III. The Second Advent of the Lord
"The Second Coming of the lord is effected by means of a Man, before whom He has manifested Himself in Person, and whom He has filled with His Spirit, to teach the Doctrines of the New Church through the Word from Him."—T.C.R. 779.
INQUIRER.—As you are a preacher of the doctrines of the New Jerusalem, we should like to hear from you an explanation of your views respecting the Second Coming of Christ.
MISSIONARY.—I shall with great pleasure give you an explanation of the subject, so far as we shall be able to consider it in the brief space of time that we can devote to it on this occasion.
I.—I regret that our time is so limited; but for the present, at least, we shall have to be content with the information you can give us.
M.—The theme you have suggested is a very grand one. It is, indeed, a subject which every believer in the doctrines of Christianity ought to thoroughly understand. Comparatively few do understand it, because they have no doctrine to enlighten them concerning it; nor do they desire any. And many even assert that it is impossible for any one to understand such subjects, which is, doubtless, because they have no interest in spiritual things.
I.—It is quite probable that such is the case. But I can assure you that my desire is very great to understand it better than I have ever been able to do thus far.
M.—They that ask shall receive. They that seek for light will surely find it, in due time; for the Lord does not leave His followers to walk in darkness, but gives them the light of life.
I.—Yes; light is what we want,—what we need, and must have. It is terribly uncertain to travel in the dark spiritually as well as naturally. I have been for some time longing for light on several dark problems. At least to me they are dark; and it would be a real delight to have these things made intelligible.
M.—The light is given, and it will come to you as fast as you can receive it. The lord is the Light of the World. He has effected His Second Coming spiritually, and thus the Sun of Righteousness has arisen anew. There was a long night of falsity and ignorance respecting things heavenly and Divine; and this period of the world's history is called "the Dark Ages." It was described many centuries before, in these words: "Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people" (Isa. lx. 2).
I.—And you understand these words of the prophet to mean a state of falsity and ignorance as to spiritual things?
M.—Yes; a person who has no knowledge of spiritual truth cannot have an enlightened mind, but must be in a dark spiritual state. And if evil be joined with falsity, it is a state of "thick darkness."
I.—The Dark Ages were terrible, indeed. It makes one shudder to think of the religious persecutions, and the diabolical deeds that were done in those days: when, for example, they so cruelly tortured people, and killed their bodies in order that they might, as they imagined, save their souls.
M.—The Lord alluded to those persecutions, when He said: "Then shall be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt. xxiv. 21). But it pleased the lord, in His mercy, to provide that those days might be "shortened." It was not in the order of the Divine Providence to permit the powers of darkness to triumph, and to continue the reign of relentless cruelty for ever. The lord knew that He would effect His Second Coming spiritually, and this He foretold in the sublime words: "And the glory of the lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see together; for the mouth of the lord hath spoken" (Isa. xl. 5).
I.—My friend here is an Adventist, and we cannot agree on this subject of the Second Advent of Christ at all; because he takes all the Scriptures literally, and affirms his belief in the personal coming of Christ into this natural world. To me such an idea seems absurd, because the lord Jesus Christ is God, consequently He is the Divine Being; and how could He come personally into this natural world?
M.—The Scriptures apparently teach the idea of the personal coming of the lord in a few passages, but in reality they do not teach this. To be consistent, in our method of the interpretation of the Scriptures on this subject, we must take all the passages referring to it together, and thus learn the spirit of their teaching as a whole. For us to construct theories which are based on one class of passages merely, is neither wise nor useful, because it cannot lead to a rational understanding of the subject.
I.—That is just what I have often told my literalistic friends. The theory of the personal coming of the lord is based on certain passages, and then we find many other passages which flatly contradict them, and evidently teach an entirely different doctrine. And this thing is confusing. There is no light, but only darkness in it. And it seems to me that, in order to understand the subject intelligently, there ought to be a method of interpretation which harmonizes all these contradictions.
