The Second Coming of the Lord
The Lord said:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. (Matthew 24:30) Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. (Matthew 24:42) The Apostles, taking His words literally, expected that the Lord would come during their lifetime, for He had said :
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. (Matthew 24:34)
As many centuries passed and the Coming of the Lord was not seen, the Second Coming of the Lord became less and less a reality to the Christian Church. Most persons nowadays either do not believe in the Second Coming or feel an aversion to thinking about it. Yet the Lord made it an important matter of faith. Those few at the present day who place great importance on this subject for the most part have ideas concerning it, such as the sun and moon becoming dark and the stars falling from heaven, which, to most people, appear fantastic, unreal, or impossible, and such ideas, if taken literally, also appear fantastic, unreal, and impossible to us.
How are we to interpret the Lord's words concerning His Second Coming? Let us consider the nature of prophecy; and in order to do this, let us first consider the nature of prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the First Coming of the Lord. We find that they fall into two classes. One class of prophecy was literally fulfilled in a most remarkable way. The other class was spiritually fulfilled, but not literally fulfilled.
Those which were literally fulfilled tell the place of the Lord's birth, say that He would be rejected of men and that He would overcome Satan, that is, the power of evil or of the hells, and give a remarkably detailed description of His final trial and death.
On the other hand, we find these prophecies: that He was to be a King who would sit on the throne of David, that He would be a Priest, that He would deliver Israel from its enemies, that He would be a hero, that blood would be sprinkled on His garments, and that He would tread down the wicked.
When asked concerning the prophecy that He, the Christ, was to be a king, He answered: "My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36.) He was the Christ, that is, the anointed king, but He was never anointed king with the oil of this world. He sat on the throne of David, but it was not a throne of this world. He was a Priest, but He was never called a priest by anyone in this world. He overcame the enemies of Israel, but it was not the Israel or the enemies of this world. He waged warfare, but not a natural warfare against any in this world. We read:
The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble; the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: And the Lord shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word; for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? (Joel 2:10,11) Again, we read in Joel:
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. (2:30,31)
It might at first be thought that these words refer to the Second Coming, because of their similarity to the words in Matthew 24. Yet, referring to these words of Joel, Peter said: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose. . . . But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy; And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come. (Acts 2:15-20)
Though, indeed, at the crucifixion there was an earthquake and darkness for three hours, and the sun was darkened, yet there was no general cosmic convulsion such as one might expect from the prophecy in Joel. No one not at Jerusalem knew anything about a cosmic convulsion having taken place. Were not the sun, which was darkened, and the moon, which was turned into blood, things that are not of this world?
The Jewish Church did not accept the Messiah when He came because He did not fulfill many of the prophecies the way they expected. They expected a great earthly king who would overcome their enemies in this world. Might not Christians react in the same way if Christ does not fulfill His Second Coming in the literal way that many Christians expect?
Turning now to the prophecies of the Second Coming, we also find two very different classes of prophecy.
We are told that the Lord would "come as a thief" (Revelation 3:3; 16:15), that is, unrecognized; that the kingdom of God would come "not with observation" (Luke 17:20), thus, secretly. Contrast this with the description of "the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30.)
Again, contrast the prophecies that the Lord would "sit on the throne of David" with the statement that "we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3.)
The Lord is described as coming again as the Divine Truth. We read:
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you. (John 14:17-18)
Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. (John 14:28)
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. (John 16:12)
The Spirit of truth . . . will guide you into all truth. ... A little while, and ye shall not see me, and again, a little while, and ye shall see me. (John 16:13,16)
The difference between the above verses which describe the Lord not coming with observation and coming as the spirit of truth which will lead to all truth, and the passages in Matthew which describe the sun being darkened, the stars falling from heaven, and the powers of heaven being shaken and the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (24:29,30) is most striking. This is similar to the contrast in the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the First Coming. As we have shown, the one series of prophecies of the First Coming was fulfilled literally; the other, such as the Lord's coming in glory as a king, was "not of this world."
We might, therefore, assume that the same would apply to the Second Coming; that the Lord's coming as the spirit of truth would be literally fulfilled, but that His coming in glory would be a thing not of this world. There are now some leaders in the Christian Church who believe that the Lord's Second Coming is a coming in His Divine Truth, a teaching we find in the Writings of Swedenborg, written two hundred years ago; but concerning this Divine Truth in which the Lord comes, they have very little idea. Where is the Divine Truth which, like lightning, illumines the whole mind, as we read: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matthew 24:27) ?
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 they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29,30)
What are "the clouds of heaven" here spoken of? Are they the clouds of the sky, or are they the clouds of the spiritual heaven? Is the sun here spoken of the sun of this world? Are not the moon, the stars, and the clouds, as is said of the Lord's Kingdom, not of this world ?
