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Dreams, Vision and Sleep 4

Visions of the Old and New Testaments

by the Rev. Frederick L. Schnarr

We have discussed the nature and use of the dreams employed by the Lord in preparing the revelations of the Old and the New Testaments. We noted that dreams could only take place when man's corporeal, and his conscious mind, were asleep. We learned that all the dreams forming part of the revelation of the two testaments were prophetic and that their predictions came to fulfillment in immediate or near events. Finally we observed the distinction between the form of the dream used in the Old Testament and the form used in the New Testament; we saw that the dreams of the Old Testament all were presented in representative and symbolic imagery, while those of the New Testament took the form of open, clear messages.

Having considered dreams, we would turn our attention to the nature and use of the visions of the Old and New Testaments.

We noted in a prior class the distinction made in an Arcana passage between dreams and visions; we read in A.C. 1975 that "dreams occur when the corporeal is asleep, and visions when it is not asleep." This seems clear until we read in Divine Providence 134 that visions cannot appear to anyone in the waking states of the body. What are we to understand from these seemingly contradictory statements? We would suggest from our overall studies of the subject of dreams and visions that when the Arcana speaks of man's corporeal being asleep in states of dreams, the reference is to the conscious thought of man in his body; therefore that his whole consciousness of mind and body is asleep during dreams. Now many teachings concerning visions make it clear that man's conscious thought in the state of vision is definitely not asleep, but fully awake. It is awake however, not in his natural body but in his spiritual body. This is the clarifying teaching, concerning which we read: "As man's spirit means his mind, therefore ‘Being in the spirit' . . . means a state of mind separate from the body; and because in that state the prophets saw such things as exist in the spiritual world it is called ‘a vision of God.' The prophets were then in a state like that of spirits and angels themselves in that world. In that state man's spirit like his mind in regard to sight, may be transferred from place to place, the body remaining meanwhile in its own place. This is the state in which I have now been for twenty-six years, with the difference, that I am in the spirit and in the body at the same time, and only at times out of the body." (TCR 157; cf. Lord 52; AE 1037) In our next class we will consider some of the particulars concerning Swedenborg's special states in dreams and visions. Here, we would just make it clear, that in visions, the prophets were in their spiritual bodies and not their natural bodies. It was their spiritual body that sensed, saw, heard, tasted, smelled, and touched - and their conscious mind, fully awake, received all of this spiritual sensation. In this state the natural body was not awake; its senses were closed as far as communication with the consciousness was concerned. And so in both dreams and visions we could say that the natural body was asleep; in one instance it was asleep together with the consciousness, in dreams, and in visions asleep without the consciousness. If this distinction is not clear, perhaps it will become more evident as we consider further teachings concerning the nature of visions.

The Writings tell us there were two kinds of visions, Divine visions used in the giving of revelation, and diabolical visions induced by enthusiastic and visionary spirits in the world of spirits, using the magic powers of hell. Diabolical visions, because they have some relationship to the present state of man, we will consider at a later time. Here we would concentrate on what is revealed concerning Divine visions.

There are many kinds of Divine visions. (AC 1973) We will shortly consider various examples of those most commonly used. But first we would note general teachings that apply to all Divine visions.

The formation of the representatives used in Divine visions followed much the same order as the formation of the representatives used in representative-prophetic dreams. When the angels in a higher heaven are discussing and meditating upon a certain subject, the affections of those angels relating to that subject, flow into the lower heavens and into the world of spirits and appear there in representative forms. (AC 2179, 9457, AE 369) We noted in a previous class that when horses appear in the lower heavens or to the good spirits in the world of spirits the discussion of the angels in the higher heavens is about the things of the understanding; when oxen or bullocks appear it is about natural good; when sheep appear, it is about rational good; when lambs appear it is about innocence; and so on with all representative appearances. (Ibid.) Now, we understand that many of these things, horses, sheep, trees of different kinds, flowers, or what have you, might be a permanent part of the scenery of an angel. All things that appear to an angel in his permanent home and society are representative of his particular affections and thoughts - but these are permanent representations. With visions, the Writings are talking about those things that appear in an angel's environment that are not permanent - they are temporary appearances or representations. And they come into his presence and to his attention from the specific activity and thought of a higher heaven. Swedenborg saw many such temporary representations; and these too, are what the prophets saw in their visions.

