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The Coming of Christ–The Holy City
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 22, 2014
Revelation 21:1-16, 21-27; 22:1-7 True Christian Religion 791 Psalm 68
Today we celebrate New Church Day. On June 19, 1770, the Lord called the 12 Apostles together in heaven and sent them out to preach the message of the New Church. That message is that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns. This was the institution of the New Church in heaven that was prophesied in the book of Revelation. We heard about the New Church this morning. In the book of Revelation, the New Church is called the Holy City, New Jerusalem. It descends from heaven as a bride. The descent of the Holy City comes after all the terrible calamities of the Last Judgment. It is a picture of peace after turmoil. This is also the Second Coming of the Lord, which was prophesied in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In the Gospels, the Last Judgment is prophesied, as in the book of Revelation. However, in the Gospels we don’t have the descent of the Holy City New Jerusalem. Instead, after the Last Judgment, Jesus appears in the clouds of heaven with glory and power. But this, too, is in the book of Revelation. Within the Holy City, the Lord Himself is present and we will see His face. Also, in Revelation 22:7, Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon!” So in both the Gospels and in the book of Revelation, the coming of the Lord is prophesied. We call this the second coming. But the Bible doesn’t call it that. The Bible simply calls it the coming of the Son of Man. That is what Swedenborg calls it, too, in his discussion in True Christian Religion. The coming of the Lord and the coming of the New Church are connected. But they are internal events that will not manifest to the physical eye.
The coming of the Lord is not an event that we will see with our physical eyes. The Gospels say that Christ will appear in the clouds of heaven in glory and power. Swedenborg tells us that this event will not happen in the physical world–that is, in the sky that we can see with our natural senses. In fact, Jesus Himself says the same thing. “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). So it looks like we have two contradictory passages in the Bible. One says that we will see the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven. The other says that we will not see it and say, “here it is,” or “there it is.” Swedenborg reconciles these two apparently contradictory passages by means of the internal sense of the Bible. Swedenborg says that the clouds of heaven refer to the Bible in its literal sense–that is, the Bible as it appears when we take it at face value. The glory and power of the coming of the Lord refer to the internal sense of the Bible–that is, the meaning of the Bible when it is seen as symbolic of deeper meaning. “By the clouds of heaven is meant the Word in the sense of the letter is meant, and by the glory and power in which He is then to come the spiritual sense of the Word is meant” (TCR 776).
Swedenborg tells us that Jesus cannot appear to the world so that we would see Him with our physical senses. He says that since the glorification, when Jesus ascended up into heaven, we can only see Him if our spiritual eyes are opened. This is why Jesus could walk next to two Apostles all the way to Emmaus and they didn’t recognise Him. They didn’t recognize Him until their spiritual eyes were opened.
He is not to appear in person, because since He ascended into heaven He is in the glorified Humanity, and in this He cannot appear to any person unless He first opens the eyes of his spirit, and this cannot be done with any one who is in evils . . . Therefore when he manifested Himself to His disciples, He first opened their eyes; for we read, “And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him, and He vanished out of their sight (Luke 24:31) (TCR 777).
The appearance of the Lord in the clouds of heaven, then, means that the Lord will appear in the Bible in its literal and in its internal senses. So we will see the Lord through the Bible, not in the sky.
Swedenborg says that the coming of the Lord is when a person comes into relationship with the Lord. This first happens when Jesus Christ is recognized as the God of heaven and of earth, and a person’s Savior. This is the beginning of spiritual life with a person. From this beginning, a person advances in wisdom and into greater spiritual love all through life, and even through the next life to eternity.
The Lord is present with every person, urging and pressing him to be received; and when a person receives Him, which he does when he acknowledges Him as his God, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior, then is His first coming which is called dawn. From this time the person begins to be enlightened . . . and to advance into more and more interior wisdom; and as he receives this wisdom from the Lord, so he advances through morning into day, and this day lasts with him into old age, even to death; and after death he passes into heaven, to the Lord Himself, and there, although he died an old man, he is restored to the morning of his life, and develops to eternity the beginning of wisdom implanted in the natural world (TCR 766).
The recognition that Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth is at the very center of the New Church. The central truth of the New Church is that the invisible God is in the visible Christ as the soul is in the body.