M.—Your remarks are quite correct. And allow me to assure you that the doctrine of the New Church does harmonize the contradictions found in the letter of the Divine Word. These contradictions are merely apparent, not real. The Scriptures teach Divine Truth throughout. The Word of God contains an inner sense. In fact, we are taught that the Word has a natural sense, a spiritual sense, and a celestial sense; and that in each sense it is Divine.
I.—Paul says: "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. iii. 6). Does he mean that the natural sense alone is insufficient to enable one to understand a subject?
M.—He evidently had some idea of the true method of Scripture interpretation. The lord also says: "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; . . . the words that I speak unto you are spirit, and are life" (John vi. 63). By the "spirit" is meant the spiritual sense, in which are to be seen the living, beautiful, clear, and rational ideas contained in the literal sense. In the Writings of the New Church, given through the instrumentality of Emanuel Swedenborg, the lord revealed the spiritual sense of the Word. In these spiritual Writings we have the Divine doctrine which enables us to understand the Scriptures rationally. They throw a flood of light upon all subjects. The darkness of falsity and ignorance is dissipated. A new and glorious spiritual day has dawned. We are living at the beginning of a New Era. Men who can receive the Divine Truth in rational forms may now become enlightened Christians; may have all their doubts and difficulties removed; and may rejoice in the precious light of the New Jerusalem.
I.—What you say is most cheering and encouraging to one who is in search of light and knowledge concerning spiritual things.
M.—The genuine truth is exceedingly gratifying to one who can receive it, and one who has a sincere desire for it. Genuine truth is satisfying in its nature, but apparent truth is not. For example, it is an apparent truth—in the mere letter of the Word—that the lord Jesus Christ rose from the tomb in His material body. And, accordingly, theologians have for ages taught that the Saviour ascended into heaven in a material body, because they have had no true doctrine to teach them as to the nature of our lord's Body after the Resurrection. From the mere letter they did not learn that the lord glorified His Human, i.e. made it Divine, and did not, therefore, have a material body after His resurrection, nor was ever seen with bodily eyes or with natural sight after that event. This is the genuine truth of the matter, as can be very plainly shown from the Scriptures, when we take the time and the pains to investigate them.
I.—I should like to ask the theologians these questions: If Christ ascended in a physical body, where did He go? Did He then begin a journey through the immensity of space, to go to a region called heaven, somewhere in the material universe? And if so, how long would it require to make the journey? But in order to pass through space in a physical body, would it not be necessary first to entirely change the constitution of the natural universe? What answer, think you, would they give to these questions?
M.—I do not know, except it be that "with God all things are possible." But the questions you have proposed are as legitimate as they are pointed. They cannot be satisfactorily answered from the standpoint of the old theology. And it requires a great deal of explanation to answer them fully, according to the New Theology.
I.—It is not to be expected that any one should explain so great a subject in a few words. But I will not interrupt you.
M.—It is generally taken for granted that the lord rose from the tomb and ascended into heaven in a natural body. But this is merely an appearance of the truth, according to some of the circumstances mentioned in the literal sense of the Scripture. It is a perfect fallacy. Enlightened reason sees the absurdity of it at a glance. It is a case in point of how "the letter killeth." For the clinging to the literal circumstances alone, in which there is mere apparent truth, destroys all possibility of rationally understanding the genuine truth on the subject.
I.—The genuine truth is what I want to learn, and that as fast as I can.
M.—The material substance of which the lord's natural body was composed could not be transmuted into the Divine Substance which constitutes His Glorified Human. The material substances of the lord's body were put off, and returned to nature, when the Human was made Divine. How the Human was made Divine, neither angels nor men can fully comprehend. The process was miraculous and inscrutable. The finite mind cannot grasp all the ways of the Infinite God. It is a Divine Truth that the lord glorified His Human, though we do not know much about how He did so. But this is no cause for objection to the doctrine revealed to us; for we do not fully understand the formation of the buds and blossoms, the leaves and fruits, upon the trees. The process of growth is miraculous and inscrutable. And there are many of the most familiar operations of nature that we know very little about.
