The City of God: The Second Coming
by Rev. Karl Alden The expectation that the Lord Jesus Christ was to make a
second advent is based on the following statements in the Gospels: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days
shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the
stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be
shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and
then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son
of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He
shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall
gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to
the other. . . ." "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not
pass, till all these things be fulfilled." (Matthew 24:29-31
& 34) "And when He was demanded of the Pharisees, when the
kingdom of God should come, He
The expectation that the Lord Jesus Christ was to make a second advent is based on the following statements in the Gospels:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. . . ."
"Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." (Matthew 24:29-31 & 34)
"And when He was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, He
"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: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine and shall show it unto you." (John 16:12-15
The final passage that I will quote is from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter II, verses 14-20, where we read:
The First Advent
To comprehend what was meant by the second advent of the Lord it is essential to understand what actually happened at the time of His first coming. We all believe that God is omnipresent, that is, that He is everywhere; that there is no place in the universe from which God is absent, that there is not a planet nor a star nor any place whatsoever that does not contain within it the Divine Spirit. "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee." (Psalm 139:7-12) If the Lord, then, is present everywhere, it is quite impossible to say that He came anywhere. The very act of coming to a place involves that you were not in that place before you came to it.
All of us, being finite, occupy a certain place in space, and we can move from place to place. If we visit a place where we were not present, we say that we have come there. But strictly speaking, it cannot be said of the Divine that He comes to a place, because there is no place where He is not already present. Our minds turn to Bethlehem at Christmas time, and we think of the Lord as having been born there; as having begun His first coming on earth there. But is it not inaccurate to say that God came to Bethlehem Christmas night? The Lord was in Bethlehem when Benjamin was born there nearly two thousand years before. The Lord was present in Bethlehem when King David was born there almost a thousand years before, and He was present there the year before, and the month before and the day before He was born there as a babe. I stress this because we cannot possibly understand the real significance of the Second Coming of the Lord unless we see that the first coming was not a coming of God to a place where He had not been before, but it was a manifestation of God to men in a new form.
On that first Christmas, what happened was that the Divine which had been present in Bethlehem since the beginning of time, took to itself a means whereby it could be seen as it had never been seen before; for, although the Lord was present in Bethlehem when Benjamin and David were born there, He was not seen, nor was His voice heard, nor was His hand touched; but when He was born there on Christmas night, then He took to Himself a body from the Virgin Mary, into which the Divine Spirit as a soul could flow, and through which as a manifesting agency, the Divine could more and more reveal itself.
The Greek word for "reveal" means to unveil. An example of its use is this: If I should have a heap of diamonds covered over by six or seven veils, and then if I should take one veil off, then an other, and if I kept that up, finally the diamonds themselves would be revealed so that men could behold them and appreciate their beauty. Similarly the body which the Lord took on from the virgin Mary was a means whereby the Divine could come into the world and be manifest to men in a way that He had never before, in all past ages, appeared to their sight. Prior to that time He had spoken His word through the prophets. He had inspired the men of old - Moses, Isaiah, Elijah and Elisha and all of the other prophets - to preach His Word. He had put His Word in their mouths, and they had spoken from His Divine Wisdom. But He had never taken on a material body of His own before, through which the Divine life could be directly manifested.
That coming into the world so many centuries ago marked the time when He took on such a body, when He assumed such a means of showing His Divine Spirit. When He was first born there was nothing between the Divine soul and the material body except a means of communication. But as He grew up a Divine mind was gradually formed as an intermediate between the soul and the body. And this Divine mind more and more glorified His body as the years passed. More and more He put off that of the body which He had taken from Mary, and He put on the Divine Human from the Father; consequently, at the Last Supper, when Philip asked Him to show him the Father the Lord was able to answer without qualification, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." (John 14:9)
One who had seen the babe lying in the manger in Bethlehem had not seen the Father. They had only seen the babe which in the process of time would one day reveal the Father. In discussing any coming of the Lord, we must rid our minds of that spatial idea of coming that the word so strongly conveys to our minds. We must substitute for the word "coming" the word "revealed." When the Lord was born a babe on Bethlehem's plains He revealed Himself for the first time and men have called it "The First Coming of the Lord." At the time of this First Coming He revealed Himself in human form. Now is the time of the Second Coming, and the question is: How has He revealed Himself? The answer is that He has revealed Himself in a new body of truth, which we find in The Writings.
