A series of sermons by the Rev. David MIllar

Part One; Matt 24:3,29,30,37,39,44,46

Part Two; Matt 24:3,29,30,37,39,44,46

Part Three; Is 62:1-4; Dan 7:13-14; Rev. 21:3,24,25 & 22:16,17,20

The Birth of a New Understanding (Part 1)

Reading: Gospel of Matthew 24:3,29,30,37,39,44,46

When Jesus was seated on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him, saying, Tell us, what is the sign of your coming and of the ending of the age?...After the affliction of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will the sign of the Son of Man appear, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory....As with the days of Noah, so too will the coming of the Son of Man...Therefore be ready, for at the time you do no expect, the Son of Man will come.

This morning we are going to look at the idea of the second coming of the Lord from the perspective of how the doctrines of the new Church handle this. Not surprisingly we have a very different view on this from that of most other Christian teachings, who have for centuries now been patiently waiting for the Lord to return in a physical, bodily form to earth when He will set up a new kingdom in which He along with His saints will rule and reign. But we know from Jesus own words that His kingdom is not of this world, and that while in the world He had the authority to call on all the powers of heaven but chose not to because to do so would have led to a violation of human freedom in spiritual things. For we see that the Lord holds our freedom in spiritual matters as paramount, even where that freedom led to the rejection and crucifixion of the Word of God Himself, God still would not do anything that would have resulted in Him forcibly changing the minds of those involved.

People must be left in freedom to choose to love Him above themselves and He will never do anything, either now or in the future to change this. So the imagery of Jesus returning with his armies to forcibly put down all those on earth who reject Him in some future coming is just that, imagery, rich in its symbolic nature but not to be taken literally. For this symbolic imagery describes how the Word of God comes in power, when we from freedom allow it to work within our own hearts and minds to conquer all that stands against what is good and true and right and just from a spiritual perspective.

If we are to understand the nature of the second coming we must have a clear sense of what is meant by every advent of the Lord. In fact the term second coming can be somewhat misleading for the Lord is perpetually coming - every insight that leads to something good is a coming of the Lord. For the word translated coming, peruosia, literally means presence of. So by the coming of the Lord we are to understand His presence made available to our perception. For the Lord is only present when He is perceived to be so, and we know that His presence with us is made perceptible by means of His Word. Without this we would have nothing by which we could be connected to Him, who was and who is and who is to come.

Every coming of the Lord is by means of His Word, this is why John opens his Gospel teaching us that Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh - He is directing his readers to a most profound idea, and so provides us with a stepping stone that can lead the mind away from thinking of the Lord as to His person, to thinking of Him as the Word, the logos. The idea is that yes, God became flesh through the taking to Himself a body and being born into the world as any other person - but within this idea is the liberating idea that the Lord is not bound by space and time but is constantly be-coming flesh, or making His presence real from moment to moment and that His presence is found in every expression of goodness or love we encounter. It is love that makes the Lord visible. If we are living to integrate the teachings of the Word into our lives then we will acquire the ability to see with new eyes - our eyes will be opened and we will come to see and perceive the presence of the Lord in new ways - we will be witnesses to His coming in our hearts and minds. This is what is meant by His second coming. His first advent in the context of our own lives is a coming of the Lord as truth, when we learn about Him in His Word, His second advent is when the truth is made one with our life and He comes as love.

This truth has been illustrated for us in a historical context so over the next couple of weeks we will give this some attention to this and to its spiritual implications and hopefully gain a new appreciation of what is meant by the Lord's advents from a new Church perspective. With that in mind let's open our look at the historical context with the following statement: that the Lord achieved all that He could possibly achieve by a physical presence in the world as a man in His first advent and that a second physical advent into the world would not add anything additional to what He has already accomplished and made available to every person through His first advent.

But what was this work the Lord performed while in the world? From the perspective of the new Church the human race’s understanding of spiritual realities had fallen so low and become so engrossed in natural ideas about spiritual things, at the time of the Lord's first advent, that unless God presented Himself in a form by which human beings could once again connect with a truer idea concerning His nature they would be spiritually lost forever. The thoughts of people in relation to spiritual things had become so darkened that they could no longer think above natural sensual ideas about God. Natural and sensual thinking doesn't extend beyond the material - so if God was to present Himself in a form that could be grasped by this state of mind in which the human race had immersed itself it had to be in a material physical form. Only then would it be possible to direct the thoughts of people from the material plane to a higher level of understanding of genuine spiritual realities whereby they could be saved from the life of selfishness grounded in the loves of self and the world and lifted into a life of heavenly love or goodness.

