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

to know the lord jesus:

“Some one has said that we should read the Bible only from one standpoint, to know the Lord Jesus Christ; and if one studies the Bible for any other purpose he will not understand it. The Bible begins with Jesus ( Gen. 3:15), and ends with Him. In fact it is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The revelation of “God in Christ” – II Cor. 5:19. Christ is not only the central figure of the Bible, but the “First and the Last.” – Rev. 1:8; 22:13, Isa. 41:4; 43:10.

THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD

THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD

A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinDecember 28, 1995

 

And I saw heaven opened; and behold a white horse; and He that sitteth upon him is called faithful and true; and in justice He doth judge and make war. And His eyes were as a flame of fire, and upon His head were many diadems; having a name written, which no one knew but Himself; And He was clothed with a garment dipped in blood; and His name is called, The Word of God. (Rev. 19:11-13)

The Lord has given a wonderful gift to the New Church. He has revealed that He has made His Second Coming to the human race, through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. However, this gift is not just for us in the organized New Church, but it is potentially for all mankind. The Lord did not make this revelation for a select few, but rather for the benefit and help of everyone in His Creation. Unfortunately, the vast majority in the world today are not aware that the Lord has come again; even those in the Christian Church are still looking for a physical return of the Lord. However, the Lord has fulfilled the promise He made to His disciples that when He left them, He would come again as the Spirit of Truth and teach them higher truths which they could not understand before. (Jn 16:12) Still, this coming was not accomplished in a material body, but in a new revelation as to who the Lord is. He did not come as a babe as in the First Advent. Instead, He came as a “Rider on a white horse, Faithful and True, judging, with eyes of fire, diadems on His head, and clothed with a robe dipped in blood, His name being called, the Word of God.” (Rev. 19:11-13)

Before we can understand this description of the Lord’s Second Coming, we first must have some knowledge of correspondences. These words can not be taken literally, for there is a hidden meaning contained within, which when discovered will bring new insights into our doctrine of the Lord and how He operates in us. John wrote that he saw the Rider on the white horse after “the heavens were opened”. This signifies that the spiritual sense is revealed, and with that revelation comes an interior understanding of the Word. In heave, the Divinity of the Lord and the progressive states of regeneration are clearly made manifest. and as these things are plainly shown in heavenly light, they are also openly taught in the spiritual sense of the Word. When we understand what is being taught in the spiritual sense, then we are drawing doctrine from genuine truths as they stand forth in the holiness of the Word. The Writings are very clear that genuine truths are in agreement with what is in the internal sense. Therefore, when we are aware of this sense, we are taught genuine truths about the Lord and how He operates in us. this is the Second Coming of the Lord. This revelation of the spiritual sense allows us to have a deeper understanding of what the Lord teaches us in His Word. Just as John could not see the Rider on the white horse until the heavens were opened, neither can we see the Lord in genuine truth unless we see spiritual truths contained in the letter.

Having a clear understanding of the Lord is signified by the “white horse”. The white horse represents the interior understanding of what the Word teaches which comes through the knowledge of the spiritual sense. A horse signifies the understanding of truth in the Word. The horse is known as one of the smartest animals in creation. The color white signifies what is interior. Usually, when we think of something that is white, we think of it as being pure, and innocent. This is why we picture little lambs and angels being in white. So too, when we see the Lord with an interior understanding, we see Him as a God of infinite love and wisdom, a God Who is purity and innocence Itself, and a god Who never punishes anyone, but instead desires everyone’s salvation and raises each one to the highest state that he or she, in freedom, is willing to enter. Therefore, when we see the Rider on the white horse, we then see the Lord as a God of infinite love and wisdom; only by a knowledge of the internal sense can we have a genuine knowledge and doctrine of Who the Lord really is and the truths of His operation. The Lord appears plainly or openly in the spiritual sense of the Word. (AR 820)

Now, the picture we have of the Lord in the internal sense may at times appear to be far different than what we see in the letter of the Old and New Testaments. In the letter of the Old Testament, we sometimes see the Lord as a God of anger and jealousy, constantly ready to punish man when he fails. (Ex. 20:5, Duet. 4:24) In the letter of the New Testament, we see sometimes the Lord as a God of judgment, ready to give man what he deserves. (Mt 7:23) Even in the Book of Revelation, we see the Lord sitting on a great white throne condemning those before Him to hell. (Rev. 20:11-15) But know, by means of the Writings, we can look beyond these appearances in the letter and see the true nature of God. We no longer have to worship a god of wrath and judgment, now we can worship a loving God, Who infinitely desires to give to us the delights of heaven. And we also see that the Lord is one god in Whom is a trinity. Thus, we can know that the Lord is on Person, Who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscience. This is the exciting picture of the Lord that is presented to us in the spiritual sense of the Word.

It is when we may see the Person and the nature of the Lord revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word that He is called “Faithful and True”. We can see the “faithfulness” of the Lord, or this Divine Goodness, in that He always provides that there is a church on the earth whereby His operation can inflow to all mankind. Therefore, His faithfulness is of His Divine love toward the human race. It is because the Lord infinitely loves man and longs for his salvation that the Lord insures that there is a church where the Word is present, whereby the Lord is known. the Lord faithfully kept His promise when He told His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (Jn 14:2&3) The Lord is faithful in keeping man in freedom and making sure he will always have the truths of the Word available to him, whereby he can enter into salvation.

This is why He is also called “True”. For the Lord in His Second Advent comes to man as Divine truth. (AR 821) In the Heavenly Doctrines especially, we can see the Lord coming as Divine truth in His Word. It is through the Word that we can become aware of His faithfulness in His infinite love for man and how He has always made sure that the way of salvation will be opened to him. We can have a deeper understanding of how His Divine good operates through His divine truth, when we see the Lord in the internal sense of the Word. We then can recognize how His faithfulness operates through truth.

John further described the Rider on the white horse with “eyes as a flaming fire”. This signifies the beautiful conjunction of the Lord’s love and wisdom in the salvation of man. The Lord’s divine love wills to save all, and predestines all to heaven. However, it can only operate by Divine wisdom. divine love cannot act beyond the laws of Divine wisdom because they act in unison. The Writings state that if there was “more of Divine Wisdom than of Divine Love, or more of Divine Love than of Divine Wisdom, man could not be saved.” (DLW 37) There is a perfect union between the two whereby the Lord strives to save everyone and make them genuinely happy. But He cannot exceed the laws of His Divine Wisdom which protects man’s internal freedom and his “as of self”.