So we read, "that real visions are visions of such things as really appear in the spiritual world corresponding altogether with the thoughts and affections of the angels." (AE 575) That "all things seen by the prophets are such as appear before the angels in heaven." (AC 10042)

In the state of vision the eyes of their spirit were opened, and the eyes of their body shut; and then they heard what the angels spoke: or what Jehovah spake through the angels, and they also saw the things which were represented to them in heaven . . . In this state the disciples were when they saw the Lord after His resurrection, wherefore it is said that: Their eyes were opened. (Luke 24: 30, 31) Abraham was in a similar state when he saw the three angels, and spoke with them. So were Hagar, Gideon, Joshua, and others, when they saw the angels of Jehovah; and in like manner, the boy servant of Elisha, when he saw the mountain full of chariots and horses of fire round about Elisha. (AR 360) In this state, at times, were Ezekiel, Zechariah, Daniel, and John when he wrote the Revelation; and it is then said that they were "in vision," or "in the spirit." (Lord 52; see also AC 1970, 1532, 1619)

There are two kinds of visions that are not of the ordinary kind, into which I have been let solely that I might know their nature, and what is meant by its being said in the Word that men were "withdrawn from the body," and that they were carried by the spirit into another place. As regards the first, namely, being withdrawn from the body, the case is this. The man is brought into a certain state that is midway between sleep and wakefulness, and when he is in this state he cannot know but that he is wholly awake. All his senses are as fully awake as in the highest wakefulness of the body: the sight, the hearing, and wonderful to say, the touch, which is then more exquisite than it can ever be in the wakefulness of the body. In this state also spirits and angels have been seen to the very life, and also beard, and wonderful to say, have been touched, and almost nothing of the body then intervened. This is the state of which it is said that they are withdrawn from the body, and that they do not know whether they are in the body or out of it.

I have been let into this state only three or four times, merely that I might know how the case is with it, and that spirits and angels are in the enjoyment of every sense, even touch in a form more delicate and more exquisite than that of the body. As regards the other kind of vision - being carried away by the spirit into another place - it has been shown me by living experience what it is, and how it is done, but only two or three times. One single experience I may mention. Walking through the streets of the city and through the country, and being at the same time also in conversation with spirits, I did not know but that I was wide awake and saw as at other times, so that I walked on without mistake, and all the time being in vision, seeing groves, rivers, palaces, houses, men, and many other things. But after I had thus walked for hours, suddenly I was in the sight of the body, and became aware that I was in another place. Greatly amazed at this, I perceived that I had been in such a state as they were in of whom it is said that they were led away by the spirit into another place; for while this state lasts there is no reflection concerning the way, even if it be many miles; nor is there reflection concerning the time, even if it be many hours or days; nor is there any feeling of fatigue. Moreover the person is led through ways of which he has no knowledge, even to the appointed place. This took place that I might know that a man can be led by the Lord without his knowing whence and whither. These two kinds of visions, however, are extraordinary, and were shown me merely to the end that I might know their nature. But the things I have habitually seen (as mentioned in the title to this work) are all those which of the Lord's Divine mercy you may see related in this First Part, and which are placed at the beginning and end of the several chapters. These are not visions, but things seen in the highest wakefulness of the body, and this for several years. (AC 1882-1885)

There is no question that the representations seen in visions were organized and presented from the Divine foresight, for all visions were prophetic - some more obviously than others. And as we have noted before, all true prophesy must come from the Divine foresight alone. No angel, spirit, or devil can foresee anything from himself. (AC 3698)

But still, the Lord could not organize and present the forms of prophetic visions without employing the media of angelic states. And this in turn meant that the internal truths and goods represented in a vision had also to be in the thought and meditation of at least the celestial angels, before any instructive visions could come into being in a lower heaven or in the world of spirits. This is an important teaching to remember, because it makes clear the whole order and progression of how a great part of Divine revelation was given by the Lord, received by angels, presented to man on earth, and written down in ultimate form by the prophets.

