Archive for June, 2014
The Coming of Christ–The Holy City
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 22, 2014
Revelation 21:1-16, 21-27; 22:1-7 True Christian Religion 791 Psalm 68
Today we celebrate New Church Day. On June 19, 1770, the Lord called the 12 Apostles together in heaven and sent them out to preach the message of the New Church. That message is that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns. This was the institution of the New Church in heaven that was prophesied in the book of Revelation. We heard about the New Church this morning. In the book of Revelation, the New Church is called the Holy City, New Jerusalem. It descends from heaven as a bride. The descent of the Holy City comes after all the terrible calamities of the Last Judgment. It is a picture of peace after turmoil. This is also the Second Coming of the Lord, which was prophesied in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In the Gospels, the Last Judgment is prophesied, as in the book of Revelation. However, in the Gospels we don’t have the descent of the Holy City New Jerusalem. Instead, after the Last Judgment, Jesus appears in the clouds of heaven with glory and power. But this, too, is in the book of Revelation. Within the Holy City, the Lord Himself is present and we will see His face. Also, in Revelation 22:7, Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon!” So in both the Gospels and in the book of Revelation, the coming of the Lord is prophesied. We call this the second coming. But the Bible doesn’t call it that. The Bible simply calls it the coming of the Son of Man. That is what Swedenborg calls it, too, in his discussion in True Christian Religion. The coming of the Lord and the coming of the New Church are connected. But they are internal events that will not manifest to the physical eye.
The coming of the Lord is not an event that we will see with our physical eyes. The Gospels say that Christ will appear in the clouds of heaven in glory and power. Swedenborg tells us that this event will not happen in the physical world–that is, in the sky that we can see with our natural senses. In fact, Jesus Himself says the same thing. “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). So it looks like we have two contradictory passages in the Bible. One says that we will see the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven. The other says that we will not see it and say, “here it is,” or “there it is.” Swedenborg reconciles these two apparently contradictory passages by means of the internal sense of the Bible. Swedenborg says that the clouds of heaven refer to the Bible in its literal sense–that is, the Bible as it appears when we take it at face value. The glory and power of the coming of the Lord refer to the internal sense of the Bible–that is, the meaning of the Bible when it is seen as symbolic of deeper meaning. “By the clouds of heaven is meant the Word in the sense of the letter is meant, and by the glory and power in which He is then to come the spiritual sense of the Word is meant” (TCR 776).
Swedenborg tells us that Jesus cannot appear to the world so that we would see Him with our physical senses. He says that since the glorification, when Jesus ascended up into heaven, we can only see Him if our spiritual eyes are opened. This is why Jesus could walk next to two Apostles all the way to Emmaus and they didn’t recognise Him. They didn’t recognize Him until their spiritual eyes were opened.
He is not to appear in person, because since He ascended into heaven He is in the glorified Humanity, and in this He cannot appear to any person unless He first opens the eyes of his spirit, and this cannot be done with any one who is in evils . . . Therefore when he manifested Himself to His disciples, He first opened their eyes; for we read, “And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him, and He vanished out of their sight (Luke 24:31) (TCR 777).
The appearance of the Lord in the clouds of heaven, then, means that the Lord will appear in the Bible in its literal and in its internal senses. So we will see the Lord through the Bible, not in the sky.
Swedenborg says that the coming of the Lord is when a person comes into relationship with the Lord. This first happens when Jesus Christ is recognized as the God of heaven and of earth, and a person’s Savior. This is the beginning of spiritual life with a person. From this beginning, a person advances in wisdom and into greater spiritual love all through life, and even through the next life to eternity.
The Lord is present with every person, urging and pressing him to be received; and when a person receives Him, which he does when he acknowledges Him as his God, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior, then is His first coming which is called dawn. From this time the person begins to be enlightened . . . and to advance into more and more interior wisdom; and as he receives this wisdom from the Lord, so he advances through morning into day, and this day lasts with him into old age, even to death; and after death he passes into heaven, to the Lord Himself, and there, although he died an old man, he is restored to the morning of his life, and develops to eternity the beginning of wisdom implanted in the natural world (TCR 766).
The recognition that Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth is at the very center of the New Church. The central truth of the New Church is that the invisible God is in the visible Christ as the soul is in the body.
This New Church is the crown of all the churches which have hitherto existed on earth, because it will worship one visible God in whom is the invisible, like the soul in the body (TCR 787).
