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John and Swedenborg
and the Second Coming of the Lord

by Rev. David R. Simons

"The revelation of Jesus Christ .... and He sent and signed it by His angel to His servant John, who bore record of the Word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, and to all things that he saw" (Rev. 1:1, 2).

"The second coming of the Lord is effected by means of a man to whom the Lord has manifested Himself in person and whom He has filled with His Spirit, that He may teach the doctrines of the New Church from the Lord by means of the Word." (TCR 779).

In the Greek language the word "apocalypse" means uncovering or revealing. The uncovering and revealing was done by the Lord Jesus Christ by means of His servant and beloved apostle, John. "I, John . . . was on the isle called Patmos for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day .... and 1, John, saw these things and heard them" (Rev. 1:9, 10, 22:8).

Swedenborg, Servant of the Lord

The Heavenly Doctrines, written by Emanuel Swedenborg, are also an uncovering and revealing: "In order that the Lord might be continuously present with me, He has unfolded to me the spiritual sense of His Word, wherein is the Divine truth in its very light, and it is in this light that He is continually present. For His presence in the Word is by means of the spiritual sense and in no other way .... The sense of the letter of the Word is like a cloud, and the spiritual sense is the glory, the Lord Himself being the Sun from which the light comes. Thus the Lord is the Word" (TCR 779).

John, Apostle and Prophet of the Second Coming

In the final chapter of the gospel of John, Peter, who had been told that he would suffer a martyr's death, inquires of Jesus, referring to John, "But Lord, what about this man? Jesus said to him, `If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?"' (John 21:21, 22). As the Lord foretold, Peter and all the apostles suffered death as martyrs, except for John who was imprisoned on the island of Patmos, off the coast of Asia minor, about the year 96 A.D. It was while John was on this island that the Lord opened his spiritual eyes and ears, and carried him "in the spirit" into the spiritual world where he saw and heard the dramatic parables recounted in the book of Revelation, which were a prophecy of the second coming of the Lord. "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy" (Rev. 1:3).

It is interesting that John, who in his own gospel never once refers to himself by name, calling himself "that other disciple" or "the disciple whom Jesus loved," identifies himself five times in the book of Revelation:

And God sent and signified the revelation of Jesus Christ by His angel unto His servant John (l: l).
John to the seven churches which are in Asia (1:4).
I, John, both your brother and companion in tribulation (l:9).
And I, John, saw the holy city New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven (21:2)
And I, John, saw these things and heard them . . . (22:8).

By repeatedly naming himself in this way, John seems to be assuring his brothers and companions that although he is disclosing miraculous and mysterious things, difficult to understand because they are seen in the spiritual world, still he is the same John who wrote the gospel and was the beloved disciple of Jesus. The important spiritual significance is that in uncovering and revealing these unusual revelations, he was only doing what he was commanded to do by the Lord: "Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place hereafter" (Rev. 1:19). John clearly testifies that these things which he has seen and heard in the spiritual world are "the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:1, 8). This is the Lord Jesus Christ, now glorified, foretelling His second coming and the establishment of the New Church represented by the holy city New Jerusalem.

Similarities Between John and Swedenborg

When we compare the book of Revelation and the claims of the apostle John with the books of the Heavenly Doctrines and the claims of Emanuel Swedenborg, written some seventeen centuries later, the similarities are remarkable.

Both John and Swedenborg testify that what they have written is a revelation from the Lord alone. Of his writings, John declares they are "the revelation of Jesus Christ . . . to His servant John, who bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, and to all things that he saw" (Rev. 1:1, 2). Of the origin and authority of his writings Swedenborg declares: ". . . that the Lord manifested Himself to me, His servant, and sent me to this office [of revelatory, and that afterwards He opened the eyes of my spirit and so has introduced me into the spiritual world, and has granted me to behold the heavens and the hells and to speak with angels and spirits, and this now uninterruptedly for many years, I testify in truth; likewise, that from the first day of that call I have not received anything that pertains to the doctrines of the New Church from any angel, but from the Lord alone while I have read the Word" (TCR 779, emphasis added).

Both John and Swedenborg refer to themselves as "servants" of the Lord. John writes that the Lord revealed Himself by His angel "unto His servant John" (Rev. 1:1). Swedenborg designates himself a servant on the title page of The True Christian Religion, "containing the universal theology of the New Church foretold by the Lord in Daniel 7:13, 14 and in the Revelation 21:1, 2."

Things Seen and Heard

Both John and Swedenborg witnessed from things seen and heard. "And I, John, saw these things and heard them" (Rev. 22:8). The title of the work on the afterlife in the spiritual world reads: "Heaven and its wonders and hell from things heard and seen" by Emanuel Swedenborg, first published in 1758. And in the beginning of the twelve volumes called the Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets), which gives a detailed spiritual sense to the Old Testament books of Genesis and Exodus, we read: "By way of introductory remarks, it can be disclosed that in the Lord's Divine mercy I have been allowed, constantly and without interruption for several years now, to share the experiences of spirits and angels, to listen to them speaking and to speak to them myself. I have been allowed therefore to hear and see astonishing things in the next life which have never come to any man's knowledge, nor even entered his imagination" (AC 5, emphasis added).

