The Lord has Come Again!
Jesus promised his disciples that, after he had been taken from them, he would come again into the world, "in the clouds of Heaven, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30.) This magnificent but terrible reappearance was to be introduced by unprecedented disasters and upheavals. The sun and moon would be darkened, the stars would fall from Heaven; there would be a New Heaven and a New Earth. Angels would herald his coming with the blast of trumpets, and "every eye should see him." (Revelation 1:7)
Naturally the disciples were excited. They asked him when it would happen, but he replied: "Of that day and hour knoweth no one. Take heed therefore, watch and pray." (Mark 13:33) This they did. They sold their property, gave up their employments, separated themselves from their unbelieving families, and vowed not to marry— supposing that there was no further need to populate the earth. But they were disappointed. True, the holy spirit came upon them at Pentecost, but Jesus himself did not return. Then they got a clue from Revelation 20, and began to think in terms of the millennium—A.D. 1,000; and it is a fact of history that, at the end of the tenth century, society in Europe was disorganized by the hundreds of men and women who threw up their jobs and trekked to Palestine for the great event—only to be robbed and murdered by the wild Turks and Arabs who occupied the territory. Still the Lord did not come. Even today, excitement is sometimes aroused by an announcement that the Lord's second advent is at hand; but most people have lost all interest in the subject.
Emmanuel, God With Us
The irony of all this is that, in fact, Jesus was with them all the time! The very name given to him at his birth in Bethlehem was "Emmanuel, God with us;" and ever since the glorification of his "Human"—especially after the giving of the holy spirit at Pentecost—he has been intimately present with every one of his children. "A little while and you shall not see me; and again, a little while and you shall see me, because I go to the Father." (John 16:16) "I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you." (John 14:18) And remember his final words to his Apostles in Matthew's gospel: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)
Before he assumed a human nature by birth as Jesus Christ, God could not contact people in any direct manner. It is well-known that when he visited Abraham he did so in the person of an angel. (Genesis 18:17-33) He filled the mind of the angel with his own divine mind, and the angel spoke as if he were God. See also Judges 6:11-24, where the angel who visited Gideon is actually called the Lord Jehovah. But after the glorification of his "Human," God no longer needed an angel as a medium. He could appear to people in his own divine person as Jesus. This he did to the Christian saints and mystics down through the ages. He appeared thus on two or three memorable occasions to Emanuel Swedenborg, as in the hotel in Delft, Holland, on the night of April 6th, 1744. And, in a less spectacular manner, he can appear to any one of us, for he is with us all the time.
We each of us have a little vessel in our super-conscious minds, which Swedenborg calls the "human internal." In this vessel God dwells, in all the fullness of his "Divine-Human." We are not normally aware of this, for it would rob us of our free-will; but we can become more and more conscious of his presence by continually looking inwards and listening to his voice. We need to align our hearts with his love, and have a true idea of his divine nature; and the church exists primarily for the purpose of giving us the necessary love and wisdom from outside us, to enable us to become conscious of his presence within us. If we altogether fail to find him within ourselves, it is because of the failure either of the church or of our own sensitivity, or of both. Thus the Lord has always seemed furthest from humankind during those periods when the church has been at a low ebb.
The Second Coming is Taking Place Now
It was owing to the utter failure of the Christian church in the 18th century that the Lord had to make the new contact with our race that we call the "Second Coming." (True Christian Religion, Chapter 14) This did not affect his relationship with individuals, as he was already "closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet." (Tennyson, "The Higher Pantheism") Nor could he take upon himself a new body, as he already had the body he had assumed in this world, which he had glorified, or made divine. His purpose was to re-vitalize the church. In fact, his second advent synchronized with the establishment of the New Church. It took the form of a revelation of his true nature as God-human, which had been distorted by theologians out of all recognition; also there was an unveiling of the internal or spiritual sense of the holy Word. Both these ends, plus the giving of an enormous quantity of valuable information on spiritual subjects, were accomplished through the writings Emanuel Swedenborg.
Jesus had said to his disciples in Jerusalem long ago, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now." (John 16:12) But by the 18th century the situation was entirely different. The human race, for all its corruptions, had become mature or adult, so that God could take us into his confidence (as a parent does with grown-up children) and tell us plainly of the kingdom. All this is involved in the Lord's coming again.
Prophecy Not Understood until Fulfilled
Such a novel interpretation of the second advent naturally requires some explanation. People will ask, "How does it fit in with the prophecies made in the gospels and Revelation?" Answer: "It fits very well, but not in the manner expected!" No prophecy can ever be understood properly until after it has been fulfilled otherwise it would interfere with human freewill.