These laws which the Lord cannot exceed are the Divine truths which were represented by the diadems around the Rider’s head in John’s vision. Once again, these Divine truths are revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word. It is in the spiritual sense that we discover what the laws are which the Lord cannot exceed. These laws are that man act in freedom according to reason, that he be created with receptacles whereby he can respond to the influx of the Lord’s life, and a reciprocal conjunction is produced when this influx is accepted. These truths are contained and yet hidden within the sense of the letter of the Word. But when the light of heaven shines in and through these diadems, they become translucent in which spiritual truths can be seen. (AR 823) The more we discover these spiritual truths in the letter of the Word, the more we can have an understanding of the Lord’s operation toward our salvation. And the more we can understand this, the more powerful will be the reciprocal conjunction between the Lord and ourselves.

Along with the white horse, the eyes of fire, and the diadems, John also saw a name written on the Rider which no one knew except the Lord. This signifies that no one knows the quality of the spiritual sense of the Word except for the Lord and to those to whom He reveals these truths. We can have a knowledge of these truths and even understand their significance; however, unless we apply them to our lives, we will not know their quality. Only when these truths are accepted in our will can we really understand the nature of the Lord. Only when we try to put our life in order in accordance with the Word can we see the order, beauty, and the harmony of the Lord’s operation within us and in His creation outside of us. This can only be revealed to us through enlightenment by the Lord; we can not obtain the understanding of spiritual truths from our own power. (AR 824) This is what the Lord meant when He said in Matthew: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.” (Mt 11:25) It is only when we are in a state of innocence (by being willing to be led by the Lord) that the Lord is able to reveal the quality of the spiritual truths contained in His Word.

Along with the magnificent things John saw, he also recognized that the Rider’s garment was dipped in blood. The garment represented the sense of the letter clothing the spiritual sense of the Word. By it being dipped in blood signifies the violence that was done to the letter by the Christian Church. It was with the doctrine of three separate Persons in the Trinity and salvation by faith-alone that violated and critically wounded the true meaning from the sense of the letter. Also, when they falsified and twisted the letter of the Word to advocate their doctrine, they shut off the awareness and perception in the church of what was contained in the spiritual sense. Now this was permitted of the Lord as a protection so that the interior truths could not be profaned. It was really an act of mercy, for the Lord to have spiritual truths hidden. Otherwise, grave spiritual harm would have come to many individuals. Nevertheless, it is only when these evils and falsities are exposed and rooted out, when we see how they have bloodied the garment of the Lord, that the New Church can be implanted, both within us individually and collectively as a church. (TCR 784) Only when the letter of the Word is read in humility and innocence, with a knowledge of correspondences, can it be illuminated by the spiritual and celestial truths of the internal sense.

Today, the Lord has made it possible for us to see the “Rider on the white horse.” for we have the opportunity of clearly seeing the Divinity of the Lord that was not possible before His Second Coming. In the revelation of the Heavenly Doctrines, we can have an understanding of the Lord’s Divine Love. We can see Him as a god of Mercy, Who only desires to give heavenly happiness to everyone. But we can also see the Divine wisdom which protects man’s freedom so a true conjunction between the Lord and man can always be obtained. and as we see the “Rider on the white horse”, or the Lord’s Divinity, we will also see His eyes of flaming fire and the diadems upon His head. We will become aware of the union between the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom, and the beautiful harmony that exists from this union. And we can perceive the laws in which the Lord operates so we are constantly kept in a state of freedom, which was represented by the diadems.

Since the Lord made His Second Coming, He has made known His Divinity whereby salvation is restored to mankind. If we seek to apply the Lord’s Word in our lives by performing uses, He will reward us with a deeper perception of the Lord and how He operates. This perception will allow us to delight more in a life of charity whereby we can love the Lord even more. And we can be uplifted in the Lord’s words at the end of Revelation, “I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to His work.” (Rev. 22:12)

THE HOLY CITY, NEW JERUSALEM

THE HOLY CITY, NEW JERUSALEM

A Sermon by Rev. Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, Illinois June 11, 1995

 

“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look to in what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the picture of the New Church as a radiant city descending from heaven. This picture represents the qualities that the church in our own lives should evolve toward.

The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.

Understanding the book of Revelation is not a matter of knowing about a single event, the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.

The final chapters of the book of Revelation present a wonderful description of the New Jerusalem. This heavenly city is a picture of the Lord’s church, both as it exists among all people who receive Him and also as it can be with each human being. It is the picture of the church that we want to look toward becoming ourselves. What are its qualities and how do they differ from what we sometimes find ourselves inclining to or actually thinking and doing?

The New Jerusalem is from no other source than the Lord. It is not a product of keen human intelligence. It is not the result of doing a certain number of good deeds. It is fundamentally a quality that a person’s heart has received from the Lord as he or she works to understand and live according to the Lord’s Word. Certainly we have our own role in receiving this life. John compares that city to a bride adorned for her husband. When you picture a woman preparing for her wedding, don’t you imagine her taking more care with each detail of her preparation than she would at any other time in her life? Don’t you picture her planning out each step in order? This preparation is not done from fear, nor from a self-absorbed focus, but rather comes from her desire to represent the importance of her relationship to her bridegroom. We prepare for our relationship with the Lord through taking the ideas and implications of His Word into our thoughts and deeds. How haphazard are we about this preparation? Is it like that of a bride adorning herself for her wedding? Is it that important to us?

The New Jerusalem is described as ” … having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:11). One of the important qualities that the Lord wants for the New Church is that we understand His Word. He does not want us to be in blind obedience to rules that don’t make any sense to us at all. He does not want us to be befuddled about who He is, how He is a presence and powerful force within our daily lives, and how we can cooperate with Him. Certainly there will always be things that are hard for us to understand because of our finite perspective. We should not expect that doctrinal understanding will help us see specifically why some tragedy has occurred. We will still need to have a faith or trust in the Lord’s love and wisdom even when our eyes or thoughts don’t easily recognize that love or wisdom. But we are to grow in understanding about the Lord’s will and presence. We are to worship a visible God. This means that we come to see His presence more and more in our own lives, in the lives of others and in the events of this world. This will never occur without learning about Him and what He asks of us, reflecting on its specific meaning in our own lives, and then trying to live according to this understanding. Learning facts about the Lord is not enough. Neither is insight during moments of reflection distant from the daily ups and downs that so characterize this world. We need to learn; we need to see the personal meaning of this knowledge and we need to act from it. If we do this, our lives will be seen by the angels as having a light that “was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.”

The holy city has a wall that is described as great and high. For many this implies protection against dangerous enemies. But that idea is in conflict with the fact that the gates of the city are constantly open in all directions. The wall is not so much an image of protection against enemies as it is a definition of what is true and good. It is a picture of the clear boundaries that we place on what we will think, say and do. These boundaries come from our recognizing that the Lord has told us in His Word of the kind of life toward which He wants to lead us. Its strength comes from our calling from memory specific words and sentences that we have learned from the Word. It defines what we will and won’t do in work, friendships, marriage, and family. It stops us from saying hurtful things. It stops us from harboring thoughts of revenge. It helps define for us what it means to justly, faithfully, and honestly do the work that the Lord places before us each day.

