The Fulfillment of Prophecy
by Rev. Willard D. Pendleton
"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." (Isaiah 9: 6)
From the time of the fall it was known that some day the Lord would be born upon earth, and that at His coming He would redeem the human race. But when He was to come, where He was to be born, and what manner of man He was to be was not revealed. It was not until the days of the later kings of Judah that the voice of prophecy became both definite and insistent. It was Micah who identified the place where the Lord was to be born, and it was Isaiah who foretold the miraculous manner of His birth. Of even greater significance, however, was Isaiah's description of the qualities that the Messiah was to possess; for His name was to be called "Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9: 6) How this was to be understood, no man knew; yet one thing was sure: this Man was to be as no other, and from all portents it seemed as if the day of His coming was at hand.
It was a bewildered and disillusioned people who, several generations later, were taken away captive into Babylon. The word of the prophets had not been realized, and Israel's hope of a free and independent kingdom had ended in crushing defeat and foreign servitude. It is true that in the days of the post-exilic prophets the hope was revived; but the prophecy of this period lacked the sense of immediacy that had characterized the pre-exilic period, and while hope remained, it seemed remote. Then suddenly the voice of the Lord was stilled. For almost four hundred years all that was known of the Lord and His coming was what was preserved in the scripts that had been written "by them of old time." What was once common knowledge, therefore, was gradually forgotten, and in the days of Herod the king few were familiar with those signs by which the Lord was to be known when He was born among men.
Now "it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. . . . And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem . . . . to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2: 1-7)
This was the child of whom the prophets had spoken, the child whose coming was so long delayed. In the silence of the spiritual night which enveloped all humanity, Israel's high function had at last been realized. A virgin daughter of the people had conceived and brought forth a son, whose name was to be "Immanuel," that is to say, "God with us." Yet in all Israel only a few knew of His coming; and of the many who heard the words which He spake, only a handful of disciples perceived that in Him the voice of prophecy had at last been fulfilled. The reason for this was that in the fulfillment of prophecy the reality rarely conforms to men's preconceived idea of the event. Israel had looked for a king, but this Man came from among the lowly. It was foretold that He was to be a lawgiver; but the Scribes and Pharisees accused Him of perverting the law. Of the Messiah's kingdom, it had been said that it would know no end, but when questioned He answered, saying, "My kingdom [is] not from hence." (John 18: 36) Yet in their rejection of Him, the ancient prophecy was fulfilled, for as Isaiah had said: "Who bath believed our report? . . . He is despised and rejected of men." (Isaiah 53: 1, 3)
In this later day, when it is permitted to enter with understanding into the spiritual sense of the letter, the scriptural account of the Lord's birth opens the way to an interior perception of the prophetic function of the Word; for while it is true that the New Testament is, in effect, a fulfillment of the Old Testament, what men fail to perceive is that the New Testament is in itself a renewal of prophecy and that in its internal sense it speaks entirely of things which were yet to come. As the Lord said to His disciples: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth." (John 16: 12, 13)
It was this, and similar teaching, which for a time led many to believe that some day the Lord would come again. But how many believe it at this day? While many subscribe to the social teachings of Jesus, few credit the reliability of the prophetical statements of the New Testament. Yet the reason for this is that men have assumed that the teaching is that the Lord would come again as to person, but this is not what is said. What is said is that He would come as the Spirit of truth. Hence the explanation of the Writings that "the second coming of the Lord is not a coming in person, but in the Word, which is from Him, and is Himself." (TCR 776)
It is, then, as the Spirit of truth, or as the spiritual sense of the Word, that the Lord has been born among men at this day. Yet, as the prophet Isaiah said: "Who bath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" (Isaiah 53: 1) In this, the second advent does not differ from the first. In both instances the Lord did not come when expected; neither did He come as expected. We have no difficulty, therefore, in understanding why it is that few at this day perceive that in the Writings the Scriptures are fulfilled; for even as the Lord did not conform to Israel's concept of the Messiah, neither do the Writings concur with men's preconceived idea of truth. Men say that truth is the sum of human experience, and that what may be regarded as true is at all times relative to experience. But the Writings insist that truth is a form of good, and that as God alone is good, to see God is to see truth. To enable men to do this is the function of all Divine revelation; but as the Word in its letter cannot be understood apart from the spiritual sense, the Lord has come again as the Spirit of truth.
What, then, is the claim of the Writings concerning themselves? Is it not that in them the prophetic Word is fulfilled? Like the shepherds, therefore, who watched over their flocks on the night that the Lord was born on earth, "let us now go even unto Bethlehem," that is, to the spiritual sense of the Word, "and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord bath made known unto us." (Luke 2: 15) "And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." (Luke 2: 12)By swaddling clothes are signified primary truths or truths of innocence; (AE 706: 12) that is, those general or primary truths of revelation which are acknowledged by all in whom there is something of innocence. These truths are: that there is a God; that the Lord came into the world to save the human race; that there is a heaven; and that the life of religion is to do good." (AC 8773) It is these truths which in first states attest to the Divinity of the Writings, and serve as a sign that the newborn doctrine, while born of woman, is conceived of God; for by a woman is signified the affection of truth, and it is through, or by means of, this affection that the Divine doctrine is born in the hearts of men. Thus it is that in the prophecy concerning the New Church the book of Revelation speaks of a great wonder seen in heaven - of a woman clothed with the sun, who gave birth to the Man Child who was to rule .all nations. (Revelation 12: 1-5) He it was of whom Isaiah had prophesied, saying, "Unto us a child is born," for the Christ Child and the Man Child are one. Yet while they are one, there is a difference, the difference being that the child who was born in the days of Herod the king is the Lord as He is seen and known in the sense of the letter, whereas the child who was born of the woman in the wilderness is the Lord as He may now be seen and known in the spiritual sense of the Word. Hence the Man Child is said to signify the nascent (newborn) doctrine of the Divine Human, who is the Spirit of truth who was to come.
