My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Revelation Chapter 12
The story of the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation chapter twelve is a familiar one in the General Church of the New Jerusalem. But in our June 19th celebrations and pageants we very often only hear a limited amount of the internal sense of that story. In this paper I hope to explore the internal-historical sense in a little more depth, based on the correspondences (keys to Biblical symbols) in the book: ‘Apocalypse Revealed.’ by Emanuel Swedenborg. And by doing so, I hope to gain a better sense of the overall storyline of the internal sense of this chapter. I will also attempt to place the story in the greater context of the book of Revelation using the model of ‘Law and Order’ offered by the Rev. Dr. Andy Dibb. And I will also very briefly explore the regenerative sense of this story as illustrated in ‘Apocalypse Explained.’ also by Emanuel Swedenborg.
General exposition of the internal-historical sense of Revelation chapter twelve:
The story opens with a great sign appearing in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, which means that it was revealed by the Lord that there would come be a New Church in heaven and on earth (represented by the Woman), which would eventually be governed by love to the Lord God Jesus Christ (represented by being clothed with the sun), and that the doctrines and faith of the Church on earth would teach about that love (signified by the moon under her feet). (AR 532-533) The crown of twelve stars signifies that the people of the New Church will be intelligent and wise because of the truth and goodness that they learn from the Word. (AR 534) The fact that this pregnant Woman was experiencing labor pains means that the new doctrines of this church will be hard to accept for many people in the Christian world. (AR 535) The new doctrines teach that the Lord Jesus Christ is the One Human God of heaven and earth, and that faith and charity should be conjoined in a life lived according to the Word.
These doctrines are hard to accept because most people in the Christian world believe in a trinity of persons, and that the Humanity and Divinity in Jesus are divided, and that faith alone saves. These ideas are represented by the dragon. These beliefs are capable of destroying the Church, like a dragon is capable of destroying a woman. These beliefs are also the most commonly accepted beliefs in the Christian world, and are therefore huge and pervasive compared with the doctrines of the New Church. And for many people these beliefs are upheld because they support a hellish love of self; believing they can do whatever they want and still be saved by faith. This is why the dragon is fiery red. (AR 537) But because the Word actually teaches faith and charity conjoined, and the worship of One God, these beliefs twist the meaning of the Word. These beliefs are also irrational when examined closely. How could there be three coequal gods? How can you really separate faith and charity? These beliefs turn what should be ‘one’ into ‘many’; like the seven heads of the dragon. (AR 538) But despite the irrationality of these beliefs, they have power in the world because they allow people to live irresponsibly “without any fear of hell.” This is represented by the power of the ten horns. (AR 539) And these beliefs are also backed up by the literal sense of the Word, and so to many people these beliefs appear crystal clear, like the seven jewels on the dragon’s seven heads. (AR 540) The dragon’s tail casting a third of the stars out of heaven represents that these beliefs have taken what once were good and true ideas (such as love to the Lord, and love to the neighbor) and cast them out of the Church. (AR 541)
These days, in a conversation about Christianity, any little hint of an idea contradicting faith alone is immediately criticized, which is represented by the dragon ready to devour the Child. (AR 542) But the new doctrine has now been born because of the second coming of the Lord to His Church. ‘The Child shepherding the nations with a rod of iron’ represents that this doctrine will be taught by means of the literal sense of the Word, and being ‘caught up to God and His throne’ means that it will be protected and nurtured by the Lord. (AR 544-545)
Until such time as this new doctrine will be accepted by many people, the New Church will exist both inside and outside of the Christian world in small numbers, represented by the Woman in the wilderness. (AR 546) It’s time will come - represented by the 1260 days - when enough people in the world no longer accept the teachings of faith alone and a trinity of Persons in God. (AR 547)
“And war broke out in heaven.” (Rev. 12:7) While the church is forming on earth, spirits in the old heaven are being instructed by angels about these new doctrines. These angels teach that God is One in the Lord’s Divine Human and that faith and charity are one in life. Spirits in that ‘heaven’ who believe in faith alone and a trinity of persons in God reject these new doctrines and cast themselves out of heaven. (AR 548-549) And in turning away from the Lord, they pervert “everything having to do with the church” (AR 551) These spirits of the dragon are ‘cast to the earth,’ which means they take up residence in the World of Spirits, and begin to try to convince other spirits (and by association: people on earth) that they are right in their beliefs. (AR 552)
Despite the fact that the story is not over, significant progress has been made. The Lord has now brought Heaven back into a state of order. Angels now fully acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God, without contradiction. And because Heaven is now in order, the Church can be brought back into a state of order too. This is joyful news to the angels of Heaven, and they proclaim it: “Now salvation, and power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ have come.” (Rev.12:10) (AR 553) Obstacles to the establishment of the New Church have been removed. And it was accomplished by means of the Divine Truths of the Word, which are represented by ‘the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.‘ (AR 555) Good Christians spirits could now fully enter into a state of love to the Lord, which is the state of this New Heaven. This is what is meant by “and they did not love their lives to the death.” (AR 556)
But at this point the state of the World of Spirits is still infested with people who believe in faith alone and a trinity of persons in God. And this is bad news for the New Church on earth. “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath.” (Rev. 12:12) (AR 558) These evil spirits in the World of Spirits do not want the New Church to grow because it threatens the power they have over people. And so “they harass the New Church” (AR 560) But the Lord protects these people from these evil spirits, by giving ‘wings of an eagle’ to the Woman. (AR 561) The time has not yet come for the New Church to be fully established. It needs to be nourished for ‘a time and times and half a time.’ (AR 562) The New Church can only be fully established when the threat of the dragon has been removed from both Heaven and earth. And so the Woman is hidden away. The New Church is not very well known.
