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Sermons

The Second Coming

January 16, 2005

Bible Reading

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."

(Matthew 24:3-8)

Reading from Swedenborg

This, the Lord's second coming, is taking place by means of a man, to whom he has shown himself in person, and whom he has filled with his spirit, so that he may teach the doctrines of the new church that come from the Lord through the Word.

Since the Lord cannot show himself in person, as has just been shown, and yet he predicted that he would come and found a new church, which is the New Jerusalem, it follows that he will do this by means of a man, who can not only receive intellectually the doctrines of this church, but also publish them in print. I bear true witness that the Lord has shown himself in the presence of me, his servant, and sent me to perform this task. After this he opened the sight of my spirit, thus admitting me to the spiritual world, and allowing me to see the heavens and the hells, and also to talk with angels and spirits; and I have now been doing this continually for many years. Equally I assert that from the first day of my calling I have not received any instruction concerning the doctrines of that church from any angel, but only from the Lord, while I was reading the Word. (True Christian Religion #779)

Sermon

They shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)

Every cloud has a silver lining, so the saying goes. When Jesus said that it was necessary for him to die at the hands of those who hated him, and the disciples grasped that he really meant it, all their hopes and dreams of the future were clouded over.

Yet Jesus comforted them when he promised that this was not the end, for his death would be the means of his success. And then he promised that he would come again to men and women on earth. All the Gospels record details of what he promised, and the disciples were fortified in the knowledge that the cloud of despair had a silver lining.

The Lord Jesus did appear to his disciples after rising from the dead. But, pleased as they were, they knew that this was not the Second Coming that he had meant, for the signs that he had promised did not appear. At Pentecost they went out renewed, and began to build up the Christian Church. But still they knew that the visitation of the Holy Spirit was not the Second Coming, because still there were no signs.

So as they worked, the disciples kept their eyes open for them. The Lord had commanded, "Watch, therefore; for you know not what hour your Lord comes" (Matthew 24:42). In all the preaching of the early Christians, there was the expectation and trust that the Lord would come again. When persecutions broke out, they were interpreted as "the tribulation of those days" that the Lord had said must precede the Second Coming. As wars rocked countries from end to end, they were seen again and again as signs of the Coming. Yet never did all the signs follow one upon another, nor did Jesus bypass them and come in glory all the same.

Doubt and Denial

The Christian Church was disappointed, and still is, because such clear and uplifting promises seem to have been broken. And because the Coming has not taken place, doubt that it ever will has crept into many minds. From the doubt has sprung denial of all the other things Jesus promised and commanded. Alongside this, a host of scientific evidence has been brought forward to prove that the signs--the black sun, the dark moon, the gravity-free stars--are impossible anyway. Yet still, the idea that Jesus will come on earth a second time has lingered on in the background of Christian doctrine. His promises are still looked at literally, and if they cannot be explained, they are left alone and given no importance.

Even so, if our Lord's promises about his Second Coming were unimportant, they would hardly be emphasized so much in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation, which are part of the inspired record of God's Word. The Book of Revelation dwells completely on the judgment that is to accompany the Second Coming--and so it must be a vital promise to us.

Our Lord came on earth as the Redeemer of the human race. One part of his work was to reestablish a Church among humans, for this is essential if we are to be able to learn his saving truths without compulsion to do so. This is why he taught the disciples so carefully, for it was on the bedrock of their belief in his divinity that the Christian Church was to be founded. And part of his teaching was that when this Church came to an end as a potent spiritual force in the world, he would come the second time.

As he said, so it happened. The Christian Church must be spent as an agent for human salvation as long as it depends on its false dogma of tri-personalism with all its ramifications. And so our Lord has made his Second Coming.

Letter and Symbol

The signs of the Coming, as recorded in the Lord's Word, have not literally happened, but this should not surprise us. We do not often realize that the Old Testament proclaimed the signs that would herald the Lord's First Coming. Here is one example: "Behold, the day of the Lord comes. . . . For the stars of heaven and its constellations shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in its rising, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine" (Isaiah 13:9, 10). Yet at our Savior's birth, these things did not happen literally. A new star was seen by a few, but the old ones did not vanish. Similarly, one of the foretold results of our Lord's First Coming was, "I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind" (Isaiah 65:17). But again, it did not happen literally.

All of this will help to show the mistake people make when they try to take Scripture symbolism literally. The best example of this was shown on the first Palm Sunday. Those Jews knew their Old Testament Scriptures inside out. They recognized Jesus' claim to be their king. But they understood these things literally, and they let him be killed when he did not set up a worldly kingdom.

The only statements in the Holy Scriptures that we should take literally are those that tell us of our need to worship God, to recoil from evil as sin against him, and to serve other people--that is, those statements that insist on our need for personal regeneration. Within the literal statements of the rest, the Lord has given us a spiritual message described in symbolic terms. This is how we must understand what we are taught about the signs of the Second Coming. The sun, moon, and stars that shall no longer serve their proper functions represent the spiritual things that people lack; and the clouds of heaven represent those that serve to bring the Lord anew to them. To learn this message, we must know why he would come, for that will tell us when he did.

Revelation

The Lord reveals himself to human beings when he needs to teach them truth and goodness, for these are the basis of their faith in him as God and of their charity or goodwill towards their fellows. Once people have been taught these matters, they can pass them on to others by word of mouth and in writing. This is how the disciples worked once they had been taught by the Lord; it is how the Israelites learned once Moses had been instructed on Sinai.