Now it is a notable fact that the historical account of the Lord's birth on earth concurs with the prophetical account of the birth of the Divine doctrine in that in each instance there was no place to be found for Him among men. Because there was no room for Him in the inn, the infant Lord was placed in a manger. By a manger is signified the doctrine of truth from the letter of the Word which, although it testifies to the Lord's Divinity, has no place in the minds and affairs of men. But if men have rejected the doctrine of genuine truth as contained in the letter, what of the Divine doctrine as plainly revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word? Surely, it would seem that if the Writings are what they profess to be, men would acknowledge them. Yet, as foretold, the Man Child is born in a wilderness; that is, in a state in which there is no interior perception of the Divine doctrine. Thus it is that at this day the knowledge of the Divine doctrine must be preserved by a few while preparation is being made for its reception by many.
On this high and holy day, therefore, when our thoughts and affections are stirred by the remembrance of the Lord's birth among men, we share the joy of those few to whom these things were revealed. Like Mary, like Joseph, like the shepherds, there is much that we do not understand; but of one thing we are certain: this child, the nascent doctrine of the Divine Human, is as no other. In all history there is nothing comparable to the Writings; and while men may not credit their testimony concerning themselves, they cannot account for them, neither can they explain them away. Like the Divine Child who astonished the doctors in the temple by His understanding and answers, the Writings speak with an authority and a clarity that testify to their Divine origin; and while few at this day are concerned with the unique claim that the Writings make to be the truth, yet the fact remains that "never man spake like this." (John 7: 46)
It is, then, as the Spirit of truth, or the Spirit of prophecy, that the Lord has come again into the world; for as we read in the book of Revelation: "The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19: 10) And was it not He who testified, saying, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you and shall be in you"? (John 14: 16,17)
Who is it, then, that the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not? Is it not the doctrine of the Divine Human which is now plainly revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word? Is it not He of whom the prophet spake, saying, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given"? For by a child is signified He who is innocence and love itself, and by a son is signified the truth of His Word. This truth is that there is one God, in one person, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the doctrine of the Divine Human, and it is in the light of this doctrine that the Word in its letter is to be understood. But the perception of the Lord in His Divine Human is dependent upon a faith in the integrity of the Word. By this we do not mean a blind faith in the letter, nor a general acknowledgment that the Scriptures are somehow inspired, but a faith that within the letter there is to be found an authoritative statement of truth. In this also, the second coming does not differ from the first, for in this day, as at that, the Lord is received by those who have not forgotten the words of prophecy and are capable of perceiving that in the doctrine of the Divine Human all prophecy from the beginning is at this day fulfilled.
Yet the inevitable question arises: If this be true, why is it that the Writings are not acknowledged by many? The implication is that the test of their truth is their acceptance by men. But this is not so; for as the Writings insist: "It is the Divine which bears witness concerning the Divine, and not man from himself." (AE 635: 2. See also AE 538: 4) What is meant here is that it is the spiritual sense which bears witness to the Divinity and holiness of the Word in its letter, and when the letter is understood, it supports and bears witness to the spiritual sense.
So it is that when we reflect upon the scriptural account of the Lord's birth we think of Him as He is revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word. For whereas when He lived in the world He was seen and known through the instrumentality of a human derived from the mother, in the Writings He is revealed in His own Divine Human. There is a world of difference between these two concepts of the Lord, as may be evident from the fact that in the New Testament our thought is directed to Him as a person; and while it is true that God is a person, and that apart from the thought of Him as a person we can form no idea of Him, yet the Writings insist that we are not to think of the Lord from His person but from His essence, and from this of His person. (AR 611)
If, as stated, this seems arcane, it is not; for by essence is meant the essential man, or the real man. Hence we are taught in the Writings that the real man is not the person, but the affection and thought which underlie the person; for love is the life of man, and such as the love is, such is the man. What, then, shall we say of Him who came into the world as man? To all appearances He was as other men; but as it is said in John: "In Him was life: and the life was the light of men." (John 1: 4) In Him therefore was love; that is, Divine love, and it was in this that He differed from all men, for whereas man is but a vessel receptive of life and love from the Lord, the Lord is love itself; and because He is love itself He is the source of all good and all truth with the angels of heaven and with men upon earth. But as God, or good, cannot be presented to the sight of the understanding except in the form of truth, the Lord gave the Word. For this cause came He into the world and made the Human, which He took to Himself, Divine. This Human is the Word made flesh, the Spirit of truth; that is, the Lord as He now is revealed in the living sense of the Word.
This is the Man Child who was born in the wilderness, and it is this child, or newborn doctrine of the Divine Human, who testifies to the integrity of the scriptural account of the Lord's birth on earth. For, as promised, a virgin did conceive and bear a son, whose name was Immanuel, that is to say, God with us. And what is more, the day has come when men at last may enter with understanding into the reason that His name is also to be called "Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9: 6)
-New Church Life 1964;84: 529-534