The twelve gates of the city, three for each direction of the compass, represents all the ideas of what is true and good by which a person is introduced into the church (see AR 899). These ideas vary tremendously in the degree to which they reflect “more or less in the love or the affection of good, and for those who are more or less in wisdom or the affection of truth” (n. 901). One of the challenges that we tend to face as human beings would be imaged by a city with only one gate. We can get stuck on the idea that our view of an issue at some point is the only right one. We can close our mind off to considering other ideas and other values that might have an important contribution to a wise decision. We can do this by rejecting the validity of others’ opinions or by rigidly fixing our own mind on the one and only right way, even when the Lord is working to help us see the limitations of that view. The Lord’s church in our lives is to have an openness in all directions to come to understand what is good and true from the Lord. This openness is not an acceptance of every idea that comes down the road, but rather a willingness to consider its possible legitimacy and value.

The twelve foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with twelve different kinds of precious stones. We are told that these words signify that: ” … all things of that doctrine in their order from the sense of the letter of the Word, with those who immediately approach the Lord and live according to the commandments of the Decalogue by shunning evils as sins, for these and no others are in the doctrine of love to God and love toward the neighbor, which two are the fundamentals of religion” (n. 915).

With all the complexity and breadth of knowledge that has been revealed for the New Church it is absolutely essential that we keep in mind that the two fundamentals of religion can be stated quite simply. If we are to be grateful for any qualities that have a growing presence in our lives, they should be that of our love of the Lord and our love toward our neighbor.

The gates of city were twelve pearls, each one made from a single pearl. We are told that this signifies that: ” … the acknowledgment and knowledge of the Lord conjoins into one all the knowledges of truth and good, which are from the Word, and introduces into the church” (n. 916).

As John describes the New Jerusalem, he observes, “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). We might intuitively imagine that this holy city would have a magnificent house of worship. But the reason why it does not represents a problem that can come with such things as church buildings or other external expressions of worship and good. In this world it takes regular effort to keep external forms from becoming things in themselves. For example, many people are quite capable of saying the Lord’s prayer giving it no more thought than they do to the basics of walking. It can become a series of sounds made basically without any conscious reflection on their meaning. This is an external form without any internal. We are told concerning the New Church that: ” … in this church there will not be any external separated from the internal, because the Lord Himself in His Divine Human, from whom is the all of the church, is alone approached, worshiped, and adored” (n. 918).

At times we benefit significantly from compelling ourselves to go through external forms that do not at that moment have an appropriate internal of understanding and will. But while we do such things, we are called to approach the Lord, asking for that internal, praying for understanding and for the love that can properly motivate the external act we now are doing more from obedience.

In the New Jerusalem there was a river of the water of life. This represents the breadth and depth of truth from the Lord that is available to those who seek it from a desire to live a good life. Near the end of the final chapter we read: “And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). We are told that these words mean that: ” … he who desires truths should pray that the Lord may come with light; and that he who loves truths will then receive them from the Lord without labor of his own” (n. 956).

And in that city there is also the tree of life. This is the same tree that is described in early Genesis as being the center of the Garden of Eden. The tree of life is unusual in that it bears not one kind of fruit but twelve. This represents all the good qualities and actions that will flow from our lives because of the church within us. And the leaves of the tree are described as being for the healing of the nations. These leaves represent the sensible and understandable ideas we have learned from the Lord that we can share with friends and acquaintances to help them lead better lives. Even when the source of these ideas is completely unknown, they can help others become wiser and more useful people.

The heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, is a picture of the Lord’s church both as it exists among all people who receive Him and also as it can be with each human being. It is the picture of the church that we want to look toward becoming ourselves. May we dedicate ourselves to receiving that church. May we daily approach the Lord with the prayer that it may descend ever more completely into in our hearts, minds and lives. Amen.

 


Lessons: Revelation 21:1-4, 9-26; Apocalypse Revealed 956

Apocalypse Revealed 956

“And let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that thirsteth come, and let him that willeth take the water of life freely” signifies that he who knows anything of the Lord’s coming, and of the New Heaven and New Church, thus of the Lord’s kingdom, should pray that it may come, and that he who desires truths should pray that the Lord may come with light, and that he who loves truths will then receive them from the Lord without his own work. By “let him that heareth say, Come” is signified he who hears and thence knows anything of the Lord’s coming, and of the New Heaven and the New Church, thus of the Lord’s kingdom, let him pray that it may come; by “him that thirsteth, let him say come” is signified he who desires the Lord’s kingdom, and, at the same time, truths, let him pray that the Lord may come with light; by “him that willeth let him take of the water of life freely” is signified that he who from love is willing to learn truths and appropriate them to himself will receive them from the Lord without any work of his own; by “willing” is signified to love, because that which a man wills from his heart he loves, and that which he loves, the same he wills from the heart; by “the water of life” is signified Divine truths through the Word from the Lord (n. 932); and by “freely” is signified without his own work. The things in this verse have the same signification as these in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven so also upon the earth” (n. 839). The Lord’s “kingdom” is the church which makes one with heaven; wherefore it is now said, “Let him that heareth, say, Come, and let him that thirsteth come.” That “to thirst” signifies to desire truths appears from the following passages: “I will pour water upon him that thirsteth, I will pour My spirit upon thy seed” (Isa. 44:3). “Every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; buy wine and milk without silver” (Isa. 55:1). “Jesus cried, saying, If anyone thirst, let him come unto Me and drink; whosoever believeth in Me, out of his belly shall flow streams of living water” (John 7:37, 38). “My soul thirsteth for the living God” (Psalm 42:2). “O God, Thou art my God; my soul thirsteth for Thee; it is weary without water” (Psalm 63:1). “Happy are they who thirst after justice” (Matt.5:6). “Unto him that thirsteth I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21:6). By which is signified that to those who desire truths for any spiritual use, the Lord will give from Himself through the Word all which conduce to that use. That by “that” and “thirsting” is also signified to perish from lack of truth, is evident from these: “My people are exiled because they have no acknowledgment; the multitude is dried up with thirst” (Isa. 5:13). “The fool speaketh foolishness, and his heart doeth iniquity, and he maketh the drink of the thirsty to fail” (Isa.32:6). “The poor and needy seek water but there is none; their tongue faileth for thirst; I Jehovah will hear them” (Isa. 41:17). “Plead with your mother lest I strip her naked, and slay her with thirst” (Hosea 2:2, 3). Mother here is the church. “Behold, the days come in which I will send a famine in the land; not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of Jehovah; in that day shall the beautiful virgins and the young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:11, 13). But by “not thirsting” is signified not to have a lack of truth, in these passages: “Jesus said, Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall not thirst to eternity'” (John 4:13-15). “Jesus said, He that believeth on Me shall never thirst'” (John 6:35). “Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob; then shall they not thirst; He shall make waters to flow out of the Rock for them” (Isa. 48:20, 21).