And then the dragon attacks! He spews water from his mouth. People who believe in faith alone and a trinity of persons in God provide a steady stream of reasons for why their doctrine is true. (AR 563) But these reasons cannot persuade the members of the New Church who rationally understand the spiritual truths of the Word to be saying otherwise. And thus the reasonings are swallowed up by the earth. (AR 564) This makes the people of the dragon angry, and they turn their attention to persuading other people in their false doctrine. And so the dragon makes war with the Woman’s offspring too. (AR 565)
The chapter ends with John saying, “Then I stood on the sand of the sea.” In Revelation chapter twelve, the Lord had been showing John all of this taking place from the perspective of being in heaven. Now the Lord shifts John’s spiritual perspective to seeing things taking place below heaven, represented by standing on the sand of the sea. (AR 565) This sets the stage for the story in the next chapter.
How this might fit in the ‘Law and Order’ theory of the general structure of the book of Revelation:
So working with the ‘Law and Order’ idea for the structure of the Book of Revelation, up until now we’ve been following the work of the detectives in finding out exactly what the crime was, how it was committed and who the perpetrator was. The detectives have narrowed their field of suspects and determined that the Protestant faith was guilty. At this point in the ‘Law and Order’ show, the criminal often feels accused or cornered, and so he might act out irrationally. The criminal may even try to commit another crime, thinking that that will save him from being caught. This could be the case in story of Revelation chapter twelve. We shift our focus to the ‘Woman Clothed With the Sun,’ which represents the New Church, about to give birth to a baby Son, which is the doctrine of the New Church. Here is a picture of a new innocent character in our story who is suddenly in danger of being the next victim. The old Christian Church is dead, but the New Church is also in danger of being killed by the same criminal. And indeed the dragon of faith alone tries to attack. The dragon recognizes that these new characters, the Woman and her Baby, know that he is guilty, and so out of self-preservation, he tries to kill them too.
The Woman knows that the Law (which represents the Lord) can protect her, but first she needs to flee from the danger of the dragon who is trying to kill her. At this point in a ‘Law and Order’ episode there is often an exciting car chase or shoot-out, which is like the war in heaven of Michael and his angels fighting the dragon. The detectives and police are aware of the situation. They know that the Woman and her Baby are in danger, so they send out what in the ‘Law and Order’ universe would be called an ABP (All Points Bulletin) or BOLO (Be On the Look Out) which is like the loud voice from heaven saying, “woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that it has a short time.” (Rev. 12:12)
Finally we reach a climax in the police work where the criminal (the dragon) actually attempts to kill his new intended victim (the Woman), and he spews water out of his mouth. But it’s too late because the Woman is now under the protection of the Law (represented by the wings of the eagle, and the earth). Either the attempted murder fails because of this, or the dragon decides it’s not worth the risk, and so he flees. His eventual capture and conviction comes later in the book of Revelation, chapter twenty.
How this could apply to our own personal judgments in regeneration:
This story is a great reminder that even people who consider themselves part of the New Church are still in danger of being attacked by the dragon that destroyed the Old Church. We are not immune to believing and living the falsity of faith alone, or the trinity of Persons in God.
If we find ourselves defending a doctrine that supports our love of self, then that’s probably the fiery red dragon attacking us. True doctrine supports love to the Lord and love to the neighbor. There will be no place in heaven for us if we defend the truths of the Word and live contrary to what they teach. For example if we spend our time criticizing our neighbors for the way they choose to worship the Lord, then we are not living in charity, and we are being ruled by the dragon of faith alone.
When we do the spiritual work of rejecting the dragon of faith alone, then there is rejoicing in heaven, because we are allowing the Lord to be our King instead. And the Lord is Love Itself. And in reality, what we actually do is turn to the Lord by shunning evil, and then He alone has the power to cast out the dragon in us. When we turn to the Lord, we experience the joy of heaven. We also experience the enlightenment of understanding the internal sense of the Word, which is like the woman being given wings of an eagle. (AE 759)
Throughout our life we will periodically be attacked by our own love of self and pride of self-intelligence. But when we focus on loving the Lord and loving our neighbor, the falsities and evils of hell get swallowed up, which is like the water from the dragon being swallowed up by the earth.
So hopefully we now have a more comprehensive mental picture of the internal sense of this familiar story. This is a pivotal story, occurring roughly midway through the book of Revelation, which reminds us - in such a vivid exciting narrative - of the crucial reasons for the Last Judgment and the establishment of a New Church. It is a story of the Church as a macrocosm in the internal-historical sense, as well as the Church as a microcosm within each and every one of us. And in both cases it reminds us of what keeps the Church safe and healthy; namely: the doctrines that keep us focussed on love to the Lord and love to the neighbor.