On each occasion, the Lord gave his teaching of charity and faith. When the Israelites and Jews corrupted what had been revealed to them, then in course of time the Lord made a new revelation, which did not supersede the old, but showed new depths of meaning within it.

He did not deny the Law of Moses, but fulfilled it. He came not to destroy it, but to illuminate it; and the Christian Church became the custodians of both revelations, old and new.

As the centuries passed, however, the early purity of the teaching of the Church passed into doctrinal squabbles and philosophical arguments. From this there followed denials of first one and then another of the basic truths of Christianity. We still have these falsities around us, in those who call themselves Christians but say that Christ is not divine. We have them in those who claim Christ's merit for what they do, and so on. We still have, in the Christian Creeds, the claims that faith alone is what gains us our salvation, and goodness is only incidental. Conversely, some still insist that goodness is all we need, and that it does not matter what we believe.

These examples of the way in which Christian scholars have argued are only the surface symptoms of the real trouble: that Christians lost sight of the need for goodwill and charity. If that had been kept, then differences of opinion about doctrine would have been no more than differences of opinion. Instead, they became the signs of deadly enmity between those who had been exhorted to become peacemakers. As people lost charity towards each other, they lost their faith in God as well, and then they ceased to learn the truths of his Word, rejecting them as valueless. The Gospel of Luke records our Lord's sad challenge: "When the Son of Man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). He knew that he would not, for that was why he would have to come again. That is what the Gospel means when it gives the signs of the sun, the moon, and the stars.

The Signs

Charity gives warmth to the soul. It kindles within us holy zeal for the salvation of others. In the Word of the Lord, the heat of the sun represents the love and goodness that come from the Lord--"the Sun of Righteousness" (Malachi 4:2)--to benefit our souls. When the Church is demonstrating a way of life for people to live that is not a reflection of the Lord's love and goodness, "the sun is darkened," and then human minds cannot be enlightened as to what the truth directs. "The moon gives no light" when the sun of charity is snuffed out. "The stars fall from heaven" when the knowledge of goodness and truth falls on deaf ears, and is disregarded. The church on earth has no influence over the majority of men and women when it teaches no goodness or truth, no charity or faith.

This was the state of affairs on earth two centuries ago. The Christian Church was then a spent force. Materialistic philosophers all over Europe were dismissing religion as nonsense, and no one could counter their reasonings. A new revelation of divine truth was needed, and the church needed to be reformed before humankind could be saved. So our Lord came a second time. Not one of the Scripture signs was seen, for they were not meant to be taken literally. Nor could these signs be recognized spiritually, either, for the falsities taught in the name of Christianity had obscured the minds of those who taught them.

The Clouds

Then the Lord came "in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30). I have prepared you to realize that he never meant he would float down from the sky in a mass of water vapor. He spoke symbolically.

His love and goodness are the constant source of spiritual life for all mankind: "He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good" (Matthew 5:45). Yet constant exposure to the sun is more than we can stand, and we can never gaze upon it without harm. Equally, the sheer unveiled glory of divine truth is far beyond our comprehension; and its expression in terms of human experience must pay regard to all the changing states of life that humankind enjoys.

And so in his wisdom, our Lord has always tempered his display of love towards creation, ensuring that every man and woman can grow to love him in the light of his or her religious knowledge. That knowledge, too, is modified by the very act of revelation into a form that we may understand. Indeed, the glory of the truth revealed to us only filters through the clouds of history and parable, prophecy and praise of which the literal sense of the Word is composed.

While this preserves our freedom of choice about whom we will serve, "God or mammon" (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13), it also preserves and defends the spiritual element of our Lord's Word, safeguarding it from profanation by those who choose mammon as their master. At the same time, because the true nature of God and his revelations in times past has become clouded over by the lives and beliefs of men and women, the Word remains ignored, its stories and prophecies holding no apparent meaning as far as our everyday life is concerned, because they are taken literally.

The Silver Lining

The new revelation of divine truth so sorely needed, and so surely promised, has now been made. It has not superseded the old revelations, but has taken them and filled them full of meaning, showing the goodness and the truth, the charity and the faith shining within the cloudy nature of the Word of our Lord. The symbols accommodating the glory of the truth can now be seen to be full of the light and heat they have always been conveying to us and to all people.

Our Lord made his Second Coming by means of a man, or else no other men or women could have known of it or benefited from it. This man, Emanuel Swedenborg, made public the new revelation, and it became the basis of a new church on earth--a church whose influence has been to turn human minds back to the Old and New Testaments. There the Lord stands revealed within the clouding symbolism of the literal sense of his Word, with power to ensure our salvation when we choose to live with charity and faith.

And in the clouds that were given from heaven we see the Lord in a new glory, not just as a man named Jesus who died long ago, but as the Creator, Redeemer, and Regenerator of all of humanity forever. He came "in the clouds with power and great glory," and showed us the silver lining of his Word.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, our minds are often clouded with the materialistic views of this world, and with the literal interpretations of your Word that come at us from all sides. Thank you for making your appearance in the clouds of our doubts, and also in the clouds of the literal meaning of the Bible. Thank you for shining the bright light of your divine presence into the dark corners of human life here on earth, sending your enlightening truth and your human presence into the troubled areas of life. Make us messengers, also, of your divine light and love. Send us out to bring the glory and the comfort of your Second Coming, in spirit and in truth, to all of the people that we encounter each day. Amen.

Rev. Norman Ryder