We read in the Psalms:
For the Lord God is a sun and shield. (84:11) His seed [David's] shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. (89:36)
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun. (19:4) His face did shine as the sun. (Matthew 17:2)
Here the Lord is called a sun. From the Lord as a sun proceeds the heat of love and the light of wisdom. When it says, concerning the Lord's Second Coming, "The sun shall be darkened," does it mean the sun of this world or the Sun of heaven? Is it not more reasonable to think it means the latter? There is no reason for the sun, moon, and stars of this world to fail.
In a prophecy of the Lord's coming, we read: "The light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people." (Isaiah 30:26.) This obviously is not speaking of the sun of the world.
When the Lord says, in predicting the Second Coming, that the sun shall be darkened, what is meant?
When agnosticism prevails, when faith is weak, when doubts and confusion over the interpretation of the Word of God prevail, black clouds of doubt and obscurity gather and darken the Sun of heaven, that is, the Lord as the sun. The Lord's love is then not received in men's hearts; and the moon of heaven, that is, faith in the Lord, does not give light; and the stars fall from heaven, that is, the knowledges which are in the inner man fall into worldly reasonings and are destroyed.
This darkness is nowhere more evident than in regard to the subject of the Second Coming, which was a primary matter of faith in the early Christian Church; but the faith concerning it, and the ideas about it, are now so much in darkness that most persons in the Christian Church have no idea as to what is meant and many feel an aversion even to considering the subject.
Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in Heaven. . . . and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)
That clouds stand for obscurity is evident, but here the clouds stand particularly for the obscure things of the Word of God. Many things in the letter of the Word are obscure, called by the Lord "dark sayings," which are not understood.
The Son of Man, coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, is the Lord as the Divine Truth coming with authority and shedding a wonderful light on the whole of the Word of God.
What are the leading subjects which the Lord will reveal in His Second Coming? They are those things which He spoke of when He said, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." He indeed tells us, for He says: "At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." (John 14:20.)
"These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father." (John 16:25.) Here we are taught clearly that the Lord will come again to reveal the relation of the Son to the Father, that is, the nature of the Divine Trinity, and how the Lord was glorified; also, the nature of the relation of the Lord and man, and how the Lord is present in man. He would come to reveal the nature of the Divine Love and Wisdom and the manner in which man is born again from the Lord and becomes His son. All the wonders of the relation of the Lord and man, and the nature of man's spiritual development, things which in the Word were given in parables, would then be opened.
Some Christians, when they reflect, might well wonder whether, if they had lived at the time the Lord came into the world, they would have believed in Him or not.
Put yourself in the place of the Jew who listened to the Lord. How would you feel if a young man condemned the respected priests and leaders of your church, calling them hypocrites, saying that they had made the Church a den of thieves, condemned your church and nation—on all of which you prided yourself? Could you have believed in Him as the promised Messiah?
Are you sure you would be any more likely to recognize the Lord, when He came again, "not with observation" but "as a thief in the night"? The Lord said: "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8.) Do not these words indicate that at the Lord's Coming, the Christian Church would no more recognize and acknowledge Him than the Jewish Church did when He came to them as their Messiah?
The Jews expected the Messiah to come in a spectacular way and fulfill their ambitions by making them the greatest and most powerful nation, but He did not come in that way. Do not those Christians who await the Second Coming for the most part expect something spectacular which will fulfill their ambitions? But does He come that way?
As we read in the first chapter of John, the Lord is the Word, the Divine Truth, which enlighteneth everyone. He comes again as the Word, the Divine Truth, not now in parables, but plainly.
In True Christian Religion, by Emanuel Swedenborg, we read:
The Second Coming of the Lord is not a Coming in Person, but in the Word, which is from Him, and is Himself. (Caption before Number 776, T.C.R.)
It is written in many places that the Lord will come in the clouds of heaven. And as no one has hitherto known what is meant by "the clouds of heaven," it has been believed that the Lord would appear to them in Person. Heretofore it has not been known that "the clouds of heaven" mean the Word in the sense of the letter, and that the "glory and power" in which He is then to come, mean the spiritual sense of the Word, because no one as yet has had the least conjecture that there is a spiritual sense in the Word, such as this sense is in itself. But as the Lord has now opened to me the spiritual sense in the Word, and has granted to me to be associated with angels and spirits in their world as one of them, it is disclosed to me that "a cloud of heaven" means the Word in the natural sense, and "glory" the Word in the spiritual sense, and "power" the Lord's power through the Word." (T.C.R., Number 776)
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. (Caption before Number 779, T.C.R.)