This is still a novel claim in Christianity. Every Christian church today, still holds to the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed teaches that God is three Persons who have one essence. This teaching is impossible to understand, and Swedenborg claims that most Christians think of God as three Persons. He accuses Christians of being polytheists–that is, of believing in three Gods. Very few Christian theologians reject the Nicene Creed, excepting Swedenborg and a certain Michael Servetus, to my knowledge. Both Swedenborg and Servetus teach that God is only one Person–namely Jesus Christ, whose soul is the Old Testament God Yahweh. Servetus was burnt at the stake as a heretic and Swedenborg was condemned by the Swedish Lutheran Church as a heretic. Had society been different, and had Swedenborg not had royal protection, his fate may have been similar to Servetus.
Swedenborg claims that we can only form an emotional connection with a God we can picture in Human form. The Humanity of God is a central teaching in Swedenborg’s theology and central in the New Church. So Swedenborg says,
This New Church is the crown of all the churches which have hitherto existed on earth, because it will worship one visible God in whom is the invisible, like the soul in the body. Thus and not otherwise can there be conjunction of God with a person, because a person is natural and hence thinks naturally, and the conjunction must be in his thought and thus in his love’s affection, which is the case when he thinks of God as a Human. Conjunction with an invisible God is like that of the eye’s vision with the expanse of the universe, of which it sees no end; it is also like vision in mid ocean, which falls upon air and sea and is lost. But conjunction with a visible God, on the other hand, is like seeing a man in the air on the sea, spreading forth his hands and inviting to his arms (TCR 787).
People have asked me, “How important is the way a person views God? How important is it whether they see God as the Human Jesus Christ, or as cosmic energy, or as Nature?” Well, for Swedenborg, the Divine Humanity of Jesus is extremely important. As we just heard, Swedenborg thinks that conjunction is not possible with a god who isn’t human. I, personally, hold with this view, as well. I can’t speak for others who claim that they feel connected to God in different forms.
The New Church was formed first in heaven, and will descend into the world gradually. Swedenborg says that it will descend as the falsities of the old Christian church dissipate. Sometimes it looks to me like even the most progressive Christian churches are digging in their heels and tenaciously holding onto the ancient falsities. At other times, it looks like this descent of the New Church is indeed happening. One example is in the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. They talk over and over again of Christ’s reconciling love. This puts Christ, or God in the Divine Human, if you will, in the forefront. It also puts reconciling love in the center. Now, I know that this wording implies one of the old falsities of Christianity. Traditional Christians believe that Christ’s death on the cross reconciled God to the human race. But I think that the NCCCUSA is taking reconciling in its broadest possible meaning. They mean reconciling all the hatreds and injustices in the world through Christ’s love. That’s a pretty New Church perspective.
Our Swedenborgian church was formed to embody the life and teachings of the New Church. Whether we are that New Church depends on each of us individually. The New Church will be one where the divinity and unity of God in Jesus Christ is at the center of worship. But it also means that love will be united with wisdom in each person’s soul. This is what is symbolized by the Holy City New Jerusalem being as long as it is wide. Length signifies what is good, or love, and breadth signifies what is true (AR 906). The New Church is formed in the soul of each of us, and then it exists in bodily form on earth. Whether this Swedenborgian Church is the New Church on earth is a question for each of us to answer as we look into our own heart and soul.
Dear Lord, this morning we reflect on the creation of your New Church. And we know that a church is not a building alone. It is not a place where the Bible rests. It is not found in the image of the cross alone. For the true church resides within the hearts of each person who comes into the building, to hear the Bible preached, and to reflect on the resurrection from the cross. So we ask, are you creating your church in our soul? For we are each one of us a church when we are filled with your Holy Spirit. When our thinking is characterized by truth, and when our feelings are characterized by love, then you have founded your church in us. So this morning we pray that you build you church in our hearts. Fashion us into an image and likeness of you. Make us a vessel of your love. Guide our footsteps in your way. So that with the church is founded in us, when we come together your church on earth will be.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.
Honor Your Father, Too
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 15, 2014
Exodus 3:1-17 John 5:16-27 Psalm 103
Today is Father’s Day. We celebrate the special love of fathers for their children and of children for their fathers. I don’t know. Is it just me, or does it seem that Mother’s Day gets all the press. Does it seem that when we think of families, it is our mothers who we think of as the central player in the life of a family? To be sure, mothers form more physical bonds for their children. They carry them in their wombs, they deliver their babies, and nurse them in infancy. Certainly mothers do play a primary role in the generation of families. But this should not diminish the vital role that fathers play in the life of a healthy family.