This New Church is the crown of all the churches which have hitherto existed on earth, because it will worship one visible God in whom is the invisible, like the soul in the body (TCR 787).
This is still a novel claim in Christianity. Every Christian church today, still holds to the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed teaches that God is three Persons who have one essence. This teaching is impossible to understand, and Swedenborg claims that most Christians think of God as three Persons. He accuses Christians of being polytheists–that is, of believing in three Gods. Very few Christian theologians reject the Nicene Creed, excepting Swedenborg and a certain Michael Servetus, to my knowledge. Both Swedenborg and Servetus teach that God is only one Person–namely Jesus Christ, whose soul is the Old Testament God Yahweh. Servetus was burnt at the stake as a heretic and Swedenborg was condemned by the Swedish Lutheran Church as a heretic. Had society been different, and had Swedenborg not had royal protection, his fate may have been similar to Servetus.
Swedenborg claims that we can only form an emotional connection with a God we can picture in Human form. The Humanity of God is a central teaching in Swedenborg’s theology and central in the New Church. So Swedenborg says,
This New Church is the crown of all the churches which have hitherto existed on earth, because it will worship one visible God in whom is the invisible, like the soul in the body. Thus and not otherwise can there be conjunction of God with a person, because a person is natural and hence thinks naturally, and the conjunction must be in his thought and thus in his love’s affection, which is the case when he thinks of God as a Human. Conjunction with an invisible God is like that of the eye’s vision with the expanse of the universe, of which it sees no end; it is also like vision in mid ocean, which falls upon air and sea and is lost. But conjunction with a visible God, on the other hand, is like seeing a man in the air on the sea, spreading forth his hands and inviting to his arms (TCR 787).
People have asked me, “How important is the way a person views God? How important is it whether they see God as the Human Jesus Christ, or as cosmic energy, or as Nature?” Well, for Swedenborg, the Divine Humanity of Jesus is extremely important. As we just heard, Swedenborg thinks that conjunction is not possible with a god who isn’t human. I, personally, hold with this view, as well. I can’t speak for others who claim that they feel connected to God in different forms.
The New Church was formed first in heaven, and will descend into the world gradually. Swedenborg says that it will descend as the falsities of the old Christian church dissipate. Sometimes it looks to me like even the most progressive Christian churches are digging in their heels and tenaciously holding onto the ancient falsities. At other times, it looks like this descent of the New Church is indeed happening. One example is in the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. They talk over and over again of Christ’s reconciling love. This puts Christ, or God in the Divine Human, if you will, in the forefront. It also puts reconciling love in the center. Now, I know that this wording implies one of the old falsities of Christianity. Traditional Christians believe that Christ’s death on the cross reconciled God to the human race. But I think that the NCCCUSA is taking reconciling in its broadest possible meaning. They mean reconciling all the hatreds and injustices in the world through Christ’s love. That’s a pretty New Church perspective.
Our Swedenborgian church was formed to embody the life and teachings of the New Church. Whether we are that New Church depends on each of us individually. The New Church will be one where the divinity and unity of God in Jesus Christ is at the center of worship. But it also means that love will be united with wisdom in each person’s soul. This is what is symbolized by the Holy City New Jerusalem being as long as it is wide. Length signifies what is good, or love, and breadth signifies what is true (AR 906). The New Church is formed in the soul of each of us, and then it exists in bodily form on earth. Whether this Swedenborgian Church is the New Church on earth is a question for each of us to answer as we look into our own heart and soul.
Dear Lord, this morning we reflect on the creation of your New Church. And we know that a church is not a building alone. It is not a place where the Bible rests. It is not found in the image of the cross alone. For the true church resides within the hearts of each person who comes into the building, to hear the Bible preached, and to reflect on the resurrection from the cross. So we ask, are you creating your church in our soul? For we are each one of us a church when we are filled with your Holy Spirit. When our thinking is characterized by truth, and when our feelings are characterized by love, then you have founded your church in us. So this morning we pray that you build you church in our hearts. Fashion us into an image and likeness of you. Make us a vessel of your love. Guide our footsteps in your way. So that with the church is founded in us, when we come together your church on earth will be.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.