"And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books" (Rev. 20:12).
For many Christians the book of Revelation has little clear meaning. Most people probably consider it to be ignorable. Those who try to understand it find it challenging. Fundamentalists see it as a prediction of a cataclysmic finale to the story of human life on this earth, and countless people have wondered when this finale would occur. Many words have been written trying to link past and present events with the images of destruction spoken of in Revelation to try to see when the second coming will take place. Its immanent arrival has been confidently predicted innumerable times over the last two thousand years.
The misunderstanding that surrounds this book is to be expected. None but the Lord Himself could reveal its true meaning. Human intelligence could spend five times the nearly two millennium that it has already had to try to interpret the book of Revelation and would still not find its true meaning. It is a fundamental truth of the New Church that the book of Revelation as well as the other books of the Old and New Testaments speak on a far deeper level than is seen merely in the literal sense. The book of Revelation does not primarily predict natural historical events any more than did the prophecies of the Lord's first coming in the Old Testament.
Understood merely literally, the Old Testament prophecies appeared to promise a great and everlasting kingdom of the Messiah in which the Jewish people would have great prominence. Those alive at the time of the first coming who expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom were confused and bewildered by the way He lived His life in this world. Some probably lost faith when the Old Testament prophecies were not fulfilled by Jesus as they expected them to be. Likewise, many Christians have been confused and bewildered by the apparent lack of literal fulfillment of the prophecies of the book of Revelation. Some have lost faith, giving up on the prophecies of a last judgment and a second coming as having any meaning.
The traditional Christian interpretation of the last judgment has several features that differ quite strongly from the one presented by the Heavenly Doctrines for the New Church. The traditional view of all people waiting in the grave till the sounding of the great trumpet is one of those differences. The Writings for the New Church teach that life after death begins for each individual shortly after his natural life has ended. Another is that the crucial judgment of a person's life does not take place by some objective individual apart from the person himself. A third is that life after death is not primarily a reward or punishment for our deeds in this world. There are many, many other differences. Many of them arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of the book of Revelation. Traditional Christianity has viewed the book of Revelation as speaking of earthly events that will some day take place in this world, while the books revealed for the New Church would have us recognize the images of that book as being spiritual realities, much of which has already occurred in the spiritual world.
The reality that the book of Revelation speaks of is that of a great judgment that has already occurred in the spiritual world. To understand what this book speaks of, a person must know a number of things about how judgment takes place after death. In the normal order of the life after death, both the good and evil seek the company of like-minded individuals with all being prepared over a period of time for their eternal home either in heaven or hell. From a mixture of good and evil, just as exists in this world, the different people separate themselves, with the evil seeking hell and the good, heaven. The evil do not desire to be in heaven because they cannot stand to be around those who are genuinely good. They rapidly lose their power to lead others astray, because the light of genuine truth existing in the spiritual world shows them for what they really are. This is a brief description of how the normal process of judgment occurs after each person's death.
This process is absolutely dependent on the light of truth existing in that intermediate area between heaven and hell which is called the world of spirits. When the truth revealed to mankind ceased to provide the necessary basis for that light, disorder occurred in that intermediate world. The normal process of judgment could not go on. Rather than having hidden evil revealed, they could continue to hide. Rather than having the evil find their proper places in hell, they continued to dwell in the world of spirits and there they established a false life for themselves. It was false in that the true reality of their lives was hidden and they surrounded themselves with things that also did not reflect their true qualities. Their cities, gardens, rivers, even their sun, moon and stars were not from the Lord but from themselves and their own evil. As long as the light of truth did not shine in that world they could maintain the illusion of a false heaven. The images of great destruction recorded in the book of Revelation really did occur in the world of spirits when the light of truth once again shone in that world and the normal process of judgment could once again be reestablished.
Why is it important what a person thinks of the book of Revelation? The Lord has revealed all that He has for us in the world because He wants us to live as happy and as productive lives as we can, both now in our relatively brief natural life and also in our life after death continuing to eternity. Some of the wrong ideas that one can get from the book of Revelation could cause a person to spiritually stumble and fall. Some of them make for a sadder and more self-centered life than the Lord wishes for us.
Nearly everyone has seen the cartoon image of the man walking around in sackcloth through the busy streets of a city carrying a sign that announces that the end of the world is coming. His message is that we should turn our lives from our daily concerns. While it is very important that we recognize that each day gives us precious opportunities to serve the Lord, these opportunities will not be best fulfilled if we withdraw from the world, nor will they be best fulfilled if we cling desperately to each minute as our last, nor if we throw everything aside and live for the moment. The Lord does not want us to wait with bated breath for his arrival, thinking only of our own concerns and needs. He wants us to serve those around us. He wants us to live full, useful lives. Too great a fear of the end of natural life can lead to an impoverished approach to each day.