Wasn’t it striking in the Psalm we read today that God’s compassion for the human race is compared to a father’s compassion for his children? Normally, when we think of parental love and compassion, our mothers come to mind first. But the love of fathers for their children may well be—dare I say it—just as great as that of mothers for their children. There! I said it.
There are social forces that have minimized the role fathers play in families. In the past, fathers were usually the ones who went away to work, leaving mothers in charge of the upbringing of children. So all that time away from the family worked against the kind of bonding that mothers traditionally had for their children. But this does not mean that fathers didn’t still feel powerful love for their children. This doesn’t mean that fathers weren’t equally concerned for the welfare of their children as were mothers. This doesn’t mean that fathers didn’t worry about their children when they were in trouble and wanted to help their children in all their life’s issues.
Furthermore, society also worked against fatherly bonding for their families in another way. In the past, men were brought up to be very different than women. Men were taught to be strong. Men were taught to hide their feelings. Men weren’t allowed to cry. Men didn’t hug, embrace, and nurture their children as mothers did. So men were not allowed to express their love for their children as openly as mothers were. This was very unfortunate for fathers. Unfortunate and unfair. Fathers weren’t given a chance to show their children just how much they really loved their children.
In my family, my father was the one who maintained order in the family. He was the one saddled with the responsibility of disciplining us. While mother consoled and nurtured, my poor father was the one who spanked or yelled at us when we misbehaved; he was the one who made us do all the family chores; and when he came home from work, tired and stressed out, he read the paper, took a nap, and made us be quiet when his TV program was on. My father was the authoritarian in the family. He was never taught by his family or by society to show his caring, nurturing side. And I don’t think that my family was unusual for the time period in which I grew up. Hearing stories from my friends and cousins, my father was typical. In fact, whenever my mother would tell me how much my father loved me, I couldn’t really understand it. How unfortunate for him.
But fathers do love their children. And it is very important in childhood development for a child to have both mother and father role models. In our present society, however, it seems that more and more families are single-parent households. With divorce rates as high as they are today, and with unplanned pregnancies, and teen-age pregnancies, fewer and fewer fathers are stepping up to the plate and fulfilling their fatherly responsibilities. Single-parent families almost across the board mean single mothers. More and more often, the task of raising children and also working to provide for their families, is falling on single mothers. Men in today’s society need to grow up and be a man and a caring father for their children.
I think that today, men are allowed to show their softer side in families. I see fathers hugging their children. I see fathers telling their children that they love them. I see fathers taking part in the raising of children, staying home at times, and nurturing.
While my father was from the old school, later in my life I still saw that he cared for me and loved me. When I found myself in trouble in my adult life, it was often my father who came to my aid and nurtured me through the hard times.
I think back to when I was a student at this Church’s divinity school. This would be when I was in my late 20′s. There were difficulties then because of political developments in the Church, and my alcoholism was a concern for the Council of Ministers. I had been a student in good standing for five years, but in my final year, the Church got cold feet about me. At a Convention, the entire Council of Ministers met to decide whether they would ordain me. This meeting took two hours, and they made me sit outside the classroom where the Council met. My father sat next to me the whole time. We didn’t say a lot, but it really meant a lot to me to have my father sit by my side during this difficult time, when the course of my professional life was at a crossroads. My mother was concerned, but she went to bed that night. It was my father who sat up and waited with me.
My life then took a turn for a career in the university. Now, I was leaving Boston for a Ph. D. program at the University of Virginia. I had all my stuff packed up, and I was staying at a friend’s house. I was ready to rent a U-Haul and tow my belonging to Virginia, when trouble came again. I was driving a Fiat then. I don’t know what possessed me to buy that Fiat, but I did. And as Fiats are notorious for, my Fiat broke down completely. The timing chain broke and the pistons rammed up and down uncontrolled and completely destroyed the engine. The car was totaled. I needed help again, and who came to help me? My father drove 12 hours from Detroit to Boston, got a trailer hitch installed on his station wagon, helped me load up the U-Haul and drove me down to Virginia and got me settled down there.
Today we celebrate fatherly love. Fathers, this is your day. We give our fathers cards, maybe take him to dinner, let him put his feet up and rest. Today, let’s reflect on the deep, unfailing love that fathers have for their children. Let’s remember things our fathers did that showed their love. Today, I think that men are opening up their feeling side a little more. Today’s fathers hold their children and tell them that they love them. Some fathers even stay at home and take care of their children while their wives work. Let us honor the fathers of the past, and our fathers today, and know, that even if they couldn’t express it, a father’s love for his children is as great as that of their mother. Let’s let them know that we know it and that we love them for all they have done and continue to do for us.