I.—Very true, indeed. The existence of the sun, for instance, is a most stupendous miracle. And what shall we say of the tremendous force which is exerted by means of the sun to perpetually keep so many ponderous planets in motion? Is not the law of motion, as well as the process of growth, miraculous? Do we not behold wonders amazing, and phenomena inscrutable, everywhere throughout the physical universe? I consider your illustration a good one. And I can plainly see that it is not wise to reject a revealed truth, because we do not fully comprehend it at the outset.
M.—No; we must first understand general principles, and then we may enter more and more into particulars. But let us return to the subject. And here I wish to say that our literalistic friends, who affirm the notion of the personal coming, imagine that the lord actually ascended into heaven in a natural body. Such questions as you asked a few minutes ago do not, perhaps, arise in their minds. And to confirm their view they employ one apparent truth to prove another; and the result cannot be otherwise than fallacious. They quote from the account of the lord's ascension these words: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts i. 11).
I.—And this is one of the very passages I want to have explained.
M.—Well, in the first place, only the eleven apostles were present at the lord's ascension (Mark xvi. 14-20; Acts i. 1-14). And, in the second place, they did not then see Him with their ordinary natural sight. The fact is that the ascension of our lord was a spiritual vision, and was beheld with the spiritual eyes of the apostles. We read that after His resurrection they did not know Him until "their eyes were opened,"—their spiritual eyes, of course. (See Luke xxiv. 31.) The lord manifested Himself to them in such a form that they could see Him and know Him. With the bodily eye no man can see a spiritual being; and much less could he in that manner see the Divine Being.
I.—I never heard such an explanation of these subjects before. It is wonderful, and yet scriptural and reasonable.
M.—We can see, then, that the lord's ascension was in all respects spiritual. And so will His Second Coming, "in like manner," be effected spiritually; and not by a personal appearance in the natural world. Those who expect to see Him coming in the clouds and descend to the earth, establish a throne, and reign with His saints literally for a period of a thousand years, are as much in error as were the Jews who thought that when Messiah should make His appearance, it would be to release them from the galling yoke of their subjection to the Romans, make of them the greatest of the nations, and reign over them as a mighty and glorious king. But the Messiah came in a very different manner from that in which they had expected. He afterwards said: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John xviii. 36). It was not of this world in the sense in which they thought.
adventist.—But we read: "They shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory" (Matt. xxiv. 30). What do you make of this declaration? Does it not mean what it says?
M.—It does not mean what it says literally; but these words must be understood as to their spiritual sense. Thus, to "see" means to understand. The "Son of Man" is the lord, with respect to the Divine Truth. "Coming" signifies revelation from the lord and concerning Him. Now, observe that He is to come "in the clouds of heaven." But what we call clouds are the clouds of the earth. They belong to the earth, and are composed of earthy substances, i.e. vapour, or simply water in the form of vapour. The "clouds of heaven" mean the literal sense of the Word of God. And the "power and great glory" mean the inner and spiritual sense.
I.—I for my part do not see any reason for objecting to the interpretation of the passage.
A.—And I cannot say that I am prepared to accept it.
M.—Well, let us proceed a little further. We can plainly see that a personal coming of the lord would necessarily be a local coming, i.e. a coming in some particular locality of the earth.
I.—According to the "in like manner" theory, regarded literally, He would require to come down at Bethany (Luke xxiv. 50). And then we read: "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him "(Rev. i. 7). But how all the myriads on myriads of human beings could get near enough to Bethany, so as literally to see Him with their bodily eyes, is one of those things that is quite incomprehensible. To my mind the notion of a personal coming appears more absurd the longer we continue the investigation.
M.—In the twenty-fourth of Matthew, where the lord speaks of His Second Coming, He plainly teaches that it is not personal or local, but universal (chap. xxiv. 23-27). You see that the lord actually warns His followers against being deceived by literalistic notions and fallacies, respecting the momentous subject of the Second Advent (vers. 4, 5). The Light of the Divine Truth, which the lord has revealed concerning His Divine nature, personality, character, and attributes, in that He has made His Second Advent spiritually, may now illuminate men's minds, and protect them from the deceptions of the fallacies which have been concocted by the busy imaginations of certain persons, from their mere self-derived intelligence.