Perhaps we can get a better appreciation of this if we lift our thought to consider the nature of God. The first thing we are confronted with is that no human mind can grasp God as He is in Himself. He is infinite, we are finite and the finite by definition cannot grasp the infinite, for if it could then it too would be infinite and we know that this is something only attributable to God Himself. So God as He is in Himself is unknowable. For this reason God, if He is to be known by us He must present Himself in a form that we as finite beings can grasp. The way He does this is through revealing Himself in ideas that limit Him - so it is that Divine Revelation presents God in human ideas or concepts that we can form some idea about. For example, John the Apostle states that "God is love..." Now every human being carries some idea of what love is, it is true that we can hold some pretty mixed up ideas about what love is but nevertheless having some idea is enough for the Lord to draw a person into a fuller more complete idea of His nature if they are willing to make a sincere commitment to living a spiritual life.

We need to appreciate however that the spiritual condition of the human race had fallen so low at the point of the Lord's advent into the world that nothing remained in the Church at that time that was able to capture and lift the mind out of its sensual and bodily ideas. So a statement like "God is love..." could find nothing in the mind of that time in which it could take root. The loves of self and the world had risen to such a height that the light of spiritual truths concerning God and spiritual life could no longer affect the ideas and concepts existing in the minds of people to lift them to something higher. It was into these conditions that Jehovah made His coming in the flesh as a person. He came when the Word of the Old Testament could no longer serve to lift the minds of people out of the hellish states of selfishness due to its meaning having been corrupted and skewed by the religious leaders of the day to promote selfish ambition and power - so if the religion of the day could no longer represent and so light a path to a life of love and service, so the Lord would come Himself to demonstrate the way, the truth and the life, as its living material embodiment, and as a living example of that way, and that truth and that life re-presented to the senses of people in a material form in the person Jesus Christ.

With God coming into the world as a man we have the fullest manifestation of divine love and wisdom in a human form able to be accommodated or presented to the senses. Everything the Lord did while in the world was a re-presentation of divine love and wisdom on the level of the material plane of creation. This divine revelation in the person of Jesus Christ took its form in new ideas about God so that a new Church or spiritual understanding could take hold in the minds of his disciples and followers. This new spiritual understanding came to be called Christian and superseded the old understanding embodied in the Jewish church. In the Jewish church God was understood to be an impersonal Divine Being that had to be worshiped with meticulous attention to the detail involved in ritualistic sacrifices and obedience to ceremonial laws. All approaches to God by the individual were through intermediaries who made up the priesthood who performed the acts of ritual. Any departure from the law incurred an immediate penalty which was often severe given the nature of the transgression. This seems to be the pattern of religious life, as a people's understanding of spiritual things moves from the essential core focused on a life of love into mere external forms, so love as the defining characteristic of the faith begins to die, and harsher more severe forms of expression take its place.

So to restore love to the centre we see that with the life of Jesus came a new understanding of the law as it related to love. As the living embodiment of the Divine Being on the material plane of creation God through His advent into the world showed Himself as One possessing a human face. Thus, He showed Himself as the embodiment of mercy, compassion, goodness and love and in doing so revealed the spirit of the law. His life in the world stood in stark contrast to the punitive, legalistic idea of a God that had become embedded in the minds of those who lived at that time. Such an idea of God destroyed people’s ability to connect with Him, this was a God to be avoided, appeased at all costs, it was an idea that worked only to separate people from Him and if ever they dared approach Him they could only do so in fear and in trepidation.

The religious legal experts of the time were convinced that their interpretation of religious law and so the idea of God they presented was correct. The ordinary person, largely, had know way of searching these things out for themselves and so where at the mercy of those who used religion and the idea of God they promoted to further their own self interest. When Jesus came onto the scene we can see how His life and teaching would have appealed to the common person in particular and infuriated those who held religious power. The Lord's life struck at the heart of this false idea of God that had been used by those in authority to undermine any genuine sense of spirituality. And the new understanding that arose within His followers, and came to be called Christian, was of a God in the form of a human being, one who cared for them and was supremely concerned for their spiritual welfare. This God could be approached without fear of rejection, without priests as mediators, this new idea of God was one based on a very personal connection grounded in a relationship of love to the Lord and service to others.

The apostolic Christian church was born and its defining characteristic wasn't circumcision or other impersonal rites that characterised the old Jewish faith, but a new way of relating to one another, a way of relating that flowed from a new understanding and ability to relate to God through the personal qualities He embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus its defining sphere was one of love for one another, a love that flowed from a free choice to live for the Lord in the spirit of mutual love in obedience to His Word. What a contrast this idea of God was to the idea of God that had reigned in the minds of people for those centuries before the Lord's advent into the world.

