Two Advents: One Divine Process
by E. Sandstrom
To remember Christmas is to reflect on the meaning of the Divine coming down to reveal itself in Person to people in this world; and truly to celebrate it is to pray that the Lord may be received by oneself and in the world.
At the time of the Lord's coming as the Word made Flesh there was a complete turning point in the spiritual history of the human race. All that had preceded looked to that stupendous event, and all that was to follow anticipated the second advent and the resulting eternal development of wisdom with men.
The turning point consisted in this, that the Creator of the universe began to make Himself visible. Previously only His power had been known, but not the love and wisdom that operated through it. We say that the Lord began to make Himself visible at His first advent, and mean by this that He began to make known the nature of His love and the nature of His wisdom. These were the Divine qualities that stood forth in the life and teaching of the Lord our Saviour through His ministry in the world. His love was revealed throughout His life, but never more fully than on the cross when He was tempted to give it up. His words, "Father, forgive them," represented the final and supreme victory of Divine love which descended from the infinite Divine within Him and glorified His Human.
As for His wisdom, all His teachings bear witness to it, but perhaps this too stood forth in a special way in connection with the cross. Wisdom too was finally glorified through that most grievous and culminating temptation; and wisdom was glorified in this: that it effected the victory of love. Prior to the event the Lord had prepared His disciples for some understanding of His Divine foresight in this matter. But their understanding came only after His victory. His foresight was His wisdom. It was when the end of His earthly life drew near that He said: "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again." But, as we read, at that time "they understood none of these things." (Lu. 18: 31-34) Nor did they understand the triumphant ride into Jerusalem a day or two after that saying. But what they had been prepared for came to pass after the resurrection, for as we read: "These things understood not His disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they." (Jn. 12:16)
So we say that the Lord revealed something of His Divine love and wisdom during His first advent. Nevertheless, the men of His day were not prepared for more than a preliminary glimpse. Only at His second advent could the Lord bring fulfillment. Only then could the Lord say: "Now it is permitted to enter intellectually into the secrets of faith." The first advent had to be restricted to this: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." (Jn. 16:12) It was at the second advent, "when the Spirit of Truth is come," that men were to be "guided into all truth." (Jn. 16:14) It was then that the Lord would speak "no more in proverbs, but would shew plainly of the Father." (Jn. 16:25) In a word, the first advent prepared for the second, and the second was a fulfillment of the first. In this we see that the two advents in the Divine view were one action, one process, interrupted in time because of the hardness of the human heart and the slowness of human understanding, but undivided in the Divine concept and in the continual workings of the Divine providence.
It follows that it is only in the light of the second advent that we can see the perspective of the whole Divine process in the Lord's preparing to come to the human race, and in His final and full coming among them. In fact, that perspective goes back to the beginning of creation; and the Writings draw it up for us in the following words:
"From ignorance again to wisdom." That wisdom, while in depth equal to that of the Most Ancient Church (for it will again be the wisdom of love), will be wider in its scope and more full. The Lord was visible to the spiritual mind of the most ancients, but not to their natural mind as well. Now He is visible to both minds, that is, visible to the natural mind from the light that shines for the eyes of the spirit, and then shines on through the spiritual mind into the natural. This is possible because of what the Lord revealed through His two advents. The True Christian Religion gives us with regard to these matters the following:
We are to understand, here, that the Lord is now fully seen as Man. The most ancients too saw the Lord as Man, but not fully; for the Lord had not taken on the Divine Natural, therefore not revealed it, wherefore at that time the natural mind could not see in the light of the spiritual sun.
It is a stupendous thought that it is now that all things are coming into fullness. Such is the Divine invitation to all mankind. That we are slow to accept the invitation, and to respond according to capacity, is another matter. The truths that the Lord began to open up in His first advent, and fully revealed in His second, are to produce a wisdom with men such as was not since the world began. We see this in general through the pronouncement concerning the New Christian Church, in that it is said to be the crown of all the churches. More in particular, we see it in the light of two further teachings.
The first of these shows up the difference between the primitive Christian Church and the new Christian Church - and if we bear in mind the teaching concerning the crown of all the churches the statement takes on an even deeper significance than is at first apparent. We read: "The spiritual sense is now revealed, because the Christian Church such as it is in itself is now first commencing. The former Church was Christian only in name, but not in essence and reality." (TCR 668) And similarly, "Because Christianity itself is now first beginning to dawn, and a New Church meant by the New Jerusalem in the Revelation is now being established by the Lord, in which God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are acknowledged as one because in one Person, it has pleased the Lord to reveal the spiritual sense of the Word." (TCR 700)
Our second teaching relates to the two Revelations that brought about the first Christian Church and the New Christian Church respectively. This teaching tells us two things: first, that a new revelation is always given before the end of a previous church; and, second, it tells us concerning the nature of the revelation at that time, as accommodated to then-prevailing needs and the consequent general state of reception. This teaching reads:
The Lord's revealing interior truths also in His first advent means that He began, even at that time, to show Himself as the visible God. But the two advents relate as the preparatory to the fulfillment. This is also reflected in the New Testament in its reference to "glory" in regard to the two advents. We read of "glory" first, and then of "great glory." "And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory." (Jn. 1: 14) This was the first advent; but the words relative to the second advent are magnified: "And they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matt. 24: 30) To see the Lord in great glory is to see Him as He is in heaven. "And He was transfigured before them;" (Matt. 17: 2) and in our generation, and all future generations, He is to be transfigured again - and always.