DANGERS TO THE CHURCH REPRESENTED IN REVELATION

DANGERS TO THE CHURCH REPRESENTED IN REVELATION

A Sermon by Rev Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, IllinoisMay 28, 1995

 

“Now when [the two witnesses] finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them” (Rev. 11:7).

The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look to in what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the evil loves and false ideas represented in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation that are a threat to the doctrines and life of the church.

The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.

Understanding the book of Revelation is not just a matter of knowing about a single event the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.

In the book of Revelation there are descriptions of several horrible creatures a beast from the bottomless pit, the seven-headed dragon, a beast from the sea, one from the land, and finally a description of an evil woman riding a scarlet beast. These evil forms represent thoughts and motivations that are a particular threat to people who think of themselves as being part of the Lord’s church. Certainly there are dangerous evil moti- vations and false ideas that trouble the avowed non-believer or a functional non-believer; these are perhaps not as hard for the believer to recognize, but the images of evil in the book of Revelation represent a more subtle threat. They represent forces that can completely destroy the Lord’s church within a person’s life while the person himself thinks he is following God in what he does and doesn’t do.

Chapter 11 of the book of Revelation speaks of two witnesses who testify until they are killed by a beast from the bottomless pit. These two witnesses represent the essential ideas that are the foundation of the New Church. They are, firstly, that the Lord alone is God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine; and secondly that people ought to live according to the principles of the Ten Commandments. These essentials are not just facts that a person stores in his memory. They need to be fundamental principles that affect how we look at our priorities and decisions, and how we see ourselves and others.

When we say the Lord’s prayer, we close with the words, “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever” (Matt. 6:13). These words are addressed to the one God of heaven and earth. They are addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father, creator, redeemer and savior. When we think of Him, we are called to see His infinite perfection, power, love and wisdom as being one with His Human. My understanding is that a key part of this Humanity is our recognition that He is personally present with us, aware of the tiniest details of our life, listening to our prayers, and guiding us in things large and small. We separate His Divine from His Human when we make the Lord a remote and impersonal God. We can also separate His Divine from His Human when we justify evil and destructive choices with the thought that the Lord understands why I’m doing this and won’t hold me accountable.

The second essential of the New Church is the idea that we are to live according to the principles of the Ten Commandments. This means more than following their most literal meaning. When we acknowledge that we are not to steal, it includes using deceit to obtain something that belongs to another. It includes not stealing a person’s good reputation by gossip or slander. It includes not taking credit for the work of others, and so on. On a still deeper level this commandment calls us not to take things that are rightly the Lord’s and claim them as our own. When we reflect more deeply on any of these commandments we can recognize that we are prone to break them consciously or unconsciously on many levels.

The two witnesses in Revelation chapter 11 were killed by a beast said to be from the bottomless pit. This beast, the dragon, and the beasts from the sea and land all represent one of the two major threats to the church. These beasts represent historically the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. The fundamental idea in this doctrine is that a person can be a true follower of God and obtain salvation and eternal life without having to obey the commandments or even consider what evil thoughts and deeds he has done and may do in the future.

Over and over again people have found something to substitute for the importance of obedience to the principles the Lord has set before us. The ancient Israelites made the rituals of worship most important. For example, they made ritual fasting an important way to gain God’s favor. In Isaiah 58 the Lord clearly tells the Israelites that this is not what He wants; instead He states: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6,7).

Likewise, the ancient Israelite tended to focus on the ritual sacrifices made at the temple. Concerning these the Lord said in the book of Micah: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8).

Likewise, the Lord criticized the scribes and Pharisees for scrupulously contributing to the temple a tenth of the spices they used on their food, but forgetting things far more important. He said to them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” (Matt. 23:23).

In the medieval world there grew up a belief in penance that encouraged the idea that a person could sin and then, provided he or she lit enough candles, said enough prayers, went on a demanding pilgrimage, or gave enough money or land to the church, the sin would be wiped clean.

Partially in response to the excesses of this belief, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone was evolved. Through the ideas of that doctrine, people have come to believe that they can blamelessly steal, kill, and commit adultery, provided they claim faith that Christ died for their sins.

In all of these cases the key problem has been that people have made loving the neighbor a minor part of true religion. The dragon with seven heads represents a force that strongly seeks to destroy true religion with us as well. The evil spirits whose destructive force are represented by this dragon want more than anything to keep us from being concerned about working to serve the spiritual needs of the people around us. They want very much for us to be apathetic about reflecting on our own bad habits and how they hurt us and others. They want us to be convinced that we are just fine the way we are because we attend the right church or have a certain set of facts in our memory. They do not want us to be firmly committed to living as good and useful and kind and generous a life as we are capable of living.

Revelation chapter 13 describes this destructive force again by two beasts, one from the sea and one from the land. These two beasts represent the belief in salvation by faith alone with the laity and with the clergy. Note that the first beast seen, the one from the sea, represents this belief with the laity. When the people of a church long for an escape from a compelling morality and ask for it in open or subtle ways, they invite the opportunity of a corrupt clergy who will give them what they want. Certainly innocent people can be led astray by devious leaders, but the Writings repeatedly convey an idea of many people in the laity being led by a common-sense belief in the commandments and loving the neighbor. They are safe and actually have kept the clergy from openly stating certain ideas that enlightened common sense sees as insanity. Rather than being too worried that some leader will persuade us that a false idea is true, the Lord calls each of us to learn the doctrine of our church and then reflect in our own minds from what we know He has said as to its reliability and completeness. Does it really represent the life the Lord calls us to live?

The final image of evil that is introduced in Revelation chapter 17 is described in these words: “So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:3-5).

This evil woman represents the desire to control others through spiritual things. Protestant theologians, who have no idea of their relation to the dragon and previous beasts, have long asserted that this image represents Roman Catholicism. More properly it represents the single aspect of that church that sought power and control over the lives and decisions of all believers. This is a terrible evil. A key part of the true church is the spiritual freedom of each individual to act in freedom according to his or her best understanding of what is true. Yet over and over again believers have sought to control others and make them say and act in just one proper way. Often this can be done with righteous anger, but when it takes away understanding and freedom, it is not done in the Lord’s name. Needless to say, we can also fall prey to this evil. We can do so in our marriages, in raising our children, and with the people we interact with. We can be so convinced that we have the one right way that we are willing to force it on others. We are not to force our beliefs on others, but rather can appeal to their understanding and their higher motivations. When we do this we are cooperating with the Lord.