The Expectation of the Lord's Return
The disciples, those who had heard the Lord's own words, expected Him to come again while some of them were still alive. About two weeks after the Lord had risen from the dead, when seven of His disciples had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee, the Lord talked to Peter privately, warning him that when he should be old others would carry him where he did not wish to go. Asked about John, the Lord answered: "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me." So the saying went abroad among the brethren that John should never die; but the Evangelist reminds us that the Lord did not say, "He shall not die," but "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (John 21:23) It is quite evident that Peter must have thought that John would remain in this world until the Lord had made His Second Coming, on the "last day." This is confirmed by what is said in Matthew, "This generation shall not pass till all those things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away." (24:34, 35)
The disciples knew well these words, and consequently they looked for His Second Coming in their own lifetime. If we turn to the epistles of the various apostles, we find that James urges the people to whom he is preaching to be ready, for the Lord may come at any moment. Paul indicates to the Thessalonians that in his lifetime, or at least in their lifetime, they may expect the coming of the Lord. The disciples were quite unanimous in their belief that the Second Coming of the Lord would be in their lifetime.
The Understanding of Prophecy
But the Second Coming of the Lord did not occur within their lifetime. Must we then disregard the Lord's words? Will there never be a coming since it did not take place when He literally said that it would? Or can we learn how to interpret prophecy? What is the fair way of interpreting it? We can certainly admit that as a matter of history none of the physical catastrophes took place, such as the sun being darkened and the moon not giving her light, and the stars falling from heaven. Those calamities certainly never had any literal fulfillment in the lifetime of the disciples, and so we are compelled to inquire how the prophecy is to be understood.
A wise person has said that a prophecy can never be understood until after the event has taken place. It cannot be understood beforehand, and the reason for this soon appears if we look beyond the surface. If prophecy were so definite that we could say that an event was to happen at such and such a time in such and such a place, then events would be predestined, and there would be no human freedom. But we are taught very clearly that the Lord guards human freedom as the apple of His eye; that He allows nothing in His economy, or in the history or the affairs of men, to destroy spiritual freedom. Therefore, the nature of prophecy is such that it lays down the law whereby certain causes will inevitably have certain effects.
For example: in the realm of chemistry, if I put sulphuric acid and zinc together, the chain of reactions liberating hydrogen is bound to take place, so that I can prophesy for certain that sulphuric acid and zinc will give me hydrogen. I don't know where; I don't know when, but I do know that given the causes the results will follow without the shadow of a doubt. This is not predestination, but the rule of law.
Another example: Judas lived to betray the Lord, but we cannot believe that Judas as a man was predestined to betray the Lord. Certainly not! It would never have been permitted for any individual to have been born into the world with such an evil task to perform; but if Judas had not betrayed the Lord, then, may we say, that a man with the same name would have betrayed Him. I am not being facetious, but mean that the name Judas signifies the sensuous nature in man's character. The thing that betrayed the Lord in His lifetime was the same element in human psychology that betrayed the Lord in the Garden of Eden, when the serpent (which represents somewhat the same thing as the name Judas represents, namely, delight in sensual pleasure apart from use) beguiled Eve, or the will; and Eve persuaded Adam, that is the understanding, to succumb to temptation. The betrayal was the same, but historically it happened to be Judas that betrayed the Lord; yet, he, as a man, did it of his own free desire.
In order to understand what I am trying to bring out, let us contemplate the nature of the fulfillment of the prophecies of the first coming of the Lord, and let us find out why the Jews could not understand them before they took place. It is written that the wise men came from the East because of a star that indicated that a new king had been born to the Jews. The star had apparently led them to Jerusalem, and then disappeared, but at Jerusalem they had no evidence of what person the star pointed to; so they went to Herod and said that they had seen the star, and they thought, of course, that he could tell them where the child was. But Herod was very much upset because he was an intensely jealous man who feared for his crown and his throne; and so he gathered the learned of the Jews, the priests and the scribes, and demanded of them where Christ should be born. They knew where Christ should be born, but they did not know when. They said that He would be born in Bethlehem, for thus it is written by the prophet.
Bethlehem means the "house of bread", and "the house of bread" means a mind full of spiritual truths and spiritual loves; and that is exactly where the Lord is always born in human lives. It does not make any difference that the prophecy does not state the time that He was to be born. Bethlehem was the only place where He could be born. He was born there. The various causative factors that worked together under human freedom made that birth possible nearly two thousand years ago.
