The Swedenborg epic

Table of Contents


Chapter 34 - The Apocalypse Revealed

Work on The Apocalypse Revealed was begun immediately after Swedenborg's return from abroad in 1764.[515] This, like the voluminous Apocalypse Explained - which stopped abruptly at the explanation of the nineteenth chapter of Revelation and which he never published - was an exposition of the Apocalypse, but shorter and with certain differences. The Last Judgment having now been completed, the predictions of the Book of Revelation had been fulfilled, and Swedenborg saw that a great change had taken place in the spiritual world.

We can here give only a brief account of the contents of The Apocalypse Revealed. In the introduction the author asserts that the many who have hitherto attempted to explain the Apocalypse have been unable to see the secrets which lie stored up in it, because only a knowledge of the spiritual sense of the text can disclose them. The Word treats of heavenly things, not of empires and kingdoms. The Book of Revelation in general describes, in symbolic language, the evils and falsities that corrupted the Christian churches and brought final judgment upon them. After the Last Judgment had been completed in the spiritual world, however, a new heaven was formed of Christians in the other world, he says, and from this a new church is to descend on earth-a church which will acknowledge the Lord alone and which, together with the new heaven, is the Holy City, New Jerusalem.

Everyone can see that the Apocalypse can by no means be explained except by the Lord alone; for each word therein contains secrets which would in no wise be known without a particular enlightenment, and thus revelation, on which account it has pleased the Lord to open the sight of my spirit, and to teach me. Do not believe, therefore, that I have taken anything herein from myself, nor from any angel, but from the Lord alone . . . [516]

The work opens with a summary of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and afterward of the Reformed Churches. The first sixteen chapters describe the judgment passed on the Reformed, and the next two the judgment on the Roman Catholics. The last four chapters describe the glorification by the heavens because the new heaven has been established and the Church betrothed to her Lord. This Church is described as a Woman clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, her Male Child, whom the Dragon tried to devour, signifying the doctrine of the New Church which was immediately attacked by the Dragonists in the world of spirits. The Dragon of Faith Alone had indeed been cast out of heaven in the Last Judgment, but as long as men on earth remain in the old faith he and his crew still linger in the world of spirits.

The state of heaven and the church after the Last Judgment is treated in the twenty-first chapter in which the gates, foundations, walls and streets of the New Jerusalem are described. The Tree of Life in the midst of the city signifies the acknowledgment of the Lord Himself Who, in His Divine- Human, is the Bridegroom and Husband of the Church.

With this work comes a change in Swedenborg's narration of his spiritual experiences. He no longer writes these down in his Spiritual Diary - except occasionally - the last entry being made on April 29, 1765.[517] He presents them now in the form of Memorabilia or "Memorable Relations," appended to each chapter of the work-a procedure he followed in all subsequent publications.

These "Memorable Relations" in the Apocalypse Revealed are like a succession of dramatic scenes illustrating the regeneration of man. In the first of them Swedenborg describes the character of the unregenerate man as a state of perpetual bondage in an infernal cavern. In the second relation he describes men praying to the Lord for enlightenment, being brought face to face with angels and being lifted into the light of Heaven. Another relation describes those who are in the love of dominion, and how impossible it is for them to derive any benefit from heavenly light. In another account he meets a group of English clergymen who are of this nature, loving to exercise dominion over the things of the church. They are lifted up into heaven and there meet their former sovereign - George II - who presents them with beautiful spiritual gifts. These gifts, however, crumble to nothing in the hands of the bishops, just as did the riches contained in the writings that Swedenborg had presented to those very bishops while they lived on earth. The nature of their ecclesiastical system is vividly described.[518] The contest between truth and falsity, good and evil, is depicted in the succeeding relations, the last of them describing the Temple of Wisdom and the holiness of the New Christian Heaven.

Notable among these is one Memorable Relation which describes Swedenborg's experiences while he was explaining the eleventh chapter of Revelation concerning the Two Witnesses who stand before God, prophesying in sackcloth. The Beast made war on them and killed them, and their bodies lay in the streets of the city for three days and a half. The Witnesses, Swedenborg says, are those who confess that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth and that His Human is Divine - the two essentials of the New Church.

