“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” – Revelation 21:1
June 19 is known to us as New Church Day, for on that day in the year 1770 it is recorded that the Lord sent His twelve Apostles, whom He had chosen and who had followed Him in the world, throughout the spiritual world to preach the Gospel that the Lord Jesus Christ reigns, whose dominion shall be for ever and ever, and that they are blessed who come unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.
This event took place not on earth, but in the spiritual world; so our thoughts concerning this day are lifted up from the things of the earth to the things of heaven. We should remember, however, that the laws of spiritual life and of heaven are the laws of human life in this world also, and that it is not by political, social, and economic planning, but by recognition of and obedience to the heavenly laws that this world will become more like heaven, as men and women approach the angelic state for which they were created.
Three times in the writings mention is made of this event (T.C.R. 4, 108, 791). No preamble and no explanation of the statement is made – just the bare, matter-of-fact statement that this event took place. This leaves a strong impression of the reality of the event, and of the reality of the spiritual world in which it took place. In reading the Memorable Relations one often has the feeling that they were events especially staged to illustrate some certain point, and there is not infrequently some element of the marvelous in the description. But with this particular incident there is nothing obviously marvelous or strange. What could be more natural than that the Lord should choose for such a task those who had so well served Him in the formation of the First Christian Church? And so one is led to think of the spiritual world as a world in which there are human needs, and where those needs are met in a human way. It is a real world in which real events take place, not merely an interesting imaginative conception.
The Gospel that the Apostles were to preach was that the Lord Jesus Christ is God alone, and that in His Divine Human He is the one Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior.
At the beginning of the First Christian Church the Apostles preached repentance and faith in the Lord as Savior, but because of the subsequent division of the Godhead into three persons and the falsities stemming from it, the church which the Lord had founded through the Apostles was brought to an end. Therefore the Apostles were commanded to preach the Gospel anew in the spiritual world. Thus a new heaven was to be formed from those who believed in the Lord God the Savior (T.C.R. 108), and the Gospel that the Divine Trinity is united in the glorified Lord.
Each Apostle was assigned to a particular province, and their mission was an extensive one and took a considerable length of time to accomplish. This followed upon the completion of the “True Christian Religion,” the last of Swedenhorg’s works, in which the doctrines of the New Church are gathered together in systematic form. The opening of the Scriptures through the human agency of Swedenborg is the Second Coming of the Lord, by which the Lord can be known as He really is and a rational and understandable faith established in heaven and on earth. This is the supreme and crowning fact of religion and of all human and angelic life. The 19th of June, 1770 marks the beginning of the New Church in the heavens, whence it would soon descend to earth. So we observe this day as the birthday of the New Church, in which all things are to be made new.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”
Many are the passages in the Scriptures where changes in the heavens and the earth are mentioned. “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed.” Such prophecies are concerning a new order or condition of religious life, that is, of spiritual vitality among men. In the New Church there will be none who are in dead worship. So it is said that the sea gave up the dead which were in it. In this sense, too, there is no more sea.
Applied to ourselves, heaven is the inner or spiritual mind, which is an image of heaven, and the earth is the outer mind, the natural man which is an image of the world. The new heavens and the new earth are nothing other than a new order or condition of religious life, new concepts of God and of our relation to Him. Civilization has its history. Several times in the history of mankind the heavens have been changed, but the Word of the Lord has remained the same, though our understanding of it has increased. This is the new heaven. It is the new age of spiritual enlightenment upon which we have entered, an age of progress on all planes of life. It is the world’s coming into the age of rational manhood.
The new earth is not a material creation. It is the natural plane of life, the plane of human practice and conduct, on which are to be realized the principles of life and the laws of Divine order that obtain in the kingdom of God in heaven. A new heaven – a new internal of right doctrine, ideals, and principles – will in time transform the outward life of men and bring it into harmony with the law and order of heaven.
Under the old interpretations of Christianity it has been customary to classify the different phases of life, calling this secular and that religious, setting religion apart by itself, as a thing which belongs exclusively to the Sanctuary in the observance of religious rites. Thus religion has been separated from life, and business and pleasure have planes assigned to them entirely apart from religion.
Though these planes are distinct, yet man is a whole, and true living is the acknowledgment of God on all planes of life, bringing into life on the natural plane the spiritual principles revealed in the Word of the Lord. This is what is meant by the “new earth.” The Divine providence is over all things of man’s earthly life as well as over his spiritual life, and has for its sole end the formation of a heaven from the human race.
The new earth is a new humanity with a faith and life utterly unknown to the former earth that is now slowly passing away. The old irrational dogmas are passing away. Men are looking for a religion that interprets God to the understanding so that they can take hold of Him and be led by Him, a religion that comes down to earth, bringing a solution to the problems of life here, with greater power in overcoming evils and doing good. By such a religion the hindrances to a free and happy life will be diminished and good will be increased.
So great will be the advance over everything that existed before that it is called a new heaven and a new earth. It is that for which we pray when we say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, as in heaven so also upon the earth.” The tabernacle of God will be with men. The tabernacle of God is the Divine truth in the heart. Through it He abides in us and we in Him. The law going forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem are the Lord’s love and wisdom flowing forth into the world from His church. The truth which will be the guide of men will not be human opinions.
When we look out upon the world today this may seem an idle dream. But it is not by human power alone that it will be accomplished. It is by the love and wisdom now flowing forth from the Lord into the world.
To know the Lord, to learn His laws, and to live according to them is the source of all power, wisdom, and blessing. In the degree, therefore, that we come into orderly relations with the Lord we come into possession of the means of overcoming the false thoughts and evil desires that are the cause of all our misfortunes and suffering. The truths revealed in the Second Coming set us free. For this purpose they were revealed. A materialistic interpretation of the universe does not work. There are higher planes in man than the merely natural. Not natural truth but Divine truth is to become the light of the understanding, and the Divine love the peace and blessing of the heart.
For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.