The wise men had seen His star, and the learned Jews knew where He was to be born, but they little suspected that He would be born in a stable, and probably they never dreamed that He would be born of such humble parents, nor did they know the time. It was impossible to interpret the many different prophecies until after the event.
Another prophecy concerning the coming of the Lord tells that He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. The Lord while on earth never made any attempt to resist Pilate, or Herod, or the rulers of the Jews. The rod of iron that He set up was the rule of truth in men's hearts, and truth is much stronger than iron; but those words could not be interpreted until after the event. However, after He had come on earth, various things mentioned in the prophecies were seen to have taken place. To illustrate: When the Lord was tried before Herod, the Gospel says that He opened not His mouth, and because He so acted He fulfilled the words of Isaiah, who had written: "As a sheep is dumb before its shearers, He opened not His mouth." (53:7) And all through his Gospel Matthew points out various things in the Lord's life that actually did fulfill the ancient prophecies. But you could not have told it beforehand. You could not have worked out a predestined plan that would have enabled you to go to Bethlehem at the very time that the Lord actually did make His First Coming. It was only after the event that men were able to interpret the prophecies and see how they were fulfilled. In order to preserve human freedom, the prophecies were necessarily vague, and not determined to individuals, and thus they could not be understood until after the predicted events had taken place.
The Manner of the Lord's Second Coming
Having seen this principle applied to the prophecies of the First Coming, let us look more searchingly at the prophecies concerning the Second Coming of the Lord. Beginning with the disciples themselves, and going on down through the Christian Era, there have always been people who have insisted on a literal interpretation of the prophecies. However, there are reasons which seem to me to make it quite impossible to believe in any literal fulfillment of the prophecies concerning His Second Coming.
Literal Fulfillment Impossible
A literal fulfillment of the prophecies was impossible for physical reasons. Consider, for instance, the "stars falling from heaven" as mentioned in Matthew (24:29). We know that the earth is one of the tiniest of the planets, and that the stars beyond the planets are so much larger than the earth, and there are so many of them, that if they should really start falling toward the earth, when they got within a certain distance of it they would completely interlock. They would form a complete and solid mass, and the gravity from such a huge body would be such as to tear the earth to atoms. The physical concept of the stars falling is simply impossible to believe literally in the face of all that science has taught us about the universe. Furthermore, it is impossible to conceive of any place where the Lord could appear, except in the spiritual world, where every eye could see Him. In this world there is no cloud high enough. The highest mountain is only visible from a comparatively small portion of the earth's surface. The people on the opposite side of the earth would be deprived of the sight of His coming. Because a literal fulfillment involves scientific contradictions, which seem to me to be insuperable, this mode of fulfillment is not satisfying.
Another contradiction appears when we try to interpret the prophecies in a literal manner. Notice the Twenty-fourth chapter in Matthew, where we are told that the Lord would appear in the clouds of heaven after the sun had been darkened, and the moon ceased to give its light, and the stars had fallen from heaven.
Contrast with this the Nineteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation where we have another picture of the Second Coming of the Lord. Here He is described as coming on a white horse followed by the angels of heaven, all of whom are riding on white horses. We have here two very different literal pictures - one is of a great horseman on a beautiful white steed followed by a mighty army riding on similar mounts sweeping forth from heaven; the other presents the picture of the Son of Man alone, coming in the clouds of heaven.
Will the Lord come on a white horse, or will He come in the clouds of heaven? Literally it is hard to reconcile these two different forecasts of His Second Advent, but if we seek for a spiritual interpretation, something which is above the letter, we will find a complete reconciliation. Then let us leave the literal for a moment and substitute spiritual values. What is meant by the Lord as a horseman? Remember that He was born in a stable and laid in a manger, because a manger fed horses, and horses signify the understanding of the Word. This correspondence rested on the fact that horses were the chief means of traveling from one place to another. Just so, the understanding of the Word is the means by which we are carried from one spiritual truth to another. When truth is understood spiritual light is shed in the mind. That spiritual light is the Lord riding upon the white horse. "And His name is called, The Word of God." (Rev. 19:13)
The clouds of heaven, on the other hand, are made up of small water particles, water which corresponds to truth. The clouds of heaven then represent the gathering together of these truths, especially in the literal sense of the Word. Now a true understanding of the Word reveals the Lord, so the Lord is seen in the clouds of heaven, that is, He is seen in the literal sense of the Word which, as it were, opens to our sight. Thus perceived He rides into our hearts on a white horse. Spiritually these two visions of the Second Coming of the Lord are the same. Whether He comes in the understanding of the Word, or whether He comes in the clouds of heaven, the significance is the same.
