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
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.