We find the same thing with Old Testament prophecies of the first coming of the Messiah or Christ. The Jews had been expecting the Messiah for a long time; their scriptures were full of glowing accounts of what was to happen when he came. They expected an earthly king, of the royal line of David, who would destroy their enemies and make them the most powerful nation on earth. Actually, the Old Testament prophecies concerning our Lord's first coming closely resemble those in the gospels and Revelation concerning his second coming. We read in Isaiah 65:17—"Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;" and in Joel (Joel 2: 10) we are told that the sun will be darkened, the moon will be turned to blood, and the stars will fall from Heaven all in connection with the corning of our Lord in the flesh. None of these things happened in the visible universe when Jesus was born. He failed to fulfill their expectations; so they denied him, despised and rejected him, and finally put him to death as a blasphemer, pretender and fake. Yet no Christian would doubt that Jesus did fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, from first to last. At the Pentecostal out-pouring of the holy spirit, Peter expressly referred to the prophecy of Joel, that there would be "wonders in Heaven above, and signs in the Earth beneath, blood and fire and vapors of smoke: the sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood." Peter declared that those phenomena were actually taking place while he was speaking. (Acts 2:16) Obviously he was referring to events in the spiritual world, not on earth.
Since, therefore nothing unusual took place in the sky or on earth when Jesus made his first coming, and yet all the prophecies were fulfilled, why should we expect natural catastrophes in connection with his second coming? Should not these be looked for also in the spiritual world? Jesus himself warned us in connection with this very subject: "Whoso readeth, let him understand." (Matthew 24:15) And when directly challenged by the Pharisees, he declared: "The kingdom of God does not come with observation, neither shall they say, Lo here! Lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17: 20, 21)
Heaven and Earth, Sun, Moon and Stars
Let us try to understand what is meant by the heavens and the earth dissolving away, the sun and moon being darkened, and the stars falling from the sky. The sun is a symbol of the Lord himself as to his divine love. The moon represents faith in him. The stars are knowledges of truth. If, at any period of history, the Lord is no longer worshipped, and faith grows dim, and the stars of spiritual truth are dragged down then, both the "heavenly" and the "earthly" aspects of the church are dissolved, and a new "Heaven" and a new "Earth" must be created to take their place.
Such was the state of affairs when Jesus first came into the world. The priests had no truth, and the people no charity. "Therefore," he said, "the kingdom of God shall be taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." (Matthew 21:43) He created a New Heaven and a New Earth, also a new sun, moon and stars, which should endure for an "age."
But the "age" passed and the Christian church itself became corrupt, as Jesus foretold. The sun and moon again became darkened and turned into blood, and the stars were dragged down. Then, at an hour of general slumber, the Lord made his second advent, "in the clouds of Heaven, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30, Mark 13:26) He created a New Heaven and a New Earth, and the former things passed away.
The Glory Within the Clouds
What are the "clouds" in which the Lord made his appearance when he came again? They are the literal sense of the Holy Scriptures, which veils the brightness of the spiritual sense, shielding its brightness from our eyes, yet conveying it to our minds nevertheless.
Think how fierce the physical sun is, when there are no clouds! Such would be the Word of God if it were written only in its spiritual sense, as among the angels in Heaven. The literal sense, couched in worldly terms, tempers its power and conveys the divine truth in a manner suited to our natural, worldly condition. But think of the other extreme, when the clouds are so thick and dense that the sunlight does not penetrate them, and the world becomes dark and cold! Such is the condition of the church when the spiritual sense is no longer understood. It is indeed "under a cloud."
By revealing the spiritual sense of the Word, in such works as the Arcana Coelestia and Apocalypse Revealed, Swedenborg penetrated the cloud and showed us the glory within. Take any passage of scripture. Think of the literal sense only, and you are in a cloud. But penetrate through to the spiritual sense, as given in the writings of the New Church, and immediately it glows with light and warmth, as when the sun rises behind the mists that cover the eastern sky at dawn. The Lord thereby comes in the clouds of Heaven to you.
At the ascension on the Mount of Olives, Jesus went up in a cloud. While the disciples were looking steadfastly towards Heaven, two men stood by them in white apparel, who said: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus which is taken from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go." (Acts 1:10, 11)
Jesus was to come again, in a cloud.
Swedenborg said very little about his own part in the process by which the Lord came again to the church. However, in the final chapter of his last published work, True Christian Religion, we come across the following striking statement:
Needless to say, people have been disputing about this passage ever since the work True Christian Religion first came from the press in 1771. Is it to be taken literally, or in some spiritual manner? Many members of the New Church accept it joyfully at its face value, and point to the volumes of Swedenborg's theological writings on their bookshelf, and say, "Those books are the Lord's Second Coming." When challenged, they will, of course, admit that it is not the paper and ink, but the ideas contained in them. In other words, they believe that the Lord has made his Second Coming through the doctrines of the New Church.
I myself find this is too limiting. The revival of interest in spiritual things, not only in the Christian church but in every religion in the world—Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, etc.—surely this is evidence of his coming anew to all the churches! Any of the ideas expressed in them have already become common property. Also, we know that spiritual light received by a few can spread by contacts on the spiritual plane to many, especially since the World of Spirits has been cleared by the Last Judgment.
While being profoundly grateful to Emanuel Swedenborg for his unique and wonderful work as a revelator, we must bear in mind that he was only the "servant." The Lord reveals himself in many ways beyond our comprehension. Let us remember that we are all "servants" in some degree. "The Lord gave the Word; great is the company of those who publish it." (Psalm 68:11S)