Nevertheless we have those other passages which seem to indicate an utterly different kind of coming which in the spiritual sense harmonizes with His coming as a horseman or His coming in the clouds. I refer to a passage in Luke which states that the coming of the Lord is a personal thing. It is secret. "The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation," he says. (17:20) What could be more contradictory in the letter than the opposing ideas of the Lord's coming in the clouds of heaven, with His coming without observation. What a magnificent coming is portrayed in the words "every eye shall see Him." (Rev. 1:7) He is revealed to the whole spiritual world. Yet how deep is the message that "the Kingdom of God is within you". The Second Coming is universal, but it is also intimate and intensely personal.
If we seek to learn the spiritual meaning involved in the Lord's coming in the clouds of heaven, of His riding on a white horse and of His coming not with observation, we will come to a deeper understanding of the Word, which deeper understanding really constitutes the Second Coming of the Lord. When we can see truths in the Word which we never saw before - we may say that the Kingdom of God has come to us personally. And really that is the only thing that is vital to us. It is the Lord's Second Coming into our hearts which is the matter of supreme importance. The Kingdom of God cometh not flashingly - with a "Lo here", or "Lo there" - but the Kingdom of God is within us.
Let us tie this idea of the spiritual interpretation of the prophecies together with our original proposition, that the Lord is everywhere; that He is here in this room; that He was in Bethlehem the night that He was born. What, then, does His Second Coming mean to us as individuals? It means that the Kingdom of God must be within you. I can illustrate what I mean by the example of a radio. The current that flows into it and lights up the tubes may be compared to the Lord's immediate influx into each one of us. The Lord flows into us and keeps us alive, but we have no conscious sensation of that inflowing life. We don't feel it. He gives us the life processes, and that is like the inflowing electricity that lights up the tubes in your radio, but that inflowing current is not what tunes your set to various stations. Your dial gives you the stations, and when of your own free will you tune in a station, then that particular station can send its signals into your radio. The waves from the station were there all the time, but they were, as it were, around and outside your radio.
The human heart is an instrument on a higher plane. The only person who can receive the Kingdom of God is the person who has the Kingdom of God in his own heart. That means that God gives the faculty to receive, but man must tune in to the type of love and affection which characterizes heaven if he wants the Kingdom of God to be within him. We are taught that when man passes into the spiritual world he can go up into heaven if he so desires, but instead of finding it delightful he may see nothing there. Sometimes a good spirit will walk along beside an evil spirit in heaven, and the good spirit will see paradises, and the evil spirit will see nothing but a desert, because he has nothing of the Kingdom of God within him, and therefore all the impulses that come to him from without are not received by him any more than the waves to which your radio is not tuned can enter and be received by your radio. They just pass it by without affecting it. No more can heavenly spheres affect you unless your heart is attuned to heaven, that is, unless the Kingdom of God be within you.
And that the Lord will not come with observation, but must come within you, harmonizes perfectly with the idea that the Lord becomes present by a greater understanding of the Word which will lead us to the deeper affections and greater wisdom, such as is signified by the Rider on the white horse. And it makes one with the picture of the Lord coming with glory in the clouds of the literal sense of the Word, which are the clouds of heaven.
When the Spirit of Truth is Come
Let us look at another kind of prophecy, the one that we find in the sixteenth chapter of John, where the Lord is talking with His disciples and says, "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: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak." (12-13) Think for a moment of the disciples, and consider what the Lord meant by those words.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen. They probably had had scarcely any education as we understand it. As likely as not, they thought that the sun was a ball of fire suspended in the sky, that the moon was a lesser light created to give us some illumination at night, that the stars were tiny lights in the sky, and that the world was flat. Suppose Peter had kicked a piece of coal as he walked along beside the Sea of Galilee, he would have thought that it was only a black stone. He would not have known that stored up in what seemed to be a stone there was a wealth of potential heat, of aniline dyes and gases and many more things that we know today as coal products.
These were the men to whom the Lord said, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." That is, "Ye cannot understand them yet." Nevertheless, He said, the time would come when the spirit of truth would reveal those things unto the world.