An important concept presented by the Writings about life after death is that the essential quality of our natural life will continue to eternity as our spiritual character. The lesson read today spoke of the judgment that win take place after death, and uses the image of a book of life that will be read. What is this book of life? One of the most horrible of all Christian heresies is that everyone's spiritual destiny has been predestined from the beginning of time-written as in a book of who will go to heaven and who will not. Part of the reason this is horrible is because of the quality it ascribes to God. What kind of God would create some people to be inevitably damned to eternity just to satisfy some arbitrary balance? If God did not create each and every individual with the possibility of going to heaven, He would be more cruel than the worst individual could be in this world. Concerning this idea of predestination the book The Divine Providence makes the following observation:
It is cruel to believe that the Lord, who is Love itself and Mercy itself, suffers such a vast multitude of men to be born for hell, or that so many myriads of myriads are born damned and doomed, that is, are born devils and satans; and that He does not from His Divine Wisdom provide that they who live well and acknowledge God should not be cast into eternal fire and torment. The Lord is ever the Creator and Savior of all; and He alone leads all, and desires the death of no one. (DP 330).
Another reason why predestination is such a horrible idea is because of the spiritual apathy that it can arouse. If our spiritual fate is already predetermined, why bother trying to do anything about it? A person could become a complete fatalist, accepting everything that happened to him as inevitable. He would never try to work to make his life better or improve the lot of others, because all things would be accepted as being the way God intended them to be.
While very few people today would subscribe to an idea of absolute predestination by God, all of us are susceptible to the apathy that says we ourselves are fixed and unchanging or that those whom we have to deal with are the way they are due to an unchangeable nature. In some states of mind it is all too easy just to accept things as they are rather than use our best insight to try to improve them.
A person's book of life is not something that is set before he has lived his life in this world. A person's book of life is the sum total quality that he has gathered to his life by his choices in this world. It is the record of what he has thought and cared about each day of his life. It is not just a fist of good and bad deeds. We know quite well that actions seen by others in the world may have little relationship to the inner thoughts and motives behind them.
When we leave this world, we will have established what is more important to us than anything else. We will have accepted a ruling love that has worked to orchestrate all the other affections of our mind and from these all our thoughts and deeds. It is this ruling love that determines our eternal home after death. It is our book of life. Its pages are being recorded each day we spend in this world. Everything that we have thought, intended, spoken and done in the world is recorded there.
Swedenborg tells us of some people who after death still tried to pretend. As we learn of the basic rules in the Old Testament, the role of forgiveness in the New Testament, and comprehend why this is good in the explanations of the Writings, then we can re-direct our thinking and grow to be more in harmony with the Lord's ways.
This is why He speaks to us in His Word. This is why He has revealed truths that can touch and stimulate every area of our minds. And this is the Lord's second coming in truth. His Spirit of truth leads to all truth as our minds are opened to the wonders of His Word, and as we let that light shine our way. From the essence of love within the Lord that causes Him to speak to us, the Word in its threefold form would lead us back to that love. This is the male child that came from the woman clothed with the sun. This is the Heavenly Doctrine given us by the Lord. This is the Lord with us as we see and do His words. Amen.
Lessons: Revelation 12:1-6, 13-17, AE 724:1,2
Presented in Pittsburgh June 12, 1988
Apocalypse Explained 724:1, 2
And she brought forth a son, a male, signifies the doctrine of truth for the New Church that is called the New Jerusalem. This is evident from the signification of "son" as meaning truth, and of "a son, a male,' as meaning the genuine truth of the church, consequently also its doctrine, for the truth of the church from the Word is its doctrine since doctrine contains the truths that are for the church. But the genuine doctrine of the church is the doctrine of good, thus the doctrine of life, which is of love to the Lord and of charity toward the neighbor; but yet it is the doctrine of truth, since doctrine teaches life, love, and charity, and so far as it teaches it is truth; for when a man knows and understands what good is, what life is, what love is, and what charity is, he knows and understands these things as truths, since he knows and understands what good is, how he ought to live, and what love and charity are, and of what quality a man is who is in the life of love and charity; and as long as these are matters of knowledge and understanding they are nothing but truths and thus doctrines; but as soon as they pass over from knowledge and from the understanding into the will, and thus into act, they are no longer truths but goods; for interiorly man wills nothing but what he loves, and that which he loves is to him good. From this it can be seen that every doctrine of the church is a doctrine of truth, and that the truth of doctrine becomes good and comes to be of love and charity when from doctrine it passes into life.
This doctrine that is here signified by 'the son, a male' is especially the doctrine of love to the Lord and of charity toward the neighbor, thus the doctrine of the good of life, which nevertheless is still the doctrine of truth. That the doctrine of the good of love, and thus of life, is here signified by "the son, a male' can be seen from this, that 'the woman' who brought forth the son was seen "arrayed with the sun, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,' and 'the sun" signifies love to the Lord, and "the crown of twelve stars' signifies the knowledges of good and truth, and from such a woman and mother nothing else is begotten except what pertains to love and good, thus the doctrine respecting these.
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