I.—The light of Divine Truth! What a beautiful expression it is! And how much the truth can do for us, if we can but obtain it, and heartily and intelligently appreciate it! And what transcendent glories must it reveal to our delighted spiritual vision, when in the lord's own Divine Light we shall see light! In fact, the mere glimpse of it that I have obtained to-day gives me an inward feeling of unspeakable joy.
A.—I haven't got far enough on to go into such ecstasies over your Swedenborgian explanation of the subject.
I.—But you have heard enough to set you a-thinking. And you will not reflect on these things many days, I venture to say, until some of your old ideas about the literal and personal coming will drop out of your mind. At least you ought to drop them at once, and accept a more intelligible view, such as we have just listened to.
A.—It is, of course, possible that I may change my views about these matters by and by, but I cannot see the need of doing so just yet.
M.—The lord effected His Second Coming, spiritually, by revealing the spiritual sense of the Divine Word; by giving spiritual knowledges on all subjects that come within the scope of human investigation, reception, and experience; thus, by making an Immediate Revelation out of the Word, which is the crown of all Divine Revelations ever made to mankind. This Revelation we have in the Writings of the New Church, given to the world by the lord, through the instrumentality of His servant, Emanuel Swedenborg. And this Revelation was made according to the lord's own intimation to His disciples, saying: "I have yet many things to tell you, but ye cannot bear them now." And also according to His promise: "The hour cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in parables, but when I shall show you plainly from the Father" (John xvi. 12, 25).
I.—You seem at no loss to find appropriate and convincing Scripture proof, to bear out what you affirm.
A.—Any one can quote Scripture, no matter what may be the nature of his doctrine.
M.—The objects for which the lord made His Second Coming are most grand, beneficent, imperative, glorious, and momentous. Thus, the lord performed the Divine work of Redemption anew, and again prepared the way for the salvation of the human race. By the wonderful unfoldments of the Divine Truth, and the merciful impartations of the Divine Love, the lord continues to come into the hearts and minds of His people. He comes to establish His New Church, signified by the New Jerusalem, which is to be the crowning glory of the latter days. And of this Church it is prophetically written: There was given to the Son of Man, who came with the clouds of heaven, dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Daniel vii. 13, 14).
I.—And there is also a parallel passage which reads: "The kingdoms of this world are become of our lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. xi. 15). I always like to read these sublime ascriptions to the lord, who is the God of heaven and earth, because there seems to be something elevating about them.
M.—It is always elevating to the mind for us to acknowledge the lord as All in all, and to humbly feel that we are but finite recipients from Him, the Infinite Giver of every perfect gift.
I.—The maxim of the ancient philosophers that "we are also God's offspring" is more clearly rendered by the apostle: "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." This involves far greater wisdom than is manifested by some of our modern philosophers, who believe in matter only, and reject the idea of the existence of spirit; who doubt and even deny the grand truth of a personal Creator and Preserver of the universe.
M.—In His Second Advent, the lord has restored the means, in all fullness and abundance, for men to acquire rational knowledges respecting all things earthly and heavenly, all things spiritual and Divine. Now is being fulfilled the prophecy enunciated by Him who, sitting upon the throne, said: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. xxi. 5). They that learn to understand the Divine Truth, now revealed by the lord in the heavenly doctrines of the New Jerusalem, and thus become intelligent and wise in the spiritual sense of the Word, by means of the literal sense, "See the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory."
I.—I must thank you most sincerely for your explanations; and I trust it wall not be long before we meet again, because there are several other leading subjects that I should be delighted to converse about. One can read, of course, and get information; but it is not like a good talk with a person who is familiar with these things.
M.—I am very pleased to have met you, and to have had the opportunity of this conversation with you. It is always gratifying to meet with those who have an interest in spiritual things, and can appreciate the Divine Truth which the lord has revealed to us in His Second Advent.