Heavenly Father, we are all your children, nurtured by the spiritual family we call the church. We thank you this day for the special love of our fathers. Our fathers have provided for us and love us in ways that are not always apparent. Sometimes, society has made it difficult for our fathers to express their love. But we know that they do indeed care for us as much as our mothers do. May we take this day to thank them and to show them that we know. That we know how much they care and how much we love them. Thank you heavenly Father, for the gift of our earthly fathers.
Lord, we pray for those who are sick. Send your healing love to those ailing, and comfort their family and friends. Lord, we ask for the grace of your healing love for all in need.
Life in the Spirit
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 8, 2014
Numbers 11:24-30 Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104
This Sunday is Pentecost. On this Sunday we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. In a way, it can be considered the beginning of Christianity as a church.
I was talking about this church once to a friend of mine. She asked me, “Does it have the Spirit?” I was caught off guard for several reasons. One was, that we don’t usually talk much about the Spirit. My friend was a member of a Pentecostal Church, and those churches do emphasize the Spirit. Their worship services are very emotional and literally, Spirited. Our services, however, are quiet, contemplative, and subdued. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have the Spirit. It is simply a question of our style.
We talk a good deal about truth. For us, truth and the understanding of truth is one way we talk about the Spirit. John pretty much equates the Holy Spirit with truth. In John 14, we read,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father and he will give you another Comforter, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth . . . you know him, for he dwells within you, and will be with you (14:15-16, 17).
So in this passage from John, the Comforter is called the Spirit of truth. Just a little later in the same passage, the Comforter is called the Holy Spirit.
These things I have spoken to you, while I am with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:25-26).
So this Comforter, who will be sent, is the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, and it will teach us all things, and call to remembrance all the words Jesus had said. John’s interpretation of the Holy Spirit is truth oriented.
But the way Acts presents the Holy Spirit is different. It is a much more lively portrayal of the Spirit. The Apostles are gathered together in a room. There is a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. Tongues of fire appear above the heads of those gather there. This is a scene of awe and eeriness. But it becomes an impassioned scene of liveliness. Everyone starts speaking in foreign languages. A whole room of preachers all exclaiming in a foreign language. The witnesses gather around and wonder at this, for each one can understand what the Apostles are preaching in their native tongue. The miracle is that those who are preaching are uneducated fishermen all from Galilee, who had never learned foreign languages. But Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, thos from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphyilia, Egypt and Libya all hear the messages of the Apostles in their native tongue. There are scoffers nearby, who denounce this miracle by saying that the Apostles are drunk. But Peter defends them all by saying that they aren’t drunk because it is only the third hour of the day.
This passage is the primary source for Pentecostal Churches when they claim that speaking in tongues is a sign of the Holy Spirit. But when congregants of these Pentecostal churches speak in tongues, it is not foreign languages they speak in, as did the Apostles. They simply blurt out sounds that mean nothing to anyone.
I see the main image here as one of enthusiasm for Jesus. So I return to the question my friend asked me. Do we have the Spirit? Do we have enthusiasm for Jesus? For of the many Christian churches there are out there, I think that we put Jesus most powerfully in the centre. For us. Jesus is the embodiment of All that God is. I say embodiment because for us, Jesus is God’s body. When Jesus ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God, we understand this to mean that Jesus’ human flesh, now glorified, is the very power that God works through to regenerate us. The Old Testament Yahweh, or Jehovah God as the King James Bible translates Him, God came down to earth, took on human flesh and became Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is God in the flesh, God has a glorified body in the risen Jesus Christ. Talk about truth, this is certainly a truth to get behind and celebrate! We of all churches should have enthusiasm for Jesus.
Often, I think we hide our message under a bushel. We can be shy about our teachings. We can fear what other Christians would say when we make our statement of God’s unity of person. We can quench the Spirit in us that testifies to the reasonableness and intuitive soundness of our beliefs. There is one God and that God is embodied in Jesus Christ. There aren’t three gods. There aren’t a god and a half. There is only one God and that God is embodied in the One Person of Jesus Christ. (Can I get an Amen!)
I’m not suggesting, though, that we push our beliefs on others. That can be an annoying experience when someone comes up to me and preaches their doctrines to me. I have mine; I respect yours; let’s find our way home in our own ways.