Recall from the Book of Revelation John's vision of the opening of the book sealed with seven seals; how with the opening of the first four seals, different colored horses came forth, white, red, black, and pale. The Writings in explaining the significance of this vision, also show how such visions were made possible.

This and the following chapter [meaning the 6th and 7th chapters of the Book of Revelation] treat of the state of the Christian Church, or the church where the Word is, from its beginning to its end, or from the time of the Lord down to the Last Judgment. For the new church that is called the Christian Church, and that was begun by the Lord when He was in the world, and afterwards propagated, has successively decreased down to this time, which is its last time, in which is the judgment. Predictions respecting these successive states of the church are here brought forth, as from a book, by various representatives; but it is to be known that such predictions were not seen and read in a book when its seals were opened, but were made manifest through the heavens from the Lord before the angels of the inmost heaven; and were represented in the ultimates of heaven by such things as are related in this chapter, namely, by horses of various colors, and afterwards by earthquakes, by the darkenings of the sun and moon, and by the falling of the stars to the earth. These however were appearances before the angels of the ultimate heaven, signifying such things as were heard and perceived in the inmost heaven where there were not such appearances; for whatever is heard, thought, and perceived in the inmost heaven from the Lord, when it descends through the middle heaven to the ultimate, is turned into such appearances. In this way are the arcana of Divine wisdom made known before the angels of the ultimate heaven. Those there who are intelligent perceive these arcana by the correspondences; but the lowest of them do not perceive, but only know that there are arcana therein, nor do they inquire further; John was with these when "in the spirit" or in vision. (AE 369)

The teaching concerning the formation of temporary representative visions in the natural heaven and the world of spirits not only sheds light on the formation of the Word, but also on the formation of the church; that is, the states necessary for the reception of the Word in the hearts and minds of angels and men. Since this is not immediately pertinent to our subject we will not go into this aspect of the teachings in any detail. We would simply observe that in the establishment by the Lord of any true new church, whether the Ancient, the Christian, or now the New Church, the reception of the new truths and goods of that church had to take place by stages. It had to begin each time in the celestial heaven and gradually descend from there through the other heavens. It had to be born in the world of spirits from the heavens. With the New Church, it was this establishment of the goods and truths of the Second Coming that brought about the Last judgment in the world of spirits. Only after such an establishment of the church in all the higher degrees could the New Church then be born upon earth and gradually grow. And so also with the other true churches. (AC 1887, 2026; AR 558; TCR 135.The New Church on earth grows according to its growth in the world of spirits. AE 732)

The prophetic visions of the Old and New Testaments not only came forth through and from the reception of new truths and goods with the celestial angels, but when the visions were in written form and read by men on earth this in turn would act as a stimulant to the angels to cause them to delight again in the thought and affection of those truths and goods. Thus we see a beautiful circle of the Divine proceeding coming down through the heavens to man on earth, and then through man on earth returning through the heavens again to the Lord.

And we note something further concerning the state and life of the interior heavens. Since they understood the inmost truths which made representative visions possible, they knew from this the future states of the church and what the Lord would do to save man. The angels of the celestial heaven knew of the coming Last judgment and the birth of the New Church hundreds of years before these events would occur. They had to know, because the visions seen by John of the judgment and the New Church, came forth from their thought and affection of these truths. We say the interior heavens knew this; obviously the natural heavens and the good spirits bound in the world of spirits had only a general idea. Had they had the knowledge of particular truths they would not have been confused and bound by falsities.

What the Lord could reveal to man through visions, partly depended upon the state that man was in, or even that the individual prophet was in. We are taught that visions take place in accordance with man's state.

