The Second Advent
January 09, 2005
But in those days, following that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river, is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Reading from Swedenborg
When we read Revelation chapter 21, we understand it only literally. According to this interpretation, the sky and land we see now are going to disappear. Then a new sky will come into existence, and the holy city Jerusalem will come down onto a new land. This city will have the dimensions given in the description. But angels have a completely different way of understanding all of this. Every detail that we interpret on a physical level, they interpret on a spiritual level. The angels' way of understanding it is what it symbolizes: it is the Bible's inner, spiritual meaning. (The Heavenly City #1)
Thomas Cahill notes in his most recent book, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, that "the first words Jesus spoke in the Gospel of Mark were, 'The time has come: the kingdom of God draws near. Open your hearts and believe the Good News.'" Perhaps what we really need to when we celebrate the Lord's arrival is to believe what Jesus taught us while he was here on earth. He came as Jesus Christ, an infant child who was the long awaited Messiah of Jewish tradition, and he became the man who is our personal savior. He is the Divine Human with whom our human nature can associate and have a personal relationship. He is the redeemer of the world, who provides salvation and eternal life for all people who believe in him and keep the commandments of his Word.
In the New Church, we teach that the Lord has come again. He said, "I will come again" (John 14:3), and we believe this has happened. His presence is a present day reality. We understand that he has not come in the flesh as he did the first time, but that he has come through enlightenment and understanding of his Word, and with a new emphasis on the inner qualities of love.
What is the good news that this second coming brings? What is the gift of the Second Advent? We can rejoice in the knowledge that the second coming of the Lord is a present-day reality! Do you realize the full implications of this claim?
God is not going to destroy the world! And human existence will continue indefinitely! We might destroy parts of it, and the forces of nature continually destroy and rebuild parts of it, but God will not destroy what he created. If this is so, then we can stop acting as if our world might blow up at any time. We can take a long-range view in the way we treat our earth. Environmental management makes sense, so that the world can support future generations. Instead of just expecting God to completely change everything about our world, we can see ourselves as once again becoming the custodians or caretakers of the world, just as the Adamic people were in ancient times. On the esoteric side, we can be assured that knowledge and understanding will continue to increase at a rapid pace, and more and more problems and dangers of living in this physical world will be solved. The area where we seem to be the slowest is our human and social relations. But this, too, will change.
The second advent also brings other gifts and assurances:
- The Lord provides religion for all people; and everyone who acknowledges God and practices good, as he or she understands it, will enter the heavenly kingdom. Imagine what it will be like when all religions embrace this philosophy!
- The Bible is the Word of God, and speaks everywhere of him, and of his Church both in heaven and on earth. The Bible is not about the condition of the physical world and our social and political life.
- The spiritual condition of the human race is continuously improving, and will continue to do so until the state of joy and perfection described by the Holy City New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven is realized.
- Our present life is continued into the next life. Death is an immediate transition of our life from the natural world to the spiritual world.
- God does not destroy; he creates. He does not punish anyone, but he loves us so much that he gives us complete freedom to choose his way or not.
- All humans are created to become angels in heaven, since the purpose of creation is a heaven of angels from the human race. We do not need to compete for a place on God's team; there is plenty of room for everyone.
- The growth in science and technology and the improvements in the world political situation along with the expansion of human rights are reflections of the general spiritual growth of the human race. Our doctrine of cause and effect teaches us that the cause of things is spiritual, and the effect is natural. Therefore, as we open our lives more and more to spiritual influences from the Lord, we will increasingly receive the benefits of spiritual growth.
This is a wonderfully optimistic message. But one can argue that it is not a true picture of what is going on in the world today. We see wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Africa, and other places. We hear of all the injustices and abuses that are taking place in every country. We sometimes see things as getting worse instead of better; so we may wonder if there is any legitimacy to these optimistic claims.
We must keep in mind that the religious philosophy of the New Church is in its infancy. The birth of this new era begins with a promise of a better future, so that people will become favorably disposed to the idea that things can and will improve. It also requires the exposure of all that is wrong and false and evil in the world--and such exposure reveals much that is painful and negative. Yet many things are now brought out in the open that only a few years ago would have been covered up or veiled in a cloud of secrecy.
The early prophetic descriptions of the second coming all contain images of death and destruction, earthquakes and storms and wars. All of this upheaval is reflected in what is going on now. The book of Matthew reports that Jesus said:
Soon after the trouble of those days, the sun will grow dark, the moon will no longer shine, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the sky will be driven off their courses. Then the Son of Man will appear in the sky; and all the peoples of earth will weep as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29-30)
When the world is on the brink of being devoid of love, as represented by the sun, and of truth, as represented by the moon, and everything seems to be about to be destroyed because all genuine knowledge of truth derived from the Word will be banished, then the Son of Man will appear. This is the grand announcement of the Lord's second coming. "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matthew 24:27).
Now we can move on to the more optimistic prophesies in the latter part of John's Book of Revelation, where he says, "I saw a new sky and a new land. The first sky and the first land had disappeared. . . . Then I saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of the sky like a bride ready for her husband." Here is what the details of this passage mean according to the understanding of angels in heaven, as explained by Swedenborg in The Heavenly City #1:
- "A new sky and a new land" refer to a new religion in heaven and on earth.
- "The city Jerusalem coming down from God out of the sky" means the philosophy of this new religion.
- "The city's 'length, width, and height,'" which were equal, refer to all the good qualities and true ideas in this philosophy, seen as whole.
- "The city's wall" means the true ideas that protect it.
- The measurements of its wall, "144 cubits by human standards of measurement, that is, by angelic standards," refers to all this protecting truth seen as a whole and what it is like.
- The "twelve gates" made of pearls, and the "twelve angels" at them, mean the true ideas that bring people into the religion.
- The wall's foundations, "made out of every kind of precious stone," mean the pure concepts this religious philosophy is based upon.
- "Israel's twelve tribes" means everything about the religion, seen as a whole and in all its different aspects. The "twelve apostles" mean the same thing.
- The "gold like pure glass" that the city and its highway were made of means the good qualities that come from love, which make the true ideas of this philosophy shine through.
- "The nations that have been rescued" and "the world's kings" who will "bring their magnificence and dignity to it" refer to all religious people who do good things and have true ideas.
This beautiful image of the Holy City New Jerusalem coming down out of the sky is the image that we of the New Church can keep in our hearts and picture in our minds as we once again bask in the glow of the Lord's Advent, and contemplate the promise of the second coming of the Lord.
Jesus says, "See, I am coming soon! Happy are those who obey the prophetic words of this book" (Revelation 22:7). Amen.
Dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, throughout the centuries there have been wars and rumors of wars, and nation has risen up against nation. There have been earthquakes in various places, and famines, and persecutions, and suffering. Many have expected you to come in their lifetimes, and have looked in vain for that coming. Help us to grasp and appreciate that your coming is not with outward show, but that your kingdom is within us. Even as we celebrate your Second Advent in a new revelation of truth, keep us mindful that it is not the truth itself, however deep it may be, but rather our acceptance of it in our hearts and lives that is your true Advent among us. Help us, then, to live according to the wonderful things you have shown us, spreading your light and love to all around us every day, and showing your glory by our deeds. Amen.
Rev. David Sonmor