November 23, 2003
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Reading from Swedenborg
From the mere letter of the Word of the Old Testament, no one would ever discern the fact that this part of the Word contains deep secrets of heaven, and that everything within it, both in general and in detail, bears reference to the Lord, to his heaven, to the church, to religious belief, and to all things connected with it. From the letter, or sense of the letter, all that anyone can see is that--to speak generally--everything in it has reference merely to the external rites and ordinances of the Jewish church.
Yet the truth is that everywhere in the Word there are internal things that never appear at all in the external things, except a very few that the Lord revealed and explained to the Apostles--such as that the sacrifices signify the Lord; that the land of Canaan and Jerusalem signify heaven, on which account they are called the Heavenly Canaan and Jerusalem; and that Paradise has a similar signification.
(Arcana Coelestia #1)
In the very first paragraph of the Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg wrote:
From the mere letter of the Word of the Old Testament, no one would ever discern the fact that this part of the Word contains deep secrets of heaven, and that everything within it both in general and in detail bears reference to the Lord, to his heaven, to the church, to religious belief and to all things connected with it.
And in Arcana Coelestia #771 we are told:
Every expression in the Word is from the Lord, and therefore has what is divine within it. Thus it is evident that there is no word, nor even an iota, that does not signify and involve something.
And in the beginning of Swedenborg's Apocalypse Explained #2, we read:
From this it is evident that the Book of Revelation, equally with the Old Testament prophecies, can in no wise be understood, nor can anything in it be understood, unless the spiritual sense is known, and furthermore unless there is revelation from heaven, where the whole Word is understood according to that sense.
Whenever we study and interpret the Word of God, we need to remember that there is much more than just the literal sense of the Word. Over and over Swedenborg makes that point clear. We are spiritual beings clothed in a natural body; and when we are through with our natural bodies, we will live for the rest of eternity in the spiritual world, clothed in a spiritual body that will be just as real to us as the body we now have. Because this natural life is a preparation for that spiritual life in the spiritual world, it becomes necessary for us to understand spiritual things.
Whenever we study and interpret the Word of God, we should always keep in mind the fact that it does not deal only with things of the natural world, or with incidents and events related to personal histories, to races and nations in the particulars of their natural existence. The Scriptures deal with moral and spiritual things. They make use of terms that might lend themselves to consideration of worldly history, but it is to the world of the moral and the human that the Scriptures are addressed.
We are spiritual beings, and destined to live ultimately in a spiritual world. This natural life is in preparation for that spiritual life in a spiritual world. This is the reason we need to be put in possession of accurate knowledge of spiritual things while living in this natural world, so that our way of life may be in agreement and accord with our spiritual choices. It becomes necessary that we have some knowledge of spiritual law, and be able to realize spiritual existence and situations so that we can appreciate what spiritual states really are.
It is to this end that all Scripture is given; for spiritual things are not distinguished or seen with our natural senses. They cannot be known or appreciated by any natural process of deduction. They are made known only through revelation; and being revealed, spiritual things cause us to think in a whole new way. Revelation makes known what would otherwise remain hidden.
In Revelation John wrote, "Then I saw a great white throne, and the one who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence. . . . And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne. . . . And the sea gave up the dead that were in it."
In these passages we need to first dismiss the idea of judgment on the dead at some future date when the end of the world comes. This idea is held by those who read the Bible literally, and interpret what they read as happening literally in our natural world. But spiritual conditions are not natural conditions. They are much different. And we are told in the Lord's Word not to think of judgment as a natural happening, but as a spiritual happening.
Judgment is after the death of the body: "It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). If judgment is after death, it could never take place in the natural world, for the simple reason that all whose natural bodies have died are in the spiritual world. And if the dead are in the spiritual world, there is no need for a final judgment upon them in the natural world. When we leave this natural world and wake up in the spiritual world, we will stay there for the rest of eternity.
I know that there are people who believe in reincarnation; but according to Apocalypse Explained #413, "All people, whether evil or good, are judged immediately after death when they enter the spiritual world, in which they will live to eternity."
In our reading from Revelation, the word "dead" is used several times. "And I saw the dead, great and small." "And the dead were judged." "And the sea gave up the dead that were in it." "Death and Hades gave up the dead." There are no dead people in the sea or in the earth. There are the remains of a lot of dead bodies, but the people that were in those bodies are now in the spiritual world. There are no dead people in the spiritual world, for Swedenborg says that we shall live forever, and Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms" (John 14:1, 2).
The dead to whom the Scriptures refer are the spiritually dead. This includes those people who have become so thoroughly degenerate that they have destroyed all good that was within them. Turning again to the Apocalypse Explained, #694, we read:
The dead signifies those who inwardly possess within themselves nothing of good and truth. Such people are called dead because our essential life is our spiritual life. . . . In the Bible, the dead mean those who live a material life only, and not at the same time a spiritual life.
Apocalypse Revealed #869 tells us that the sea giving up the dead "signifies the external and natural people of the church called together to judgment." The dead referred to here are those people who lived a life devoid of all moral values and responsibility; people whose sole pleasure in life was a concern for themselves, and who had a complete disregard for the Lord's commandments.
"And books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books." These books are the accounts of their own actions and intentions. All their wickedness and lusts were opened for all to see. And having these elements of their inner character exposed, they found themselves numbered among the damned, not because the Lord condemned them, but because their love of self condemned them.
When our Book of Life is opened, what will be exposed? Will it be full of selfishness and evil? Or will our spiritual life be shown to have love for our God and concern for our neighbor? Will we be seen as Christians, doing the best we know? Amen.
O God of judgment, we thank you that your judgments are both righteous and merciful. We thank you that you do not judge us harshly, or send us to hell, but that our judgment comes from our own lives, our own loves, our own actions. You have given us this time on earth, O Lord, to make a choice: the choice of where we will live to all eternity. Though we are distracted and caught up in material concerns, remind us that material things are temporary, while spiritual things are eternal. Keep us mindful that our task here on earth is to prepare ourselves for heaven. Lead us to live in truth, in justice, and in mercy, so that when we stand before your throne, we will be found worthy to live with you in heaven. Amen.