHRISTIAN CHURCH

General Character

It was foretold in the Apocalypse, chap. xxi., xxii., that at the end of the former church a New Church would be established, in which this should be the primary doctrine: That God is One, both in person and in essence, and that the Lord is that God. This Church is what is there meant by the New Jerusalem; into which no one can enter but who acknowledges the Lord alone as God of heaven and earth. Wherefore this church is there called the Lamb’s Wife. And this I am able to proclaim: That the whole heaven acknowledges the Lord alone, and that whoever does not acknowledge Him is not admitted into heaven; for heaven is heaven from the Lord. This acknowledgment, from love and faith, itself effects that those who are in heaven are in the Lord and the Lord in them; as He Himself teaches in John: “At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you” (xiv. 20); and in the same: “Abide in Me, and I in you, … I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in Me and I in him the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in Me he is cast forth” (xv. 4-6; also xvii. 22, 23).

The reason why this was not seen before from the Word, is that if it had been seen it would not have been received; for the Last Judgment was not yet accomplished, and before that the power of hell prevailed over the power of heaven,—and man is in the midst between heaven and hell. If therefore this had been seen before, the devil, that is hell, would have plucked it from the hearts of men, and moreover would have profaned it. This condition of the power of hell was entirely broken by the Last Judgment, which has now been accomplished. Since that, that is, now, every man who will can be enlightened, and be wise. (DP n. 263)

This New Church is signified by the New Jerusalem

That a New Church is meant by the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven (Rev. xxi), is because Jerusalem was the metropolis of the land of Canaan; and there were the temple and the altar, there the sacrifices were offered, and thus there the actual Divine worship was performed to which every male in the land was commanded to go up three times in the year; and because the Lord was in Jerusalem, and taught in its temple, and afterwards glorified His Human there. Hence it is that the church is signified by Jerusalem. That the church is meant by Jerusalem, is very evident from the prophecies in the Old Testament respecting the new church to be instituted by the Lord, in that it is there called Jerusalem. Only those passages shall be adduced from which every one endued with interior reason may see that the church is there meant by Jerusalem. Let these passages only be cited therefrom: “Behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth; the former shall not be remembered…. Behold I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy, and I will rejoice over Jerusalem, and joy over My people…. Then the wolf and the lamb shall feed together; … they shall not do evil in all the mountain of My holiness” (Isaiah lxv. 17-19, 25). “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. Then the nations shall see thy righteousness, and all icings thy glory; and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name. And thou shalt be a crown of glory … and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God…. Jehovah shall delight in thee, and thy land shall be married…. Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, His reward is with Him…. And they shall call them The holy People, The redeemed of Jehovah; and thou shalt be called A city sought for, not forsaken” (lxii. 1-4, 11, 12). “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on the garments of thy beauty, O Jerusalem, the city of holiness; for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit down, O Jerusalem,…. The people shall know my name in that day, for it is I that speak, behold, it is … Jehovah hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem” (lii. 1, 2, 6, 9). “Thus saith Jehovah, I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; wherefore Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, and the Mountain of Jehovah of Hosts, the Holy Mountain” (Zech. viii. 3). “Then shall ye know that I am Jehovah your God, dwelling in Zion the mountain of holiness; and Jerusalem shall be Holiness…. And it shall come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, … and Jerusalem shall abide from generation to generation” (Joel iii. 17, 20). “In that day shall the branch of Jehovah be beautiful and glorious…. And it shall come to pass that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called holy, every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem” (Isaiah iv. 2, 3). “At that time they shall call Jerusalem the Throne of Jehovah, and all nations shall be gathered into it, on account of the name of Jehovah at Jerusalem; neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. iii. 17). “Look upon Zion, the city of our festivities: Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet Habitation, a Tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken,” (Isaiah xxxiii. 20). That by Jerusalem here the church is meant which was to be instituted by the Lord, and not the Jerusalem inhabited by the Jews, is manifest from every part of its description in the passages adduced; as that Jehovah God would create a new heaven and a new earth, and also at the same time Jerusalem; and that this Jerusalem would be a crown of glory and a royal diadem; that it was to be called Holiness, and the City of Truth, the Throne of Jehovah, a Quiet Habitation, a Tabernacle that shall not be taken down; that there the wolf and the lamb shall feed together; and there it is said the mountains shall drop new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and that it shall abide from generation to generation; and, besides many other things, it is also said of the people there that they should be holy, every one written among the living; and that they should be called the Redeemed of Jehovah. Moreover, in all these passages the coming of the Lord is referred to; especially His second coming, when Jerusalem will be such as is there described. For before she was not married, that is, made the bride and wife of the Lamb, as is said of the New Jerusalem in the Apocalypse. The former church, or that of the present day, is meant by Jerusalem in Daniel; and its beginning is there described by these words: “Know and perceive that from, the going forth of the word for restoring and building Jerusalem, even to the Prince Messiah, shall be seven weeks; after that in sixty and two weeks the street and the trench shall be restored and built, but in troublous times” (ix. 25). And its end is there described by these words: “At length upon the bird of abominations shall be desolation, and even to the consummation and decision it shall drop upon the devastation” (ver. 27). These last are what are meant by the Lord’s words in Matthew: “When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, foretold by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, let him that readeth observe well” (xxiv. 25). That Jerusalem in the passages above quoted did not mean the Jerusalem inhabited by the Jews, may be seen from the passages in the Word where it is said of this that it was utterly lost, and that it was to be destroyed. (TCR n. 782)