Since the Lord cannot manifest Himself in Person, as shown just above, and nevertheless has foretold that He was to come and establish a new church, which is Nova Hierosolyma [the New Jerusalem], it follows that He will do this by means of a man, who is able not only to receive these doctrines in his understanding, but also to publish them by the press. That the Lord manifested Himself before me, His servant, and sent me to this office, and He afterward opened the eyes of my spirit and thus introduced me into the spiritual world and granted me to see the heavens and the hells . . . and this now continually for several years, I affirm in truth; as also that from the first day of that call I have not received anything whatever pertaining to the doctrines of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone while I have read the Word. (T.C.R., Number 779)
In order that the Lord might be continuously present with me He has unfolded to me the spiritual sense of His Word, wherein is 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; through the light of this sense He passes into the obscurity of the literal sense, which is like what takes place when the light of the sun in day time is passing through an interposing cloud. That 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, and thus that the Lord is the Word, has been shown above. (T.C.R., Number 780)
When one first reads the above words, they may seem strange, impossible, and even fantastic. Yet if we consider the problem, how does the Lord make His promised Second Coming? What alternative is there to the idea that the Lord does this through a man who has been filled with His Spirit? We may discover that there is no other way. Some hold that the Lord will literally come in the clouds of this world.
We read in the book of Revelation:
And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (6:12-14)
Few who know the size of the stars, as being immensely larger than the earth, and their immense distance from earth, can take this prophecy as being about to take place literally; besides which, if it were to take place literally, how could the other prophecies which the Lord made concerning His Second Coming be fulfilled, namely, that He would come as the "spirit of truth," that He had "many things to say" unto them; but they could not bear them then. He would come as "the spirit of truth," which would guide them into "all truth."
Still, there are very few who will have an open mind toward what Swedenborg says concerning the Second Coming. They may be impressed by other things said in the Writings of Swedenborg, but they will find this a "hard saying."
Many who have followed what is written in this book with a certain affirmation will here tend to turn away.
This brings to mind what is said about those who followed the Lord, when He said to them:
I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:51)
Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? (John 6:60)
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. (John 6:66)
A friend of Swedenborg wrote to him, saying that if he left out of his work the descriptions of the spiritual world and his conversations with angels and spirits, many would accept his doctrine; to which Swedenborg replied that the Lord had commanded him to include these portions of his works.
We often read in the Old Testament that the Lord appeared to a person and gave him a command, and to some this does not appear impossible. But that He should have done so to a man in relatively modern times appears incredible and even fantastic to nearly everyone. But why is this?
There are some who do not believe in any direct revelation of the Word of God to men or in the possible communication between angels (who are men that have died) and men on earth. Such are apt to regard themselves as having a scientific approach. Yet the true scientific approach is an open-minded approach, an approach without prejudice or preconceived ideas; an approach which takes into account all known facts. The facts are that nearly every people on earth have believed in the communication of the departed with men living on earth. To throw out this immense testimony out of prejudice is certainly not scientific and must therefore come from a decision which has its origin in the will.
Those who are proud and vain hate the idea that anyone can see anything they cannot see. It has been observed that some of those who are color-blind and are not aware of this fact become angry and insist that they can see colors when it is demonstrated that they are color-blind.
If those who see a matter clearly speak to others who are in obscurity on the matter, the latter often intensely resent it and may become angry and wish to persecute the former.
Many Jews resented the fact that "he [Jesus] taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." (Matthew 7:29.)
If Swedenborg had said that he spoke from himself, instead of saying that he spoke from God, more would have accepted his teaching. Compare this with the saying of the Lord: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him." (John 7:16-18.)
Try to explain with great definiteness to a man who is proud of his learning something which he cannot see, an idea which he cannot grasp, and observe his reactions. As long as one will admit that one's own ideas have certain obscurities in them, and it is a matter of opinion, it is all right; but as soon as one says it is as clear as four times four are sixteen, the other is likely to become angry and react irrationally.
For those who believe that there has been communication with God and with angels, as recounted in the Bible, it is still difficult to believe that a relatively modern man could have such communication, because they think such communication came to an end nearly two thousand years ago. Yet if there is a Divine purpose to be fulfilled, it is obviously prejudice that would say it is impossible for God to revive this communication with a man for the sake of a Divine purpose. Yet in spite of the obvious force of this argument, prejudice is so strong that few can overcome it, and few will consider Swedenborg's claim with an open and unprejudiced mind.
A man who has an open mind will view the Writings of Swedenborg unprejudiced by habits of thought or prevailing opinions; he will carefully weigh what is said as to whether it is in agreement with God's love and His desire to communicate the truths of the spirit to man. The question is, Do they reveal a God of Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, of Divine Mercy and Justice? Do they reveal a life after death, that one can perceive is the only kind of life in which man could be happy to eternity? Do they reveal the kind of communication between God and man that is in accordance with God's love and the nature of man? A man with an open mind will struggle to answer these questions for himself and will not be satisfied until he has found the answer.