Direct Command

Both John and Swedenborg wrote by direct command of the Lord. John was commanded: "What you see write in the book and send it to the seven churches" (Rev. 1:11). Swedenborg wrote on two copies of the work A Brief Exposition of the Doctrines of the New Church, "This book is the advent of the Lord, written by command."

Contact with the Lord

Both John and Swedenborg had intimate contact with the Lord and were close to His heart. In his own gospel John says, "Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23). Recounting his own close contact with the now glorified Jesus, Swedenborg writes that the Lord came to Him: "in the same moment I lay in His bosom and saw Him face to face. It was a countenance of a holy mien and in all cannot be described; and He smiled, so that I believe that His countenance was also such while He lived on earth. He spoke to me and said, ‘Love me really and do what you have promised"' (Journal of Dreams 54). This meant for him to give up his studies of science and philosophy and turn his mind to the study and explanation of the Old and New Testament Word.

Both John and Swedenborg demonstrated profound humility at the presence of the Lord. John writes of seeing "One like the Son of Man" in the midst of the seven lampstands: "I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am He who lives and was dead, and behold I am alive for ever more" (Rev. 1:17, 18).

When the glorified Jesus appeared to Swedenborg, he tells us: "I fell on my face, and the words that I spoke and the prayer came, not from myself but the words were put in my mouth: 'O Almighty Jesus Christ, that Thou of Thy great mercy deignest to come to me, so great a sinner, make me worthy of this grace.' I held my hands together and prayed, and then came forth a hand which squeezed my hands hard" (Journal of Dreams 53).

Internal Difference

For John and Swedenborg to have so many external things in common is remarkable but understandable. Yet there was one great difference between them. John saw and heard what he describes in the spiritual world, but Swedenborg was given not only to see and hear but also to understand the spiritual meaning of the miracles and parables revealed in the book "sealed with seven seals." The Heavenly Doctrines fulfill the book of Revelation, that is, they fill it full of rational meaning and spiritual light. Without this explanation of the spiritual sense the Apocalypse would remain a "scroll sealed with seven seal" (Rev. 5:1). Swedenborg writes: "Lest the things written in the Apocalypse should be hidden from men and be given up by future generations through not being understood, the things contained therein have been unfolded to me. Wherefore I will explain the whole of that book from the beginning to end and discover the arcana contained therein" (LJ 42).

"Many have labored at an exposition of the Apocalypse, but because up to this time the spiritual sense of the Word had not been known, they could not see the arcana that remain concealed therein; for only the spiritual sense discovers these. The expositors have therefore made various guesses, and most of them have applied the things that are there to the conditions of empires, intermingling some things about ecclesiastical matters also. The Apocalypse, however, like the whole Word, does not treat in its spiritual sense of worldly things at all but of heavenly things, thus not of empires and kingdoms but of heaven and the church" (AR Preface).

Additions and Subtractions

In the book of Deuteronomy and the book of Revelation a warning is given by the Lord: "If any man adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man takes away words from this book of prophecy, God will take away his part from the book of life" (Deut 4:2 and Rev. 22:18, 19). Many quote this curse, suggesting that it applies to Swedenborg and the Heavenly Doctrines. Yet Swedenborg repeatedly testifies that what he has written is not from his brilliant intellect but is a revelation from the Lord! "Do not believe that I have taken anything from myself' (AR Preface). "The second coming of the Lord is effected by means of a man to whom the Lord manifested Himself in person, and whom He has filled with His Spirit..." (TCR 779).

The revelation of the spiritual sense of the book of Revelation is not an addition at all, since the meaning was already within the letter when it was written. The "Spirit" of the Lord was the cause of everything seen and heard by John and was internally present when he wrote it. To reveal what the "Spirit says to the churches" is to reveal the spiritual sense and to open our understanding to what was already present. "For all things written in this prophetic book were written by means of representatives and correspondences; for whatever is said by the Lord and perceived by the angels, in coming down is changed into representatives, and so made to appear before the eyes of angels in the lowest heaven and before prophetic men [such as John and Swedenborg] when their spiritual eyes have been opened" (AE 260 1/2).

We subtract from the Word when we put our own man-made ideas ahead of the teachings of Divine Revelation, when we select from the Word those things which suit our loves and reject other truths.

Who Can Receive This Revelation?

Love to the Lord and a life according to His commandments are what open our minds to receive the Lord. "It is because John represented the good of love that the revelation was made to him. Revelation out of heaven, such as this is, can be made only to those who are in the good of love to the Lord, because only they have spiritual perception. This is because they receive heavenly things in their understanding, where the sensation of their internal sight is" (AE 8). John the revelator concludes the book of Revelation saying, "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I come quickly"' (Rev. 22:20).

Swedenborg the revelator writes of this coming: "The presence of the Lord is unceasing with every man, both evil and good, for without His presence no man lives; but His coming is to those who receive Him, who are such as believe in Him and keep His commandments .... The second coming of the Lord is not a coming in person but in the Word, which is from Himself and is Himself .... For His presence in the Word is by means of the spiritual sense and in no other way." "Even so, come, Lord Jesus"! (TCR 774, 776, 780).

-New Church Life 1989;109:3-8

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