The evils of the book of Revelation are ones that can be a threat to each of us. They have sought and will continue to seek ways of hiding their true intent and being accepted by us as good and right. By ourselves we will not be able to see through their disguises and many permutations. But if we turn to the Lord in daily prayer, He will help us to see their attempts to influence us. He will be with us and protect us. As we act as though from ourselves to fight their influence on our lives, the Lord will be fighting within our efforts with His infinite power. If we turn to Him, victory is assured. Amen.

Lessons: Isaiah 58:3-9; Rev. 11:1-14; AR 500

 


Apocalypse Revealed

500. “The beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and shall overcome them, and kill them” signifies that they who are in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone will oppose them, and assault these two essentials of the New Church, and will reject them, and, as far as lies in their power, will cause others to reject them. By “the beast that cometh up out of the abyss” are meant they who came up out of the abyss and appeared like locusts (chap. 9:1-12). That these are they who are in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone may be seen in the explanation there given; by “making war” is signified to oppose and assault these two essentials of the church, as will be seen presently; by “overcoming and killing” them is signified to reject and extirpate them in themselves, and, as far as lies in their power, to cause others to do the same. The reason why they who are principled in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone will impugn and reject these two essentials is that they have confirmed themselves in two things diametrically opposite to them: first, that it is not the Lord but God the Father who is to be approached; and second, that a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue is not a spiritual life, but only a moral and civil life, and this they confirm lest any one believe that he can be saved by works, but only by their faith. All they who have had these dogmas impressed deeply on their minds in schools and academies do not recede from them afterwards. There are three reasons for this which hitherto have not been known: First, because they have entered, as to their spirit, into association with their like in the spiritual world where there are many satans who are delighted with nothing but falsities from which they cannot at all be separated but by rejecting those falsities; nor can this be done but by immediately approaching God the Savior, and beginning a Christian life according to the precepts of the Decalogue. The second reason is that they believe that re- mission of sins, and thus salvation, is given in a moment in the act of faith, and afterwards in the state or in the progression by the same act continued, preserved, and retained, from the Holy Spirit separate from the exercises of charity; and they who have once imbibed these doctrines afterwards make no account of sins before God, and so live in their uncleanness. And, because they know how to confirm such things subtly before the unlearned by falsifications of the Word, and before the learned by sophistry, it is here said that “the beast which came up from the abyss overcame and killed the two witnesses.” But this takes place only with those who love to follow their own inclinations, being borne along by the delights of their lusts. These think about salvation, cherish those lusts in their hearts, and embrace their faith with both hands, thinking that they may be saved by uttering certain words with a tone of confidence, and need not attend to anything of their life for the sake of God but only for the sake of the world. The third reason is that they who in youth had imbibed the internals of that faith which are called the mysteries of justification, on being afterwards promoted to an honored ministry, do not think in themselves concerning God and heaven, but concerning themselves and the world, retaining only the mysteries of their faith for the sake of reputation, that they may be honored as wise, and by reason of their wisdom be thought worthy of being rewarded with wealth. The reason why this is an effect of that faith is that there is nothing of religion in it. That this is so may be seen in the third relation above (n. 484). That by “wars” in the Word are signified spiritual wars, which are fightings against truth, and are effected by reasonings from falsities, is evident from these passages:

“Spirits of demons go forth to gather them to war in the great day of God eighty” (Rev.16:14).

“The dragon was angry against the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17).

“It was given to the beat of the dragon to make war with the saints” (Rev. 13:7).

“Consecrate war against the daughter of Zion, and let us go up at noon” (Jer. 6: 4).

“Ye have not gone up into the breeches to stand in war in the day of Jehovah” (Ezek. 13:5).

“In Salem is the habitation of God and a dwelling in Zion, where He brake the fiery darts of the bow, and the battle” (Psalm 76:2, 3).

“Jehovah shall go forth as a mighty man; he shall stir up zeal like a man of war” (Isaiah 42:13; Psalm 24:8).

“In that day Jehovah shall be for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, who repel war from the gate” (Isaiah 28:5,6).

“Deliver me from the evil man, and preserve me from the man of violence; all the day they gather together for war; they have sharpened their tongue like serpents” (Psalm 140:1-3).

“Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall mislead many, and ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that ye be not troubled” (Matt. 24:5,6; Mark 13: 6,7; Luke 21:8,9).

The wars of the kings of the north, and of the south, and others, in Daniel (chapters 10., 11, 12), signify no other than spiritual wars; besides “the wars” mentioned in other places (as in Isaiah 2:3-5; 13:4; 21:14, 15; 31:4; Jeremiah 49:25,26; Hosea 2:18; Zechariah 10:5; 14:3; Psalms 27:3; 46:8,9). Since by “wars” in the Word are signified spiritual wars, therefore the ministry of the Levites was called “military service,” as appears from these things:

“It was commanded that the Levites should be numbered, to perform military service, to do work in the tent of the congregation” (Num. 4:23, 35, 39, 43, 47).

“This is the office of the Levites to perform military service in the ministry of the tent of the congregation; but from a son of fifty years be shall withdraw from the military service of the ministry, nor shall he minister any more” (Num. 8:24, 25).

See also above (n. 447), where it is confirmed from the Word that “armies” signify the goods and truths of the church, and, in the opposite sense, its evils and falsities.

SEEING IN THE LIGHT OF WISDOM

SEEING IN THE LIGHT OF WISDOM

A Sermon by Rev Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, IllinoisMay 21, 1995

“So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'” (Revelation 5:4-5).

The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look at, what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the opening of the seven seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets and the pouring out of the seven plagues described in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation.

The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.

Understanding the book of Revelation is not a matter of knowing about a single event, the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.

One of the great false ideas about God is that He is angry at people who do evil and punishes them. If the book of Revelation is read on a merely superficial basis, it seems to support this point of view. The opening of the seven seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets, and the pouring out of the seven plagues, obviously coming from God, are related to numerous disasters, and much destruction. It seems that God causes this destruction as a punishment for the wicked. This is not how God expresses His infinite love. Many people nevertheless act from the idea that it is justified to be angry at people who do bad things and that it is right and good to cause them loss and pain, real or psychological. For example, we know that certain kinds of gossip can tremendously harm a person’s reputation and ability to be useful, but there is a part of faulty human nature that sees “out-of-step” behavior as bad and wrong, thereby justifying our destructive discussion of it and sharing it far and wide. It’s a secret and indirect punishment for the person who has broken some principle of accepted behavior. If this kind of gossip is widespread it can poison at least a segment of a social group and produce an environment in which people do not feel safe or able to trust that they won’t be the next victims of general criticism, shared disapproval, and subtle social sanction.