While Swedenborg was engaged in studying this chapter a remarkable experience befell him which he briefly notes in The Spiritual Diary and fully describes in The Apocalypse Revealed:[519]

I was suddenly seized with a disease nearly deadly. My whole head was heavily weighed down. There ascended a pestilential smoke from the wicked Jerusalem which is called Sodom and Egypt. I was half dead with severe pain. I expected the end. Thus I lay in my bed for three days and a half. My spirit was thus and from it my body.

And then I heard around me voices that said, "Lo, he that preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and the Man Christ alone, lies dead in the street of our city." And they asked some of the clergy whether he was worthy of burial. They said, "No! Let him lie and be gazed at!" They passed by, they returned, they mocked.

All this befell me in truth while I was explaining this chapter of the Apocalypse.

Then were heard harsh speeches of scoffers, especially these words, "How can repentance be performed without faith? ... What more do we need than faith alone that God the Father sent the Son to take away the damnation of the law, to impute to us His merit, and thus justify us in His sight, and absolve us from our sins? ... Is not this according to Scripture and also according to reason?"

These things the crowd that stood by applauded.

I heard these things but could not answer, because I lay almost dead. But after three days and a half my spirit recovered and I went forth, in the spirit, from the street, into the city and said again, "Repent and believe in Christ, and your sins will be forgiven, and ye shall be saved. If not, ye shall perish. Did not the Lord Himself preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and that they should believe in Him? Did He not command the disciples to preach the same?"

But the spirits replied, "What nonsense! Has not the Son made satisfaction? Has not the Father imputed it? Has not He justified us, who have believed this? We are thus led by the spirit of grace. What sin can there be in us? What power has death over us? Dost thou comprehend this gospel, oh preacher of sin and repentance?"

But then a voice came forth out of Heaven, saying, "What is the faith of the unrepentant but a dead faith? The end is come upon you, secure ones, blameless in your own eyes, justified in your own faith - devils!"

And suddenly then a chasm opened in the midst of the city, spreading far and wide, and house fell upon house and they were swallowed up ...

He describes seeing them later, running about in a sandy desert, crying out, "Why has all this befallen us? Are we not, through our faith, clean, pure, just and holy? Are we not absolved from our sins?"

* * * * *

Swedenborg's devoted housekeeper probably referred to the above occurrence while describing to Robsahm, with deep emotion, how sometimes evil spirits were permitted to molest her good master and disturb his sleep. She said it often happened that he wept bitterly and called out in a loud voice, praying to the Lord not to leave him in the temptation which had come upon him: "O Lord, help me! Oh Lord, my God, do not forsake me!" When all was over, and his people asked him about the cause of his lamentation, he would say, "Praise God, it is over now! You must not trouble yourselves about me, for whatever happens to me is permitted by the Lord, and He does not allow me to be tempted more than He sees that I can bear."[520]

Once after such a lamentation, said Maria, he lay down and did not rise from his bed for several days and nights, which caused his people much uneasiness. They supposed that he had died, and thought of forcing open the door or of summoning his friends. At last Karl Wessel went to the window and, to his great joy, saw that his master was still alive, for he turned over in bed. The next day Swedenborg rang the bell, and then Maria went in and told him of her own and her husband's uneasiness at his condition; whereupon he said with a cheerful countenance that he was doing well and that he needed nothing. They questioned him no further.

It is interesting to note Swedenborg's own statements about the Memorable Relations. When sending the Apocalypse Revealed to the Swedish ambassador in Paris, he wrote that he had "inserted various Memorable Relations of his intercourse with the spiritual world. These are separated from the text by asterisks and are placed at the end of the explanation of each chapter. As they contain some remarkable particulars, they will probably excite the reader to a first perusal." (Amsterdam, May or June, 1766)

His friend Von Höpken at first considered the memorabilia an obstacle to the acceptance of the doctrines:

I once asked him why he wrote and published those Memorable Relations which seemed to throw so much ridicule on his doctrine, otherwise so rational, and whether it would not be best for him to keep them to himself and not to publish them to the world? But he answered: that he had orders from the Lord to publish them and that those who ridicule him on that account would do him injustice. "For," he said, "why should I, who am a man in years, render myself ridiculous for fantasies and falsehoods?"[521]

to Chapter 35