By 100AD this new idea of God as love that had been embodied in the life of the person Jesus Christ became ever so slightly removed from the historical person as under divine inspiration it took the form of actual ideas expressed in words. In the Gospels we move away from the person and are introduce to the core ideas and qualities the person embodied. These ideas are Divine truths that reveal the nature of God. So for every generation since the Lord's advent the Gospels now provide a permanent written record of the life and sayings of Jesus which serves as a re-presentation of the operation of divine love and wisdom especially suited to those of us living on the material plane of creation. There is no need for the Lord to come bodily into the world again, everything that could possibly be achieved in a bodily coming was fulfilled in His first advent and remains with us in the written record of His life - for people today the Lord makes His first advent into their lives when they come into contact with the message of the Gospels and recognise Him there. The record of the life of the Lord in the world as found in the Gospels is a symbolic representation that perfectly corresponds to the activity of divine truth within the human mind in every person who recognises that Word as Divine (i.e. as the Lord.)

The teachings for the new Church go on to explain that churches decline in their spiritual quality and become more natural or carnal as they gradually shift their focus from living the life that its faith teaches to becoming more interested in ideas about faith and love disconnected from what it means to actually take these ideas and put them into practice. This is what happened to the Jewish church - it became obsessed with the letter of the law and the traditions of men and so killed its spirit. The spirit of the law is love as Jesus showed by His own life in fulfilling the law. When this kind of shift occurs away from love, false ideas about the nature of God begin to arise and become more and more prevalent until any sense of His true nature is unable to find a place in the human mind. This has a devastating effect on the health of the mind for it then lacks what is needed to stem the assault of the evils and falsities that flow from the loves of self and the world. It is at this point the Lord has to reveal Himself again in a way that can instill a new understanding by which people can reconnect back to God and be saved.

This is what happened to the early apostolic church. The quality of the love that characterised it and set it apart from the other religions of its day began to cool and by AD300 it was virtually unrecognizable. The focus had been gradually shifting from a spirituality built around living ones faith in mutual love to an obsession with doctrine and dogma. The forms and structures of the church before the Lord's advent also made a return into the Christian faith. Hierarchical structures that supported worldly power and ambitions, the reestablishment of an intermediary priesthood along with various external rites and rituals, formed around sacraments, became the basis for people’s salvation. And again like the rites of the old Jewish church the carrying out of the sacraments could only be administered by a priestly class. The idea of a Divine Being that was punitive and harsh returned and this idea became fixed in the minds of people, who, from fear of hell, were encouraged to look to Jesus as their Saviour from the ever present wrath of God. Somehow Jesus was no longer the human face of the One God that the early apostolic church had bathed in but had been relegated to one of three persons each being God.

Fear and foreboding once again began to characterise religious expression. The dark ages descended and like the common people of Jesus day so the common people of these dark times had no way of finding their way to a truer more accurate idea of the true nature of God as love. Any survey of history will show how brutish these times were, which was a direct reflection of the state of the church or how low the level of spiritual influence had fallen at that time. Again like the decline of the Jewish church before it the Christian church also lost its way. The Word had become of secondary importance to the rites and rituals of external sacramental religious worship and by and large only the priests and learned classes had direct access to the Scriptures, which they misconstrued to promote personal ambition and worldly power through keeping all others under a regime of fear. These were indeed dark times. Any glimmer of a genuine spirituality being able to influence people on a large scale was by all accounts virtually extinguished. Love of a genuine spiritual nature had almost died. So it was that conditions began to reach a point when the Lord would once again have to make His presence known as love...which we will consider in more detail next time when we look more closely at what is meant by the Lord's Second Advent.

Amen.

TCR 774 The Lord is perpetually present with every person, wicked as well as good, for no one could live without His presence. But His coming is restricted to those who receive Him, and these are those who believe in Him and keep His commandments. It is the Lord's perpetual presence which gives a person the faculty of reason and the ability to become spiritual. This is brought about by the light which comes from the Lord as the sun of the spiritual world, which a person can receive in his understanding. That light is the truth which gives him the power of reasoning. The Lord's coming, however, takes place with the person who combines heat with that light, that is, combines love with truth. For the heat radiated by that same sun is love for God and towards the neighbour. The Lord's presence by itself, and the enlightenment it brings to the understanding, can be compared with the presence of sunlight in the world; unless it is combined with heat, everything upon earth is desolate. But the Lord's coming can be compared with the coming of heat, which happens in springtime. Since then heat is combined with light, the earth is softened up, seeds sprout and bear fruit. Such is the parallel between the spiritual environment of a person's spirit and the natural environment of his body. From the work True Christian Religion by Emanuel Swedenborg


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