The book of Revelation describes a condition in which many things are not what they seem. Many things which on the surface look good and useful are actually empty and lifeless, and because they don’t look this way they are evil and destructive. If we could accurately discriminate between fantasy and reality we would make better decisions. For example, how can a middle-aged man contemplate abandoning his wife, family and social connections to marry a much younger woman? He does so because he thinks he will find more happiness with her than with his whole previous life. Typically he is unhappy with his life and believes that the solution is a new relationship. He looks at his previous married life and sees dreariness and unfulfilling effort. He looks at his new relationship and sees freshness and excitement, something that is more spontaneous; here is a new woman that he wants to go out of his way for and who seems to appreciate him more. His adultery looks like heaven and his marriage looks like a dreary hell. He believes his new relationship will have none of the flaws of his present one. He is pursuing a fantasy. If he makes his decision on this fantasy he will be hurt and so will his wife, his children, and in a sense so will all the people whose lives interact with his. His opting out of his marriage vows will tend to further erode their sacred quality and binding nature, making it easier for others to be seduced by a similar fantasy.

Fantasy can also exist on a much smaller and more mundane level. Take for example a woman who is regularly late or who regularly fails to fulfill her commitments, and yet when she is called to account, she always has reasons or excuses as to why it isn’t her fault. It was someone else’s fault, or it was just bad luck, or some natural thing failed, like her alarm clock even though she set it properly. Rarely is anything her fault and consequently she takes little or no responsibility for remedying the situation or trying to change. She sees the problem as entirely outside of herself. Things just happen. When she looks at herself she sees a picture of blameless decisions and actions. She sees a fantasy, which if it remains unchanged, will cause herself and others inconvenience and harm. If she is going to change, her eyes need to be opened.

It is the Lord’s desire that we see what is real. By seeing reality, we can make better decisions. When we base our decisions on fantasies or misperceptions, we hurt ourselves and others.

The book of Revelation specifically describes a condition when reality had been twisted. This occurred in a place that is part of the life after death. After a person’s natural body ceases to live, the person’s spirit awakens with a new body in a place intermediate between heaven and hell. This place is called the world of spirits. Here as in this world, at least initially, good and evil people are all mixed together and can live side by side. When a person’s true nature shows itself and he or she is given a choice of good and true things or evil and false ones, there is a spontaneous and natural judgment separating that spirit from those who react differently. The saying “birds of a feather flock together” describes this separation. But this separation can take place only if reality is seen, only if the light of heaven shines into the world of spirits. The book of Revelation describes a time when that was not occurring. Instead the spirits of people who had chosen evil things as their primary goals kept their true quality hidden. They made it appear as though they were among those blessed by God and that they were already in heaven. They created a false world of cities, trees, rivers, and so forth all of them beautiful but in reality they were fantasies of evil and false things.

John, the narrator of the book, describes seeing a scroll sealed with seven seals and weeping because no one could open it. This scroll represents how the Word of God had been so twisted and obscured by human invention that its fundamental truth was hidden. Historically, traditional Christian explanations of God as three persons, and subsequent explanations of salvation based on earning heaven by attending the right church and doing the right things, or salvation entirely by an intellectual faith apart from what a person cares about, thinks and does, had so clouded the fundamental messages of obedience to God, and love and service to the neighbor that they were lost.

The opening of the seven seals by the Lord represents the initial step necessary for genuine truth to be seen once again. The Word of the Lord needs to be present in our minds and understood before we can possibly see through the fantasies that our own unenlightened eyes would show us. The horses and riders seen as the first four seals are opened describe the progressive loss of true understanding and concern for what is good that can occur in a person’s life or the life of a church. The fifth seal was opened and John described seeing a vision of souls at the foot of an altar mourning their state. These souls represent people who were good but unable to recognize the fantasy of evil. In our own lives they are like the good motives and concerns that can get linked to evil ones and false ideas. Until they can see their proper place they are stuck where they are and change would destroy them. For example, righteous and angry punishment is often connected to something true or good. If the destructiveness of the anger is pointed out to the person, he can respond, “So are you saying I just should not care about the bad thing she was doing?” It seems there is no choice but either to be destructively angry or to decide there is no problem. But this is not reality. The Lord preserved the souls under the altar until the real truth could be seen and their goodness could be preserved. This is also the meaning behind the sealing of the 144,000. It represents a preservation of goodness that is initially too weak and obscure to remain unmixed and untainted by evil and false ideas. Children and teens often show this faulty mixture in their attitudes and decisions. They can simultaneously mix high ideals and short-term, self-centered, natural thinking, such as in their unwillingness to tell the truth if it will get a friend into trouble. Attacking the flaw can sometimes seem to them to attack the ideal of friendship and loyalty.

The sounding of the seven trumpets represents an exploration and opening up of what is real. As the light of truth once again shone forth in the world of spirits, the fantasy that had been accepted as reality was revealed to be quite different. The Lord wants each of us to see through similar fantasies within our own lives. We tend to excuse and even value goals, habits of thought and actions that can be terribly destructive to our own long-term happiness and can be terribly hurtful to others. This destructive life that seems so natural is what the Lord referred to when He said, “He who saves his life shall lose it and he who loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).

The pouring out of the seven plagues represents that the evil fled out of the world of spirits and found their proper place in hell. Genuine evil cannot take the presence of goodness and truth. It wants either to control it, destroy it or get away from it. The Lord didn’t have to cast anyone into hell. He just needed to have something of His love and wisdom draw near to the evil in the world of spirits, and they could not stand to remain in its presence. The Lord hadn’t done it earlier because the good who had been mixed with the evil would have been hurt also.

In our own lives, when we see things as they really are, decisions are easy. When we see and acknowledge that a course of thought or action will hurt us and others, it isn’t hard to turn from it. Evil has its greatest power by appearing to be different from what it really is. It wants to seem beneficial or at least harmless. When seen for its true nature, this fantasy falls away.

May we pray for the light of truth in our own lives. May we seek a knowledge of the Lord’s Word and not just a collection of facts that can be used for intellectual discussion, but a living set of ideas that we use in daily life. May the Word be an open book for us. May we use it to reflect on our thoughts and intentions. May we use it to examine the courses of action that we contemplate. May the light of truth reveal the fantasies of evil that we may with strength and conviction turn from them and to the Lord and the life of heaven. Amen.