To those whose interiors are closed a vision is very different from those whose interiors are open. For example, when the Lord appeared to the whole congregation in Mount Sinai, the appearing was a vision that was different to the people from what it was to Aaron, and that was different to Aaron from what it was to Moses; and again, visions were different to the prophets from what they were to Moses. . . . The more interior the visions, the more perfect they are. With the Lord they were the most perfect of all; because He then had perception of all things in the world of spirits and in the heavens. (AC 1786)

It would seem that certain kinds of visions could appear to men who were wicked; certainly they were in evils of life. So Balaam, the prophet of Midian sought to curse the children of Israel for wealth and was warned of his intent by seeing an angel standing in the path of his donkey. Belshazzar the Chaldean king while using the vessels of the tabernacle at a drunken party saw a hand write on the wall. With evil men however, their visions were mostly brief representations, or angelic beings, giving a warning or prophesying near states of judgment.

With many, the natural and external state of mind they were in made it almost impossible for them to even recognize a state of vision. Lot, Abraham, and Gideon, to mention only a few, spoke to angels as though they were men and did not realize they were not men until near the end of the vision. This too is the reason why many of the visions given through the prophets seem crude, and certainly obscure as to any meaning. Such are many of the visions to the judges, the Prophets and the Kings of Israel and Judah. Jeremiah could see in a vision "a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north." (Jer. 1: 13) Ezekiel could see living creatures with wings turning great wheels, "As for their wings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their wings were full of eyes round about them, four." (Ezek. 1: 18) Daniel could see four beasts rising out of the sea. (Dan. 7: 30)

And yet with others, their interior state seems to have been such that they could see more openly. Moses saw the Lord face to face, and when he came down from Mt. Sinai his face did shine with light. Isaiah could see a vision of the Lord in glory: "I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two He covered His face, and with two He covered His feet, and with two He did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory." (Isa. 6: 1-3) Peter, James and John could see the Lord transfigured before them, "and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light." (Matt. 17: 2) John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, could see the whole representative panorama of the visitation and judgment of the Christian Church, and the beautiful symbolic image of the New Church - a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet; a bride adorned for her husband descending from God out of heaven; and the glorious city, the New Jerusalem, sparkling with light and glowing from the radiance of precious stones and jewels. The Writings indicate that all of these men who saw such open visions of the representatives of the Lord and His heavenly kingdom were good men.

In some respects we note no great distinction between the visions of the Old Testament and those of the New Testament. Certainly there is not the distinction there was with dreams, where we noted that in the New Testament representative dreams were not to be found. Representative visions we find in abundance in the New Testament, especially in the Book of Revelation, which is nothing but a series of visions. We do note, however, that the visions of the New Testament are more open and connected; the spiritual sense shines through much more clearly than it does in the visions of the Old Testament. This is significant because it shows the gradual development of Divine revelation from its most external form to a more internal form. When we come to the visions revealed in the Second Coming to Swedenborg, we see completely open internal visions, visions that portray the very life of the spiritual world in all detail.

We have not considered any difference between day visions and night visions. Both are listed as means whereby revelation was given, but we can find nothing in the Writings to show how they differed. The Writings do tell us not to confuse the revelation given through dreams and visions with that given through an internal dictate from within. In many places when the prophet was not in vision it will say, "the word of the Lord came unto me, saying," or words to that effect. This was the more common mode of giving revelation, and seems indeed to be involved in everything that was finally written down, even where visions and dreams were involved. In other words, through visions and dreams the prophet was prepared as to impressions upon his memory so that afterwards he could be led to write down at Divine direction, as from a voice from within, the experience of the vision or dream. This is the only way we know of that the following statement in the Apocalypse Revealed can be satisfactorily explained. It reads, "as to the Word, it was not revealed in a state of the spirit or vision, but was dictated to the prophets by the Lord ‘by a living voice'." (AR 36 See also Lord 52)

-New Church Life 1980;100:447-454

Next in Series


What the Bible Says about The Bible's Inner Meaning
Dreams and Visions
How Miracles Worked: Introduction


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Visions of OT and NT

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