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
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
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).
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).
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