Lessons: Revelation 6:1-11, Apocalypse Revealed 320-322


Apocalypse Revealed 320-322

Verse 8.”And I saw, and behold, a pale horse” signifies the understanding of the Word destroyed both as to good and as to truth. “A horse” signifies the understanding of the Word (n. 298), and “pale” signifies no vitality. In the Word this want of vitality is predicated of those who are not in goods of life from truths of doctrine; for the Word, in the sense of the letter, is not understood without doctrine, and doctrine is not perceived without a life according to it; the reason is that a life according to doctrine which is from the Word opens the spiritual mind when light flows into it from heaven and enlightens and gives to perceive. That this is the case he does not know who knows truths of doctrine and yet does not live according to them. The reason why “the fourth animal” showed “a pale horse” was that that animal was like “a flying eagle,” and by it was signified the Divine truth of the Word as to knowledges and understanding therefrom (n. 244).Therefore he showed that with those who were now seen there were no knowledges of good and truth from the Word, nor any understanding of them, and such in the spiritual world appear pale, like those who are without life.

“And his name that sat upon him was Death, and hell followed with him” signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and thence damnation. By “death” is here signified spiritual death, which is the extinction of spiritual life; and by “hell” is signified damnation, which follows that death. Every man indeed has from creation, and therefore from birth, spiritual life, but that life is extinguished when he denies God, the holiness of the Word, and eternal life; it is extinguished in the will but remains in the understanding, or rather in the faculty of understanding. By this man is distinguished from beasts. As “death” signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and “hell” damnation thence, therefore “death and hell” in some passages are named together, as in these: “I will redeem them from the hand of hell; I will liberate them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O hell, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14).

“The cords of death encompassed me; the cords of hell encompassed me; the snares of death prevented me” (Psalm 18:4, 5; 116:3).

“Like sheep they are laid in hell; death shall feed on them; hell is their habitation, but God will redeem my soul from the hand of hell” (Psalm. 49:14, 15).

“I have the keys of hell and death” (Rev. 1:18).

“And power was given them over the fourth part of the earth to kill” signifies the destruction of all the good of the church. Since by “death” is meant the extinction of man’s spiritual life, and by “hell” damnation, it follows that “to kill” here means to destroy the life of man’s soul; the life of the soul is spiritual life; “a fourth part of the earth” signifies all the good of the church; “the earth” is the church (n. 285). That “a fourth part” is all good cannot be known by anyone unless he knows what numbers in the Word signify. The numbers “two” and “four” in the Word are predicated of goods and signify them; and the numbers “three” and “six” are predicated of truths and signify them; thus “a fourth part,” or simply “a fourth” signifies all good, and “a third part” or simply “a third” signifies all truth; therefore “to kill a fourth part of the earth” here signifies to destroy all the good of the church. That “power was not given to him that sat upon the pale horse to kill a fourth part of the habitable earth” is evident. Besides, “four” in the Word signifies the conjunction of good and truth. That “four” has these significations may indeed be confirmed from the Word, as by “the four animals or cherubim” (Ezekiel 1, 3, 10; Rev. 4), by “the four chariots between the two mountains of brass” (Zechariah 6), by “the four horns” (Zechariah 1:18), and by “the four horns of the altar” (Exodus 27:1-8; Rev. 9:13), by “the four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth” (Rev. 7:1; Matthew 24:31), as also by “visiting the iniquity upon the thirds and fourths” (Numbers 14:18), and in other places by “the third and fourth generation.” By these and by many other passages in the Word, I say, it can be confirmed that “four” is predicated of goods and signifies them, and also the conjunction of good and truth; but since this would not appear without a prolix explanation of these passages, it is sufficient to mention that nothing else is meant in heaven by “four” and by “a fourth part.”

YOUR BOOK OF LIFE

YOUR BOOK OF LIFE

by Rev. Eric H. Carswell

“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12).


For many Christians the book of Revelation has little clear meaning. Most people probably consider it to be ignorable. Those who try to understand it find it challenging. Fundamentalists see it as a prediction of a cataclysmic finale to the story of human life on this earth, and countless people have wondered when this finale would occur. Many words have been written trying to link past and present events with the images of destruction spoken of in Revelation to try to see when the second coming will take place. Its immanent arrival has been confidently predicted innumerable times over the last two thousand years.

The misunderstanding that surrounds this book is to be expected. None but the Lord Himself could reveal its true meaning. Human intelligence could spend five times the nearly two millennium that it has already had to try to interpret the book of Revelation and would still not find its true meaning. It is a fundamental truth of the New Church that the book of Revelation as well as the other books of the Old and New Testaments speak on a far deeper level than is seen merely in the literal sense. The book of Revelation does not primarily predict natural historical events any more than did the prophecies of the Lord’s first coming in the Old Testament.

Understood merely literally, the Old Testament prophecies appeared to promise a great and everlasting kingdom of the Messiah in which the Jewish people would have great prominence. Those alive at the time of the first coming who expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom were confused and bewildered by the way He lived His life in this world. Some probably lost faith when the Old Testament prophecies were not fulfilled by Jesus as they expected them to be. Likewise, many Christians have been confused and bewildered by the apparent lack of literal fulfillment of the prophecies of the book of Revelation. Some have lost faith, giving up on the prophecies of a last judgment and a second coming as having any meaning.

The traditional Christian interpretation of the last judgment has several features that differ quite strongly from the one presented by the Heavenly Doctrines for the New Church. The traditional view of all people waiting in the grave till the sounding of the great trumpet is one of those differences. The Writings for the New Church teach that life after death begins for each individual shortly after his natural life has ended. Another is that the crucial judgment of a person’s life does not take place by some objective individual apart from the person himself. A third is that life after death is not primarily a reward or punishment for our deeds in this world. There are many, many other differences. Many of them arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of the book of Revelation. Traditional Christianity has viewed the book of Revelation as speaking of earthly events that will some day take place in this world, while the books revealed for the New Church would have us recognize the images of that book as being spiritual realities, much of which has already occurred in the spiritual world.

The reality that the book of Revelation speaks of is that of a great judgment that has already occurred in the spiritual world. To understand what this book speaks of, a person must know a number of things about how judgment takes place after death. In the normal order of the life after death, both the good and evil seek the company of like-minded individuals with all being prepared over a period of time for their eternal home either in heaven or hell. From a mixture of good and evil, just as exists in this world, the different people separate themselves, with the evil seeking hell and the good, heaven. The evil do not desire to be in heaven because they cannot stand to be around those who are genuinely good. They rapidly lose their power to lead others astray, because the light of genuine truth existing in the spiritual world shows them for what they really are. This is a brief description of how the normal process of judgment occurs after each person’s death.