But there is another way to let our light shine that isn’t pushing our ideas on others. That is the example we live. When we had the service here after the teen retreat, one teen made a bold and challenging statement. He said that he thought it was hypocrisy when adults tell him, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I think that the way we live is the most clear and powerful statement of what we believe. Swedenborg writes, “All religion is of life; and a religious life is doing good” (Doctrine of Life 1). Being filled with the Spirit is doing good. That is another way to think of the question, “Do we have the Spirit?” Does our life reflect the way of Jesus? Are we living by the Spirit or by the flesh?
Paul gives us a clear list of what it means to live by the Spirit versus living by the flesh. We find this in Galatians 5:19-25.
19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy,[b] drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
We can preach our gospel by the deeds we demonstrate. Jesus is pretty strong about calling on His name but not doing the things He commands. This issue occasions the story about the wise man building his house on the rock.
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.[c] 49 But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6: 46-49).
Our faith will be ruined if it is not built on the firm foundation of a good life. All those golden teachings of this beautiful church will be swept away over time if they are not grounded in our lives. For it is our lives that anchor our beliefs. It is the natural degree that is called a container, or a vessel that holds the higher degrees in it. Nobody wants someone coming up to them and trying to convert them to their belief system. But someone may come up to us, having observed the way we live, and ask us what we believe. They will see that we are filled with the Spirit.
Lord, on the first Pentecost long ago, you gave your Holy Spirit to the Apostles. That occasion was attended by miracles and signs of wonder. Today, we ask that you send your Holy Spirit to this church and its people. Perhaps in a more quiet way, but just as strong, we ask for your Spirit to fill our hearts. May it enlighten our minds, and fill our hearts with love for you and for one another. May your Spirit inspire us to do all manner of good deed. May your Spirit inspire us to think true and healthy thoughts. And may your Spirit inspire us with useful, positive, and heavenly feelings.
Lord, we pray for those who are sick. Send your healing love to those ailing, and comfort their family and friends. Lord, we ask for the grace of your healing love for all in need.
Coming in the Clouds
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 1, 2014
Luke 24:44-53 Acts 1:1-11 Psalm 47
This talk is all about the clouds. I’ve had my head in the clouds all week. There are two references to clouds in our readings, one literal and one symbolic. The literal reference is in Acts 1:9. There the ascension of Jesus is described. It says that while the Apostles were looking up, “a cloud took him out of their sight.” This cloud is important, because Acts later says that,
This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven (1:11).
I take this to mean that Jesus will come on a cloud–as it was a cloud that took Him up into heaven. This idea of Jesus coming in a cloud is also found in Luke 21:27: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud.” Then there is the issue of the cloud symbolism. I think that the symbolism of the clouds comes out in our readings for this morning. Clouds symbolize the literal sense of the Bible. That is, the Bible as it is written. But within the literal reading of the Bible is a deeper sense. There is an interior sense to the Bible that goes deeper than the literal words. Jesus coming on a cloud symbolizes the interior sense of the Bible that is contained within the literal sense. Jesus is there at the very heart of the Bible. But when taken literally, there are many problems. One can get the idea that God gets angry at humans, that God takes vengeance, that God orders the genocide of certain tribes–all of which God never does, never can do. So the literal sense of the Bible can’t be taken at face value. There must be truth lying beneath the Bible as it is written. The Bible as written is like a cloud that covers the deeper, inner truth.
Luke’s Gospel is the only one that has the ascension in it. That is, only in Luke’s Gospel do we have the story of Jesus going up into heaven on a cloud. Matthew ends with the comforting words, “And behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Mark ends with the empty tomb and a vision of angels who instruct the women to tell Jesus’ followers to go to Galilee where Jesus will meet them. John ends with the pastoral injunction to Peter to feed Jesus’ sheep. There is a final discussion about Judas, and the suggestion that Jesus’ second coming was going to be soon. Only in Luke is Jesus carried to heaven on a cloud.
But the second coming of Jesus on a cloud is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The second coming of Jesus is said to be in the clouds of heaven. That can be found in Matthew 24:30, and in Luke 21:27. These sections of Matthew and Luke are called mini-Apocalypses, because they are short and they talk about the end of days or the Last Judgement. Jesus coming in the clouds is also in the great Apocalypse of John, which we call the book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation says, “Behold, he is coming in the clouds” (1:7).
Many are expecting a marvellous event in the sky, when Jesus comes again. Jews and Christians alike are awaiting the coming Messiah. The Christian Gospels says that the Messiah will be Jesus, who comes a second time in the clouds. The Jews are still expecting the Messiah, as they do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. One clever rabbi who spoke at a class of mine said that the Jesus issue will all be straightened out when the heavenly Messiah comes. Both Christians and Jews are waiting for the coming Messiah. When the Messiah comes, we can ask him, “So, have you been here before?”