Those simple disciples had a task to perform. Their great work was to teach the world that the Lord had risen from the dead, that He had conquered death. That was the supreme message of Christianity, and with it they were to preach the simple Christian principles revealed in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Lord's other discourses, for these were the truths whereby man might conquer the death of sin and come into heaven. That was the task imposed upon the disciples.
They were not then prepared to understand the glorification of the Lord, to perceive how He had taken on a body from Mary, and how little by little He had glorified it. They had no concepts of philosophy, nor even of natural science, by means of which they could understand His deeper teaching. Consequently He foretold a further revelation in the words, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now."
At His first coming the Lord took on a garment of flesh so that we could see Him in a new way - feel Him, and hear His voice, and whatever the Divine does it does perfectly. By His incarnation He achieved all that could be accomplished by a life in the flesh, and by the glorification of His body. If, as He indicated, there were other things which He could not accomplish or teach because of the state of men's minds at that time - these could not be done by men's vision of Him in the flesh, but only by His revealing His inner spirit - the Spirit of Truth.
The history of the individual repeats the history of the race, and the Lord told Nicodemus that people must be twice born to become spiritual. They must first be born of their mother, and then they must be born of water and of the Spirit. (John 3:5) The Lord told him that it was not a rebirth in the flesh, but a rebirth from water and the spirit. In a similar way, it is needful for people to see the Lord not only as to the flesh, but also to see Him as to His Spirit. His second advent reveals His Divine Love and Wisdom. Just as at the first coming He gave people a body of flesh to behold, now at the Second Coming He gives them a body of truth Divine, which answers the questions in peoples' hearts, which down to the present time the literal sense of the Word has failed to answer.
Of this spirit of truth which He promised to send to His disciples, the Lord says, "he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for he shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you." (Ibid. 13,14) We believe that the Lord used a human instrument - Emanuel Swedenborg - to reveal this new spirit of truth. Swedenborg says that from the time his spiritual eyes were opened when he was fully introduced into the spiritual world, and commenced to write the Arcana Coelestia in 1748, until 1772, when he died, he did not receive anything pertaining to the doctrine of the New Church from any spirit or angel, but from the Lord alone while he read and meditated on the Word. Swedenborg's works must be judged on the basis of what they claim to be, and his claim has to be rejected or accepted from that standpoint.
Luther wrote a commentary on the Bible as did Calvin, Melanchthon, Adam Smith, and many others. They are interesting, useful, and valuable studies of the meaning of the letter of the Word, but they do not rise above their fallible authors. They set forth what the man Luther, the man Calvin, the man Melanchthon, the man Adam Smith thought that the words of the sacred text meant. They do not claim to be Divine, nor are they.
But the case with Swedenborg is different. In giving the spiritual sense of the Word, nothing is further from his mind than to claim to be the spirit of truth or the Lord in His Second Coming. The spirit of truth is the rational truth revealed in the Writings; the wisdom which Swedenborg received from the Lord alone as he read and meditated on the Word. And the Lord said that this spirit "shall not speak of himself, but what he shall hear, that shall he speak." That is why Swedenborg says that he did not receive anything from any spirit or angel, but from the Lord alone.
It is of the Lord, and from the Lord, that Swedenborg writes, for it is worthy of note that when Swedenborg commenced the Arcana he adopted the term "Dominus" or "Lord" for the God that we worship. In the New Testament He was called "Kurios" which means Lord, and in the Old Testament, wherever the word Jehovah occurred the priests were commanded to read "Adonai" which means "Lord." Therefore in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and in the Writings we have the one God denominated by the same term "Lord." So Swedenborg asserts that he did not receive anything from any spirit or angel, but from the Lord alone while he read and meditated on the Word of God. He wrote at the command of that one God, and he testified about that one God, and he explained how that one God is eternally in the one person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Divine is right here with each of us, but our senses do not perceive the Divine presence. When, however, through the pages of the Writings, we are able to see the truth of the Lord's presence, we can see that the Lord has come to us in a new way. That new coming in Divinely revealed truth is the Second Coming of the Lord. It is not a coming in space, but it is a new revelation of Him, a new manifestation of His Wisdom and His Power. The signs of His Second Coming are these newly revealed truths:
In very truth, now, in His Second Coming, the Lord has revealed Himself anew as the one Divine Man, the Creator, Redeemer, and Savior of mankind, whose kingdom shall exist for ages of ages.
- from Karl R. Alden, The City of God (Bryn Athyn, PA: General Chrurch Publication Committee, 1961)