This process is absolutely dependent on the light of truth existing in that intermediate area between heaven and hell which is called the world of spirits. When the truth revealed to mankind ceased to provide the necessary basis for that light, disorder occurred in that intermediate world. The normal process of judgment could not go on. Rather than having hidden evil revealed, they could continue to hide. Rather than having the evil find their proper places in hell, they continued to dwell in the world of spirits and there they established a false life for themselves. It was false in that the true reality of their lives was hidden and they surrounded themselves with things that also did not reflect their true qualities. Their cities, gardens, rivers, even their sun, moon and stars were not from the Lord but from themselves and their own evil. As long as the light of truth did not shine in that world they could maintain the illusion of a false heaven. The images of great destruction recorded in the book of Revelation really did occur in the world of spirits when the light of truth once again shone in that world and the normal process of judgment could once again be reestablished.

Why is it important what a person thinks of the book of Revelation? The Lord has revealed all that He has for us in the world because He wants us to live as happy and as productive lives as we can, both now in our relatively brief natural life and also in our life after death continuing to eternity. Some of the wrong ideas that one can get from the book of Revelation could cause a person to spiritually stumble and fall. Some of them make for a sadder and more self-centered life than the Lord wishes for us.

Nearly everyone has seen the cartoon image of the man walking around in sackcloth through the busy streets of a city carrying a sign that announces that the end of the world is coming. His message is that we should turn our lives from our daily concerns. While it is very important that we recognize that each day gives us precious opportunities to serve the Lord, these opportunities will not be best fulfilled if we withdraw from the world, nor will they be best fulfilled if we cling desperately to each minute as our last, nor if we throw everything aside and live for the moment. The Lord does not want us to wait with bated breath for his arrival, thinking only of our own concerns and needs. He wants us to serve those around us. He wants us to live full, useful lives. Too great a fear of the end of natural life can lead to an impoverished approach to each day.

An important concept presented by the Writings about life after death is that the essential quality of our natural life will continue to eternity as our spiritual character. The lesson read today spoke of the judgment that win take place after death, and uses the image of a book of life that will be read. What is this book of life? One of the most horrible of all Christian heresies is that everyone’s spiritual destiny has been predestined from the beginning of time-written as in a book of who will go to heaven and who will not. Part of the reason this is horrible is because of the quality it ascribes to God. What kind of God would create some people to be inevitably damned to eternity just to satisfy some arbitrary balance? If God did not create each and every individual with the possibility of going to heaven, He would be more cruel than the worst individual could be in this world. Concerning this idea of predestination the book The Divine Providence makes the following observation:

It is cruel to believe that the Lord, who is Love itself and Mercy itself, suffers such a vast multitude of men to be born for hell, or that so many myriads of myriads are born damned and doomed, that is, are born devils and satans; and that He does not from His Divine Wisdom provide that they who live well and acknowledge God should not be cast into eternal fire and torment. The Lord is ever the Creator and Savior of all; and He alone leads all, and desires the death of no one. (DP 330).

Another reason why predestination is such a horrible idea is because of the spiritual apathy that it can arouse. If our spiritual fate is already predetermined, why bother trying to do anything about it? A person could become a complete fatalist, accepting everything that happened to him as inevitable. He would never try to work to make his life better or improve the lot of others, because all things would be accepted as being the way God intended them to be.

While very few people today would subscribe to an idea of absolute predestination by God, all of us are susceptible to the apathy that says we ourselves are fixed and unchanging or that those whom we have to deal with are the way they are due to an unchangeable nature. In some states of mind it is all too easy just to accept things as they are rather than use our best insight to try to improve them.

A person’s book of life is not something that is set before he has lived his life in this world. A person’s book of life is the sum total quality that he has gathered to his life by his choices in this world. It is the record of what he has thought and cared about each day of his life. It is not just a fist of good and bad deeds. We know quite well that actions seen by others in the world may have little relationship to the inner thoughts and motives behind them.

When we leave this world, we will have established what is more important to us than anything else. We will have accepted a ruling love that has worked to orchestrate all the other affections of our mind and from these all our thoughts and deeds. It is this ruling love that determines our eternal home after death. It is our book of life. Its pages are being recorded each day we spend in this world. Everything that we have thought, intended, spoken and done in the world is recorded there.

Swedenborg tells us of some people who after death still tried to pretend. As we learn of the basic rules in the Old Testament, the role of forgiveness in the New Testament, and comprehend why this is good in the explanations of the Writings, then we can re-direct our thinking and grow to be more in harmony with the Lord’s ways.

This is why He speaks to us in His Word. This is why He has revealed truths that can touch and stimulate every area of our minds. And this is the Lord’s second coming in truth. His Spirit of truth leads to all truth as our minds are opened to the wonders of His Word, and as we let that light shine our way. From the essence of love within the Lord that causes Him to speak to us, the Word in its threefold form would lead us back to that love. This is the male child that came from the woman clothed with the sun. This is the Heavenly Doctrine given us by the Lord. This is the Lord with us as we see and do His words. Amen.

Lessons: Revelation 12:1-6, 13-17, AE 724:1,2

Presented in Pittsburgh June 12, 1988


Apocalypse Explained 724:1, 2

And she brought forth a son, a male, signifies the doctrine of truth for the New Church that is called the New Jerusalem. This is evident from the signification of “son” as meaning truth, and of “a son, a male,’ as meaning the genuine truth of the church, consequently also its doctrine, for the truth of the church from the Word is its doctrine since doctrine contains the truths that are for the church. But the genuine doctrine of the church is the doctrine of good, thus the doctrine of life, which is of love to the Lord and of charity toward the neighbor; but yet it is the doctrine of truth, since doctrine teaches life, love, and charity, and so far as it teaches it is truth; for when a man knows and understands what good is, what life is, what love is, and what charity is, he knows and understands these things as truths, since he knows and understands what good is, how he ought to live, and what love and charity are, and of what quality a man is who is in the life of love and charity; and as long as these are matters of knowledge and understanding they are nothing but truths and thus doctrines; but as soon as they pass over from knowledge and from the understanding into the will, and thus into act, they are no longer truths but goods; for interiorly man wills nothing but what he loves, and that which he loves is to him good. From this it can be seen that every doctrine of the church is a doctrine of truth, and that the truth of doctrine becomes good and comes to be of love and charity when from doctrine it passes into life.

This doctrine that is here signified by ‘the son, a male’ is especially the doctrine of love to the Lord and of charity toward the neighbor, thus the doctrine of the good of life, which nevertheless is still the doctrine of truth. That the doctrine of the good of love, and thus of life, is here signified by “the son, a male’ can be seen from this, that ‘the woman’ who brought forth the son was seen “arrayed with the sun, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,’ and ‘the sun” signifies love to the Lord, and “the crown of twelve stars’ signifies the knowledges of good and truth, and from such a woman and mother nothing else is begotten except what pertains to love and good, thus the doctrine respecting these.