But this church sees the coming of the Messiah, or the second coming of Jesus, in a symbolic way. It centers on the image of Jesus in the clouds. This symbolism of Jesus on a cloud means that Jesus is at the heart of the Bible, but covered by the words of the literal text. The words of the literal text are the clouds. These are the words that make God look ungodly–those passages in which God appears angry, vengeful, or genocidal. The truth about God is within, or beneath, these words. The second coming of Jesus is when Jesus is seen through the literal sense, as the inner sense of scripture is revealed. Seeing Jesus by means of the inner sense of scripture is seeing Jesus on the clouds.
Is there any Biblical support for this way of understanding the second coming? I think that there is. Matthew warns us against seeing Jesus with the physical eye. Half in parable and half plainly, Jesus says that we will not see the Christ with our mortal eyes.
If anyone says to you, “Lo, here is the Christ! or “There he is!” do not believe it. For false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. . . . So if they say to you, “Lo, he is in the wilderness,” do not go out; if they say, “Lo, he is in the inner rooms,” do not believe it (Matthew 24:23-26).
Mark says the same thing in chapter 13:21. Luke reinforces the idea that we won’t see the second coming of Jesus with our physical eyes. There we read,
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “lo, here it is!” or “There!” for behold, the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20-21).
These passages say that we won’t see Jesus with our bodily eyes. However, they do say that Jesus will appear in glory. I think that there is a way to affirm both ideas–that Jesus will not come visibly and also that Jesus will come in glory. The way to hold both passages together is to see them symbolically.
Is there scripture that says we can take the coming of Jesus on a cloud as a symbol? I think that there is. In our reading for this morning we find a most interesting passage. Jesus opens the minds of His Apostles and shows them that the whole Bible is a symbol for His own life.
“These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures . . . (Luke 24:44-45).
Luke wants to emphasize that all the scriptures are symbols of Jesus’ life. A little earlier in the same chapter, Luke says, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Luke tells us that the first five books of the Bible–the Pentateuch–otherwise known as the Books of Moses, these five books are about Jesus. Luke tells us that also the prophets are about Jesus. And finally, Luke tells us that the Psalms are about Jesus. The only way that these Bible books can be about Jesus is if they are symbols of His life. Otherwise, how can we find that the Exodus from Egypt, the sacrificial rituals in Leviticus, the creation of the universe, and the other events in the Books of Moses be about Jesus? Maybe it’s a little easier to see the prophets talking about Jesus. In Isaiah we have prophesies about the coming Messiah which we read on Christmas. But there are 66 chapters in Isaiah, and I would challenge the best Bible scholar to show me how all the books talk about Jesus. Then there is Amos, which is mostly about justice and civil law, Jeremiah which talks mostly about impending doom from the Babylonians. The Psalms are also challenging. If they are seen as symbols for the inner suffering of Jesus, then we may have something. But are they traditionally viewed that way?
I think that the argument can be made for the Bible being a set of symbols about Jesus’ life. Those symbols are the clouds that cover the truth about Jesus and our own spiritual life. The stories in the Pentateuch, the poetry of the prophets, and the laments and glory in the Psalms are clouds. When we see Jesus in them, then Jesus is coming in the clouds of glory. The glory of Jesus life is everywhere in scripture. His glory flashes like lightning. And when we see Jesus in the love God shows the people of Israel, to take one example, then Jesus shines through the clouds of the literal sense of scripture.
Seeing the Bible as a system of symbols about Jesus makes the whole Bible holy. The New Testament is a living out of the symbols in the Old Testament. There is a connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. They both talk about Jesus, His love, and the way to salvation.
Lord, you have given us the Bible so that we may know about you and your kingdom. And yet, the Bible is accommodated to human understanding. The truth about you is found in an interior sense that lies beneath the literal words. We pray that you open our minds to scripture, as you did for your Apostles ages ago. Give us to see you in the symbols of the Old Testament. Give us to understand the parables in the New Testament. We pray that you enlighten our minds that we may see divine truths in the Bible. May we not turn away from you because of the appearances we find in the Bible. Rather, with your illumination, may we see through the appearances and find you in your glory.
Lord, we pray for those who are sick. Send your healing love to those ailing, and comfort their family and friends. Give them support and comfort in these difficult days. Lord, we ask for the grace of your healing love for all in need.