Further with regard to our second teaching above. The "revealing of interior Divine truths" obviously applies to the New Testament, which is the record of what the Lord Himself said and did whilst on earth. Similarly, the "revealing of still more interior Divine truths" is an obvious reference to the Writings, for these truths are to be "for the use of the New Church that will be called the New Jerusalem." This takes us to the New Testament and the Writings. What about the Old Testament? But this too is included in our second teaching, for we read: "When the end of the Jewish Church was at hand the Lord Himself opened and taught the interior things of the Word, and especially revealed those things in the Word that had been prophesied of Himself."
We therefore have prophecy in the Old Testament; fulfillment in the New; and the heavenly explanation of both the prophecy and the fulfillment in the Writings. This `heavenly explanation' is the opening up, or revealing, of the "still more interior Divine truths" - the truths of heaven, or the heavenly doctrine.
We have therefore three forms of Divine revelation progressively leading to the standing forth of the Divine Human in glory, and then to the vision of this Divine Human in great glory. There are also three degrees of the natural mind of man. I suggest that the three Revelations were progressively and by turn given to each one of these degrees. The natural mind consists, looking at it from below, of the sensual, the interior natural, and the rational. In speaking now of each form of Revelation addressing directly one degree of the natural mind, we have reference to the letter of revelation. (The spirit and life within the letter ever speak to the spirit itself of man and the life of love that is to develop there.) And does not the Old Testament in its letter appeal to the sensual man? The sensual relates to the body. If the Jews were "willing and obedient," there would be no famine, no war, no pestilence; but if rebellious and disobedient, one or other of these calamities would come upon them. Rewards or punishments relating to the body.
In the New Testament the appeal is clearly more interior. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, but I say unto you." Particular examples given as to just how the New Testament in its letter is more interior, relate to the commandments concerning murder and adultery. "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause . . . ." "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her . . . ." (See Matt. 5) This more interior natural to which the New Testament directly appeals, might also be described as the imaginative or moral quality in the mind. Entertaining "anger without a cause," or "desiring adultery" within one's imagination, is destructive of moral virtues.
Finally the Writings are given. Are they not the ultimate fulfillment of the words spoken already through Isaiah: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord"? (Isa. 1: 18) Do they not speak directly to the rational mind as they invite men to "enter intellectually into the secrets of faith"?
This all relates to the letter of each revelation. But clearly, the interior man, that is, the man who is to live after death, is at all times the object of the Divine concern. But the interior man cannot come forth fully, except insofar as the natural mind is prepared for reception. Therefore little of the spirit could develop in the times of the Old Testament, more in the new era that opened up through the New Testament, and still more and fully in our age, when "Christianity itself is beginning to dawn." If the spirit and life of the Word will now be allowed to descend into the mind, so that the New Jerusalem is coming down from God out of heaven, then the rational mind, seated though it be in the natural, will receive a spiritual quality, and so will be turned into a spiritual-rational level of consciousness.
This observation, we may note parenthetically, also implies that there can be no further Divine revelation in an ultimate, natural form in the world, because there are no more than the three degrees of the natural mind. The Lord has now revealed Himself fully, and He now awaits human response.
But we return to the question of the two advents. Bear in mind that the first advent was a beginning of a revelation concerning the Divine Human. This, stated more explicitly, means that it was in His first advent that the Lord assumed the Human down to the Divine Natural, and then fully glorified it. But that He only began to reveal His glory at that time, was because the rudiments of a Christian Church that He then established could "bear no more." In His second advent He does not repeat His glorification process, but He does reveal it fully, that is, as fully as natural language will permit. The Arcana Coelestia, especially, is devoted to this objective. So the second advent sets forth what the first advent accomplished. The two cannot be separated in thought, if either one is to be properly understood.
The Lord never had more than one end in view. His Divine love never changes, nor ever has changed; and it has within it to give to men as fully as they are ever able to receive. And His Divine wisdom accommodates His love to human reception. So it is that mankind is now invited not only to return to the wisdom of the most ancients, but to enter into that of angels, and to live according to wisdom.
To be deeply aware of this Divine love and Divine wisdom is to see God Man, that is, it is to see the infinite Divine nature of the Person of the Lord our Saviour. It is to see the Lord as Father.
Christmas, therefore, is remembered when we reflect on the turning point in human history, in that it was then the Lord assumed the Human in the Divine Natural. But truly to celebrate Christmas is to be thankful for that which the Lord already had in view through that assumption. He desired to make Himself visible down even to the natural mind of man - the whole natural mind, so that He might be conjoined to it; but He could do so only by opening up one of the two interior degrees of the natural at a time. He came in order to come again. "There came a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified, and will glorify again." (Jn. 12: 28)
All of the above, however, has a primary focus in the Lord's historical advents - the historical first advent and the historical second. We have spoken of revelation as words. But words by themselves address only the understanding. Words, however, need not be "by themselves:" within them there are also the spirit and the life." (See Jn. 6:63) It is when the spirit and life are perceived and received that the real man, the inner man, is enlightened and led. Then there is a new creation, or a spiritual birth. "All things were made by the Word . . . . In it was life; and the life was the light of men." (Jn. 1: 3, 4)
Words by themselves give only presence, but the spirit and life within them, when the mind is open for reception, bring conjunction as well. And that is advent to the individual.
The True Christian Religion lays the matter before us: "The presence of the Lord is perpetual with every man, both evil and good, for without His presence no man lives. But His advent is only with those who receive Him, who are those who believe in Him and do His commandments." (TCR 774)
-New Church Life 1978;98: 564-570